The above changes to the market context within which commerce operates first calls for a new politics. The neo-classical economic synthesis is the product of an age when we knew far less about how the world works and just how small and sensitive it is. For that reason a new politics is called for. The Left has failed as dismally as the Right to grasp both the urgency and scale of our mistakes and the possible way forward.
Many today find it hard to discern much difference between “New Tory” and New Labour. Indeed Blairite Peter Mandelson MP said in 2002 “We are all Thatcherites now”. And then in 2007 George Osbourne MP hailed his boss David Cameron as “heir to Blair”.
Both the Right and the Left are fundamentally fixated on growth as a way to deliver progress. And the visions of both are so inexorably hooked, indeed predicated, on ever more economic growth that they are destined to fail.
In an age where Left and Right are ever more blurred it is now clear that issues such as sustainability and equity require a new political analysis and do not fit easily on the Left-Right spectrum.
“Green” issues have long been thought of as an anti-capitalist Left-wing agenda. However, since the 2007 Quality Of Life Report, Sarkozy’s comments on GDP and Californian Governor Schwarzenegger’s changing views, this is no longer a given. In fact in an age where Left and Right are ever more blurred it is now clear that issues such as sustainability and equity require a new political analysis and do not fit easily on the Left-Right spectrum.
This is strange as voters are clearly ever more engaged by in green issues. A July 2008 poll by Guardian/ICM found that voters think that taking action against Climate Change matters more than tackling the global economic downturn. 52% favoured prioritising tackling climate change compared with 44% the economic downturn. But the poll, reflecting findings in earlier surveys, also shows people want the government to sort out the problem rather than take on responsibility themselves. The poll also suggested that the environment is not a rich voter concern. Although women are more likely than men to place the environment ahead of the economy as an issue – 55% of women say it is a priority, against 49% of men – support for action is strong across all ages, regions and social groups. Far from being the greenest part of the population, middle-class voters are actually more sceptical than most about the need for action, perhaps because they fear they have more to lose from increased bills and taxes. Voters in the richest AB group are the only ones to place the economy ahead of the environment as a government priority: 50% say the economy and 47% the environment.
Perhaps the reason we have emphasised growth politically, put it in first place, is that it seems to promise to solve all the crushing problems we have described of overpopulation, unemployment, inequality and even Climate Change without having to be in any way “radical”. It gives the myth of a win-win solution.
Is the problem that politicians are largely thinking still in terms of what is “possible”, not what is “necessary”?
If you assume that a rising tide of wealth will sweep all to riches and allow us to solve all sustainability problems then why bother to be radical? As we have shown, ever-increasing growth is just not an option. Take that growth-solution option away, and you have to go back to the really radical solutions and politicians don’t want to do that, for fear the public is not ready to support them.
Is the problem that politicians are largely thinking still in terms of what is “possible”, not what is “necessary”? If growth really is uneconomic now, then we have to face very radical kinds of solutions to fundamental problems.
And indeed politicians themselves need to see that their ability to deliver on what society really needs – Wellbeing – is greatly diminished by having to fixate on economic growth. If they are aware of this, it must be immensely frustrating: if your job is to nurture a system which delivers ever greater economic growth, then any other objective has to take second place to that primary objective.
The UK’s new independent Committee on Climate Change is the first attempt to solve the problems which emerge when the short-termism of politics and business lobbies meet the long-term interests of people and planet. As we described earlier, similar models are surely needed for other “commons”.
The current UK government has done a poor job of tuning in to the issues we discuss in this book. As Larry Elliot, economic correspondent to The Guardian, says in Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth: “New Labour has always been a political movement that has wanted to have its cake and eat it, and nowhere is this more true than over climate change.” In 1997, writing in Greening the Millennium, political scientist Neil Carter wrote that the Labour Party “has an ambivalent attitude to the environment… there is a long-standing suspicion that environmentalism is the preserve of the middle classes who, in Crosland’s words, want to “kick the ladder down behind them” by focusing on threats to the countryside while ignoring urban decay and the material needs of the working class”.
The Tory Party shows some signs of taking these issues far more to heart. Time will tell if they deliver on some promising rhetoric. What is certain is that a new people- and planet-friendly politics is needed, but government would need to play a different role in a Wellbeing Economy.
Government will play a different role in a Wellbeing Economy. More localised participative democratic involvement of Citizens will mean that central and local governments functions will need to evolve and reduce.
As the urgently needed big conversation on these issues emerges, people and planet friendly politics will show itself to be the only sensible and morally-just vision. Government will play a different role in a Wellbeing Economy. More localised participative democratic involvement of Citizens will mean that central and local governments functions will need to evolve and reduce. This will drag politics out of the apathy and party-political adversarial model it currently languishes under. Compromise and cooperation will be more the form that solutions take and a longer term perspective will have implications for a wide array of issues including regeneration, planning, energy and mobility. Already there are active and fast growing grassroots initiatives such as the Transition Towns movement and others where normal Citizens are saying “we have had enough of waiting for politics to act”.
The UK’s Transition Towns movement uses the innovative “open-space” technology (OST) in which a large group of people comes together to explore a particular topic or issue, with no agenda, no timetable, no obvious co-ordinator and no minute takers. OST is a self-organising process; participants construct the agenda and schedule during the meeting itself. Outputs are photographed and posted to a live wiki site and the open-space develops ideas as people from around the world debate the issues arising from the original meeting. Such methods can enable the creation of “instant proceedings” and simultaneous multi-site gatherings and have been proven to be hugely productive. People have used it in widely diverse situations, from designing aircraft doors at a large aircraft manufacturing company to engaging street kids in defining a sustainable jobs-programme.
In the US, AmericaSpeaks and The Kettering Foundation are pioneering approaches state-of-the-art Communications technologies and techniques to empower Citizen dialogue and pressure on local and national issues. AmericaSpeaks’ Engagement Tools are used to build a level playing field on which Citizens can be authentically engaged with each other in policy discussions that are directly and transparently linked to decision-makers and governance processes. It uses online deliberation, “C21st Town meetings”, webcast meetings, “community-conversations” and keypad-polling to facilitate Citizen engagement.
The Move On initiative in the US has been very successful at using such techniques and the internet to funnel popular support for environmental issues towards the 2008 US Presidential Nominations process. The MoveOn family of organisations aims to bring real Americans back into the political process. With over 3.2 million members across America – from carpenters to stay-at-home mums to business leaders – they work together to realise the progressive promise of the US. MoveOn acts as a service – a way for busy but concerned Citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media. A similar movement which will support Citizens engaging with sustainability advocacy and tactical voting through digital platforms is developing in the UK for the 2010 General Election.
Such local and grassroots pressure from Citizens is set to change the face of centralised politics. As this pressure builds the job of government would then not be to merely grow the economy but in fact to support the delivery of maximum human and planetary Wellbeing. Chancellors of the Exchequer would not play anything like as important a role as Environment and Social Affairs Ministers in such a Wellbeing Economy.
Chancellors of the Exchequer would not play anything like as important a role as Environment and Social Affairs Ministers in such a Wellbeing Economy.
In the tradition of the Roosevelt 1930’s post depression New Deal, today there are calls from the UK Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and others for a Green New Deal. And if the issues we have raised do come together and threaten collapse of our economies then the Depression might well be the best analogy. The New Deal did three key things. It strictly regulated the greed of the finance sector. It brought in new taxes on business and the wealthy and it invested the proceeds of $billions in infrastructure, jobs and kick-starting a new economy.
In his 2006 book The Great Turning, David Korten says: “Call those of us on the side of Earth Community progressives – progressive conservatives and progressive liberals. Although we have our differences, we share a commitment to creating a society governed by ordinary people and dedicated to the ideals of liberty, justice, and opportunity for all. We are driven by principle rather than ideology, and deal in reality rather than delusion. We have no more in common with ideological extremists of the Far Left who seek violent revolution and state control of every aspect of life than we do with the ideological extremists of the Far Right who pursue imperial wars abroad, a theocratic state at home, and freedom for themselves to oppress the rest. A politics of mature Citizenship properly honours both the conservative values of freedom and individual responsibility and the liberal values of equity and justice for all. It brings together a conservative concern for community and heritage with a liberal concern for inclusiveness and the creation of a world that works for the whole of life and children yet to come. It recognizes the importance of local roots combined with global consciousness. In the mature human mind, these are complementary values that call us to a path of spiritual health and maturity.”
What is urgently needed is a new political philosophy, vision and new societal myths that are not locked into denial – but seek pathways to a Wellbeing society.