Friday, 25 May 2012

The Future's Bright, the Future is Green...

Well ok, it's a small sample, but it is UK-wide and it's satisfying to see: contrary to myth, young people remain politically aware and are switching leftwards towards the Greens, eschewing the likes of UKIP and xenophobic nationalists. This evening's YouGov rolling survey gives figures for 18 to 24 year olds' nationwide British party political support as:
Not mincing (vegging?) their words: Young Greens
 in Canada tell a global truth...

Labour 38%
Conservatives 20%
Green Party 19% 
Lib Dem 12%
Nats 6%

Little wonder perhaps - it is the coming generation that will face the full brunt of global warming; but there's still just time for the current generation to help them stop the worst of it.

Link to Young Greens here.


Sunday, 20 May 2012

The One Million Climate Jobs "Caravan of Hope"

The Campaign against Climate Change has launched an initiative calling for massive public investment to create a million jobs in tackling the causes of global warming in Britain. With its Caravan of Hope travelling the country to promote the campaign, which has been developed in conjunction with a number of major trade unions and the Green Party, the CCC is arguing for Keynesian economics to be used to put unemployed workers back in jobs. There are echoes of the Green New Deal here, but with some significant differences.

Unusually, but most welcome, is its proposal that these should be public sector jobs, deployed on a wide range of tasks, many skilled in their nature, switching to a near zero-carbon energy sector within twenty years as well as saving emissions meantime by a national programme to insulate every  building in the country and also to massively improve and reduce the cost of public transport. Other initiatives would seek to cut emissions in industrial and agricultural processes, and, as each stage completed, the workers involved would be retrained and moved into new roles in the next phase. Their jobs and pay would be guaranteed, providing a currently unknown level of security with immense social benefits as well as massively driving forward the environmental agenda.

It is a bold plan, with a net cost of £18 billions per year. This is dwarfed by the £200 billion given to the banks in 2008 and by expenditure by the current government on areas of spending like the military and nuclear power.  if the Trident nuclear missile system is replaced, its current estimated cost will be around £80 billions, so spending a quarter of that on jobs in sustainable recovery is not only possible - it is urgently necessary to help avoid climate catastrophe. With global warming continuing to gather pace as the Siberian and Canadian tundra begin to melt and release extremely dangerous methane gases (which are 23 times more warming than CO2), we have a very short time indeed to prevent climate change racing far ahead of any chance of human action stabilising the warming trend.

The capitalist market system, with its in inherent need to commodify more and more activities and resources, will not deliver the change we need in time, if at all. For example, as the Arctic melts to a point that ice free summers at the North Pole may be only a few years away, rather than ring the bell to sound a global emergency, the oil companies and their investors are extolling the profitable prospects of being able to drill for oil and gas in hitherto inaccessible water.

And so Government led action, such as the million jobs campaign, will be necessary to drive down our carbon gluttony. Beyond the current campaign though are a number of other major issues to tackle, such as breaking the power of multinational corporations, re-localising economies and redistributing wealth to make a low/no growth economics possible.

The Caravan's progress and schedule can be found on the Campaign against Climate Change website here. You can download the report setting out the initiative on the same web page.

A video has been launched to promote the campaign.

Friday, 18 May 2012

In the Company of Kings

Today, celebrating her 60 years on the throne, the British monarch, Elizabeth Windsor, hosted an event at Windsor Castle attended by several unsavoury characters, including the Kings of Swaziland, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Although the Bahrain tyrant, Hamid al-Khalifa, missed a later banquet at Buckingham Palace, the Queen's appetite for his frequent company seems undiminished in spite of his brutal suppression (much aided by his Saudi neighbours) of democracy protesters last year. Scores of people were killed, hundreds have disappeared (including a number of children) and even a number of doctors and nurses who treated injured demonstators have been jailed for lengthy terms.

Died for democracy:  and now his killer lunches with the Queen
But, Bahrain, like Dubai, exists pretty much to service the financial and recreational desires of the international elite, of which Elizabeth Windsor is one. And of course, she and Hamid love horse-racing. So the troublesome people asking for the right to vote in a country which has had the same Prime Minister (a relative of the King) since the 1960s matter not a whit to her.

It is remarkable how she gets away with it. Even critics of the visit like Dennis McShame and George Galloway have said the Government has let her down by not advising her to not invite this man. Yet, time and again, we hear the stories of how well-informed of the world she is, how she keeps up keenly with the news and supposedly interrogates her Ministers on their policies with a razor-sharp intellect.

Well, the tales are probably overblown, but there can be no doubt she is as aware as any about the blood spilled on the streets of Bahrain. The bottom line is neither our Royal Family nor our Government care. Unlike Libya, Syria and Iran, Bahrain, Saudi and the other Gulf monarchies dutifully fall into line when it comes to supporting the economic interests of the west. A number of these corrupt regimes, including the Bahrain one, were sustained by direct intervention by the British and American military in the 1950s and 1960s and have retained power in the teeth of popular opposition ever since only by means of repression and violence. The West, so willing to kill Iraqis and Libyans in the name of democracy, doesn't merely sit back in Bahrain and Saudi - we sell them weapons, patronise their desert luxury resorts and do business with their near-slave economies. Yet again, oil and money have trumped the aspirations and human rights of the local people.

And it seems as if Elizabeth Windsor does not care.

"A monarch, when good, is entitled to the consideration which we accord to a pirate who keeps Sunday School between crimes; when bad, he is entitled to none at all." (Mark Twain)

The Terrible Burden of Equality

Since the 1970s, the concept of equality of treatment in the workplace has become more and more part of the accepted culture in Britain - which does not mean for a moment that it has been achieved, but relatively few would argue that it is not both ethically and indeed in terms of business efficiency the best way to work. Discrimination has been outlawed in terms of disability, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, transgender and belief/non-belief. There are exceptions where these are valid - for example, a church can require priests to be Christians; care homes can recruit male or female staff as necessary to ensure the privacy of their clients; and theatre directors can employ actors according to role requirements, and so on. In 2010, these were drawn together into the single Equality Act, which added the need to not discriminate on grounds of social background and required employers to protect their staff against discrimination by third parties, such as clients and customers.

These laws, as Home Secretary Roy Jenkins spoke of the first of them, provide a basic floor of rights - they are not rigid, nor stupidly dogmatic as the likes of the Daily Mail would have you think - political correctness gone mad! They have not achieved all their objectives - women, for example, still earn significantly less than men overall - but, working in Human Resources as I do, equality laws have made a huge difference in general attitudes over the last twenty years or so, and from the perspective of working to improve processes and culture within organisations, they have provided a major impetus in challenging attitudes and, in turn, changing behaviour.

So it is utterly depressing, though unsurprising, now to discover that the Coalition Government is reviewing these workplace equality laws in the name of cutting the awful burden of red tape, which even now is apparently holding back billionaire investors from pouring cash into job creation in the UK. In particular, they are looking to abolish:
  1. the rule that employers are liable for repeated discriminatory harassment of their staff by people from outside their organisation where inadequate steps have been taken to prevent it; 
  2. the ‘questionnaire procedure’ that enables people who think they have been unlawfully discriminated against to seek information and explanations from the person they believe has discriminated against them; 
  3. the power given to Employment Tribunals to recommend that an employer take certain steps to avoid others being affected by discrimination. 
In defence of the planned abolition, the Government argues that, for example in the case of harassment, good employers would still take action to stop harassment of their staff because, if they didn't, morale would get poor and performance suffer and staff leave.

A few points on that argument:
- good employers would take action; but if all employers were good, we wouldn't have needed the law to begin with and it wouldn't create a "burden" on anyone as they would already be doing what it required. There are plenty of bad employers.
- in the absence of the law, it will be harder for good employers to take action against harassers, as they will not have the backing of the law to do this.
- morale may get poor and staff leave - yes, they may do, and the harassers will have won and discrimination will have won.

So, in other words, if a member of the public comes in and makes offensive remarks to a disabled member of staff, their employer will be able to tell the staff member, "too bad, not my problem." And their only recourse will be to resign. One-nil to discrimination.

And on the other points:
- the questionnaire procedure is rarely used; but when it is, it is actually very helpful to an employer facing an employment tribunal complaint in terms of understanding the complaint and assessing whether or not the employer is, in fact, at fault and should seek to settle the claim. It IS a bit of paper, but it can save lots of other bits of paper and hours and days of litigation. Abolishing this would be a really counter-productive own goal, though our headline grabbing Government will doubtless portray it as a nail in the coffin of litigants.

- and the suggestion that, having found that someone has been discriminated against, employment tribunals will no longer be able to make recommendations for changing practice to the employer to prevent similar problems in future. How is this a burden of red tape as opposed to very useful advice to help the employer avoid similar problems and costs in the future and end discrimination against employees who have not yet gone to a tribunal?

Unless of course, deep down, you don't actually believe in equality. Unless, in fact, discrimination actually is your cup of tea and, chipping away, bit by bit, line by line, you'd rather refashion the Equality Act 2010 into the Charter for Bigots 2015.

From Baloo's Cartoon Blog

The Regime is carrying out a supposed consultation exercise on these proposals. Anyone can comment on them via this link. 

Link to consultation papers (closing date for responses 7 August 2012)

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Book Worth a Look: "Citizens' Income and Green Economics" by Clive Lord

Clive Lord is said by some to be the oldest Green alive; now in his mid-seventies, it is fortunately likely that there are older Greens in terms of biological age, but as possibly the oldest surviving member of the 14 individuals who established People, the predecessor to the Ecology/Green Party of England and Wales, and as such the first established Green Party in the world, he may well be the longest serving Green member on the planet.
     Clive lived in Batley in Kirklees until last year and I worked closely with him on various local campaigns in our area - I was his deputy when he was the Agent for the last Yorkshire European election campaign, where we were rather narrowly beaten to a successful place by the odious but now collapsing BNP. And he he worked tirelessly with me in a determined but slightly ill-starred by-election campaign for a council ward in Dewsbury a few years ago. He is well known in the Green Party for his efforts at elections around the country and he fought nearly every national and local election in Batley & Spen between 1974 and 2011.
     Clive is not a socialist; but at the heart of his many years of eco-campaigning is a belief in sustainability combined with fairness and he has been a tireless proponent of the concept of the Citizens' Income. This policy (once, interestingly shared by the Liberal Party but quietly dropped in its post-SDP merger) involves the state paying all adults over 18, whether working or not, a basic income. The Green Party has this as a policy, though apart from a Pensioners Income of £160 per week at the last election, it has not set a rate for this and there is some tension inherent in how this would work set against the Party's support for a national minimum wage set at the Living Wage level.
     But a Citizens' Income to my mind is crucial in changing the economic paradigm, including in any shift towards a more ecosocialist economics. This is because it creates the possibility for all sorts of productive new activities by citizens. It would not directly reward activities which are currently not valued and therefore not paid by the capitalist economy - such as parenting, or supporting the local community or any number of non-profit-seeking creative activities - but it would free people to have some new possibility of undertaking these without loss. To anyone concerned with a more sustainable society, where extracting the highest possible financial return on our dwindling resources is ended, the Citizen's Income raises at least the possibility of new courses of activity and a renewal of community and citizenship infinitely more powerful than the devious twaddle of Cameron's evaporated Big Society initiative.
     Clive Lord first published a book on the Citizens' Income in 2003 and this year he is about to launch a newly published updated edition, which he has edited with other prominent members of the Green Economics Institute. Using the example of Easter Island to illustrate the propensity of societies to keep on "developing", i.e., exploiting their resources to exhaustion, the book shows how a society with a more even distribution of economic power can calm the drive to accumulate ever more without consideration of the longer term and how we need to shift to a greater emphasis on conservation and sharing of resources. This touches on the "Commons" concept, a matter of some debate between the ecological and ecosocialist wings of the Green Party and the wider green movement; for ecosocialists, the book holds to arguments about possibilities under the market system which we are unlikely to agree with, but it is a valuable contribution to the debate on how we can move to a fairer world.
     The updated book is available now from the Green Economics Institute - details below.

An Age of Green Economics: A ground - breaking  new book:
 Green Economics and Citizens Income
This collection of essays, speeches & articles Introduces Green Economics and the Citizens Income to the general reader!
Edited by Clive Lord, Miriam Kennet and Judith Felton
Just Published by the Green Economics Institute
This fresh perspective on the theme of how to stop mankind over-exploiting the Earth challenges reassurances that scientific warnings are unduly pessimistic. The fate of Easter Island offers new insights into the dynamics driving economic expansion, and why the major players can never know how or when to stop. Lord outlines how a so-called ‘primitive’ tribe solved the problem which devastated Easter Island, and which now confronts us globally, by a cultural shift based on a strategy of sharing necessities unconditionally, allowing other rules for everything else.
Lord explains why such a strategy is an essential precondition for a sustainable world, and how it can be adopted nationally and internationally. Practical measures, however vital once such a shift has taken place, will do more harm than good if used instead to prop up the existing growth oriented mind-set.
Book Overview: 7 parts. No. of pages 337 ISBN: 9781907543074
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Concepts: Tragedy of the commons, etc. 
Part 3: A way out: Making it happen
Part 4: Wider Implications: How the Citizens' Income can form the basis for a paradigm shift
Part 5: Tactical and strategic implications for implementation
Part 6: Case studies of new developments
Part 7: There are no utopias

Normal RRP £ 30.00 plus postage and packing
£20.00 plus p and p if ordered direct from the Green Economics Institute: order via Special introductory offers: 5% discount on all orders
Special Price £14.99 if bought at one of the four Book Launches in Leeds:
  • Central Library, The Headrow 22nd May 10am-12 noon & 2pm-4pm
  • Branch Library North Lane Headingley 23rd May 7pm-9pm
  • Branch Library 106 Harrogate Rd.Chapel Allerton 24th May 7pm-9pm

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Sacking with CONfidence (Part 5)

Yet another update on the right-wing populist and often ignorantly uninformed slaughter of employment law and protection of employees in Britain.

So yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of Mrs Windsor, who has never attended a job interview in her life but who has a pretty mean track record when it comes to maltreatment of her staff in the low wage Royal Household, informing us how her Government intends to create more flexibility for employers. This will give them even more opportunities to rip off customers and staff alike by making it even easier for people to be dismissed without any chance of recompense. Lizzie's family has already got form in trying to break employment tribunal rules and withhold legal evidence, so it seems she is happy for her Ministers to make life a bit easier for the likes of her son in future employment disputes.

Get to work and be grateful, peasants!
Not content with doubling from one to two years the period of time employees new to a company can be dismissed for absolutely no reason at all, the Con Dem Government has brought forward  a series of measures to make it much harder for people who have been dismissed to raise any complaint at an Employment Tribunal. the quality of the legislation mooted in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill betrays the fact that the legislation is pretty much about Tory prejudice against all employment rights rather than a serious attempt to reform the law.

For example, in the name of reducing the number of tribunals, people pursuing a complaint will have to first lodge their complaint with ACAS in an attempt to reach a conciliated settlement. This appears to be in total ignorance of the fact that this already happens - all tribunal claims are automatically lodged with ACAS and a conciliation officer is appointed to try to broker a solution. If what is perhaps implied here is that there is a new stage of conciliation via ACAS before you can even lodge a claim to a tribunal, this suggests a number of inbuilt flaws, which probably combine hostility towards employees with a lack of understanding of how the current system works.

1. If the conciliation stage is a separate phase to the tribunal complaint, this seems to be adding to red tape rather than reducing it.

2. Tribunal awards usually pay compensation for loss of earnings to successful complainants for the period of time from the end of employment to the conclusion of the tribunal process. An additional phase of conciliation will extend this period of time, which means either employers face higher costs at the end if an employee is successful OR the Government is going to reduce the amount of compensation available even when a claim of unfair dismissal is successful - any ideas which option this Government might take?

3. Nearly two-thirds of employment tribunal complaints are already conciliated - half by ACAS and the rest privately. Few people enjoy taking their employer to a tribunal - I know, having been involved on both sides often enough - so the conciliation process is already pretty effective. Dragging things out when conciliation is not possible will simply make the process much harder on many levels for both sides - but perhaps the Government calculation is that this will deter people from asserting their rights even when they have been bullied or harassed out of their livelihoods - so much for justice.

4. The tribunal system is in much need of reform: it works essentially for two groups alone - lawyers and people with tenuous claims. People who have genuinely lost their jobs unfairly get piss poor awards averaging less than £9,000 - the fantastic six figure sums touted with some furious fanfare in the likes of the Daily Mail are news precisely because they are few and far between. However, the current round of so-called reform will do little to change this. Instead, it will simply deter yet further people in vulnerable situations from asserting what tiny amount of power they have in the employment relationship, which remains even now governed at its core by the ancient laws of Master and Servant.

In the despair of the Lib Dem wing of the Coalition, a few of their number have suggested that they might not be so enthusiastic about these new proposals, but let it not be forgotten that the most pernicious changes to employment rights so far have been driven forward by Lib Dem Ministers in the name of cutting red tape, and even their adjustments to existing laws on family leave (actually a confirmation of plans put in place by the Labour Government pre-2010) include a reduction in maternity leave rights for expectant mothers.

But then, the Lib Dems have been weak on employment rights for people for a long time now, ignoring the fact that over 85% of the workforce are employees and so the protections afforded against arbitrary dismissal are important to a large number of us ordinary mortals. In 2005, Clegg's predecessor, the supposedly social democratic Charles Kennedy fought the General Election on a platform of seeking "a bonfire of the red tape" that allegedly stifles employment in the UK.

Seven years ago, in my final days of Lib Dem membership, I was irate about reading that their MEPs were supporting the continuation of the British opt-out of the European Working Time Directive, which has prevented workers from having to work excessive hours across the Continent - apart from in Britain thanks to the opt-out negotiated by the Tories in 1992. I wrote to the then leader of the Lib Dem MEPs, Chris Davies. His reply could easily have come from any Tory backbencher, so packed it was with prejudice against workers - and it was the final thing, of many, which tipped me into leaving and joining the Greens.

The text is below: so, don't let anyone fool you - the legislative drive to weaken our employment security in the middle of a recession is very much the offspring of both parts of this most poisonous regime, which seems to view its own citizens as its enemy.

(bold italics are my emphases)

Sent: 13 May 2005 14:54
Subject: Working time regulations
Dear Chris Davies,

I have been a member of the Liberal Democrats and our predecessor parties for 27 years and am writing to you after reading about our MEP's vote against the proposed changes to the EU working time regulations this week, including your own criticisms on your website about the vote to end the 48 hours maximum average working week opt-out.

I am surprised and disappointed by the Lib Dem MEPs approach to the proposed changes. I am also quite baffled by your comments that most people work a 37 hour week in the UK, but as a point of principle, people should be able to choose to work longer.

The fact is that most recent surveys indicate the averge working week in Britain is actually around 42 hours and, as I am sure you must be aware of, a "long hours culture" exists in many industries, especially among lower paid workers. While, since slavery is illegal, as a legal technicality they may "choose" to work longer than their contracted hours, the fact is that very often they have no realistic choice if they wish to avoid punitive action against them by their employer. A recent TUC survey found that less than 1-in-3 people who regularly work more than 48 hours per week have ever been asked to sign the legally required opt-out and there have been instances of people being told they had to sign the opt-out a a condition of their employment. To suggest therefore that "choice" enters into the equation for the vast majority of people who are expected to work long hours is quite frankly misguided.

The regulations as proposed would average the working week over an entire year - it is not as if people could never work more than 48 hours in any one week, or even for quite prolonged periods. It simply requires that over a full year, people do not work more than this on average. I don't know about you, but if I had a relative requiring care, or was myself being driven on a bus or train, I would feel very concerned if the person administering drugs or driving the bus/train had really been working more than 48 hours that week and had been doing so routinely. In addition, regular long hours of work make the worker more prone to both short-term illnesses such as flu or colds from a reduced immune system and longer terms diseases such as diabetes and heart condtions, which can be of little good to the worker, or, for that matter, their employer in the long run.

I am quite astonished that Lib Dems are taking such a stance - where is the care about people that we have campaigned on for years (remember "People First"?)? Liberals were among the first, decades ago, to introduce health and safety requirements to the workplace, tackling both moral and productivity issues at the same time. I regret deeply that this no longer seems to be the case - as additionally evidenced last autumn when the federal conference voted against holding mulitinationals to ILO standards in the employment of some of the most vulnerable people on this planet.

You may argue that you agree with all that I have said, but that the core of your argument is about subsidiarity. However, given that Britain is widely seen as a low wage, low regulated economy, is it little surprise that other EU states might want our opt-out to be ended given the unfair competitive advantage this gives to our corporate shareholders over those in other countries in what is meant to be a single market? What happened to our long trumpeted call on the Major Government to sign up to the Social Chapter with all the labour protection that envisaged? Was it our policy to sign up as long as we could opt out? I don't remember it being so and I fail to see what has changed.

I implore you and the other MEPs to revise your view on this and similar employment protection measures. Seeking to protect our people from the demands of employers who in most cases have as their sole objective profit maximisation is well within the long traditions of both liberalism and social democracy. It is also one, given that most people are employees, which would not be electorally damaging as long as you do not portray this as something which limits people's ability to act for themselves, which in all truth it is not.

I must stress I write as  a Personnel & Training Manager who has worked in the residential care industry for 15 years now. I do not find complying with these regulations, including the end of the opt-out, as a difficulty and any company that did struggle with them would quite frankly be one which was not functioning effectively at all.

I hope to hear from you.

Friday, 20 May 2005, 10:53

Chris Davies MEP  wrote:

As am MP in 1996 I introduced a Bill in to the House of Commons calling for greater employee protection within the UK.

My reason for supporting the British opt-out of the EU Working Time Directive is entirely on subsidiarity grounds.

If people want strict controls over working hours at the risk of loss of competivity then they should vote for Government to introduce it. I do not believe that measures of this kind should be set as EU standard.

It would be hard to find a more pro-European politician than myself, but if Liberal Democrats do not respect our own belief that decisions should always be taken at the lowest practicable level then we will have no hope in convincing others of the merits of the European case.

The Working Time Directive was introduced using the Health and Safety legal basis. We have supported its application where this is relevant (lorry drivers, doctors etc) but it's application in other instances is I believe illegitimate.

Yours Sincerely
Chris Davies MEP.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Spectre is Haunting Europe...

...the spectre of anti-austerity.

The last week has seen major democratic challenges at the ballot box to the neoliberal parties of austerity economics across Europe.

In Britain, the two Coalition parties went down in flames at a series of electoral contests covering local councils and the Mayor of London and other cities - in London, the Lib Dem wing of the government ended up in fourth place, behind the Green Party, for both the Mayor and the Assembly elections. And although Tory Boris Johnson was elected, it was in the end by a much tighter margin than predicted and after a campaign distinguished by distinguishing himself from the Tory Government. At the other end of England, in Liverpool, the Conservative Party trailed in seventh place, behind parties like the Greens, Trade Unions & Socialist Coalition and the independent Liberal Party (as well as their Lib Dem allies). Meanwhile across the country, swathes of Conservative and Lib Dem councillors were felled by an anti-government revolt that saw big gains for the Labour Party but also for a range of smaller groups like the Greens, UKIP and Respect, as well as the SNP in Scotland.

Then, in France, the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande was elected President, defeating the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on an anti-austerity programme committed to renegotiating the fiscal treaty of the neoliberal, cuts-obsessed EU and taxing the rich. In the first round of the election, nearly 3 out of 4 voters supported candidates opposed to austerity measures.
The Drachma marked Greece's sovereignty - then and now?

And then today, the Greek people firmly rejected the German-led takeover of their country by the Central European Bank, voting in its place for a wide range of right and left wing parties opposed to the slash-and-burn methods of the international banking community. These austerity measures have dictated a dreadful scything of Hellenic public services to pay for a combination of dodgy bank dealing by Goldman Sachs early in the last decade and tax evasion by the rich elite. An early exit from the Eurozone beckons, the clearest and most logical route for Greeks to regain control of their country from Gauleiter Papademos, Merkel's Minister without Mercy, who has been squeezing the Greek state to death for the sake of the bankers.

Italy has followed suit, with a big swing to the left in local elections yesterday as well, and even in Merkel's own backyard, a federal election held today would be unlikely to return her to power. The response of the bankers and market traders, previously secure with the "public will pay" promises of the conservative regimes that had dominated much of Europe, has been predictably negative as their ill-gotten gains come under scrutiny once again.

So what happens now? The People have spoken - austerity is rejected as the ever-decreasing circle that it is. Like the old medieval cure of bleeding the humours out of people, austerity saps the capacity of national economies to ever recover, putting the short-term gain of speculators ahead of community and national needs. But a simple return to Keynesian reflation probably won't work in a world where increasing resource scarcity and environmental damage militate against continuous growth.

The challenge now has to be to get economies moving again to create jobs, but also to distribute wealth fairly. Hollande may make a good case for the first, but unless the Left in France keep the pressure on him, there may be less attention paid to the second, promised tax increases aside. Syriza, the new second party of Greece (typically still described by the BBC as a fringe party!), argues for a wider social change in terms of ownership of resources as well as fiscal reflation and progressive taxation. It is a coalition of green and socialist groups, so its programme is undoubtedly more radical than the French Socialists, but the latter would do well to read it.

The crash of 2008 led to many on the left making bold statements to the prevailing right wing that there could be no return to business as usual. No disagreement there - but it holds for the left as much as for the right. Reflationary economics based on massive public spending programmes, like the Green New Deal put forward in the UK, have a role to play, but only in part. Keynesian economics are still the economics of capitalism - social democrats have long assumed the possibility of continued growth creating enough to keep everyone happy and in that respect, historically, they have often delivered. Except that in terms of where we are now with the resources available to humanity and the urgent need for sustainable economics, more of the same anti-austerity economics will work only marginally better than austerity - and will leave plenty of scope for capitalist speculators to play havoc with any recovery.

So although Syriza may, just possibly, lead Greece out of the Euro and back to the drachma, the rest of Europe would do well to consider the wider range of proposals coming from red-green alliances around the Continent - and end to austerity yes; but an end to inequality too. This way, slowing and even ending the obsession with growth can still lead to better living standards, to a more sustainable economics and to happier lives for people and communities throughout Europe and across the planet itself.

Previous posts : Athens and Austerity - a Hymn to the Goddess of Democracy
                         The Greek Myths

From Austerity Nut dot com - click here

Friday, 4 May 2012

Green Gains

Greens are performing well as results are declared in local elections throughout Britain. At the time of writing, with most English and Welsh results announced and Scottish ones ongoing, Green parties have picked up on average 9% of the vote where they stand, up 1% on last year, and have made a net gain of 11 new council places. This is in spite of the big swings to the Labour Party which might have been expected to squeeze the Greens down.

More here:

in Scotland, some big breakthroughs:

and here

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

If Voting Doesn't Change Anything, Why Did Hitler Abolish It?

"I don't vote, you're all the same..."; "Voting never changed anything..."; "I'd vote for you, but Corrie's on..."

Tomorrow is local elections day across the UK, as well as the election for the London Mayor. It is difficult to be sure, but turnout will almost certainly be well below 50%, and probably far below 40%. This is in spite of the country being in the grip of official recession and austerity economics driving a coach and horses through the social and economic fabric of the nation. It is in spite of the assault on education, health services and welfare by this most perniciously right wing of governments.

Nazi election poster March 1933
It doesn't mean that people reckon the Government is doing ok. Few governments have ever been so unpopular. In one poll this week, the two Coalition parties could barely muster 40% of the potential vote share between them, and the "others" column keeps nudging up to record highs in opinion polls - with the right wing UKIP doing particularly well in recent weeks; but also with growth for the Greens, Nationalists and a smattering for left wing Respect. The moribund BNP is the only one clearly out the running now.

But the real crisis is the loss of faith in voting changing anything. It is pointless, so many argue. And it is often hard to disagree, especially for local elections, if you look at how local government remains so emasculated and governed by national diktat even after the Localism Act supposedly devolved power to communities. Add on top the virtually identical agenda of the three main parties and a voting system which squashes challenges and a media that pretends they don't exist, and yes, you can sympathise with the "voting is a waste of time" argument.

Or you can, for about a minute.

Because the bottom line is that voting can change things. It might not happen overnight, and it might not provide exactly what you want, but voting can make a huge difference:
- between austerity and investment economics in the face of recession
- between a welfare state and "every man for himself" greedonomics (women and children perish)
- between war on Iran and diplomacy with Iran
- between nuclear power and renewable energy
- between public services and privatisation
- between developing land endlessly and protecting greenbelt
- the difference between Adolf Hitler and Otto Wells

Even locally, having served on a Parish Council and seeing the work now of District Councillors in my own area, Greens and others, making a difference to their communities, I readily choose voting over sitting at home complaining. Sure, there isn't always a good choice - but who makes the choices, who are the choices? We can leave it to big business, to the powers-that-be. Or the choices can be made by ordinary people - you, me, the woman down the street, the retired joiner. Any and all of us.

We do not live in a democracy - the combination of voting system, media ownership and a host of other controls prevent this. Likewise, the tragic subversion of the Labour Party by revisionist "third way" Blairites and the co-option of the Lib Dems into the free market magic circle much reduces any immediately obvious choice of different directions voters can opt for. But we do live at a time, unusual in historical terms, where enough of us working and voting together can make a difference.

I make a huge distinction between those who argue for the politics of resistance beyond the ballot box alone - through strike action, public demonstration and peaceful resistance/civil action: all these have a big role to play in driving change forward. But it is essential to elect radical new politicians and parties to lever the power of the state into truly democratic hands and to oversee the function of social and economic programmes beyond the local community. Otherwise, protest and dissent will be suppressed by the continuing control of the organs of the capitalist state by reactionaries - and any change will take longer and come about more violently, with all the awful consequences of such a path.

As for those who prefer to sit and watch Corrie and see the height of public participation being the tele-vote for X-Factor or Celebrity Undertaker or whatever passing pseudo-reality show has grasped the public's attention, I can say only wake up for God's sake and stop wasting this most precious of opportunities to make your life count beyond the numbers on the lottery balls. Voting can make a difference; but only if you get off your backside long enough to go and do it.

So, tomorrow, please...go and vote. For real change - for compassion and community.

Homer Simpson tries to vote for Obama from on Vimeo.