Sunday, 10 May 2015

For a new progressive alliance to be born, Labour must die

In the last few weeks, Green supporters like me were pressured to ‘swap’ our votes or simply vote Labour to stop the Tories – not a positive message, not based on hope, not based on policy – purely based on fear. But it truly was ‘vote for the lesser of two evils’, where Labour were just Tories with the volume turned down. And no doubt many thousands of Green voters did exactly that – even here in Cambridge we saw split votes, voting Green locally and Labour nationally. The reason why Labour lost was not the Greens – it was their lack of opposition, failure to provide an alternative and wholesale acceptance of the Tory version of the truth.

Labour embraced the ‘deficit’ narrative buying into the way this was distorted by the Tories where ‘deficit’ was somehow equated conceptually with household debt. We built the welfare state, provided free education with a deficit and real debt much higher than we have currently. There is no external pressure to pay this fake debt back either – no giant bailiffs at the door. This has everything to do with profit, and the way our economy works, which is no longer based on production but the creation and movement of money. Yet Labour never questioned this, never opposed it. Their shadow chancellor accepted Tory fiscal policy and Labour MPs voted with the government for a further £30bn in cuts.

In truth, the policy of austerity is driven by two things – to stabilize and maximize the profit margins in the City, restoring confidence in UK banks; and a neo-liberalist ideology to destroy the welfare state.

Across the board Labour abandoned their principles and own ideology in favour of what they called ‘centrist’ but what I would see as a right-wing populism, in some cases even adopting versions of UKIP policies. They carved ‘immigration control’ on a stone tablet; bought into the continuing right-wing denigration of the teaching profession, continuing the OFSTED reign of terror and introducing idiotic ideas like the ‘teacher MOT’ and ‘oath’; replaced the bedroom tax with youth tax; deserted the poor for ‘working families’; only disputed Trident on the basis of precisely how many WMDs they’d like: - the list goes on.

When a political party abandons ideology and principles simply to garner the maximum number of votes, what does it become? How can it retain any identity, or more critically, how does it remain distinct from other parties and offer an alternative?

I think what we have seen here is that it cannot. If you admit the same fiscal problems and follow the same solutions as another party, but offer a toned-down version of the same solution, what do you think the electorate will do? Vote for the full version of the solution to this problem you have admitted, or for the non-committed version that you offer?

 -You accept that fracking is a good thing for the country and the economy, but with ‘conditions’. The Tories say the same thing but will go full on. What’s the option for the voter?

 -Tories say that the NHS needs private capital. You agree, but will limit it to just 5%. Why?

Another terrible mistake was buying into the Tory narrative that the Scots are the ‘enemy within’. The betrayal of the Scots by the Labour party during and immediately after the Indyref was inexcusable, but then to add insult to injury by admitting that another Tory government would be preferable to any deal with the SNP – Labour was deservedly eradicated.

When Nicola Sturgeon – not even standing in this election in Scotland – won the Leaders’ Debate hands-down amongst even the English electorate, Labour possibly recognized then, too late, they had made a horrific mistake. Painting the anti-austerity SNP as rebels and secessionists and as a threat to England (and even democracy!) was their only option. The SNP didn’t stand on a devolution ticket in this election. They stood proudly and firmly against the Tories, they provided a real alternative and true opposition. And they sent ‘proud Edward’s army home tae think again’!

It has been said that for the Syriza alliance and Podemos to grow in Greece and Spain, their Labour parties had to die. In many ways, the Labour party of old, to which we owe a great debt of gratitude, died with John Smith. Blair was a thatcherite populist, to put it politely, and yet as the Labour exec casts about for identity, they are forgetting his crimes and crediting him with ‘Labour’s‘ last electoral win. But the memory of Labour is only disgraced by Blair, and to credit him with anything other than the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands is sickeningly deluded.

Now is the right time for a new alliance, and a new party to be born from the ashes – a rebirth of true labour. But only the death of the party will ensure that the base will switch allegiance, forced to admit that the Labour Party no longer represents them or their best interests, and look to a new party on the basis of ideology and policy – the fundamental elements that create the distinctive identity of a political party -  and which make it electable.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Revolution Betrayed - Russell Brand and the Labour Party

Today Russell Brand reversed his previous decision about participating in the election, and despite acknowledging earlier the radical characteristics of the Green Party, encouraged his followers to vote for Miliband’s Labour Party – everywhere apart from Caroline Lucas’ constituency of Brighton Pavilion.

Brand’s main argument is that the Greens by their own admission are disadvantaged by the current electoral system and would be unable to form a government in this election, and so to prevent the Tories remaining in power, vote Labour. Though there may be many disagreeable Labour policies that Brand could ‘have a go’ at Miliband about, this is the key issue.

However, for those of us who have watched Labour turn from any vestige of principle to further and further right of centre, there are now red lines that we cannot cross. Things like: ideological austerity and the £30bn in additional cuts that Labour have signed up to; the overwhelming focus solely on ‘working families’ and their stated abandonment of the poor; continued Goveism extended into teacher ‘MOTs’; Trident and interventionism; fracking, road building, airport expansion and HS2. These are not mere quibbles. Nor do we believe that a party that now sets policy according to executive decision, focus groups and the populism of the Daily Mail is likely to pay any attention to its base support or protest groups – particularly when its current drive to the right has been seemingly endorsed by the electorate.

Brand’s sudden volte-face isn’t just unexpected in that it goes against everything he has previously exhorted in his public appearances at rallies for the People’s Assembly, what he wrote in his book and said in The Trews – it appears cynically staged. The way the remaining part of his interview with Miliband was held back until now, less than three days before the election, doesn’t appear the work of some radical revolutionary but the design of a professional campaign manager.  Has Brand’s appropriation by the Establishment been that complete? Are his Revolution and the Trews now reduced to the same status as the fawning celebrity millionaire endorsements of Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman?

Does Brand really believe that the Ed Miliband who carves ‘immigration control’ in stone, who would rather see Cameron in office rather than do any kind of deal with the SNP, who believes in the ‘contributory principle’ – would spare even 5 minutes for the E15 mothers? He couldn’t even been bothered supporting the CARE UK strikers despite some of them being his own constituents! Nicknamed ‘Red Ed’ by the Tory press, the Labour party he leads shares nothing but the name with the party that fought for worker’s rights and established the welfare state.

What’s worse, is that if we follow the same idea of voting for the ‘lesser evil’, then the status quo will never change, and Brand’s revolution will be dead in the water – the real momentum and thirst for change, the reawakening of the political zeal we cheered with the Indyref, will once again be proved ineffectual and pointless. And thereby ultimately defeating his entire campaign, both now and in the future.

I was at the Class Conference at the TUC last year, where the anger of Labour supporters and trade unionists about the way their party was headed was nothing less than visceral. Policies they wanted to see, as I noted at the time, were things like free education and nationalizing the railways – all established Green policies. Yet I’ll bet these supporters won’t be voting Green or even TUSC – they’ll be ‘holding their noses’ and voting Labour again. And instead of going back to their communities, shop floors and offices and advising their comrades to engage with the policies and vote with their consciences, these members of the Labour base will be blindly voting Labour once again, without even knowing that the party their grandfathers fought for no longer exists.

And so I’d ask again, whilst activists (and I’d include brand and Owen Jones in this) continue to support the status quo just to keep out the Tories, they would have no progress made, no revision of policy, no groundswell of protest against the executive, and the biggest winners from all this? The Tories. They win all ways – by keeping down the proles and using Labour to ‘mitigate their expectations’, and by shifting Labour more and more into a carbon-copy of the Tory party.

The revolution Brand and Jones have betrayed is not just the one that they have helped foster. A phrase that Jones uses often is, ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants’. It is also their revolution that we betray by voting for the status quo.

So I would say, the time for real revolution in politics is now. We have the potential for an influential anti-austerity alliance to pull the Labour party back to the left, a true Green Surge which makes the Greens the third biggest national party in the UK and the biggest Green Party in all of Europe. Brand thinks you should vote Green for Caroline Lucas. But we have the real possibility of two or three more Carolines in parliament backed up by scores if not hundreds of councilors. Looking at all the things that one Green MP achieved, think what could be done by even two more. That’s what we have to achieve, and we can only do it with the courage and conviction to make REAL change and make it now. There will never be a better time.

Friday, 17 April 2015

VoteSwap - Don't do it.

There has been a movement recently in the papers and on social media to promote the idea of ‘vote-swapping’. The basic idea is that Green voters in marginal Labour seats should vote Labour for tactical reasons, to keep the Tories out of power. Where this is promoted by Labour supporters like Owen Jones or Sunny Hundal, it is understandable. But when this is recommended by erstwhile Green Party supporters, it is harder to swallow.

All over the country thousands of activists are working flat out to get their council and parliamentary candidates elected, for what is now the third biggest political party in the UK. Despite our rapid growth, we don’t have the same fat cats to bankroll our campaign. We rely on membership fees, donations from members and crowd funding campaigns. Those donors and all this hard work would be totally undermined and quite frankly betrayed by vote swapping.

If we are to achieve real change in our political system we must vote with our convictions and do it now. Whilst the FPTP system will not favour small parties, if we hope to have any influence over a future Labour government we must ensure that our opinions are heard and the proportion of votes in each constituency is representative. Voting tactically means Labour can sit back under the impression they have an unquestioned mandate and their continuing austerity policies have popular support. We must shake them out of their complacency and open the debate.

The argument that ‘by voting Green you get Tory’ is a poor reason to vote for a party that does not represent you. If they cannot win on policy, they must not win on fear. This might be a principled and un-pragmatic approach – true we do not want the Tories to regain power – but how much difference is there between Tory and Labour now? Remember that since Blairism and New Labour, we have less and less in common with a pro-fracking, pro-austerity, pro-Trident party under Miliband – a party that even went so far as to copy a UKIP policy and then sold mugs that proudly announced it.

So if you are a Green voter or are considering voting Green, then that is exactly what you should do no matter where in the country you are.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Why Vote UKIP? What UKIP stands for...

The UKIP deputy leader Suzanne Evans has written a pamphlet as a part of the 'Why Vote...' series published by Biteback Publishing

I've read it, so you don't have to. 

On the whole, the book is written with the self-confident feel of a doomed-to-fail A-level essay – the pupil given the assignment and launching forth into what she considers a magnum opus based solely on the York notes. Footnote numbers in the text lead simply to footnotes, and where references are given, they are incorrectly or incompletely listed, affording the reader little chance of consulting the source material. But the source material in most cases seems to be articles in the Daily and Sunday Express, and where these haven't actually been written by senior UKIP figures, they have an obvious leaning in that direction to say the least.

The introduction
The first 10% of the book (Kindle edition), is given to outspoken defence of UKIP whilst attacking other parties (note use of the favourite line of UKIP defence – smear), interspersed with tired, jingoistic, post-imperialist nonsense.

It is hard to see a mention of any policy or fundamental ideology listed other than leaving the EU, one of the reasons being it’s  “theoretically possible for 500 million” people to come to the UK.

Chapter 1 – leaving the EU
This is unsurprisingly the theme of the first chapter. UKIP watchers will not be surprised to learn that this drags out all the usual UKIP tropes that bear so little relation to what people in the real world call ‘facts’. The whole chapter is an attack – again, not one policy other than the title of the chapter – not even how this policy would be practically achieved.

Chapter 2 - immigration
UKIP has “the least racist immigration policy” being put forward by any party – which of itself, is a chilling way for a party to describe any policy.

Our ‘tiny’ island is being swamped with a population density of 680 per square mile (actual figure is 96 - this figure would make the population 166.5 million!). We need to build a house every 7 seconds (no reference given but this comes from right-wing lobby group Migration Watch not the ONS as stated) and so how long before our ‘green and pleasant land’ is concreted over?

As the text goes on, it becomes more rhetorical and frenzied in style. As in the first chapter, most of the text is given over to attack. One ‘fact’ is 16 ‘alleged illegal’ immigrants were fighting deportation at a cost of £1.5 million to the taxpayer. The source for this is ‘government figures released 16 April 2014’ – however the actual source for this story is the Daily Express of that date which is also not referenced – so the government documents cannot be traced – though from other sources, it seems that these ‘alleged illegal’ immigrants are in fact asylum seekers in detention whilst their cases are heard.

The author states the case that the current immigration policy is ‘arguably racist’ in that it discriminates in favour of ‘predominantly white’ and ‘Christian’ EU citizens. This is laughable nonsense – following this argument, UK-only desks at border control would also be racist.
Whilst stating that UKIP would operate a points system, fair for all, and wouldn’t pull up the drawbridge, it does specify in black and white the policy of denying all state assistance, health, benefits and education to all immigrants for five years. The author acknowledges that this would greatly reduce immigration. Of course the truth is that it would effectively end all immigration.
It goes on to state that whilst ‘overseas workers’ would be prevented from taking minimum-wage jobs, ‘those already living here could apply as usual’ (note that IS a direct quote).

Speaking ‘competent’ English would be a condition of entry too – but what level is considered ‘competent’ or how this would be assessed is not stated.

Chapter 3trade
This again follows a pattern of attack, attack, attack, (smear) attack. Though the theme is trade, hidden in the text is an attack on safety and worker’s rights legislation, and once again, the main fault for unemployment and low wages lies with the hordes of immigrants. It follows the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy as expected, and doesn’t mention the fact that the highest proportion of jobs advertised to the EU relate to the lack of the required qualifications in the UK labour market, or that indeed all these jobs are advertised within the UK and open to anyone (with the right qualifications).

Chapter 4 - Government waste and lowering taxes.
This goes on about tax in the way that you would expect from a neo-liberalist party. Tax is an inherent evil, so the state will be dismantled in order to reduce it. 

It does mention some policy, though confused and obviously, not costed. It confuses minimum wage with living wage, stating the lowest paid will be removed from income tax (as they are currently), whilst the top rate of tax will be reduced to 40% and start at £45k. Apparently earning this much ‘doesn’t make you wealthy’ – though you would be in the top 17%, earning almost double the average wage of £26,500 (that stat DOES come from the ONS).

There is the inevitable attack on green policies and wind power, claiming to quote stats from a report by Graham Sinden from the Environmental Change Institute - claiming, as somewhat curiously, that report is the only one not published online. The extract below however from another report by the same author, seems to completely contradict what was attributed to him:

Low wind speed conditions affecting 90% or more of the UK would occur in
around one hour every five years during winter;

The chance of wind turbines shutting down due to high wind speed
conditions is very rare – high winds affecting 40% or more of the UK would
occur in around one hour every 10 years. 

Though the chapter is about tax, here the policy of building more gas-fired power stations fuelled through fracking is laid out. The process is ‘safe’ (!) and would ‘invigorate rural communities’ – though what this would do to our ‘green and pleasant land’ isn’t mentioned here. It quotes the American case, and says that shale would be a source of wealth and drop domestic fuel costs. It doesn’t mention that to reach those levels in the UK would require in excess of 50,000 fracking wells throughout the countryside, from urban areas to green belt and national parks.

And again, those to blame for the welfare bill are… immigrants, with the source of this scholarly information being… The Daily Express. So whilst it talks about cutting the welfare bill (of which only 0.8% is spent on foreign-born migrants – and most of that will be on the asylum seekers and refugees that UKIP says it will look after), other than its policy of effectively ending immigration, it doesn’t say how this will be achieved.

Chapter 5 – Ethical Foreign Policy and Aid.
Basically, according to the author, the EU developing its own foreign policy is to blame for wars, pestilence and famine, from Afghanistan to the Ukraine. The LibLabCons have repeatedly made errors with interventionist policies. UKIP intends to maintain the UK’s ‘seats’ at NATO and the UN but will retain full control of the armed forces, only intervening if there is direct threat to the UK or ‘moral grounds’ for doing so – no mention how this would affect standing treaties.

The international aid budget would be slashed. There seems to be naïve lack of understanding as to how aid works hand-in-hand with trade and cultural exchange – for example not understanding why developing countries give aid to each other. It talks at some length about the UK giving aid to India – when in fact this has already been terminated by mutual agreement. 

It says that UKIP would not give aid to corrupt governments, and curiously not to governments that deny rights to LGBT people – the first and only mention.

Chapter 6 – investing in the NHS
As before the first part of the chapter is defence of UKIP and attacking the other parties, accusing them of responsibility for all the recent health scandals. Not forgetting the nasty EU with their Working Time Directive, meaning doctors can’t work more than 48 hours in a week. 

And let’s continue to scapegoat immigrants of course, not just the myth of the ‘health tourist’, but also ‘foreign-born mothers’ (so we don’t know whether this includes residents or citizens as well) responsible for one-in-four births. ‘Serious diseases have been re-introduced to Britain’ it declares (!).

So how would UKIP save the NHS?

  • ·         Abolish ‘non-jobs’ in admin (redundancies – how many?)
  • ·         Free eye and dental checks to cut long term costs
  • ·         Open GP surgeries one evening a week
  • ·         Put nurse training back to on-the-job in the hospital as there is no need for nurses to have academic training
  • ·         Free at the point of delivery to UK-born ‘residents’ (citizens? nationals?) and immigrants who have been here for five years
  • ·         Scrapping car park charges
Two things are concerning about this – the classification of UK-born residents – as if being born in the UK does not automatically determine citizenship and nationality. Also, throughout the text, free is always immediately qualified by at the point of delivery

As for the much publicised ideas of privatisation and procurement – no mention at all, other than to criticise the way it was done by Labour and the Tories.

Chapter 7 - Farmers and Fisheries
From this point forward we’ll skip over the EU did this, LibLabCon did this etc.

Some agreement here in the way the Common Fisheries Policy has been applied. The author doesn’t mention that one of the key reasons for the CFP is over-fishing and declining fish stocks, to the point where we could pass the point of no return on fish populations. The way industrial fishing is being done has not changed, so that rather than catching to quota (which on the face of it, may be impractical) the trawlers continue to trawl everything and then sort on deck, throwing dead and dying fish, not saleable due to quota, size or species, back into the sea to rot. 

UKIP would take our territorial waters back to 200 miles (what is now classified as the Exclusive Economic Zone by the UN, not as stated) and exclude all other fleets, effectively stopping the livelihood of every North Sea fisherman from every other European country. All quotas would cease, all fish to be landed. It mentions security resource – so imagine how many navy ships would need to be on constant patrol to secure just under 300,000 square km of sea?

Farming – UKIP would continue farming subsidies but cap this at £150k p.a. and no have no set-aside award. De-regulation will consider ‘risk’ and ‘hazard separately, basically setting aside all the current safety and environmental protection laws specifically mentioning: nitrate vulnerable zones, electronic sheep tagging, white asbestos (!) and anti-BSE measures. They will ban the export of live animals for slaughter and control the import of bush meat (already illegal) as this can spread disease like ebola (it can’t).

Chapter 8 – Education
The chapter starts with building development. It will protect the green belt, build on brownfields, invest in roads, re-establish local bus routes and re-open branch lines. No idea where the money will come from or how this will be achieved. They will also guarantee free parking within town centres (imagine what that will do to congestion).

Policing: a no-nonsense zero-tolerance policy with police freed from paperwork (no mention how that will be done either). It will lengthen and enforce prison sentences, making space by deporting foreign convicts. It will remove us from the ECHR and deport criminals whether they have families in the UK or not. Again, no mention how this would be achieved or how the countries receiving the convicts and their families would react. 

They will build more prisons, have full education and rehabilitation programs within prison and rehabilitation centres after release. No mention again of how this will be paid for or realised. Compulsory education? Special needs and adult teachers to be trained – in some respects laudable, in others practically impossible and laughably naïve.

Education – grammar schools. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they believe that grammar schools are the magic bullet and will bring back strict selection and the school system of fifty years ago. Those ‘not suited to the academic’ will be placed in vocational training and apprenticeships.
University tuition fees will be scrapped for those who meet the academic requirements and go on government approved courses to fill skill gaps. 

The focus here entirely is education to get a job and for the good of the state – not education as an end in itself. The result would be an extension of what is happening under the current system – only the privileged would be able to study what they want and the humanities and arts would eventually only be taught at a few universities. Everyone else would be fighting for the gov. approved and funded engineering and science courses. The university system would be quite deliberately destroyed through this policy.

Chapter 9 – Taking Pride in Britain
This chapter isn’t really a policy at all. It attacks multiculturalism, blaming it for everything from terrorism to FGM. UKIP is not ashamed but proud of Britain’s imperial history. Of course the PM should not apologise for the slave trade! The ‘sneering intelligentsia’ look down on the empire and have invented ideas of ‘post-colonial guilt’. The empire has benefited the world. It stands up for Christian values, and perhaps the denigration of these values by ‘left-wing atheists’ has caused ‘negative consequences’. There is a very heavy emphasis here on Christianity at the heart of British culture and law that came as a surprise.

Multiculturalism is determined and designed with the intention of ‘destroying’ the culture of the majority, condemning any idea of patriotism as ‘racism’. UKIP will stop funding for multiculturalist projects, stop multi-lingual formatting of government literature (except indigenous languages); teach pride of empire in schools.

Chapter 10 – UKIP in Government
UKIP follows the neo-liberalist idea of small government. It will close the following ministries: 
  • International Development 
  • Justice
  • Energy and Climate Change
  • Communities and Local Government
  • Culture Media and Sport
  • BIS
It would stop charities such as Child Poverty, War on Want, Oxfam, WWF for Nature and FoE from any political activity, reporting or lobbying. 

They would ‘clean-up’ Westminster, controlling SPADs, quangos and tsars.

Aside from the damage that the removal of these departments would do to everything from efforts to combat climate change to investment in the arts, the total restriction of the activities of charities can only be seen as a deliberate attack on any form of organised dissent or non-commercial influence on government policy.

So, still not much in the way of actual policy or how this will be achieved, but wading through the ranting attacks and scapegoating, some new and very frightening policy intentions. And as Farage says in his blurb on the cover, 

"This lively and authoritative guide sets the record straight about what UKIP really stands for..."