Category Archives: Politics

Nordic Inspiration

Anu Partanen

I’ve recently read ‘The Nordic Theory of Everything’ by Anu Partanen. Anu Partanen is a Finnish woman married to an American man and living in New York. She contrasts the extraordinary differences between the USA and the Nordic region; how they organise all aspects of society, from education and social policy to taxation and business creation, and how these differences shape individual lives and relationships. It’s a great book and I cited it in my recent talk in Hereford.

She blends extensive academic research with personal anecdote to paint a vivid picture of the two systems. Of course there are differences between the five Nordic countries, as there are between the fifty states of USA, but there is a huge gulf between USA and the Nordic region. Interestingly she chooses not to paint a simple dichotomy between more socialist and capitalist ideologies, and barely uses either of these terms, preferring to talk about the purpose and function of a system. She sees a clear purpose underlying the general direction of policy in the Nordic region, the overall objective being to build strong, happy, healthy, independent, self-reliant individuals, capable of forming strong relationships, families and communities. The implications of this are enormous. The concern is for the welfare of all the people, and therefore equality is central. Providing excellent health, childcare, education and other opportunities for all people flows from this. Children start school later, have shorter school hours and minimal testing, and yet massively outperform USA and UK, in large part because children are less stressed and all schools equally well resourced.

She shows how much greater stress Americans live under. Everything seems designed not for the happiness of the people but rather for the vested interests of corporations whose sole interest is in maximizing profits. But this does not lead to America being better for business. It seems rather to result in a lot of confusion, conflict and stress.

It is not surprising that the Nordic countries have systems of proportional representation, where political representation accurately reflects how people vote. Recent elections in Finland have produced a very interesting coalition government, made up of five parties, including the Greens, and that very quickly they announced some of the most ambitious carbon reduction goals of any country. This is such a contrast to the chaos and division that are ruining life in USA and UK. We have so much to learn from the Nordic region. Tragically UK under Boris Johnson seems set to emulate Trump’s America.

In ‘the Nordic Theory of Everything’ Anu Partanen frequently refers to ‘the Nordic Theory of Love’ as the underpinning principle of the Nordic system. She draws on previous work by Tragardh and Berggren who wrote about ‘the Swedish Theory of Love’. In my talk I extrapolated further, and used the term ‘the Global Theory of Love’ to mean taking these principles of nurture and care for the wellbeing of all individuals to the global scale, and speculated as to the possibilities of providing Nordic quality public services to all humanity, while redirecting the global economy towards ecological renaissance. A phase I used a number of times in the talk was that ‘Everything needs to change, and fast!’ This is true to combat the climate emergency, but the same changes could also be used to bring about a wellbeing revolution. It’s a big and complex concept, and in my talk in Hereford last week I tried my best to make it comprehensible. I hope, at least to some extent, I succeeded.

Please Vote Green!

Ellie Chowns lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands

Ellie Chowns lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands

The European elections are upon us. Voting in UK is on Thursday. In other EU countries it is variously on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Results should start emerging from about 10.00pm on Sunday. These elections are crucially important.

Humanity faces an existential crisis: Climate breakdown, ecological collapse, myriad forms of pollution, insane levels of inequality are all indicative of the need for our species to radically change direction. The far right essentially want to double down on the current path of greater inequality and pollution. The old centre politicians tend to pay lip service to these problems while trying to carry on with business as usual. Only Green Parties offer a solid programme of action to address all these problems in a concerted way. Greens stress the benefits of working to build greater social solidarity, within our local communities, across our continent and around the World.

The UK sends 72 MEP’s to sit in the European Parliament, three of whom are from the Green Party. The latest polls show the Greens gaining four or five more seats, to make seven or eight in total. Brexit may, or may not, go ahead: we simply don’t know. The MEP’s we elect on Thursday may sit for the full five year term, or only a few months, if Brexit does indeed go ahead. Either way, it is important for more Greens to get elected.

The Greens have substantially less money to pay for leaflets and advertising than the other parties, and get less TV and radio coverage. However the recent local election results were very positive and show how their grassroots support is building in local communities right across the UK. There are some great videos that are helping get the message out. Do please watch the truly remarkable Majid Majid, ex Lord Mayor of Sheffield and lead candidate for the Greens in Yorkshire and Humber Region. Also, please watch this latest video from Ellie Chowns, our excellent lead Green candidate in the West Midlands Region, and you can see her leaflet here. Both these two people stand a good chance of being elected. Please, wherever you live in UK or across Europe, do vote this week, and do please vote Green.

Greens Electoral Breakthrough!

Greens win in Hfds

Greens celebrate victory. Here in Hereford gaining 3 seats, and 194 across the country, spread across 122 councils.

Green Councillors

These local elections saw the total number of Green Councillors leap from 173 to 362

The full results of the local elections from England and Northern Ireland are now in, and they are, across the board, wonderful. The Green Party has had the best results in its 47 year history, with a net gain of 194 councillors. The Liberal Democrats have also done exceptionally well, quite possibly their best night ever, with a net gain of 703 councillors. Locally focused independent councillors have made net gains of 662. Meanwhile the Tories had net losses of 1334, Labour of 82 and UKIP of 145.

Bizarrely many Labour and Tory politicians, and many of the media commentators, are interpreting this as the people ‘just wanting to get on with Brexit’. This seems to me to be utter nonsense. LibDems and Greens are the most strongly pro EU membership parties, and they both made historic gains, while all the parties advocating Brexit, from UKIP, to the Tories, Labour and the DUP all lost seats.

Of course in these local elections local factors played a key role, but so too did the national political chaos, and what I’d argue is perhaps equally important, the ecological and climate crisis. Greens, and to some extent, LibDems, are more internationalist, and also more locally focused: they are less consumed by the gossip inside the Westminster bubble, and more concerned with addressing the real issues facing humanity.

These election results provide dozens of really heartening examples of positive change, and none of them are being determined by those inside the Westminster bubble. Here in Herefordshire our local Green Party had a local alliance with a local party called ‘It’s Our County’ and with a number of Independents, and we all gained seats, as did the Lib Dems, all at the Tories expense. Thus the council has shifted from being Tory controlled to having no overall control, which I’d argue is good for democracy, and opens up the possibility of huge change. Our Green group slowly went from one councillor to four over the last 5 or 6 years. On 2nd May we added three more.

In my last blog I wrote about the nature of political change. Of course elections matter, but so too does non-violent protest and the two are ever so closely related. On the doorstep I had as many conversations about Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes for Climate as about Brexit. Many people are as inspired by the clear moral and factual leadership of Greta Thunberg as they are repulsed by lies and narcissism of the likes of Boris Johnson. The window of what is possible to talk about is shifting. Discussing radical action on the ecological and climate crisis is now permissible in a way in which it was not a year or two ago.

I’m looking forward to the Euro elections on 23rd May with glee! I’d expect the Greens and LibDems to have another excellent set of results. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both terrified of these elections, and may do a deal on Brexit just to avert having to fight them. To make such a huge and long term decision based on very short term and narrow party political considerations would be both insane, and typical of politics within the Westminster bubble.

Over the coming months there is so much I’d like to do. I hope to work with my seven Green Party councillors to see how we can continue to grow, and to work with our local Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes groups to plan our next steps after their extraordinary achievements of the last few weeks, and I plan to restart giving my talks and leading discussion evenings about envisioning a radically different and better future. Our local car sharing club will be getting a loan of a hydrogen fuel cell car, and hopefully also buying an electric car to replace one of our diesel cars. All these aspects of change, be they party political, non-violent protest, changing the technology we use, or leading discussion evenings, they are all so closely interrelated and part of the same necessary process of change. A better future is possible, but only if we make huge changes on multiple fronts simultaneously, rapidly and globally. Our political system seems incapable of rising to the climate and ecological crisis: therefore we need to change the political system, from within and from the streets, globally and rapidly.

Political Change

crowds in Khartoum

Huge crowds in Khartoum demand Bashir step down.

School strikes for Climate Action take place all over the World. Today, here in Hereford, outside Jesse Norman MP’s office.

We need political change. The global ecological and climate crisis demands it. The insane levels of inequality demand it. Positive political change happens in many ways, at different levels of government, over differing timescales in different regions of the World. Today I want to celebrate a few small victories, and flag up the possibility of others.

Yesterday in Sudan President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a coup after months of popular protests. In my youth I spent time in Sudan and have followed its politics ever since. The protestors are clear they want an inclusive, democratic government not military rule, and so the street demonstrations will continue. I wish them well and share with them the hope for a rapid and peaceful transition to democracy.

Achieving good governance is a long and slow process. The five Nordic countries are generally perceived to be the best governed countries on Earth, and the fact that they have low levels of inequality, ever more ecologically inclined policies and high rates of wellbeing are of course all related. Costa Rica is one of the best governed countries on Earth, and last year I posted a blog about what it is achieving. I’ve blogged before about good governance in Uruguay and inspiring new leadership in Ethiopia and Spain. Political progress is always hard won, often slow, but it can be cumulative and build toward something really worth striving for.

In Europe the forces of right wing popularism are being challenged by positive, socially inclusive and ecologically orientated parties, notably the Green Parties, as I wrote about in blogs reporting recent Green gains in Bavaria, Luxembourg, Belgium, and then in Hesse. Last week I came across the wonderful Swiss activist group Operation Libero.

As Brexit crumbles into ever greater farce we face elections in UK: local elections on 2nd May and European elections on 23rd May, and quite possibly a General Election sometime soon. Due to our antiquated First Past the Post system the Westminster elections will inevitably produce a government that fails to reflect people’s real feelings or ideas. I’m much more excited about the possibility of change that comes at the local level, and here in Herefordshire the Green Party could well take a few more seats. I’ll be out tomorrow in Leominster as part of one of the Green Party’s Big Days Out. The European elections are really important, and are fought under a proportional system, so it makes sense to vote for what you really believe in. The Green Party of England and Wales currently has three MEPs and I hope they’ll add substantially to that number on 23rd May. Here in the West Midlands we have a good chance of getting Ellie Chowns elected!

Although voting is important, non-violent direct action has a massive role to play. Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strike for Climate movements are both doing vitally important work, and today I joined them in lobbying my MP, Jesse Norman. So much to do, but none of it without hope!

The Decline of the BBC

MEPs on Question Time

MEPs on Question Time, over a 5 year period, 35 MEPs appeared, all anti EU fanatics (33 UKIP 2 Tory). Where were the knowledgeable pro EU MEPs? 

The UK is in a political mess. It is more deeply divided, more confused and more misinformed than at any time in my life. I lay the blame for this in large part at the poor quality of our media. The decline in how the BBC covers news and current affairs is of particular concern. I’ve given up with their TV and radio reporting of serious issues, and only scan their website to see what issues they are prioritizing, rather than with the expectation of really learning anything.

How our relations with the rest of Europe have been covered has been dreadful for decades. The above graphic shows the number of MEP’s on the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme over a five year period. All thirty-five times MEP’s appeared on the programme they were anti EU fanatics, thirty-three from UKIP and two anti EU Tories. Most of these anti EU MEPs don’t even turn up to debates and are staggeringly ill-informed and prejudiced. For decades the voices of people who have a deep understanding of the complexities, strengths and weaknesses of the institutions of the EU have been systematically silenced. I’d love to see Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party MEP for the SW England, given as much TV exposure as Farage, then the public would have much better understanding of the real issues. It’s not just the Greens who have some good MEPs who actually have a lot of knowledge of and respect for the EU. All parties, bar UKIP, have such people; it’s just that the BBC and much of the rest of our media ignore them.

George Monbiot wrote an interesting article in the Guardian about how the media like to portray politics as an individual psychodrama. This focus on a ‘cult of personality’ prism through which to view politics obscures the real issues and the impact they will have on ordinary people. In terms of the Brexit debate all the media focus is on will Theresa May survive, will Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg or Jeremy Corbyn be the next prime minister. If Brexit does indeed go ahead it will affect the lives of all of us in the UK in deep and profound ways, which quite frankly are more important than who happens to be in number 10 Downing Street.

One error that the BBC has made is to think that having two opposing views represented is necessary to reflect balance. Over the years every time climate change was discussed they would invite a so called climate sceptic to counter the position of a climate scientist. This distorts reality. Equating someone from an oil industry spin machine dressed up as a ‘think-tank’ and giving it equal weight to someone expressing a factually well informed view of scientific reality is ludicrous. Again, with Brexit, the BBC seems to think it is OK to have someone spout things that are simply factually wrong, as long as at some other point in their programme they have someone else putting a different point of view, even if that too is factually wrong. The job of journalism is to speak truth to power, and this is something the BBC and much of the rest of our media seem to have lost sight of. Whether it is the breaking down of the biosphere, the self inflicted calamity of Brexit or any other serious issue, public understanding of the issues if often woefully poor, and for that the BBC and the media must take some of the blame.

Extinction Rebellion in Hereford

Extinction Symbol

Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.

Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.

The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.

As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.

Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.

We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.

 

USA & Guns

Gun ownership, and people being killed by guns, are way higher in USA than in any other developed country. More like a war zone!

Gun ownership, and people being killed by guns, are way higher in USA than in any other developed country. More like a war zone!

Another day: another mass shooting in America. Today it was in Chicago. America seems to be at war with itself. These mass shootings grab the headlines, but it is homicides and suicides where the majority of the deaths occur. The graph above shows just what an outlier USA is in relation to most other developed countries. The horizontal axis shows gun ownership per one hundred people, and the vertical axis shows gun related deaths per 100,000 people. The diagonal line shows the overall trend that the more guns are owned in any given society the more people are likely to die from gun-shot wounds.

In 2014 USA had 33,599 gun deaths, while Japan had just six. As Japan has a population of 126 million, to USA’s 325 million, if American levels of gun death decreased to Japanese levels we might expect about 16 or 17 deaths per year in America, not over thirty-three thousand. We hear most in the media about mass shootings, and sometimes deaths in war, but these are tiny numbers compared with suicides and homicides. In 2016, another typical year in America, of the 33,594 gun deaths, 22,938 were suicides, 14,415 were homicides (of which only 71 were in mass shootings) and 1,305 were in other ways, including accidents and war casualties. (here)

The damage caused by guns in America is huge. It is also a political choice. America could massively reduce gun violence. It could make obtaining guns very much more difficult, as it is in most countries. In Japan getting a gun licence is extremely difficult and involves multiple layers of checks and paperwork, which clearly explains why deaths due to guns are so low in Japan. But it is not just Japan: Singapore, South Korea, Holland, UK, Chile and many countries have low rates of gun deaths, as the above graph shows.

Restricting access to guns is an obvious first step toward reducing gun violence. Reducing the extreme inequality in USA would also have an impact, as inequality generates stress, mental illness and anger. Curbing hate speech would also help. But the American constitution allows the right to free speech, which is often taken to include hate speech, and it also allows the right to bear arms. The American constitution looks hopelessly out of date.

In the recent midterm elections several significant victories were won by candidates advocating stronger gun control laws. Some, like Lucy McBath, were elected to congress, and many more to local state legislatures. They will have a long fight ahead of them to reduce gun deaths in America where the pro gun lobby is insanely powerful and well funded.

No other developed country has anything like the American levels of gun ownership and gun death. Reducing the rates of death can only be achieved by the American people making bold political choices, and that has to start with reducing access to guns.

Where access to guns is lower, of course, homicides and suicides are likely to be carried out by other methods. Many countries have higher rates of suicide than USA. All countries have much to do to change policies toward violence and self harm. However, this is not a reason not to restrict access to guns in America, but rather a reminder that all countries have much to do to reduce the causes of violence and self harm. I’ll explore some of these wider issues in a separate blog.

Hooray! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: rising star and climate radical

The American midterm elections are over and what they reveal is something very similar to what is happening in Europe; the rather flabby, corporate centre ground is collapsing and voters are moving out to the extremes. In Europe, where most countries have at least half a dozen parties in their national parliaments these trends are reflected as the emergence of some parties and the contraction of others, whereas in USA the trends take place within the Republican and Democrat parties. In a blog a couple of weeks ago I looked at the growth of Green parties in elections in Belgium, Luxembourg and the German state of Bavaria. Since then the German state of Hesse has had elections that reinforced this message, as again the traditional mainstream parties lost ground to both the far right AfD and to the Green party.

The best analysis of the midterms that I have read has been Paul Mason, and he is very good at identifying the demographic groupings that are driving the Trump phenomenon and its antidote, a much more socially caring and ecologically literate movement of more urban, educated, cosmopolitan and racially diverse people. Within the Democratic Party they form a democratic socialist grouping. For years Bernie Sanders was just about the only person representing this more radical perspective. Paul Mason identifies many of the emerging people and ideas within this movement. I want to focus on just one person. If Trump embodies all that is bad, then, for me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodies all that is good.

In a Tweet the meteorologist and commentator Eric Holthaus described Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “the only American politician I’ve ever seen with a climate change plan that is in line with intergenerational justice.” She also has some refreshingly radical ideas on inequality, gun crime and much else that is so dysfunctional about American society.

Action on climate change in America has been lead from academia by people like Mark Z Jacobson, through the courts by Our Children’s Trust and though grassroots campaigns by the likes of 350.org. Now at last these people have someone within the House of Representatives who really is focused on the same kind of actions that they are demanding. Millions of us around the World are delighted to see someone like Alexander Ocasio-Cortez emerging as a true leader, and I for one would love to see her become President of USA. As she is only twenty-nine years old she has time ahead of her, but why not as the presidential candidate in 2020? Who better?

British Politics & Brexit

The Peoples Vote March: possibly a pivotal moment of change for UK politics?

The Peoples Vote March: possibly a pivotal moment of change for UK politics?

The tectonic plates of British politics seem to be shifting in bizarre ways. David Cameron called the referendum on EU membership mainly in order to heal splits in the Conservative party. Now both the Conservatives and Labour are more deeply divided than ever. Extreme Brexiteers dominate the leadership of both parties. So we have the old Socialist Corbyn forcing the Labour shadow cabinet into supporting Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, the DUP and their far-right pro Brexit agenda. The far right seem caught up in fantasy of recreating the British Empire and the far left into creating a 1970’s style Socialist fantasy. Both leaderships seem totally out of touch with reality.

The People’s March against Brexit took place in London last Saturday. About 700,000 people took part, making it the biggest demonstration in the UK since the anti Iraq war demo in 2003. I couldn’t be in London on that day, but like countless others was with them in spirit. Seeing the photos and comments on Twitter I clearly missed what was a very good natured but determined event.

Ever since we joined the EU it has been the butt of many jokes. The UK’s negotiations have always been portrayed as US against THEM. This whole Brexit nightmare has made many people take stock and realize the many extraordinary achievements of the EU and the benefits of membership. More and more people seem to be identifying themselves as European. We might also be British, but that is becoming the weaker affiliation. We see this most strongly in Scotland, where many people are saying, if the price of keeping the benefits of EU membership is breaking up the UK and going for Scottish independence, then, so be it. Also in England, Wales and Northern Ireland more and more people are identifying themselves as Europeans.

The Brexiteers won the referendum based on a pack of lies, cheating and illegal spending. It is now time to have a People’s Vote on the outcome of Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU. Clearly staying in the EU must be an option, and all the opinion polls now indicate that remaining in the EU would be the most popular option.

A growing number of politicians support this point of view. Many of them spoke at the huge demonstration in London last Saturday. Perhaps they could form some kind of National Coalition Government to extricate us from the chaos of Brexit. It would certainly be interesting to see a government made up of say, Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party, Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru, Vince Cable from the LibDems and perhaps Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Chuka Umunna and Andrew Adonis from Labour, with maybe Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Kenneth Clarke and John Major from the Conservatives. We might bring in a few people from outside Parliament, such as Femi Oluwole. I’m sure that this cross party grouping could cooperate much more effectively than either our current cabinet or the shadow cabinet!

Greens Gaining Ground

Katharina Schulze

Katharina Schulze, co-leader, (with Ludwig Hartmann) of the Bavarian Greens

Yesterday there were three important elections across Europe, and Green parties did very well in all of them. Traditional Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties did not do well, losing ground in most cases. For parties of the far right it was a very mixed picture.

The conservative CSU have ruled Bavaria since the 1950’s, for most of that time with a comfortable absolute majority. In yesterdays Bavarian regional elections their vote fell to 37.3 %, so still the largest party, but a historic low for them. The Green vote more than doubled, from 8.6% to 17.8%, putting them in second place. The far right Alternative for Deutschland won 10.2% of the vote, giving them seats in the Bavarian Landtag for the first time, where, worryingly, they’ll be the fourth largest party.

In Belgium there were regional elections across the whole country and Greens did well from the francophone south to the Flemish north, and in cosmopolitan Brussels. Across Belgium the far right Vlaams Belang got utterly devastated.

Luxembourg had national elections, in which the Greens were again the biggest winners, increasing their vote from 10.1% to 15.1%, which puts the Greens as the fourth biggest party.

In a growing number of towns and cities across Europe the Green Party are now the largest party. As of this morning several new places join the list, from the small town of Amay in Belgium, to cities like Wurzburg and Munich in Bavaria. Congratulations to all the local campaigners involved, and to the pan European Green Parties: well done!