Category Archives: Politics

Understanding Ukraine

Ever since my youthful travels in Eastern Europe in the 1970’s and 1980’s I’ve been interested in the region. I had one or two friends of Ukrainian origin, but like most British people, or like most West Europeans, I knew remarkably little about the country.

Since the full-on Russian invasion of 24th February 2022 I have been trying to follow events and to read as much as possible. Generally the British media has been very poor at covering the situation. In my book ‘System Change Now!’ I added a postscript, written in April 2022, informed in large part by a number of excellent commentators from the eastern regions of Europe. I stand by all that I said in that postscript, but since April much has happened, and many lessons are there to be learnt.

On this blog I usually single out a person of the year, and a technology of the year. For me the technology of the year has been the You Tube video: it is how experts can get complex and important messages out, when the mainstream media is obsessed with trivia and a welter of un-reflected upon events.

This blog’s person of the year award goes to Timothy Snyder whose lecture series ‘The Making of Modern Ukraine’ has helped me, and millions of others, even many Ukrainians, better understand their history and from that basis how better to understand the current war. It is a series of 23 lectures presented to students at Yale University and to the world via You Tube. Each lecture is about fifty minutes long, twenty presented by Professor Timothy Snyder and the other three by guest lecturers, so watching them all is quite a time commitment. I have watched all 23, and a couple of them I’ve watched all through a couple of times, and made notes.

I do recommend watching the whole series in order, from one to twenty-three to get the broad sweep of the last couple of thousand years, as rival empires and cultures influence events in what gradually becomes modern Ukraine. Lecture 20 in the series is presented by Professor Marci Shore and focuses on a couple of key periods, around the 2004 elections, and then the winter of 2013 to 2014 with the Maidan protests and the grassroots building of democracy. The final lecture in the series, presented by Timothy Snyder, explores why we in much of Western Europe, and in Russia, misunderstand events in Ukraine in large part by our failure to properly come to terms with our own imperial past, and how that shapes our current misinterpretation of events. Essential watching!

Governance: Snakes & Ladders

Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland (on the left) & Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia (on the right). Two of the best world leaders, representing two of the best, and most rapidly improving, systems of governance.

Over time some countries become better governed, and some worse. I would argue that the state of British Democracy has been declining, certainly since the Thatcherite revolution of 1979, but increasingly so since the 2016 Brexit referendum. (Jonathan Freedland traces the increasingly delusional nature of British politics since the 2016 Brexit Referendum and this 10 minute video of George Monbiot skewering neoliberalism is well worth watching.)

Meanwhile in some other countries democracy, life expectancy, prosperity, education, health service provision and environmental protection all improve. Over the last century and a half Finland has transformed itself from poor and unequal to prosperous and equal. Since shaking off Soviet shackles in 1991 Estonia has made extraordinary strides forward, with rapid improvements to life expectancy, the economy, society and democracy.

While Boris Johnson and Liz Truss are personifications of corrupt and failing neoliberal ideologies, Kaja Kallas, the Estonian Prime Minister, and Sanna Marin, the Prime Minister of Finland, embody good governance. They have both been strong in their support for Ukraine. Domestically they are leading on all manner of good, socially inclusive and ecologically literate policies. Just one example is how Estonia is dealing with the energy crisis: they had a goal of 40% renewably generated electricity by 2030, and have just ramped up their target to 100% by 2030.

Finland, and to a lesser extent Estonia, provide a model of governance that I seek to extrapolate from in my book ‘System Change Now!’ and use as a template for highly decentralized global governance.

We in the UK are desperately in need of a general election and a new government. I would love to see that new government led by Caroline Lucas. Keir Starmer is not exactly inspiring or full of great ideas, but he would certainly be an improvement on Liz Truss. The UK needs to step back from decades of neoliberal chaos and the delusional nonsense of Brexit. I would love us to rejoin the EU and adopt more Finnish systems of governance. We have decades of damage to undo!

Green Gains, Again…

Green Councillors in England & Wales 1974 to 2022

The growth of Green politics continues. Across the UK local elections were held on 5th May 2022. The conservative party lost a lot of seats, with Labour, LibDems, Greens and SNP all gaining seats. Today I want to look briefly at elections in the UK, Australia and Germany.

The Green Party of England and Wales now has 550 seats, and the increase in seats has been increasingly rapid over these last three or four years, as the above graph shows. Most weeks there are the odd few local by-elections, and over the last few weeks the story of Tory collapse and Green gains continues. Many of us are now working hard to make sure that the next local elections in May 2023 result in even larger increases in the number of Green councillors.

5th May also saw local elections in Scotland where the Greens went from 19 to 35 seats, an increase of 16 seats. Again the Tory vote collapsed with Labour, LibDems, SNP and Greens all gaining ground.

Since the federal elections in Germany in September 2021, when the Greens made significant gains, there have been regional elections in a number of the regions of Germany, and again Greens have gained vote share in all of them. On 8th May Greens gained ground in Schleswig-Holstein and a week later they made impressive gains in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Australian federal elections were held on 21st May. As with the UK local elections, we have witnessed the collapse of the incumbent right wing government. The Australian Labour Party is now the biggest party, but what has been of particular importance is the breakthrough of the Green Party, and of a group of Independents, who some are calling the Teal Independents, as they combine some fiscally conservative policies with greener environmental policies. Queensland, and its’ capital Brisbane, had for decades returned right-wing climate denying politicians, and it is here that the Green have made their greatest gains.

If we are ever to reverse the multiple crises we face (climate/ecological/economic) it is clear we need a very different political system, everywhere. These latest election results in UK, Germany and Australia are all small but necessary steps in bringing about that wider system change.