Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Tories Set Out Their Manifesto – Even More Fleecing of the Poor

Should we be surprised that the Tories strategy for next year’s general election is to further crack down and demonise those of our citizens on welfare benefits? No of course not, it has been the central plank of their policies over the life of this Parliament. Indeed, it is probably their most popular (perhaps only popular) policy, whereby the financial crash of 2008 and all of our economic woes thereafter, have been laid firmly at the door of those least able to shoulder it, and the least to blame for the catastrophic collapse of the whole neo liberal edifice.

A flag ship policy of further screwing down the benefit cap (from £26,000 pa to £23,000 pa) and a freeze on all ‘working age’ benefits until 2017 was unveiled at this week’s Tory party conference. These benefits have been subjected to well below inflation increases of 1% for the past five years and this doesn’t include cuts to Council Tax Support in many areas (local authorities now administer this with a 10% cut in their block grant). Also, the CPI measure of inflation now favoured by the government does not include housing costs, with rents rising rapidly, particularly in London and the bedroom tax to pay too. As many as 7 million of these claimants are actually in work, on poverty wages, whilst tax is cut for the wealthiest people.

In a further humiliation for benefit claimants, Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, announced plans to introduce ‘pre-paid cards’ for benefits payments rather than cash, which would prevent the money being used to fund alcohol, tobacco, gambling and illegal drug addictions. Given that many of the long term unemployed have problems with addictions, I would expect this to lead to a rise in crime, apart from being a thoroughly authoritarian action.

Duncan Smith is the most incompetent member of the cabinet, having already wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on his Universal Credit shambles and routinely puts out at best inaccurate information on benefit claims, at worst downright lies. That he remains in post at all is down to the popularity of welfare claimant bashing and his support from right wing Eurosceptic Tory MPs, those who haven’t joined UKIP, anyway. George Osborne has got one thing right, Duncan Smith just isn’t really that clever.

But even by the Tories own measure, that of reducing the budget deficit, the government’s policies are failing. The deficit actually rose last month and is forecast to continue to rise until the end of the year at best, leaving it not far short of what they inherited, after all of the pain inflicted by the austerity economics of this administration.

If ever we needed a reminder of just how nasty the Tories are, we have seen it this week. Next May, I hope the decent people of Britain will see through all the smoke screens and deceptions, and kick these malicious bastards out of government.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Help re-elect Caroline Lucas as MP for Brighton Pavilion

It’s essential that Caroline Lucas is re-elected to Westminster in 2015; it’s essential for the people of Brighton Pavilion; but it’s also essential for all of us who want to make sure that Green policies, the only kind of policies that are designed for the Common Good, impact on the Westminster agenda. Read on to see why and how you can help.

You probably don’t need reminding, either, that with the ‘first past the post’ electoral system to achieve this, we have a mountain to climb.

But we do have things to cheer about: and there’s nothing more important on the list of things we have to cheer about than the fact that in Caroline Lucas, MP, we actually do have one Green MP; and more to the point: we have a fantastic MP! An MP who is working hard for her constituents in Brighton Pavilion, but who is also working hard to bring Green policy to the discussion of the House of Commons.

Just a few reasons why we can’t do without Caroline in the House of Commons:

See some of the priorities she’s working on look at her website:

See how hard she is working, have a look at the number of Early Day Motions she has proposed, seconded and signed: http://www.edms.org.uk/mps/24910/caroline-lucas

Early Day Motions are an important way to put issues on the agenda.
Have a look at the Private Members Bill[1] she has put forward (first reading was on 7 July 2014); it has had its second reading; it may even get passed during this Parliament.

Why is it at stake?

In 2010, Caroline won Brighton Pavilion with a majority of just 1252 votes from Labour. That’s a very narrow margin. If you look at the percentage of the vote for different parties[2] you’ll see clearly how narrow it is:

And because it’s so close, and because for Labour a Green MP is a real thorn in the side (because that allows us to show the voting public that the Green Party is the only real voice of the Left, the only real voice for the Common Good), Labour have made Brighton Pavilion one of its top targets to win.

But it is only one of their top targets to win. For us, it is the top target to win again.

So all of us - irrespective of the work we will have to and want to do in our own constituencies - will need to support the re-election of Caroline Lucas as MP for Brighton Pavilion.

How can you contribute?

The easiest way to help is to contribute to the campaign financially; and whatever else you might want to do, please consider this, and consider it urgently. The sooner the campaign can raise funds, the sooner they can be allocated and spent. And don’t forget, that nearer the time of the General Election spending is severely limited. So early spending really counts.

You can donate on line here:


But money isn’t everything. We need Green Party volunteers - members and supporters to hit the streets of Brighton Pavilion: to leaflet and to canvass. If you want to be part of that, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a group of north London Greens to head down to Brighton for a day (on a Saturday, maybe) and do our bit. We’ll want to do it more than once, but it would be great to do it as a group.

So here’s my call to you: contact me and let me know if you want to be part of the campaign; and once I have at least 5 responses, I’ll see what I can negotiate with Caroline’s campaign agent about possible dates and arrangements.

You can contact me on this e-mail: mweitsch@icloud.com (note that this is different from my usual e-mail; it will help me to identify campaign e-mails quickly!).

Any questions: let me know.

And let’s get on with this quickly!

Written by Martina Weitsch of Haringey Green Party

[1] Screenshot image from Hansard for 7 July 2014

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Why markets can’t fix the climate crisis

Video from Australia: Socialist Alliance member Gemma Weedall speaking of the need for ecosocialism at the Marxism 2014 conference.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Labour’s Minimum Wage Proposals are Typically Timid

The announcement by Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader, of his party’s manifesto commitment for the 2015 general election to raise the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020 lacks ambition and is all too familiar of Labour these days.

The right wing press has been quick to condemn the proposal as a ‘tax on jobs’, but these are the same people who said much the same thing about having a minimum wage at all, and in the end the sky didn’t fall in.

Indeed the proposal is so modest that over on Labour List where the idea was trumpeted to great a fanfare, you only need to read the comments section to see just how underwhelmed Labour’s activists are with this pitiful offer.

Compare it instead to the Green party proposal to immediately raise the minimum wage to £7.65 per hour (and in London £8.80), and then to £10 per hour by 2020. I wouldn’t even claim that this all that radical, even Boris Johnson agrees with the immediate £8.80 per hour for London.

What this does is to remind anyone with even a vaguely progressive outlook that Labour is scared of its own shadow (rather like their refusal to renationalise the railways, another popular policy amongst the voters), and despite hopes in some quarters that Labour was moving to the left with Ed Miliband as leader.

If you want left wing policies, and most opinion polls show there is a lot of support for them, then your best bet is to vote Green. Even if we don’t win many seats, a large Green vote will pull Labour to the left.

One of the main lessons of the Scottish referendum is that there is an appetite for breaking with the neo liberal orthodoxy that has blighted us for more than thirty years now.  

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Photos from today's People's Climate March - London

I would say maybe 20,000 people were on the People's Climate today. A very diverse bunch the marchers were too. There were many home made placards in evidence, and in some ways reminded me of the big anti-war march of 2003.

There have been marches all over the world today in advance of the climate talks in New York on Tuesday next week.

Time is running out, we need real action now.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

After the Scottish Independence Referendum – Where do we go from here?

Well, the Scots rejected independence on Thursday 55% to 45%, which is a larger margin than I imagined. With barely time to pause for breath and take in the result, the race for party political advantage has already begun, under cover of devising a new settlement for Scotland.

Some Scots seem to be expecting a stitch up by Westminster, with nothing substantive being offered, indeed calls from the Prime Minister and the Conservative party are for any new powers for Scotland to matched by ones for England (and Wales and Northern Ireland too, although they get less of a mention, a kind of afterthought).

This was of course predictable, as the Tories have long complained about Scottish MPs voting on English matters, whilst English MPs have no say in Scotland on devolved matters. This is the so called ‘West Lothian question’. The Tories can see that they could make life impossible for a future UK Labour government, having legislation blocked in England by English Tory MPs. Personally, I think this is the least important part of our governance, and a purely cynical move by the Tories.  

I think Scotland will get its extra powers although how significant they will be is open to debate. But it is not clear what the rest of the UK will get out of this situation, with only vague and often conflicting ideas coming from the Westminster parties.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, has called for a People’s Convention to be formed to look into the issues surrounding how we are governed, and Ed Miliband has now supported this call. The Lib Dems are calling for a more ‘federal’ system of government and the Tory response above is driven by having at least one eye on UKIP, who will surely make the most of the moment by cranking up English nationalism.

Mark Ferguson writing on Labour List suggests regional assemblies, but crucially to replace MPs at Westminster and to have real powers, rather than the extra politicians with little power model, floated by the last Labour government.  He may be onto something.

I have called on these pages for more financial powers for England’s cities, and that plan has been gathering momentum from even before Scotland took centre stage recently.

What I think is clear, is we must not allow the momentum created by the Scottish vote to be lost or dissipated by it being kicked into the long grass. We should examine, root and branch, how we want to be governed, including matters like an elected House of Lords, voting systems for all levels of government, the lobbying and the influence of big business on government.

For above all, this has to be about democracy. The yes camp in Scotland broke out of its usual nationalist parameters and enthused the largely politically disengaged people of the poorer areas. One of my favourite lines from Tony Benn is that ‘Hitler said democracy inevitably leads to Marxism’.

I’ll leave you with that thought.  

Thursday, 18 September 2014

An open letter from Caroline Lucas MP to the three party leaders

Dear Party Leaders,

Whatever the outcome of today’s referendum about the future governance of Scotland, there seems to be a strong consensus that nothing will ever quite be the same again. People in Scotland have been granted their right to be heard and have used the opportunity to imagine all kinds of positive futures.

Alongside the official Yes and No campaigns, we have seen the growth of genuine grassroots movements, giving everyone a voice. Across the nation, people previously disengaged from formal politics have been passionately debating what matters to them – all because they have a decision to make in which their individual vote really will influence the outcome.

For many of these people, voting had previously become merely an exercise in democracy rather than true democracy – casting a vote made little tangible difference to the outcome of elections, let alone their day to day lives.  The referendum has newly enfranchised them because every vote counts.  It’s also invited a whole new generation of young people to shape their own futures.

We have a unique opportunity, at this point in our history, to learn from what has happened during the referendum campaign. To recognise that behind the ever declining turn out in General Elections, especially amongst young people, the disillusionment and distrust, there is another story. One in which people are not disengaged from politics, simply from a political system that is not good at listening, that conspires to keep people relatively powerless and is designed to protect the interests of a small, self-interested and wealthy elite.

You did a brave and bold thing, ceding some of your power via a referendum.

You have also made promises, in the event of a No vote, to devolve more powers to Scotland – a welcome move that that has wider implications. The next steps must not be decided without full and proper consultation with everyone affected.

So I hope you will be braver still and demonstrate a genuine commitment to democracy by supporting calls for a People’s Constitutional Convention. A Convention to explore, discuss, debate and inspire. To tackle the democratic crisis that has left far too many people feeling unrepresented, neglected and alienated by Westminster.

A continuation of the conversation that has begun in Scotland – and England and Wales and Northern Ireland – about a fairer voting system, an elected House of Lords, job sharing for MPs, lowering the voting age, giving local communities and local authorities more power, including via local referenda and citizens initiatives, more regional government and total recall for elected politicians.

It’s an idea that’s already being championed the Electoral Reform Society, Open Democracy, Compass, Involve, Democratic Audit and the chairman of House of Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, amongst others.

Above all, it would demonstrate a genuine commitment to real democracy and embody the principle that power flows upwards from the people, not down from a centralised state. Scotland has shown that this is the way to build engagement in the decisions that affect all of our lives – by respecting, trusting and listening. This is also the way to give people hope again.

I hope you will join me in supporting a People’s Constitutional Convention as the way forward.

Yours sincerely,
Caroline Lucas MP
Brighton Pavilion

First published at Left Foot Forward

Follow Caroline Lucas on Twitter

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The apartheid of wealth State we're in

Preface by Swheatie of the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

The blog posting below is originally from Community Care magazine and the days of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. The matters of geographical social inequality raised in that piece have become more urgent as a consequence of the social cleansing that has arisen since the 2010 General Election brought in a cabinet of millionaires with no real electoral mandate for the policies that they have attempted to excuse with the backdrop of the crash of 2008 that really stemmed from the perils of investment bankers being rescued by the State.

The pull quote in the Bob Holman article is:
"The affluent elite tell the government about poverty. Those who endure it are shoved aside." 
These days, that shoving of poor people aside gives rise to the sharp rise in out-of-London-dispersal of poor people reported on yesterday in this blog. While the definition of 'affordable housing' laid down by investment banker-turned 'ennobled'-welfare reform minister David Freud and his ilk makes a mockery of social housing, the debt induced by linking definition of 'affordable' to "80% of [a deregulated housing market] rate" results in a steep rise in homelessness and out-of-London housing dispersals.

Yet with property developers and Central Government pulling Camden Council by the purse strings, we are in for further segregation of wealthy and poor people as this paragraph from a recent Camden New Journal item highlights:
The so-called “affordable” section of the development appears not to have the same entrance, amenity areas and roof terraces as the rest of the building. Even rubbish disposal seems to be segregated; tenants of the affordable flats are expected to take their own rubbish to the bins while the other flats will be provided with a rubbish chute. Moreover it seems that this section, together with the community space, will be directly over one of the most polluted and noisy traffic junctions in Camden. 
It can, ideally, be instructive for people to be 'up close and personal' with what they emit. I close this preface with a link to an item from 2011 about Jeremy Clarkson's sad discovery about such matters.

Poor must meet Gordon

by Bob Holman

Originally posted in Community Care magazine, 20 February 2008

Many of those committed to reducing poverty make the time to lobby the rich but have little contact with those at the sharp end Papers recently released show that Tony Blair had regular meetings with the ultra-rich. They lobbied the prime minister on tax breaks and pensions for themselves and their companies. No doubt they now meet Gordon Brown.

If a lobby for the rich meets in Downing Street why not one for the poor? I do not mean the leaders of national charities who have regular meetings with ministers. Odd that those on salaries of more than £100,000 a year, which help reinforce the idea of inequality, should take it upon themselves to be the poverty lobby.

Anyone who lives in a deprived area knows that many people on low incomes are intelligent and articulate about their plight. In 1998, I encouraged some residents in Easterhouse, Glasgow to write. They did not need to be taught to think or analyse. They did need help in finding a publisher. When the book came out as Faith in the Poor, it soon ran to a second edition.
Bob Holman quote 
One problem is that people in poverty are segregated from the powerful. When I joined the Labour Party in the 1960s, some MPs still lived in council estates, cheap housing areas and pit towns. Not now. As the research of Danny Dorling, professor at Sheffield University, shows, Britain is an increasingly segregated society.

Poverty lobby

The affluent – MPs, leaders of think tanks, government advisers, other senior public figures and all who make up the chattering classes – are geographically and socially distanced from those who struggle to survive. Consequently, it is almost impossible for them to have close friendships with and to act jointly with those who experience inequality. It is the powerful, affluent elite who tell the government and the media about poverty while those who endure it are shoved aside.

The poverty lobby should now campaign on the issue: “listen to poor people rather than us”. If the government agrees to breakfast with those on low incomes, how could it be organised? I don’t know. I do know that organisations such as ATD Fourth World run community and service user groups made up of single parents, pensioners, those on disability benefit, asylum seekers and many more. Their representatives would be a start.

The agenda? That is for them to decide. I do believe that they would demonstrate to politicians that poverty is not because of an underclass or fecklessness or defective personalities but is something imposed by the powerful – the kind of people who make up the ultra rich lobby.

Bob Holman is an author and voluntary neighbourhood worker in Glasgow

- See more here

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review - Naomi Klein's latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate

This Changes Everything is not just a book; none of Naomi Klein's books have been. It’s also a film and it comes out just days before massive climate change demonstrations in cities around the world, to coincide with a U.N. meeting on climate change in New York.

In Klein's words the book is: a revolutionary call to bring about the transformative changes required to confront the crisis. In doing so proving that the climate crisis cannot be solved without closing the inequality gap and deepening democracy at every level.’

From No Logo (2000), which became one of the leading books of the anti-globalisation movement to Shock Doctrine (2007), showing how neo-liberalism needs crisis to grow and to justify austerity, Klein's books have been game changers: spawning movements, inspiring countless banners and putting very succinctly what less eloquent folk were trying to say.

For many of us involved in the climate justice movement the premise of what Klein is saying is nothing new. Pursuing a neo-liberal economic agenda is in direct confrontation with the measures needed to tackle climate change. More than one South American president has given spine-tingling, earth-shattering speeches about capitalism and climate change, leaving listeners in awe. Even the UK's bonny Prince Charlie has suggested that one would need to reform capitalism in order to deal with climate change.

Overthrow, destroy, dismantle, reform, restructure, transform. . . whatever adjective you want to use, depending on your political leanings – one thing is for sure, no more tweaking the system. It is time to be change or be changed.

What This Changes Everything does is to make watertight the case for transformation away from a capitalist system. It explains in no uncertain terms what capitalism does, why it is wrong and why the rules of the game have changed. In Chapter 2, highlighting the anti-capitalists’ arch enemy the WTO, Klein demonstrates through case studies how the pursuit of free trade has meant that, time after time, initiatives to kick-start local renewable business have been thwarted by free trade policies. She tears apart the green billionaires, supposed saviours who have invested their billions in trying to kick-start a green economy while continuing to expand their fossil fuel guzzling businesses. Richard Branson has a number of pages dedicated to him and he does not come off well. Geo engineering, climate deniers, big green NGOs invested in oil and gas all get the same treatment. Completely shredded by the shrewd, well-researched and succinct Naomi Klein. 

The key question, then, is: what is holding us back from these transformative changes and a transition to zero carbon economies? It’s not technological solutions; we have them and they work, but we are not ‘stopping the fire, we are dousing it with gasoline’ because doing the things that are necessary to lower emissions is fundamentally in conflict with capitalism; ’We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe are extremely threatening to a minority elite that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process and most of our major media outlets.

Klein is hard on the left (and herself) for the lack of involvement in the climate issue and that's where the book becomes a call to action. ‘It's a painful irony', argues Klein, 'that while the right is forever casting climate change as a left-wing plot most leftists and liberals are still averting their eyes, having yet to grasp that the climate science is offering them the most powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake’s satanic mills blackened England's skies.’

This accusation feels a little unfair. In the UK particularly there is a rich tradition of environmentalism from places like the Centre for Alternative Technology, and its zero carbon Britain project, Climate Camps, Transition Movement, not to mention the numerous protests at UNFCCC meetings etc since 2000. But campaigning on climate change is very complicated – and somewhat reminiscent of The Life of Brian, with its multiple groups.  This book, with its galvanising call to action, might just scrub away those differences and bring a wide range of diverse groups together.

The most striking element of This Changes Everything is its central argument: that change is coming whether we like it or not. In September 2014 leading scientists from the World Meteorological Association said that surging greenhouse gases – now at record highs in the atmosphere – mean that ‘time is running out’. We are on track for a world that is 4 degrees warmer. And as Klein puts it, ’Even in the best case scenario a 4 degree temperature rise is calamitous and makes 2 degrees look like a utopian dream.‘

The response if we do nothing now will be the big corporate, big military, big engineering responses to climate change – the world of a tiny group of big corporate winners and armies of locked out losers that we have imagined in virtually every fictional account of dystopic future.’

Chillingly, it looks like we are already some way down that road. To avoid that future we have to create a totally different economic system, one that does not run on fossil fuels, demand endless growth, or concentrate power in the hands of the 1 percent. It is a future based on community and humanity, a future where we get rid of the broken system and replace it with something fairer. This book is full of inspiring quotes and goose pimple inducing paragraphs that leave you feeling simultaneously hopeful, excited and a tiny bit overwhelmed. But the choice is fairly clear: ‘In the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakeable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.’

See you in the streets.

Written by Kim Bryan first published at Red Pepper

Sunday, 14 September 2014

West Hendon Estate Direct Action: First Small Victory

On Saturday 13 September, residents came out in force to assert their claim to be able to live in a peaceful, clean neighbourhood, without the noise and pollution impact of construction work on their doorstep. The neighbourhood was West Hendon estate on the bank of the Welsh Harp nature reserve. The contractor was Barratts Homes, determined to extend its real estate with prior permission of Barnet Council and with all the nods and winks that came before that.

Brent and Barnet Greens have been active on the campaign to preserve the habitat of Welsh Harp for several years, against the threat from overdevelopment on both sides of the council boundary and were visible at this protest. Discussion of the impact of this latest development on current tenants in social housing came to the fore last summer at a public meeting hosted at Brent Council (Brent Unites against Welsh Harp overdevelopment). Unfortunately, despite the approval from Barnet, Brent did not mount a judicial review and it was unlikely residents would be able to afford to do so.

I arrived bright and early as residents were still amassing and got talking to Glynis Walker about the impact of the construction work on her mother’s life and health (both pictured below). I decided to turn it into a short interview. Please listen now:

I lent my megaphone to another resident who was driven around the estate to drum up a bit more people power. We began obstructing the main gate to the construction site, as dozens of contractors started to arrive. Our spirits were up as we sang, “Aint gonna do no work today”.  A couple of vehicles were mounted up against the hoarding at the critical entrance and banners and placards were mounted around.

Site managers came to speak to us and we entered into a conversation about the impact of their construction on the neighbours and the prospect of worse to come with the demolition of a tower block on the opposite side of the street, with residents still living a stone’s throw away. We conveyed our mission not to allow construction trucks into the site and the managers were turned back. Minutes later we were joined by police asking who was in charge. They entered into a diffuse conversation with our flat heirarchy, followed by a visit to the site office. They returned to announce that they “would allow” our presence there so long as we did not impede emergency vehicles.

Minutes later, came the highlight of the action – a concrete truck performed a U-turn mid-way up the road. The small crowd was jubillant and time to take a group picture.

Further actions are planned – please follow on facebook or @ourwesthendon #ourwesthendon

First published at Shahrar Ali's blog

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Facing climate change head-on means changing capitalism: Naomi Klein

Cartoon creatures populate the books Naomi Klein reads most often these days.

“All the books are about animals,” the Toronto author says of the bedtime stories she shares with her 2-year-old son, Toma.

“And at a certain point it just struck me that so many of the books . . . were about animals that are facing (climate related) extinction crises and that he may never see some of the animals he’s reading about.”

Still, the species that most concerns Klein is her own.

And like a conclusive majority of climate scientists, she sees man-made, carbon-based global warming as settled fact and an immediate threat to human civilization.

In her own book, This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs The Climate, Klein advances this existential conundrum:

Capitalism, as it’s conceived and conducted today; capitalism that relies on globalization, unbridled consumerism, deregulation and perpetual economic expansion, is irreconcilable with a livable climate.

And since humans have no control over the natural laws that govern a carbon-stoked climate, she argues, capitalism will have to change.

The Star spoke with Klein about her new book — to be published Sept. 20 by Knopf Canada.

Following is an edited version of the conversation.

You were once in denial about climate change. You didn’t deny the science, but like so many others you turned cringingly away from the worsening news. What made you change your mind to take a hard look and write a book about it?

What changed for me was hearing the argument for the existence of a climate debt, which is the idea that in order to address the crisis . . . which was created by the wealthiest countries in the world and is being felt most acutely by some of the poorest countries in the world, there needs to be a process of redress.

Core inequalities need to be tackled through redistribution of wealth and technology. And this was explained to me as a chance to heal the world; to heal some of the deepest and most lasting wounds left by colonialism. And I suddenly saw that though this crisis continues to be existentially terrifying, it could also be a catalyst for really inspiring change and social justice.

I want to talk about those changes, but again, many people continue to ignore or outright deny climate change. And this denial is based largely on the (oil-interest inspired) belief that the science is still unsettled. How would you suggest that manufactured scientific controversy be surmounted?

In the book I make a distinction between hard denial and soft denial. The hard denial is it’s not happening — the science is wrong, it’s a conspiracy. That’s actually quite a small percentage of the population, particularly in Canada. Overwhelmingly, Canadians believe that climate change is real.

Where the impact of the oil lobby and misinformation campaigns have been very effective (is in feeding) that soft denial of “I can’t bear to look.”

I think that state of not looking, in Canada, is very much about this really successful talking point about if we take this crisis seriously, our economy will collapse. Everything good that is happening in the country is because of the oil boom.

In Canada, (that) has been a much more effective way of preventing us from focusing on the climate crisis than outright scientific denial of the facts.

And that’s why I hope the book will play a constructive role in this debate because I am outlining an economic future that is not collapse, that is not grim, that is in fact, I hope, more exciting and inspiring than the economic choices we are being presented as Canadians.

I think just highlighting other economic alternatives . . . success stories where that false dichotomy has been rejected, opens up the possibilities to look.

There is certainly big money behind the most important player in this debate, the United States, and that money reaches deep into the halls of Congress where people appear to be paid to deny the existence of the problem. But you argue in the book that big money isn’t the root of the problem, it’s the means of generating that big money that’s at fault. You argue that, in fact, capitalism as it’s currently practiced is incompatible with saving the planet. Can you explain that?

Well, I think that in terms of responding decisively to climate change I do think that big money is at the heart of the suppression of that response.

Both by . . . bribing politicians and serving as (an election-campaign) disciplinary force for politicians — you get the money if you do the right thing. But if you don’t do the right thing from the perspective of the oil companies then that same money is used to attack you in television ads and so on.

But in terms of what you’re saying about what the book argues about capitalism, I think the resistance by some of the most powerful players in the world . . . to a decisive response to climate change (comes about) because there is an understanding that we've allowed the crisis to deepen to such an extent that if we were to cut our emissions in line with what science is telling us, then the cuts would be so deep that they would present a fundamental challenge to the logic of growth for growth’s sake, which is the logic of the core of our economic system.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be parts of our economy that grow, there can and must be . . . in order to respond to climate change. But as that happens, we also need to contract those parts of our economy that are destabilizing the climate and are just fuelling mindless consumption.

Some of the aspects of that perpetual growth economy are rampant consumerism, globalization and deregulation . . . those seem ingrained and backed by irresistible (business) forces. How do you convince enough of those people who are more concerned with a bigger TV and the newest logo-bearing product that they can rise up and face those powerful interests?

I think that is the key question and it is to me the greatest crime of neo-liberal ideological messaging; that so many of us have been convinced that all we are is self-interested, gratification-seeking units.

We (believe) we’re so unidimensional in our values and desires that we are incapable of responding collectively to an existential crisis and incapable of acting collectively for a greater good.

Well, we know that historically, this has not been the case. We know that in the midst of the Great Depression we came together and built some of the social programs we’re proudest of. We know the same is true of wartime rationing. There’s an incredible statistic I have in the book about how use of public transit in Canada increased by 95 per cent during the Second World War.

So really, what we’re saying when we say we can’t do this — and this is what we’re told again and again, we can’t do this, there is something wrong with us, we’re too selfish, we’re too greedy — is that this idea of the “we” of who we are has changed.

Maybe our grandparents could do things like act collectively and come together at times of crisis . . . (but) it’s almost like we think we’re a different species from our grandparents.

First published at the Toronto Star

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Noam Chomsky on Statehood, Power and Scottish Independence (a bit)

Noam Chomsky on Scottish Independence : Statehood and Power.
Recorded at MIT, Boston by Stuart Platt.

Questions by Gordon Asher, Leigh French and Stuart Platt

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Time to Flex our Muscles – London as a City State?

With apparent panic in Westminster over the possibility of Scotland voting for independence next week, a new federal UK deal appears to be on offer for not only Scotland, but England’s regions, Wales and Northern Ireland too, and about time. We have had to listen to the Scots rather self-important and dismal debate (from both sides) for what seems like forever now, from an utterly impotent stand point. I think it is time for the rest of us to have our say on the constitutional arrangements by which we are ruled in the UK. In London, and other parts of the country, we don’t want a permanent Tory government or Labour’s Tory light version either, which is surely the best we can hope for if Scotland goes its own way.

I think we will see more demands for English devolution in the coming months, whatever the Scots decide to do. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle now, and we the people of London, should get onto the front foot and turn this opportunity to our advantage.

Last year, the London Finance Commission, chaired by Tony Travers of the LSE, produced a report ‘Raising the Capital’. Below is an edited extract from the report:      
The Commission believes that there would be more jobs and growth in London if the government of London had greater financial autonomy.

Although Scotland and Wales now enjoy substantial devolved power, England has not seen anything like the same degree of devolution. London has a relatively new system of city-wide government which, in the Commission’s view, could readily wield more power and fiscal autonomy.

London is a leading international city which has, somehow, become a model for free-wheeling, tolerant, metropolitan living. It has a fast-growing population and, along with its surrounding counties, one of the largest regional economies in the world.

At present, London (and, indeed, England as a whole) is an extreme outlier compared with other cities and countries. Only a tiny proportion of the taxes raised in London are determined by the city’s government. Even after the reforms of April 2013, barely 7% of all the tax paid by London residents and businesses is retained by the Mayor and the boroughs. The equivalent figure in New York is over 60%, in Tokyo it is over 70% and in Paris over 80%.

London’s population is equivalent to those of Scotland and Wales combined. Its economy is almost double the size of these nations together.

As the London population grows to nine and then ten million people by 2030, there will need to be massive investment in enabling infrastructure simply to accommodate these new residents and, indeed, commuters. The Commission is convinced that London would be better able to prioritise decisions about investment.

The report goes onto suggest that council tax, business rates, stamp duty land tax, annual tax on enveloped dwellings and capital gains property disposal tax should be devolved to London government.

Whilst the report fights shy of recommending income tax raising powers for London at this stage, it does note that Scotland has some such powers, and may get more, and although there would be some practical difficulties with devolving income tax revenue, it does not rule it out in the longer run.

The report also goes out of its way to say that it is not suggesting  City State status for London, but having read through it, I was left with the impression that it is certainly possible, and even desirable, given London’s economic power and its multi-cultural and relatively young population. One step at a time, I guess.

Whichever way you look at it, London is different from the rest of the UK culturally, and needs more power for its government to shape its society. As an immigrant to London myself, from the north of England, I’ve always felt that being a Londoner was more of a state of mind, rather than where you are born. The diverse nature of London makes it so.

It is not just about London though, the Core Cities group, which includes London, are making similar noises about devolved powers. These English cities:  Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham and Bristol, (and now including Glasgow), have different challenges to rural areas and are all demanding more power to run their affairs.

The UK is one of the most centrally run countries in the world, devolving more power (financial particularly) will increase democracy and will give us the chance to develop our communities in the way we think is best. And it might just save us English who hate the Tories from a miserable future under an extreme neo-liberal dominated Tory/UKIP government.    

It is essential, I think, that the inevitable calls for an English devolution, are defeated. England is a large country by population measures and needs to be governed as regionally and locally as possible, not England wide.

Wouldn’t the people’s capture of London be a far bigger prize than Scotland? Wake up London, it is time to take our future into our own hands. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Mayor of London Has Questions to Answer on London’s Air Pollution

On 10 September 2014 the Environmental Audit Committee will be taking oral evidence from Boris Johnson, Mayor of London; and Matthew Pencharz, the Mayor’s environmental and energy advisor, in connection with the Committee’s air quality Inquiry.  The meeting will take place at 2.15pm, Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

The session will cover the role of local authorities in tackling air pollution including the Mayor of London’s air quality manifesto launched on 29th July 2014. If you follow that link you will find a highly spun version of Boris Johnson’s achievements on air quality in London. The facts point in a rather different direction than the rosy picture painted by the Mayor.

The "environmental lawyers" ClientEarth have revealed that the UK Government tried to suppress information on its pollution target compliance using rules on legal privilege, seemingly unaware that it was to be published on Defra’s website.

The figures published by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) show that the UK Government does not expect London to meet its Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) legal limits until after 2030, according to revised projections released today. Previously projections from DEFRA and City Hall had put the date at 2025. The original legal compliance date was 2010. DEFRA estimates that around 4000 Londoners a year die prematurely due to air pollution.

ClientEarth has brought the case against the UK Government on behalf of its citizens for its failure to adhere to legal pollution limits set by the EU to protect the public's health. The case was referred to the Court of Justice of EU by the UK Supreme Court where it is currently being heard. Commission lawyers described the case as “perhaps the longest running infringement of EU law in history”.

Alan Andrews, a lawyer for Client Earth said: “It’s bad enough that the government has no intention of complying with these limits in the foreseeable future. It’s even worse that they’re trying to hide behind legal procedural rules to keep this quiet. We have a right to breathe clean air and the right to know when the government is failing to protect us."

So, what is the truth about London’s air quality? I think anyone who walks around central London particularly, could not fail to notice that it is poor, to say the very least. Let’s hope that the Environment Audit Committee get to the bottom of this seemingly contradictory tale of two cities.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Greens Stake Their Claim To The Left

The Green Party has begun their autumn conference in Birmingham today, a conference they see as key in their effort to crack the UK political scene once and for all. The party, despite being chronically under represented in the media, is seeking to do this with a bid to claim the progressive left of British politics as their own.

Last night, ahead of the conference, party leader Natalie Bennett was interviewed on LBC, where she reiterated that the Green Party would introduce a wealth tax in order to stem the rising inequality that has gained significant political credence through the work of Thomas Piketty and others. This policy is a part of the party’s effort to broaden the prospect of a ‘green economy’ not only meaning an environmentally sound one, but also one that is fairer and works better for ‘the common good’.

This focus on the damages of high wealth over high income is backed up by concerns about low wages. In a somewhat polemic piece on the New Statesman this morning, Natalie Bennett said that the Greens were committed to raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020, going further than their current commitment to the living wage with a long term goal. The party has been pushing the idea of the citizen’s income for a while, the idea that citizenship guarantees a standard of living, protecting people against the often harsh realities of the wider economy. Through their sustained support for higher wages, the Greens are putting firm policy emphasis on inequality.

Inequality has certainly reached a political mass, not only with Thomas Piketty’s book this year but also with The Spirit Level, The Price Of Inequality and even Mark Carney talking of the virtues of an ‘inclusive capitalism’ with an emphasis on reduced inequality. This has created a reinvigoration of the left’s focus upon inequality, with many calling for action; the Greens are building upon this and other feelings of disaffection with leftist politics in the UK in order to position themselves on the progressive spectrum. In fact, politics.co.uk today asked whether the Greens are ‘the only left-wing party left in Britain’, something that no doubt the party are happy about.

The Greens have long celebrated the fact that they score very well on blind policy tests and are equally happy to point out that their policies of tackling low wages and renationalising the railway are incredibly popular with the public. Alongside their locally popular, grassroots campaign against fracking it demonstrates the party’s goal of being responsive to the public and representing the model of the kind of democracy that they want to instil. Being popular without resorting to populism shows that the party is serious about electoral politics and the left’s future within it.

Perhaps the key message that Natalie Bennett and her party want to push this weekend is the fact that the Greens are not a single issue movement, and that voting for them is not a frivolous protest vote. By presenting a broad platform of common sense, thought out and costed ideas, the party is showing that idealism is not political suicide. When you consider that the party is currently polling neck and neck with the Lib Dems, the UK’s official ‘third party’, you realise, that despite the lack of column inches devoted to them, they are serious force in UK politics.

First published at Shifting Grounds

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Exposed: Lawson’s Climate Denial Donors’ Links to Tobacco and Oil Backed Think Tank

Launch of new Global Warming Policy Forum mired by new revelations linking former chancellor to oil and tobacco-funded climate denial think tank

Lord Lawson faces increasing scepticism about the independence of his climate denial charity as the names of two of his anonymous donors with links to the tobacco and oil funded Institute of Economic Affairs are disclosed for the first time.

The Tory grandee launched the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPForum)* yesterday. There had been complaints from the public to the Charity Commission alleging his Global Warming Policy Foundation was acting politically.

The former chancellor, who retains considerable influence over his successor George Osborne, has successfully kept the identities of almost all his financial backers a closely guarded secret five years after the foundation was first launched, despite the consternation of MPs and climate campaigners alike.

On the Record

But now Neil Record, the founding chairman of his own specialist currency management company, and trustee of the free market Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, has been named for the first time as a financial backer.

Asked how much he gave to Lawson’s charity, he replied this was “a private matter on which I am not prepared to comment further.” DeSmog UK estimates the donations to be higher than £100,000. 

Lord Vinson, who was instrumental in the rise to power of the late Margaret Thatcher, has also been named as a GWPF funder for the first time. The industrialist and peer was made “Life Vice-President” of the IEA, having worked closely with its first director general, Sir Ralph Harris.


Vinson also set up the Centre for Policy Studies with fellow free market zealots Keith Joseph and Thatcher in 1974 supported by the IEA. The CPS, funded by both the tobacco and oil industries, secured Thatcher's rise to power. 

Vinson has donated £15,000 to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the first five years through his own charity, according to documents submitted to the Charity Commission. “I think they are a very admirable institution,” he told me. 

A third GWPF funder, Michael Hintze, has previously been named by The Guardian although the city investor has refused to confirm the report and disclose the true extent of his largess. Hintze runs the £5 billion hedge fund CQS and is a generous donor to the Conservative party. 

All three men named have worked closely with the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Westminster-based think tank which has for decades accepted funding from cigarette and petrol multinationals while attacking both the science of tobacco cancer and climate change.

Speaking Fees

An investigation by the newly launched climate website DeSmog UK has established that Record privately donated £36,000 to the IEA to fund a seminar starring Lawson on the same day in November 2009 that the one-time chancellor launched the GWPF in the House of Commons. Lawson’s speaking fees are up to £12,000 per engagement.

Record has told how his confidence in climate science was first called into question when he attended an earlier talk by the American scientist Dr S Fred Singer also attended by Lawson. Singer has a long history of promoting climate denial and has been accused of misleading the public about his own financial support from major oil companies, including ExxonMobil. 

Record is also named as a board member of the new Global Warming Policy Forum. When asked about his donation to the foundation, Record said he has “never had any involvement with the energy sector in any capacity” adding his donation was “paid for with my personal money, not with corporate funds.” 

Record said in a letter: “The organisers (i.e. the IEA) invited both Lord Lawson and myself to a dinner after the debate…and there I learned about the Global Warming Policy Foundation, of which I had not heard before. 

[Lawson] invited me to meet his staff, and as a result of that, I decided the best way in which I could be of some use in furthering sensible debate in the whole climate change arena was to become a supporter (i.e. donor) to the GWPF.”

Undermining Science

The IEA established its industry-funded Environment Unit in the early 1990s and published the first reports in the UK aimed at undermining the then burgeoning science of climate change.
The institute was also instrumental in establishing the Covent Garden-based International Policy Network, which during its lifetime accepted funding from ExxonMobil while attending major conferences around the world to raise fears about the policy implications of climate change.

Mark Littlewood, the current director general of the IEA, personally introduced Record to Lawson after the climate event in November 2009. He said he only “vaguely” knew Lawson but that he was not active in the climate debate because the GWPF took this role. 

He also confirmed last year that the IEA continues to receive funding from the oil company BP. He added: “…we jealously guard our editorial independence and no industry group can commission research from us - but if that's understood I'll bank a cheque from the tobacco industry without a single problem.”

Lord Vinson donated £5,000 to the GWPF in 2011 and then doubled his grant to £10,000 last year. This second grant was recorded alongside a donation to the Prince’s Countryside Fund under the category, “For the advancement of environmental protection or improvement”. Vinson has been a long time funder of the IEA, as well as its once-influential climate denying offshoot the IPN.

The author of this article has been quoted in The Guardian this morning saying: Lawson has stubbornly refused to name his donors even though such secrecy must undermine the trust the public has in his climate denial thinktank,” said Brendan Montague, editor of DeSmog UK. “But now we might begin to understand why.

“The evidence suggests many of Lawson’s funders are associated with the radically neoliberal IEA, which has a long history of attacking climate science and regulations while accepting money from oil companies.” 

Bob Ward, policy director at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, told the newspaper: “It is not surprising to find such strong links with a right-wing lobby group, the IEA, which also promotes climate change denial. It is now crystal clear that the campaign by the GWPF against the UK government’s climate change policies is driven by right-wing ideological zeal rather than evidence-based reason.”

DeSmog UK intends to publish the names of further Global Warming Policy Foundation funders ahead of the Conservative Party conference held in Birmingham from Sunday, September 28. The investigations website has invited Lawson to publish the full list in order to regain control of the agenda without success.

First published at DesmogUK

Monday, 1 September 2014

Antifascist demo in Cricklewood sees off squad of racists

Some 130 protesters from North West London United and the Anti-Fascist Network easily outnumbered a crew of 18 fascists who called themselves the South East Alliance. The only repeatable comment from the fascists was: “We’ve only been in Cricklewood five minutes and we don’t like it.”

The crowd on our side included local UAF activists,  workers in the RMT transport union, plus Palestine solidarity campaigners, Greens and Polish antifascists.

The fascists, fittingly, assembled outside a funeral directors. They claimed they were in Cricklewood to protest against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The usual double standards from police were on display – antifascists getting heavy handed treatment, fascists getting protection despite their thuggish behaviour.

Report from rs21