Monday, 6 July 2015

The Killing Fields of Srebrenica - Our History or Our Destiny?

Sousse, Tunisia last week
Ten days ago in Sousse, Tunisia, crowds of people rested by swimming pools and on sandy beaches enjoying the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. A man approached with a sun brolly which concealed his automatic firearm. Within an hour, 38 people - including 30 British tourists - were dead and others seriously injured. Local people, at great personal risk, cornered the gunman who was later shot dead by the police. He was, it became known, inspired by the Islamic State and its call to arms against unbelievers.

Ten years ago tomorrow, in London, hundreds of thousands of people headed for work on a warm July morning. While some took the bus, many massed into the stairwells and lifts that descended into the Undergound tunnels of the city's tube system. Among them were three men from Yorkshire wearing backpacks, like tourists heading for the airport. As their separate trains headed round the multi-coloured lines that snake beneath the British capital, they pressed the buttons that linked through wires to the packs of explosives strapped around their bodies, exploding themselves in tiny, cramped spaces. As a fourth man on the surface, disoriented when he found his designated tube station closed for repairs, boarded a bus and blew
Murder in Russell Square, London, 7 July 2005
himself up along with several passengers, 52 people met their deaths as they went around their daily work routine, with over 700 maimed and injured.

As it would be in Sousse, the four men drew their inspiration from a belief that they were acting in the name of their Muslim faith. Their deaths and their taking of lives would be rewarded in the afterlife.

Twenty years ago, today, with the blessing by the Christian priest done, the Serbian paramilitary commander signalled his men forward. For months they had surrounded the thousands of Muslim civilians and a handful of lightly armed defenders huddled into the small protected town of Srebrenica in the Bosnian valley below. A small United Nations force of largely Dutch blue helmets provided thin cover between the two groups and melted out of the way as the well-armed attackers moved on the town, their heavy armour provided by the remnants of the Yugoslav Federal Army. As the inhabitants fled into an ever smaller area around the Dutch military compound, the military observers reported that the Serbs were "ethnically cleansing" the streets and buildings that came under their control in the name of Christian civilisation.

Within five days, after the Dutch troops watched as the Serbs separated men and boys from women and put them all on separate buses to drive them off into the hills, over 8,000 unarmed Bosniac Muslim males lay dead in ditches, in fields and in mineshafts. To this day, many are unrecovered and those that are come in shattered bundles of broken bones and partial bodies.

The three scenarios may be separated by decades, by thousands of miles and by different faiths and lives. But they are intimately, fatefully connected and they each and together provide an awful warning of what may lie ahead if we let it be so.

Srebrenica was just the latest of many, many atrocities committed by the Serbian rebels led by Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, proteges of the nationalistic President of the Serbian Republic, Slobodan Milosevic. They had rebelled in 1992 against the democratically elected government of Bosnia Hercegovina and, fuelled, funded and armed by Milosevic, they set out with the declared aim of eliminating the 1,800,000 Bosnian Muslims who made up around 45% of the population of the newly independent state. Karadzic declared that, although from the same genetic stock as himself, Bosnian Muslims were to have "no further hope of survival or continued existence."  
Over three bloody years, their army of butchers killed about one in every twenty Muslims and displaced many more. Rape camps worked to impregnate captive Muslim women with Christian Serb men's children and communities that had lived peacefully alongside and with each other for several centuries were wiped out forever.

Although all this happened on the doorstep of Europe, with a few notable exceptions, European politicians stood by wringing their hands. They claimed to impose an arms embargo on the area, a chilling echo of the Spanish civil war when, as in Bosnia, a democratically elected government was only thinly armed against well-equipped rightwing militarists and embargoes served merely to stack the odds ever more in favour of the nationalists. The British Government was particularly active in opposing any intervention to stop the bloodshed - Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd was especially keen to express the need to not get involved, although he was personally very happy to get very involved in lucrative business deals with the Milosevic regime a few years later.

The Bosnia war was finally brought to an end after a short bombing campaign by US jets against the rebel Serbs' positions around besieged Sarajevo, but the damage was done. With nearly 90% of the civilian dead Muslims, the apparent willingness of Europe to stand aside while tens of thousands of "westernised, integrated" Muslims were slaughtered purely for their faith gave an abundance of fuel to the hate preachers and extremists who wanted to turn the gaps and misunderstandings between the West and Islam into a chasm of violence and division.

In this context, the appalling London bombings, on the tenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, are not excused or legitimised in any way but there is little doubt that the Bosnian bloodbath radicalised many younger Muslims and made their recruitment by the psychopaths of ISIS and al Qaeda that bit easier.

And now, another decade on and the blood flows - in Sousse, in Paris, in Aleppo, Baghdad, Raqqa, Damascus, Gaza... the list is endless. And the plans for the future? The answer to the deathly black flags and the murders amidst the ruins of Palmyra? More bombing, more weapons, more death.

The phrase that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it is hackneyed, but never more true. But perhaps what is even more important is how history is written and what is remembered. For in so many narratives, on all sides, only snippets and single events are recalled, commemorated and alternately reviled or celebrated.

Mass burial of Srebernica dead, 2010: 1,500 bodies remain missing
Churchill said that "History will be kind to me as I am going to write it" and this has never been more so than now, when our media and commentators rarely go much beyond last week to explain the events of the day. To them, Bosnia is as obscurely distant in time and as irrelevant as the War of Jenkins Ear or the Vikings' sack of Lucca. But, as even today bodies are recovered and children born of industrial-scale rape reach adulthood, it has never been more important to understand how the prejudice and conflicts of the past are the building blocks of today. Everything is connected, as we all are, and commemoration of the past is pointless unless we learn from it so we both understand today and make a better tomorrow.

"The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice," was Mark Twain's verdict. In a world shaped by the poison pens of the Daily Mail and the narratives of the bloodthirsty, arms manufacturing elite, we must look hard, listen hard and reflect on the truth so often buried from view. And that is that what unites humanity is in fact much more than the cultures, faiths and traditions that are held up to divide us by the Presidents and Prime Ministers, by the Caliphs and Kings - by those who do not want us to question the grip they hold on our world.

For the true history is that people of all faiths and none have lived in peace for incalculably more time than they have fought with each other. Our hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares are much the same, regardless of the trappings of difference in clothes or buildings or customs or ritual. But for some it is an inconvenient truth and a dangerous one for their continued domain over the rest of us. Their watchword is our ignorance.

Srebrenica, London, Sousse. They are our history, but they do not need to be our destiny.

Previous posts on Bosnia -  "The Ghosts of Bosnia"
                                               "Indicting Mladic for Srebrenica, Sarajevo - and London"

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Greece: A Vote for All of Us

Greece has voted decisively to reject the latest demands from the European Union for austerity economics.
The Hellenic people have today dealt a huge blow for all Europeans against the corporate interests that over the last 8 years have foisted the political choice of austerity economics across the Continent. The 60%-plus vote to reject the latest demands for massive cuts in public services and welfare to the poorest represents a major victory in the struggle to reverse the "mainstream" view that the monetarism first adopted by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s should be the default form of orthodox economics. It is a massive vote of confidence in the Syriza government and the stewardship of Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varoufakis, but it leaves huge questions for them to tackle in terms of next steps. For although Greece has spoken loudly and clearly, the anti-democratic forces in the European Central Bank and the IMF, backed by the neoliberalism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are unlikely to deviate from their obsession with reducing the public sector and increasing the wealth of the rich across the Eurozone. The economics of austerity will not go quietly or quickly.

This is a particularly pernicious form of political economy - it holds that balanced budgets are key for governments, whose involvement in society should rarely extend beyond basic policing and the military (although in practice it actually extends to providing subsidies and  handouts to the big corporations that fund our political masters, either via bailouts viz the banking system or "private finance initiatives" and outsourcing of services such as health and education at criminally high costs to the taxpayer).

Syriza's Varoufakis and Tsipras
 In this scenario, there is a fetish about reducing the deficit even when sucking money (and demand) out of a becalmed economy will simply lead to a downward spiral with huge costs to the lives of ordinary people. Its proponents however claim that, in the long-run, a harmonious equilibrium of supply and demand will be reached - although this is somewhat incredulously to be determined by the mystical invisible hand of the market rather than any socially-conscious intervention by humans. We are to serve economics, it seems, not the other way round.

The counterpoise to this - the investment-led approach of Keynesian economics - is somewhat more humane (albeit not necessarily an exclusively socialist response). It sees social objectives, primarily the minimisation of unemployment, as a key objective. Here, Governments will borrow or even just print new money to keep demand going in the economy, keeping activity moving so that people stay in work - this reduces the cost of out of work welfare and increases tax take, so that in time, if useful, the deficit can be reduced or eliminated without ruining the lives of ordinary people. As Keynes said of those who would leave things for the market to somehow work things out in the longrun, "In the long run, we are all dead." Economics should serve society; social objectives should be their sole purpose, not the enrichment of an ever -smaller circle of owners and shareholders.

However, the neoliberal elite who came to dominate our political landscape as well as the economy during and since the 1980s have made several key changes that undermine the potential for investment-led economics. They removed many of the controls on money and globalised the movement of capital; and they gave banks the right to create new money out of nothing - a ludicrous and highly dangerous arrangement that led to the 2008 crisis and continues to this day.

And into the midst of this, although Britain is outside it, the Eurozone came into being and countries like Greece surrendered their economic and monetary independence to the European Central Bank. This now determines the economic policies not only of Greece but in effect all Eurozone states. And with its decisions in the hands of austerity-obsessed bankers whose sole objective has been to increase the power and wealth of the elite, the social needs of the poor in Greece, or Spain or even Germany have been of no concern. Hence their belief that Greece should cut and cut and cut and simply keep on bleeding.

In this context, we have seen Greece previously be forced to accept an unelected Prime Minister to impose the diktats of the ECB on its people. This was being openly contemplated again in Berlin last week as Merkel and her gang felt bullish about a Yes vote in the referendum cutting the legs from under the elected Syriza government. This is the same mindset that reportedly led to some bankers allegedly opening a book on whether or not there might be a military coup d'etat to "solve" their problems with the irritant of democratically elected Greek politicians not going along with inflicting ever more misery on their people.

Greece has said no to the austerity that is at the cold heart of Europe now. But the only real option for the Hellenic democracy is to now leave the Eurozone as quickly as possible. With the drachma restored, they would be free to adopt an investment-led recovery, restore their battered public services and revive their economy. In doing this, they would be leading the way for democratic forces across Europe to rise and turn our fractured societies away from the austerity that has left Britons to choose between heating and eating, Spaniards to watch their health services crumble and youth unemployment soar, and Greeks to see their country unravel around them, their young and their rich taking flight abroad.

For some of us on the progressive left in Britain, until now reluctant supporters of the European Union as at least some form of minimal defence against the corporatocracy, the treatment of Greece (and of Portugal, Spain and Italy) demands we revisit our views ahead of the British referendum. The Europe we seek, one that puts people and planet before the profit of big companies and the demands of our elite, is not on offer.

It may feel uncomfortable to be on the same side of the fence as the likes of UKIP, but is it any easier standing alongside the three pro-EU, pro-TTIP, pro-austerity parties coalesced under David Cameron? At the very least, the debate must be had - why should any progressive wish us to remain part of this "ever closer union" that would willingly, even enthusiastically, destroy one of its own? Can this project be saved from itself? How do we get a social Europe genuinely on the agenda? Or do we need to break away to come back together in something more constructive and sustainable?

The No vote for the Hellenes is no negative result. It is a terrifying but optimistic vote that says society must be for everyone. That the collective need, the common good, must come before the apologists of robber-capitalism who hold power in the boardroom, banks and Cabinet offices in capitals across the European Union (including London). It is a line in the sand, but will need to be the first of many.

It is a vote for a future that is about people, not profits.

From the birthplace of democracy, it is a vote for all of us.

Athens was the birthplace of European democracy: this ballot said "No" to Themistocles in a vote 2,400 years ago.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Taking the Trickle

Yeh, this is right! It's on the interweb! Don't you know? Huh! Losers!
I know since the story broke in the USA about the white woman who claimed to be black there has been a global debate about societal categorisation and the limits to self-designation. To what extent can you declare yourself to be something others may not believe is valid?

Well, whatever the merits or demerits of the US cases, I've decided to try it for myself here in the UK.

So, from next month, I am self-designating as a multi-millionaire.

I'm not, as such, a multi-millionaire, but why should that matter - don't judge me!

My new tax adviser? What do you think?
So time for me to enjoy the opportunity to:

(a) not pay my taxes

(b) get away with not paying my taxes

(c) be thanked for not paying my taxes

(d) be encouraged to not pay tax in the future

(e) continue to receive the same, or even better, public services as the "little people" who pay tax (c) Leona Helmsley 1989

Wow, what a great look I'll have!
(f) be given a wadge of taxpayers' money if I run out of my own cash (even though at that point I'm technically not a millionaire)

No matter my skills, or lack of them, or crass stupidity, I can expect to be fawned upon, listened to, offered stuff and excused for all sorts of anti-social behaviour and callousness.

Breakfast will be brilliant!
My breakfast!

And I won't need to rush out to work afterwards - because other people will be doing that for me! My people!

I'll also not have to carry cash or pay for services from people who should be glad to merely imagine I am trickling down upon them.

I'll certainly be taking the trickle.

As for the rest of you... tighten your belts and stay at home on Saturday.

You ain't see this!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

TTIP - Treaty To Increase Profiteering

Green MP Caroline Lucas and anti-TTIP protestors

The TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership plans for a massive free trade area between the European Union and the USA reach a critical stage next week with a vote in the European Parliament. Negotiated in secret, with MEPs having to go pre-booked into a special room to quickly read updates on the talks, the treat masquerades as a wealth-expanding, job-creating measure. In truth, it delivers what is left of democracy and public services into the hands of profit-seeking multinational corporations, unaccountable to anyone and disinterested in anything other than the company's bottom line. The environment, the people who work for these companies, the people who buy from them and the communities they live in - what protections they have now will be either stripped away outright or whittled away by a process of attrition in the years to come.

Check out BIG BAD LAW on Facebook and Twitter
Few free trade schemes have worked to the genuine, lasting benefit of the populations they cover - and this one is no exception. It will reduce public income from taxes by reducing and removing tariffs on imports; it will push governments to privatise public services, including the NHS in Britain, and open up those that do not to endless, costly law suits from companies seeking compensation for denial of profits in secret courts through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). US tobacco giant Philip Morris has just invoked similar free trade rules to sue the British Government for billions of pounds in compensation for plans to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packets - just a taste of what is to come if TTIP is adopted.

It is also likely to have a big impact by forcing down European standards on public safety, employment rights and consumer protection to the much lower US standards so that it is "fair" to big companies - no thought to European (or American) workers or consumers. Everything from safety protection in the workplace to food standards and mobile phone tariffs could be affected to the disadvantage of ordinary people.

In the European Parliament, and at Westminster, Conservatives, Lib Dems and most Labour politicians have signed up to the TTIP. Opposition has mainly come from the Green Party and, in the EU, its allies in the Greens/EFA, which includes SNP and Plaid Cymru, as well as from the Nordic Green Left. UKIP have been absent from most debates on it - they tend to favour free trade agreements in most circumstances though they may dislike this one purely because of its connections to the EU.

Millions of Europeans and Americans have been working to oppose TTIP, with international days of action in recent months and many previous demonstrations. Trade unions, including the AFL-CIO in the USA, have been vocal in their concerns. However, with the negotiations going on in secret and the Governments of nearly all member states signed up to the mantra that all trade is good trade, only the members of the European Parliament are likely to be able to put any block on its passage.

This week may be our last chance to stop this dangerous and potentially irreversible treaty. Green MEPs including England's Molly Scott Cato and Jean Lambert have produced a series of short videos outlining why TTIP matters and why we should be concerned.

If you agree,
- please share the videos (click through to Youtube on each video for the share button)
- please sign the petition on this link HERE (it is now close to the two million signature mark)
- and please write/email/contact your MEPs - details HERE

If you are on Facebook, take a look at Big Bad Law, a Green page taking a slightly satirical but urgent swipe at the TTIP.

Big Bad Law on Facebook

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Poverty Porn: We Who Are About to be Sanctioned Salute You!

For some time now, we have been used to what were once reasonably decent public service broadcasters - the BBC and Channel 4 - churning out a diet of Government propaganda. Whether Peston on the Nine O'Clock News blabbing on in his staccato way about economic orthodoxy or Channel 4's appalling Benefits Street, which elevated a few show offs to avatars fulfilling the neoliberal wet dream that unemployed people are all fat-guzzling couch potatoes, the mass media has long surrendered itself, like the printed press, to ever more extreme forms of capitalist apologetics.

Yet somehow the latest project from the BBC sticks in the craw even more than previous sagas of distasteful voyeurism. For now we have Britain's Hardest Grafter. This piece of poverty pornography sets poor people (only people earning less than £15,500 p.a. can enter) competing against each other. In return for doing physically unpleasant tasks - who knows, cleaning out the directors' septic tank perhaps or peeling his grapes on bended knee? - they will have the chance, via elimination for not working hard enough, of winning the equivalent of one year's living wage (outside London). In a truly generous step, the producers have promised that contestants will be compensated "not less than the national minimum wage" for the time they spend taking part.

The programme is being made by Twenty Twenty TV , a London production company which has produced classics such as The Hoarder Next Door, How Not To Get Old and Bad Santas. I did in truth see an episode of  the last on that list, which showed unemployed men being trained to be Father Christmas, with varying outcomes and a lot of exploitative insights on the way. While it had its humorous moments, it remained a voyeuristic treatment of human difficulties with no apparent attempt to ask why those experiencing them found themselves in such a situation.

Ultimately, what is the purpose of these programmes but to take a tiny, tiny sample of people and try to project their progress or lack of it in totally artificial conditions onto everyone else in their situation? Britain's Hardest Grafter will not, it seems, do anything to challenge the appalling undervaluing of very difficult types of work: if anything, it will reinforce it with a prize that wouldn't pay for a single advert were it being shown on a commercial channel. And by pitching it at poor people, including unemployed, it thrives on their despair - ten people a week competing for an ultimate prize that wouldn't even meet the annual living wage level for our capital city.

It's not just poverty porn. It's torture porn - inflicting yet more humiliation and suffering on people already struggling, offering no analysis of why so many are now mired in poverty other than implying they should be able to "graft" their way out of it, and, above all, setting people against each other. Divide and conquer, and what better way to do so than as "entertainment" on the gogglebox?

This may be the BBC's pathetic attempt to placate the Tory ogres, gathering at their gates to plunder their revenue and privatise the pitiful remains of public broadcasting, but it will be a short feast. Every threshold of exploitation crossed, every indignity heaped to the loudest acclaim will simply lead to demands for more, for fresh blood. Some have called this the Hunger Games, as today's parody becomes tomorrow's norm. And so true. This is the sort of media that brings forth programmes like Embarrassing Bodies and The Child Who Is Older Than Her Grandmother . These are the modern equivalents of the 19th and early 20th century circus "freak shows" that condemned thousands of vulnerable people to repeated lifelong abasement for the entertainment of the public, jabbering and judging about things of which they knew little or nothing, but encouraging and validating a cultural hierarchy where if your place was not much well at least you weren't one of  them.

And as we move from documentary (who would broadcast Cathy Come Home now?) to mocumentary (Saints and Scroungers) to sticking desperate people in an ever more wretched competition, what next? Poverty we know is associated with poor health. So if we are going to make a real show of making the masses work hard against each other, why not go for Last One Standing? Or maybe I'm Having A Heart Attack, Get Me Out of Here? Or how about Celebrity Benefits Assessment - perhaps David Starkey could sniff out the deserving poor over a nice glass of red?

This schadenfreude fest will only get worse under a Government keen to find public buy-in to its destruction of the welfare system and its stigmatising of the poor, fully backed up by a media eager to do its bidding. It marks the end of public broadcasting in any meaningful sense, twistedly helping to pave the way for the abolition of the licence fee system and the fragmentation of the BBC.

And in the future? We never thought we'd get here. So how long before we see the return of Gladiators? And no, I don't mean the ones with the gym equipment and cheesy grins.

If you have been disturbed by the contents of any of these programmes, you can help by signing the petition started by Green Party activist Sahaya James demanding the BBC scrap this programme before it begins. Please sign HERE.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Dark Arts; Or Be Careful What You Say Others Wish For.

The right to freedom of speech is a fundamental one but it does bring a responsibility with it to tell the truth. The right to smear an opponent is not one we should be defending.

Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem MP for Orkney & Shetland, 12 November 2010 in the "Shetland Times" Full note HERE

He smugly made out he knew nothing about it, but his shifty body language as he told the interviewer that things like the Sturgeon memo "happen during election" made it no surprise when now former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, the last Lib Dem MP in Scotland, finally had to admit that not only did he know the contents of the memo before it was published; he authorised the leak.

"An error of judgement", he called it after a taxpayer funded enquiry rumoured to have cost  £1,400,000 concluded he dunnit. 

Some error. His craven party, reduced to a handful of MPs and doubtless terrified of losing another, has rushed to his defence, pointing out he had generously foregone his £17,000 pay off for no longer being Secretary of State. And his adviser, seemingly tossed to the wolves, is similarly not getting his redundancy (Carmichael continues to receive his MPs pay and some of the highest expenses of any parliamentarian in the UK). So on that basis, the Lib Dem leadership, such as remains of it, hope it will all go away, just like Alistair has gone off on his holidays, doubtless somewhere out of signal of mobile phones and without a broadband connection. I'm thinking Rockall.

Much has been written about this which I won't rehash here. The issue goes wider than whether or not he should remain MP for Orkney and Shetland, where some of his constituents were protesting for his resignation yesterday - and the SNP have launched a formal process to have his election struck down.

Rather it goes to the heart of what he claimed in the interview where he denied knowledge of the memo before a journalist contacted him about it, that such things, smears, are routine to election campaigns.

On the whole, they are not; and when they are, they shouldn't be. But the hubris of our political class, of which Mr Carmichael seems to have been an eager member, is such that in spite of the expenses scandal and the low esteem politicians are held in by voters, the ruse to dishonestly undermine Sturgeon by a Government Minister has passed virtually without comment south of the Scottish/English Border.

And this is the wider scandal. Because the memo was leaked just after the SNP leader had performed so powerfully in the Leaders' Debate, challenging both Miliband and Cameron on austerity and nearly winning the viewers' vote. One survey suggested that 9% of English voters would have voted SNP had they had the choice.

So what did the memo leak attempt to do? Claim that this anti-Tory politician had told the French Ambassador she hoped that the Tories would win the election as she felt that would advance the cause of Scottish independence. Yet the contents of the memo conclude with the author noting his concern that the comments attributed to Sturgeon seemed out of character, extremely unlikely and "possibly lost in translation". Both the First Minister and the Ambassador confirmed the words had not been said but, with the enquiry not reporting until after the election, the potential damage would be done.

There was of course no apparent damage to Sturgeon in Scotland - the SNP pretty much swept the board with only 3 of the 59 Scottish seats not in its hands by 8 May. Of course, by a narrow margin, Mr Carmichael kept his previously safe seat over the challenge of the SNP veteran Danus Skene. Had they known, the voters of the Shetland and Orkney islands might have taken an even dimmer view of their Lib Dem parliamentarian.

But further south, it was perhaps a different story, and one which may have swung the election. With the memo seeming to make Sturgeon out to be a liar who would happily heap scorn on Ed Miliband to any passing foreign diplomat (just reading it, doesn't the whole idea seem absurd?) , the rightwing media, from the leak publishing Daily Telegraph to the Daily Mail thundered about the chaos that would ensue if there was a hung parliament where Labour had to reach an accommodation with the SNP. Miliband's own comments probably did not help, although to be fair his hands were tied to some degree.

At least some analysis since the election suggests that this fear of potential chaos between mutually loathing SNP and Labour above all else was the impetus driving many would-be UKIP (and even some Lib Dem) voters to swing to the Tories and deliver them the outright majority they now have. With several marginals only just clawed into the Tory column, the votes of as few as 900 people seem to have made the difference between 5 years of untrammelled Tory domination and a potentially progressive balanced Parliament. Consequently, Carmichael's little ruse may have had tragic consequences for the whole of the UK.

Be careful what you say others wish for....
To suggest Nicola Sturgeon was seeking this outcome, a Tory Government, is plainly ludicrous. On the other hand, watching Mr Carmichael's giddy relief on election night to have "survived the tsunami" as he put it, perhaps his own aspirations were not so far from being realised. But was this really just something motivated by his own focus on getting at the SNP (doubtlessly unaffected by Sturgeon's drubbing of him during a televised Scottish referendum debate)?

Or, given the potentially devastating consequences of Carmichael's dishonest ruse, as many are now asking, did this man, now The Bruised rather than (hilariously) The Bruiser, really do all this all by himself?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

If You Let Them Take Me, Next They'll Come for You

Back to the future - when will it be 1984 again?
The Tory election victory was of course a desperate disappointment to many of us, even if there was a sneaking sense in the final days of "1992" , recalling when so called "shy Tories" who would not disclose their political views to opinion pollsters plumped for the Conservatives in the anonymity of the polling booth. It was slim, of course, with just a few hundred voters scattered over a dozen seats making the difference between a hung Parliament and a Cameron regime with untrammelled power on just 37% of the votes cast.

And how untrammelled the Conservatives are promising to be with that power. Never has Britain's lack of a written constitution been more apparent: unlike every other country in Europe, none of us have any inherent rights as citizens of our country. Instead, as subjects of the Monarch, we are held to whatever freedoms, or lack thereof, are graciously granted in the name of the Queen through powers exercised formally on her behalf by the Prime Minister who, constitutionally, is the King-In-Parliament.

First major action promised - to be executed at express speed in the first 100 days of the new Cabinet - is to be the abolition of the 1998 Human Rights Act. So, to be clear, we will no longer enjoy the following legal rights under domestic law:
1. The right to life
2. The right to respect for your privacy and family life
3. The right to liberty
4. The right to not be tortured
5. The right to a fair trial
6. The right to freedom of religion and belief
7. The right to freedom of expression
8. The right to not be enslaved
9. The right to property
10. The right to start a family
11. The right to freedom of association and to join a trade union
12. The right to not be prosecuted for something that is not a crime

Astonishingly, according to the rightwing press, triumphantly proclaiming an end to human rights, these are not British values. Indeed the Daily Mail described the rights listed above are "hated" and "a farce". They have forgotten the history - the Act, introduced by Labour enshrines the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in British law. That declaration, denounced repeatedly by the likes of the Daily Mail as "European", was actually largely written by British lawyers on the instruction of Winston Churchill at the end of the Second World War.

It was adopted by the member states of the Council of Europe, a much larger body than the EU, via the European Convention on Human Rights and was intended to extend to all people the protections that had been denied them in the years of Nazism and fascism. It represented the very values that so many British servicemen and women fought to defend (whilst of course the Daily Mail pre-1939 was infamously supportive of the German Fuhrer). Never again should it be possible for a  Government to legally detain and suppress its citizens in the run up to the brutal excesses of internment camps and gas chambers.

Churchill's legacy - architect of human rights declaration
If anything represents British values, or what we like to think of as British values, surely it is the European Declaration of Human Rights? It is framed to ensure that all of us are safe from arbitrary treatment by powerful governments. It is overseen by the European Court of Human Rights, which can instruct signatory governments to amend their domestic laws if they are held to be out of line with the letter and intention of the Declaration.

The Tories of course draw on two sources to attack this - the first is the widely held but completely false assumption that it is imposed on us by the European Union: if fact, we signed up to it over a quarter of a century before Britain entered the EEC as it then was. If the HRA is abolished, we will still be covered, if less clearly, by the Declaration/Convention, but many Tories are signalling a desire to get out of this too - so the current highspeed legislative plans are likely the first of two or three intended stages of dismantling human rights protection altogether. Both the current and previous Tory Justice Secretaries have made clear their wish to opt out of the European Court of Human Rights if the Council for Europe does not agree to their new legislation, which includes an intention to prevent the ECHR from instructing changes to British law. Any redress Britons might seek for breaches to our human rights would become harder and harder to obtain - a process likely to be deepened exponentially if we leave the EU, which would open the way to opt out of the European Convention completely.

Secondly, they highlight a handful of cases where terrorist suspects have made sometimes spurious claims for protection citing either the European Convention or more recently the HRA to avoid extradition. The most infamous case was Abu Qatada's long legal wrangle before he was deported to Jordan. The sticking point? The Jordanians had refused to guarantee he would not be tried using evidence obtained under torture.

However, the fact was that, in the end, he was deported to Jordan (where he was subsequently acquitted of the charges brought against him, although he faces prosecution on other unrelated matters). And for every Abu Qatada or Abu Hamza dragging things out, there are hundreds of thousands, millions even, of the rest of us - innocently seeking to exercise our rights in what is supposedly a free society.

And yet is it? Or will it be?

Introducing the Government's plans to conflate abolition of  human rights with the "war on terror", David Cameron said this week that as the act is abolished, to be replaced with something much less comprehensive and non-universal, he is now concerned not just by terrorists but by "non-violent extremists" as well. These, it seems, are people whose views undermine our society - how this is defined is of course anyone's guess. Is it fascists? Islamists? Conspiracy theorists? People who believe the Queen is a lizard? People who advocate a different economic system, such as ecosocialists or communists? How about Scottish Nationalists, whom Cameron's lackeys have portrayed as the greatest threat to the UK since, apparently, the Abdication Crisis of 1936 (you'd have thought they might have come up with something better than that, to be honest)?

In what must be one of the most chilling statements ever made by a British Prime Minister, Mr Cameron declared that obeying the law is no longer going to be enough:
“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone."

Along with Home Secretary Theresa May, he has stated an objective to interfere in the lives of people holding extreme views whether they are violent or not, or, by implication, even if they are not breaking the law. As well as "disruption orders" to silence individuals and groups deemed extreme, the so-called Snoopers Charter will be reintroduced, allowing the authorities to monitor all of our electronic communications whether or not there is a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. And of course woe unto anyone who goes "off grid" and stops using mobile phones or email as these are likely to invite an immediate assumption of wanting to hide some undesirable activity. Taking a break from Facebook? Hmm, presumably to attend some sort of dodgy training camp. Or maybe off reading some really dangerous philosophy or economics tracts!

In a distinctly Orwellian twist, May claimed that all this would help to protect British values of tolerance and free speech. Black is white and four is five in Tory Britain.

Were the new anti-extremist plans being brought in with the Human Rights Act still in place, there might have been some comfort that they could at least be subject to legal challenge. That the Act will be gone makes the developments particularly threatening to free speech and liberty, especially set against Cameron's comments.

Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany legally. He used methods such as anodyne "protective custody orders" to suppress people he deemed to be extremists - ie, opposed to his interpretation of German society and values. Cameron is not Hitler, but alongside some of the post-9/11 powers brought in, ironically, by Labour, his actions create a framework for abuses of power by British Governments to go unchallenged and unchecked. It may start with ISIS and al-Qaeda supporters as its proclaimed objectives, but as with all too many all-encompassing laws covering legally vague concepts such as "extremism", it will be able to be interpreted and re-interpreted by state officials, inevitably extending its scope and impact and the degree of interference in perfectly law-abiding, peaceful citizens lives.

Imagine one truly nightmare scenario - a politicised police force run by a private corporation, implementing a watch on people it deems extreme for campaigning to end privatization of the police.

Far-fetched? Perhaps not - heed the words of a Federation speaker at yesterday's protest march by 30,000 police that "privatisation by stealth" is already underway. And then reflect on how laws introduced to counter terrorism have been used to stop protestors reading out the names of dead soldiers at the Cenotaph, or even to detain them for booing at the (Labour) Home Secretary.

In the USA, under some laws, perceived threats to the nation's economic wellbeing are now treated on a par with terroristic violence. If Britain treads the same path, what future for those arguing for a different type of economics, or to counter the overweening power of giant business corporations? Will we be designated hostile to our way of life? Will it be dangerous for you to read this blog, and for me to write it? How will we know if we can be peacefully following all known laws but still deemed beyond the pale as far as someone like Theresa May is concerned?

And whoever polices the new approach, it will almost certainly be very counter-productive. In recent weeks, in my own town, two 17 year old school boys ran away from home to join ISIS in Syria. Their families expressed their dismay, while the local rightwing paper took the entire Asian community to task for not somehow knowing the adolescents' intentions and stopping them. Quite aside from the complete impossibility many parents face in anticipating the actions of teenagers, when I discussed the episode with some local community members, they told me that many in their community are too scared to discuss ISIS at all, fearing it will lead to them being seen as potential troublemakers. Consequently, there is no clear dialogue that allows them to identify vulnerable individuals at risk of being seduced away by the terror group's slick internet videos and social media grooming techniques. The new climate being created by the Government seems unlikely to improve this situation.

Britain's history is one of tolerance of different views: Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, German anti-semites, Italian anarchsts and many others of many hues were all granted asylum in Victorian/Edwardian Britain in spite of their being wanted by our then-Allies in Czarist Russia and elsewhere. Karl Marx's opus magnus, Das Kapital, was written in the heart of the British Library during his exile from Germany. Tory Governments were as open as Liberal ones to the exiles' presence, at least until the Aliens Act of 1905 , although even this still permitted entry to those facing prosecution for their political views regardless of what these were. And throughout the 20th century, however imperfectly, there has been no official attempt to suppress peaceful expression of even the most odious views unless they have sought to promote active hatred or violence. Cameron's rolling back of human rights at the same time as extending his intention to "interfere" in the lives of peaceful, law-abiding people smacks of the thin end of a very long, very dark wedge.

"Martin Niemöller (1952)" by J.D. Noske / Anefo - Nationaal Archief.
You may of course think it has nothing to do with you. After all, if you've done nothing wrong, why would they do anything to you? Except that is precisely the threat Cameron is making. Doing nothing wrong will no longer be enough.

Not all Tory MPs are likely to support the full range of Cameron's coup d'etat against liberty and freedom. Hopefully the likes of David Davis will lead a challenge in the Commons, while the Scottish Government has said it will withhold the consent legally required from it for the Westminster Parliament to abolish the Human Rights Act.

If they fail, our liberties will face their biggest legal reverse since the Barons forced the Magna Carta from the hand of King John in 1214.

Shy Tories? Shame on you. Time you read some Pastor Niemoller: "First they came for the Socialists..."

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Grand Coalition of the Damned

A Green view of the political consensus between the old parties
Almost two and a half years ago, in Weimar Britain, I considered the parallels between the decline of the liberal-constitutional parties of inter-war Germany, and the exhausted "political consensus" of the three main parties of contemporary British politics. Just as the old German parties drew together around a mindless defence of market democracy in the 1920s in spite of its many failures, so their modern British equivalents have coalesced around a near identical agenda of privatisation of public services and tax breaks for the rich while, inexorably, the Welfare State is beaten down to slowly die. Its formal name is neoliberalism; its reality is people in one of the richest societies in the world unable to eat without food banks, worried about heating bills and rent rises, and consigned to marginalised employment on low wages and unknown hours.

Back in December 2012, UKIP's rise was barely begun and the later "Green surge" and the transformation of Scottish politics in the independence referendum were still a long way off. But all the signs were there - of a political class that has run its course and knows it, but is unwilling to go. An electorate disengaged far beyond apathy. And a rich elite accumulating wealth at a rate that would make the old Czarist nobility blush (indeed, by some indicators, Britain is now more unequal than pre-revolutionary Russia).

Since then of course our political system has juddered into crisis. UKIP topped the polls in the 2014 European elections; the Greens beat the Lib Dems nationwide and then saw their membership nearly quadruple in under a year while some of their poll ratings showed a 10-times increase. And the Scottish referendum brought hundreds of thousands of Scots into a level of political awareness and activity unseen in decades - and soon galvanised masses of people south of the border as well to seek new outlets for their political beliefs. The argument over whether to include UKIP as the fourth party in Leaders' debates on TV soon developed to whether or not to #invitetheGreens and in the end not four, not five, but seven party leaders stood behind podiums - with at least two others warning about legal action over their non-inclusion.

Yet if the Scottish referendum was perhaps the greatest of a whole series of catalysts in the evident disintegration of the old political system, so too was it a warning of just how hard, and how dirty, the Establishment would fight to keep its place at the top table - and defend the interests of its elite paymasters.

Just a couple of weeks before the referendum vote, one poll showed the YES to independence campaign take a narrow lead. Previously complacent Westminster politicians moved into panic mode. Prime Ministers' Questions in the Commons were cancelled as Messrs Miliband, Cameron and Clegg rushed northwards to mount a last-ditch defence of the Union. And like most ditches it was dirty - threats were repeatedly made about Scotland's inability to survive on its own, wild claims issued about capital flight and a repeated insistence of a refusal to share the Pound Sterling.

By voting day, the NO margin was restored, but at just 55 to 45% compared to a longer term expectation of a 70/75 to 30/25 voting down of independence, the result was remarkably close.

The changing faces of UK politics
An this is how it has been and how it will be. As we approach the 7 May General Election, the old parties are bust and know it.

So we have seen a media barrage against Farage (once their darling); exceedingly hostile interviews of Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, and all manner of wild tales about the SNP hordes investing Carlisle castle with siege equipment and eating babies on the way south. A satirical piece in the Daily Mash today caught the reality of what passes for debate rather well as it announced the Greens' newly launched manifesto had been banned for claiming oil won't last forever.

But the polls stubbornly point to parliamentary arithmetic which shows neither Labour nor Tory winning much above 280 seats. With the Lib Dems likely to be reduced to as low as 20, there is no prospect of either a Tory/Lib Dem or a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition reaching the magic number of 326 which is an overall majority in the Commons. With all of them locking out the SNP, who may have around 45 seats and similarly unlikely to be able to stitch a three party coalition with UKIP or the Greens without giving up more than they are willing, the final, more than obvious but only recently talked about option hoves into view.

Uniting around continuing with austerity, privatisation of health and other public services, and happy buddies on a range of laws on curbing civil rights and getting involved in foreign wars, the prospect of a Tory-Labour Coalition is far from unlikely. Like the current Grand Coalition of conservative CDU/CSU in Germany with their once-social democratic SPD rivals, the union of Tory and Labour in joint Government would actually be about the most honest thing the two parties would have done in years. Neither of them, nor their Lib Dem pet parrots, are interested in real change - quite the opposite. By uniting, they can continue to stymie calls for electoral reform and by doing so hope to lock out the new emergent parties and they can, for a time at least, buttress the defences of the rich.

The idea has already been trailed by Conservative and Labour grandees: Lord Baker for the Tories and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke for Labour; and it has was commented on favourably by both the rightwing Daily Telegraph and the notionally leftwing Guardian. Even today, with the Tory manifesto launch underway, one STV commentator explained that the two parties were stealing so much of each others' policy agenda that voters were struggling to distinguish between them.

Goering felt first-past-the-post would have helped the Nazis
A Grand Coalition may be an answer for them; but only for a time as it will finally crystallise the real fault lines in our politics - between incumbents and insurgents; between the grey status quo and a wide range of new options for change.

The extreme centre, as Tariq Ali has christened it, will not hold long. But if its proponents self-interestedly continue to refuse to reform our voting system to give all voters an equal say and all parties the representation they democratically deserve, they may want to reflect on the possible final outcome by considering the words of Nazi leader Hermann Goering at his post-war trial in Nuremberg.

Hitler had never won a majority in the Reichstag under Weimar's proportional voting system and the Enabling Act that transformed him into Fuhrer was only passed via arrests of some opponents and threats to others if they did not support it. None of this would have been necessary, the former Reichsmarschall declared, had Germany had Britain's first-past-the-post voting system because "(the Nazis) would have won every seat."

He was probably right.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Change The Tune - Green Party Broadcast Hits at Neoliberal Chorus

The Greens have launched a party broadcast for the General Election which uses a boyband parody to satirise the neoliberal consensus on austerity and privatisation that binds the other main parties together.

Caution - may contain "dad dancing".

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

China Syndrome: Britain Gets Left Behind in the Renewables Revolution

China has been leading the way in global investment in clean, renewable energy for several years now.
Any Green will have encountered it, either on the doorsteps, or in debate or in the rightwing press.
Renewable energy - it's a waste of time because even if we cover our landscape with solar panels and wind turbines, it won't make any difference because of the Chinese (and sometimes, for good measure, the Indians as well). As these countries industrialise and prosper, we are repeatedly told that it is on the back of coal, oil and gas energy sources - so many new coal power stations a week, easily blowing our puny efforts to clean the planet out of the water.

So, we might as well not bother and just keep burning away as much carbon, methane and other warming gasses as we like. Those who say otherwise are attacked as selling out to some global scientific conspiracy, or making elderly people freeze in winter because of allegedly higher "green" energy taxes and so on. It's just not British.

On cue, this week, the "greenest ever Government that never was", the Lib Dem-Tory Coalition, is phasing out subsidies to help get larger scale solar power schemes off the ground in the UK, just at the time solar panels are becoming exponentially more efficient and effective, and 70% cheaper. So although he could get much more power for our money, Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey is pushing forward with leaving solar to the whims of the free market in spite of pleas from the sector that it will quickly become unviable, at best stalling the gains of recent years. At the same time, massive tax breaks worth £1,300,000,000 in the next year are to be given to oil companies that extract oil from the ground at a cost of significantly less than $2 per barrel but sell on at apparently rock bottom prices of $55 per barrel, which is just not enough profit for the poor billionaires to get by on.

But the fact is that the arguments about China and India are no longer true, if they ever really were anything other than (no pun intended) a smokescreen for the oil lobby to entrench itself ever deeper over here.

China is now the world's biggest investor in green energy and renewables now account for over 30% of its electricity generation.(compared to around 12% in the UK). Its current investment will drive this ever upwards over the coming years, putting it way ahead of the fracking-seduced USA. Its primary goal is energy security - China has recognised what so many corporately-owned western governments cannot dare to whisper within earshot of their big business sponsors: sticking to carbonised energy isn't just polluting the planet, it is undermining the independence of nation states.

China's endemic pollution is driving a major shift to clean energy
 China does have other considerations too - as its economy continues to expand, it does continue to consume the largest amount of coal of any country, but this is falling quickly as a proportion of its energy use and is intended to be cut ever deeper. Chinese citizens have been alarmed by repeatedly persistent and thick smogs enveloping their cities in the summer and while as monolithic as ever, the Government is responding. And it is a question of scale - per head of population, China emits about half the carbon that Britain does and barely a quarter of the USA's per capita emissions.
Renewables contribution to carbon reductions in the EU, 2013

As for India, per head of population, it produces barely 3 tonnes of carbon emissions per person per year - compared to 5 tonnes in China, 8.5 tonnes in Britain and more than double that in the USA. But its government too is investing heavily in renewables with the Modi government quadrupling an already ambitious solar energy target for 2022.

Just think how different and truly independent our foreign policy could be if we no longer relied on oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, or gas from Russia, for our energy requirements. No more oil equals no more oil wars as well as potentially no more global warming.

But no, our rightwing so-called patriots, who denounce Greens and other environmentalists in increasingly shrill terms, are quite happy for us to continue to depend on President Putin and King Salman for our lighting and heating and the civilised life electricity provides. And so, consequently, we remain beholden to, entwined with and dragged down into endless threats and conflicts by some of the most unsavoury, dangerous people on our planet.

Britain no longer has the domestic ability to make wind turbines - we have conceded that to Germany and are dependent now on Siemens to come to Hull to manufacture turbines for the North Sea. And solar panels have increasingly been coming from China, although new EU anti-dumping tariffs may stem this flow. Meantime, back in Germany, which is like China powering ahead in its renewables revolution, the hallmark of change is widespread individual and community ownership making it a highly democratic form of energy. Interestingly, small scale ownership is being encouraged in China alongside its larger schemes.

With this week's news, Britain may now conceivably lose much of our not large solar manufacturing base. Even our carbon emission reduction target of 15% by 2020 has been specially negotiated to be lower than other major EU economies like Germany (18%), France (23%) and Italy (17%). Only Malta, the Czech Republic and Luxemburg's targets are lower than ours - quite the opposite of the impression you'd get from the likes of UKIP or the Daily Mail. Only the SNP Government in Scotland, where renewable investments and capacity is not far behind that of Germany, offers any real hope for Britain not being left behind in the renewables revolution.

It could be so different - every house could be its own power station, every community could meet its own needs, and the Big Six energy companies would vanish. We would be free to follow a truly ethical foreign policy and Britain could be in contention with the skills, jobs and manufacturing capacity needed to lead the way in clean energy. And we could make a big contribution in reality and example in stopping the world from continuing to release carbon at four times the level needed to stop runaway global warming.

A world leader, for all the right reasons.

Below: share of national energy consumption from renewables in EU states in 2012. UK was (is) in the very bottom category.
 "European-union-renewables-new" by User:Murraybuckley, User:Jklamo, User:Elekhh - based on File:European-union-renewables-fr.svgData source for EU-member states and NorwayEurostat – Share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumptionData source for other countries:Iceland (2010, source needed)Turkey (2010, source needed)Switzerland (2013, 21.1%), SFOE, renewable energy statistics 2013, page 5See: current statistics (eurostat). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Walking Clegg

In Liverpool, the Lib Dem conference has today voted to rule out going into any future Coalition with itself.

The baffling but meaningless decision came as local police cordoned off the meeting following reports of zombies on the Mersey waterfront. On closer inspection it turned out that it was just a group of Lib Dem canvassers wandering aimlessly, clutching faded yellow leaflets mysteriously depicting two jockeys in a race. Although many appeared fairly docile, a number were seen to be behaving aggressively, threatening passers by with benefits reassessments and forcing them to accept invoices for their education.

An expert said, "It is a tragedy, but possibly self-inflicted. The evidence suggests some of them used to be mildly nice. But they appear to have come into contact with something nasty, perhaps from people they were mixing with. Whatever it was, it has left them devoid of both empathy and judgement."

Although the scenes, which were being filmed for the final installments of the horror series The Walking Clegg, were faintly upsetting to the point of being vaguely perplexing, the authorities concluded the lost group is likely to be officially harmless within a matter of weeks.

Secrecy surrounds how it will all end but there is speculation that the horde leader is likely to face a dreadful showdown somewhere in South Yorkshire, after which the remnants are expected to quietly fade away.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Greens Rising: Britain's Syriza Moment?

The Green Party of England & Wales held its biggest conference in history last weekend in Liverpool. With a row of party flags fluttering in the breezy sunlight on the banks of the Mersey, nearly 1,400 of the party's 55,000 members participated in a long weekend of policy debates, workshops, fringe meetings, networking and music.

Party leader Natalie Bennett delivered a powerful speech (video below) on ending the politics of fear and mapping the way to a new, more equal Britain living happily in a sustainable world. "A peaceful political revolution," she dared to call it. Dared because such bold language is almost unheard of on the lips of a major political party leader - an appellation Bennett is more than entitled to claim now, with her party growing four-fold in members and poll ratings in barely a year. Greens outnumber the memberships of both the junior government party, the Lib Dems (44,000 members and falling), and the media darling pseudo-insurgents of UKIP (42,000 members), and once the 8,500 Scottish Greens and 1,000 Northern Irish are added, the Green total across the UK stands at nearly 65,000. Only the SNP after its phenomenal post-referendum surge stands between the Greens and the declining Tories and Labour.

Greens planted their flags on the banks of the Mersey
So in spite of all the headlines from the aggressive ("The Real Monster Raving Loony Party" - Daily Mail) to the offensive ("The Green Party is a Looney Tunes Alliance of Trots & Druids" - Daily Telegraph), the Greens met in upbeat mood. A poll on Friday put the party up 2% at 8 points with the Lib Dems on 6% (YouGov) while a second poll on the closing day on Monday confirmed the 8% with Clegg's party down even further on 5% (Ashcroft).

The sessions of debate were lively but serious, with major policy initiatives on the health service, including reinforcing the commitment to remove private companies from the NHS and to boosting the rights of people needing support with mental health issues. The two Deputy Leaders, Amelia Womack and Sharar Ali, renewed the party's vows to get rid of Trident nuclear missiles and to tackle global warming respectively. In a strikingly poignant moment, Ali pondered on whether the patch of ice where "vote-blue-get-green" David Cameron frolicked with huskies in 2008 was still solidly frozen or melted into the rising Arctic waters.

Greek Green Costas Likeris spoke from Athens on the rise of SYRIZA
Of particular interest though was a very popular session on Saturday afternoon, attended by as many as half of the conference, on what the election of the left-wing Syriza government in Greece and the rise of Podemos in Spain could mean for Britain. Greens Molly Scott Cato and blogger-activist Adam Ramsay spoke with Zoe Williams from the Guardian and, via Skype from Athens, Greek Green politician Costas Likeris. The common themes of anti-austerity and working for the common good (the Green strapline) were self-evident, but so too was the need for building coalitions, working beyond party boundaries to build movements of what Likeris said were "Common people doing extraordinary things."

Perhaps more quietly than would have been helpful, but helpfully nevertheless, the conference later went on to endorse a motion, proposed by Adam Ramsay, striking down an 18 year old ban on agreeing joint tickets with other parties. This opens up the possibility for Greens to ally with other parties of similarly radical viewpoints and for mutual endorsement of candidates, reaching out to build that movement for change. It augments the existing anti-austerity pact between the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, already dubbed by some with the hashtag of the #RealOpposition . It may not transform the Left immediately, but it provides a lot of scope for Greens and parties such as Respect, Left Unity, TUSC as well as others on the left to work together in more than organising marches and meetings. Although with its surge in membership, organisation and support, the Green Party could be seen to be eclipsing these much smaller parties, the conference vote recognises that, especially with such a pernicious voting system as Britain's, pluralism is as much part of its core values as ever.

So, as our electoral system teeters on the verge of meltdown and with a major constitutional crisis possibly just a few weeks away, this principled and pragmatic move opens up all sorts of possibilities for a transformation of our politics. If for once the progressive left can put its obsession with ideology aside and endorse the pluralism offered by the Greens, Britain's own Syriza moment may not be far away and Natalie Bennett might indeed see her peaceful political revolution.