Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pre Budget Statement - "A Missed Opportunity"?

Whilst some of the measures announced in the government's Pre Budget Statement (trumpeted as a dynamic range of measures to shorten and lessen the depth of the recession) cannot be sniffed at and others positively welcomed, (as indeed they have been, by various TUC union leaders) the missed opportunities on some environmental and energy issues and open reverses on others are frankly underwhelming. Here is Mark Lynas from the Guardian website:

A "green new deal" it ain't. More motorways, cheaper fuel, more of the same. The planet's ecological crisis makes the current financial crisis look like, well, something very small and insignificant indeed. Had he aimed to shift the UK economy on to a greener track, creating jobs and reflating the economy at the same time, things might be looking more positive. But he just doesn't seem to get it.

And even the most radical version of the Green New Deal put forward by the New Economics Foundation (whose website was inexplicably inaccessible at time of writing) does not really go far enough or adequately tackle the inequalites of power and weatlh that are the crux of the problem (to be fair it was not meant to - it is presumably meant as something that is implementable without major political upheaval or change) But at least some of the Green New Deal measures might be a start. Instead Labour have given us re-hashed, not-quite-Keynesianism designed to return us to a situation where we can restart the economy and carry on "as normal" (where carrying on "as normal" self evidently aids and abets economic insanity and planetary disaster). It is a measure of the disarray and lack of ambition or long term strategy of the soft left that some of the liberal left commentariat are heralding this return to not-quite social democratic politics as a brave new dawn of European-style welfarism. As with their unjustified, (though understandable given what it replaced) hopes for the new Obama regime, I suspect they are courting disappointment at least.

Most of the mainstream papers have gone with the line that as the Independent puts it, the Pre-Budget Report is "A gamble that will decide Britain's political future" And indeed , it is a gamble, though the stakes may be higher than even the yellow press anticipate.

Quoted in the same paper, Green Party of England and Wales leader Caroline Lucas said of the Report :

"The Chancellor's plan to cut taxes to promote a consumer spending boom is short-term thinking in the extreme. Even if it works, it will simply ship money abroad, as most consumer goods are imported, rather than supporting jobs here in the UK. More seriously, it also represents a return to the vicious cycles of debt and over-consumption that caused the crisis in the first place. Not only is this economically unsustainable, it is environmentally unsustainable, driving a major depletion of natural resources and growth in climate emissions."

Other interesting comments came from psychologist Oliver James:

"If everybody is agreed that we have been spending too much money, how can spending more be the answer? The fact is we're already poisoned and Mr Darling wants to give us more poison. We've built our economy on debt. And now the demand is for us to spend yet more. We're in this mess because of selfish capitalism; why not try unselfish capitalism, which is what they do on the continent? We should, like Denmark, work a 35-hour week and redistribute the work. Then we should hammer the rich, so that all of us can learn to work less and buy less."

John Sauven of Greenpeace did not spare the rod over the lack of environmental and energy foresight:

"We had hoped Mr Darling might fire the starting gun on a clean energy revolution that would unlock hundreds of thousands of green collar jobs and develop a new UK manufacturing base capable of exporting renewables and energy-efficient technologies to the world. This was an historic opportunity to invest billions in a low-carbon, high-technology future, but the Chancellor blew it. We can only hope that by the time he formulates the Budget itself, he will have grasped the potential of hi-tech climate solut-ions to get us out of this recession."

I suspect that even on its own terms this package may not achieve that much - anecdotally a lot of people are saying that they do not feel the measures will alter behaviour too much, and any extra cash may just go into paying off some of the massive accumulated debts. (Consumer debt overtook Gross Domestic Product last year) Not that the main opposition offer anything likely to appeal - just Blairified Thatcherism. The New Year may bring interesting challenges for us all.

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