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? -

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.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

So project fear has won.....for now

In the final days of the Scottish referendum campaign the 'No' camp expended a fair amount of energy complaining on social media about 'intimidation' from supporters of the Yes campaign. But the bits of graffiti I saw, in photos, sprayed on polling station walls, whilst reprehensible, were trivial compared to the sustained programme of dire threats delivered by what was dubbed the 'Project Fear' approach of the Better Together campaign - vote yes and you'll loose your jobs, pensions and homes.

After the polls had closed, on Sky TV, Peter Kellner of YouGov, who produced what turned out to be a pretty accurate exit poll on the night, said that he thought there had been a late swing to No from people not wanting to 'take the risk' of independence. In the end the bankers, politicians and the market got what they wanted - the 'correct result' - which I referred to in my last post, a result which was intended to retain 'business as usual' and prevent Scotland developing a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity - not to mention keeping the oil and Trident.

So in the end 'Project Fear' delivered a 'no' vote by 55% to 45%. This was presented as a 10 point gap and a veritable landslide. Whilst that might hold true for a general election, the fact is that Yes failed by 5% + 1 vote to make Scotland an independent country. What's more Yes turned out to be much more heavily skewed towards the younger voter, which means that independence is more or less inevitable in the not too distant future unless those who want to keep the union can come up with some much more compelling and positive messages. 

Where did Yes go wrong? Maybe Salmond and the SNP were too careful for their own good. The biggest single mistake was the currency. Although currency union was possible, despite what the No side said, it was never desirable. To be independent a country needs its own currency and central bank, and that is the option they should have gone for. As it was Alastair Darling used 'currency union' and 'lack of a plan B' as an effective club to beat Salmond with in the first televised debate, something that Salmond should have handled much better, and never quite recovered from. Despite the failure of the Yes campaign, Salmond has had a remarkable political career and has achieved far more than most politicians. His will be a lasting legacy.

For those who saw the Yes campaign for what it was, a fight for democracy, not nationalism, it's not all doom and gloom though. The Yes campaign energised and radicalised thousands of Scots, many of whom are determined to remain politically active and punish the 'No' parties. Membership of the SNP has soared as has that of the Scottish Greens. This bodes ill for Labour, who are seen as the main culprits for defeat by the Yes voters. If they can maintain momentum up to the general election, Labour will have a real fight on its hands and could loose seats.

Not only that, but there is a big shake up coming South of the border, where it's recognised that more powers for Scotland must lead to constitutional reform in England, because of the 'West Lothian question' - Scottish MPs voting on legislation which affects England only. But the effect of the 'West Lothian question' has been exaggerated, there are relatively few laws in Parliament which affect only England and there is no real reason why Scottish MPs elected to a UK parliament shouldn't be able to vote on all bills. And, according to Will Hutton in the Observer:
'... mySociety finds that of 5,000 votes in the House of Commons since 1997, only 21 depended on the votes of Scottish MPs'
Its much more difficult to disentangle 'English' legislation from that affecting other parts of the UK than you might think. Despite that, after the referendum result, the Tories and UKIP immediately jumped on the 'EVEL' bandwagon and sought to bounce the other parties into a settlement that suited them alone by making more powers for Scotland conditional on Scottish MPs becoming second-class members of the House of Commons.

As far as constitutional change is concerned there is still all to play for. It couldn't realistically happen without a constitutional convention being set up, and that takes time, making it something that will have to happen beyond the next general election. As someone who lives in the North of England it could only work for me if there were regional devolution for the Northwest, and I'm sure the same is true for many others in the North and West of England. An English parliament offers us next to nothing. And so, despite the victory for Project Fear UK politics is having a good shake up and will never be quite the same again. The 45% have ensured there can be no return to 'business as usual'. Real change has to happen.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Yes vote in Scotland will be a massive boost for democracy

Have you noticed how politicians in the West like Barack Obama and David Cameron are always banging on about how good democracy is? There's a problem though. In the West the 'powers that be' - the establishment or ruling class if you prefer - like democracy when it serves their purposes, and that means getting the result they want.

One of the classic examples in recent times was the Irish referendum on the EU constitution. The Irish had the good sense to vote against. Was the constitution killed off?... er no ..  but twelve months later they were made to vote again - and this time they delivered the 'correct result'. It was a travesty of the democratic process but it suited the purposes of the Euro-ruling class. So, democracy is OK as long as the voters get it right. In neoliberal Europe and the USA it hardly matters which party you vote for because you will always get the same result - neoliberalism.

Of course all was going smoothly in the Scottish referendum on independence until The YouGov poll put the Yes campaign in the lead, then all hell let loose with a barrage of threats about pensions and mortgages and doom from banks such as Deutsche Bank, followed by the cancelling of PMQs and a dash to Scotland by Clegg, Cameron and Miliband, and resolute pro-union bias from the BBC. The Scots were in danger of doing the unthinkable - voting for something they wanted rather than the 'correct result'. And a 'correct result' has to be obtained so that any danger of a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity emerging in Scotland can be squashed.
A Yes vote in Scotland will be a massive boost for democracy
In less than two days time Scots will be going to the polls to vote in the independence referendum. The outcome, despite the fear-mongering and bullying of  British capital and their tame politicians, is too close to call. Whatever the result, it will cause an earthquake in British politics. A yes vote will tear asunder the UK, and even a narrow win for no will shatter the political set-up in the UK. But how did we get here? You've guessed it - New Labour. If the Labour Party hadn't betrayed everything it ever stood for and embraced Thatcherism there never would have been an SNP government in Scotland or a referendum on independence.

What's done is done. The purpose of this post isn't to put the boot into Labour, only to explain why I think we are where we are. But the behaviour of Labour should act as a warning. The UK needs a political party of the progressive left which will act in the interests of the 99%. Without that people will look for alternatives and often those alternatives will be distasteful. The rise of both the BNP, and now UKIP in England are due to anger and disillusionment with a system that acts only in the interests of corporations and the rich.

I wish the Scots well. I don't believe a yes vote is about nationalism, I think its about the triumph of hope over fear and I support the Yes campaign because I think the Scots have a perfectly good chance of building a successful economy and a progressive society which works for the benefit of the many not the few. I also believe the rest of the UK will have a better chance of doing the same once people can see that democracy can work and overcome the interests of the ruling class. Whatever the result, the complacency, arrogance and incompetence of our so-called leaders and their friends in business has been painfully exposed. Hopefully things will never be quite the same again.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Privatisation of public services is a racket

More and more people are wising up to the fact that privatisation of public services is a racket. You may not have read this blog before but if you have you'd know that I've been attacking privatisation ever since I started posting in 2008. That's because I witnessed the scam of privatisation as it happened under Thatcher and I know that the Tory party never do anything for the public good.They exist to further private gain.

In the 1980s privatisation was presented to the British public as being a new and shiny bonanza. Allegedly 'inefficient' public services such as the utilities were flogged off by the Thatcher government to the British people, and this was going to be a bright new future, a share owning democracy in which we could all participate. None of the small investors - 'Sids' - attracted by the promise of an instant profit, seemed not to notice that they were being asked to pay for something that they already owned. Of course if Thatcher had been serious about spreading share ownership the shares would have been dished out free to all British citizens. But it was all a con designed to allow the 'market' to get its hands on a cheap bargain. Very soon the most of the 'Sids' had sold their shares to build a new patio and our utilities ended up in the hands of the usual suspects - foreign shareholders. Even Harold Macmillan, the former Tory Prime Minister, complained that Thatcher 'had sold off the family silver'. And so she had. Privatisation is nothing more than asset stripping the public sector for the benefit of the market and to the detriment of the public. It results in the creation of private monopolies. After corporations have bought the assets on the cheap, we end up paying more to get less.

So it's hardly surprising that we're seeing some really good articles appearing which expose the collusion between government and corporations to rip off the taxpayer. A good piece by Aditya Chakraborrty in today's Guardian exposes how the privatised railways are set up to provide handsome profits for Richard Branson and co whilst we pick up the bill. In any other sphere this would be called corruption - politicians working with private interests to shaft the taxpayer. It's a nice little earner, so why bother to get involved in organised crime when you can make millions by taking the taxpayer for a ride in a perfectly legal racket? The sooner we can bring the railways and utilities back into public hands the better.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

David Cameron offers UK families his biggest insult yet

David Cameron is completely out of touch with reality - the reality of life for ordinary families in Britain. How could it be any other way? Cameron was brought up in a wealthy family. His father was a tax dodger. Cameron went to Eton - the college of the ruling class.

So when he talks about his government only pursuing family friendly policies he must be taking the piss, or is it that he is really unable to  understand how families live? In his statement he even talked about -  'all the amazing work families do on our behalf' - by 'our' of course he must have meant the capitalist class which he represents. Yes David, families do do amazing work reproducing and creating cheap labour to work for you and your corporate chums - work that they do for very little reward on ever decreasing incomes - thanks to your government. 

So here is my message to David Cameron:
 "if you want to be family friendly end austerity, restore child benefit, stop the privatisation of the NHS, introduce a universal basic income, implement rent controls, build more houses, introduce a Green New Deal .... and when you have done that - do the decent thing - apologise for all the harm you've caused and ... resign!"

Now that is putting UK families first.