Category Archives: Politics

Local elections and emerging trends

Bristol has 70 councillors: Now 24 each for the Greens and Labour, 14 Conservative and 8 LibDem, after this week’s dramatic gains for the Green Party

On Thursday 6th May there were the local elections in England, Scotland and Wales, and slowly over the days since the results have come trickling in. They reveal a number of interesting trends.

The first is that these have been another outstandingly good set of election results for the Green Party. Their vote share went up in most regions of England, Scotland and Wales. There were no elections in Northern Ireland. The Green Party of England and Wales gained an extra 88 councillors, and were very close to winning a number more. Bristol was perhaps the biggest achievement, gaining 13 new councillors and where the Greens and Labour each now have 24 councillors. Green made impressive gains in many counties of southern England, from Kent and East Sussex to Suffolk and Norfolk, and also made impressive gains in northern cities such as Burnley, Birkenhead in the Wirral, Kettering in North Northamptonshire, and in Shrewsbury and Oswestry in Shropshire. They made gains in many other places. All this bodes very well for the future of Green politics.

The second major trend is the very different directions the various countries and regions are headed. Scotland is fired up for probable independence and a strongly Nordic policy direction firmly geared toward regaining a place in the EU, and promoting a wellbeing focused economy. The SNP remain the dominant political force in Scotland, but the party which gained the most seats was the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, sister party to the Green Party of England and Wales, and they can happily work with the SNP. Boris Johnson and right-wing populism have no appeal in Scotland, and post-Brexit unionism is looking increasingly like outdated English imperialism. Labour and Liberal Democrats in Scotland lost more ground, linked as they are to the union.

The Labour party lost ground in the traditional working class northern towns, but they remain strong in many other parts of the UK, especially where there is a distinctively local leadership asserting its independence from central control. Mark Drakeford in Wales and Andy Burnham in Manchester are two good examples where the case for a radically devolved politics is being forged, and both proved electorally popular.

Richard Murphy wrote an insightful blog about the intellectual bankruptcy of the traditional three main parties. Boris Johnson is pursuing a populist, divisive and corrupt form of governance that will inevitably end in disaster. Murphy sees this creating a political void, waiting for a new and hopeful path. May I suggest that it is the Green Party that fills that role? The climate and ecological emergency requires a new political direction. It is significant that many of the new councillors for the Green Party are climate activists, keen to provide the political leadership needed to bring about the required changes.

A globally unified, yet highly decentralized network of regions seems to me to be a way forward as we confront the monumental challenges left to us by the dying era of nation states, of fossil fuels, of pollution and plunder. The Green vision of the future is gaining ground globally. We don’t have all the answers but we are committed to giving it everything we have. The path has to be one of peace, of sharing and of justice. Justice of every kind: economic, social, political, racial, of climate justice and resource use justice. That requires global transformational change. We saw a little bit of it at these local elections. We will see more in the German Federal elections in September. Millions of small steps are being taken by people in many communities around the world. The old order is crumbling; the new one is struggling to be born.

Time for a Progressive Alliance

Miriam Margolis is spot on. What to do about it?

Perhaps the time has come to form a progressive alliance, with a view to forming a national coalition government? There are many urgent challenges that need to be addressed. Here are my top ten demands. Could a coalition be formed around these issues?

  1. Support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.
  2. Support: 100% renewable energy, Agro-ecological farming & rewilding.
  3. Reverse the disaster that is Brexit: Rejoin the EU.
  4. A public inquiry into the Covid pandemic.
  5. Electoral Reform: A Proportional system of voting is needed now.
  6. Reverse economic policy: higher taxes and better funded public services.
  7. NHS funding should be increased, for-profit health companies banned.
  8. Radical decentralization: funding to be focused through local authorities.
  9. Bring in a Universal Basic Income for all.
  10.  Slash defence spending by 90%.

My list of ten demands may sound pretty radical. It may not be possible to unite around such an ambitious set of policies. However, something along these lines seems essential. Let us at least start the kinds of conversations that might help build a progressive alliance.

What is the best possible cabinet we could imagine? There are lots of people from outside parliament who I think would be excellent, but let us limit ourselves to just current MP’s.

Let us start with the twelve MP’s who are sponsoring the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. Caroline Lucas (Green) tabled the bill, and was supported by Alan Brown (SNP) Claire Hanna (Social Democratic and Labour Party) Wera Hobhouse (Liberal Democrat) Clive Lewis (Labour) Liz Saville-Roberts (Plaid Cymru) Stephen Farry (Alliance) Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru) Tommy Sheppard (SNP) Alex Sobel (Labour) Zarah Sultana (Labour) and Nadia Whittome (Labour).

These twelve represent a broad sweep of party political opinion, regional and ethnic diversity. It is far from a comprehensive list. Would some former Conservative MP’s support such a coalition? Many are deeply unhappy with the current government. Perhaps John Major or Dominic Grieve would be useful in the conversation? Having both Jeremy Corbin and Tony Blair in on this might add something?

Most important from my point of view would be to add the voices of young people, especially those in the Friday’s For Future school strikes movement, but sadly they are not represented within our existing political system. Bringing down the age of voting to 16, 14 or indeed younger might be another vital aspect of electoral reform.

Covid & Disaster Capitalism

The Covid pandemic is now about one year old. It is just over a year since the first person in the UK died from it. The response to the pandemic has been very different in different countries, and this has led to very different outcomes. As of today the UK has had 4.21 million cases, resulting in 124,261 deaths. New Zealand by contrast has had 2,398 cases and only 26 deaths.

The extraordinary differences in these outcomes is attributable to the very different actions of the governments of these two countries, especially during the first days and weeks, in February, March and April last year. New Zealand, under Jacinda Ardern, listened to the science, closed borders and locked down early. It quickly and cheaply developed an effective track and trace system, and kept transmission rates low.

UK, under Boris Johnson, talked of ‘taking it on the chin’ and boasted of shaking hands with everyone in a hospital where people had the disease. Like Gove, Johnson has contempt for experts. Instead they were over influenced by some crazy ideas about herd immunity. Thousands of British people paid with their lives for this ideological nonsense.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed and Rebecca Davis, writing in Business Maverick have plotted the links in a bizarre disinformation network featuring Cambridge Analytica and a strange organization called Panda (standing for Pandemics: Data & Analytics) which have been promoting an ideological anti lockdown agenda, claiming it is bad for business. Much of the Tory right wing shares this dysfunctional libertarianism, not least Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson.

Paradoxically, but not surprisingly, this so-called pro-business ideology has been disastrous for business. The UK has suffered badly economically, as well as in health terms, due to Covid becoming widespread. New Zealand on the other hand, by shutting down early nipped the infection in the bud and have since had less economic restrictions and costs.

But maybe from the point of view of the ideologues of the far right and for the Tory government things are going more or less to plan. According to the principles of Disaster Capitalism crises are opportunities to create change and bring forward ever more extreme free market policies, to roll back the state, and an opportunity to simply make money. Many ridiculously lucrative contracts have been awarded for dubious quality PPE, a track and trace system that cost billions and yet didn’t even work, but all opportunities to make money for the governments friends and supporters. One of the largest American health insurance companies is buying up GP practices across London, and the derisory pay rise offered to nurses are all symptomatic of this governments desire to undermine the NHS and to profit from its privatization. From this ghastly perspective Covid has been a splendid opportunity, and they have grasped it, and increased their wealth, power and influence. They have done so at the expense of many peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Of the UK population many of us are incandescent with rage at this government, but apparently nowhere near enough of us. According to the latest opinion poll the Tories are 13% ahead, so this government are very pleased with themselves. They have created a disaster and profited handsomely from it. Welcome to the weird world of Disaster Capitalism.

Carbon Emissions: Billionaires & the BBC

Last summer I wrote a blog about the carbon emissions of billionaires. This week an interesting article was published in The Conversation where two economic anthropologists from Indiana University looked in more detail at the individual carbon footprints of twenty of the richest people on the planet. Their findings reveal that the individual carbon footprints varied from Michel Bloomberg’s 1,782 tons to the staggering annual emissions of Roman Abramovich at 31,199 tons. In my blog I’d estimated the carbon emissions of all, or nearly all, billionaires to be over 1,000 tons. I’d also implied that their average would be even higher than this, and some individuals would be almost unimaginably high emitters. This new data backs up my previous blog.

Global average carbon emissions are currently something around 5 tons per person. Many people have miniscule carbon emissions, of perhaps a few kilograms or even just a few grams. The vast majority of such people are small scale African or Asian subsistence farmers. Some people who are doing ecologically regenerative farming systems will have negative carbon footprints, meaning that the carbon they are sequestering in the soil is more than that they emit in other ways. I follow lots of African climate activists of Twitter and many of them are doing amazing projects setting up tree nurseries, clearing up plastic pollution, educating about ecology and setting up ecologically restorative farming systems.

Meanwhile BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting Bill Gates’ book ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. It is a pretty awful book, concentrating entirely on technological innovation and ignoring the vital aspects of social innovation and climate justice. Last week I reviewed Jason Hickel’s book which focuses on the absolute need to move to a post capitalist economy to combat the climate and ecological emergency. I could recommend dozens of other books, maybe hundreds, that are much better than Bill Gates’ one. So why are the BBC reading his one? Is it because he is a billionaire, and the BBC really has become a mouthpiece for the greedy global elite? As the figures published in The Conversation reveal Bill Gates’ personal carbon emissions are 7,408 tons. Rather than write a book his time might have been better spent looking at his own carbon footprint.

Last month I posted a blog about the people who have inspired me over the last year, and I named three young women activists from Africa who all are doing great work on climate, ecological and social justice: Patricia Kombo from Kenya, Kaossara Sani from Togo and Oladosu Adenike from the Lake Chad Region. I could have added many more names to this list. Africa is bursting with great climate activists. Why does the BBC focus on Bill Gates? Is it because he is a rich white man from America and not a poor black women from Africa?

There are many great books and ideas about how to adequately address the climate and ecological emergency. Most call for some pretty radical changes implying huge social, economic and political change as well as technological change. Why do none of them get coverage on the BBC? Is it because the BBC has become too deeply embedded in the present social, economic and political system that they cannot contemplate any challenge to this system, even when it is glaringly obvious that this needs to happen to avert climate, ecological and social breakdown?

An Open Letter to World Leaders

There is an open letter from young climate activists to world leaders stating their demands of governments. It was written by Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Anuna de Wever van der Heyden and Adelaide Charlier. They sum up the global situation with admirable clarity and to me their demands are sensible. They are seeking more signatures to this letter.

Please read the letter and sign it. The more of us do so the more the media and world leaders will pay attention. Thank-you.

The Disunited State of America

It is with a huge sense of relief that the Trump presidency is over. It is too early to say how things will work out under President Biden, but his actions over these past few days seem very positive. He has signed up to the Paris climate agreement, cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, and rejoined the World Health Organisation and a host of other good initiatives.

Commentators are discussing the deep divisions in American politics. Many are saying that these go back to the 1960’s the Vietnam War and the liberalizing of social values. I think that the roots of division go very much further back.

Ever since its inception the USA has been a country of bizarre contradictions. It was founded upon colonialism, slavery and the genocide of Native Americans and it remains a country of extreme inequalities. Yet it often portrays itself as a beacon of peace, justice and democracy. These contradictions run deep.

USA has long trumpeted democracy while covertly backing coups and installing far right regimes abroad, often with the backing of UK and other governments. Jason Hickel lists some of them: Iran in 1953, Guatemala 1954, Congo 1961, Brazil and British Guiana in 1964, Ghana 1966, Indonesia 1967 and Chile 1973, to name but a few.

What is much less well known is the history of the American’s Nazis during the 1930’s and of a plot led by several wealthy businessmen to overthrow the democratically elected government of Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933.

Far right extremists have long played a major role in American politics. In 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, white supremacists burned the offices of the first black owned newspaper, murdered black people and forced the State government to resign, and because they essentially got away with it, this allowed the subsequent growth of the Klu Klux Klan. Much of the Christian church in USA is deeply racist, and reminds me of the Dutch Reformed Church in Apartheid era South Africa.

In a very interesting article the political economist Blair Fix analysis American history through the lens of class struggle. Over the last forty years inequality has rapidly grown more extreme, with mass impoverishment accompanied by extreme and excessive increases in wealth for a tiny minority. It is high time for the neo-liberal era to come to an end.

The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was a day to celebrate. The young poet Amanda Gorman’s stirring poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ captured this joyous moment in the tangled history of America. Let us hope that America can move forward in the spirit of reconciliation and hope that Gorman calls for. The extent of the climate and ecological emergency, mass impoverishment and deep social divisions are all major challenges requiring a bold new direction, and early indications of the new administration are looking very promising. However the forces of the far right will oppose their actions every step of the way, in ways that may be democratic or deadly.

Brexit and the Bigger Picture

The UK has left the EU. The Brexiteers have had their way. The media coverage of the EU and the forces that pushed for us to leave it has been woeful for decades.

George Monbiot, I think quite correctly, sums up the drive for Brexit as being one aspect of a war within capitalism. What he refers to as housetrained or domesticated capitalism has just lost one major battle in its struggle against the forces of warlord capitalism. Watch this excellent 6 minute video or read this blog from George.

Mark E Thomas in his book ‘99% Mass Impoverishment and How We Can End It’ examines this struggle within capitalism. His chapter four, on what he refers to as ‘market fundamentalism’ is more or less what Monbiot refers to as Warlord capitalism, and it is an ideology that has chilling ramifications. Market fundamentalism sees democracy and the needs of the vast majority of humanity as a burden. It prioritizes wealth accumulation of the richest few over absolutely everything else.

To my mind market fundamentalism, or warlord capitalism to use Monbiot’s term, is a terrifying philosophy, the logical outcome of which is total impoverishment for billions of people. Now our challenge is to overcome this evil through concerted action.

In a blog written just after the Brexit vote in 2016 I contrasted the strongly pro EU stance of Scotland under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership with the chaos that Brexit was about to unleash on the UK, and how these divergent paths would probably lead to the break-up of the UK. The paths Scotland and the UK are on continue to be ever more divergent.

Boris Johnson is the puppet clown front man, behind which the forces of market fundamentalism are destroying the institutions of the UK. Meanwhile Scotland has linked up with Iceland, New Zealand, Wales and Finland to form the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership (WEGo). It is the very antithesis of everything the market fundamentalists believe in. The two forces are in conflict. Which one wins may well determine humanity’s future. The market fundamentalists care not a jot about the climate and ecological emergency, WEGo is our best hope to tackle these issues and to do so in a caring and compassionate manner. (I shall write more about WEGo over the coming months)

Molly Scott Cato, one of our finest MEP’s, together with the German MEP Terry Reintke, posted a blog looking forward to a better future and a time when the UK rejoins the EU. I for one remain both European and British, locally Herefordian and globally engaged. Brexit is not over now, nor will it ever be. I look forward to us rejoining the EU.

There is a global struggle of epic proportions. On the one side the market fundamentalists and on the other an emerging network of activists and governments promoting planetary and human wellbeing. In a way the break-up of the UK or our membership of the EU are minor skirmishes in this epic struggle.

USA: A Failed State?

Armed men, spurred on by their President, seek to ‘liberate’ the capitol building in Michigan. This is not how civilized countries operate: more like a failed state.

The USA is increasingly looking like a failed state. It could be on the verge of civil war. I sincerely hope not. Their mad, narcissistic President seems actively to be encouraging civil war, with his tweeting to armed white supremacists to ‘liberate’ state capitol buildings, and with tweets such as ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’.

Since the murder of George Floyd protests have erupted across America. Yet another black man murdered by a white police officer. Slavery and colonialism are what America was founded upon. Racial injustice has a long and tortured history. Current police brutality opens old wounds. Healing will require more than just an end to police violence. Deep structural change is urgently needed.

The Covid pandemic reveals interesting contrasts between different systems of social and economic organisation. Covid has resulted in over 40 million job losses in America, and only a few hundred thousand in most European countries, and losing ones job in USA often means losing health insurance and possible destitution. Americans live under extraordinary levels of stress and worry. Inequality levels are extreme. In Europe workers often sit of company boards and have helped mitigate the negative impact of Covid on the labour market. When people are made redundant the welfare system in Europe is generally vastly better than in USA.

While millions of Americans are facing real economic hardship others are sucking countless billions out of the system for their own insane vanity. Any system that allows billionaires to exist is clearly failing to collect the taxes that are required to create social justice. There was something deeply symbolic as Elon Musk’s private SpaceX rocket orbited above the heads of impoverished, angry and brutalised Americans.

Under Trump America has quit the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organisation. These are the actions of a country imploding in upon itself, unable to fulfil its international obligations. America is heavily indebted and increasingly likely to default. Less a superpower: more a basket case.

Even the American Constitution, which for decades was held up as a beacon of democratic values looks hopelessly flawed. The right to free speech has resulted in a tidal wave of hate speech. The right to bear arms has resulted in far right militias who make USA look increasingly like war torn Somalia or Syria.

And yet for all its many failures America still has some hope. It has many great people. They deserve better. There is currently a struggle going on for the soul of America. Will it follow Trump down the road of ever greater inequality and division, or will it find a path to a better place?

Electoral Dysfunction

We’ve had a week or so to digest the UK general election results. The case for electoral reform has never been stronger. The LibDems increased their vote from 7.4% to 11.6%, an impressive 4.2% increase, yet got one less seat than previously. The Green Party increased their vote by 60%, to 864,743 votes, but still only the one seat. About four dozen parties got at least 500 votes each, several getting many tens of thousands of votes, but still no seats. The SNP increased their vote share by less than the Greens, yet their cohort of MPs shot up from 39 to 48, meaning that for each 25,882 votes they got an MP, as the above graphic from the Electoral Reform Society shows.

Labour lost 61 seats and gained one. Their vote share slumped from 40.0% to 32.2%, a fall of 7.9%. They continued to lose ground to the SNP in Scotland and now have lost much of the traditional Northern working vote to the Tories. Ironically, had we had Proportional Representation, Corbyn would now probably be leading a broad left of centre coalition of Labour, LibDems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens, which would have included 18 Green MPs.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives got only 43.6% of the vote, but that yielded them 365 MPs, a comfortable working majority. The Queen’s speech reveals more of the tone and direction of this Johnson led Tory Party, heavily influenced by Dominic Cummings. Out go any respect for science, fiscal responsibility or factual reality, in comes simplistic populism, preening narcissism and unfettered corporate greed.

The outcome of this general election is of course disappointing, but to me at least, it was not surprising, given our antiquated voting system, the toxic influence of huge flows of dark money, the use of psychological warfare techniques and the agenda of the billionaire owned newspapers. The media pitched the election as a contest between Corbyn and Johnson and many people voted for the one they hated least. Sadly few people felt they could truly vote for what they believed in. To reflect the breadth of opinion we need more parties in Parliament contributing ideas in a more cooperative and collegiate manner, as is the case in most of Europe, where, of course, Proportional Representation is the norm.

Protests

People in Beirut, Lebanon, celebrate the Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation, but will stay on the streets demanding system change.

Protests are kicking off all around the World. In Lebanon, Chile, Iraq, Hong Kong, Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, Pakistan and Russia and in many other places there have been anti government demonstrations. The school strikes and extinction rebellion movements touched nearly every country on Earth, with their demands for action to be taken over the ecological and climate crisis. Most of the media reporting covers each demonstration as a separate story and the focus is usually to magnify visually photogenic dress or on any violence, however tiny this is in relation to the total event. Serious analysis of what impels all these many millions of people to take to the streets and what links all the various actions seems very inadequate.

The BBC in a rather bland and disjointed article did try and make a few linkages about people’s frustration over inequality and government corruption, and mentioning in a rather disconnected way the climatic and ecological emergency. Will Bunch, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, gave some good historical background on Chile and the malign influence of American foreign policy, and how both countries now have such dangerously high levels of inequality as a direct result of a toxic economic ideology.

Francisco Anguitar, a demonstrator in Chile said “We’re asking for justice, honesty, ethical government”, a sentiment no doubt shared by many. The question is what does ‘justice, honesty and ethical government’ look like in the current global situation? Recent revelations about the extent to which Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change and then systematically organised a massive disinformation campaign over several decades come as no surprise to many of us. Governments consistently promote corporate interests over public health. Air quality in our cities is atrocious, but nobody expects governments to take the required action. Inequality grows ever more extreme. Governments may come and go but the ruling oligarchs and the corporate interests they represent remain unchallenged. They control the media. Public frustration and anger grow ever greater, opening up dangerous possibilities.

The vast majority of the people demonstrating all over the world want peaceful change. They want a degree of social and ecological justice simply beyond the scope of anything that gets much coverage in the media. If change does not come quickly and peacefully the ever growing levels of public frustration and anger could led to violence and chaos. Recent Syrian history is a warning.

During the Arab Spring peaceful protesters in Syria were met by ever greater levels of repression and violence by the state. People felt impelled to protect themselves and their communities. The violence escalated into a multi-sided and intractable civil war. Some increasingly credible visions of a dystopian future see such strife escalating to become a totally global phenomenon.

Private jet aircraft embody social injustice and climatic destruction. Sales of such planes are increasing. In any conceivable future that is both ecologically and socially just they simply could not exist. The co-existence of billionaires and the very poor is the result of an economic system that was designed to create inequality. Taxation systems need to be redesigned to create radically greater equality both within and between countries. Any billionaire anywhere on Earth is evidence of a failure of economic justice. What the people are demanding is for the austerity that has been directed at the poor be redirected towards to the rich, and the affluence and resources that has flowed to the rich be redirected to the poor until some degree of economic justice is established. And to do all this while rapidly cutting carbon emissions and all other forms of pollution, and restoring the Earth’s wonderful biodiversity. A big ask, and one that requires system change, globally.