Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Last Chance to Stop CETA - MEPs Vote 6 February

I'm sure you appreciate the significance of CETA by now, so here's the last useful action you can take. It will only take a 10 minutes, but might change your future drastically! More than Trump!

As always, we need to target those who are wavering - the Socialist and Democrat block (S&D) MEPs. 

The S&D vote on CETA will be absolutely critical - and pressure is definitely working - despite heavy trade lobbying, several S&D MEPs came out against CETA on the ENVI committee. According to Global Justice Now, its on a knife-edge, with only 3 or 4 MEPs out of 22 needing to be convinced.

They are voting on the final S&D position next Monday, 6th Feb

To make it convenient , you could simply copy or slightly adapt the suggested email below, right down to the bottom, with the references, which are underneath to your local constituency S&Ds. They can be found simply by typing your postcode into https://www.writetothem.com/, or you can use the attached spreadsheet. (You can drag your mouse down the email address column to select a block - or all 22 at once if you wish - but take care not to call them 'my MEP' at the end !).

Pass this on anonymously please, to whoever, wherever you can.

Ideally you'd write your own email to them this week (preferrable), as this is not written by an expert (we don't like them any more do we ?)

In addition to this letter, if you're in a rural constituency, you could express concern that the Conservative government has chosen not to protect any geographical indicators ( see this UK parliamentary briefing ), which will obscure the origins of our food, and could risk eroding regional food and farming.

Dear MEP 

I am a resident in the [  London ] constituency.  

As your constituent, I am writing to urge you to pledge to vote against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA.

Firstly, I have deep concerns over transparency and democracy itself.  You are no doubt aware of how little democratic participation there has been in the development of CETA - as shown by this ETUC statement which highlights the woeful lack of trade union consultation (1).  Even as an MEP I gather that you too, were inadequately consulted, and that the final text of CETA was more or less presented to you as 'take it all, or leave it all' situation. You are aware of how contentious ICS is, with the opinion of over 100 German legal professors that it is incompatible with EU law.(2) Despite claims that ICS is a much improved version of ISDS, the hastily rebranded version essentially contains the same investor priveleges, often using the same text as the EU-Singapore agreement. (3)

You are also by now probably aware that the economic modelling used to justify CETA magically assumes full employment.  When the more realistic United Nations Global Policy Model is used, there are predicted losses of GDP, government revenues, and rising inequality.(4)  It is unsurprising therefore, that this report concludes that “CETA will lead not just to economic losses, but also will have negative implications for social cohesion in an already complex and volatile political context”.  I cannot believe that the S&D block would consider signing up to such a risk to the social fabric, on the basis of highly dubious claims of economic benefit.

In addition to overall GDP losses, any claims that CETA may benefit SMEs are also unfounded.  The Employment and Social Affairs commitee (EMPL) has stated that an estimated 90 million SME jobs in the EU would be at risk under CETA, as part of their overall reasoning to reject it. (5)

I simply cannot understand why any S&D MEP would vote to accept CETA, and I urge you to back the considered opinion of your colleague, Jude Kirton-Darling MEP : 'Why I would vote against CETA' (6)   Indeed, it is most likely that CETA is not compatible with the S&D block's stated aims : see the report (7) 'How does CETA stand up to the S&D block's 10 progressive principles for trade?'

Conservatives wish to see CETA as a 'progressive' blueprint for all future trade deals, enshrining the first ever negative listing of all public services.   I therefore urge you to take this opportunity to demonstrate that you will put a clear dividing line between the S&D block and the Conservatives, as the French S&Ds have clearly done  ( CETA C'est assez ! ) (8)  You must demonstrate that, unlike the Conservatives, you do not wish to see this as the blueprint for all future trade, as we leave the EU.

As my MEP, I very much count on your support to vote against CETA. 
[ Your name and address ]
[ If applicable : your Labour Party member number ]

(1) https://www.etuc.org/sites/ www.etuc.org/files/press- release/files/etuc-clc_ statement_on_ceta_en.pdf
(2) https://stop-ttip.org/blog/ legal-statement-on-investment- protection-in-ttip-and-ceta/
(3) https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/attachments/zombie-isds-ex-sum-en_0.pdf
(4)  http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/ policy_research/ceta_ simulations.html
(5) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP// NONSGML+COMPARL+PE-593.983+02+ DOC+PDF+V0//EN&language=EN
(6) http://www.northeastlabour.eu/ why-i-would-vote-against-ceta- 0
(7) http://www.greenpeace.org/eu- unit/Global/eu-unit/reports- briefings/2016/201611%20CETA% 20and%20SandD%20progressive% 20trade%20principles.pdf
(8) http://www.deputes- socialistes.eu/ceta-cest- assez/

Monday, 30 January 2017

Massive Anti-Trump Protest in London - Photos and Report

Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated tonight outside the Prime Minister's residence in Downing Street against the invitation of Donald Trump, the US President, to a state visit in the UK. The protest comes in the wake of Trump's ban on Muslim people entering the USA.

The protest was called at short notice, and when I've been to that type of protest before, you may get a few hundred, maybe a thousand or so people attending. This evening, I would say that there was about 20,000 people there.

When I left at around 6.15pm there was still protesters arriving down Whitehall.

The crowd was so large that it seeped onto the road and traffic was brought to a standstill on Whitehall.

Some of the protesters that I spoke to said it was the first protest that they had ever been on, but they just had to come tonight.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, a Muslim himself wrote in tonight's Evening Standard:

“I don’t believe the people of London will support rolling out the red carpet until this ban is reversed. Great friends must warn each other when they are making a mistake.”

Mr Khan said the ban was “shameful and cruel” would be ultimately “self-defeating” because it would play into the hands of extremists.  He writes: “I fear it will be used to act as a recruiting sergeant for so called Isis and other like minded groups.”

All as a petition calling for the invite to Trump to be cancelled, reached 1.5 million signatures.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Degrowth Alternative

From the Great Transition Initiative by Giorgos Kallis

Both the name and the theory of degrowth aim explicitly to repoliticize environmentalism. Sustainable development and its more recent reincarnation “green growth” depoliticize genuine political antagonisms between alternative visions for the future. They render environmental problems technical, promising win-win solutions and the impossible goal of perpetuating economic growth without harming the environment. Ecologizing society, degrowthers argue, is not about implementing an alternative, better, or greener development. It is about imagining and enacting alternative visions to modern growth-based development. This essay explores such alternatives and identifies grassroots practices and political changes for facilitating a transition to a prosperous and equitable world without growth.

Ecology vs. Modernity

The conflict between environment and growth is ever-present. For “developers,” the value of growth is not to be questioned: more mining, drilling, building, and manufacturing is necessary to expand the economy. Against developers stand radical environmentalists and local communities, who are often alone in questioning the inevitability of “a one-way future consisting only of growth.”1 In this opposition to development projects, philosopher Bruno Latour sees a fundamental rejection of modernity’s separation of means and ends.2 Radical environmentalists recognize that ecology, with its focus on connecting humans with one another and with the non-human world, is inherently at odds with growth that separates and conquers.

The rise of mainstream discourse on sustainable development effectively erased the radical promise of ecology. The notion of sustainability that emerged from the 1992 Earth Summit neutralized and depoliticized the conflict between environment and growth. Since then, negotiations between government, businesses, and “pragmatic” environmentalists have assumed that new markets and technologies can simultaneously boost economic growth and protect natural systems. Environmental problems have been largely consigned to the realm of technical improvement, the province of experts and policy elites.

Ten years ago, the provocative formulation of “degrowth”—a so-called “missile concept”—was put forward to challenge this de-politicization of environmentalism and attack the “oxymoron of sustainable development.”3 The use of a negative word for a positive project was intentional: by subverting the desirability of growth, degrowth aimed to identify and question the ideology that must be confronted in order to transition to a truly sustainable world: the ideology of growth. Degrowth theorists call for an “exit from the economy,” an invitation to abandon economistic thinking and construct viable alternatives to capitalism. However, proposing alternative economic models is not enough. We must also question the existence of an autonomous sphere called “the economy.” The “free market” is not a natural process; it has been constructed through deliberate governmental intervention. Repoliticization of the economy will require hard-fought institutional change to return it to democratic control.

Envisioning Degrowth

Advocates of degrowth refrain from offering any one blueprint to replace today’s growth-centric “free” market. Their objective is to open up conceptual space for imagining and enacting diverse alternative futures that share the aims of downscaling affluent economies and their material flows in a just and equitable manner.4 Reducing such material flows would likely lead to a decrease in GDP as currently measured.5 However, degrowth is not synonymous with recession or depression, the terms we use for negative growth in a growth economy. Degrowth, instead, involves a rethinking of the organization of society signaled by terms such as limits, care, and dépense.6

Degrowth proposals generally incorporate collective limits, such as caps on carbon emissions or 100% reserve requirements for banks. These are understood as “self-limitations,” collective decisions to refrain from pursuing all that could be pursued. Moreover, only social systems of limited size and complexity can be governed directly rather than by technocratic elites acting on behalf of the populace. Fossil fuels and nuclear power are dangerous not only because they pollute, but also because an energy-intensive society based on increasingly sophisticated technological systems managed by bureaucrats and technocrats will grow less democratic and egalitarian over time. Many degrowth advocates, therefore, oppose even “green” megastructures like high-speed trains or industrial-scale wind farms.

Care can become the hallmark of an economy based on reproduction, rather than expansion. Reproduction refers to the activities that sustain the life cycle, typically within the family. But more generally, it encompasses all processes of sustenance and restoration. In the present economy, care work remains gendered, undervalued, and pushed into the shadow of the formal economy. Degrowth calls for the equal distribution of care work and the re-centering of society around it. A caring economy is labor-intensive precisely because human labor is what gives care its value. It thus has the potential to offset rising unemployment today while fostering a more humane society.

Dépense refers to the unproductive expenditure of the social surplus. How civilizations allocate their surplus, the expenditures they make above and beyond what is necessary to meet basic human needs, gives them their collective character. The Egyptians devoted their surplus to pyramids, the Tibetans to an idle class of monks, and the Europeans of the Middle Ages to churches. In today’s capitalist civilization, as the surplus is accumulated and invested to produce more growth, dépense is displaced to privatized acts of exuberant consumption. Since limiting excessive consumption alone would fuel even more saving and investment, degrowth envisions radically reducing the surplus and deploying it for a festive society in which citizens devise new, non-harmful ways to dispense it, ways that help build community and collective meaning.

The Degrowth Imperative

There is a substantial body of evidence that demonstrates how growth threatens both environmental and social well-being.7 Continued economic growth makes us more likely to exceed the safe operating space defined by planetary boundaries, making life harder for everyone, especially the most vulnerable. Although “green growth” has become a buzzword in recent years, it remains an oxymoron. Its emphasis on enhanced efficiency creates a paradox: decreased resource requirements lead to lower costs and—by the simple workings of supply and demand—a rebound in the consumption of resources.8 This is part of the fundamental dynamic of capitalism: increasing productivity frees up resources that are invested to provide yet more growth.

Continued economic growth in wealthy nations is also proving inimical to well-being. As Herman Daly observed, “illth” (congestion, crime, and other undesirable side effects) increases as fast as, or faster than, wealth as measured by GDP.9 Redistribution, not growth, is what improves well-being in affluent nations. Moreover, despite significant economic growth, people in the United States and most countries of the West are at best only marginally happier than they were in the 1950s. The wealthy are happier than the poor, but wealth, in the aggregate, does not translate into a higher average level of happiness because aspirations also increase and comparisons intensify with higher standards of living. Growth can never quench the desire for positional goods; only redistribution and new values can.

What about those in poor nations who have yet to see the benefits of growth? Degrowth in the Global North can provide ecological space for the Global South. For example, strong carbon caps for the North and better terms of trade for the South can help compensate for past carbon and resource debts, redistributing wealth between North and South. Economic growth in the South, moreover, threatens alternative, non-monetized means of livelihood, generating the poverty that, in turn, makes more growth “necessary.” Degrowth in the North, then, can provide space for the flourishing of alternative cosmovisions and practices in the South, such as buen vivir in Latin America or ubuntu in Africa. These are alternatives to development, not alternative forms of development.

Seeds of a Degrowth Transition

Degrowth alternatives have begun to flourish as the formal economy has fallen into crisis. These include food production in urban gardens; co-housing and ecocommunes; alternative food networks, producer-consumer cooperatives, and communal kitchens; health care, elder care, and child care cooperatives; open software; and decentralized forms of renewable energy production and distribution. These alternatives are often accompanied, or even supported, by new forms of exchange such as community currencies, barter markets, time banks, financial cooperatives, and ethical banks.10

Such projects display various facets of degrowth. They promote a shift to a more locally based economy with short production and consumption cycles. They emphasize reproduction and caring, to satisfy use values, not profits. They replace wage labor with voluntary activity. They do not have a built-in tendency to accumulate and expand, and they are less resource-intensive than their counterparts in the formal economy. Such practices of “commoning” cultivate solidarity and humane interpersonal relations, and generate shared, non-monetary wealth.

As these alternative forms of provisioning suggest, a degrowth transition will be heavily bottom-up. However, broad institutional changes will be needed to foster adoption of such practices. For example, a guaranteed basic income would provide universal access to national wealth, securing basic sustenance for all and liberating time for non-paid activity. With the complementary policy of a job guarantee, the state could provide employment for all who wish to work in activities that support the common good. A shorter workweek and job sharing without a reduction of monthly wages could also combat unemployment and create more time for leisure and commoning. Adoption of these policies would reduce economic insecurity without the need for further economic growth.

A transition beyond growth will entail a transition beyond capitalism, since the essence of capitalism is accumulation and expansion.11 A degrowth transition would likely follow a pattern similar to those of past systemic economic shifts. Capitalism arose from feudalism as connections were forged between new economic practices and entities (firms, corporations, trade contracts, banks, investments) and political and institutional developments supportive of these practices (abolition of monarchies and feudal privileges, enclosure of the commons, liberal democracy, laws protecting private property).

Analogously, contemporary grassroots practices and institutional changes can seed a transformation of the current system, as economic growth approaches its limits. Degrowthers see deepening democracy as essential to a degrowth transition. They welcome experimentation with direct forms of popular democracy, such as those practiced by the Occupy movement. They envision a regime that combines elements of direct and delegative democracy, such as the “radical ecological democracy” advocated by Ashish Kothari.12

A degrowth transition would differ sharply from the revolutions of the twentieth century, not only because it would be resolutely non-violent and democratic in character, but also because the target would not just be capitalism, but also productivism. An exit from growth requires an exit from capitalism, but an exit from capitalism does not necessarily bring an exit from growth. Twentieth century socialist regimes replaced the capitalist relations of production without changing the basic objective of resource exploitation and surplus accumulation for the sake of mass production and consumption.

Governing Degrowth

Despite the richness of degrowth theory, proponents are still grappling with questions of scale and governance. Advocates of degrowth privilege relocalization, anticipating that it will emerge and flourish, leading to a national political movement that can change the state from within. However, there is a tension between a desire for local autonomy and the need for action at a broader scale. A certain degree of hierarchy is unavoidable because the redistribution of burdens and resources among more and less privileged localities will require intermediation and decision-making at broad geographic levels. Some of the degrowth reforms discussed above are, in fact, quite interventionist and would require strong state action.

Likewise, engagement with governance at a global scale is largely absent from the discussions within the degrowth movement. This is curious given the centrality of issues like climate change, free trade, and relentless global competition. Many degrowth advocates appear to assume that limitations on trade and capital at the national level will extricate a country from global economic forces, or that generalized global change will ensue as the aggregate effect of local grassroots initiatives. However, such developments remain unlikely. Climate change, for instance, cannot be tackled solely by summing up various local low-carbon initiatives in the absence of international agreements that cap total greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the prevailing neoliberal regime, global interdependence makes it impossible for a country to undertake a degrowth transition on its own. Doing so would entail substantial penalties from capital flight, bank and currency collapses, asset devaluations, collapse of public and security institutions, and political isolation. This would undermine the ability of a nation to pursue a quiet contraction on its own. Likewise, if a single country or block of countries were to successfully downscale their economies, a global reduction of resource prices would likely follow, producing a rebound in consumption elsewhere. In a sense, then, escaping growth is a global collective action problem. To be successful, the transition to degrowth must be global.


Degrowth requires a commitment not just to protect nature or to manage and mitigate the impacts of capitalism, but also to create an alternative social-ecology and a fundamentally different basis for action. From this new perspective, environmentalists opposing a mega-project need not perform cost-benefit calculations or devise alternatives that accommodate growth. They can simply assert that such projects do not fit the world in which they want to live. They can say that there is alternative, and it is called “degrowth.”

  1. The phrase is from Ursula Le Guin, whose social science fiction novel The Dispossessed (London: Panther, 1975) provides a vivid exposition of a degrowth world.
  2. Bruno Latour, “To Modernize or to Ecologize? That’s the Question,” in Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millennium, eds. Noel Castree and Bruce Willems-Braun (New York: Routledge, 1998), 221-242.
  3. Serge Latouche, Farewell to Growth (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2009). For a review of the unpublished francophone literature, see Valérie Fournier, “Escaping from the Economy: The Politics of Degrowth,” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 28, no. 11/12 (2008): 528-545, http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443330810915233. The choice of the term “degrowth” (décroissance in French) was inspired by the title of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Jacques Grinevald, and Ivo Rens, Demain la Décroissance: Entropie-écologie-économie (Lausanne: Pierre-Marcel Favre, 1979). On degrowth as a “hypothesis,” see Giorgos Kallis, Christian Kerschner, and Joan Martinez-Alier, “The Economics of Degrowth,” Ecological Economics 84 (2012): 172-180, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800912003333.
  4. See Francois Schneider et al., “Crisis or Opportunity? Economic Degrowth for Social Equity and Ecological Sustainability: Introduction to this Special Issue,” Journal of Cleaner Production 18, no. 6 (2010): 511-518, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652610000259.
  5. Herman Daly, Beyond Growth: the Economics of Sustainable Development (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997).
  6.  Giacomo D’Alisa et al., eds., Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (London: Routledge, 2014). See also www. vocabulary.degrowth.org.
  7. See D’Alisa et al., op. cit.; Daly, op. cit.; Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth (New York: Earthscan, 2008).
  8. Blake Alcott, “Jevons’ paradox,” Ecological Economics 54, no. 1 (2005): 9-21, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800905001084.
  9. Herman Daly, op. cit.
  10. Joana Conill et al., Otra vida es posible: prácticas alternativas durante la crisis (Barcelona: Ediciones UOC Press, 2012); Julie Katherine Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
  11. Capitalism can experience involuntary negative growth, but not for long, as this would lead to intensifying inequalities and socio-political instability, and the threat of the imposition of some form of autocracy.
  12. Ashish Kothari, “Radical Ecological Democracy: A Path Forward for India and Beyond,” The Great Transition Initiative (July 2014), http://greattransition.org/publication/radical-ecological-democracy-a-path-forward-for-india- and-beyond.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Labour Finally Kills the Progressive Alliance - Official

Well, my scepticism about a progressive alliance ever coming into being, has finally been confirmed. In many ways it is a shame, as I broadly supported the idea, but I just could not see Labour in particular, but the Lib Dems too, who have shown very little interest in taking the idea forward, other than suggesting that the Greens should stand down everywhere, agreeing to it.

Labour MPs like Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy have spoken in support of a progressive alliance, but this has largely been the exception within Labour. But it appears now as though Labour is officially against the idea.

Writing on the website Labour List, Alice Perry, a member of the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) representing local government, reports from last Tuesday's meeting. The progressive alliance was one of the items discussed at the meeting, and she writes:

"Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC confirmed opposition to so-called “progressive alliances”, with Jeremy and others agreeing that parties like the SNP and the Lib Dems are not progressive. Labour will stand candidates in and contest all relevant elections."

So there you have it, probably the clearest statement about anything to come out of the Labour Party this week. The progressive alliance will not include the Labour Party, which to all intents and purposes means the idea is dead. Without Labour, it is pretty much pointless, if the plan is to kick the Tories out of office, which is what it has always billed as.

I suppose it is still possible I guess, that there will be a few local agreements here and there, but that will be the extent of it. Without being an expert on Labour's rules, it is probably possible that a conference motion could reverse this decision, but that looks highly unlikely to me.

The contradictions inherent in the policies and outlook of the different parties that may have formed a progressive alliance, has made it impossible in practice.

It is probably for the best all round that Labour has made its opposition clear now, so that the other possible members of the alliance can all get on with planning their own election strategies. There is no distraction now for the Green Party in developing a strategy for trying to win a handful of Parliamentary seats at the next general election, probably in 2020, and for making some gains in local government representation over the next few years.

We have distinctive policies, let us go out and convince the people to vote for them.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

If Parliament can't influence Brexit MPs should vote against Article 50 Bill

In what must be a record for brevity for a British Parliamentary Bill, more akin to a tweet than primary legislation, the government has announced that MPs will only have five days to debate the Article 50 Bill. The government will resist all amendments to the Bill that tries to give Parliament a meaningful say over the terms of the Brexit negotiations.

The government has had over six months to release this Bill, and are only doing so now grudgingly, to comply with the Supreme Court's judgement that to trigger Article 50, the mechanism by which the UK process to leave the European Union (EU) is formally started, an act of Parliament is required. Anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of the British constitution, would know that Parliament is sovereign under the constitution, but the government has dragged all of this out for months, and now wants to rush it through in order to meet their arbitrary timetable.

Much has been made in the right wing media of the 'will of the people' being upper most constitutionally in importance, but the plain fact is, the people are not sovereign under the British constitution, sovereignty rests with Parliament. Of course the people can remove their representatives at Parliamentary elections, but that is the extent of the people's involvement in law making.

The government says that MPs will be given a vote on the final Brexit deal, but it will be a fait accompli by that stage, with the only alternative available being no deal whatsoever. This is a cynical attempt by the government to railroad this process through Parliament without any input from MPs, but which complies with the constitutional conventions.

Five days is not enough time to debate what is the most important policy matter for the UK in the last forty odd years, since we joined what was the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1975. The legislature (MPs) must hold the executive (the government) to account on this, so would not be doing their jobs if they wave this Bill through. This is how our democracy works, whatever the right wing media says about it, and MPs should stand up to this disgraceful bullying, difficult though this will be.

The opposition parties will probably all introduce 'reasoned amendments' to try and gain some influence over this process, but if this fails to achieve that aim, MPs should vote to kill the Bill entirely. It is the only other option open to Parliament. The big problem with this though, is that without Labour MPs voting against, the Bill will pass comfortably into law.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has instructed his MPs to vote for the Bill, and it seems, bar maybe about 50 of the 229 Labour MPs will vote for the Bill in the end, whether or not MPs get a say in the Brexit process. Which all goes to make the Parliamentary exercise rather pointless, since the government will not need to concede anything to MPs, to get their way. So much for the official 'opposition' party, who appear to see their role as supporting the government on this.

If the government gets next to no concessions from the EU, which seems the most likely scenario, we will end up with no deal, which will make for a very bumpy ride for the British economy over the next few years, and probably lead to the UK becoming a tax haven economy. Like the Cayman Islands, but with rain.

How can the Labour leadership let this happen? Well, they are running scared of their voters in the north of England defecting to the xenophobic UK Independence Party in what some have suggested would be an early general election, whilst Labour are in disarray. But this need not be case.

With the Fixed Term Parliament Act introduced in the previous Parliament, the calling of general elections is not in the gift of the Prime Minister anymore. For an early election to be called it would need a two thirds majority in Parliament in favour, and if Labour voted against, there will be no early election.

Labour is risking losing many of its MPs in London and some of the other bigger cities, probably to the Lib Dems, by following this course of action. They will deserve their fate, for abrogating their responsibility so weakly to the 48% of the electorate who voted to remain in the EU. It could also be the beginning of the end for Labour as major force in British politics. So be it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Surrey's Council Tax Referendum is a Cry for Help

News that Surrey County Council will hold a referendum of residents on raising their council tax by 15%, has ignited a wider debate about local authority funding.

The Council leader, Cllr David Hodge, a Tory, told the Municipal Journal (subscription) after the announcement why the increase is necessary:

'Demand for adult social care, learning disabilities and children's services is increasing every year so I regret, despite us finding £450m worth of savings from our annual budget, we have no choice but to propose this increase in council tax.'

Under the government's rules on council tax increases any increase over 2% requires a referendum's approval from residents. For this year and next only, a further 3% council tax can be raised without a referendum, but this money is ring fenced for adult social care provision. Most local authorities view the amount that this would raise as insufficient to deal with the situation on the ground as well as being unpopular with council tax payers.

As Cllr Hodge says, social care, for children as well as adults has been subjected to around a 40% cut in funding over the last six years, with more to come in the next two years, especially. The situation is compounded by government plans to introduce, what it calls a National Living Wage. Care workers are mainly paid at the lesser National Minimum Wage rate currently, raising costs for councils further. Many private social care providers, who council's sub-contract the care to, are going bust. Surrey has nowhere else to turn, if it is to pay for a proper level of care for its residents.

But a debate is all that it is likely to raise, as I fully expect the referendum to be lost. The only previous council tax referendum, in Bedfordshire in 2015, which asked for a 15.8% rise to fund extra police, was defeated by more than a two to one majority.

It seems as though people will not vote for a tax increase, however good the cause may be. Even people who are in favour of the rise, are much less likely to get out and vote, than those who oppose an increase. It could be that Surrey know this, and are trying to pressurise the government into providing more funding, but the government seems relaxed about the residents making the decision, either way.

Referendums are unsuitable for local tax rises, they should only be used for national constitutional matters, like the EU referendum last year. After all, when the government raises tax nationally, we don't have a referendum about it. If people don't like it, they can throw the government out, and the same should apply to local government.

When even a Tory council is forced into seeking approval for such a large rise in council tax, then it signals that there is something very wrong about funding for local services, and in local government the despair is widespread. The Local Government Association, also headed by a Tory councillor, Sir Gary Porter, has called for the government to seek cross party support for a viable solution to the funding of local care, before the system collapses completely. They do not see council tax rises as a suitable way to fund these services.

It is not that these cuts to local funding actually save any money overall either, because of the knock on effect of 'bed blocking' in hospitals, because patients can't be sent home where home care provision is so sparse. It is much more expensive to keep people in hospital, and of course increases waiting lists for the treatment of other patients. The government's approach to the issue is therefore not only callous but counter-productive too.

The government have announced a review of the funding of social care for the future, but this may be just a smokescreen, to weather the storm of bad publicity.

It is high time that the government took this issue seriously, and put in place a proper plan for funding these services. Their ideological mania for slashing public services does not work and deprives vulnerable people of much needed care and human dignity.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Thousands of Women March Against Trump in London

The Women's March on Washington has arrived in London, with thousands marching against Trump on January 21.

Image from Metro UK Bulk of the report from Left Voice

Thousands of women gathered in London to march to the US consulate to protest against the misogyny and hate expressed by Trump. They are part of a network of women’s protests that sprung up across the US and around the world.

As the women’s march begins in London, the march is also underway in the United States, with hundreds of thousands gathering in Washington DC and other cities.

The protesters in London are predominantly women, young people, as well as many LGBT people. Protesters marched through the streets chanting “Say it loud! Say it clear! Refugees are welcome here!” as well as other chants against Trump.

Another woman among the crowd wielding a sign reading “Keep your tiny hands off women’s rights” told The Independent: “When I heard the march was [happening] I couldn’t not come out today and join it. I don’t want to look back on Trump’s presidency in years to come and think I’d not done what I could do resist it.”

The central London rally was planned in solidarity with a Women’s March in Washington to promote women’s rights in the wake of the US election result.

Friday, 20 January 2017

May's Brexit Delusions of Grandeur Puts Labour in Turmoil

When Theresa May, the Prime Minister, made her much trailed speech on Tuesday, on her approach to the Brexit negotiations, I was surprised by the positive reaction of both Remain and Leave supporters. It was billed as a outline of the government's plan for getting a deal for Britain with the European Union, once we leave the EU. I suppose it did throw a little light on the British government's approach, but not much, as it continued the fanciful thinking that the EU will cave into British demands for 'access' to the single market, whilst we insist on restricting immigration from the EU.

The threat of Britain becoming a super sized tax haven for corporations and wealthy individuals, on the fringe of Europe has always been likely what we will end up with post Brexit, but at least this is now official. This would cause a problem for the EU, but there is nothing to stop them following suit, and matching Britain's actions.

Indeed Ireland already adopts this strategy in enticing businesses to locate in the country. It would lead to a race to bottom in terms of absolving companies from their social responsibilities, but I have no doubt that a market of 450 million consumers, will win out over one with 65 million.

Tory Remainers like Anna Soubry, welcomed May's speech as did Tory Leavers, like Iain Duncan Smith, both seeing something different in it. Keir Starmer, Labour's Brexit spokesman, also welcomed the speech, saying it was signal that May was aiming for 'Brexit Lite'. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, also appeared content, apart from the tax haven idea. I didn't read it in a positive way, and was surprised that, the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens apart, it was roundly applauded. For me it was a threat of the hardest possible Brexit.

By Wednesday though, the appearance of consensus in Labour was shattered, with first Sadiq Khan, Labour's London Mayor, writing in the Evening Standard, where he said: “A hard-line approach to Brexit may hold the Conservative Party together, but it could rip Britain apart." He went on to insist on the importance of remaining in the single market, at least for London, anyway.

A report in yesterday's Guardian said that many Labour MPs, including some in the shadow cabinet, and not just the usual suspects, were planning to vote against the triggering of Article 50, to formally begin Brexit, if the government loses its appeal in the Supreme Court next week. Jeremy Corbyn said in an Sky TV interview later in the day, that Labour would not vote against, but appeared to change his mind later still.

My MP, Catherine West, in Hornsey and Wood Green in London, is said to be one of the Labour MPs who will vote against, not unsurprisingly in a constituency that voted 70% to 30% Remain, and where West gained the seat in 2015, from the Lib Dems.

Tristram Hunt, the departing Labour MP for Stoke on Trent, in a final speech in the House of Commons yesterday, put his finger on the dilemma for Labour MPs in overwhelmingly Remain constituencies when he said:

"The vote to leave the EU has deepened the divide between Labour voters in cities like Cambridge and industrial communities like Grimsby, Redcar and Stoke."

Peter Kolarz writing on the Compass blog, also addressed this issue on Thursday:

"The centre-left finds itself in a conundrum, caught between the old politics of left and right and the new politics of the global, digital age; between a supposed urban, liberal elite on one hand and dwindling support in its former working class heartlands on the other."

All of this writ large in the issue of Brexit for Labour. I suspect that most of the younger, newer Labour members and supporters are pro-EU membership, not just the old guard of the establishment, which is probably why the MPs coup against Corbyn was mounted, almost immediately after the referendum in the summer.

This issue is not going away either, we have two years of it at least, and it will surely shape the result of the next general election, probably in 2020. We know from experience that divided parties do not win general elections, and there was a time in the recent past when I thought the EU referendum held out hope of destroying the Tory government. I didn't anticipate it would be Labour that was riven over the result, there again, I thought we'd vote to Remain.

The problem with the Labour leadership's approach here, is that it basically backs the government's, so if it all goes wrong, Labour can hardly claim any credit. In my opinion, the only way the Tories will lose the next general election is if they do muck up Brexit. On the one big elephant trap that the government faces, Labour is looking like following them into the pit below.

Clearly, Labour has given up on Scotland electorally, and risks losing urban areas in England to the Lib Dems and perhaps a Green or two. It is a very strange tactic to take, a kind of muddled form of triangulation where you try to out Tory the Tories, no doubt with a different set of policies, but the damage may be done by then. We need to brace ourselves for untrammelled Tory governments, for as far as the eye can see.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Benefit Cuts Lead to Homelessness Crisis

Analysis by the National Federation of ALMOs (NFA) and the Association of Retained Council Housing (ARCH) finds that almost 90% of Universal Credit claimants are in arrears with their rent. Almost 60% are in arrears for more than one month's rent, and facing the possibility of eviction from their homes.

Universal Credit (UC) is the government's flag ship welfare policy, whereby six different benefit payments are rolled into a single UC benefit, which includes the former Housing Benefit. It was introduced two and half years ago in some areas, and has been bedevilled with IT problems, which were said to be 'teething problems,' but the report says that the situation is actually getting 'dramatically worse.'

John Bibby, chief executive of ARCH, said: "We are extremely concerned with the upward trajectory of rent arrears for Universal Credit households. Not only are the numbers of households increasing as UC is rolled out, but the percentage of households falling into rent arrears and experiencing financial difficulty is critically high."

A report last month by the New Policy Institute (NPI), commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warns reductions in Council Tax Support (previously Council Tax Benefit) in some areas of England, are leading to home evictions. In areas where a minimum payment from claimants is required, of more than 20% of the full amount in some areas, evictions are rising. Local authorities are free to choose how much of the total Council Tax bill, they require claimants to contribute towards.

The report quotes a report by the Child Poverty Action Group and Z2K that found that research they did in London in 2015-16 showed there was an increase of 51% of claimants being referred to bailiffs than in 2014-15. There was also an increase in the numbers of claimants charged court costs and the report says that claimants were cutting back on essentials like food, clothing and heating.

Yesterday, the Evening Standard reported that Shelter, the homelessness charity, predict that 1260 families will lose their homes in the capital in the next month and over 7,370 over the next six months. In July to September last year, official figures show 4,580 families in London being housed in temporary accommodation of whom 40% lost their home at the end of a private tenancy agreement.

This after more general cuts to benefits, the benefits cap, those benefits associated with disability and the 'bedroom tax,' with a sharp rise in jobseeker claimants having benefits sanctioned, for up as much as three years. Where people are in work, wages are low and stagnating with in work benefits reduced. Pay day lenders and other loan sharks prey on desperate people and the situation gets worse.

Lack of genuinely affordable housing, insecure short term private tenancies and benefit cuts, compounded by court costs, all whips up the perfect storm for a homelessness crisis, which is pretty much what we have at the moment. I see it myself around where I work in central London, there has been a marked increase in rough sleepers in the last couple of years.

Some more facts about homelessness:

  • Sleeping rough has serious consequences. On average, homeless people die at just 47 years of age, compared to 81 years for the average UK citizen. A homeless rough sleeper is 35 times more likely to commit suicide that the average person. 
  • Two thirds of rough sleepers surveyed said they had been insulted by a member of the public, and one in ten said they had been urinated on.
  • The streets are a dangerous place to be, homeless people are 13 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the general public, and 47 times more likely to be a victim of theft.

The government responded today by announcing support for a Parliamentary Private Members Bill, the Homelessness Prevention Bill, which will oblige local authorities to provide accommodation for people without dependent children. The government pledged an extra £48 million to fund the new duty, which councils said was too little. The government needs to change its whole austerity policy if it wants to resolve this situation. It is highly unlikely they will.

The government's drive to cut benefits and the localising of much of the welfare benefit system onto the shoulders of already hard pressed local authorities with central government grants continuing to be reduced, has created this crisis.
It really is a scandal that one of the most basic of human needs, adequate shelter, is getting beyond an increasing number of our fellow citizens.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Survival Is the Question - Review of Ian Angus and Richard Smith's Ecosocialist Books

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System By Ian Angus Monthly Review Press, 280 pages, $19 paper.

Green Capitalism: The god that failed By Richard Smith World Economics Association, http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/, 115 pages, $21.50 paper.

Michael Lowy reviews two books on ecosocialism, first published at Solidarity US

CRITICAL ECOLOGY PUBLI­CA­TIONS are finding a growing audience in the United States, as is evident in the success of Naomi Klein’s  book This Changes Everything. Within this field there is also an increasing interest in ecosocialist thought, of Marxist inspiration, of which the two authors reviewed here are a part.

One of the active promoters of this trend is Monthly Review and its publishing house. It is this group that has published the compelling book, Facing the Anthropocene by Ian Angus, the Canadian ecosocialist and editor of the online review Climate and Capitalism.

His book has been lauded by the general public as well as by many within the scientific community, such as Jan Zalasiewicz and Will Steffen. Among the principal proponents of this outstanding work on the Anthropocene are Marxist researchers like Mike Davis and John Bellamy Foster, and ecologists on the left like Derek Wall of the Green Party of England.

From the work of such thinkers as chemist Paul Crutzen, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on the destruction of the ozone layer, geophysicist Will Steffen and many others, the conclusion that we have entered into a new geological era that is distinct from the Holocene (the era of the past 12,000 years) is beginning to be accepted.

The term “Anthropocene” is most often used to identify this new epoch, which is characterized by the profound impact of human activity on the earth-system. Most experts agree that the Anthropocene began in the mid-20th century, when a “Great Acceleration” of destructive changes were triggered. In fact, three-quarters of all CO2 emissions have been produced since the 1950s.

The term “Anthropos” does not mean that all humans are equally responsible for these drastic and disturbing changes — researchers have clearly shown the overwhelming responsibility of the world’s richest countries, the OECD countries, in shaping these events.

We also know the consequences of these transformations, notably climate change: most temperature rise, increasing extreme climate events, elevating ocean levels, the drowning of large coastal cities, etc. These changes are not gradual or linear and can be both abrupt and disastrous.

It seems to me, however, that this part of Facing the Anthropocene is less developed. Although Angus mentions these dangers, he does not discuss in a more detailed and concrete way the threats that weigh on the survival of life on the planet.

What are the established powers doing — especially the governments of the rich countries principally responsible for the crisis? Angus cites the fierce response of James Hansen, the North American NASA climatologist, to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, saying, “a fraud really, a fake…. It’s just bullshit.”

Indeed, even if all the countries present at the conference keep their promises, which is very unlikely considering that not a single sanction is expected to be fully met by the Paris agreements, we still will not be able to avoid an increase in the planet’s temperature past two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Time Running Short

Although 2 degrees Celsius is the officially accepted limit to avoid an irreversible process and unbridled global warming, the true safe limit will be 1.5 Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as even the participants of the conference have admitted. Naomi Klein’s conclusion: there is already barely time to avoid a catastrophic warming, but not in the framework of capitalism’s existing rules.

Ian Angus shares this diagnosis, and dedicates the second part of his book to the root of the problem: fossil capitalism. If governments and large corporations continue to throw coal into the boilers of this run-away train of development, it is not the fault of “human nature.” Rather, it is an essential demand of the capitalist system itself.

This system cannot exist without growth, expansion, accumulation of profits, and consequently environmental destruction. Yet this growth, which has been founded for almost two centuries on fossil energy, concentrates more of its investments today on further expanding fossil fuel production than any other sector. This doesn’t even touch on the generous subsidies provided by many governments — oil reserves alone receives more than fifty trillion dollars.

We can’t count on the good will of Exxon and company to renounce this mantra. This is not to mention other branches of production — automobiles, planes, plastics, chemicals, highways, etc. — all closely associated with fossil capitalism.

The one percent who control as much wealth as the remaining 99% of humanity carry great economic and political power. This is the reason for the resounding failures of the “international conferences” on climate change, which always end, in James Hansen’s words, in “bullshit.”

What, then, is the alternative? Angus notes that we can no longer return to the Holocene: the Anthropocene has already begun and cannot be reversed. The climate change already underway will last thousands of years. There is an urgency to slow down the suicide race created by this system, through a mass movement that encompasses all those who are ready to join in combat against fossil capitalism and climate change.

We hope for the capacity, in the future, to replace capitalism with a unified society: ecosocialism. The April 2010 Peoples’ Conference against Climate Change and in Defense of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which brought together tens of thousands of indigenous groups, farmers, unionists and workers, is a concrete example of this movement.

What happens to supporters of socialism? Ian Angus notes that the USSR was an ecological nightmare, particularly after Stalin eliminated the Soviet ecologists. (This section also deserves further development.)

Some socialists criticize what they call the “catastrophism” of ecologists, while others think that ecology is a diversion from the “true” struggle of the classes. While it’s true that ecosocialists are not a uniform mass, they do share the conviction that an effective socialist revolution can only be ecological and vice-versa.

They also agree that we need to buy ourselves time. The fight to decelerate disaster, by obtaining partial victories, both against capitalist destruction and for an ecosocialist future, is a part of the same integrated process.

What are the chances of such a struggle? Angus soberly observes that there is no guarantee. Marxism is not a sort of determinism. Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the fight of the classes can either lead to a revolutionary transformation of society or to “the common ruin of the contending classes.”

In the Anthropocene, this “common ruin,” the end of human civilization, is a real possibility. The ecosocialist revolution is by no means inevitable. We will need to be capable of bridging the gap between the spontaneous rage of millions of people and the beginning of an ecosocialist transformation. The author of this admirable and stimulating book concludes (with Bertolt Brecht): “If we fight, we may lose; if we don’t fight, we have already lost.”

Green God’s Failure

Richard Smith doesn’t discuss the Anthropocene, except for one telling moment: “Nature doesn’t run Earth any more. We do…It’s time we make conscious and collective decisions.”

Smith’s book is much more than a critique of “green capitalism,” as the title suggests. It comprises a collection of essays in an order that is a little improvised and somewhat repetitive, but on the whole the text is admirable in its coherence and rigor.

One could begin with this diagnosis: in May 2013 the observatory Mauna Loa in Hawaii found that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeded 400 ppm. The last time that  levels were this high, the average global temperature was 3-4C warmer than today, the Arctic was iceless, and sea levels were 40 meters higher. The places that we now call New York City, London, Shanghai were all under the sea.

Climatologists constantly issue warnings: if we do not stop greenhouse gas emissions soon, we will inevitably reach uncontrollable and irreversible global warming, which will result in the collapse of our civilization and the possible extinction of our species.

Yet, what’s happening? Business as usual. Not only have we failed to reduce emissions in recent years, but they are continuing to increase and each year break the previous records. We continue to extract fossil energy, and are willing to go far to find more, from the depths of the ocean to the oil sands. In short, the dominant spirit can be best summarized with King Louis XV of France’s remark:
“After me, comes the flood.”

Who is to blame? Like Ian Angus, Richard Smith clearly names a culprit: the capitalist system with its insatiable and irrepressible need to “develop.” This growth is not simply a mania, a fad, or an ideology. Instead, it is the rational expression of the demands of capitalist reproduction.

“Grow or die” is the law of survival in the jungle of the cutthroat capitalist market. Without overconsumption, there is no growth, and without growth there is massive unemployment, crisis and ultimately ruin.

Even an economist as “dissident” as Paul Krugman ultimately resigns himself to consumerism. He writes, “There is a strong element of rat race in America’s consumer-led boom, but those rats racing in their cages are what keep the wheels of commerce turning.”

This is all simply the logic of the system — from the failure of the international conferences, to “green capitalism,” to the exchange of CO2 emission rights, to ecological taxes, etc, etc. As the orthodox, neo-liberal economist Milton Friedman approvingly expressed, “Corporations are in business to make money, not to save the world.”

Richard Smith’s conclusion: if we want to save the world, we must dismantle corporate power over the economy. “Either we save capitalism or we save ourselves. We can’t save both.” Capitalism is a runaway train, which strips the continents entirely of their forests, devours the ocean’s flora and fauna, disturbs the climate, and is advancing rapidly towards ecological catastrophe, and, consequently, ruin.

Hence Smith’s criticism of the delusions of economists and environmentalists who support “green capitalism.” There are many in the United States but also in France  — worshippers of this “god that failed.” Hence the need to reject the rules of the market and of private property.

What to do? The solution does not exist within the structure of the market or in technological advancement. We must drastically reduce, in a rather short period of time, the use of fossil energy, not only for the production of electricity, but also in transportation, heating, industry, production-oriented agriculture, etc.

And as Exxon, British Petroleum, General Motors, etc. have no desire to commit economic suicide — and none of the capitalist governments intends to force them — society has to take control of the means of production and distribution, and reorganize the productive system entirely. This can be done by guaranteeing decent employment to all workers whose businesses are destined to either disappear or reduce drastically.

It is not enough to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Production and consumption must be substantially reduced (or “de-growth”). According to Richard Smith, three-quarters of the goods produced today are unnecessary, harmful, or suffer from programmed obsolescence.

If, instead of manufacturing products for profit, manufacturing worked to satisfy human needs, then we could produce useful, durable, repairable, adaptable products that could be used for decades — like my own 1962 VW, which is still running.

Smith adds: “Priority could be given to the social and ecological needs that today are neglected or sabotaged, such as health, education, habitat (set to ecological norms), and healthy and organic food. We could work fewer hours and have longer vacations.”

But this implies a radical break with the capitalist system, which would involve depriving private owners of economic control and opting instead to plan democratically. In other words, ecosocialism. Planning committees could be elected at the local, regional, national, continental, and sooner or later, international levels.

Additionally, major decisions could be made by the population itself: Car or public transportation? Ban nuclear energy or use it? And so forth. It is a question of replacing the “invisible hand” of the market — which can only perpetuate business as usual — with the visible hand of society’s democratic decisions.

Such democratic planning is the very antithesis of the sad bureaucratic caricature that was “central planning” under the now-extinct USSR. It was perfectly authoritarian, if not totalitarian. But this is the project of another civilization, an ecosocialist civilization.

Getting There

Richard Smith’s point is perfectly coherent. The only remark I would make is the absence of mediation. How can we move from the suicidal train of capitalist civilization to an ecosocialist society? This question merits further examination.

The starting point here can only be current mobilizations against this system, which Naomi Klein refers to as Blockadia.

These struggles include the commitment of Canadian Native People and environmentalists against the mining of tar sands, the fight in the USA (blocking the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, for instance), those in France who combat shale gas (provisionally victorious), those in the indigenous communities of Latin America who fight against oil and mining multinational companies, etc.

All of these struggles — local, regional or national — are essential in several aspects: a) they slow the race towards ruin; b) they reveal the value of collective struggle; c) they foster anti-systemic (anti-capitalist) consciousness.

Fortunately, in the last paragraph of his book, Richard Smith takes interest in the concrete dimension of the struggle for ecosocialism by welcoming the rise, throughout the world, of struggles against the destruction of nature, against dams, pollution, overdevelopment, chemical and thermal power plants, predatory extraction of resources, the imposition of GMOs, the privatization of communal land, water and public services, capitalist unemployment and precariousness.

Today, we have a growing wave of global “awakening” — almost a massive global upheaval. This insurrection is still in its infancy, and its future is unsure, but its radical democratic instincts are, Smith believes, the last and best hope for humanity.