Wednesday, 3 June 2020


A video is doing the rounds on social media of George Floyd who was accused of passing a counterfeit bill and was arrested by four police officers in Minneapolis. It's horrific, sobering viewing, a police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes and he was recorded saying "I can't breathe". None of the other officers intervened. He died.

This has sparked off a wave of protests in the USA and around the world. Other videos have emerged of police brutality in the USA, attacking protestors and shooting them in the face with rubber bullets. At least one person has been blinded. Trump was censored by Twitter for posting "when the looting starts the shooting starts".

I'm appalled and my thoughts and solidarity go to PoC the world over who are suffering from systemic racism.


Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Can we build a democratic socialist party in the UK?

The coronavirus crisis grinds on and will continue for many months yet. Today the official figures are 32,000 coronavirus deaths - the highest in Europe. Governments are spending to prop up their economies. The result will be higher deficits and debt. That will lead to calls for a new round of austerity to 'pay for the crisis'. George Osborne, the architect of the period of austerity we are now still going through, has already called for this. Of course, that means that 'we' - the working and middle classes' will have to pay - not the corporations who have received billions in support, nor the 1%. This would be a disaster, not only increasing poverty and hardship for the many but ultimately making our economy weaker. The key thing is that the debt doesn't matter. A sovereign government with its own currency can create as much money as its needs. And what we need is a massive stimulus for a green new deal which will, get people back to work in well paid jobs and mitigate the dire effects of climate change.

That will won't happen while we have a Tory government. The only way to bring about the stimulus we need is to elect a democratic socialist government. The question is can that be a Labour government? I understand that many socialists have been disillusioned by the election of Keir Starmer to the Labour leadership. Thousands have quit the party and I understand why. The 'Labourleaks' report was a good enough reason to leave, and there are many who feel that Starmer isn't providing sufficient opposition to a failing, incompetent government that is costing lives.

The problem for any opposition in a crisis is that people get behind the government - they want it to succeed - so outright opposition, though it may be justified may not be appreciated by many voters. Has Starmer called it right? That remains to be seen, but the acid test for Starmer is will he stick to Labour's radical policies - in particular the green new deal -  and will he win the next general election?

For me, it's too early to tell. But I do believe if Starmer's Labour fails to win in 2024, or earlier, that's the end of Labour. As a party member if Starmer shifts away from the Labour's radical policies I'm out. The question then becomes is it possible to build a genuinely democratic socialist party in the UK outside of Labour? The first past the post voting system gives every minor party a mountain to climb and it could take many years to build a party that would have any impact, which is why electoral reform is essential. Of course, it would be easier if left MPs split from Labour and had the support of some the unions but that looks unlikely.

So what do we do? I would be willing to join a new democratic socialist party if, and only if, it had a very flat structure and was member-led. Whatever happens, the key is organising at the grassroots and building economic democracy and mutual aid in the communities we live in.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

After the virus: building the post-capitalist economy

Its time we began to think about what kind of economy we’re going to have after the coronavirus. What we can’t do is allow the Tory government to introduce a new round of austerity to ‘pay’ for the crisis. And what we must do is ensure that the so-called ‘low skilled’ workers such as shop workers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, care workers, nurses and cleaners who have kept us safe and maintained our economy are properly rewarded for the work they do.

Even in the absence of the virus, in recent times capitalism has shown that it is perfectly capable of bringing about its own demise. This isn't just about the recent collapse of banks, the coming coronavirus 'debt crisis' obscures the real problem we face which is the collapse of ecosystems on which we depend for our survival. 

Capitalism is not just the driver of the climate crisis we are in, but also of massive environmental degradation, and loss in biodiversity. It is capital accumulation that is devouring our planet and you cannot use the same mechanisms which are destroying the Earth to save it. What we need to do is bring about economic change before the consequences of climate change become unimaginably destructive to our global society. If we are to save the planet, a post-capitalist economy is inevitable, but we can do it the hard way or the better way, and what we need to do is think about how that economy ought to work.

I wonder how many people know that Karl Marx, was an admirer of capitalism, in the sense that he admired the huge productive capacity of capitalism, which far exceeded any previous economic system. Marx recognized that if the productive capacity of capitalism was harnessed for the good of society, it could provide people with a much better material standard of living than they had ever had before. But he also recognized that, through the mechanism of surplus value, capitalists were able to deprive workers of the wealth that they created, and that there would always be a conflict between capitalists and workers, between the productive forces - workers - and the non-productive forces - capitalists. 

Marx understood the massive forces that capitalism could unleash, and Marx and Engels were also much more aware of environmental degradation than they have been given credit for. Engels said:    

“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first.”

As far as climate catastrophe is concerned, the left may have led the way in our understanding of the unfolding climate crisis but the 'free' market right have since caught up, and are now pouring their millions into persuading people that climate change is not an issue, through climate change denial, because they are concerned about their profits and the end of the domination of democracies by the market. As I have pointed out before the 'free' market fundamentalists are fighting to deny climate change precisely because they recognize that a genuine and meaningful response the climate change will mean the end of capitalism as we know it. This state of affairs was beautifully summed up in an article by Naomi Klein called 'Capitalism vs the Climate'.

So what would a post-capitalist economy look like? It would not mean the end of the private sector, because the private sector is not the same thing as capitalism - your local hairdresser and corner shop owners are not capitalists - but initially, it would inevitably mean a much bigger role for the state because a collapsing capitalist economy would have to be replaced by extensive nationalisation of banks, transport, and utilities to save them from going under. This is what has already effectively happened with the coronavirus crisis. This is a chance to rebuild our economy on the basis of economic democracy and our aim should be to ensure that post coronavirus most businesses are owned and controlled by the people who work in them.

Energy and food production would have to be regulated as would imports and exports. We would need planning in a democratically controlled economy. This would not simply be an ideological choice but a necessary response to the crisis. We would have to grow as much as our own food as possible and economies would become much more localised. There have already been plans put forward for a green new deal (GND) to reduce carbon emissions and create millions of good green jobs - so we know the way forward. We have the solution in our hands and we must ensure it is implemented.

We are already experiencing problems with climate change in terms of freak weather events, and disruption to agriculture, and we will inevitably soon have difficulties with energy supply. During the coronavirus lockdown, we have also enjoyed the benefits of cleaner air and exercise. We have a choice, we can begin to adjust our economy now, to deal with these problems, or we can carry on with 'business as usual' and inevitably face much worse conditions later. We already have the basis of a GND in Labour’s policy programme. We need to make sure that this remains at the top of our agenda and is the ground on which we fight the next general election. We must work together to create a new kind of economy to deal with possibly the greatest challenge that human beings have ever faced.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

My Prison Diary

Antonio Gramsci was a member of the Italian parliament and General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party. He was imprisoned by the Italian Fascist dictator Mussolini in 1928. With a history of poor health, he was released from prison in1933 and died under guard in a clinic. His writings in prison were smuggled out and became known as The Prison Notebooks.

Why am I referring to this? Firstly, because, if you are on the left, Gramsci is a political activist worth getting to know about by reading about his life and words. And secondly, we are all prisoners now. But we are not just prisoners because of the coronavirus, we are prisoners, and likely to remain prisoners for some time, because of the incompetence and malevolence of this government hence the title of this post.

I am on my twelfth day of lockdown after I visited a supermarket twelve days ago. I shouldn't have done it. I'm a vulnerable person. I have underlying medical conditions like Gramsci. Although my mental health is pretty good I do have some anxieties, not just for myself but those I love. Every time I cough I wonder if that is the start.

Today a government minister, Rober Jenrick, was on Sky News saying we have12,000 ventilators. Later on BBC Breakfast, he said there were 8,000. This is what we have to contend with not just incompetence but lying and it can only serve to cost yet more lives.

What we do know though is that our imprisonment is going to last a lot longer than some far-right commentators and Trump are saying. We won't be back on the streets and in pubs by Easter. We may be 'let out' in June, and then we can expect another lockdown in the Autumn. 

This is going to last for a minimum of eighteen months which is how long it will take to make an effective vaccine. In that time many people will die without a proper funeral or farewell from their loved ones, and the economy is going to take a massive hit. Afterward, life will be different for all of us.

In the meantime, we have to continue to expose the lies and incompetence of the government and work to make sure that things change - a decent NHS and benefits system and an end to low pay for 'essential' workers. 

I wish you all well. Stay safe.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

The lesson of #Covid-19 is that its labour that makes our economy work, not capital.

So here we are. The Coronavirus pandemic rumbles on and we haven't reached the peak yet. Our incompetent and malevolent government still hasn't managed to source and distribute to NHS staff the protective gear they need. Daily, we see shocking scenes of NHS staff struggling to cope with improvised masks and gowns. In addition, they still haven't managed to provide any real support for the five million self-employed people in the UK, and the Universal Credit system is in crisis with a backlog of 500,000 applicants. 

Many nonessential workers such as construction workers and workers in call centres are being forced to continue working putting themselves and others at risk.

The latest scandal is that the government, instead of cooperating with other EU states to source ventilators has decided to go it alone and instead of sourcing them from the UK manufacturers has approached Dyson the hoover maker which has decamped to Singapore!

The big news yesterday was that Prince Charles has tested positive for the virus at a time when NHS staff still can't get tested. And so it goes on, a catalogue of failures which is going to cost more lives.

But this crisis has taught us an important lesson. It's not capital or capitalists which makes our economy function its workers - nurses, cleaners, deliverers, postal workers, supermarket workers, care home workers and more. What do all these people have in common? They're all low paid and under-valued.

And that's the nub of it. In the 2008 crash governments bailed out the banks but would we have missed them? No. The government could have nationalised them and let the 'investors' go to the wall. Instead, it made the rest of us pay for the banks' misdeeds through austerity. You can run an economy without private sector banks but you can't run it without workers and consumers.

James Meadway's thoughtful article for Novaramedia is worth reading on this. He says:

"Once people are too sick to work, or forced to self-isolate, the conventional operation of the labour market begins to break down. The division of labour – the secret to capitalism’s immense gains in productivity, as Adam Smith pointed out 250 years ago – itself is called into question: the present allocation of work between different parts of the economy is suddenly and, of necessity, forcibly altered."

What's clear is that, as James says, our economy needs to be fundamentally reworked for the benefit of those that make it work. I'm not as optimistic as he is. I have no doubt that when the crisis has passed the government will work hard to return to Brexit and business as usual - as if nothing happened. It will point the finger in any direction it can to avoid blame and will be supported by propagandists in the BBC and the media.

Whatever the outcome it's clear that thousands will die but it's unlikely that the death toll will exceed the 130,000 victims of Tory austerity.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

The war against COVID - 19: what we need to do

This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever written. I have a vested interest in survival. Because of my age and underlying medical conditions, I am a vulnerable person. I intend to be around for at least a decade yet. But that might not happen now.

We, in the UK, are in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic and already things are looking very bleak. The situation is developing rapidly and there are some very worrying developments. Causing the most worry is the predictable criminal negligence of the government in not taking swift action to initiate testing and countering the spread of the virus by means of lockdowns. Couple that with ten years of austerity and the underfunding of the NHS and you have a recipe for disaster. And it really will be a disaster because not only will tens of thousands of people die but our economy could end up in ruins.

In countries like France, Spain, and Italy, governments have taken decisive action, enforcing lockdowns, closing schools and requisitioning private hospitals and hotels for medical care. They have also taken measures to protect workers and the economy freezing rents, mortgages and utility bills and guaranteeing pay and the protection of businesses. What has happened here? Pretty much nothing.

There was a very good post from Richard J Murphy the other day in which is worth quoting at length, he said:

"Our survival experience does, however, depend upon something else, and that is the preservation of the economy.

We will still need jobs later this year.

We will also need key companies (and many more are key than most people appreciate) to still be operating.

We will still need banking.

We will still need people who can afford to spend.

And all those things require that there be enough cash in the system to make sure that this happens.

Critically, there is no shortage to the amount of cash that the government can create to tackle this crisis. Tax is not required for governments to spend. Deep down every government knows that. They do because when they go to war they never ask who is going pay for it, or how: they simply get their central banks to turn on the money and the aggression begins.

Now we need to turn on those money taps." [my italics]

He's right. If the government doesn't take action to support workers and businesses thousands of companies, large and small will go to the wall.

So we have a health crisis and an economic crisis and both are likely to last for some time, at least twelve months, maybe eighteen or until a vaccine has been made. That means the way our society and economy is run is going to need to change. As in a war situation, we are going to have to have more state-led collective arrangements to ensure economic stability and people's well being. We may need rationing and price controls. This is not a crisis that can be solved by the market. This, of course, is a complete anathema to Boris Johnson and his 'free' market fanatic crew and I suspect that only a clamour from the public will force a change in the government's approach. I encourage you to be part of that clamour. We may not be able to protest on the streets but contact your MP and lobby anyone you can to bring about the changes we need.

In the meantime, isolate yourself as much as you can, don't panic buy, support your neighbours and elderly relatives, through mutual aid, get yourself some sunshine and exercise if you can, and don't forget the vitamin D!

Thursday, 9 January 2020

After #GE2019 what do we do?

Anyone who has read my posts on this blog will know there is a common theme and that is economic democracy, which means businesses being owned and controlled by the people who work in them. As I've said many times this is something we can do now and its happening all over the world. I've given many examples in previous posts and pointed people in the direction of help and guidance to get started - here is an example from 2012, which describes how people built their way out of the economic ruins of Detroit and the crash of 2008.

The beauty of worker cooperatives is that they are rooted in the local community. They don't downsize or outsource and most of the wealth they create stays in the local community boosting its health and wellbeing and quality of life. This is why everyone on the left needs to get behind building economic democracy.

So what has this got to do with the 2019 election? A lot. We are now faced with another five years of Tory government and probably a hard Brexit. The assault on the unemployed and disabled will continue. Rough sleeping will continue to grow. The economy will struggle and may go into recession. There will continue to be a hostile environment for migrants and nothing will be done about the climate crisis. 

To deal with this We need a two-pronged approach working to elect a radical Labour government in 2024, and building community support from the grassroots upwards. At a community level, this means mutual aid - solidarity not charity. But it isn't just about providing food, clothing, and shelter for the victims of this government. It's about creating meaningful jobs and building homes. It's about recreating and rebuilding the commons. We can do these things ourselves and it's already happening.

To really make this take off we need help. Finance is a major issue. Whilst some projects can be realised through crowdfunding others will require financial support. This is where local councils come in, and despite the fact that they have had budgets slashed by the Conservatives there are still many things that councils can do to support local groups and build community wealth, which is why it's important to elect as many Labour councillors as possible.  We need to ensure that councils are following, where possible, The Preston Model of community wealth building. 

Councils can also help in the fight against the climate crisis. They can improve public transport systems and pedestrianise town centres. They can improve local recycling facilities, rewild council land, build energy-efficient housing and help set up community energy companies powered by green energy. 

One example of community action from the UK is CAG Oxfordshire:

"Community Action Group (CAG) Oxfordshire consists of over 70 groups across Oxfordshire, at the forefront of community led climate change action, organising events and projects to take action on issues including waste, transport, food, energy, biodiversity and social justice.
Started in 2001, the network is the largest of its kind in the UK, running over 2,000 events per year, attended by around 80,000 local residents and contributing over 20,000 volunteer hours to the county."

This government isn't going to help us so we need to get together and help ourselves. We can do it and make a positive difference in people's lives. We still also need to work and campaign at a national and regional level to put pressure on the government, and campaign to get Labour elected the next time around. There's a lot to do but we can do it. Let's get on with it.

Monday, 16 December 2019

#GE2019: How did #Labour lose?

Friday the 13th was a very dark day indeed. Not just because of the size and scale of Labour's defeat in the election but because of what Britain has become as a result. Britain is now a meaner and more xenophobic nation and after five years of a Johnson-led Tory government, it will be even worse. People in the North who switched to the Tories will be poorer and hopefully wiser. So what went wrong?

There were five factors which contributed to Labour's defeat:

1. Neglect - This began with New Labour. After nearly two decades of Thatcherite government, the North was devastated with the industries of mining, steel making and shipbuilding smashed or greatly reduced. New Labour did nothing for the North or the working class in general. People wanted jobs and houses - they didn't get them. As a result, some of them voted for the BNP and New Labour lost over four million votes from these communities in 2005. This is never mentioned because it doesn't fit the media narrative that Blair is a faultless hero. The warnings were ignored.

2. Messaging - this is crucial and a key reason why Labour lost. The left simply doesn't understand frames and how to use them. What's the thing you remember about the 2016 referendum? Chances are its 'Take Back Control" - simple and very effective. December 12th will be remembered as the "Get Brexit Done" election. These simple frames resonate with people, they stick in people's heads - and they work. Contrast this with Labour's message - what was it? Do you remember? The Tories framed the debate when they started using "Get Brexit Done" at their party conference in September two months before the election. In addition, Labour threw too much at people with their manifesto. Great and popular policies but people don't vote for manifestos their vote is an emotional response. Labour's campaign lacked focus and was poor. They thought they could win it with a ground war but it's much easier to win through the airwaves.

3. Brexit - people wanted to get Brexit over having become sick of three years of parliamentary squabbling and two extensions. With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better for Labour to have voted through May's deal and got us out. What didn't help was the Lib Dems refusal to support a Corbyn-led interim government to get a better deal. Brexit won it for the Tories.

4. The media - the role of the media and in particular the BBC was crucial. The BBC have been attacking Corbyn and his supporters for the past four years and have never bothered to find any evidence of the veracity of smears made against him. Peter Oborne, a journalist and Tory, called out the lies on Channel 4 news naming Laura Kunnesberg and Robert Peston he also exposed the lies of Boris Johnson. (Ex) Labour voters said they didn't like Corbyn and they couldn't vote for him. They often when challenged couldn't say why. Why know why - four years of vilification.

5. Antisemitism - a concerted campaign of antisemitism smears against Corbyn was never dealt with. A decent man and life long anti-racist was traduced. The problem is that the witch-hunters will be emboldened by the success of their campaign and any Labour leader who shows support for the Palestinians will be subjected to the same.

I fear that these are going to be five very long years. One of the worst outcomes is that racists and the far-right have become emboldened by this result. Expect attacks on disabled, British Asians, PoC and the LGBT community to increase. What can we do? I'll be writing about that in my next post. In the meantime, the most important thing is that we stick together and show solidarity for each other. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

#GE2019: This is the fight of our lives and we have to elect a #Labour government.

I'm sixty-two years old so I've been around a bit. I grew up in the swinging 60s and lived through the industrial strife of the 1970s. In the 1980s I witnessed Thatcher asset-strip the public sector through privatisation and run down the NHS, schools and British Rail. That was a dark decade but I never imagined that things could get worse. Well now, after another decade of Tory government they are worse, much worse. 

Begining in 2010, George Osborne's austerity programme wasn't an economic necessity it was a political choice, a choice taken with the aim of slashing the public sector and smashing local government. As a result, many councils are unable to provide the services we need, and we have seen a rise in poverty and homelessness, 130,000 avoidable deaths, a decline in living standards and chronic low pay, and the NHS is on its knees.

Yet more lives are at stake here, maybe the lives of your family, friends or neighbours because its abundantly clear that if we get a Conservative government on December 12th 2019 things will get worse, much worse.

As if that wasn't bad enough we are in a climate crisis and the Conservatives have no intention of doing anything about it. They will continue with business as usual even if it means destroying the planet we depend upon by putting the interests of the 1% and profit before people and the environment.

So, please register to vote and vote Labour for a transformational government which will save our NHS, build the houses we need, move us toward a zero-carbon Britain, and rebuild our economy from the ashes of austerity. If you want to know more have a look at the Labour manifesto. Speak to everyone you know and encourage them to ignore the media smears and scares and encourage them to vote Labour.

If you live in a constituency where Labour cannot win then vote tactically to prevent the Conservative candidate from winning.

This is the most important election of your life. We cannot afford another Conservative government.

Friday, 6 September 2019

To win a general election Labour must respect the referendum result

I have to start this post off by saying that I am a member of the Labour Party and that I think a Labour win the forthcoming general election (GE) is essential for the future of the UK. Only Labour can end austerity, revive our economy, save our public services - including the NHS - and take the necessary action to reduce carbon and avert catastrophic climate change. Labour might just avert a break up of the union as well.

Of course, the elephant in the room is Brexit and it's not going away anytime soon, but this is dangerous ground for Labour to fight the election on. Labour has always said it would respect the 2016 referendum result and has sought to deliver a soft Brexit by being in a customs union with the EU and seeking access to the single market. I think that is the correct position but there is a huge problem with it - it's not black or white - remain or leave. In the sound and fury that Brexit generates its easy for Labour's 'nuanced' approach to be drowned out. And it's been far too easy for the MSM to pretend - as they have been doing for months - that they and everyone else can't understand what Labour's position is.

How to get round this? Steve Howell, who worked on campaigns for Labour in the 2017 election wrote a thoughtful article for the New Statesman about this and in it he says:
"Corbyn’s position avoids gifting the No Dealers the argument that they are the only ones respecting the 2016 referendum. At the same time, it gives Remainers the promise of a chance to win a second vote"
He's right, but will voters take any notice? Especially if the media works hard to muddy the water - as they will.

My fear is that Labour's voice will be drowned out in the battle between leavers and remainers - with fatal consequences for the whole Corbyn project. What can Labour do? Well, they will have to make their position on Brexit as clear and simple as possible but also ensure that the election is NOT fought on Brexit but far more important issues such as climate breakdown, austerity, rejuvenating the economy and public services. If Labour adopts the idea of a green new deal - which it probably will - this needs to be pushed really hard. Labour will have an even more radical manifesto than in 2017 and they need to make sure voters are well aware of its contents.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Walk, cycle or use public transport - cars have had their day.

There's been a lot of talk about zero carbon recently. Extinction Rebellion is demanding the UK moves to zero carbon by 2025. The government has committed to 2050. What would I do? Well, I'd set a target of 2030 because although it may not be achievable it gives us the sense of urgency that we need to actually make change happen - we need to see some real action in the next decade to stave off catastrophic climate change and some think 2050 may be far too late

One of the big issues we need to tackle is transport. In 2018 government figures showed that most of the UK's carbon emissions came from transport. I know a number of people who have got EVs or hybrids and there is pressure growing on governments and manufacturers to speed up the availability of affordable EVs and increase the number of charging points. So hopefully the day is not too far off when we'll able to use EVs instead of fossil fuel-guzzling cars, right?

Wrong! When it comes to building and using EVs we not only need to think about infrastructure but also about what raw materials we use and where they come from, which is why this press release from the Natural History Museum is worth reading. Here is an extract:

"The metal resource needed to make all cars and vans electric by 2050 and all sales to be purely battery-electric by 2035. To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copperThis represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of the European industry."

The reality is that we may not all be whizzing around in EVs and nor should we want to. The real key to reducing emissions from transport is a good, national, integrated public transport system. We also need to get many more people onto bicycles and walking, with greater pedestrianisation of city and town centres. This article by Goerge Monbiot in the Guardian sums up the situation well: 
"In his book Unlocking Sustainable Cities,Paul Chatterton argues that controlling the car is the first and most important step towards creating friendly and vibrant cities. He points to the work of architects such as Jan Gehl – who seek to reclaim the space now captured by cars, to allow “life between buildings” to flourish."
This will take a big cultural shift. Since the post-war period when car ownership started to become more common in the UK, and Margaret Thatcher's "great car economy" of the 1980s we've associated the car with personal freedom. Jump in the car parked on your drive and you can, in theory, go anywhere you want, whenever you want. That will have to end and it's going to be difficult to wean people off their cars. 

We need to stress the positives - less carbon, less air pollution, more exercise, better health, and fewer road traffic accidents. And if you really want to live in a zero-carbon economy - get on your bike or a bus!

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 of compassion, equality and solidarity 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.