Monday, February 25, 2013

Frustration at Green Party Conference

I'd rather be among the trees...

I am writing on the train back from Green Party Conference in Nottingham, seething emotions of frustration and resentment gradually settling down as we approach Birmingham.

The motion on the Green Wage Subsidy got referred back for further consideration.

I was pretty much expecting this, and referral back is better than an outright defeat because it can come back to the next conference, but it was frustrating. Again, as with the "Dealing with Dictators" motion, it was the form of the debate which annoyed me. I will not go in to details on that here, beyond that it was an extremely brief "debate", a travesty, unbalanced and stuffed with misinformation and misrepresentation.

Some of the opposition points were simply wrong: assertions that people will deliberately choose to become unemployed from their regular work in order to take up GWS work; blanket assertions that it was "bureaucratic", when in fact the scheme can be explained in a couple of paragraphs; the assertion that it would be abused (the same can be said of all legislation); the assertion that the "private sector cannot be trusted"; that it would create " a free pool of labour".

One objection made in the  online discussion was that it was too long, and that the list exemplifying the green sector of the economy should be cut out. So some do not want actually to think about what is meant by the green sector, or by constructive work that increases the health of society or environment.

The proposer of the motion to refer back actually took the line " It's OK but needs amending; why not extend it to ALL sectors of the economy?" I pointed out that "all" included manufacturers of motor cars and arms. Even so, his view prevailed.

The objections misrepresent the simple plan set out in the motion. What will have to happen is that the motion will become longer and more detailed to meet all the objections. When it comes back, the reactionaries will then be able to say it is too long and too detailed, and refer it back again.

This game of Object-Obfuscate-Refer Back can be played out for years on the floor of Conference.

Rather than playing political games, it would be far more open, honest and "green" to have a fair debate. If there are people in the Green Party who prefer the present benefit system as is, who see no problem with high levels of unemployment, who prefer to keep people in a state of unemployment, and who do not perceive the need for an expansion of the green sector of the economy, then they should nail their colours to the mast, and fight their corner openly. Obfuscation and misrepresentation is not the Green way.
Policy formation in the Green Party is supposedly democratic. Our Conferences are the supreme policy creation body in the party, although the leadership can and does pick and choose which, of the thousands of policies that Conference has created over the years, they will present at any election.
If Conference is to be the supreme policy making body, it has to be efficient and fair. One problem with this Conference was that not enough time was allocated to policy motions. Another problem is that some chairs let debate run on too long. As a rule, two speeches for and two against is a reasonable target; sometimes, the longer debate continues, the more confused people become. The chair can use straw polls to find if conference is ready to vote, and also to find the balance of opinion. Sometimes debate goes on for ages, only to find that the vote is overwhelming in one direction. A small passionate caucus can hold things up enormously.
All this is a re-run of the Dealing with Dictators fiasco of 2010. As a result of that matter, the chairs are better instructed, and are much more careful to be sure that they take "for" and "against" speakers.
This present set-to has caused me to reflect on my way of working. I am an inventor, and inventors tend to work alone. I do try to discuss my ideas, but often they do not get any reaction until they come to Conference. I try to be brief and clear in my explanations, but maybe I do not succeed at that. Or maybe I'm too brief. I think that when I try to be emphatic, it comes across as aggressive. I just do not know, all I know is that I am failing.

Overall I simply cannot understand why greens cannot see that full employment through a work programme that heals society and environment and paves the way for full Citizens' Income is something to be welcomed, picked up and if necessary, improved. Have we been cut off from mainstream politics for so long that we just care about reiterating our core beliefs like a mantra rather than thinking of innovative practical ways to actually get them rolled out? Are we, at 40, getting a bit set in our old ways of thinking, are we getting stiff and fat, sinking into our slippers by the fireside of our old ways?

I've been in the Green Party for some 33 years. I was one of the first National Co-Speakers, was one of the first two elected District Councillors, my chairing at Conference seems to be appreciated. The contribution that I offer now is innovative, fresh, lateral thinking policies. But these consistently attract rejection from within some within the central regions of the party, and I do not understand the reason.

The temptation is to walk away. Yet I think the Green Party has a role to play, even in this benighted country with its democratic deficit, and even given the nerdy, introverted and dysfunctional aspect of the Green Party itself.

One of the Green Party's roles is to bathe naked in the river of political thought, leaving our clothes on the bank to be stolen by other parties. The better our policies, the better become the policies of the other parties.

It is still important for us to develop policy - and also to present it to the world. One idea is to try to pilot the GWS in real time, in an unemployment hot spot somewhere, where we have a critical number of activists interested in doing this. This would require a major effort, but it could be done, especially if we slip back into a third phase of recession, or if we begin to get food or poverty riots.

So I will try to hang on and work within the Green Party. But what I have learned from this is that I cannot act alone. If we are to get Green Wage Subsidy onto our Policies for a Sustainable Society, (the link is broken at the time of writing, let me know if it persists. Our website is flaky. *sigh*) we have to form a group of committed people, to counterbalance the forces of reaction.

We have got to get organised.

So if there is any Green Party member reading this post who wants to join in the process to provide the Green Party, and therefore the world, with a means to kill the two headed dragon of unemployment and ecological degeneration, please get in touch with me. We need a core of eight activists at minimum. That should be enough to overcome the frustration inherent in trying to introduce new ideas in the teeth of resistance from the Handbrake Tendency.  

Further reading on the GWS 

[this post has been amended]


Dilys said...

I hope you get offers of help, Richard, because thinking outside the box is really needed. But also you need to have a group to discuss the ideas honestly and see if there are any flaws, because it's often difficult to see the flaws in one's own idea! I agree with you rather about the chairing.
Sorry I haven't time to help you myself, but I always like seeing you and hearing you at Conference.

Anthony Smith said...

Richard - sorry we didn't meet in person at Conference. I proposed the motion to refer back. I had been expecting that I would be called to speak after some debate, but the chair took the decision to call me earlier.

I like the ideas of (1) letting people keep their unemployment benefits, and (2) subsidising the green economy. My sense is that trying to combine the two is both unnecessary and overly complicated. Why not (1) let everyone keep their unemployment benefit (and, say, lower the tax free income level by £71 / 20% to balance things out), and (2) provide direct government subsidies for creating new jobs in the green economy? That would seem straightforward and uncontroversial and would achieve exactly the same aims.

The motion stated that the subsidy would be given if the job is "of net benefit to society and/or environment". Arms manufacturers would claim that (1) they are creating jobs, and that is a benefit to society, and (2) they are creating precision weapons to be used by responsible governments to maintain world peace, which is also a benefit to society. The wording would need to be revised (e.g., change "and/or" to "and"!) but, as you say, it would need a lot more detail to guarantee that the tribunals cannot twist the rules to fund un-green jobs. But, again, why not cut the complexity as I suggest above?

DocRichard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DocRichard said...

[my previous comment removed because of typos]


OK, at least we both agree that the chair was wrong to truncate debate.

You say why not let everyone keep their benefit? Well, indeed, why not? That is Citizen's Income is it not? Which we support, and has been a thing for 1795, and has not got anywhere in those 200+ years precisely because of the belief that it would just enable people to laze about - a "Shirkers' Charter".

Whether or not this is perception is right or wrong, is a perception that keeps us stuck in the present position, with an absurd, dysfunctional and disempowering welfare system instead of a Citizen's Income.

We can have nice ideas like CI, but to get them into reality, we have to try practical approaches.

By lowering the tax free income level, you are asking the poor to pay, are you not? I will leave it to other commenters to say if they think this is a good idea or not, because I want to widen this debate out, and not be the only one fighting this battle.

You suggest direct subsidies. But that is exactly what GWS does. It provides direct Govt subsidies to new jobs in the green economy. But instead of having to find new money, they would be using the money that is already being paid out as a dead, soul-destroying dole.

I cannot see any way of explaining this more simply.

Initially, the cost of GWS is negligible - a few millions for the tribunals. As time goes on, it becomes more significant as we make the transition to CI - but that is already Green Party policy.

As for your argument that arms manufacturers would claim to be green - again, I will leave it to others here to evaluate that as an objection.

There are some 10 stock objections not to do something. First is "It hasn't been done before". Second, "It has been done before". Third "It will get vandalised"

I think you have done a Number 3 here.

Government functions by setting rules for how things get done. Individuals and corporations immediately try to work their way round the rules. It is up to Government to write good legislation, to monitor it, and improve it in the light of experience. This is all standard everyday political stuff.

I am sorry Anthony, but your objections are totally without merit, and you are part of an effort that has set back by six months the time that the Green Party can get stuck in to a campaign to attack the scourge of unemployment while at the same time greening the economy of the UK in a very significant way.

This isn't a little word game we are playing. Society and environment (not to mention the economy) need work to be done, real constructive, satisfying work. The Green Party needs to be engaged in real economics. This GWS is a opportunity to realise these objectives, and it has been set back by six months.

I am sorry for sounding angry. I feel I have a reason - not just with you, but with the chair, and all who do not bother to read and understand what they are voting on before they vote.

Please do some background reading here:

Anthony Smith said...


Thanks for that. I've read the page you linked to.

I'm not saying the chair was necessarily wrong to truncate debate. He was trying to get through as many items as possible, which is a laudable aim, taking the workshop reports as a guide.

It still comes across as a very complicated proposal. The GWS "provides direct Govt subsidies to new jobs in the green economy". I simply don't understand why you don't just propose that - "the Green Party proposes that the government should directly subsidise the creation of new jobs in the green economy". Who would object to that?

Then keep the gradual introduction of the CI as a separate issue.

I still don't see any conceivable advantage in trying to combine the two aims.

Regarding my suggestion, I should have put £3702 / 20%, assuming a job-seekers allowance of £71 per week. But, of course, that is greater than the tax-free allowance! So, to balance, it would probably mean removing the tax-free allowance, and lowering the higher-rate threshold. But it's clear that the poorest would be hurt least by such a change, since they are hurt most by the current removal of benefits as soon as paid employment begins.

DocRichard said...


OK let me break it down.

1 Unemployment makes people ill
2 unemployment makes people poor
3 unemployment makes neighbourhoods rot
4 therefore unemployment is not good

5 with me so far?

6 there is a lot of good work out there waiting to be done


8 Therefore by removing the condition in 7 with respect to green work, problems 1,2,3, and 4 are addressed.

9 in doing 8 we move towards the aims of achieving Green Party aims of healing society and environment, and also of bringing about CI. And without increasing taxes on anyone, especially those on lower incomes.

10 it is not that difficult

Anthony Smith said...


Thanks, I'm with you. It makes sense.

My alternative suggestion is to pursue the two goals separately (stimulating the green sector and introducing the CI).

It seems that the main disadvantage of your approach is that it is very difficult to cost. Probably impossible, in fact. It's an open-ended commitment from the government to subsidise any and all new green jobs. The government would have no direct control over the total size of the subsidy under your system. My approach would allow you to set a budget for the green subsidy, while reforming the tax and benefits system separately. This seems simpler, and much more likely to win support within the party (and outside).

Apart from the fact that my approach can be costed and yours cannot, I think the two approaches are basically identical. Would you agree?

DocRichard said...

Hi Anthony

It is good that we are converging. However, to keep it simple(!), I would suggest that you draft an alternative motion that can be put up in competition with the GWS.

As to costs, the front end is reasonably simple: 346 LAs in England and Wales.
Tribunal: 3 officers at £30k pa each, total £90K pa, add office costs (can be lodged in council buildings) say £100K per tribunal, so total is £34.6million pa. I make that 0.00511% of total Govt spending if I read my calculator right.

Note we have created about 30,000 admin jobs already - not bad.

You're right, it is difficult to quantify the gains in terms of costs foregone - depression, heart attacks, domestic violence, robbery, and so on. But I calculated the health costs of unemployment at £17 million in 1996, so we can call them £20 million now.

So we only have 14.6 millon to go until we break even on the tribunals.

So add National Insurance contributions, paid by the employer. Say £80 per week times 50 weeks a year times a million = £4 billion. We're in the black!

Then there is the extra tax take from the SME's. I can't be bothered to go look for them, but I would think they'd be IRO the NIC take, but let's be conservative, say 1 billion.

We're way ahead.
Now add in monies saved in police, court, prison probation and social service costs foregone.

Another billion?

Then there's the effect of general morale lifting as litter disappears, gardens planted. That must be worth 0.001% on GDP. Another £6 billion. Say five, to be conservative.

Oh and there's money saved in Job Centres chivvying and chasing claimants, putting them through training for jobs that don't exist. But we can let that pass.

Obvs there is more detailed work to to be done here, but at this stage I make it we're about £12 billion ahead as a result of GWS.

Of course, if the economy picks up, the claimant bill will remain high instead of falling as peple go back into conventional work. But in fact the JSA is a fairly trivial part of Govt spending, so we can argue that one out with the Tories when (if?) we get to escape from recession.

Yes, I know. This is cheap and cheerful bucket accounting. It only took me half an hour. If you want to find an accountant, feel free.

Anthony Smith said...

Richard - a truly compelling case for investment in green jobs!

However, I think you are missing the point of my question. Under your approach, how much money would the government end up investing directly in new green jobs?

Under my approach, the government could decide how much it wanted to invest in new green jobs, and set about investing that amount. Under your approach, surely the government has less control? Is that a good thing?

I'm tempted to wade through current policy to see if there is anything about subsidising new green jobs, or about gradually introducing the CI through reform of the benefits system, but the policy page is giving an infinite loop warning (perhaps a coded warning for people engaged in discussions on blogs?!) so I can't check just at the moment.

DocRichard said...

Under GWS, the investment is in the support for the labour, transforming dole into stimulus.

It does not prevent any other support or investment being made.

Many people - indeed, the vast majority of humanity - think that Government control of the minutiae of the economy is not a good thing. Command economies were tried in the 20th century. They had some advantages - like high/full employment and more income equality, but they were frankly crap in terms of environmental pollution and individual liberty.

Alison M. said...

The Citizens Income could be introduced quite quickly by not bothering to explain it to the electorate.

Benefits and tax allowances would be combined into a single benefit. The maximum amount of benefit would be reduced by x percent of income. Income would be taxed by y percent up to the break-even level of income at which the benefit has been reduced to zero. Income above that would be taxed at z percent.

If x plus y was equal to z, everyone would effectively be taxed z percent on all their income, while keeping the maximum level of benefit.

This could be run much more efficiently than the current mess, as a flat z percent tax with a citizens income, without bothering to explain this to the general public or the media.

For more details, see

DocRichard said...

Hello Alison, it's been a long time. I want to keep this thread on the GWS track. Would you like to write a proper blog post, to lead discussion on your suggestion? Or if you prefer, I can cut and paste your comment onto a new blog post.

Anthony Smith said...

Richard - I'm interpreting your last comment as a "Yes" to my question, "Under your approach, surely the government has less control?" and also a "Yes" to my question, "Is that a good thing?"

I agree with you about government control over the minutiae of the economy. But here are we not talking about government control over its own expenditure? You think it is a good thing that the government cannot control how much it spends? That seems absurd.

I'll probably bow out of this discussion. I've been trying to understand the merits of the GWS, and it seems identical to direct government subsidies in the green sector, with the only difference being that under GWS the government cannot directly control the size of the subsidy. To me that seems to be a disadvantage, but to you that seems (perplexingly) to be an advantage.

My tentative conclusion is that you have invested so much emotional energy into the GWS that you cannot consider that it might not be the best approach. I'm definitely open to revising this conclusion in the future, but I think I'll devote my time to other things for the moment.

Thanks for trying to convince me though!

Alison M. said...

Yes thankyou I would like to write a "proper blog post". How do I do that? I would like to expand my comment a bit to make it clearer. If you need to contact me by email, my ammpol address on the policy list is still semi-functional. Is yours?

DocRichard said...

Just email me in plain text, and I'll pit it up. I'm rlawson (at)

DocRichard said...

Again let me do it line by line.
1 Govt hands out benefit, grudgingly, to unemployed people in order to stop them starving.
2 Govt has no control over the number of unemployed, as this is a function, to a great extent, of how private sector is doing.
3 Benefits are given on condition that the recipient does no work - apart from a small Earnings Disregard.
4 GWS removes that condition in respect of work that is of benefit to society and environment..
5 This transforms the same amount of Govt expenditure from being a stultifying, demeaning insulting dole into a stimulus to the green economy.
5 some, but clearly not all, people might find this an advantage.

DocRichard said...

Anthony says "My tentative conclusion is that you have invested so much emotional energy into the GWS that you cannot consider that it might not be the best approach"

Insofar as I have invested emotional energy in GWS, it is because I know that unemployment and the consequent poverty, insecurity and misery is bad for the health of individuals and of society. I also know that there are millions of jobs crying out to be done, good constructive jobs, with high satisfaction, jobs that will help to bring about a green sustainable future.

Emotional? I am reminded of the sign in a French zoo:
"Cette animal est mechant. Si on l'attaque, il se defend"

weggis said...

I have never understood the phrase “job creation” other than in the context of Flanders and Swann “making work for the workman to do”.

A job either needs doing or it doesn’t.
There is either someone willing to pay for it to be done, or there isn’t.

There is a massive amount of (Green) work that needs doing….
…. And nobody, including Gov’mint, willing to pay for it.

Some of it gets done by volunteers for free. Charities run on a shoestring.

GWS makes perfect sense to me.

It is in effect the Public sector doing its job to link the Business sector with the Voluntary sector.

I’m afraid that what you are up against here is the Trade Union, left wing, element within the GP who probably see this as something that will dilute the availability of "proper" (higher paid) jobs funded by the taxpayer. The fact is that Trade Unions have a vested interest and are just as environmentally damaging as some big business. TUs are the proverbial blinkered workhorse and in the context of the GP a Trojan Horse.

Unfortunately I am no longer in a position to help you.

PS what is a Tax Credit if not a subsidy to low pay employers?
What is Housing Benefit if not a subsidy to Landlords?
And can Gov’mint control/predict these subsidies?

DocRichard said...

Weggis, you are a star. I love you. I thought I was going mad, being the only person who could see the logic of GWS, but now I know that there are two mad people in the world who want to put an end to the twin scourges of unemployment and ecological (which includes social) degredation.


Anonymous No. 6 said...

make that three people.

as sensible as ever Doc

go independent, it's the way forward!

DocRichard said...

Ah, Anon6, my mysterious cloaked friend. I find it odd that GWS gets more ready support from outside the Green Party than inside it. I suspect that many Greens think that work is a four letter word. They work had all the time to further e Green cause, but they resist the idea ... I simply do not understand why.

This setback has made me far more determined to push GWS forward. Before it was just a thing. Now it is a Thing.

DocRichard said...

should have been "they work hard all the time".