Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The EU is determined to crush Greece and enforce austerity

I intended to write this post prior to the Greek referendum but so much has happened recently I hadn't the chance to do it. The referendum result on Sunday was a stunning 61% for No or OXI. A massive rejection of austerity and an outcome which reverberated around Europe, and gave hope to all those who believe in democracy, and believe that democracy should determine how a society and economy should be run, trumping all other interests.

Before the referendum Caroline Lucas said at a Greece solidarity rally in London:
“Austerity isn’t only socially destructive, as we know – it is economically deluded as well. Greece’s government debt to GDP ratio hasn’t gone down as austerity was imposed, it has increased”
Of course she was right. The Troika's bailout and programme of so-called economic reforms, which entail cuts in pensions and worker's salaries, are intended to make the poorest pay for the economic ills of Greece and protect those who caused the global economic crash which opened the door to austerity in the first place  - the banks. In fact the bailout was never intended to help the Greek people but to protect French and German banks which lent recklessly to a corrupt Greek establishment so that they could buy German weapons and goods.

The Greek people voted OXI (no) in the referendum on the humiliating Eurozone offer

Greeks were threatened openly by the Eurocrats in the run up to the referendum, they were told that the financial taps would be turned off by the ECB and they would be ejected from the Euro. Now, in the aftermath of the referendum, it seems clear that unless Syriza accept humiliating conditions no better than those rejected by the Greek electorate, the threats will be carried out. The EU Goliath is determined to crush the Greek David to ensure that no other Eurozone country has the  temerity to even think that democracy can prevail against the interests of creditors. This is a foolish and short-sighted approach which has the potential to cause real and lasting damage both to the Eurozone and the EU itself.

The Syriza government is between a rock and a hard place but there is only one way out - default and a return to a Greek currency. In fact they should have already set up a parallel currency to the Euro to allow taxes to be paid and the economy to function. Their immediate problem is not solvency but liquidity. This is a very hard road but in the longer term it it offers dignity and hope to the Greek nation. The alternative is decades of debt-slavery in the Eurozone.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

To win the left needs to get its act together and frame the political debate

Today in the Guardian, Owen Jones is urging the left to 'speak Spanish', and he makes a valid point - talk to people in terms they can understand and you have a much better chance of winning an election. He uses Podemos in Spain as an example of this plain speaking and quotes Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias:
'..... you should listen when Iglesias speaks. Last year, he delivered a speech berating the traditional left’s failure to communicate. Leftwing students never spoke to “normal people”, he said, and treated working-class people as though “they were from another planet”'
Although it is true that some on the left inhabit a world dominated by Marxist-speak there have been some really great communicators on the left. The best I can remember is Tony Benn who used to talk straightforwardly with conviction about the things that the vast majority of voters really care about - jobs, education and access to decent housing and healthcare. The right-wing media recognised this and that is why they demonised him. Bernie Sanders, the US Senator is another good example. We should study these people and learn from them.

Use of plain language and simple arguments has long been a strength of the right in Western politics, that is why they have been so dominant in recent decades. As I've posted before they have created a simple but 'convincing' 'free' market narrative which has been hugely successful, particularly in the absence of a coherent alternative from the left. I've posted about this lack of alternative before and how I think we can deal with it.

The key issue however, more important than plain-speaking, is framing the debate, and this was succinctly nailed by George Monbiot in his excellent Guardian piece a few weeks before Labour's crushing defeat:
"Labour has allowed the Conservatives to frame its politics. Frames are the mental structures through which we perceive the world. The dominant Tory frame, constructed and polished across seven years by its skilled cabinet makers, is that the all-important issue is the deficit. The financial crisis, it claims, was caused not by the banks but by irresponsible government spending, for which the only cure is austerity." (my italics)
The key thing here is the frame. Use of language is all important and through their dominant narrative the control the debate by use of frames such as 'free' market and tax cuts - i.e. market=good and taxes=bad. We hear these frames every day of our lives and they help to condition how people think about the world they live in.

So how does the 'left' overcome this and get on the road to electoral success? These are the steps we need to take:
  1. Confidence: talk about green politics/socialism as if you believe in it - which you do - and believe its possible. Politicians on the right are perfectly confident to talk about their ideas
  2. Create the narrative: keep it simple but tell the story of the political alternative and repeat over and over again
  3. Build alternative frames: create alternative frames, for example - tax security or tax insurance to describe the benefits of paying taxes - turn a negative into a positive
  4. Control the political agenda: choose the political battlefield you want to fight on - don't fight on territory chosen by them - they are simply wrong.
If you want to know I don't think the Labour Party is capable of doing this. The sad sight of the leadership contenders kow-towing to neoliberalism in defeat mean we can expect nothing positive from them in the next five years. They have already accepted that the Tories were right.

Friday, 8 May 2015

A huge failure for Labour but will they learn anything from it?

I ought to be pleased. The Green Party had a good 2015 general election: a record number of candidates; a much increased majority for Caroline Lucas; four second places, and membership is still growing, having just passed 63,000. I'm also looking forwards to some good results in the local elections. But its hard to celebrate knowing the Tories have a majority that will probably last for five years, which is plenty of time for them to wreak yet more havoc to welfare and public services and destroy more lives in the process.

The big story of election night was the battering of the Labour Party which was hit by a combination of factors producing the perfect storm. So what went wrong? I think these were the main issues:
  1. Failure to provide a clear narrative to the electorate: it was never that obvious what Labour were offering and most of the 'offers' such as ending non-dom status came far too late in the day. Crucially they abandoned their real base support in the working class, even to the extent of allowing Ukip, of all people, to steal many thousands of Labour voters.Its not longer certain what Labour stand for except perhaps a watered down version of  what the Tories are giving us - neoliberal austerity-lite.
  2. Failure to nail the Tory lies about economic incompetence: Labour never seriously challenged the Tory narrative that they 'overspent' and crashed the economy. They allowed the Tories to assume the mantle of economic competence even though Osborne's record is lamentable.
  3. Making a complete hash of the Scottish referendum: the rot set in for Scottish Labour long before the referendum, but the negative Better Together campaign, in which Alastair Darling seemed little more than a front-man for the Tories and the English establishment, did huge damage. Even when the warning lights were flashing after the 55-45 no result, Labour chose to ignore them and took their voters for granted, conceded political territory to the SNP, and got wiped out in the process.
  4.  Failure of leadership: Although Ed Miliband had his moments on Syria and Leveson he was too timid by half and failed to set out a strong narrative and strategy for Labour to win.
  5. Keir Hardie - great Scottish Labour politician - no doubt spinning in his grave after the 2015 general election result
So what should Labour do? Firstly they must learn the lessons from this defeat. Under Blair and New Labour the party was hollowed out. Members were reduced to being spectators at stage-managed conferences. They need to regroup and reform the party making it much more accountable to members. They need to ditch the sectarianism and be open to co-operation with other left parties and they must embrace electoral reform. I'm not sure they will do any of these things and are just as likely to end up tearing themselves apart. Every Party has a shelf life - maybe this is the beginning of the end for Labour - something I predicted a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why Owen Jones is wrong to urge people to vote for Labour

I've got a confession to make - I'm an Owen Jones fan. I've read Chavs and The Establishment and I think they're both good books, not groundbreaking perhaps, but a timely reminder of the way in which our stitched up sham democracy works and the central importance of class - the issue which dare not speak its name in 21st century Britain. But I do have a problem with Owens Jones's politics because although he's a worthy fighter for social justice, public services and the welfare state, and an enemy of neoliberalism, he has chosen the wrong vehicle to further his political aims in the UK - namely the Labour Party.

As far as this election is concerned he has become a fully paid up member of the Polly Toynbee 'hold your nose and vote for Labour' faction. Polly recently repeated almost exactly the same call to 'hold your nose' in The Guardian as she did in the 2010 election. The problem is if you hold your nose for long enough you are certain to suffocate, and you are going to have to hold it for a very long time if you expect any change from the neoliberal Labour Party of 'red' Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

So Owen urges us to vote Labour to keep the Tories out, and when a Labour government is in power, we can all put it under pressure to do the nice things instead of the nasty things - like continuing to implement cuts and austerity, applying a token plaster to the semi-privatised NHS and 'balancing the budget' - which is at best an economically illiterate policy. Its a bit like asking someone to vote for Terminator instead of Godzilla on the basis that there will be marginally less collateral damage. 

The problem is that many of us have gone beyond that stage and have no interest in the lesser of two evils. Despite the rotten electoral system we have to contend with with we want to vote for something we can believe in, a Party that is capable of delivering real change, even if that is not at the next election, or the one after that, because we are in it for the long haul. Its clear that the only Party that can deliver that change is the Green Party, the party that espouses the politics of Owen Jones himself, even if he can't yet bring himself to vote for it.

Both Labour and the Tories increasingly resemble zombie parties in a hollowed out democracy. Both have abandoned their traditional base for the corporations and super rich and both have been complicit in the drastic decline in our democracy in the past 30 years or so. No wonder fewer and fewer people can be bothered to vote for either of them. But more and more people are seeking out a progressive alternative to Labour and that is why the Green vote is growing and why Green Party membership passed 61,000 today, and will continue to grow. After neoliberal Labour have failed to win a majority I hope that Owen will fight to move a Labour-led government to the left - as a member of the Green Party.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ukip are using the oldest trick in the book: the scapegoating of 'other'

One of the tricks of the neoliberal 'free market' right has been to try and convince the millions who have no stake in the system - 'free market' capitalism - that they have something to gain from it. We were told in the 1980s that cutting taxes for the rich would result in a 'trickle down' of wealth to everyone in society, that their gain would be our gain. What they didn't say is that neoliberalism - then known as Reaganomics - is really about transferring wealth from the 99% to the 1% - its a one-way process. As the 1% gain from tax cuts, and lower wages for workers, social spending on health, education and housing is slashed to the detriment of the majority, and people have to go into debt to maintain a half decent standard of living. So they take away our wealth and then still make us pay by forcing us into debt-slavery. In the UK and USA one of the most potent examples of debt-slavery is student loans.

So far so good, for them, but what happens when the wheels come off the neoliberal casino capitalist bonanza, and the crash comes, as it did in 2008, and people can see their living standards falling before their very eyes? Who to blame for the crisis? Not the real culprits obviously - not the super-rich, the bankers and their tame politicians. Step forward the perennial scapegoat, someone who is 'other' and can easily be recognised as 'not one of us'. This is a trick which has long been used to great effect by the political right. In Nazi Germany it was the Jews who were singled out, and in today in 'Ukip Britain' its 'immigrants'. And for Farage and Ukip, the beauty of blaming immigrants is not just about deflecting attention from the people who are really responsible for unemployment, low pay and poor housing but also Europe bashing, because of the influx of EU citizens into the UK.

The natural supporters of Ukip are those who have been 'left behind', those whose pay has fallen or stagnated and who are trapped in poor housing and can't see much of a future for themselves. They are people with a grievance, often members of the white working class who once would have been natural working class Tories or Labour supporters. I've commented in this blog before about how New Labour have much to answer for in the rise of the far right in Britain. A few years ago it was the BNP who benefited from a protest vote by largely white working class people resulting in Nick Griffin being elected as an MEP. With the implosion of the BNP, Ukip have moved to fill that political space, promoted by the corporate media. Of course Farage's latest outburst, about the scrapping of equality legislation, and talk of Ukip being 'colour blind' is just another racist appeal to shore up Ukip support ahead of the election. What's wrong with employers giving jobs to 'English people' instead of 'foreigners'? Quite a lot actually - its called racial discrimination - that's why we have the legislation.

The solution? End austerity; allow councils to build social housing; make corporations and the rich pay their taxes; scrap student loans; bring in a living wage; use green QE to create meaningful jobs, get people back to work, and tackle climate change in the process. All pretty obvious stuff but apparently a step too for for the Labour Party. That's why Labour are failing in Scotland and aren't going to win the next election. Only one mainstream party has those values and policies and that is the Green Party. That's why they are now the third biggest Party in England and Wales.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Greece can lead the fightback against austerity in Europe

Today Greeks go to the polls to vote in one of the most important elections in the country's history. After seven years of grinding austerity imposed by the 'Troika', it looks like Greeks could be about to vote in Syriza, an alliance of radical leftists, who have pledged to write off some of Greece's debt and set the country on a new path. Of course, the media have played this up into some kind of showdown between the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, and the European Union, in which Greece will almost inevitably have to exit the Eurozone.

But exit, or Grexit as the media love to call it, is not inevitable. Given the suffering the Greeks have had to endure with unemployment hitting a high of 28%, 50% youth unemployment and wages falling 12% year on year, it wouldn't be surprising if the Greeks wanted to leave the Eurozone and go back to the Drachma - but they don't. And why should they? They are as much a part of the Eurozone as any other country and still remember having had a currency that was almost worthless.

In simple terms the Greeks are being portrayed as the feckless ne'er-do-wells who are being bankrolled by the industrious, hardworking Germans but this is a false picture. Entry into the Euro for Greece was political not economic, and the Euro was always bound to create problems for the Greek economy. Couple that with a corrupt government and reckless lending by German and French banks - so that Greece could buy German goods - and its not easy to see that Germany did very nicely out of this Euro-arrangement at the expense of the Greeks. All that has now been conveniently forgotten. Thus I heard on The World This Weekend today a half-baked analysis of Greek 'wrongdoing' - essentially Greek bad, German good - as the BBC lined up pundits to criticise Greece and Syriza. With reporting on this level we might as well be living in the Soviet Union.

Its as well to remember that after the Second World War the Germans were mired in debt and struggling economically just as the Greeks are now, that is until 1953 when the London Debt Agreement was reached and half of Germany's debts were written off. This is often credited with starting the 'economic miracle' which transformed the German economy with output doubling between 1953 and 1963.

We know that austerity in Europe is designed to protect banks from going under at the expense of the people. These are the same banks that contributed to the global economic crash of 2008. Its absolutely unacceptable that people should be made to pay for the epic failures of financial capitalism. We need a programme of Green quantitative easing in Europe for investment in energy efficiency, renewables and public transport, getting millions back into meaningful work. That, not debt-driven austerity, must be the future. Here's looking forward to a Syriza majority government and the start of the historic fightback against austerity.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

As the East Coast Main Line shows, the public sector is just so much better at delivering essential services

What made me want to write this post was an item I heard on the BBC Radio 4 lunchtime consumer programme You and Yours. I heard about mobile phone customers complaining that they were paying £40 for nothing - no service at all. Some, but not all, of these people lived in the countryside and could never get a mobile signal in their home. I live in mid Cheshire and the mobile signal in my house is poor to say the least, sometimes I get cut off in mid call because the signal drops. The reality is that mobile phone reception varies wildly around the country and there just isn't a good universal service. 

So why is this? The answer is simple - privatisation. This is what you get in terms of service from private sector corporations. A couple of months earlier I caught part of a conversation on The World at One, again on Radio 4. This was also an argument about mobile reception and someone was saying that if the service was run by the public sector it would be universal - everyone in the UK would get good reception, regardless of where they lived. That was when he could get a word in edgeways because he was being shouted down by a representative of the private sector who ranted about how much better it was, how private was more efficient, blah blah etc.

More recently I heard someone from Stagecoach being interviewed on BBC Radio 4PM about why they and Virgin could run East Coast Main Line better than the successful public sector company that's run it for five years. The guy couldn't give a good answer to the question, he blustered and floundered and talked about new trains, which are being paid for by the government anyway.
 
East Coast Main Line

I'm sure you have heard that kind of stuff before. The reality is that the public sector can do many things much better than the private sector can, like running services we all depend upon,  and still make a profit which goes to help the taxpayer instead of going into the pockets of foreign shareholders. No wonder these private sector advocates bluster and flounder and have to shout their opponents down. Its because they know damn well they can't compete with a good public sector alternative on efficiency or price, and they know that they are riding the fat privatisation gravy train out our expense. So what we need to do is boot out the profiteers and bring essential services like railways, mobile phone networks, energy distribution and broadband supply back where they belong - into a sector we own and control - the public sector.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Green Party is the workers party

What do Greens know about workers and workers' rights? Aren't we just a bunch of tree-huggers and middle class do-gooders? That's what some of our political enemies would like to have you believe but the reality is quite different. Green Party members, along with most of the population, are workers themselves and face the same daily struggles that all workers do in austerity Britain. The Green Party has demonstrated its commitment to supporting and working with workers organisations by creating the post of Trade Union Liaison Officer on the national executive, and The Green Party Trade Union Group has existed for many years.

Our relations with trade unions are improving all the time and its hardly surprising that this is the case when our MP Caroline Lucas and our Leader Natalie Bennett, along with many of our members have shown solidarity with striking workers on the picket line. But what really matters is the Party's approach to workers rights and work itself. If you want to look at all of our policies on Workers rights and employment follow the link to our policy website

For this post I've picked out three policy sections which I think will interest most workers because they cover the fact that we recognise that work doesn't just take place in the formal economy, support the right to join a trade union and the right to take industrial action - "without the threat of dismissal and discrimination':
WR101 We define work in the full sense, not the traditional limited definition as employment in the formal economy. Green thinking recognises the latter as one part of the whole - a large part, but not the only one. Work exists in a variety of forms, each related to and often affecting others, like species in an ecosystem. Work covers all the activities people undertake to support themselves, their families and communities.
WR410 We support the right to join a trade union, and condemn discrimination by employers against union members. We shall enact a statutory right to join a union, which shall apply to all workers of any occupation or profession; this will include members of the police, security and armed services. We support unions taking the unwaged and unemployed into membership. Discrimination against union members, and in particular refusal of employment or dismissal on grounds of union membership, shall be illegal.
WR432 The Green Party recognises the right to take industrial action without being in breach of contract and without the threat of dismissal or discrimination, in accordance with ILO Convention 87 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We will ensure this right is protected in UK legislation.

Green Party members supporting striking workers

But that's not all, because the Green Party believes in economic democracy - the right of workers to own and democratically control the businesses they work in - and what's more we intend to provide workers with the means to own those businesses:
WR610 We will grant employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers co-operatives. Buy outs would be funded by a Green National Investment Bank and contingent on the co-ops following green and ethical policies. These co-operatives would localise economic decision-making and give employees incentives for greater productivity.
A Green Party government would aim to make a fundamental shift in the way our economy works, to empower workers and ensure that the economy is embedded in local communities and not at the mercy of remote 'investors' simply seeking to profit from their labour. There's lots more, so why not take a look at our policy website and help us make these changes a reality? - join.greenparty.org.uk.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Capitalism vs the climate


Better late than never! -  I'm posting my video of the climate march in Manchester on 21st September, which I attended with friends from the Green Party. The Green Party had a really good turnout on a demo which was disappointingly small in numbers. The march, which was part of a global protest, coincided with the publication of one of the most important books of the year, if not the century so far. "This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein puts across a powerful but simple message - it's turbo-charged, deregulated capitalism which is driving global warming and if we're going to prevent catastrophic climate change we have to stop extractivism - end of. And that means moving to a new, post-capitalist economy which will inevitably be more locally based with de-centralised energy production.



This is a message which a lot of people don't want to hear, and strangely, as Naomi Klein points out, many of those people are on the left of politics and in the green movement. What's more, those on the right, the capitalists and their cheerleaders, have a much better grasp of the connection between dangerous climate change and the economic activities which they promote, which is why they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars funding climate change denial, something which Naomi Klein documents very well in her book.

I've posted about the climate change deniers before, and although its easy to understand their motives its harder to understand why so many who want to fight climate change are reluctant to point the finger at capitalism. It could be something to do with the fact that in our western culture the idea that mankind has the right to dominate and control nature runs very deep, coming as it does from a Judeo-Christian tradition which pre-dates capitalism by a thousand years and more. That means we can cut down forests, extract all the ores and fossil fuels on the planet, and empty the seas of fish if we want to. Add to that the fact that we are addicted to consumption, and that the mainstream left has been weak on real economic alternatives and you may go some way towards explaining this conundrum.

I started this blog around the time of the Great Economic Crash of 2008. Much of the reason behind it was to try and understand what was happening, and to talk about it. Blogging as therapy for me, but also as a way of finding solutions to the ongoing economic and environmental crises we are in. In many of the posts on this blog I've written about ideas which point the way towards dealing with capitalism and climate change, from Transition to the growth of renewable energy, to the Green New Deal, to the growth of locally owned and controlled co-operatives, we do have the means of living and building prosperity in ways that are much less destructive environmentally, economically, and socially than capitalism. 

There is much cause for hope, we can still keep warming below 2C, but we need to engage and energise the majority who can't see an alternative to capitalism and the endless 'growth' we hear about every time politicians talk about the economy in the media. We need to convince that majority that a socially just, collective response to climate change is viable and can provide the jobs, houses, education and healthcare that they need. People want change but they have yet to be persuaded that its possible. That is a huge task but its one which we can carry through successfully if we continue to campaign and push for political change through the Green Party.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Emperor's clothes

It's been happening slowly but surely for quite some time but I think we have finally arrived. A combination of twenty four hour rolling news, and all pervading social media, have brought us to the point where the frailties of our politicians are regularly and painfully exposed. There is nowhere to hide. The idols have all been shown to have feet of clay. Any and every error, no matter how small, is seized upon by the rapacious media machine. One of the most recent examples of this was Ed Miliband's failure to mention the deficit in his recent conference speech.

As recently as the noughties politicians were still relatively remote figures, people with private lives, who could expect some time away from the glare of the cameras, but no longer. We know now that they are all just mere humans like the rest of us. And its not just Ed who's been the subject of media attention focusing on errors. In the summer Cameron was criticised for his many holidays, and followed up recently with a gaffe when he was overhead saying the the Queen was 'purring' about the Scottish independence result. And the Scottish referendum itself brutally exposed the shameful weakness and and mendacity of all three party leaders as they rushed up to Scotland at the eleventh hour vowing to give the Scots more power, in order to save the Union.
Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit in his conference speech
Social media has also been a great leveller. Party leaders use it to communicate with millions of followers and have used it to signal policy changes. But the use of media such as Twitter is fraught with risk.
If you are going to use it, or have someone do so on your behalf make sure they are social media savvy. Make a mistake, put something across in a cack-handed fashion, and you can be sure you'll be the butt of a million sarcastic tweets and retweets.

There is a genuine problem here though. Who would want to be a politician under such circumstances? Is there a danger that good candidates would be deterred from standing? Being in the spotlight would certainly put me off, but then I think its time that politicians stopped trying to be popular and started trying to be more effective, and that means spending more time behind closed doors, stopping courting the media and social media, and telling it like it really is - because that is what people really want.