Thursday 31 May 2018

MPs Should Legislate for an Abortion Referendum in Northern Ireland

Momentum is gathering in Parliament and outside for a referendum in Northern Ireland to allow women living in the province access to abortion on the same terms as those in the rest of the UK. Prompted by the vote to liberalise access to abortion in the Republic of Ireland last week, Northern Ireland will have the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe.

The UK government is resisting legislating and looking increasingly worried by the situation, saying that it is a devolved matter for the Stormont Assembly to act on. This is true, but rather falls down under the reality that there is no Assembly to devolve it to. The Assembly was suspended in January 2017 over a green energy scheme, of all things, but there were other differences between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Under the Sewel convention, the UK government has agreed that it will not normally legislate on matters that are the responsibility of devolved administrations without their consent, but as I say, there is no one to give consent.

In another twist, the UK government has just broken the Sewel convention by stating that it will be legislating on Brexit, against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament. May is making a habit of breaking conventions, as she did when ordering the bombing of Syria earlier this year, when she refused to allow a Parliamentary vote on the matter. Whatever suits your political agenda is deemed to be more important than constitutional convention for this government.

And liberalising the Northern Ireland abortion laws most definitely does not suit the government’s agenda. The government only has majority in Parliament by virtue of the rather expensive deal done with the DUP’s 12 MPs, who are absolutely opposed to any change in the abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Over 160 MPs have signed a letter calling for Westminster to legislate for a referendum on the issue and many more are said to be privately in favour of a change in the law, so this might well become unstoppable. There are two ways (possibly three if you count an adjournment debate) MPs could force the issue.

The first is by an ‘early day motion.’ The censure motion by which the Labour Government of James Callaghan was ejected had its origin in an early day motion, put down on 22 March 1979, by Margaret Thatcher. But it is quite cumbersome in nature, and so the second option of amending an existing bill may be a better bet.

This is probably what is going to happen. The Labour MP Stella Creasy is proposing an amendment to the domestic violence bill which will be debated in Parliament, probably in the Autumn. My feeling is that the amendment could well get enough support from MPs of all parties (except the DUP), and this is why the government is so worried.

The DUP might, probably would, withdraw their support for the Tory government, which would inevitably lead to a general election, although it is hard to see any new government not proceeding with liberalising the abortion laws in Northern Ireland. I think the DUP are stuffed, what a shame.

Meanwhile, the UK Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on whether Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Everything seems to be moving in the direction of bringing Northern Ireland’s law into line with the rest of the UK.

Which is kind of ironic, because throughout the Brexit negotiations on the border in Ireland, the DUP have demanded that Northern Ireland, is treated no differently to the rest of the UK. Well, as far as abortion is concerned, that may be about to happen.

Abortion doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of issue that should be devolved anyway, since it effectively makes women in Northern Ireland second class citizens to those in the rest of the country, and now even on the island of Ireland. If this brings down the Tory government, then so be it, it has been a complete shambles in all other respects anyway. And the DUP will not get to trouser any more money from UK taxpayers as a reward for the shameful deal that props up this minority Tory government.

What is not to like?  

Monday 28 May 2018

The UK Monarchy and the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists who Pay for It

After writing about the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently, I got to thinking about the overall cost of the Monarchy to UK taxpayers. Estimates put the cost of the wedding itself at around £32 million, but this is just an added extra. The more you look into the matter, the more you wonder why we put up with this historical privilege?

Every year a full report on the Royal finances is published and this year’s report shows that the Sovereign Grant, the money paid the Queen and other Royals by UK taxpayers was £43 million. Funding for the Sovereign Grant also comes from a percentage of the profits of the Crown Estate revenue (initially set at 15%) and will be reviewed every five years. Last year these profits totalled £304 million. This property though was in some way plundered in the past from whoever owned the buildings and land.

The Queen also generates income from her land and property portfolio. These assets are known as the Duchy of Lancaster and are held in trust for the sovereign. The Duchy is managed and run for the Queen and she receives all the net profits – about £12.5 million a year at the last count. This income is referred to as the Privy Purse. Again this land was plundered at some stage in history by the Royals ancestors.

The Duchy of Lancaster is one of two royal duchies, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall which provides income to the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales is entitled to the annual net revenue surplus of the Duchy, which was worth £20.8 million last year. Prince Charles also receives money from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.

All of which leads to staggeringly casual wasteful spending on the part of the Royals. Prince Andrew squandered £14,692 on a round trip to see the golf at Muirfield. Prince Edward, meanwhile, took a £46,198 charter flight to Sofia, Bucharest and Ljubljana. And big brother Prince Charles blew an impressive £246,160 on a private jet to Nelson Mandela's funeral.

According to Republic, a group which campaigns for a democratic alternative to the Monarchy, the true cost of the Monarchy to the British taxpayer is actually £334 million a year – nearly 10 times more than the figure published by the Royal Family. It points to the fact that the royal family's security bill, for instance, is picked up by the Metropolitan Police, while the costs of royal visits are borne by local councils.

The latest figures show the highest earning 10% paid about a third, 34% of their income in tax, but the bottom 10% pay about 47% of their income in tax (direct and indirect tax). So not only do we collectively have to fork out for the Monarchy, but the poorest pay the most as a percentage of their income.

All of which reminded me of the book The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists written by Robert Tressell which was published after his death in 1914. Tressell was frustrated by his fellow workers who thought that a better life is "not for the likes of them". Although writing mainly about the exploitation of workers by the capitalist class, the Monarchy also fits the bill very nicely for a description of an exploitative relationship.

The hero of the book, Frank Owen, is a socialist who sees that the capitalist system is the real source of the poverty he sees all around him. In vain he tries to convince his fellow workers of his world view, but finds that their education has trained them to distrust their own thoughts and to rely on those of their "betters". Much of the book consists of conversations between Owen and the others, or more often of lectures by Owen in the face of their jeering; this was presumably based on Tressell's own experiences.

Why do we let them get away with it? Almost a hundred years before Percy Shelley wrote a poem The Mask of Anarchy following the Peteloo massacre in 1819 in Manchester, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Shelley ends the poem with these lines, resurrected somewhat by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader, at last year’s Glastonbury festival:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few

Two hundred years later we still do let them get away with it although the killing is more by stealth now, like benefit claimants committing suicide because of the misery of the government’s sanctions regime. When will we rise like lions?

Sunday 27 May 2018

Event - World Congress on Climate Change, October 15-16 Rome, Italy

Theme: Anthropogenic Activities and their Impact on Climate Change

About Conference

PULSUS GROUP welcomes attendees, presenters, and exhibitors from all over the world to attend and register for the “World Congress on Climate Change” which is going to be held during October 15-16, 2018 at Rome, Italy.

At PULSUS Group, It is our ideology to bring maximum exposure to our attendees, so we make sure the event is a blend which covers professionals such as Climatologists, Meteorologists and Environmental Researchers, Students and Trainees from the training institutes making the CLIMATE CHANGE 2018 conference a perfect platform.

Climate Change 2018 has been designed in an interdisciplinary manner with a multitude of tracks to choose from every segment and provides you with a unique opportunity to meet up with peers from both industry and academia and establish a scientific network between them. We cordially invite all concerned people to come join us at our event and make it successful by your participation.

About Climate change

Conference Theme : Anthropogenic Activities and their Impact on Climate Change

Climate change, a term that alludes to the adjustment in the temperature and natural variables of the earth climate. These days ,the inflation in human and additionally regular exercises brings about the average mounting of the temperature . This aspect is alluded to as an Earth-wide temperature boost in which state of climate would not be same for the two sequential years. This climatic changes for the most part happen because of the expansion in high measure of ozone harming substances. The current circumstance of nature were in irritating level that chiefly rise the consequences for Flora and Fauna of the earth. An inflation in these atmosphere changes are credited to little combinations in Earth's circle that change the measure of sun based centrality our planet gets. Climatology, a term that defines the scientific study of climate change.

Climate change may occurs due to the rise in greenhouse gases that makes the earth more warmer that will leads to increase in Sea level, water scarcity and other health issues. In order to reduce the effects of climate change, many global measures are taken, laws and energy policies are implemented.

Target Audience

Research scholars
Noble laurels
Environmental engineers
Chemical researchers
Marine biologists
Training institutes

Who should attend?

Environmental researchers
Students and research scholars  to Exchange Ideas

Why should attend?

This is one of your best opportunities to congregate and have a greater chance of meeting Scientists, researchers, Climatologists and environmental experts to know about the key researchers and advancements in the field of Environment, and additionally to learn about new technologies, advanced measures in Climate change. This event will mainly targets on advanced research topics such as anthropogenic activities, Paleoclimatology, Effects of climate change on Environment and health, Greenhouse Gases and Energy Polices. This conference includes plenty of Lectures, Workshops, oral and poster presentation. Join us for the two days of delightful events and give us support by submitting Abstracts of oral and poster presentations.

Friday 25 May 2018

How Should We Pay for Adult Social Care?

It is expected that the UK government will publish a Green Paper shortly on the future funding of adult social care in Britain. Government spokespersons have said that it will be released before Parliament goes into summer recess on 20 July. Green papers are official consultation documents produced by the government for discussion both inside and outside Parliament, when a government is considering introducing a new law, but are unsure of the public’s reaction to a particular policy.

This cautious approach taken by the government comes in the wake of the Tories disastrous manifesto commitment at last year’s general election, which pledged to fund adult social care by requiring users of the service to pay for care with equity held within their homes, should they own one. The policy idea was said to be the brainchild of Nick Timothy, one of the prime minister’s special advisers, and apparently not even discussed in Cabinet before hand.

It was a bit of a back of a fag packet plan, which when I first heard about it I thought was a very un-Tory like policy, and very risky to just spring on the electorate at a general election. It almost certainly cost the Tories votes and contributed to the government losing its majority in Parliament. Timothy was duly sacked as an adviser.

There is broad agreement amongst politicians and health care professionals that this issue does need to be sorted out. This year the gap in funding, which has been caused by the Tories austerity agenda resulting in deep cuts to local authority funding, has only been partially addressed by allowing local government to raise council tax (by 3% without having to win local referendums), but this is just a quick, partial fix.

With an ageing population, the problem of funding adult social care will only get worse in the future. Estimates of the future cost vary, but is in the range of an extra £2 to £4 Billion per year by 2019-20, and rising thereafter, depending on the quality of care. Council tax payers can’t be forced to pay this extra amount, so some kind of central funding needs to be devised to meet the increased demand.

Ahead of the Green Paper, two reports have been published which look into funding options. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), in a report co-authored with former health ministers Lord Darzi and Lord Prior, advocates raising National Insurance contributions by 1p in the pound from next year. In addition to supporting the NHS, it would enable an increase in social care spending from £17bn to £21bn by the end of the parliament, the report claimed.

Separately, a report by The Health Foundation charity and Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) for the NHS Confederation also called for tax increases amid increasing numbers of people aged over 65 and those with long-term medical conditions. An annual increase of 3.9% in public funding for social care would be required over the next 15 years to meet future needs.

IFS director Paul Johnson said that with other areas of funding already squeezed the only way forward was to get more money from taxpayers, but warned the Government would have to overcome the ‘tyranny of the status quo’.

The government is likely to resurrect the option of using the value of people’s homes with some level of threshold limit, but it will be just one option. But for younger people, who will require social care themselves one day, and are less likely to have property assets because of the astronomical costs of buying a home in many areas, so this needs to be addressed too. The idea of some kind of social care insurance, perhaps just for younger people, is likely to be proposed also.

I think that it is very unlikely that higher earners will have to cover all of the costs by raising the top rate of income tax, because the Tories just don’t do that sort thing, even if the fairness of this is obvious to most people, but we will have to wait and see.

Personally, I think some kind of tax rise, perhaps ring-fenced for adult social care will have to happen, but I see no reason why higher earners should not shoulder more of the burden than the less wealthy, but I am a socialist after all.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

A Snap General Election in the Autumn?

The Sunday Times (subscription) reports that Tory MPs are preparing for another snap general election as they fear the Brexit deadlock will become insurmountable for the prime minister. The Huffington Post (not subscription), also reported on the Sunday Times story.

Backbench Tory MPs are said to be urging their local parties to re-select them as candidates over the summer so as they will be ready for any snap election. Some are leafleting their constituencies to warm up the electorate. One hard Brexit Tory MP is quoted as saying:

“The numbers are against us and if we face repeated defeats when the withdrawal bill returns to the Commons, the only alternative will be to kick over the table and trigger a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which will likely lead to another general election.”

If Theresa May is replaced as prime minister, there is no constitutional reason to force a general election, but the new prime minister would face exactly same problems as May, so there would be pressure to hold a general election. If the vote of confidence was in May’s government, then there would be a need for a general election, unless another party could form a government, which seems unlikely. Although, there is the tantalising possibility of Tory Remain MPs backing a Labour led coalition, to get a soft Brexit, or even not leave the EU at all? 

Other Tory MPs though think that this a bluff from the hard Brexiters to try and force their agenda onto the prime minister, as they see May as trying to achieve a softer Brexit, whether by staying in the customs union and perhaps single market, or by having an extended transition period on exactly the same rules. It would certainly be a big risk to force a general election, as there is no guarantee that the Tories will win it, especially if they appear divided. Will they risk a Corbyn Labour government?

A third general election in four years would be difficult for all of the opposition parties to fund, but the Tories are backed by many wealthy donors and probably wouldn’t find funding too difficult.   

Some opinion polls are showing a small worrying trend towards the Tories increasing their lead over Labour, but we know that the polls were wrong at last year’s general election, so it would be unwise to place too much faith in them. I don’t think the country wants another election at the moment anyway, so those who caused it may well be punished by the voters.

In my opinion, it seems unlikely that a general election will be forced by Brexiter Tory MPs, as the rest of the Tory party will not want to run the risk of Labour winning. But, you have to remember that these head bangers are obsessed with the European Union, and may view the prospects of Corbyn in number 10, as less important than their drive to exit the EU, in the purest possible way.

The judiciary, civil servants, Tory rebel MPs and the House of Lords have all been accused of betrayal of ‘the will of people’ by these Brexiter Tory MPs and their friends in the ring-wing media. Now, it seems as though the prime minister is deemed guilty of the same treachery. Who knows, they may be reckless enough to take this course of action, but it would likely tear the Tory party apart.

They would have to work with Labour and other opposition parties to bring the government down, but again on this one issue perhaps these MPs will countenance it?

I think an early general election is much more likely in 2019, once we have left the EU, although still in some form of transitional arrangement. Some in the Tory party think that we should first leave the EU and then try and change the future arrangement from the outside, and a 2019 general election would suit this kind of strategy.

I do get the impression that we are approaching the end game on Brexit. May reportedly slapped down arch Tory Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg in a meeting with Tory MPs last week. Perhaps the Brexiters will feel they have no choice but to bring the government down, but it is a high risk strategy, all the same.  

Sunday 20 May 2018

Climate Change and the Next Left

Written by David Camfield and first published at Canadian Dimension

Climate change is already happening. But the really bad news is that there’s very strong evidence that capitalism will deliver a future of catastrophic climate change that will have far-reaching effects around the world, especially in the imperialized countries of the Global South. There is a vast gap between the continuing growth of greenhouse gas emissions and the massive reductions of emissions needed to prevent widespread catastrophes.

In a thoughtful article, “Revolution in a Warming World: Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions,” Andreas Malm writes,

Lenin spoke of the catastrophe of his time as a ‘mighty accelerator’ bringing all contradictions to a head, ‘engendering world-wide crises of unparalleled intensity,’ driving nations ‘to the brink of doom’… Climate change is likely to be the accelerator of the twenty-first century, speeding up the contradictions of late capitalism – above all the growing chasm between the evergreen lawns of the rich and the precariousness of propertyless existence – and expedit[ing] one local catastrophe after another.

In advanced capitalist countries, we could see even more aggressive attacks on public health care, education and social services as states cut there while they spend more in response to floods, droughts and other effects of climate change. It’s easy to imagine mass international migration out of regions of the South hit hard by climate change leading to an intensification of racism and repression and the growth of fascist and other far right movements.

As more catastrophes happen and cause problems for capitalists and governments in advanced capitalist countries, ruling-class strategists will attempt to come up with responses to reduce the impact of climate change and manage these problems on their terms. Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright plausibly suggest in Climate Leviathan that this could involve the US or China leading an effort with other imperialist states to “save the planet” using geoengineering and other measures, backed up by military might. Supporters of such a move would present it as the only possible response to an emergency situation.

People on the left would be under a lot of pressure to go along – worse than the pressure to support the “War on Terror” after September 11, 2001. Rulers wouldn’t let a serious crisis go to waste – they’d do their best to take advantage of the situation to boost their power and profits. Strikes and protests could be restricted even more than they are by “security” measures today. Capitalist democracy, already thinned out in the neoliberal era and especially since 2001, could be further limited or suspended.

What does this mean for radicals in the Canadian state? Obviously we should be working with other people to build the climate justice movement and other organizing efforts. But that’s not enough. We should orient towards building a new left, bearing in mind that climate change will likely accelerate social contradictions. Most of what I’ve written recently about building the radical left on Prairies applies in other regions too.

I’d like to stress two points.

First, as Matthew Brett argues we should “feel the scandal of our divisions.” “We ought to be ashamed of petty interpersonal or ideological divisions. At a time when the activist left is weak and divided, it’s vital to focus on common goals and principles, rather than obsessing over difference and division,” although “some differences cannot be overlooked.”

The situation we’re in – a stable capitalist society where the ruling class rules unchallenged, with the working class highly fragmented, divided and depoliticized and a feeble radical left – calls for us to unite on the basis of politics that can guide our activity in the current period. That’s different from organizing around a specific political tradition like Trotskyism or anarcho-communism (or as part of a narrower current within a tradition). It’s also different from adopting a basis of unity that claims to have answers to questions that we just don’t face in this moment of history, such as precisely what kind of society beyond capitalism we’re aiming for or exactly how a transition beyond capitalism could be started.

For us to advance struggles and start building a new left in this era we need anti-capitalist, anti-oppression, social-struggle ecological justice politics with a commitment to constructive involvement in broad workplace, community and campus organizing. Uniting on such a basis doesn’t mean forgetting about other political questions – it’s about putting the emphasis on what matters most now.

Second, talking about the urgent need to build a new left doesn’t take us very far. We need to get serious about learning how to build better in the circumstances in which we find ourselves and getting to work in whatever ways we can.

There’s been an almost complete break between cohorts in Canada, so that almost none of the lessons learned between the 1960s and the mid-1990s about how to build the radical left have been passed down to today’s activists. It’s not that everything we need to know merely awaits rediscovery. Far from it! But some methods have been tested and shown to be effective, while others have been shown to be ineffective. Let’s learn and use what works. And let’s learn from our experiences, like the failure of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly and, for a positive example, the process leading to the launch of Solidarity Halifax.

There are no short cuts to a new left. The best next step will be different in Toronto, where the radical left is larger than in other cities in Canada but also more divided, than in other places. Quebec Solidaire, a sizeable left-reformist party, makes the landscape of the left different in Quebec. But we can and must try to take a step towards a new left.

David Camfield is a member of Solidarity Winnipeg and the author of We Can Do Better: Ideas for Changing Society.

Saturday 19 May 2018

Royal Weddings, Fawning Media and Republicanism

Well, it’s over, thank goodness. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, an American actress, were married in Windsor today, so maybe we can get back to real news stories in the mainstream media. The BBC goes into its hushed tone, that it dusts off for every Royal news story and tries to make it seem as though everyone in the country is held rapt by the event.

This week, every conceivable angle to the story has been reported. London’s Evening Standard has run multi-page stories devoted to stories about the couple, everything from Harry’s army career, how they met and a look through the bride to be’s wardrobe of outfits and tastes in home furnishings. One piece called the marriage, ‘a modern day fairy tale'. Everything you could possibly want to know about the event and its surrounding trivia. Yawn!

The media has been quick to claim that the wedding, will bring tourists flooding into the country, with all their spending in support of the British economy that it will bring. But the truth is, that royal weddings tend to lead to less tourists coming to London in comparable times of the year, as foreign tourists stay away from the weekend in question. The same was true of the London 2012 Olympics when tourism in London fell.

This does demonstrate the sensitivity of the establishment and media though, to charges of wasting public money, especially when austerity is being forced onto the country for an eighth year now. It has been reported that the couple will pay for the private part of their wedding themselves, but I doubt this would be the full costs, things like policing and so forth. Not to mention that Harry’s money is from the civil list anyway, paid to the royals by us taxpayers. The official costs will not be released, but estimates put it at around £32 million.

Perhaps the most ridiculous claim this week came from international trade secretary, Liam Fox, who said that the marriage will be good for a future US/UK trade deal. I doubt it will make the slightest difference to trade deals, but you have to admire the chutzpah though.

Rough sleepers have been cleared off the streets of Windsor, being temporarily housed on hired buses, but will be back on the streets again tomorrow. The intention was not an act of kindness to the homeless, merely a desire to remove the eyesore of these people spoiling the view. These two very different worlds cannot be allowed to be shown at the same time.

The media always manage to find members of the public who are excited by these events, but I think the number of British people interested in the royals generally has probably fallen over my lifetime. Around where I live in London this week, there has hardly been any bunting or union flags being displayed in the area. A big contrast to Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981, which was very visible with street parties and much flag waving. The population of London has changed a lot since 1981 though, with many more Londoners having been born outside of the UK, but even amongst the UK born, I sense a growing ambivalence to the monarchy.

So, is there hope for lifelong republicans like me, that we will see the end of all this nonsense in the near future? I have to say, I doubt it. There may be a window of opportunity when the current queen passes on, as I think the British people think on the whole she has done a good job, but for the rest of the royals, I suspect that is not the case.

But generally the British seem to think a constitutional monarchy is the lesser evil of an elected presidency, another politician, almost certainly. I could go along with a much reduced civil list and more public use of the royal land and property portfolio. And make their weddings private affairs, but a republic, is probably not likely anytime soon unfortunately.

Thursday 17 May 2018

UK Environmental Standards Must be at least as Good as EU ones

With the fifteenth defeat for the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords this week, peers have given MPs the chance to assure no reductions in our environmental standards once we leave the EU. By a 50 vote majority, the Lords voted for the establishing of a statutory commitment to maintaining EU standards in areas around air pollution and waste and recycling, to be added to Bill.

Amendments included that “the Secretary of State must take steps designed to ensure that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU does not result in the removal or diminution of any rights…that contribute to the protection and improvement of the environment.”

Despite the government’s assurances that environment standards will be protected, with even the newly acquired eco-warrior pose of Michael Gove, the environment secretary, who claims UK standards may be even higher than those in the EU. The Lords where clearly unimpressed with Gove’s rhetoric on the matter, and voted accordingly.

It is not difficult to see why the Lords were sceptical, as the UK (and five other nations) have been referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to tackle high levels of pollution in Britain’s cities caused mainly by diesel powered vehicles. Ministers were forced by UK courts to improve the plan in February, after losing in the high court for the third time to environmental lawyers ClientEarth, and have until the end of 2018 to implement the stricter measures. Nearly, 23,500 deaths a year in the UK result from this type of air pollution. The ECJ could impose a multi-million Euro fine on the UK.

The EU has been threatening the UK with action over poor air quality since 2014, so it not as though the government hasn’t been warned about this matter, but has repeated failed to act to reduce dangerous emissions.

Air pollution is one of just over 150 EU environmental standards that apply in the UK by virtue of our membership of the organisation. Although, all of these standards will be incorporated into British law on our immediate exit from the EU, the suspicion is that they would be gradually chipped away at (the same can be said of employment protection laws too), where maximising profits for businesses is limited in some way. The environment is treated as a freebie for business, which under the Tories always takes priority.

All of which is pertinent to Brexit, and what will happen to environmental standards once the UK leaves and EU, (and perhaps) negotiates trading arrangements with other nations, particularly the US. 

A draft of the sustainable development section of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US was leaked to The Guardian in October 2015. Asked to comment on the document, a French environmental attorney described the proposed environmental safeguards as "virtually non-existent" by comparison with the protection granted to investors, and that environmental cases accounted for 60% of the 127 Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) cases already brought against EU countries under bilateral trade agreements in the last two decades, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

The draft energy chapter of the TTIP was also leaked to The Guardian in July 2016. This draft could have sabotage European efforts to implement mandatory energy savings measures and to favour the switch to renewable electricity generation.

TTIP is an obvious starting point for a US/UK trade deal, since a lot of work went into this deal, which the UK championed within the EU more strongly than any other country. Any deal will almost certainly bear a close resemblance to TTIP. The EU in the end rejected TTIP, but an independent UK will find it harder to resist, on its own. The US won’t be doing us any favours either.

This is one reason why the Tories do not want to be tied to EU environmental standards, as it reduces the scope for making new trade deals, and is nothing to do with the environmental protections themselves. If the Tories were really intent on maintaining environmental protections, then what are they afraid of in the Lords amendment?

You just can’t trust them on this, so I do hope MPs accept the amendment when it returns to the House of Commons to vote on. The Tories are just not interested in the environment.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

Customs Union Impasse is like Two Bald Men fighting over a Comb

Yet another meeting of the Brexit Cabinet broke up today without any agreement on resolving the movement of goods between the EU and UK once we depart the union. Not only will failing to come to some agreement lead to delays importing and exporting between Britain and the EU, particularly important to manufacturers needing different component parts to assemble finished products, but also crucial to resolving the border problem in Ireland.

The prime minister, Theresa May, says that two options are still on the table. Option one, May’s preferred option, is of a customs partnership, whereby the UK collects tariffs on behalf of the EU. There is opposition to this within the Cabinet and outside, with Brexiters against it, saying it is unworkable, or ‘crazy’ to use the foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s term. Johnson may be right unless the partnership looks very much like the existing customs union, which is unacceptable to the hard Brexiters in the Tory party.

Option two is a so-called 'maximum facilitation' model, which is basically a fancy name for using smartphone apps to not check cars and lorries at the border. It is hard to see how this would stop smuggling between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and then on wider into the rest of EU. Cameras can’t possibly make the same checks on goods, as part of the ‘country of origin’ EU tariff rules. It is also likely that any cameras would be attacked, in a hark back to the violence largely brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement.

So, with no agreement in government on a preferred solution to  what replaces the customs union, the decision is delayed, in the hope that something will turn up. But the irony here is that both of the government’s options have already been ruled out by the EU as unworkable, even if they could decide on a unified position.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks ever louder as we approach leaving the EU, either with no deal at all, or if the prime minister holds to her word on the phase one negotiations, the fall back position is for the UK to remain in the customs union and possibly the single market as well. Neither of these outcomes will of course be acceptable to Tory MPs on either side of the debate.

This offers us a clue as to why May is pursuing a fantasy fix which is unacceptable to the EU, and on the surface a complete waste of precious time. Like everything about Brexit, this is about the Tory party’s obsession with Europe. May has survived as prime minister as long as she has since last year’s disastrous general election, by not confronting reality right up until the last minute, and then caving in to the EU. This is precisely what happened with phase one of the negotiations and why May was forced to accept the EU fall back position on the Irish border.

At the same time Parliament seems to be making its own mind up on Brexit, or least the majority of MPs anyway. There will be a vote in the House of Commons on staying in the customs union at some stage this year, after the Lords sent back the Brexit Bill amended to force the government’s hand. I think there is probably a comfortable majority in the House of Commons for staying in the customs union, now that Labour has made it part of their official policy.

If Parliament does indeed vote to remain in ‘a’ customs union with the EU, then May can say that she had no choice but to accept the decision, and the hard Brexit group of Tory MPs will be able to do nothing about it. Even if they brought down May’s government, any replacement prime minister would be in exactly the same position, with their hands tied.   

So, maybe this is Mrs May’s cunning plan, keeping fudging until staying in the customs union becomes a fait accompli? It will be extremely amusing to see all those Tory Brexiters foaming at the mouth and even self-combusting, as the reality of what is going on sinks in.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Consumerism and Ecosocialism

Written by Sebastian Livingston and first published at The Socialist

This article is intended to be an introduction to an ecosocialist approach to production and consumption. What we have today is a hegemonic obsession with mass production that is catastrophic to the evolutionary processes which allow the biosphere to uphold life as we know it. Capitalist modes of production based upon endless economic expansion and mass consumption disrupt the equilibrium of ecosystems by reshaping the metabolism of nature which regulates earth systems. Within this article I will discuss some issues that I see as problematic in achieving an ecological society and address possible solutions. This is not intended to provide a critique of consumers, my aim is to develop an assault on the hegemonic creation of consumer culture and its devastating impact in maintaining the status quo. This is not an outline for revolution, it is merely my attempt to put forth issues as I see them and contribute to the discussion about the construction of consumer culture as a barrier to achieving social transformation.

“Once upon a time the working class had nothing to lose but its chains; but now it has been absorbed within capitalism, is a prisoner of consumerism, and its articles of consumption own and consume it.” –  Michael A. Lebowitz

We have the productive means to fulfil our material needs and to liberate ourselves from alienated labor. However this idea is incompatible with capital which does not aim to address real human needs beyond what is required to reproduce itself. Rather capitalism is contingent upon the realization of wealth accumulation, an endless expansion that is based upon the production and consumption of alienated products. This mass production is a fundamental problem that restricts our ability to create an ecological society by being the unshakable cause of most of the environmental problems we face today.

In order to mobilize and attack expansive production, consumer culture must be attacked. This entails attacking the hegemonic institutions that spread consumerism, develop our identification with material goods, and enforce the association between goods and freedom. Capitalist forces expend great resources to ensure that we are socialized to identify ourselves with what we consume far more than with what and how we produce which creates a barrier between us and critical revolution. In fact, Americans are subjected to over 20 times the global average of targeted advertisements. We are made to identify so strongly with commodities that a rejection of capitalism will equate to a rejection of self and require a redefinition of freedom that will demand a revolution that stems beyond the workplace. Within advanced capitalism consumer culture serves as a counter-revolutionary safeguard, a sedative. And as we come to identify with the products of our alienated labor rather than realize our alienation within the process of production we sink deeper into the veins of capital, becoming the reproductive organs of the beast.

The working class as a revolutionary subject is the force by which the world will be changed. However, change will only happen if the will to do so exists. The American social contract, which states that what we can achieve given our rights as free and equal people to ascend the social economic ladder with no barriers but our own determination, is a pacifier based upon dishonest assumptions. It enables the institutionalized ignorance of systemic oppression, inequality, and environmental exploitation while generating the individualism needed to ignore the roots of the problem. We need to change the course of the struggle away from a struggle for upward mobility, which is at the heart of the capitalist conflict, to one of economic sufficiency and cultural sustainability.

A struggle for upward mobility is a conservative struggle. It will aim to reform until reforms have returned the working class to a state of equilibrium within capitalist society or one of equally distressing productivism. The world cannot survive our economic system. We have an environmental crisis that requires complete recognition however such recognition will require a cultural revolution, one that rejects the products of alienated labor. In order to survive, capital must expand therefore it must synthesize needs and implement planned obsolescence in order to produce and maintain a market for its growth. A systematic manufacture of discontent places commodities as an affordable means of social achievement therefore contentment by upholding an understanding that has elevated capitalism to a position synonymous with freedom by the mere fact that it provisions the goods. This paves the way for a consumer culture that is impervious to systematic change.

Commodity accumulation leads people to not only identify with the means of destruction but it also paralyzes their ability to mobilize action against the ecological crisis. The resistance to capital must be built in communities most affected by modes of exploitation, those closest to the realization of capitals limits of sufficiency. Poor communities and communities of color are an ecosocialist revolutionary force and the movement must take root in these areas. We must aim to disintegrate links in the chain of capital reproduction by building community sovereignty which will enable the active thinking required to liberate humanity from our impoverished condition. We must acknowledge the multi-faceted struggle for ecosocialism as one encompassing the total impoverishment of humanity which entails not only the patriarchal plundering of earth’s environment but also the systemic theft of our self-governing, self-realizing, debt free value.

It is widely recognized that the profit motivated consumer fueled industrial waste and pollution is a broad and time sensitive issue which must be addressed to prevent absolute ecological catastrophe. However, capital cannot provide a fix without dissolving itself. The climate issue is in a stage of terra incognito so the global environmental crisis will be positioned to fall onto the consumers and a new “green” market will conjure the illusion of ethical mass consumption and market growth (see Jevon’s Paradox). Consumer culture identifies the free market with freedom in general which is a landmark of success for a system that must perpetuate itself through alienated production and identification with the products of alienated labor in order to avoid overthrow. In light of the urgency of our current ecological situation there is no alternative route to developing an ecosocialist bloc and dismantling advanced capitalism that does not entail the targeted dismantling of social identity with consumer goods. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism.

The continued existence of the biosphere as we know it depends upon the reduction of the human industrial impact. This stands in contrast to capital’s need to portray the false idea that human needs are unlimited and that the earth and its natural limits are capable of accommodating such an absurd reality. It is implanted into the growth strategy to enforce such a notion, for once actual needs are fulfilled the market will stop growing so the system must manufacture discontent to raise demand. This demand situates society in a state of derangement which merges desires and needs while denying that consumption is culturally manufactured and that our culture is the stimulus for environmental instability.

In order to liberate mankind and do so in a way that enables a cultural symbiosis with nature we must seek a social model that distances itself from accumulation. This entails establishing the preexisting condition for revolution which is a class based insurrection against mass self-recognition in commodities. The ability to disdain capital commodities will enable the induction into common knowledge the absolute limits of capital production. We must reinvent a human identity that is aligned with our place in nature as actors within an ecosystem. This in practice is counter hegemonic against the conservative forces surrounding capital exploitation of nature. We must see the impact of our consumption in disrupting the metabolism of nature, but we must recognize it as systemic and not limited to individual lifestyle politics. We must see the reality behind our identity with these alien products as a defining attribute of capitalism’s incompatible relationship with the natural world and its alienating impact on human consciousness. We must recognize consumer culture as a coercive socializing agent of capital not simply a lifestyle choice made between masses of individuals.

Ecological society is made possible by limiting production to fulfill actual needs and to do so by means of maximizing use value. This will eliminate profit by redistributing surplus time back into society by means of reduced working hours and allocating surplus towards human and ecological development. A true cultural revolution will entail human efforts being aimed toward human liberation and ecological harmony. In order to achieve this the dominant social value system must be replace with one not dependent upon material haves and have-nots. We can no longer define the pinnacle of achievement as the output capacity of our civilization and a person’s ability to obtain a suite of commodities in a private wealth generating system. A new understanding of surplus will be developed to recognize the creative output of humankind as a common heritage made possible through historical efforts and the reshaping of natural environments, raising a new understanding of ourselves in nature history.

The obsession with production has generated circumstances which require an active assault on our cultural understanding of productivity. Productivism must be understood as an enemy to ecological and social balance. A new society will not arise like a phoenix from fire and ashes it will be built on the foundations of history which is entwined with social injustice, oppression, exploitation, and environmentally destructive forces. In building a socialist society we will be forced to deal with the inevitable cultural reproduction of capitalist ideals and do so in part by abolishing the emphasis on productivism. The socialist world view that maintains a possessive relationship between humanity and nature will be condemned to the same toxic existence as its capitalist predecessor.

In the construction of a new world there must exist the preconditions to harness the new order. A transformation from our current alienated world will not be carried out by a seizure of the means of production alone but must entail a seizure of our identity from the clench of alienated goods. The contentment with this capitalist arrangement of society will last until problems arise that cannot be diverted by means of it, such as the crossing of planetary boundaries and the global displacement of entire populations, an approaching inevitability of our economic model. A revolutionary condition is looming and a force beyond our timeless socioeconomic conflict is a driving element. Natural contingencies will arise which will push aside humankind’s ability to negate systemic collapse. The readiness to adapt to and seize the state of nature and the state apparatus may not be present in the common stock of knowledge. The revolution may be ready for us, but we may not be ready for the revolution.

Ecosocialist Participatory Economy

Ecosocialist economies are not contingent upon growth, they are oriented toward the development of human potential which means that they do not aim towards commodity production as an end but as a limited means towards the fulfillment of human needs. Contrary to capital’s logic human needs are not unlimited so as to develop an entire economic system around that premise is counter intuitive in its limited potential for human enrichment and its paradoxical existence in a world of finite resources. In ecosocialist society economic value will be transformed, prioritizing use value. Whereas in capitalist society economic exchange value dominates all forms of social worth, placing all other achievement in subordination to it.

Ecosocialism focuses on use value as the aim of productive output but use value is not the lens through which we view nature. Capitalism’s utilitarian view of nature is divisive, it limits our ability to identify ourselves within the natural world. This is a cause behind capital’s inability to see limits to expansive production. The logic behind capital production creates barriers where boundaries should be, making obstacles out of natural limits. It is not an issue of fossil fuels alone which deem our consumption immoral, for once achieved, a renewable energy structure will not erase the exploitative productive systems that capital relies upon. A clean energy source does not prevent the exploitation of nature and people for profit. It is only with the full self-determining power of workers to control their own destiny that we can produce an ecological economy.

The democratization of our entire society is essential in establishing an ecological order that is able to see the abolition of inequality and exploitation. Democracy must be established to a degree in which it allows people to truly control their own heritage. What is a common heritage of society such as the products of labor exist within a social commons therefore must be democratically regulated and distributed. People not profit must decide what is produced and what is consumed while taking into account the impact it will have on ecosystems and workers alike.

The environment is to be considered more than a source of raw materials and by what it generates to accommodate for human life alone. Our economy exists within the biosphere as a social ecosystem, a subcategory that is a part of a self-regulating earth system in which we as organisms alter at great expense to the harmonious flow of life. It is imperative that nature be protected from privatization by enacting democratic laws surrounding the regulation and preservation of environments from human exploitation. With our knowledge of environmental science we can reduce our impact and protect nature and the people who are most vulnerable to environmental instability.

In a democratic economy decisions must be weighed and votes balanced according to the degree in which the measure would affect the voter. Those most impacted will have more say. Worker, producer, and consumer councils are an organization structure that will accommodate for the diverse needs of each system while enabling the preservation of unique ecological limitations per region. A social opportunity cost will be considered in the process of what is produced in relation to its environmental and social exploitative relationship. This is a system in which a true social accountability is accepted and social production becomes normative. Privatization is criminal in a system such as this for it immediately reduces the democratic integrity that a social society operates on.

Major sources of inequality and power such as inheritance must be rejected in this system as it gives disproportionate social influence to people least affected, the deceased, which is then sequestered away from society and funneled into the hands of the few which leads to disparate power structures. Corporate decisions alike would be seen as anti-social however the democratization and worker ownership of the workplace can help eliminate this problem. It is necessary to state however that worker ownership of the enterprise will be a vital element of social society it is not a sure-fire way to ensure the integrity of our biosphere is maintained. The bureaucratic development of social means of production can easily assume the same exploitative characteristics of a capital enterprise and it has in the past. Therefore a circulating responsibility structure should be implemented as well as an establishment of democratic council powers and social vetoes to ensure that what is produced is regulated according to the standards of the environmental treaties.

The world will experience a lifestyle shift that will enable a new standard of economic equality to become institutionalized. We will need to decide what people need to live a good life with health and opportunity. Necessities such as access to water, food, shelter, clothing, transportation, communication, education, health care, sanitation, culture, the pursuit of personal development must exist in the new social contract as a standard guaranteed to all. For most of the world’s population the conditions of life will be vastly improved, while the minority wealthy classes will experience a neutralizing shift from excessive consumption to sustainable socially conscious living. We must ensure the elevation of impoverished people to an equal global standard while not barring their ability to achieve self-reliance.

In a society not bound by the limitations of economic growth, resources such as labor will be freed up to provide for the continual progress of our human legacy. The divestment of human capital from profit and power-driven maintenance of consumer lifestyles will enable a social investment into more culturally enriching productivity. An ecosocialist economy is based upon evolution not expansion and when advancements in productivity sufficiently fuel society we will have achieved surplus time for all.

Environmental consciousness must be emitted into the common procedure of production in that what is taken and produced must be quantified not only by its human value but by the implications such maneuvers will have on the socio-ecological world. As producers within nature we have an obligation to not only sustain our environment but also improve it. As an eco-conscious society we must strive to enhance our relationship with nature by inventing an economy that produces more than neutral but positive environmental results. This will be achievable with a new productive philosophy and through a new division of labor as humans are liberated from hours spent supplying synthesized needs. Resources then can be redirected towards creative pursuits, science, engineering, and socioecological development motivated by ecological sustainability and social accountability, not economic profitability.

There is no question that capitalism is a self-serving system that has no place in an ecological social organization. The disasters it creates with its monstrous growth principles devour the earth as well as the minds and bodies of all who exist here. We must seek to build a resistance to this oppressive and exploitative system by focusing our efforts away from reform which only strengthens the system. We must establish community sovereignty to allow pre socialist conditions to exist in the hearts and minds of those who are most threatened by capitalist exploitation. The understanding of ourselves as social beings must extend its association to reconnect our society to nature and to do so by liberating ourselves from the shackles of consumer culture.

One Dimensional Man” by Herbert Marcuse

“The Socialist Imperative” by Michael A. Lebowitz

“Creating an Ecological Society” by Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams

“Parecon: Life After Capitalism” by Michael Albert

“Consumer Culture & Modernity” by Don Slater

The Enemy of Nature” by Joel Kovel