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.

Friday, 16 November 2018

We should all be supporting Extinction Rebellion

Brexit, even hard Brexit, is trivial compared to the climate crisis we are facing. There, I've said it. Why? Because the recent report IPPC report gave us twelve years to reduce our carbon outputs or face potentially catastrophic climate change. Just think about that - twelve years! A few years ago I went to a talk by the respected climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre. At that meeting, he said that the UK had to reduce its carbon emissions by eighty per cent in the next ten years to avoid a global temperature rise above 2 degrees centigrade. So we now have just seven years left to do that. Add to this that we now know that climate change and human activity has already caused a massive loss in biodiversity which threatens our future.

So, we are on course for a catastrophe if we don't take action, and we need to take that action now. We need a massive programme of de-carbonisation, including investment in renewables, battery storage, and energy efficiency. Some of the actions we can take have already been planned and are ready to be taken off the shelf such as the Green New Deal and One Million Climate jobs. These programmes have been thought through and fully costed - we need to get on with putting them into effect. We also need to reform agriculture, reducing the input of chemicals which damage wildlife and focus on growing local food sustainably and organically.

Extinction Rebellion protesters in London
All of this can be done but only if we have a government which faces up to the truth. Labour has been moving in the right direction for some time, too slowly for my liking, but it is getting there, and we know that a Tory government cannot deliver the changes we need. So we need to spread the word and encourage everyone we know to vote Labour, and in the meantime - before a Labour government -  we have to take every action we can at a local level - through Transition groups for example - and a national level by using peaceful direct action. That is why I think we should support, and where possible, participate in actions by Extinction Rebellion. This is something worth going to prison for. So please check out the actions they have planned and spread the word as far as you can!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

What else is to be done?

Ok, ok, I know I nicked that post title from someone famous - or infamous if you prefer. But this post is about what the left needs to do in the UK today, and what it can be doing now.

First, some background: I have been a radical socialist for about 47 years. I never joined Labour in my younger years because I thought it was too right-wing for me. I've been an activist to some degree or other for all of those years. I eventually joined Labour in 1996 because I was desperate to see the back of the Tories. The 1997 Labour win brought a huge sense of relief but about 6 months in I quit. Why? because I saw through Blair. After that, I joined the Green Party because I liked the policies, the fact that it was member-led, and I am an environmentalist. I was a local candidate 4 times and a PPC in 2010. I was the local Party secretary for 5 years. I was on the Northwest regional committee for 3 years and was twice elected to GPEx (national executive) - 2012 to 2016. Then, I decided to quit the Greens and re-join Labour after Corbyn won the second leadership contest.

So, I've been around a bit, and like all Corbyn supporters, my number one priority is a Labour government - as soon as possible. But what if there isn't another election until 2022? Most people think it will happen before then and they may be right but, we may have another four years of misery to look forward to. And what if Labour doesn't win the next election or can't form a government? Even if Labour does win will they be able to implement their programme?

Winning power, through government, and being able to bring about major change is critical - but its also putting all our eggs in one basket and that is where the left falls down so often.

What else is there to be done? There are plenty of other important and positive things we could be doing to bring about real change now, change which will benefit the people and communities we care about. What I'm talking about can broadly be described as mutual aid. I'm not suggesting this is an alternative to the welfare state but it is something which can run alongside it and the most important aspect is that it empowers people.

In one of my previous posts, I said that capitalism cannot be beaten politically, it can only be beaten economically. I still believe that. The most important thing we can do is promote and participate in economic democracy. That means creating mutuals and cooperatives, and ultimately mutualising our economy. I'm not saying this is easy but it can be done if we have the will to do it. On the left, we need to think of ourselves not just as political actors but economic actors. We need a network of cooperatives that trade with each other and we need to spend our money in them.

I'm not going to repeat all the arguments here because they are fully explained in a previous post called 'Why we can and must build our own economy'. Please read this to fully appreciate my argument. Until we make this change we will always be subject to the whims of the markets. It may seem like a mountain to climb but there are lots of inspiring examples of what people can do when they get together and bring about real change. In the future, we need a Labour government to set up a National Investment Bank to provide funds to get these coops off the ground. I know John McDonnell is on the case because I've heard him speak about itBut its still possible to do things now.

Just one other example to finish off with. We have a housing crisis. No good waiting for a Tory government to do anything. But some people aren't waiting - through Community Land Trusts they are building houses up and down the UK - see here.

The critical point here is about empowerment - putting people in control of their own destiny - and building the economy from the bottom up instead of top down. Putting all our hope and energy in a Labour government just isn't enough. Even if Corbyn becomes PM and implements the manifesto there's still the possibility that it will be rolled-back in the future.

As someone once said 'let's take back control' - real control in our hands.

Friday, 8 June 2018

We need to talk about government spending and why there is plenty of money

Almost every day we see articles in the media about the lack of money governments have, and how things like nationalisation of the railways are 'unaffordable'. Then there's that famous 'there is no money' note left by Liam Byrne when Labour left government in 2010. So now we know - there is no money - right?

Wrong actually! There is plenty of money, and to understand why we have to look at how government spending actually works. One of the first obstacles we find is that we have always been told that governments tax and spend. This is something you will frequently hear politicians saying. And so we believe that government spending is paid for out of our taxes. But this isn't true, it's not how governments operate. What they actually do is spend and tax. They spend money into the economy and then tax that money as it circulates around the economy. Government spending is not dependent on tax receipts.

How did we get to thinking it was? Becuase we have been lead to believe that government budgets are like household budgets but they're not. Everyone knows about household budgets. You earn income and you spend that on food, clothes, the mortgage and so on. If you spend too much you go into debt. Government budgets aren't like household budgets they are very different.

Firstly a sovereign government with its own currency - like the UK with its pound - can create as much money as it wants - out of thin air. A recent example of this in the UK was quantitative easing or QE. The Bank of England created £435 billion of new money. How did it do that? A BoE official sat at a laptop and typed the money into an account. In fact, commercial banks do exactly the same thing when they issue loans. Money is created as debt by these banks because they are licensed to be able to do so by our government.

Furthermore, when a government spends money it gets most of that money returned to it in taxes. A simple example would be the government spends £100 and gets £80 back in taxes. This is called the 'fiscal multiplier'. Now you can begin to see why government budgets are not like household budgets because a government can create money and most of the money it spends is returned to it in taxes.

Its worth mentioning deficits at this stage. If a government spends more than it 'earns' (in taxes and other income) it will have a deficit. But this is a good thing. Why? Because if the government - public sector - has a deficit then the private sector - businesses and people - will have a surplus - which is good for us. Government surpluses mean private sector deficits and that is bad - for us. For a fuller explanation see this video by David Graeber.

The UK economy is struggling and growth in the last quarter was 0.1%. We may be heading into a recession. So what can the government do? The government needs to invest in the UK and here is one example of how it could:

1. Give public sector workers a decent pay rise - say 10% in one year (they are about 15% poorer than they were in 2010 because of an ongoing pay cap)

2. Some of that money - about 30% - will be returned immediately to the government through income taxes

3. most of the rest of the pay rise will be spent by public sector workers and will end up returning to the government in tax because it is taxed as is circulates around the economy. The pay rise will largely pay for itself.

That spending will boost businesses and the UK economy. One of the main reasons why the high street is failing is not internet shopping but the simple fact that millions have no money to spend.

This is a win-win situation which will boost public sector worker morale and wellbeing and help to lift the UK out of the hole it is in. The question has to be - why aren't the government doing this? I have no doubt there are many MPs who don't understand how government budgets work but the main reason is the poisonous ideology of neoliberalism and blind faith in the 'free' market.

Note: if you want to read more about this I recommend 'The Joy of Tax' by Richard J Murphy.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

As long as there are power imbalances people will continue to be abused

Since the exposure of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual abuser and the #MeToo campaign on Twitter, there have been many other exposures of sexual abuse, most recently in the charity sector. Hopefully, these revelations will result in the prosecution and conviction of men who have serially abused women and deter others from doing so, but, in the longer term, will anything really change? 

Sexual abuse is not about sexual gratification. Though abusers may get some sexual pleasure this abuse is really about power and domination. According to Lyn Yonack - who posted here:

"Far and away, most sexual assaults and sexual violence are perpetrated by men, and typically arise within asymmetrical power dynamics, where the perpetrator occupies a more powerful or dominant position in relation to the victim...........These men have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need: a job, good grades, a promotion, a recommendation, an audition, a role in a movie, a place close to the center of power."
So although the exposure and prosecution of serial sex abusers may reduce the amount of sexual abuse going on we still have the essential problem - an imbalance of power. Such imbalances are commonplace in our culture - most obviously in the workplace. And power imbalances don't just lead to sexual abuse. They also lead to bullying and harassment which can have a serious impact on the victim. As a former union representative, I have first-hand experience of this.

So how do we combat this abuse and prevent it from happening, or at least significantly reduce it? The answer, of course, is obvious and is staring us in the face - we need to remove the imbalance of power that facilitates abuse and bullying. To many people, this would seem impossible because we are used to living in a stratified culture in which we take the roles of 'bosses' and 'workers' for granted. That's just how things work, isn't it?

Well yes, but it needn't be. We don't need hierarchies of any kind, either in the workplace or society at large. We are perfectly capable of running businesses and our society as a whole cooperatively and collectively. Naturally, the people who have power aren't going to give it up readily and will work hard to persuade us that they are necessary. But we can start to change things now. I've written about how we can do this in more detail in this post and this blog contains many examples of businesses and groups that are run in a non-hierarchical way.

If you are really serious about ending sexual abuse and bullying - get serious about ending power imbalances in the workplace and wider society!