26 May 2012

Stuff the Jubilee - hold a Party for Progress

by Trevor Phillips

The ‘Queen’s Diamond Jubilee’ public holiday on 5th June invites celebration of the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth 2nd to the throne of the UK. The Queen seems nice enough and has done a good job by most accounts, so I hope she has a pleasant day. But with her accession she was also appointed as the UK’s unelected Head of State – an arrangement considered intolerable by millions of democratic people, including myself, so I shall not be celebrating. And yet by voicing this view I can expect to be considered ‘unpatriotic’ by millions of my fellow citizens – or ‘subjects’ as they might prefer.

It’s easy to see why. After months of telling us to be excited, the UK media is still pumping up all the faux wonder of aristocracy and pomp and the absurd idea that the haves and have-nots of Britain are one, sharing family - united and headed by the monarch.

A week ago the Queen had her own Jubilee party to celebrate the wonders of hereditary rule. Guest included the unelected despots ruling Bahrain, Swaziland and Saudi Arabia. Personally, if we are known by the company we keep, I would have chosen differently. We paid the bill, of course. Now we are all supposed to hold Jubilee street parties, wearing Marks and Spencer frocks. Norfolk County Council, says its gushing Jubilee souvenir magazine, will pay £30,000 for the cakes.

If you don’t fancy any of this, there is an alternative. UK Uncut, http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/ the anti-cuts direct action group known for targeting tax dodgers, will hold street parties in the run up to the Jubilee, which will ‘resist the cuts and celebrate a future that is decided by us, not a handful of billionaires'. It will call for a ‘future uncut’ and protest against the government’s austerity agenda and the closure of local public services.

What a great idea! You could hold your own Great British Street Party celebrating the real Best of Britain - not the capacity to inherit wealth and power, to colonise peoples and reign over them, but our wonderful qualities and achievements: the post-war (WW2) creation of the NHS and the welfare state; our public services and support for the vulnerable. Will Norfolk County Council provide the cakes?

Events in East Anglia could adopt a local flavour, enabling kids and families to enjoy street party fun without jingoism and deference. We could theme the events around heroes such as Robert Kett, Thomas Paine, Elizabeth Fry, Wilf Page or Edith Cavell. How about a ‘Street Party for Progress’ where the songs celebrate shared humanity, compassion and the gains won by such champions of social progress? Instead of 'long to reign over us' and 'Rule Britannia’ we could sing of community and resistance. Try Leon Rosselson’s ‘The World Turned upside Down’.

You choose. It’s an opportunity for ordinary people to claw back cultural space from the minority who control the media and shape public consciousness. We can have fun – with dignity - and resist their onslaught on our lives.

The Egg-and-Spoon Race could take on a new form: the egg as the fragile welfare state and NHS carried on a spoon of democracy and public support. As care for the egg is more important than winning any race for profits, instead of a sprint neighbours could carefully pass decorated chocolate eggs to each other across fences and hedges.

Pass-the-Parcel might involve a list of corporate tax dodges and off-shore bank addresses enclosed in a blue box (wrapped in yellow paper) adorned with slogans such as 'Big Society' 'No Alternative', 'The NHS is safe in our hands'. Whoever finally strips it to reveal the true contents is declared ‘Daily Mail Traitor of the Month’, and wins a prize.

Musical Chairs could represent hospital beds, youth services, disability benefits or spaces in a depleted Citizens Advice Bureau. In this revised game, when the music stops, participants refuse to scramble for fewer chairs and instead collectively grab back the stolen chair and punish its snatcher. What fun! Ginger beer, anyone?

Why should national anniversaries be the property and gift of the Establishment, used to reinforce the Conservative world view that the status quo is preferable to change and progress? Where deference to power is disguised as patriotism, defined as loyalty to a figurehead or space.
Why not patriotism to a nation’s great institutions like free Legal Aid or an unprivatised NHS?

In 1982, at a ‘Stuff the Jubilee’ party in a Norfolk garden, I enjoyed the company of people sharing my values who wanted to escape the cynically managed hypnosis of media events, and the obsequious attitudes of royalists and forelock-touchers. In the sweltering heat, we mimicked our cultural rivals with a game of croquet on the lawn. I took my shoes and socks off. A doctor sitting nearby asked about the mole on my foot and insisted I saw my GP promptly. Within days I was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital undergoing removal of a malignant melanoma which might have killed me.

Amongst cancer patients, waiting for skin grafts to cover my biopsied foot, I had pondered on possible death and how magnificent was the NHS and all the public services established after World War Two in the teeth of a bankrupted economy. Establishment figures now tell us such basic rights and services are no longer affordable. They wish to take us backwards to an age when only the wealthy would be protected. But to achieve this they must keep us in an infantile, deferential and passive condition, believing them to be naturally superior, accepting their right to rule, fearing change; worshiping images of continuity, stability and hierarchy; singing their songs until the unexamined words become our own, cowered by their accusations of disloyalty to 'our' culture and its symbols; fearful of being called 'unpatriotic'.

So stuff the Jubilee. I will choose my own themes to endorse, people to revere and occasions to commemorate: and I reject the ones chosen for me. I hope to find some UK- Uncut activity to join. Or a street party for the values of real community not deference - and drink to Kett, Paine, Fry, Page and Cavell. I often joke that my politics saved my life, so if you join in, don't forget to take your socks off.

Stuff the Jubilee badges from the Coalition of Resistance:

19 May 2012


Resilience is a word youwill have come across a lot if you have had any dealing with the Transition movement. Defined by my dictionary as being able to recover easily following a shock, it’s something which I think we could all agree is a positive characteristic for any person, ecosystem or economy to possess. But it’s one which as a society we seem to have largely left behind.

In the context of the European economy, let alone that of the world as a whole, Greece is a pretty insignificant player. How then is it that we have managed to build an economic system which is threatened to its core by one small country which has made aspectacular mess of its finances. Where is the resilience in that? Our banking systems are so closely connected and dominated by the giant global banks which everyone was told were the way forward, that when a problem appears in onecountry, it cascades all around the world.

It isn’t just the financial system though which lacks resilience. The pursuit of efficiency and maximisation of profit demands that you cut your supply chain to a minimum and operate on a just-in-time basis. So a few days on strike by oil tanker drivers for instances would bring the whole of the supermarket system to a standstill and leave us running short of food. While the loss of one key component supplier can bring an entire production line grinding to a halt.

I have written about tipping points before in this column (October 2011) and it was this lack ofresilience in the financial world which made it vulnerable to passing such apoint. Back then I was sure that the financial world had passed its tipping point and things would never be the same again – what has happened since makes that even clearer. I wasn’t so sure about society, but that looks to be the case for Greece and as the rest of Europe and the developed world faces up to a future of economic contraction, budgetary problems and an entire generationshut out of the workforce the chances people will just sit back and let ithappen to them shrink day by day. Thank goodness.

Our problem is that so far, our governments are not on the same page as many of us. They still cling to the hope that the growth machine can be restarted if only they throw even more money at the corporate sector. Cutting taxes to attract business to yourcountry is a pointless exercise which does not generate any more growth it justmoves it from one country to another. What is really needed is a much morerigorous approach to corporate taxation and a refusal by major nations to deal with companies avoiding tax by using tax havens and indeed to cutting relationswith nations which offer tax haven status to companies.

So let’s see Luxembourg thrown out of the EU unless it raises its corporate tax rate to a more sensiblelevel (BBC Panorama story). Let’s tackle the tax havens in our own back yard such as the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and London for that matter - see the Christian Aid work on tax havens. Their prosperity is being built on denying legitimate taxrevenues to other EU countries; and that means denying public services to thepeople of those countries. Tackling these places might mean we can no longerget our music and books so cheaply, but is it really fair that Amazon and Playamongst others can dodge paying corporate taxes on their substantial turnoverand profits while high street retailers go bust because they cannot compete?

We have two choices.Increase taxes on a corporate sector which is paying historically low levels ofcorporate tax; or carry on cutting public services. I know which I prefer.

12 May 2012

ONE WORLD NEWS: Climate Caravan - 17 May

‘The Climate Jobs Caravan’ is visiting over 20 towns and cities in Scotland, England and Wales in a tour organised by the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group.

The southern leg will start on the 12th May in Central London and then move onto the Transition initative, Grow Heathrow. The northern leg starts on the same day in Glasgow. Throughout the tour, there will be meetings, publicity stunts, cycle rides and the spread of information.. The message of the tour will be simple: the creation of climate jobs – in public transport, home insulation, and renewable energy – can help solve both the economic and climate crisis.

Climate change is not a distant future. Its effects are being felt today. Britain has just experienced its driest March in 59 years (as well as one of the wettest Aprils) threatening drought. But it’s not just Britain that is being hit by extreme weather. 2010 saw the warmest summer in 500 years in Eastern Europe, killing thousands and devastating crops. That same year, the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history occurred, killing 1,500 people. According to the Nature Climate Change Journal, extreme weather events have increased over the past decade and are very likely caused by human-induced global warming.

At the same time, austerity is ripping people’s lives apart. The UK currently has its highest levels of unemployment in a generation. According to government figures, 2.67 million people are currently unemployed in Britain. This figure understates the real number. In addition, 22.2% of 16-24 years are unemployed.

The Campaign Against Climate Trade Union Group (CACCTU) believes that these two crises do not have to be understood separately. Instead, we should unite the struggles emphasising the need not only to tackle the economic crisis and get people into jobs, but also put forward a positive programme to address rising CO2 emissions and reduce the prospect of catastrophic climate change.

In 2010, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group published the pamphlet ‘One Million Climate Jobs’. It outlines how when unemployment is at its highest in a generation and climate catastrophe is looming, what is required is a National Climate Service which could provide one million climate jobs, in particular in renewable energy, transport and housing.

At a time of rising unemployment and further cuts, the Climate Jobs Caravan could not come at a better time. Rather than asking for people to work for free doing workfare, we want to demand the government creates climate jobs that help reduce both emissions and unemployment.

The Climate Jobs Caravan, is in Norwich on Thursday 17 May, outside the Forum from 11am to 6pm. A TU backed project, it will screen films and provide materials describing how the government could create a million climate jobs to tackle the economic crisis and the climate crisis at the same time – for a fraction of the cost of bailing out the banks.

The caravan is organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change. The proposals are explained in the pamphlet ‘A Million Climate Jobs’ produced with the help of UCU, PCS, TSSA and CWU, available at the Caravan and from Campaign Against Climate Change. UCU also helped to produce a 7 minute film entitled 'Community approaches to the Green Deal' minutes long.

Also on 17 May, there is a public meeting A Million Climate Jobs Now’ at The Curve (in The Forum) at 7pm

Meet the 1%

Meanwhile in London today (12 May) Occupy London has organised a tour of the "1%" who have caused the financial crisis and to continue to exercise the right of citizens to peacefully assemble in public spaces and develop the democratic processes to address the problems we face.

The event starts at 1pm at St Paul’s Cathedral, with a teach-out organised by the Tent City University, before a visit to those who:

  • Gambled with our pensions and savings,
  • Created financial nonsense to make money out of thin air,
  • Brought the global economy to the brink of ruin and forced ordinary people to pay for their mess,
  • Paid hundreds of thousands to wine and dine with our ‘elected’ representatives,
  • Have taken more than £1tn in bailouts from the taxpayer and continue to pay themselves exorbitant bonuses,
  • evaded billions in taxes,
  • Determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce, and
  • Are benefiting by the crisis by grabbing fat privatisation contracts of our public services
For a map of the tour see here

Images from Connect the Dots a global event on May 5 organised by 350.0rg to emphasize the connection between extreme weather and climate change.

6 May 2012

Was Governance Corrupt?

by Peter Lanyon

When the UK government in 2008 produced its white paper strategy that new nuclear power stations are needed tosupply our long term electricity needs, it stated we had to have new nuclearbecause there was no other way of keeping the lights on, and that it was perfectly safe, because of this and that.

Many readers will laugh bitterly, knowing that there is nojustification anyway for keeping so many lights on, and that Fukushima has shown once again that no nuclear plant is really safe. But one shouldn’t expecta growth-addicted government to be interested in such arguments. Better perhapsto get under government’s skin, and to raise its hackles, by showing that the previous government (whom it loves to blame) was intentionally falsely informed when it made its decisions about new build. The new nuclear programme is in such disarray that maybe, if we show them how they have been led astray by their Labour predecessors, they will dump the shambles and belatedly embark on something more sensible.

In January this year at a meeting at the House of Commons, attended by a number of MPs, Unlock Democracy and the Associationfor the Conservation of Energy presented a paper “A Corruption of Governance?” (CoG). This asked twelve questions, each of which challenged the integrity of the government’s information on the need for new nuclear build. The CoG paper had to go back to the previousgovernment’s decisions, because that was where the wrong information did itsdamage, but it invited the present government to look carefully at all the twelve questions raised, since the answers could utterly wreck the present energy policies.

This must have bothered the government a lot, because recently the Secretary and Under-secretary of Statefor Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey and Lord Marland, wrote long letters back to a correspondent in Suffolk who had asked them to look into the questions. The letters were identical, so they had clearly been written for the Ministers by an official in their Department (DECC). The letter attempted to refute the questions, in order to restore the integrity of the energy policies,yet it contained four untrue statements

I won’t describe all four ways the writer strained validity in order to try to deflect the questions. One of them pretended CoG had mistakenly concentrated on targets for 2025 and not for 2050, whereas CoG analysed in detail the 2050 situation and spent 5 pages on the current government’s 2050 electricity needs and CO2 targets, to demonstrate that the government’s own evidence shows that we do not need new nuclear to keep the lights on. Later in thesame paragraph the official mendaciously typed for the Ministers’ signatures:“Theunderlying evidence shows that nuclear will be needed to achieve theselegally binding targets …”, whereas CoG in the 5 pages mentioned above showedexactly the opposite.

What had the wretched official been ordered to do? The letter began with “the government firmly rejects[CoG’s] assertions and conclusions”, so she or he must have fully read CoG and known what was in it. One can only suppose that the order was to try to disappear data for the government policies that are becoming embarrassing.Ministers rely upon officials to get things right; they can’t check every level of detail in the letters they sign, but this has now gone out as their word on the matter.

That’s just the start of it. InDECC Review 4, published last month, their Director of Strategy, Raji Gurumurthy, makes four statements that contradict or alter the information on which the need for new nuclear was based, and on which MPs voted in 2008.

Since the original white paper there have been many authoritative statements from government backing its arguments that demand for electricity would double by 2050, and that new nuclear would likely be the least expensive form of low carbon electricity generation. CoG challenged both these statements. DECC Review 4, which came outin April, now blurs them, with “all of our main scenarios” suggesting increases in demand of “between a third and two thirds”. This inserts the notion that the increase may only be by a third, but does it slyly, and indeed CoG sees signs that the department’s own figures may be heading towards even less than that. The Review then states about expense: “noone can yet say for sure what the relative costs will be decades hence” – a flat denial of what has gone before.

In DECC Review 4, Mr Gurumurthy quotes the Markal Analysis, that “only” 107 GW of electricity will be needed by 2050. Yet the original figure put out by government, on which MPs voted, was a need for 113 GW by 2025, let alone by 2050! CoG questioned that figure, because the bulk of the electrification thegovernment planned would be after 2025.What is the Director of Strategy doing, shiftily lowering the target, without admitting it was wrong?

Corruption of Governance? asks was intentional false information in 2008 behind the decisions in theHouse of Commons on new nuclear - that is, was democracy deceived? What the latest stuff emanating from DECC seems to confirm is that they are still trying to cover this up.

Threats like this to democracyneed exposing. Please contact:
  • Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Joan WalleyMP (House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA or walleyj@parliament.uk)) asking her to gather Committee to investigate
  • Your own MP asking him/her to raise this inParliament
  • Energy Minister Greg Barker, asking him to look into this matter
Link to Corruption of Governance? here