Come the (Green) Revolution, Please!

The Green Party of England and Wales is extraordinary. Whilst I’ve no idea whether it’s very different to other Green Parties around the world, it is totally different to any other large political organisation in Britain. Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Greens, so obviously I have some partisan interest. Nevertheless, I think I can prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is extraordinary.

Arguably the single most important extraordinary feature about it, compared with other large political parties in Britain, is that it has a written set of guiding principles, together with a multitude of written policies that it claims it would implement in the event of a Green government coming to power. This body of work, titled “Policies for a Sustainable Society” (PSS), is wholly controlled by the membership, and cannot be altered on the whim of its leaders. This alone sets the party aside from the Labour Party, for example, which has the biggest membership in the country, but no equivalent of the Greens’ PSS.

I couldn’t believe this when I was briefly a member of Labour – the fact that it has no written core principles. All it has is whatever the last election manifesto was. The shallowness of this situation is obvious: Labour “principles” are determined by a handful of people just prior to an election, and are wholly dependent on those few people. That’s why its leaders often refer to it as a “broad church”, suggesting that no matter what your political beliefs are, Labour will welcome you with open arms. It’s also why two people as ideologically far apart as Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn, for example, can somehow lead the same party – and preside over the preparation of two totally different election manifestos, and hence two totally different, and opposing sets of principles.

So the mere existence of the Greens’ PSS, making the party fairly impervious to the weaknesses and fallibility of leaders, is truly exceptional. It creates a party where written verifiable ideology trumps vague and vulnerable personality cults. But that’s just the start. The actual contents of the PSS are nothing short of breathtaking.

I recently completed a short summary of the PSS. It’s about twenty thousand words long, and I reckon it has only about 10% of the detail. I did it because the PSS is such a large piece of work that I’m sure most GP members probably haven’t read it, and therefore possibly don’t understand the full extent of the beauty of their own party. And “beauty” is the right word for it, because what it describes is a world that’s so completely different to the one we know, and so infinitely better, that it is indeed a beautiful creation. Far from being something of an ordeal to pore over a detailed political ideology, I found myself savouring what I was doing, frequently smiling, feeling uplifted, and thinking this is exactly the sort of world I want to live in.

The PSS opens with two short sections that in my summary I’ve called the “key facts”. The very first words state that:

The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics.

Ten Core Principles follow, summarising the Greens’ commitment to rescuing our dying planet, pacifism, economic justice for all, and constitutional reform based on direct democracy.

Next comes a slightly longer section about the Greens’ Philosophical Basis, which obviously supports their Core Principles, but with a little more detail, such as:

A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.

It’s interesting to note that the slogan the Labour Party used so successfully in last year’s elections, “For the many, not the few”, is remarkably similar to what the Greens have been saying for many years.

Those ten Core Principles, and the couple of dozen points in the Philosophical Basis, run like a golden thread linking every one of the hundreds of sections that comprise the full PSS.

Constitutional Reform

Arguably the most significant section of the Greens’ policies are those around constitutional reform, because what the Greens propose is not just a change of actors performing the same play on the same stage – which is the only purpose of most general elections – but a major reformation of the way politics works in Britain. Take, for example, two of the opening principles in the section on Public Administration and Government:

Britain still has many of the elements of its feudal past, including some remnants of the royal prerogative. We believe that the basic principle of Government should be the reverse of this, that is that power flows upwards from the people, and from their most local levels of Government to the higher levels…

All decision-making and action throughout all levels of government, including international government, shall be governed by the principle of subsidiarity: namely that nothing should be done centrally if it can be done equally well, or better, locally…

The highest form of democracy is direct participation.

To help achieve this the Greens further propose:

The basis for a decentralised society and the establishment of a Bill of Rights must be laid out in a clear and accessible written constitution.

This is no trivial point for a country that has never had a written constitution, and a country which, although no longer the global power it once was, is still a significant player on the world stage. But the Greens are not proposing just any old constitution that just perpetuates the ancient and very corrupt status quo:

A written constitution will describe a new system of government based on direct democracy and Green values…

Elections will be decided by proportional representation…

The City of London Corporation to be abolished, together with its institutions and all the special rights and privileges it has, to be replaced by administration similar to the rest of London…

Monarchy shall cease to be an office of government, and hereditary peers will not have hereditary rights to sit in Parliament…

The Church of England shall be disestablished and will have no role in the government of the UK…

Those few words propose unbelievably seismic changes for Britain. If they were carried out Britain would cease to be controlled by the corrupt and tyrannical elites that have not only oppressed British people for centuries, but also hundreds of millions of people around the world. For the first time in its history Britain would become a real democracy. But that’s just the start.

The Greens do not yet have, in my view, very strong policies regarding public information services, and this issue would have to be addressed in any written constitution. Good and trustworthy information is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of direct democracy; and it should be the responsibility of, firstly, the education system, and secondly, a state public information service to ensure good information is provided.

Green Britain

The Greens are, first and foremost, about protecting and improving the environment, and rescuing and restoring to full health our planet’s fragile and rapidly dying ecosystems. This principle underpins, explains and justifies every one of the hundreds of policies that comprise the PSS. In other words, there isn’t a separate section about “The Environment”; the whole thing is about the environment and the planet’s non-humans, and the way human beings could and should interact with them. Take, for example, the section on Animal Rights:

The prevailing assumption that animals can be used for any purpose that benefits humankind is not acceptable in a Green society…

To eliminate the wholesale exploitation of other species, foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat…

Other sections are designed with the environment at heart. Take the section on Transport, for example, which includes:

The Green Party believes that some of the greatest damage to local communities and the environment has been done by the transfer of freight carriage from water and rail to road and air, and the increasing size of road vehicles used. The Green Party’s aim will be to reverse this trend by:

(a)  Reducing the need for freight movement by the implementation of policies to alter the current culture of over consumption.

(b)  Promoting the provision of products from local sources;

(c)  Using financial incentives to bring large-scale freight carriage back onto water and rail.

(d)  Local or regional authorities planning freight movement within their areas on the principle of small-scale delivery vehicles servicing from rail and waterside depots.

(e)  Establish facilities for inter-modal freight movement, such as rail depots and waterside wharves.

Or Housing…

Building regulations to be changed to reflect the needs of a green society and green economy. Local authorities to have the means to properly police the regulations…

Or Education…

All schools to provide environmental education through academic and practical work. Schools to practice high standards of environmental welfare…

Or Industry…

The development of a sustainable zero carbon industrial infrastructure as a basis for a sustainable zero carbon society. This will free the UK economy from a reliance on endless growth in the production of commodities and financial transactions…

The Green Economy

One of the most important (and longest) sections in the PSS is The Economy. Unsurprisingly, the health of the environment assumes primary importance:

To conserve natural planetary resources and to maintain the integrity of natural life-sustaining cycles; to regenerate areas made waste and take steps to avoid further ecological disaster; to reduce demand for energy and raw materials; to favour low energy non-polluting processes based on renewable resources…

British Greens are sometimes referred to as watermelons – green on the outside, and red in the middle. A quick glance through The Economy section soon explains why:

To devolve economic power to the lowest appropriate level, thereby rendering participants in the economy at all levels less vulnerable to the damaging effects of economic decisions made elsewhere and over which they have no control…

To liberate and empower all sections of society to meet their needs as far as possible from their own resources through activities which are socially enhancing; to encourage all to contribute to society according to their abilities, recognising as they do so, responsibility for themselves, for others, for future generations and for the planet…

Appropriate national public expenditure will be necessary for the regeneration of the supply side of the economy to achieve the green objectives. Extensive investment is required to repair the damaged natural environment; to restore infrastructure; and to develop re-skilling and retraining in socially and environmentally-friendly production and services…

As for the big and very obvious question: where would all the money come from? The Greens have some fine answers. Obviously, given the scandalous tax evasion by the super-rich that’s been going on for centuries, there is need for considerable tax reform, and Green taxation policies do propose doing that. However, of far greater importance is a total overhaul of monetary policy, and that section in the PSS is several times larger than the section on taxation. For example:

The existing banking system has failed and is no longer fit for purpose. The Green Party believes that the power to create money must be removed from private banks. The supply of our national currency must be fully restored to democratic and public control so that it can be issued free of debt and directed to environmentally and socially beneficial areas such as renewable energy, social housing, or support for community businesses…

Of course, you have to allow for slight inaccuracies – like in the above wording, “our national currency must be fully restored to democratic and public control” – which obviously wrongly suggests that at some time in the past our currency once had democratic and public control. But such small slips aside, this is a proposal that’s every bit as seismic to the British economy as scrapping the monarchy, hereditary peers in the House of Lords, and political power of the Church of England is to the so-called English constitution.

There are a few other economic policies which at first glance might seem quite trivial, but which are, in fact, highly significant, such as:

The Green Party would replace conventional [economic] indicators with those that measure progress towards sustainability, equity and devolution…

This is, once again, revolutionary stuff. The global economic system is based entirely on a system of measurements designed by, and for, the super-rich. It’s interested only in profits for the super-rich. The costs of those profits in terms of human misery, animal suffering, and environmental catastrophe, are entirely irrelevant. Changing the way economies are measured to not only take those factors into account but to prioritise them above the profits of the super-rich is Earth-shaking stuff.

The Bigger Picture

There’s only so much a country can do by itself. Sooner or later it has to co-operate with others in order to achieve mutually desirable results. Even if the Green Party managed to turn Britain into the greenest, happiest, and most self-sufficient country in the world it would be pretty ineffective if the rest of the planet continued along its man-made road to disaster. So the Greens are also committed internationalists, striving to help other countries make the essential changes they’re also going to need in the very near future.

To this end the PSS spells out its policies in its International section, and in the section on Peace and Defence. Unsurprisingly, some of these policies are nothing less than revolutionary:

The Green vision also involves a fundamental restructuring of the global economy to reverse the unsustainable trend of globalisation (i.e. ever increasing trade between ever distant nations with the primary goal of maximising profit) and a democratisation of the systems of global governance…

The United Nations should be reformed and democratised. The current national basis for membership should be extended to include regional (sub-national) representation and all representatives should be democratically selected. The WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and similar bodies should also be reformed, democratised, or replaced…

To support the establishment and maintenance of ecologically sustainable and democratic communities throughout the world, and progress towards a world in which all people are equal in both their economic potential and their political rights…

The nature of conflict in the twenty-first century is highly complex, involving state and non-state participants at every level. Much international conflict today arises directly or indirectly from the abuse of power by rich Northern nations…

The United Kingdom has not been under significant threat of armed invasion since 1941 and such an event is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future…

“Defence” is the protection of homeland against attack and does not justify pre-emptive strikes against nations and organisations. Military intervention for peacekeeping or conflict prevention cannot be justified unilaterally. It is irrational and immoral [and often illegal] to continue activities that exacerbate threats to international and local security…

The defence budget needs to be adequate to ensure security, but no more so…

The Green Party is committed to pursuing immediate and unconditional nuclear disarmament…

Green defence policy will be consistent with international law and the UN Charter.

The (vegan) buttering of parsnips

There’s an old saying that goes “fine words butter no parsnips”. This makes the vital point that there’s a world of difference between words and deeds. The history of politics is nothing if not a very long and depressing saga of false hopes and broken promises. It’s one thing for the Green Party to have all these wonderful world-changing ideas, making them reality is something else entirely.

To me, the answer is very simple. Write a draft constitution based almost entirely on the Greens’ PSS, and from then on, in every single election campaign, promise to pass that constitution into law within the first six months of a Green government coming to power. (Failure to do so would constitute a breach of promise to the electorate and require the Greens to quit office.) Ensure that the constitution is the supreme law which supersedes all other laws and renders invalid any conflicting law. Build into the constitution the sovereignty of the people, so that only the people can change the constitution – not some new and reactionary future government. Concern that such an action would be undemocratic is groundless: if the Greens openly campaigned for constitutional change and won a general election on the basis of that campaign, it would obviously be the democratic choice of the people to implement it.

I do not see any realistic alternative to this method. If the Greens were to try to introduce their policies piecemeal and individually they would either be quickly defeated by their rich and powerful opponents; or the partial changes would not be able to function alongside existing systems, and hence render them apparent failures; or they would simply run out of time. We are living through the sixth mass extinction of species – unique amongst previous extinctions in that this one was entirely man-made and was largely preventable. We are long past the point of “doing something before it’s too late”. Too late came and went some years ago; we’re now in the business of crisis control and damage limitation. The time is not very far away when no matter what we do it will be in vain. Like Easter Island, our fragile planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, solely because of human beings.

As an anarchist I’m not much of a fan of political parties. But what should an anarchist do if a political party comes along which promotes anarchist values? I’ve waded through almost every one of the Green Party’s hundreds of policies. There are some that I’m pretty indifferent to – like Citizen’s Income, for example – but not a single one that I strongly disagree with. Individual anarchists are not going to change the world for the better, but the Green Party just might.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his Non-Fiction novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.