Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What the Green Party REALLY says about Israel-Palestine

There has been a flurry of cyber activity following the publication on a far-right website of a video of Shahrar Ali speaking about the situation in Gaza.  Although posted as if it was recent, it originates from a Gaza rally in January 2009 at the time of Operation Cast Lead when Israel had killed around 1,400 Palestinians including some 300 children.

The version published on the far-right website was a crudely edited and decontexualised version that gave the impression that the speech was recent and given when Shahrar Ali was Deputy Leader.

Emotions were at their height then as thousands of people across the world protested against the killings. They were high again in Summer 2014 when Michael Rosen, children's writer and broadcaster, read this poem at a protest rally over events in Gaza which included the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians including around 490 children:


To bring us right up to date Shahrah Ali was asked about the Israel-Palestine situation at a Brent hustings on War, Peace and the Middle East earlier this month. This is what he had to say:

There have been suggestions on the web that the Green Party is guilty of anti-semitism because of its criticism of Israel.  This conflates criticism and condemnation of the Israeli state and government with criticism and condemnation of Jews.  In fact the Green Party is careful to make the distinction and has clear policy:
Members should at all times, including when proposing and implementing policy, be sensitive to the fact that the Green Party does not and will not endorse or tolerate antisemitism, or discrimination of any form.
The are of course many Jews in the Green Party and outside of it who oppose Israel government policy in Palestine and challenge the view that they owe unquestioning loyalty to the Israeli state. Jews for Justice for Palestinians state their position as follows:


  • Peace in the Middle East will only come about with mutual recognition and respect and must be seen as just by both sides.
  • Peace requires the end of illegal occupation and settlement.
  • Violence against civilians is unacceptable.
  • Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza are breeding hatred and resentment.
  • It is crucial that Jews speak out for Palestinians’ human rights.
  • The humanitarian values of Judaism have been corrupted by the Israeli state’s human-rights abuses.
  • A lasting peace must be seen as just by both sides.
  • Britain, the EU, the USA, Russia and the UN must be persuaded to implement UN resolutions on Palestine.
IF YOU AGREE then link up with over one thousand six hundred other Jews in Britain who make up Jews for Justice for Palestinians

The Torah teaches: ‘Justice, justice, you shall pursue’ (Deuteronomy 16:20).
To secure a lasting settlement to the conflict between Palestinians
and Israelis so they can live in peace and security, thrive side by side, and co-operate together, Jews today are obligated to pursue justice on behalf of both peoples.”
This is Green Party Policy:


IP600 The Arab-Israeli conflict persists owing to the failure to find a fair and humane solution to the problems of the Palestinian people, including the refugees in and from Palestine, and appropriate guarantees of security for Israel.

IP601 Such a solution may be achieved in one state or two within the former Palestine mandate (hereinafter referred to as Palestine), but as a matter of fact is currently (2009) achieved in neither. A fair choice needs to be made and accepted by both Israelis and Palestinians for their common future in Palestine. Exclusive possession of Palestine by either side is never going to be an achievable and just solution.


IP610 The Green Party supports calls for mutual recognition of the rights of independent statehood and for recognised, agreed and secure borders for Palestinians and Israelis in Palestine; a rapid end to the violence and de-escalation of the arms build-up in the region; implementation of UN resolutions 194, 242 and 338 which followed the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973; international assistance so that the new Palestinian state can develop self-reliance in land, water, food production, basic services and industries; long-term exploration of the possibility of establishing a confederation with neighbouring states, with free and equal access for each state's citizens.

IP611 We believe that all the interested parties, including the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people, need to talk to each other; this is a precondition for agreement on a solution acceptable to all parties

IP612 We recognise the need for confidence building measures to enable such talks to produce tangible results for both Palestinians and Israelis.

IP613 The Green Party believes that a negotiated solution must include measures which lead to delivery of the points below:

Policies on human rights

IP620 The Green Party believes that all Israelis, Palestinians, and their families should have and be able to exercise full human and civil rights throughout Israel, Palestine and the occupied territories in Palestine. Israel must be subject to the Geneva Convention concerning the rights of individuals and communities, in the same way that other states are. The resort to ‘collective punishment’ in defiance of those requirements is unacceptable.

IP621 The Green Party calls for the implementation of United Nations Resolutions 194, 242 and 338, which addressed the problems created by Israeli conquests in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973.

IP622 The Green Party calls on the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people to recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist within recognised, agreed and secure borders.

IP623 The Green Party calls on the Israeli Government and the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people both to commit to replacement of military force with agreement through diplomacy as a means of resolution.

IP624 The Green Party calls on Israel to repeal its present "law of return" because it is incompatible with the full exercise of human rights and discriminates against Palestinians because they are not Jewish.  This racial discrimination symbolises the unfairness of the present arrangements in Palestine, and will have to be addressed before any solution can be agreed.

Particular issues of conflict

IP630 The Green Party calls on Israel to evacuate the illegal settlements within the occupied territories of Palestine.

IP631 We call on the government of Israel to dismantle the ‘settlement wall’ in those territories, which has been condemned by the International Court, which divides Palestinian territories, and which deprives them of land, water, other resources and employment. The discrimination against Palestinians practiced by the Israeli government and settlers in the occupied territories needs to be addressed as a first step.

IP632 The Green Party calls for an end to all and any illegal deprivation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories of the land and water resources pertaining to them.

IP633 We recommend that water resources in Palestine should be shared between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We call upon the government of Israel to enter into discussions with the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people to seek such an agreement covering both states in Palestine.

IP634 The Green Party calls on the government of Israel to abandon its claim to exclusive possession of the whole of the city of Jerusalem as its capital. That is contrary to the partition of the Palestine Mandate agreed by the United Nations in 1948. Equal rights should be given to Israeli and Palestinian citizens of the city, and accorded similarly to the monuments there which are holy to three religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

International consequences

IP640 The Green Party calls on the United Nations and the European Union to implement international sanctions against those states which refuse to comply with the calls above.

IP641 We call on the government of the United States to use its special relationship with Israel to halt military and financial support until Israel enters the dialogue called for above.

IP642 The Green Party calls upon the European Union to ensure that agreements of Association with Israel are suspended unless and until an undertaking is secured that the state of Israel will enter into the dialogue called for above, and ensures that the human rights of Palestinians are assured as are those of Israelis.
At Autumn Conference 2014 the following resolution was passed after the events of the summer:
Conference condemns Israel's ground invasion, aerial and marine bombing of Gaza, and calls on Green Party and Green Party elected representatives to take what steps they can to put existing Green Party policy into action and to ensure that the underlying causes are addressed, acknowledging there can be no lasting peace without justice.

Such steps include:

Reiterating our calls on the UN, the EU and the US government to ensure that Israel complies with international law;

Supporting these calls by active participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. This campaign aims to put pressure on the government of Israel to end the Occupation and to give equal rights to Palestinians. The campaign asks individuals, organisations, councils and governments to refuse to deal with companies and institutions identified as facilitating Israel's military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity.

In particular to demand that the UK government halts all joint Israeli/UK military cooperation and approval for all arms sales to Israel.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been running a Vote Palestine campaign for the General Election 2015, asking candidate's views on a number of questions. These are Green Party leader Natalie Bennett's answers as recorded by the PSC website: LINK

·  They agree the UK Government should uphold the principles of equality, human rights and international law in all its relations and dealings with Israel.

·  They agree that the construction of Israeli settlements construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal and unjustifiable.

·  They agree that one of the first acts of the next UK Government should be the recognition of Palestine.

·  They agree that the blockade of Gaza should be lifted immediately.

·  They agree that we should stop trade with Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land and stop settlement goods being sold in Britain.

·  They agree that the EU Israel Association should be suspended until Israel meets its human rights obligations.
·  They agree that the UK Government should stop supplying arms to Israel until it complies with international law.
 The Green Party believes that the Arab-Israeli conflict persists owing to the failure to find a fair and humane solution to the problems of the Palestinian people; and at the same time offer appropriate guarantees of security for Israel.
We condemned Israel's ground invasion and bombardment of Gaza in 2014, and continue to call on the UN, the EU and the US to ensure that Israel complies with international law.
We also call on Israel to evacuate illegal settlements within the occupied territories of Palestine. In addition, we call on the government of Israel to dismantle the 'West Bank Barrier' which divides Palestinian territories, depriving Palestinians of land, water, and employment.
I believe that in the present situation neither the UK government nor UK companies should be selling arms to Israel and that trade from illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) should not be legitimised and should end as a matter of urgency.

As you may know, in 2009 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) introduced voluntary guidelines to enable produce from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are labelled as such. However, I do not believe that voluntary guidelines are enough to effectively control the import of produce from OPTs.
A little more detail:
Green MP Caroline Lucas signed EDM 204  which called on the Government to condemn the Israeli Government for their return to the practice of punitive home demolitions. She also added her name to an Early Day Motion (EDM) condemning the closure of Haram al-Sharif and al-Aqsa Mosque.
On 13th October last year, MPs took part in a Backbench Business debate on a motion to recognise Palestine as a state. The full text of the motion read as:

'That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.'
During the debate the following exchange took place:
Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman is very kind to give way, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. Does he agree that this is an unprecedented moment? Sweden has already moved to recognise Palestine. If we do not grasp this moment, we will lose a real opportunity to push this matter forward and to move closer to peace.
Grahame M. Morris: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. As the originator of the Balfour declaration and holder of the mandate for Palestine, Britain has a unique historical connection and, arguably, a moral responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine. In 1920, we undertook a sacred trust—a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. That was nearly a century ago, and the Palestinian people are still to have their national rights recognised. This sacred trust has been neglected for far too long. As the hon. Lady has just said, we have an historic opportunity to atone for that neglect, and take this small but symbolically important step.

 MPs voted 274 to 12 to approve the motion. Although the UK Government is not legally bound by the outcome of this debate, it is an important and symbolic step to show the strength of support for Palestine amongst MPs.  Bilateral recognition goes some way towards the creation of equity between Palestine and Israel, and could fundamentally alter the way in which negotiations are executed. I also believe that it is the UK’s moral and historical obligation to recognise Palestine’s right to self-determination and I remain deeply disappointed at the international community’s ongoing failure to hold Israel to account for its breaches of international law.

Rebecca Johnson, a veteran peace activist standing in the highly marginal Hampstead and Kilburn constituency added this comment to her response:
Like you I was very concerned about the bombings of Gaza and the appalling deaths that ensued, as well as ongoing settlements and violations of Palestinian human rights.
I am committed to nonviolence and have participated in Women in Black for over 20 years, which brought together Israeli and Palestinian women - and many others from around the world - to oppose the Occupation. I joined Stop the War demos against the continued bombing of Gaza, and continue to stand with Women in Black at vigils in London where we make clear our support for Palestinian human rights and hold placards stating "Only justice for Palestinians can bring  peace to Israelis." I have also joined Palestinian women in protesting against checkpoints and  the terrible dividing Wall, and was subjected to teargas attacks when protesting against the wall at Bil'in a few years ago.
International issues have had little airing in this General Election campaign and it is important that the Green Party's view on Israel-Palestine, one of the most pressing of international issues, is heard plainly.

Martin Francis
Brent Green Party and Chair of Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign


Sunday, 19 April 2015

How capitalism is destroying education

Capitalism has ripped the heart out of education’s fundamental principles.’ Bradley Allsop discusses how the focus on employment above learning,  the rise of ‘lad culture’ in universities, and stifling of creativity through curricula devoid of passion are all interlinked with the growing influence of market ideology into education.

First published on  Bright Green LINK

Students not consumers!’ Students at a Free Education Demonstration in Birmingham in March. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird
Remember the story of the woman who swallowed a fly? This unfortunate lady ended up with quite the menagerie within her stomach because of her ever-escalating ‘solutions’ to her dietary dilemma. On both sides of the Atlantic the higher education sector has ingested a whole lot more than a simple fruit fly, and it’s efforts to rectify things look set to swallow up my generation’s wealth, time, and ultimately their future. Bizarrely this old wive’s tale is becoming a new generation’s nightmare.

As a sector, there is now tens of millions of pounds spent on ‘marketing’ in UK higher education, a figure that rose by 22% in 2013 despite a 7% drop in applications due to fee rises. Marketing professor Chris Hackley claimed that such expenditure for large swathes of mid-level universities was likely to be ineffective, as for many students locality, variety of courses and grade requirements are the determining factor- something advertising can do little about. It is pointed out in the article that this is expenditure likely to only increase due to the ‘circular logic of the market’- if one university does it their competitors feel compelled to as well.

The documentary ‘Ivory Tower’ explores how this circular logic has reached truly epic proportions in the US, with plasma TV’s, swimming pools and saunas being offered at many universities, with a constant search for bigger and better that serves only to push costs up. In many ways this is divorced from student interests and the founding principles of higher education, yet it is the student that will end up picking up the bill.

I experienced this for myself when I recently attended a UCAS fair in London. Each university was squeezed into little boxes (with those with larger budgets being able to pay for extra space and fancier gizmos) piled high with prospectus’, usually standing in front of a TV screen with a student saying something vaguely inspiring on loop. The hall was one big procession of ‘one-up-manship’, universities competing against each other, no friendly academic spirit, just unabashed hostile competition. The little ‘careers’ section of the hall was populated by the likes of KPMG and Deloitte, ensuring that only the very best and least moral capitalist enablers were on show for young and impressionable students and this is the point. University is no longer about learning, it’s about employment.

As Noam Chomsky once said: “If you burden students with large amounts of debt, they are unlikely to think about changing the world”. Most of the students I know quite readily admit that they came to university to ‘get a better job’, that they’re doing their degree because ‘it’ll pay well’, and that they’re going to their lectures because ‘they have to’. Very few people actually enjoy education anymore, and even less are thinking about how to change the world.

Not only is the loss of academic passion beset by the employability agenda of successive neoliberal governments, it also suffers from a psychological onslaught best captured by the phrase ‘lad culture’. Increasingly universities seem to be little more than chauvinistic playgrounds rather than critical paradises. This is partly due to the profound ways in which paying for your own education distorts the relationship between lecturer and student: no longer is the student humbly learning and being challenged by their tutor, they are a customer, and the customer is always right. On some unconscious level the enormous debt we are saddled with seems to give us our entitlement to a good grade in the place of hard work and academic rigour.

David Hartley foresaw this back in 1995 in his piece: ‘The McDonaldisation of Higher Education’, arguing that increasingly education would have a focus on “efficiency,” “calculability,” “predictability,” and “control”, and that in all probability teaching in classrooms would become a thing of the past. Why bother with lighting and heating a room and paying an hour’s wages to a lecturer when you can just put the slides up online for the student to peruse from the comfort of their own home? In many institutions now the priority is not on quality but quantity, with many online courses having dreadful pass rates but lovely profit margins.

The problems are not just limited to higher education either, far from it. One anonymous blogger describes the painful experiences of their adopted children who have come through abuse and neglect to be met with an inflexible curriculum. They talk passionately about an educational system devoid of that very thing: passion. Where arbitrary lines are drawn between successes and failures, where a ‘one size fits all’ and ‘teach to the test’ approach stifles creativity and erodes self-esteem, and constant assessment of students and staff alike breeds stress and anxiety. This is no system that can help their vulnerable children, instead it only adds to their problems.

The Green Party’s Martin Francis also highlights the disastrous attempts by Michael Gove to introduce elements of competition and market ideology into the schooling system. Not content with putting intolerable amounts of pressure on staff and enforcing rigid and restrictive criteria for success, Ofsted have been used as a tool for ushering in more academies under Gove’s reforms. As Francis puts it, Gove’s reforms have fragmented the sector, pitting school against school (much like the UCAS fair I attended) creating a ‘corporate’ rather than a public service identity for education. This fundamentally undermines the cooperative nature of education.

Whether it be ever-escalating marketing wars, a customer mentality, or obsession with efficiency and employability, all have their roots in capitalist ideology, an ideology aggressively expanding into the education sector. The inevitable logic of ‘austerity’ as well, leading to cuts to students support and higher education funding and the tripling of tuition fees is the only real answer capitalism has to the deficit, an answer clearly not in the interests of students or anyone else without a Swiss bank account.
Capitalism has not killed education in the obvious senses that its proponents attempt to highlight—more and more attend university each year. What it is slowly doing is a much more subtle and lamentable death—it has ripped the heart out of its fundamental principles. It is confining the imaginations and the aspirations of a generation. It is offering a bleak and debt-ridden future to millions.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Social Murder, Health and Safety, and Trade Unions

Guest blog from WH Quick, first published on his website 'A Green Trade Unionist - In Bristol' LINK
Published here because it has a much wider relevance.

 Early photograph of the last mass Chartist meeting of 150,000 at Kennington Common to deliver their final petition, allegedly signed by 6 million, 1848

The Chartists were the first mass working class movement in the world. They had local groups across the country; organised petitions signed by millions, and held mass demonstrations attended by hundreds of thousands in a time with much more limited communication networks and in an extremely repressive atmosphere.

Their strength came from the general revulsion at the extremely pronounced levels of injustice and exploitation inherent in the early factory system. The average working day was in excess of 12 hours, often in cramped workshops with few breaks and no health and safety standards. The employment of children was widespread. This practice came under increasing criticism from the 1780s but it wasn’t until 1833 that effectively enforced legislation was brought in to regulate child labour.

Boys working in a textiles mill
Boys working in a textile mill

The 1833 act only outlawed children under the age of 9 (except in the silk industry) from working, and limited them to working 8 hours a day till they were 14 (and then 12 hours till they were 18). Workers received abject poverty pay, had no weekends or holidays, no maternity leave or sick pay or any real rights at all.  After a long day they returned home to squalid slum housing to subsist off of terrible diet of the cheapest food. As in the less wealthy countries of the world today (where the majority of our cheap mass manufactured goods are produced) rates of accidents, injuries and mortality were appallingly high.
The Chartists termed the tens of thousands killed and maimed in the all-pervasive industrial accidents of their era ‘Social Murder’. These were the thousands unnecessarily killed each year by a society structured to pursue profit no matter the human (or environmental) cost. Thankfully, due largely to the efforts of past generations organising in their workplaces, communities and in political parties, we now work in far safer and more humane working environments.

But even today in the UK around 1,500 people die in largely avoidable accidents in the workplace. A further 50,000 die prematurely every year as a result of long term I’ll health acquired at work. Many more are seriously injured. In my branch of UNISON (representing around 1,500 people) sadly in this last year alone one of our members has been left permanently disabled and another with serious long term health issues.

According to our Health and Safety officer Mark, both of these incidents were caused by actions worse than negligent on the part of management.  The drive to cut costs by minimising legislation and cutting corners, that can leave workers seriously disabled or worse, makes this kind of behaviour increasing likely in the UK today.

Rates of industrial accidents have been gradually rising over the last few years as both Health and Safety regulation and the budget of the agency enforcing them have been cut by the Coalitions.  For years now right wing comics and TV personalities – like Clarkson – have demonized health and safety and turned it into a joke. This works in much the same way that media demonization campaigns have paved the way for cuts to the wider welfare state in general. The way health and safety discourses are conducted – couched in the terms of the names and dates of the legislative framework that created it – can be tedious. But it is an extremely important part of workplace safety and the rights that the labour movement has won us over generations of struggle.

Whilst sectors of the media denigrate health and safety legislation, and the coalition government carries out savage cut, employers are going on the offensive. Bristol made national news when revelation of the extensive use of a black list of health and safety stewards and activists by leading Bristol construction companies came to light. To maximise profits by undercutting health and safety standards at least 3,214 health and safety activists (ordinary people concerned about their welfare at work) were victimized and had their ability to work and provide themselves with a living severely curtailed.  The list most famously was in use on the construction of Cabot Circus.

We don’t have to look to the past to see how the all-consuming drive to profit inherent in our economic system, when not tapered by strong unions and health and safety legislation, leads to misery. Our contemporary world is full of depressing evidence. The working conditions in the parts of the world where most of the Wests cheap manufactured goods are produced are atrocious. Rates of injury and death are shockingly high and reminiscent of our early industrial past. Often adults and children work side by side in appalling conditions.

We don’t like to think about this blood involved in the production of our cheap consumables.  Occasionally workplace conditions are so despicable an ‘accident’ of such awful magnitude happens and pierces the veil of silence carefully constructed around it.   As in 2013 when over 1100 people were killed and a further 2500 injured in Rana Plaza Bangladesh when a sweatshop producing goods for a consortium of western companies collapsed. Just before this disaster the building had been deemed safe twice by inspectors working on behalf of Primark.

Rana Plaza just after its collapse in 2013
Rana Plaza just after its collapse in 2013

We may not like to think about these extreme levels of exploitation and death inherent in the international trade system; but the role of western multinationals in setting up this very system to supply our domestic consumption patterns is central and makes us all partly responsible. Rana Plaza is a case in point. In the wakes of the disaster the International Trade Union movement created and signed an accord on minimum safety standards in the garment industries of Bangladesh and Cambodia.

So far only three American owned factories have signed up. We see the violence inherent in the system flare up as Western Corporation repressively extract resources all across the global south. Indigenous leaders are murdered as they try to protect their lands from invasive oil drilling. Workers striking for better wages and conditions are brutalised by police and private guards. The Marikmana massacre of late 2012 is the most vivid and bloody example.  38 strikers were killed and at least 78 more were wounded when security and police representing the London based Lonmin mining corporation opened fire on them. The revelation that most of them where shot in the back whilst fleeing make it all the more horrifying.

Armed police with the miners they’ve just killed

If we want to change this horrifying state of affairs, changing the way we interact with our economic system to become more ethical consumers is a step in the right direction. But small scale individual change is never enough. We need to organize in our communities, workplaces and political parties to protect our health and safety and our living conditions; and we need to push these organizations to restructure the economic system that causes so much global misery.

Unions are especially relevant in this struggle for the role they play in protecting conditions at work; their role in the international labour movements attempt to improve conditions in the global south; and their involvement in community campaign to protect health and the environment. This last point can be illustrated locally by the part played by unions (including UNISON I’m happy to say) in supporting Avonmouth residents successful campaign to stop the building of a biomass energy plant. Large scale Biomass energy production accelerates deforestation and climate change, and emits toxic dust clouds that seriously impact health and can cause cancer.

Finally, to commemorate the victims of industrial ‘accidents’ around the world every year we celebrate International Workers memorial day. This year on the 28th of April we’ll be marking the occasion with a march from unite the union’s Tony Benn house (setting off at 12:30 pm) to a wreath laying in Castle Park, and a talk in the evening. The message is remember the dead and fight for the living. Come along, join and get active in a union, and make sure you use your vote this May (there’s less than a week left to register).

Flyer for the Bristol hazards group International Memorial Day talk
Flyer for the Bristol Hazards Group International Memorial Day talk

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Why I, as a disabled person in a mainstream world, am voting Green

'Sazzy Activist' blogs LINK on the theme 'It's my life: Life as a disabled person in a mainsteam world'

As a relatively new member of the Green Party I have continued to educate myself on what the party I have chosen to affiliate to stands for, although I have known the importance of understanding politics and the active participation in debate for many years this is the first political party that I have affiliated to. As part of my participation in the local Green Party (Luton and Bedfordshire) I will also be standing for a council seat in my area (Clapham, Bedfordshire).

So why is this? Quite simply I agree with their policies and the general ethos of the party. You may have heard the phrase ‘for the common good’ being used when discussing the Green Party. This is what all Green Party policies are based on, and simply means for the common good of everyone and everything.

Hopefully you realise that all Green Party supporters aren't vegan, hippies that belong to a ‘Environmental Party’ and that actually there is much more involved in the Green Party. The environment does require looking after and I do believe that we should do more to protect it for our children, but this is only one aspect that has encouraged me to support the Green Party and become an activist within it.

If we strive to live by the ethos of ‘for the common good’ we come to realise that all aspects of life, be it human or other, are important to the survival of our world. We need to ensure that we build a society based on care, love and respect for all, so that future generations have a world they can enjoy and be proud of, not one of destruction and despair. If we don’t take care now it is the future generations that will suffer from our recklessness.

When undertaking research for this article I visited the website, this site asks you to select your top 3 reasons that as a voter, I support the Green Party. I began to realise how challenging it was was to choose just 3 policies, how can you choose when there are so many important issues that I hold as equal?

So why do I feel that the Green Party speaks for me?

As a women living with a disability, I continually experience inequality in all areas of my life. These inequalities have often been exacerbated  by successive governments making decisions made due to greed, putting profit over people. The Green Party looks to address these issues, rebalancing the emphasis back to people rather than profit.

As a women living with a disability I have continuously been disadvantaged in employment with low pay and very few career opportunities being given to me. This is sadly the norm in many cases, with people who live with a disability feeling unable to aspire to be more due to the limited opportunities available.

There are several ways in which the Green Party look to tackle inequality of individuals like myself and I aim within this article to acknowledge these further.

The Green Party identifies that the current minimum wage is not a living wage and they are committed in going further than any other main political party by ensuring that the minimum wage is increased to no less than £10 an hour by 2020. They are committed to raising the current minimum wage to £8.10 an hour immediately, to ensure an increased standard of living and equal opportunities.

This will ensure that all people in our society no matter what your current social standing is and whether a person identifies as having a disability, as LGBT or whether they belong to a minority ethnic group can be given equal opportunities. In a fair society equal opportunities are a necessity, without the support from all in society whether in power or people on the street equality cannot and will not be achieved.

As the website shows “the Green Party affirms that all human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to everyone and cannot be divided. Disabled people should be guaranteed the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms without discrimination. The Green Party is committed to the maxim adopted by the Disability Movement ‘nothing about us without us’”.

To ensure the rights of all people living with disabilities are met there needs to be a system in place that seeks to assist the most vulnerable in a way that ensures their support needs are being met effectively. As Gandhi quite famously said “The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.

This is why the Green Party supports an NHS that is publicly owned and run for the people rather than for profit of businesses. This is especially important for all people living with a disability as they are identified as some of the poorest in society and through no fault of their own have the highest health needs and so they require a system that they can rely on when they are in their hour of need, rather than a system that they lack confidence in and is likely to fail them.

The Green Party are also committed to ensuring that they promote gender equality and safeguard women's rights through equal pay audits, shared maternity and paternity leave and to make sure there is better support for those women in greatest need. It is clear to me that the Green Party are taking the issue of Equality seriously and that as a result of this it is clear that the policies on disability, women’s rights and general equality issues can bring about real change for minority groups. The Green Party has led me to feel that as a women with a disability I have a potential to shape the world to be a better place and that my input is equally valuable.

The Green Party recognises that it needs to ensure the rights of all are protected and so this is why they are the only party actively against TTIP. It is believed that if this trade deal goes through then it will weaken protection for workers, consumers, citizens and the environment in the EU as well as member states and trading partners. The Green Party feels that Health, workers rights, agriculture, food, cultural rights and biotech should be protected by our trade deals, not sold off to private businesses that only interest is in making a profit. The Green Party strongly believe some areas including Health, pre 18 education and water should be protected entirely from involvement in any trade negotiations to ensure continued high standards.

Another key concern with the current proposals surrounding TTIP is ISDS which stands for ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ this allows businesses to take legal action against governments if they feel that the government has acted in such a way that infringes the trade agreement. There are cases already reported where businesses have taken governments in other countries who are already in financial difficulties to court and the government has been found liable for billions of pounds worth of compensation, putting profit over society requirements with businesses gaining more power. 

The Green Party is the only main party in England who are truly against austerity. They agree that extensive investment is required to repair damaged natural environment, restore infrastructure and develop re-skilling and retraining in socially and environmentally friendly production and services. Cuts to vital services are proving that austerity does not work with the number of people in poverty at a record high. The poorest in society are unable to afford the most basic provisions and so are becoming reliant on food banks, living in substandard conditions and unable to see a way out of the current situation that they have found themselves in. How can austerity be working when our most vulnerable, poorest people are being pushed into living in standards that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy?

I may not have convinced you to vote Green in the next election just by giving you an explanation as to why I will be, but I urge you to do your research to ensure you to make the right choice. All policies are transparent on their website unlike any other party. Their policies are voted on by party members and not just decided by a few who sit on a central committee. If you want to be part of a progressive party that wants to bring about real change then please vote with your heart and not just use a tactical vote that will give you much the same as a what we have already.

There will be lots of people who try and argue that a vote for anything other than Labour is a vote for the Tories, this plays on the misconception that everyone's vote is equal. The truth is that the election is decided in a handful of marginal seats. If you are lucky to be one of those areas as a voter you are in a powerful position. 60% of seats are deemed as ‘safe seats’ this is not a reason to not vote Green, it is more of a reason to challenge candidates and campaign for change.

There is never a better time to vote Green, people are sick of the same old politics that comes from the two main parties and are looking to the Green Party because they like what they see. Are you going to vote with your heart and for something that you believe can bring about real change or are you going to continue to play the 2 party politics that has found us in this mess in the first place? Without people challenging this system nothing will change and you will continue to be disappointed and disadvantage by a system that just doesn't care.

If you still need to be convinced to vote Green please take a look at their policies so that you can make an informed decision about yours and your children's future.

I hope you make the right decision for you.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The 2015 British General Election: Capitalism’s One-Horse Race

Britain is currently in the grip of a general election campaign. Voting takes place on 7 May and election fever in the media is building as various commentators and politicians engage in empty rhetoric about British values and democratic principles. Due to the nature of the ‘first past the post’ voting system, the only two parties with a realistic hope of achieving a majority of seats in parliament are Labour and the Conservatives. As in the outgoing parliament, the party most likely to achieve third place, the Liberal Democrats, might hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.

On TV last week there was a ‘leaders’ debate’. The issues debated revolved around the economy, the National Health Service and immigration. Leaders of the three main parties embraced a cosy consensus based on the need to continue with ‘austerity’ but quibbled over the nature or speed of cuts to the public sector and public services. The debate has set the tone for the unfolding campaign.

All three main parties are pro-big business and are aligned with the neoliberal economic agenda set by the financial cartel based in the City of London and on Wall Street and by the major transnational corporations. The likes of Chatham House, Centre for Policy Studies, Foreign Policy Centre, Reform, Institute of Economic Affairs and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (most of which the British public have never heard of) have already determined the pro-corporate and generally pro-Washington policies that the parties will sell to the public. Pressure tactics at the top level of politics, massively funded lobbying groups and the revolving door between private corporations and the machinery of state have also helped shape the policy agenda.

As if to underline this, in 2012 Labour MP Austin Mitchell described the UK’s big four accountancy firms as being “more powerful than government.” He said the companies’ financial success allows them privileged access to government policy makers. Of course, similar sentiments concerning ‘privileged access’ could also be forwarded about many other sectors, not least the arms industry and global agritech companies which armed with their poisons, unsustainable model of industrial agriculture and bogus claims have been working hand in glove with government to force GMO’s into the UK despite most people who hold a view on the matter not wanting them.

The impact and power of think tanks, lobbying and cronyism means that the major parties merely provide the illusion of choice and democracy to a public that is easily manipulated courtesy of a toothless and supine corporate media. The knockabout point-scoring of party politics serves as entertainment for a public that is increasingly disillusioned with politics.

The upshot is that the main parties have all accepted economic neoliberalism and the financialisation of the British economy and all that it has entailed: weak or non-existent trade unions, an ideological assault on the public sector, the offshoring of manufacturing, deregulation, privatisation and an economy dominated by financial services.

In Britain, long gone are the relatively well-paid manufacturing jobs that helped build and sustain the economy. In its place, the country has witnessed the imposition of a low taxation regime, low-paid and insecure ‘service sector’ jobs (no-contract work, macjobs, call centre jobs – much of which soon went abroad), a real estate bubble, credit card debt and student debt, which all helped to keep the economy afloat and maintain demand during the so-called boom years under Tony Blair. Levels of public debt spiraled, personal debt became unsustainable and the deregulated financial sector demanded the public must write down its own gambling debts.

The economy is now based on (held to ransom by) a banking and finance-sector cartel that specialises in rigging markets, debt creation, money laundering  and salting away profits in various City of London satellite tax havens and beyond. The banking industry applies huge pressure on governments and has significant influence over policies to ensure things remain this way.

If you follow the election campaign, you will see no talk from the main parties about bringing the railway and energy and water facilities back into public ownership. Instead, privatisation will continue and massive profits will be raked in as the public forks out for private-sector subsidies and the increasingly costly ‘services’ provided.

There will be no talk of nationalising the major banks or even properly regulating or taxing them (and other large multinationals) to gain access to funds that could build decent infrastructure for the public benefit.

Although the economy will be glibly discussed throughout the campaign, little will be mentioned about why or how the top one percent in the UK increased their wealth substantially in 2008 alone when the economic crisis hit. Little will be said about why levels of inequality have sky rocketed over the past three decades.

When manufacturing industry was decimated (along with the union movement) and offshored, people were told that finance was to be the backbone of the ‘new’ economy. And to be sure it has become the backbone. A spineless one based on bubbles, derivatives trading, speculation and all manner of dodgy transactions and practices. Margaret Thatcher in the eighties sold the economy to bankers and transnational corporations and they have never looked back. It was similar in the US.

Now Britain stands shoulder to shoulder with Washington’s militaristic agenda as the US desperately seeks to maintain global hegemony – not by rejecting the financialisation of its economy, rebuilding a manufacturing base with decent jobs and thus boosting consumer demand or ensuring the state takes responsibility for developing infrastructure to improve people’s quality of life – but by attacking Russia and China which are doing some of those very things and as a result are rising to challenge the US as the dominant global economic power.

The election campaign instead of focusing on ‘austerity’, immigrants or welfare recipients, who are depicted by certain politicians and commentators as bleeding the country dry, should concern itself with the tax-evading corporate dole-scrounging super rich, the neoliberal agenda they have forced on people and their pushing for policies that would guarantee further plunder, most notably the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

However, with a rigged media and all major parties representing the interests of an unaccountable financial-corporate-state elite, we can expect Britain to continue to fall in line behind Washington’s militarism and a further hollowing out of what remains of the economy and civil society.

No matter who wins on 7 May, the public is destined for more of the same. The real outcome of the election has already been decided by the interlocking directorate of think tanks, big business and its lobby groups and the higher echelons of the civil service. The election will be akin to rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship.

Written by Colin Todhunter who is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India. First published at Counterpunch

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Tony Blair is the Root Cause of Labour’s Election Problems

Ex Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has joined the election fray this week, with a speech on the benefits of European Union (EU) membership and of not giving the people a say in referendum on the issue. He also heaped (fairly faint) praise on Ed Miliband’s leadership of Labour and his abilities as Prime minister.

The main aim of this intervention is to try and give some gravitas to Labour’s pro-business credentials, since most businesses are pro-membership of the EU, and to paint the Tories as creators of uncertainty for business with the promise of an in/out referendum on Britain’s continued membership.

Blair of course has ‘good business credentials’ so it is easy to see what Labour hopes to gain by wheeling out the former Prime Minister but it also displays a sign of desperation from the party. It is Blair (together with Gordon Brown, and characters like Peter Mandelson) who has caused the electoral problems afflicting Labour in this year’s general election campaign.

Blair’s new Labour (a term not bandied about much these days by the ‘People’s Party’) with its shift to the political right in the 1990s and penchant for overseas military misadventures, has corroded the left leaning public’s support for Labour.

New Labour types will point to Blair’s three election victories, but even this was lukewarm support. It what in many ways was a watershed election, voter turn out was 70% in 1997, historically on the low side, which plummeted to 59% in 2001, a historically modern day low, before recovering a little to 65% in 2005. If you look at the constituencies where turn out was lowest in the new Labour years, it was in Labour’s core areas, with parts of central Liverpool for example at barely 30%.

New Labour got away this because the Tories were so hated that they were unable to put up much of a fight of it, and in England at least, they didn’t have any opposition on their left, apart from the Lib Dems, who did gain steadily over the new Labour years, but are now in decline having spent the last five years being stooges for the Tories.

But now the chickens are well and truly coming home to roost. Although support has fallen for the Lib Dems, not all of these voters have returned to Labour in England. Many are now supporting the Greens or UKIP, but Labour’s big problem is in Scotland (and to a lesser extent Wales).

The Scots have increasingly warmed to the Scottish National Party (SNP), first putting the SNP in government in Scotland, under an electoral system designed specifically to deny any one party a majority, and now seem set to vote SNP for the Westminster parliament too.

The Scots by and large hate the Tories and grudgingly stayed with Labour at UK elections, and were rewarded by a Tory lite Labour government. Last year’s Scottish independence referendum has changed all of that now though. Public participation in the referendum was at an unprecedented 84% of the electorate and has galvanised civic involvement in party politics in Scotland. Party membership which has been in decline along side voter turn outs has risen sharply in Scotland for the SNP and Greens, (for the Greens in England and Wales too).

Opinion polls say that the SNP could win as many 50 MPs in Scotland, and the swing to the SNP is biggest in the traditional Labour strongholds of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The worm has finally turned it seems, in Scotland anyway, where something resembling a traditional social democrat alternative is on offer from the SNP. 

This all goes back to Blair with his triangulation politics and adoption of the prevailing neo-liberal consensus. Blair calculated that Labour’s traditional supporters ‘had nowhere else to go,’ and so must accept Labour’s lurch to the right. It wasn’t just in the UK that social democratic parties abandoned the left political ground, but all across Europe. But the fight-back has begun particularly in Greece and Spain, so left voters are increasingly being offered a viable left alternative.

Herbert Morrison, Labour deputy leader in Clem Attlee’s reforming 1945 government, (and incidentally, Peter Mandelson’s grandfather), once said, ‘Socialism is what a Labour government does’. Morrison was on the right of the Labour party in those days, I don’t think even what’s left of the Labour left will claim that now. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Interview - Green Party Candidate for the General Election - Lesley Grahame, Norwich South

In the fifth of a series of interviews with Green Left supporting candidates at the General Election, Mike Shaughnessy talks to the Green Party's Lesley Grahame, candidate for the target constituency of Norwich South.

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

I got political when I learned about nuclear weapons as a teenager, went to Greenham in my 20s, and have been campaigning on peace issues ever since. However peace cannot be achieved or maintained without justice so a big picture approach is vital. I joined the Green Party to be part of a team that collectively works on all the issues that matter.

Why did you decide to join Green Left?

I would describe myself as an ecosocialist - social and and environmental justice are inseparable, one can’t wait until the other is achieved. Climate change won’t wait until after the revolution / the downpayments on the national debt etc.  However climate change can be a powerful driver for an economy that serves the common good and revitalises the economy in a way that recognises our interdependence. Excessive wealth is no use on a planet that can’t sustain life. A beautiful sustainable planet that only a few can enjoy is not one I want to work for.

The Green Party rightly contains people with a spectrum of opinions, left to (relatively) right, authoritarian/libertarian, emphasis on social/environmental or local/global issues. I place myself to the left in terms of distribution of wealth, being libertarian on rights, valuing freedom from harm by others, along with freedom to do as you wish, with the proviso of causing no harm. On most issues, I promote integration, rather than separation of strands.

How is the Green surge playing out in Norwich?

Well, it’s anything but dull. Our membership has risen from about 200 to 700 and our office and action days are pulling in new activists each week.

We've put motions on things like the bedroom tax, Ttip, and fracking, and we've helped residents question council and various committees. These actions have been supported by the People's Assembly and other cuts activists, some of them have come our way. Small left parties have stood in Norwich wards, but not in our target seats.

The Labour candidate would like to be in a party that opposes TTIP, Trident and austerity. But he isn’t, he's in the Labour Party, as their 6th target candidate. Labour can reasonably expect considerable loyalty in return for the many kitchen sinks thrown at getting him elected.  When Owen Jones came to speak at his invitation, Owen gave his vision for a better society. It could have come from our manifesto. I pointed this out, and asked what confidence he had in Labour implementing any of our polices. All the other quesions of that night were along the lines of ‘why aren’t you a Green then?'

How are the cuts to local authority budgets affecting Norwich and Norfolk?

Youth Services have gone.

Everyone working in public services is feeling the pinch, worrying about their jobs and their clients. 

Benefit sanctions are seeing people descend into chaos, trying to hold their lives together on nowhere near enough money, sometimes no money.

The Labour council is desperate to get any kind of growth at any cost to anyone. It's fallen for government schemes like City Deal which provided 20k for Christmas lights and allowed the Lep to take community infrastructure levy (cil) money out of the city to pay for 20 miles of unnecessary development road.

What are the main issues that you will campaign on?

Reclaim the NHS, renationalise rail, and invest in jobs that stop climate change.
Education and  local democracy are closely connected too.

Current local campaigns include trying to stop the last local authority schools being forced to become academy schools.  We're fighting over-development based on road building.

Labour promotes cycling to look green, but wants growth based on aviation, road building and GM. We want to build on the climate expertise at UEA to make Norwich a centre of excellence in renewable energy, warm affordable housing and sustainable transport.

Nationally I want to reclaim public services supporting Caroline's NHS & Public Service Users bills. My personal mission is to extend the Freedom of Information Act to any company spending public money.

All the hard won gains for people and planet are threatened by Ttip. I don't believe investors deserve special privileges and I want it stopped. The Alternative Trade Mandate proposes a different framework that puts the common good first and shows that there is a better alternative.

Globally I want to work for a nuclear weapons convention.

Norwich South is one of the Green party’s top three target constituencies. How do you rate your chances – and the Green party more broadly in England ?

Fortunes go down as well as up, so no guarantees, but our vote  in Norwich has doubled at every general election since 1997, before the green surge. We really don't know how the surge will play out in votes, but we have every reason to be hopeful.

There appears to be new Left emerging in Europe, as a reaction to governments’ austerity policies, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain at the forefront. Can the Green party here in the UK be part of this trend?

I hope so. More than a trend, perhaps a bloc that can offer solidarity, trade and experience.

I know that you have been campaigning against EU/US trade deal TTIP, what are your fears about this treaty?

If you or I asked for a special court to allow us to pursue our interests, based on rules made by us, administered by lawyers appointed by us, and over-riding the laws of the land- we'd rightly be laughed out of court.  The fact that Ttip is taken at all seriously shows that not only money, but also power is concentrating in ever fewer hands.

Think rights at work, environmental protection - but also self-censorship by government. Senior CND people don't know whether cancelling Trident could lead to Ttip litigation. Ttip is incompatible with democracy, because it gives unequal rights to  investors.  It mitigates against one planet living because it globalises trade that should be local.

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

Not for love, power or money.

I do believe that Labour would do marginally less harm than the Tories. The only scenario that would rule out the 'Never' word is one where my vote against would lead to another nightmare Tory government. I've seen councillors agonising over similar rocks and hard places, and like them I'd take guidance from the residents and party colleagues, to whom I'm accountable. 

Lesley Grahame
Parliamentary Candidate, Norwich South
Green Party Councillor, Thorpe Hamlet Ward

Tel 01603 611909
Mob 07711 298214
Twitter @LesleyJGrahame