Although the conversation on the imminent threat of climate catastrophe has been gradually intensifying and expanding across diverse public and private sectors, one collective voice remains missing from the public debate — that of the poor.
Often being portrayed as uninterested and/or undereducated in relation to environmental matters, those at the lowest ends of the economic spectrum are systematically excluded from a discourse that appears to be reserved for those who can afford to care. Consequentially, the rhetorical separation between the socio-economic interests of the poor and the need to address environmental hazards has succeeded to practically exclude working class constituencies from politicians’ search for Green electoral support. In order to ensure that the transition to Green economies does not continue to leave the most underprivileged of society behind, Green politics and the economic left must visibly converge.
What drives the disconnect between Green politics and the working-class electorate?
In the United Kingdom electoral context, there is no significant political overlap between Green manifestos and socio-economic policies relating to housing, employment, and welfare. Although the Green Party of England and Wales’ proposed policies are, on paper, more socialist than those of the Labour Party, traditional electoral allegiances remain unchallenged. Correspondingly, the Labour Party seems to lack understanding of the intersectional nature of environmental and social issues. The party’s controversial initial support for the opening of a new deep coalmine outlines their inclination to act on outdated promises of delivering more jobs within an unsustainable economy, rather than to pursue a radical restructuring of the UK’s growth model.
What both parties seem to lack is a convincing strategy that symbiotically addresses the concurrent social and environmental crises. The failure to attract the working class vote, despite the leftist ideological underpinning of the Green manifesto, is proof that mere self-accredited alliance with the plight of the working class is not enough to dispel the Green movement’s elitist branding. More effort is needed to convince that the Green Party’s commitment to redistributive policies is more than just ideological, and that its politicians are campaigning not only about economic policies affecting the poor but, most importantly, campaigning to the poor.
So as to bury Green elitism for good, the Green Party ought to explicitly assert that climate change issues are socio-economic issues that will disproportionately affect the poorest of society, worsening their already unfair position in the capitalist economic order. Their manifestos must move beyond silently embracing the universal basic income and the implementation of the four-day work-week, towards demanding redistributive justice for the poorest of society as a necessary condition for a radical Green economy. In order to gain the indispensable support of the working classes, Green politicians must address working class voters directly and primarily, by recognising them as the most in danger of being displaced, disenfranchised, and harmed by future climate emergencies, and by campaigning to them in a focused manner.
Given the urgent need for comprehensive action and holistic reform, the Green movement’s disregard for the working classes takes place at our collective peril.