Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Why I will be voting for Romayne and Will

Very soon Green Party members will be receiving ballot papers for the election for Leader, Deputy Leader and GPEx posts. Understandably, most attention will be focused on the election for Party Leader. The leadership election was precipitated by the decision of our MP Caroline Lucas not to stand again after completing a two year term. As I said in a previous post on this issue:
"..party leader Caroline played a blinder as an advocate for the Party's policies of social justice, economic regeneration, fighting climate change, and support for the public sector. As leader, she is going to be sorely missed, and hard to replace..."
I don't want to get bogged down in the leadership election rules but the rules state that for the leader and the deputy, each post must be filled by a person of the opposite gender. So if a male wins the leadership, the deputy must be female and vice versa. Voting is by STV so that does make it possible to support one candidate of either gender for either position. In this post I want to focus on the leadership election.

There are four candidates; Peter Cranie, Natalie Bennett, Pippa Bartolotti and Romayne Phoenix. All of the candidates have put their case, both on their own websites, Facebook, and through party hustings. As far as the latter is concerned, arrangements for hustings were haphazard to say the least, and little account was made by the organisers of the fact that some of the candidates might not be able to attend. In fact, not all the candidates could attend all of the hustings. Next time we need to do much better in ensuring we have a coordinated and organised programme of hustings, including online hustings.

I have made no bones in this blog about the fact that I am an ecosocialist and that I believe that the Green Party must be a radical party or otherwise it has very little useful purpose. We are not here to tinker with the current system. We are fighting against economic and an ecological crises, both of which are linked, and an increasing democratic deficit. 'Business as usual' is no longer an option and the Party needs to be able to get its radical message for change across in an effective way. This is not the time to simply pick a leader who we think will appeal to disaffected Liberal Democrats as some in the Party have suggested. We need to make an electoral breakthrough to bring about change, and we can only do that by having a leader who, like Caroline, can argue our radical case and make their voice heard.

So it will come as no surprise that I believe that Romayne is best placed to do this. Romayne fits the bill very well as an experienced and active, campaigning Party member, who has been an elected councillor, GPEx member, and a very effective platform speaker through her role as chair of the Coalition of Resistance. Like Caroline, she is also well aware of the kind of message we need to get across to a disillusioned electorate, and has clearly put herself at the front of the fight against austerity nationally, in a way that none of the other candidates has been able to do.

Having said that, I have taken time to study the statements and views of the other candidates, and there can be no doubt that they are making all the right noises in terms of growing the membership, improving party organisation and getting more Greens elected. Nothing wrong with that, all good stuff. Peter Cranie has a very good, relaxed, media presence which will be popular amongst many Party members, and is probably seen as a safe pair of hands, and the favourite to win. My problem is that I'm not hearing enough from any of them about that radical edge that I have been talking about, how to promote the real alternative that the Green Party has to offer, and crucially, the kind of policies that support that alternative.

I also like that fact that Romayne and Will are standing as a team on the same platform, and I believe that if they are both elected that will greatly strengthen the Party. I have met Will and I was very impressed both by his down-to-earth approach and the key role he has played in the electoral success the Party has had in the West Midlands. I'd urge you to vote for both of them and as you can see from the video they have made they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. If you want to know more about their views visit their website here.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The 'free' market Taliban pose a very real threat to our society

There can hardly be a person in the UK who has not heard of the 'terrorist threat' or the 'war on terror'. We have become used to living with heightened security. If you travel by train as I do you will have heard automated Orwellian announcements which refer to "unattended luggage being removed and destroyed by the security services" - whoever they are supposed to be. Some people have argued that all this security has gone way over the top and that the 'terrorist threat' has been deliberately exaggerated by politicians to suit their own purposes. Adam Curtis, in his excellent documentary, The Power of Nightmares, argued that politicians play on our fears and use the terrorist threat to get us to vote for them, and ultimately, to control us. I am sympathetic to this view, but that is not what this post is about. It is about a very real threat which is causing enormous economic damage, human misery and death in the West on a scale that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda could never hope to emulate.

Ayn Rand - prophet of the 'free' market right

But the real threat doesn't come from outside, from some foreign power or terrorist group it comes from within. Those who a perpetrating very real damage to our society are not terrorists or even idealists -  they, like the Taliban, are fundamentalists. These people are neoliberal 'free' market fundamentalists whose views are not economic, nor even really ideological, they are more a belief system. If you wanted to compare these 'free' market fundamentalists with other groups you would find they had more in common with extremist religiously inspired groups like the extreme evangelicals in the USA or the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The holy tenets of this 'free' market religion are not to be found in one holy book, though if they had a bible it would probably have to be Atlas Shrugged, and their prophet would be its author, Ayn Rand. The 'free' market fundamentalists claim to be the descendants of Adam (Smith) though their views are a distorted and selective extract from his writings. They believe in deregulation, privatisation, in outsourcing, downsizing, austerity and small government. They believe that there are magic beings called entrepreneurs who we all depend upon for wealth and  prosperity. And make no mistakes these are beliefs, which when examined closely, turn out to have about as much validity as the beliefs of the Creationists and other flat-earthers. Do they care about that? Not at all! -  because they have faith.

The 'free' market fundamentalists are the very people who brought you the greatest economic crisis in capitalism, a near collapse of the world economic system, featuring the credit crunch, the sovereign debt crisis, and the Eurozone crisis. These are the people who have deepened and made worse those same crises by their belief in austerity, and, as things continue to get worse, as economies crumble, mass unemployment grows and people's living standards are destroyed, what is their answer? Why - of course - more of the same! They are like the mad medieval doctors who while bleeding the patient to death - call for yet more blood to be spilt. Believe me, these people are a far greater threat to the planet, your family and your community than the Taliban or Al Qaeda ever could be. They need to be stopped, for all our sakes, before they bring the whole world down in ruin.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

It's not just the banks that need a change of culture

Speaking about the banks last week , Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, said that what was needed was a "change of culture". Some people might think that was an understatement given the emerging scale of wrongdoing at Barclays, and other major banks. Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, described the City as a "cess pit".  Strong stuff then? But criticism is about as strong as it gets these days from our feeble politicians. In relation to the banks there can be no doubt where real power lies, and it's not in our democratically elected parliament.

But King was right, we do need a change of culture, but not just in the City of London, we need it throughout business and throughout our whole society. When I grew up in Britain in the 60s and 70 s there was a much greater culture of mutual support and solidarity than there is now. This stemmed, in large measure, from a sense of solidarity in adversity that developed during WWII, and a large factory-based working class that had jobs and pride in their work.

The aim of Thatcherism was to destroy that social solidarity and create a culture of selfishness and individual gain. In the 1980s it became smart to get rich quick and jump on what then seemed like a capitalist bandwagon that promised endless growth. Measures such as the sale of council housing, at knock down prices, contributed to the fact that many working class people thought they had "arrived" and that they were better off if not actually better than their forbears. We have had 30 years of relentless plugging of this Thatcherite culture by politicians and the capitalist media, and it has had a corrosive effect on our society at all levels, in politics, business and in our democracy. More than ever, in recent history, we have seen the revolving door in Westminster where politicians and senior civil servants have colluded in the privatisation of public assets, to be rewarded afterwards by lucrative jobs in the private sector.

Margaret Thatcher: "There is no such thing as society"
In the noughties we had a relentless attack from New Labour on the public sector and the values of public service. Public sector workers were lambasted and pilloried  as petty bureaucrats, jobsworths and inefficient skivers on bloated pensions. Public bad, private good was the message. Why bother with serving the public when you could be making a profit out of their illnesses and public service needs?

Its not just a change of culture in the banks that we need, its a wholesale change of culture across British society. We need to re-establish the values of social justice, solidarity and equality, which made our society a much better place to live in the decades after WWII. We need to kick out commercialism from the public sector, re-establish the commons, and create a lasting systemic change. I think that millions of  people want this kind of change. Many were never part of the Thatcherite revolution anyway. That change can only happen if people get involved in our democratic process and vote for parties and politicians who can deliver that change, and if they show social solidarity in their personal lives.  And, believe me, its essential that we succeed in doing this because the crisis of capitalism isn't going away anytime soon, and, as we have seen with the flooding recently, we will have to come together to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.