Tuesday 31 October 2017

English Green Party Conference Report – Sparsely Attended, a bit Bleak but Not Without Controversy

Written by David Taylor 
I thought that Green Party conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, might be a fairly low key affair after the 2017 General Election but it turned out to be the most sparsely attended of the seven Green conferences I have been to. One motion was passed by 84 votes to 81 with no more than 200 present; at times people had to be summoned back from the refreshment bars as conference had become inquorate. 

This compares with 2016 where there were well over 1,000 people in the hall at times. The social scene was a bit bleak with less of the traditional shindigs. No disco, young greens music night or open mic. night - although the Big Green Quiz survived.

Klina Jordan addressed conference the next day as co-proposer, with Caroline Lucas and other notables, of a motion which became controversial. Part of it “welcomed” the fact that many Constituency Labour Parties had signed up to Klina`s Make Votes Matter campaign for proportional representation. 

An amendment was moved to replace “welcome” by “noted” - after all, nothing Labour members did could possibly be welcome, could it? It is ironic that the very next week the Young Labour conference declared that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground if the planet is to avoid the worst climate change scenario. They passed a motion calling for all public bodies to divest their funds from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables as part of the Just Transition industrial strategy to decarbonise the economy while ensuring jobs for workers in affected industries. A welcome move.    

Green Party Governance

Much of the Green Party`s structure and processes date back to the mid 1970s and for many years there have been proposals for both procedure and policy making to be more inclusive, straightforward, efficient, up to date, democratic etc. A Governance Review Group was set up a few years ago and, as I understand it, was due to come up with some proposals about now. However, this body seems to have bit the dust after conference passed a motion backed by the party leadership saying that “further consideration” of proposals be suspended.

There is now to be an “Urgent and Holistic Review of how the Green Party operates”. The Executive Committee and Regional Committee have been instructed to establish a Commission, chaired by “a respected member” of the party and appoint ten other members selected for their skills and experience. 

They will conduct a complete review and submit their report to conference urgently. Some members have said that the whole thing seems a bit “top down” but the final decision on their proposals will go to a referendum (oh no!) of the full membership. 

Interesting and Inspiring Fringes

A well attended and informative fringe called jointly by Green House think tank, Lucas Plan Just Transition Group, Green Party Trade Union Group, Green Left and PCS asked - How can a low carbon economy create new employment? It was pointed out that there are over 31 million workers and they all have a stake in the transition to a low carbon/low energy economy – not just those in the obvious sectors. 

Sam Peters, from the civil service union PCS, outlined the union`s thinking on the transformation of the economy by a future radical government and some of the nuts and bolts involved. These included a Ministry for Jobs, Skills and Social Protection with a positive role for Job Centres working in partnership with and having democratic input from the local community. A National Climate Agency would ensure that environmental costs and benefits were factored into all projects.

Deputy Leader Amelia Womack chaired the panel discussion “After Grenfell”.  Everyone on the panel agreed that the leaders of Kensington & Chelsea council had treated their tenants with contempt over many years; little imagining that a tower block tenant would prove to be their nemesis. Joe Delaney lived in the next tower block to Grenfell, and only 25 metres away. 

He described how he woke up in the early hours to see a raging inferno outside his window. Now a spokesperson for the Grenfell Action Group, Joe told us how he had been going through a difficult period in his life “it doesn`t sound good” he said “but the fight for justice for the Grenfell victims and their families has given me something to live for.” 

Unfortunately for the council Joe is not only articulate and determined but his previous career was in the housing and legal departments of a large council in the north. He is an inspiring speaker and received a standing ovation.        

Another charismatic speaker was local solicitor Jennifer Nadel, who gave us a brilliant picture of election night in Kensington when the Tories lost one of their safest seats. She had seen from early in the day that masses of people from the estates, including Grenfell, were turning out and queuing at the polls – mostly people who never usually voted. 

As night fell and news of a recount spread, people began to gather outside the town hall, the crowd soon swelling to several thousand. When the news of a Labour win was announced everyone was ecstatic and started the singing and dancing that made it seem like carnival for the rest of the night. Jennifer said she was deeply moved and although she had been a Green party candidate said “that night the people won”. 

Two Motions Lost

The Trade Union Congress, often depicted as a lumbering carthorse, is not noted for its lightning speed in grasping issues and tackling them before you can say knife. So the unanimous decision to pass a Climate Change Motion at their 2017 conference is a historic step. The motion notes “the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment...” and they advocate various measures for transition to an environmental sustainable future for all. 
An emergency motion to the Green Conference, although recognising that the TUC motion did not go far enough, welcomed their new stance and called upon the Green Party leadership to work with the trade union movement and their political representatives to campaign for a just transition. This motion was lost. This reflects the composition of the 2017 conference as the motion would have probably have passed at previous conferences. 
A motion which advocated emphasising the “environmental dimension” to all issues and bringing ecological themes into topics “not normally associated with them” was generally understood as being an attempt to move the party back to the “good old days” of the Ecology Party. This motion was also defeated. But only by the narrow margin of 129 to 112. 

A Difficult period ahead for the Green Party

Jonathan Bartley gave a rip roaring address listing all the reasons he was so proud of the Green Party and so proud to be a member. The reasons were many and each one received a thunderous round of applause. Jonathan was proud that we have never failed to live up to the new Green Party slogan “Speaking Truth to Power” and we never will, whatever others may do. The Green Party had the second best General Election result in its history in 2017 and he was pleased to see Theresa May lose her majority but disappointed with Labour.

All is not doom and gloom. The Greens still have Caroline Lucas MP. We are still winning council seats in some areas. The party has three times as many members as a few years ago and has held on to 65% of people who joined in the Green Surge. Our members are at the forefront of the anti-fracking movement and other campaigns on the ground and as the effects of global warming become more evident the party is bound to attract new support. 

But these positives cannot disguise the fact that the political landscape has changed and there is the realistic possibility of a Corbyn led Labour Party with a radical agenda forming a progressive government. The Green Party is bound to be squeezed electorally.

Paul Mason has said “Many Labour people, including myself, want to see a strategic alliance of Labour, the progressive nationalists and the Greens in place, even if Labour were to win an overall majority”. That, along with PR, is the stuff to give the troops. Rather than retreat into a glorious isolation we can campaign for Green Party policies while also working for the election of a Corbyn led government. 

David Taylor is member of Bridgwater & West Somerset Green Party and a Green Left Supporter

Sunday 29 October 2017

What are the Implications of Catalonian Independence for the UK?

There is a big question mark over whether Catalonia will actually get away with Friday’s vote in the Catalan Parliament to declare themselves to be an Republic independent from Spain. The Spanish government has taken over control Catalonia and says it will call new elections within six months, which opinion polls indicate would see the independence parties lose control of Parliament. A campaign of civil disobedience is being organised by Catalan civil society which may make the country ungovernable from Madrid.

If somehow the Catalans succeed in achieving a breakaway from the Spanish state, it may well have an impact in the UK. The UK has played a part in events in Catalonia, by allowing Scotland to have a referendum in 2014, when, ultimately, the Scots voted to stay in the UK, but the fact they were allowed to hold such a vote, quite legitimately, encouraged the Catalans to demand their own referendum on independence.

I have visited Catalonia a few times, the last time in 2014, just a couple of months before the Scottish referendum. Catalonia was a nation that was last independent almost as long ago as Scotland was, and on the Spanish side of the border almost everyone was flying Catalan flags from their balconies and with a campaign in full swing to demand a referendum on Catalan independence. The Scotland/UK situation featured heavily in the independence campaign literature.

Interestingly, on the French side of the border, almost as many Catalan flags could be seen on display, but usually side by side with the French tricolour. I think the difference is down to the recent history of Spain, with the Franco regime still in the consciousness of Catalans, where Barcelona was amongst the last places to hold out on the Republican side against Franco’s fascists, in the Spanish civil war, from 1936 to 1939.

There is a difference in the situation of Scotland and Catalonia, in that their basis for remaining in a union with adjacent countries, constitutionally. The Scots entered the union with England in 1707 but there was no provision in the Act of Union for the Scots not to change their minds and revert to independence at some time in the future. 

Contrast this with the Spanish constitution adopted after nearly forty years of fascism in 1978, which specifically forbids regions from withdrawing from the union with Spain. This is largely the reason why the situation has got where it is today in Catalonia. It is quite likely that if the Catalans had been allowed a legitimate referendum, they would have voted to remain in Spain, but after recent events, I’m not so sure now that they would. Who wants to remain in a country that sends its police thugs to beat you up, for trying vote?

The 1978 constitution was overwhelmingly supported by a referendum in all parts of Spain, but census data and results were questioned by some media, revealing up to 30% of irregularities in the census in certain provinces, and with many people allegedly being unable to vote while others voted twice. It is probably time to change this constitution, if the crisis in Catalonia is to be satisfactorily resolved. The period since 1978 is the only time that Catalonia has been part of Spain voluntarily. 

Will Scotland’s interest in independence be rekindled by the action of the Catalans? There has been no noticeable shift in voting intentions in opinion polls on Scottish independence, even after the UK Brexit vote, but if Catalonia makes a success of it, what then? The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has expressed support for Catalonia. 

Then there is Northern Ireland, where their status as members of the UK, will be subject to some future referendum, under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. When the demographics favour the nationalist population, and it is heading in that direction, the Northern Irish may vote to join the Republic of Ireland. Brexit may speed up this process too.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said on October 27 that the Declaration of Independence made by the Catalan Parliament is “a historic step towards Catalan statehood” and “it is time for Spain to seize the opportunity for dialogue”. He continued:

“The democratically elected Parliament of Catalonia have today made a Declaration of Independence. It is a historic step towards Catalan statehood. The right to self-determination is a corner stone of international law and this declaration must be respected.

I want to express my solidarity with the people of Catalonia on this historic day. I believe it is now incumbent on the Spanish government to agree an internationally mediated process on the way forward. That is what the Catalan government have offered. That goodwill must be reciprocated.”

Support for Catalonia in London 

In the rest of the UK, where next might demand a referendum, on at least greater devolution if not full independence? Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire and maybe even London might be next? The rest of the English regions would surely want to fight their corner too, and this is already happening to an extent, with the big cities (including London) banding together to control more powers at local level.

Interestingly, at the time of the Scottish referendum I saw an opinion poll of Londoners which indicated that 20% supported the idea of an independent London. Last week another poll asked London dwellers how they describe their nationality and 46%, by far the most popular description, said ‘Londoner’. If asked this question abroad, many foreigners have said to me that Londoners and New Yorkers use their city name instead of country.

The acquiescence of national governments and supranational institutions like the European Union to globalisation, are increasingly leading to regional tensions, as the real powers shaping people’s lives is seemingly left to remote bodies and global corporations. This tendency is likely to increase unless meaningful powers are returned to a more local level, everywhere.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Theatre Review – Young Marx

I went to see this play written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman last week, at the new ‘commercial’ theatre, many ironies to ponder there, Tower Theatre, on London’s south bank, near Tower Bridge. The theatre is spacious and with unimpeded views but as with so many new purpose built theatres, and much of the south bank, it feels a bit soulless but is very functional. 

But to the play itself. The stage set is very good, with a backdrop of a grey London of smoking chimneys which kind of gets you into the right mood for the action. You could almost feel Victorian London in the atmosphere.

The play is a comedy, bordering on farce in parts, about the life of the 32 year old Karl Marx played by Rory Kinnear, and set in 1850 in Soho in London. The play is billed as ‘semi-true’ and anyone familiar with Marx’s life and work will recognise parts of the story.

Marx had only recently moved to London, after being chased out of various European countries after working class uprisings in 1848, the year Marx published his Communist Manifesto. In London he was in debt, pursued by creditors and police and is depicted as a ‘bit of a lad’ as some might say, drinking in many of London’s pubs, and involved in sexual affairs.

Much of the rest of the play features Marx’s home life in a small apartment, his wife and children, and their worries over debt. This is interspersed with the almost constant presence of Friedrich Engels, played by Oliver Chris, who laments Marx’s lack of application. The play is entertaining, but for me there is not enough politics in it.

There is some though, and my favourite scene is set at a meeting of the Communist League, where there is a split between a faction that wants to start a bloody uprising and Marx and Engels who argue against this course of action, on the grounds of it being violently suppressed and unnecessary.

As Marx says, the inevitable contradictions of the capitalist system will cause a crisis where the banks fail and the system collapses, so much so that they will be ‘begged’ to take control and introduce socialism. This is historically accurate, with Marx even advocating working with sympathetic bourgeoisie forces to topple the system first, then to argue for full socialism.

Of course we have recent experience of a banking crisis, but people weren’t begging for socialism. In the UK we elected a Tory government and in the US they elected Donald Trump as president. Previous recessions haven’t led to socialism either, and there were three in Marx’s later life, beginning with The Panic of 1857, which has been called the first global recession.  

A contentious issue for revolutionary socialists to this day, should we wait for an opening to come along as the capitalist system goes into one of its cyclic crises, or should the issue be forced by an uprising of the masses? It doesn’t make much sense to try to bring about change when things are going relatively well, but the idea that socialism is somehow an inevitable outcome of capitalism’s contradictions has not been the historical experience. Why should it be in the future?     

The disagreement at the Communist League meeting leads to Marx being called a coward, and ends with a duel being demanded, which takes place on Hampstead Heath. Marx survives and his finances improve a little. There is a rather bizarre scene of a fight in the reading room of the British Museum, where Charles Darwin is present.

Definitely worth seeing if you are familiar with Marx’s work but also entertaining if you are not.

The rest of the cast is Nancy Carroll (Woyzeck) as Jenny von Westphalen, Laura Elphinstone as Nym, Eben Figueiredo as Schramm, Nicholas Burns as Willich, Tony Jayawardena as Gert "Doc" Schmidt, Miltos Yerolemou as Barthélemy, Duncan Wisbey as Fleece/Darwin, Scott Karim as Grabiner/Singe, Alana Ramsey as Mrs Mullett, Sophie Russell as Librarian, Fode Simbo as Peter, William Troughton as Constable Crimp and Joseph Wilkins as Sergeant Savage.      

Young Marx will be broadcast by National Theatre Live on 7 December

Tuesday 24 October 2017

George Osborne was a Crap Chancellor but he is an Expert at Mocking Theresa May and the Brexiteers

As Chancellor of the Exchequer for seven years, or finance minister to most people, George Osborne was probably the worst one that I can remember. He took an economy showing signs of fragile recovery, and drove it into a ditch. When it became apparent after about two years that this was not working, he shifted his austerity policies to pretty much what the Labour Party had promised in the 2010 general election. Austerity lite, we might call it.

Osborne missed almost every target he set himself, and in 2015, when the budget deficit was meant to be gone, he had only managed to half it. If he hadn’t wasted two years with his ultra-austerity policies, he would have been closer to his goal. By the time he was relieved of his duties by Theresa May, the new post referendum prime minister, the national debt had almost doubled, reaching 87% of GDP.

Hardly a good record is it? I don’t think Osborne really understands economics but he is pretty good at politics. He forced Gordon Brown the then newly appointed Labour prime minister to bottle calling an early general election in 2007, with a policy announcement on inheritance tax. He made some wrong calls like the ‘granny tax’ and ‘pasty tax’ but by and large he played the politics well.

Osborne managed to shift the blame for the 2008 financial crisis from the bankers and onto the Labour government of the time, and by extension, to welfare claimants. Nasty and cynical yes, but very effective politics too. Quite why Labour let him get away with this is a mystery, but get away with it he did. Osborne has said recently that Labour didn’t cause the financial crisis, but he did manage to give this impression whilst in government.

A feature of Osborne’s spell as Chancellor was his rhetorical political sloganizing, a kind of say something catchy as many times as possible, and eventually people will think you are actually doing something about an issue. ‘The march of the makers’ and the 'Northern Powerhouse’ spring immediately to mind. Did British manufacturing suddenly rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the financial crisis? No, of course it didn’t. Has there been anything concrete done to build a Northern Powerhouse? No, there hasn’t. But people it seems are willing to swallow the rhetoric and believe something is happening.    

Since resigning from Parliament, Osborne has secured several well paid jobs, but his most high profile one is as editor of the London Evening Standard. He uses the paper as a vehicle for his anti-Brexit stance and his personal loathing of the prime minister (it was reported that he said he wouldn’t rest until Theresa May was chopped up in pieces and buried in his freezer). In a series of news reports and editorial comment pieces since he became editor, Osborne’s paper has laid into the government’s shambolic handling of the negotiations with the EU.

Yesterday’s editorial was a classic. Going further than I think any other media outlet in reporting German newspaper reports about Theresa May’s dinner last week with the EU Commission, describing her as “begging for help,” “anxious”, “tormented”, “despondent and discouraged” (this was denied by the Commission), the Evening Standard heaped yet more mockery onto her. Osborne must have good sources as the paper revealed that Theresa May had said ‘if the EU didn’t help her to get a deal, her government would fall, and they would have to deal with Boris Johnson as prime minister.’

The editorial concludes:

‘So a campaign that promised voters a restoration of sovereignty has ended up in a Brexit negotiation where Brussels gets to choose the British government. Brilliant.’

I can’t say that I’m an Osborne fan, but I do have to admit that I admire the way he is sticking the boot into this government who are needlessly and recklessly gambling with the nation’s future. It is very entertaining too. 

Sunday 22 October 2017

US Greens Join Growing Support for Catalonia

The Basque premier, Iñigo Urkullu, has issued a call of solidarity with the Catalan people over the Spanish government’s take-over of Catalan institutions, and workers in Basque public radio and television (EITB) demonstrated in solidarity with their Catalan colleagues. The US Green Party has added its support to Catalan self-determination. The International Committee have issue the following statement:

The Green Party condemns Spain's brutal suppression of Catalans who tried to vote in the referendum for independence on Oct. 1 and calls for peaceful negotiation without threats of reprisal to solve the impasse and for the release of political prisoners and withdrawal of sedition charges.

Greens urge global support for the political rights, including the right to dissent and seek self-determination, of the Catalan people and nonviolent resolution of the crisis.
Whereas the Spanish central government has shown outrageous brutality and disproportionate violence against the Catalan people as they peacefully tried to cast their votes across the region in a popular referendum held this past October 1 on the question of Catalan independence from Spain.

Whereas this same government is again now proving incapable of providing a negotiated, sustainable and mutually acceptable solution to the legitimate political, economic, and cultural grievances and aspirations of large sectors of Catalan civil society, as clearly expressed in the results of said referendum;

Therefore, the Green Party of the United States fully supports the present call by the acting Catalan parliamentary leadership for a direct, two month long, unconditional dialogue with the central government in Madrid to try to reach a negotiated agreement in response to the present impasse in the political, and legal status of Catalonia in relation to the Spanish state and its peoples, as presently constituted.

The Green Party of the Unites States also vehemently opposes the Spanish central government's decision to implement Article 155 of the constitution in response to the present impasse in Catalonia. This action, if carried out, would de facto "illegalize" the presently elected Catalan autonomous government and place all of its critical authorities under the Spanish central government's authority.

We strongly believe this will only serve to exacerbate the present tensions and risk a very dangerous escalation of an already delicate situation that could further fracture and galvanize not only Catalan society, but Spanish society as a whole.

We furthermore call for the support of the popular call across Catalonia for the Spanish authorities to immediately release political prisoners, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, and for the Spanish attorney general's office to withdraw all charges of sedition against all acting Catalan government officials for their nonviolent actions in defence of the right of Catalans to peacefully cast a vote during the October 1 referendum.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Catalan Independence and Spain’s progressives

Written by Farid Erkizia Bakht

Today, Madrid announced that it will seize control of Catalonia’s government which is set to respond with a unilateral declaration of independence. What will the New Spanish Left do and do they have the power do so?

For weeks, Europe has been talking about Catalonia. Yet, with honourable exceptions, the supposedly progressive Left and Green mainstream leaders in Europe have been very quiet. Despite the fact that Raül Romeva, the de facto Foreign Minister of Catalonia, was a long time Green-Left politician. Or the radical leftwing CUP is at at the forefront of Independence politics demanding independence. The soft-Left ERC has been and continues to champion the cause of separation from Spain.

This does not smell of racism or fascism which emanates from the likes of the Northern League in Italy. Anything but. While the Hard Right forces of the wealthy Italian North base their case on ‘narrow nationalism’ to separate to create an exclusive, inward looking Lombardic state (in tune with its rightwing Austrian neighbour), the Catalan left-wing independence movement promote a non-ethnic, progressive and inclusive vision. CUP holds far greater sway over the streets and popular mobilisation than its 10 MPs (in a 135 seat Parlament) suggest. 

Their vision is a feminist, socialist, Green Catalonia and municipal participatory democracy. The grassroots movements and the political party CUP have been developing the ‘social and solidarity economy’ for two decades. They acknowledge they would have to compromise in the early years of a republic. Yet, along with the resources of a diversified prosperous economy, there exists the possibility of real social progress in this part of Iberia.

As UK Professor David Whyte and writer Ignasi Bernat explain: much of Europe’s Left un-derestimate “the commitment to the neighbourhood, rather than the nation.' It is this commitment that ensured high level of involvement from women’s collectives, migrant solidarity groups, independent trade unions, autonomists, anarchists and the social centres. Recent events have unmasked the ugly face of narrow nationalism, emanating less from Catalonia but from the Spanish Deep State.

The pro-independence Catalan forces are, of course, a mix of right and left. The Right wing remnants of the old Convergencia party (PDC ) are traditionally supporters of the status quo - stay in Spain and reap the financial benefits of crony capitalism. Yet this decade they have had to shift towards independence or risk losing relevance in a rapidly shifting Catalan scenario. In other words, with the exception of the CUP, the political parties have had to follow not lead the popular movements.

Artur Más was replaced by pro-independence Carles Puigdemont (as President) on the insistence of the CUP.

Podemos and its sister concern in Barcelona -CSQP (Catalonia Yes We Can) play a critical role. While CUP act as kingmaker for the Independence alliance, the forces allied to Podemos are critical for ‘the unity of Spain’.

They cling to the honourable hope that they can reform Spain (by overturning the system) and create a structure suitable for all provinces (and nations) while keeping the state intact.

Unfortunately, this graph shows them (UP) lacking the support necessary to bring about this change (in purple).

Can the 1978 Constitution be changed?

Yes, it can. But. The Left would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to bring about deep decentralisation. It is not going to happen. Unless two things occur over the long-term:

a) Podemos maintains & grows over the next two decades

b) the aged supporters of PP & PSOE die off to reduce their vote bank!


Supporting Catalan or Basque independence is a vote loser in much of the rest of Spain. Thus, the Podemos network maintain the moral high ground but can make ambiguous messages in a delicate balancing act. The paradox is that the strongest support for Podemos & its allies lie mainly in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

They hold out a promise of constitutional reform (even though they are unlikely to attain power on their own), and support the right to have referenda yet in reality reject secession.

Progressive Spaces?

The Basque & Catalan Independence Left say that if only Podemos supported their independence then they could actually implement progressive policies in the new republics, north of the Ebro River.

For example, if Ada Colau’s votes shifted to independence, then the overall Catalan Left (including Podem En Comun, ERC & CUP) and the reduces centre right PDC would be able to steer a Catalan Republic to the soft Left.

But what would happen to the Rest of Spain?

Would it turn more inward and become an embittered Right wing amputated Spain? There would likely be turmoil as the Deep State tries to clamp down. On the other hand, the loss of Catalonia (and inevitably soon after, the Basques) would kick-start regional groups in Galicia, Andalusia & Valencia demanding a structural overhaul of the utterly corrupt political system.

Much would depend then on how the new states north of the Ebro react and support change to their South, which are the bulk of its commercial customers after all.

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a supporter of the Ecosocialist Network @Liquid_Borders

Thursday 19 October 2017

Why are the Incompetent Tories at around 40% in the Opinion Polls?

The latest YouGov opinion poll has the Tories dipping under 40%, just, at 39%, but other polls have them at or just over 40% if a general election were called tomorrow. This is down on the 42% that the Tories scored in last June’s general election, but only slightly. How can this be, given the complete shambles that they making of Brexit, and the general inertia in other policy areas? The constant squabbling amongst ministers and MPs, over Brexit mainly, and the hapless performance of the prime minister, Theresa May, are making them, in my eyes anyway, a laughing stock. But 40% of the public seem prepared to back them.

We also have a foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who not only contradicts Cabinet policy, but runs around the world saying stupid things, and is a general embarrassment to the country internationally. We have inflation running at the highest rate for five years, wages stagnating, at best, a record public borrowing of 90% of GDP, and public services cut to the bone. The Tories ill deserved reputation for economic competence is in tatters. It beggars belief that so many people are content with the government’s performance. 

In the heyday of new Labour in the late 1990s and early noughties the Tory’s support was down to its core 32% to 33%, and some of this may have peeled off now because of the hard-line Brexit stance that the government has taken, particularly before the general election. Not all Tory voters are Eurosceptic. So, say their normally core support is now down to about 30%, where does the other 10% come from?

We can see from the demographic breakdown of these opinion polls that Tory support is concentrated among older voters. There is a tendency for people (especially men) to get more conservative (small ‘c’) as they get older. Older people tend to have something to ‘conserve’ after a lifetime of work, and Tory policies do tend to favour older voters, together with older voters doing well out of the rise in house prices.

Under the leadership of David Cameron older voters were specifically courted, but in this year’s general election, this wasn’t enough for Theresa May to win an overall majority in Parliament. Which explains why the government is making noises about taking tax breaks off older people and giving them to younger voters. Quite apart from the fairness issue, this does make sense from an electoral point of view, but it also carries a huge risk too.

Think back to the Tories back of a fag packet plan to make people use the value of their homes to pay for their social care, which was very unpopular, and was perhaps one of the reasons the government lost their majority. I remember thinking when this policy was first announced it was a very un-Tory like policy. Well, what they are now suggesting in terms tax breaks would be even more unpopular with older voters. To hit the only age demographic which supports you, is very risky indeed.

The opinion polls also indicate support for the Tories from people who voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum, and these voters tend to be older as well, but may account for some of the extra 10% on top of the Tories core support.

A third factor in the 40% support may be a fear of a Corbyn led Labour government. Older voters will remember the 1970s which was the last time Labour delivered anything remotely like social democratic policies. It didn’t end well though, with the infamous ‘winter of discontent’ when there was massive industrial action from trade unions, shortages of basics like bread and milk, and with inflation in double figures. To younger voters this probably seems like ancient history, but will still be fresh in the minds of older voters.

Although Labour are recording a small lead over the Tories in most of the polls, it does mean that the next general election is wide open, and until some of the stubborn 40% peels away from the Tories, it will remain that way. Of course, the grim reaper will take these older voters sooner or later, but for now there is everything to play for.   

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Legal Challenge to Social Cleansing in London – Stop Haringey Development Vehicle

Written by Gordon Peters

I am a former social services director in London and now retired from twenty subsequent years as a consultant in health and social development with particular experience in policies aimed at reducing poverty and inequalities, acting for governments in Europe and Asia and with UK donors.

As an active member of Haringey Over 50s forum in north London and chair of the Older Peoples Reference Group in the borough I took up the challenge posed to living conditions of vulnerable people, particularly frail elders, by the establishment of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), the intended new Limited Liability Partnership owned 50% by the Council and 50% by Lendlease, the Australian multi-national corporation.

Many individuals and groups have joined in this campaign, now called StopHDV which is supported by both the constituency Labour Parties and the two MPs, despite which the current leadership insists it must go ahead. It is also supported by the LibDems and Green Parties, and by the tenants and residents federation, and trades unions including my own, Haringey Unite Community branch, and many affiliated campaigns and individuals.

The Judicial Review on the Haringey Development Vehicle takes place in the High Court on The Strand in London on 25 and 26 October, and I hope some supporters can make it to that, either outside from 9 to10 am or in the public seating from 10 am.

The challenge is to Haringey Council setting up a supposedly 50/50 partnership with the Australian multi-national corporation, Lendlease, to take over land and property belonging to the Council, involving demolition and regeneration of estates as well as business premises and private houses in 'red-lined areas’. If it goes ahead it will be the biggest such transfer of local authority resources to a private entity in UK history. Lendlease have now joined Haringey as a defendant of the HDV in court.

None of this would have been possible without the amazing support from the several hundred people who have contributed through our crowdfunding to raise £25,000. £20,000 of this is required for our community cap on any awards which will be requested of the judge. The solicitors for the case, Leigh Day, and the barristers have put a great deal of work in to it, and as a result I am now asking for another £5,000 to make up the fees and costs accruing.

Please donate at Crowd Justice to help the extra costs.

I hope you will make another donation, small or large, if you possibly can.

I am unhappy with the HDV model and its governance arrangements as chosen by the Council and about the process followed including lack of consultation on this vehicle, loss of democratic control over the homes and other public assets involved, and the Council’s failure to ensure that the HDV will comply in future with obligations such as the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty.

In summary the claims are challenging:

1] this being set up as a partnership[LLP] rather than as a company as it is acting for a commercial purpose;

2] the HDV not having been consulted on and the manner of its development up to the July 2017 Cabinet decision;

3] the public sector equality duty of the Equality Act 2010 having been inadequately addressed;

4]the decision to establish the HDV as  constituting a strategic move on behalf of the Council not having been taken to full Council.

Haringey and Lendlease maintain publicly that thousands of homes and jobs will be won for the borough from the HDV investment, and yet none of the risk to the public purse nor viability assessments, nor due diligence carried out, has been shared beyond the few members of the Cabinet.

And the Leader of the Council’s insistence is on continuing despite the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, across party lines, demanding a halt for further examination, and despite a week of expert witness scrutiny by the Housing and Regeneration Panel, objections by tenants and residents  and deputations by groups, and Call-ins of the decision to proceed.

If the HDV goes ahead the Council will be committed immediately to transfer its entire commercial portfolio to the HDV in return for £45 million investment from Lendlease and its first category of land in Wood Green estate and Wood Green Civic Centre.

It then intends to transfer up to £2 billion worth of property which includes the demolition of Northumberland Park estate, next to the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, and some surrounding leasehold housing, together home to several thousand people, some of them single pensioners who will be at great risk if moved.

Other areas in the west of the borough are also scheduled for development. Beyond that intentions are outlined in the next categories for Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, and then potentially for any land and property  ‘under-used’ or considered ‘surplus’.

The Council outline a Right of Return and detailed consultation to come on localities affected, but once the HDV is set up and going these will amount to ‘paper promises’ at best, as alternative approaches such as estate refurbishment and local community–backed plans are ruled out.

Moreover Lendlease as the commercial partner in the HDV have been exempted from certain requirements of Council policy so that guarantees within direct Council oversight, including security of tenure, no longer apply.

The legal argument here is a matter of widespread concern at a lack of accountability and democratic process, and indeed relates to a concern for the fundamental rights of people to a home and support in their community.

It has ramifications far beyond Haringey regarding the ways in which social housing and truly affordable housing are being squeezed out by corporate actions in collusion with councils, many of them Labour councils, as the record of Lendlease in Southwark shows all too dramatically. All evidence to date points to a further loss of homes for poorer people and an influx of better off rented and purchased homes in new high densities which deny or destroy existing communities.

The HDV has not been able to demonstrate in any way how its establishment and operation will change things for the better, especially in such an unpredictable economic climate, and the Council putting all its development ‘eggs in the HDV basket’ in such an untested way is being irresponsible with public money. That is why it must be stopped, and the Council think – and listen –again.

More information from StopHDV

Gordon Peters in a member of Haringey Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Sunday 15 October 2017

Nature, Labour, and the Historic Rise of Capitalism

This is an extract from a piece written by Martin Empson and first published at Monthly Review

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.” 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. 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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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 labourers. 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 labourers, 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-labourers 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.

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.” 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.

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 labourers 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.

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.”

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 neighbours, 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.

The parcelling 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.”

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 chief incloser, called the Lord of the Manor, or some other wretch as cruel 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 labourer, “in sauntering after his cattle…acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half and occasionally whole days are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting.” In Thompson’s view, enclosure and agricultural improvement were “concerned with the efficient husbandry of the time of the labour force.” In towns and cities, urban industry had “time discipline” at its heart, and education served as “training in the ‘habit of industry.’” 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. 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.”

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 centre of a population trained to industrious habits.” 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.”

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 labour 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.