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Green Party: We Need To Fight NeoLiberalism

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Joel Lewin

PoliticsEuropean Elections 2014

With a few days to go before the European elections, xenophobic populists are grabbing all the headlines. Apparently they are cleaning up the "protest vote". But the Green Party offer reasonable, real and radical alternatives to the old school of European politics. Cafébabel spoke to Rupert Read, a philosopher at the University of East Anglia and Green Party candidate for the East of England.

Cafébabel: In  other Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, say Ger­many and France, the green par­ties are re­ally strong; they have a much larger pres­ence than in the UK. The Eu­ro­pean Greens are the fourth largest Eu­ro­pean al­liance. Do you think that see­ing the Greens so strong in Eu­rope as a whole will start to make peo­ple in the UK take the UK Green Party more se­ri­ously and see the Green Party as a real po­lit­i­cal force?

Ru­pert Read: It’s a good ques­tion and the an­swer is yes. I’ve found that dur­ing this cam­paign, when peo­ple come to un­der­stand that our group in the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment is larger than the group which con­tains the Con­ser­v­a­tive Party they re­alise that we are re­ally se­ri­ous play­ers in Eu­rope and in these elec­tions. And also it’s help­ful when you put that to­gether with pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion as a sys­tem, which we don’t have in our gen­eral elec­tions, but which we do have in the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions. I think this is why the opin­ion polls show us mov­ing into fourth place ahead of the Lib Dems with the po­ten­tial for sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing our num­ber of seats at the elec­tion.

CB: What you think of the lead­er­ship of Ska Keller and José Bové?

RR: It’s added some­thing to the cam­paign. I think it’s dif­fi­cult be­cause we still don’t have a real Eu­ro­pean pub­lic. We’re try­ing to cre­ate one. But I think it’s im­por­tant we don’t drift too far to­wards fed­er­al­ism. In Britain the Greens are strongly be­hind the agenda of lo­cal­i­sa­tion and de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion and sub­sidiar­ity.

CB: In an in­ter­view Na­talie Ben­nett said the other par­ties in the UK are try­ing to out-UKIP UKIP. What kind of im­pact on the wider de­bate about im­mi­gra­tion have UKIP had?

RR: It has had a very neg­a­tive ef­fect. I was on tele­vi­sion yes­ter­day de­bat­ing with Nigel Farage’s spin doc­tor, Patrick O’Flynn. I put it to him that when Farage says peo­ple have a right to be con­cerned when Ro­ma­ni­ans move in next door, things have reached a very dan­ger­ous point in this coun­try. Imag­ine if Farage said peo­ple have a right to be con­cerned if Irish peo­ple move in next door, or if blacks move in next door or if Jews move in next door. UKIP is a xeno­pho­bic party. It often bor­ders on racism. So we have to con­front them very di­rectly.

CB: I’ve read some of your ar­ti­cles on growth fetishism and a post growth econ­omy. Could you briefly out­line what you mean by a post growth econ­omy?

RR: It’s sim­ple re­ally; a post growth econ­omy is an econ­omy in which there is not growth any more. A post-growth so­ci­ety is one in which peo­ple say, “Ac­tu­ally why do we need to keep pur­su­ing growth? What is growth for? What do we ac­tu­ally need?” And what we ac­tu­ally need is good qual­ity of life, se­cu­rity, all of our basic needs ful­filled, fair­ness, a more equal so­ci­ety.

CB: Do you think that using GDP growth as the pri­mary mea­sure of suc­cess and of wealth al­lows gov­ern­ments to ig­nore in­equal­ity and re­dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth?

RR: Yes that’s pre­cisely what I think. And I think that’s why it’s an es­pe­cially bad idea for any party that con­sid­ers them­selves to be on the left to pur­sue a growthist agenda and of course it’s an es­sen­tial flaw in so­cial­ism and so­cial democ­racy over the last gen­er­a­tion or so. We should pur­sue other mea­sures aside from GDP to re­flect what so­ci­ety re­ally needs.

CB: In one of your ar­ti­cles you make the dis­tinc­tion be­tween stan­dard of liv­ing and qual­ity of life. Can you ex­plain what the dis­tinc­tion is and why it’s im­por­tant?

RR: Stan­dard of liv­ing ba­si­cally means phys­i­cal things that can be mea­sured. How many cars do you have? How much dis­pos­able in­come do you have? Whereas qual­ity-of-life is ac­tu­ally about peo­ple’s lev­els of hap­pi­ness, men­tal and phys­i­cal health, things like that. The ques­tion is, which is more im­por­tant? At the mo­ment we pri­mar­ily mea­sure stan­dard of liv­ing. My sug­ges­tion is we ought to seek to mea­sure qual­ity-of-life. What ac­tu­ally mat­ters is not how much money one has or how many cars one has. What mat­ters is whether one is well, whether one is se­cure, happy, peace­ful and at ease. These should be the ob­jec­tives of politi­cians.

CB: Do you think that ne­olib­er­al­ism as an ide­ol­ogy is en­trenched in the global econ­omy and per­pet­u­ated by in­sti­tu­tions like the IMF, the World Bank and the Eu­ro­pean Cen­tral bank? Do you think it’s a hege­mony that can be over­come?

RR: Yes al­though it’s going to be very dif­fi­cult. It’s going to take a big move­ment. The hege­mony of ne­olib­er­al­ism is very wide­spread. It’s there in the EU. It is en­trenched in the Lis­bon Treaty. I think as Greens we have to be ready to be rad­i­cal, and be ready to re­ally chal­lenge the foun­da­tional in­sti­tu­tions of our time in­clud­ing the EU it­self. We need to be chal­leng­ing growth and growthism. We need to take se­ri­ously that what peo­ple need is not more stuff, or a trickle-down econ­omy. We need to pur­sue a dif­fer­ent ide­ol­ogy to ne­olib­er­al­ism and that’s ecol­o­gism. We need to fight ne­olib­er­al­ism ex­plic­itly. We need to name it and fight it.

CB: What are the Green Party’s pol­icy pri­or­i­ties?

RR: We’ve been talk­ing a lot about a green en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion, and a green trans­port rev­o­lu­tion, tak­ing re­new­ables se­ri­ously and tak­ing re­duc­tion of en­ergy waste se­ri­ously, a mas­sive in­su­la­tion pro­gram rolled out by local au­thor­i­ties and by the state, which would pay for it­self be­cause you’d be re­duc­ing waste. A pub­lic trans­port rev­o­lu­tion; tak­ing the rail­ways back into pub­lic hands, tak­ing the buses back into pub­lic hands, safer streets, bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties for cy­cling, and all of this in­stead of the cur­rent focus at West­min­ster and in Brus­sels on in­ter­na­tional and na­tional mega pro­jects, by road, rail and air. So hav­ing a lo­cal­is­ing ef­fect as well as the ef­fect of re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions- those are the two things I’ve been fo­cus­ing on most.

CB: Why are the Greens op­posed to the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship?

RR: Be­cause the TTIP is a way of strip­ping out democ­racy and re­plac­ing it with cor­po­rate rule. It’s a race to the bot­tom in terms of in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. The TTIP is a major threat to democ­racy and all the stan­dards that we fought for for gen­er­a­tions and that’s why the Greens op­pose it.

CB: Do you think that the main par­ties, rather than try­ing to op­pose UKIP, have al­most as­sim­i­lated some of their rhetoric and ideas?

RR: Yes. UKIP is mov­ing the agenda to the right. UKIP is a hard-right, xeno­pho­bic, pop­ulist party. That’s why the Front Na­tional in France have reached out to them.

CB: Who’s your favourite Eu­ro­pean writer or philoso­pher?

RR: Wittgen­stein from Aus­tria, who is my main man re­ally.