Monday, 22 December 2014

Joel Kovel - What is EcoSocialism & How Do We Get There?

A little Christmas treat for our readers. Joel Kovel explains the relationship between ecology and socialism from 2007.

Joel Kovel's book 'The Enemy of Nature' was really what turned me into an ecosocialist when I read it in 2005 I think. He is a great thinker and an inspiration, people say Kovel is to ecosocialism what Marx is to socialism.


Sunday, 21 December 2014

My Impressions of Rojava - by Janet Biehl

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria.

The Tigris river channel was narrow, but society of social and political revolution that we encountered on the far shore could not have been more different from the KRG. As we disembarked, we were greeted by the Asayis, or civilian security forces of revolution; the Asayis reject the label police, since police serve the state, whereas they serve the society. Over the next nine days, we would explore Rojava’s revolutionary self-government an old-fashioned state of total immersion (we had no Internet access to distract us). Our delegation’s two organizers—Dilar Dirik (a talented Ph.D. student at Cambridge University) and Devriş Çimen (head of Civaka Azad, the Kurdish Center for Public Information in Germany)—took us on an intensive tour of the various revolutionary institutions. Rojava consists of three geographically noncontiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cizire, due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobane. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.

At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Baath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of citizenship. After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies in 2011’s Arab Spring, rebellious Syrians too rose up, initiating the civil war.  In the summer of 2012 regime authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently. Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought he Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism. Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change:  they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed Democratic Confederalism, as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. Te implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health, and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social agreement” (the nonstatist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.  When our delegation visited a Qamislo neighborhood, we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution, and families of martyrs were discussed; men and women sat and participated together.  Elsewhere in Qamislo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of particular importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more. But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society, institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official—for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.

Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy—they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male ones like the military.  The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by YPJ, women’s units, whose images by have now become world famous, are defending the society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations. When we visited a meeting of YPJ, we were told that the fighters’  education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. We are fighting for our ideas, they emphasized at every turn.  Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle; one sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch; both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.

Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.  When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none.  In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression—and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to  create a “community economy, “ building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’ s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages meet everyone’s basic needs. They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo.   It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.  Even the KRG, fellow Kurds but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now, in the wake of political developments.  But the country still lacks resources.  That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.  The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home its abundant wheat supply, but the Baath regime had deliberately kept the area pre-industrial, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials.  It now provides flour for the bread consumed Cizire, whose residents get three loaves a day.

Similarly, Cizire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Baath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria.  But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand.  But it was not until we visited the various academies-- the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamislo—that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is nontraditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power, and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters.  They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief.  But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely.  “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us—“you will have to struggle to obtain them.”  And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism, as a set of principles; their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby empower themselves.

The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed,  their identities denied, their human rights overruled. They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile, and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind.  Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.

This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward.  In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of; in a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon.

Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling ethnicity and nationalism, and more.  The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique.  Readers interested in learning more about the Rojava Revolution may look forward to forthcoming writings by the other delegation members: Welat (Oktay) Ay, Rebecca Coles, Antonia Davidovic, Eirik Eiglad, David Graeber, Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Johanna Riha, Nazan Üstündag, and Christian Zimmer. As for me, I have much more to say than this short article allows and plan to write a further work, one that incorporates drawings I made during the trip.

 *Janet Biehl (1953—) is an author, copy editor, and graphic artist living in Burlington, Vermont. In the late 1980s she was heavily involved with the Burlington Greens and the Left Green Network, and for more than two decades was involved with popularizing and developing the theory and politics of social ecology.
From 1987 to 2000 she published and, together with Murray Bookchin, co-editedLeft Green Perspectives. She was on the first editorial board of our journalCommunalism. She has written on libertarian municipalism and a range of critiques of deep ecology, ecofeminism, and far-right tendencies. Biehl no longer considers herself part of the social ecology movement, but her writings remain a source of inspiration.

Her books include Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics <>  (1991) andThe Politics of Social Ecology <> : Libertarian Municipalism (1997; on which a series of international conferences was based). She also editedThe Murray Bookchin Reader <> (1997) and has written several articles on Bookchin’s life and thought for our publications. Biehl was Bookchin’s partner and collaborator and is currently working on his political biography.

Friday, 19 December 2014

The General Election Officially Starts Today

Today what is known as the ‘long campaign’ for the General Election begins. This means that political parties, candidates and their election agents are required to record campaign expenditure and keep within spending limits. The long campaign ends 25 days before polling day and the ‘short campaign’ begins, with different, lower spending limits.

It has not always been this way, but since the present coalition government introduced fixed term Parliaments of 5 years, we now know when general elections will be held for sure, well almost. Under the old system there was a 5 year limit on Parliaments but the Prime Minister could call a general election at any time of their choosing. If Parliament went a full term, then we would have a long and short campaign but of course with the date being possibly variable, only the short campaigns were definitely regulated.

Even now a Parliament might not last 5 years if the government loses a vote of confidence amongst MPs then a general election follows. One minor effect of all this is that candidates no longer have to call themselves ‘Prospective Parliamentary Candidates’ (PPC), to avoid incurring campaign expenditure, they can now be called ‘Parliamentary Candidate’, from anytime they become such.

In practice the campaign will begin in January after the holiday, and we will have 5 months of it, pretty solid in the media I expect. This forthcoming general election is incredibly difficult to predict, so for psephological anoraks like me, this is going to be fascinating, for the rest of the general public, not so fascinating I dare say, but it is an extremely important election for all kinds of reasons.

The opinion polls are all over the place at the moment, I have seen one poll putting Labour in a 5 point lead and another putting the Tories in a 4 point lead, just this week alone. One thing is clear though, the old two (and a half) party system has broken down and UKIP, SNP, PC and the Greens are all polling well at the expense of mainly the Lib Dems but Labour and Tory too. I think there is a very good chance that neither the Tories nor Labour will win 300 seats, let alone the 326 needed for an overall majority (perhaps less given that Sinn Fein MPs have not in the past taken up their Westminster seats).

One of the main arguments put forward in favour of our First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system is that it produces a clear winner and so stable government. But the last general election did not provide a clear winner and next year’s looks to be even more unlikely to produce a decisive result. If there is one positive to come out of the election, it must be a commitment to change the FPTP system in favour of a system that reflects the more diverse nature of electoral politics in the UK now. We shall see.

What about the Greens, how will we fare? Well, FPTP makes it very difficult for new parties to win representation but I’ve become increasing confident of us retaining Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton Pavilion. Tory pollster Lord Ashcroft gave her a 10 point lead in his most recent poll of the constituency.       

I think we may spring a surprise or two, particularly in the south west of England, and so I am hopeful we will win a handful seats, but maybe more importantly gain a goodly number of strong second place finishes, on which we can build for the 2020 general election, and who knows we may get a more favourable electoral system then too.

But it is not just about winning, it is what you do when you win that counts, (a win being the SNP, PC and Greens and any other progressives holding the balance of power) and my main hope for this election is that it is watershed election when everything changes, like 1979 (for the worse), and that is what is sorely needed. The result may be the beginning of the 35 years of neoliberalism being finally consigned to the dustbin of history. Let’s hope.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Where are all the New Green Party Members and Voters Coming From?

As Green Party membership nudges up to 30,000 in England and Wales (with another almost 8,000 in Scotland and I know not what in Northern Ireland), I mustn’t be the only Green wondering which party these people were members or supporters of before? Also, with the Greens at around 7% in national opinion polls, who did these people vote for before?

The Green party does conduct surveys of new members asking this very same question, but I haven’t seen any figures for a while, so I’m left to speculate on their origins through anecdotal evidence and gut feelings on the matter.

I think it is worth saying at the outset, that the Scottish independence referendum in September has had a significant effect on the Green party spike in membership, not only in Scotland which is clear enough to see, but also in England and Wales too. It is quite straightforward to correlate the rise in members in Scotland with the timing of the surge and the observation of a high turn-out in the referendum and a massive increase in civic engagement. It is obvious to me that a lot of Scots want a different kind of politics to what they have been fed for the last 35 years.

But somehow this feeling has erupted in England and Wales as well, so although there has been a modest trend in England in this direction going back as far as the ill-judged, ill-fated war in Iraq ten years ago, and the subsequent MPs expenses scandals, the Scottish referendum has acted as some kind of catalyst in accelerating this process. There all of a sudden seems to be determination throughout the UK to force some political change, unfortunately UKIP has reaped a lot of this, but not all of this zeitgeist in England.

Anyway, returning to the question at hand, whilst Labour was in government, we had a steady trickle of members joining the Green party from Labour, former members and supporters. In 2010 when Labour were removed from office, in my local party we had a few members who were ex Labour people return to Labour, seeing getting the Tories out of power as the most important political imperative and with a hope that Ed Miliband would return Labour to its more traditional left politics, after the unpalatable new Labour years under Blair and Brown’s leadership. I think after giving Miliband a fair crack of the whip, a lot of these type of people are in despair and some are returning or coming for the first time to the Green party.  

There is another group of members (voters) who were once Labour and, because of the Iraq war, civil liberties or just plain disgust with Labour’s sell out, went from Labour to Lib Dem. I think it is these voters in the main that are providing the bulk of new Green members. Once the Lib Dems decided to prop up a minority Tory government, some of these people went straight back to Labour, probably reluctantly, but they have now seen enough of Labour under its ‘new’ leadership to look for a truly progressive party to support, which of course the Lib Dems have disqualified themselves from.

But I think this is not whole picture, our ranks (in London anyway) are also being swelled by young members and voters, maybe some first time voters, who have not supported any party before. Also, some older people who stopped voting altogether when new Labour emerged and also former members of far left parties, particularly the Socialist Workers Party which imploded over rape cover up allegations involving senior comrades in the party.

So, something of a mixed bag really, but all from somewhere on the broad left politically. Some Greens on the left of the party worry that these new members will turn us into a Lib Dem Mk2 party, but I think this avoids the fact that even if these people have been Lib Dem members, they deserted new Labour for the Lib Dems when Charlie Kennedy was leader because the Lib Dems were judged as more to the left than Labour. Then they were equally as appalled by what the Orange Bookers have turned the Lib Dems into, Tories basically, and see the Greens as a proper democratic lefty party, without the electoral irrelevance of the small left parties.

We had a meeting of London Green Left last month, and a few good new lefty members attended. We talked about recruiting new Green party members to Green Left and decided to try and approach these new people at local party level and sound them out for joining Green Left. I would recommend that other regions of Green Left do the same, because there have got be lots of potential recruits to GL amongst the intake, but they have probably never heard of us.

This is an opportunity for Green Left to grow, let’s make sure we take it comrades.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

'A Roadmap To Global Burning': COP20 Closes With Even Weaker Climate Pact

After two weeks of negotiations, the world community has yet again failed to take any meaningful actions to prevent landmark global warming and instead has produced a "roadmap to global burning," leading climate campaigners lamented upon the close of the United Nations COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru on Sunday.

In the wee hours of the morning, two days past the intended close of the conference, delegates from 195 nations cemented the text intended to serve as the building blocks for the next round of international climate negotiations in Paris next year.

Under the adopted text, named the Lima Call for Climate Action, governments will submit plans for how their country intends to reign in emissions by the "informal" deadline of March 31, 2015.

However, according to RTCC journalist Ed King, reporting from Lima, nations "will not be compelled to offer up front information explaining how their national plans are fair or ambitious, nor will they face any rigorous assessment process ahead of the Paris summit."

"Instead," King notes, "the UN will deliver its own analysis on the 'aggregate effect' of all pledges by November 1, a month before talks in the French capital commence."

Environmentalists warn that these individual pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), will likely be too week to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, beyond which scientists say increasingly severe heatwaves, rainfall, flooding and rising sea levels will likely occur.

Responding to the deal, Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador and current director of the activist think tank Focus on the Global South, wrote that the COP20 outcome is "unacceptable for the people and Mother Earth and represents a roadmap to global burning in COP21 in Paris."

"We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome," Tasneem Essop, international climate strategist for World Wildlife Fund, told the Guardian's Suzanne Goldberg after reviewing the final draft text on Saturday.

"We are really unhappy about the weakening of the text," Essop continued. "This gives us no level of comfort that we will be able to close the emissions gap to get emissions to peak before 2020."

And Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, agreed: "It sucks. It is taking us backwards."

The pact, for the first time, also lays out a commitment for all countries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact that developing nations have repeatedly called on richer countries to take the lead in tackling emissions because of their outsized contribution to global warming.

"Once again poorer nations have been bullied by the industrialized world into accepting an outcome which leaves many of their citizens facing the grim prospect of catastrophic climate change," said Friends of the Earth’s International climate campaigner Asad Rehman in a statement on the pact. 

"The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year."

"Countries have failed to represent the interests of their people in these negotiations," said Niranjali Amerasinghe, Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

Amerasinghe said that the failure of the negotiators to set concrete milestones for emissions levels and specify how developed countries will support mitigation and adaption actions in developing countries leaves the world at great risk. "The decision they adopted is empty and does not come close to the ambition required to deal with the climate crisis. It is unacceptable."

Environmental groups did note one silver lining included in the text, which is a provision that leaves open the possibility of setting a goal of zero net global emissions by 2100, which communications director Jamie Henn said is a "win for the fossil fuel divestment movement." 

However, Henn added that action on that front "must begin now, not after decades of delay."

While government negotiators dithered until 3 AM, civil society and climate justice groups protested outside the conference chanting: "No justice? No deal!"

Written By Lauren McCauley @

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Should the Green Party Enter a Pact with Labour?

Recently on this blog Mike Shaughnessy outlined the reasons why the Green Party should not enter a coalition with Labour. He set out the disadvantages this would entail and I agree with him.

But I want to argue that we should consider a looser agreement with Labour. I propose a two-part agreement: first, an electoral pact; secondly a confidence and supply arrangement if Labour becomes the largest party in the House of Commons.

Labour is currently polling around 32-34 percent. It’s possible that they could form a government with this level of support. In 2005 they “won” the election with 35%. In 2015 they have UKIP snapping at their heels. If their support doesn’t harden soon we face the prospect of another 5 years of Tory government. This time made even more virulent by the addition of UKIP MPs. It looks as if Labour will lose a significant number of Scottish seats to the SNP.

Does this matter? Some in the Green Party believe that there is no difference between Labour and the Tories. I agree that both are neoliberal parties that share many policies. But it’s now clear that Cameron and Osborne want to bring about a permanent shift in economic and political power in the UK. Emboldened by another term of office they would cut public spending so deeply that we would end up like the USA: low taxes for the rich, no services for the poor and ever deepening inequality. And the Right is never satisfied: even now Republicans continue to argue for more tax cuts and more foreign war.

We should not forget the bad things Labour did. Iraq, PFI, Trident. But we should also remember that they also did some good things. The minimum wage, Sure Start, the Human Rights Act, devolution to Wales and Scotland. They are not the same as the Tories.

What about the Greens? It’s difficult to gauge our precise level of support because polling organisations differ so much. This weekend Comres reported our support at just 2% whilst YouGov was giving us 7%. Either way, barring a miracle (and I don’t believe in miracles) we can’t realistically expect to win more than 3 seats in 2015. It’s possible that we will get none.

What I propose is a pact with Labour in England only. There are 533 English constituencies. In a proportional system, assuming a Green vote of 5%, we would get about 26 seats. So, we ask Labour to stand aside in our 26 strongest constituencies. In return we stand aside in the other 507.

Such a pact could result in far more Green MPs than we could otherwise hope to gain. Two dozen Green MPs would give us a voice in Parliament that we might otherwise not get for a generation.

There are reasons why the voting public may be attracted to the pact: Labour is perceived as being barren of new ideas while the Greens have a wealth of transformative policies. Yet we are still perceived by the public as a wasted vote.

Would Labour go for it? I don’t know. In the past they have always refused to share power. But they can’t be happy at the prospect of another five years of opposition, their electoral support ebbing away. Labour are clearly concerned about support slipping away to the Green Party: they have set up a team to attack us already. They might even welcome the transfusion of fresh thinking.

There may be many constituencies where a Green vote of say 7% will take enough votes from Labour to allow the Conservatives to get elected. That doesn’t help anyone except the Tories.

The second part of the deal is the confidence and supply agreement. Green MPs would agree to support Labour in confidence votes and in votes involving expenditure. This is the usual confidence and supply arrangement. We would also have a shopping list of issues we want to enact: a PR electoral system might be top of this list.

This is not a coalition. I do not propose that Green MPs should accept any government posts at all.

When I floated this idea on the Green Left Facebook page last week some Greens were appalled and even threatened to leave the party. They believe that Greens should not betray their principles by supporting a neoliberal party. They believe that it is better to wait and carry on campaigning. This is a respectable and principled standpoint. But, given the alternative of another Tory government we need to remind ourselves that not every compromise is a sell-out.

Voting for Labour would stick in the throat of many Greens. It would stick in my throat. But it might be made palatable with the thought that in two dozen constituencies many Labour supporters would be voting Green. And it’s worth remembering that under an STV system many Green voters would likely end up casting a vote for Labour. Can we really explain to the future victims of Toryism that we had the power to stop the destruction but we failed to act in order to preserve our principles? 

Guest Blog by Chris Foren who is a member of Leeds Green Party. The views expressed here are his own.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Piss Take Police Advertisements Appear Around London

Fake advertisement posters mocking the Metropolitan Police have been plastered all over London, like the one above. Other messages include 'We caused the 2011 riots by shooting dead an unarmed civilian and then lying about it. And we got away with it', referring to the killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham and another one says 'We've pointlessly targeted cannabis users in Lewisham. while other people legally drink their drugs.'

The posters appear to have been produced by the anarchist magazine Strike. Reports say that police have sealed off the locations where the posters have been displayed with crime tape, so they are obviously somewhat embarrassed by them.

Still, there is nothing untrue about any of the content of these posters that I have seen. May the campaign continue.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

'All in this together,' Prime Minister? - Caroline Lucas Brighton & Hove MP

Last week I visited the Young People’s Centre on Ship Street to help them mark 30 years of youth services in the city. The centre itself, run by Impact Initiatives, has been at its current location for 14 years and an estimated 10,000 young people have passed through their doors in that time.

The Young People’s Centre gets about 15% of its funding from Brighton and Hove City Council, including for the staff that support users, yet that funding is under threat like never before - thanks to central Government slashing the money they give to local authorities.

Between the Prime Minister first declaring “we are all in it together” in autumn 2010 and April 2016, core central government funding to local authorities will have been hacked by 40%. Across the country that’s 40% less money for social care for older people and disabled children. 40% less money for emergency help to survivors of domestic violence. And 40% less money for services to homeless people, to low income families in crisis. Here in Brighton and Hove the city council is already having to provide all these services with 32% less money than it had before the Coalition Government started its cuts.

And all at a time when local government responsibilities are actually increasing and demand for council services is growing. Government policies like the bedroom tax, cuts to tax credits and benefits, and the increase in VAT are harming the poorest and most disadvantaged – and it’s local authority services that are trying to pick up the pieces.

Imagine having your wages cut by 40% then having several extra dependents to feed, clothe and keep warm. You’d scrimp and save as best you could, cut back on everything but the bare essentials, spend any money set aside for a rainy day, exhaust your borrowing opportunities, but there comes a point when it’s just not possible to make ends meet. That’s what’s happening to local councils.

 Very few MPs will be honest with you about austerity. They won’t tell you that it was poor regulation of the financial sector that caused the economic crisis. Not public spending such as that by local authorities. Most MPs have bought into the narrative that austerity is necessary.

But some of us have not. I have repeatedly exposed the flawed economic thinking behind public sector cuts. If you want to balance the nation’s balance sheet you need to get people into well paid work. If people are unemployed the Treasury loses out on any tax they pay and they may need welfare and other support.  Yet according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, austerity will account for the loss of 1 in 5 public sector jobs by 2019. And there’s no guarantee these will be replaced by new private sector jobs, especially not jobs that pay fairly and give people the security to build a life, secure a home, save for the future – all of which are good for our long term economy.

The cuts narrative is dangerous not just because it’s economically illiterate. It’s also given central Government the excuse it needed to embark on an ideologically driven wholesale dismantling of the state.

The results can be seen here in Brighton and Hove and in local communities up and down the country. Under the guise of austerity, central government is slowly but surely putting an end to local government as we know it. My recent Early Day Motion calls for this to be brought to an urgent and immediate halt. If you agree, there’s also a brilliant new petition on the 38 degrees website calling for the same thing. I’ve signed and hope you will too.

In the meantime, the £26.3 million question is how do you plug a funding gap that’s, well, £26.3 million in size. Because that’s the gap between what Brighton and Hove council needs to spend in 2015/16 and the money it’s got coming in.

The simple answer to the question is that you either spend less money or you raise more of it. Or some of both.

That means increasing council tax or cutting services or a combination of the two. Its a difficult choice but we do have to choose (otherwise Eric Pickles gets to set the city’s budget and that won’t be pretty).

The process of setting a council budget for the coming financial year is now underway and a picture is emerging of what spending less actually looks like, thanks to initial proposals drawn up by council officers but not yet agreed to by any councillors. It could mean reducing the number of beds in Older People’s Centres, less support for council house rents, less support for out of school childcare, the closure of some children’s centres and reduced subsidies for others, less of a council tax reduction for those eligible for the scheme, staff redundancies, a cut in the support provided to those with Learning Disabilities. The list goes on.

I fear that not one person in Brighton and Hove will be unaffected by the Government’s savage programme of cuts to local authorities. Is this what the Prime Minister meant by “we are all in in together”?

I do not want to see such cuts. Nor do my constituents. I have stood up against austerity and will continue to fight for all of those affected, especially the most disadvantaged and marginalised.

That means finding an alternative. So far the best on the table is a proposal to increase Council Tax by 5.9% to help meet that £26.3 million sized funding gap. It’s far from ideal but Council Tax is one of the few mechanism local authorities have to raise money, is at least tied in some way to people’s ability to pay, and previous local authority administrations have consistently raised the council tax rate, by as much as 14% on one occasion.

Brighton and Hove’s already seen a 62% drop in central government funding for day to day core services since 2010. In that same period Council Tax levels have also dropped in real terms because of council tax freezes or below-inflation increases.

The council has already made considerable efficiency savings and the extra money it’s successfully attracted for big capital projects like the i360 or cycle lanes cannot be spent on delivering core day to day services.

In other words, there’s no secret stash of treasure buried under the pier that can get us out of trouble.

What those in uproar about a potential 5.9% increase, for example, haven’t yet done is produce an even half way costed alternative. If there is one that adds up, I’d like to see it – and I think my constituents deserve to as well.  Nobody’s openly advocating the closure of children’s centres and staff redundancies but anyone refusing to countenance a Council Tax rise of this sort, or who cannot come up with a credible alternative, might as well be.
Our city has a stark choice to make.

It’s the Government that’s put us in this position and that’s where we need to focus our fire – although, sadly,  Labour have agreed that, if they form the next Government, they will stick to the Coalition’s spending limits, at least for the first year,  so we shouldn’t be under any illusion things will get much better with a different set of people presiding over central Government cuts.

If we want a future in which local government is properly funded to provide all the valuable services local people want and expect, we need to keep standing up against the narrative of austerity and making the case for investment in public services instead.  It’s what I’ve been doing since I was first elected and what I’ll continue to do whatever the outcome of the local budget decisions by councillors. That’s my job as your MP.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Why The Green Party Should Avoid Coalitions

The result of next year’s General Election is as unpredictable as any I have known. The latest headline figures in YouGov’s opinion polling is CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 14% and GRN 7%, giving Labour a small lead. Other polls put Labour and Conservative neck and neck and all polls show around 15% for UKIP and around 7% for Greens and 7% Lib Dems. The SNP are polling strongly in Scotland too.

All of which points to no single party having an overall majority of MPs after the May election. This being so, we will see either a minority administration or another coalition between two or more parties in Parliament. Of course it is still possible that Labour or the Conservatives achieve a (small) majority but I think the odds are against it.

Politicians (and more importantly the financial markets) dislike minority governments, which is the main reason cited by the Lib Dems for entering the current coalition government in 2010, i.e. ‘to maintain stability’. Minority governments are vulnerable to no confidence votes in Parliament which by convention leads to another election, so the argument goes, businesses dislike uncertainty. 

So, there is fair chance of us having a new coalition government next year. If the Greens win a few Parliamentary seats in the general election which could happen, say three or four seats is eminently possible, we could be invited into a coalition. There would be a temptation to wring some policy concessions out of the dominant perspective coalition partner(s), maybe something on climate change or raising the minimum wage for example, as the price of cooperation.

In my view this would be a very dangerous thing for the Green party to do. We need only to look across the Irish Sea for a stark warning of where these things can lead. The Irish Greens joined a coalition with the right wing Fianna Fail party, were complicit in many unpopular policies (including road building) and promptly withered away into a micro party and it set them back a generation in electoral terms.

Even closer to home, geographically at least, the Lib Dems entered a coalition with the Tories in the UK four and a half years ago. The Lib Dems could have joined a ‘rainbow coalition’ including perhaps the single Green MP, Caroline Lucas, the SNP, SDLP, PC and Labour, which just would have had an overall majority. Some senior Labour figures poured cold water on this idea anyway, but the Lib Dems chose instead to form a coalition with the Conservatives.

As I said above this was all couched in terms of ‘stability’ and the Lib Dems didn’t want to be a in multi-party coalition as they thought they would have more influence on government in a two party arrangement. The suspicion is too, that getting the status and the Ministerial limos also came into their MPs thinking.

The decision has been disastrous for the Libs Dems, losing half of their members and two thirds of their voters and they will be lucky to retain half of their MPs at the next election and will throw away thirty years of steady electoral progress. The headline betrayal was the increasing of student tuition fees, when they said the complete opposite in their manifesto.

So, Greens beware! The furthest we should go, is to enter a Confidence and Supply arrangement with the more progressive parties and no deal whatsoever with the Tories. A C&S arrangement guarantees against a no confidence motion in the government and voting for the government budget. All other issues are considered individually and voting for or against on the merits of the policies. The C&S agreement should also be only for one year at a time, with new negotiations every twelve months.

This would provide some stability but also give the Greens the freedom to keep our principles and distance ourselves from any bad policies that the larger party wants to introduce. And of course, no trappings of office, limos etc, which would be a good thing because people are sick of self-serving politicians and this would no doubt increase our popularity.      

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Is Socialism Green?

The Amazon rain-forest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events, according to a new warning from Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists. The Amazon works as a giant pump, channeling moisture inland via aerial rivers and rainclouds that form over the forest more dramatically than over the sea, the author says. It also provides a buffer against extreme weather events, such as tornados and hurricanes. In the past 20 years, the author notes that the Amazon has lost 763,000 sq km, an area the size of two Germanys. In addition another 1.2m sq km has been estimated as degraded by cutting below the canopy and fire. As a result, the deterioration of the rainforest – through logging, fires and land clearance – has resulted in a decrease in forest transpiration and a lengthening of dry seasons.

This might be one of the factors of the severe drought affecting south-east Brazil. São Paulo – the biggest city in South America – is facing its worst water shortages in almost a century. October, which is usually the start of the rainy season, was drier than at any time since 1930, leaving the volume of the Cantareira reservoir system down to 5% of capacity. “Amazon deforestation is altering climate. It is no longer about models. It is about observation,” said Nobre. 

Forest clearance has accelerated under Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, after efforts to protect the Amazon were weakened. Last month, satellite data indicated a 190% surge in deforestation in August and September. The influence of the “ruralista” agribusiness lobby in Congress has also grown in recent years, making it harder for the authorities to push through new legislation to demarcate reserves.

 A new United Nations report that has found that the destruction of the environment has left an area of farmland the size of France useless for growing crops. 7.7 square miles of agricultural land being lost every day because it has become too salty. Climate change is making the situation worse because warmer temperatures require more irrigation and increase the speed at which the water evaporates, the report warns. A total of 240,000 square miles of farmland worldwide has now been contaminated.

The Indus Valley in Pakistan is one of the worst hit areas, with salinization cutting rice production by 48 per cent in recent years, while wheat is down 32 per cent. Salty soils also cause losses of around £469m annually in the Colorado River basin, an arid region in the south west of the US. In Turkmenistan, more than half of the irrigated land is damaged by salt. Salt damage can also be reversed through measures such as tree planting and crop rotation using salt-tolerant plants, but these measures are extremely expensive.

Eco-socialism should not be mistaken for anti-technology or an anti-civilisation critique that strives to find balance with nature by returning to some kind of pre-industrial tribal society. ‘Primitivism’ can be described as seeking social transformation along these lines.  Eco-socialism  seeks to synthesise what might be regarded as some of the most desirable aspects of more primitive societies, such as their decentralised and ecological means of existing, with some of the most desirable aspects of modern society, such as its science and technology.

Green socialism is not some misanthropic back-to-nature utopia.  Our environmental crises have their roots in the social system of production so  the solutions to these ecological problems must be  radical of social relationships. The goal of a future socialist society will be to maximise human potential in order to stimulate a flourishing of humanity achieved through the free association  of producers within society. Human flourishing cannot be achieved, if we are constrained from exercising or capacities. I cannot quench my thirst without water; I cannot nourish my hunger without food; I cannot protect myself from the elements without shelter.

The political-economic system has overridden our genetic and social makeup, the result of that combination determines all our relationships, and it’s also the greatest influences in the way we think, evaluate our life and nature. The many hunter-gatherers the Arctic, the tropical forests of Congo and Amazon, also of the deserts of the Kalahari and of Australia, relate to one another cooperatively and fairly. Their relationship was due to the political-economic system they had, that system also helps to give those people the feeling of being a part of nature. Best of all is, it’s the way of life our genes evolved for hundreds of thousands of years, therefore that political-economic system suits our make-up, and furthermore, it was very successful. That system was what enabled people, with the most elementary tools and material, to live on all continents, except Antarctica. It was efficient; it allowed plenty of time for social and artistic pursuits. Today, with those attributes, we  have the advantage of our technology.

 Agriculture gradually introduced private property. That private property gave an opening to the warrior class to seize properties; it also reduced cooperativeness and increased competitiveness. To deal with competition within our human social needs, a class structure appeared starting with chiefs then proceeding to more complex hierarchies based on hereditary. Fairness for present and future people no longer dominated decisions – they were increasingly based on power of violence and belief. This hierarchal system produced civilisation, that’s centralised control, with objects being more valuable and important than relationships, resulting in continual oppression with periodical slaughters in wars. To hold society together it required both a brutal domination by a hierarchy and a fervent belief in it and in a deity all the more sacred as it was inscribe.

We see life in fragmented segments. Each bit examined in isolation and detail looks easy to manage. But life isn’t like that. It’s highly interconnected, and it’s that inseparability that has produced and maintains our wonderful divers living planet. Competitions in a social setting, is either overt or covert violence, if it’s physical it will also be psychological violence. Its extent of its potential hurt is proportional to its competitive intensity. The exaltation of winning is counter balance by the pain from other people’s loss and at times of many people. This is so between nations, companies, individuals, and sport people in boxing or playing chess. The intensity of the gratification or distress is dependent on the intensity of the competition. Winners in capitalist societies gain more power due to “their” wealth, which creates the unseen link to power. This gives them a competitive advantage, over the bottom section of the wealth hierarchy of capitalism in a “classless” unpredictable world.

The capitalist system cannot tolerate nor adapt to declining resources and at the same time increasing demands from the effects of global warming and a growing population. To survive we must gradually but quickly change from a growth economy of capitalism to an economy that can manage its shrinkage until we reach a sustainable life. This can only be achieved by progressing from the unfairness of a competitive economy to the fairness of a cooperative one. This would also improve our physical and mental wellbeing.

The competitiveness turns potential friends into enemies and that has detrimental effects on people’s psyche, which is becoming obvious. Those emotional dilemmas are largely caused by the necessary loneliness of competing. Even when one is in a team, the ideology of competition creeps in, so relationships are still chancy. Solitary confinement can have a permanent injurious outcome according to the time of aloneness, but one can feel alone in the midst of a multitude of people that competition creates. Competition is a factor that produces that overwhelming multitude of people, it’s the most serious problem we will have to face when or if we come to our senses. The competition is spurred on by religious, economic, and military needs, of the necessity to have the greatest number to be the strongest.

It’s in everyone’s interest to change course as quickly as one can. The reality is we have a common interest of survival, but we believe we have diverse interest. Therefore we see a need for a competitive advantage over other people, which overrides the knowledge of the planet’s depleting resources and global warming. Namely under capitalist philosophy, we see people as opponents, even enemies instead of potential colleagues and even friends.

We all have to live under a faulty system, we do the best we can. Change the system and people will change to live under it. People are extremely adaptable if given accurate information we will respond to it.

First published at Socialist Courier

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Locally-Controlled, Renewable Energy Championed As Key To Climate Justice

As progress at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru has been reported as "slow" by many observers so far, green campaigners on Friday called on world governments participating in the talks to end their continued dependence on outdated fossil fuel- and nuclear-powered energy systems and urged investment and policies geared toward building clean, sustainable, community-based energy solutions.

"We urgently need to decrease our energy consumption and push for a just transition to community-controlled renewable energy if we are to avoid devastating climate change," said Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. "We must stop subsidizing fossil fuels and put this money towards community-based energy solutions."

Backed by a new white paper by researchers at the What's Next Forum, Scherbarth and her colleagues at FOEI say that locally implemented and decentralized energy systems—including small-scale wind farms and distributive solar arrays that can feed-in to local power grids—are the key to pulling people out of poverty while also addressing the glaring crisis of runaway greenhouse gas emissions that are ruining the planet and the climate.

"We urgently need a transition to clean energy in developing countries and one of the best incentives is globally funded feed-in tariffs for renewable energy," said Godwin Ojo, executive director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

With rights activists across the world putting an emphasis on the idea of climate justice, Ojo put forth that Africans are not interesting in the fossil fuel industry's promises that more oil, coal and natural gas projects are the answer to the continent's energy needs or economic woes. Instead, he said, 

"Africans are pointing to real solutions to stop global warming and for environmental justice."

Among other policies, Ojo and his colleagues at Friends of the Earth have endorsed a proposal presented by African nations (pdf) earlier this year which called for an energy transformation focused on renewable sources, local control, and sustainable financing.

According to Sven Teske, a senior energy expert with Greenpeace, the debate that any nation must choose between economic prosperity and cleaner forms of energy should now be over.

"What’s giving this conference and the energy transition an added boost is that the costs of wind and solar energy have fallen considerably over the past few years," Teske wrote in a blog post as the talks began earlier this week. "In many countries renewable power plants are now cheaper and produce energy at a lower cost that fossil power plants. Nuclear energy is losing its allure as it proves to be expensive, dangerous and unsustainable."

Reporting last month from the New York Times showed that the overall costs of "providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas."

And according to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report (pdf), published in November, "Global installed capacity and production from all renewable technologies have increased substantially; costs for most technologies have decreased significantly; and supporting policies have continued to spread throughout the world."

For Teske, such trends shows renewable energy can now "replace the large coal-fired power plants that are the main carbon dioxide emitters" and should allow governments to "feel more comfortable about taking on the tough emissions commitments that are required to combat climate change."

As the What's Next Forum report —titled Global Renewable Energy Support Programme—emphasizes, distributive and decentralized renewable energy systems have several key features which should make them attractive to less-developed and wealthier nations alike. According to the paper's introduction:

It is not a single answer, silver-bullet solution to all our problems, but [feed-in tariff policies] could, if implemented well, have a considerable impact at several different levels.

  • It could provide access to affordable, clean electricity to all the 1,3 billion people currently lacking any access and the more than double who have a bare minimum. It could help promote a new, modern decentralised energy model where people everywhere – rural and urban – become more closely connected to energy production, and societies everywhere rid themselves of the dependence on large, centralised and dirty fossil fuels. 
  • It could help societies in both North and South to effectively tackle climate change by accelerating the transition to renewable energy. Countries in the global North can get inspired and challenge themselves to re-direct their current energy systems (and lessen consumption). Countries in the global South, supported by countries in the global North, can immediately embark on ambitious trajectories towards 100 per cent renewable community oriented energy, thereby avoiding massive amounts of future emissions.
  •  It could help rebuild trust between North and South, by providing an example of a truly collaborative scheme with Southern countries at the driving seat. If initiated successfully, it could spur interest in similarly bold, visionary public investment approaches in other sectors.
  • "Solutions to the climate and energy crisis exist," explained Niclas Hällström, director of the What Next Forum. "Among the most innovative ones is a mechanism to deliver international climate finance to Southern communities through feed-in tariffs. These are subsidies that cover the difference between actual costs and affordable, clean energy for people. It is a way to promote decentralised, community controlled energy and is the most effective and visionary approach to tackling the urgent need for transformation to renewable energy."

"We believe it is possible and indeed crucial to transform our energy system to one which ensures access for everyone to sufficient energy to meet their basic needs for well-being and lives with dignity,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, Climate Justice and Energy Coordinator of Friends of the Earth International.

“We need an energy system which supports a safe climate, clean air and water, biodiversity protection, and healthy, thriving local societies that provide safe, decent and secure jobs and livelihoods,” she said.

Written by Jon Queally

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Autumn Statement - The Wrong Spending, for the Wrong Reasons - Natalie Bennett

Pity George Osborne. Here's a politician who no longer believes in himself: yesterday's promises really are today's fish and chip wrapper.

Take the deficit. Back in 2010 he said he would eliminate the structural deficit by 2015. Today he admits that there is no prospect of this and blames the kinds of global factors his 2010 self said were nothing to do with the size of the deficit in the first place.

In fact the Office for Budget Responsibility now says that borrowing will be more than £90 billion this financial year - more than double what Osborne predicted in 2010.

Take spending. Back in 2010 he railed against "wasteful spending". Now he wants to increase it by frittering away £15billion of public money on building more roads - creating more traffic and pollution and locking Britain into a reliance on outdated, carbon-intensive technology for years to come.

Of all the possible 'pre-election giveaways' this is probably the most short-sighted and destructive thing the Chancellor could have announced.

He could have been implementing the Energy Bill Revolution, or something like it, to deliver warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes for Britain, lifting nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, creating up to 200,000 jobs and cutting carbon emissions. But instead it is now clear this government will complete its term in office with no effective programmes to deal with the poor quality of our housing stock and the resultant poverty, misery, and NHS costs.

Take climate change. In 2009 George Osborne believed in taking action to tackle global warming: "If I become Chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe." But four years later he said: "I would love fracking to get going in the UK and I am doing absolutely everything I can to encourage it."

Today he froze fuel duty again and cut air passenger duty - two taxes that help to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check. And acts that will help the wealthier at the expense of poorer; poorer households are far less likely to have access to a car, and less likely to fly.

Surely no one sitting around the Cabinet table now really believes that this is "the greenest government ever". The Coalition has managed to exacerbate the environmental crisis rather than ameliorate it, and left Britain trailing way behind on renewable energy when the rest of the world is powering ahead.

But it could all have been so different.

The new Government had an unprecedented opportunity in 2010 - to remake an economy suffering from the effects of the financial crisis. It could have, as it initially talked about, rebalanced the economy towards manufacturing (and I'd add food production), reined in our fraud-ridden, out-of-control banking sector, and launched an effective crackdown on the corporate tax dodging that costs the country between £34billion (official HMRC figures) and £119billion (independent expert figures) a year.

Osborne's promises today on multinational tax-dodging are too little too late - and we'll have to look very carefully at the fine print to see how effective they are likely to be.

Instead, Osborne and his friends have locked millions of workers into poorly paid jobs offering little protection or forced, reluctant self-employment, sought to bolster rather than bury the fossil fuels industry, and increased the gap between the rich and the poor to Victorian levels. He's made the disabled, the ill, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the errors and fraud of the bankers for which they bear no responsibility at all.

The 'official opposition' appears to offer very little opposition to any of this at all - quietly accepting the Coalition's cuts to public spending and hoping a bit of tinkering around the edges will be enough to convince the public to return them to office.

Yet, the public seem less convinced by the failed politics and failed economics of the past than ever. What people do want to see is a credible alternative to austerity that holds out hope for the future and removes fear and insecurity from people's lives.

The Green Party offers real change, rather than clinging to a clearly unstable, unsustainable status quo. We believe social justice and environmental sustainability go hand in hand and that we can only build a more equal society by creating a green economy in which everyone has access to the resources for a decent quality of life.

We need that alternative. As opinion polls show clearly, the British people don't believe in George Osborne's 'long-term economic plan'. And nor, it seems, does he.

First published at the Huffington Post

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Poverty and Social Exclusion 2014 - Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report

Our annual assessment of progress in tackling poverty and disadvantage across the UK.

This annual report, written by the New Policy Institute (NPI), tells the definitive story of how the UK’s economic recovery is affecting people in poverty, and reveals dramatic changes in who is most at risk compared to ten years ago.

The report focuses on money, housing, work, benefits and services, among other indicators. The key points are highlighted in the infographic and summary below.

Infographic showing the changing picture of poverty in the UK


Key points

  • Household incomes fell in real terms for the third year in a row. Median income in 2012/13 was 9 per cent below where it was in 2007/08 and 4 per cent lower than a decade ago. Incomes of the bottom tenth have fallen further and for longer and are now 8 per cent below their level in 2002/03.
  • Unemployment fell by 300,000 in the last year and the number unemployed for over a year fell for the first time in a decade. The number of people working part time but wanting a full-time job also fell, by 50,000, also the first fall in ten years.
  • At the same time, wages have fallen, for men and women, working full and part time, for low and high earners. The average full-time hourly pay for men has fallen from £13.90 to £12.90, after adjusting for inflation. For women, it has fallen from £10.80 to £10.30.
  • The report shows the movement between worklessness and low pay – two thirds of those in work now but unemployed a year ago are in low-paid work.
  • Changes to the way the welfare system operates have worsened the experience of poverty for many of those affected – whether through rising sanctions, longer waits for assessment or poor job outcomes through welfare-to-work programmes.
  • Legal support for social welfare cases has been almost completely withdrawn. As well as cutting support to people with debt and housing problems, this leaves people powerless to challenge incorrect decisions related to their benefits.
  • There are now as many people in poverty in the private rented sector as the social rented sector (around 4m in both). The private rented sector is increasingly insecure – the number of repossessions in the private rented sector is rising while mortgage repossessions are falling.
  • Child poverty is still highest in cities, but urban areas now appear to be better at providing a decent level of education than rural areas. Unemployment rose right across the country during the recession. Some of the biggest rises were in places where unemployment was already high, with some big rises in smaller cities and towns. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

In Praise of Russell Brand's Sharing Revolution

For all of Brand's joking and braggadocio, a sagacious theme runs through his new book: that a peaceful revolution must bring about a fairer sharing of the world's resources, which depends upon a revelation about our true spiritual nature. 

* * *

The political conversation on sharing is growing by the day, sometimes from the unlikeliest of quarters. And at the present time, there is perhaps no-one calling louder for a new society to be based on sharing than Russell Brand, the comedian-cum-activist and revolutionary. It is easy to dismiss much of Brand's polysyllabic and self-referential meanderings, as do most of the establishment media in the USA and Britain, but this only serves to disregard his flashes of wisdom and the justified reasons for his popularity.

His latest book is clearly not meant to be taken entirely seriously as a roadmap to “systemic change on a global scale”, hence the various crude digressions and contradictions. Yet as pointed out by Evan Davies at the beginning of his second BBC Newsnight interview , Brand has probably engaged more young people in thinking about serious political issues than any politician, despite his infamous disavowal of voting in parliamentary elections. On this basis alone, there's every reason to take seriously Brand's call for a revolution based on the principles of sharing, cooperation and love. But what does his idea of a caring, sharing revolution actually mean in practice?

Sharing is fundamental to a fair society

To elucidate, Brand uses a homespun analogy in his book: if 20 school children were in a playground and a couple of them took all the toys, you would “explain to them that sharing is a basic human value and redistribute the toys”. In a similar way, he says that the minority rich who are hoarding resources are misguided in their belief that it can make them happy, and we have to “be the adults” and help them. Which will require somehow dismantling the machinery of deregulated capitalism, winning over the military, and redistributing their excessive wealth. 

Admittedly he's a bit sketchy on the details of how to achieve this, although he does endorse Thomas Piketty's proposal for greater transparency around the assets of the super-rich—with a modest tax on their wealth as well as their income (see chapter 19 entitled: “Piketty, Licketty, Rollity, Flicketty”). 

But many other implicit recommendations are scattered throughout the book for how sharing could be institutionalised on a local or national level. He is keen to point out, for example, that the “corporate world in its entirety is a kind of thief of more wholesome values, such as sharing”. And thus the least they can do, he suggests, is to stop exploiting tax loopholes (which is “a kind of social robbery”) and instead pay their fair share of taxes.

In describing how “Jesus is pretty committed to sharing”, he also makes it clear that any British politician who claims to be a Christian should—like Jesus—try to help the poor and heal the sick, and not implement austerity policies and sell off the National Health Service. By implication, the kind of sharing that Brand upholds clearly needs to be systematised through progressive taxation and the universal provision of public services and social security. And this is best exemplified, in no particularly radical way, in the Western European ideal of the welfare or social state: the collective pooling and redistribution of a nation's financial resources for the benefit of society as a whole.

Brand's other line of reasoning is a bit more contentious: “Socialism isn't a dirty word,” he says, “it just means sharing; really it's just the bureaucratic arm of Christianity”. But do we have to call ourselves a socialist to espouse the human value of sharing? Or could this simple principle help us to better navigate between the divisive ‘isms' that still drive much of the debate on how governments should guarantee social and economic rights for all people?

It's pretty clear what Brand is trying to say, though: that the religious faiths have all expounded the importance of sharing wealth and other resources fairly, and it's high time that this age-old moral value and ethic underpinned the fabric of our societies. As he expressed it here in an interview with SiriusXM Radio : “They said the problem with socialism is that it placed economics forever at the heart of politics, when what belongs at the heart of politics is spirituality. And socialism in a way is just a Christian principle, just the idea that we're all the same, we're all connected; we should share. We can't be happy if other people are suffering. It's just a sort of logical thing.”

A fairer society, based on sharing, demands radical democracy

Here's another of Brand's sure-fire political insights: that a sharing society is dependent on mass civic engagement and truly representative democracy. Drawing on a fleeting interview in his house with David Graeber, he writes: “Democracy means if enough people want a fairer society, with more sharing, well-supported institutions and less exploitation by organisations that do not contribute, then their elected representatives will ensure that it is enacted.” But this will never happen, Brand suggests, so long as we have leaders who have been “conditioned and groomed to compliantly abide by the system that exploits them”, whose only true agenda is “meeting the needs of big business”. Hence there can be no true form of democracy without “a radical decentralisation of power, whether private or state.”

Brand repeatedly returns to this theme of sharing both political power and economic resources more fairly among the populace, which he sees as an obvious prerequisite to any form of true democracy and the creation of a better world. And who can deny that a solution to gross inequality and ecological breakdown will never come from the likes of Barack Obama and David Cameron, who he describes as “all avatars of the same neoliberal concept, part of the problem, not the solution”? 

How Brand proposes that power should be “shared, not concentrated” is perhaps a bit vague or outlandish in places, such as when he advocates for “total self-governance” via “small, self-determined communities that are run voluntarily and democratically” and without any leaders, which may eventually require nation states to be somehow “dissolved”. But in other places he's entirely lucid and practical, as in his endorsement of direct democracy in Switzerland or participatory budgeting in Brazil. He concludes: “Generally speaking, when empowered as a community, or a common mind, our common spirit, our common sense, reaches conclusions that are beneficial for our community. Our common unity.”

When it comes to the business world, Brand is also quite cogent in his recommendations for how to “structure corporations more fairly” and redistribute power downwards. One proposal is for Employee Investment Funds, in which a significant percentage of the company's profits are shared with workers, and controlled by democratically accountable worker management boards that have to use the proceeds for social priorities and in the public interest. Another proposal is for jointly-owned and value-driven enterprises in the guise of co-operatives, which Brand argues provide a model that can democratise the workplace and prevent the proceeds of labour from being poured into the pocket of some “thumb-twiddling plutocrat who by happy accident owns the firm”. He adds simply: “The profits should be shared among the people who do the work”.

Humanity must share the world's wealth and resources

From the outset, Brand makes it clear that his greatest concern is the “galling inequality” of our world, which is sustained by an economic system that continues to “deplete the earth's resources so rapidly, violently and irresponsibly that our planet's ability to support human life is being threatened.” In frequently quoting Oxfam's “fun bus” statistic – that a bus carrying 85 of the world's richest people would represent more wealth than that owned by half the earth's population – he also makes it clear that he is “seriously comfortable with society getting extremely equal.” As he puts it: “the practical, fair allocation of resources, the preservation of the planet must naturally be prioritised.”

Although Brand does not profess to have all the answers for how we can share the world's wealth and resources more equally between countries as well as within them, he does at least emphasise that it must happen. And very quickly too, because more “important perhaps than this galling inequality is the fact that we have a limited amount of time to resolve it” (that is, unless we “plan to wait until the earth is a scorched husk then blast off to a moon-base.”) He also professes his belief that “all conflicts… are about resources or territory and the theological rhetoric merely a garnish to make it more palatable.” Which clearly means, in Brand's commonsensical worldview, that sharing land and resources is a prerequisite for peaceful co-existence – an egalitarian approach that he specifically endorses when discussing the economic alternatives long practised within Cuba.

Decrying the fact that profits and wealth are increasingly consolidated within a mere fraction of the world population, Brand's simple observation about the need for a new economic paradigm is again difficult to disagree with. He actually says this a few times, in so many words: “There is another way. There is the way. To live in accordance with truth, to accept we are on a planet that has resources and people on it. We have to respect the planet so we can use the resources to nourish the people. Somehow this simple equation has been allowed to become extremely confusing.” What is being demanded is not whimsical, he adds later, but “pragmatism, systems that function.” Yet none of this happens, and “can't because they [i.e. rich elites, big corporations and those who serve them in governments] have prioritised a bizarre, selfish and destructive idea over common sense.”

Brand's light-hearted book may be forgiven for omitting to mention ecological limits or the end of economic growth, which is imperative for any serious discussion about how to achieve greater equality on a planet with finite resources. But he does draw upon the ideas of various progressive thinkers for how to “reapportion money and power” and share the world's wealth more equitably and sustainably. This includes “the peaceful establishment of a fair global alternative” through the cancellation of unjust debt; the rolling back of corrupt global trade agreements; a return to localised and ecological farming; the revocation of corporate charters “for businesses that have behaved criminally” (or handing over their resources to the workers and turning them into cooperatives); and the incorporation of measures other than GNP to judge a nation's success.

He is also under no illusions about the international politics that renders these broad proposals somewhat utopian. More than one chapter is devoted to the tenets of America's ‘Manifest Destiny' and the Monroe Doctrine, which he describes as the ideological pillar of the U.S. government's imperialist strategies and perpetual war-mongering. And there is of course nothing new about today's geopolitical reality of global dominance and control by powerful countries, he suggests, as reflected in the erstwhile vagaries of the British Empire which was built by “vicious thugs using violence to get their way, reneging on deals and nicking the resources of whole nations”. The whole thing was a “swizz”, he says, and deceptively based on a Christian mythology which is in truth about “empathy and sharing”, and not a false authority achieved “through coercion and violence.”

Hence his inevitable conclusion that “real change will not be delivered within the machinery of the current system – it's against their interests”; so “change has to be imposed from the outside”; and “this change will not come without cohesive, unified resistance. We all need to come together and confront our shared enemy.”

The sharing revolution begins within ourselves                                              

Yet for all of Brand's braggadocio and posturing about chopping off the Queen's head, killing corporations and overthrowing the establishment to “take our power back”, he is also passionately convinced that the revolution must be peaceful. He says that all “revolutions require a spiritual creed. It doesn't matter who is doing violence or to what end. Violence is wrong.” Therefore the only way to end conflict and change society for the benefit of everyone is through a new revelation about our purpose on earth, a revolution in our understanding about who we are as human beings.

Spirituality, he says, is “not some florid garnish” but “part of the double-helix DNA of Revolution. There is a need for Revolution on every level – as individuals, as societies, as a planet, as a consciousness. Unless we address the need for absolute change, unless we agree on a shared story of how we want the world to be, we'll inertly drift back to the materialistic, individualistic magnetism behind our current systems.”

Perhaps this is a major reason why Brand's silver-tongued musings are so popular, as he is arguably at his best when describing how social change will never happen without inner, personal change. He also has the courage to share candid insights from his past ignominy and his own spiritual journey, even if it sometimes comes close to proselytising: “My love of God elevates the intention of this book beyond the dry and admirable establishment of collectivised communities.”

Brand is often inspiring when he describes the alienating effects of commercialisation and “the impulse we all have for union” that has been misdirected into our worship of shopping malls, material comfort and possessions. Our longing for revolution, he says, is really “our longing for perfect love.” And our true salvation lies in the “acknowledgement of our unity. That we are one human family. One consciousness. One body.” The last chapter of the book reads like a poetic entreaty to that awareness of the Self which lies behind all form and comprises the true spiritual reality we all share. No doubt purposefully, the last word in the book is “love”.   

While such ideas can be easily dismissed as New Age truisms, Brand has a deft ability to weave his spiritual convictions into a case for wholesale political and economic transformation. For instance, in contemplating how it is that humanity can endure the needless poverty and suffering of others, he neatly examines how “an extraordinary attitude [of complacency and indifference] has been incrementally inculcated” in our societies.

He asks plaintively: are we really doing all we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves? And why does the old maxim ‘From each according to his means, to each according to his needs' still linger in our conscience, even after all the “capitalist lies and communist misadventure” of the past century? By retelling a story about a spontaneous act of goodwill in helping a stranger, Brand points to the obvious answer: because empathy, kindness and sharing is hardwired into our human nature. To share with one another is to be who we really are.

The implications of this simple truth are far more radical than any historical revolution based on ideology or violence, which is arguably the overall message of Brand's book. “The agricultural Revolution took thousands of years,” he writes, “the industrial Revolution took hundreds, the technological tens. The spiritual Revolution, the Revolution we are about to realise, will be fast because the organisms are in place; all that needs to shift is consciousness, and that moves rapidly.”

Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World's Resources (STWR),