Yesterday David presented a detailed argument that there is a new dimension to the political spectrum and the Greens sit alone at one end of it.
His is an argument that perennially does the rounds of the Green political movement and one that perennially worries me whenever it is annunciated publicly because, to me, it send the signal that the Greens do not see poverty and social justice as core issues upon which we are going to campaign.
So I’m going to jot down this quick response, which draws heavily on something similar I wrote about the same topic in 2006. I realise that David’s article is more nuanced than it’s opening line; ‘Neither Left nor Right but out in Front, but it is underpinned by the assumption that left-wing solutions either don’t work or are not Green. My response is that the Greens can be something else as well a left-wing, but we cannot be something else instead of left-wing. (For instance I would argue that the single biggest difference between the Greens and traditional left-wing parties is that we believe that ongoing unending economic growth is neither sustainable or desirable, so that places us on a different point on the political spectrum to all other political parties. But I would argue that the solutions to the problem of unsustainable economic growth will require left-wing interventions.)
Core government issues like education, health, social welfare, housing, and dare I say, the environment, are all, at their heart, economic issues. Governments make decisions about how much they are going to intervene (distort people’s and the market’s freedom) to bring about change. Nearly all environmentalists believe in intervening – which is inherently left-wing. Ask a right-winger whether they think Greens are left-wing or not – they’ll quickly confirm this for you! Contrary to Tony Blair’s utterances, there is no third way. Nearly every political economic issue falls somewhere on the left-right spectrum.
And, importantly, the left-right continuum is not outdated. It is crucial to addressing core issues around poverty, education, health and the environment. We cannot make changes to those things without redistributing wealth – which is inherently left-wing. If the Green Party does not want to be identifiably left wing it is abandons not only its ability deliver important basic rights to those in the most need (through tax, including carbon tax) but it is also, I would argue, eventually abandoning its commitment to the environment. The environmental problems we face will not be resolved without a significant redistribution of wealth nor without government intervention into the market. Let’s not pretend our solutions are somehow different from left-wing ones.
We should be happily at one end of that spectrum defending not just the environment, but those in poverty, those that are being denied basic essential rights like free health-care, locally accessible education and safe, healthy housing, and those that are suffering from right-wing malfeasance. No-one else in parliament speaks for these people and it would be an negligence to head off down some third path when they are still awaiting their left-wing solution. Certainly not all left wing thought is pro-centralisation, nor all green thought anti-centralisation.
Every major political issue has an economic component and all economic decisions sit on the left-right spectrum.
So, if I have to give up left wing to be out in front, then I’ll happily be left behind please.
(For another good discussion on the ‘neither left or right but out in front’ slogan check out this New Masses blog post.)