Monday, 20 February 2017

Stop Trump - One Day Without Us Immigrants - London Protest - Photos and Report

Thousands gathered in Parliament Square, London, in a protest organised by Stop Trump and One Day Without Us campaigns, as MPs debated the petition signed by almost two million Britons in Westminster Hall.

The Stop Trump Coalition aims to build a movement led by those most impacted by Trump's policies and rhetoric. There will be further protests leading up to Trump's state visit, if, as seems likely, it goes ahead in the summer.

A separate protest out side the Home Office earlier in the day was held to demonstrate against the the deportation of Erioth Mwesigwa back to Uganda where she was gang raped by soldiers. She was imprisoned, raped and interrogated because her husband was suspected of opposing Uganda President Obote. She has been refused refugee status in the UK.

Writing ahead of the Parliamentary debate on the Left Foot Forward website, Amelia Womack, the Green Party deputy leader said:

"Post-Brexit Britain risks ending up just a sad echo of the US, where many poor Americans voted in their millions for Donald Trump in the futile belief he would bring back long gone manufacturing jobs and offer respite from poverty. Now they can only watch as he lines his cabinet with Wall Street elite and stages photo opps in front of his gold and diamond encrusted front door."

"And although the Brexit vote set off this whole chain of catastrophic events, it also proved the same point that One Day Without Us events are making today. A breakdown of voting patterns in the referendum revealed the areas most affected by immigration were the least concerned about it."

"People fear the unknown, but the truth is that migrants contribute hugely to our society. They’re our friends, families and colleagues. Let’s hope today really is only one day without them and not a frightening indicator of the dystopian, insular future we’re heading towards."

A message to those MPs inside Parliament debating Trump's state visit from Londoners. We don't want Trump in our city, which is a diverse and harmonious place, people like Trump threaten our multi-ethnic way of life. Stay away Trump, you are not welcome in London.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Beyond the limits of nature: an Ecosocialist view of growth and degrowth

Written by Eleanor Finley and first published at Entitle Blog

For more than two centuries, a critical narrative has emerged problematizing economic development, consumption, and growth. While its terms and definitions have shifted over time, the underlying logic remains the same: human society is growing too fast, faster than the limits of nature can accommodate.

In order to avoid global catastrophe by destroying the environment on which we depend, human beings must dramatically reduce the quantity of our own energetic and material consumption. Since the 2008 global financial collapse, a revised form of this analysis called degrowth has gained momentum among European environmental activists and Left academics.

In contrast to their predecessors who rejected the ‘industrial society’,  degrowth advocates blame capitalism as the engine of current ecological crisis. Joining a chorus of eco-socialists and radical ecologists, degrowth advocates argue that a planet of finite resources simply cannot sustain a social system based upon an axiom of production and consumption for its own sake.

In Can there be a socialist degrowth? ecological economist Giorgios Kallis argues that a tension is present between socialism and the apparent need for degrowth, arguing that a socialist society may not necessarily be post-growth, and thus ecologically sustainable. Such a conclusion rightly suggests that degrowth calls for the transcendence of traditional socialist concerns of labor, production, and technological advance. Yet, it does not yet account for how a socialist society may pursue growth along qualitatively different lines to produce a comfortable, materially abundant, and technologically sophisticated society.

In this article, I revisit the concept of growth from the libertarian socialist perspective of social ecology.  Social ecology, first introduced by revolutionary social theorist Murray Bookchin (1931- 2006), shares degrowth’s concern over the conflict between capitalism and nature. However, it rests on a fundamentally different core theoretical analysis. Social ecology situates capitalism within a broader historical development of domination and hierarchy, arguing that the current ecological crisis- including the problem of capitalism’s endless growth- cannot be solved without dealing with hierarchy in general.

Murray Bookchin

Here, I use insights from Murray Bookchin’s collection of essays Post Scarcity Anarchism (1970) to interrogate the limits of a degrowth conception of ‘growth’, and argue that we might find more opportunities for social and political transformation in social ecology’s analysis of post-scarcity and growth as ecological development.

Growth and Degrowth

The basic parameters of growth-centered discourse was established in 1798 by clerical scholar Thomas Malthus. In his highly influential work An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus warns against the rise of industrial society because it  removes the natural “checks” upon growth of the global population. In his work we find that technology, consumption, and population are linked in a tight causal progression:

“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second”.

In other words, the continuous death of poor people ultimately benefits society by keeping food available for the rest of us. This state of affairs is produced not by social systems, but by nature itself:

“Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them…Necessity, that imperious all pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds”.

In Malthus’s view, people are consumers, not producers. And while the “imperious” and “all pervading” laws of nature may give life to many organisms, they just as easily take life away. Famine for all is the inevitable result if society’s elites are unable to appropriately measure and restrain the existence and consumption of common people.

The post-war period in the U.S and Europe witnessed a reemergence in anti-humanism and population alarmism. In 1972, Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s elite transnational research group, the Club of Rome, published a highly influential text, The Limits to Growth, which sought to delineate the objective boundaries to global population by assessing “tangible, routable items, such as arable land, fresh water, metals, forests, the oceans”. The book represents a discursive shift from traditional Malthusian alarm over population onto the subject of societal ‘growth’. However, it too ultimately prescribes a rapid and immediate controls on global population and targets society’s most vulnerable members.

Inspired by population discourse, anti-humanist targeting of women, people of color, and the Global South penetrated the Radical Ecology Movement of the 1980s and early 1990s. Advocating “deep ecology” some adherents went so far as to advocate mass extinction and the eradication of human life altogether. Yet this sensibility extended to progressive ecologist and activists circles as well. For instance, the radical ecological journal EarthFirst! repeated injunctions against women having children. Rather than focusing on wealthy elites who control vast majority of the worlds wealth, Earth First! chided women to “Love your mother, don’t become one”.

Leftists, eco-socialists, political ecologists, social ecologists, and degrowthers alike have passionately critiqued population alarmism for its racist and sexist conclusions. They rightly point out that “industrial” society is in fact capitalist society; a system driven by unabated, blind exploitation the natural world for sale in the marketplace. The degrowth movement in particular has responded by calling on wealthy, consumer-driven post-colonial nations of the Global North to repay an ‘ecological debt’ to the Global South. They also promote feminist and ecological economics as an alternative form of economic valuation.

Nonetheless, degrowth draws the basic framework of its discourse from a tradition of economic thought underpinned by the hegemonic assumption of natural scarcity. Within this mindset, nature is approached as a finite pool of resources from which society detracts. The central problematic continues to be conceived as “growth”, and the solution continues presents itself inevitably as “restraint”. This mechanized account of the natural world derives from bourgeois society itself. We also see this represented in the discursive field of degrowth, which is dominated by quantitative terms such as “limits”, “surplus”, “consumption”, and “sustainability”. By definition, this economistic conception of the world flattens qualitative difference and reduces nature to measurable quantities.

While degrowth arguments are useful in policy boardrooms or economics classrooms, by ascribing political meaning to nature only for its “limits”, a degrowth framework is systemically incapable of transcending the conceptual framework which gave rise to the very problems it seeks to address. The “limits of nature” we conceive as scientific facts are just as much moral limits; boundaries that our sense of ethics refuses to cross. Yet a mindset of limitation and scarcity is precisely the mindset an ecological society must overcome.

Reclaiming Growth

The framework of social ecology offers a more nuanced account of the natural world and points the way forward for those seeking to build a socially just, rational, and ecological society. First, drawing from the work of Theodore Adorno, social ecology conceives of human society as located within nature, rather than outside of it.

Modern, bourgeois society has taught us to view society and nature in binary opposition. As the needs of society are seen in inevitable conflict with nature, political authority is legitimized as a mediator and a manager of society’s rapacious expansion. In contrast, social ecology recognizes capitalist society’s destruction of the natural world not as an inevitability, but as only one aspect of the human potential. We also have the capacity to intervene as a creative force that can “produce changes in an ecosystem that would vastly improve its ecological equality”. Social ecology brings clarity to the fact that our current predicament depends not on society’s scale or external limits, but rather its internal quality and ethics.

Social ecology emphasizes nature’s creative features; it’s fecundity, resilience, and open-endedness. Social ecology recognizes that organic entities are not finite in the same way as inorganic entities such as a rocks or minerals. Forests, for example, mature over time, acquiring qualitatively new attributes as well as greater degrees of diversity and differentiation. Bookchin referred to this organic unfolding as dialectical naturalism. The natural evolution of which humanity is a part is an open-ended dialectic, moving toward increasing degrees of differentiation, diversity, mutualism, and creativity.

Thus, rather than accepting bourgeois society’s picture of growth as endless appropriation and expansion, social ecology also invokes an alternative understanding of growth as qualitative development. An ethical society, infused with the recognition of humanity’s role within nature, actualizes ecological principles through moral and democratic institutions. Yet in order to do so, we need not to abandon sophisticated technology, material comfort, transportation, or leisure time. To the contrary, technology has a vital role to play in the realization of a liberated society.  By freeing human beings of onerous toil, machines liberate human beings to interact with the material world through the practice of craftsmanship. Bookchin calls this a “technology for life”,

“In a liberated community the combination of industrial machines and the craftsman’s tools could reach a degree of sophistication and of creative interdependence unparalleled in any period in human history…We could truly speak of a qualitatively new advance in technics- a technology for life”

Bookchin uses the term post-scarcity to describe the economic and cultural sensibility that underpins the development of a technology for life. While bourgeois society is characterized by the imposition of manufactured scarcity, a post-scarcity society cultivates an attitude of abundance. This sense of abundance does not live in the realm of ideology alone, it is also a lived reality practiced through ecological and democratic institutions. In this way, a post-scarcity society would enhance not only ecosystems, but also lead toward human life characterized by comfort, leisure, and intellectual, cultural, and social stimulation.

How might a post-scarcity society approach production, consumption, and the management of collective resources?

The economic principles and practices of a post-scarcity society can be described succinctly as a moral economy. Visionary historian E.P. Thompson coined the term moral economy to describe the presence of moral and ethical values in patterns of working-class and peasant economies. Self-interest and material need can only partially explain economic choices, even at the individual level. 

Equally important are conceptions of fairness, expectations of reciprocity, and social bonds. As an analytic device, moral economy calls upon social scientists to privilege our understanding qualitative economic values rather than quantitative measurement.

Social ecology invokes moral economy not only as an analytic device, but also as a normative principle. A moral economy can also be understood as one based on ethical principles of reciprocity, usufruct (or ownership by use), the abolition of property, and production for use and not profit.

Equally important to a post-scarcity society is the politicalization and democratization of the economy. The people who live in a given city, town, or neighborhood ought to have the power to directly manage the basic economic decisions which structure everyday life. It is not coincidental that the terms ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’ share the same etymological root, which is oikos, the ancient Greek term for household. The principles of an ecological society and a moral economy are one in the same.

As global climate and ecological crises worsen, the deeply intertwined nature of social, economic, and ecological life is growing more apparent urgent than ever. Degrowth attempts to address this problem by calling for a significant and rapid reduction of global production and consumption. Such a process constitutes human society reigning itself back within the limits of nature.

In this article, I have criticized some of the underlying assumptions of degrowth critiques, suggesting that our appeals to the ‘limits of nature’ are really appeals moral and ethical boundaries. On a social ecological framework, we might reclaim growth as development, and move toward a free, ecological, and comfortable, technologically sophisticated society.

Human beings have the ability to play an elaborative role in natural ecosystems that fortifies their stability while enhancing their diversity and fecundity. What is called for today is not restraint, but an unleashing of humanity’s creative, elaborative, and social potential.  Material degrowth can describe this process only partially. In order to achieve the kind of society the vast majority of degrowthers are after, we are tasked with integrating a de-growth prescription with a coherent movement for holistic social emancipation and popular political power.

*Eleanor Finley is an organizer and a board member at the Institute for Social Ecology, Vermont. She is currently doing her PhD in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where her research focuses on social movements, political ecology, and energy politics in Northern Spain.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Blair Seeks Redemption with call for Anti-Brexit Uprising

Photo credit: The Guardian

In a speech in London today to the pro-European Union (EU) campaign Open Britain, former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, urged the British people to ‘rise up’ against leaving the EU.

Pressed on whether he thought there should be a second referendum, he said: "All I'm saying is a very, very simple thing, that this is the beginning of the debate - that if a significant part of that 52% show real change of mind, however you measure it, we should have the opportunity to reconsider this decision.”

Blair, who was Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007, has never really regained his political credibility since his fateful decision to join the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The dodgy dossier, spin and downright lies employed by Blair to persuade Parliament of the necessity of the invasion, was laid bare by the subsequent failure to find  any weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

He struggled on as Prime Minister until 2007, but Iraq was the beginning of the end of Blair’s premiership. He was damaged goods and it was only a matter of time before the Labour Party moved to oust him.

In the intervening years, apart from regularly defending his decision to go to war on a false prospectus, Blair has always given me the impression that he craves to be back in the political limelight, but Iraq has hung like a millstone around his neck.

But it looks as though Blair has spotted an opportunity at redeeming his reputation by advocating that Britain should not leave the EU, despite last summer’s referendum in which a majority of the British people voted to leave. Brexit is of course the biggest political issue of the day, and so Blair is likely to get a hearing in the media, unlike perhaps his thoughts on the middle-east peace process, for example.

Blair is right to point out that the decision made on 23 June last year was a snapshot of the views of the British public, which doesn’t necessarily mean that this view can’t change, especially as the implications of leaving become clearer. We should remember too, that at 52%-48% for leave, this was hardly an overwhelming mandate anyway. Views can change, and do, one narrow decision on one day in 2016, cannot be set in stone forever.

The Lib Dems political revival is being built on a pro-EU platform, with some success, and it has surely not been lost on Blair that if they can be forgiven their broken promises when in coalition with the Tories, then why can’t he be absolved from past mistakes, when championing such a noble issue as the future good of the country?

Well, I’m not sure Blair has been forgiven, particularly by many leave voters who blame him, with some justification, for allowing the sharp increase in immigration from eastern Europe, when his government failed to apply a ten year ‘emergency brake’ on immigration, which was allowed under EU rules.

I listened to a political radio phone in show on the BBC last night, just as the news of Blair’s speech was breaking, and it was met with scorn by many of the callers. Even some callers who want to remain in the EU, although agreeing with Blair’s arguments, didn’t think it helpful that he personally is the messenger. That credibility thing again.

As one caller put it, ‘you can’t believe anything he says after Iraq.’

I’m no fan of Blair’s, he is one of the main reasons why I stopped voting Labour and joined the Green Party, but he may be onto something here.

At least he is issuing a rallying call to the 16 million British people who voted to remain in the EU, which may begin to lift the gloom that has enveloped many remainers. Particularly since Corbyn led Labour’s abject capitulation to the Tory agenda on Brexit.

Let us argue the case against the government’s reckless interpretation of this great political and cultural matter, whoever the messenger happens to be.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

London Council does Deal with Donald Trump’s preferred Developer for Housing Scheme

Protesters outside Wood Green Civic Centre where Haringey Council's Cabinet approved the development 

Haringey Council’s Cabinet committee in north London has confirmed that a £2 billion redevelopment housing scheme in the borough, will be carried out in partnership with the Australian building company Lend Lease. The company is the preferred construction management services company of the Trump Organisation, owned by US President Donald Trump. Lend Lease was given $200 million to redevelop The Old Post Office, in New York City, into what will be one of the newest additions to the rapidly growing Trump Hotel Collection.

The deal with the Labour run council will be 50% owned by the council and 50% owned and 100% managed by the property developer, and there is no guaranteed right of return for tenants or owners. The joint venture is known as the Haringey Development Vehicle. A final decision by the council is expected in the summer.

All of these estates in Tottenham are at risk of demolition:

Love Lane, Northumberland Park, Broadwater Farm, Somerset Close, Lido Square, Moira Close, Brookside House, Turner Avenue, Park Grove, Tredegar Road, Tunnel Gardens, Leabank and Lemsford, Reynardson Court, Imperial Wharf, Sky City and Page High.

The construction company has a chequered history, to say the least. They have admitted to a huge fraud scheme in New York, in which it overbilled clients for more than a decade and has agreed to pay $56 million in fines and restitution to avoid criminal charges. The company also admitted that it evaded government rules to hire a specified percentage of firms owned by minorities and women.

On the Old Post Office hotel development, the US Labor Department are investigating claims that that Lend Lease paid less than the minimum wage to workers on the project. “It’s yet another example of Donald Trump’s relentless hypocrisy and gross mistreatment of workers,” said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO union federation.

Another investigation by the Labor Department is looking into similar claims where a sub-contractor employed by the Trump organisation did not pay the minimum wage to workers on another hotel construction project in Washington DC. Many of the workers have admitted to being illegal immigrants, mainly from Mexico.  

On top of this an electrical contractor is suing Donald Trump's Organisation for $2 million, court documents show. The contractor, Freestate Electrical, alleges that Trump's company hasn't paid its bills for work it did on the hotel project last year.

In Australia, Lend Lease has been fined $200,000 in relation to the death of a rail worker and serious injuries suffered by four others near Maitland. The total amount of fines issued by the Industrial Court in relation to the incident is now $660,000 as well as prosecution and court costs in the thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, closer to home in London, the £1.5 billion regeneration of the Heygate council estate in Southwark which was undertaken by Lend Lease, the council’s documents show the council only got £55m from the 22-acre site, knowing that it has already spent £43.5m on the project so far, and is expected to spend £6.6m more before the final demolition. As a comparison, the neighbouring Oakmayne/Tribeca Square development site, which is only 1.5 acre, got sold in 2011 for £40m.

Lend Lease is estimated to have made a £194m profit before any overage profit is shared with Southwark Council, whilst only 45 out of 1,000 secure tenants ever returned to the new homes which had been promised.

A report by Southwark council officers said Lend Lease baulked at providing social units as this would require a second lobby and lift shaft to separate the two types of residents, adding: “not doing so would have significant implications on the valuations of the private rental properties.”

The company also worked on the London 2012 Olympic Park. It is not known how much profit they made from the Olympics, but its profits rose by 28 per cent in 2012 - when it was built – though we know that the project cost the taxpayer £275m in total.

Haringey Council should stop pursuing this venture and choose the 100% council-owned vehicle option. This will ensure the council has 100% control of public property and land, as well as enabling the council to retain profits.

Gordon Peters of Haringey Green Party, who has launched a legal challenge against the council, said: 

“It’s what has been called social cleansing - and that is exactly what it increasingly is going to be, if not stopped.”

You can contribute towards the £4,000 cost of the Judicial Review of Haringey Council's decision here:

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Dismal Cartography of the US Pre-Fascist State - Winter in America

Points of Departure

Listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural speech on January 20th led me to muse about what it might mean to live in a pre-fascist state. After reflecting on key passages and conversations with friends, I came to the view that all the elements were in place, although set before us with the imprecision of a demagogue.

Yet I do not doubt that there are many ideologues waiting in the wings, perhaps now comfortably situated in the West Wing, ready to cover the conceptual rough spots, and supply an ideological overlay, and add the semblance of coherence.

Considering the daily outrages emanating from the White House since the inaugural jolt, the coming years will be rough riding for all of us, with many cruelties being readied for those most vulnerable.

Of course, the Woman’s March on January 21st was temporarily redemptive, and if such energy can be sustained potentially transformative. It is odd to contemplate, but there just may be tacit and effective cooperation between the national security deep state and a progressive populism converging around their divergent reasons for being deeply opposed to the shock and awe of the Trump presidency. Trump may invent ‘alternative facts’ to restore his narcissistic self-esteem, but when it comes to program he has sadly so far been true to his word! This alone should encourage a unified, energetic, and determined opposition. If the Tea Party could do it, why can’t we?

The Pre-Fascist Moment

First, it is necessary to set forth the case for viewing Trump’s Inaugural Address as a pre-fascist plea:
  1. Locating power and legitimacy in the people, but only those whose support was instrumental in the election of the new president; the popular majority that were opposed are presumed irrelevant, or worse;
  2. Denigrating the political class of both political parties as corrupt and responsible for the decline of the country and the hardships inflicted on his followers;
  3. Presuming mass and unconditional trust in the great leader who promises a rupture with the past, and who alone will be able overcome the old established order, and produce needed changes at home and overseas;
  4. Making the vision of change credible by the appointment of mainly white men, most with alt-right credentials, billionaires either blissfully ignorant about their assigned roles or a past record of opposition to the bureaucratic mission they are pledged to carry out (whether environment, energy, education, economy);
  5. An endorsement of exclusionary nationalism that elevates ‘America First’ to the status of First Principle, erects a wall against its Latino neighbour, adopts a cruel and punitive stance toward Muslims and undocumented immigrants, hostility to womens’ rights, gay marriage, trans dignity, as well as posing threats to non-white minorities, inner city residents, and independent voices in the media and elsewhere;
  6. Lauds the military and police as the backbone of national character, loosens protection from civilian or military abuse, which helps explain the selection of a series of generals to serve in sensitive civilian roles, as well as the revitalization of Guantanamo and the weakening of anti-torture policies.
  7. The disturbing absence of a sufficiently mobilized anti-fascist opposition movement, leadership, and program. The Democratic Party has not seized the moment vigorously and creatively; progressive populist leadership has yet to emerge inspiring trust and hope; so far there are sparks but no fire.
Fortunately, there are some more encouraging tendencies that could mount anti-fascist challenges from within and below:
  1. Trump lost the popular vote, casting a cloud over his claimed mandate to be the vehicle of ‘the people.’ Furthermore, his approval rating keeps falling, and is now below 40% according to reliable polls.
  2. The signs of intense dissatisfaction are giving rise to protest activities that are massive and seem deeply rooted in beliefs and commitments of ordinary citizens, especially women and young people;
  3. American society is not in crisis, and right-wing extremist appeals are forced to rely on a greatly exaggerated and misleading portrayal of distress in the American economy, the evils of economic globalization and unfair trade relations that are widely understood to be largely ‘fake’;
  4. There are fissures within the Republican Party and governmental/think tank establishments, especially on international economic and security policy, that could produce escalating tensions within and challenges to the Trump leadership;
  5. There is growing dissatisfaction within the bipartisan intelligence and national security bureaucracies as whether Trump and Trumpism can be tamed before it wrecks the post-1945 international order that rests on America’s global military presence, a global network of alliances, and a disposition toward a second cold war focused on hostility to Russia; if untamed, impeachment scenarios will soon surface, based not on the real concerns, but constructed around economic conflicts of interests, emoluments, and unlawful transactions.
Certainly in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, America has not been tested as it is now. Maybe not since the American Civil War has so much been at stake, and put at risk.

Traditional reliance on political parties and elections will not be helpful until the political climate is radically altered by forces from below and without or above and within. It is strange, but the two main forces of resistance to the pre-fascist reality menacing the country’s and the world’s future are progressive populism as evident in the widespread grassroots protest movement taking shape in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s ascension to the presidency, and the deep state as exhibited by the anti-Trump defection of intelligence and national security specialists from both Republican and Democratic ranks during and after the recent presidential campaign.

Finally, the depiction of the present political reality as ‘pre-fascist’ rather than ‘fascist’ is crucial to this effort to depict accurately the historical moment associated with Donald Trump’s formal induction as the 45th president of the United States.

To speak as if the United States is a fascist state is to falsify the nature of fascism, and to discredit critical discourse by making it seem hysterical. There is no doubt that the pieces are in place that might facilitate a horrifying transition from pre-fascism to fascism, and it could happen with lightning speed. It is also sadly true that the election of Donald Trump makes fascism a sword of Damocles hanging by a frayed thread over the American body politic.

Yet we should not overlook the quite different realities that pertain to pre-fascism.
It remains possible in the United States to organize, protest, and oppose without serious fears of reprisals or detentions. The media can expose, ridicule, and criticize without closures or punitive actions, facing only angered and insulting Trump tweets, although such a backlash should not be minimized as it could have a dangerous intimidating impact on how the news is reported.

We are in a situation where the essential political challenge is to muster the energy and creativity to construct a firewall around constitutional democracy as it now exists in the United States, and hope that a saner, more humane political mood leads quickly and decisively to repudiate those policies and attitudes that flow from this pre-fascist set of circumstances.

Richard Falk is an American professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He just completed a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

This article originally appeared on

I will leave you with Gil Scott Heron singing Winter in America, from 1975.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

To Solve the Housing Crisis Local Authorities Must be Allowed to Build Homes for Rent

The release of the government’s white paper on housing last week, has been fairly well received, in as much as it at least acknowledges the depth of the problem and proposes an increase in building homes specifically for rent. These new rental properties will be either privately owned or owned by housing associations, not by local authorities, who have been barred from building homes since the 1980s.
Where councils have been given new powers they relate to planning permission for building homes and to restrict what has become known as ‘landbanking’ by developers. This means it will be easier for councils to force developers to build on their land in the shorter term, rather than waiting until house prices rise to a level where the developer makes large profits, by restricting supply.

In England as a whole, the union the GMB found, households have been increasing by an average of 218,316 per year since 2010 and over the same period the net additional dwellings have only increased by 148,993 per year. In London in the last six years new homes have only been 41.8% of the number of new households formed in the same period.
These new powers will help to alleviate some of the supply side problems and it will encourage the development of new private rental housing with longer, more secure tenancies, backed by institutional investors. (Unlike individual buy-to-let landlords, pension funds are unlikely to refuse to replace a broken boiler, say, on the grounds that they can’t afford it.) It’ll also ban letting agent fees. And it’ll introduce banning orders, to force the worst landlords and agents out of the market.

Presumably some of these new rental homes will be priced at ‘affordable rents’, but this term is misleading. Affordable rents are defined as at 80% of the market rate, which for many people, especially in London, are way out of the reach.
Even Grant Shapps the Tory ex housing minister was scathing. “Housing ministers over the years have come out with documents or bills, and the truth is none of them are going to make much difference,” he said. “And I don’t suppose this will make that much difference either.”

The glaring omission in the white paper is the complete absence of repealing the restrictions on local authorities building of new council housing and the continuation of ‘the right to buy’ whereby councils are forced into selling off what is left of their housing stock to tenants. Almost half of former council houses and flats in Wandsworth in south London, are now owned by private landlords, often very wealthy individuals.
Why does the government not allow councils to build new homes, when it would be the quickest way to resolve the crisis? Remember too, that interest rates on borrowing are at a historic low, which makes it a cheap option, and these homes would become an income stream for cash strapped councils, for maybe 200 years. Secure tenancies, faster availability and more income for councils, what is not to like?

Well, the government’s ideology will not allow them to take up this approach. It would buck the trend of the last 30 odd years, the so called ‘property owning democracy’ introduced by Margaret Thatcher. But as we see, this applies mainly to selling off public housing to private landlords, not the tenants in the long run, and has led us directly to the crisis in housing we have today.

When the market has failed so spectacularly as it has with housing, what we do not need is more market. It only makes sense viewed through the prism of neo-liberal ideology, when plain common sense tells us it is all nonsense.

Expect things to carry on pretty as much as normal, with increasing numbers of people being priced out of housing in some areas, as the gentrification of former council estates carries on, in an exercise in class cleansing of London and some of our other bigger cities.

Where all of the essential low paid workers will live, is anyone's guess?

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Labour Returns to Focus Group Politics over Brexit

The Article 50 Bill which paves the way for the UK to exit the European Union (EU) was, as expected, passed through the House of Commons tonight, without amendment. The Bill will now head to the House of Lords. The government did say though that Parliament will be able to reject the settlement when finalised.
The Labour Party took a rather confusing position yesterday, as its spokesperson on exiting the EU, Sir Keir Starmer, hailed it as a great concession by the government that MPs will be allowed a take it or leave it vote on the deal. Then the vast majority of its MPs voted for its own amendment giving MPs a veto over the deal.
The concession is nothing of the sort, as Alex Salmond, the SNP MP commented, ‘Hobson’s choice, is no choice at all.’
By this morning Starmer was still claiming it as victory for Labour, saying that the Prime Minister would not leave the EU with no deal other than World Trade Organisation terms, but this is probably just wishful thinking at best. At worst a piece of political spin Alistair Campbell would have been proud of.
In reality, opposition MPs will have to accept whatever Theresa May can get from the EU, or they will get the blame for forcing the hardest of Brexits on the country.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP wrote on her website:
‘With the Government’s own spokesperson confirming that nothing of substance has been newly offered today, it’s clear that the earlier celebrations from the Labour benches were excruciatingly premature.’
‘This defeat cements the Tories extreme Brexit plans and provides ample evidence to wavering MPs that they should vote against this Bill at a third reading if they want to protect the UK from falling off a Brexit cliff edge.’
Game, set and match to the government, with Labour just looking impotent. Labour only have themselves to blame, by making it clear that the party would vote for the Article 50 Bill, whether or not its amendments were accepted, which gave the government no reason to concede anything. This concession is what has already been promised by the government months ago.
We know this has been a tricky issue for Labour, with most of its voters voting to remain in the EU, but most of their Parliamentary seats in the north of England and in Wales voting to leave. Even so, I have been puzzled by their approach, since the party as whole was pro-remain and having elected a leader on the basis of principled politics, rather than chasing the whims of a few voters in swing constituencies.
Well, all that appears to have changed. An interesting piece in yesterday’s Guardian sheds some light on Labour’s approach to Brexit. Written by Anthony Wells who works for the opinion pollster YouGov, he reports on a study of Labour leave and remain voters, in which they were offered four different scenarios of how Labour should react to Brexit.  
The least unpopular option with both sets of voters, although not necessarily the most popular with either side, is of a soft Brexit, that is, leaving the EU but staying in the single market. In other words, the lowest common denominator. This stance is of course the same one that the government has taken, although not a single EU leader thinks this is realistic.
We were promised that with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, Labour would abandon triangulation and the obsession with focus groups of the new Labour years, but this looks uncannily similar to the tactics of the Blair/Brown government.
The trouble with this approach now, is if the government makes a pig’s ear out of the negotiations with the EU, which is probable, Labour will be unable to do anything about it, other than effectively choose an even worse option. And when they had the chance to gain some real influence over the negotiation, Labour waved it through, for fear of upsetting some of its supporters.
They will hardly be able say that they looked after the best interests of the country during the Brexit process, when in fact they meekly accepted the government’s agenda. Labour is now irrelevant on the biggest political issue in the UK for decades and will deserve the heavy defeat they will almost certainly get at the next general election, whatever spin they are trying to put on the situation now.