This article was originally published at The Guardian
It’s time for bold, transformative thinking to steer us away from social and ecological catastrophe
As parliament ties itself in a Brexit knot, Britain is on the brink, facing multiple economic, social and ecological crises. Our economic system has enriched the 1% while leading humanity towards climate catastrophe and tearing apart the fabric of society through rampant inequality and a deadly austerity programme.
In this moment of crisis there is an opportunity: now is the time for bold, transformative thinking. We can democratise our economy, creating a society of prosperity and abundance while mobilising everything we’ve got towards total decarbonisation. Neoliberalism has taken us to the precipice – a new economic model can set us free.
In the US, the Sunrise Movement of young people and socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have captured imaginations with their plan for a Green New Deal (GND). This inspiring vision evokes a full-scale societal mobilisation to eliminate carbon emissions while investing in health, education, transport and a federal jobs guarantee. It’s a radical plan for a healthier, happier, more prosperous society, with polls showing clear support among voters of both main parties.
We can do even better in the UK. While the US model is blocked by the Democrats’ unimaginative, centrist elite, we have in the Labour party a radical, socialist leadership dedicated to making society work for the many, not the few. Labour transformed the country after 1945, building the NHS and a welfare state derided by naysayers as impossible. Now, with a movement of half a million members, it can end a system rigged in favour of the City and build a new society of social and environmental justice.
To do so it must be bigger and bolder. The party’s climate strategy, outlined in the recent Green Transformation paper, is a good start, with a ban on fracking and strong environmental policies. Recent statements by John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey around a “green jobs revolution” are highly welcome. A Green New Deal in the UK would see millions of good climate jobs created in an expanded renewable sector, insulating homes and building new infrastructure.
But this goes beyond job creation: a GND means a new settlement for Britain. It would give local communities the funding and power to control their future, while democratising industry and the economy. Communities with control of utilities will have great power over their lives, while tackling fuel poverty, as the profits go to ordinary people, not shareholders.
A programme of green industrialisation can revitalise communities across the country ravaged by neoliberalism, addressing the inequality and stagnation that helped bring about the Brexit vote. Simultaneously, it can kickstart a rebalancing of the economy away from London.
This could be boosted by mass investment in public transport (rather than new runways), providing high-quality transit across Britain. The whole economic structure of our society must change. The basis is already there, with McDonnell’s forward-thinking Alternative Forms of Ownership reportand growing conversations around universal basic services.
Equally, we must tackle the power of the fossil fuel industry, which bears the greatest responsibility for the climate crisis. By banning the funding from banks and state subsidies that keeps these behemoths afloat, fossil fuel extraction can be ended. Labour is currently targeting 60% renewable and zero-carbon energy by 2030 – it needs to be 100%.
As Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out, poverty and climate are far greater and more urgent challenges than Brexit. Tackling them will require massive political mobilisation from below, and huge levels of funding. McDonnell’s plans for a National Transformation Fund, Strategic Investment Board and national and regional investment banks provide an excellent starting point.
But a GND will necessitate higher levels of investment – it’s vital to blast through the remains of austerity logic and build legitimacy for enormous state intervention in the economy. Equally, our plan will involve major transition across industries, with a high-quality, region-specific jobs guarantee and new training. To make this vision a reality, we need to shift the political terrain while building a GND plan in every town and city, led by workers and communities.
We cannot simply wait around hoping for politicians to make all this happen. It needs a movement. Labour for a Green New Deal, a new campaign group of grassroots party members and trade unionists launching today, plans to be at its heart. We, the many, will not wait around for a fairer future. We’ll build it ourselves.
With hundreds of activists already signed up, we will pass motions for a GND in Labour and union branches nationwide, with this year’s party conference in mind. Our local events programme will create a locally designed blueprint. People will be empowered to take back control of their future.
We’ll go further still. Recognising the global power structures and inequalities behind climate change, we will build solidarity across borders for a truly universal GND, including equitable partnerships with countries in the global south to upgrade infrastructure and collectively decarbonise.
Together we will win the argument for the state to use every lever of economic, fiscal and monetary policy to steer us away from social and ecological catastrophe. Along the way, our campaign will stake out a new settlement of common freedom and abundance, placing collective prosperity above individual profit.
Our ambitions are high, as well they should be. In this moment of existential threat, we can build a new society of justice, equality and abundance – in Britain and beyond.