Category Archives: Politics

The end of Neo-Liberalism?

Grenfell Tower

The Neo-Liberal obsession with cutting ‘red tape’ (fire regulations, building regulations, building inspectors etc) contributed to the disaster at Grenfell Tower.

Since the Thatcherite revolution of 1979 a neo-liberal ideology has dominated politics. Rolling back the state, low tax, low regulation unrestricted capitalism have been the central tenets of this worldview. Wealth has trickled up, further enriching the very rich while the majority have seen living standards stagnate or fall. Levels of inequality have risen dramatically. It was an ideology that was especially dominant in UK and USA, and Trump, May and the Brexiteers are the real extremists of this policy direction. The tide seems to be turning. The need to build stronger social and environmental legislation seems more apparent than ever.

The Grenfell tower block fire has brought into sharp focus several of these issues. The obsession with cutting red tape included watering down fire regulations and cutting back on building inspectors and other council services. The fact that flammable cladding materials were used rather than fire resistant ones just to save a tiny amount of money has cost the lives of many people. David Lammy and Jeremy Corbyn have shown empathy and leadership entirely lacking from May and her cabinet.

Poor air quality causes much illness and death and it is an issue which can be greatly helped with the right legislation, but this government continues to drag its feet and is only spurred into action by the legal challenges of ClientEarth and the European Union. The same can be said for the banning of dangerous agricultural chemicals such as glyphosate and the neonicotinoids where this government seems to be on the side of corporate interests at the expense of public safety. On climate change Trump, May and the neo-liberal extremists always line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry and against the interests of people and planet.

Many cities, regions and countries are realising the benefits of stronger environmental, safety and human rights regulation in stimulating a new cleantech economy which prioritises the needs of the many and not the few, the planet and not the polluter. A new worldview is emerging that has not yet got a name. It is pluralistic, pragmatic, cooperative and collegiate, socially and ecologically responsible. Corbyn taps into a part of it, Macron and Merkel to other aspects of it, perhaps in many ways the Greens fit best, but no one group has all the answers: we must work together to overcome the destructive dominance of neo-liberalism and create something very much better.

In much of Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, neo-liberalism never held such dominance, and they have more socially and ecologically responsible governments. We should withdraw article 50 and remain in the EU. Together we can repair the damage that 38 years of neo liberalism has created and that the Brexiteers will only make worse.

Theresa May’s Coalition of Chaos

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn, moral victor of the General Election, and possibly soon to be Prime Minister?

In last week’s blog I wrote about the emerging chasm between scientifically and socially responsible governments and reality denying nationalistic despots. Britain now has a weak and unstable minority Tory government dependent on the backing of the DUP. The DUP are a very weird bunch who dismiss climate change and evolution, are virulently homophobic, anti abortion and socially regressive, and deeply connected to protestant paramilitary terrorism. Those Tories who have more scientifically and socially responsible attitudes must be deeply unhappy with Theresa May’s leadership. I do not expect this government to last very long.

Climate change and other macro ecological symptoms of contemporary consumerist culture were hardly mentioned throughout the campaign, with the predictable and honourable exception of the Green Party. Caroline Lucas did increase her majority, but tragically no other Green MP’s were elected.

The case for Proportional Representation is overwhelming. The DUP got ten MP’s from just 292,316 votes, whereas the Greens got just one MP from 525,371 votes. All six of Cornwall’s MP’s are Tories, yet they got less than 50% of the county’s votes. With PR the UK would now probably have a progressive, scientifically and socially literate coalition government, offering far greater strength and stability than the hapless Theresa May can hope to achieve.

The result is a personal victory for Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the most blatant mudslinging from the Tory press he has led Labour to greater success than most people thought possible just a couple of weeks ago. Out canvassing in Herefordshire and Bristol I found a strong degree of enthusiasm for him that I’ve never seen for any leader of one of the main parties. Many people who had never voted before did so because of him and the sense of hope that he embodies.

The emerging progressive alliance has notched up some successes: sadly not nearly enough. I had hoped Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party would beat Jeremy Hunt in South West Surrey, and it would have been good to have seen a few more Tories lose their seats to LibDems and Greens. With Theresa May leading a weak and unstable government another election seems very probable in the not too distant future and a better government may yet emerge.

Carole Cadwalladr and a number of other excellent investigative journalists have been doing great work uncovering the web of dark money that is so corrupting the democratic process in countless countries. The DUP seems to have been the recipient of rather a lot of this dubious funding. (See Ramsay & Geoghegan, also Monbiot). Now that they are pivotal in government no doubt more information will emerge. Negotiating a Brexit deal now seems impossible given the corrupt and illegitimate nature of this Tory-DUP coalition of chaos.

Global Political Divisions

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver joins Caroline Lucas, Jesse Klaver and Isabella Lovin as one of my political heroes.

On this blog and in numerous talks I’ve put forward the case that the prime political divisions can no longer be seen as left/right, but rather socially and ecologically literate on the one hand and oil addicted nationalistic despots on the other.

It looks like Trump is on the verge of pulling the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The US House Intelligence committee has issued subpoenas to Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen in the latest instalment in the Trump-Russia saga. There is certainly a huge overlap between Putin and Trump as they struggle to keep the global carbon bubble economy going. Both Trump and Putin are irrelevant. When it comes to finding solutions to the biggest issues facing humanity, from climate change to poverty, they either are in denial of the problem or simply don’t care. Other, more intelligent, socially and ecologically responsible politicians are taking leadership roles.

A few days ago there were elections in British Columbia. Andrew Weaver, inspirational leader of the BC Greens and a professor of climate science will now be an influential figure in John Horgan’s New Democratic Party government. Expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline was one of the defining issues of the election and the result is a great victory for those of us standing up to big oil and their puppet politicians.

The EU and China look set to rebuff Trump and to increase political commitment to the Paris agreement and to intensify cleantech collaboration. They will want partners in North America. Canada, with Justin Trudeau, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver involved will have much to contribute. As the Federal government in Washington collapses into irrelevance individual states and cities are increasingly stepping up to take leadership roles. In April Isabella Lovin and the Swedish government delegation signed a climate cooperation agreement with California Governor Jerry Brown, simply bypassing the idiocy of what passes for politics in Washington these days.

Britain’s role in the world is rapidly diminishing as the Brexit buffoons lead the country into increasing inequality, isolation and irrelevance. Globally constructive solution focused thinking is being led by pioneering left leaning Greens and right of centre pragmatists like Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping, who do certainly have their differences but are united in seeing the need to tackle climate change and to bring the post fossil fuel economy into being, and to doing it collaboratively.

Terrorism, Hate & Love

Terrorist attacks

In the aftermath of the Manchester bombing it is heartening to see the vast majority of the population drawing together in support of the victims, their families and the emergency services, strengthening the very sense of social solidarity that all terrorists seek to undermine.

During my lifetime I’ve seen successive waves of terrorism come and go. In the 1970’s ETA, IRA, RAF and others committed many bombings and now thankfully they’ve all given up: now Islamic Jihadists and Neo Nazis predominate. Many years ago I was studying Social Anthropology at LSE and I read a paper called ‘Intercommunal Killing in Cyprus’ by my tutor, the late Peter Loizos. The paper explored the interface between the psychology of the individual perpetrator and the surrounding community that fosters and encourages ideologies of hatred. Individual terrorists may operate alone but they are always encouraged and inspired by some community of people expressing hatred toward some other rival community or social group.

It seems to me the only long term and effective solution is to foster ideologies of love, of social inclusion, social solidarity, pluralism, diversity and egalitarianism. After the Paris bombings in November 2015 I wrote a blog expressing something along these lines. It’s been said before and it’ll be said again. The only way to defeat terrorism is to make it unacceptable to stoke the fires of hatred. I think it was Jimi Hendrix who said ‘when the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.’

Political Realities, Political Dreams

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron

While the Trump presidency teeters towards impeachment and Britain blunders into Brexit and a dreadfully divisive general election, one might ask, ‘where is there hope?’ Had France elected Marine Le Pen they too would have followed UK and USA down the path of chaos and division. Instead they voted overwhelmingly for Emmanuel Macron. Macron has blown apart the entrenched tribal party-political divisions of French history. He has selected a gender balanced cabinet of 11 men and 11 women. What is significant is that he has brought in people from many different backgrounds and political parties, and importantly from non political backgrounds in civil society. He will have many challenges ahead.

Macron seems to want to follow a Nordic model, creating a system that is good for business, focused on modern cleantech innovation, with strong environmental and social policies and deeper integration at the European level. Bringing in Nicolas Hulot, the former Green presidential contender, to head the Ecology ministry seems a good move. The wide spectrum of talents he has brought into his cabinet looks very encouraging.

Unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, is high in the old rustbelt of north-east France, and along parts of the Mediterranean coast, and it was these ‘left behind’ people who voted for Le Pen. Macron has said he wants to renovate one million poorly insulated homes. This seems a very sensible move as it creates more jobs relative to the money invested than just about anything else, while cutting fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of the economy as a whole.

Here in UK More United have Crowdfunded to support candidates who support their pro-European values of openness, tolerance, social inclusion and cleantech innovation. Let us imagine what would happen if they grew exponentially over the next couple of weeks and had a decisive impact on the general election. Who might be in a cabinet of all the talents, inspired by what Macron is doing in France? Caroline Lucas of the Green Party keeps winning polls and accolades that say she’d make a great prime minister. I’d like to see Molly Scott Cato as chancellor, Vix Lowthion at education, Andrew Cooper at energy…but these are all Greens: we’d want others. Dr Louise Irvine at health perhaps shared with LibDem Norman Lamb. Vince Cable could be good back at business. Labour’s Chuka Umunna would be good on electoral reform, and Jeremy Corbyn clearly has a talent for community engagement and social inclusion. The old one nation, pro-European Tories like Ken Clarke and John Major might have a role to play in reversing Article 50 and working with the EU. Bringing in people from outside politics might be crucial, like Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of ‘The Spirit Level’ to look at how to make Britain a more socially just society. Jeremy Leggett and Hugo Spowers would be brilliant showing how cleantech innovation could be used to transform the British economy. I might even find a role for myself in my own dream team!

Heroes of British Democracy

Dr Louise Irvine and support

Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party, with Labour, LibDem & Green supporters

We live in very worrying times. In little over three weeks the UK will have a general election. The democratic process is vital to improve the human condition, yet globally it is under threat like never before. A free press is also fundamental. Today I want to highlight a few of the people I see as heroes in the struggle to protect British democracy.

Carole Cadwalladr has written some of the best investigative journalism since the days of Woodwood and Bernstein and the Watergate investigation. In this important article she shows the corrosive effects big data, big money and some very unpleasant people seeking to influence, and to undermine, the democratic process on a global scale, including the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump.

The Brexit referendum was dominated by big lies. For me the one person to emerge as a hero from the whole process was Gina Miller. She is now busy organising a tactical voting campaign. More United, Compass, Make Votes Matter are three of the many organisations working to try and get greater cross party cooperation to improve the functioning of British democracy, and all very much worth supporting.

What is unfolding in the constituency of South West Surrey is particularly interesting. It is the seat of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who is being challenged by the excellent Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party. I blogged before about what is happening to the NHS and this constituency contest encapsulates that bigger struggle. Locally Greens, LibDems and Labour all wanted to stand their candidates down and unite to support Dr Irvine. The Labour leadership has stupidly expelled the Godalming three and imposed a candidate on the constituency. Looks like the LibDems are also putting up a candidate. As far as I can see the only way of defeating the right wing BluKip hegemony with their big money backers is by very much greater cooperation in some kind of progressive alliance.

The Progressive Alliance is having a launch event in London tomorrow, Monday 15th May. Many Labour and LibDems members are supportive, but the leadership seem reluctant to stand their own candidates down and support rival candidates. The Green Party is much more wholeheartedly in favour. The situation is still fast moving and it may yet be the case that the spirit of cooperation will prevail.

In many constituencies the number of people who do not vote exceeds the numbers who vote for the winning candidates. If we can get these non-voters, and especially the young non-voters, to register to vote, and to vote, then maybe a miracle can be achieved and we can get rid of this ghastly government. In the meantime I’ll be busy helping in Herefordshire, where we have two great Green candidates, Diana Toynbee and Ellie Chowns, and with a couple more miracles they might win on 8th June!

Time for Change!

Caroline Lucas & Jonathan Bartley to head UK government???

Caroline Lucas & Jonathan Bartley to head UK government!?*

This week atmospheric Co2 passed 410ppm, the highest level for three million years. We are heading for a climate totally unfit for human civilization, a climate unseen for 50 million years, and we could get to this ghastly outcome within the lifetime of children alive today. Climate change is just one aspect of a wider Ecological Crisis that includes habitat loss, species extinction, ocean acidification, desertification and myriad forms of pollution. In the UK we also face a Social Crisis that has at its heart rising inequality and chronic underfunding of health, education, housing and other public services.

Since my adolescence in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I’ve been an environmentalist, and like most environmentalists then and now, also committed to social justice based on much greater equality. In those early days the only way of causing less polluting lives was to live simpler lives. We drew inspiration from Gandhi, Ivan Illich, Fritz Schumacher and then young Jonathon Porritt. An ecologically sustainable lifestyle inevitably meant using less energy. There were some futuristic writers, like Buckminster Fuller, who had visions of the future based on higher tech, but any truly sustainable source of energy supply was off in some distant future.

Over the last half a century there has been a cleantech revolution. Now we have the technology to provide a Swedish standard of living to all 7.5 billion of us humans. As I keep saying on this blog, technologically so much is possible. If we applied the principles of ecological sustainability and social justice systematically humanity could very quickly banish much of both the Ecological Crisis and the Social Crisis to history. We could create a carbon negative global economy with zero hunger and poverty. To achieve this we need different politicians. Why Sweden is rich and Somalia is poor has more to do with politics, history and culture than due to resources or possibilities. Why we in UK are living through a protracted period of austerity and Sweden is not is due to the different political decisions that have been made. While Sweden systematically applies goals of ecological sustainability and social justice the UK does not. We in this country currently have a government focused on further enriching a tiny clique of billionaires, and are prepared to trash the climate and the lives of our own people in order achieve this insane goal.

We have a UK general election on 8th June, and local elections on 4th May. Please register to vote, and please vote, ideally for the Green Party, but failing that for any politician you feel can contribute to getting rid of Theresa May and this awful government. The UK desperately needs a government that understands the Ecological Crisis and the Social Crisis and is prepared to radically redistribute resources to achieve the twin goals of Ecological Sustainability and Social Justice.

Citizen’s Income

De Koffie Pot

De Koffie Pot, home to the excellent ‘Politics, Environment & Ethics’ weekly workshops, every Wednesday

Last night in Hereford we had an excellent evening discussing Citizen’s Income. Perry Walker of Talk Shop chaired the session and Dr Malcolm Torry from the Citizens Income Trust led a fascinating talk and discussion. To quote from the Citizen’s Income Trust introductory pamphlet ‘A Citizen’s Basic Income is an unconditional, automatic and nonwithdrawable payment to each individual as a right of citizenship.’ The Trust’s work focuses on the practical possibilities of implementing such a scheme in the UK. Related organisations exist to promote the concept in other countries, and indeed on a global scale. I’d long supported some kind of global scheme, but in the current political climate this seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Some interesting short term (usually 2 years) and local (just covering a few villages) experiments in Citizen’s Income have been tried in Namibia, India, Canada, Finland and elsewhere over the years. The Namibian example in particular looked to be a very successful way of improving the lives of the some very poor people. In an analysis of the scheme the Basic Income Earth Network make clear that the scheme was not extended due to corporations who want to keep labour cheap and people disempowered. To some extent this may be the case everywhere, but possibly things are beginning to change for a number of reasons.

In UK and elsewhere as more people juggle multiple very short term and insecure jobs with means tested benefits this becomes ever more costly and complex to administer. The system’s complexity disincentivises claimants from telling the truth and keeps them stuck in welfare dependency. Couple this with the rapid expansion of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics and the number of jobs available is liable to plummet. The right wing Putin/Trump/May/Global Corporate line seems to be to create a new class of serfs or insecure day labourers harking back to early 19th Century work patterns. The emerging alternative supported by Green and left leaning parties around the world seeks to promote equality and develop the possibilities for personal growth in a more leisured society, by shortening the normal working week and a host of other measures, a key part of which is the implementation of Citizen’s Basic Income. Many on the right now see a Citizen’s Income as increasingly necessary and the only way to tackle welfare dependency. Last night’s talk convinced me of the importance of more people joining the Citizen’s Income Trust and helping in whatever way they can to get this sensible and practical policy implemented as soon as possible.

Last night’s session was part of the ‘Politics, Environment & Ethics’ sessions at De Koffie Pot. Every Wednesday: highly recommended, free admittance, very friendly and empowering. If you’re in the area why not join us? Check-out the website to see what’s on.

Two Wins in an Epic Struggle

Greens Win in Leominster and in Knowsley

Greens Win in Knowsley and in Leominster

Yesterday we saw two acts of historical folly. Donald Trump signed an executive order to nullify Obama’s climate change policies. Theresa May signed a letter to the EU triggering Article 50 and the start of the Brexit process. May and Trump share a vision of the future which seems totally focused on further enriching the tiny class of billionaires, even at the cost of trashing the environment and pushing millions of people into poverty. Globally the fight-back is gathering pace. Those wanting a more socially just and ecologically sustainable future have an epic battle on their hands.

In the States Bernie Sanders is travelling the country encouraging people, particularly young people, to get stuck into politics and to stand for office at every level. Globally millions of tiny battles must be won in order to create the change we want to see. Those millions of victories need to happen quickly. Last Thursday, 23rd March, two tiny but important steps forward were made. The Green Party of England and Wales won two resounding victories.

Here in Herefordshire Trish Marsh won the Leominster South seat on Herefordshire Council. In a five horse race she got 41% of the vote, more than double the second placed candidate. I helped deliver leaflets and was impressed with what a big team we now are, and how much better organised and motivated we are now than in the past. On the same day in Knowsley, Merseyside, Kai Taylor won a resounding victory, getting 75% of the votes to Labour’s 25%.

On 4th May there will be local elections across the UK, for local councils, new mayoral positions and also the Gorton, Manchester, by-election. These are perhaps the most important and unpredictable elections I can recall. Both the LibDems and Greens could do well as a result of the emerging shambles of Brexit. At the last general election Gerald Kaufman had a 24,000 vote majority in Gorton. Once that might have been considered a safe seat, but now it could go any number of ways, with both the Lib Dems and Greens hopeful of victory. Of course I’m hoping Jess Mayo wins it for the Greens.

Globally the Trump/May agenda of ecological destruction and social injustice has the funding of billionaires. To oppose them the rest of us will need to pitch-in politically, get organised, put in time and effort, chip-in financially and learn to cooperate locally and globally in various progressive alliances. It will require the efforts of many millions of people. No small undertaking: but it is happening. Please help in this epic and existential struggle in whatever way you can.

The Politics of Hope & of Hate

Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling the Swedish statistician, who died in February. A powerful advocate for a better, more caring future.

What’s going on in the World? It seems to me that old definitions of left and right are rapidly becoming obsolete, or at least are morphing into new forms. Humanity faces the existential threat of climate change. People are starving to death in Somalia. Globally millions are fleeing poverty or simply seeking a better life in a different country. The world is urbanizing at breakneck speed. There seem to me to be three broad camps emerging.

The mainstream is under attack, and in many places the political parties that embody this philosophy are seeing support collapse. Tony Blair, John Major and Hilary Clinton are politicians who represent this old centre ground, close to the interests of bankers, relaxed about growing inequality and only prepared to take action on climate change as long as it didn’t seriously disrupt existing business models. This centrist position is under attack from two very different perspectives.

On the one hand we have the Trump-Putin-Farage camp of xenophobic, right-wing populists, who deny climate science in order to keep the fossil fuel driven economy going and to protect the economic interests of a tiny clique of billionaires. These demagogues, like all demagogues, ‘protect the rich by getting the poor to blame the weak.’ (A succinct definition from Alain de Botton) Hence the travel bans, incitement to racism, attacks on the institutions of democracy from the courts to the media, the web of lies in order to undermine calm rational debate. The revival of fascism is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, yet fascist ideologues from the 1920’s such as Julius Evola are now back in fashion!

On the other hand there is an emerging green worldview. Clean air and unpolluted water and a healthy biosphere are seen as fundamental human rights. Climate change is understood to represent a challenge of paramount urgency. From this perspective leaving the vast majority of the world’s known fossil fuels in the ground is seen as necessary. A very rapid ramping up of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures represents a huge economic opportunity. Social inclusion and economic equality are seen as fundamental objectives. Taxing all forms of pollution, closing tax loopholes, increases in top rates of taxation are all seen as necessary in order to fund excellent health and education for all. Multiculturalism is to be embraced as is gender equality. I’ve recently blogged about Jesse Klaver in Holland and Isabella Lovin in Sweden who both personify this emergent Green politics and in a UK context I’d cite Caroline Lucas and Molly Scott Cato.

In a traditional left – right dichotomy environmental protection, investments in health and education and other aspects of ‘big Government’ were seen as being against the interests of business. However from the emergent Green perspective they can be seen as complementary. In a blog last month I cited a report from the World Economic Forum that judges Sweden to be both the best country on Earth in which to do business and the one with the best systems of health, education and environmental protection. Essentially it is a well functioning modern state. By contrast the UK and USA are becoming less economically competitive partly because they don’t have such healthy and educated populations and are riven with social problems stemming from inequality. The fact that Sweden is committed to phasing out the use of fossil fuels by 2045 is a moral imperative to tackle climate change: it is also a business opportunity. Many examples could be cited, but an interesting one is the steel industry, which currently emits vast quantities of Co2. Sweden is the first country in the world planning to switch from coal to renewably generated hydrogen to run its blast furnaces, so creating new economic opportunities while reducing emissions.

In international development we see the contrast perhaps most strongly. The new despots collude with global corporations to maximise short term profit and exploit poor countries, with Liam Fox’s Empire 2.0 and Donald Trump’s America First policies as typical. Meanwhile the emergent Green worldview is highly internationalist. Multilateral cooperation is fundamental. As the wonderful Swedish statistician and epidemiologist Hans Rosling argued, it makes sense in every way to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals as rapidly as possible. All 7, 8 or 9 billion of us humans could have Swedish levels of prosperity if we shared resources better, cooperated to reduce conflict, pollution and inequality and jointly developed the cleantech of the future. As I keep arguing in these blogs, technologically and philosophically, providing high quality, universally inclusive, food, shelter, electricity, education and health services is achievable: politically it will be extremely challenging.

What is needed is for millions of people to pitch-in and join the political movement that is trying to establish the politics of hope not hate. Green parties around the world are at the heart of this process. So too is building alliances with mainstream parties who are more slowly beginning to see the opportunities that a radically different, more ecologically sustainable, socially just and globally connected world might entail.