The economic slump is bringing about a transformation in the way people live and how they think about themselves and the future. They are soberly looking for new ideas and ways forward that address their very real anger and fears. But at the same time, there is enormous ideological pressure to keep them tied to the status quo, as I heard yesterday.
At a conference in Cardiff exploring green economic futures for Wales, the journalist and green campaigner Colin Hines peddled the illusion that “Mandelson and Brown are listening”. Having no answers themselves to the crisis, he claimed that ministers are ready to grab at proposals in “A Green New Deal”, which he published last year through the New Economics Foundation.
It is “the answer to their prayers”, Hines claimed. It would solve unemployment by training thousands of people to bring every home up to energy efficiency standards, along with other green measures. The reality is somewhat different, however. The real face of this government was shown last night in the vote in the House of Commons, where New Labour used every underhand pressure to force through support for Heathrow expansion.
Hines and his supporters are selling pie in the sky. The only jobs Brown is interested in are those that can provide short-term gain for the corporations in crisis. In fact, the corporations welcome unemployment at this moment. Some 80,000 jobs a day are being lost across the globe and employers are using fear to force down wages and conditions of the workers that remain.
The only green measures Brown will implement are greenwash measures. For example, the shortlisted proposals for tidal power at the mouth of the Severn announced on Tuesday include at number one, an expensive and ecologically catastrophic 10-mile barrage. It would cost £14bn to build, but would produce 8GW of power. At the same time the government has withdrawn subsidy to small-scale alternative energy projects, pending a new scheme which may, or may not, be implemented in 2010 – when the world will be a very different place.
The conference, sponsored by Science Shop Wales, noted the massive contradiction in green policies adopted by the Welsh Assembly. Alongside a commitment to reducing emissions is a continued commitment to growth at all costs, desperately trying to capture foreign direct investment to create jobs. As one of the speakers said, “how 20th century”. Those days are long gone. As the Tata global corporation sheds 1,200 Corus Steel jobs in Wales, the Assembly is desperately trying to convince Welsh people that it can keep the show on the road. It cannot.
At a Transition Town meeting in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, the previous evening, A World to Win was able to put forward another viewpoint - that the economic slump means that all measures to reduce emissions and protect eco-systems will be abandoned, unless they can be proved to deliver some short-term profits.
What is needed is a radical transformation of ownership – both of land and resources - and democratic control over the corporations and public services. Only an end to policies that put profit ahead of people – whether in climate change, health, transport or production – can save society from a terrible descent into chaos.
But, face it folks, this is not going to be brought about by the current system of unrepresentative, unresponsive, parliamentary democracy. So it was great to have a chance to launch the People’s Charter in Wales – where the original Chartist movement was such a power in the land and where the most radical solutions were considered by the men and women who carried out the Newport Uprising.