Saturday, 7 December 2013

Welcome to the Coalition school of hard knocks

Its hard to believe how things have changed since I was a student. I had my fees paid and a received a maintenance grant, which I just about managed to live on. I worked in the summer vacation by choice to earn extra money but I could have signed on. Being at university was about learning in the widest sense - not just about the subjects I was studying, and not just about hot-housing myself for a career Three great years and I came out of it with a good degree. If I hadn't it wouldn't have been the end of the world because I'd still have been able to get a decent job. 

The rot started to set in around the end of the eighties after I'd left university, and accelerated under New Labour with the introduction of loans for tuition fees, but after the crash and the election of the Coalition government things have become much, much worse. Despite the promises of the Liberal Democrats, the government trebled tuition fees and slashed the grant it gave to universities. Students are now facing debts of around £40,000 or more when they graduate and its clear that many will never be able to repay this debt burden. So how is it that something which was affordable - free access to higher education - has become unaffordable? The answer is simple - ideology. What New Labour and the Coalition have done is driven by 'free' market fundamentalism, not necessity - its a choice.

The coalition government are making students, the poor, disabled, unemployed and workers pay for the global economic crash which their 'free' market ideology was wholly responsible. Its class war, and a whole generation of young people in the UK are suffering because of the failures of the 'free' market. But they are not taking it lying down. They are fighting back with protests and occupations, and are building alliances with lecturers and college workers who are struggling against privatisation and for better pay.

As a result the government is using coercion to suppress the protests. Students are being spied on (as they always have been), and subjected to increasingly brutal attacks by the police. It beggars belief that this can be happening in our society with so little comment by the corporate media and an apparent lack of interest by our MPs in parliament (with the notable exception of Caroline Lucas). But as I've posted about before capitalism routinely uses coercion and violence to impose its 'free' market economy on us. That is why we are witnessing protests by students and workers all over the world. We live in an economy which is about continual suppression of people's freedoms and crisis management backed up by surveillance and brutality.

The government will no doubt expect to suppress the protest by victimising individual students and criminalising the leaders but they are storing up trouble for the future. A generation of the brightest people in the UK are becoming radicalised. They have no illusions about what is happening and they represent the best hope for positive change in the future. I wish them all the luck in the world in their struggles. Sadly, Nelson Mandela died this week. The student protesters can take hope and inspiration from his example.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

There is a simple green route to lower energy bills

As winter approaches more and more people are beginning to worry about paying energy bills, the recent row about the 'big six' energy companies has highlighted the real nature of the cosy cartel that controls the UK's energy. While Cameron and Milliband squabble about the solutions the obvious answers are being studiously avoided. Cameron is claiming that we need 'more competition' and trying to blame green energy tariffs for high energy bills , and Milliband has promised a 20 month price freeze if Labour win power. The first reposnse from the energy companies was to say the proposed price freeze would lead to blackouts, and their second was to raise energy prices which will mean bills going up from between 8.2% (SSE) and 10.4% (npower). As far as I can see both responses make a very good case for taking energy generation and supply out of the hands of the private sector.
The truth is that neither Cameron or Milliband have any solutions to our energy problems, either in terms of generation or supply. They are ideologically committed to privatisation and furthermore many MPs and government ministers have links with the energy companies. A recent report by the World Development Movement states:
"Research by the World Development Movement has revealed that one third of ministers in the UK government are linked to the finance and energy companies driving climate change. This energy-finance complex at the heart of government is allowing fossil fuel companies to push the planet to the brink of climate catastrophe, risking millions of lives, especially in the world’s poorest countries"
There are clearly powerful vested interests not only supporting our currently energy supply arrangements but also the further extraction and burning of fossil fuels, including through extreme energy such as tar sands and shale gas.

There is a simple and effective way we can keep warmer and save energy. By insulating our homes, which are notoriously energy inefficient, we can save money, keep warm, and reduce the amount of carbon we put into the atmosphere. Furthermore, we can build houses that are much more energy efficient and which require little more than the heat we generate from our bodies to maintain a comfortable temperature. So hats off to the Guardian for doing a well-timed feature on a passivhaus in Oldham which has an energy bill of £20 per annum. But instead of following this common sense approach the government is set to do away with  legislation which could provide more energy efficient homes.

We can't make our homes more energy efficient and build thousands of passivhaus overnight, but we can set up and implement a programme which will do this kind of work and create hundreds of thousands of much needed jobs in the process - its called the Green New Deal and I've posted about it on this blog many times before. A Green New Deal would help us fight climate change, provide jobs for many of our 2.5 million unemployed, and help people who would otherwise suffer and fall ill because they can't afford to heat their homes. It's really a no-brainer but one that is obviously well beyond the wit and imagination of the so-called 'leaders' of our nation.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Capitalism depends upon coercion and violence

The media commonly portrays the 'enemies' of capitalism as violent and destructive. This applies to those who protest, even non-violently against the excesses and destructive nature of capitalism. One recent example is the Occupy movement in the USA. Although there were some clashes between protesters and the police, the violence was very much driven by the aggression and brutality of the police, and its clear that there was a concerted effort to shut down the Occupy movement nationally in the USA. And there lies the problem. Capitalists, and the tame politicians who support them, enact laws which restrict peaceful protest and labour unions, and use the police as proxies to push through measures which benefit them at the expense of the communities which they are exploiting. This is a very convenient arrangement which allows the capitalists and corporations themselves to remain aloof and 'above the fray', hiding behind the law.

One of the more recent examples of this has been the criminalisation of environmental protesters. Not only have the protesters been attacked and threatened with imprisonment but they have also been targeted by the security services, spied upon, and treated like terrorists. So why are these protestors being targeted? It is because they threaten business interests, and that tells you something very interesting about the police and security services - they are here to defend the property and profits of capitalism - not the people, who they are supposed to be protecting.

The front line in the battle for the environment is now taking place over fracking in the USA, UK and in Canada. In New Brunswick the Mi'kmaq people are trying to defend the rights to their land from companies who want to exploit extreme energy. But it's the reaction of the authorities which has been extreme. When business interests were threatened the government reacted with a display of force including riot police, dogs and armed snipers in camouflage gear. Tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets were used against the protesters. Its hard to believe that kind of level of coercion can be used against a peacefully protesting community, and its not surprising that it provoked real anger amongst those affected, which resulted in six police cars being burned. These events are similar to those that have been taking place in Balcombe in the UK where excessive force, though not tear gas and rubber bullets, has been used against locals and supporters protesting against fracking.
RCMP use pepper spray on protestors in New Brunswick

Of course there's nothing new about this kind of violence being used against those who threaten the interests of business. In the USA business have long hired strikebreakers and thugs to force their will on workers and communities. One of the most dramatic examples of this occurred in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 when 10,000 coal miners fought for 5 days with lawmen and 'agents' hired by the bosses. here is a quote from the Wikipedia page:

"The Battle of Blair Mountain was the result of economic exploitation of workers during a period of social transformation in the southern West Virginia coalfields.Beginning in 1870–1880, coal operators had established the company town system.Coal operators paid private detectives as well as public law enforcement agents to ensure that union organizers were kept out of the region. In order to accomplish this objective, agents of the coal operators used intimidation, harassment, espionage and even murder."
In the UK, strikebreakers were used in the 'Tonypandy Riots' in Wales in 1911 and troops shot dead striking miners. 

Capitalism is once again in crisis, and if you think the bad days of Blair Mountain are over think again. Those kind of clashes are still happening, and did recently in South Africa when the police shot dead 34 striking miners in the Marikana dispute. The reality is that the primary function of the police in capitalist economies is to defend the interests of business against the people they are exploiting, and the role of the media is to defend the police when they do it to the extent that this coercion has become 'normalised' and is accepted by most people. 

Capitalism has always depended up coercion and the threat of harm to people and communities which don't comply with the wishes of the capitalist class. Even if that coercion is just the threat to destroy jobs and livelihoods - as happened in Grangemouth in the UK recently. We need to expose this violence for what it is - class violence in the service of property and profits riding roughshod over what communities and people want. We need to fight back by campaigning and building up resistance to these atrocities and make them what they really are - totally unacceptable. 

Update 2017: the recent events at the Standing Rock camps where water protectors are protesting about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is just the latest example of excessive force and brutality against peaceful people defending their environment and land against harmful and unwanted exploitation.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Unemployment: Labour and the Tories compete to blame and persecute the victims

Are you unemployed? If you are you are in a pretty tough situation. There clearly aren't enough jobs to go round, and many of the jobs that can be found are pretty poor. Add to that the fact that the minimum wage if you actually get paid it, is inadequate. The reason for this situation is a global economic crisis created by 'free' market capitalism. The great crash of 2008 is still reverberating around the global economy, and the response from western governments - austerity - has made the economic situation worse, not better.

But austerity is not intended to make things better for ordinary people. The intention with austerity is to make ordinary people pay for the mistakes and greed of the bankers, and the tame politicians which support them. To make people pay for a crisis which is not of their own making. For capitalists, the added bonus is that the crisis can be used to suppress wages and attack collective rights and agreements which have benefited workers, slashing pensions and terms and conditions. Its simple, the 1% have taken a larger slice of the economic cake, and have increased their share of wealth to 46% globally, and they have taken that wealth from the rest of  us.

You'd never believe it if you read the Daily Mail but being unemployed has never been easy. I was unemployed in the 1970s. Although I was better off than today's unemployed I still had to deal with the stigma of unemployment and go through the weekly humiliation of standing in the dole queue and signing on. And there were very few jobs going for young people then. I ended up getting a couple of jobs working outdoors on what was called the Youth Opportunities Programme, a government employment scheme. Not great, but at least I was working and being paid for it. And I didn't have to deal with the persecution of workfare and job clubs which today's unemployed are subjected to.

What the Coalition government and its supporters in the capitalist media are doing is seeking to vilify claimants and blame them for their own situation, they are blaming the victims of capitalism. What's worse is that we now hear that Labour are competing with the Tories at their own game in a benefit bashing race to the bottom which is taking us back to the workhouse. How any Labour Party members and supporters can bear this complete betrayal of what the party has stood for is beyond me. But what is certain is that Labour politicians are more concerned with out-Torying the Tories in the hope of being elected than doing the decent thing by the victims of the economic crisis.

There are solutions to helping the unemployed which don't involve workfare or forcing them to take jobs, but none of the three main parties have any interest in pursuing them. If capitalism can't create meaningful work for people to do - and why should it bother to? - then governments must. Those jobs must be green jobs, and they will not only benefit the young and unemployed but they will also help us fight climate change. The solutions, such as One Million Climate Jobs and The Green New Deal  are well thought through and planned alternatives. We need to be actively campaigning in parties, trade unions and wider society to get these solutions adopted otherwise millions face a very bleak future. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Tories have shown us that for them - its class war as usual

The greenest government ever; cuddling a Husky at the North Pole; and hug a hoodie? This is what we got from Cameron before the 2010 general election. Now, in government we can see what the Tories are really like, and we can see that nothing has changed - they are still very much the nasty party. At the Tory party conference this week, obviously rattled by both UKIP, and Milliband's pledge to freeze energy prices, David Cameron and the Tories retreated to their comfort zone, on the far right of politics. Cameron even had the audacity to claim that all people under 25 should either be in a job or education, and they should not get benefits, when it is his government which has failed young people, and failed to provide them with the jobs and education they desperately need.

Why? Because it's this government's fault that there are a million people under 25 who are unemployed, even taking into account the government's fiddled unemployment figures, which claim that people on 'workfare' are not on the dole. It's the gross failure of this government, in its mismanagement of the economy, which is the cause of hardship for many millions of Britain's people. This is a government which has imposed class war austerity on the poorest and most vulnerable in order to get it's chums in finance and banking off the hook for the greatest economic crisis since the depression. 

The perpetrators of the crisis and their supporters have no shame, no guilt and no remorse. As long as they continue to be 'all right Jack' everything is fine as far as they are concerned. This really must be the worst government in British history, given the times we are in. No government in my living memory has shown so much contempt for the people it governs, and such naked regard for the exploiters who make up its natural allies. No government has set out so brazenly to destroy the institutions which its people love and upon which they depend.

Make no mistake about it this is an ideologically extremist  government. The forced labour, the openly racist attacks on immigrants, the destruction of collective provision, the attacks on trade unions, the worship of corporations and warmongering - this is a form of twenty first century fascism, fascism-lite maybe but fascist nonetheless. What the people who govern us have demonstrated is that you don't need jackboots to be a fascist. In the twenty first century fascists wear suits not boots. If you think I'm over-egging this take a look at this post by Henry Giroux about the rise of a new fascism in the USA. Here is a quote:

"The American political, cultural, and economic landscape is inhabited by the renewed return of authoritarianism evident in the ideologies of religious and secular certainty that legitimate the reign of economic Darwinism, the unchecked power of capital, the culture of fear and the expanding national security state. The ghosts of fascism also are evident in what Charles Derber and Yale Magress call elements of "the Weimer Syndrome," which include a severe and seemingly unresolvable economic crisis, liberals and moderate parties too weak to address the intensifying political and economic crises, the rise of far-right populist groups such as the Tea Party and white militia, and the emergence of the Christian Right, with its racist, anti-intellectual and fundamentalist ideology."

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ed Milliband is playing a dangerous game with the trade union link

One of the reasons the Tories find it so easy to kick Ed Milliband is that  he wanders around with a "please kick me" sign pinned to the seat of his trousers. The latest revelations that Unite had no case to answer in the 'Falkirkgate' election-rigging debacle, and Labour's refusal to apologise for getting it wrong, and for its ridiculous decision to refer Unite to the police, is a spectacular own-goal. Following an investigation into alleged election-rigging by Unite in Falkirk, according to the Independent, :
The [Labour] report is said to have cleared Unite of claims it tried to rig the selection of a candidate to replace the current MP, Eric Joyce, by signing up new members without their knowledge. The fall-out from an internal party investigation led to Mr Miliband announcing sweeping reforms of Labour's links with the trade unions.
Milliband was pretty much suckered into wrongly attacking Unite and promising to change Labour Party's relationship with the unions, because of Tory howls of outrage when the alleged election-rigging incident came to light in the summer. What Milliband ought to have have done is call for an investigation and reserved judgement until the full facts were know, but he doesn't appear to have that kind of nous. What he also ought to have done is to robustly defend the link that Labour has with the trade unions, and the funding that comes with it. Whilst there may be issues with whether union members should 'opt-in' rather than 'opt-out' of funding Labour, the fact is that trade union money is just about the cleanest money in politics. It comes from what are small donations by millions of members of democratic organisations, and it is fully auditable - just compare that with the filthy lucre political parties receive from corporate donors and wealthy individuals.

Lets look at the funding of the Tory Party for instance. Would it surprise you to know that one family, yes one family, is responsible for a huge amount of Tory Party funding. You should take time to read this excellent post by Aditya Chakrabotty in the Guardian, but here is a telling quote:
"Take the JCB billionaire Sir Anthony Bamford, one of Cameron's favourite businessmen and a regular guest on the PM's trade missions abroad. Between 2001 and summer 2010, Wilks-Heeg and Crone found donations from Anthony Bamford, Mark Bamford, George Bamford, JCB Bamford Excavators, JCB Research, and JCB World Brands. Tot that up and you get a contribution to the Conservative party from the Bamford family of £3,898,900. But you'd need to be an expert sleuth with plenty of time and resources to tot it up.
One family: nearly £4m. Wilks-Heeg and Crone found that 15 of these families or "donor groups" account for almost a third of all Tory funding [my italics]. They enjoy trips to Chequers, dinners in Downing Street and a friendly prime ministerial ear. Lord Irvine Laidlaw stuffed over £6m into Conservative pockets over a decade and, one of his former staffers told the Mail, liked to boast about his influence over party leaders: "William's [Hague] in my pocket"."
There is no doubt that Milliband's plan to change the relations with the unions is a big risk. They have already lost £1 million in funding from the GMB as a result. No doubt Milliband is counting on the fact that union funding now only accounts for one third of Labour's total, but the consequences of the unions abandoning Labour are far more serious than just a loss of funding. Without the bedrock of support from the labour movement what long-term future would Labour have? There is only room in British politics for one party of the right, and the Tories have had position that sown up for a very long time. Since the advent of New Labour, the  Labour Party has become a party of the centre-right, not centre-left as it used to be. Can Labour survive in the long term as such a party only funded by corporations and individuals? I don't think so. I have no doubt would it gradually wither and lose its base of support. That opens up an opportunity for a social democratic party of the left, with trade union support.

The likelihood is that nothing dramatic will happen until after the next election. If Labour win, as I expect them to, and continue on their present course, expect unrest to grow, with more widespread protests against welfare cuts and strike action to defend living standards and pensions. Millband is playing a dangerous game, and one that could change British politics forever.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Cameron's Syria debacle and the growing influence of social media

It was Harold Wilson who said "A week is a long time in politics", and its surely been a very long week indeed for David Cameron. On Thursday he recalled Parliament to vote on, and endorse his plan to support the USA in attacking Syria for the use of chemical weapons in Damascus. He was clearly confident of success and had obviously already promised Barak Obama that Britain would join the USA in a military strike. But as the debate in the House of Commons progressed it became clear that he might not win. I watched some of the debate on TV and also followed it on Twitter. By the time Clegg closed off the debate for the Government, it was obvious that, he, if not the government itself, was in trouble. He twice avoided answering a straight question on whether Britain would allow its bases to be used by the USA even if Britain did not participate in the military strike, to the obvious annoyance of MPs. The promise had clearly already been given. It was a poor performance which can't have helped his already diminished credibility as a politician. I don't think it was crucial in the outcome of the debate but it can't have helped. The Government lost the vote by 272 votes to 285 with 30 Tory MPs and 9 Lib Dem MPs voting against.

Cameron has obviously been severely damaged by this debacle, which is clearly of his own making, but the other party leaders came out of it with little credit. Despite this, Labour supporters tried to spin the whole thing as a victory for Ed Milliband, but Milliband apparently had to be pressed by his colleagues to argue for delay while the UN weapons inspectors delivered their report, and the UN Security Council debated military action. Clegg stuffed up, and failed to keep all his party onside. Furthermore, Cameron's obvious rage, and No. 10s attempt to blame Milliband with ludicrous accusations, have made Cameron look even smaller than he already did.

So what happened? The shadow of Tony Blair and the Iraq War was cast over the debate from the start, but I think the explanation lies in the fact that many Tory MPs had their inboxes full of emails from constituents urging them not to support action. They already have their eyes on the next election. So was this a victory for people power and parliamentary democracy as many have hoped it was? I think it was a combination of that, because some MPs were voting for what they believed rather than following the party line, the anger over Iraq, and the fact that Cameron and co. cocked up the whole affair, arrogantly rushing into war and assuming that they could take their party with them, and that Labour would simply acquiesce. However, we shouldn't assume that this vote is the harbinger of real change. For that to happen we will need democratic reform.

But I do also think politics is beginning to change, and the Westminster bubble is starting to burst. What's bringing about that change is that social media is opening up politics and informed debate. We have seen how it has made a huge difference in countries around the world like Egypt and Turkey, where large movements and demonstrations have been organised through Facebook and Twitter. Is it beginning to make a difference here in the UK, with millions more people being opened up to ideas and that they didn't have access to in the past, and the rapid dissemination of information?

Most importantly, we are no longer dependent on the capitalist media for news, and the influence of the press is waning. Twitter is often one step ahead of the press and 24 hour rolling news. Events are frequently reported there first, with eye witness reports and photos. Even Cameron announced his intentions for Syria on Twitter first, and referred to footage of the chemical attack in Syria on YouTube. Will these changes lead to a more open debate and a stronger democracy? Its too early to tell, but its well worth reading Paul Mason's excellent book 'Why its kicking off everywhere' if you haven't already, because it captures the influence of social media and the web on politics very well. 

Unless social media is suppressed, I believe it, and the wider web, can bring about change by offering a national and global platform for those whose opinions are often ignored by the media consensus, and by facilitating campaigns and organised protest. When Cameron tweets on Twitter, his tweets don't carry any more weight than anyone else's. You may not like Twitter, but its a global conversation that should not be underestimated.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Britain's democracy is broken, is it beyond repair?

David Cameron came into office in 2010 banging on about 'broken Britain', since then he and Chancellor George Osborne seem to have done their best to ensure that Britain's society is broken with massive cuts of over £80 billion affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Cameron also talked about the electorate's lack of trust in politicians, but he has done nothing to restore that trust, and if anything, trust in politicians continues to decline. Despite Cameron's best efforts its not our society that's broken, its our democracy.

Two recent news stories which reinforce this point caught my eye this week. The first was about a dramatic decline in Conservative Party membership. Depending on which figures you believe membership is down to about 100,000 and has halved since Cameron came to power. According to George Eaton in the New Statesman:
"Although Labour membership has risen by 31,000 to 187,000 since Ed Miliband became leader, this remains far below the peak of 405,000 seen under Tony Blair in 1997. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have seen membership fall by 5,000 since the general election to 60,000, down from a peak of 101,000 in 1994. But it is the Tories, who once boasted a membership in excess of three million (see graph), who have suffered the most rapid decline. Should the trend continue, membership will soon fall below the psychologically significant 100,000 mark."
A similar story appeared in the Independent which talked about not just decline in membership of the Tories but increasing disillusionment with Westminster politics. I don't find any of this surprising and I posted about the decline of the three main Parties recently. It's not really difficult to understand why any of this is happening. Firstly, there is nothing to choose between the three main Parties. For a bunch of Parties who talk about offering the electorate "choice", there is precious little choice on offer from them. All have the same identikit policies. Of course "choice" really means "privatisation", which is something millions of voters, who are sick of being ripped-off by the private sector 'fat cats', are totally disillusioned with.

But the disillusionment goes much deeper than this and its the second reason for this decline which is by far the most important; our democracy is broken, it isn't working, and the list of things that are wrong is a very long one indeed. For a start, our electoral system doesn't reflect voters views; first past the post is well past its sell by date, a rotten system which no longer meets voters needs and aspirations. Then there is the increasing centralisation of power, something which has been happening for more than forty years. Local Government has been hollowed-out and councillors are little more than mere managers paid to implement central diktat. Also, there is the ongoing scandal of the continuation of the House of Lords, which was recently reported to be the largest chamber in the world after the National People's Assembly in China! I could go on but that will suffice for now.

The Palace of Westminster: home of a rotten and discredited parliament

Reform of our democratic system has never been more urgent. Without reform power will continue to be in the hands of the few, propped up by a shrinking number of voters. In the longer run this is a recipe for disaster, as people are likely to become disillusioned with the idea of democracy itself. We really need to re-evaluate what 'democracy' is, and I'd recommend you read David Graeber's recent book 'The Democracy Project', which examines what democracy really is, how it has developed, and how it can be made more participatory and responsive to people's needs. One thing is for sure, for a start we need real power devolved to regions and localities, instead of Tory platitudes about "localism", a completely reformed Parliament, with a fully elected second chamber, preferably based in a new chamber away from Westminster, which should become a museum, and an electoral system based on proportional representation. Until this happens, our democracy will continue to decay, and the legitimacy of Parliament, which is unloved and discredited, will continue to decline.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Green Party must be a radical party if it is to make real electoral progress

I started this post with an Internet search for the meaning of the word 'radical'. One of the first definitions I found was this: a radical is - "One who advocates fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions". In Caroline Lucas the Green Party has a fine radical campaigning MP who is trying to bring about real fundamental change in our society. One of the recent examples of this is her introduction of a bill into parliament which would bring about the re-nationalisation of the railways. Speaking about the bill she said:
 "Britain was once world famous for our trailblazing and hugely successful railways, but today’s privatised system is ripping off passengers, harming the economy and failing the environment. From my inbox, it’s clear that poor rail services and overpriced fares are amongst the biggest concerns for my constituents".
This is just one of many radical changes that Caroline has tried to bring about since she became an MP, and this has made her deservedly popular, so much so that she was awarded the title of MP of the Year. She was also willing to challenge the conventions of parliament by wearing a "No More Page Three" T-shirt at a select committee hearing.Like many people I think that Caroline Lucas is the best MP we have in the UK and that, if she is re-elected in 2015, as she deserves to be, it will be because of her radical approach.

If you spend any time watching the BBC, you might be tempted to think that all is well in the UK but is isn't. The savage cuts introduced by the government, increasing privatisation, and failure to tackle climate change or tax dodging by corporations have left many people in despair. The Labour Party has failed to challenge the Coalition government on any of these issues, and pledges to maintain the cuts if it wins the next election. Only the Green Party offers a real and radical alternative to "business as usual", to use Caroline Lucas's own words, and this alternative gives the party an historic opportunity to make a real electoral breakthrough in the next two years.

However, the Party won't achieve electoral success if it doesn't present itself as a radical party of change, and implement radical change when it gets the opportunity to exercise power. Simply being a slightly greener version of the Liberal Democrats, or promoting a bit more social justice than Labour just won't cut it with an electorate that wants real change. I've posted before about how the Irish Green Party followed the road to self-destruction by going into a disastrous coalition with Fianna Fail and collaborating with a neoliberal austerity cuts agenda. Why would any of the millions of progressive voters bother to vote for a party that offers little more than the alternatives, especially if you don't think that party can get elected anyway? You have to have a really good reason to take the plunge and vote Green, and that good reason can only be that you are confident in the radicalism the party stands for, and that it will be delivered. That is where the Irish Green Party manifestly failed.

If the Green Party is serious about getting into government, it has to be serious about radical reform of the UK's economy, institutions and infrastructure, and pursuing much much more than an ecological agenda, otherwise it will remain a niche party on the fringe of the British political scene. The Green Party has the right policies for radical change and Caroline Lucas is leading the way, now the rest of the party needs to follow her.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The strange slow death of the Labour Party

Do all political parties have a lifespan? I think so. Its hard to imagine the Tory Party coming to an end, because it represents the interests of a particular class very effectively, and has done for 200 years or more. But even the Tories are vulnerable, not so much because of UKIP, but because they now really only represent a very narrow sectional interest consisting of the corporations and the very wealthy. The 'free' market and globalisation is set to grind down their middle class support, narrowing their political base still further. The latest manifestation of this is the sacrifice of the legal profession on the altar of the market to promote the interests of big business who are eying up what's left of the funding for legal aid. The fact is that the Tory vote has been in decline since 1931, and there is no sign of this changing.

But this post is meant to be about Labour, why is Labour heading into irreversible decline? The answer is simple - the party has abandoned its base, just like the Tories. The only reason so many people still vote for it is that it is seen as the only viable alternative to the Tories, and it is still funded by the trade unions. Of course its true that Labour's base has changed anyway in the past 30 years or so. The bedrock of working class support that could once rely upon has diminished, but Labour still ought to be able to rely on the support of the progressive majority in the UK, but now, it no longer can.

I believe Labour will win the next election and that it will probably win outright, but it will win by default, because enough people want to see the end of the Coalition, not because of any great enthusiasm for its leader or policies. Labour will win purely because it is the lesser of two evils and represents a little hope where now there is none. Labour ought to storm back into power on a positive anti-austerity platform. But it seems the Party has been so rotted by its embrace of the market that despite the mistakes of the Blair/Brown era it has really learnt nothing. Its leadership is incapable of making the break with neoliberalism.

The latest manifestation of this came only recently when shadow chancellor Ed Balls made yet another break with universal benefits by means testing the pensioners' winter fuel allowance. This is pretty poor stuff, which can only serve to weaken the whole welfare state further, and follows on from Labour's embrace of workfare, amongst other things. But it gets even worse because Labour are now likely to adopt the Coalition's spending plans after 2015 and yet further deep cuts are in the pipeline. The acid test will come if Labour forms the next government. Expect protests to grow not diminish. More people will drift away from the party and the decisive point will come if unions decide to make the break. If the Labour leadership continue on their current course they will be leading the party to oblivion. The question is not when, but how long it will take for the crunch to come?

Monday, 27 May 2013

The global kleptocracy: 'free trade' and corporate economic imperialism

Whilst arguments rage in the UK about the aftermath of the horrific and senseless murder of a soldier in Woolwich, around the world corporations are continuing to push ahead with globalisation by looting the natural resources of developing nations and destroying the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. This is capitalism actively creating poverty in action. A recent article in the Guardian reported that:
"Land conflicts between farmers and plantation owners, mining companies and developers have raged across Indonesia as local and multinational companies have been encouraged to seize and then deforest customary land – land owned by indigenous people and administered in accordance with their customs. More than 600 were recorded in 2011, with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The true number is probably far greater, say watchdog groups."
When this happens, there is invariably collusion between local politicians,  and the police and army, and the corporations, resulting in deaths and injuries to people trying to defend their land and resources. These are the very same corporations we are told we should be supporting, because they provide jobs and create wealth. But this is simply theft. This is the 'free' market in action, showing its true face.

Not so long ago this is what the empires of Britain, France and other colonial powers were doing, but since then nothing has really changed apart from the fact that this naked exploitation is hidden behind a veil of corporate respectability and underpinned by a raft of secretive trade agreements, supported by global organisations like the WTO. The impact of this, long evident in developing nations, is now being felt in western countries, in Europe and the UK, as the same corporations loot our pensions and asset strip our public services, putting profit before people. One of the best explanations of this process I've read 'Globalisation and Democracy' by Michael Parenti which I can't recommend highly enough. Parenti nails the mechanisms by which the 1% and corporations, which I like to call the 'global kleptocracy' steal wealth from the rest of us:
"With international “free trade” agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, and FTAA, the giant transnationals have been elevated above the sovereign powers of nation states. These agreements endow anonymous international trade committees with the authority to prevent, over rule, or dilute any laws of any nation deemed to burden the investmentand market prerogatives of transnational corporations. These tradecommittees–of which the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a prime example—set up panels composed of “trade special ists” who act as judges over economic issues, placing themselves above the rule and popular control of any nation, thereby insuring the supremacy of international finance capital. This process, called globalization, is treated as an inevitable natural “growth” development beneficial to all. It is in fact a global coup d’├ętat by the giant business interests of the world [my italics]."
The latest of these agreements is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) , which is a further extension of corporate power, enabling corporations to bypass or overrule the democratic decision of our elected governments. Our leading politicians, including President Obama, are promoting this corporate destruction of our democratic rights. We need to raise awareness of what is happening not only because of the destructive power of globalisation, but because it is a theft, not only of land and resources but also our democratic sovereignty.

Friday, 24 May 2013

What is work and what is it really for?

What is work, what is it for, and what is it going to look like in the future? Do we need to work and how much work should we do? These are increasingly important questions, particularly in an age when we have to build a sustainable economy, adjust to climate change, and capitalism is unable to provide people with work. It's worth enlarging on that last point, what exactly do I mean by 'unable'? We can see that capitalism is unable to provide work for millions of people in Europe and America because of the failure of austerity. But austerity itself is simply a means of making the 99% pay for the failures of financial capitalism which culminated in the great crash of 2008.  Western Governments, the implementers of austerity, are working in the interests of the capitalist class, the 1%, and have no intention of returning to 'full employment', which was the policy of governments in the 1960s. Nowadays, we have to hope we can get a job, however low paid, or we have to create one for ourselves, or we have to suffer the indignity of being treated like a scrounger, on benefits, because governments aren't actively going to intervene to create jobs like they used to. Given this current neoliberal approach to employment, we could end up with high levels of unemployment, and underemployment indefinitely, and there are good reasons for thinking that this will be the case. In other words, there will be never be a return to the days of full employment and decent pay and pensions - unless we do something about it.

Neoliberal austerity is a response by the capitalist class, and their supporters in government, to the falling profitability of capitalism. So was the massive financial boom, fueled by deregulation, which started in the 1980s. The global economy is now dominated by financial capitalism and there is still an ocean of debt, and dodgy bust banks. In addition, there is the tendency in modern monopoly capitalism towards economic stagnation. In short the system is bust, and without deep seated reform, there will be no real recovery.

So lets get back to the subject of work itself. What is it? Put simply work is what people do. It is all the things that we do to maintain our existence, build and make the things we need, and make our lives fulfilling. It includes the raising of children, housework, gardening and caring for others. Raising children, for example, creates the next generation of workers and consumers, that is 'work' that we do for capitalists unpaid - for free. Work should not be slavery, wage slavery or drudgery. Even hard physical work can be rewarding and satisfying if it produces useful things that we need. So why is so much work that we do dull and filled with drudgery? Karl Marx had a compelling explanation. He said that work in a capitalist mode of production created alienation. A succinct explanation can be found here:
"In a capitalist society, the workers alienation from his and her humanity occurs because the worker can only express labour a fundamental social aspect of personal individuality through a privately owned system of industrial production in which each worker is an instrument, a thing, not a person."
Karl Marx: understood the alienation of workers

There is nothing natural about working in an office or factory from 9 to 5. In the early days of industrial capitalism workers had to be schooled into working hours and into conditions they had never experienced. We have all been trained to believe that this, or some modern variant, is what 'work' is. But work should be satisfying, creative and produce useful things, and be an activity that we can enjoy with a strong measure of control over what we do. In a capitalist economy only a relatively few people are able to produce things that they own. The abandonment of the full employment policies of the past is driving more people to create their own work. 'Free' market ideologists would have us believe that this is a success, and that people are be becoming more 'enterprising'' but it is really a failure of the system.

If there is less 'work' available, can we divide it up? There has long been a debate about the amount of work there is to go around, and some people have proposed that the available work should be shared out, with people working a shorter week. The New Economics Foundation have suggested in a report that the normal working week should be reduced to 21 hours, which the average amount of time people in the UK work. One of the key findings of the paper was that -  "If time devoted to unpaid housework and childcare in 2005 was valued in terms of the minimum wage, it would be worth the equivalent of 21% of UK GDP" - which would account for a lot of the unpaid work that is carried out.

There are no easy answers, but at least three things need to happen; we have to build a green, sustainable economy which can help us adapt to climate change; we must give people control over what they produce through economic democracy and we must recognise all the socially necessary unpaid work which people do, and that means paying people to raise their children. As for the latter, there is a way of doing this which is fair and equitable, and helps to deal with issues of social security which people face - pay everyone a basic income. I'm not going to discuss how a basic income would work in great detail here because that would be a post in itself but it has been successfully tried as this example from India shows. There are various ideas about how it would work and be funded but essentially it is an unconditional payment to every adult in society. In the UK it could be used to replace benefits. One sensible way of paying for it would be via a land value tax

Finally, I was interested to read an article in the Guardian by Guy Standing about job insecurity in a global economy. He suggests that job security is a thing of the past and that we need a better welfare system. Whilst I wouldn't disagree that we need a better welfare system the real answer is to take the economy out of the hands of capitalists and put it into the hands of the people through economic democracy. That is the way to create job security. We can do that by 'occupying' our economy as I have suggested in this post. And for a start, we need a Green New Deal to create one million climate jobs, a national investment bank to fund co-operatives and we need to look at providing people with a basic income. 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

If you get a Labour government in 2015 you will probably be sorely disappointed

Remember Neoliberal Labour? The bad old New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? Well, if you are planning to vote Labour in 2015, and you are hoping for a Labour government, you are likely to be very disappointed, because Ed Milliband's  Labour is unlikely to reverse any of the Tory cuts, which is exactly what most Labour supporters want. Just imagine celebrating a Labour win and then having to face up to the reality that very little is going to change.

How do I know? I've been reading John Harris in the Guardian, and its clear that Harris has been talking to John Cruddas, the alleged lefty whose been leading Labour's policy review, and it makes pretty depressing reading. The upshot is that Labour appears to have accepted that the cuts can't be reversed and the priority is the eliminate the deficit;
"The essentials go something like this. Though there will be no reversal of existing cuts, in the context of George Osborne's howling failure that loud debate about whether to stick to his post-2015 spending plans is completely misplaced. But at the same time, if Labour is to win the next election, it will have to commit to a set of iron, independently enforced fiscal commitments, perhaps to be met over a 10-year cycle, focused not just on the elimination of the deficit, but the ratio of public debt to national income – many of the consequences of which, to quote one Labour insider, could be "brutal."

Ed Milliband: little hope for the future

The problem with this is that it is utter nonsense from beginning to end, and it shows that Labour have learnt nothing in the past three years. One is tempted to scream "Its the austerity stupid!", but even this is unlikely to penetrate the density of Labour's neoliberal skull. The reality is that it has never been easier or cheaper to borrow, never been easier to have our own national(ised) investment bank, and never been easier to invest in the jobs and houses that the UK so desperately needs. What we do not need is more of the same. Austerity must end.

I'll let you into a secret. Well its not really a secret but for all the attention it got in the 2010 election it might as well have been. The Green Party had an economic plan in its manifesto to halve the structural deficit in the lifetime of a parliament, and at the same time invest £44 billion in creating one million green jobs. And guess what? No austerity either. No cuts - just let me repeat that - no cuts, except in Trident and one or two other places where cuts were needed. No tuition fees either. Just think how strong our economy would be now if that had happened. But make no mistake, it can still happen, but only if people vote for real change. If they don't we will end up with more of the same, more misery and little hope for the future.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

"Democracy itself is at stake"

A while ago I wrote a post about the UK's sham democracy. My argument was that our democratic system is there to make us believe we can change our society but that we are only actually allowed to tinker at the margins. What this means is that we may be able to change social policy - like gay marriage - but the fundamentals cannot be altered. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, our political parties, with the exception of the Green Party, are in thrall to a neoliberal consensus which revolves around austerity, deregulation, and privatisation and asset stripping of the public sector. Secondly, as a nation, we are locked into various international treaties including the WTO, and the Lisbon Treaty, which compel us to put commercial interests above our democratic sovereignty.

So I was interested to read an article by Ha-joon Chang in this weeks Guardian. Chang is always worth reading because he tells it how it really is. I have no idea what his politics are but, as far as I can see, he is a pragmatist who is interested in what makes economies work for people, and how that can be achieved. I recommend you read his post but Its worth quoting a key passage here:
"If even the IMF doesn't approve, why is the UK government persisting with a policy [austerity] that is clearly not working? Or, for that matter, why is the same policy pushed through across Europe? A certain dead economist would have said it is because the government is "in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor". Dead right [my italics].

Current policies in the UK and other European countries are really about making poor people pay for the mistakes of the rich. Millions of poor people have lost their jobs and the support they received through welfare, but how many of those top bankers who caused the crisis have suffered – except for a cancelled knighthood here and a partially returned pension pot there? If anyone has suffered in the financial industry, it is its poorer members – junior analysts who lost their jobs and tellers who are working longer hours for shrinking real wages."
Adam Smith: well aware that government acts in the interests of the ruling class
The quote about 'instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor' is from Adam Smith. Smith never was the patron saint (Chang's words) of economics that the 'free' market fundamentalists have made him out to be. And, as Chang says, it is a very telling quote, one that makes clear that our government was just as biased towards the interests of the 1% in Smith's time as it is now. As Chang also says "democracy itself is at stake" when it becomes just an instrument for maintaining to power of the few - the ruling class and corporations. We have to understand that this is how our democracy works if we want to change it, and we have to re-make it for us, the 99%, rather than for them, the 1%. If we don't do this we will continue to be used for the benefit of a tiny elite, a global ruling class, which sits above the sham democratic process and is immune to it.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Real change is possible if you vote for the Green Party, and now is the time to start

Would you like to see the return of British Rail and the end of rip-off rail fares? How about an end to tuition fees so that young people can go into higher education without massive debt? And what about a Citizen's Income, so that people can live in dignity if they are disabled or become unemployed, and a financial transaction tax and an end to tax dodging? How about investment in housing and a  Green New Deal to end the misery of poor housing, homelessness and unemployment?  These are all things that millions of people in the UK want, a real change to the endless austerity, economic stagnation and pandering to the rich and corporations which is the stock-in-trade of the Coalition government.

But to bring about these changes those people will have to vote for the Green Party locally, and in the European and general elections. Now is your chance to make a start down that road to positive change. Vote for the Green Party in the local elections on May 2nd! Watch our party political broadcast to find out more, and to help us build a better future visit -

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Thatcher is dead: now we must bury Thatcherism!

Where to start? One place could be the excellent article by Ken Livingstone in the Guardian today. Ken summarises the failures of Thatcherism very well, but there is much more that could be added to what is a very long list. I've chosen one telling quote which shows that Thatcherite policies, continued under the governments' of John Major and Tony Blair's New Labour, have lead directly to the crisis we are now in:
"Thatcher's destruction of industry, combined with financial deregulation and the "big bang", began the decline of saving and accumulation of private and public-sector debt that led directly to the banking crisis of 2008. The idea that bankers would rationally allocate resources for all our benefit was always a huge lie. Now the overwhelming majority are directly paying the price for this failed experiment through the bailout of bank shareholders."
I recommend you read Ken's piece and I would like to add a few things he clearly knows about but didn't have space for; the Thatcherite policy of council house sales depleted the stock of social housing and has played a considerable role both in the unsustainable house price boom and the housing crisis we now face; Thatcher trumpeted the 'virtues' of "the great car economy", running down public transport and leading to increased noise and air pollution, which we still haven't dealt with, and increased congestion; the privatisation of the utilities has lead to not only the ridiculous rip off prices we now pay for fuel, and increased fuel poverty, but the proceeds from the debacle are largely transferred abroad and lost to our economy; and during the period of the Thatcher and Major governments there was a chronic lack of investment in schools and hospitals, classroom roofs leaked and hospital patients were left in corridors on trolleys.

Margaret Thatcher: a legacy of social, environmental and economic failure

The reality is that only a small minority really benefited from the Thatcher 'economic miracle', and in the process the revenue from North Sea oil was squandered on tax cuts and paying for unemployment. For the majority of people the 'economic miracle' was built on a house price bubble, and the accumulation of debt. It was a castle built on sand.  Nor was the reality of the 1970s nearly as bad as been claimed by the propagandists of the right. Sure there was industrial strife and rampant inflation but who caused the inflation? - not the workers that's for sure. The horrors of the  three day week? - that was down to Ted Heath's Tory Government. If we continue with Thatcherism, and for this read neoliberalism, inequality will increase, our economy will continue to stagnate, and we will fail to deal with the issues of climate change and build a green economy. We need a real alternative, an economy for all our people, such as the one I have suggested in this post, and we need it very soon.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Peter Oborne lives in Tory la la land

Once, I respected Peter Oborne. I probably shouldn't admit that but its true. I have to confess further that I even bought and read, from cover to cover, one of his books - The Triumph of the Political Class - and I thought it was pretty good. But now I have to draw a line. I thought Oborne was one of those rarities - a decent Tory with a fairly open mind. Having read his article in the Telegraph today I now admit I was mistaken because he is just as bad as all the others.

The cause of Peter Oborne's problems are the same as any other British conservative - he doesn't live in the real world but in an imaginary world of Tory good and evil (the right love good and evil, and they like things to be black and white). The Tory fantasy goes something like this; everyone should know their place just like they used to; workers should work and not trouble their betters (employers) with strike action; Britain should still be great on the world stage; cricket should be played on village greens; gays should remain where they belong in the closet; there are lots of really good chaps in the City (!). I could go on and on but I'm sure you get my drift. This is the comfort blanket of Tory la la land where the market is our friend - because, of course, it works for us, and our families and friends. Tough shit if it doesn't work for the rest.

How do I know this? Becuase Oborne thinks that Cameron is a great leader on the verge of great achievements, and he says so in his article. He must be one of only about twenty people in the UK who thinks this but lets examine why he is wrong. He says;
"......I will demonstrate that, though not without serious faults, Mr Cameron is leading a Government with a reasonable claim to be one of the great reforming administrations."
Firstly, he makes the error that all conservatives make; he misunderstands the meaning of the word reform, which means to change things for the better. But nothing that this government has done has made anything better. In fact things have become demonstrably worse. For example, the key claim of this government was to reduce the deficit and make our economy better. in three years it has done neither. Now lets look at his specific claims for Cameron, noting that his key partner in crime Clegg gets no recognition at all.

Oborne claims the scrapping of the FSA is a great achievement. Really? I was never a fan of the FSA but there have been no serious reforms of financial capitalism made by this government and some economists have predicted that there may well soon be another debt bubble. He also claims the health service reforms are great. Many would be disagree with him on this but the best anyone can possibly say is its far too early to tell. Then, of course, he praises 'Wackford' Grove's education reforms which are designed to return our education system to the delights of the Dickensian rote learning of the 19th century. Naturally he also praises the Tory poverty creation project of cuts in benefits. But where Oborne reveals his truly disgusting Tory nature is his contempt for the disabled when he states that the Disability Living Allowance is "a charter for deceit and recipe for state-sponsored idleness". So there we have it.

When I read his article I noticed there were 400 or so comments. I read the first 20 or so and predictably, they were filled with the usual right wing bile and rantings about UKIP and immigrants. But one caught my eye, and strangely enough it had the most 'recommends' of any that I looked at. It said:
"On the verge of something great? I thought we were heading back to the Victorian Age but with more taxation."
Indeed we are if Cameron and Oborne have anything to do with it, but a correction is needed; more taxation for the 99% and less for the rich.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Welfare? That is only for corporations and the rich

Welcome to the new welfare state - Coalition government style. Despite the fact that we are supposed to be struggling with a massive structural deficit and our economy is stagnant, the Chancellor, George Osborne, found plenty to give away in last weeks budget in terms of  welfare - for the 1%. We certainly ain't in it all together but what we do know is that this is a government which punishes the needy and rewards those who have much, much more than they need

From 1st April we will see yet more cuts in welfare, the punitive bedroom tax and further massive cuts in public services. Add to that an ongoing clamp down on public sector pay which is reducing the standard of living of hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom are low paid. In contrast the richest in the UK will receive a massive tax cut and corporations will see further cuts in corporation tax. George Osborne is also doing his best to create another house price boom by allowing for £130 billion to back house buyers, a move which can only make it more difficult for people who want to buy houses.

As I've posted before the government's austerity cuts programme has nothing to do with reducing the deficit and everything to do with the demolition of the welfare state and privatisation of public services. The truth is that the main recipients of welfare in the UK are the 1%, the corporations and the rich. Whilst the 99% see their living standards cut further in order to pay for a crisis caused by neoliberal capitalism, corporations like Starbuck's benefit from not paying taxes and tax dodgers avoid £120 billion in tax. It may be hard for some people to accept but we are all under attack - from our own government. There is only one option - organise and fight back to protect our living standards. Groups like UK Uncut have lead the way but there is much more work to be done. Its time to get involved. Come and help us defend our communities!