Generally, I try to avoid agreeing with right-wing conspiracy theories, but after the tragi-comedy of the budget statement on Wednesday 15 March it’s hard to reach any conclusion other than the fact that both sides of the House of Westminster are hopelessly out of touch with us and our communities. For both parties, slogans and ideology have taken the place of the humble and diligent duty of serving the people rather than an undignified and futile scrabble for power. The ‘great stink’ of failure lay everywhere around the country. The failure of both parties to nurture social justice was evident in the unprecedented numbers of us taking industrial action on the very same day. The failure of both parties to nurture environmental justice was evident in the unprecedented number of our rivers and waterways dying from poorly regulated pollution and sewage management.
The TV presenter Gary Lineker recently found himself in the cultural crossfire for comparing where we are now to the 1930s. I’d like to echo him and deepen that comparison, by referring to the famous quote from the Italian political thinker of that period - Antonio Gramsci. From a Fascist prison cell, he wrote :
“La crisi consiste appunto nel fatto che il vecchio muore e il nuovo non può nascere: in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi piú svariati.”
‘The crisis consists in the fact that the old ideas are dying and the new ideas are not yet born and in this limbo, all variety of morbid symptoms appear’.
All around us, like the returning spring, the green shoots of a new politics of social and environmental justice are struggling to come to light, held back by the dead hand of nineteenth-century Tory private wealth and twentieth-century Labour state power.
So how do we vital Greens prise the dead fingers of this morbidity away? For me, one of the worst symptoms of this clinging to power for its own sake is the constant flying of false patriotic flags. The phrase, ‘the British people’ is a corrosive sweetener repeatedly abused by both mainstream parties. The phrase is designed to numb our critical faculties so that we nod through deeply harmful ideas. A Tory example is the Illegal Migration Act (with an emphasis on its actual illegality). A Labour example is the humiliating lack of original thinking on healthcare or childcare, issues that profoundly affect every home. Lift the fig leaf of the union jack draped over these policy areas and you find the opposite of authentic patriotism – active harm to the actual people of our country.
So on the one hand in our conversations with our friends, neighbours and members of our communities we can firmly and patiently remove this morbid veneer, like so much flaking paint over the authentic wood underneath. And in its place, we can plant the seeds of what I propose to call ‘Earth Patriotism’ or ‘Planetary Patriotism’. It begins with a love of ‘the local’, the patch of garden at your front door, and then flows through your local parks out over the mountains, lakes and coasts that make up your country and around every global border and corner to join you to all life on earth – what an energy and idea source to be plugged into. Surely what we love is not something we have to build walls around or drive others away from with hostile legislation – the home that we love is the home that we share.
We are about the politics of better homes and healthier environments for all. We Greens understand the bitterness that people feel when they work so hard yet their homes and local environments are so blighted by Labour and Tory neglect that they cannot feel any sense of pride. From Westminster, both Labour and Tories run a government of ‘hand-outs’ and false promises of ‘levelling up’. The answer to this political vacuum is not ‘Reform UK’ or right-wing demagoguery (which is always a cover-up for rich vested interests) but green ‘root and branch’ grassroots ‘taking back control’ with communities growing the power and resources to regenerate their homes and environments.
Let’s get real. What kind of patriotism is it that can accept the deaths of children from black mould toxicity in rented homes that are unfit for human consumption? What kind of patriotism is it that has no workable childcare policies to give our families a decent work-life balance? What sort of patriotism is it that six years into an inquiry investigating the 72 avoidable deaths in the Grenfell fire, still has produced no meaningful action to protect other homes? Is it patriotic for decades of Conservative and Labour administrations to have presided over the decimation of our natural home, our environment to the extent that only 53 per cent of British biodiversity is left, 40 per cent of species have declined since 1970 and a quarter of all mammals are at risk of extinction?
What kind of patriotism is it that led to 217,778 excess deaths during the COVID pandemic, the 20th highest figure in the world (according to data from The Economist)? Would you trust either Conservatives or Labour with your health in the very likely event of a further outbreak, given the continuation of mining and other extractive industries in wild areas of high pathogenic risk?
There is no contradiction between patriotism and internationalism. We admire and respect the values of social and environmental justice wherever they are applied to better the lives of humans, fellow species and our relatives, and the living environments across the planet. The establishment culture of false patriotism shows its true colours as narrow-minded ‘nationalism’ whenever it equates a love of your own country with distrust or fear of others.
The British ‘Home’ Secretary (there’s an interesting irony) recently claimed 100 million refugees are ‘coming here’, outrageous fear-mongering, without an iota of empathy. But, like every right-wing trope, underneath lies a real problem populism cannot solve. The United Nations estimates there are approximately 21 million climate refugees currently around the world, and that this number could increase to one billion by 2050. In this scale of loss of somewhere to call home, squabbling over ‘stop the boats’ looks as politically insightful as Canute ordering the waves to stop. Surely this is where we urgently need Green Earth Patriotism which understands that meaningful investment in safe homes in healthy environments planet-wide is the only sustainable solution.
Green politics is not ‘wishful thinking’ or ‘pie in the sky’. It is about bringing communities together and empowering them to solve ‘quality of life’ issues as everyday and urgent as homes, health and the environment. As I have tried to argue here this politics is driven by a sense of love and hope, an organic patriotism for ‘place’, both on our local doorsteps and across this planet we call home.