Monday, 27 February 2012

The Green Party must not repeat the mistakes of the Irish Greens

It is clear some people in the Green Party of England and Wales haven't learned any lessons from the blunders of the Irish Green Party. If you don't know the story you must read "A Deal with the Devil - the Green party in government" by Mary Minihan. In brief, the Irish Green Party, lured by the prospect of power, and a chance to implement green policies, entered into a coalition with Fianna Fail, and ended up imposing savage neoliberal cuts on the Irish People, which are causing huge damage to Irish society. As a result, activists left the party in droves and the Irish electorate, quite rightly, destroyed the party at a general election in 2011.

What did the Irish Greens gain from all of this? Er.... not much more than a watered down stag hunting bill. What is really scary about Minihan's account is that it describes the staggering capacity for self-deception in the Irish Green MPs, the ability to think you are doing good when you are actually doing the opposite, and gaining nothing useful in the process. The Greens even stayed in a rotten and reviled government long enough to push through an immensely damaging finance bill out of some kind of loyalty to Brian Cowen! Clearly the Green MPs, including the new party leader Eamon Ryan, were hopelessly naive, both economically and politically. Whilst Rome burned around them they kept on fiddling around with their hopes for a climate change bill.

All of which brings me to Brighton and Hove Council and the Green Party (GP) conference. I have been planning to write a full conference report but that will have to wait, this is too important. This weekend the GP spring conference has been dominated by the decisions made by Green councillors in Brighton. The council is run by a Green minority administration, the first Green council in the UK, and something of which the party has been rightly proud. Just before conference, on Thursday 23rd February, B&H council had its budget setting meeting. At that meeting an unholy alliance of Labour and the Tories cynically destroyed the Green budget by amending and removing a crucial part of it - a 3.5%  council tax rise. To their credit, Green councillors were the first in the country to propose such a rise in order to help alleviate the savage cuts of £17 million in Brighton demanded by the Coalition government.

Having had a key part of their budget removed, Green councillors, could have voted against the amended budget and left it to the Tories and Labour to administer that amended budget by stepping down. Instead they chose to vote for the amended budget and to carry on in 'power'. Only one Green councillor, Alex Phillips, voted against the budget. Clearly Green councillors were in a difficult position but they chose the easy way out, to remain in power, and that, as the Irish Greens learned to their cost, could have significant implications for the party nationally. And make no mistake, stepping down is a lot harder than staying on. Cuts are cuts are cuts, and arguing that green cuts are better won't wash. Even if they had voted against the budget and remained in power that would have been a better option than the one they chose.

Why is it that the Green councillors decision could be so damaging for the party? Its because we claim that we are a party of principle, that we are different to the other parties and that we oppose the cuts. If we had stood down as the council the Tories would have had to administer their cuts, supported by Labour, and this would have been hugely damaging to Labour, who are out to destroy us in Brighton. As it is we are left with implementing a cuts budget which is no longer our own and we can be picked off at a time of our opponents choosing. Now Labour can cynically claim that we are the party of cuts and use that to try and destroy us at the next election. As a party, we are at a crucial stage where thousands of people around the country are considering voting for us and joining us. Now, many of those people are going to look at us and think that we are no different to the other parties. We have already lost members over this issue. In addition, the actions of Green councillors in Brighton could rob us of our only MP, and greatest asset, Caroline Lucas.

I have no doubt that our councillors in Brighton are doing a great job in really difficult circumstances and that Greens can govern far better than Tories or Labour could ever do. I support them, but I don't agree with their decision. This is about politics, not a loyalty test. Some people in the Green Party seem to have become blinded by electoralism, as the Irish Greens were. They think that is 'grown up' politics and they are right - but only if you have the tactical nouse to make the right political decisions when you are in power. Some of the comments I heard from supporters of the Green councillors at conference sounded depressingly like the Liberal Democrats - our party right or wrong - and I've no doubt that exactly the same arguments were used by the Liberal Democrat leaders to keep party members in line to support the Coalition government.

The Green Party must not fall at the first political hurdle. So far we have done extremely well, punching above our weight, and we have a great asset, in our politically astute leader, Caroline Lucas. Now its time for our Green councillors to show the same political astuteness. In order to help to repair the damage done at last Thursday's budget meeting, Green Councillors in Brighton now need to seriously consider doing at least four things:

1. show that we are still at the head of the anti-cuts movement by hosting a national anti-cuts conference, inviting as many councils and groups as possible. The aim of this conference must be to explore alternatives to austerity such as those outlined below

2. explore every avenue possible for a radical party to alleviate the damage done by the cuts and raise revenue to fund services. This could include issuing local bonds and setting up a local currency

3. set a shadow needs budget which reflects the true cost of services that the people of Brighton and Hove need, consult on this and publicize it, and make sure that people understand we are not responsible for the cuts being imposed

4. hold a referendum in the autumn for a greater than 3.5% council tax rise and explain to the people of Brighton that this is necessary because of the cynical actions of Labour and the Tories, and essential to help maintain services, and  resign if they lose it

Sometimes people on the left like me are accused of being oppositional, that we don't want to exercise power, we just want to sit on the sidelines carping, and complaining about those who have to make the 'difficult decisions'. Well make no mistake, I want power, and I want a Green Party government. But not power at any price like the Irish Greens. I'm happy to make the difficult decisions but they have to be the right decisions.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

'Free market' capitalism is just a racket

As the 'free' market fundamentalists of the neoliberal right continue their class war mission to drag us all back to nineteenth century conditions its becoming clearer that the 'economic policy' they support is little more than a racket. Before I describe this, its worth considering one of the central problems of capitalism - the falling rate of profit. In the nineteenth century many economists accepted that there was a tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time and Marx explained how that worked in Capital. Of course, Marx's theory has since been disputed, but not disproved. Nevertheless, by the 1970's, after the post WW2 boom profits were beginning to fall. The solution? - neoliberalism. Neoliberalism works by screwing workers, including middle class workers, harder, and reducing their living standards. Quite simply capitalists take a bigger slice of the cake, leaving ever fewer crumbs for the rest of us.

That is why our pensions, wages, and working conditions have been under attack for the past 30 years. The politicians who have been doing this to us have invented a series of plausible 'excuses' for doing so. In the case of pensions the 'excuse' is demographics, people are living longer, and so they are, but decent pensions are still affordable, the real reason they are being removed from us is to increase profits for corporations.

This is also the reason why our current reactionary neoliberal coalition government are so keen on privatising the NHS and public services - guaranteed profits. The corporations know very well that public services are an easy risk-free way of making guaranteed profits and they have long wanted to take control of them. With austerity and the most reactionary government in half a century in power their chance has come. In the UK this privatisation drive began with Thatcherism in the 1980's well before the current government, with the 'excuse' that the private sector was more efficient and would deliver better services. We have seen what has happened with the railways and energy. Large corporations making vast profits out of the taxpayer and customers (who used to be stakeholders) with none of the promised improvements. The economic crisis we are in, created by neoliberal 'economic policy' has now enabled the whole project to be pushed further and harder than it ever has been in the past 30 years.

We have reached the stage whereby public services are being handed over by our politicians to profit makers without any regard for supposed efficiency. This is nothing more than the imposition of 'free' market ideology and has become a racket, with guaranteed profits for the corporate winners. Here are a couple of examples I have recently come across, but there are many more. In the USA corporations are 'offering' to take over publicly run prisons as long as there is a minimum of a 90% occupancy rate. Just think about that. That means that the public bodies are going to have to find more prisoners to fill those jails! I guess they will just have to search harder for lawbreakers, and find sympathetic judges.

Meanwhile, in the UK A4e, a company which is supposed to help people back into work, is now under investigation for fraud, for allegedly fiddling its figures to get taxpayers money. The founder, Emma Harrison, paid herself £8.6 million last year. But this person is the darling of government, held up as an example of entrepreneurship to us all. A4e is built entirely around government contracts, that is taxpayers money, at least £8.6 million of which has been wasted in my view. That money could have been used to create jobs.

As long as our politicians are hand in glove with the corporations, we can expect more corporate welfarism and cosy deals carving up public services to continue. No risk-taking and no efficiencies -  except for lower wages and worse conditions for the workers who are expected to deliver. Even Tory MP David Davis has condemned 'crony' capitalism, but In fact, this is barely capitalism, its more akin to a form of neo-feudalism where the political barons and capitalist kings conspire to keep the rest of us in perpetual wage serfdom.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The fevered fantasies of the 'free' market fundamentalists

Yesterday the Greek people were betrayed by their political class, who put the bailing out of bond-holders and French and German banks above the needs of the Greek people. The madness of austerity continues and condemns the Greek people to years of pain and misery with a debt which can never be repaid. The Greek economy has contracted by 15% and unemployment has now reached 20%, homelessness is growing, and people are struggling to get access to healthcare. Undoubtedly, much of the pain which is being caused to delay the inevitable Greek default, is happening to enable the banks to get into a better state, and as we now know, banks are more important than people in neoliberal Europe.

But how did we get here? We have had 30 years of neoliberal economic failure. That is the real cause of this tragedy - a failed economic policy based on the triumphalism of the 'free' market, and a class war waged on the relatively  prosperous citizens of the west, as capitalism tries to maintain its failing profitability by taking away the healthcare, pensions, and livelihoods of western citizens. The origins of this neoliberal assault lie in the 1970's, in the Chicago School of economics and the Washington Consensus, implemented initially through Reaganomics in the USA and Thatcherism in the UK.

Despite the growing crisis caused by this ideology, and the recognition by many economists that neoliberalism doesn't work, the 'free' market right are telling the people of the west that the only cure is "more of the same". The prescription is killing the patient, but like mad scientists, the neoliberalists insist that yet harsher treatment is needed. Why is it that these 'free' market acolytes are so confident that their failed and discredited policies are the only way out of the crisis we are in? The answer is simple; these people are fanatics. Their 'economic' policy for rule by the market is not so much economic policy, nor even an ideology but much more a system of belief.

The supremacy of the 'free' market has become a fundamentalist cult, and its adherents represent a far greater threat to the safety and well-being of the global population than Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The origins of this fundamentalism were explained in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, a documentary by Adam Curtis originally shown on BBC. The 'guru' of the 'free' market cult, who occupies a similar position in relation to the 'free' market fundamentalists, as L Ron Hubbard does to the Scientologists, is Ayn Rand. Rand espoused a philosophy of extreme selfishness, and was responsible for writing a best selling book which is the 'free' market bible, Atlas Shrugged. In this novel, which bears about as much relation to reality as Lord of the Rings, the 'most productive' members of society, who are entrepreneurs, naturally, decide to go on strike (on strike??) because they are being oppressed by high taxes, and regulations. The message is clear: society depends upon a small group of wealth creators, and without them we would all still be living in caves. Because of their obvious superiority such people ought to be treated differently to the rest of us and afforded the special privilege of great wealth and low taxes - does that sound familiar? Of course this fantasy is manna from heaven for the rich, and the apparatchicks of the Tea Party, which is why Atlas Shrugged is still a bestseller in the USA. But don't laugh, because Rand has been, and still is, very influential. One of her followers was Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the US Federal Reserve in the lead up to the 2008 crash. So, the next time you see one of the peddlers of 'free' market fundamentalism on Question Time, you need to understand that they represent a very real threat to your well-being and prosperity.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The 'free' market right continue their attack on renewable energy

I've posted recently about how the 'free' market right have been at the forefront of the climate change denial movement through shadowy groups like the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and are actively undermining the fight against climate change. Now we hear from the Telegraph that more than 100 Tory MPs have written to the PM asking him to end subsidies for windfarms. Not only are these subsidies, which help the renewable energy sector to grow and compete, under attack, but there are also increasing objections to windfarms in the UK.

Lets deal with the subsidies first; because relatively cheap coal and gas are still available and the renewables energy sector is still developing, subsidies are needed to enable the widespread installation of energy derived from wind and solar. The solar industry recently created 25,000 much needed jobs in the UK, which are now under threat because the government has attempted to reduce subsidies. The irony is that none of those on the 'free' market right seem to have any objection to subsidies for nuclear power, which is not only uneconomic and produces a toxic waste problem, but has needed subsidies in the UK from day one. Research in the USA shows that all energy sources have received energy subsidies in the past hundred years with oil and gas receiving the highest subsidy of all. Wind power provides the cheapest form of renewable energy. Its critics claim it is intermittent and unreliable but these myths have been debunked according to this post by Damian Carrington in the Guardian. Furthermore, it has been calculated that;
"The best wind farms in the world already produce power as economically as coal, gas and nuclear generators; the average wind farm will be fully competitive by 2016".
And in the UK the costs of switching to low carbon energy will be no greater than continuing with business as usual.

I accept that people have a perfect right to object to wind farms being built in their locality, and there are some legitimate concerns about windfarms being built too close to dwellings, and the possible health risks form being subjected to noise. But we need to embrace this new cleaner technology for the sake of the future. I wonder how many people objected when the railways were being built in Britain?

Finally, you have to ask - why is it that climate change has become a left vs right issue over the past decade or so? Why do right-wingers like Nigel Lawson, of the GWPF, Tory MPs, and Ruth Lea seem to think that all environmentalists are lefties and climate change is a left-wing plot to bring about an eco-socialist world? Why do they object so strongly? The answer is simple - capitalism and corporate profits. The 'free' market right have recognised that climate change is a potential threat to established big businesses and capitalist accumulation, which relies on compound growth. They fear that adaptation to climate change and a low carbon, lower energy, lower consumption future will kill capitalist expansion, and they are probably right. If you want to find out more read Naomi Klein's excellent article on Capitalism vs the Climate. I'll just finish with this quote which sums up why this battle is being fought so fiercely:
"The bottom line is that an ecological crisis that has its roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be addressed not just by improving the efficiency of our economies but by reducing the amount of material stuff we produce and consume. Yet that idea is anathema to the large corporations that dominate the global economy, which are controlled by footloose investors who demand ever greater profits year after year. We are therefore caught in the untenable bind of, as Jackson puts it, "trash the system or crash the planet."

Sunday, 5 February 2012

We cannot rely on the BBC to allow us to hear the truth

Good article in the New Statesman this week about the BBC pandering to the Israeli government's illegal occupation on Palestine. The Israelis have done a great job of bullying the Western media in the past few years. The article showed that the BBC had censored the lyric "free Palestine" from a freestyle by rapper Mic Righteous on 1xtra in February last year. This is an outrageous censorship of free speech by an organisation which is supposed to be there to defend it, a position which was itself defended by the BBC Trust.

Over the years I've become increasingly disillusioned by the coverage of major issues by the BBC. Although it has been subjected to intimidation by the Coalition government, and is under threat from the likes of the Murdochs, who want to destroy public sector competition, the BBC would be supported by the public if it stood up for freedom of expression.

The final nail in the coffin for me has been the coverage of the economic crisis we have been in for the past four years. Coverage and analysis has been very poor with the exception of Paul Mason on BBC's Newsnight. I regularly listen to radio programmes like Today and have been appalled by the superficial analysis and the selection of 'business as usual' spokespeople, who have supported the government's austerity programme. Hardly an alternative voice has been heard and the I've never heard the word 'neoliberal' mentioned on flagship programmes like Today and PM, even though that is the economic and political paradigm we live and is responsible for the economic mess we are in.

BBC's Bush House

The BBC has always had a bias towards the government of the day, giving much more time to them than the opposition to get their case across. In some ways this is defensible, because the government ought to be given time to explain what it is doing, but the bias is far too great as it was when Andrew Lansley was given five evenings on PM to speak about his health 'reforms' - without an alternative case being put or ever being given a decent amount of airtime.

If you don't allow the truth to be broadcast, people stop listening. I get most of my news from the net now and I can recommend Twitter if you want to find out about breaking news from around the world. It is also good if you want to follow what is happening with Occupy - something which is virtually ignored by the UK media. I found the censorship article because of a Twitter post - otherwise I would have never have known about it. I hardly ever ever watch BBC tv news these days and I only listen to the Today programme in the car to find out what the latest London luvvie spin on the news is. We need a strong BBC to be public sector counterweight to the propaganda of the so called free press and media outlets like Fox News. We need a government which can reform the private sector media and allow the BBC to tell us the truth.