28 January 2011

One World Column relaunched as a Blog for East Anglia’s progressives

A group of six East Anglian writers and campaigners this week launched this blog as an online magazine, forum and news network for the region’s progressive organisations.

The ‘One World Column’ blog was launched on Wednesday (26 January) at the EPIC media centre (East of England Production Innovation Centre) in Norwich. Over thirty invited guests attended from independent media, social enterprises, environment organisations, trades unions, charities and political campaigns.

The One World Column was for six years a regular weekly feature in the Eastern Daily Press, written by six volunteers and also published on its own website. It commented on local and national news from a global perspective - and on international development, poverty, globalisation, peacemaking, human rights, international relations and the environment. When the EDP terminated the column, the writers decided to produce a blog and develop a partnership with progressive organisations with similar interests.

Campaigning groups and charities will now provide guest writers and news. Several organisations have agreed to publish blog extracts in print, contribute guest blogs or to network the blog to their supporters, creating a wide audience.

One World Column blog will be:

- a focal point for news and comment on local events linked to global themes
- a link to progressive local NGOs and campaigns and their work
- a fresh voice from East Anglia, completely independent of corporate media interests
- a place where ideas and information are shared
- a forum for guest writers on 'one world' themes, especially young writers
- a medium with audio-visual and other new elements, too.

One of the One World Column team, Charlotte Du Cann, said: ‘In a time of increasing global dangers and national political challenges it is important to bring local progressives into supportive partnerships. We want to establish a relationship with other independent media, like-minded writers, progressive campaigns, NGOs, artists and others throughout the region - to develop the One World Column as an asset for us all - reaching members and supporters of our organisations plus the wider public. Organisations can write to oneworldcolumn@gmail.com to be part of this venture.’

The six writers: Charlotte Du Cann, Mark Crutchley, Marguerite Finn, Trevor Phillips, Rupert Read, David Seddon: http://oneworldcolumn.blogspot.com/p/who-we-are.html
Further information: Trevor Phillips:
trevor@tpcampaigns.fsnet.co.uk 07794 690322

27 January 2011

From alternative media to Alternative Vote…

By Rupert Read

I missed the major Norwich #Yes2AV organising meeting this week – because I was at the @OneWorldColumn party, which unfortunately was taking place at the same time…

To make up for missing the meeting, I am devoting my column this month to the reasons why I think it is so important, for democracy in this country, for the AV referendum, when it happens, to be won. This issue is very pertinent at the moment because, worryingly, the bill to provide for the referendum is still moving at only a snail’s pace through the Lords, due to ongoing and constitutionally-dubious delaying tactics by AV’s opponents. As the person who scooped the entire establishment media to bring the news to the nation of when the Coalition was scheduling the AV referendum for I have, naturally, been following this story more closely than many. I hope it will end happily. For our political system badly needs this referendum to be won.


Well, check out this poster. I think that this nicely sums up some of the central reasons for voting Yes in the referendum, and why it matters:

Now let’s consider some common arguments against AV, and see how well they stand up. People sometimes say, for instance, that AV maximises the votes of extremist candidates. This might well be technically true, in the sense that people are no longer discouraged from voting for the candidate of their choice, under AV, because AV eliminates the 'wasted vote' argument that is the bane of small parties under FPTP. However, relative to AV, it is FPTP that maximises the seats that are gained by extremist parties. This is demonstrable for example in relation to Council elections in this country: there are many seats that the BNP have won under the present system that they would without doubt have lost under AV: for the second and third and fourth preferences of voters voting for mainstream/non-fascist parties would in very many cases have transferred against the BNP. In seats where it is not obvious who to vote for in order to stop the BNP, FPTP is the system of choice for the BNP. Which may well partly explain why the BNP, somewhat understandably, is calling the AV referendum a conspiracy against the BNP...

People sometimes claim that it is wrong that under AV votes transfer at full strength. Should a 5th preference really count as much as a 1st or 2nd preference? The answer to this is that if you allow some second preference votes to count for more than others, than you reintroduce into voters' calculations, from the start, standard 'tactical voting' considerations - the very considerations that have increasingly deformed Britain's democracy as we have moved away from being a political duopoly. AV cuts through all that, and abolishes tactical voting in its classical form. AV means that one does not have to shy away from voting for the candidate(s) who one supports, in simple order of descending preference.

Once one understands the reality of how the two systems work, then the choice between FPTP and AV is really a no-brainer: unless either one wishes for some unaccountable reason to keep mass tactical voting alive for the sake of it, or supports fascist parties such as the BNP….

But people say that AV won’t much change our political culture, because it wouldn’t much change our election results. But: this is to make the rash assumption that those who voted (say) LibDem at the recent General Election actually do have LibDem as their 1st preference, that those who voted Labour actually do have Labour as their 1st preference, etc. . In fact, this assumption is much worse than rash - it is manifestly false. It is falsified by the existence of large-scale tactical voting, under FPTP.

The big question about the effect of AV on election results is how the abolition of tactical-voting and of 'wasted vote' arguments (an abolition that AV very largely, thankfully, effects) and the drastic reduction in safe seats that it will simultaneously bring about will affect the first-preference votes of the LibDems and of smaller Parties. In some seats (notably, Labour-Conservative marginals), the LibDems are at present perceived not to have a chance; their first-preferences will go up under AV, in those seats. But this is unlikely to help them much at all in the short term - because, in such seats, they are in most cases far enough behind that they will still be eliminated before either the Conservatives or Labour. In many seats (including obviously most of the seats they actually hold), the LibDems currently benefit a great deal from tactical voting: in these seats, their first preferences will slump, under AV. It may well be that in some cases those first preferences (which will turn into 2nd or 3rd preferences, under AV) will slump so much that the LibDems will be eliminated before the 2 'main' Parties - or indeed before smaller Parties, whose first preferences will in many cases leap up, once tactical voting and 'wasted vote' arguments have been eliminated by AV.

This is a reason for believing that the LibDems may, ironically, suffer in 2015 from AV, rather than benefitting from it. So, if you are one of those people who is worried about voting for AV because you don’t want to do the LibDems a favour, then I would suggest to you that you need worry no longer…

In the longer term, a great advantage of AV is that it enables smaller Parties (which the LibDems may well be again, after the next General Election!) that are not thoroughly disliked by a majority to build up their votes. This is how the Green vote has grown in Australia, for instance, to the point where the Greens have won seats in the Upper House (elected by PR) through being able to build up their first-preference votes (through AV) in the Lower House. And the Aussie Greens have now won their first seat in the Lower House, through second-preference-transfers under AV…

Thus AV, unlike FPTP, makes it comparitively easy for democracies to outgrow ossified Party structures - such as arguably we have in Britain, today.

To sum up: Because it puts an end to tactical voting and the 'wasted vote' argument, AV changes the expressed first preferences of voters. For example, the rise of the Greens in Australia has been predicated on growing numbers of Aussies voting Green even if and where the Greens have little chance of winning; voters can affords to do this, because their second preferences etc will still count.

If the AV referendum goes through, expect substantial changes to British politics - including an accelerated rise for the Green Party. It is interesting to reflect on what might have happened in Norwich South in the 2010 General Election, had the Election been run under AV. The LibDems narrowly won, as a result of mass tactical voting for them, to get rid of Charles Clarke. Under AV, as the election may well be in 2015, would they still have won? Or might we have seen a Green MP, in Norwich?...

It will be good for democracy for small non-extremist Parties which are hurt by FPTP to grow, as AV facilitates. It will be good to end the nonsense of mass tactical voting. It will be good to create a momentum of successful political reform, which could lead on from AV to democratisation (at last) of the House of Lords, to…

And it will be good to give one in the eye to the BNP, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and the other awful people who are ‘leading’ the #No2AV campaign…

For all these reasons and more, when the time comes, I’m voting Yes. I hope you will, too…

22 January 2011

Looking on South Africa

By David Seddon

I spent the first two weeks of January 2011 with my daughter, visiting Cape Town, where my second son is currently working and living with his South African girlfriend. The trip was memorable for many reasons. For example, while Norfolk and the rest of the UK froze, Cape Town experienced its hottest period of the summer, with temperatures hovering for several days between 35 and 40 C. On the day I arrived, we spent the afternoon in the sweltering sun, at Newlands, watching Tendulkar bat against Steyn – the world’s best batsman against the world’s best bowler – in the India-South Africa test match series, against the backdrop of Table Mountain and a sharp blue sky.

But the visit was also memorable for less hedonistic reasons. This was the first time in 15 years since I had last been in Cape Town, and the first time in more than 45 years since I lived there, as a young man, teaching African prehistory at the University of Cape Town and experiencing apartheid at its height. I recall, all too well, how, on the first day I arrived, in September 1964, the students at UCT were demonstrating against the introduction of 90-day detention-without-trial for suspected ‘terrorist’ activities, and also how, on the last day of my two-year period of living and working in South Africa, as I flew out of Johannesburg, Hendrik Vervoerd, the Prime Minister - often called the “Architect of Apartheid” for his role in shaping the implementation of apartheid policy when he was Minister of Native Affairs - was assassinated.

As I visited and re-visited, for example, the District 6 Museum - which recorded the brutal ‘clearance’ and effective destruction of a once vibrant local Cape community - Robben Island - where Nelson Mandela and so many opposition political activists had been confined for so many years - and some of the townships in the Cape Flats - where many square miles of shanty dwellings grew up under apartheid - I was struck first by how much had changed, since those days of White supremacy, when I lived in South Africa, in the relatively short time since Mandela was freed from jail (in February 1990, after 27 years in prison, mainly on Robben Island) and the African National Congress became the ruling party (in 1994).

Wherever we went, I was struck by the inter-mingling of South Africans of different colours, ethnic and linguistic groups, by a sense of vibrancy and activity, and by constant reference to ‘post-apartheid South Africa’. There is an emerging Black middle class and the once ‘White-only’ universities are now multi-coloured. Transport is de-segregated; shops and super-markets cater to different tastes and cultural traditions. The test match at Newlands, in a former ‘White southern suburb’, attracted people of all kinds, and the football match I struggled to get into, in the former World Cup stadium, was a heaving mass of fans of all descriptions. Those who have seen the film Invictus, with Morgan Freeman as President Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team that won the 1995 World Cup, will recognise the uplifting experience of this new diverse nation united in a great sporting success – particularly those who also remember the sanctions previously applied – in the UK and elsewhere - against South African rugby under apartheid.

And yet, much remains to be achieved. Many are disappointed with the limited achievements of the ANC government and its presidents - first Nelson Mandela and then Thabo Mbeki, and now Jacob Zuma) – despite their iconic status as leaders of the liberation movement; and there is growing opposition, both formal (the main challenger to the ANC's rule is the Democratic Alliance - led by Helen Zille, a feisty woman of German parentage - which received 15% in the 2006 election and 17% of the vote in the 2009 election) and informal. The majority of the population, mainly Black, but significantly in the Cape also ‘coloured’, remains disadvantaged and deprived, with low incomes, poor housing and living conditions, limited access to health and education, and high levels of unemployment. There is a widespread problem of violence, domestic, intra- and inter-community, particularly in the townships.

But South Africa is a dynamic, rapidly changing place, in which – although there is poverty and deprivation – there is also great hope and optimism. It is, and will be, a major influence on the other countries of southern Africa and a symbol of transformation for Africa and the developing world as a whole. Let us hope that the hope and optimism is fulfilled, for we shall all benefit, directly or indirectly, from the fulfilment of the dream of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, the first president of the ‘new’ South Africa, of a democratic state, a harmonious, multi-racial society, and a sustainable developing economy, providing a good life and well-being for all its citizens.

Photo: Morgan Freeman as President Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks rugby team in the film Invictus

16 January 2011

Land of Milk and Honey?

By Charlotte Du Cann

This winter like thousands of other people in Britain I came down with flu. I’ve spent days shivering and coughing and feeling creaky and low. I walk about slowly and feel cut off from life all around me. Last year there was a big panic about this “bug” and it grabbed headlines everywhere. It was called swine flu because it originated amongst pigs in North America.

This year something else about the global immune system went viral: the fate of the world’s honeybees. Since 2003 crops sprayed with systemic pesticides have been wreaking havoc among bee populations, some commercial apiaries losing up to 70% of their hives. In spite of widespread evidence and scientific proof that have led several countries in Europe to ban them, England and America still use these toxins (known as neo-nicotinoids). This weekend the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) is being challenged by its members to withdraw its support for the companies who make them. Without consultation, the BBKA board had endorsed the products of four pharmaceutical companies (including BayerCropScience), allowing them to be labelled “bee friendly”. They received £17, 500 p.a. for their compliance.

In the documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, a female worker bee forages for pollen on a sunflower in the diligent way she has done for millions of years. Trying to wash the toxic chemicals from her body, she loses her way along the natural spiral of the giant flower and falls. The narrator remains silent. Because in that moment none of us require rational explanation for what we can see so clearly. The pesticides attack the immune system of the brood and make the hive vulnerable to disease and parasites. The bees, one of the most highly tuned, social creatures of the planet, lose their sense of direction and cannot find their way home.

At what point do we wake up about our fate? At what point do we realise that what happens to pigs in a factory farm will happen to ourselves? When we put cows to work on a 24-hour schedule, shoot their calves at birth and never allow them to eat grass in meadows that it will affect the milk we give to our children? At what point do we wake up to the fact that the pharmaceutical companies with their billion dollar turnovers have no care for any creature, including ourselves (indeed are eager to make profit from our deteriorating immune systems). And at what point does something within us fight back?

At the London Bee Summit in December there was a moment when everything shifted.There were 13 organisations that came to speak – beekeepers, scientists, teachers, wildlife campaigners, organic gardeners and England's first community supported apiculture, Bungay Community Bees. As Lord Henley and Tim Lovett from the BBKA boasted how Britain was the most advanced in its modern methods of beekeeping, there was a great murmuring among the audience. There was a defiant mood in the room and barbed questions from the floor. We weren’t pesky individuals who were angry with the System, we were people who loved bees and flowers finding ourselves in convergence - rising up in defence of our greatest and most ancient ally on earth (90% of our crop species are pollinated by honeybees). “The bees give, give, give and we take, take, take,” said Heidi Hermann of the Natural Beekeeping Trust. “Don’t imagine science will save us, it’s our lifestyle that has to change”. Everyone stood and cheered.

In his book The Empathic Civilisation, Jeremy Rifkind suggests we are shifting our consciousness from its earlier forms (theological, ideological, psychological) towards what he calls the dramaturgical and the bio-spheric. These are ways human beings evolve their relationship with the world. The first is to do with action and the second to connecting with all lifeforms on earth.

It’s hard to connect with climate change, to see how our carbon-intensive lifestyle results in the floods of Brisbane. It’s hard to connect this cappuccino on the cafĂ© table with the milking sheds of the proposed Nocton superdairy, or the cod and chips in your hand with the thousands of dead fish being thrown back into the sea each day. But that is what is being required of us. An act of imagination, a reconnection with our fellow creatures, an awareness that every fierce, affectionate act we do in defence of our home counts. And it’s an ensemble act when we do.

Since the summit there has been a convergence of campaigns demanding the banning of the noxious neo-nicotinoids from the Co-op’s Plan Bee to Buglife's draft letter to MPs. Avaaz has collated 800,000 signatures within the space of a week. These might seem insignificant moves. But they aren’t. Because we are not just putting our names down, we're making contact with one of the greatest organisational forces on the planet. We’re tuning into the natural harmony of the earth, and deliberately breaking from the discord of an artificial, controlling power. A mindset that says nothing is valuable except the payroll of a tiny minority of dark-suited men. A mindset that rides like a varroa mite on the back of a honeybee.

Sometimes you get sick for a reason. Sometimes a whole nation has to get sick for a reason. You haven’t paid attention to something that needs changing. It’s the way your body tells you that things are out of balance and you have lost your way. And you’re going to need a medicine that no pharmaceutical company could ever manufacture.

Because it’s a sweet medicine - one that comes straight from the heart.

Further reading: Open letter to the BBKA by Barefoot Beekeeper, Phil Chandler,
Michael McCarthy's articles in The Independent, Have We Learned Nothing Since Silent Spring? and British Beekeepers Fume. . .
Nick Mole's speech at the London Bee Summit. Pesticide Action Network (PAN UK) http://www.pan-uk.org/
Charlotte Du Cann is a member of Bungay Community Bees.

Photo: Bungay Community Bees by Mike Southern; sunflower and marigold seeds by Mark Watson.

9 January 2011

Plenty More Fish in the Sea

By Mark Crutchley

What was once a byword for plenty is beginning to look like a rather hollow saying thanks to the destructive power of the fishing industry. With modern radar and spotter planes to locate the fish; artificial islands to lure them into certain locations and nets and lines which empty the seas over great areas, we are not so much harvesting the world’s fish resources as waging a war against fish from which they may never recover. Some research has suggested that unless we change our policies then by the middle of this century far from there being plenty more fish in the sea, there may actually be none at all.

In the Northern seas, which have been intensively fished for the longest time, there is a clear trend away from catches being made up of larger, higher level fish, towards smaller, lower level ones. We have fished out the stocks of large fish such as cod in many areas and are now left catching what was once their prey. The extent of the decline is difficult to assess because there are no records of what fish stocks were before we began to harvest them. But studies on the Newfoundland cod fishery have indicated that by the time it was suspended in 1992, stocks had fallen to just one third of one percent of their original size.

As we move down the food chain we run the risk of destroying stocks of these fish too and leaving ourselves with nothing left to catch. When a fish stock collapses, it can do so with remarkable rapidity. In 1966 over 1.2 million tonnes of herring were being caught in the North Sea, but less than a decade later this had fallen to just 200,000 tonnes.

One of the most appalling wastes in the industry is the killing of sharks for their fins to make sharks fin soup. Just the fin is taken from the shark, which is then thrown back into the sea to die. Sharks have been the top predator in the oceans for over 400 million years but in the blink of an eye humans are in danger of wiping them out, with some populations having been reduced by over 99%. Globally up to 100 million sharks are being killed every year and many species are rapidly approaching critical levels. If we don’t take action now to stop the slaughter then extinction looms for many species. As a start, if we all boycotted any restaurant we see selling shark fin soup, and let them know that we were doing it and why, then perhaps we could begin to make it as unacceptable to sell this as it would be if we saw somewhere selling tiger steaks – it’s really no different. Supporting the work of the Shark Trust (http://www.sharktrust.org/) is another way to help tackle the problem.

We need to start bringing pressure to bear on those who can do something about this widespread destruction. The EU Common Fisheries Policy is in desperate need of reform so it favours the fish, rather than those out to catch them. The scientific evidence of decline has been evident for years yet still quotas are set well in excess of levels which will allow stocks to recover, or even just stabilise. We need to target the manufacturers of fish products and retailers too, to force them to raise their standards and use only sustainably caught fish.

If we want our children to have the chance to eat fish in the future, then we have to stand up and do something about this now, before it’s too late.

I wouldn’t normally want to use this column to publicise a television programme, but next week there is a series of three programmes on Channel 4 called the Big Fish Fight where well known chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall investigate the devastating effects of the fishing industry on marine life. The programmes are on at 9pm on the 11th, 12th and 13th and promise to be well worth watching.

4 January 2011

Happy New Year Mr Assange

By Trevor Phillips

It’s always nice to have prestigious visitors in the neighbourhood, so a belated welcome to Mr Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been resident in East Anglia for some days as a guest of Mr Vaughan Smith at Ellingham Hall near Bungay.

Mr Assange, of course, is the founder of WikiLeaks - which has provided five of the world’s most prestigious newspapers with extracts from US intelligence reports communicated via supposedly secret embassy cables.

The Swedish courts would like to interview Mr Assange about allegations regarding his sexual conduct. The US government wishes to entertain him for sharing with the world information which is so secret that reportedly only 3 million US citizens have clearance to read it. The US, according to Mr Assange, is hoping and probably plotting to use the first of the above to achieve the second.

The Guardian newspaper’s exclusive report of sexual accusations against Assange seem to dispel the notion that they are worthy of a credible rape charge - a matter which would rightly attract serious legal action. Certainly, some of the world’s most respected human rights lawyers and campaigners – including women unlikely to compromise on such an issue - have not found anything in the allegations to dampen their support for Assange. And the BBC ‘Today’ programme’s smutty questions to Assange about his number of sexual partners only elicited an impression of dignity which had escaped his interviewer.

Supporters of Assange share his fear that if he is extradited to Sweden it will be because that country’s government has done a dirty deal with the US to arrange his transfer to the US to face the music for the WikiLeaks role in the publication of the embassy cables. Assange fears extrajudicial execution.

It is true that one US presidential candidate has called for whoever leaked the files to be executed. And the farcical would-be candidate Sarah Palin – surely a bigger embarrassment to the US than the leaked cables – wants Assange tried for “the blood on his hands”. Presumably this is not the blood of the thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan civilians revealed in the embassy cables to have resulted from US military action – or the blood of countless torture victims to which the US clearly turns a convenient blind eye. Or the victims of the secret US military operations in Yemen and Pakistan.

Should UK citizens be condemning Assange for revelations about confidential UK matters? I think not. Firstly there was little of surprise: who anyway thought Prince Andrew was fit for serious diplomatic responsibility? And it is no shock that Foreign Secretary William Hague promised the US that major UK arms contracts would go to US producers (though so much for the value-securing, competitive tendering procedures of these austere times). More shocking to some may be the way in which UK civil servants – whose identity the grateful US spooks were keen to protect - rejected any suggestion that then PM Gordon Brown meant what he said about possibly not replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Perhaps this tells us something about the ‘special relationship’ between the two governments.

I don’t feel my liberties or the interests of my fellow UK citizens were damaged by the WikiLeaks revelations. In fact I feel we owe a debt of gratitude to such leakers. Let us hope they can be just as successful in revealing the misdoings of the corporate world: the banks, oil companies and speculators who show so little regard for the human consequences of their otherwise unaccountable actions. WikiLeaks has already given us a taster of some UK oil companies’ anti-democratic operations in Africa and promises more on the world of finance.

If there is really a ‘Cyber-War’ going on, as some say, between organisations such as WikiLeaks and the global forces which use secret diplomatic and commercial ‘intelligence’ to deceive and exploit humanity, wage war and rape our planet, then I hope the leakers continue to leak like a herd of incontinent elephants.

And next time you are in our backyard Mr Assange, or - as international boundaries or localities seem increasingly irrelevant - at least free of gagging restrictions, I hope you will be a Guest Contributor to the One World Column.

‘The world as seen from Bungay and Beccles’ suddenly sounds like a great headline!