By Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party, Brighton Pavilion)
In the New Statesman in 1939, John Maynard Keynes wrote of the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain:
“If he could see even a little, if he became even faintly cognisant of the turmoil of ideas and projects and schemes to save the country which are tormenting the rest of us, his superbly brazen self-confidence would be fatally impaired.”
In a multimedia age, it is hard to conceive David Cameron could be unaware of the proposals now under discussion around the nation which could create thousands of new jobs and revive a failing economy while also setting the nation on a path to a low-carbon future. He must be choosing to ignore them.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the detail of last week’s reshuffle. The deckchairs have been shifted to the Right, and to positions that will be even less helpful to a nation in desperate need of a real plan. Talk of reviving the third runway at Heathrow and plans to ride roughshod over planning laws in the belief yet more roads will somehow revive the economy scream of the politics of desperation that takes us nowhere. We can and must do.
Looking for examples from the past where the nation had come together to meet great challenges, I commissioned the first New Home Front report to explore what lessons we could take from history. There were many. In wartime, government engaged the brightest and the best minds, and the most practical of people in meeting the pressing challenges that faced the nation.
Inspired by this, I asked a range of leading thinkers and practitioners for their suggestions of what could be done to meet current challenges. Their proposals, which I have now published in a second report (pdf), illustrate the myriad of progressive ideas within the nation today.
Away from the prime minister’s country suppers, some of our finest minds have been, and are being, applied. Business historian Nick Robins makes the case for a new ‘green golden age’ that would mobilise the financial sector to meet the challenges for the future through an overhaul to reward long-termism.
Each year, he argues, about £30 billion - around 2% of GDP - in tax relief is awarded for savings and pensions. But planning for the future plays no part in the allocation, and much is allocated to the assets of the past (such as fossil fuels). To usher in a ‘green golden age’ only investments that make a positive contribution to the green economy should be eligible. [Source: Robins N (2012) "Financing the Future" in Randers J (2012) "2052 - A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years", London; Chelsea Green, Hewett C (2012), "Saving for a Sustainable Future", London Green Alliance.]
Colin Hines, one of my colleagues in the Green New Deal group, outlines a multi-billion pound initiative to channel pensions into a plan to transform the UK’s housing stock that would cut carbon by making every building in the country energy-efficient, while maximising the UK’s use of small, medium, and large-scale renewables. Younger people would be the main beneficiaries through the hundreds of thousands of jobs and business opportunities created. The young people of Britain aren’t waiting for government, they are already taking action.
Danielle Paffard estimates that since she co-founded the Move Your Money campaign, 500,000 people have switched their current accounts to ethical alternatives such as Co-ops and mutuals.
We clearly need new forms of banking too. Lindsay Mackie outlines her vision for a Post Bank, a People’s Bank based on the Post Office network: an overlooked resource ready to be mobilised. It would use the trust in our Post Office and the financial and business skills of the staff and sub-postmasters to provide basic banking services where they are needed most.
The Post Office isn’t the only under-used resource at our disposal; the arts and environment collective PLATFORM describe how RBS could be transformed into a Royal Bank of Sustainability: a taxpayer owned bank investing in all our futures.
In “Economic Consequences for our Grandchildren”, Keynes imagined gains in productivity would be taken in more time, not more stuff. nef’s Anna Coote examines what that might look like today. Changing the way work is distributed would make wealth creators of us all, and the kind of wealth that sticks to local economies, not the Cayman Islands.
Ed Mayo, of Co-operatives UK, argues a National Business Rescue Service giving workers the right to take democratic control of the enterprises they are part of could provide a lifeline for the dynamic small businesses keeping our economy afloat.
Ellie Harrison of Bring Back British Rail argues the kind of thinking that replaced a fragmented and inefficient private railway system in 1948 with British Rail is needed today, while Sian Berry of the Campaign for Better Transport argues that far from building new roads, we need to re-think the way we use them. People-friendly roads would revitalise our local economies and communities, breathing life back into our streets.
There are plans for our food system too. Much of the food we produce is currently wasted. Estimates vary between 30 and 50 per cent globally. This is Rubbish’s Caitlin Shepherd argues for targets to reduce waste in the food system to minimal levels by 2020: the onus would be on industry, with householders and producers playing a part.
Schools could include workshops on preservation and excess fruits and vegetables could be transformed by local groups for consumption and sale. The Soil Association’s Molly Conisbee has a dynamic vision for food growing: an enthusiastic exhortation to say ‘yes in my back yard’ and a design for urban plenty.
There is much that could be done.
This collection is by no means exhaustive, it is not a comprehensive plan, but it is an illustration of just a few of the wide range of proposals that might be implemented if the courage of government matched the will and imagination of the people of Britain. The plans exist: we just need a prime minister who is able to listen.