So you have taken the reins of the major opposition party in the United Kingdom. Before envisaging a powerful government following victory at a future election, it will be more important to form powerful opposition, essential for an effective, accountable party in power, just like a strong defence strengthens the sword of justice in a courtroom (provided the prosecution is equally strong). In a post-new labour world, will you revert to a pre-new labour entity, or unleash a new vision?
The party politics of Britain has traditionally fallen into three colours – green (environment-focused), red (society-focused) and blue (economy-focused). These map on to the three areas wherein meaningful sustainability must emerge. A centre ground, currently most closely represented, though only peripherally, in Britain by the Scottish party, the SNP, occupies the sacred ground on which a sustainable future for humans can be found:
Yet wealth generation comes at a cost, both to those actually generating the wealth (the workforce) and to the environment. Balancing wealth generation with happy working conditions and a workable concept of a functioning, supportive society has long been the heart and soul of the red movement, the Labour Party. Workers’ rights, equality and fairness are the most common cries of any socialist political event. Since the majority of a population are workers rather than mill owners (the classic food pyramid), there are plenty of voters to support such a view. Indeed the wonder is why labour don’t always win. This is because the balance between owner and worker is a dynamic equilibrium, poisoned by each side in some form of macabre economic pantomime, each side pushing the other for a bigger slice of the pie, while appealing to the audience (the voters) for support (Oh no they’re not truly supportive of the working man. Behind you…). Consequently, when the pie falls off the table and the audience doesn’t get its rubbish collected, employment is no longer guaranteed and the electricity supply is no longer maintained, blame sometimes is placed on the side of the workers’ party.
Finally, the green movement sets out an apparently different stall, claiming that the pie, the people and the whole house will collapse if we do not have a functioning planet in which to live. Wealth creation and social well-being can damage the ecological structure of the house. Furthermore, deeper happiness is more likely to come from Mother Nature than from money. But what about the wolf at the door, and that rainy day?
So we have three distinct colours, addressing the three significant arenas within which a sustainable planet must rest: sustainable economics, sustainable society and sustainable ecology. And Jeremy, it’s clear. You are red to the core, aren’t you?
Yet both the socialist (red) and economically obsessed (blue) sides find common ground in terms of a philosophy on two levels. Firstly they embrace Enlightenment thinking, and secondly they believe in simple stickle brick science, or reductionism. The Enlightenment, or Humanism in its broader brushstroke, sets out that humans can progress to almost limitless success through education, technology and freedom. Freedom from state interference, freedom from religion and freedom from nature. Humans can run the show. We sit at the top of Darwin and Haeckel’s trees of life, like some self-important, self-obsessed, over-sized and obese fairies.
Interestingly, the green movement signs up to the same doctrine. Conservationists believe that we can sort out nature by introducing species like the cane toad and the beaver, forgetting that a predator is essential for such an introduction not to spiral out of control. The greens are obsessed with carbon as the way to escape an ecological Armageddon. This is reductionist in the extreme for two reasons. Firstly, carbon is only one of four existential threats (the others being pollution, resource scarcity and technological dependence). Secondly, the solutions to the carbon crisis actually exacerbate the other problems (e.g. wind turbines generate terrible pollution in their use of rare earth metals, while green fuels use vast amounts of water and compete with agriculture and natural habitat for land – ask the orangutans if you don’t believe me, and ask them soon, before they go extinct thanks to green fuels).
To solve a multi-faceted, interactive problem, you cannot use stickle bricks. You need systematic thinking, embracing emergence and sub-optimality. None of the three colours can dominate the palate of an artist attempting to paint a sustainable future. Each arena must prepare to operate at a less than optimal rate for the greater solution to work.
And so, Jeremy, the future of the Labour Party, if it is to address the significant issues of the day, must turn:
to pleuralism, where there are context-driven solutions, not colonial globalization;
to bioparticipation, where we solve the problems at the system level, not biomimicry, which grabs bite-size chunks of nature and then emasculates them within the human borg;
to evolution, transitioning naturally, not revolution;
and to localism, not centralization.
For the solution space relies on you recognizing that you are on a multi-armed seesaw, not in a weight-lifting competition. It is not about survival of the fittest (another Humanist dogma), but survival of the fitting.
For this is the way of the rest of the planet, each ecosystem solving its problems relevant to the latitude and longitude in which it exists, uniquely responding to the topographic, edaphic and climatic conditions present. Only by singing from this hymn sheet can we hope to find a way forward. Red, blue and green together make white in additive colour mixing. But a shade of light pink would allow you to paint the picture with your own distinctive flavour. Indeed all political parties must start with white, and find their own pastel shade, flavoured with their political ideology.
The rights of the environment, equality for all of life and a celebration of the sovereignty of all that share this planet are Labour values applied to the entire biosphere. Rid yourself of the Christmas tree fairy complex that is Humanism, and instead embrace buen vivir, where if you set your house in order (ecology), the occupants (socialism) and their activities (economics) will emerge from the system in a pure, harmonious celebration and where the party can go on for much longer. And we all love a party, Jeremy, especially when it involves life and death. Political dogma is well and good, but if it messes with the survival of the house, then it's as useful as a red rag in a field of bulls. So let's get it right, for the sake of all of us. As the last paragraph of my book, Escape from Bubbleworld: Seven Curves to Save the Earth (2011, Ard Macha Press) states: “The answers are there already, waiting for us. For the light is not something we strive towards, but rather it flows through all and unifies all. In a sustainable planet, we are all the light. So let us reconnect and shine.”