Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Could this be the end of the ongoing obscenity which is Boris Johnson? #PartyGate

Just a quick blog today on #PartyGate - the ongoing scandal in which it has been revealed that during the covid lockdowns of 2020 a number of boozy parties took place at 10 Downing Street in breach of the covid regulations. Boris Johnson not only knew about but attended these parties. The revelations which have been going on since December 2021 have been further bolstered by a tweet and blog post from Dominic Cummings on Monday 17 January as reported in the Guardian:

"Dominic Cummings has accused Boris Johnson of lying after No. 10 denied the prime minister was warned against allowing a “bring your own booze” party during the first lockdown.

Johnson admitted to parliament last week that he attended drinks in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020 but claimed he had not realised it was a social gathering."

The number of 'illegal' No. 10 parties that have been exposed now amount to eleven, the first being on 15 May 2020 and the most recent on 18 December 2020. Throughout these revelations, Johnson has blustered, lied, and denied knowledge of what was going on. His response to Cummings latest exposure has been to claim he didn't know it breached the rules. Given that he is ultimately responsible for the rules and their dissemination that has provoked even more anger than some of his previous #PartyGate statements.

He has been under increasing pressure to resign and has tasked a senior civil servant Sue Gray to investigate all the allegations. The very fact that he is asking someone who reports to him to investigate shows how broken and not fit for purpose our parliamentary system is.

Today in the House of Commons Tory MP David Davis called on Johnson to resign saying: "In the name of God go", and the Tory MP for Bury South Christian Wakeford defected to Labour, branding Johnson's conduct "disgraceful". It's worth noting that Wakeford had a majority of just over four hundred and so is probably trying to save his skin but it's likely that other 'red wall' Tory MPs are worried.

As it stands things look pretty grim for Johnson but he does have a track record of avoiding any kind of punishment for his many lies and transgressions, and this is probably not a time - with inflation at its highest for thirty years and an energy bill crisis in the offing - that many of the Tory leadership contenders would relish taking over. It could be the local elections in May 2022 that prove to be the crucial tipping point that will finish Johnson if the Tories lose a raft of seats.

To cap all this, Peter Oborne, a Tory journalist, who has written about the lies of Trump and Johnson, told Owen Jones that he thought the removal of Johnson as the leader might split the Tory party. This sounds a bit far-fetched to me but Oborne has a far better knowledge of the Party than I do. It’s important to note that the Conservative party is not the party that we have known for many decades. It has been reshaped by Brexit. Both the parliamentary party and the membership have changed since the EU referendum and now contain many Libertarian/Ukip/Brexit loons. But let’s hope Oborne is right because a permanently split Tory party would be very good for the UK. Watch this space!

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Omicron and covid chaos - no end in sight

In many ways, Covid is the perfect storm. An infectious virus that is more deadly than the flu. Easily transmissible, it can kill and cause long-term health effects. Thankfully we have vaccines, but the vaccines don't provide full protection and don't prevent transmission either. In early 2020 Covid spread around the world. With one or two notable exceptions, governments reacted too slowly to the threat. At least 5 million people have died worldwide and the death toll in the USA alone recently passed 800,000

The fundamental problem is that capitalism can't cope with coronavirus. It's that simple. In an economy driven by profit and growth where little heed is paid to poverty, poor housing, and people's healthcare needs, where the economy comes first, it was always inevitable that countries would struggle to contain the virus successfully. Couple this with the fact that much of the world hasn't been vaccinated and the obscene fact that vaccine patents haven't been waivered while companies make massive profits and you have the failure of capitalism in a nutshell.

In the UK, the government predictably and foolishly celebrated 'freedom' day in July 2021 and here we are in another winter wave which threatens to overwhelm the NHS and damage businesses. Plan B, announced recently by Boris Johnson was too little, too late. With the omicron variant surging the government needs to take action, insisting rather than recommending that people work from home, revisiting the furlough scheme, and dealing with wholly inadequate statutory sick pay as a minimum. They also need to take much stonger action on schools where our children and teachers have been abandoned. 

There seems little chance of this happening. Rishi Sunak has already been moaning about the cost of the booster jabs programme and appears to have gone awol, sunning himself in California. When he gets back, don't expect him to do anything useful - expect more cuts and tax rises - exactly what we don't need.

The big issue here is that covid isn't going away any time soon. We will have to live with it for the rest of our lives and hope that it mutates into a less harmful form. But what we need to do is factor into our economy living with covid. This will require government support which is anathema to the Conservatives. It may require a basic income funded by covid QE, something which was used with the furlough scheme.

In the longer term we need a rethink about the way our economy works and who benefits from it. The climate crisis will force this on us anyway although governments and corporations are in denial about it. We need an economy that puts people before profit. One which is cooperative and collective, where people are decently housed, have stable remunerated work and access to healthcare. If we don't begin to move in that direction soon the alternative could be very bleak.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

The aim of #Cop26 is not to save the planet but to save capitalism

Welcome to the climate con which is CoP26 in Glasgow. Here, governments, NGOs, and corporates are supposed to be working together to limit global warming to the 1.5º centigrade target set in the Paris climate agreement. Each country will set itself a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), and there is talk of a $100,000 billion contribution - small change in global terms - to help countries in the global south deal with the current impacts of climate change. Outside the conference, there is a mass of activity - speeches, singing, marches, and music - carried out by climate activists from all over the world. Before this CoP started we were told that this was humanity's last chance to take real action to avoid the climate crisis becoming a climate catastrophe.

But there is a real problem with this CoP. As with other CoPs delegates from the very corporations who are the biggest carbon polluters are in attendance. Not only this, but they have the largest delegation, bigger than any country! The aim of these delegates is not to protect the planet, they're really there to protect their business interests. They do this by peddling business 'solutions' to the climate crisis such as carbon offseting - pour out CO2 and plant some trees - and carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology in which CO2 outputs are collected and buried underground. According to Global Witness:
"What we seeing is the putting forward of false solutions that appear to be climate action but actually preserve the status quo, and prevent us from taking the clear, simple actions to keep fossil fuels in the ground that we know are the real solutions to climate crisis."

As George Monbiot said recently this isn't just greenwashing by corporations it's 'green waterboarding'. Furthermore, Campaign groups argue that the World Health Organization didn't get serious about banning tobacco until all the lobbyists for the industry were banned from WHO meetings. They want the same treatment for oil and gas companies at COP, and they're right.

The only way to prevent catastrophic climate change is to keep fossil fuels in the ground but that is a threat to major business interests, hence the confidence trick of 'net zero' instead of what we need - zero - which allows corporations to continue pouring carbon into our atmosphere. And then there is the issue of subsidies. Its unbelievable but true. The IMF has found that: 

"the production and burning of coal, oil and gas was subsidised by $5.9tn in 2020, with not a single country pricing all its fuels sufficiently to reflect their full supply and environmental costs. Experts said the subsidies were “adding fuel to the fire” of the climate crisis, at a time when rapid reductions in carbon emissions were urgently needed."

The scientists of Carbon Action Tracker (CAT), a globally respected group, are predicting that the result of CoP26 will be a disastrous rise in global heating of 2.4ºC. It's important to be aware that even with a 1.5ºC rise one billion people will be heat stressed, and a temperature of 30ºC for six hours can kill. To find out about MAPA - most affected peoples and areas visit the Fridays For The Future website.

So what does need to be done? We need to shut down all coal mines and halt all new oil and gas extraction, and we need to scrap all subsidies for fossil fuels. This, combined with a carbon tax and a green new deal would be a good start. Then we need to start to focus on degrowth. If you want to know more about what degrowth is and how it works watch this video in which Jason Hickel explains degrowth. I recommend you read Jason Hickel's book - Less is More.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

As with Test & Trace so with the #ClimateCrisis

Much has been said and written about the disastrous failure of the Tory government's Test & Trace system. It's not just the fact that it hasn't been as effective as it should be that matters, it's the fact that billions have been given to private contractors, with eye-watering fees paid for 'consultants' - up to £ 6,000 per day in some cases. A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded:

'NHS test and trace “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life” despite receiving about 20% of the NHS’s entire annual budget – £37 bn – over two years'

As if this wasn't bad enough the programme has repeatedly been framed by the government and the media as 'NHS Test and Trace' even though it is nothing of the sort. This is important because it - deliberately - hides the reality that this is a private sector failure. In addition, the government has spent hundreds of millions on dodgy contracts to supply PPE to its cronies and donors through a VIP fast track process.

In a time of crisis, instead of setting up a properly managed system run by public health services the government has opted to lavish money on its mates in the private sector. So what can we expect to happen with this governments repsonse to the climate crisis?

Yesterday the Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his 2021 budget. The first thing to note is that he didn't mention the word climate - not even once! He did however reduce the levy on internal air flights just over a week before CoP26! He also reduced the tax on champagne, and banks. And he levied £60 billion in tax rises which will hit workers hard. So much for that then. Its a zero out of ten from me.

What can we expect from the Tories on the climate crisis?  Well, they did introduce a home insulation scheme with vouchers for 600,000 homes - not nearly enough - and that appears to have flopped. Their latest offering is a subsidy for heat pumps. Nothing wrong with that apart from the fact that it is only for 90,000 homes!

So what can we expect in the future from this government and other western governments after the inevitable disappointments of Cop26? I would expect as the crisis gets worse governments will splash the cash but not in an effective or useful way. No Green New Deal but a response similar to Covid with billions handed out to corporations for projects - such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) - that won't take the real action we need which is eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

The reality is that neoliberal capitalism has been propped up by states since the 2008 crash and is entering its final phase. As I read about yet more flooding in Cumbria today I do fear for the future and I'm working in my community to build as much resilience as possible. We have no alternative but to keep fighting!

Monday, 16 August 2021

While the planet burns @RishiSunak fiddles with himself.

Last year, before Covid struck, Australia was blitzed by devastating bushfires. Over 30 people died, many had to be evacuated from beaches, and it is estimated that more than one billion animals perished. Since then, we have seen yet more serious fires, most recently in Turkey and Greece, and horrendous flooding events across the globe. As if this wasn't enough we have seen record-breaking temperatures in Europe and North America, recently reaching 49.8ºC in Sicily. July was the world's hottest ever recorded month in history.

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a stark 'code red' warning on the growing climate crisis, which is responsible for the floods, fires, and record temperatures we have witnessed. This is not news. Scientists have been warning us for decades that man-made global warming is real, and a threat to our futures. Global temperatures have already risen by more than 1ºC due to the continued use of fossil fuels and the fight is now on to restrict global temperatures from going above 1.5ºC.

This year, starting on 31 October governments, and scientists will assemble at COP26 in Glasgow to agree on a response to the climate emergency we face. Our UK government is hosting the event. But what is the UK government doing about climate change? Although some progress has been made in recent decades the government needs to take real and urgent action to lower CO2 emissions from industry, agriculture, transport, aviation, and domestic premises. It appears, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, is blocking measures that could reduce our carbon output on the grounds of cost!

A recent Guardian article revealed that:

"A string of policies, from home insulation to new infrastructure spending, have been scrapped, watered down, or delayed. Rows about short term costs have dominated over longer-term warnings that putting off green spending now will lead to much higher costs in future" [my italics]

While Sunak quibbles about 'costs' this Tory government is putting all our futures at risk, and, as the article states, we know that spending now will save us from the need to spend much more in the future. It's hard to comprehend this attitude. We know that the government has spent hundreds of £ billions on Covid, including the furlough - because it had to - to prevent the economy from crashing. Most of this money was created by the Bank of England out of thin air. I wasn't borrowed. As a sovereign currency issuer, the UK can create as much money as it needs, so spending isn't an issue - watch this video, in which Richard Murphy explains how it works.

So, not only can we afford to bring in the measures we need to avert further damaging climate change but we also have in place costed programmes which explain to us how it can be done, and paid for. In 2014 the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) produced a document called One Million Climate Jobs which showed how we could deal with the looming climate crisis and create valuable and much-needed work in the UK. Similarly, the New Economics Foundation has produced a Green New Deal document which provides a viable way forward. We have the tools at hand and we now need to get on and use them, the time for prevarication is long over, but our government continues to prevaricate and subsidise fossil fuels.

What can we do? We need to educate, agitate, and organise, in short, we all need to become climate activists, and we need to do this at the grassroots and nationally. Locally, there are many groups you can join and link up with, from the Transition Network to solidarity and mutual aid groups. In my street, we have a mutual aid network that was set up for Covid but is still active and can be used for the climate crisis. In my town, we have a community garden, orchard, and a regular climate cafe. Local action cannot prevent catastrophic climate change but it can raise awareness and increase community resilience.

Nationally we have to put as much pressure on the government and political parties to bring about real climate action as soon as possible. Now is not the time for factionalism, we need to put aside political differences and create an alliance with all those who are fighting global warming. We need to work with groups like Extinction Rebellion and CACC, and support the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) bill. 

This isn't just about global warming it's also about the wanton destruction of nature, driven by corporate greed. The threat to biodiversity is also a threat to our species. We need to rebalance our relationship with nature and get involved with the restoration of habitats. That means supporting rewilding projects, opposing roadbuilding, damaging construction projects, and deforestation.

One of the problems we face, apart from the climate denial and delay industry, which has darky money backers, is that people can feel powerless and overwhelmed by the crisis we face. We need first, to be able to imagine and discuss a better low carbon future for all. That's why I'm recommending Rob Hopkins's inspirational book - From What Is to What If. It's an excellent practical guide on how to create a world beyond extractive capitalism. The message is to learn more, get active, and do it now. We have no time to lose!

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

"Let the bodies pile high" #Covid19UK #Covidiots

Yesterday Boris Johnson announced that from the 19th July the government was ending most covid restrictions. The key points are that the wearing of masks will no longer be compulsory and that all businesses will be able to open up. Many people will be expected to return to work in their offices. In his address he said:

 "there could be 50,000 cases a day detected by the 19th and again, as we predicted we're seeing rising hospital admissions and we must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths"

He also said it was better to open up now than in the winter when cases could be even higher! 

In addition, today Gavin Williamson announced the end of school bubbles at a time when 640,000 schoolchildren are isolation - with no sign that they will be vaccinated. 

Just think about Johnson's statement  for a moment becuase it means two things; firstly the government have given up on trying to contain the virus, and are going for herd immunity, and secondly they want to open up early before more people have been protected by the vaccines. This means that the delta variant could rip through the population with as many as 100,000 cases a day by the Autumn. As Johnson said, more people will die and it's seems the government is comfortable with that - recent research shows that the Pfizer vaccine is only 60% effective against the delta variant. So, the numbers may be lower but there will still be many thousands more who are hospitalised - even if they have had two jabs - and thousands more suffering with long covid

Currently UK cases are at about 28,000 a day while cases in Europe are still falling, and the UK is following a covid strategy which is at odds with our neighbours.

The real risk is that as the delta variant spreads rapidly through the population unchecked there is the possibility of a new variant arising which is even more resistant to the vaccines. We may even end up in a situation where we need to have another lockdown in the winter.

There are many who will believe, as I do, that fully opening up at this stage is reckless and irresponsible, if not criminal. The very least the government should have done is to mandate the wearing of masks on public transport and in shops. I've no doubt many will continue to wear masks and observe distancing to protect others, I will certainly be doing that. The real question here is not just how many people will suffer becuase of this but why support for the government in the polls remains so high when they have manifestly failed to control the virus and protect citizens.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

As the planet burns governments and corporations are accelerating #ClimateChange

Do you think of Canada as being a hot country? I never have, but as I type this some Canadians are experiencing record-breaking temperatures as high as 47.9ºC. The Guardian reported

"Officers said they had redeployed dozens of officers and asked the public to call 911 only for emergencies because heat-related deaths had depleted frontline resources and delayed response times.

“Vancouver has never experienced heat like this, and sadly dozens of people are dying because of it,” Sgt Steve Addison said in a news release. “Our officers are stretched thin, but we’re still doing everything we can to keep people safe.”

In addition to the death toll, there are reports of buckled roads, blackouts, and wildfires. Remarkably, the same article reports Joe Biden as saying that this is due to climate change! Good to see he has cottoned on to this but what is he doing about it? Sadly the answer is very little. Biden has an 'infrastructure plan' which is nowhere good enough to deal with the climate crisis. Is not the kind of green new deal the USA needs to avoid ever more extreme weather events and the damage they will cause to human life and the environment we depend upon.

But Biden isn't the only global leader not doing enough on climate - none of the others are, and as we know fossil fuels are still receiving massive government subsidies globally. A report by the EU in 2019 found that the biggest subsidies for fossil fuels were in the UK at £10.5 billion p.a. In addition, we know that the real culprits, the fossil fuel corporations, have been lying about the impact on the climate of fossil fuels for decades.

As if this weren't bad enough we are still depleting the natural environment and destroying biodiversity at an alarming rate. Governments are paying lip service to protect wildlife. In the UK a report by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee found that more money is being spent destroying the environment than protecting it and described the UK government's approach as 'toothless'.

So, we are in a covid crisis and a climate crisis. Both these things are linked and the situation can only get worse. In November 2021 the next UN climate change conference - COP 26 - will be held in Glasgow. What can we expect? If previous conferences are a guide, we can expect a lot of hot air and very little real action. So what can we do?

We have to keep protesting and putting pressure on governments. One way of doing this is supporting organisations like Extinction Rebellion, but at a local level, we need to be setting up grassroots community groups that can provide solidarity, and mutual aid to build resilience in local communities. There are already many such organisations in the UK doing good work by being involved in projects such as growing local food, food coops, building economic democracy, retrofitting homes for energy efficiency, energy coops and rewilding. Some of these groups were set up in response to the covid crisis but they will be needed to aid our response to the climate crisis. Get involved - now!

Friday, 21 May 2021


After eleven days of horror and death, a 'ceasefire' has been declared in Israel. Of course, a ceasefire suggests that there are two combatants but this is hardly the case. On the Israeli side there is one of the most powerful armies in the world - using drones and the latest weapons technology - and on the other Palestinians throwing stones, and Hamas firing rockets. And that is part of the problem of this ongoing terrible saga, a false equivalence, promoted by the mainstream media, as the headline in this Guardian article shows. The headline - "Gaza-Israel ceasefire" - illustrates this issue well. This isn't a war between Gaza and Israel, it's an attack by Israel on Palestinians who are trapped in the open prison which is Gaza. 

The 'conflict' began with Israelis trying to force Palestinians out of their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. This is part of a programme of ethnic cleansing and the stealing of Arab land and property by the Israelis which has been going on for many years. Israeli troops also stormed the Al Aqsa mosque while worshippers were saying prayers during Ramadan. In response, there have been large demonstrations worldwide showing support for the plight of the Palestinians.

Israel is in illegal occupation of Palestinian land and has been for decades, breaching numerous UN resolutions. The ongoing occupation goes back 73 years to the Nakba in May 1948 when 750,000 Palestinians were displaced at the formation of Israel. There have been many attempts at a peace deal, including a 'two state' solution, but none have been implemented successfully.

The latest round of attacks on the Palestinians appears to have been initiated because the Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu is under pressure from corruption charges and struggling to remain in power. According to a report by Aljazeera :

"While Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to stay in power to this point, corruption charges and his repeated failure to form a stable and reliable coalition government appeared to signal the end of his reign.

However, the newly erupted conflict with the Palestinians may have opened yet another path for Netanyahu and his quest to remain Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, analysts say."

There can never be peace in Israel/Palestine until the illegal occupation, the stealing of Palestinian property, and the Israeli apartheid regime are brought to an end. This means that the United States, UK, and the EU need to end their unqualified support for Israeli aggression and illegal occupation, including supplying Israel with weapons. Please support the Palestinians in their quest for peace and justice through the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), and help to #FreePalestine.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Someone just died

On Friday 9th March Prince Phillip died. He was ninety-nine years old. I wanted to write a brief post about his death and the reaction to it.

When anyone dies you can feel sympathy for their family and friends, but the reaction of the BBC was something to behold, and I've never seen anything like it in over sixty years of watching.

Soon after the death was announced wall to wall coverage began on all BBC radio channels. I was driving at the time and tried to switch from Radio Four to Radio Five but it was the same commentary all round. On tv, we were subjected to the same treatment, and incredibly BBC Four was 'suspended' for the whole evening. 

As you would expect most of the coverage was nauseatingly gushing and a few of his 'gaffes' -  i.e. racist comments - were mentioned. It was shocking stuff. The BBC had to put up a special complaint form because many people weren't happy.

Parliament has been recalled early, and the government updates and announcements of covid have been suspended, all very convenient for Boris Johnson at a time when the government is under pressure from the Greensill scandal. 

If there was ever any doubt that the BBC is a state radio station that has been put to bed by the North Korean levels of propaganda we all witnessed.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Sarah Everard - a week we must all remember

I'm posting this late, after the events, but I wanted to reflect on what happened in a terrible week in March 2021. 

On Wednesday the 3rd of March, Sarah Everard disappeared while walking home from a friend's house near Clapham Common to her home in Brixton Hill. Monday the 8th of March was International Womens' Day. On the 9th of March Wayne Cousins, a Metropolitan Police Officer was arrested on suspicion of Sarah's murder, and on the following day, Sarah's body was found in woodland near Ashford, Kent. The following Saturday 13 March a peaceful vigil was held on Clapham Common in memory of Sarah at which the Metropolitan Police moved in and aggressively handcuffed, and arrested four women for breach of the Covid19 regulations. The following day was Mothering Sunday.

News of Sarah's disappearance and the discovery of her body sparked anger, grief, and anxiety across the UK, and thousands of women attested to the fears and experience of abuse at the hands of men. That was followed by further anger at the heavy-handed policing of a peaceful vigil. 

So, here we are in 2021, in the twenty-first century, and that terrible week serves as a reminder of the fears of women and girls and the sexual harassment and abuse they are being subjected to every day. I've been hearing about this all my life, I can remember the Yorkshire Ripper and the fear that women in the North of England lived in at the time. Why is it that so little has changed since then? 

What kind of a society are we that allows this to continue? Certainly a dysfunctional one. We need to educate our sons for sure but I think it goes deeper than that, we need to put people, nature, and the planet first instead of living in a world that is dominated by consumption, prejudice, and profit. We need to build a society that genuinely cares for others - including the natural world. If we don't, not only will women and girls continue to be harassed, raped, and murdered but our very survival as a species is in doubt.

Monday, 1 February 2021

The way forward - buiding a democratic socialist party III

This is the third in my series of posts about building a democratic socialist party. In this post, I want to focus on policies. 

What policies should a party have? Of course, that is up to the members not me, but here are some policies for real change that I wrote about in a previous post, policies which I think would be widely supported and are essential to begin the bring about the changes we want:

1. Electoral reform - the introduction of a system of proportional representation (PR) for all elections. 

2. A green new deal (GND) to combat the climate crisis and provide much-needed jobs in response to the economic contraction we are going through. 

3. A recognition of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) by government, the Treasury, and the BoE.

To these, I would add:

4. A written constitution - which would include the abolition of the House of Lords, an elected second chamber, and greater devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales, and regional and local government - all properly funded.

5. Restoration of the pubic sector - this would include as a minimum - rail and other public transport, water, and Royal Mail, and the full return of a unified NHS and public health. 

6. A minimum wage of at least £12 per hour and a job guarantee - there will be plenty of jobs in a GND.

7. Social housing for all who need it.

8. The end of privatisation of the Education sector - bring all schools back into the control of local authorities, abolish student loans and student debt.

9. Rewilding of the UK and proper protection of biodiversity including a ban on the use of pesticides and intensive farming - yes we can grow our food organically.

10. A fair taxation system, including council tax, taxes on the wealthy, and proper regulation of the financial sector.

I just want to finish off this series of posts with a reference to Rob Hopkins's book - From What Is To What If - and how it can be used to challenge our thinking and generate ideas.

If we are going to bring about radical change we need to reimagine how our party, society, and economy work. And, as I said in the first post in this series we need to think about how a political party can work collectively and successfully. Rob's book is a superb guide and primer on how to do this. It's a book that everyone should read.

All we have to do now is make it happen.......

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

The way forward - buiding a democratic socialist party ll

In my previous post on this topic, I blogged about four key principles for setting up a democratic socialist party, which are:

1. horizontalism

2. member-led

3. consensus

4. ecosocialism

In addition, such a party needs to be built on solidarity and mutual aid. The party must not simply be an electoral vehicle with the aim of electing MPs and councillors. It must put down roots in local communities that are built to last. 

Every local party should aim to acquire spaces that can serve as community hubs - buildings and/or land where solidarity can be practiced - whether through meeting spaces, community libraries, foodbanks, education, child care, growing local food, and other means of community support, cohesion, and resilience. The spaces must be open to all and inclusive.

For too long the left has relied on winning elections in a broken democratic system to bring about radical change. We can bring about change and improve the quality of life in our communities now. It will take many years to undo the damage wrought by the Tories and solidarity will be key for many years to come. Local grassroots action will provide the party with the bedrock of support that it needs to become successful in a sustainable manner. We need to build community structures that will last for many generations to come.

There are already many groups operating in countries across the world who are developing and growing wealth, health, and wellbeing in communities through economic democracy (see here), and many mutual aid organisations, and we can learn from them. 

They are involved in activities such as:

  • growing local food sustainably
  • food coops
  • street kitchens 
  • building a democratic economy
  • providing shared spaces - for the community, particularly lonely and elderly people
  • building homes (community land trusts)
  • retrofitting homes for energy efficiency
  • energy cooperatives with renewable energy
  • rewilding
  • local currencies
  • reuse, repair, and recycling
All of the activities above will become more important as the climate crisis bites. We cannot expect any help from the sociopathic billionaires who control our economy and their tame politicians. 

It's essential that members become community activists as well as political activists if we are going to build a successful party that will last.

In a third post, I discuss the policies the party should have..... here.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

The way forward - building a democratic socialist party

This is the first in a series of posts about creating a new democratic socialist party (although the ideas and principles could be used for reforming an existing party). But it's more than just that, it's about rethinking what a political party of the left should be, and how it should work. To do that, we have to go back to the drawing board and start with a blank slate. We need to think about how a party is structured, how decisions are made, and who makes them. 

That means challenging received wisdom about how political parties work and thinking about fundamental changes in how we organise ourselves and our society. We need to get the principles right - from the start.

There are some key principles that I believe any new party must follow if it is going to genuinely be responsive to its members, and controlled by them. If we fail to change the way we do things we will inevitably fall into the age-old traps of factionalism, splits, and top-down control

I'll focus on four essential elements in this post. 

1. Horizontalism - no one is more important than anyone else. All members are equal. There are no leaders.

2. The party must be member-led - this follows from horizontalism. All decisions on actions, policies, and programmes are made by the membership.

3. Consensus - this is how the party will make all its decisions. There will be no majority group and no minority group. You may be wondering how this will work. Here is a simple explanation and methodology which can be shared. You may wonder if consensus can work with a large group of people. But it can and has done successfully as it did in the General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street. It's a way of operating that is new to most of us, and we will have to learn. 

What also follows from this is that there will be no 'representatives'. There will be people who are chosen as spokespersons but they will be delegates who relay the decisions members have taken. In addition, the party conference will be supreme and decisions taken at the conference will form party policy. 

Having said that it's important to be sure that all members have access to the conference and are able to follow the proceedings and vote either in person or virtually.

How will this work in a representative democracy? The answer is that we will have to make it work. Members who are chosen as parliamentary candidates will be delegates speaking on behalf of all the members and articulating the policies and programmes that the members have decided upon. If they get elected that is what they will do in Parliament and they will be subject to recall if they fail to do so. All decisions made on who is to be a local delegate will be made by the local party through an open selection process. In the longer term, the party has to work towards creating a genuine democracy in the UK by putting power into the hands of the many. That means devolving powers down to a local level.

If we are serious about equality and bringing about fundamental change to create a society that works for all, we have to begin at the very base and build up from there. There are some examples of good practices that we can point to like Rojova and the Zapatistas in Mexico. Not perfect, but nothing that is created by human beings ever is. If we don't aim high we will be stuck near the bottom forever.

4. It's also important that the party is explicitly an ecosocialist party, and that should be reflected in its name and values. We are living through a pandemic, a difficult time for all of us, but we face an even greater threat because of biodiversity loss and global warming. We know that capitalism has no regard for the natural world, seeing it merely as a 'free' resource to be exploited for profit and a dumping ground for waste. That, along with the damage caused by intensive farming methods, and the burning of fossil fuels is leading us into a very dangerous place that is an existential threat to humanity and other planetary species.

I have continued in my next post describing how the party can be built from the grassroots up

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Why Labour isn't 20 points ahead

When Jeremy Corbyn was LOTO we were told by centrists and much of the media that if only Labour had a 'moderate' leader the Party would be 20 points ahead in the polls. Now that Corbyn has been replaced by Keir Starmer this hasn't happened. In fact, despite the utter incompetence and corruption of Boris Johnson's Conservative government, the Tories have been ahead in the polls for most of 2020. Only in recent days after the Christmas covid cock up has Labour taken a small lead. Why is this? This Twitter thread by @cakeylaura about her father night help to explain (I've not included all the tweets in the thread):
"He's got some significant health issues and so does his partner. They both rely on the NHS. He's very worried about climate change. In every respect he ought to be a slam dunk Labour voter. But instead he thinks Boris Johnson is great and voted Tory at the last election. Why"

Because he's afraid of change. And the world is changing fast. Suddenly he's being accused of racism for the same jokes he used to tell loudly and unchallenged down the pub (accurately btw, he is racist, although of course he doesn't think so).

And that's the essential heart of it. To him, the Tories love Britain and want it to thrive. They will put Europe in its place, will play Rule Britannia, will give him something to be proud of. Labour? Labour will just accelerate Britain's decline into namby pamby wokeism."
Of course, people like @cakeylaura's father didn't get these views overnight. The community they grew up in (including family) will have had a large influence as will the mainstream media which, through newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail, has been bigging up Britain and slagging off the EU for decades, stoking the fires of English nationalism.

The key question is - how do we change the opinions of people who share his views in order to promote racial harmony and progressive change? Why do some people prefer conspiracy theories promoted by politicians like Trump to facts presented by 'experts'? This Guardian article by Lois Beckett gives us some important clues. 

Firstly, people operate emotionally not rationally. They won't be swayed by facts. Experts telling us the truth won't cut it. Secondly, the narrative is important. Tell a story that is consistent and promotes the right values and policy solutions. For decades the right has had a consistent narrative about free markets, tax burdens, and red tape. Repeat this often enough and it seeps into people's consciousness. Where is the left's alternative to this? There isn't one but I've suggested one in this post.

So how do we change people's minds? According to the Guardian article:

"While it is possible to engage with people who believe deeply in false narratives, and sometimes change their minds, that work is most successful on an individual basis, with people who know each other well, experts said.

It’s helpful to understand someone’s fundamental framework for viewing the world, including whom they view as the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, in order to understand what kind of additional information might sway them, Phillips said."

We can't change the minds of millions through personal actions but we can change the narrative and we can make much more use of effective frames such as "for the many" instead of banging on about our good policies. Because most people don't vote for policies they vote with their hearts, not their head.  

The left has a lot of work to do. People on the left and right talk disparagingly about 'identity politics' but the truth is, for most people, like @cakeylaura's father, their politics are bound up completely with their identity. It's time we understood that. 

In the shorter term, the question is - will the approach adopted by Starmer's Labour be able to appeal to red wall Labour Tories and will Labour be able to square the circle of Brexit-loving English nationalism and progressive policies? I'm not holding my breath waiting for that poll lead.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Let's face it - the Labour Party has never been fit for purpose.

If you are a Labour Party member you will have a party card which states: "The Labour party is a democratic socialist party". But there is a problem - Labour is not a democratic socialist party and never has been, and it's not even particularly democratic. The party has always been dominated by the right and has failed in over a century to make radical reforms to our antiquated, class-ridden, parliamentary system which works in the interests of the ruling class.

I'd recommend you read the classic Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Miliband. Although his book only covers the history of the Party up until the early 1960s it describes how even origins of the Party were not particularly radical and how it has always operated within the system of British capitalism rather than trying to bring about real change beneficial to the mass of British citizens. As Miliband said: 

"the Labour Party remains, in practice, what it has always been - a party of modest social reform in a capitalist system within whose confines it is ever more firmly and by now irrevocably rooted."

And so we find ourselves in a 21st century which is beginning to look more like the 19th century as it progresses, with mass poverty, low pay, poor housing,  privatised healthcare and education, dominated financial interests and the same ruling class.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour in 2015 was an aberration. Though welcome it was obvious that the right of the Party which dominated the PLP would leave no stone unturned in its quest to ensure that this blip was ended as quickly as possible. 

The recent debacle in which Keir Starmer first suspended and then refused to restore the whip to Corbyn, after he was reinstated by an NEC panel demonstrates the determination of the right to crush the left in the party. And let's not forget this is the same Starmer who was elected as leader on the promise of uniting the party with the votes of many Corbyn supporters.

There can be no doubt now that in terms of membership and MPs the Party is further to the left than it has been for most if its history but how should the left respond to the ongoing attacks which are not going to let up? Should they leave or stay and fight? 

Many have already left and those who remain, certainly in the PLP don't appear to be putting up much of a fight at the moment. My view is that Labour is beyond redemption as far as democratic socialism is concerned. It would be better if Corbyn and the Socialist Campaign Group departed, and with the support of sympathetic unions set up a genuinely democratic socialist party. I've no doubt this could gain a membership of a couple of hundred thousand people and would have four years to organise and campaign to fight a general election in 2024. 

Will this happen? I doubt it, but it's still possible that Starmer and the Blairite rabble in the PLP could make the mistake of expelling Corbyn and that should be a game-changer.