Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final thoughts of the year

  • Ian is in Gaza at the moment. You can follow his blog whilst he's out there.

  • Unlike Government Ministers the police just like to stay in the warm. Whilst these coppers are just shuffling papers you'll find Jack Straw out there, getting stuck, getting his hands dirty, really making a difference that our bobbies simply cannot be arsed to.

  • I notice that the German Greens have reached a record high in their membership figures. They now have 48,163 members, which a good size for a minor party and a small size for a major one. In England and Wales we have just under 10,000 (we'll be over sometime in January) - we ought to think of ways to triple this if we're to start making a truly significant impact.

  • The Guardian has a piece on 10:10 the story so far which I hope prompts those who've managed to commit their organisations to the idea of reducing their emissions by 10% by the end of 2010 to ensure that this actually happens.

  • Oh yes, and a happy new year to all my readers.

Blogging Resolutions for 2010

Sometimes I post a set of blogging resolutions which I'm usually pretty good at keeping to, although last year I posted up some predictions for this year just gone by instead, which seem to be about 90% right. Back to the resolutions this year I think as I dread to think what the coming year may hold.

Twitter: I'll try to figure out how to use the thing a bit more intelligently. I do like twitter and, despite the fact some people seem to despise the very name with a passion, I think it's rather fun.

What I don't do is pay any attention to gathering new followers or being consistently useful/funny/lovely in my 'tweets'. I'll try and improve this year.

Follow my progress here.

Non-partisan blogging: I don't make a secret of being a Green Party member but I do hope that this blog doesn't read like it's issued by central office. I'm an independent minded chap when all is said and done and I've made no secret of disagreeing with the party sometimes or admiring others in rival organisations when the mood suits me.

Being a general election year there's going to be a certain amount of self applied pressure to be a more down the line party loyalist, which I don't think would be good for the blog or good for me more generally. There will be the added complication that more of my time will be spent doing very specifically electoral work so it's likely that's what will be on my mind.

So for my next resolution, I'll try to get the balance right.

Blog local: I've been doing a touch of blogging at Green Crofton Park, where I've been selected to stand in this year's local elections. I've got a lot to learn about good local blogging that connects to the community so this is going to be a steep learning curve for me.

One of the things I want to do this year is really crack the art of the useful, informative and fun local blog. Lewisham is the place to do it too as there is a veritable hive of strong local blogs in the area to learn from.

New group blogging projects: There's some potential group blogging projects that may emerge in the next few weeks for me. Group blogging is certainly one of the strongest form of blogging and although I'd never give up my own space I am feeling it's time to take group work more seriously.

Now the new year is about to beginning revitalising the Carnival of Socialism with new admins should help to get it back on track but there will be at least two more magazine style projects (one ongoing that I'll be joining and one new that I'll be helping to launch) that will be a refreshing departure for me and I'm really looking forward to.

More interviews: I do enjoy the interviews and guest posts that I host here but they can be hard work for the subject and so they don't appear as often as I'd like. I think I'm going to have a renewed push to getting more guest posts, more interviews and ensuring they come from a good spectrum of people.

I'm going to be running a series of interviews with Green PPCs up to the election so I really do need to ensure that this is balanced out (see above) with other good sorts who hail from other traditions or perspectives. All suggestions more than welcome.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Christmas terror flight

Another quick catch up post really, but the attempted terrorist attack on an airliner on Christmas Day has attracted so much international press that it's difficult to ignore. However, my thoughts are mainly in a jumble about the whole thing so rather than take time might a cogent think piece I thought I'd make a list of 'things what occur to me'.

  • Fail to blow up a plane, you get wall to wall coverage for your cause in every nation on Earth. Actually blow up dozens or even hundreds in Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan and you're lucky if you get into the inside pages once let alone over and over again. It's obviously news but the response feels disproportionate.

  • What would the world be like if we rewarded non-violent protest with this kind of media coverage? Does the international media actually, inadvertently, make violence more attractive than democratic avenues? The media's approach is certainly what leads Al Quaida to see airplanes as their targets of choice over other possibilities.

  • Despite protestations to the contrary the bomber's failure is down to security precautions working. The fact that he had to resort to complex equipment that let him down is entirely down to the fact he had to circumvent airport security checks. No system can prevent people who want to blow up planes trying to do so, but the current system did prevent the bomber using a weapon that would have actually achieved the job.

  • The bomber's motivation was religious. Any involvement he'd ever had with any national liberation struggle (if any) came directly from his religious convictions he'd held from an early age. His prosperous upbringing insulated him from real hardship and allowed him travel and get a decent education - it's difficult to this young man as a victim driven to extremes rather than a zealot whose personal beliefs led him to the conclusion that the murder of many innocent people was a worthy act.

  • Terror attacks equal excuses to bomb. This time the US have been given the green light to openly make attacks in Yemen for the first time. CNN, Guardian.

  • Prior to this the US has been active in the Yemen and this has been a contributory factor in these events.

  • These events have also raised, once again, the specter of torturing suspects. The Republicans don't even want to learn apparently. Guardian.

Charles Clarke you ungrateful sod

Iain Dale reprints a very interesting letter ex-Home Secretary Charles Clarke has sent out to all and sundry as his new year's contribution to Labour's war effort.

Clarke has helpfully pointed out how dismally Labour has performed under the new broom, Brown, by saying things like;

  • "During the last year Labour’s poll ratings have hit historic lows, and the dismal European and local elections translated this into actual votes."
  • "Labour’s underlying poll position is disastrous."
  • "All the evidence suggests that Brown’s leadership reduces Labour support, that alternative leaders would improve our ratings,"
  • "Labour currently has no strategy for escaping the deep political trouble it is in."
Now, if I was a Labour Party member who lived in Norwich - and thank God I'm neither - I don't know if I'd really appreciate the guy I'm meant to campaign for pointing out that "In Parliament and elsewhere an overwhelming majority of Labour opinion believes that in this position Labour’s chances would be significantly improved if Gordon Brown were to stand down." when it's far, far too late to change leaders.

All it amounts to is pointing out to the public what a bad position Labour are in and what a useless leader they have - a leader who would remain in place should a general election victory miraculously present itself. Does Clarke actually expect Labour members to campaign for him when he's doing his best to undermine the party's chances?

Then again, if you lived in the south of the city it would also be hard to trudge up to the north where the Labour Party HQ threw what should have been a safe Labour seat straight to the Tories. No matter which way you turned you'd have your own side firing on you, no wonder some members look for greener pastures.

That can't make for a happy camp and I wouldn't be surprised if many Labour activists in Norwich found themselves ill disposed towards the idea of pounding the streets for such an ungrateful bunch over the next few months.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The big telly debate

Just want to catch up on a few things I would have written about in the last few days had I not been having my break from the web. It's a bit late I know but I wanted to have my say about the stupendous, amazing breakthrough our democracy will undergo if the leaders of the three main Parliamentary parties have a slanging match on TV.

The first thing to say is all but a handful of people in this country will get to vote for the leaders of the parties, so having a Presidential-style debate without having a Presidential system does jar a little. Everyone in the US could vote for McCain or that other guy, so when they spoke to the nation it helped people choose - our system is far more mediated, where you may be voting in a constituency where the party of your choice is represented by a candidate you dislike - or vice verse.

Secondly, it's bizarre that members of the main three parties seem to be describing SNP and Plaid attempts to be included in these debates as whinging. In Scotland and Wales they are not bit players but real political forces that accrue votes that parties like the Conservatives can only dream of. Excluding them from the debates will *help* their vote by reinforcing with the electorate that the three *London* parties don't want regional voices to be heard.

Brown droning on won't win a quarter of the votes for Labour that the SNP will accrue from the propaganda coup they've been handed by the attempt to exclude them, whether or not they get in there in the end. Just to be clear the SNP and Plaid thrive off every example of complacency on behalf of the Westminster consensus. As long as they make a show of kicking up a stink about being excluded the Lab/Lib/Con pact has made their argument that these are not really parties that put Scotland or Wales first for them.

No amount of pretending will eradicate the actually existing activist and voter base these parties have. That cannot be reversed by what most voters will see as a dull politics programme.

What about the Green Party though?

When it comes to the Greens, well, I'm in no great hurry to see us on the platform, although I have every confidence in Caroline Lucas that should she be invited onto such a debate she'd crush all opposition and delight in the weeping of their loved ones as she glories in their freshly spilled blood. These debates are to the death, right?

Being on the debate actually would help us in those areas where we struggle to maintain a profile. In those areas where we have few members we would benefit from the extra profile. In other areas, like Norwich, Oxford, Lewisham and Brighton we have electoral machines that do the work on the ground and being excluded from that kind of debate could, in a funny way, help us.

For example, in Brighton we've just had a poll showing the Greens well in the lead, a fair amount of that support is coming from people who want a break from the cosy Parliamentary consensus of war, privatisation and cuts. In these areas we don't need a barely watched TV debate to make our mark on the electorate but being excluded will only reinforce our status as an alternative because we have a base of support to work on.

Sadly in the areas where we're less strong one of our big problems is that people a) often haven't heard of us or b) think we're not serious. So if I wanted to take a purely sectional approach it's still six of one and half a dozen of the other as being excluded does help us achieve our first ever MPs even if it's sad for the local parties below the handful of very strong areas.

However, from a democratic point of view it's terrible. I'm particularly excised about the exclusion of the SNP and Plaid because their relative weight in the regions means that for the millions of people who live in these regions the debates will be meaningless, providing them no insight into the choices before them at the election.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My family at war

My Mum's been showing me a whole number of family photos stretching way back when. Just because I'm interested in this stuff I thought I'd share a few of the family pictures from my lot at war.

First up we have Arthur by the sea. I don't know what sea. I do know that he's in full uniform, with his shoes and socks off, trousers rolled up for paddling, whilst smoking a pipe. This confirms that my family have been fashion trend setters for decades.

Next we have what we think is my Grandad on my Mum's side in the uniform he started the war out in. He soon exchanged this for the togs of a Desert Rat.

Next up we have Daisy who was a lance corporal in the Women's Land Army. Looking very cheerful.

The next one is my Dad's Dad with my Aunty Hazel. He's in his RAF uniform and she's looking very pleased at being photographed.

Lastly with have the 'Dead Man's Penny' for John Player Genower who was killed in a German prisoner of war camp in pretty grisly circumstances.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Vacuity Of Labour

When Ben Bradshaw was appointed the guardian of this country's culture and tourism he was seen as the man for the job. Undistracted by taste, passion or the bitter mote of a soul he was able to crack on with the job of counting the cash.

Little surprise then that he was to be found in the X-Factor final audience just before jetting off to Sri Lanka for Christmas - no doubt to promote British tourism over there whilst picking up a few human rights tips.

Ben obviously enjoyed his time in the X-Factor crowd though because he went on to hail the X-Factor as a cultural icon we should all emulate. Earlier today I received this press release;

The Culture Secretary Rt Hon. Ben Bradshaw MP spoke last week at the Annual Dinner of the Labour Finance & Industry Group at the Reform Club.
Ben Bradshaw MP said that the X-Factor was “Britain’s single greatest export in terms of the Creative Industries,“ which are increasingly playing a dominant role in our economy.

Chair of the Labour Finance and Industry Group Dr. Peter Slowe has called on Simon Cowell to speak with a group of young Labour supporters to enthuse and inspire them about careers in the media.

Dr. Slowe says “Simon Cowell is the greatest example of a British Entrepreneur who has made his mark in the Creative Industries, which to my mind is the future for our economy.

“No one has proven the influence of the media and the creative industries in our lives more than Simon Cowell. He has shown admirable drive and ambition, and we welcome him to motivate our young people, who are thirsty to take up the mantle."
What was the Oscar Wilde quote again? Something about knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing wasn't it? Someone phone the culture secretary, he's bound to know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The reason there will not be an early election

From today's Times;

Britain today cemented its position as the only G20 country still in recession as new figures confirmed that the economy shrank by 0.2 per cent between July and September.

Analysts had forecast that today's figure — the final estimate of national output for the third quarter — would show that the economy stopped contracting or even grew.

But while gross domestic product (GDP) contracted at a slower pace than the previous -0.3 per cent reading, the figures confirmed a sixth successive quarter of recession – the country’s longest downturn in history.

They'll have to wait for the next quarter's figures then.

Who said what on copenhagen

I'm not going to do a comprehensive report. I knew it was going to be depressing before it kicked off, it was depressing during the conference and it's still depressing now. However, I thought I probably should not allow it to pass without comment altogether, so here's a round-up of ten different takes on the conference.

  1. Patrick Harvie puts a motion to the Scottish Parliament
  2. Peter Cranie in the Independent
  3. Caroline Lucas says world leaders have failed us.
  4. Banksy responds to the deniers
  5. Ben Solah on the self interest of the elites
  6. Jayati Ghosh on ecological imperialism
  7. Derek Wall rages against oil
  8. Robert Newman says we have to kick the capitalist habit.
  9. Michael Meacher asks where now?
  10. Gayle O'Donovan on the cop out.
Lastly, Ben highlights this video of what we really needed from world leaders

Monday, December 21, 2009

London Greens advise against contesting Barking

Just got back from the London Federation of Green Parties meeting where we voted to advise Barking and Dagenham Greens not to stand a candidate at the coming General Election and focus their efforts on their local election candidates.

The background to this is that Barking is the only constituency in the country where the British National Party are strong enough to have a fighting chance of winning a seat (although it is certainly not the most likely outcome) and that we have to assess the effects that standing a paper candidate would have on the result.

I'm certainly not of the view that the sky would fall in if Griffin were elected but I am glad that the London Green Party is taking the prospect seriously and has given the matter some serious thought and discussion.

I'm extremely pleased that we voted against a narrow party interest in favour of a more nuanced approach that takes into account the fact that our party in the area is, well, a little on the weak side.

A paper candidate here would be little more than a vanity candidacy and the fact is that we can have our cake and eat it. We can help mobilise voters and give them Greens to vote for in the local elections whilst not risking the outside chance that we could be blamed for 'letting Griffin in'.

Of course, it is still the local party's decision but now London Fed's position is clear it is difficult to see how a very small local party is going to spontaneously find money, candidates and run a democratic selection procedure that would be necessary to stand.

I certainly would not like to see the position where Griffin were elected (which would be bad enough) but for him to win by a margin of 1% where we'd collected 2%. Whether or not we would have been 'responsible' for his victory we would be blamed for it and the damage to our reputation nationally would far outweigh the minuscule gains we might make by standing a paper candidate.

My position might have been different had we a strong party on the ground that could fight its corner and had proven electoral support, but sadly that is not the case here. I think we win the battle of ideas by fighting elections, not just standing in them. A weak and inexperienced party could find itself seriously out of its depth in this constituency and I would not want to see them get hurt.

Pouring resources into a campaign that would make little to no impact makes no sense when those resources could go to the three areas where we may win a seat in Lewisham, Norwich and Brighton.

We can make a genuine contribution to stopping Nasty Nick by standing in the locals, giving people a positive vision and turning out the anti-fascist vote for the parties who have a stronger Parliamentary presence in the constituency. Whatever we do in Barking it will be sideshow compared to the choice most people will be making between the war criminal and the fascist.

Cold enough for ya?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Camden: for community facilities not corporate monolithes

I don't know what has got into the Camden New Journal. I've been extremely impressed with it when I've had the chance to read it, but this week they printed a clearly deranged letter from someone protesting against a new development in Somers Town.

Now this development is actually very unpopular and, due to a recent consultation in the area I happen to know a number of local residents wrote in on the subject. However, the CNJ chose to print just one letter on the subject (from NW6, well out of the area) from someone who, from the letter, appears to have mental health problems.

I'm in no way suggesting that the CNJ is obliged to take sides in any way, it's just for a normally very high quality paper it seems to have taken a conscious decision to represent the local opposition to the developers with a single letter that none of them could possibly agree with. I'll show you;

"So London’s lab-land is to get another vivisection laboratory. The “cathedral of science” we are told (December 10) will cost £520million... and what will be the reason for the existence of this exciting project? Bogus medical research, that is, thousands of animals being poisoned and cut up by an army of people pretending they are doing vital life-saving, cures for cancer etc.

"The reality? It’s a job-creation game. The animals will be sacrificed; only rodents will be used. Tell that to the marines.

"Putting a drug into an animal in the pretence that it will tell us how that drug will act in the human body is nonsense. Anyone who believes such a thing is either a criminal or deranged. Also veterinary research does not truly tell us how animal diseases develop in the wild.

"So you want to be healthy? Stop eating meat. Avoid aspartame. Give up cows’ milk and never accept any more vaccines.

"Vaccines do NOT protect against any disease.

"But try to be kind to doctors. They have been conditioned only to prescribe synthetic drugs."
Now, I've the greatest possible respect for people who have specific arguments against the utility of animal testing but the idea that vaccines do not protect against any disease, well, to say it was a fringe idea would be to insult fringe ideas. It's blatant nonsense of the strangest kind and the CNJ knows this. So why print this letter over other, more representative, ones?

Camden Green Party put a far more rational case, for example here, here and here. That case is based on the community concerns that this space should be used for housing and community facilities. The consortium propose building a tower block right next to this residential area that will be far higher than the neighbouring St. Pancras station and British Library, literally blocking out the light for those who live beneath it's shadow.

Now it seems to me that the letters sent to the CNJ that this land should be used for the good of the local community and not to ruin local residents' quality of life seem far stronger arguments to print than some balls about rejecting vaccines. What a curious editorial decision.

Get in - we win!

Little things can still make you smile. Rage Against the Machine are the Christmas Number One.

This means that every Christmas office party from this year on will suddenly burst into life as the DJ with *full force of Christmas song rights* will start pumping out "Fuck you I wont do what you tell me." For decades to come it will *still* be a Christmas song. Sweet.

If you are as yet unaware of RATM's opus, I'd recommend you check them out more thoroughly. What better way to celebrate Billy Bragg's birthday could there be?


How does the world feel after ridding itself of irritable Cowell syndrome? What do you mean we don't get to fire him into space? Call this Christmas? Damn it all, let's do weekending then.

Blogs - random spots

Blogs - Oz/NZ edition
Posts - no doom allowed
Youtube - such a good song!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Boring internal Green Party business

This is going to mean very little to you if you're not a Green Party member so you may wish to skip over this.

Still here? Cool. As you may know the first agenda for the February conference (members only, sorry) is out and it's time to vote in the prioritisation ballot.

The prioritisation ballot is the open to all members and allows the membership to directly dictate in what order conference business is conducted. This is important because with 27 motions and a health voting paper to discuss in between fringes, training and rallies it's unlikely that everything will get discussed and voted on.

In other words this is your chance to save things from falling off the end of the agenda.

We can vote for up to three policy motions and three organisational motions and I'd like you to consider using two in each section for the following;

D54 joint election lists: annoyingly this fell off the agenda at the last conference (for some reason we had a lot less time to discuss motions last time which is why there are more motions than normal this time round). Currently the Party constitution forbids joint election lists with other parties or independents at proportional representation elections. This motion removes that bar whilst putting in place safeguards against 'unwise' decisions and ensuring the final decision is always with the members of the region concerned.

D56 renaming the MfSS: Currently we have two manifestos. I'd quite like us to enter the general election with only one manifesto, tailored to the election we're fighting, whilst retaining the comprehensive policy document we've spent years building up and refining.

C31 Science pledge removal: At the moment we have a very silly policy that requires scientists, alone of all professions, to take a pledge not to be horrid to the planet. We should not be asking people to take a moral oath or else, but introducing legislation against harmful practices.

C34 Animals and research: This motion drastically strips down our current animal experimentation policy making it far clearer and removing contentious and unnecessary claims about scientific research.

Please don't confuse this with the other animal experimentation motion (C39) which aims to make our policy against animal testing based entirely on problems with the science whilst removing the ethical motivation for a ban, which I'd argue is a strange thing to remove from the policy as all the people I know who oppose animal experimentation do so because they believe its unethical, even when they try to back this up with problems with the science.

You don't have to vote for three in each but you may well want to peruse the rest of the agenda paper for other motions you might like to support as well / instead.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A week is a long time out of politics

I'm about to have two weeks enforced leave from being a political activist. I've been told it's not the done thing to canvas someone on Christmas Day so I will be at a loose end. It's been so long I've forgotten what normal people do in order to 'have a life'.

Is the cinema still going? I used to quite like going to the pictures... anything good on at the moment?

I'm pretty much sorted for the day itself but what about the other thirteen days? There's only so many times I can watch We Need Answers on i-player.

I was considering having at least a week off the internet, but unless I can fill my life with other meaningless froth I'm not sure it's feasible.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Take the music back

Sick of the way the charts are dictated by those with the financial clout to shove anemic crap down our throats? Tired of how the race for Christmas Number One is just another way of advancing consumerism without content? Want to see a world where music isn't simply about 'units sold' but represents something deeper.

Well here is the grassroots campaign for you - thwart Simon Cowell's army of evil robots and give Rage Against the Machine the top spot this Winterval. I was initially unsure about this campaign but the more arguments I heard against it the more convinced I became that this was something worth backing, particularly as it led me to digging out my RATM CD's and leaping round the room in a most unladylike fashion.

This Radio Five interview with the band is interesting, not least because they cut the band off half way through the song because it contained the words "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me" - well, duh!

When asked about Cowell the band responded that "Simon is an interesting character who seems to have profited greatly from humiliating people on television. We see this [campaign] as a necessary break with his control."

After expressing how privileged they felt about being chosen as the anti-corporate anthem by the grass roots they rounded off the discussion by saying that it shows that whether it's a "small matter like who's the top of the charts, or bigger matters like war and peace and economic inequality, when people band together and make their voices heard they can completely overturn the system as it is."

Good stuff. You have until the end of Saturday 19th December (at 23:59pm) to buy your copy, which you can do for 69 pence here. Don't bulk buy - it wont count! The organisers of the campaign have also asked people to make a donation of a pound to Sony, sorry I mean Shelter, when you buy your RATM which you can do by clicking here.

Oxford East: Peter Tatchell steps down

People may well have seen the news that Peter Tatchell has felt unable to continue as the Green Party's candidate for Oxford East due to long term health problems sustained because of his courageous campaigning work.

I'm sure we all wish this incredibly dedicated campaigner all the best for the future and let's hope that, having taken some of the personal pressure off, stepping down helps Peter recuperate.

Of course this means that Oxford is temporarily left with only one excellent candidate, in the West of the city, the independent minded green Chris Goodall.

Whilst it's probably too much to ask to find a candidate of equal stature to Peter, it would be good if we could find someone to step into the breach with an equally high profile and strong track record. As it's a Parliamentary seat they would not have to live in Oxford at the moment, although some connection to the city would probably help.

At the European elections the Green Party polled more votes than any other party but translating that into victory at the General Election will still be no mean feat.

The Oxford Green Party is currently accepting nominations so if you're interested in putting your name in the hat let them know via or if you know someone you think should put themselves forward, encourage them to do so.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Copenhagen Quotes

Can you match the five quotes on Copenhagen from today with the person who made the comment?

  1. "If the climate was a bank the rich governments would have already saved it"
  2. "Movements begin with people, not governments,"
  3. "If sea levels are rising the obvious answer is to build roads over them."
  4. "Let's eradicate poverty and bring in climate justice. If capitalism resists we have to do battle with it."
  5. "I'm unable to feel the same sort of hatred for rich people that other people do."
All were said by the following, but which ones by whom?
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California
  • Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
  • Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela
  • Mark Steel, Independent columnist
  • Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

Slogans: fair is worth fighting for

In the list of vapid things people get worked up about slogans are probably up near the top. Political parties and movements often feel the need to use a catchy sound-bite to 'sum up' what they are all about, hence Thatcher's well known 1979 strap line "Death to the miners".
For me I'm comfortable with the idea that slogans exist although I'm of an age where I don't get very excised by them. All too often a catch phrase is given far too much heavy lifting to do and they are usually loose enough to mean all things to all people.

The word 'change' is a particularly egregious example which has absolutely no meaning without concrete policy to outline what kind of change we're talking about.

However there is a specific aspect of slogans I want to quickly discuss here and I'm going to use the example of the Green Party's "Fair is worth fighting for" to do it. Leaving aside whether it's a good slogan for a moment I want to show how malleable over arching slogans like this can be.

Imagine every party decided to take up this slogan. Would it mean the same thing attached to the Labour Rose or the Tory broccoli? I'd argue it wouldn't because slogans are like the handbag or hat that goes with an outfit, sometimes they clash and always they contain different shades and subtleties in differing contexts.

For the purposes of the exercise I'm going to give the wholly positive spin the slogan would have for each party rather than clutter the place up with caveats about how I don't like the cut of John Redwood's jib;

Labour: fair is worth fighting for

I'd say the resonance is about social inequality, even after all these years. We might think of council housing, or child benefit or working families' tax credits. We may also think of trade unions or even progressive taxation if we're feeling particularly generous.
Conservatives: fair is worth fighting for
The slogan still works, but we no longer suspect that trade unions and the working time directive is at the top of the agenda. This time it's not progressive taxation but tax breaks that fairness evokes. We may also think of cutting red tape, or removing politically correct health and safety legislation that prevents you drinking acid at work or using dodgy equipment.

If you're a certain kind of Tory you might even think this slogan is about denying foreigners council housing or allowing householders to torture any criminals they find in their home.
Lib Dems: fair is worth fighting for
Again, still a plausible slogan. This time we're less likely to think of economics but more likely perhaps to think of scrapping ID cards or tuition fees. We'd probably think the party was emphasising its comparatively strong civil liberties record and we might even believe they are promising less brutality towards asylum seekers and refugees.
With the Greens I think it's slightly more jarring. Many voters see the Greens as a one issue party and so fitting 'fair' into preconceived notions about climate change or composting is simply more difficult.

It's for this reason that I actually quite like the slogan. Unusually, it actually stretches the imagination in a modest, non-threatening way. It's completely plausible that Greens are about fairness, but it is not necessarily the thing that most people would place in the top three things they say about the Greens.

Drawing the attention towards our policies on social justice, like the Living Wage, liberalising immigration controls, ethical foreign policy and more democratic control over the police is really useful because, generally, people know where we stand on flowers and nature and that. We're for them.

Mind you, it's just a slogan and I doubt they really have much of an impact when compared to door knocking, good press work and being effective councils, for example. But a good slogan can't hurt, even if we can't expect it to contribute a great deal to our political fame and fortune.

The Norwich march to victory begins?

If I ever launch a Parliamentary bid remind me not to forget to book the Dragon dancers!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The problem with politics

My piece in tomorrow's Morning Star;

If we were to list the most hated professions in the nation we’d probably start with lawyers, journalists (not Morning Star ones obviously), Simon Cowell (who is so loathsome he has an employment category all to himself) and, of course, politicians.

Those with shorter memories put this down to the expenses scandal but this is simply the current manifestation of a tendency that has been bubbling under the surface of society for decades, if not more.

Seen as a class apart, divorced from ordinary concerns, MPs have the misfortune to be one of the least trusted groups of people in politics. Local councilors are, wrongly, seen as too small scale to be genuinely corrupt and no one knows who their European regional MEPs are so they can go about their dark business undetected by those armed with eggs or miniature cathedrals.

Of course this has always been terribly unfair. Most politicians did not enter politics for the brown envelopes, even if they stay in it for them.

As a class they’ve not helped themselves. When the previous speaker of the House resigned it was not simply because he had failed to tackle the expenses regime he was making vigorous use of it and was taken down in the very scandal he should have prevented, possibly one of the first cases of a poacher turned gamekeeper turned pheasant.

Nor has Tony Blair been helping their reputations this week with his revelations that if he’d have thought he could not get away with the WMD excuse he’d have still found another reason to invade Iraq. Confirming once again that there are the stated reasons for government policy and then there are the real reasons, which ministers would really rather you didn’t know.

Even principled politicians, like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, get spattered with the same gore that their coworkers seem so happy to unleash upon the world. It’s unfair but true. All those things that divide politicians from the voting public – high salaries, the press attention to every drunken tweet or misjudged photo opportunity, or being closeted away with special advisors and interest groups – are as true for the best politicians as they are for the worst.

We can undermine those factors by introducing a normal worker’s wage or ensuring that your MP is a real part of the communities they represent, but the idea of electing someone to take decisions on our behalf has a perfidious logic of its own no matter how delightful the individual concerned.

Some want to see more independent minded politicians elected, and who am I to disagree, but perhaps the issue is more about the structures of democracy than the moral disrepair of the party elites.

There are good arguments for electoral reform, abolishing the unelected House of Lords and Monarchy, replacing first past the post with proportional representation and deepening the drive towards more transparent government. All these measures would be a great step forwards that, none the less, do not challenge the ‘common sense’ that ordinary people do not take part directly in political decision making.

You can lobby your MP, write letters to the local paper, demonstrate, strike, even riot, but all of these things, some more effective than others, are simply attempts to influence decisions. Deeper democratic reform would mean we could take those decisions into our own hands, collectively.

While referendums can be useful tools, they are still imperfect because they take place at a time of the government’s choosing in terms that are decided for us. Additionally as the Swiss example of banning minarets shows they can be a method of oppressing peoples as well as empowering them.

The vision of ‘real politics’ as a club of influential people, cut off from those they misrepresent, is reinforced by a political system where the majority are passive observers to a dance whose rules are never fully explained and where the music that dictates the steps cannot be properly heard by those outside of powerful cliques.

Even if we only elected morally pure types, whose love of the people was only outweighed by their love of hair shirts and personal discomfort, we would still find ourselves observing politics rather than participating in it, directly. Naughty or nice, our politicians make decisions for us.

Instead of relying on others we should try to imagine a world where we can make those decisions for ourselves. There are no guarantees that these would always be better decisions, but they would be rooted in the everyday experiences of every citizen, not just those existing inside a particular bubble and who lunch with the most powerful in society.

More than this the definition of what is subject to democracy and what is left outside of it needs to be re-examined. Why is it that the laws on theft are governed by those elected by the people and the economy that drives people to theft is left in the hands of the unelected wealthy? Why should we have indirect control over who we bomb, but not who British companies arm?

Populist sound bites can have a resonance with people but they are no substitute for direct democracy. In a strange way I rather enjoyed Obama’s weekend outburst where he denounced ‘fat cats’, but seeing as he’s spent the last year feeding them the choicest cream it doesn’t amount to much more than a plea for people to like him.

In Britain millions are disenfranchised who want to renationalize the rail, who want a genuinely ethical foreign policy that promotes peace over British economic interests and who would love to vote for a party that taxed the wealthy and regulated the out of control financial sector. At the coming general election there will be precious few places where the candidates who promote these popular values have a fighting chance of winning.

The anti-politician mood is a rich mix of legitimate anger against particular policies and the desire to blame others for the state we’re in. We need to promote a vision of democracy where we have no one to blame but ourselves because power rests in the hands of the people themselves.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


A bit rushed I'm afraid but there's some useful stuff to look at here I think.


Posts and articles:
Updates on stories I've previously posted on;
For your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Swearing in the Irish Dail

I noticed this little bit of footage from the Irish Dail of how Green TDs conduct their business in the House.

Here Paul Gogarty TD outlines his considered response to his critics.

According to the Irish Times Gogarty seems to be a little touchy about his support for the Social Welfare Bill which appears to involve cuts in benefits.

That aside, how do I rate the swearing. Well the "fuck you" itself was delivered with a superb plosive cadence by Gogarty made all the delicious by signaling its approach. However, the apology saddened me because it was clearly a technical apology made to get out of trouble which undermines the sincerity of the initial ruddy oath.

Whilst the swearing itself was delightful it's a shame Gogarty dulled its effect with apologies and technicalities. It's more of a shame though that the Greens are backing a right wing bill designed to cut welfare costs.

(h/t Harry's Place)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Question: how do we reduce traffic?

As I stared forlornly at the horror that is Brockley Road at peak traffic a question was peculating in my mind. If we wanted to cut traffic, say, in half... how would we do it? It's not my field but busy roads divide communities physically and psychologically, pollute the air and their constant roar is like taking a sledge hammer to your quality of life.

I don't think I have the answer although I tried to come up with three ways that would help cut down the traffic.

First of all: superb public transport.
It seems to me that the only way we'll ever get top class public transport is under public control. Taking the rail and buses back into public hands will allow a focus on quality, reliability and cheapness of tickets that is just impossible whilst there are rotund felines taking their cut.

If we have a decent alternative that we can rely on to get us where we want with the minimum of hassle it will take us out of our cars. And by us I mean you because I don't have a car.
Second up: tackling rush hour
Rush hour occurs because our working hours are so set. If we could develop more flexible hours to spread that out we might reduce the amount of time people are sitting in traffic, which means the vehicles spend less time on the road which makes them clearer.
Thirdly: reducing the need for journeys
Out of town supermarkets and those good awful shopping centres are, by design, only reachable by car. We should be looking to having most things we need within walking distance. Cities should be perfect for this because people live so close together but often they aren't. Really attempting to tackle why people make journeys could drastically reduce traffic.

However, having said all that I'm not sure my solutions would halve the traffic. Cycle lanes, pedestrianising town centres and the like are all good things but how much of an impact on traffic do they really make?

What am I missing from my plans that could really take this issue on? Bearing in mind I'm not up for punishing people but just encouraging good behaviour I'd be happy to hear what else we'd need for my plan.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Debating climate change with idiots

I see that Peter Cranie was invited to share a sofa with Nick Griffin on North West TV the other night. Quite rightly he turned down the opportunity to give the little fuhrer a cuddle and a kiss whilst he denied that climate change is happening.

Peter explains his reasons eloquently here. Sadly the BBC went ahead with the show and replaced Peter with a hapless Lib Dem (35 and 48 minutes in) who decided raising their profile by debating Nick Griffin was a bit of a lark.

The fact is the climate change debate we need to be having is what are we going to do about it? How do we reduce our emissions? Can we get international agreements? What measures do we need to take to prepare ourselves for climate chaos? What obligation do rich nations have to poor nations who do not have the funds to prepare for a changing climate?

These vital questions are being derailed by a bunch of Flat Earthers who want to question whether anything is happening at all. This discuss was put to bed ten years ago or more. Climate change is not a communist conspiracy to raise taxes but a living reality that we must address.

Giving these people credibility by allowing the debate to be dictated by them is ludicrous. There are sensible people who disagree with greens who are worth debating, of course, but Griffin is someone who seeks to hold us back from action at the very moment that this attitude constitutes criminally irresponsible behaviour.

I'm really proud of Peter for turning down the BBC's offer of air time and I can only hope that at some point the media grows up and starts allowing us to have the debates on climate change that really matter, not the potty bullshit the deniers come out with.

Review: Blind Summit Theatre's 1984

Frankly, I do not remember the last time I saw such a good play, let alone one that was a fresh adaptation of the classic 1984. Cards on the table: I didn't think it was possible to make a satisfactory stage version of Orwell's classic; I was completely and utterly wrong.

The production was held in dingy Battersea at the BAC and is on until Jan. 9th, do go - you wont catch anything this good again for a long time, so don't miss it.

This is actually the second time I've seen a stage adaption of 1984, the last time was in the 90's and it was something that still has me seething with rage just to remember it. When you have people who can't act performing a version of a story written by someone completely at odds with the subversiveness of the material, well, it tends to get to me - and I only saw the first half.

This version was quite different. For a start, whilst there are deviations from the book they are uniformly improvements. That's right. Improvements. For example, whilst 1984 is a brilliantly written book... not many laughs in it are there? This play is bloody funny.

There are wonderful layers in the play with the cast playing an agit-prop troop of State sponsored actors playing the cautionary tale of two thought criminals with basic props and puppets. Yes that's right, I said puppets. Orwell forgot to write them in didn't he? Well Blind Summit Theatre have amended George's schoolboy error.

For a story that is centrally about the hidden inner life of party workers in a totalitarian state I think there are some elements that are very hard to bring to life outside of the pages of the book. The hate and love those workers feel for the party that defines them and deforms them simultaneously.

The way that sexuality and personal deviation become political by the very acts of making personal choices outside the realm of the social orthodoxy. How an insistence on controlling every aspect of someone's personal life turns the simple act of saying "I love you" into a world shattering act of rebellion.

I won't spoil the plot for you but I will commend the highly stylised performances of all the cast but particularly on the part of Gergo Danka (O'Brien) and Julia Innocenti (Julia). That said the puppet work and exciting use of visual effects illustrating the story telling was a real joy to behold.

If you'd have told me that the audience would have been rolling around laughing through much of the play I'd have been dubious to say the least - but it happened, and I don't think it detracted fromeither the seriousness of the material or the horrors of the second half.

Whether you have or have not read the book, and whether or not you liked it, if you can get to south London, go see this play - it's so, so good.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Daily Mail Fat Heads

I was just browsing through the news and alighted on this charming little story from the Daily Mail. I know, I know. I shouldn't have. Anyway...

Dawn French is a bad girl according to a "nutritionist", Mary Strugar, who has spotted a way of raising her profile by shitting on someone famous.

You see French has not shown the necessary shame and self loathing that is required of someone who deviates too far from the socially proscribed weight. French has even had the temerity to say that we should not judge people by how they look and that she is very happy with her size. Horror!

The Mail reports "her stance has now incurred the wrath of a Harley Street nutritionist for "encouraging people to accept their obesity".

"Dawn French is one our most loved comediennes but she has also, perhaps unwittingly become a role model for the overweight and obese. Her constant ‘big is beautiful’ statements, arguably are sending the wrong signals and are perhaps encouraging people to accept their obesity and ignore the health implications of being overweight."

"I only wish she could use her profile to raise awareness of how to go about the process of change as well as giving clear information about the serious health risks associated with obesity, such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease".
Excuse me but who's body is it? I'm not aware of any law obliging French, or any other person in the public eye, to issue mea culpas any time they do not conform to an optimum healthy lifestyle. Feeling good about yourself is neither a crime nor is it to be frowned upon. Unless French is employed as a health professional I see no reason for her to issue health advice, nor does she appear to be someone from whom many people might take such advice.

Anyway, to encourage people to feel bad about themselves is a pretty bad signal in itself - no? Is it really better to take a pot shot at fatty for daring to show herself in public without a sandwich board declaring herself "UNCLEAN".

I think it's fascinating that someone can be offended by the idea that some people think ‘big is beautiful’. It looks like an emotionally stunted position to me when you cannot tolerate other people's right to be themselves without shame.

Poo power

You know when you're making it when you inspire a spoof. Well, I've had this link pointed out to me from the spoof news website, um, The Spoof.

Following the main hook on the use of human poo as an energy source (why not?) I rather liked this bit;

"Their announcement was accompanied by other ideas, most of which involve hanging motorists and questions about where to buy a Mars Bar at 4am'"
Nicely done.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Springer singer harrassed by Christian Right

Just a quick one I'm afraid but I just saw this in the Independent about Wills Morgan the opera singer who played Jesus in Jerry Springer the Opera (my 2005 review).

It seems he's had a nervous breakdown and ended up living on the streets partly due to the nightly confrontations with the Christian Right who neither understood the play nor had any inclination towards tolerating those they despised in society.

Mr Morgan, who is himself a committed Christian, felt compelled to confront the protestors which became an exhausting nightly process.

“As a man of faith I had to challenge them because they were claiming an ownership of God that was inappropriate,” he said. “The fundamentalists just couldn't understand that members of the cast were also active members of churches.”

What upset him the most, he said was that the protestors had seemed to miss the opera’s real message. “Most of the protestors never bothered coming to see the production and had decided from the word go that it was somehow blasphemous,” he said. “Yet whenever people asked me what Jerry Springer: The Opera was about I said it was very simple. It is an opera about how awful television could be, not an assault on faith.”

Ultimately it's a good news story as Morgan is back on his feet and back in work. As he says “I guess my story shows how anyone, from any walk of life, can end up homeless – particularly during the recession which has forced so many people out of work,” he said. “But the flip side is that there is help out there if you’re willing to ask for it.”

I'm glad Morgan is back on track and working again. His story shows that whilst the unkindness of strangers can hit you hard if they catch you at the wrong time it also says that that as human beings we can be good to each other and when we are it can make a difference.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bolivia: victory for Morales

Good news. I see Evo Morales, the first democratically elected indigenous President of Bolivia, has been re-elected for his second term. The vote was around 61% far outstripping his right-wing, racist rivals - at least one of whom is awaiting trial for political murders.

As leader of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) he's seen some extra-ordinary opposition to his plans for addressing social inequality in Bolivia including shocking plans like actually taxing foreign companies that mine gas and other resources (gasp), or building schools and clinics in rural areas (shock).

Morales came to power on the back of a vast protest movement that had overthrown President after President in Bolivia. In that election, in 2005, he received 53% of the vote and, if I remember correctly, this was the first time a Presidential candidate had ever received more than half the vote in the first round of the elections, meaning there was no need for a run off between the top two candidates. To increase that historic lead makes this even more impressive.

Once again the indigenous dominated West of the country voted for Morales with La Paz peaking at 73% and in the richer East MAS was the second party. The senatorial elections held at the same time, which take place under a first past the post system, saw MAS win just under 70% of the seats.

It's not surprising Evo won when schemes like the Juanito Pinto, a bit like the first form of child benefit Bolivia has ever seen and the MAS government's hard line stance on purging the police of corrupt officers the government has been extremely popular with the many, despite the fact that these reforms have all been conducted against the extreme hostility on the part of the rich, white land owning elites.

Years of enrolling indigenous people onto the electoral register saw the total numbers eligible to vote rise from 3.6 million in 2005 to 5.1 million today. Today is a real victory for the Bolivian people. Hurray!

Update: My piece in the Morning Star on same topic - more detail.


Hope you're having a good week. Let's take a very quick peek at some bits and bobs just gone by.


Diary Dates;
Continuing my theme of musical mix matches we have these people dancing the Charleston... to Daft Punk;

Only topped by Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger sung a cappella!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Wave: tens of thousands against climate change

I think it was the largest anti-climate change demo I've ever been on today. It was extremely jolly and noisy, with plenty of people with faces painted, in silly costumes and oh so many musical instruments.

Despite wearing my usual sensible gear (warm dark hat and warm dark coat) I didn't begrudge the carnival atmosphere for a change.

I met up with lots of pals, had some excellent Japanese food in the middle (to stave off the cold, of course) and filmed yet more video footage which I'm attempting to edit.

I see Stuart was taking pics, Liam reports, and I'm eagerly awaiting the other blog updates from my regular reading list of thousands; Camden Green Party has posted a picture of me, as has Green Ladywell. Crafty Green Poet gives some numbers. Indymedia has created a feature.

Random Blowe, Save Vestas, Third Estate. Brussels demo. Adrian Windisch also has a pic of me, as does the Green Party itself. Plus Joseph, Ruscombe Green, Matt Selwood, Wilson.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Well I beg to differ Mr Davis

I see Dave Davis former Tory front-bencher and ex-SAS hard man has made a scathing attack on the greens. You see, because he hasn't read the Stern Report he thinks taking measures against climate change is going to 'cripple' the economy rather than save our collective asses.

He "warned of a public backlash if more unpopular "green" measures were imposed". Which measures would these be? Well, David explains he means the "hair shirt policies on the public – taxes on holiday flights, or covering our beautiful countryside with wind turbines that look like props from War of the Worlds".

So basically he means that people are sick of policies that have not actually been imposed. Aviation fuel is still ludicrously exempt from excise duty, so driving to the countryside for a weekend break in the UK is still taxed more heavily than flying to Spain.

Also, I don't know which country's countryside he's referring to but it can't possibly be the UK because precious little of it is "covered" in wind turbines. He makes it sound like you can't turn round for seeing them. If only.

Anyway, he's missed the basic point that investment in green jobs, with a program rolling out loft insulation, renewable energy technologies and energy saving measures isn't a hair shirt measure if you're one of the growing numbers of people on the dole and in need of a wage - or for that matter if you're on the recieving end of having your drafty old house refitted.

He may also like to address how measures to hold off the effects of peak oil are anything but attempts to prevent the impoverishment of billions of people. He might think steering us towards oil bankruptcy is a good idea, but most us see that the effects of this will be rather unpleasant for everyone.

Perhaps he comes closer to stating his real objections when he says "Many of the people signed up to the green movement instinctively believe in statist, regulatory, dirigiste regimes."

I think he might mean the (whisper it) Green New Deal. Well, he could be right. We are a bunch of communists really. First they came for your cheap holiday flights and the next thing you know they've nationised the nation's pets.

Anyway, I'll hold my hands up, I don't think the market will magically solve climate change if left to its own devices. I also think we need meaningful international action at a government level - Mr Davis clearly does not.

His last substantive point is that "We often worry, properly, about the potential effects of global warming on the poorer parts of the world. We should also worry that cutting the world's growth will condemn millions of people to continuing poverty in the decades to come."

Mr Davis, please, read the Stern Report. He's not a woolly liberal. You'd like him. He also sees very clearly that climate change is going to cost the economy a lot of money if we don't address it. That's right - it's hard to shop if you're three foot under water.

He's like the man who doesn't want to fix his leaky roof because it's not raining. It'll cost money and effort to fix that roof... but only a fraction of the time, effort and misery that you'll have to put in after the first bout of heavy rainfall.

Of course, he's not speaking for the Tory Party itself, Cameron's shirt-sleaved luvvies are all very eco-PR-friendly, but I bet he's taken note of the recent events in Australia. He wont be putting his bid for Tory leadership in again any time soon, but he's a useful reminder that even Tories who can be quite good on some issues, like civil liberties, can still be irresponsible bastards at heart.

more Tory sceptics come out of the woodwork in The Independent.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Copenhagen pointless?

Wednesday's edition of the Morning Star has an incredibly pessimistic article by me on the international climate talks in Copenhagen.

The gist of my thesis is; they are unlikely to broker a deal that is anywhere near enough; any commitments they do make they will break; we're fucked.

On Saturday there is a national demonstration (plus lots of feeder events) for action on climate change. Details here. Might be worth a try.