Friday 30 January 2015

Sustainability Over Growth: The Paradigm Shift At The Heart Of The UK 's "Green Surge"

With the leftist Green Party now polling at record levels in the UK , the predictable backlash from the conservative media arrived last week.

The Tory press had fun spinning the Party's policies into sensationalistic drivel (see Matthew Holehouse's Drugs, brothels, al-Qaeda and the Beyonce tax: the Green Party plan for Britain for the Telegraph). There was vocal criticism from a number of Labour supporters too.

While hostility from the conservative press was to be expected, I must say I have been quite taken aback by how many Labour commentators have completely failed to grasp the mentality of Green supporters or what the "Green Surge" is all about.

Most of the articles I have read ranged from bad to terrible, such as this one on LabourList, where a bizarre swipe at the Green Party's " almost exclusively white, middle class and privately educated " leaders served in lieu of a sustained critique of the party's policies. By far the worst though was this abysmal rant by the (supposedly Labour) writer Conor Pope on the New Statesman's political blog. 

Here it was said that the "joke... crackpot... utterly useless" Green Party's " current solution amounts to little more than free condoms. " If further evidence was needed that Pope hadn't bothered to actually read the Party's detailed policies, the article touched on such hard-hitting issues as leader Natalie Bennett's views on homeopathy.

Needless to say, the standard of debate isn't particularly high.

Ultimately though I get the sense that there is genuine confusion amongst supporters of the mainstream parties as to what is motivating people to 'go Green'. In my view this is what is prompting some of the wild lashing out we have seen. It's easier to dismiss ideas that you don't understand than actually try to engage with them.

Sustainability or growth?

The major stumbling block appears to be what a Green economy might look like. Many commentators seem to have grabbed hold of the fact that the Green Party, unlike other parties, doesn't condition all of its policies on the premise of economic growth. This has, in some cases, been twisted and spun into the notion that what the Green Party wants is a stagnant economy where everyone is poorer.

According to LabourWire: " Most (Green) economic policies are recessionary, which would mean job losses on a massive scale and lower living standards for almost everyone "

Meanwhile, the Telegraph said: " Britain would be in permanent recession; families would become materially poorer each year."

Comments such as these are misconceived.

First, it is important to point out that Green supporters as a whole reject Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a reliable or informative economic indicator. No matter how much David Cameron bangs his dispatch box and tells us the economy is "growing" (in GDP terms), people are now clued up to the fact that this growth is not reflected at all in broader society.

GDP is misleading in all sorts of ways. It only measures certain types of transactions that occur within the formal economy, so for example a million pound personal injury claim would contribute to GDP growth whereas unpaid community work wouldn't. Similarly, it offers no real qualitative data, failing to distinguish between "good growth" and "bad growth". To illustrate what this means in practice, the rise of payday lenders and fixed-odd betting terminals since the recession are deemed to have contributed to our recent "recovery" despite being widely condemned as socially irresponsible.

For these reasons Green supporters don't put much stock in GDP, so it's hardly surprising that this type of growth isn't seen as a priority.

To be clear though, the Party doesn't think growth is bad. It just recognises that a blind commitment to GDP growth is a fairly poor basis for running a fair and sustainable economy. A Green government would look to different types of economic indictors as barometers for prosperity. For example, it would consider increased growth and technological advancements in priority industries such as renewable energy as a sign of success. On the other hand, growth in sectors that damage our health and social fabric would be seen as a bad thing.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that the relentless pursuit of growth is no longer sustainable. The world's population is rising and the earth's finite resources are declining. Science and technology aren't advancing fast enough to plug the gap. We need a new paradigm to meet these challenges.

Therefore the key to a Green economy is sustainability, which would always take precedence over growth. The definition of a sustainable economy is one that meets society's current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Contrast this with the economic policies of the mainstream UK parties, which are all premised on short term growth without a long term strategy. David Cameron repeatedly talks of a " global race" between nations for economic power. He talks of Britain needing to "compete" with emerging powerhouse economies in Asia . 

This is a race to the bottom, not a race to the top. It is a race which will ultimately see all countries lose out when natural resources are depleted and recession becomes not a choice, but an unavoidable reality. Do we have to wait for this to happen before we realise what we should have been doing all along?

The Green Party is the only party in the UK that seeks to address these concerns in the long term. It is ironic that the party is accused of wanting to impose a recession on the British people when in fact it is the only party that seeks to put into place long term economic policies that would actually protect the poorest in society if there is a repeat recession.

Idealistic policies?

The notion of Green supporters as a ragbag band of hippies, out-of-work liberal arts graduates and animal rights nuts is now dead. Nevertheless, certain prejudices remain. The one that I find most difficult to stomach is the idea that Green supporters are middle-class idealists who care nothing for the working class or about solving immediate problems.

On this point, I would first take exception to the idea that Green policies are idealistic. In this sense I believe the Party is being penalised for being the only party to set out, in painstaking detail, its long term goals for a better society (something no other party has had the foresight to do). By the Party's own admission, not all of its long term goals can be achieved immediately. It is quite wrong to suggest that the Party would seek to enforce all of its policy objectives immediately when it is clear that a process of gradual reform will be needed to bring the changes to fruition.

In the short term the Greens rejects austerity and strongly oppose the marketisation of crucial public services. But unlike Labour, it is not content with protecting those services that are already in public hands (i.e. the National Health Service), it also wants to bring other services, such as rail, back into public ownership where the private sector has failed to deliver what the free market ideologues promised.

The truth is that most people in the Green Party would rather see change start today than spend an eternity on the sidelines waiting to be taken seriously. If that is by Labour (or the Liberal Democrats) taking on board some of the Party's messages, so be it. Given that a recent poll revealed Green economic policies are more popular than those of any other party (according to the excellent Vote for Polices website ) perhaps this is something the mainstream parties ought to seriously consider.

But for the time being conservative economic thought remains entrenched within all the main political parties. An ever increasing number of people throughout the UK (not to mention in Europe ) are abandoning these principles and have found a new paradigm in sustainability. This now represents a red line that won't be crossed.

The sooner the mainstream parties realise that, the better. 

Written by Richard Collie who blogs at The Green Man

Thursday 29 January 2015

London Syriza Victory Rally - London Photos

What an inspiring event this was at the TUC's Congress House in London. I think the best bit was when Stathis Kouvelakias of Syriza was given a standing ovation after he delivered a barn storming speech on how everything has changed in Greece and across Europe with Syriza's stunning election victory on Sunday.

Most of these photos are of the slide show which ran continually behind the speakers.

Romayne Phoenix and Malcolm Bailey of Green Left

After all these years of neo liberalism it finally feels like there is a tiny chink of light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Hunt's neo-liberalism distorts his understanding of education policy

Tristram Hunt's Guardian attack on the Green party's education policy LINK , characteristising it as 'total madness', seems to have spectacularly misfired today. Guardian readers looking up the detail have come back to comment favourably on the policy.

Our policy does of course mark a clear break with the neo-liberal policies of the three main parties which support competition and marketisation of schools based on what Chomsky recently called the 'grading of students and teachers'.

Labour of course began the marketisation of schools with their sponsored academies and this, along with the privatisation of the NHS, was a key element in Blair's New Labour strategy.  Hunt, along with Lord Adonis, is essentially a Blairite and we cannot expect him to offer a fundamental critique of what the system, instigated by them,  has become.

So what is this 'madness' Hunt has found:

Delaying the start of formal education until the age of six

There are many countries in the world where children start later than in England and Wales and achieve just as well, if not better, with less anxiety. The Green Party takes account of such evidence and understands the importance of play and exploration in early childhood rather than the testing and ranking at ever earlier ages supported by the neo-liberal parties.

Ending SAT tests in Primary Schools

SATS are essentially a way of grading teachers and schools putting them and their students under intense pressure. This has had the effect of narrowing the curriculum, deskilling teachers who are under pressure to 'teach to the test' and removes much of the joy from teaching and learning. Greens have a much broader view of what constitutes education.

Hunt suggests that children's progress would no longer be monitored, but of course SATs are not the only way to monitor and evaluate progress and tell us little about the individual child compared with other systems.

Abolition of Ofsted will end accountability

The  Green Party would replace Ofsted with a collaborative system ending much of the stress, illness and rushed judgements associated with Ofsted:
The Green Party will instate a system of local accountability using continuous, collaborative assessment of schools. We would replace OFSTED with an independent National Council of Educational Excellence which would have regional officers tasked to work closely with Local Authorities. The National Council would be closely affiliated with the National Federation for Educational Research (NFER).
Where pupils’ attainment and progress is reported as part of a school’s holistic report to parents and the wider community it will include assessments, including value-added, moderated by the National Council of Education Excellence and the Local Authority’s School Improvement Service as well as the school’s own self evaluation.
Education cannot compensate for society
In a variation of Michael Gove's 'enemies of promise' labelling of his opponents, Hunt suggests that Natalie Bennett speaks the language of 'low aspiration and defeatism' because she recognises that schools cannot compensate for all the ills of an unequal society.

This is what Natalie actually said:
I am gravely concerned about low exam results and high dropout rates from children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But I understand that even wonderful schools can’t fully compensate for severe poverty and stress at home - which is why making the minimum wage a living wage, affordable and warm homes, and ensuring decent benefits are available to all who needs them, are education issues as well as social justice issues
More than 40 years in teaching and school governance has certainly taught me the importance of material conditions, and I would add a daily hot meal and a place to study to the list. These make an impact on levels of energy, motivation and self-worth. We have to work on both improving education and improving living conditions and increasing equality.

The focus on individual progression in education with its blame for failure on pupils, parents, teachers and schools, serves to let politicians off the hook over increased inequality, child poverty and inadequate housing.

What Hunt didn't say

Hunt failed to attack the Green Party's policy to end academies and free schools, integrate existing ones back into the Local Authority system, strengthen LAs through better funding and increased democratic accountability,  restore LA's ability to build new schools where they are needed and end Performance Related Pay for teachers.

Perhaps they were too popular for him to advertise?

Green Party Education policy is HERE

Written by Martin Francis, Green Party Education Spokesperson and London Green Left (Brent)

Martin blogs regularly at Wembley Matters

Monday 26 January 2015

Stathis Kouvelakis: After Syriza's victory

With news of the extent of Syriza's victory still incoming, Stathis Kouvelakis provides exclusive analysis of the 2015 Greek elections.

Syriza’s electoral triumph has brought hope to the European radical Left and workers’ movement, offering it an immense opportunity. We can also put that the other way around – to fail this test could have incalculable consequences.

Friday 23 January 2015

Alexis Tsipras "On January 25th Greece will have hope. And Europe a compass for change."

On January 25 Greece will shut the door on the past. SYRIZA’s victory is the hope of the worlds of labour and of culture in all of Europe for change. To make the necessary step forward. From the darkness of austerity and of authoritarianism, into the light of democracy, of solidarity and of sustainable development.

For this reason, Greece is only the beginning. Within this year, Spain's turn is coming. The change begins from the South. The defeat of the political sponsors of austerity, foreclosures, of insecurity and fear, of corruption and the scandals has its launching point in our countries. Our people will take the future in their hands and open the door of tomorrow for young and uncorrupted individuals. For their own people who have a clear gaze. For this reason, the victory of the Greek people and of SYRIZA carries the message of a new and hopeful course for Spain. A course which, as is shown by public opinion polls, the Spanish people are steadily turning towards. This is how the South will move forward, to change Europe.

Europe today is not a victim of the crisis – the crisis, in any case, ended where it began, in the USA, thanks to the expansionary monetary and fiscal policy. Europe is a victim of austerity. It is at risk from the conservative policies of all those who impose in their countries the selfish choices of Ms Merkel. The neoliberal management of the crisis has led the entire South to a politically unacceptable and economically unstable equilibrium of crisis. We exist between the stagnation and low GDP growth, in deflation, high indebtedness, high unemployment and spreading poverty.

And it is either a convenient delusion or a political contrivance for one to state that, with the Eurozone essentially in stasis (0.8% in 2014 and 1.1% in 2015), they will grow by themselves. And indeed when they are on the verge of deflation, have an increased public debt – over 100% of GDP this year – while at the same time being obliged to cut fiscal deficits. Regardless of how much they may cite the generous projections of the European Commission, commonsense will prevail in the end.

For this reason, the struggle of our peoples for change is the struggle of commonsense versus ideological fanaticism. It is the struggle of dignity versus servitude.

For us the equilibrium of the crisis is not an option. It is an opportunity for change. SYRIZA’s victory is a new beginning for the broadest possible cooperation of all the progressive forces and forces of the left of the European South. To stop that which is fueling stagnation, unemployment and over indebtedness: austerity. It is the launching point for the coordination of our policies for growth. To restore economic security and dignity to our countries. To repatriate the exiled youth – the young migrants.

These days, the European Central Bank holds the key to Europe. The policy of quantitative easing is one of the proposals for the collective and sustainable exit of the Eurozone from the crisis. If it is adopted it will be welcome, even after such a long delay. But for it to be effective it will have to completely reflect Mario Draghi’s "whatever it takes" statement. This means that it will have to be broad, without conditions and exemptions. That is, to include all of the countries that need it.
But monetary policy alone cannot counter the challenge of growth. We urgently need:

Expansionary fiscal policy in all the countries in the Eurozone where it is possible according to the current rules.

A European "New Deal". That is, strong, European funding of broad-scale development programs with high added value, and a plan to support industry -- in particular in European economies with particularly high unemployment.

A lightening of the debt burden in the framework of a "European Debt Conference” along the lines of the London Conference of 1953 that facilitated the post-war development of Germany. The collective and socially sustainable restructuring of the over indebtedness of the Eurozone is not a moral hazard for Ms Merkel, but a moral duty.

On January 25 the country will have hope. And Europe a compass for change.

By Alexis Tsipras leader of SYRIZA

First published at Organized Rage

Thursday 22 January 2015

UKIP Have Peaked Too Early for the General Election

This opinion poll by YouGov for The Sun newspaper from yesterday is pretty typical of the many polls I see, in so much as anything is typical about the opinion polls at the moment.

There are some things though we can glean from these polls. Labour and Tory are neck and neck at around 30% each, the Lib Dems have crashed badly and will probably get less than 10%, UKIP is pretty steady at 15% and the Greens are rising, maybe as this poll suggests to around 10%.

UKIP have been at around 15% in the polls for a year or so now, but they seem to have reached a glass ceiling, and if anything are falling away slightly. This analysis chimes with this piece by Peter Kellner at YouGov.

Kellner concludes that UKIP will never get beyond this level of support in the future, because their voters aren’t interested in the future, but in some bygone past, 1950s style. The trouble with this is that the other 85% of the population don’t want to go back to the 1950s. UKIP voters are predominantly, white, male and old and this is further borne out by UKIP’s relatively poor performance in London elections recently.

After the 2014 GLA elections, a UKIP spokesperson, Suzanne Evans, when asked why her party had done so poorly, said that London’s population was too ‘educated, cultured and young’ to vote for UKIP. She also pointed out London is a very ‘multi-cultural’ place. Full marks for honesty.

Another reason that UKIP support has stalled is that supporting UKIP has more personal stigma than supporting the other parties.  A significant minority of voters would find it hard to stay friends with a UKIP convert, see this poll.

On top of this, another explanation for UKIP becoming less attractive, is that some voters just like to protest vote against the duopoly for Tory/Labour. The Lib Dems were often the beneficiaries of this phenomenon, but have blown this now by propping up a Tory government. What always amazes me, is people who voted as a protest for the most pro EU party (Lib Dems) can transfer support so easily to a party whose whole raison d’etre is as an anti EU party? These protest voters now have a viable alternative, the Green party, which is almost the polar opposite of UKIP, but perfectly viable as a protest party.

Now, we also have the intervention of Al Murray, standing as his alter-ego ‘the pub landlord’ against UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the Thanet South constituency, for his party FUKP. This is a clever ploy from Murray, because much of what Farage says could be taken straight from one Murray’s pub landlord acts, except it’s not as funny. But this parody will not be lost on the voters, I think, and they are now more likely to see Farage for what he is, a pub bore with xenophobic views. Mockery is a powerful force in politics.

There was time when UKIP were accelerating up the polls, winning two by-elections, when it seemed that the daily scandals or outrageous comments made by some of UKIP’s candidates, had no effect on their rising popularity. Nothing seemed to stick. Maybe now the drip, drip of bad publicity has finally sunk in with the voters, and UKIP have now passed their high watermark with the electorate. I have a feeling that come election day, they will have drifted down below 15%.

The more people see of the Greens, the more they can see that we offer something genuinely different to the status quo neo liberal orthodoxy. We now have the momentum, the ‘Big Mo’ as our American friends like to put it. This could be a momentous election for the Greens.  

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Should the Greens Support a Labour Austerity Budget?

I argued on this blog recently that the Green party should avoid any coalitions with other parties, should we win enough seats at the general election to be invited into one. I said that the most we should consider is a Confidence and Supply (C&S) arrangement with the more ‘progressive’ parties. 

This means that the Greens would vote with a minority government on votes of confidence and for their budget proposals. All other issues would be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Thinking this through though, I’m going to lay out here the pros and cons for the Greens in taking a C&S approach.

Firstly, the pros. Should the numbers fall right after the general election, and Labour are the largest party, but short of an overall majority and we win a handful of seats, together perhaps with the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, we might judge that by getting some concessions from a minority Labour government, we can further our cause in some way. For example, scrapping the white elephant that is the Trident nuclear weapons system, which has been mooted recently.

A bonus to this might be that we remove the odious Tories from government, and get a Labour government instead. Although Labour will continue the austerity measures of the present government, they would cut a little less and at a slower rate. This might not be what we really want, but if it saves some public services from the axe, who are we to sentence the public to five more years of savage Tory cuts, taking us back to 1930s levels of public spending?

Of course, by scrapping Trident we would save billions of pounds which could be used to reduce other spending cuts further, as well as achieving a notable victory over nuclear proliferation.

Maybe this is the best we can hope for and the pressure would be on our MPs to do the best they can in minimising cuts and achieving something valuable?

On the other hand, I think this would be an extremely risky strategy for the Green party to take. The main focus of our election campaign will be as an ‘anti-austerity’ party, where we challenge the perceived wisdom of ‘there is no alternative’ narrative, and instead advocate more taxes on those who can easily afford them and a less obsessive attitude to clearing the national debt by spending cuts over the next few years.  

Of course we will be putting forward a whole raft of policies which would in effect be a root and branch rearrangement of our whole economy and how we live generally. But the anti-austerity banner will be at the forefront, to distinguish us from the other parties, and it is bound to be what the media will focus on, because it makes for a good story.

The big risk is, to promise to be anti-austerity, win some representation and then vote for a cuts budget, even a bit less of the cuts. This could be another ‘Lib Dem moment’, a party who campaigned against university tuition fees, went into coalition government with the Tories, and promptly increased university tuition fees. Look what has happened to the Lib Dems? They are pretty much finished as a significant political party now.

The public are, quite rightly, sick of politicians who promise to do things, and then do the exact opposite, once they have bagged the people’s votes.

It is highly unlikely that Labour would offer to scrap Trident or to alter their budget plans in any major kind of way. This is all hypothetical in any case, as the numbers may not fall in the right way or we might win only a couple of seats and others, notably the SNP do well enough to form a pact with Labour alone.

Best to be clear I think, and say now that we will not vote for an austerity budget under any circumstances. We can position ourselves well for the 2020 election, or even sooner election given the chances of a clear winner emerging in May is pretty small. There has been a motion submitted to the party’s spring conference, D5, (and an amendment to it), which covers this issue, so it should be debated by party members in March.

I think we need to be very careful here, as this will be a vital call for the Green party. The only way we will get real change, is if we stick to our principles, and not get involved in some sordid horse trading. We are against the austerity programme, why on earth would we endorse it? 

Monday 19 January 2015

Are the Greens the Emerging New Left in the UK?

Green party activist Adam Ramsay has written two excellent pieces on the recent history of the Green party and how this relates to the Green surge in membership and the opinion polls. 

In both these pieces his analysis concludes that the Green party are becoming the expression of a new emerging left in the UK. We have seen the rise of such parties as SYRIZA in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Parti de Gauche in France, but nothing of the same order on the left in Britain. UKIP (on the right) have so far been the beneficiaries of the protest vote, but they are just more of same policy wise (where they have any policies), except for their anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric.

The traditional left in this country has utterly failed to harvest the discontent amongst the public with the austerity policies of all the main political parties. Left Unity (LU), despite being quite new and claiming to ‘do politics differently’, have actually carried on the left’s traditional routine of pompously issuing statements which no one takes any notice of. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who have been around for 5 or 6 years now, talk in such arcane language and dream of ‘a mass movement of workers (armed if necessary)’, as though they are still fighting the miner’s strike, which was 30 years ago. Both have made no impact whatsoever with UK voters, and show no sign of doing so.

So, it has fallen to the Green party to take up the mantle of challenging the establishment’s obsession with austerity polices from the left. But is this as Adam Ramsay suggests ‘a new emerging left’ in Britain, comparable to what we have seen in Europe’s worst affected austerity regimes?

It is hard to tell at this stage, and certainly the collapse in support for the Lib Dems has had some effect on the Green party’s growth, but some of these ex Lib Dems are quite left wing in their thinking, so I don’t think that is necessarily an argument against this notion. In my experience of talking to new members, they are almost all from the left of the political spectrum and many have either dropped out of political engagement over the years or are young and have not participated in party politics before.

I think Adam is right when he says that the Scottish Independence referendum was a catalyst for a desire for change from the disastrous neo-liberal policies of the last thirty years, both north and south of the border. The Labour party has lost its way, and sold its soul to the devil in the Blair/Brown years and are unable to detect, let alone exploit this moment. The Lib Dems, even if they were minded to, have disqualified themselves as a left party, with their lurch to the right under Clegg’s leadership and resultant coalition with the Tories.

That just leaves the Greens, and I think people have taken a fresh look at our policies and been impressed by our one MP, Caroline Lucas, who has almost single handedly been the real opposition in Parliament to the coalition government’s failed austerity programme. The Green party has moved a long way from the old ‘tree hugging’ days.

This coming general election is a very important one for the Green party, and for the left at large in Britain, because it is looking like being the first election for thirty years to offer a credible alternative to the political status quo (and from the left).

It is the Green party that will be leading this fight and thank goodness someone is, the times are a changing I think.  

Sunday 18 January 2015

Ecofeminism - Vandana Shiva at 2013 Festival of Dangerous Ideas - Sydney

Ecofeminism is a very similar philosphy to ecosocialism, when they ditch the 'goddess' stuff anyway, and emerged around the early 1990s. Vandana Shiva is one of its leading advocates.

When natural resources like timber, water and mineral deposits can be extracted from ecosystems, they become assets with dollar values that can be bought and sold internationally and enable developing countries to grow and participate in the global economy. If growth is the key to emerging from poverty, then this might seem like a good thing. But what if these same resources being sold to richer nations come from an ecosystem that people depend on for their livelihood? What if new growth is actually proportional to the creation of new poverty?

The cult of 'growth' has dictated policy for decades. But if well-being, not growth, is our goal, selling resources that bring long term wellbeing to communities for short term gain is a very bad deal. Hard as it may be for the West to understand, protecting the ecological resources of communities might be more important than GDP figures.

Vandana Shiva holds a PhD in physics, but is best known as an environmental, and anti-globalisation activist and as a leading figure of 'ecofeminism.' Shiva is based in India and is the author of over twenty books, including Staying Alive and Biopiracy. She is a former recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize.

Chair: Simran Sethi is an award-winning Indian American journalist. She is currently undergoing a research fellowship at the University of Melbourne in Australia on the loss of agricultural biodiversity in our food system.

Friday 16 January 2015

Cuts putting a ‘sledgehammer’ to local government says TUC report

The future of local authority services are under threat - with many councils reducing statutory services due to austerity measures - a new report is warning.

Austerity Uncovered, published by the TUC and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), reveals that the Government is only halfway through its austerity programme. It also claims that by 2015-16 council funding will be cut by 37%, with the total funding gap expected to increase by £2.1bn per year until 2019-20.

The report highlights the impact cuts have had on services, with English councils cutting the amount put aside for means-tested social care by 12% since 2010.

The majority of councils (87%) also now only provide adult social care in cases of ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ need, with the number of younger people with disabilities receiving social care falling by 17% since 2008-09.

The research also shows the between 2010 and 2013, spending on children's centres fell by 28%, leading to 580 centres closing.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: ‘This government is taking a sledgehammer to public services and local government.

‘Adult social care is in crisis and children’s services are under increasing attack. With cuts on this scale it will be impossible to protect local services. The tragedy is that the cuts have been disproportionate – those local authorities with the greatest need have been the worst hit.’

The report calls for a more needs-based approach to funding settlements, with further devolution of resources and decision-making powers to councils. It also recommends a long-term plan for increasing funding for adult social care, a high-level commitment to reducing inequalities, and more collaboration with public service unions and community groups.

Chief executive of CLES, Neil McInroy, said: ‘We need to get the priorities right and appreciate that austerity means people’s needs are no longer being met like they should be. Without considered decisions based on the needs of people and places, now and into the future, we risk causing irreversible damage.’

In response, local government minister Kris Hopkins said: 'The majority of local authorities have continued to balance their budgets whilst reducing council tax in real terms and increased or maintained public satisfaction with services.

'The provisional local government settlement is fair to all parts of the country - north and south, rural and urban, city and shire. With council spending on public services up £4bn to nearly £79bn, every council should be able to deliver sensible savings whilst protecting frontline services for local taxpayers.'

Written by Laura Sharman and first published at Local Government News

Thursday 15 January 2015

Green Party Membership Surpasses UKIP Membership

The membership of the UK Green parties continues to surge and yesterday surpassed that of UKIP membership. Although, the England and Wales, Scottish and Northern Irish Green parties are separate parties, when totalled together the Greens are now the fifth largest party in UK. They are also hot on the heels of the Lib Dems, who they should surpass in the coming weeks.

I can’t help thinking that with the Green party being excluded from the televised leaders’ election debate, it has actually fuelled this rapid increase in our numbers. Yesterday for example, my local Green party in Haringey had 31 new members join, which I think is a record for a single day. I think the unfairness of excluding the Greens from the debates has been good for us, and who knows we may yet get to be included. Green party Leader Natalie Bennett told London live that “there was an hour yesterday when a new person was joining every 10 seconds,” commenting on the national picture.

Polling company YouGov released a poll today for The Sun newspaper which finds that:

      67% of Britons think Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green party, should be invited to take part in the leaders’ debates.
            72% think it is unfair that the Green party are not included and the Liberal Democrats are, given their similar level of support in some polls.

      Only 16% see the Lib Dems being in government and having more MPs as a good enough reason for them to be included and the Greens omitted.

The poll also puts us ahead of the Lib Dems in its headline figures. 

A Guardian poll on their website today finds that 85% disagree with the statement ‘Ofcom says UKIP is a major party, but the Greens aren't – do you agree?’ When I last looked.

Multi party politics is here to stay it seems for the foreseeable future, but only one main (‘national’) party offers the electorate the opportunity to cast a vote against the disastrous austerity policies of the establishment parties.

That party is the Green party.  

Tuesday 13 January 2015

5 Reasons Why You Should Join Green Left

Green Left was formed in 2006 by members of the Green Party of England and Wales, as a grouping for ecosocialist and other anti-capitalist radicals and to raise Green party politics to meet the demands of its radical policies. As well as acting as an outreach body that communicates the party’s radical policies to socialists and other anti-capitalists outside of the party.

First off, you do need to be a Green party member to join Green Left. With the current surge in Green party membership (32,000 in England and Wales alone now), I think it is a good time to restate the case for joining Green Left.

      1. After a recent meeting of London Green Left, a new recruit said to me that it felt good to be around 'likeminded’ people. This is an important point, although most Green party members are somewhere on the left, for true socialists it can feel slightly like you are a fish out of water. Green Left does offer a comradely space to discuss ideas and to organise for ecosocialists within the Green party
      2. The Green party has had something of an image problem over the years. That being, white and middle class. To be fair there is some truth in this, but how will that change (and it is starting to change) unless we can address issues that are important to working class and ethnic communities? Green Left stands for a clear and unequivocal ecosocialism which champions the interests of, to coin a phrase, the 99%.
      3. One of the objectives of Green Left is of an outreach body, for the Green party, to socialists and other radicals from outside of the party. We aim to give such people the confidence that they are joining a party of the left, where their political thinking will be welcomed.
      4. Green Left strives to increase and improve the international links of the Green Party, building links with radical greens and ecosocialists across the planet. It works closely with members of other European Green Parties to reform the workings of the European Green Party structures that must be democratised. 

      5. Perhaps the most important reason for Green Left’s existence is to act within the Green Party so as to raise Green party politics to meet the demands of its radical policies. Green politics needs to be based on dynamic campaigning and hard intellectual groundwork to create workable alternatives. To this end, Green Left is kind of like the conscience of the Green party and helps it to focus on its fundamentally radical philosophy.    

In short, Green Left works to enable you to live in a society based on peace, ecological balance, economic equality and inclusion.

Come and join us, you can find out how here.

Monday 12 January 2015

Millions in Britain cannot afford to eat properly

Official figures published by the UK governments’ Family Food report show that millions of the poorest people are struggling to eat enough food to maintain their body weight and are facing malnourishment.

The Family Food report, published by the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), found that 6.4 million people consumed just 1,997 calories a day in the year 2013. It is advised that people should aim to eat at least 2,080 calories to maintain a healthy diet.
The report was based on an annual survey of 6,000 UK households. It found that the average number of calories consumed by the population as a whole was five percent higher than required. However, this was not the case for the poorest 10 percent of the population (6.4 million people), a damning statistic the report did not highlight.

Chris Goodall, an expert on energy who initially discovered the figures while investigating human use of food resources, commented, “The data shocked me. What it shows is for the first time since the Second World War, if you are poor you cannot afford to eat sufficient calories.”

He pointed to the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In 2001-02 there was very little difference between the calories consumed by the rich and the poor, including the richest 10 percent, eating approximately four percent more calories than the poorest. By the year 2013 that figure had surged to 15 percent.

The report showed that in 2013, the poorest members of British society spent 22 percent more on food than in 2007, and purchased 6.7 percent less. For low income families, after housing, fuel and power costs, food is still the largest item of expenditure—accounting for 16.5 percent of income in 2013.

The report highlights the fact that, according to the government’s own recommended “eatwell plate” proportions, the types of food that make up a well-balanced diet are not being eaten by households in many income categories. But it is the poorest households that are the most affected.

It is accepted by academics that calorie intake is difficult to measure. However, the evidence and emerging datasets shows that many people are struggling to eat properly.

Liz Dowler, professor of food and social policy at Warwick University, stated, “there are substantial numbers of people who are going hungry and eating a miserable diet.”

Dowler highlighted that one of the problems with poor diets, when people are struggling to consume enough calories, is the turn to consuming high energy food, such as chips which have a low nutritional value. She said, “You can stave off hunger by just having some relatively cheap calories but if you live like that day after day your health will suffer significantly.”

“At the extreme, [malnourishment] is a cliff edge, but mostly it’s not. It’s a slow, miserable grind of bodily impoverishment, where you’re gradually depleting your body’s stores and your strength is way below what it should be. Your skin is very pale, you are exhausted all the time, you feel very low, often extremely depressed and you find it difficult to work.”

The effect of poor diet on children often leads to them struggling to concentrate at school, suffering with endless coughs and colds and constantly getting sick. It is estimated that there are more than a half-million children in the UK living in families that are unable to provide a minimally acceptable diet. People living on low incomes are constantly having to trade down on the cost of food, having to eat a cheaper and often less nutritious diet and eventually having to eat less food overall.

These figures are reflected in the massive increase in the numbers of people using food banks. According to figures published by the Trussell Trust, the biggest food bank charity in the UK, more than 900,000 people were given emergency food parcels, an increase of 163 percent in the last year. In total, 913,138 people received three days of emergency food from 400 Trussell Trust food banks in 2013-14, compared with 346,992 in 2012-13. This enormous leap in demand has coincided with an increase in those seeking help following a welfare payment “sanction.”

Trussell Trust Chairman Chris Mould said the figures were “shocking in 21st century Britain. … Perhaps most worrying of all, this figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty. It doesn’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no food bank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.”

The poorest are using food banks as an absolute last resort. The authors of a report commissioned by DEFRA on food poverty stated, “There is no evidence to support the claim that increased food aid provision is driving demand. All available evidence, both in the UK and internationally, points in the opposite direction.

“Put simply, there is more need and informal food aid providers are trying to help.”
Underpinning food poverty are cuts to the social security system made since April 2013 and the use of a draconian system of sanctions against benefit claimants. Those in work have seen their wages decrease in real terms, while basic staple food items have increased in cost.

The Family Food report was substantiated by a report published by cereal maker Kellogg’s, revealing that four in 10 teachers are seeing children as young as five turning up for class every day without having eaten for 12 hours. This is up from three in ten in just the space of a year. The report, based on a survey of 900 teachers in England and Wales, found that the situation was worst in the Yorkshire and Humber region. According to the survey, 47 percent of teachers in the region were resorting to feeding their students out of their own pockets.

Millions in the UK and internationally are facing the terrible consequences of the escalating growth of wealth at one pole of society and the growth of poverty at the other. In May 2014, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the richest one percent of Britons owned the same amount of wealth as 54 percent of the population. Last year’s Sunday Times “Rich List” found that the 1,000 richest people in Britain had doubled their wealth in the last five years.

In response to the Family Food findings, the Labour Party’s Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle said, with a straight face, that it was a “national scandal that so many people are going hungry in the sixth-richest country on the planet, in the 21st century.”

It was the 1997-2010 Labour Party government that presided over wealth and social inequality hitting levels not seen since the Victorian era and which, after bailing out the banks following the 2008 global financial crash, began the austerity measures that have been continued by the Conservative/Liberal coalition.

Written by Dennis Moore and first published at 

Saturday 10 January 2015

FairCoop: virus of cooperation infects a new economy

The ‘Robin Hood of the Banks’ strikes again. This time the aim is to create a worldwide cooperative to develop and expand a new economy of the commons.

By Pablo Prieto and Enric Duran

Some revolutionary activists have an amazing ability to avoid the economy. We have been iron-branded with the idea that the economy is not only evil, but the cause of all evil; that we should stay away from it and feel guilty about being involved with it. Like don Quixote, we are sane and pure-hearted, but we refuse to see this one truth: we need a new economy.

A new economy begins with a new kind of money. If you’ve managed to live in something close to a gift economy: congratulations, you’ve made it! This only works for some of us, though, living in relatively small communities, and not on a global scale. You have to realize that you’re not really changing your neighbors’ world by trading Ubuntu installs for massage; you’re not overthrowing the hyperarchist system of human domination by paying for your tofu in rainbowcoins, now, are you?

While complementary currencies do a great job at local level, they’re just that: they complement other parts which together make up a whole. And what we really need is to build up a whole new way to live in this world.

Here we go! So, we need money, we need decentralized international markets, financial tools, solid trade networks… a financial system, after all. Money, or food for that matter, aren’t harmful: bulimia or capitalism are. Money can and should be used for the common good — and by money we don’t mean fiat currencies, of course. Fiat currencies are created and controlled by an evil structure, and used for tyranny and planetary destruction (also, we don’t see a way we are ever getting any of that pie).

We need to create our own monetary system — a better one, one that will suddenly make theirs obsolete and their banks worthless, just like the electric car would do with the gas distribution network. And we need the transition to be fast enough so they don’t have time to react and use it for their benefit. What you’ve just read is the definition of the term disruptive technology.

In 2008, when Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, he came up with two disruptive technologies at once: the blockchain, a public, universal, unalterable digital ledger, and the proof-of-work (POW), a new network p2p security system. Together, thanks to the power of cryptography and the Internet, they allow us to decentralize, and hence democratize three things:
  • Economy. The blockchain allows us to securely store and move our own money with no need for intermediaries. This automatically renders the current financial system useless, and is only the beginning of a new way to organize the whole economy.
  • Politics. If we use banks and pay our taxes, the government will do whatever they please with our money, or maybe what the banks please. If we instead use our money to support the projects we would like to see happen, they will eventually happen. What matters here is that with the blockchain we have the real freedom to choose between supporting central governments or supporting a new, distributed way to organize our lives.
  • Culture. Decentralizing technologies empower the p2p network society as a new way of thinking and doing that’s quickly replacing many old-regime institutions and central authorities.

Anyway, individualistic approaches to this new technology — like bitcoin — are very interesting experiences, but frightening. We can even picture a gloomy future ruled by cold algorithms and controlled by relentless DACs (decentralized autonomous corporations). We probably wouldn’t like that much. Maybe the solution to state hierarchy is not completely math-based individualism. Maybe a middle path (as David Harvey would put it) is needed, where the potential of decentralization and the capacities of cooperations could join together.

A disruptive technology is not revolutionary in itself, unless it comes wrapped in a new system of governance, and also in a new ethical paradigm, one that’s broadly and honestly accepted, never imposed. Revolution is not only a political change, but a cultural and individual mindshift. The perfect political system won’t work unless we first learn how to love each other. Any revolution prior to that will lead to disintegration of power only long enough for the next populist leader to figure out how to get hold of it.

And well, we also need to go further than a new financial system…

Productive businesses are usually forced to make a big profit to pay back their debts to financial institutions. The so-called real productive system needs to be freed from the parasite, and when that happens we will clearly see how the financial system has absolutely nothing to offer to society, how it was all a gigantic scam, and how most of it is simply disposable.

We (including you) have a lot of work to do in building a peer production / commons-based framework of initiatives, and this framework cannot depend on credit coming from the old banking system. A new system must be built at the same time.

These thoughts inspired the creation of FairCoop. One of us, Enric Duran (co-founder of the first integral cooperative) chose a cryptocurrency, Faircoin, anonymously encouraged a community take-over of said cryptocurrency, and bought a significant amount of all existing coins at a low price, unnoticed. Enric then brought together people from the CIC, the P2P Foundation, the Dark Wallet team, and other activists, to co-design an initial vision of how FairCoop could help build a worldwide cooperative: An Open Coop totally independent from banks or states, where everyone could have control of their own projects and money, yet overseen by a collective structure acting as a trust network. Success is about trust, even in post-capitalism.

This collective structure design is subject to very general, but nonetheless clear ethical principles taken from hacker ethics, the integral revolution, and the p2p model of social organization. Money dynamics are neither controlled by a central authority nor completely unregulated, but managed collectively in a less archist and more participatory way. The decision-making method is fairer than the representative system but more agile than some of those huge, endless assemblies we used to enjoy.

FairFunds are important among FairCoop’s currently available tools. They will provide funding to projects that fall into the above-mentioned principles, and that can add to the common good. More than ten million Faircoins – about 20% of total supply — is already deposited in the FairFunds, and will be used to fund projects related to wealth redistribution to local communities worldwide, people empowerment, and the creation of commons and free technology.

FairMarket, our worldwide collaborative fair economy marketplace, is another space where we can change the way consumers and producers organize to exchange interesting goods and services, in a way that avoids middlemen and also helps the planet. This aspect of our project is currently in development for an upcoming beta launch.

Returning to the cryptocurrency, Faircoin has certain features which make it fit the FairCoop purposes. Basically, the process of extraction is different than that of Bitcoin (POW). It’s called minting (POS, proof-of-stake). But yeah, it was mostly about the name. Which currency you choose doesn’t actually matter that much. The most important features of this new system are not imprinted as algorithms in the code; instead they will come from the human input and democratic participation of all members.

With the creation skills available in our p2p commons networks, we’re sure that the Faircoin of the future will join the decentralized technology of the blockchain and the human-centered values of cooperation.

At any rate, besides the tools we have working or designed already, what matters most in FairCoop is the open process. In a world changing as rapidly as ours, where disruptive technologies are aggregating and creating an unprecedented multiplier effect, the way we can become as successful as possible is by also aggregating simultaneously, coming up with new and better ideas day by day, building our knowledge and experiences in our own FairCoop ecosystem.

We do not destroy the system by attacking it with our wooden spears. We are creating a valid alternative, and have started developing it. FairCoop aims to provide new, free, collaborative economic, social and technological tools for everyone, and will try to make sure they are used in a cooperative way for the creation and expansion of the commons worldwide. An Earth cooperative to build the fair world of the future.

We can all help to make this happen. You can learn about the different ways to get involved here.

Pablo Prieto is a scientist working on the science of a post-capitalist world. He is a member of FairCoop.

Enric Duran is a post-capitalist activist and co-founder of the Catalan Integral Cooperative and 

FairCoop. He is widely known as the “Robin Hood of the Banks” for his legendary anti-capitalist bank swindles.

First published at RoarMag.Org

Friday 9 January 2015

Cameron Uses the Greens to Dodge TV Leadership Debate

The decision by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom to exclude the Green party from the televised leaders' debate at the upcoming general election, for what seems to be the baffling reasoning that we are not a 'major' party, but UKIP and the Lib Dems are, has been seized on by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as justification for him not taking part himself.

It has long been rumored that Cameron wanted to avoid the debates, or at least have them in March, before the campaign run in begins, for tactical purposes. Tory party thinking is that in 2010 at the last election, the first time that televised, head to head debates between party leaders' have featured, actually improved Nick Clegg and even Gordon Brown's popularity. So much so that it probably denied the Tories an overall majority in Parliament. At this year's general election, the fear is that Nigel Farage of UKIP will benefit in the same way.

Furthermore, in the focus groups that the Tories run as part of their marketing operation, they have found that when they show televised footage of Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader, they get a different verdict from these groups depending the length of the clip. In short, sound bite ten second clips most think Miliband is nerdy and unimpressive. In longer, like twenty minute footage, the groups' perception is of a nice man, who has some interesting ideas.

So Cameron would prefer to avoid these debates altogether, the fallback position being they are held early, so perceptions of the TV debates wear off by polling day. The Ofcom decision gives him the chance to say that it's not fair to all parties, and opt out on principle. If there is a change of heart by Ofcom or individual broadcasters, then at least the Greens will do to Labour what he fears UKIP will do to the Tory vote.

The only danger for Cameron is if the broadcasters decide to hold them anyway, without him, which might backfire on him, and lose him even more votes.

You might expect on this blog, that I'm now about to put up some strong case for the inclusion of the Green party leader Natalie Bennett in these events. Well, I'm going to disappoint you then. Of course, there is no logic in excluding the Greens, but including UKIP and the Lib Dems, given recent polling, election results, membership levels and 300,000 petitioners. No argument there.

But I will be rather pleased if these debates do not occur at all.

The idea dates to the 1960 US election, when Kennedy and Nixon broke new political broadcasting ground. But the US is a massive country compared to Britain, and it would be impossible to get around the whole place.

The US also has a presidential system, we have a Parliamentary system, so you don't elect a Prime Minister, you elect a party representative, and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister. You may think that this is just semantics, and the leader plays a big role in their party’s fortunes, but a presidential style does not suit our electoral system.

The other big drawback with these TV debates is that it reduces the election to a personality contest, rather than about ideas and policies, which dumbs down even further what passes for democracy in the UK. It is all sound bites and pre learned lines, changing the subject on to what you want to talk about, to ridicule your opponents.

And look where the TV debate had its major influence in 2010. It enhanced Nick Clegg's standing and his party's hugely and where did that lead?

No, let's scrap these charades, we are better off without all that tripe.