Thursday, 25 June 2009

Parliamentary reform? - don't hold your breath

I haven't said much in this blog about the MP's expenses scandal. Why not? Firstly I've been busy with the Euro elections and then away for two weeks, secondly there has been wall to wall coverage everywhere and finally it has proved to be a great distraction from what really matters at the moment - the economic crisis. In fact my last post on the issue was in January well before the Daily Telegraph spilt the beans.

But all this talk of Parliamentary reform brought on by the expenses scandal is old news to many of us. If you read the Guardian you would think that the nation had only just noticed that we had a rotten parliamentary system. Not long ago the likes of Polly Toynbee and Jonathon Freeland were writing as if all was well with the world - all it needed was a few tweaks from Gordon and everything would be hunky dory. But some of us have known that Parliament and the electoral system drastically needed reform - well, for most of our lives. And some of us have known that Gordon would continue exactly where Blair left off er.. ever since he became Prime Minister - as I made clear in April 2008.

For example, there has been talk of introducing electoral reform for decades. When I was a teenager in the early 1970s I couldn't understand why we had an unelected House of Lords. Our system has clearly been rotten and bankrupt for a very long time, and, despite the overwhelming case for change, nothing has happened.

Nor is very much likely to happen because we live in an elected dictatorship. All power is in the hands of the government (increasingly the Prime Minister) with no checks or balances. We have no written constitution, and in the past 400 years or so politicians have gradually taken over powers which used to belong to the monarch. Combine that with a first past the post system which virtually guarantees a monopoly of power for the two main parties and what politician would want to change it? An honest one perhaps? One who believed in social justice? Now when was the last time we had one of those in Number 10?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Why we should support the Lindsey strikers

After the sacking of 647 workers at the Lindsey oil refinery the industrial action continues. Many workers showed their defiance by burning their dismissal notices. It is estimated that another 4000 workers have gone out on strike around the country in support, including workers at Sellafield. There is absolutely no way that Total and its contractors could have got away with treating workers like this in France, or Germany. This is good old fashioned union busting.

The fact that the strike is 'illegal' means nothing. These workers voted with their feet - they walked out. Who needs a ballot to do that? The Thatcherite labour laws were brought in to hobble trade unions and weaken workers power. That is class war - pure and simple. Of course there will be people who will say you must have a ballot and I agree that there should be a ballot - if workers want one. The whole purpose of the ballot in Thatcherite trade union legislation is not to make things fairer but to tie up the union in bureaucracy and expense and prevent them from taking spontaneous action like that at Lindsey.

In the Lindsey case it remains to be seen if wildcat action was the right tactic. Much will depend upon support from other sectors, and there is still the possibility of a national strike ballot. All workers should support the Lindsey strikers. The Visteon workers showed that it is still possible to win disputes even in the most difficult of circumstances. We will need workers to show more strength and solidarity in the months to come because they are are going to be made to pay for the bailout of the fat cat bankers with their wages, conditions and jobs.

Update: Well. It looks like wildcat strike action proved to be the right tactic for the Lindsey workers. They have secured jobs for the original 51 workers who were laid off and the 647 who were sacked.

Unison Conference - Brighton 2009

Off once again to the Unison Conference in Brighton. Great venue, the town that is, but there is talk of not going there again - pity. The conference was much the same as last time I went two years ago but some things have changed. The most important difference was that the penny has now dropped with just about all the delegates - New Labour is a boss's party and has completely betrayed its working class supporters - so that is a step forward.

There was a rousing speech by Dave Prentis in which he threatened to withhold funds from Labour. Many have taken this with a pinch of salt but I wonder. Prentis mentioned twice that we have reached a "crossroads" and mocked senior Labour politicians. If the Labour Party can only deliver 16% of the vote why should trade unions support it any longer? I think we are just begining to see the start of a fundamental shift in politics.

As for the rest of the week it was farly dull. As usual the most passionate debate was about Palestine. This time the 'friends of Israel' used a low key devious approach which went - "We support a two state solution but a boycott will hurt the Palestinians" - Yeah of course it will - then why are they asking for it? The usual disingenuous guff we hear from pro-Israelis. Needless to say they rightly lost again and the boycott continues.

I just had to finish by mentioning the Socialist Worker/Socialist Party crew who bombarded the deleagtes with literature, as usual, every time they entered and left the hall. How many years have they been stood outside doing this and where has it got them? - even though there is a crisis in capitalism. When are they going to wake up and realise that dogmatic socialism just doesn't wash with the British people. Social justice yes - Marxism (sadly) no. Why do you think I joined the Green Party?

The Euro debacle - 9th June 2009

Well, it couldn't have been much worse for the Green Party could it? We increased our vote by more than 25% nationally and scored as high as 12% in the South East. We came agonisingly close to getting several more MEPs and the main beneficiaries of the night were the BNP and UKIP, two parties who deserve the votes of nobody at all.

Much has been made of the BNP getting elected but their vote went down. The BNP got in because the Labour vote collapsed. In the NW it was particularly painful because our candidate Pater Cranie missed out to the BNP by 5,000 votes. We deserved a lot better.

The question that has to be asked is why on earth do people vote for a bunch of Tory rejects like UKIP? Their leader Nigel Farage (who?) was heard boasting before the election of the millions he has made from Euro allowances, and then there is the UKIP MEP Ashley Mote who was convicted of fraud ....oh and er there is the other UKIP MEP Tom Wise who has been accused of false accounting and money laundering! Why would anyone want to vote for this shower? Well unfortunately they do.

All this shows a more desperate need than ever for a party of the left that can re-assert the values of social justice. I believe the Green Party is just that party but I'm realistic enough to appreciate that there are many in the labour movement who will never support or join the Greens. They just don't get it on the environment and are still stuck in a post-war time warp as far as their political thinking goes.

Great Gable 6th June 2009

The Scafells from Green Gable
I had been planning to walk up Great Gable in my shorts and T-shirt on 6th of June in support of Water Aid. Seven of us from work made the climb but it turned out not at all how I expected. We stayed the night before at Buttermere Youth Hostel and that was quite an experience after 30 years - but more of that later. The early morning was overcast and showery, so at Seathwaite we donned our waterproofs and girded up our loins for the ascent via Green Gable. This is a popular route and the first part of the climb, by Sourmilk Gill, is pretty steep. By the time we reached the top most of us were feeling the strain. The next part of the walk is a relatively easy stroll up the Gillercomb and then onto the shoulder of Green Gable. Though it rained through most of the walk it wasn't until we reached the shoulder that the full force of the weather hit us. It was very cold, with a strong wind, and we could see snow on top of the Helvellyn range!

Although we wanted some lunch there was no shelter so after a drink and a snack we pressed on to the summit of Green Gable. These weren't the conditions to hang around in so after a few photos we went down to Windy Gap - which certainly lived up to its name. From the Gap there were great views of Ennerdale but we had no time to waste - weather conditions were worsening so we carried on straight up Great Gable. The climb was much steeper than I remembered it. I was beginning to get tired and cold - luckily I had brought two fleeces and after the second one went on I felt much better. After that it was a struggle to the summit fuelled by a half frozen Mars Bar.

Great Gable from Green Gable
It was a relief to be on top but just as I approached the summit the mist descended and we were in cloud. There were patches of snow on the summit and it began to sleet. This was no place to hang around with tired and hungry bodies so after a few photos we headed straight for the descent to Sty Head. And what a descent it was! Fifteen hundred feet of unrelenting steepness on wet and slippery rocks. My knees were like jelly by the time we reached Sty Head. But there was no time to relax even here - there was a bitter wind and driving rain so we headed straight down to Seathwate and a welcome cup of tea. In the end we raised just over £2500 for Water Aid so thanks to all that helped and contributed.

I just ought to add something about 21st Century Youth Hosteling. Buttermere Youth Hostel is a very pleasant place which is obviously popular with families. Much has changed since I used to go in the 1960s and 70s. You can get alcohol and decent coffee and the food has much improved. However there are still some odd anomalies; Buttermere shuts, yes shuts, at 11pm, get back any later and you are locked out!; the bunk beds are still the same ones I slept on 40 years ago and just as uncomfortable; there is an eerie quietness in the common room - as if you are in church - people speak in hushed tones. Later in the week I moved to Elterwater (stays open until 11.30pm!) with a friend and did some self catering. The kitchen was nice and clean but the pots and pans were still post-war vintage. Not a non-stick in sight! Would I go Youth Hostelling again? Possibly, but despite the modernisation it its still all a bit hair shirt'. I know the YHA is strapped for cash but please get some new bunks!