Friday, 27 February 2015

Homelessness in London has increased by 79% since 2010 Under the Coalition Government

New government figures show that the number of rough sleepers has risen twice as fast in the capital.

Official figures show that the number of homeless people in London has jumped by over a third over the past year – twice the rate of the rest of England.
According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, homelessness in the capital rose by 37 per cent between 2013 and 2014, while the rest of the country saw an increase of 14 per cent.

Since 2010, homelessness in London has increased by a staggering 79 per cent. The homelessness charity Crisis say that the rise is due to welfare reforms, a chronic housing shortage and the fact that homeless people are not considered a priority.

London has 742 rough sleepers, which accounts for 27 per cent of the figure nationally. Analysis by the Department finds that 46 per cent of these people are UK nationals; 10 per cent are Polish nationals and 11 per cent are Romanians. According to their data, the number of homeless people in London in 2013-14 also included 134 Irish people, 413 Africans and 107 Portuguese and six people from the Australasian continent.

Boris Johnson has claimed he puts homelessness high on his agenda. But beyond publicity stunts like spending a night sleeping rough alongside media magnate Evgeny Lebedev, it is clear that not enough real changes are being made to protect Londoners from the danger and loneliness of life on the streets.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

Thursday, 26 February 2015

What Have the Lib Dems Achieved in Government?

The Lib Dems could have ended this coalition government at any time in the past five years, so we must assume that they have been broadly happy with the policies that have been pursued. So, I looked through their manifesto for the 2010 general election in search of policies which they stood on, and have managed to deliver.

There is a whole raft of policies in the manifesto, but I failed to find much in the way of policies successfully implemented. Here are the meagre pickings that I have found:

Tax-free earning threshold to rise to £10,000, paid for by a "mansion tax" of 1% on properties worth over £2m applicable to value of property over that figure

Well the Lib Dems didn’t get their mansion tax to pay for this, but the tax free earning threshold has indeed been raised to £10,000. To pay for this in the absence of a mansion tax they have cut spending on public services and made cuts to working tax credits. The effect of this policy is to benefit higher earners, when cuts to tax credits are factored in, the lower paid are worse off.

Cap pay rises at £400 for all public sector workers, initially for two years

Plenty of the public sector work-force has been lucky to get £400 a year pay rises, with pay freezes or 1% increases at a time when inflation was running at well above 1%. On top of this, public sector workers have had their pension contributions raised meaning that their take home pay is reduced further. And these are the lucky ones who have not been made redundant.

Integrate health and social care, allow people to stay in homes for longer rather than going into hospital or residential care by limiting bureaucracy [England only]

This is gradually being introduced by the government with responsibility for health and social care passing to local authorities. Some finance has been transferred from the NHS budget, but nearly all councils, including Tory and Lib Dem run ones, say the money is not enough. The Local Government Association forecasts a crisis in social care provision unless £5 billion of more money can be found to fund these services.

Introduce single transferrable vote system, cut number of MPs by 150 and introduce fixed-term parliaments

Fixed term parliaments have been introduced, although that was more to do with not allowing the prime minister to choose the date of the election that was most unfavourable to the Lib Dems, than any constitutional necessity. We didn’t get STV voting, but we did get a referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system, which is less democratic than STV, but the referendum was lost massively anyway. No reduction in MPs.

Split up Royal Mail and Post Office, keeping latter in public ownership. Sell off 49% of Royal Mail, dividing rest between government and employee trust

Royal Mail was indeed fully privatised and at a knock down price, probably about one billion pounds under the market value, so the wealthy made a killing buying and selling the shares at a time when public services were being slashed. A profitable publicly owned service now in private hands on the cheap.

Reform regional development agencies, transferring more power over economic development to councils [England only]

This has happened with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) replacing Regional Development Agencies. These LEPs are a partnership between local authorities and private businesses in regionally geographical areas. The purpose is to grow local economies, but this has scarcely worked at all, with growth outside of the private housing market very modest indeed. Of course, local authorities have had their funding cut by around 40% at the same time so it is hardly a surprise that LEPs have failed to deliver.

So, as far as achievements go then, not much for the Lib Dems to shout about? They say that their part in the austerity economic measures have paid dividends, as do the Tories, but there is flimsy evidence to support this. They also say that they have reined in the Tories on many policies, and there may be a small amount of truth in this. But it looks to me as though the Tories have got pretty much what they wanted, with the exception of stopping them gerrymandering the electoral boundaries in their favour.

All the ‘successes’ mentioned above have been largely supported by the Tories, so I have to conclude that the Lib Dems have next to nothing to show for their five years in government, except becoming very unpopular with the voters.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Radical Democracy: Reclaiming The Commons

The world seems to be flooded by an unending wave of indignation and political unrest. The media sphere extends beyond the printed press and television news, into our personalised social networks, evoking a constant stream of images: fluctuating markets, stagnating economies, vibrant multitudes, insurgent violence. It is all too overwhelming to take in, as the simultaneity of events reduces voices to indistinguishable frequencies in a wall of noise. It’s as if anything can spark widespread revolt, like a park in Istanbul, a squat in Barcelona, or the price of a metro ticket in Rio de Janeiro.

The Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons project tunes out the broader context of global unrest and tunes in to the local level at which the protests take place, so we may hear the common theme that binds them. That theme is citizens seeing their right to decide what kind of communities they want to live in denied by faceless processes far-removed from local reality, and certainly not accountable to it. As social ecologist Murray Bookchin once put it, “city space, with its human propinquity, distinctive neighbourhoods and humanly scaled politics—like rural space, with its closeness to nature, its high sense of mutual aid and its strong family relationships—is being absorbed by urbanisation, with its smothering traits of anonymity, homogenisation, and institutional gigantism.”

In the midst of the wildcat general strikes and decentralised occupations that defined May 1968 in France, the sociologist Henri Lefèbvre wrote that these types of protests were claiming peoples’ “right to the city”, which he defined as a demand for “a transformed and renewed access to urban life”.

In more recent years, David Harvey has revived the concept, writing that:
“The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right, since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation.”
These concepts, together with the understanding that protest is fundamentally a form of caring for our communities, are what guide Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons. With support from the Open Society Initiative for Europe and the European Cultural Foundation, the project highlights and empowers social agents who are proposing radical changes in the way society participates in common spaces. These social agents come from Poland, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The goal of Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons is to increase the visibility of their local struggles and maximise their social impact using the networked medialabs of the Doc Next Network to produce socially engaged media with a lasting impact on public debates.

London: Finding a home in the city

In London, urbanisation is pricing citizens further and further away from the places they called home. Housing prices have soared recently by up to 20% from one year to another, yet nearly 12% of residents have too few rooms in their dwellings for the number of people living in them. As waiting lists for council housing grow endless, council housing itself is being privatised along with social housing. Though some policymakers and urbanists consider this to be just another part of a process of “urban regeneration”, many citizens are fed up with their powerlessness and the lack of rights for renters. In some cases, they have begun to organise and disobey. 

In Hackney, squatters occupied the Central Police Station citing that they simply could not find affordable housing. And many of the squatters who occupied Carpenters Estate in the fall of 2014 cited a lack of social housing as the motive behind their occupation. As London’s housing and renters’ rights movement progresses, Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons seeks to both champion and connect London’s often disparate tenants organisations, and respond to the city’s increasingly polarised housing market.

Over the coming months, Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons will act as a microphone for the voices involved in local struggles. By doing so, and by offering a common framework for interpreting what these apparently local struggles mean at a more global level, the project hopes to lower the volume on the noise that currently dominates the media sphere to offer the clarity needed to take steps towards making radical democracy a common reality.

Written by Carlos Declos. A version of this post was first published at Doc Next Network

Monday, 23 February 2015

It’s Time for Greece to Bite the Bullet and Prepare for Grexit

Having achieved only minor concessions from its EU creditors, Greece has at least bought itself some time, four months to be precise, for the Syriza led government to come up with a plan to fulfil its election mandate.

What is clear now, is that the Eurozone governments, with Germany making the running, are not prepared to countenance any real deviation away from the austerity policies forced onto Greece for the past five years. This being so, Greece, and in particular its government, either accepts the situation and reneges on the election pledges to end austerity, or it accepts that staying in the Euro is not compatible with a change in policy direction.

Syriza’s stance has always been to stay in the Euro, supported by around 70% of the Greek people, but last week’s ‘negotiations’ demonstrate that they will not be allowed to remain in the Euro unless they stick to the edicts of the German finance minister.

I confess to be puzzled by the reluctance of the Greek people to abandon the Euro, but they surely must now see that it is impossible to raise living standards from within the austerity straight-jacket of Euro membership.

Paul Mason, writing in The Guardian floats the interesting idea of Greece using a parallel digital currency along the lines of the bit-coin, which would keep the country going should they exit the Euro and the Greek banks collapse as a consequence. This idea has been championed by Yanis Varoufakis the Greek finance minister, and is the best idea I have seen to help cope with the transition from the Euro to (probably the Drachma).   

The other safety net that Greece could look into is getting some currency back up from either Russia or China, or both, to underpin the banks and the economy as a whole. Obviously, there will be a price for this, but it needs to be done. Russia particularly would like a foot in the door of Europe I’m sure, so the price may not be that high for some assistance.  

To get the support of the Greek people for this change of tack, Greece should hold a referendum on the issue, which I think is now winnable. Preparations should begin straight away.

It could be that faced with this threat, the EU decides to loosen up the conditions on Greece’s bail out, and so they may get to stay in the Euro after all, but they have to be prepared to leave or they will get nothing from Germany.

If Greece does exit the Euro, it may well be the beginning of the end for the currency anyway, and Greece would be much better off out of it.  

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Varoufakis vs Schäuble Endgame

As many analysts and observers previously predicted (myself included on Social Europe), the eurozone crisis not only is not over, as some European leaders had boasted, but it has returned in a more virulent form. The possibility of a Greek exit – Grexit – from the eurozone is closer than ever. The current standoff between Greece and Germany (as well as other eurozone members, but let’s be honest, this is really about the “German way” vs the “Greek way” for Europe) is the latest chapter of the ongoing saga. But this chapter may not play out as well as the previous ones.

Greece’s Syriza government seems to have gambled that it had to force a crisis to get some movement from its eurozone partners; the near-depression-like situation in Greece had become untenable, and Syriza understandably wants to try and push “reset.” But in many ways, the battle between Germany and Greece has become personalized to that of one between the two countries’ finance ministers: Wolfgang Schäuble vs Yanis Varoufakis. It has been quite a match, with wit and words flying back and forth with passion, and even a thinly veiled bitterness that one sometimes finds between estranged family members.

The biggest advantage that Varoufakis has, it seems to me, is that of all the leaders commenting on the situation, whether Chancellor Merkel, President François Hollande, and especially Herr Schäuble, Varoufakis is the only one who is making any sense. To wit: Greece’s debt IS unsustainable; most of the money being lent to Greece by Germany and its other partners partners IS going to pay the interest, not the principal (so the debt is not shrinking); Greece’s debt HAS worsened under the Troika program, not declined (contrary to what the Troika had predicted in the early stages of this crisis, which now seems like centuries ago).

Varoufakis also is correct that it makes no sense to sell off your national properties and treasures at fire sale prices in the middle of a deflationary crisis; and finally that the third largest party in Greece right now IS a fascist party (with Varoufakis quite rightly drawing direct analogies to how a depression in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s made the conditions ripe for the Nazi rise).

Neither Schäuble nor any of the others have disputed Varoufakis’ “statements of fact.” The Germans instead have countered with a familiar but increasingly hollow sounding refrain: Keep your obligations. Keep the commitments of previous governments (as if new governments do not change the policies of old governments – it happens in other countries all the time, including in Germany).

The one striking point that the German government has in its favor, which has been echoed by other eurozone governments, is that if any of Greece’s debt is forgiven, then it’s the taxpayers in the rest of the eurozone countries that must pay for it. One estimate said that the bill for Finland would be approximately $1 billion, and if the Finnish government agrees to it that would further energize a vote for the far right True Finn party.

If you are keeping score, that means, ironically, both the Greeks as well as its eurozone partners are enlisting the specter of the far right as the reason for its chosen policy preferences. The far right has become everyone’s (but the far right’s) bogeyman to pull out of the closet, each for their own reasons.

But the only reason the far right can play this role is because it has in fact gained in power across Europe in recent years. And each bullet that is shot through a door or a café window by an Islamist extremist further increases the electoral appeal of the far right. Beyond that, the primary reason the far right has made gains is because of the vacuum at the heart of Europe, where used to lie a vision – as well as a plan – for a greater Europe.

It’s that vision and plan that really is at risk here, because nature abhors a vacuum and does what it must to fill it. If European leaders and political parties can’t figure out a way to hold themselves together, arm in arm, there are enough centrifugal forces based on history and culture to start pulling it all apart.

All of the participants in this extended dance, even as they are stepping on each other’s toes, should ask themselves – what do I want Europe to look like in 10 or 15 years? Should Greece be in? Or does it not matter? Does Europe want to keep lurching from currency crisis to currency crisis? Or is it important for the future that, one way or another, this eurozone crisis is dealt with, once and for all, so that stability may return? If the latter, what is your plan to put on the table? This is exactly the type of discussion that the Greek leaders seem to be trying to force its European partners to have. And it’s the right discussion to have. But the European partners, led by Germany, don’t seem to be playing along.

The reality is that, while the economics of this crisis are pretty clear and straightforward, the politics within each country are not. Varoufakis is smart to say this is a “European problem” not a “Greek problem”, i.e. meaning Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain also are being hurt by austerity. But so far the economic logic has not prevailed over the politics. (Also, it must be said that Ireland and Spain, and to some degree Portugal, have stabilized a bit due to mighty efforts on the part of those member states. Though one can hardly say that they are thriving and out of the deep water).

While Europe is very much a place where the word “solidarity” is thrown about, that solidarity mostly extends to one’s own national kinsman living within the same member state, as evidenced by a fairly robust and comprehensive safety net within each state. The solidarity does not, however, extend very far between member states, who are each expected to pull its own weight. This is the opposite of the situation in the United States, where the safety net is much less developed, but there actually is quite a lot of solidarity between member states, including a transfer union (in which the better-off states make appropriations to the lesser-off states), debt sharing and other forms of interstate allocation.

Europe today remains a place that is betwixt and between. That is the state of the European “union.” That may change in subsequent decades, but for now, Greece does not seem to be winning the day in its bid to overcome German obstinacy and forge a European-wide system with more interstate solidarity.

Besides forcing a crisis, Varoufakis seems to be hoping that logic, common sense, and a dash of humanity will carry the day. We shall see if he is right. European leaders have been pretty good at snatching what they need to out of the fire at the last moment. But if Greece has to exit the euro – and possibly the European Union, according to the rules – I don’t think it’s going to be pretty at all. No European will benefit from having a failed state on its doorstep. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

Written by  Steven Hill and first published at Social Europe

Friday, 20 February 2015

Hyperbole about the dangers of ‘skunk’ won’t help those at risk – but a change in the law might

Can I write an entire blog post about one sentence? I’d certainly like to. The sentence in question is ‘The potent form of the drug, known as ‘skunk’, is so powerful that users are three times more likely to suffer a psychotic episode than those who have never tried it.’ It’s from a piece in the Mail on Sunday which claims in its headline that ‘scientists show [not "research suggests", you notice] cannabis TRIPLES psychosis risk: Groundbreaking research blames ‘skunk’ for 1 in 4 of all new serious mental disorders.’

The MoS is infuriatingly pleased with itself for having got hold of this research ahead of publication – they’re pitching it as an ‘exclusive leak’, which sounds to me like a pretty grand way of describing breaking a PR embargo. It’s infuriating for two reasons. First, it’s hardly as though it’s the Watergate files or something – the research was going to be published anyway, so all the MoS has done is put it out a few days ahead of schedule. Second, the fact that they’ve done so means that those of us who are interested in critiquing the paper they’ve based their story on can’t, because it’s not been published.

Except that it has, because the lovely people at the Lancet, presumably sighing heavily as they did so, have made the paper available, for free, for everyone, immediately.  And inevitably, the MoS’s big exciting news turns out to be – well, not nothing. But much less exciting than they claim.

The research is into 500 or so people who accessed mental health services in south London between 2005 and 2011. The reason I’ve focused on that one sentence above is that it clearly and unambiguously implies causation. Skunk is so powerful that users’ risk is tripled, apparently. Not, users of the powerful drug skunk are at three times the risk, but skunk is so powerful etc etc. And scientists have shown that. (Side note: ‘shown’ is what philosophers call a ‘factive verb’. It implies that the thing being shown is true.)

But the paper in fact ‘shows’, nor even claims, no such thing. Its own, far more cautious, conclusion is ‘Use of cannabis with a high concentration of THC might have a more detrimental effect on mental health than use of a weaker form.’ The suggestion that 24 per cent of first-time psychoses – the one in four of all new serious mental disorders from the MoS’s headline – can be attributed to skunk is caveated with the pretty important phrase ‘if a causal role for cannabis is assumed’. They drop variations on the ‘if we assume causality’ theme into the paper at least four times. There are obvious other possible reasons for a link – forms of self-medication, which the paper addresses but thinks unlikely, or some third factor. Perhaps people at risk of psychosis are simply more likely to enjoy skunk, or to want to try different drugs.

The researchers, it should be admitted, seem to think a causal link is likely. It may – may - even be true. But this research certainly hasn’t shown anything. (And the ‘groundbreaking’ research doesn’t ‘blame’ skunk, while I’m on the topic.) Five hundred people isn’t a huge study, but nor is it so tiny that we can discount it. This is definitely interesting, but it’s irresponsible to suggest it’s more than that. In fact it’s worse than irresponsible. It’s either terrifyingly stupid of the MoS – the writer failed to notice all the caveats and caution in the Lancet paper – or it’s hugely cynical, not caring whether it was true or not, but only wanting to scare its readers.

The thing is, as I’ve written before, it doesn’t greatly matter, on one level, precisely what the risks of skunk are. No one claims it’s safe, and (actually) it wouldn’t hugely surprise me to learn that it does increase the risk of psychosis. The point is: while drugs such as skunk are on the black market, and unregulated, and while users are pushed into a criminal subculture, the harms they cause are increased. If the MoS was actually interested in reducing the damage skunk causes society, it’d be campaigning for a change in the law. Instead it’s nicking papers from an academic’s desk and claiming to be Woodward and Bernstein.

Written by Tom Chivers and first published (surprisingly) at The Spectator

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The mayor’s planned estate regeneration schemes will cost London 8,296 social rented homes

Every time you see the mayor launching an estate regeneration scheme, bear in mind that it will actually reduce the amount of genuinely affordable housing

Mayors and councils have been misleading Londoners for years about affordable housing. When they boast about building new homes, they don’t mention that for every ten homes that have built in the past decade, one has been knocked down and four have been sold through Right to Buy.

I’ve long supported campaigns against the unnecessary demolition of council estates like the Heygate in Elephant & Castle, the Carpenters in Stratford, the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates in Earl’s Court.

These are knocked down in order to ‘regenerate’ the area, but have been vigorously opposed by tenants and leaseholders, and by a growing movement that came together to march on City Hall on 31 January.

Last week the London Assembly’s Housing Committee, which I chair, published a landmark report taking stock of all these estate regeneration schemes.

Shockingly, we found that the schemes would result in a net loss of 8,296 social rented homes. Every time you see the mayor launching an estate regeneration scheme, bear that in mind. He is probably launching a scheme that will actually reduce the amount of genuinely affordable housing.

On Monday, the Radical Housing Network will march on City Hall again for the Assembly’s budget meeting. It’s our last chance to amend or reject the mayor’s budget for 2015-16, and they want to ‘block the budget‘.

At the first budget meeting, Jenny Jones and I proposed that the mayor put £8.5 million into establishing a Community Estate Renewal Unit, helping tenants and leaseholders to transfer their estate into new Community Land Trusts.

The money would pay for a small dedicated delivery team and a large grant scheme to help tenants and residents develop business plans and undertake detailed technical work to refurbish and increase the amount of social housing on their estates along with an increased provision of intermediate and market homes.

Sadly, no other group supported our amendment. On Monday we can try to gain consensus for other changes. But the Assembly currently has no powers to amend the capital budget even though, in terms of housing, that’s where we would like to see major changes in direction. I want the mayor to put more emphasis on social housing and less on intermediate so-called ‘affordable housing.’

So as much as I support the aims of the Radical Housing Network, we are powerless to block the mayor’s capital budget, with all its plans to demolish more council housing and replace it with much less affordable homes.

A progressive mayor could be using their housing investment and planning powers to ensure a much more socially just direction. They could also be lobbying government and making the case for things that are not within City Hall’s control – like lobbying for the government cuts in the housing grant to be reversed, for devolution of tax-raising powers to London to fund more social housing, for rent controls, for tighter restrictions on investors, and so on.

On Monday I’ll again make the case for this change in direction. But until the London Assembly gains powers over the mayor’s capital budget, we’ll not have the chance to block his housing plans.

First published at Left Foot Forward

Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly. Follow him on Twitter

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

European Union Intransigence on Greek Debt Crisis Risks the Entire European Project

With last ditch talks on Greece’s attempt to renegotiate the penury inducing ‘bailout’ loans from the EU, ECB and IMF on Friday, we stand on the edge of a potentially devastating crisis, not only for Greece but for the Euro currency and the wider European Union project which has brought stability to Europe for the best part of 50 years.

Some northern European members of the Euro currency have refused to budge on the terms of the ‘Memorandum’ which commits Greece to huge cuts in public spending and the privatisation of what’s left of the Greek public sector. Wages and pensions have been cut in half, taxes increased, unemployment up to 25% (50% for the young), suicides up and everyone with the get up and go (given the chance), has got up and left. All of this for the last five years and Greece’s debt has actually gone up. Clearly, and apart from all the misery this has caused to the Greek people, the policy is not working. Greece now owes even more than it did when this ‘rescue package’ was forced upon them with their GDP shrunken by about 25% since 2008.

The thinking of the powers in the EU is completely irrational, because the way they are heading, Greece’s debtors will not get their money back by insisting on these conditions anyway, so it is in everyone’s interest to put together a new package which encourages growth rather than squashing it.

Greece is only about 2% of the European economy, and some in the north of Europe seem to think it is expendable, and would be happy to see Greece exit the Euro, and under the rules exit the EU itself. 

This attitude is further bolstered by worries that Spain and Italy most notably would look for a loosening of the strings around their ‘bail outs’, and perhaps France too. This becomes a much more serious situation then, and so Greece must be made an example of.

If the EU stick to this line, then Greece would be mad to stay in the Euro, better to quit and rebalance their economy independently, although it would be tough, but at least there would some hope for the future. Presumably, some kind of managed exit could be staged.

But for the EU the financial problems in other southern countries would remain and politically and economically Europe would still be on very wobbly ground. The problems in Spain are similar to Greece and they may be the next country to buckle, which would be a bigger problem for the EU. If France gets caught up in this too, which is far from unlikely, the Euro train really will come off the rails.

And there could be even worse news. Where will Greece turn once spurned by Europe? My guess would be to Russia. Although Russia has its economic problems of its own, I think they might see an irresistible opportunity to get a foot in the door of Europe, given its concerns over EU (NATO) encroachment into their back yard in the Ukraine.

For the price of a longer term growth led solution to Greece’s debts, which would surely be more successful than the present attempt, we could see Europe become the most unstable region of the world like it was back in the 1930’s.

Why risk of all of this for a failed economic model? Because logic has gone out of the window and the shibboleths of neoliberalism must be observed.

There is an emergency rally organised by the Greek Solidarity Campaign at 6.30pm Parliament Square, London on Thursday 19 February

Why we need a new social settlement

How do we live together and relate to one another?  How can we make sure that everyone has an equal chance to lead a fulfilling and secure life?  What’s the best way to help each other when things go wrong that we cannot cope with alone?

These are just some of the challenges facing our society today. They raise wider questions about our relationship with each other and with the government, the role of the welfare state, and the quality of everyday life.

In a major new report out today, we set out proposals for a new social settlement. It defends and builds on the best of Britain’s welfare state but calls for urgent changes, because there are new risks that threaten our well-being and our future: widening social and economic inequalities; accumulations of power by wealthy elites; and the imminent danger of catastrophic damage to the natural environment.

Our new social settlement has three goals:
  • Social justice – wellbeing and equality are essential for people to lead a good, fulfilling life, and to participate in society.
  • Environmental sustainability – we must live within environmental limits to ensure that the natural resources needed for life are protected and preserved for present and future generations.
  • A more equal distribution of power – people should be able to participate in and influence decisions at local and national levels, reducing current inequalities in power.
To achieve these goals, the report sets out new priorities for policy and practice. It highlights issues that tend to be overlooked by policy-makers and points to a new direction of travel. It represents NEF’s contribution to wider debates about what kind of society we want for the future.

For a start, we cannot rely on continuing economic growth to produce more and more tax revenues to pay for more and better public services.  Instead, we must shift investment and action upstream to measures that prevent harm, rather than simply cope with the consequences.  We must value and nurture the ‘core economy’ – all those everyday human resources and unpaid activities that underpin the formal economy.  And we must reclaim and strengthen the idea of solidarity: understanding each other’s needs and interests, and sharing responsibility – not just in close-knit groups, but between groups of different kinds and across generations.

Building on this approach, the report outlines proposals for practical change

Rebalance work and time:
  • a new industrial and labour market strategy to achieve high quality and sustainable jobs for all, with a stronger role for employees in decision-making
  • ­a gradual move towards shorter and more flexible hours of paid work for all aiming for 30 hours as the new standard working week
  • ­an offensive against low pay to achieve decent hourly rates for all
  • high quality, affordable childcare for all who need it
Release human resources:
  • support and encourage the unvalued and unpaid assets and activities that are found in everyday life beyond the formal economy
  • adopt as standard the principles of co-production so that service users and providers work together to meet needs
  • ­change the way public services are commissioned to focus on outcomes and co-production
Strengthen social security:
  • turn the tide against markets and profit seeking, developing instead more diverse, open and collaborative public services
  • ­build a more rounded, inclusive and democratic benefits system
Plan for a sustainable future:
  • ­promote eco-social policies - such as active travel and retro-fitting homes - that help to achieve both social justice and environmental sustainability
  • ­offset the socially regressive effects of carbon pricing and other pro-environmental policies
  • ­ensure that public institutions lead by example
  • ­establish new ways of future-proofing policies
Written by Anna Coote from the New Economics Foundation

Monday, 16 February 2015

Which Parties Could the Greens do Business With after the Election?

Here I’m going to run through the UK political parties who the Greens might be able to work with in the new Parliament after 7 May. Note: I’m assuming many small parties will not win seats, like Left Unity/TUSC so I will not cover them. Whether we can cooperate in the election itself with such parties is a different matter, but it would seem to depend on what local circumstances dictate.

I’m not going to include the Northern Ireland parties, not because I don’t think there is scope for cooperation in Parliament, but because I’m no expert on NI politics, which does seem to have a peculiarity all of its own.

I’m only making passing mention of RESPECT and the National Heath Action party (NHAP). RESPECT is all about George Galloway and he may retain his seat in Bradford and there would probably be some issues the Greens could agree on with him, particularly around foreign policy. With NHAP, Dr Richard Taylor did win a seat in Wyre Forest, and could do so again. I think the Greens could easily cooperate with NHAP on NHS issues.


I did write a whole blog post on Greens/UKIP cooperation, and it is possible but only on a few specific issues, EU referendum, and possibly Proportion Representation spring immediately to mind.

Conservative Party

Natalie Bennett, Green party leader has already gone on record saying that the Greens would not support a minority Conservative government; a stance which I think would get near unanimous approval amongst the Greens rank and file members. But it is not completely impossible to imagine some policy issues that we might agree with some of the Tories on in a similar way to UKIP. Perhaps civil liberties? 

Lib Dems

Since Nick Clegg became party leader the Lib Dems have taken a leap to the right and are pretty indistinguishable from the Tories these days. However, there are still some policy areas where there could be agreement, civil liberties again, environment and electoral/constitutional reform being the most likely. Of course, Clegg might not survive the expected electoral mauling that the Lib Dems will get, which would change the picture considerably.

Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales)

As you can see from this link, this is something of a hot topic in the Wales Green party at the moment, although what is at odds is whether any pre-election cooperation is desirable. This post is about after the election, so assuming PC win a few seats, and they do hold three at present, then if the Greens are successful in winning seats this could be an option. Indeed, the leaders of the Greens (England and Wales), PC and the Scottish National party (SNP) have already held talks on cooperating on anti-austerity and ant-nuclear weapons (the Trident system) policies. So, this looks the most likely hook up for the Greens.

Scottish National Party (SNP) 

As above, cooperation with the nationalist parties seems to be the most likely outcome for the Greens, as we are closer to them than the other parties in important policy areas. But we are not identical, and I admit to some suspicion of ‘nationalism’ although I wouldn’t put the SNP and PC in the same bracket as UKIP for example. However, the abiding agenda for these parties is rooted in what they perceive is best for Scotland and Wales, and when the horse trading starts after the election, this will be their priority. For instance, I can see a scenario where the SNP wins concessions from a Labour led government, which means more money (so less public spending cuts) for Scotland, and moving the nuclear weapons bases to England. In the process, shafting the Greens in England (and Wales). We’ll see.

 Labour Party

How ever many seats the smaller parties win, it will be in some kind of partnership with the Labour party that any influence will count in government. After the election we will have either a Labour or Conservative led government, and cooperation with the Conservatives as already stated is a non starter.

I really can’t see Labour scrapping Trident, although as I say, I could see them moving the bases to England or Wales. I also can’t really see them changing their budget plans much either, so the possibilities here are fairly minimal I think. It all depends on how the numbers fall in terms of seats won, and by whom. There is still a dwindling Labour left, so maybe some pressure from within Labour will play out favourably for any ‘progressive’ alliance.

It’s still all to play for and almost three months to go until election day. So, first things first, let’s get out there and win some seats.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Beyond The Market-State: Decentralizing Power In A Sharing Society

In an era of politics characterised by unconstrained corporate lobbying, a well-oiled ‘revolving door’ between industry and government, and an endless stream of campaign contributions from dirty oil and other lucrative industries, is the long-championed ideal of a truly democratic state now a lost cause? Should concerned citizens and activists turn their attention instead to establishing sustainable economic alternatives within their towns and communities? Or should we all be doing much more to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth", as Abraham Lincoln once avowed?

Few questions are more pertinent at a time when levels of trust and support for the political elite have reached an all-time low across the globe. This is not surprising given the extent to which policies that uphold the common good have been steadily marginalised over the past three decades in favour of those that promote a predominantly neoliberal agenda. As Oxfam’s head of global policy and campaigns recently mentioned, “policies such as public provision of services, public ownership and subsidy of industry, progressive taxation of rich individuals and corporations, strong trade unions and labour rights, full employment, universal welfare states, strong limits to intellectual property – are still pretty much frozen out of current debates.” The consequences of what has become an almost global adherence to a market-driven ideology is plain to see: a failure of governments to stem the growth in inequality or significantly reduce global poverty, and an inability to agree upon the basic measures needed to curb global carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

For the most part, campaigners and progressive organisations recognise that our governments seem incapable of addressing these and many other interconnected crises. Most are also united in acknowledging the root cause of this failure: the illegitimate power of multinational corporations. It is widely recognised that the greatest influence over public policy in today’s globalised world is not wielded by the electorate, but rests with a powerful elite of wealthy individuals and transnational businesses that have unwarranted access to the corridors of power. As this year’s State of Power report by the Transnational Institute sums up, “corporations have succeeded in replacing rule of law with Global Corporate law, using a multitude of norms, treaties and agreements - most recently the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership [TTIP] - to secure their rights to profit above human rights.” In short, we are witnessing a crisis of governance and democracy at all levels of society – from local municipalities and national government, all the way up to the United Nations.

This reality is neatly encapsulated in the concept of the ‘market-state’, which illustrates the imbalance of power between the private sector and citizens, and the impact this has over the formulation of public policy. The phrase was first coined by the law scholar and national security expert Philip Bobbitt in 2002, to reflect the evolution of a new globalised constitutional order in which governments work towards maximising economic opportunity rather than safeguarding the welfare of individuals. Nowadays, however, it is used more generally to describe the fused relationship between governments and big business and the impact this has on society, and is often used as a point of reference by proponents of the commons. As commons theorist James Quilligan explains, “the private sector and banks are rapidly swallowing up governments and bending national constitutions to their favor, decreasing the role of government and limiting our political rights as citizens. Voting and popular representation are becoming less meaningful because governments are pledged to support the interests of large corporations, not the people’s interests.”

In light of this democratic deficit and the political disenfranchisement that inevitably follows, engaged citizens are increasingly turning to unconventional forms of social and economic organisation that are inherently more egalitarian and provide stakeholders with greater empowerment and more influence over the decisions that affect them. A whole swathe of ‘new economy’ initiatives have recently emerged to foster community participation and increase access to goods and services in an ecologically conscious way, while broadly aligning to the increasingly popular concept of ‘de-growth’.

Examples of this assorted grouping of social, environmental and entrepreneurial activities include the Transition Towns and commons movements, the numerous sharing economy and peer-to-peer networks and platforms, cooperatives and community supported agriculture, open source software, co-housing initiatives, and much more besides. Implicit in the pursuit of these predominantly locally-rooted alternatives is the growing awareness that we urgently need a radical transformation in the way we organise society, particularly in relation to how we share the planet’s finite resources. As Gar Alperovitz (a prominent exponent of co-operative enterprise) argues, the goal of these diverse new economy initiatives is “democratized ownership of the economy for the 99 percent”.

From local alternatives to global reforms

The manifold benefits of new economy initiatives should not be underestimated, especially as they go beyond financial measures of economic prosperity to include personal wellbeing, social cohesion and environmental protection. For example, the burgeoning co-operative movement boasts over a billion members globally and is characterised by strong ethical principles that go far beyond hackneyed notions of corporate social responsibility, while often encouraging the participation of both employees and consumers in decision-making processes. Transition Towns and other resilience initiatives are also gaining in popularity, with their core emphasis on regenerating communities and local economies, providing social support networks, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels and carbon intensive processes. At the same time, tech-based forms of collaborative consumption are making headlines for ‘disrupting’ existing economic models and instituting new ways of accessing goods and services. Research by peer-to-peer theorists such as Michel Bauwens and Jeremy Rifkin suggest that the digital sharing of information and knowledge has the potential to revolutionise the way we produce, distribute and consume everyday goods and services as well as renewable energy.

However, there are good reasons to be sceptical about the aggregate impact of individual or community actions in relation to the scale of change that is needed, unless they are part of a broader program of advocacy for structural reform. For example, there is currently a great deal of interest in alternative methods of food production, especially in the city centres of industrialised countries. But the localisation of food production is widely regarded by farmers’ movements across the world as only one part of the solution to the complex problems associated with today’s unsustainable global food system. As La Via Campesina highlight in their advocacy work, establishing just models of food production means adhering to the principle of ‘food sovereignty’ and reforming a host of international policies that include the intellectual property rights framework and free trade agreements.

There are similar issues around individual efforts to reduce energy consumption while governments fail to invest in a global green new deal and fossil fuel companies continue to exploit reserves at a rate that is incommensurate with agreed emissions targets. In some cases, popular local alternatives could even be counterproductive to achieving the most sustainable and equitable outcomes for society as a whole. For example, proponents of the sharing economy widely support forms of car sharing, whose benefits are indisputable when compared to individual ownership. But the benefits of car sharing dwindle significantly when compared to the massive reductions in carbon emissions that can be achieved if more effective public transport systems are built and used by citizens, which requires policy-level change on a scale that is not actively supported by sharing economy advocates.

Of course, the above examples (and the many others that could be listed) do not present mutually exclusive choices – both local alternatives and more transformative reforms to policies and institutions must ultimately be part of any great transition. However, the danger is that if we fail to make systemic reforms at the policy level then new economy initiatives such as car sharing or urban gardening, forms of commoning and peer-to-peer production, or even Transition Towns could conceivably continue to function (and even grow in popularity) without posing any real challenge to the carbon intensive, consumption-driven economic policies that result in global warming or perpetuate inequality. It is also possible for community-driven initiatives to be co-opted by governments that support localisation while also advancing neoliberal policies, such as when the UK’s Conservative Party introduced the Big Society project alongside debilitating austerity measures.

If we are serious about addressing the root cause of the environmental crisis, preventing extreme poverty or reclaiming our democratic systems, we must acknowledge that locally-based economic alternatives will not deliver the dramatic changes in society (and across the world as a whole) that are now so desperately needed – at least not on their own. This is especially the case given the scale of the structural reforms needed to reverse ongoing crises like climate change, which poses a tremendous challenge at a time when politicians are failing to reach even the most fundamental agreements needed to limit global carbon emissions.

In order to have any lasting impact on climate change or implement a just and sustainable model of economic development, it is also essential that this reconfiguration of institutions and policies takes place at the global level. Without an international approach to reforming governance, the structural realities of a globalised economy are likely to render much of what can be achieved through localisation initiatives largely ineffectual. Many analysts who take an internationalist perspective also argue that in an interdependent world, individual governments would avoid taking unilateral action on global issues in order to prevent political isolation, capital flight or other financial penalties. It is also feasible that a planned contraction in resource consumption by one country would be offset by increases elsewhere, which would nullify the benefits of such an approach. Any significant transition away from the status quo is therefore a collective action problem that can only be resolved through international cooperation and the formation of global strategies and binding agreements.

Clearly, without a significant change in our current political and economic paradigm, it will remain impossible to address these challenges. As the Trapeze Collective outline in their constructive critique of the Transition Towns movement, “the analysis of how we got into this mess, and the best way to move on, does bring us back to politics. It involves taking on power and those who hold wealth and influence.” In other words, it will remain impossible to work towards any comprehensive vision of structural reform unless we recognise the historical and political causes of environmental and social crises, challenge entrenched vested interests, and join the global struggle to put an end to the absurd concentration of wealth and economic power that currently rests with the richest 1% of the world’s population.

A new society based on sharing and redistribution

In many ways, the principle of sharing is likely to be pivotal to the transition away from the market-state as it underpins any process of decentralising and devolving political and economic power to the lowest level of decision making, in accordance with the concept of subsidiarity. Only in more equal and participative ‘sharing societies’ will citizens be able to play an active role in democratising governance institutions and shaping the direction of political life. In stark contrast to the market-state, a sharing society in any true sense will need to localise economic activity wherever possible and establish any number of more inclusive and effective forms of political engagement, such as online ‘direct democracy’ platforms, people’s assemblies, participatory budgeting initiatives, and even communal councils.

From any rational perspective, the overarching goal of social and economic policy in the period ahead must decidedly shift towards securing basic human needs for all without transgressing environmental limits. Another major challenge in building fairer societies based on the principle of sharing is therefore the creation (and safeguarding) of robust social protection systems in countries across the world. Such systems are important examples of solidarity that enable citizens to collectively pool a nation’s financial resources so that they can be redistributed for the benefit of all. Even though the aging welfare state model is in need of reform and renewal, nationwide mechanisms of mutual provisioning remain the most effective way of meeting longstanding human rights obligations across entire countries.

As the scholar and activist Francine Mestrum argues, universal systems of social protection enable people to take responsibility for those they do not know by ensuring that everyone’s basics rights are secured – a process that strengthens our ‘collective solidarity’ and embodies a profound awareness of our common humanity. Nonetheless, social protections are continually being undermined by the harsh austerity measures that have been implemented in numerous countries since the 2008 financial crisis, and their proper functioning is unlikely to be restored without increasing public outcry and a substantive reorientation of government policies. Moreover, 4 out of 5 people in developing countries are still denied the social protection guarantees that citizens take for granted in rich countries, which is why it is essential that these sophisticated systems of sharing are also dramatically scaled up and strengthened at the global level.

Yet the notion of a sharing society embodies far more than participatory democracy and the provision of universal social protection and essential public services. In accordance with the principle of sharing, private businesses would also need to substantially change the way they operate by at least ensuring that decision-making power and income is fairly distributed among employees. The current trend towards peer-to-peer modes of distributed manufacturing as well as cooperative, not-for-profit and socially-oriented business models are important steps in this direction. Additionally, corporations would need to go far beyond ‘greenwashing’ their activities and adopt genuinely ecological practices that can facilitate the transition to sustainable production and consumption patterns, and thereby help bring humanity closer to achieving the goal of ‘one planet living’.

A sharing society would also include a vibrant commons sector that could function independently of markets or direct government involvement. This is broadly in line with what P2P theorist Michel Bauwens refers to as the partner state – a reformed governmental apparatus that builds on the welfare state model and actively supports the development of the commons. Democratic and accountable state systems are also a prerequisite to managing the global commons which, in the first instance, will require representative governments to negotiate new commons-based legal frameworks to ensure that planetary resources are managed in the interests of current and future generations. Of course, entirely new structures of accountability are urgently needed if governments are to reflect the needs of their citizens in international negotiations, or if they are ever to agree a workable global agenda for safeguarding the Earth’s biosphere.

There can be little doubt that reforming governance at all levels of societal organisation is the key to establishing effective sharing societies. However, even though many of the governance reforms highlighted above are recognised as essential and unavoidable by a growing number of environmentalists and social activists, they remain virtually unattainable in the current political climate. As long as entrenched vested interests maintain their stranglehold over democratic processes, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ will present an unprecedented challenge to engaged citizens in all countries.

Resilient and socially inclusive communities can clearly play an immediate role in the great transition that still lies ahead, but it will remain impossible to establish economic systems that are structurally just and truly sustainable until political power is radically decentralised - especially at the national and global level - and wealth is distributed more equally throughout society. By recognising the global roots of our local struggles, those working towards local alternatives to economic globalisation therefore have a central role to play in democratising our governance systems from the top down as well as the bottom up.

Rajesh Makwana is the executive director of Share The World's Resources, (STWR), a London-based civil society organisation campaigning for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources within and between nations. He can be contacted at

First published at Share the World's Resources

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Interview - Green Party Candidate for the General Election - Katy Beddoe, Caerphilly

In the second of a series of interviews with Green Left supporting candidates at the General Election, Mike Shaughnessy interviews the Green Party's Katy Beddoe, candidate for Caerphilly, Wales.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you came to join the Green party?

I grew up in the South Wales valleys in a working class family, my mum a lolly pop lady and my dad worked in the local leisure centre. Both my parents were very active in our community and particularly my dad brought me up to be politically conscious and a Labour supporter. During Thatcher’s reign I saw the harsh impact of right wing politics during the miner’s strikes and how it affected people around me. Since I’ve seen the rapid decline of the area, of people’s prospects and of community cohesion.

During a gap year of my fine art studies I became pregnant with my son and lost my partner when my son was just two and a half. As a single mother dependant on benefits and battling depression I stayed at home to raise my son for a few years, then started volunteering and eventually returned to university. This time to gain my degree in youth and community work, turning my back on a future in the arts, by then in my mid-twenties I had developed a strong social conscious and wanted to turn my experiences of life to make a positive difference to others.

As my career developed within Youth Services, short term funding making me flit from project to project, from working with young Muslim women, LGB&T young people, ASB focused work, engaging young people into politics in running the local youth council and now in a city centre based drop-in dealing with the fallout of austerity and poverty every day. This vast experience only added to my knowledge and anger at the injustices in our society. Additionally, being the workplace union representative, I increasingly became active in the working class struggle. As my son become older, it freed up my time to progress from keyboard warrior to an active foot soldier, joining marches to stand up for our pensions etc and caught the activist bug, no longer could I justify not standing to be up to be counted. I got involved with the People’s Assembly Wales, which I felt was the light at the end of the tunnel amongst the blanket of neoliberal doom. That was when I met Pippa Bartolotti who introduced me to the Green Party’s common sense policies. Growing up with Tony Benn as my idol, I had still been holding on to the hope that Ed Miliband would steer Labour back towards socialism, but was continuingly being disappointed. I’m not sure what the last straw was but by early 2014 I had lost all hope in Labour. Also the People’s Assembly had not made the impact I’d hoped, particularly in Wales and the Bedroom Tax Campaign I was running was slow moving; I needed to put my efforts into the heart of our broken political system. I looked more in depth into Green Party policies and I was surprised that despite being a political party they were in sync with my radical values and I haven’t looked back since.

Why did you decide to join Green Left?

Once I joined the Green Party I understood that membership was quite diverse, with people from all backgrounds and experience. As much as I love that aspect about the party; I like the fact we are not classist, class language, as much as I have a strong working class identity, is divisive language and I have found a lot of inverted snobbery on the activist scene which I’m uncomfortable with. Within the diversity of membership there is differences in values within the party, some support some policies more than others. I had spoken to few members of Green Left and wanted to join forces with the radical bloc which I feel massively influences the socialist strand of the party. Also I feel we have a lot of work to do to progress the party within much of the left wing in the UK many who feel that we are ‘middleclass do gooders’, we’re not! Green Left represents this work.

You are standing at the general election in Wales – from this distance I’ve always felt that the Green party’s growth in Wales is hampered by the existence of Plaid Cymru, who have similar green and left policies – is this true?

There are some who believe Plaid is the Green Party of Wales, it’s not. Whereas there are many similarities between us and Plaid, such as anti-austerity and some of our Green Policies. However, there are also massive variations which reflect the membership in both parties. I’m not comfortable pointing out such differences as it is important we are not negative about our allies. Currently I don’t feel like membership is hampered in Wales Green Party as the green surge has seen us gain 1000 new members just within the last month, though it may have contributed to the region being much smaller in the past. Much of the new membership is like me from activists’ backgrounds who bring new energy and focus we are establishing many new local parties across Wales. Much of the growing sensitivity surrounding both parties at the moment is regarding candidates standing in the same areas and splitting the vote, particularly in Plaid marginal seats, though I don’t believe it’s a straight forward as those that would vote Plaid would vote Green and vice versa. Also the Green party is a grassroots up party, if local parties choose to stand a candidate, who are we to stifle that democratic voice and insist they don’t do this? New members want to vote Green and not Plaid. I think it is an absolute shame there wasn’t an agreement earlier on to stand in some areas on a shared ticket. I believe this combined vote would have ensured more anti austerity representatives in Westminster after May.

I am anxious to ensure that we continue to grow our alliance with Plaid.  As the party grows we are attracting powerful enemies, the neoliberal fight is going to be a tough battle and it is integral where we put aside differences and align ourselves with as many with anti-austerity partners as possible. I’m keeping my eye on Left Unity; initially I hoped they would act as a left wing ‘umbrella’ Syriza style party to bring this coalition together. I’m still holding on to that hope.

What are the main issues that you will campaign on?

Social Justice is my strength of knowledge so I will focus more in this area. I have chosen my target ward, not on its strength in Green support, but as the most deprived ward in Wales. This is where my professional experience is, engaging with the most disadvantaged in society and also connecting young people with politics. If I can just get the groups most unlikely to vote, voting I’ll be happy, whilst promoting Green party policies and challenging divisive tactics currently infesting the Welsh valley’s. I don’t tend to talk much about our green policies as much as I am very much the environmentalist I was brought up to be, people know we’re environmental, it’s our other policies that need promoting.

How do you rate your chances in Caerphilly – and the Green party more broadly in Wales (and England)?

It’s really hard to gauge how this election is going to turn out. I hope as a party we will significantly progress our MP’s in England and it will be amazing if we win a seat in Wales. Mostly it is about continuing our growth, as a mum and a youth worker I’m terrified about the future for our young people, therefore my vision is long-term.

Do you think the recent electoral success of the anti-austerity SYRIZA party in Greece will impact on UK politics?

Hopefully, though I hate to think that it will take the suffering to become as wide spread as it has in Greece before people start investing in change here. Also the media has such as destructive influence in the UK, I’m sure that the reporting for how things develop in Greece will be somewhat skewed.

Some in the Green party are re-thinking opposition to nuclear power, as it looks to be the only way will get any action on climate change. What do you think?

Compromising ethics within a party will see us morph into something we are not. Look what happened to Labour, the Lib Dems? The risk of Nuclear is too big a risk to take and it is NOT green.

If elected to Parliament, would you vote for a Labour austerity budget?

Absolutely not, there are something’s we should not cooperate on, austerity is one of them. We would be doing so much disservice to many of our new members who have joined due to our anti austerity stance and to the party as a whole.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Could the Greens have a Pro-Democracy Alliance with UKIP?

If someone had posed this question to me even a few months ago I would have thought they were having a laugh. Even now it seems preposterous but bear with me for a while.

UKIP are a xenophobic (probably racist), nationalistic, anti-European party that yearns for a by-gone past from the 1950s. The Greens are an internationalist, pro-European (albeit a very different, non-corporate Europe than we see today), multi-cultural party of the future. So nothing in common, apart from, agreeing with UKIP that we should hold a referendum on membership of the European Union (EU). Which at heart, is an issue of democracy.

In Greece, the Independent Greeks party (ANEL), sound remarkably similar to UKIP, but have just been brought into a government coalition by Syriza, the left wing, feminist, ecosocialist alliance (which includes the Greek Green party). If this isn’t an unlikely political partnership, I don’t what is?

Of course, Syriza fell just short of an overall majority in the Greek parliament in the recent election, and there were limited possibilities for a deal with the parties who won representation in parliament. The Communists (KKE), who one might have thought the obvious candidates, refused point blank to ally with Syriza, as they did not want to sully themselves with ‘petty bourgeois’ politics, or some such.

Obviously, Golden Dawn the fascist party were a non starter, which left only the pro EU memorandum parties of New Democracy (conservative), PASOK (‘socialist’) and the newly formed To Potami (The River, leftish). So the only non memorandum party was ANEL. Syriza reasoned that the austerity inducing policies from the EU were by far and away the biggest problem facing Greece today, so a marriage of convenience it was to be.

As reported on this blog, Podemos the left wing, anti-austerity party that has come from nowhere to top the opinion polls in Spain, draws around 10% of its support from people who traditionally voted for ring wing parties.

Jorge Lago, a member of Podemos’s citizens’ council, part of its wider leadership structure, said “we don’t talk about capitalism. We defend the idea of economic democracy.”  The Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias has said “The divide now separates those, like us, who defend democracy … and those who are on the side of the elites, the banks, the markets. There are people at the bottom and people at the top … an elite and the majority.”

This sounds like a familiar refrain from Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, leaving out eh, the banks and markets.

Is Iglesias saying that this is not about right or left, but is instead about democracy? It certainly sounds like it, and I think there is a general feeling of a lack of democracy these days right across Europe.

UKIP is gaining votes from former Labour and Lib Dem voters, parties who are nominally on the left, as well as getting most of their support from former Tory voters. Maybe the same pattern is happening here in the UK?

The huge turn out in last year’s Scottish independence referendum is also an expression of unhappiness with our democracy, rather any particular desire for nationalism on the part of the Scots. Nationalism which tends to be a right wing pursuit, has been eclipsed by the desire to get a government which reflects the aspirations of the people in Scotland. Another example of a marriage of convenience? 

The most I think we here in the Green party in England and Wales  can hope for is that those left leaning people who are supporting UKIP, for whatever reason, can be persuaded that they can best express their frustration at the lack of democracy in the UK, by supporting the Greens in the upcoming general election.  After all, we are a fiercely democratic party.

People everywhere are fed up with being ruled for the benefit the wealthy and big business, through undemocratic institutions like the EU and IMF, aided and abetted by establishment lackey politicians. The left must grab this opportunity, or to be sure the (far) right will.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fighting for social justice in times of austerity

Austerity policies have put communities and organisations across the UK under intense pressure. While the negative social consequences are well documented, less attention has been paid to the range of creative responses to austerity measures coming from local authorities, housing associations, grant-makers and funders, charitable and voluntary sector, campaigners and activists.

While these are difficult times, groups across the UK are finding ways to maintain and even expand their activities. Driven by the aims of promoting well being and tackling inequality, they are taking action to mitigate the effects of austerity, to challenge it, and to imagine alternative responses.

The landscape of responses

In our new report, out today, we draw together a set of existing examples to map out the range of strategies that communities throughout the UK are using to respond to austerity, building a strong knowledge base to support new groups in their ambitions and catalyse further pursuits that aim to achieve social justice.

We show how different groups across the UK have been:

Adapting by making austerity more liveable or workable.

Innovative local authorities have taken creative approaches to public spending which foster local economies, and have tried to make the most of existing assets rather than selling them off. Examples include public service reforms intended to build upon and mobilise local assets to improve service delivery, as well as the delivery of services that help people meet basic needs of housing, food and energy. The Monkey project in County Durham was set up by a group of housing associations and charities to provide free support to social housing tenants struggling with the cost of living due to falling wages and benefit cuts. The project can provide one-to-one advice, affordable new and good-quality reused furniture, discounts on new carpets and low-cost home contents insurance.

Challenging by speaking out against austerity.

Local authorities, charities, campaigners and activists have used research and evidence to show the negative effects of austerity on people’s lives. Others have developed campaigns that challenge landlords and payday lenders on business practices that capitalise on the desperate conditions of low income families, and have challenged government policies that advance austerity. Psychologists Against Austerity are an example of a new group, formed of community psychologists who are speaking out about the impact of austerity on mental health, using psychological and evidence-based research. Focus E15 Mothers are another example of a strong and articulate challenge to austerity. They challenged the local effects of austerity in Newham and the narrative that young, low income mothers do not have a right to affordable housing within London.

Imagining by becoming advocates of alternatives and wider structural change.

A handful of groups are looking beyond present circumstances to envision ways of organising politics, the economy and public services beyond the current era of austerity. This involves a mixture of theory and practice on ideas such as guerilla’ local economic development, investing rather than cutting, and developing services that are able to prevent problems before they occur, rather than curing them at a late stage. Examples include groups such as the Early Action Task Force which have developed a series of recommendations for hardwiring prevention into public budgets, and Preston City Council which is working closely with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) to spearhead new approaches to community wealth building through employee ownership.

Future possibilities

Austerity remains, for now, at the heart of the mainstream policy agenda. If cuts continue beyond this year’s election, local authorities’ budgets will be stretched to breaking point. The case against austerity and need for alternatives can only grow clearer.

Written by Adrian Bua and first published at the New Economics Foundation

Monday, 9 February 2015

Prince Charles: The Ceremonial Pimp Of British-Saudi Venality And Hypocrisy

Before recently flying out to pay his last respects to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the last time Prince Charles jetted out to the Wahhabi Kingdom was on Tuesday 18th November 2014 to bring a ceremonial end to the long running business saga by literally customarily dancing to the tune of the Saudi-Wahhabi clan. The first in line to the British crown dressed to the nines in traditional military regalia of the Saudi nepotistic despots, as he helped to seal yet another military deal which will healthily burnish the order book of Europe’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems. The price for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets was finally agreed to by the Saudi clan.

The deal, aptly and Orwellianly named “Salam” (i.e. Peace), is worth £4.5 billion (equivalent to roughly $7.1 billion) and according to a report in the Times of London, is part of the notorious and corrupt £40 billion “Yamamah” (i.e. Dove) deal. Furthermore, the hundreds of millions of pounds newly “wringed” from the Saudi clan will underpin thousands of jobs in the North West of England “and around the British defence supply chain” added the Times.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT,) an organisation which monitors the arms industry, claimed that the United Kingdom sells more weapons to the Saudis than any other country in the world. On the day of the Prince’s arrival to Saudi Arabia a CAAT spokesman urged him to “disassociate” himself from the “despotic regime” so as not to confer legitimacy on it. They also urged Charles to raise the issue of human rights abuses in the Kingdom.

The following day, CAAT was more forthright and condemned Prince Charles for securing the Typhoon deal with the ruling clan. The spokesman once again reiterated the organisation’s contention that the deal primarily lends “legitimacy” to the Saudi repressive regime. On the other hand, an analyst at the investment bank, RBC Capital claimed that with “Salam cash coming in, this should give BAE more flexibility for cash deployment moving forward.”

From Saudi Arabia, the Prince travelled to the only other Wahhabi kingdom in the region, its neighbour Qatar, where there are currently military bids on the table for (coincidentally!) 72 fighter jets. One of the bidders is surprise, surprise, BAE Systems but amazingly Prince Charles seems to only have had time for his favourite hobby horse, global environmental degradation. Naturally he commended the work done by Qataris in addressing the environmental challenges faced by the principality then merrily flew back to Blighty.

However, it is all very well for CAAT to argue the UK and its wondrous Prince Charming is conferring and bestowing “legitimacy” on the Saudis, but if it wasn’t for the Saudis and the other Arabian despots of the Persian Gulf who else would be purchasing arms from BAE Systems or for that matter bankrolling other aspects of the British economy?

In the past decade, Saudi Arabia and the Arab statelets (i.e. Kuwait, UAE, Qatar) created by British Imperialism during the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century have been pumping billions into the British economy keeping it afloat in these financially difficult times. Each of the states have highly dubious human rights records and none are democracies in any sense of the word.

Qatar, for example recently purchased Harrods, the world famous store and built the tallest building in western Europe, the Shard in London. The opulence and waste behind the Shard was partly justified as Qatari “confidence” in London’s economy. Sainsbury’s, a national UK supermarket chain has been kept afloat by the ruling Qatari al-Thani family as well. London’s Olympic Village is owned by Qatari ownership after a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Recently, it was announced that £10billion is on the verge of being invested by Qatar in British infrastructure projects. Kuwait, on the other hand, has already invested half of that on these projects in the UK.

More so, ‘Little Chef’, a UK roadside diner was bailed out by a Kuwaiti company and the British national lingerie retailer ‘La Senza’ was saved from bankruptcy by another Kuwaiti company.

The nepotistic Gulf dynasties have also invested heavily in British sports events through sponsorship and even purchasing football clubs such as Manchester City or Nottingham Forrest. UAE helped to build Arsenal Football Club’s stadium. 

Cricket stadiums built by British companies, a sport which has little traction for Arabs, are multiplying in the Gulf. The UAE and Qatar ruling families also possess a soft spot for British race horses, spending millions on these animals while indigenous Arabs in the hinterland of the Arab World scrape a living and Palestinians continue to endure occupation, theft and ethnic cleansing.

Furthermore, Qatar and UAE have a combined 48% stake in the London Stock Exchange. When Barclays Bank was on the verge of collapse during the recent financial crises, its Chief Executive successfully travelled to Qatar for financial assistance.

Is it really a contradiction that the world’s main harbingers and supporters of jihadism, al-Qaeda and the theology that spawns these violent trends is also the main and largest customer of Great Britain’s ultimate merchant of death, BAE Systems? More so, when Prince Charles complains about the ‘tragic plight’ of Christians in the Middle East isn’t he but exposing his own and Her Majesty Government’s hypocrisy knowing full well that this plight is caused by the ‘sugar daddies’ of the British economy, i.e. the Gulf states, in their support for jihadis in Iraq and Syria?

It is all very well for CAAT to bemoan Prince Charles’s visit to the Kingdom and insist he secularly redeem himself by advocating human rights but the British have been dependent on the Gulf despots for a long time. In the late 1950’s Harold Macmillan, a former British Prime Minister, stated that without the oil of the Arabian peninsula the British nation would be “lost” and the whole structure of the British “economy would collapse”. Furthermore, “Without oil,” Macmillan noted, “and without the profits from oil” the UK will not be able to survive.[1]

The late Prime Minister’s opinion is probably more true today than it was back in the 1950’s when Great Britain was still renowned for its manufacturing industry which is now greatly diminished. Indeed, the very status of BAE Systems as a leading manufacturer would very much be in question without the “profits from oil.”

In conclusion, CAAT’s notion the Prince should be preaching human rights to the Saudi, Thani or any other Gulf Kingdom clan, British imperialism brought into existence misses the point. Venality and doing business with despots, is the latest economic strategy in a long line of total and inexcusable immoral policies rooted in British imperialist history.

Conducting business with the Saudis and the other Gulf nepotistic despots today is just as important to British prosperity as piracy, the slave trade, imperialist military conquest and colonialism was in the past.

[1] Alistair Horne, “Macmillan 1894-1956 Volume 1 of the Official Biography” (London: Macmillan, 1988) pg.411,422 and 429 respectively.

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is a Yemeni-English independent researcher specialising in the political relationship between the British state and the Arab World. His main focus is on how the United Kingdom has historically maintained its political interests in the Arab World. His essays have appeared in Alternet, al-Akhbar (Lebanon), Mondoweiss and Black Commentator. A full collection of essays can be accessed at Twitter handle: @ChurchillsKarma.

First published at Countercurrents