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Friday, 27 February 2009

Welfare Reform Bill Protest

I have posted here recently about the proposed changes in welfare, the so called 'reforms'. It is vitally important the all progressive minded people come to the defence of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who are going to be the targets of these measures.

The PCS union and the TUC are organising a lobby of parliament on Tuesday and I intend to go along with the Green Party Trade Union Group and others to lobby MPs and to speak out against these appalling measures which are in effect the introduction of US style workfare.

Further details are here on the PCS website

It is vitally important that these proposals are stopped in their tracks. With thousands being thrown on the dole queues each day and many disabled people finding themselves at the back of the line for finding employment, it is crucial that efforts to genuinely help people are put in place and not profiteers charter, which these proposals will produce.

Details of the protest here

Will see some of you next Tuesday at noon there and don't forget to contact your MP.

LGBT History Month and the Trade Unions

Last night SERTUC (South East Region Trades Union Council) which represents the trade unions in London and South East England organised a 'Pride in our legacy' event at Congress House. This is the second year that SERTUC had done this and the event has been a huge success. It is meant to coincide with Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender History Month, which is February, and brings LGBT trade unionists, together with their partners and friends together. So Congress House goes pink for the evening and there are generous offerings of free food and drink. Some prominent (and not so prominent) LGBT performers take to the stage but there is also a serious side to the event and the festivities are punctuated by speakers representing both the trade union movement and various aspects of the worldwide campaign for LGBT rights.

This year Anna Eagle MP, who last year celebrated a civil partnership with her partner who is a trade union activist, spoke about the important rights which have been gained in the UK over the last ten years but also pointed out that there are still some elements of resistance to progress on LGBT rights in the House of Lords. There was also a speaker from the Sex Workers Union, who are campaigning hard against the Policing and Crime Bill, which would have the effect of criminalising the clients of sex workers. The Green Party is opposed to this and believes that the best way of tackling prostitution and sex work is to legalise it and to have licensed brothels where sex workers can work safely and legally, with proper medical and social resources to hand. The Sex Workers Union agrees with this and the speaker introduced himself as "a prostitute, whore, sex worker and provider of sexual services." He argued forcefully that by criminalising either sex workers or their clients, the industry would be driven underground with all sorts of dangerous consequences. The issue of sex trafficing is a completely different issue and the problem is that the two are often conflated. By legalising prostitution and allowing sex workers to join a recognised trade union, they would be protected from exploitation and able to be represented by the union movement in the way that any other group of workers can be.

But by far the most interesting speaker last night came from Latvia and was introduced by a speaker from Amnesty International. He is a very brave gay man who started organising Pride marches in Riga in 2005. He described how only 25 people had marched in the first Pride and how at the time it had been illegal, and there had been several hundred police sent to protect the marchers. The campaigners persisted and now the Pride is legal but there are still huge counter demonstrations which often spill over into violence. Many LGBT activists from across Europe have gone to support the Latvians and this has helped a great deal. He described the level of homophobia he encountered in Latvia as being terrible and finally after he was forced out of four jobs, he came to work in London. The job he now has in a coffee shop in Soho only pays 30% of what he earned in Latvia, but he pointed out that for the first time in his life he felt "truly free."
The ironic thing is that he is a Lutheran pastor and was excommunicated by his church in Latvia because of his sexuality. He commented that religion should be about joy and if it is not, then there is something wrong with it. Both he and the Amnesty speaker appealed for LGBT people from across Europe to attend Baltic Pride this year, where the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian LGBT groups will come together to march through the streets of Riga. It is really shameful that in 2009 the citizens of a EU member state are treated in such a shameful fashion because of hatred and intolerance. And we should never forget that progress has only been made because of the brave actions of people such as this Latvian campaigner.

I spoke to him afterwards and introduced myself as a gay European Parliamentary candidate for the Green Party in London and congratulated him on his courage. It turns out that he lives in the same area of London as me (Camberwell) and he is interested in speaking at a fringe meeting I am organising at the Green Party spring conference next month on 'Homophobia in Eastern Europe and the Green Response'. I really hope he comes and that we can give him a big welcome.

In the interim, I will campaign for the rights of the many LGBT Eastern Europeans living in London who are refugees here from the bigotry of their own countries and hope that together we can create a better and more progressive Europe with more pro-LGBT Green MEPs such as Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Selling off the family silver

Another day, another demonstration. This time it is against the government's hairbrained scheme to sell off one third of the Post Office. I was down at Westminster Hall, together with Rupert Read, lead Green Party European Parliamentary candidate in the East of England region, and members of the Green Party Trade Union Group to support the rally organised by the Communication Workers Union against these moves. Armed with placards and GPTU Group leaflets we expressed our support for the union and our opposition to the government's plan.

The rally was packed with postal workers from all over England and the doors had to be closed for health and safety reasons as no more workers would fit in the hall. Political reporters from all the television channels were everywhere and there was a palpable feeling of anger and hatred against Peter Mandelson and the government for doing this. In a special edition of the Mirror newspaper (free copies available at the back of the hall) there was an image of the beloved red post box on the front cover with the headline 'Save the Post Office'. Things are bad when even John Prescott plus 125 Labour MPs have come out publicly against this move.

The move to use the deficit in the Post Office pensions fund as a clincher arguement for privatisation and the release of the letter to that effect by the Chair of the Pension Fund Trustees is also very suspect. As Billy Hayes, the General Secretary of the CWU said, it is effectively blackmail and an attempt to bounce both MPs and the unions into privatisation.

The public is opposed to it and the mess which other privatisations such as rail have created stand as a grim warning. As a rebel Labour MP said today: "Privatisation is going out of fashion." It was Mac Millan, the former Tory Prime Minister who warned during the Thatcher privatisations that the government was "selling off the family silver". Once again New Labour demonstrate that if necessary they will use Cameron's Tories if necessary to vote through this disastrous policy with the consequent loss of jobs and decrease in service. The public are opposed to it as are the Green Party. Will the Lib Dems find their consciences or will they troop into the pro-privatisation lobby with Mandelson and Cameron?

The CWU has warned that the one million pound funding for the Labour Party could be at stake if this goes through. I would advise the union to wake up and smell the coffee. We are witnessing the betrayal of the trade union movement and public sector workers by New Labour on a large scale.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Nuclear Power No Way!

Green Left has issued the following press release today in response to the story on nuclear power in today's Independent. I totally support the statement.

For immediate release

Nuclear energy is a red herring

An article entitled "Nuclear Power? Yes please.." appeared in the Independent newspaper on 23 February, 2009. It states that "four of the country's leading environmentalists" advocate nuclear power as a solution to climate change.
The vast majority of the green movement remain staunchly opposed to nuclear power.
FIrstly, it will take more than a decade for these plants to come on stream, which removes one plank of their argument about nuclear power stations to be ready in time to deal with climate change. Renewables are quicker to build.
Secondly, the large companies ready to profit from this bonanza historically ask for huge government subsidies. Were the renewable energy sector to be subsidised on the same scale, the unit cost of the new technologies would plummet.
Thirdly, very few jobs are created in giant nuclear plants, a central concern today as we stare at the abyss of an economic depression.
Fourthly, nuclear power will generate around 8% of our energy needs despite all the projected capital expenditure.
Instead, we propose the immediate implementation of energy efficiency projects up and down the country. We can save many times more energy than that generated by Nuclear. Moreover, we can put tens of thousands of people back into jobs by retooling houses and businesses.
Finally, we should be subsidising UK technology companies to use their talents for solar, wind and tidal energy. We are already falling behind Germany, Denmark and even Portugal in the introduction of renewables.
Instead of the red herring of nuclear energy, the green movement calls for investment in modern, robust, renewable energy.

Contact: Farid Bakht
Green Left
Note to editors:
Green Left is a strand within the Green Party of England and Wales.

Trade Unions and Demos

Heathrow Third Runway Demo
Went to the anti-Heathrow protest last Thursday outside Downing Street and we had a good turnout with speakers from a range of organisations including Hacan Clearskies, Campaign Against Climate Change and both Jean Lambert MEP and Derek Wall from the Green Party. The counter demonstration, which attracted a fair amount of publicity, by the Modern Movement, was very small in comparison.

They seem to be thriving on the publicity, which worries me somewhat, and they recently invited Green Left and the Greens to come to a meeting which they are organising this week and debate the issues with them. Personally I have more important things to do and feel that attending a meeting like that would be the equivalent of having an argument about the Bible with Jehovah's Witnesses, if you know what I mean. They have just closed their minds to any rational argument and their response to the Greenpeace member who tried to reason with them at the demo is typical. When asked why they disputed the science around climate change, their response was that they would not be dictated to by scientists! It just reminds me of some of those films made about zany and deliberately cerebrally challenged high school students in the US with unappealing titles such as 'Stupid 4' and 'Even more Stupid 16'.

Anyway, many of the Green Party protesters, led by our sterling London Campaigns Officer, Cllr Romayne Phoenix, managed to get our faces on the front pages of publications which I do not often read like the Daily Star and the Daily Express. I bought the Daily Star on Friday to see the photos, but alas they were not there. And for my sins I had to plough through masses of dreadful right wing dribble blaming asylum seekers and immigrants for unemployment and singing the praises of the likes of UKIP and Migration Watch.

Trade Union Conference
On Saturday I was at the conference on 'Greening the Workplace and the Just Transition' organised by the Green Party Trade Union Group, whose Treasurer I am. We had a very good line up of speakers including Jean Lambert MEP, Tony Kearns from the CWU, Sian Jones, a member of the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee Working Group; and Ann Elliot-Day, PCS communications officer. The Press release we issued is below.

During the question and answer session, I asked about the proposal being put forward by the Dutch Greens that there be a statutory right to work from home one day per week. I thought that this would be good in terms of reducing transport with the resulting decrease in pollution and congestion. However, the trade union speakers were very suspicious of this, regarding it as a an attempt by employers to offset 20% of their overheads (heat and light etc) on to the employee. Their view was that it would be ok if there was a resulting agreement by the employer to provide relevant equipment and costs to the employee.

I also asked about the two Warwick Agreements, which were signed between the Labour government and the trade unions. Warwick I was signed just before the last general election and included a commitment to increasing bank holidays for UK workers - the UK has the lowest number of public holidays in the EU. However, nothing whatsoever happened as a result of that and the number of bank holidays remain the same. I then asked what had happened to the Warwick II Agreement and what hope there was of implementing it when Warwick I had not even been implemented. And I quoted Bob Crow, the RMT General Secretary who commented on the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party as being similar to necrophilia.

Tony Kearns replied that he was not surprised that the terms of Warwick I had not been adhered to and that one of the central terms of Warwick II was a commitment not to privatise the Post Office. His union were now at the forefront of the struggle to prevent the New Labour government from doing this, as per Mandelson's latest plan. He questioned how long his union could remain linked to the Labour Party. A very good question indeed and one which many trade union leaders should consider. Stand by for Warwick III when Gordon Brown promises the trade unions on the eve of the next general election that any tax increases resulting from the massive government bailouts and debt will fall most heavily on the rich!

"London's Green MEP, Jean Lambert, speaks of a hopeful future at Green Party Trade Union Group public meeting

With the world facing a "triple-crunch" -- climate change, peak oil and the credit-fuelled financial crisis - Jean Lambert, London's Green MEP, told a public meeting organised by the Green Party Trade Union group in Euston last Saturday [Feb 21] that the Party was working, in consultation with unions, non-governmental organisations and experts - towards a complete model for a new economy - a complete Green new deal that was "international, intergenerational and inclusive".

Some aspects of what were needed were clear, she said. First, Britain had to make a large investment in green jobs: "There are 22 million homes in the UK that need a comprehensive package of energy efficiency. A complete retrofit of Britain's housing to Green standards would create more than half a million jobs. More jobs could be created by improved public transport."

She continued: "The whole focus of trade policy has to change to focus on production methods and the outcomes for producers, rather than just prices to consumers.

"And there has to be a recognition that we cannot rely on the private sector to delivery core public sector services. Even Peter Mandelson is talking about a post office bank. That's great, if you can still find a post office."

In moving towards a low-carbon, environmentally friendly economy, an effective framework was particularly necessary for vulnerable industries such as coal and vehicle-manufacturing, she said. Those workers needed a structured system of retraining, of subsidies to redirect production. "The rule is to make resources redundant, rather than people."

It was essential to acknowledge that many people were now suffering a deep fear and insecurity about the future, she said. "We have to give them hope that the economy and society can be managed better, that Britons can feel their life belongs to them, rather than their being tied on to a daily treadmill whose speed they can't control. People need to feel that their life is grounded in family and community, rather than a cycle of money chasing non-existent money."


For further information contact: Office of Jean Lambert MEP 020 7407 6269

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Europe and Gaza

I totally endorse the views of this Irish Labour Party MEP who has just returned from Gaza. As a candidate for the European Parliament I regard it as essential that Europe does not play second fiddle to the US in relation to Israel and Palestine but takes a proactive stance to ensure justice for Gaza and the Palestinians. It is Europe which created the problem in the first place and it has a responsibility to act.

I also give my total support to the Viva Palestina convoy which is making its way towards Gaza with much needed supplies and a generator on board. It is disgraceful that the police here arrested several of those taking part in the convoy but have released most of them without charge afterwards. This is in stark contrast with the city council in Bordeaux which provided food and shelter for those taking part and a state reception being planned in Madrid.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Freudian Defection

It has been widely reported that investment banker David Freud, a descendant of the great Sigmund, and who is credited with being the architect of New Labour's welfare proposals about to wend their way through parliament in the form of the Welfare Reform Bill, has upped sticks and joined the Tories. He probably felt more at home with the real thing rather than their imitators. It is also reported that Cameron will grant him a peerage and appoint him as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. All of this is rather a damp squib for Labour and Purnell about to announce 101 new methods of punishing the idle and feckless.

It is interesting that it requires extra money and bonuses in order to encourage the rich to work but dire penalties and penury in order to encourage the poor.As Brendan Barber of the TUC argued, "At a time of rapidly rising unemployment the government needs to stop talking as if every benefit claimant is a potential scrounger." The proposals put forward by Freud and now supported by the government involve shifting huge amounts of money from the public to the private sector in order to 'incentivise' these companies to get the unemployed back to work. But as we have seen, every time this transfer of public wealth to the private sector occurs, as with PFI or the privatisation of the health service, it is the taxpayer who pays at the end with the only profit being made by those companies ripping off the system. Surely now the failure of this neo-liberal privatisation agenda is clear for all to see? So while the Tories praise Freud and offer to go even further with his 'reforms', New Labour like a sleepwalker stumbles on into the territory of punishing the poor and disabled and increasing the profits of the fat cats and their cronies in the City. This is a hugely regressive agenda and will cause untold damage, as it has already done in the US. One need only see the documentaries of Michael Moore and others to envisage the disaster that lies ahead.

It was Oscar Wilde who wrote in The Soul Of Man Under Socialism: "Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There will be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up unhealthy, hungerpinched children in the midst of impossible and absolutely repulsive surroundings. The security of society will not depend, as it does now, on the state of the weather. If a frost comes we shall not have a hundred thousand men out of work, tramping about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or whining to their neighbours for alms, or crowding round the doors of loathsome shelters to try and secure a hunch of bread and a night's unclean lodging. Each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society, and if a frost comes no one will practically be anything the worse." Those words written over a century ago still hold true today. What is happening once again is the victimisation of the poor and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. It is effectively the dismantling of the welfare state built up the reforming Liberal government before World War I and the Attlee government after 1945. The Green Party proposes a Citizen's Income, which is an

Make your voice heard - join the lobby of parliament on Tuesday 3 March 2009 from 12.30 - 2.30, committee room 14.organised by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and the TUC. I will be there.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Default and devaluation

News today that Ireland could default on its national debt. The country's economy is in serious trouble. Once the powerhouse of the EU, the so called 'Celtic Tiger' it is now dubbed by Dublin pub wits as 'the sick pussy'. With the lowest corporate tax in the EU, which has led many UK firms to relocate there, and an economy which was put very much at the disposal of property developers and speculators, the bottom has well and truly fallen out of the economy. The government has just announced a 10% levy on the pensions of those in the public sector and savage rates in other state expenditure is being considered.

Being in the Eurozone, Ireland cannot use interest rates or currency devaluation to help its situation. This is the problem with the 'one size fits all' of the regulations introduced by the European Central Bank and means that economies like those of Ireland and Spain, which have very different economic circumstances to those of Germany or France, are unable to respond vigorously enough. Ireland may be the first of the Eurozone states to default on its debt. Only recently having nationalised Anglo Irish Bank which was full of toxic debts and whose leading executives are now under investigation, the government was warned by a prominent Irish economist that doing so could endanger the whole economy because of the level of international debt which the bank held. The Irish Minister for Finance has recently admitted that he did not read some of the most significant documents before making a decision on taking the bank on board.

Meanwhile in the Baltic states, where there have already been riots and the resignation of the Agriculture Minister in Latvia because of anger about the economy, there is the real prospect of a 50% devaluation of their currencies against the Euro.Latvia’s economy shrank 10.5 percent in the fourth quarter, the steepest drop in the European Union and the country’s biggest since quarterly annual records began in 1995, according to preliminary data. The nation has to fund a 92.5 million lati ($168 million) current-account deficit while credit markets around the world remain frozen. As a result, analysts and experts around the world are dedicating an unprecedented volume of column inches, charts, graphs, analysis and predictions to the tiny Baltic state with a population of just 2.3 million.
Even Nobel economics laureate Paul Krugman commented on Latvia in December 2008, describing it as "the new Argentina" in an online discussion about the effects of currency devaluation.
There is now the real danger of some of the economic situations which we have only witnessed before affecting Latin American or African countries now hitting Europe. What impact this will have politically will be hugely significant. It could well lead to civil unrest and an upset in the European elections, which are now less than four months away.

Urgent Climate Summit Call

Over the weekend the Green Party issued the following appeal for an urgent summit on climate change involving all major party leaders and leading NGOs. I suspect that the other party leaders will act like the modern equivalent of King Canute - watching the shore as the sea levels rise

The Green Party today invited major party leaders and leading NGOs to an urgent summit meeting to agree a determined national response to the climate crisis.
Responding to today's news that the climate crisis is even more desperate than was previously thought (1), party leader Dr Caroline Lucas MEP said, "This is now so urgent it must go beyond party politics.
"The government and the Conservatives still have inadequate targets and the LibDems are calling for zero-carbon by too late.
"We can disagree about most things, but on this we all need to get onto the same page, and it needs to be the right page. I think British voters of all colours would like to see this happen."
The Greens' leader offered to facilitate the proposed crisis meeting which would involve the main party leaders and representatives of the leading non-governmental organisations dealing with climate change and energy.
Dr Lucas said, "This is about our future, it's about everyone's interests. We must all accept the targets demanded by science, not the targets we think will play best with some interest group or other. We need to commit to meeting those targets, and we need the UK to take the lead internationally."
The Greens noted that the Labour government and the Conservative Party both now have a target of 80% reductions in CO2 by 2050 compared with 1990 levels - as does US President Barack Obama. But this, say the Greens, is inadequate. Caroline Lucas explained, "The target needs to be higher and the target date sooner (2). We need to hear what climate scientists are saying is necessary, and if that's to be zero-carbon by 2030, then that's what we must achieve."
The Green leader said this would be possible given a determined national and international effort. "We need to put the UK economy on something like a war footing - nothing less than that will do the job - and we'll have the added advantage that we'll come out of the recession with a more resilient, more stable economy.
"And we need the UK to take the lead internationally.
"But first, let's meet, agree the right targets, and get the whole country pulling together towards a sustainable economy."
1. It has been widely reported in today's media that Professor Chris Field, author of a 2007 landmark report on climate change, told the American Science conference in Chicago yesterday that future global temperatures "will be beyond anything" previously predicted. Professor Field said that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had underestimated the rate of change, and that warming is likely to cause more damage than has hitherto been forecast.
2. The Green Party currently argues for a target of 90% reductions by 2030 - but climate experts within the party are now urging that the latest science demands an even more challenging target. Green Party spring conference is due to decide the matter.

Friday, 13 February 2009

British Jobs for British Workers?

As I posted last week, Geoff Hoon is one of the most disingenuous and hypocritical New Labour ministers. There is some considerable competition in the cabinet for that sobriquet. Once again he has excelled as Secretary of State for Transport in a wonderful New Labour hypocritical charade.

Only a week after the stikes at the Lindsey refinery ended and after Gordon Brown had promised both the trade unions and others more jobs in the UK, and only two days after the Minister for Employment, Tony Mc Nulty, had stated on Newsnight that the government was doing everything possible to create new jobs and reduce rapidly rising unemployment, it has been revealed that a major contract for building a new inter city train has been awarded to Japan. The project which costs £1.35 billion has been lost by the UK economy.

Agility Trains, a consortium led by the Japanese manufacturer Hitachi, was handed the contract in favour of the rival Express Rail Alliance consortium led by the Canadian manufacturer, Bombardier. But had the contract gone to Bombardier, which already has a large train-manufacturing base in the UK, at least an extra £1.35bn – or 18 per cent of the value of the contract – would have stayed in the UK, safeguarding the jobs of its largely British suppliers.
Hitachi said all of the first 10 trains, some 70 vehicles, will be made in Japan, and the outer shells and parts of the undercarriage of the remaining 1,330 trains will continue to be fabricated in Japan. A spokesman for the Department of Transport said they would not comment on the rival bids.

Hoon tried to claim that 12,500 jobs would be created in the UK but Lord Adonis, the Transport Minister, later admitted that only 2,500 new jobs would be created and not all of them in the UK.

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the rail industry union the RMT, said the announcement was a "triumph of spin over substance". He went on: "We need to know why the order was not placed with Bombardier, which has established train-building capacity and a skilled workforce in Derby.."
Bob Laxton, the Labour MP for Derby North, said: "This is a crass decision which gives the Japanese an opportunity of getting into the UK market. I don't believe for one moment the figure of 12,500 jobs because work will be brought into the United Kingdom from overseas."

It goes against all of the principles of the Green New Deal laid out by the Green Party as part of its alternative economic strategy. It is also simply astonishing that at a time of rising unemployment and after countless promises to stimulate the economy that such a decision should be taken. Furthermore, it is a major slap in the face for the TUC and those unions still affiliated to the Labour Party. It demonstrates quite clearly that the Labour government is still wedded to the dead hand of the market, which has already devastated the UK economy.

Thousands of jobs could have been created in Derby and elsewhere and with the move towards more and sustainable rail travel, this would have been a golden opportunity to support a project which is both green and regenerative. It gives the lie to all Gordon Brown's spin about "British jobs" etc. I am sure that the unemployed of Derby and elsewhere will welcome the government's decision with open arms. The next time any trade unionist refers to Labour as the party of jobs and public spending this should be pointed out to them.

Another present from the party which brought you PFI, privatisation of the NHS and Metronet collapse.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Vision Thing

I have been thinking a lot recently about the interaction between art and politics. A number of events have led me to ponder this. Camberwell is quite an active area in terms of the arts with an annual arts festival. One local gallery has always appealed to me and often shows quite striking paintings and prints in its windows along the high street. I wandered in there last weekend looking for a print for a friend who was recovering from an operation. I was surprised by the quality of much of the work on display, some of it from young artists recently graduated from art school. One of these is Chris Page, of whom I am sure we will hear a lot in future. I noticed that all of his paintings had been sold and I was not surprised. The gallery owner was convinced that he was going to be recognised in the art world. His work is figurative, with strong black backgrounds and rather reminded me of Dutch paintings of the 17th century. They seem to have an underlying political message and include a portrait of a black man wearing a turban with various mystical images, including a swastika on it. There is also an image of a pig, with the a flag of St George draped over its head in the form of a Klu Klux Klan hood with the words ‘Engerland’ emblazoned on it. An obvious reference to both racism and football supporters. Page wrote of his work: “My style of painting has evolved through a meandering route. In art school I tried painting in many different styles (at the same time) as a way of avoiding bracketing due to a scepticism about market forces and the pressure to brand oneself. Through a series of conceptual realisations, particularly the influence of such anti-heroes as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, I decided that shiny paintings with “controversial” subject matter was funnier and more timely than austere market-dodging.” The paintings do indeed seem to be unpretentious and yet controversial . The fact that they have all been sold suggests that not only is he an accomplished craftsman but also that his work has something to say to the public.

The gallery owner who was under the impression that I was a definite patron of the arts, gave me a long and detailed description of various other works there and regaled me with tales of having had lunch once with Francis Bacon and seen various famous artists having chats in Notting Hill cafes when the area was still bohemian. He had been a hippy there in the early 70s. In his view artists had been closer to people then and not yet celebrities built up by the media and cut off from contact with the common herd. We talked about the nature of artistic eccentricity and he told me about one artist whom buyers could never converse with as he was always drunk by 10.30am. His advice to them was to call before that hour. The last great era of political art was probably the 30s in the Weimar Republic but for anyone who wants to see the reality of war, I would strongly recommend the little known but excellent art collection at the Imperial War Museum on the two world wars, which mirrors the better known war poetry of the First World War in particular.

Earlier this week I visited another exhibition where a colleague from the Green Party Trade Union Group was exhibiting some prints. I purchased one entitled ‘Climate Change’. The worlds of politics and art sometimes overlap, although it is more often in the literary or musical fields – politics being more the art of the oral and aural rather than the visual. Satirical cartoons on the world of politics still cover our newspapers and magazines but somehow painting seems to have taken a different route, something to do with the commercialisation of the art world and postmodernism no doubt. It is important for those involved in the dry art of politics to quench their thirst at the well of art from time to time, and to take inspiration. The “vision thing” as someone once called it, is after all the wellspring of politics.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Electoral Runes

When will the general election be held? There has been endless speculation about this since the general election that never was in autumn 2007. I would have bet that Labour would have made a run for it early this year, spring at the latest, as the last chance they have of rescuing anything from the wreckage which is the UK economy. The three wise heads on Newsnight – one each from the Lib Dems, Labour and the Tories, have all been saying that early this year is the time for the Labour Party to have any chance. Their estimation is, and I agree with it, that the longer the depression continues (and people are now using the D word) the worse the Labour Party’s fortunes will be. It is rather like a patient with a toothache, who can manage it for a while with painkillers, but after several months of it they will do anything to end it, including using a pair of pliers, as someone did the other day who could not find a dentist. I have seen the electorate as capable of acting similarly, in that the longer this depression lasts, the angrier they will be with those whom they believe caused it in the first place.

Who promised an end to boom and bust? Who hailed the City as the wealth creators and refused to countenance any regulation on his watch? Who allowed the bonus culture to let rip and did nothing to invest the money from the years of plenty in long term training and the sort of re-skilling which Will Hutton and others are now talking about? The answer is clear – Gordon Brown, Chancellor for most of that period, and New Labour. It is no good Labour now trying to pass the blame and claim that the recession is global. Of course it is, but why did Spain, for instance, keep its banks regulated, and thus not suffer a banking crisis – although it has other problems?

The three talking heads on Newsnight have an interesting theory. They believe that it would be best for the Labour Party to go for an election now, in that it would lose that election, but would not be massacred. But they believe that the wishes of the Prime Minister are different in that he wants to remain in office as long as possible. Thus the interests of the PM and the party diverge. The rout in 2010 will be massive. Ed Balls and other government ministers are talking about the worst recession for a century. It is clear that things are much worse than the government is letting on and the longer the election waits, the worse the situation will become. Furthermore, it is clear that tactics like the VAT cut, have failed completely , and even Sarkozy has criticised it as short sighted. There are less and less weapons in the Labour arsenal and in the interim the skies darken.

The Tories now have a 12% to 14% lead. All that they need to do is snipe from the sidelines and watch the government lead its bedraggled troops across the economic wilderness. The Tories themselves have no economic policies to speak of but it is the incumbents who will get the blame. Some talk darkly of overthrowing Brown and having a new Labour leader calling a quick election. But it is too late for that. The New Labour brand is fatally tarnished. There is a desperate need for economic policies with vision such as a Green New Deal, the building of new council housing, the creation of new and sustainable public projects providing proper jobs for the unemployed, and the ending of grossly wasteful and obscene spending projects such as Trident. Instead Labour tinkers around the edges, while its pet projects such as PFI act as a millstone around its neck, dragging it into next year and electoral destruction.

Some thoughts on the subject here

Monday, 9 February 2009

A Just Transition?

Are Keynesian solutions enough to deal with the current employment crisis or is more called for?
At a time when the future of employment and the meaning of work are being called into question in the most significant way for at least twenty years, the meeting below promises to prove very interesting and will debate some of the possible routes ahead. A must for both trade unionists and those who question the future of meaningful work.
GREEN PARTY TRADE UNION GROUP & London Federation of Green Parties
The world plunges headlong into Recession, but could this provide the opportunity for a ‘NEW GREEN DEAL’ or a ‘JUST TRANSITION’ from our current economic arrangements which cause economic & ecological disaster.? What will this new economy be like? How can workers’ rights be defended as it is built?
Jean Lambert,MEP Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London
Tony Kearns (CWU Senior Deputy General Secretary)
Anne Elliott-DAY, PCS .
TUC & CALL (Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning)
speakers - invited
2.00pm Saturday 21 February 2009St Pancras Church Hall , Lancing Street off Eversholt St , London , NW1 1AN , 020 7388 1461, (next to Euston BR, tube and bus station)
To reserve a seat contact ; P.Murry, secretary GPTU at

UB 40 Blues or The Poor Law Rediscovered

Having taken voluntary redundancy at the end of September from the charity for whom I had worked for the last four years (and there is a great deal in the press today about the chronic need for funding charities due to the depression) I found myself among the 2 million unwaged. This was bad timing on my part as it coincided with the massive increase in unemployment, which many experts believe will reach 3 million at least by the end of this year. I have to say here that I was never one of those who believed that the downturn would be short and would not have many casualties. As one who follows the economic runes closely, it was clear that both national and personal indebtedness had reached unsustainable levels.

I duly found myself signing on for Jobseeker's Allowance in October. I had not done this for many years, although it was by no means the first time I had been on the dole. As a young man in the Irish Republic in the 80s with a collapsed economy and the unemployment rate at 25%, I was one among many who found themselves going through the forthnightly ritual of seeking state support. The emigration rate at that time from Ireland was the highest since 1900 and many went to the UK and Germany, with many thousands more going as illegal immigrants to the USA on tourist visas. I later found myself in Liverpool in the mid 80s, which many people at that time described as "the world's first post industrial city". I stood once in a queue for the cinema there where there was half price entry for those with unemployment cards (called at that time UB40). Every single person in the queue had one. The devastation of the recession in the 80s carried out by the Thatcher government's policies has lasted for three generations in many of those former industrial areas of the north. Visiting Liverpool less than two years ago, I realised that not much had changed on that front, apart from the regeneration of some areas of the city centre, which is what most tourists see.

The forthnightly ritual of the JSA is that you tell the official when you are signing on what you have been doing in the preceding two weeks to seek employment. As I was on JSA based on my contributions and not on my income, I did not have to go through the further process of proving how much I had in my savings etc. Most of the officers in the Job Centre Plus are decent people although there are those who clearly hate their jobs and are out to wreak as much humiliation as possible on the unfortunate job seekers who come within their power. It was also clear that in the three months I signed on there was a significant increase in the numbers attending and articles in the South London Press and elsewhere have stated that so great are the numbers that many jobs are being advertised in the Job Centres - this after our prescient government, following the lead of the great Gordon's dictum "An end to boom and bust" had decided to close many of them down and lay off their staff, on the grounds that they would be surplus to requirements.

A few months before the economic collapse, James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, who makes Gradgrind seem benign, issued another immortal New Labour quote: "I am not interested in those who cannot work. I am only interested in those who can." This was in relation to the government proposals on welfare reform, which were presented as part of the Queen's speech. These proposals include such New Labour horrors as introducing lie detector tests for new benefit claimants, which I am sure is against the Human Rights Act. The Green Party put together a team, including the party's Disability Spokesperson, Alan Wheatley, to provide a response to Purnell's proposals and to present an alternative. Although given virtually no publicity at the time, it is a progressive and humane response to the needs of unemployed and disabled people likely to be affected by the new welfare rules. I include it here.

Green Left held a recent meeting in Manchester on unemployment and welfare. As I said at that meeting, there is nothing new in Purnell's proposals. As a historian I am familiar with the Poor Law and the Victorian attitude towards "the undeserving poor". Purnell's quote is the sort of slogan which one would have seen written above the doors of Victorian workhouses as families were separated (men and women had to live apart) and the inmates were forced to build roads to nowhere or sew hemp. The Irish countryside is littered with these roads, which were built at the height of the Great Famine by half starved workhouse inmates.

Now it has been revealed that the private companies being brought in to deliver Purnell's revolution in welfare and who are being promised fat sums for each person removed from the unemployment register are getting cold feet because of the sheer numbers of unemployed. It did not take a PhD in economics to figure out that trying to introduce such a system in the middle of a depression was insane.

While at the Job Centre I was pointed in the direction of the over fifties advisor, who could give special advice to those like myself over fifty. This is another aspect of the whole equation. Many jobseekers over fifty find in increasingly difficult to find employment. Channel 4 are showing a documentary about this tonight on 'Dispatches'
Difficult as it was during the good times for those who are disabled or over fifty to find employment, it is doubly difficult now with thousands of new unemployed every week. Yet this is the time that the New Labour government decided to introduce its draconian welfare proposals, many of which are targeted at disabled people. To cap it all, the proposals were introduced as part of a framework policy drawn up by an investment banker, David Freud, who took three weeks to produce them, and they are bitterly opposed by many disability organisations.

I am now returning to paid work with a local disability organisation in Lambeth. The last few months have been a salutary experience and one which many young people will be experiencing for the first time. Having been through several recessions and been unwaged several times, I am battle scarred, but for many others it will be a fairly traumatic experience. This government which has presided over the bonus culture and the cronyism of the City is determined to squeeze the poor and the unemployed until the pips squeak to pay the costs of this depression. The Tories are just the same. These proposals must be fought tooth and nail. The last ten years have seen a the gap between rich and poor in this country become a yawning chasm. One of the demands on the left is that MPs take the same salary as a skilled worker and I support that demand. For several months I have been living below that level. Vauxhall is a poor inner London constituency with high levels of deprivation and poor health. Nobody can say that I am not a candidate who has not experienced what a lot of people in areas like this are going through now. This depression will be long and deep but without a safety net of an accessible and generous welfare system it will lay the seeds for real hardship and suffering. Not for nothing has it been said that the sign of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable. On that basis alone, New Labour Britain fails the test badly.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Job cuts on Underground

The RMT, which is one of the best trade unions around, and is not tied to the fetid corpse of the Labour Party has called a demonstraton on Wednesday next against 1,000 job cuts which were announced last week by London Underground. Darren Johnson, Green Assembly Member for London will address the demo and myself and other members of the Green Party Trade Union Group will be there to support the union. The demo is at St James Park station and will be outside the building where many of the workers are based who are due to face the growing dole queues. I hope all trade unionists will support them. A list of the jobs are below with information from the RMT.

Jobs going :Projects 830
Human Resources 120
Commercial Procurement 200
Finance & FSO teams 80
SQE 60
IM 50
Legal, Property & Other 20
COO-Ops Support 10
The RMT says no to job cuts. This is just the start. If they get away with it now there will be no stopping them.
Join the protest @ Broadway
Wed Feb 11thFrom 07:30

Lies, Damned Lies and Intelligence

Watching Question Time last night it was quite clear that Geoff Hoon was lying out of the corners of his mouth about the British government and the torture practiced by the Bush administration.
It has been widely reported in the media this week that the US administration made threats to the British Foreign Office that it may refuse to share intelligence in future if documents revealing US involvement in torture are released into the public domain, and that this position has not changed under Obama.The case - in the High Court again this week - relates to former British resident and Ethiopian national Binyam Mohamed, who was picked up in Pakistan in 2002, rendered to Morocco and Afghanistan’s infamous “Dark Prison”, where it is claimed he was interrogated and horribly tortured and mistreated for two years by or on behalf of the American CIA, apparently with the knowledge and complicity of British intelligence and possibly the British Government, before being transferred to the US military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he has remained ever since. Binyam has been on his latest hunger strike for over a month and his military lawyer reports that he is close to starvation.

Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty who was also on the panel described Hoon's comments as "disgraceful" and asked why Hoon had not asked the new US administration if the intelligence would be harmful to them if released. Hoon's reply was evasive. Even Will Young joined in describing the government's appeal to the court as "despicable". This is the same Hoon who squirmed and wiggled over the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and who assured the British people on many occasions, as Defence Secretary, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He is the epitome of a New Labour minister and shows how far morally and intellectually the Labour government has fallen. Hoon was also unable to explain why the argument raised in court by the Foreign Office was different from the statement to parliament by the Foreign Secretary the following day.

Later on one of my favourite politics programmes 'This Week' Andrew Neil blew the pretence of the government's strategy away by revealing that a friend of his who worked in intelligence circles in the US had told him that the release of such information would be of no consequence to the US government. Neil then asked Michael Portillo if that was correct. Portillo, who as Neil pointed out , is a former Defence Secretary, agreed. So the real reason is that the UK government was complicit in this torture and at lease knew of it, and it is even possible that British agents participated. The dark soul of the war on terror and all that the Bush administration did, spreads far into the heart of Whitehall and includes many members of the current government. I can only hope that when international criminal proceedings are started against those who have carried out some of the worst abuses of human rights ever, that Blair and Brown's gang have their place in the dock.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


The snow today has brought much of South London and indeed the country to a halt. I was due to attend a meeting of the London Ambulance Service Patients Forum, where I am the Vice Chair, but the weather meant that the meeting had to be cancelled. We get people coming to our meetings from all across London and the prospect of travelling today would be too much. We were due to have two interesting presentations. The first was about what is happening in London with public and patient involvement and how the new LINks are faring. These are the Local Involvement Networks which were established last April in place of the Patient Forums. The idea was that they were supposed to draw large numbers of people into public involvement in the NHS but many of us felt that they were established to have the opposite effect. A report issued several months ago by the National Association of Links Members, chaired by a dedicated and experienced health activist, Malcolm Alexander, confirmed that all was not well. Large amounts of money due to be given to the LINks were being syphoned off by the Local Authorities instead for other purposes and many LINks members had no real administrative or financial support.

Since then NALM has acted as a pressure group to get the Dept of Health and the Local Authorities to offer real support to local LINks and they are having some success. Patient involvement is absolutely vital for the NHS to ensure that the patient remains at the heart of the service. Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric from the Dept of Health and others supporting this idea, the reality has been quite different.

The second presentation due tonight was about what is happening to the London's health service with the implementation of the Darzi Report. Essentially this is to centralise much non-emergency services in local centres, which will include some GPs, and were some minor surgery and health advice will also be based. These centres, called polyclinics, will be dotted around various areas and are meant to have the effect that only those with serious conditions will use hospitals and A&E. There is a consultation underway at present as to where they should be sited in each Primary Care Trust area. However, there are major concerns about this. One is that it has already been revealed that up to 25% of them could be run by the private sector. There is also mounting concern from GPs and patients, that many small GP practices may close as a result. There is also the question of their impact on the remaining hospitals. This will be the biggest shakeup of the NHS for a generation.

The Green Party, while supporting a more locally based health system, is utterly opposed to any form of privatisation of the NHS and we are determined to work closely with health activists, health trade unions and groups such as pensioners to prevent it.

Our meeting is now postponed until March 2nd and if anyone wants to come along (it is open to the public) it is at the London Ambulance Service Headquarters, 220 Waterloo Road, SE1, within walking distance of Waterloo Underground and rail stations. It will be very informative for anyone wanting to know what is in the pipeline for their local NHS and GP services.

The arctic weather looks likely to continue for the week with further disruption to transport and dangerous slippery pavements. Already there has been a rise in accidents and people using the services of their local hospitals. It is at times like this that you realise how important the NHS really is.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Statement of Elder German Statesmen

And here is the statement released last month by four prominent elder German statesmen, who have either been Chancellors or Presidents of the Federal Republic, calling for nuclear disarmament and the need to have new treaties in place.

Wars and rumours of wars

I have been very interested for a long time in the development of the US missile defence system in Central Europe and the expansion of NATO. My background is as a historian of Russia and Eastern Europe and I am very concerned about the increasing anti-Russian position of NATO and the US. This came to a peak during the Bush presidency with the decision to site early warning radar and missile interceptor bases in the Czech Republic and Poland. I wrote last year, while International Coordinator of the Green Party to the Czech Greens, who are in the coalition government there, asking them not to support the siting of the bases in any way, in accordance with an emergency motion which I succeeded in getting the party conference to adopt unanimously. Also as the party's delegate to Stop the War Coalition, we have been kept up to date with developments in the East and there will be a huge demonstration in Strasbourg on April 4th, at the NATO conference to celebrate its 60th anniversary, which will be attended by President Obama.

On Saturday I went along to an all day conference on this issue, with speakers from the Czech Republic and Poland. I should say that there has been a large grassroots peace movement in the Czech Republic and opinion polls demonstrate that the vast majority of Czechs are opposed to the bases. The bases are supposed to protect the US from incoming Iranian missiles but understandably Russia is deeply concerned that they will be threatened as the bases are near their territory.

The good news, as outlined at the conference, is that Russia has offered an olive branch and has backed down from stationing its missile in Kaliningrad on the Baltic - only about 200 miles from Berlin. They are waiting to see what the response of the new US administration will be, and so is the European peace movement.

The first speaker, Michael Connarty, a Labour MP from Scotland, stated quite clearly that the US strategy was to force Russia into a situation where it would have to spend huge amounts of money on defence, this was the strategy which had led to the fall of the Soviet Union, because the Soviet economy was unable to stand the strain. He made the interesting point that some of the new EU states such as Poland, saw themselves as very linked to the US rather than Europe, and wanted US economic investment etc. He also said that new relations with Russia needed to begin and this could be assisted by reopening a Partnership Agreement. But there were also dangers from Russia and these had been spelt out in Medvedev's recent five basic principles of foreign policy. One of these was "the right to special attention in areas where Russia has interests". This is a return to the traditional sphere of influence theory and suggests that Russia wants to maintain control of the former Soviet states at least.

Ivona Novametska from the Czech Republic works for the Social Democrats, who are opposed to the bases, but is also a member of the independent peace movement. She was very frank in her speech and admitted that some of the Social Democrats had started the negotiations while still in government but had been forced to alter their position by public opinion. She also revealed that there was a real danger that the treaty to establish the bases (agreed last July by the US and Czech Republic) could be ratified in the Czech parliament soon by corrupt Social Democrats who were not standing in the next election and could be open to bribery. I think she was quite brave to say this and could be in some trouble on her return to Prague. She also revealed that the US/Czech treaty was signed on the same table where the Soviets and hardline Communists had agreed to the intervention of Soviet troops against the Prague Spring in 1968, which is a terrible irony. The peace movement has formed a League of Mayors from the leaders of many of the small villages and is bringing them by bus to address the European Parliament on February 18th. She asked if the leaders of the 1989 'Velvet Revolution' could ever have considered that 20 years later, Czech politicians would agree to another foreign occupation. The answer to this came later in the conference and was very surprising. It was also the case that the US National Missile Defence Agency was sending lobbyists and generals to Prague to wine and dine Czech politicians, as well as probably paying them, to line up their support for the deal.

A speaker from the Polish peace movement said that there was an increasing awareness in Poland of the need for a new relationship with Russia and the need to overcome traditional 'Russophobia'. Germany understood that Russia must play a large role in European defence. Russia had offered to take part in a new Eurasian defence system with the US and NATO. In Poland 47% of the population were opposed to the bases but Polish conservative politicians were outdoing each other to support the US. It was clear that Poland would have to buy US equipment in order to maintain the system and the base would be run by US troops. He mocked the only concession granted to the Poles by the US - a patriot missile battery which would be under US command.

Another speaker from the Czech Republic (Jana Glivicka) representing the No to Bases movement, told how ex-President Havel had attacked the peace movement and denounced their demonstrations, asking did they want to hand over the country to the Russians. I found this very depressing from someone who was a dissident and a campaigner for peace during the communist period. The movement is calling for a national referendum, which they would surely win, but the government is refusing. They have won a whole series of local referenda with votes of 95% to 98% opposed to the bases. The movement consists of many older people who feel that the Czech Republic should never be occupied again and remember the years of Soviet occupation, but there are also many young people, including ecologists and anti-globalisation campaigners. Many of these people were not only concerned with the bases but about Europe's role in the arms trade, international development and the combating of poverty, along with issues such as the Palestinians and Gaza. Jana agreed to come and speak at a fringe meeting which Green Left is organising at the Green Party conference in March but also gave me some very confidential information concerning Czech political developments, which I swore not to reveal. However, news about this should come from Prague soon.

Our own Green MEP for London, Jean Lambert, also spoke and described the lunatic missile defence system as "an idea in search of a reason". This is because its defenders keep moving the goalposts about what it is intended to do and who it is aimed at. Her view was that there was an enormous risk of alienating Russia long term, and this is a fear which I very much share. She argued for an international defence agreement and not just treaties to suit the needs of individual countries, in this case Poland and the Czech Republic. There was a danger that if Poland or the Czech Republic refused the bases, then NATO and the US would look elsewhere. One obvious spot in my view is Georgia. Jean also revealed that shortly after the Czech Republic signed the treaty with the US, the country was offered a visa waiver programme, which granted its citizens priveliged rights to enter the US. This was clearly part of the quid pro quo. It was vital said Jean that the meeting of the European Defence Ministers in Prague , the NATO conference in Strasbourg on April4th and the non-proliferation conferences in 2010 were all targeted by the peace movement. Jana also agreed with this and called on the European peace movement to come to the NATO conference to protest.

Reference was made, of course, to the UK being the other part of this whole jigsaw puzzle, and an MP from the German party, Die Linke, who turned out to be a former Green MP, made the point very strongly that France and the UK were both modernising their nuclear arsenals. This at a time when there is mass unemployment and the NHS, education and the welfare system are all being starved of funds. She blamed European governments for not pushing Obama on the issue but adopting a policy of 'wait and see' instead.

For all of the speakers the position of the new US government was seen as essential. But many made the point that Obama is still surrounded by many from the military industrial complex such as Gates, the Defence Secretary.

Two of the Green MPs in the Czech parliament are voting with the opposition and opposing the bases and the Young Czech Greens are also. It is about time that the leadership of the Czech Greens assumed the position which most of their voters want them to take. Ilona made the point that many Czech observers did not believe that the Greens would have seats in the next parliament if they did alter course on this issue.

I am absolutely committed to supporting the peace movement in both countries and to stoping what many at the conference referred to as "a new cold war in Europe". Many activists from the UK are going to Strasbourg and I will be going also. There will be an alternative forum to the NATO conference, a peace camp and finally a large demonstration with people from all across the continent taking part. These young people in the peace movement in Central Europe are providing our continent with a moral compass and trying to save Europe from a possible major conflict, with either Iran or Russia, which could happen because of mendacious politicians with no vision. Europe has seen enough wars in the 20th century. Now with all the other global problems which confront us - economic, resource wise and cliamatic, the last thing we need is a return to the dark days of the cold war - or even worse an accidental nuclear conflagration.

More details of the Strasbourg actions here

And the Czech No Bases site here:

Ivona also told me that Czech filmakers were accompanying her yesterday (Sunday) to visit the early warning sites at Fylingdales in Yorkshire, where protests are ongoing. The film entitled 'Czech Peace' will be shown on Czech television soon. As Ilona said: " When we go there we see what is in store for us. This will give the Czech people even more cause to fight against this invasion of our country."