Wednesday 31 May 2017

YouGov Poll - 'Lady Jane' May – Modern Day Queen for 9 months?

YouGov’s latest general election forecast for the Times, of how many seats in Parliament each party will win at the general election next week has caused panic in the Tory Party. The Tories may lose their overall majority, and a hung Parliament would be the result on 8 June, according to YouGov. There is a health warning with this poll from the pollster themselves, saying alternatively the Tories could gain an extra 15 seats. This poll is of course also open doubt anyway, given the recent inaccuracy of the polling industry generally.

Whilst the media report much scepticism from Labour MPs about this poll, Tory MPs are apparently plotting away, in an attempt to find one candidate to replace Theresa May as leader, should all of this come to pass. We know from experience just how ruthless the Tories are with leaders they perceive as losers, and even though the Tories would be the largest party on these calculations, there is no doubt it would finish off Theresa May as Prime Minister and Tory Party leader.

Remember, there was no real need for this election to be called in the first place, with three years to run of the Parliament, and with the Tories holding a small, but workable majority in the House of Commons. May claimed that she needed to call the election because the opposition parties, were err opposing her, on the terms of Brexit. It was a clear piece of political opportunism on May’s behalf, an attempted power grab, whilst the opposition was in some disarray.

May has also made this election a very personal one, one where the choice of the country’s leader is down to her or the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who she says is unelectable. The whole focus of the Tory campaign was to be her, and her leadership qualities, but this started to unravel almost immediately, with public perceptions becoming increasingly negative. The refusal to face Corbyn in a televised debate, the hiding away in remote locations where speeches were delivered to groups of Tory loyalists, all started to chip away at the favourable view of May the public had at the start of the campaign.

The wider campaign itself, has been by far the worst Tory Party general election campaign I can remember, which culminated in the disastrous policy U-Turn on social care, quickly dubbed the ‘dementia tax,’ and compounded by withdrawing winter fuel allowance from most pensioners and removing the ‘triple lock’ on pension increases, which would lead to lower pension rises in future. From this moment on, the campaign came alive as real contest.

The limited opportunities for the public and journalists to question May, that finally came have not gone well at all, with May looking awkward and robotic under questioning, which has further reduced her standing, it appears.

Some commentators are saying this poll will play to the Tories advantage, as Tory intending voters will now not be so complacent about turning out to cast their ballots. There could be some truth in this, and we will hear a lot about the infamous ‘coalition of chaos’ that the Tories say would be case if the result turns out like this YouGov forecast. This worked well for Tories in 2015, with scaremongering about the SNP forcing policies on the English, and may well do so again.

Or it could be that voters don’t want May to have a big majority and therefore force through whatever she deems to be in Britain’s interest. At least a coalition, even an informal one would have the advantage of speaking for different parts of the country and for supporters of different parties.

We will have to wait and see which view prevails, but one thing is for sure, even if the Tories manage a small majority again, May’s credibility will be shot. And anything worst than the Tories 12 seat majority from 2015, will spell the end for May as Prime Minister. Good riddance, I say, to this untalented megalomaniac.

I’ll leave you with Captain Ska’s ‘She’s a Liar, Liar,’ which has just reached number one in the music download charts.  


Tuesday 30 May 2017

Election Sky/Channel 4 TV Leader’s Debate Result – Corbyn 3 May 1

I’m probably being a bit on the generous side by awarding a goal to Theresa May in last night’s TV leader’s debate, but I still viewed it as a victory for the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, the Tories and their friends in the media are claiming victory in the debate, or at the very least a draw, but that is just spin.

Anyone who looked at Twitter threads, such as #Battlefornumber10, after the debate will have found that Corbyn was overwhelmingly judged to be winner. Even ex UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, judged Corbyn to have done well tweeting, ‘I may not agree with @jeremycorbyn but he came across as being totally sincere. Paxman didn't score any goals.’

Other comments included:

‘@SkyNews doing a great job on not mentioning how awful and inept @theresa_may was last night.’  

‘Watch @SkyNews try to #spin #Battefornumber10 in favour of May by not reflecting a totally different debate.’

‘After watching the #BatteForNumber10 - @jeremycorbyn for prime minister over Mrs May, any day!!’

‘It's a strange #BattleForNumber10 when one opponent refuses to debate the other. It makes Theresa May look weak, not strong & stable.’

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, hardly a Corbyn fan on past form, wrote ‘Jeremy Corbyn, more comfortable, more assured, with better prepared answers. Theresa May, really having to explain herself.’

The debate was split between questions from the audience, made up of one third Labour, one third Tory voters, and one third undecided, and an interview with veteran broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman.

In the audience section, I think every answer that Corbyn gave, received a warm and what looked to be a fairly unanimous round of applause. By contrast, May’s first 3 or 4 answers, all on domestic policy, were greeted by a complete silence from the audience. And, as some were putting it on Twitter ‘the audience laughed along with Corbyn, but laughed at May.’ 

There was one incident when May said that Labour’s figures ‘didn’t add up’ that brought a rather mocking burst of laughter from the audience.

It was noticeable that the Tories back of fag packet plan to pay for social care went down badly, even it seemed with Tory supporters. May looked like she has had some media presentational training for this event, but she still looked awkward and I found myself stopping listening to her long winded reciting of prepared lines, and it looked like the audience had a similar feeling.

In the second part of the debate, Paxman’s interview section, Corbyn was given a pretty rough time with questions about the IRA, Islamic terrorism, the nuclear deterrent and even the Falklands war, which is hardly very relevant. Paxman constantly interrupted Corbyn’s answers but he did well to parry these questions and rarely looked under pressure.

Paxman’s questioning of May was altogether much softer, throwing her some patsy questions on Brexit towards the end, but Paxman did perhaps come up with the most memorable line in the whole debate, when he accused May of being 'a blowhard who collapses at first sign of gunfire?’ May didn’t look happy at this description.

I have awarded May one goal, because of the audience reaction to her claim to be a tough negotiator, although it isn’t clear to me that she would be any good at the Brexit negotiations, we just have to take her word for it, it seems.

The decision by the Tories to make May personally the focus of their campaign now looks to be a miscalculation. She has avoided any direct debate with Corbyn, but what little the public are seeing of May, under some pressure, surely can’t be left with any other conclusion than May is limited and robotic, lacking any warmth and charm, and to be frank, a quite weak looking figure.

For the Tories and some in the media to claim this debate as a victory for May, or even a draw, is not in the least supported by what I saw on TV last night, but perhaps that is not the point of the Tory spin. Many, probably most voters will not have seen the debate, and may be fooled into thinking it was draw.

Corbyn was the clear winner.

Sunday 28 May 2017

Even Local Tory Leaders Pour Scorn on May’s Social Care Proposals

Despite the suspension of campaigning last week, which I thought threatened Labour’s momentum (with a small ‘m’) in the opinion polls, the polls have continued to narrow. The first poll by YouGov for The Times, after resumption of campaigning, cut the Tory lead to 5 points (from a high of 24 points only a couple of weeks ago). Research was conducted after the terrorist bombing in Manchester, has topline figures of CON 43%(-1), LAB 38%(+3), LDEM 10%(+1), UKIP 4%(+1). Although the same organisation puts the Tory lead at 7 points, in its latest poll today.

A whole raft other opinion polls were released overnight, in the main showing a narrowing of the Tory lead over Labour. For example, Opinium, who have topline figures of CON 45%(-1), LAB 35%(+2), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 5%(nc), and ORB for the Telegraph has topline figures of CON 44%(-2), LAB 38%(+4), LDEM 7%(nc), UKIP 5%(-2).

It appears, so far, that the bombing in Manchester has not halted Labour’s advance, with health and social care a much more important issue to voters. Only one Tory policy was recalled by more than one in five people – the changes to care funding (which was often described as dementia tax, or taking old people’s homes, or similarly negative terms), YouGov found.

Now, the Local Government Chronicle (subscription) has revealed that Tory local authority leaders are sceptical of the government’s proposals too.

Izzi Seccombe (Con), chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, told LGC last week that she was “not too sure” the plans would provide a sustainable long-term funding solution.

“The problem with retrospective payments is you need to be able to fund it in the meantime,” the Warwickshire CC leader added.

Essex CC leader David Finch (Con) said “This is not a solution. There needs to be a fundamental redesign of health and social care funding in the long term.

“There needs to be a more progressive system - not just a knee-jerk reaction but a plan over five years.”

Kent CC leader Paul Carter (Con), who is standing as a candidate for leader of the Conservative group on the Local Government Association, said a lack of detail in the manifesto meant the financial impact “remains to be seen”.

But added: “The £100,000 floor exacerbates the problem. More families with better access to free support will be relieved but it is a cost local authorities will have to pick up."

The Tories are desperately trying to change the narrative in the election campaign now, hoping to benefit from the terrorist attack in Manchester, by smearing the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as an apologist for terrorists, which of course he is not. Terrorism is a big problem, but to put it into context, these attacks are relatively rare, and there are much bigger areas of concern over things like health and social care, schools and wages.

This is where Labour needs to keep the campaign focussed, although I think they were right to tackle the terrorism issue head on, immediately campaigning resumed on Friday. Corbyn’s speech which touched on the effects of our foreign policy on terrorism at home, was long overdue from a prominent political party leader, but let us now move on.

The Tories are on the ropes at the moment, and we must not let them get off the ropes. Hammer them on domestic policy where their record is poor, and expose the prime minister, Theresa May, as the personal mediocracy that she is.

This election is now a contest, and we can just glimpse the opportunity of throwing the Tories out of office. No let up, let’s keep hammering them. 

Friday 26 May 2017

East Midlands is one of the new Frontlines in the Battle against Fracking

Written by Paul Frost of Frack Free Mansfield 

The Conservative Manifesto leaves us in no doubt what the Tories have in store for those areas of the UK that have been licensed for shale gas exploration.  They intend to push for the rapid development of a UK shale gas industry, altering the planning process to enable this by making activities in the process, short of actual hydraulic fracturing, “permitted development”.

In the North of England there are now sites being prepared at Preston New Road in Lancashire and Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire with community protection camps and local activists escalating their resistance.  I urge all who oppose fracking to support this resistance.

Plans for other drilling proceed across the South of England in Sussex and elsewhere.

Another now developing frontline is in the former coalfield areas that span the borders of North East Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and North and West Nottinghamshire where I live.  Exploratory drill sites for IGAS and Dart Energy have been granted planning permission at Misson Springs and Tinker Lane, two sites in the Bassetlaw District of North Nottinghamshire.  Meanwhile, the chemicals giant INEOS (of Grangemouth Refinery infamy, led by swaggering billionaire Jim Ratcliffe) hold the licences for much of the old coalfield areas of West Notts, North East Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.

INEOS have just put in planning permission for two wells – firstly at Marsh Lane, South of the Sheffield suburb of Mosborough and West of Eckington in North East Derbyshire and secondly at Harthill South of Rotherham.  At the same time they have announced their intention to seismic test from the area of these sites Southwards on both sides of the Derbyshire/ Nottinghamshire border, starting in early June.  They have secured the services of a firm, Arturius International, that makes much on its website of working to develop military sites in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  Their adverts for seismic testing staff (on crappy “self employed” contracts) openly targeted ex services personnel.

It is clear from this how INEOS see the local people and likely resisters in these areas.  They aim to descend like an occupying force.

The attitude and approach of INEOS has done much to boost the continuing growth of local community protection groups in the close knit communities of the former coalfield.  Ratcliffe’s minions have spent a fortune on 4, 6 and 8 page adverts in local newspapers; they have schmoozed various councils and councillors and gone round Parish Councils where they have often been given short shrift. The fact that their main cheerleaders locally are Tories and UKIPpers should be no surprise.

Despite the wealth and power of the would-be frackers, the resisting communities in the “sacrifice zone” have scored some early successes in delaying and hindering the attack on their water, air, roads, countryside and communities.  IGas and friends were delayed by a lengthy planning process which led to a burdensome restoration bond and extended Section 106 negotiations.  They now plan to start work in the autumn.  We know from Friends of the Earth Freedom of Information requests that INEOS were keen to get cracking before last Christmas and wanted to get access to County Council land for seismic testing.  This was torpedoed by Friends of The Earth revealing plans to seismic test and test drill on the edge of woodland that is part of the historic Sherwood Forest. 

An internationally reported protest followed in front of the iconic Major Oak, looking like a smaller version of the tree in the film Avatar.  We now know that this led to political advice that the early part of the year was “inappropriate” for such a decision, which is now scheduled for June, after the elections returned a Tory led coalition at Notts County Council.

The support of the Unite Union, in particular Unite Community, has been very helpful in initial funding for getting local groups off the ground.  There is good support from the wider labour and trade union movement and all the national environmental organisations.  The exceptions of course are the GMB union, whose rotten quisling leadership actually lined up with bosses organisations and the frackers in Lancashire to call for harsher policing against protesters and protectors.  

Unhelpfully one or two of the former Labour MPs in the old coalfield, like Natascha Engel in the area that includes the Marsh Lane site have also swallowed the INEOS line hook line and sinker.  Other MPS that the Tories are targeting due to the large Brexit vote in their constituencies have been more supportive of anti-fracking - in Mansfield the Green Party have not stood this time against anti-fracking Labour MP Sir Alan Meale, who faces a strong challenge from a Tory Candidate who has worked for a strongly pro-Fracking Tory MP in the County.  I spoke on behalf of Frack Free Notts and Frack Free Mansfield at the Nottinghamshire May Day Rally in Mansfield and got a good reception.

Fracking is particularly stupid in this part of the country, honeycombed as it is with former mine workings - it definitely does not need another source of seismic activity.  The Edwinstowe and Ollerton area is already known as “Earthquake capital of the UK” due largely to mining subsidence.

In addition there is the Sherwood Sandstone aquifer which the frackers will need to drill hundreds of wells through if they are to have what they hope to be an economically viable gas field.  It is the main drinking water aquifer for millions of people.

A well connected relative of a Tory Minister urged that fracking take place in “the desolate North” and there is an unspoken assumption that the people of the former coalfield areas are desperate and will take any old crap that is thrown at them.  But people of these areas are made of sterner stuff.  They know the price of divided communities (and the bribe ridden, community rupturing process of Fracking is guaranteed to divide) from the bitter experience of the Miners Strike.  Quite frankly the people of these communities are fed up of being seen as the most likely place to put incinerators, or landfills or frack sites.  One of the relatively buoyant local industries is leisure and tourism around Sherwood Forest – this is obviously under threat – holiday in a gas field anyone?  We are not a soft touch.

Every delay, every difficulty, blockade and lock-on eats into the time this industry has to prove itself to its’ investors before they get cold feet.  All allies from all parts of the country are welcome. This will be a major battle between the people and the environment on the one hand and the power of big business and the Tories on the other. Look out for escalating planned actions throughout the summer and lend your support physically or financially. 

Wednesday 24 May 2017

The Myth of Tory Economic Competence

Quite why Labour let them get away with it, I do not know, but the Tories, since the recession of 2008, have managed to paint Labour as reckless in economic matters, and themselves as the only party to be trusted with running the UK’s finances. Ably aided and abetted I might add, by the Lib Dems when in coalition government with the Tories.

But let us take a look at the reality of the situation. The 2008 recession was not caused by the Labour government, although they were happy to deregulate the banking industry, which certainly contributed to it, but they were not alone there, with governments around the world doing likewise. It beggars belief that the Tories would have done anything different on that score, and were indeed constantly calling for less regulation.

The central theme of the coalition and then fully Tory government has been to cut the budget deficit, by slashing spending on public services, causing much pain to those who rely on these services along the way. The budget deficit is the amount of money that the government spends, less the amount of taxation they receive. Put another way, it’s how much government debt is increasing each year, excluding interest payments. In 2010 with the economy showing signs of a fragile recovery, this deficit was £103 billion.  

The original Tory plan was to balance the books by 2015, but this failed to materialise, and instead the deficit was almost halved. Today the deficit stands at £15 billion, but the Tory government has set no target date for it to be eliminated. The deficit has fallen from 9.9% of GDP to 3.8% between 2009/10 and 2015/16. GDP of course tanked in 2008, and had recovered a little by 2010. You could, and the Tories do, sell this as steady progress, if not all that was originally promised.

But this is not the whole story, and seldom gets mentioned by the main stream media, but in the same period the UK’s debt has mushroomed from 40% of GDP to 88% of GDP and now stands at over £1.7 trillion and is rising. Does this look like any kind of success to you?

What happen was that the Tories took a slowly recovering economy and drove it into a ditch, by the simple-minded tactic of slashing public spending, and raising VAT, which reduced growth in the economy and in so doing, made it harder to pay off the nation’s debt. After two years of this, the Tories reduced the amount of public spending cuts to roughly the level that Labour had planned in their 2010 election manifesto.

You can see from the above graph that the budget deficit started to reduce more quickly after adopting Labour’s plan, and in effect they wasted three years, whilst causing all kinds of misery to the least wealthy people in the country, and giving tax breaks to the wealthy. An economy that is performing well below historical standards, public services on the brink of collapse, with wages stagnating, whilst prices are rising, is nothing to be proud of.

But the government’s narrative all along is of ‘strong and stable,’ 'Labour’s black hole in their budget,’ ‘spending plan simply doesn’t add up,’ to take a few examples. As opposed to the Tories courageously cutting the deficit inherited from wasteful Labour. No mention of the more than doubling of the national debt in their period in office though.

They were so confident of their public image for economic competence that they didn’t even bother to cost their manifesto this election, unlike Labour. Where we found the back of a fag packet policy of paying for adult social care, which suggested a floor of £100,000 on a person’s assets including their home. Four days later there was also a cap to limit the amount that can be charged to people. The amount of the cap has not been specified, so how do the Tories know how much it will raise?

So much for the Tories economic and financial competence, then. When the campaign resumes again after the suspension following the terrorist atrocity in Manchester, we will hear a lot about how you can’t trust Labour with the nation’s finances from the Tories. But the truth is, that their record is an extremely poor one.     

Sunday 21 May 2017

Nature, Labour, and the Rise of Capitalism

Written by  and first published at Monthly Review

Capitalism has, to put it mildly, a peculiar relationship with the natural world.1 Karl Marx perhaps summarized it best in the Grundrisse, where he wrote that with the rise of the capitalist mode of production, “for the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production.”2 In the same section, Marx notes that “capital creates the bourgeois society, and the universal appropriation of nature as well as of the social bond itself by the members of society.”

This instrumentalized relation to the natural world contrasts sharply with the ways that nature was seen and used by earlier human societies. This novel interaction with nature arose from the violent social transformations that accompanied the development of capitalism in Western Europe, and expanded with the spread of that system to the rest of the world. Marx catalogued the many forms of plunder and destruction perpetuated by early capitalism as it remade the world in its image: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.”3 Capital, he famously concluded, enters the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” as nature itself is subordinated to the needs of the system.4

In all historical societies, humans have had some form of metabolic interaction with nature. Through our labor, we have always transformed nature to satisfy our needs—indeed, as Marx puts it, the essence of labor is the “appropriation of nature for the satisfaction of human needs”:
Labor is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, thorough his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.5
Capitalism was a radical break with the past: for the first time, production of basic goods was driven by the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, and not primarily to satisfy human needs. This system of generalized commodity production has also changed us. We are alienated from the natural world, as the products of our own labor are no longer under our own control. Our very perception of nature is shaped by an economic system that treats “the environment” as a collection of commodities to be exploited for profit.

This historical emphasis on our changing relationship with the natural world is not unique to Marxism, or even to the left. The great Whig historian G. M. Trevelyan believed that among other things, social history must be concerned with “the attitude of man to nature.”6 Colonial encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations of the Americas offer a vivid—and bloody—illustration of these changing attitudes. These interactions were, on the whole, enormously destructive for the people and ecology of the Americas. Millions died from disease or military conquest, communities and civilizations were destroyed, and many thousands were enslaved.

Despite some European migrants’ vision of a land free from hierarchy and exploitation, the so-called New World rapidly came under the rule of capitalist social relations.7 A corresponding change occurred in the ways people understood the land and used its resources.

In her classic book Myths of Male Dominance, the anthropologist Eleanor Burke Leacock studied the changing social structures of the Montagnais-Naskapi people of Canada after the arrival of the French fur trade in the seventeenth century. The Montagnais were an egalitarian, matrilocal society of hunter-gatherers, and their social relations were governed by “generosity, cooperation, and patience…those who did not contribute their share were not respected, and it was a real insult to call a person stingy.” Despite the upheavals the Montagnais had endured, Leacock still found vestiges of a quite different social organization during her twentieth-century fieldwork:
As far as I could see, decision-making on such important issues was a most subtle process—indeed an enigma to the fieldworker schooled in competitive hierarchies—whereby one found out how everybody concerned felt without committing oneself until one was fairly sure in advance that there would be common agreement. I was constantly struck by the…continual effort…to operate together unanimously…in the direction of the greatest individual satisfaction without direct conflict of interest.8
The Jesuit missionaries who accompanied the fur traders to Canada were horrified by Montagnais life, and set about trying to “civilize” the tribe. Within a decade, the old order began breaking down, as the economic base of Montagnais society was transformed. The European market for fur was enormous, and to meet this insatiable demand, traders offered the Montagnais and other indigenous peoples European goods in exchange for tens of thousands of pelts. The communities around the trading stations consequently grew dependent on French tools, weapons, clothing, and food. Filling French orders for fur meant that the Montagnais ceased to be hunters who spent large parts of the year travelling long distances; they instead became sedentary trappers. The collective, collaborative experience of hunting gave way to a more individualistic one, with single people managing traps and reaping the rewards. Before the Europeans’ arrival, the Montagnais had no notion of private property; now the land was divided into individually owned lots. Social relations changed too: under pressure from the Jesuits, the patriarchal European model of family life came to dominate, as women were forced out of their role as producers and men took on the primary task of trapping.

Similar changes occurred everywhere European traders went, as John F. Richards notes in his study of the commodification of animals. For instance, “although the Creeks adapted quickly and successfully to the new incentives of the deerskin trade, they…faced a basic contradiction. Economic and political forces made it imperative that they deliver a maximal number of deer skins every year. They became market hunters linked into the world market who used muskets to avidly pursue as many deer and bear as possible.”9

It is important not to romanticize the life of indigenous peoples before European arrival, lest we slip into old tropes of “noble savages” living in perfect harmony with nature. As Richards notes, evidence exists that in pre-contact times, Native Americans faced with an abundance of prey would kill more animals than they needed, to ensure they got the choicest food.

But this hardly compares with the scale of the slaughter of animals driven by European demand for fur and skins. As Richards puts it: “Once Indians were touched by the stimulus of market demand, any restraints they had previously maintained eroded rapidly. Pursuit of the material rewards offered by the fur traders forced Indians to hunt preferred species steadily, despite declining numbers…. What they became were commercial hunters caught up in the all-consuming market.”10

Even Europeans’ wide-eyed descriptions of the New World often read like catalogues of natural commodities. Thus the explorer Martin Pring, in his 1603 report on the island later named Martha’s Vineyard, seemed to be compiling a kind of shopping list of trees. Centuries of deforestation had made wood expensive in Europe, and Pring recognized the island’s potential riches:
As for Trees the Country yeeldeth Sassafras a plant of sovereigne vertue for the French Pox, and as some of late have learnedly written good against the Plague and many other Maladies; Vines, Cedars, Okes, Ashes, Beeches, birch trees, Cherie trees bearing fruit whereof we did eat; Hasels, Witchhasels, the best wood of all other to make Sope-ashes withall; walnut trees, Maples, holy to make Bird lime with and a kinde of tree bearing a fruit like a small red Peare-plum.11
Letters home from other visitors to the Americas include similar inventories of natural resources. Explorer James Rosier described coastal vegetation in Maine as “the profits and fruits which are naturally on these Ilands.”12

The transformation in attitudes toward nature that followed European arrival in the Americas mirrors that which accompanied the rise of capitalism in Europe. Keith Thomas has pointed out that in Tudor and Stuart times, “the long established view was that the world had been created for man’s sake and that other species were meant to be subordinate to his wishes and needs.”13 By way of illustration, Thomas cites a fanciful early seventeenth-century poem depicting animals as willingly heading off to their slaughter for human consumption:
The pheasant, partridge and the lark
Flew to thy house, as to the Ark.
The willing ox of himself came
Home to the slaughter, with the lamb;
And every beast did thither bring
Himself to be an offering
The separation of the people from the soil, one of the “original sources of wealth,” was a protracted and brutal one. Rural producers were turned into wage laborers. Many were pushed off the land into the growing towns and cities; others were forced to emigrate, often to the frontiers of capitalism in the New World. The remainder lost their traditional rural role, becoming wage laborers, as Marx recognized:
The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after he had ceased to be bound to the soil and ceased to be the slave or serf of another person…the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-laborers appears on the one hand as their emancipation from serfdom…. But on the other, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after they have been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements.14
This new primacy of private property had to be enforced, and in England, Parliament enacted hundreds of new laws to encourage further enclosure and limit shared use of land. Such legislation was needed, as E. P. Thompson noted, because “property was not, in 1700, trenched around on every side by capital statutes.”15 Thompson referred specifically to the notorious 1723 Black Act, which criminalized unauthorized “hunting, wounding or stealing of red or fallow deer [in a forest, common lands, or Royal Park], and the poaching of hares, conies or fish.” The law imposed capital punishment on those found guilty of poaching.16

As the great agricultural trade unionist Joseph Arch noted, the act and other anti-poaching laws went beyond protecting private property to alter the ways that people used the country’s natural resources:
We laborers do not believe hares and rabbits belong to any individual, not anymore than thrushes or blackbirds do…. To see hares and rabbits running across his path is a very great temptation to many a man who has a family to feed…so he may kill a hare or a rabbit when it passes his way, because his wages are inadequate to meet the demands on them, or from dire necessity, or just because he likes jugged hare as well as anybody else.17
The Black Act was part of “making the world safe for English merchants and landlords to increase in wealth and so to contribute to the new power of the English state.”18

As in the Americas—though with far less bloodshed—such changes transformed social attitudes toward nature. Henry Best was an English yeoman farmer who saw his land triple in value through a process of enclosure in the mid-1600s. The author of several works on improved agricultural methods, Best had developed his own system for selling animals at optimal prices. All of this made him “intolerant” of the remaining communal traditions among his fellow villagers, and he refused to contribute to the shared hay stock for winter because “our hay would have been spent in feeding other men’s animals.” Best worked vigorously to ensure that other farmers’ animals did not stray onto his land, even keeping watch in the middle of the night. Deliberately isolating himself from his neighbors, Best represented an early case of the classic capitalist small landholder, driven by the desire to maximize his own profits at the expense of the wider community.19

The parceling up of the land in effect created private property where there was none before, and new restrictions on the use of nature by rural populations formed a foundational part of the new capitalist order, managed and protected by the state. As historian George Yerby writes, “the land was being pinned down, set at a conceptual distance, captured on the page and assessed in theory, rather than simply worked as a continuous, unbroken physical exercise.”20

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, an anonymous pamphlet circulated by the Diggers in 1648, complained bitterly of the rapid spread of enclosure:
All the Land, Trees, Beasts; Fish, Fowle, &c. are inclosed into a few mercinary hands; and all the rest deprived and made their slaves, so that if they cut a Tree for fire they are to be punished, or hunt a fowle it is imprisonment, because it is gentlemens game, as they say; neither must they keep Cattle, or set up a House, all ground being inclosed, without hyring leave for the one, or buying room for the other, of the chiefe incloser, called the Lord of the Mannor, or some other wretch as cruell as he.
These changes provoked spirited resistance. Anti-enclosure movements threw down fences and hedges, and riots broke out in protest of new land laws. Massed bands of poachers confronted armed gamekeepers in set-piece battles, and communities fought in the courts, in the streets, and in the fields to protect their shared interests. Later the rise of agricultural unions moved the battle away from violent clashes toward the struggle over wages and working hours, but riots and protests were for decades the principal form of mass outrage at what was being done to common people and their land.

The “classical case against the open-field and common,” Thompson writes, “was its inefficiency and wastefulness of time.” He cites a 1795 report complaining that the rural laborer, “in sauntering after his cattle…acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half and occasionally whole days are imperceptibly lost. Day labor becomes disgusting.”21 In Thompson’s view, enclosure and agricultural improvement were “concerned with the efficient husbandry of the time of the labor force.” In towns and cities, urban industry had “time discipline” at its heart, and education served as “training in the ‘habit of industry.’”22 Workers in the new factories and workshops had to be broken from their old habits into new ways of working.

This primary accumulation of wealth, as Marx called it, laid the basis for the development of the capitalist system, and severed traditional ties between the people and the soil, concentrating workers in towns and cities. This process of urbanization and proletarianization also brought with it a new form of time discipline, and the use of “reserve armies of the unemployed” to inhibit workers’ struggles against their employers.

All of this led ultimately to the rise of fossil fuels, which came to dominate British industry in the nineteenth century. This process was neither automatic nor speedy. As late as 1800, only eighty-four steam engines powered cotton mills in England, compared to around a thousand mills run by water.23 John Robison, a professor of philosophy and lifelong friend of James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, complained: “Water is the most common power and indeed the best, as being the most constant and equable; while wind comes sometimes with greater violence and at others is totally gone. Mills may also be moved by the force of steam…but the expense of fuel most undoubtedly prevent this mode of constructing mills from ever becoming general.”24

Nonetheless, steam engines were adopted eventually, despite the high capital costs of plant and fuel and the novel engineering needed. One reason was that they freed mill owners from the natural limits of hydropower; only so many water wheels can be installed over a particular river, and only in so many suitable locations are available. Fossil fuels, cheap and abundant, had no such constraints.

But the main reason that fossil fuels came to dominate capitalist production, as Andreas Malm argues in his recent book Fossil Capital, is that steam power offered “a ticket to the town.” Steam meant that industry could now be located in urban areas where workers disciplined in factory work could be easily hired (and fired). No longer would factory owners be compelled to build homes, churches, and schools in remote valleys. Instead, the slums of Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow became the major sites for mills. In 1833, J. R. McCulloch explained these developments in the Edinburgh Review: “The work that is done by the aid of a stream of water is generally as cheap as that which is done by steam, and sometimes much cheaper. But the invention of the steam-engine has relieved us from the necessity of building factories in inconvenient situation merely for the sake of a waterfall. It has allowed them to be placed in the center of a population trained to industrious habits.”25 Marx wrote that the process of primitive accumulation “conquered the field for capitalist agriculture, incorporated the soil into capital and created for the urban industries the necessary supplies of free and right-less proletarians.”26

That the capitalist mode of production transformed human social relations is universally known, but it served equally to alter the relationship between humanity and nature. The separation between town and country grew, and the concentration of people in new and growing urban areas drove the adoption of new technologies and labor methods. Fossil fuels became the dominant form of energy, further enabling capital to exploit the workforce. Twenty-first century ecological crisis was never inevitable, but it became steadily more likely with capitalism’s global expansion. Understanding the historical processes that gave rise to the Anthropocene will be a vital weapon in the struggle for a sustainable and just world.

Martin Empson is the author of Land and Labour (Bookmarks, 2014).


  1. This article is based on two talks, the first given in May 2014 at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the second in November 2016 at the Marx Memorial Library in London, as part of the Raphael Samuel History Center’s History and Environment seminar series.
  2. Karl Marx,Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1977), 410.
  3. Karl Marx,Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1990), 915.
  4. Marx,Capital, vol. 1, 926.
  5. Quoted in John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 157; Marx,Capital, vol. 1, 283.
  6. G. M. Trevelyan,English Social History (London: Pelican, 1982), 10.
  7. For an excellent description of this process in one relatively small area of North America, see John Tully, Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).
  8. Eleanor Burke Leacock, Myths of Male Dominance (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008), 71–72.
  9. Richards,The World Hunt (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press), 35–36.
  10. Richards,The World Hunt, 45–46.
  11. William Cronon,Changes in the Land (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), 21.
  12. Cronon,Changes in the Land, 20-21.
  13. Keith Thomas,Man and the Natural World (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 17.
  14. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 875.
  15. E. P. Thompson,Whigs and Hunters (London: Penguin, 1977), 21.
  16. Thompson,Whigs and Hunters, 22.
  17. Quoted in Horn,The Rural World 1780–1850 (London: Hutchinson, 1980), 181.
  18. Christopher Hill,Liberty against the Law (London: Penguin, 1997), 9.
  19. George Yerby,The English Revolution and the Roots of Environmental Change (New York: Routledge, 2016), 250.
  20. Yerby,The English Revolution, 89.
  21. E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,”Past and Present 38 (1967): 77.
  22. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” 78, 84.
  23. Andreas Malm,Fossil Capital (London: Verso, 2016), 56.
  24. Malm,Fossil Capital, 56.
  25. Quoted in Malm,Fossil Capital, 123-124.
  26. Marx,Capital, vol. 1, 895.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Tory Manifesto Reveals Plan to Control Internet and Disenfranchise Voters

Written by Nadia Prupis and first published at Common Dreams

In contrast to the U.K. Labour Party's progressive blueprint, Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled the Conservative Party's election manifesto on Thursday, sparking a wave of backlash over a pledge to create a new internet that would let the government control what gets posted online.

"Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and internet," the manifesto states. "We disagree."

It continues that it wants the U.K. to become "the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet."

Senior Tories confirmed to Buzzfeed News that means the party wants to impose strict rules on what people can write or share on the internet and social media, and require internet companies to go along with the government's so-called counter-terrorism programs or face repercussions.

In particular, the Tories said, Conservatives would seek to rein in the growing power of Facebook and Google, which have historically resisted calls to share information with the government—something May's party found out when it attempted to get WhatsApp to decrypt data after an attack on the U.K. Parliament in March, Buzzfeed noted.

Indeed, the pledge comes just months after May approved the Investigatory Powers Bill, introducing what transparency advocates called the most extreme surveillance law ever passed by a democracy. The legislation requires internet companies to keep diligent records of customers' browsing histories and forces apps to give the government a backdoor to their encrypted messaging services.

The new rules would also give the government unprecedented power in deciding what kind of content can be accessed online and would require internet companies to pay fees—like those currently imposed on gambling firms—that would fund advertisements warning users about the dangers of the internet. The pledge also states that May would "take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy" and crack down on companies to make sure that news outlets get enough advertising money.

If the companies resist, the manifesto promises to punish them.

"We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches U.K. law," it reads.

Jim Killock, who runs the U.K.-based privacy advocacy organization Open Rights Group, told Buzzfeed that the rules would impose strict penalties on social media platforms for little benefit, considering that companies like Facebook are already more restrictive than the law.

"It's hard to see what really is going to be added by this except enormous costs for little benefit," Killock said.

Facebook "won't get it right—they'll behave in a risk-averse fashion," he said. "They'll censor more than they need to. I do not want Mark Zuckerberg to think of himself as judge and jury of what people can say in Britain."

The rest of the manifesto did not bode much better, with vows to reduce immigration numbers, introduce a "meritocracy" into British society, deliver a swift Brexit, and force voters to present identification in order to cast a ballot—a controversial provision that has been slapped down throughout the U.S. as unconstitutional and racist. The ID rule could prevent an estimated 3.5 million people from voting, the Electoral Commission said.

Elsewhere, the manifesto proposes taxing home care for the elderly by counting it as part of their assets. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn—whose party's manifesto was well-received last week—slammed the proposal as a "tax on dementia."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Friday 19 May 2017

Why is May Taking a Risk with Core Tory Voters?

The Conservative Party general election manifesto was finally launched on Thursday, in Halifax in Yorkshire, a Labour held marginal constituency, and included some quite un-Tory like policies. At face value the manifesto is a departure from something like 40 years of Tory ideological dogma.

Take this passage from the manifesto: “We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogmas not just as needless but dangerous.”  

This runs counter to everything the Tories have stood for since Margaret Thatcher became their leader in 1975. The ideology was fuelled by the thinking of neo-liberal economists like Milton Freedman and Friedrich Hayek and became known as the Chicago School of Economics (emanating in the main from the University of Chicago).

The essence of the ideology was that the nation state was bureaucratic and inefficient in supplying public services and in the process held back private businesses from being efficient (making big profits) with regulations on employment and much else. It was also said to discourage entrepreneurial activity by individuals, by taxing higher incomes and profitable businesses.

The solution offered was to reduce the size the state by privatising public services, closing down nationalised industries that were not profitable and to deregulate the economy to free up businesses to get on with money making. Along the way, trade unions would need to be weakened, if not crushed completely, as they were seen as holding back this process.

The first experiment of the theory in a real economy began in 1973 when Salvador Allende’s democratically elected socialist government in Chile, was violently overthrown by army General Pinochet’s coup, with help from America’s CIA. Many socialists and trade union activists were murdered in the process, and the economy was set on a neo-liberal pathway.

Thatcher became Tory Prime Minister in 1979, and set about transforming the British political and economic orthodoxy which had stood since the end of World War 2. By the 1990s the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had also adopted this neo-liberal ideology, but sought to smooth off some of the rough edges.

May is not advocating renationalising public services, or raising taxes on wealthy individuals and big businesses and there will be further curbs on trade unions taking industrial action. But if her rhetoric is to be believed, and there must be some doubt as to whether actual actions will amount to much of a change in practice, it will be news to many Tory supporters that they do not believe in ‘untrammelled free markets.’

May’s policies on immigration are not popular with the business community either, with the aim of reducing net immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ which I take to mean less than 100,000 net immigrants per year. Even her own ministers have said that this is unlikely to be met, and immigration may need to increase once we leave the European Union and freedom of movement ends. The economy would likely collapse for lack of workers.

This is compounded by the policy of charging businesses £2,000 per immigrant worker that they employ, which has received at best a lukewarm reception from business organisations. Normally, most business leaders are rock solid Tory supporters, so she is taking a risk here too.  

Then there is May’s apparent change of demographic electoral tactics that are her policies towards older, retired voters. The means testing of pensioners winter allowance, and therefore the taking of this money off the vast majority of pensioners, for example. 

The reduction of the so-called "triple lock" on pensions to a "double lock" with the state pension to rise by the higher of average earnings or inflation - but to no longer go up by 2.5% if they are both lower than that, will also make pensioners poorer.

But perhaps the riskiest policy of all is the proposal for how adult social care should be paid for. This is a huge problem in the UK, and certainly needs addressing, but forcing people to use the value of their properties to pay for care, is very un-Tory like.

Ever since Thatcher sold off the best of the public housing stock at knock down prices, house price rises and ownership has been central to economic strategy. Rising prices, achieved by restricting supply, particularly of affordable public housing, and so forcing up the price of housing, for sale or rent, has been the major driver of economic growth in the UK.

Property ownership is now expected to provide a pension for many people, and with these latest proposals it is to be expected to pay for health care as well, if necessary.

One of the few ways for younger people to have a chance of purchasing a property these days, is to get a parental loan, often raised against the value of the family home, or of inheriting the family home when their parents die. If this money is to be used (all but £100,000 of it) to pay for care, then this closes off an opportunity for young people too, or at least those lucky enough to have property owning parents.

This policy on its own, has the potential to be very unpopular with older voters, a demographic that tends to vote Tory in large numbers and are reliable at turning out to vote. It could cost the Tories the election.

A big risk, which May doesn’t need to take really, but she seems to be high on hubris, which for most Prime Ministers takes a few years, and more than one election victory. May has been Prime Minister for less than a year, won no elections and she already has delusions of grandeur.

This could well backfire on May, this election may not be the foregone conclusion that most commentators assume.  

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Labour’s 31% UK General Election Strategy seems to be Paying Off

At the 2015 general election, the Labour Party leadership were said to be pursuing a 35% strategy. This referred to Labour trying to appeal to its own supporters and those of the Lib Dems who were appalled by the party going into coalition with the Tories in 2010. If Labour had achieved a 35% vote share they would probably have had a small overall majority in Parliament.

The opinion polls put them not far off scoring 35%, but in the end Labour only polled 30.4% of the share of the vote in the 2015 general election, and the Tories ended up with a small majority of their own. It is important to note what the 2015 opinion polling was predicting, because they got the result badly wrong, and what I say below is based on this year’s opinion polls, and may well be wrong again.

In the last few days opinion polls have started predicting Labour getting into the low 30 per cents of the national vote share. ORB’s weekly poll in the Sunday Telegraph has topline figures of CON 46%(nc), LAB 32%(+1), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 7%(-1). Whilst Opinium in the Observer has topline figures of CON 47%(+1), LAB 32%(+2), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 5%(-2), GRN 2%(nc). A third poll by YouGov/Sunday Times has topline voting intention figures of CON 49%, LAB 31%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 3%.

A fourth poll released on Tuesday by Panelbase has topline figures of CON 47%(-1), LAB 33%(+2), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 5%(nc), which is the highest figure of the campaign for Labour. What is different now though to the 2015 general election is the Tories are polling much better than they did in 2015, where they got only 36.9% of the vote share. You can see from the above polling that the Tories are polling in the high 40s per cent, so a 31% strategy for Labour, or indeed a 35%, will not be enough for Labour to even remove the Tories small majority from 2015, and the Tories look to be on course for a substantial majority this year.

But that is not the point of the 31% strategy at all. It is not about Labour getting a majority, or even limiting the Tory majority much, it is all about the internal, ongoing struggle for control of the Labour Party. The Unite union leader Len McCluskey, gave the game away really by saying that Labour winning around 200 seats in the general election would be a good result, although that would be the worse general election result for Labour since 1935. McCluskey later backtracked on the coment.

What the 31% strategy would achieve, and this seems to be the objective of it, is that it would beat the 2015 share of the vote which ex Labour leader, Ed Miliband, got. Then it can be argued after the election, that Labour are heading in the right direction, and secure Jeremy Corbyn’s future as Labour leader. In terms of ambition, this is pretty piss poor, but Labour are only interested in internal party conflicts here rather than winning this election.

Of course, changing the Labour Party is a big job, and may well take more than one general election to cement, but it does leave the country at the mercy of an ultra-right wing Tory Party, with a huge majority in Parliament. For this not to happen, Labour needs to take potential voters off the Tories, and the Lib Dems need to as well, with the SNP holding off the Tory revival in Scotland, and retaining their gains from 2015.

There are still three weeks to go until the election, so maybe the Tory vote can be eaten into, but we need to see the Tory polling figure falling below 40%, which to be fair was the case in the recent local elections where the Tories got only 38% of the vote share. So maybe this is possible. 

I’m clutching at straws perhaps, but the alternative of a rampant, emboldened Tory government, is a very scary prospect indeed. As John Cleese says in the film ‘Clockwise,’ “It's the HOPE - that's what's killing me.”