Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Market Morality

So, some people liked Gordon Brown's conference speech today. Others didn't. No one seems to have come to the same conclusion that I have, which is that he should resign as a result of it.

Allow me to explain.

You see, Gordon Brown spent quite a long time talking today about the failure of the free-market idea. About the fact that deregulation was a massive disaster, that laissez-faire economic philosophy got us into this mess and that market-driven capitalism cannot be allowed free reign. I agree with him. The only problem? Well, he's spent the last decade implementing exactly the policies he repudiated today. We aren't where we are simply because of the Tories - we are where we are because Brown and Blair decided to agree with the Tories rather than fundamentally challenging their ideas.

Here's just one example, from a speech he gave upon becoming Prime Minister to the City of London. It's one example of thousands over the last twelve years:

“Over the ten years that I have had the privilege of addressing you as Chancellor, I have been able year by year to record how the City of London has risen by your efforts, ingenuity and creativity to become a new world leader…. Now today over 40 per cent of the world's foreign equities are traded here, more than New York… 80 per cent of our business is international….

So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London….

And I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created….

Britain…. a world leader in stability….

So let me say as I begin my new job, I want to continue to work with you in helping you do yours, listening to what you say, always recognising your international success is critical to that of Britain's overall and considering together the things that we must do - and, just as important, things we should not do - to maintain our competitiveness… enhancing a risk based regulatory approach, as we did in resisting pressure for a British Sarbanes-Oxley after Enron and Worldcom….”

To those who want a translation of that last bit, it roughly reads "to maintain our competiveness, I agree that we shouldn't regulate financial transactions heavily, but instead rely on the common sense of bankers and the market to regulate themselves".

The sheer, nauseating hypocrisy of watching a man who has been a driving force in the continuing liberalisation of the world financial system (prefaced, yesterday, by Peter Mandelson, one of the most neoliberal EU Trade Commissioners in history) stand up and talk about the need for 'moral markets' (as if there were such a thing, markets are allocation systems, not moral agents) was almost overwhelming. It would have been so even if Brown wasn't still forcing bank liberalisation on the developing world.

The truth is, deregulation, destruction of capital controls and a globalised free market have led to this mess. As Robin Hahnel's anaylsis of the earlier 1998 crisis makes clear, the warning signs have been there for well over a decade. These problems have been caused by the deregulation championed by Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, and the Labour Government as a whole.

If he doesn't believe what he said today, Brown should resign because he is a liar. If he does believe what he said, he should resign because it proves that his entire tenure has been an abject, utter and complete failure from beginning to end.

As the Beijing Declaration and many other statements from the movement for 'globalisation from below' have shown, there are alternatives to the sickening spectacle of our leaders turning their policy on its head and yet still failing to challenge the root causes of the problem. Z Magazine's reflections on the US economy are largely applicable to the UK as well - while the recession may come to an end, the continuing problems faced by ordinary people will not - without more radical social, economic and political change. Capitalism is based on the primacy of profit, and unending growth is its inevitable consequence. After we have stabilised the current system, preferably through the methods recommended by the Beijing Declaration and similar statements, we must begin building an entirely new economic system - not a reformed version of this one.

It has to be said that until this point, the left has not stepped up to the challenge. Mired in sectarian squabbles from the last century, we have allowed the centre-right and right to regain some of the initiative. It is up to movements such as the EcoSocialist International Network to highlight the hypocrisy of our current politicians, to forge a movement of ordinary people determined to challenge the status quo, and to champion policies that will safeguard both the planet, and the people who live on it. We certainly can't rely on a man as dishonest (or terribly confused) as Gordon Brown to do it for us.

P.S. I haven't even started on the sheer, terrible awfulness of the policy he announced, which seems to advocate forcing 16-17 year old parents into a network of state hostels. At least temporarily, words fail me.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Caroline Lucas Reacts To Calais Clearances

My outrage at headlines like this has been tempered slightly by the knowledge that at least one political party in this country is standing up for basic human rights and decency. Caroline Lucas, as ever, said it eloquently:

- British and French governments’ plot to deport ‘Jungle’ asylum seekers breaks EU human rights law, says Green Party leader

Green MEP for the South East, Caroline Lucas, today responded angrily to news that French police have raided the ‘Jungle’ camps in Calais, reportedly detaining 278 people – 132 children of whom are said to be children.

Police have swooped on a squalid tented area known as ‘The Jungle’ outside Calais, home to hundreds of refugees and migrants from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. Around a fifth of them are thought to be children, living in desperate and dangerous conditions, sleeping rough, with little access to sanitation or resources.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP said:

“Today’s mass clearance and destruction of the ‘Jungle’ camps by the French authorities, involving the detention of hundreds of refugees, is simply unacceptable – and must be condemned by the international community.

“Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.

“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"This short term ‘solution’ is not only inhumane – it will not work. The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, and must commit to making the official procedures for seeking asylum more accessible to those in need. Equally, other EU Member states must recognise their duty to share the responsibility.”

The majority of refugees in the ‘Jungle’ have had no contact with official authorities since entering the EU. Many face a risk of deportation before they have even been interviewed in order to determine whether they are seeking asylum and are, therefore, protected by EU asylum law. They are also often at the mercy of ruthless people traffickers within the camps.

Caroline Lucas MEP concluded:

“Many migrants into France and the UK are fleeing in part from the dire consequences of the West’s foreign policy mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given this reality, you would hope that these governments would take their responsibilities to the international community more seriously.

“It is disgusting that vulnerable people from some of the world’s most troubled countries are treated so inhumanely on European soil. Many residents in the camps are genuine asylum-seekers and not illegal immigrants. It is crucial that those people fleeing persecution and war have free access to the correct information so that they know they can make a genuine claim for asylum.”

In a letter to the European Commission back in July, the UK’s Green MEPs called for an immediate suspension of plans to deport around 1,800 individuals from the ‘Jungle’, warning that the planned action – being taken jointly by the French and British authorities under the Evian Agreement – would be in direct breach of EU and international law on human rights and refugees.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Standing Up To The Government For Hackney

I've already written a little about the excellent work of Hackney's Green Party representatives - Jean Lambert in the European Parliament, and our two London Assembly Members at City Hall. I have been remiss, however, in not yet pointing to the excellent work being done by Hackney's existing Green Party borough councillor - Mischa Borris. Alone, she provides a progressive voice of opposition to Hackney Labour in the council chamber and committee room...and I very much hope that we can build on her good work in May, electing a strong Green Group to keep up the pressure she has created!

One good example of her work came last week, during the latest Council meeting. Hackney Labour put the following motion, knowing that with their massive majority it would inevitably be passed, and would allow some good opportunities for self congratulatory back-patting:

This Council

- Welcomes the £167m investment in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme from the Labour Government which has meant that 3 Hackney schools are currently being refurbished, with a further 3 secondary and 4 special schools being either rebuilt or refurbished.

- Endorses the Labour Government's commitment to invest £21.9billion of capital in schools from 2008-11 which means that every single primary, secondary, academy and special school will benefit from improvements.

- Is alarmed at reports that the Conservative Party would cut £4.5 billion from the BSF programme, which would mean that one in seven future rebuilding projects - a total of 360 schools - could not go ahead.

- Notes that the first phase of the refurbishments under the BSF programme have just finished resulting in state-of-the-art facilities, including an additional 9 classrooms at Stoke Newington School and 4 new classrooms and a refurbished dining block at Clapton Girls School.

- Further notes that, on completion, the BSF works will enable both Stoke Newington School and Clapton Girls School to increase their capacity – resulting in an extra 470 places, including for sixth formers.

- Welcomes Hackney Council's commitment to continue to invest in Hackney schools so that every young person being educated in the borough benefits from schools with excellent facilities - including new classrooms, laboratories, kitchens, IT facilities and sport areas.

- Is alarmed at reports that the Conservative Party would cut £4.5 billion from the BSF programme, which would mean that one in seven future rebuilding projects - a total of 360 schools - could not go ahead.

- Notes that the first phase of the refurbishments under the BSF programme have just finished resulting in state-of-the-art facilities, including an additional 9 classrooms at Stoke Newington School and 4 new classrooms and a refurbished dining block at Clapton Girls School.

- Further notes that, on completion, the BSF works will enable both Stoke Newington School and Clapton Girls School to increase their capacity – resulting in an extra 470 places, including for sixth formers.

- Welcomes Hackney Council's commitment to continue to invest in Hackney schools so that every young person being educated in the borough benefits from schools with excellent facilities - including new classrooms, laboratories, kitchens, IT facilities and sport areas.

Firstly, I think Mischa deserves congratulations just for being able to sit through all of this time-wasting spin. Particularly as the Tory group had all walked out of the chamber by this point, meaning that the entire opposition to Labour consisted of Mischa and two Lib Dem councillors. She could have stayed quiet and not 'rocked the boat' - but we Greens are about speaking truth to power, so here is what she said:

Hackney needs investment in state schooling, and the Green Party advocates public investment in Hackney schools as a key priority. To that extent, I do not disagree with parts of this motion. Of course it's a good thing that schools, including in my ward, are finally being refurbished and improved, after years of neglect. Clearly the improved exam results we have heard about tonight are a testament to that, as well as to good teaching and the hard work of the students.

But this is a bizarre motion. Motions are usually about a change in policy or they make a commitment to do something.

This motion does not commit Hackney Council to doing anything at all. It will not bring in a single penny more of investment into Hackney schools. It does nothing - other than take a swipe at the Tories! So what exactly is it's point? Why are we having to waste Council time on something that is pure political posturing by the administration?

The motion refers to the Academies programme. That Tories and Labour agree on academies should perhaps be no surprise. The slow and steady take-over of public services by private money, influence and control is the legacy of this Labour government, just as it is the promise of the future Tory government.

High quality local schooling which is publicly funded and, crucially, publicly controlled and run, and democratically accountable at local authority level - this is the kind of schooling Hackney's children need. Rather than raising a critical voice with national government over these issues, Labour simply offers pointless praise.

Doubtless I will shortly be reading on a Labour blog how the Green Councillor didn't vote for investment in schools. You can spin it how you like but I am not going to support a purely self-serving Labour motion which will do nothing for students in Hackney.

Absolutely right. And, just as Mischa predicted, a few days later a prominent Labour blog commented:

"The Greens and the Lib Dems dismissed the motion as 'pointless' - and they chose not to support it rather than joining the Labour group in standing up for raising the aspirations and achievements of Hackney pupils."

No. Actually, Mischa chose not to support the motion because it was nothing but empty spin and hot air from an administration grown so complacent that it can think of nothing better to do with its time than tell an empty council chamber how great the Labour Government is.

I truly hope that May 2010 sees a new wave of Green councillors in the council chamber, to keep challenging this kind of self-congratulatory nonsense.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Greens In Cuts Shocker!

So, this is the week in politics when the 'big three' parties showed their political colours and started calling for cuts - or 'savage cuts' in the case of the Liberal Democrats, who seem to be making their semi-annual attempt to look like serious players. Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, has started revealing ideas for reduced spending in his area of responsibility, and we can assume that this sort of thing will be replicated across government. Nick Clegg, meanwhile has hinted that the Lib Dems will soon be dropping the abolition of tuition fees as a policy - despite it being one of the few areas in which they have been distinctive from the other main parties over the last decade.

Of course, the revelation that has sparked all of this frenzy for cutting budgets is the fact that the UK is now borrowing over £16 billion a month due to a combination of the recession and mindboggling economic mismanagement from the Government (the two are, of course, intertwined). For their mistakes, public servants and the most vulnerable in our society are now expected to pay - and we don't even have proper control over the bailed-out banks as a result, due to the doctine of neoliberals such as Lord Mandelson. How their advice cannot be utterly discredited at this point, I don't understand.

Still, we are where we are - and luckily, the Green Party has had its own 'cuts agenda' for years. The difference is, we would cut harmful things and increase equality, rather than cutting pay for public servants and erecting more barriers to education, health and social services. Examples of ways in which we would plug the borrowing gap? Well:

- Trident and the two new aircraft carriers need to go. A saving of at least £130 billion over the lifespan of those projects.

- Tax evasion needs to be cracked down on properly, and tax loopholes closed. According to the TUC, a saving of £25 billion a year.

- Abolition of the £5 billion ID cards scheme.

- Increased taxes for those who earn well above the national average income, with new, higher tax brackets as people get richer.

- Complete withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and a significant reduction in the armed forces (both people and equipment purchasing) with retraining provided.

- A complete reorientation of the current ridiculous roads budget - for example, did you know that the widening of the M1 alone is costing over £5 billion?

And so on. The fact is, that there is a great deal of scope for the Government to raise money, and a great deal of scope for it to stop spending money on killing people and destroying the environment. You won't hear that at any of the three party conferences coming up - but you will continue to hear it from Green Party politicians up and down the country. It's their crisis - let's use it to build a better society for everyone.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Links to Community Groups

Just a word about the ever burgeoning links section of this blog. To be clear - the fact that a group appears on my links page does not mean that they have endorsed me. It simply means that I am supportive of their work, and that I largely believe in the same principles as they do.

Wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong end of the stick - I am listing these groups in order to let more people know about their work - not to claim that their work is 'mine' or that they are all Greens.

Of course, I'd hope that a number of their members will vote for me, as the ecosocialist candidate who holds the same beliefs as they do - but I would never assume their support without it being explicitly given.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Climate Change - Action Now!

A few people have recently commented that my lack of posts on climate change so far is strange, given my professional background in campaigning on the subject - and the fact that I believe it to be one of the most pressing issues facing modern society.

To be honest, not talking about the climate for a bit was a deliberate decision - I wanted to avoid going on about it precisely because that is what everyone expects from 'the Green'. My politics are based on the foundations of social justice, peace and democracy - and I wouldn't want those important issues to be submerged by constant discussion of environmental sustainability, important though it is to me. Of course, climate change is a social justice issue - one of the social justice issues of our time - but I wanted to leave a little time before exploring that concept fully.

However, there can be no doubt whatsoever that climate change is the greatest challenge facing anyone standing for elected office in the coming decades - and voters should be demanding answers from all of their candidates about what they are going to do to agitate for progress on the issue, and how qualified they are to do so.

What are my qualifications? Well, not only have I been campaigning on the issue for a decade (my first major bit of activism years ago at University was to co-found 'Oxford University Switch to Green', which got the Uni to start buying renewable energy, becoming the 7th largest purchaser of green electricity in Europe) but my professional life has also been dedicated to climate activism. My first full-time job was with the Climate Outreach Information Network, and then I moved onto Friends of the Earth. Amongst my other campaigning and journalism work, I now do self-employed event organisation for a social enterprise called Talk Action - putting on training courses about effectively communicating the issue of climate change.

Even if I didn't have that background in climate activism, simply by being a Green party candidate and sticking to party policy, I'd be head and shoulders above any candidate from any major political party. The latest scientific predictions suggest that an industrialized country, such as the UK, needs to reduce emissions by 90% by 2030, or approximately 10% per year from now on. Only the Greens are proposing any credible plan for doing this, while using the power of government to increase community cohesion and allow for a 'soft transition' to a green future.

Here in Hackney, that soft transition isn't being helped by our current Council administration. In Oxford, one of my major achievements was to push forward the adoption of the council's Climate Change Action Plan, and I became a founding member of the cross-party working group on climate change. In Hackney, believe it or not, the council is still working on releasing its Action Plan for climate change - let alone actually pushing forward with the scale of tangible projects that we need. Indeed, they seem in many ways to be going backwards. Recently, they have cancelled the 100% renewable energy purchasing policy that was introduced with great fanfare a few years ago, and have gone back to dirty energy instead. Genius. While Jules Pipe and others talk a good game on the climate (see their much heralded signing up to the 10:10 initiative recently), when it comes to action, they are woefully behind the curve.

I know that it can sometimes feel like a hopeless task to take action on climate change. There is no doubt that, without massive collective organisation, the problem is insoluble. While that is daunting, it is also a massive opportunity for the kind of grassroots, cooperative, social justice-based politics of which the Green Party is the electoral outlet. We are never going to get anywhere with this problem unless its solution holds out a vision for a better future - equal, fair, democratic and green.

P.S. If you'd like to read the best book on climate change, denial, and how to take meaningful action that I have so far read, you should check out Carbon Detox by my old boss, George Marshall.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Equality Is A Must

If you read one political book this year, it should be The Spirit Level. A masterly survey that summarises decades of research on the effects of inequality on society, it proves that all of the most important areas of our lives are worsened by extreme gaps between rich and poor.

Of course, this is exactly the case that Greens have been making for decades - that while absolute poverty is clearly something that must be tackled (everyone should have the basics of life, a principle that is contained within the UN Declaration of Human Rights), the ever widening inequality in our society is also at the root of many of the problems that we face. Someone can be above 'the breadline', and still feel insecure, stressed and anxious about their place in society, their power over their own life, and their ability to have any influence over their community.

As Marshall Sahlins has put it: "Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social has an invidious distinction between classes."

The Equality Trust, which is the project started by the authors of the book, provides a lot of the evidence base for the effects of inequality on the issues that trouble the UK today - and many of them couldn't be more relevant to Hackney, one of the most unequal boroughs in the country. The correlation between violence and inequality, for example, is striking - and instructive, given the latest in a string of shootings on Amhurst Road just this weekend. Similarly, the relationship between education and inequality is plain to see - and so on, from obesity to depression to drug use.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the book, however, is the way in which the authors reveal the obvious truth - that living in an unjust, unequal and dysfunctional society is bad for all of us - not just those in the bottom quartile or half. We all feel the effects of inequality. To quote from the Equality Trust website:

"One of the most striking and important features of these relationships is that the differences in the prevalence of the various social problems are so large. Some are two or three times as common in more unequal societies, but others are as much as ten times as common. The evidence suggests that this is partly because inequality affects the vast majority of the population - not just the poorest.

Finally, it tends to be the same societies which do well on each of the different outcomes just as it is the same ones which do badly. Because inequality affects so many different outcomes, if you know that a society does badly - for instance - on health, it is likely that it also does badly on a wide range of social problems: it probably has high levels of violence, high teen birth rates, a high prison population, lower levels of trust, more obesity, and a bigger drug problem. Put simply, it looks as if societies with large income inequalities become socially dysfunctional."

I pledge today that if I am elected to Parliament, the issue of poverty and inequality will be at the very top of my agenda. The Green Party is committed to higher rates of tax for the rich and better provision for the most vulnerable - and if you elect me as your MP, I'll do my utmost to make sure that Parliament starts striving to reduce the gap between rich and poor, not widen it.

As the Green Party's outgoing Policy Co-ordinator said at our Hove Conference only last week - "Peter Mandelson famously said that Labour are 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. Well, we Greens are 'intensely relaxed about the filthy rich getting a bit poorer'." Too right. Lets toss the Thatcherite consensus overboard, and get working to recreate some solidarity in the UK - and where better to start than Hackney?

Those who are interested in hearing more about the Equality Trust can check out this YouTube video:

Friday, 4 September 2009

Street Art or Sanitisation?

I am currently at Green Party Conference in Hove - of which more soon - but news of this act of vandalism has caused me to briefly break my blogging silence.

Honestly...this is idiocy on a truly staggering scale. Hackney Labour, you have outdone yourselves. Invading private property to wipe out a piece of art that enhanced the streetscape and of which the community is very fond, in a misguided attempt to sanitise and cleanse Stoke Newington of anything which might make it different, notable, or unique.

Labour make a big deal of their 'I Heart Hackney' campaign - and have accused those who disagree with their technocratic vision for the borough of wanting to Keep Hackney Crap. Well, I don't think Hackney is crap. And I don't think that a living, vibrant piece of street art should be covered up by a council determined to make Hackney identical to every other urban area in a commodified, sanitised and personality-free New Labour cultural desert.

Sure, some graffiti isn't any good. But we can make those decisions on a case by case basis. Eliminating a Banksy because you simply can't stand anything out of the norm? Wake up Hackney Labour, before you wash away everything that gives the borough its soul.