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.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Return of Mister Sleaze

He's back. But did he really ever go away?

Jack Straw has been vigorously defended by multimillionaire Tony Blair.
Channel 4 TV has this evening shown footage of its reporters posing as fake Chinese business people seeking to hire former Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw (Labour) and Malcolm Rifkind (Tory) to assist them in pushing their equally fake business activities. While Straw does at least talk about his work as an MP being his priority, he still names a price of £5,000 per day, which is apparently this once firebrand leftist's normal going rate when he is doing things outside Parliament.

Bad enough, but it is Rifkind who is by far the more unashamed - believing his visitors to be two young Chinese women working for their uncle's business, he tells them he is apparently self-employed with lots of time on his hands. No one pays him, apparently. Presumably the £67,000 MP's salary he gets is just some pocket money. Rather, he looks for fees of up to £8,000 and apparently will happily seek the "views" of senior officials and Government Ministers.

Rifkind's defence when he was outed by the programme was that he was not an MP-for-hire - rather it was his status as an ex-Minister that makes him such a catch for the corporates, somehow an apparently better prospect. And then later, in a new tack, he argued that it is natural for MPs to sell their services like this because it is "unrealistic" for them to manage on a mere £67,000 p.a. plus expenses.

So these two elder "statesmen" have been suspended from their parties and have reported themselves to the parliamentary standards committee, still proclaiming their righteousness.

We were told after the expenses scandals of 2008/9 that the system had been reformed so that the sleaze that permeated Westminster politics at the time would be swept away. But was it? While some, though far from all, of the most ludicrous expense claims, such as for duck houses and massage chairs, were done away with and some accounting was done over "second homes" for MPs, there remains little in the way of external scrutiny.

2009's issues have never gone far away.
But perhaps most unreformed of all has been the idea that it is ok for MPs to hold directorships and other jobs. Just a couple of days ago, we learned that Tory MPs earned over £4 millions between them in outside jobs last year, with Labour on £2 million and Lib Dems on several hundred thousand. And of course this is what Straw and Rifkind were doing. Sickening to ordinary people, who, on the national minimum wage, would need to work for 164 days to earn what "Sir" Malcolm thinks is a normal rate for one day's work.

Labour are calling for MP's to be barred from having a second job. Fine, but we need to see more than that - we need MPs to be put on the national average wage so that they finally have some connection with the mass of ordinary people and what is happening to them. We need to ban second homes altogether - set up a couple of large, comfortable and properly equipped hotels in London and let them stay there free, but don't pay for anything else.

Time to have politics that are about real life again. Time to sweep away the "political class" that has established itself as a parasitic gatekeeper for the super-rich and corporate elite to guard against the wishes of voters.

Time to sack Mister Sleaze. But if you want new politics, you need new politicians too.
You can choose in May.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

From the Green Surge to the Green Challenge

Vote for Policies - when people take a "blind" test on the policies they favour, they choose the Green Party
Over the last few months, initially quietly but surely picking up pace, the Green party saw its poll ratings for the 2015 General Election rising.

Back in the midst of the European election campaign, where the Greens were polling well for the P.R. elections, their UK election ratings were still stuck around 2%, with the odd jump up to 4% or 5% seen as a bit of an aberration. But one sticks out in my mind - on 14 May, Ipsos Mori reported a Green vote of 9% for the Euros AND 8% for Westminster.

It was such a leap, such an apparent "outlier", that few believed it, and some other polls just after took us back down to 3% or so. But, in the weeks after a creditable if disappointing Euro-result, Green membership rose steadily and by August was nudging up to 20,000 from 12,000 or so a year before. Then, after the Scottish referendum, with politically empowered Scots leading the way with joining up to anti-establishment parties, further south the Greens began to see not a flow but a surge of new members seeking to join a radical left of centre option as opposed to the rightwing UKIP. And when both the broadcasters and the established parties initially refused to include the Greens in the leadership debates for the 2015 General Election two things happened - party membership rocketed, at one point with one person joining every 14 seconds and the membership site repeatedly crashing from over-subscription. By early February, there were 52,000 members of the Greens in England & Wales, with a further 8,000 in Scotland and several hundred in Northern Ireland. With a combined UK total in excess of 60,000, Greens far outnumber now the 42,000 UKIP-ers and 44,000 official Lib Dem members.

The second thing that happened was a steady rise in the polls so that by the end of the year the Green Party reached 11% in one and is now regularly polling ahead of the Lib Dems. The UK polling report average poll of polls now stands at 7% for the Greens compared to 2% a year ago. 

And this last week, we saw yet another breakthrough - tentative, a figure within a figure, but perhaps like that poll of 14 May last year a sign of the times to come.

Ipsos Mori published a poll on 10 February with a headline figure of 7% for the Greens, who were in fourth place ahead of the Lib Dems with UKIP on 9%. But that was a figure for those absolutely certain to vote. Among those in the slightly less emphatic category of intending to vote, it was a different story: the Greens were on 9%, in third place nationally. UKIP had 8% and the Lib Dems 7%.

Not a massive lead, and within any margin of error. Yet ten months back, with UKIP polling at 27% in the Euros and the Greens still viewed as a minor party for Westminster elections, who could have imagined that it might even be possible?

As the voteforpolicies website shows, when people vote for policies blind to which party they are from, the largest number choose the policies of the Green Party. And in spite of the rubbish thrown at us in recent weeks by the rightwing commentariat and the Labour Party Anti-Green Party Unit, our ratings have consolidated and continued to grow. People want change - but not the fear-driven change promoted by UKIP and the Tories, or the continuing austerity endorsed by Labour and the Lib Dems. They want a fairer society, one where people look after each other, accept and enjoy difference rather than fear it, and where we work with nature rather than constantly damage and destroy it.

That is the task for the Greens now: to turn the Green Surge into the full-on Green Challenge - the challenge to the politics of despair; the challenge to the politics of vested interests; the challenge to show that another world is possible. And so possible too is a very different election result.
Poll Position - Greens move into third place?

Monday, 9 February 2015

If you want to see what Greens worry about...

Watch this video. It is from the Climate Council of Australia. In three minutes, you can see what capitalism is doing to our world. Not just to whales or some distant trees, bad enough though that would be. But rather all ll around us. With its ceaseless expoitation of our world in search of ever greater profit returns and its continued addiction to oil and gas and their attendant warming gasses, we risk a 4 degree rise in temperatures by the end of this century - an increase that will spell the end of civilised life on our planet.

The worst will likely come when most of us alive now are dead and gone. But don't count on things being nice and smooth between now and then, with a sudden exponential rise just as your kids retire. 2014 was the warmest year since records began - and the graph is continuing upward with all the problems of food shortages, price increases, lack of water over large swathes of the planet. And coming soon after, mass migration like we've never seen along with famine, disease and of course lots of conflict.

Pretty gloomy. Yet not inevitable if we switch to an economics of sharing and greater equality, and source renewable ways to produce our energy using an arrany of solar, wind, wave, and other clean forms of power. No more oil and the oil wars that go with out addiction to it. No more massive carbon emissions. Let the dead dinosaurs rest where they lie.

We can have a better, happier world. Not one of the sackcloth and ashes puritanism that the rightwing media accuse the Greens of wanting; nor the descent into violence and anarchy promised by rapacious capitalism as everything spirals into scarcity and eco-catastrophe. We can have instead a world based on equality, co-operaton and mutual support - the very things that are natural to our species but have been twisted so badly by our warped economics.

We can save our species and help it towards a much brighter future. And though we may not be there, we who are here now are perhaps the last generation who can do anything about it in time.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Dances in the Kingdom of Sand

Two days ago, the 90 year old King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul-al-Aziz, died.

Yesterday, British flags flew at half-mast across the UK in tribute to this ally of our country and today our Prime Minister David Cameron travels to Saudi to greet the new King, the comparatively youthful septagenarian, Salman. As well as shaking hands warmly with the new absolute ruler of the Arabian peninsular state, Cameron is going to pay tribute to the deceased monarch, who has been repeatedly described as a "reformer" since his passing. It will be all the more of an emotional event for Dave as Abdullah personally awarded him the Saudi equivalent of the Order of Merit for our PM's services to this exceptionally vicious, dictatorial regime.

Abdullah's death comes at the end of a fortnight when, unusually, the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the fiefdom of the Ibn Saud family for nearly a century, has been in the world headlines for two internal matters. They are matters that more than slightly question Abdullah's allegedly reformist credentials.

Raif Badawi
One was the administration of fifty lashes to a liberal blogger, Raif Badawi, the first of twenty planned weekly instalments to deliver 1,000 blows to his body for the crime of expressing his own views - followed by ten years in jail. This was in spite of a higher court ruling that he was not guilty of apostasy as previously decreed by a local judge. Indeed, many commentators concluded that Badawi was targeted by the regime because of a blog he set up to discuss social and religious issues rather than "insulting Islam", the charge for which he was beaten.

Still worse was the case of Lalia Bint Abdul Muttablib Basim, a Burmese woman accused of abusing and murdering her seven year old step-daughter. She was dragged through the streets, crying out her innocence, before being beheaded in a car park by a state executioner who took a sword to her neck three times before the act was completed. It was the tenth execution in just three weeks, yet by Saudi standards her brutal death was merciful - others are stoned slowly to death or even crucified. Bad enough, but all the more appalling given the random and chaotically brutal nature of the Saudi "justice" system, as evidenced by the terrifying experience of Scottish anaesthetic technician Sandy Mitchell back in 2005 - even his one year old baby son was implicated as a terrorist by the Kingdom's police.

Yet while such barbarities are rightly condemned when carried out by the Islamic State, when they occur in Saudi they pass barely mentioned as our leaders and businesses shake hands with their Jeddah counterparts.

Just yesterday President Obama hailed Abdullah as a man of "conviction" (apparently unaware of the irony of his words) and a great ally of the USA. Similarly, British Premier David Cameron expressed his sadness at the despot's passing and hoped the "long and deep ties" between the UK and the Kingdom of Ibn Saud would continue. He even lauded the dead King for an apparent commitment to peace and a desire to increase understanding between religions. Perhaps he was referring to Saudi Arabia's saturation of Libya and Syria troubled lands with weapons channelled through Abdullah's ally, Qatar. And as for religious understanding, perhaps Dave was thinking of the Saudis' execution of a woman, Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar, for the crime of witchcraft in 2011.

King Abdullah awards Cameron a medal for "services to Saudi Arabia"
Even more striking are the Saudi links, mostly private but well known, with both al-Qaeda and ISIS. While a former head of British MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, has hinted at the latter, the British radical, Tariq Ali, outlined the first connection in his powerful, wide ranging book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, back in 2002.

Railing against the state religion of Wahhabism, a highly puritanical form of Sunni Islam, Ali notes that it was originally sponsored by the British to help defeat the Ottoman Turks in the first world war through the ludicrously lionised agency of T.E.Lawrence (of Arabia fame). Then, with the forming of the Kingdom of the Ibn Saud warlord family in 1932, wahhabism was endorsed by their western overlords, Britain and the USA, as an effective form of total political control over what was once a very diverse and tolerant society. Sunni and Shia Muslims who failed to conform to its extreme teachings suffered at its hands, as well as those of other faiths. As time passed, some Saudis used their petrodollars to export their beliefs at the end of gun barrels.

Ali relates:
"During the war against the Soviet Union, Pakistani military intelligence requested the presence of a Saudi prince to lead the jihad in Afghanistan. No volunteers were forthcoming and the Saudi leaders recommended the scion of a rich family, close to the monarchy. Osama bin Laden was dispatched to the Pakistan border and arrived in time to hear President Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski giving open support to the jihad. One of his first actions as a pro-western freedom fighter was a raid on a mixed school, which was burnt to the ground, its headmaster killed and disembowelled. (p.323)"

Many Saudis long for the end of a state that bans all freedom of speech, belief or association - indeed, one where new laws in 2014 declared all forms of dissent to be "terrorist". Gay and lesbian people face flogging, chemical castration and even death. And for Saudi women, not only is their country a place where they are infamously banned from driving - it is also a land where women are electronically tracked so they cannot go abroad without the permission of their male "guardian". Their rulers remain firmly among the most authoritarian in the world and use a wide range of torture, repressive laws and a deeply conservative culture to slow change to a snail's pace. Corruption is rife and ordinary Saudis are completely cut out off the decisions that affect their lives. Consequently, with no prospect of liberal reform, many younger people are turning to the violence of al-Qaeda and ISIS as their compass. Were it not so dangerously tragic, these terrorist organisations' policies of adopting the extremes of the Saudi royals' own deeply conservative wahhabist outlook would verge on the satirical.

So why are our leaders so keen to do business with this regime? Why were they so anxious to overthrow the likes of Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad, all of them secular rulers who eschewed links with the likes of Bin Laden, but happily court the favours of the Ibn Saud dynasty?

British Prince Andrew is a frequent visitor to the Arabian peninsula
There are two key factors - one is the personal links many in the West have with the Saudis, as well as other royal families through the Gulf states. The Queen hosted Abdullah at her castle in Balmoral in 1998 and members of her family have frequently visited Saudi. In 2011, Prince Andrew visited the Bin Laden family in Jeddah at the British taxpayers' expense in spite of significant criticism within the UK. In the USA, the US Bush Presidential dynasty has enjoyed close connections with the Bin Laden family and many other influential Saudis, allegedly to the tune of $1.5 billion. And tens of thousands of westerners in the oil industry and its auxiliary sectors have benefitted personally from earning large tax-free salaries in the kingdom - usually complete with exceptionally low paid servant guest workers from poor east Asian countries like Burma and Indonesia.

Central to this, of course, Saudi Arabia is the third largest oil producer in the world and critical to the supply of energy to Europe and the USA, as well as a major customer of our arms manufacturing companies. The kingdom produces over 9,000,000 barrels of oil every day. In context, that is currently third in the world, just behind the USA and Russia and more than Iran, Iraq and Kuwait combined. And unlike Gadaffi's Libya or Saddam's Iraq, or Iran now, the Saudi Government, nervous of its own people, is happy to work in concert with the West in return for its support.

So our PM goes to the Arabian peninsula to continue a decades-old dance of diplomatic protocol and corporate greed with a corrupt, repressive regime markedly more brutal than other regimes he and his predecessors invested so much in destroying. It is a dance that suits both parties - the Ibn Sauds depend on their western sponsors military backing to stay in power; the western oil companies and their shareholders meantime benefit from extracting huge profits from the Saudi deserts, pillaging the resources of an oppressed people. And the Saudi people, desperate for change but held down by their medieval rulers, know this.

Tariq Ali explains how this is seen by many Saudis through an interview with the exiled Saudi novelist Abdelrahman Munif:
"The presence of oil could have led to real improvements and change, creating the opportunities for a better life and providing everyone with a future. The West is not owed the credit for the riches of the Peninsula and the Gulf. These riches come from within the earth. What happened was that the West discovered these riches and took the lion's share, the larger part, which ought to belong to the people of the region. Our rulers were brought in by the West, which used them as its instruments. We all know the sort of relationship there is currently between the West and these regimes."

As oil-addicted western states continue to "do business as usual" with the Saudi Royals, it seems rather unlikely that, in the future, their subjects will quickly forget our nations' collaboration with this most odious regime. Just as the USA/UK overthrow of Iran's democracy in 1953 for the sake of corporate oil profits ultimately drove dissent into the arms of Ayatollah Khomeini, the West's grasping alliance with the slowly crumbling House of Ibn Saud means there is little hope for progressive social change in the peninsula. Instead, when the current regime has finally sunk in the dessert sands, Arabia and the wider world face an uncertain and potentially terrifying future.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Three Men in a Debate

As I stared in the shaving mirror this morning, Radio 4 announced that Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg AND Nigel Farage had written to David Cameron urging him to take part in the Leaders' TV debates without the Greens' participation, otherwise they would go ahead on their own without him. Aping Have I Got News For You's "tub of lard" wheeze some years ago on Roy Hattersley's non-appearance, they threatened him with asking the broadcasters to set up an "empty podium" to highlight the Prime Minister's absence.

Momentarily, I paused from assaulting my hirsuteness (just as Cleggie apparently did 5 years ago when he secretly converted to austerity during his morning shave after apparently confusing the UK with Greece). How coincidental, I naively thought, that these three rivals would write to Cameron on the same day.

But my naivete was short-lived. Was the write-to-Dave stunt co-ordinated? Well, yes. In fact, it was so co-ordinated that they all sent the same letter. Yep; "Red" Ed, whom Labour supporters keep claiming has put Blairite Nu-Labour behind him shacked up with that betrayer of progressive politics, Nick Clegg. And then they got new best mate to join in. Yes, former stockbroker and doyen of the populist right, Nigel Farage.

So, finally, all the claims from Labour and Lib dems over the months that their leaders had not refused to involve the Greens now stand naked and clear - these self-interested, anti-democratic trough-swillers are prepared to actively work with UKIP to exclude the fourth party of British politics, the Greens, in order to shore up their crumbling grasp on the political stage. All on the same day that the Greens' total paid up membership figures overtook those of UKIP and on current trends are likely to overtake the Lib Dems' by early next week - over 2,000 people joined the Greens today alone.

They may be right when they claim Cameron's stance on the Greens is rooted in his own self-interest; but what is even more evident is that their own stance is so completely self-centred and exclusivist that Miliband and Clegg are prepared to debate with Nigel Farage but not with Natalie Bennett, let alone Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP or Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru.

The only cold comfort in this most cynical of moves is that our electorate is somewhat more intelligent than these machine manipulators realise. And with 300,000 signatories to a petition calling for the Greens to be given a platform and 80% support for a Green speaker in opinion polls, the voters are infinitely fairer and more inclusive that the three men who audaciously refer to themselves are the "leaders" of the people.

Shame on them, then. And may they face a full reckoning on 7 May.

Nick's letter. And Ed's...And Nigel's.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Wake Up! The Tories are coming...

As the Government splutters towards its final weeks in office, concern mounts about rumours of increasingly desparate Tory Party tactics after an alleged candidates' training video is unearthed.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Asking the Wrong Question - Cameron and The Greens

Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator for the UK yesterday morning decided effectively to bar the Greens, the one anti-austerity UK-wide party, from any significant TV and radio coverage at the General Election this May. But by the evening the Green Party unusually and ironically found itself in the national TV headlines after Prime Minister David Cameron said he would refuse to take part in the Leaders' debates on TV unless the Greens were included.

This is not news as such - Cameron first said this back in the summer when the BBC and other broadcasters issued a proposal for three debates in the run up to the polls, one of which would include UKIP but none the Greens. Ofcom's ruling covers not only the debates but all broadcast media - TV and radio news programmes and party political broadcasts in particular.

Ofcom's convoluted reasoning holds that UKIP is a major party deserving of coverage while the Greens are not. Hence we will have four pro-austerity, neoliberal parties covered, more than ever creating an illusion of choice for voters which bears just more of the same in reality. The Greens, who oppose austerity and campaign for greater equality would provide the only different narrative in any debate.

Cameron is not, of course, staking out his position for reasons of principle and fair debate, although unsurprisingly this is the argument he claims. With UKIP rising until recently largely at the Tories' cost, he has calculated that a Green presence would counter that any damage Nigel Farage inflicted on the Conservatives by the Greens impacting on Labour and the Lib Dems. Alternatively, with him as the incumbent, he knows that he is more vulnerable to attack from other leaders and so may be quite content to not have any debates while posing as a champion of fairplay.

So, all day, the media have been interviewing his confirmed opponents for the debate - Farage, Miliband and a rather hysterical Clegg (who briefly soared after the first "I-agree-with-Nick" debate last time). Why, they keep being asked, do they think Cameron is doing this? And of course, without exception, they say that he is keen to avoid the debates altogether and using the Greens as an excuse.

A more interesting question might have been to ask each of them for their reasons for not wanting the Greens to have a place. Why don't they just call Cameron's bluff and agree to have the Greens take part? Why won't they debate with the Greens? 

After all, the Greens had an MP four years before UKIP won their first one (a Tory defector who stood again in his own constituency as UKIP). Greens outpolled the Lib Dems across the UK at the European elections last May and won 3 MEPs to the Lib Dems' one. They reached 10% in the opinion polls before Christmas, one point ahead of Clegg's party and just three per cent behind UKIP - they are particularly popular among younger voters and are in second place to Labour among students. In Scotland, there are now more Green Party members than individual members of the Scottish Labour Party, while nationally 40,000 people are members of the Greens -possibly slightly more than UKIP and just 4,000 behind the Lib Dems' last declared membership figures. Nearly 300,000 people signed a petition calling for the Greens to be invited on the leaders' debates, while opinion polls show that about 4/5 of voters want them on, with clear majorities among supporters of all parties.

Greens - on rise among students, and everywhere else
So, who is really frit of the debates? Cameron maybe. But, in the absence of any other explanation or view being offered (aside from Paddy Ashdown's absurd claim that a fifth leader would confuse the voters!), Clegg, Miliband and Farage are clearly scared too - scared of a party that stands for the opposite of the dead, elitist agenda they offer. Because, in the end, bar a bit of tinkering here and there, these neolib quadruplets all offer pretty much the same - Britain PLC as a profit-seekers, privatised paradise, its people reduced to low wage service drones. All of them, in the end, have one purpose - to serve the interests of an ever smaller, ever richer and ever more bloated elite at the top of our society.

Noam Chomsky's warning has never been more appropriate: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

So, all four of the men (and they are all men) who lead the neoliberal parties are playing a game. None of them, Cameron included, really want the Greens, or other truly different parties, to be heard. Rather, the PM hopes to have no debates at all while his rivals want ones that minimise their other competitors.

No one has asked them the questions that really matter. But then that's not news. Nor is it any surprise at all.

But we can make our views known and voices heard. Ofcom's decision is open to challenge via a consultation process now underway. You can comment by emailing them via  or phone them on  0300 123 3333 . The process runs until 5 February. Tweet your views as well using the hashtag #invitethegreens. Similarly, to call for the leaders' of the nationalist parties to be invited too, sign on to #leadersdebates and #fairdebate2015 .

And, whether the decision is changed or not, our fading Establishment can know that one more mask has been peeled away and one more column chipped a bit more deeply as the facade they put up for British democracy slips yet further into its terminal decay.