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Article 50 makes every crisis we already face a lot more acute

Caroline Lucas - Credit: Archant

There is much work to be done battling regressive forces. But we mustn’t stop exploring bold new ideas to transform society

This weekend Green Party politicians and members from around the world are gathering in Liverpool for the Global Greens Congress. Delegates from as far away as Australia, Uganda and Japan will come together to discuss the challenges we’re facing – and to think collectively about solutions.

One of the greatest threats that we’re seeing across the world is the rise of vicious right-wing populism. From Trump in the US to Le Pen across the Channel and New Zealand First on the other side of the globe – fear threatens to capture our politics.

The truth is that people like Trump and Farage are right about one thing: corporate globalisation has hit the buffers. Once secure jobs have been replaced by precarious work. A global race to the bottom on wages and rights, combined with an international financial crisis, has seen salaries all but stagnate across the global north for decades.

Of course the problems created by our globalised economy are complex – and we should be honest about the fact that impacts have been asymmetrical, with some positives as well as the negatives. But what’s unquestionable is the fact that people have had enough and are demanding change.

When you are angry, when you’ve been lied to, neglected or taken for granted, simple answers have enormous appeal. That’s how a story that casts migrants in the role of villain can take root. One in which experts are derided and the truth no longer matters. And that’s how we ended up in a situation where people’s anger is being directed at others in their communities – rather than those at the top who have caused the problems we face.

Greens are at the front line of the fight against the far right. From standing up for refugees in Germany, to combating Geert Wilders’ anti-Muslim bigotry in the Netherlands, to defending free movement here in Britain – we do not shy away from making the case for an open society, indeed we see it as part of national identities. We are proud to be citizens of the world, of our own countries and of our local communities – and we don’t see these identities as in competition with each other.

But we also know that an open society must be matched with a fair economy. That’s why, in our speech at the conference, Jonathan Bartley and I are outlining a number of ways in which we’d rebalance the British economy in favour of the majority. We would reverse cuts to corporation tax and the Labour-supported tax giveaway to higher earners. And we’ll bring forward plans to overhaul inheritance tax so that it depends on the wealth of the recipient rather than that of the donor. We need an honest conversation about tax – and that means being open about the fact that those with the most need to pay more.

While far-right populism is mainstreaming in our politics, environmentalism is being truly sidelined. Despite a step forward at the Paris Conference in 2015, we’re now facing a backlash against climate policy – especially in richer countries.

In the US, Donald Trump has scrapped the Clean Power Plan and in Britain, there’s the Government’s deep cuts to support for solar power and de facto ban on new onshore wind. After the hottest year on record last year, we should be witnessing the quickening of the shift to a low-carbon economy – but instead we’re seeing politicians hand in glove with the fossil fuel lobby.

And in the UK, our environmental protections face the additional threat of Brexit. Just this week it was reported that so-called ‘red tape’ is set to be slashed. Could that mean ditching the Habitats Directive and the safeguards it gives to rare species? Could it mean sewage washing up on our beaches again? Could it mean an end to tackling the dangerous air pollution that blights our towns and cities? At our conference this weekend we’ll be working with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament and Northern Irish assembly to build on the work we’ve already done – and put forward proposals for how we best protect our environment at this most volatile of times. In particular we are calling on the Government to implement an Environmental Protection Act to safeguard and extend crucial regulations as we prepare to leave the EU.

Though much of this weekend will be spent discussing battles against regressive forces, we’re also going to be looking to the future and exploring bold new ideas to transform our society for the better. For starters that means furthering discussions around a Basic Income. This proposal – which would see a non-means tested payment going to every citizen – is one whose time seems to have arrived. With welfare states creaking and an increasingly volatile labour market, we believe that it’s time to explore whether a Basic Income could set people free from the constant state of insecurity faced by so many.

Such an idea has been a core Green belief for decades – but with thinktanks like the RSA and Compass now exploring it, and books like Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists hitting the bestseller charts – the concept is now bursting into the mainstream.

Of course a basic income is just one strand of economic policy which needs exploring. We must also now look at others ways in which we can realise Keynes’ dream of reducing the amount of work people do. Not only have people’s hours at work remained stubbornly high, but increasingly people take their jobs home with them in their pockets too. Indeed if you look at the number of hours worked per family there’s been an increase since the middle of the last century – as women entered the workforce and everyone worked until later in life. Greens value work, but we also know that it isn’t the only important thing in life.

Finally, Greens have always analysed power structures as well as economic ones. That’s why we’re calling for more local democracy, a fair electoral system and, crucially, a citizen-led process to build a new British constitution.

A number of simple facts underline every conversation I’ll be having this weekend. The planet is burning. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider. People feel locked out of politics and migrants are being blamed for all the problems we face. With Article 50 being triggered, every crisis we already face has become even more acute. The challenge of our times is to stand up tall at this moment of change – and I’m pleased to welcome Greens from across the world to Britain this weekend to plan for a future to be proud of.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion and co-leader of the Green Party

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