Political Strategy

3 ways to win elections: a guide for the Green Party

Posted on May 20, 2012 by Nishma Doshi | No Comments

I’ll admit it: it’s hard to give up on party politics when some of the most talented youth of today are involved. That’s why it was sad news to hear the election losses by the Cathays Greens in Cardiff and Adam Ramsay in Oxford (by 50 votes!),

So I started thinking: With great campaigns and brilliant messaging, why were they unable to win? What do we need to ensure that the best candidates win seats?

As much as political analysts like to believe, people aren’t stupid. People switching between Labour/Tory doesn’t just reflect their discontent with these parties. Most people remember Labour failed them under Blair and Brown, and they’re not blind to Miliband’s inadequacies.

Labour gains of 30% are not a reaction – they are emblematic. Labour gains send a huge message to the Coalition; they state very clearly that if circumstances don’t change Labour will win the next general election. And with the Liberal Democrats nosediving towards a rather sticky end, we (the Greens) should have been able to steal some old yellow votes.

This is political situation the Greens need to break if they want win in local elections. Beyond just being a good local councillor, people need to believe that they send a message to the three major parties. There is a way to do this, but it will take the Green Party a lot of challenges and shake-ups if they want to achieve it.

1. Sell the Green Soul

What does being Green stand for? What is it in opposition to?

These are the questions we need to ask ourselves if we want to win elections. It’s very clear to us that we’re no longer a party of (only) hugging trees and tie-dye shirts. But it’s not clear to the public. Why? Simply because we’re not sure what we stand for either.

All successful parties are entrenched in a political vision – a myth of what/who they represent. For Labour, it is a workers utopia – the party of unions and the downtrodden of society – and despite their shift to liberalism, are still seen as the only party for the lower middle and working classes. For the Conservatives, that was wealth owners and those in their service – keeping “Englishness” and the ‘civilised’ class-based society that Britain long sought to sell to the world. For the Liberal Democrats, it is small businesses, students and humanism – the modern party fighting for modern issues.
This is where the Greens have failed to connect the public. We need to dispel the myth that the Greens are a niche party for hippies, environmentalists and peaceniks alike, and show that our environmental goals are deeply entrenched in economic and social reform. Instead of bobbling bar graphs and discussions about wind-farms, our marketing has to show our true policy colours – through stopping cuts, standing up for refugee and immigrants’ rights, improving well-being for everyone, challenging inequality, etc.

These policies are the soul of the Greens. We need to show that we care about everyone, and we’re not just a single issue party.

Take this video from an Australian TV program during the 2010 elections. Although not commissioned by the Greens themselves, it was possibly one of the best campaign videos I have seen. It encourages the viewer to emotionally connect with the Green Party. It visually expresses the true Green Party vision – a better world for everyone.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/O4jI1atQwp

2. Actions speak louder than words

People don’t vote fsolely based on who is most likely to be sensible in government. The recent results of the Mayoral Elections is a clear indication of that. Boris Johnson won his election through being a figure of fun – a stumbling confused buffoon. Whether he actually fits that character is, of course, open to debate – but the use of the British love of black humour was an excellent campaign tactic.

The Green Party wouldn’t use such manipulative tactics to win an election, thankfully. But there are other legitimate ways of becoming a crowd-pleasing party.

Firstly, the Greens need a real political strategy. When Mélenchon formed the Parti de Gauche his main tactic was to gain the support of the people that the Socialistes had left behind. Harnessing the lack of proper union negotiations and the interest in revolutionary activism by the French people, his party’s policies have already reflected those he claims to represent. It was the working classes, the youth and people of colour that Mélenchon has holding his banner. And he has done so through public discussion, activism and outreach – all of which the Greens have continually failed on.

To champion the left, we need to recognise that the Greens are not an off the spectrum party. We are not the Liberal Democrats, we are not a party that can chameleon-like swing from left to right opportunistically. We are a left-wing party and we do represent the people politics has forgotten.

Instead of focussing all our efforts on the middle classes, we need to start getting into negotiations with small unions, with university students, with people of colour, with the long-term unemployed, with the poorest in society. We need to shout out our claims for more equal pay and a higher minimum wage – organise demonstrations, speak in public forums, and, most importantly, take action.
Everyone believes that all politicians lie, so they need to know that the Greens will not let them down. And the only way we can show them that is by taking action. We need to campaign on increasing the minimum wage, on tenants’ rights over landlords, and on the right to a fair trial – through legal aid and financial support, especially for refugees.

3. Be Oppositional!

“I submit, therefore, that you do not have full political democracy, let alone the economic as well as political democracy for which my party stands, unless you include along with the ingredients that are taken for granted, such as universal suffrage, the secret ballot and majority rule, a full and unquestioned recognition of the rights and functions of the opposition to the government of the day. Only in this way can you protect the rights of minorities; only in this way can you make sure that the force of public opinion will be brought to bear on the legislative process, and we are indeed fortunate in Canada to have inherited from the United Kingdom a parliamentary system of government, the genius of which is the responsibility of the government to a parliament in which the rights of those who support the government and likewise the rights of those who oppose it are clearly recognized.”

– Stanley Knowles, “The Role of the Opposition in Parliament,” Address to the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, 21 March 1957.

The fact is, currently, there is no way that the Green Party is going to get voted into power by some miracle. Our strategy has to be to increase our vote and membership, not just to focus on winning elections. Gaining power is a path, not a leap of faith. And to do so, we need a new set of tactics.

As a minority party in a two-party system, we’re bound to remain in Opposition. So, why not use that to our advantage? We know that the two* major parties are gutless, due to their connections with corporate power and other media and interest groups. So, let the two* major parties to argue out their childish battle:

“Well it’s Labour’s fault that the treasury is empty…”

“But it’s the Tories fault that Murdoch has so much power!”

And in the meantime, we make a fuss about the real issues: jobs, investments, fair pay, open spaces, lower rents, tenants rights, etc. All the stuff the community actually cares about. And we don’t need the mainstream media to make it happen, we need to become organised and shout out about it! Social media, blogging, comments for newspapers – everyone wants someone to write for them – so we sell it to them by offering our views for free.

Ultimately: more noise = more members = more funding = more organisation and tactics = more noise = … all the way to = wins elections.

Our current system is not representative, but it does have an oppositional role. So why aren’t we exploiting it?

*The Lib Dems are now equivalent to the Tories, thanks to a certain Mr Clegg.

Economics

The crisis in the eurozone

Posted on May 19, 2012 by David Purdy | No Comments

The crisis is so complex, intractable and toxic that it’s hard to know where to start. This is not the place to discourse at length on the character, causes and consequences of the crisis or to assess alternative ideas for resolving it. I simply offer some general thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

The single currency: design flaws

As in all major crises, economic and political elements are inseparably intertwined. The 17-member eurozone has turned into a doomsday machine. There were inherent flaws in the design of the single currency which, unlike the US dollar, was supported neither by a federal state with substantial powers of taxation, spending and borrowing nor by a central bank empowered to act as lender of last resort to individual governments. And when EMU was formed, member states gave up the power to alter their exchange rates and set interest rates without making any provision for bailouts, defaults or exits. At the same time, the creation of the euro combined German ordoliberalism, which prescribes balanced budgets, monetary discipline and wage restraint, with the much looser fiscal arrangements of the Mediterranean states which, before they joined the single currency relied on periodic exchange rate depreciation as a safety valve to correct for internal wage and price inflation. The assumption was that southern Europe would eventually converge on the German model.

This did not happen. Instead trade and payments within the eurozone became steadily more unbalanced: Germany and its northern satellites ran persistent surpluses, while the Mediterranean states ran persistent deficits. To take the most egregious example: Greece’s trade deficit is currently equivalent to almost 10% of its GDP despite a four-year slump which has reduced GDP by around 20% below its pre-recession peak. One would normally expect a recession of this magnitude to eliminate a trade deficit by reducing the demand for imports. As it is, Greek businesses simply cannot compete in the single market and Greek trade is in fundamental disequilibrium. The country joined the single currency at around 340 drachmas to the euro. According to The Economist, if the drachma were restored, the exchange rate would settle at around 1,000 drachmas to the euro (leading, incidentally, to a drastic jump in drachma-denominated import prices that would further reduce people’s real incomes at a time when an unemployment rate of 20% effectively precludes any attempt by workers and unions to achieve compensatory increases in money wages).

A crisis of legitimacy and the rise of the nationalist right

Add to these structural flaws the consequences of a credit-fuelled boom in land, housing and commercial property – notably in Ireland and Spain, whose governments did not run excessive budget deficits, but which have nevertheless been overwhelmed by sovereign debt problems through trying to rescue the banks (and with them, it must be said, a large number of ordinary punters who joined in the speculative frenzy) – and you have a toxic brew of economic depression, broken banks and investor panic. At the same time, within the 27-member European Union, the financial and economic crisis has intensified a long-standing crisis of political legitimacy, which goes back at least twenty years. By and large, until the early 1990s, the process of European integration was underpinned by a “permissive consensus” which allowed political leaders to drive it forward without needing to make much effort to carry the public with them. If “Eurocrats” were somewhat remote and unaccountable, this was a defect that could be tolerated in exchange for the benefits that integration was believed to confer: the preservation of peace in a previously war-torn continent and the promotion of economic prosperity. Over the past 20 years, there has been a marked decline in public support for the EU, with adverse shifts in opinion polls, “shock” results in national referenda and falling turnout rates in elections to the European parliament.

Worse still, in one country after another, national elections have brought an upsurge in support for parties of the populist and xenophobic right whose litany of threats to the integrity of the “nation” now includes – alongside asylum-seekers, migrant workers, Islamic terrorists, international criminals, alien cultures and global corporations – Europe’s cosmopolitan political elite who, it has to be said, have failed lamentably to restore the faith of their citizens in European institutions and ideals. Things are not yet as bad as they became in the 1930s when mass unemployment brought the Nazis to power in Germany, fascism consolidated its hold in Italy, Franco’s rebellion plunged Spain into a bloody civil war and democracy was very nearly extinguished across the continent. But the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has certainly given a boost to the nationalist right and its violent, authoritarian fringe, from Marine Le Pen’s National Front to Greece’s “Golden Dawn” and from Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Anders Breivik in Norway. These are febrile and dangerous times.

It is also worth noting, as Iain MacWhirter points out in The Herald, 17th May 2012, that just as economic disaster has led most Greeks to oppose withdrawal from the eurozone, despite the hardships and indignities imposed on them, so as we approach Scotland’s referendum in 2014, Scots may well be reluctant to quit the Union: “beware of letting go of nurse for fear of getting something worse”. From this point of view, the resurgence of the right-wing nationalism across Europe is bad news for the civic nationalism of the SNP. The slogan “independence in Europe” now looks distinctly worn and threadbare.

Austerity fatigue

Throughout Europe, the general public is turning against fiscal austerity. This is most dramatically illustrated by the results of the “first round” of parliamentary elections in Greece, where parties opposed to the bailout terms imposed by the troika (European Commission, ECB and IMF) gained two thirds of the popular vote. Austerity fatigue, together with deep antipathy to Sarkozy, also underlies the victory of Hollande in the French presidential election. Likewise, recent regional elections in the German Länder reveal an upturn in the fortunes of the SPD, giving Angela Merkel, who is far more popular than her party, good reason to contemplate reviving the grand coalition and performing a U-turn on macroeconomic policy. She is, after all, a pragmatist: witness her rapid volte-face on nuclear power after Fukushima.

Voters have even turned against Britain’s Con-Lib coalition government, which for nearly two years since the general election of May 2010 has enjoyed a comfortable lead in the opinion polls and even now continues to outpoll Labour on economic competence. Of course, this counts for little on the European stage, from which the British government has become semi-detached, preferring to defend the interests of the City of London from the wings and to appease Tory Europhobes by hectoring the governments of the eurozone.

It seems clear that across Europe, the public has lost confidence in fiscal austerity: (a) because it is hurting, and (b) because it is not working. In most countries – Germany, Poland and the Nordic states are the chief exceptions – GDP is flat or falling; unemployment is high and rising; large firms are hoarding cash, but lack the confidence to invest in fixed capital; public finances remain in poor shape; commercial banks are still trying to repair their balance sheets by selling assets and restricting lending, despite massive injections of free or almost-free electronic money created by central banks; and in marked contrast to the 1930s, when primary product prices fell – ruining farmers but raising the real wages of workers lucky enough to hang on to their jobs – today the terms of trade have turned against Europe as prices of imported food, fuel and raw materials have soared thanks to continuing (though slowing) booms in China, India and Latin America.

The alternative to fiscal austerity

Nevertheless, there is still no clearly articulated and broadly supported alternative to fiscal austerity. There are signs of recognition among Europe’s political elite that they face a serious crisis of political legitimacy, but this has not yet gone much further than the rather trite observation that “austerity is not enough”: i.e. that policies aimed at reducing budget deficits and containing public debt need to be supplemented by “pro growth policies”, generally understood to mean (further) deregulating the labour market, weakening employment and social protection and lowering business taxes. Leaving aside ethical objections and the argument that more of the neo-liberal medicine we have been forced to swallow for the past thirty years will further damage both individual and social well-being, supply-side measures of this kind will make no difference to jobs and growth in the short-run.

In the short run, how much profit-seeking firms decide to produce and how much employment (i.e. total working hours) they offer depends on the revenue they expect to receive from selling the goods and services their workers produce. Firms will not produce more than they expect to sell profitably. Expected sales revenue in turn is governed by actual sales revenue over the current and recent past periods. Thus, across the economy as a whole, output and employment depend, in the short run, on the level of aggregate spending on marketed goods and services. It follows that, as often happens in economics, current conventional policy wisdom is incoherent.

The apparent contradiction between reducing the budget deficit and increasing public borrowing in order to boost public spending can be resolved if we distinguish between different time-scales. In the short-term, we need a strong fiscal stimulus to boost aggregate demand, while assuring the financial markets that in the medium term, once a sustained recovery is under way, the government will raise taxes or restrain public spending so as to bring down the budget deficit and, if necessary, reduce the ratio of public debt to GDP. Austerity, in short, is for the boom. To help win public credibility for such a programme, the fiscal stimulus should be targeted on public investment projects rather than current public spending, preferably slanted towards enhancing energy efficiency, saving energy and reducing carbon emissions. And since the problems we face are pan-European, it makes obvious sense for governments to co-ordinate their macro-economic policies, with those countries that have trade surpluses and/or strong credit ratings acting as locomotive for the rest. Once the immediate economic emergency is over, a long-term green investment programme would form the basis for a new fiscal regime designed to stabilise economic activity in much the way Keynes originally envisaged when plans were being laid during the Second World War for post-war employment policy. A distinction would be drawn between current public spending and public investment. Governments would pledge to balance their current budgets – on average, over the business cycle – while financing public investment by means of borrowing. To counter cyclical fluctuations, an ongoing loan-financed programme of green investment would be speeded up or slowed down, depending on what was happening to the private components of aggregate demand.

The current situation is bad, verging on catastrophic. But we should stay sober and spurn the politics of apocalypse. There is, I think, a chance that a green Keynesian programme along the lines I have sketched could form the basis for changing current conventional policy wisdom and setting in motion a process that would bring an end to the age of neo-liberalism, just as the crisis of the 1930s marked the end of laissez faire and the transition, after the war, to a mixed economy.

Education

Bring back national service!

Posted on May 18, 2012 by Gilbert Ramsay | 4 Comments

Having recently read Will Self’s light-hearted call for a return to the draft, I would like to suggest a modest proposal of my own for a new British levee en masse. It is clear that today’s broken Britain is failing young people in all sorts of ways. Many simply do not have the skills they need to survive and pull their weight in society, causing them to become a burden on hard working families and taxpayers.

What I suggest is this: after finishing school, these layabouts should be obliged (or at the very least strongly encouraged) to sign up for a three year tour of duty, whether in their home towns or, still better in another part of the country. Three years may sound excessive and impractical, but it is not by any means unheard of in other democratic countries. Israel, for example, demands a similar period of service.

Separated from their parents and housed for the most part in large, impersonal concrete structures, young people would be forced to learn crucial values of independence, self-respect and self-reliance.

Readers may worry that such a plan might threaten, rather than strengthen our national security. After all, the days of the massed infantry battle are now long behind us. Since the revolution in military affairs, it is accepted that we live in an age of information war in which victory goes to the side with most knowledge, rather than the side with most muscle power. Indeed, today, information assets crucial to a country’s economic strength are often considered a matter of national security: why else has America has talked about contemplating ‘kinetic operations’ against China in response to the hacking of its industrial knowledge?

Never fear. My suggestion is for a thoroughly modern type of draft. Rather than squarebashing and stripping rifles, I instead suggest that the nation’s youth be placed in institutions in which they would instead serve their country by acquiring knowledge.

Obviously present military resources would be inadequate to cope with this task. I therefore propose the creation of a strategic resource for the ongoing mobilization of youth to the defence of our national knowledge space. Indeed, am I going too far by suggesting that this ‘higher education sector’ (for want of a better term) could in time evolve a wider range of tactical capacities, such as horizon scanning exercises aimed at discovering new knowledge, and perhaps even conducting joint exercises with similar institutions overseas.

These proposals would, I realize, not be light on the public exchequer. However, given the present social problems caused by feckless, directionless youth, corrupted night and day by the lascivious siren calls of ‘hip-hop culture’, I humbly suggest that inaction may prove even more expensive.

Feminism

Rape culture, not Asian culture, is to blame for Rochdale

Posted on May 16, 2012 by Emma-Kate McAlpine | 3 Comments

Follow Emma-Kate McAlpine on Twitter and on Tumblr. She discusses this story in her third podcast with Lauren Cole, which you can play at the bottom of this page.

The fact that race, not rape, has dominated discussion of the Rochdale rape case, says a lot about the state of society today. The event in itself is an abhorrent display of violence against women, but the reaction, in my opinion, shows a far more widespread disease affecting society. We live in a rape culture. I see this as indisputable. We live in a world which actively condones and justifies violence against women, including rape.

Last week’s BBC Question Time showed the prevalence of these attitudes. The first question asked about the relation between race and the case. I, for one, was confused – why would race have anything to do with the actual case? The responses given by the panel didn’t exactly help to clear up any misgivings.

The Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne answered that the real question was why these women were associating with these men. Because, damn those jezebels for talking to a grown adult male, right? It petrifies me that a mainstream political personality will hold these views – in fact, it scares me that anyone would harbour these misogynist, backwards opinions.

Women are raped because rapists exist. There is nothing a victim can do, ever, to stop herself being raped. No ‘extra precautions’ she can take. And putting even partial responsibility on the victim for an attack is revolting – how would you feel if a friend, a family member was raped, only to be told they are somewhat to blame, because of what they wore? Why should half of society be restricted in their choices because a minority choose to rape? A hundred men could walk past a ‘vulnerable’ woman, but only a rapist would rape her.

So no, Oborne, I don’t care if the victims were complete strangers to, best friends or worst enemies with the perpetrators. I don’t care if they wore a latex catsuit, a bin bag or jeans and a t-shirt. It was not their fault.

So race, is that a factor? Did these men rape because of cultural differences? Because they were of Asian origin? Maybe they didn’t understand that it’s not okay to force yourself on an underage teenager? Sorry, but that excuse doesn’t wash with me. Reading the reports, particularly one in the Independent, it is clear that the abuse was sustained and that the men convicted were fully aware of their actions. One victim “lost count of the number of times she had had sex with men when she did not want to do so”. Another was “persistently coerced or forced into submission” by the men.

Which leads me to my next point – if you forcibly penetrate another human who does not want that to happen, it is rape. It is not sex. Sex is intrinsically good, and by definition consensual. So reports of the Rochdale case referring to ‘sex’ with underage girls are incorrect. There was no consent, so, by definition surely, it was assault. These crimes were heinous violations of the victims’ autonomy. This is not justified by Asian culture; it is promoted by a global rape culture.

The hegemonic culture in music, media, politics, society is a patriarchal one, which continually subjugates women. In Western democratic society, rape and violence against women as a whole is condoned through practices such as victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

Look at the comments by a Toronto police officer which sparked the worldwide ‘SlutWalks’. The misogyny present in modern hip-hop. The way Chris Brown, convicted domestic abuser, has been welcomed back into the collective consciousness with no repercussions. An advertisement on 4Music for an entertainment news programme poses the question “Should Rihanna get back with Chris Brown?” A mainstream-owned television channel asking if a woman should return to the arms of a man who assaulted her. I’m sorry, what? How is this an acceptable thing to do in modern society?

Our entire culture, our society, seeks to justify violence against women. It shows men of all ages that committing horrendous crimes such as rape and assault are okay. Because women lie, and women make poor choices which lead to them being attacked, and women sleep around so it’s clear they just want sex, right?

No. It’s not right. It’s not okay. Race did not cause these young women to be raped. A sexist, patriarchal ideology caused this. Rapists caused this.

Uncut

The Jubilee is a national sedative; this is a national wake up call

Posted on May 14, 2012 by Guest | 6 Comments

UK Uncut's Great British Street Party - The future's not what it used to be

By Anna Walker, a campaigner from UK Uncut

Cameron wants to see ‘the mother of all parties’. The Queen is old – celebrate! The Olympics are in town – celebrate! Ignore the fact that we are screwing you, your parents, your grandparents, your children, your friends and neighbours. Ignore the fact that we will monitor your emails, tap your phones, sell off the hospitals and schools brick by brick to the private companies. Have an extra day off, have a party, drink some tea, preferably drink some Pimms. But whatever you do, don’t remember the unemployment figures, the number of disabled people who are killing themselves because their benefits are stopped or the number of services you use that are being scrapped.

Don’t dissent. Don’t resist. Don’t protest. If you do, you are unpatriotic, a killjoy, a ‘dangerous anarchist’. We will arrest you if you put an anti-Olympics poster in the window, we will stop and search if you’re wearing a hoodie too near the Olympic stadium. We will pre-emptively arrest you and slap an ASBO on you if you dare to suggest that all is not well and try to do something about it.

UK Uncut also wants to party – but for completely different reasons. We want to undermine the government’s propaganda and the Jubilee pageantry. The idea of UK Uncut holding street parties of resistance came from anger that the government will use Jubilee celebrations as a national sedative and a justification to clamp down on political protest. We want people to remember and to resist the cuts being rammed through by the government. We want people to celebrate a different future, determined by everyone.

The last time the Olympics were held in London was in 1948. The country had an enormous national debt yet the NHS and welfare state were introduced. We are not saying that we wish we could go back to this time, but that the introduction of free healthcare for (almost) everyone is a good thing. That it is better to have some form of support for disabled people, children, single parents and people without work than not. We are not saying that Britain was a perfect place for everyone then or now. Discrimination against people of colour, women, disabled people, LGBT and queer people, migrants, travellers and Roma people was rife then and remains today. Colonialism was vicious and persists in new forms today. The flag is a symbol which means very different things to different people from pride to football hooliganism to far right extremist views. What does it mean to be British? Again, it’s different for different people, so we’ve asked people with different perspectives to write guest blogs which will be posted on the UK Uncut site next week.

We live in communities that make up this country. And those communities are suffering. We are asking what do we want society to look like in a future Britain? You decide. You decide together how you want resist the attack on our services, rights and future. Do what works for you wherever you live.

As opposed to the sedative effect of Jubilee parties, UK Uncut’s street parties are intended to wake up new ideas, new connections and new collective power. They are not about celebrating Britain as it is or as it was in 1948. They are about defiance and the definition of a future that we want to see, where we live – that is determined by us all – not for us, by a bunch of men who think they own power, money, business, government, us and our future.

Green Party

Caroline Lucas stands down: space for someone to lead

Posted on May 13, 2012 by Adam Ramsay | 9 Comments

So, it’s now public – the rumours that Caroline Lucas is standing down as Green Party leader have been confirmed. It’s a good move.

Perversely, because we didn’t used to have one, we Greens have a long history of talking about what a leader is for. One of those roles – the role we used to have – is principal speaker: the person who goes on telly and says things to the public. This is a crucial role. But the truth is that Caroline will keep it whatever – she is our only MP, and by far our most prominent face. The media really won’t give a damn that she isn’t formally leader. Of course, relinquishing the role means that someone else can get a little more face time – that we can make it clear publicly that we are more than a one woman band. But that effect will surely be limited, and it isn’t really why this is a good move.

Nope, the real reason why this is a good move is that leadership is about more than being the person who goes on the telly. It is about leading. And more than ever, the party needs leadership right now. For ten years at least, we have had a simple strategic goal as a national party – elect an MP. Now we’ve done that, we need rapidly to work out what the next big goal is. We also need to navigate the political tsunami we are amidst – the collapse of the economy and distrust of the older parties present huge opportunities for Greens, and whilst we are beginning to take advantage of them, we need someone who can keep their eye on this ball full time.

Caroline is an excellent MP. She is an excellent spokeswoman. The strategy the party has followed in the last couple of years has essentially been the right one – we are the party of the anti-cuts movement, the party that opposes NHS privatisation, the only English parliamentary party left on the left. But as a new MP with quite such an astonishing day to day schedule, she really hasn’t had much time to lead – or, perhaps, facilitate – her party.

Standing aside as leader gives someone else the space to do this. Who, we don’t yet know – though Adrian Ramsay (no relation) is surely the frontrunner. The character doesn’t matter hugely – they will have to be able to bring the party with them – to build consensus around a forward plan, but they won’t really be the front person most of the time.

What will matter will be what their plan for the party is. They will need to be clear that they are left wing: in tough economic times, as the mega-rich screw everyone else for more than ever, it is no longer acceptable to pretend that we don’t take sides. They will need to be clear that we cannot simply be another party of centralised bureaucracy: across the planet, the successful 21st century parties of the left are the parties of movements, not just of slick media. And they will need to be ambitious: a handful more councillors each year is not enough either to maintain the momentum a small party requires, or to secure the justice we exist to secure.

It’s a few months until the final results, and I’m sure there’ll be a good debate. But, in the mean time, thanks to Caroline for her time as leader, and good work for creating space for someone to help corral the party to higher pastures.

Green Party

Caroline Lucas to step down as Green leader

Posted on May 13, 2012 by Gary Dunion | 8 Comments

Caroline Lucas will not run for a third time when her current two-year term as Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales ends in September. Her decision was announced in a press release on the Green Party website, and she discusses it in an exclusive interview in tomorrow’s Independent.

Caroline served as Female Principal Speaker of the party from 2001-2006, when she was succeeded by London Mayoral candidate Siân Berry. Caroline returned to the office in 2007. In 2008, when the Principal Speaker system was abolished, Caroline became the party’s first ever Leader.

Caroline’s leadership has seen her elected as the first Green MP, Greens take control of their first council (Brighton and Hove which includes Caroline’s Brighton Pavilion Constituency), and overtake the Lib Dems to become London’s third party.

In the party’s statement, Caroline said:

I look forward to continuing to do all I can in my very demanding role as the MP for Brighton Pavilion, representing my constituents and defending them against the Coalition Government’s disastrous economic policies and its refusal to accept its environmental and social responsibilities. I will also be able to dedicate even more of my work to the political frontline, putting the Green case for change in Parliament and in all circles of national political debate.

After a long period of focus on making a beachhead in Parliament ended in success two years ago, the new leader will be charged with shaping the party’s next goals and delivering on them, including expanding European representation beyond the South-East and London in 2014, and capitalising on Caroline’s victory to add more Green MPs in 2015.

Who would you like to see run to succeed Caroline? What should be the priorities for the new leader? Is it time for our first team of Co-Leaders? Please comment below.

Environment

On environmental colonialism, the Amazon, and Scottish beavers

Posted on May 9, 2012 by Adam Ramsay | 3 Comments

When people ask me about my political background, I often talk about my parents. I explain that, though they aren’t nearly as far left as me, they brought me up to have an interest in politics, and to care particularly about the environment.

There’s one particular lesson they taught me which, in retrospect, makes me pretty proud of them. For all of my life, my dad has worked in various ways on restoring Scotland to some kind of natural state – though he’d be the first to accept that what that means is complex. When I was 5 he stopped being a shepherd and wrote a book about this passion – Revival of the Land. It outlines what happens when deer are culled in the Highlands in a way which mimics the behaviour of the wolves who for thousands of years hunted on the hills I grew up on. The answer is that thick forests grow back – the wet desert of the Scottish Highlands reverts to the temporal – or, in some places, near boreal – woodlands of its past.

A decade later, he reintroduced beavers to the land he had once farmed. Beavers were wiped out four-hundred years ago in Scotland, and they are crucial, not just because they are a significant mamal who lived here until people trapped them to extinction for their fur; but because they are what ecologists call a keystone species. Once upon a time, much of Britain was effectively covered by temporal rainforest – by wetlands. Our ancestors cut down the trees and drained the marshes. And they wiped out the architects of these wetlands – the beavers whose dams had for thousands of years maintained these crucial habitats. I often watched him explain to people why he did these things: “beavers are key to our habitat” he would tell them “the wetlands of the UK are our rainforest, and it is beavers who built them”. “They were here before and they have a right to be here”. And, for me, crucially: “what right do we have to tell people in Brazil not to cut down their rainforest as long as we refuse to restore ours?”.

And for me, that’s the point. As rich white Westerners, we are very keen on going round the world telling people what to do. Of course we should oppose the destruction of the Amazon – apart from anything else, the indigeonous Amazonians demand it, as do many Latin American environmental activists. Where they ask for our support, it must surely be forthcoming.

Just as I learn from my dad, I learn from my girlfriend. She’s been teaching me recently about colonial feminism – the habit many liberals have of casting the complex problems of oppression of women as ‘white women saving brown women from brown men‘. The environmental movement has got better and better at understanding climate change as a justice issue. We have got better and better at working with those suffering most as a result of the most disastrous extraction projects – whether the people of the Niger Delta, or First Nation Canadians in tar sands rich Alberta. But we still sometimes verge on the same habits… as long as we are willing to be presented as white people saving indigeonous peoples’ forests from brown loggers, we have a problem – especially if we are not wiling to first address the total destruction of our own rainforests. We will not only have no leg to stand on. We will fail.

Westminster

Miliband kicks nurses and unemployed young people

Posted on May 9, 2012 by Adam Ramsay | 4 Comments

Friday was Ed Miliband’s day. Labour’s rise in the local elections revived his leadership and gave him a chance once more to articulate his message without the media sniping at his heals. Such opportunities are rare for party leaders – the space to say what they want to say, the time to craft a message, and the chance to choose a platform from which to deliver it.

The rarity of such moments means that it is a good time to judge a leader, a good time to see where they are actually leading up to, not just the bunkers they are forced to duck into. Most days, they are responding to some crisis or other, to the daily news cycle. With the coalition government, policy disagreements between Lib Dems and Tories are much more interesting to journos than what a hypothetical Labour government might do, so Labour struggle even more than the average opposition party to get simple front and centre coverage of their policy announcements. But after the local elections, before the next big crisis – this was Miliband’s chance to pounce – his chance to inspire the country with his bold vision. So, what did ‘red Ed’ do with his big day?

He went to Essex to slag off NHS workers and unemployed young people. Specifically, he called on any NHS workers who pull a sicky to be sacked, and called on young people to work harder to find jobs which don’t exist. If I was trying to think of the two least helpful media narratives he could perpetuate, they might well be inefficiency in the NHS, and laziness of young people who can’t find work…

After a local election in which the Tories were punished – in no small part because of dismantling the NHS and because of youth unemployment, this is perhaps extraordinary. Rather than articulating the case for the welfare state, and the case for job creation, for investment, Miliband took his big chance and decided to use it to put the boot into some of the people in Britain hit hardest by this Tory government.

In other news, on the 30th of April, 100,000 sick people lost benefits worth nearly £100 a week. Does Mr Miliband think that they are all faking it too? If not, it seems Ed is more interested in kicking those who are down than he is in helping people up.

Uncut

UK Uncut’s ‘Great British Street Party’: kitsch nationalism?

Posted on May 8, 2012 by Guest | 7 Comments

UK Uncut's Great British Street Party - The future's not what it used to be

As if last year had not been enough, 2012 is to be awash with examples of pomp and pageantry; from the Queen’s jubilee celebrations to the Olympics and Paralympics – as well as the run up to these events. Britain is to celebrate itself and its achievements all year round and will certainly not be reserved about it. However, in reality, there is little to celebrate: government plans to sail the National Health Service towards privatisation have been signed off by parliament, welfare caps and cuts to disability benefits have begun to take effect, the criminalisation of squatting has passed into law and will soon mean many homeless find their attempts to find shelter criminalised, unemployment has continued to rise and is currently at 2.67 million and the economy may well be back in recession.

So perhaps then UK Uncut are trying to highlight the absurdity of this juxtaposed celebration and deprivation through their latest action ‘Great British Street Parties’, which appeals to the aesthetic and mode of celebration of 1948 – the year the NHS, welfare and even generalised squatting became realities for Britain. Here it seems UK Uncut seeks to draw attention to all that we are losing through this government’s efforts, or perhaps more accurately: that the working class is losing the very concessions they fought and won after World War II. But of course, this is in itself a fallacy. Claims that the working class fought for and won these basic provisions is historically not the case at all; there was no homogenous Labour movement that coordinated industrial action even close to that seen in 1926 and whilst many were just back from war, there was no risk to the ruling elites of a violent uprising.

Instead the reality facing the Beveridge government was a class that suffered greatly from illness with no ability to pay for care – apart from the occasional availability of voluntary hospitals – and thus not able to fill the jobs needed to get the British economy growing. In fact, plans to universalise the war-time emergency hospital service after its demobilisation had been in place since 1944. Similarly, plans for the beginnings of welfare provision as we understand it today were first drawn up in the Beveridge report of 1942, which along with eliminating ‘Disease’ and ‘Want’, also set its eyes on ‘Idleness’. So we see that rather than being a victory of the working class, a welfare state was a gift given to them in order to keep Britain working.

Admittedly, UK Uncut are not celebrating the achievements of that year in particular, just what the future looked like in 1948 compared to the bleak future we face now. But with the benefit of hindsight we understand that whilst welfare may have been positive in improving material conditions for the working class right up until the present day, it has also played its role against them ensuring that capitalism stayed unthreatened and arguably pacified any meaningful resistance, allowing for the inevitable destruction of welfare institutions now in 2012. The future may have looked good in 1948, but we now know otherwise.

The historical inaccuracy of what UK Uncut is proposing isn’t the most concerning part of this action however, but rather the appeal to a nationalist aesthetic. Shows of pageantry and calls to celebrate ‘Great Britain’ at events such as the Diamond Jubilee or Olympics are often thinly veiled attempts to supplant solidarity of a dissenting nature with one based around a blind allegiance to the nation. For example, it is entirely convenient for the coalition government to utilize the Olympics to label the bosses of unions – and by extension union members themselves – as ‘unpatriotic’ for threatening industrial action. This is unsurprising as both right-wing and nominally left-wing governments often appeal to patriotism to stifle dissent, but that UK Uncut seems to have joined in with mainstream politics’ nationalist consensus is highly concerning.

This is perhaps most evident when you consider the ‘all in this together’ mantra used since the global financial crisis to foster a sense of homogeneity and getting on with things as we supposedly move towards recovery. UK Uncut and its activists originally set out to illustrate precisely that we are not ‘all in this together’ at the current moment, but now seem to suggest in the call-out for their latest national day of action that “Britain back then really was ‘all in this together’”. This falsely hints towards the existence of a golden era where capitalism worked; falsely, because in reality this never existed – it is but a national myth. Beyond this however and apart from the hopefully obvious factors of gender, race and sexuality that would mean exclusion from any notion of ‘together’ at all, let alone in 1948, the mantra is no truer of then than now: whilst a Keynesian economics prevailed in the post-war period, the working class were clearly, as always, the exploited class.

UK Uncut finishes their call-out by suggesting “The future’s not what it used to be – let’s get it back”, but we have already surpassed much of the wildest and most dystopian ideas in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four of what a future may look like. This, incidentally, was written in 1948, the year we are supposed to believe gave the British so much to look forward to. In reality, 1948 played its historical role in getting us to where we are now. This is something no amount of nostalgia and kitsch nationalism will change, but when we have so much to fight for why would we look back anyway? The criticism of UK Uncut’s ‘Great British Street Parties’ is not that it is activism in the guise celebration, but that it is celebration in the guise of nationalism, supported by a fictitious history. This can be all too tempting as a form of popular activism, but in reality is dangerous and simply plays into the hands of exactly what we seek to oppose.

Wail Qasim is a London student of Politics and Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. He blogs at isthisday.com

keep looking »