Tuesday, 20 January 2015
Should the Greens Support a Labour Austerity Budget?
I argued on this blog recently that the Green party should avoid any coalitions with other parties, should we win enough seats at the general election to be invited into one. I said that the most we should consider is a Confidence and Supply (C&S) arrangement with the more ‘progressive’ parties.
This means that the Greens would vote with a minority government on votes of confidence and for their budget proposals. All other issues would be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Thinking this through though, I’m going to lay out here the pros and cons for the Greens in taking a C&S approach.
Firstly, the pros. Should the numbers fall right after the general election, and Labour are the largest party, but short of an overall majority and we win a handful of seats, together perhaps with the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, we might judge that by getting some concessions from a minority Labour government, we can further our cause in some way. For example, scrapping the white elephant that is the Trident nuclear weapons system, which has been mooted recently.
A bonus to this might be that we remove the odious Tories from government, and get a Labour government instead. Although Labour will continue the austerity measures of the present government, they would cut a little less and at a slower rate. This might not be what we really want, but if it saves some public services from the axe, who are we to sentence the public to five more years of savage Tory cuts, taking us back to 1930s levels of public spending?
Of course, by scrapping Trident we would save billions of pounds which could be used to reduce other spending cuts further, as well as achieving a notable victory over nuclear proliferation.
Maybe this is the best we can hope for and the pressure would be on our MPs to do the best they can in minimising cuts and achieving something valuable?
On the other hand, I think this would be an extremely risky strategy for the Green party to take. The main focus of our election campaign will be as an ‘anti-austerity’ party, where we challenge the perceived wisdom of ‘there is no alternative’ narrative, and instead advocate more taxes on those who can easily afford them and a less obsessive attitude to clearing the national debt by spending cuts over the next few years.
Of course we will be putting forward a whole raft of policies which would in effect be a root and branch rearrangement of our whole economy and how we live generally. But the anti-austerity banner will be at the forefront, to distinguish us from the other parties, and it is bound to be what the media will focus on, because it makes for a good story.
The big risk is, to promise to be anti-austerity, win some representation and then vote for a cuts budget, even a bit less of the cuts. This could be another ‘Lib Dem moment’, a party who campaigned against university tuition fees, went into coalition government with the Tories, and promptly increased university tuition fees. Look what has happened to the Lib Dems? They are pretty much finished as a significant political party now.
The public are, quite rightly, sick of politicians who promise to do things, and then do the exact opposite, once they have bagged the people’s votes.
It is highly unlikely that Labour would offer to scrap Trident or to alter their budget plans in any major kind of way. This is all hypothetical in any case, as the numbers may not fall in the right way or we might win only a couple of seats and others, notably the SNP do well enough to form a pact with Labour alone.
Best to be clear I think, and say now that we will not vote for an austerity budget under any circumstances. We can position ourselves well for the 2020 election, or even sooner election given the chances of a clear winner emerging in May is pretty small. There has been a motion submitted to the party’s spring conference, D5, (and an amendment to it), which covers this issue, so it should be debated by party members in March.
I think we need to be very careful here, as this will be a vital call for the Green party. The only way we will get real change, is if we stick to our principles, and not get involved in some sordid horse trading. We are against the austerity programme, why on earth would we endorse it?