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:

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 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.