Friday, 16 November 2018

We should all be supporting Extinction Rebellion

Brexit, even hard Brexit, is trivial compared to the climate crisis we are facing. There, I've said it. Why? Because the recent report IPPC report gave us twelve years to reduce our carbon outputs or face potentially catastrophic climate change. Just think about that - twelve years! A few years ago I went to a talk by the respected climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre. At that meeting, he said that the UK had to reduce its carbon emissions by eighty per cent in the next ten years to avoid a global temperature rise above 2 degrees centigrade. So we now have just seven years left to do that. Add to this that we now know that climate change and human activity has already caused a massive loss in biodiversity which threatens our future.

So, we are on course for a catastrophe if we don't take action, and we need to take that action now. We need a massive programme of de-carbonisation, including investment in renewables, battery storage, and energy efficiency. Some of the actions we can take have already been planned and are ready to be taken off the shelf such as the Green New Deal and One Million Climate jobs. These programmes have been thought through and fully costed - we need to get on with putting them into effect. We also need to reform agriculture, reducing the input of chemicals which damage wildlife and focus on growing local food sustainably and organically.

Extinction Rebellion protesters in London
All of this can be done but only if we have a government which faces up to the truth. Labour has been moving in the right direction for some time, too slowly for my liking, but it is getting there, and we know that a Tory government cannot deliver the changes we need. So we need to spread the word and encourage everyone we know to vote Labour, and in the meantime - before a Labour government -  we have to take every action we can at a local level - through Transition groups for example - and a national level by using peaceful direct action. That is why I think we should support, and where possible, participate in actions by Extinction Rebellion. This is something worth going to prison for. So please check out the actions they have planned and spread the word as far as you can!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

What else is to be done?

Ok, ok, I know I nicked that post title from someone famous - or infamous if you prefer. But this post is about what the left needs to do in the UK today, and what it can be doing now.

First, some background: I have been a radical socialist for about 47 years. I never joined Labour in my younger years because I thought it was too right-wing for me. I've been an activist to some degree or other for all of those years. I eventually joined Labour in 1996 because I was desperate to see the back of the Tories. The 1997 Labour win brought a huge sense of relief but about 6 months in I quit. Why? because I saw through Blair. After that, I joined the Green Party because I liked the policies, the fact that it was member-led, and I am an environmentalist. I was a local candidate 4 times and a PPC in 2010. I was the local Party secretary for 5 years. I was on the Northwest regional committee for 3 years and was twice elected to GPEx (national executive) - 2012 to 2016. Then, I decided to quit the Greens and re-join Labour after Corbyn won the second leadership contest.

So, I've been around a bit, and like all Corbyn supporters, my number one priority is a Labour government - as soon as possible. But what if there isn't another election until 2022? Most people think it will happen before then and they may be right but, we may have another four years of misery to look forward to. And what if Labour doesn't win the next election or can't form a government? Even if Labour does win will they be able to implement their programme?

Winning power, through government, and being able to bring about major change is critical - but its also putting all our eggs in one basket and that is where the left falls down so often.

What else is there to be done? There are plenty of other important and positive things we could be doing to bring about real change now, change which will benefit the people and communities we care about. What I'm talking about can broadly be described as mutual aid. I'm not suggesting this is an alternative to the welfare state but it is something which can run alongside it and the most important aspect is that it empowers people.

In one of my previous posts, I said that capitalism cannot be beaten politically, it can only be beaten economically. I still believe that. The most important thing we can do is promote and participate in economic democracy. That means creating mutuals and cooperatives, and ultimately mutualising our economy. I'm not saying this is easy but it can be done if we have the will to do it. On the left, we need to think of ourselves not just as political actors but economic actors. We need a network of cooperatives that trade with each other and we need to spend our money in them.

I'm not going to repeat all the arguments here because they are fully explained in a previous post called 'Why we can and must build our own economy'. Please read this to fully appreciate my argument. Until we make this change we will always be subject to the whims of the markets. It may seem like a mountain to climb but there are lots of inspiring examples of what people can do when they get together and bring about real change. In the future, we need a Labour government to set up a National Investment Bank to provide funds to get these coops off the ground. I know John McDonnell is on the case because I've heard him speak about itBut its still possible to do things now.

Just one other example to finish off with. We have a housing crisis. No good waiting for a Tory government to do anything. But some people aren't waiting - through Community Land Trusts they are building houses up and down the UK - see here.

The critical point here is about empowerment - putting people in control of their own destiny - and building the economy from the bottom up instead of top down. Putting all our hope and energy in a Labour government just isn't enough. Even if Corbyn becomes PM and implements the manifesto there's still the possibility that it will be rolled-back in the future.

As someone once said 'let's take back control' - real control in our hands.

Friday, 8 June 2018

We need to talk about government spending and why there is plenty of money

Almost every day we see articles in the media about the lack of money governments have, and how things like nationalisation of the railways are 'unaffordable'. Then there's that famous 'there is no money' note left by Liam Byrne when Labour left government in 2010. So now we know - there is no money - right?

Wrong actually! There is plenty of money, and to understand why we have to look at how government spending actually works. One of the first obstacles we find is that we have always been told that governments tax and spend. This is something you will frequently hear politicians saying. And so we believe that government spending is paid for out of our taxes. But this isn't true, it's not how governments operate. What they actually do is spend and tax. They spend money into the economy and then tax that money as it circulates around the economy. Government spending is not dependent on tax receipts.

How did we get to thinking it was? Becuase we have been lead to believe that government budgets are like household budgets but they're not. Everyone knows about household budgets. You earn income and you spend that on food, clothes, the mortgage and so on. If you spend too much you go into debt. Government budgets aren't like household budgets they are very different.

Firstly a sovereign government with its own currency - like the UK with its pound - can create as much money as it wants - out of thin air. A recent example of this in the UK was quantitative easing or QE. The Bank of England created £435 billion of new money. How did it do that? A BoE official sat at a laptop and typed the money into an account. In fact, commercial banks do exactly the same thing when they issue loans. Money is created as debt by these banks because they are licensed to be able to do so by our government.

Furthermore, when a government spends money it gets most of that money returned to it in taxes. A simple example would be the government spends £100 and gets £80 back in taxes. This is called the 'fiscal multiplier'. Now you can begin to see why government budgets are not like household budgets because a government can create money and most of the money it spends is returned to it in taxes.

Its worth mentioning deficits at this stage. If a government spends more than it 'earns' (in taxes and other income) it will have a deficit. But this is a good thing. Why? Because if the government - public sector - has a deficit then the private sector - businesses and people - will have a surplus - which is good for us. Government surpluses mean private sector deficits and that is bad - for us. For a fuller explanation see this video by David Graeber.

The UK economy is struggling and growth in the last quarter was 0.1%. We may be heading into a recession. So what can the government do? The government needs to invest in the UK and here is one example of how it could:

1. Give public sector workers a decent pay rise - say 10% in one year (they are about 15% poorer than they were in 2010 because of an ongoing pay cap)

2. Some of that money - about 30% - will be returned immediately to the government through income taxes

3. most of the rest of the pay rise will be spent by public sector workers and will end up returning to the government in tax because it is taxed as is circulates around the economy. The pay rise will largely pay for itself.

That spending will boost businesses and the UK economy. One of the main reasons why the high street is failing is not internet shopping but the simple fact that millions have no money to spend.

This is a win-win situation which will boost public sector worker morale and wellbeing and help to lift the UK out of the hole it is in. The question has to be - why aren't the government doing this? I have no doubt there are many MPs who don't understand how government budgets work but the main reason is the poisonous ideology of neoliberalism and blind faith in the 'free' market.

Note: if you want to read more about this I recommend 'The Joy of Tax' by Richard J Murphy.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

As long as there are power imbalances people will continue to be abused

Since the exposure of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual abuser and the #MeToo campaign on Twitter, there have been many other exposures of sexual abuse, most recently in the charity sector. Hopefully, these revelations will result in the prosecution and conviction of men who have serially abused women and deter others from doing so, but, in the longer term, will anything really change? 

Sexual abuse is not about sexual gratification. Though abusers may get some sexual pleasure this abuse is really about power and domination. According to Lyn Yonack - who posted here:

"Far and away, most sexual assaults and sexual violence are perpetrated by men, and typically arise within asymmetrical power dynamics, where the perpetrator occupies a more powerful or dominant position in relation to the victim...........These men have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need: a job, good grades, a promotion, a recommendation, an audition, a role in a movie, a place close to the center of power."
So although the exposure and prosecution of serial sex abusers may reduce the amount of sexual abuse going on we still have the essential problem - an imbalance of power. Such imbalances are commonplace in our culture - most obviously in the workplace. And power imbalances don't just lead to sexual abuse. They also lead to bullying and harassment which can have a serious impact on the victim. As a former union representative, I have first-hand experience of this.

So how do we combat this abuse and prevent it from happening, or at least significantly reduce it? The answer, of course, is obvious and is staring us in the face - we need to remove the imbalance of power that facilitates abuse and bullying. To many people, this would seem impossible because we are used to living in a stratified culture in which we take the roles of 'bosses' and 'workers' for granted. That's just how things work, isn't it?

Well yes, but it needn't be. We don't need hierarchies of any kind, either in the workplace or society at large. We are perfectly capable of running businesses and our society as a whole cooperatively and collectively. Naturally, the people who have power aren't going to give it up readily and will work hard to persuade us that they are necessary. But we can start to change things now. I've written about how we can do this in more detail in this post and this blog contains many examples of businesses and groups that are run in a non-hierarchical way.

If you are really serious about ending sexual abuse and bullying - get serious about ending power imbalances in the workplace and wider society!