Friday, 10 May 2019

The mainstream media is misleading us with talk about “sacrifices” in relation to zero carbon

After the recent Committee on Climate Change report on the UK moving to zero carbon by 2050, I watched news reports on the BBC and ITV. Both of them were singing from the same hymn sheet. In fact, someone could have written the script and handed it to both. The big message was that meeting this target would mean us all “making sacrifices”. The key "sacrifices" mentioned were “eating less meat” and “losing our gas boilers”. Shocking stuff indeed!

But let’s think about for a minute. Are either or both of those things really sacrifices? Eating less meat? That means moving to a healthier diet, it’s something we could all do and gain from and it's not difficult to do. What about gas boilers? That sounds much more serious. We’ll freeze in the Winter, right? Wrong! To move to a zero carbon economy we would have to have energy efficient houses - the kind that doesn’t need gas boilers or have massive energy bills. What’s not to like about that? A key part of any action to move to zero carbon such as a Green New Deal would entail retrofitting millions of homes to make them very energy efficient.

In 1999 I went to a European conference and met a delegate from Sweden who lived in a place that was really cold - minus 30 centigrade in the winter. But he had a warm house without a gas boiler. A house that was really well insulated, so well insulated that sometimes in the Winter they had to open a window because it was too warm. A house like that can be heated from appliances such as cooking, TVs, and laptops - and this was twenty years ago!

In 1998, a groundbreaking book called Factor Four: Doubling wealth and halving resource use was published. The book advocated an industrial revolution with massive reductions in energy and resource use and was packed with examples of how this revolution could be achieved:

"The book contains a wealth of examples of revolutionizing productivity, in the use of energy; from hypercars to low-energy beef; materials, from sub-surface drip irrigation to electronic books, transport, video conferencing to CyberTran, and demonstrating how much more could be generated from much less today."

It was written by capitalists rather than environmentalists and a key part of the message was that if you become much more efficient you can be much more profitable and competitive. So what was the response? Er.. well nothing really, very few businesses took up the ideas even though they had a real incentive to do so. The point about mentioning this book is that we knew twenty years ago how to change the way we do things to massively reduce our carbon output and use far fewer precious resources - and technology has moved on since then. The business response to Factor Four also shows that we can't rely on the "market" to make the changes we need - government-led action through something like a green new deal is essential.

So, back to media reporting on zero carbon. The news bulletins illustrate the scale of the challenge we face in changing the media and business mindset of business as usual. That is why action by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and activists such as Greta Thunberg is essential to help bring about real change. We need to stop talking about "sacrifices" and start talking about the massive benefits that changing our consumer-led lifestyles and moving to a cleaner and healthier environment will bring.

Friday, 1 March 2019

A brief comment on Chris Williamson

I think Chris Williamson is working hard for a Labour government. I like what he is doing touring the UK. I don't believe he's a racist or antisemite. I don't think he should have been suspended. However, his comments were cack-handed and were bound to be picked up and misrepresented by the media. Once that happened I think his suspension was inevitable. If he hadn't been suspended the media would have escalated the row and done more damage to Labour.

So what does this tell us? Choose your words carefully. Don't give our enemies any ammunition. Does that sound bad? Maybe, but I believe it's possible to defend Labour against charges of institutional antisemitism without providing ammunition for a hostile media. Think before you speak out.

Three more things: Firstly, I understand the anger of Labour socialists at the suspension but threatening to tear up your party card is not the answer. That is what our enemies want you to do. The answer is to organise and carry on the fight for a Corbyn-led Labour government; Secondly, it's pointless falling out with the likes of Owen Jones and Ash Shakar about this. They are entitled to their view. Nobody ever said that everybody on the left had to agree on everything; Finally, don't be intimidated continue the fightback against the witchhunt!

For information, I'm including the stats on antisemitism released by Jenny Formby. If you want to argue that Labour isn't institutionally antisemitic, show people the evidence:
Labour antisemitism complaints.
1106 Complaints
443 Were NOT Members
220 No Evidence Found
146 Taken to 1st stage - Innocent use of 'tropes'
44 Left party
12 Expelled

Finally, you might want to take a look at this 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

It will take a global revolution to fight climate breakdown

Revolution is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:
  • a sudden, radical, or complete change and;
  • activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation
There are other definitions but the above are the ones I am referring to in this blog post. The word 'revolution' is popularly taken to mean the sudden and violent overthrow of a government or regime, so I just want to make it clear that I'm opposed to any violent activity. But it must be acknowledged that governments are happy to use violence to suppress sudden, radical changes and even peaceful protest - as the Gilet Jaunes in France have discovered - so we can't expect protest and non-violent direct action against climate breakdown to pass off entirely peacefully. 

My argument is that only genuinely revolutionary change can halt climate breakdown. The changes we need to make go against the grain, against the status quo and adversely affect the interests of corporations and their tame politicians. I'm going to refer to these people as the ruling class because that is what they are. To stop climate breakdown we have to move away from the extractive, environmentally destructive and consumption led global economy we inhabit. This will diminish the profits and power of the aforesaid ruling class. They will use all the means at their disposal to prevent this from happening, but if we continue with 'business as usual' we face climate collapse, millions of deaths, millions of refugees on the move and mass starvation.

Taken today. Trees blossoming in February which is usually the coldest month.

So, there is a morally justifiable case for a revolution in order to prevent the horrors that will accompany climate breakdown. We have to overthrow the existing system. I've posted on here about groups like Extinction Rebellion who have engaged in direct action as a means of drawing attention to the crisis we are in and while I salute their efforts its simply not enough. A revolution requires critical mass and economic disruption so what we need is to organise the participation of millions not just on the streets but in the factories - we need a general strike or series of one-day general strikes to bring the economy to a halt. Alongside that, we need a nationwide network of mutual aid to protect the young and most vulnerable from the effects of such industrial action. 

Of course, if all this could be achieved through the ballot box I'd be more than happy but I don't see this happening. Democrat Alexandra Occasio Cortez has proposed a Green New Deal for the USA and has, predictably, failed to gain the support of the Democratic Party hierarchy and is being treated as a madwoman by the ruling class and their apologists in the media. 

What should be the demands of such a revolution? For the UK, and other countries, we need a Green New Deal which will aim to de-carbonise our economy in the next decade or so. There has been plenty of work done on this so I'm not going to repeat it all here but suffice to say we need to create at least one million climate jobs which will aim to massively increase energy efficiency in our buildings - this is key - and a rapid switch away from fossil fuel use and towards renewable sources of energy and transportation. We also need a massive expansion in sustainable food production.

We are in a situation which is akin to the one we were in during WWII when the nation's resources were focussed on the war effort. In effect, we are going to need to run a war economy in which we will need to 'make do and mend' and 'dig for victory'. We will need a national government to do this but there is no reason why all the actions need to be 'top down'. We can empower people to make this happen locally by giving them the resources they need to facilitate positive change. These changes will be difficult and painful for many but they will be a lot less painful and destructive than the alternative.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Why we all need mutual aid

Readers of this blog will know that one of the dominant themes is economic democracy - by that, I mean businesses owned and controlled by the people that work in them. I believe that it's essential that we see a massive expansion in economic democracy globally and that everyone on the left should be supporting this. Economic democracy is the means by which we can wrest control of 'our' economy from the hands of private corporations. I have written about how this can work with examples here and here.

Economic democracy is a form of collective agency and there is another form of collective agency which we need to grow and encourage - mutual aid. What is mutual aid? Here is a good description from Wikipedia:
"mutual aid is a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. Mutual aid, as opposed to charity, does not connote moral superiority of the giver over the receiver."
In a recent post, I talked about how people on the left should not put all their eggs in one basket, that the election of a Corbyn government would not be enough to reverse all the damage done by the Conservatives in the past decade or so, and that the left  also need to organise in communities and build collectively owned and controlled organisations outside of businesses. This activity will strengthen the left by letting our values take root in society.

Mutual aid is an area in which we can use our collective agency to support each other through solidarity and enrich our lives. I'm not suggesting that we should abandon social security and health services - which need to be protected and strengthened by a Labour government - but that mutual aid organisations can work alongside public services and help to plug the gaps whilst public services are rebuilt. Mutual aid organisations strengthen communities and increase community resilience.
Transition Northwich Apple day. We collected local apples and used our press to provide free apple juice for the community.

Mutual aid can work in many areas. Some examples are in disability, mental health, addiction, housing, helping the homeless, and growing local food. An example of this is the Transition Network which aims to increase resilience in local communities and build local economies through collective action.

Of course, many on the left are involved in the kind of activities I have described but there is much more we can do collectively to support each other and transform our society for the better. In the face of climate breakdown and the neoliberal onslaught on our communities, this has never been more important.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

A People's Vote? Be careful what you wish for.

As we approach March 29th and the Brexit clock ticks down a group of Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative and Green politicians are still banging on about a so-called Peoples Vote.  So what is wrong with that? Quite a lot actually, because it's clear that this second referendum is a really transparent attempt to overturn the result of the first. The characters involved - including Umunna, Soubry, Blair, Cable and the Green's Caroline Lucas are a cabal of centrists - all of whom have a vested interest in undermining Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

They know that if Labour came out and supported a second referendum it would play badly with a large section of the electorate and damage Labour' chances of winning a general election. Despite this, we are told that Labour members and supporters are calling out loud for a second referendum - but this isn't true because most support Labour's conference policy which states that the Party's priority is a general election. Furthermore, polling shows that a majority of people respect the result of the referendum as shown in this post:
"Strikingly, almost every region across the country showed more people wanting to respect the referendum result and avoid a rerun – even in Scotland, which in 2016 voted to remain. Only London bucks the trend – and that only by a whisker, 41% against the above polling statement and 38% agreeing." 
What is also interesting is the number of people on the left who voted remain and are against a second referendum, including many Corbyn supporters. My view is that there won't be a second referendum - there is no majority in parliament for it - but that even if there was remain would lose. There are two reasons for that: one is that most people respect the result, as shown by the polling, and I can't see the type of people who would front a remain campaign and the kind of campaign they would run, winning.

I voted to remain reluctantly and since then my views on remain have hardened, particularly recently when the EU voiced its support for a US-backed coup in Venezuela. If the EU continues to follow it's neoliberal path it is in danger of falling apart anyway as the Gilet Jaunes protest in France shows. Its a pity, because the EU could have been so much better but as it comes under pressure there is no sign of the Eurocracy changing its stance, in fact, the opposite is true. None of this bodes well for the future at a time when we should all be able to focus on climate breakdown.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Centrist Conundrum

What is a centrist? I looked up several definitions and the common view appears to be - a person who has moderate political views. This isn't very satisfactory because it leads us to another question - what is 'moderate' politics? A political moderate is defined by the Oxford Living dictionary as -not radical or excessively right- or left-wing.

I'm guessing that most centrists would accept the moderate definition above, that they occupy the 'centre-ground' of politics being neither left nor right. Having said that its clear to me from comments I've seen by avowed centrists on Twitter that some centrists see themselves as progressives - people who want reform, who want to 'improve' things. And some clearly even see themselves as centre-left.

Where does all this get us? What is the political centre? One of the most interesting commentators on these issues is the neurolinguist George Lakoff. For Lakoff, there is no political centre, essentially you can only be left (progressive) or right. He bases his views on the idea that conservatives follow the 'strict father' model and progressives the 'nurturing family' model*, and that this is the base of their world view and political views.  This extract from an interview in the Guardian explains how he thinks the left should approach politics and his view of moderates and the centre ground. It's worth reading the whole article: 

"This is what he believes it would take to refashion the progressive [left] mindset: the abandonment of argument by evidence in favour of argument by moral cause; the unswerving and unembarrassed articulation of what those morals are; the acceptance that there is no "middle" or third way, no such thing as a moderate (people can hold divergent views, conservative on some things, progressive on others – but they are not moderates, they are "biconceptual"); and the understanding that conservatives are not evil, unintelligent, cynical or grasping. Rather, they act according to the moral case as they see it." [my italics and brackets]
Incidentally, I agree with him. The left spends too much time and energy on evidence-based political argument, which just doesn't cut it with many voters, and too little time on the moral case for change.

I would go further than Lakoff. As far as I can see 'biconceptual" individuals -  who think of themselves as being in the political centre - are conservatives. Maybe with a small 'c' but still conservatives and on the right of politics. Why? Because they tend to be people who are more comfortable with the status quo than people on the left could ever be. Because, for example, they accepted the New Labour attack on benefits claimants and the Iraq war, they accepted the 'need' for austerity cuts and are generally comfortable with privatisation and the neoliberal agenda. Nobody who is genuinely on the left could agree with any of that.

Of course, the term 'moderate' is a boon to the mainstream media. For them, a moderate is a sensible person who accepts necessary 'reforms' including cuts to public services - as I said earlier someone who accepts the status quo. Thus the epitome of centrist politics, The Guardian, praises and promotes sensible, moderate politicians such as Yvette Cooper who is currently the pin-up politician of English centrists.

For me, what provides conclusive proof that centrists are conservatives are the relentless attacks they make on Jeremy Corbyn, a decent man, a democrat, who leads a Labour Party, which has a modest Labour manifesto for social democratic reform in the UK. What really troubles conservatives of all stripes about Corbyn is not that he is a Marxist (they know he isn't) but that he is the genuine article, someone who would actually implement the manifesto and bring about real change and break the neoliberal stranglehold on the UK.

*there isn't scope in this post to discuss Lakoff's ideas in more detail but you might want to read his book The Political Mind to find out more. You won't be disappointed.