This is it. After nearly ten years of austerity under Tory rule, three of bungled Brexit negotiations, and months of parliamentary brinkmanship – a general election is here.
The government is poised to drag us into the sucking tar pits of a Brexit culture war, posing the prime minster as a barnstorming man of the people, thwarted only by the treacherous machinations of a distant, uncaring parliament. Johnson needs every fantasy scrap of credibility he can get – to hastily cover up the fact he’s failed to deliver on his central platform of an October Brexit, and to distract from the socio-economic impacts of Tory rule disastrous enough to sink any government notionally accountable to the people it’s been selling out and starving out for a decade.
The European question has divided parliament, wrecked the Tory majority. Fervent Brexiteers and die-hard liberal Remainers share a singular fixation that the question of our regulatory alignment with the EU trade block is the most important political question we face right now. They are utterly, fatally wrong.
Vast swathes of the planet are quite literally on fire. The permafrost is melting earlier than predicted. The ecosystem which supports human life is buckling under an extractive economic system which has seen wealth accumulate in the hands of a tiny minority of people, whilst billions more face displacement, devastation, death. According to a recent IPCC report, we have just over a decade to overhaul our economy to prevent irreversible feedback loops of climate catastrophe kicking in, spelling at best a disaster for civilisation, and at worst the end of life on earth. Those are the stakes. That is the political question of our era; whether we can steer ourselves away from the cliff edge that carbon-intensive capitalism is happily hurtling us towards. No wonder 71% of Britons consider the climate crisis a more pressing issue than Brexit. They are absolutely right.
Chaos is not inevitable – far from it. We have the technological and economic solutions at our fingertips. The only thing missing is the political will to put them into practise. A recent study showed that we could buy 20 years of time to find more permanent climate solutions if global governments invested what they spend on military budgets in a single month (around $300 billion). Green New Deal plans springing up around the world outline pragmatic visions for a rapid, radical, worker-led transition to a green economy, combining a new industrial strategy and a global justice outlook with ambitiously expanded social welfare to tackle the power of big polluters bankrolled by a deregulated financial sector.
It won’t be easy. It requires a massive mobilisation of state power and people power to break the stranglehold of carbon capital over our lives. But thanks to the efforts of grassroots campaigners, the Labour Party is offering us a little hope; a Green New Deal with the potential to transform the economy of the world’s 5th largest polluter, whilst delivering climate justice for the countries we plundered to fund our industrial revolution.
It’s rare that a political party commits itself to such a necessary confrontation; that an ambitious, radical programme is poised to seize the levers of state power. We need to seize this opportunity.
It won’t be cheap. But as economist Ann Pettifor has noted, the Keynesian multiplier effect of state investment and higher incomes means it could pay for itself in the long run. It is certainly cheaper than what we’ll pay if we keep playing Titanic deckchair tectonics until our chances of a survivable future sink beneath the waves. Whatever the price, humanity is worth it. The working people on the frontlines of the crisis are worth it.
And here’s the secret: It could be beautiful. Overhauling the economy gives us the opportunity to tackle inequality and poverty, to divert investment into care work and socialised automation, to restore collective ownership of our land and resources. To have more economic rights, more social freedoms. To toil less, to play more.
Then we have the Conservative Party. The anointed guardian of fossil fuel and financial interests, the Tories have responded to civilisational crisis with a limp series of token policies on curtailing personal plastic use, whilst continuing to expand fracking and bankroll big polluters with taxpayer-funded subsidies. Their Brexit deal promises to tear up even more environmental regulations. Their manifesto is being drawn up by an actual fracking lobbyist. Their offer this election will be a grubby handful of reactionary policies, a superficial sop to the public services they’ve wrecked, and a stale, reheated culture war. In a time of planetary disaster, they have all the humanitarian concern of a pack of hyenas quarrelling over a carcass. All the clear-eyed and public-minded policy priorities of a sickly child emperor trying to reign in the warring nobles of his crumbling kingdom.
History is on our side, but time is not. We cannot afford delays. We cannot afford the doubts of third way technocrats unwilling to confront corporate power. We cannot afford to pander to the ranks of the rich who would rather squander our earth’s hopes than cough up for minor tax rises. We can’t trust that the arc of history will slowly, eventually bend towards progress. It’s time to pick a side. The fight to build a more beautiful life on a liveable planet, or mechanised serfdom through our civilisation’s final burning years. Socialism or Barbarism. Utopia or bust.
Eleanor Penny is a writer and a regular contributor to Novara Media.