"And you know what, people rising from the bottom to the top has got to stop" uttered David Cameron in Cassetteboy's "Cameron's Conference Rap", a parody of Eminem's "Lose Yourself". As a piece of absurd political satire it's rather amusing. As a serious political statement it's unsettling to say the least. More unsettling than the statement itself is that the darling ideologues of the left, the Green Party (of surging popularity don't you know), might as well be campaigning under that slogan.
From my time at university I remember being lectured about the need to pursue a zero-growth economy by one of my contemporaries of a left wing persuasion. I also remember never being able to get a straight answer from him as to how a zero-growth economy might actually create wealth and improve living standards globally. So you can imagine how enlightened I felt to read the explanation given by Natalie Bennett as to how such an economic model would work during an interview with a journalist from the Economist. The simple answer is, it doesn't work.
There are many, many people in the UK who live in relative poverty. There are millions more throughout the world who live in absolute poverty. The way to lift people out of poverty in the UK is through creating sustainable jobs, boosting incomes and improving peoples' lives. The way to lift people out of poverty globally is through developing and supporting economies overseas through trade, investment and targeted aid, in turn creating sustainable jobs, boosting incomes and improving lives. All these require economic growth, in the UK and abroad. When the Economist's journalist therefore suggested the Green's opposition to consumption and economic growth might be problematic for the poorest in the world, Ms. Bennett is alleged to have replied that being poor in India wasn't so bad as to be on benefits in Britain, "because at least everyone else there is poor too." Promoting global economic growth is clearly not on the Green agenda, and clearly they're quiet content with the notion that this might mean that people rising from the bottom to the top might have to stop.
Ms. Bennett has since spoken to the Independent, arguing her comments were taken out of context. She claims that when asked about poverty abroad she argued that it doesn't make sense to compare poverty abroad to those in the UK and that low-income households in the UK are struggling to maintain a standard of living considered normal, giving the example of buying school uniform or broadband for children's homework. These examples are very real problems in the UK today. However, to dismiss the extreme poverty faced by millions of people outside the UK is insensitive at best. In the case of education, many who face absolute poverty abroad either don't have the opportunity of receiving an education, or worse are actively denied it. This crass insensitivity is made even worse by championing a hard-left economic model that can only erode living standards both in the UK and abroad.
A member of the Green Party group on Brighton and Hove City Council recently argued that the right wing of British politics is driven by ideology rather than the needs of individuals. However, when questioned about the limitations of a zero-growth economic model for helping the most disadvantaged in the world Ms. Bennett clearly chose to play down global poverty, rather than getting behind real global economic growth that would improve the lives of people around the globe. Perhaps it's time for an ideologically driven Green Party to take a long, hard look in the mirror.