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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Strasbourg and Afpak



In the early hours of Friday morning I will be boarding a coach in London to travel with thousands of anti-war activists to Strasbourg to demonstrate against the 60th anniversary summit of NATO. The peace movement from across Europe will be gathering there and will include the No to Bases campaigners from the Czech Republic and Poland, who are trying to stop the construction of the US Star Wars early warning radar bases in their countries, which are ostensibly to protect the US from incoming Iranian missiles. The stakes could not be higher. Europe faces a new Cold War with Russia and the NATO Summit will be declaring Albania and Croatia new members of the military alliance. Obama will also address the summit and make new declarations about the war in Afghanistan, calling for massive European reinforcements for the NATO troops there. He is also expected to make a new announcement about NATO's and the US's relations with Russia, which have recently reached their lowest point since the Cold War.

The Strasbourg event will also include a counter summit with anti-war activists from across Europe taking part and the French Greens are prominently involved. I am hoping to speak at the protest on Saturday as a European Parliamentary Candidate for the Green Party in London and as the party's delegate to the Stop the War Coalition. The protests hope to blockade the NATO Summit and to show that Europe's people have enough of war and the vast amounts of money going to support NATO's wars in various parts of Eurasia, plus the ever increasing danger of a war with Russia.

Yesterday in Lahore we saw increasing signs that Pakistan is disintegrating. BBC News last night was referring to 'Pakistan on the brink'. Pakistan is a nuclear power and one of the main reasons for the collapse there of government control and democracy is the NATO war in what the US military planners term 'Afpak' - the theatre of war which is Afghanistan/Pakistan. The NATO air raids on the villages in the north and mounting casualties have led to the Taliban being more popular than ever before. Meanwhile in Afghanistan the Karzai government is facing collapse and even Obama, together with most military experts, agrees that the war is not winnable. But this does not stop the continuing expenditure by NATO and the endless death roll, with UK troops being second only to the Americans in the list of deaths.

France, under its increasingly megalomaniac Right wing president, Sarkozy, has just decided to rejoin NATO after forty years, a decision which is deeply unpopular in France. This is why the summit is being held in Strasbourg. Below is the protest against France joining NATO by Les Verts, the French Greens, which was put to the European Green Party Congress last weekend in Brussels. Sarkozy will roll out all his security apparatus to prevent the protests in Strasbourg and it may all make the G20 protests in London look tame by comparison. While industries close and millions face the dole, the war industry continues to be fed and NATO extends its tentacles in all directions. It is up to us to say enough is enough!

DÉCLARATION DES VERTS SUR L’OTANSUR LA POLITIQUE EUROPÉENNE DE SÉCURITÉ
ET DE DÉFENSE ET SUR L’ARCHITECTURE DE SÉCURITÉ MONDIALE
Les Verts condamnent fermement la décision du président Sarkozy de réintégrer la France dans le commandement intégré (politique et militaire) de l’OTAN, et ce pour une série de raisons, toutes convergentes :• L’OTAN est une structure datant de 1949, de la guerre froide, qui s’apprête à célébrer son 60e anniversaire et qui a perdu la légitimité historique de ses débuts quand elle visait à organiser la défense et la sécurité collective de l’Europe occidentale face au Pacte de Varsovie dominé par l’URSS. Logiquement, depuis la dissolution du Pacte de Varsovie suite à la chute du Mur de Berlin, l’OTAN elle-même aurait dû disparaître. Il s’agit d’une organisation anachronique, qui n’est plus adaptée aux nouveaux défis sécuritaires d’un monde multipolaire, où les menaces ne sont plus seulement militaires mais aussi environnementales, sociales, démocratiques, économiques ; le changement climatique, la crise financière et économique mondiale, l’accès inégal aux ressources naturelles (eau, alimentation, énergie), l’approfondissement du fossé Nord/Sud, la cybercriminalité, la prolifération des armes conventionnelles, nucléaires, bactériologiques et chimiques n’ont pas de solution militaire mais politique. Il n’est jusqu’au terrorisme qui depuis le 11 septembre 2001 a remplacé l’ancien bloc de l’Est comme ennemi principal aux yeux des Etats-Unis et de l’OTAN qui ne requière d’autres solutions que militaires : l’intervention militaire en Afghanistan est un échec et la lutte contre les paradis fiscaux, par exemple, offrirait une contribution importante tant à la lutte contre le terrorisme qu’à la résolution de la crise économique. Il manque la volonté politique. • L’OTAN a toujours été dominée dans son commandement politique comme dans son commandement militaire par les Etats-Unis, de loin le plus puissant de ses membres, et donc subordonnée aux buts politiques et géostratégiques des Etats-Unis. Or les intérêts de ce pays de 300 millions d’habitants, le plus énergétivore de la planète, ne correspondent pas forcément aux intérêts des 6 milliards d’autres habitants de celle-ci. En particulier, la dépendance au pétrole de son modèle de développement, le poids des lobbies de l’armement dans les choix politiques des Etats-Unis conduisent ceux-ci à vouloir sécuriser à tout prix leurs approvisionnements pétroliers et à produire, utiliser et exporter des armements. Cela concourt à donner à la politique de ce pays, et par voie de conséquence de l’OTAN, une tentation unilatérale et agressive (interventions en Irak et en Afghanistan) qui ne fait que nourrir les ressentiments dans le monde musulman et dans les pays pauvres et donc qu’accroître les tensions internationales et les risques sur la sécurité. Cette politique conduit à un cercle vicieux. De surcroît, l’OTAN n’a pas renoncé à la doctrine d’emploi de l’arme nucléaire à titre préventif. Elle concourt à une militarisation des rapports internationaux, alors que les sommes importantes consacrées aux interventions militaires et à l’armement seraient plus utilement investies pour résoudre la crise économique et pour faire face aux nouveaux défis du 21ème siècle. • C’est pour préserver l’autonomie de la politique de défense française, en lien avec le développement de son armement nucléaire, qu’en 1966 le général De Gaulle avait retiré la France des structures de commandement intégré de l’OTAN tout en restant membre de cette alliance militaire fondée essentiellement sur son article 5 affirmant la solidarité de ses membres en cas d’agression. Les Verts n’ont jamais joué sur la corde rance du mythe gaulliste de l’indépendance nationale et ont toujours plaidé au contraire pour une dénationalisation du concept et des moyens de défense, c’est-à-dire pour un large transfert des prérogatives de défense nationale à des entités régionales, continentales ou mondiale (ONU). Cet alignement atlantiste de Nicolas Sarkozy renvoie aux partenaires européens un message désastreux pour la construction d’une politique européenne de sécurité et de défense renforcée permettant d’équilibrer les rapports internationaux et de promouvoir le multilatéralisme. • C’est d’autant plus dommage que le retour dans le commandement intégré de l’OTAN relève pour l’essentiel de la mesure symbolique : quitter le commandement intégré n’a pas empêché de participer à la guerre du Kosovo en 1999 puis à la guerre d’Afghanistan en 2001. Être dans le commandement intégré n’a pas obligé l’Allemagne à participer à la guerre de 2003 en Irak.Nicolas Sarkozy verse dans la prétention lorsqu’il dit vouloir ainsi européaniser l’OTAN et verse dans l’absurde quand il prétend vouloir renforcer la politique de défense européenne en levant toute ambiguïté quant à la sincérité des intentions françaises. Les quelques centaines de postes d’état-major que rapportera à la France ce retour dans le commandement intégré n’auront que peu d’influence sur les orientations de l’OTAN. es les industriels français de l’armement pourront candidater dorénavant à tous les appels d’offre de l’OTAN. Par contre, le message symbolique sera passé : la France rentre dans le rang atlantiste.• C’est d’autant plus consternant que c‘est sous l’administration Bush, porteuse d’une idéologie de guerre des civilisations sous couvert de lutte contre le terrorisme et contre l’ »axe du Mal » que Nicolas Sarkozy a annoncé cette mesure d ès 2007, avant même que le Libre blanc sur la défense qu’il avait commandé ne soit rendu (en juin 2008). C’est d’autant plus consternant que cette décision personnelle, à caractère autocratique, aurait, sous d’autres cieux, donné lieu à un débat parlementaire préalable ou à un référendum. C’est d’autant plus consternant que le président de la République n’assume même pas sa décision, puisqu’il engage la responsabilité de son gouvernement sur l’ensemble de la politique internationale au débat parlementaire du 17 mars, contournant le sujet de l’OTAN et prenant le vote de son groupe parlementaire en otage. • Les Verts ne souhaitent pas renforcer l’OTAN mais au contraire diminuer ses prérogatives jusqu’à sa dissolution finale tout en promouvant parallèlement la construction d’une politique européenne de sécurité et de défense (PESD) efficiente. Les Verts sont conscients que cette période transitoire peut être longue car 21 des 27 Etats de l’Union Européenne sont membres de l’OTAN et car leur sécurité commune continue de reposer prioritairement, aux termes du Traité de Lisbonne (TUE, art.42, 7) sur l’article 5 du Traité de l’alliance atlantique (clause de défense mutuelle de l’OTAN) selon lequel une attaque contre l’un est une attaque contre tous. Pour cette raison, l’UE ne peut que coopérer pendant un temps encore avec l’OTAN, mais il faut réduire sa dépendance (en particulier celle de l’Europe de l’Est) envers l’OTAN En matière de sécurité et pour cela renforcer la PESD qui, depuis l’enterrement par la France de la Communauté européenne de Défense, il y a plus de 50 ans, reste le parent pauvre de la construction européenne et n’a toujours pas les moyens, ni l’ambition de se substituer à l’OTAN. La concurrence et la prééminence de l’OTAN contribuent depuis trop longtemps à freiner l’émergence d’une PESD crédible et efficiente, même si les difficultés des dirigeants européens à dégager une politique étrangère commune (comme sur l’Irak en 23003) constitue une autre raison fondamentale. • Pour les Verts, l’UE doit développer sa propre vision de la sécurité internationale, reposant sur des capacités diplomatiques, de renseignement et opérationnelles autonomes. Les Verts ne souhaitent pas faire de l’Europe une superpuissance militaire, mais il est clair que son poids politique, démographique, économique et culturel constitue le bon niveau pour offrir un contrepoids aux visées américaines à l’échelle mondiale. Pour les Verts, la sécurité de l’Europe dépend d’abord de son action diplomatique et économique, afin de diminuer les menaces potentielles en réduisant la fracture Nord-Sud, en promouvant la démocratie et les droits les droits de l’Homme partout ainsi que le désarmement. Quant à la politique de défense européenne proprement dite, elle doit reposer sur un pilier civil (formation à la résistance civile non-violents, création d’un service civil européen et d’un Corps civil européen de Paix chargé de prévenir en amont les conflits). Pour des missions de maintien ou de rétablissement de la paix, l’Europe doit disposer d’une force de police internationale et d’une force de projection pour intervenir en cas de violations massives et structurelles des droits de l’Homme, y compris hors d’Europe, sous réserve que cela soit dans le cadre d’un mandat de l’ONU. Toutefois tous les Etats de l’UE ne devraient pas être tenus de participer à de telles opérations qui devraient être ratifiées par les parlements nationaux et le Parlement européen.Les Verts sont en faveur d’une PESD adossée à l’Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe (OSCE) qui a depuis longtemps vocation à favoriser le dialogue et la coopération entre l’Est et l’Ouest et qui réunit aujourd’hui 56 Etats y compris le Canada, les Etats-Unis, l’ensemble des pays européens, la Russie et les pays de l’ex-URSS jusqu’en Asie centrale. Malheureusement, le budget de l’OSCE n’a jamais été à la hauteur du rôle qui lui incombe (il n’était que de 168 millions en 2006, contre 1,8 milliard d’euros pour l’OTAN).Les Verts souhaitent que la PESD travaille en coopération avec une ONU réformée, rénovée et démocratisée, avec un Conseil de sécurité dont les membres permanents n’auraient plus le droit de veto et seraient de grandes entités régionales (comme l’UE) en lieu et place du club des vainqueurs de la guerre 1939-1945, avec un rôle de l’Assemblée générale et des ONG renforcés. • À l’inverse, l’OTAN est une organisation qui d’un but défensif initial (n’excluant pas toutefois l’usage préventif de l’arme nucléaire) est passée depuis 10 ans déjà à une stratégie d’intervention hors de sa zone transatlantique originelle, qui a mené à son intervention en 2003 dans la désastreuse guerre d’Afghanistan et qui vise clairement à exercer un contrôle sur la zone riche en pétrole et en, gaz du Moyen-Orient et de l’Asie centrale. En matière de défense, les Verts ont toujours été contre toute posture offensive et pour l’adoption d’une posture défensive, consistant à s’équiper juste assez pour dissuader véritablement tout agresseur potentiel tout en restreignant drastiquement les ventes d’armes (qui multiplient les dangers), en signant tous les instruments internationaux visant à interdire ou limiter les armements (conventionnels, nucléaires, chimiques, bactériologiques), en promouvant la justice internationale (objectifs du Millénaire, affectation de 0,7 % du PIB des pays développés à l’aide au développement, abolition de la dette des pays pauvres) et en promouvant la démocratie et les droits de l’Homme qui sont des garanties pour la sécurité internationale : les régimes autoritaires sont toujours plus menaçants que les démocraties. Les Etats-Unis, en refusant de ratifier maintes conventions internationales, y compris la Cour Pénale internationale (CPI) ou, récemment encore, la Convention d’Oslo sur les armes à sous-munitions (tout comme la Chine et la Russie) sont aux antipodes d’une telle attitude, et Nicolas Sarkozy, en s’abaissant devant des puissances non démocratiques comme la Chine (présence à la cérémonie d’ouverture des Jeux Olympiques de Pékin, réception tardive du Dalai Lama) ou la Russie (message de félicitations incongru à Poutine) contribue à promouvoir l’insécurité internationale. Pour protéger les pays ex-membres de l’URSS (pays baltes et surtout l’Ukraine et la Géorgie qui ne sont pas membres de l’UE) qui restent l’objet de mesures d’intimidation intolérables de la Russie à relents impérialistes de Poutine, les Verts ne plaident pas pour leur intégration à l’OTAN mais pour la fermeté des démocraties face à un régime qui a déjà déclenché une cyberattaque contre l’Estonie, utilisé l’arme du gaz contre l’Ukraine et riposté à l’attaque de la Géorgie sur l’Ossétie du Sud en occupant illégalement une partie de la Géorgie. Hélas, le honteux mutisme des démocraties occidentales face à la barbarie des massacres russes en Tchétchénie, qui ont fait des centaines de milliers de morts, l’attitude complice de Sarkozy et autres Berlusconi envers Poutine ne rendent pas l’hypothèse d’une telle fermeté probable, et expliquent malheureusement la tentation de ces pays à rejoindre l’OTAN. Clairement la solution est d’exercer sur la durée des pressions fortes pour favoriser la démocratisation de la Russie afin qu’elle puisse éventuellement, à un ter me aujourd’hui lointain, intégrer la PESD.

En conclusion, et pour l’ensemble de ces raisons, les Verts : • Rappellent que le 1er but d’une défense doit être d’éviter les guerres et que la question de la sécurité globale ne saurait être déconnectée des enjeux sociaux, environnementaux et démocratiques.• Dénoncent la décision de Nicolas Sarkozy de réintégrer la structure de commandement intégré de l’OTAN.• Plaident pour la disparition progressive de l’OTAN et au profit d’une PESD efficiente, adossée à l’OSCE et coopérant avec une UE réformée, rénovée et démocratisée.• Plaident pour le retrait progressif des forces françaises et de l’OTAN d’Afghanistan.• Appellent à une forte mobilisation au Contre-sommet organisé à Strasbourg du 3 au 5 avril en contrepoint au Sommet de l’OTAN célébrant son 60ème anniversaire.• Appellent au respect des libertés démocratiques face à la volonté des autorités françaises de transformer Strasbourg en ville fermée en filtrant les déplacements des habitants et des travailleurs du centre, en dépêchant des milliers de forces de l’ordre et en tentant de confiner le Contre-sommet, y compris la grande manifestation internationale du samedi 4 avril, dans les quartiers périphériques de Strasbourg.• Demandent à leurs délégués au PVE de porter ces propositions afin qu’elles se développent à l’échelle européenne.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Anti-Discrimination Report

http://www.greens-efa-service.org/medialib/fe/pub/en/dct/335

Good report here about the anti-Discrimination report adopted by the European Parliament due to the efforts of the Dutch Green MEP, Kathalijne Buitenweg and opposed, at least initially, by the Christian Democrats. Worth bearing in mind that this group in the Parliament, the European People's Party, also includes (for the moment) our own Conservative Party. However, after the European elections, Cameron is leading the Tories into the political wilderness in Europe and they could end up in a new political grouping with some very strange bedfellows indeed - one of them being the notoriously homophobic Law and Justice Party from Poland. In the meantime, Berlusconi has just formed a new large party of the Right, including the neo-Fascists, and they in turn will be joining the European People's Party. So the political version of musicial chairs continues.

Meanwhile the Greens continue to fight for LGBT rights across Europe - against both Fascists in Italy, far Right Catholic conservatives in Poland and "the nasty party" in the UK.

March for Jobs and against Climate Change




Some pictures here from Saturday's march organised by a broad coalition of trade unions, NGOs and at which there was a prominent Green Party presence with the slogan "Workers for the World Unite". Pete Murry, Secretary of the Green Party Trade Union Group, appeared on the Guardian's blog following those taking part in the demo and spoke about the need for the Green New Deal and job creation projects.


There have been comments in today's Guardian that the marchers were too 'ragged' and from disparate groups. This is certainly the case but a broad coalition is necessary to challenge the great and the good who are coming to London for the G20. Already the press are reporting that there are efforts to play down what will happen at Thursday's summit. It seems that there is no agreement and that many of the governments are hoping only for a restoration of 'business as usual'. This is really criminal and bodes badly for the future. George Soros was on television at the weekend saying that if nothing is done soon we could be facing a depression worse than that of the 1930s. Time is running out and if the G20 is just another hugely expensive talking shop, which I suspect it will be, then the people of the world will be very angry indeed. Soros said that the main aim now of the G20 should be the protection of the developing world. I am afraid that we are going to witness an attempt by the rich world to roll back any gains which the developing world has made, with calls for protectionism emanating from everywhere.


Meanwhile the media and police continue to create a sense of panic in London, with even suggestions that old Poll Tax rioters are coming out of retirement for a special G20 riot in the city. As someone remarked on the news yesterday, if only a fraction of the money being spent on protecting the rich and powerful at this summit of the greedy, how many hospitals, schools etc could be funded?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Peace and Justice v War and Poverty


As the Green Party's delegate to the Stop the War Coalition, I am flagging up these forthcoming events organised by STWC. By the way, we had a really good fringe organised by Green Left at Green Party conference with Andrew Murray, Chair of STWC. Andrew spoke about the real dangers of NATO expansion and the fact that the UK could have been at war with Russia last August, if Georgia had been a NATO member. This is the scale of the danger facing us at present.


So although most of the focus of the coming G20 protests will be on the economic aspects of it, the dangers of wars and the increasing involvement of the military industrial complex in driving forward the war agenda is central. There is a real danger that, like the 1930s, rearmament and war could become a part of the economic agenda. It was not Rossevelt's New Deal which brought the US out of depression in the 30s but the massive arms production programme leading up to World War II, and the full scale war economy which followed. We must continue to oppose war on all fronts.

1) GET READY FOR A WEEK OF PROTEST
2) SAT 28 MARCH: PUT PEOPLE FIRST DEMONSTRATION
3) MON 30 MARCH: PUBLIC MEETING: MEET THE RESISTANCE
4) TUE 31 MARCH: STOP THE WAR PRESENTS LOWKEY
5) WED 1 APRIL: YES WE CAN DEMONSTRATION
6) THURS 2 APRIL, 11AM PROTEST AT THE EXCEL CENTRE
7) APR 3-5 NO TO NATO INTERNATIONAL DEMONSTRATION

*****************************************
1) GET READY FOR A WEEK OF PROTEST

Stop the War's main event at the G20 is the YES WE CAN
demonstration which starts at the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square
at 2.00pm on Wednesday 1 April.

But we have a week of protest coming up at the G20 and NATO
(details below). It is crucial we make sure the world's
leaders can't escape the massive opposition to the wars they
are waging.

For more information on any of these events please contact the
Stop the War office on 020 7801 2768 on or check the
website http://www.stopwar.org.uk/

*****************************************
2) SAT 28 MARCH: PUT PEOPLE FIRST DEMONSTRATION

Stop the War is encouraging its supporters to join this
demonstration called by the TUC and NGO's calling for Jobs and
action on poverty and the environment.

We will be forming an anti war/solidarity with Palestine
contingent on the demo. Look for the Jobs Not Bombs banner,
meet at Temple Tube 10.30 am.
http://www.putpeoplefirst.org.uk/

*****************************************
3) MON 30 MARCH: PUBLIC MEETING: MEET THE RESISTANCE
THE STRUGGLE FOR PEACE & JUSTICE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Come and hear elected representatives from the resistance in
Palestine and Lebanon.

Speakers:
HUSSEIN EL-HAJJ HASSAN MP
Lebanon’s Loyalty to the Resistance Parliamentary Bloc
HASAN KHREISHI
Vice President of the Palestinian Legislative Council
JEREMY CORBYN MP
Stop the War Coalition
JOHN REES
Vice President (Europe) Cairo Conference
DYAB ABOU JAHJAH
International Co-Ordinator of the International Union of
Parliamentarians For Palestine
SUKANT CHANDAN
English Chair of IUPFP

Time: 7pm
Date: Monday 30th March
Place: Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London (nearest
tube, Euston or Euston Square)
Entrance £2

*****************************************
4) TUE 31 MARCH: STOP THE WAR PRESENTS LOWKEY
Tears to Laughter, a benefit and launch party for Lowkey's new
single and for the G20 protests. Featuring Faith SFX and
Shadia Mansour.
8pm, Vibe Bar, Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL 8pm.
Contact the Stop the War office on 020 7801 2768 to book your
ticket.

*****************************************
5) WEDNESDAY 1 APRIL: YES WE CAN DEMONSTRATION
Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, End the Siege of Gaza,
Make Jobs not Bombs, Abolish nukes, End Arms Sales to Israel.

Assemble 2pm US Embassy Grosvenor Square.

The demonstration will start by handing in a message to Barack
Obama at the US embassy. We will then march through central
London at the moment the world leaders' arrive and Obama meets
Gordon Brown at Downing Street.

3.30 RALLY IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE. Speakers include Tony Benn,
Arthur Scargill, Daud Abdullah from the Muslim Council of
Britain, anti debt campaigner Susan George, and Keith Sonnet
from UNISON. Performers include Palestinian singer Reem
Kolanai and rapper Lowkey.

*****************************************
6) THURS 2 APRIL, 11AM PROTEST AT THE EXCEL CENTRE
Details to be announced.

*****************************************
7) NO TO NATO INTERNATIONAL DEMONSTRATION

FRIDAY 3 APRIL: 6am Victoria Embankment. Join the coach for
Strasbourg No To NATO protests. Book online at
http://www.stopwar.org.uk/ or by phone on 020 7801 2768

SATURDAY 4 APRIL: NO to NATO International Demonstration,
Strasbourg

SUNDAY 5 APRIL: Strasbourg Counter Conference

*****************************************

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Homophobia in Eastern Europe

The following is a report on a fringe meeting held at the Green Party Spring conference on ‘Homophobia in Eastern Europe’ with Aleksandra Kretkowska from the Polish Greens. Jean Lambert MEP's Press Officer was in attendance, and we have sent a report of it to the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester who are publishing a newsletter this week about LGBT refugees from Eastern Europe who are living in North West England because of homophobia in their respective countries. Lesley Hedges, who wrote this report, is also attending the LGBT Working Group Meeting at the European Green Party Council meeting in Brussels next Friday representing GPEW.

Lesley is a Euro candidate in Yorkshire & Humberside and also the Press Officer for the Euro campaign there. Aleksandra Kretkowska is currently in London on European Exchange Programme is assisting with the London Euro election campaign. Lesley is also the Green Party's Female LGBTQI Spokesperson. As an openly gay European Parliamentary and general election candidate I feel passionately about this issue, and am convinced that there are thousands of Eastern European LGBTQI people living in cities such as Manchester and London because of the impact of homophobia in their home countries. At a recent event organised by SERTUC (South East Region TUC) a gay immigrant and activist from Latvia told how he had had to leave three jobs there because of homophobia and was now earning one third of his salary in Latvia working in a London coffee shop because he felt free for the first time in his life.

http://www.lgf.org.uk/news the LGFF website.



Aleksandra Kretskowska from the Polish Greens spoke passionately about the prejudice and even violence faced by LGBT people in Eastern Europe. She was talking at a fringe at the Green Party Conference at the weekend about the continuing discrimination towards out gay men and lesbians in many countries including Poland, Latvia, Serbia and Lithuania. Prides and other demonstrations have been attacked by right wing and religious groups. Attitudes and opposition is slowly changing. She said that in Poland, Prides were small at first, with about 100 people attending but that over the last few years confidence has grown and so have the numbers who feel safe to come together to celebrate being gay and lesbian, bisexual and trans. They are gradually challenging the invisibility which has been forced on them.

The fringe was organised by Joseph Healy* at the Green Party’s Spring Conference in Blackpool at the weekend (20th to 23rd March) and is part of a programme of meetings and activities of LGBTQI Greens to champion LGBTQI rights in the UK, Europe and the world.

The Green Party’s LGBTQI group pledged to help LGBT people in Eastern Europe and elsewhere in the world. We will be asking for alternate European Green Party meetings to be held in Eastern European countries and will publicise the hardship faced by our communities there and encourage people to support them through letter writing or attending Prides and other activities there.

Aleksandra said that European Union laws are making a difference in countries in Eastern Europe. Green MEP Jeam Lambert, who represents the London Region, has pushed forward the human rights agenda including LGBT rights and has helped gay asylum seekers to find safety in the UK.

LGBTQI Greens also agreed to continue to combat homophobia in other parts of the world and to take action for IDAHO on May 17th


Notes

*Joseph Healy is International Officer for the LGBTQI Greens

The LGBTQI Greens website is at www.lgbtgreens.org.uk

More information on the Green Party of England and Wales at www.greenparty.org.uk

IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia)

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The return of Fascism

The spectre of Fascism is growing across Europe at present. It is predicted that the parties of the Far Right will have much greater representation in the new European Parliament than they do at present. Italy is a case in point. In Friday's Independent there was a fascinating account of how the successor party to Mussolini's Fascists is now merging with the main Forza Italia party of Berlusconi. They are claiming that they have renounced Fascism but all the signs are that Fascism has entered the bloodstream of the Italian body politic. At the last general election, for instance, for the first time since 1945 there were no Socialist or Communist deputies in the Italian parliament, only Centrists and the parties of the Right who combined under Berlusconi's coalition. Since then we have seen the first Fascist Mayor of Rome and increasing attacks on migrants, Roma and others deemed 'undesirable' by the new regime.

The Independent makes the point that Italy never went through a process of de-Nazification (or in Italy's case de-Fascistification) in the same way as Germany. Watching a film some years ago about the Italian campaign in Libya, where the Italians dive bombed Berber villages and opened mass concentration camps in the desert, during the 1930s, I discovered that criticising the Italian military or its leaders was still a crime in Italy. Thus none of the people involved in these war crimes had ever been tried but had been honoured by the post-Fascist Republic after the end of World War II. The Independent quotes from Christopher Duggan, the British author of Force of Destiny, an acclaimed history of modern Italy:

"As a result very senior figures in the army, the police and the judiciary remained unpurged. Take the figure of Gaetano Azzariti, one of the first presidents, post-war, of Italy's Constitutional Court, yet under Mussolini he had been the president of the court which had the job of enforcing the the race laws. The failure of the Allies to put pressure on Italy also reflects a perception that still exists: that the Fascist revival is not to be taken seriously because Italy is 'lightweight'. Whereas if the same thing happened in Germany or Austria, you'd get really worried."

The widespread defiance of the anti-Fascist Constitution can be seen in the profusion of parties deriving inspiration from Mussolini; in the thousands who pour into Predapio, Mussolini's birthplace, to celebrate his march on Rome on 20 October every year; in shops and on market stalls doing a lively trade in busts of Il Duce and other Fascist mementoes of every sort.
Far more alarming, Duggan says, is what is happening out of the spotlight to the national temper, where the steady erosion and discrediting of state institutions is playing into the hands of a dictatorial elite, just as it did in the 1920s.

"What is so disturbing is not just the systematic rehabilitation of Fascism but the erosion of every aspect of the state, for example justice, with the result that people have the urge to throw themselves into the arms of the one man who they believe can sort things out.
"You create very personalised relations with the leader, so that in Mussolini's case, he received 2,000 letters a day from people pleading with him to help. If the state doesn't work, you trust in one man to pick up the phone and sort things out. This is how liberalism disappeared in the 1920s, with the steady discrediting of parliament so that in the end there was no need for Mussolini to abolish it, he merely ignored it. Something very similar is happening in Italy today."


These are very concerning and serious developments in a major European state, whose MEPs will quite probably be drawn from some of these elements. Alessandra Mussolini, the Duce's granddaughter is already an MEP. All of this makes it imperative that as many people across Europe vote for progressive parties and for the Greens in particular to stop the onward march of the Far Right. With the European Parliament due to gain even more powers under the Lisbon Treaty, it is essential that the progressive blocks are well represented there, especially when an increasing amout of legislation is coming from the EU.

The normalisation of Fascism must never be permitted, either here or in the European Union.

Conference Report


Just back last night from the Green Party Spring Conference in Blackpool. The Winter Gardens was a wonderful location and was the site of many Labour and Conservative conferences when Blackpool was more in vogue and before Labour decided that they did not want to be associated with working class towns and communities. The town itself is very run down and suffering tremendously from unemployment and the collapse of small businesses. At the local B&B run by a very nice and hardworking couple, we were told that the local estate agent had over 200 guest houses for sale on its books. There was a session at the conference about regenerating seaside towns but unfortunately I was not able to attend.


The highlight of the conference for me was getting the Migration motion passed. As Peter Cranie, the lead European Parliamentary Candidate in the North West said in his opening speech, combating the BNP is essential in the region and across the country. Nick Griffin is pushing hard to secure a seat there on June 4th and the Greens will be fighting hard to ensure that we block him.


The motion, which commits the part to supporting the migration policy of the European Green Party was passed unanimously and we enter the European election with one of the most progressive and radical policies on migration in the country. When one compares that with the xenophobic and anti-immigrant cant coming out of the mouths of ministers such as Phil Woolas, it makes me proud to be a Green. New Labour is seeking to draw votes away from the BNP by mirroring their discourse about waves of immigrants and drawing up the drawbridge. But as Greens recognise, we live in a global society and simply cannot turn away when others are seeking either refuge or employment in our priveliged part of the world.


Anyone having seen Panorama last week on the plight of the thousands of illegal immigrants having to live and work in a shadow economy and society, where even Boris Johnson is calling for an amnesty, will feel revulsion for New Labour's tactic of bashing some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society in order to garner white working class votes, which they feel they are losing to the BNP. This at the very time that the same government is introducing a new law, the Welfare Reform Bill, which will plunge thousands more of that very same grouping into poverty and make the unemployed work for lower than the minimum wage in order to draw benefits. Far easier to blame the immigrants and asylum seekers, many of whom are here or trying to gain entry because of New Labour's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq anyway.


The main points of the policy are here but the full details can be seen on the website of the European Green Party http://www.europeangreens.org/cms/default/dokbin/230/230557.europe_is_a_continent_of_migration@en.pdf


Stop the detention of asylum seekers, minors and vulnerable persons!

Remove or amend of the Dublin Convention in order to lighten the burden of Border States of the EU!

Share responsibility between EU member states, to allow refugees or persons granted temporary protection to move from one Member State to another!

Asylum seekers who are not able to return within three years should be granted a permanent residence permit!

Regularise rejected asylum seekers or irregular migrants who cannot be deported back to their country of origin!

Regularise irregular migrants who have lived a life similar to the one of citizens of the host country!

Limit the use of detention to last resort cases, such as irregular migrants refusing to help with identification procedures and are about to be deported!

Foster other solutions than detention!

Respect human dignity and fundamental rights of irregular migrants!

Ensure the right to an individual and fair assessment of the claims of all asylum seekers and ensure access to asylum procedure to asylum seekers trying to enter the EU!

Grant asylum seekers the right to work while their application is processed!

Equal EU-citizenship for citizens from the “new” Member States!

Full access to labour market and education for all residents in the European Union!

Free movement for migrants after three years residence in a Member State!

Blue card also for less skilled and unskilled workers!

European minimum standards on social rights for labour migrants!

Temporary labour migrants must have the chance of getting a permanent residence permit!


For a generous policy of readmission, short-stay visa, facilitation of remittances!


Access to basic provisions for irregular migrants and regularisation after a certain term!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Blackpool by the sea

I am off tomorrow morning to Green Party conference in Blackpool. There I will be proposing a radical and progressive motion on migration policy, which will bring us into line with our fellow Green parties across Europe in time for the European elections on June 4th.

I will also be chairing a fringe on Friday night organised by the LGBT Group on 'Homophobia in Eastern Europe' with Aleksandra Krestowska from the Polish Greens speaking. On Saturday I will chair one of the two Green Left fringes, this one being on NATO Expansion to the East with Andrew Murray of Stop the War Coalition. There will be another Green Left fringe on economics with Sean Thompson and other speakers. I will also attend the AGM of the Green Party Trade Union Group, where I am standing for re-election as Treasurer. I also intend to vote for important amendments to the Green New Deal economics policy, which include provisions for returning large scale energy production to state control and for a 'Just Transition' policy for workers made redundant in decaying industries, which would ensure that they are re-employed in new green sustainable production. This is a policy advocated by the TUC and many European trade unions.

I will also be chairing a fringe meeting on Sunday night on 'Democratisation in the NHS' with my good friend and famous health activist, Malcolm Alexander, Chair of the National Association of LINks Members. Malcolm will be speaking about empowering patients and communities in running the NHS.

Along the way, I will do a fair amount of networking and attend several other meetings which may add to my overall knowledge of things political, environmental, social and economic. I gather that several Greens from Scotland will be attending, including Patrick Harvie, one of the Green Members of the Scottish Parliament, who has acquired quite a reputation in Scotland recently for holding the SNP government to account.

Anyway, all in all I am sure that it will be a positive experience and will also see the launch of our European election campaign. Only a little over two months left to go now until Euro day on June 4th. I may not be blogging from the conference but if not will return to the blogosphere on Monday, all being well.

Dr Atomic

I went to the opera last night at English National Opera’s acclaimed production of John Adams’s ‘Dr Atomic’. It has already been a huge success at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and has also received rave reviews here. It is that rare thing – a political opera. It deals with the relationship between science and politics but also between those who seek to dominate nature and the world through force and those who would live in harmony with it.

The opera is based on the story of the creation of the atom bomb and the main character is Oppenheimer, who is the ‘Dr Atomic’ in the title, a deliberate reference to Dr Faust, as the central message of the work is that Oppenheimer has signed a faustian pact with the US military in return for funds and no questions being asked. There are several scientists in the story, which is based on factual records, who call for the project to be halted and also for the bomb not to be dropped on Japan. At a time when some in the Green movement are speaking about making deals with nuclear energy, it is recommended to see this opera and to read the account of those scientists who took part, and what happened to them later. The music is sharp but powerful and there are some very dramatic scenes, especially the ticking clock motifs in the music leading up to the test explosion.

But the opera also reminds us that the threat of nuclear annihilation has not gone away, although it has seemed to lessen since the end of the Cold War. However, the build of forces between NATO and Russia and the question about what the future of nuclear armed Pakistan is, throw all these questions into sharp relief. We should not be lulled into a false sense of security.

This is why I am the Green Party’s representative on the Steering Group of Stop the War Coalition and in constant contact with those opposing the US missile bases in Central Europe. On Saturday lunchtime I will be chairing a session on NATO and Eastern Enlargement at the Green Party conference in Blackpool with the Chair of Stop the War, Andrew Murray.

Dr Atomic finishes its run this week but hopefully will return to London again. If it does, you should definitely try and see it. Below is a quote from the appeal which the scientist Leo Szilard (a refugee from Hungary under the Nazis) and 58 other scientists wrote to President Truman in 1945 asking for atomic weapons not to be used:

“Atomic power will provide the nations with new means of destruction. The atomic bombs at our disposal represent only the first step in this direction and there is almost no limit to the destructive power which will become available in the course of this development. Thus a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale.”

Sixty four year later I can only hope that the USA and the new Obama administration can listen to this plea for peace and put an end to the nuclear arms race.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

St Patrick's Day

As an Irishman, St Patrick's Day is always special to me and is celebrated all over the world wherever there is an Irish community or even an Irish influence. It is indicative of how the Irish diaspora has spread and put down roots almost everywhere. The history of the waves of Irish emigration and the prejudice which they met has, however, frequently been overlooked in the sea of party hats and waves of Guinness on the day itself. Ireland's troubled history itself has resurfaced in recent weeks with the killings in Northern Ireland and the fear that things could spiral out of control once again.

It is very appropriate that Patrick himself was not Irish but a immigrant from elsewhere and indeed a slave. The legend is that he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken from either Gaul or Wales, both of which were at that time in the Roman Empire, to the perceived barbarian land of Ireland, which lay outside the Pax Romana, later to be emulated by the Pax Britannica, where Ireland would be one of the first countries added to the new empire. Patrick managed to escape, returning to Gaul and later became a priest and missionary, returning to Christianise the pagan Irish. His method of teaching them about the Trinity was to pick a shamrock and explain that the three divinities in one were similar to the three leaves of the one plant. Thus the shamrock became the national symbol.

The oppression of the Catholic majority in Ireland in the 18th century under the savage Penal Laws (an early form of apartheid introduced by the new settler class) led to many Irish seeking their fortunes in continental Europe and particularly in the armies of the Catholic courts of France, Spain and the Hapsbury Empire. A recent exhibition in Dublin about 'The Wild Geese' as these exiles were known had a painting of an Irish general in the service of the Habsburg Empire trying to persuade his fellow Irish officers on the opposing French side of a battle to defect to the Emperor's cause.

The great waves of emigration truly started after the Great Famine, an exercise in Free Trade, which the IMF would have been proud of, where the British government allowed stocks of food to be exported from the country while thousands lay dying and sick. The only relief offered by the Victorian British authorities was the Poor Relief Board, where armies of sick and starving peasants were offered soup in return for building roads which led to nowhere and where the Workhouses strictly segregated families, in case welfare should prove too attractive and they develop a 'dependency culture'. Thousands headed for the cities of America and the UK and the truly Irish diaspora began. Later many more found themselves heading for Australia as political prisoners.

Those first Irish immigrants encountered hostility and attack, on both sides of the Atlantic. Martin Scorsese's recent 'Gangs of New York' illustrates the hostility which the starving Irish immigrants arriving from Ireland encountered from 'the natives' in New York and elsewhere. It is for this reason that the Irish have always had an understanding of the dynamic of immigration and emigration and of the problems which immigrants encounter. The memory of the Great Famine is also a reason why Irish contributions towards the developing world are one of the highest per capita in Europe.

Today with the debate on immigration again raging and the recent Panorama programme which advocated an amnesty for illegal immigrants, it is salutary to look back at the experience of the Irish and what they contributed to UK society. The Green Party conference this weekend is going to debate a forward looking and progressive motion which I am supporting to grant decent conditions and a level playing field to immigrants and asylum seekers across the EU. The other European Green parties have already supported it and are running on a brave and radical manifesto on this issue in the elections taking place across Europe in early June. With a rampant BNP and racism and xenophobia in the news every day, thanks to the likes of the Daily Mail it is ncessary to take a long term view of this issue and to see it also in an historical light.

The following is from a book on the history of immigration into the UK I am currently reading entitled 'Bloody Foreigners. The story of immigration to Britain.' by Robert Winder (2004). In the chapter on the great Irish immigration of the 19th century Winder writes:

"From uncompromising beginnings the Irish developed into a success story, they stepped onwards and upwards into the centre of a country they simultaneously adopted and altered... Their story gives hope for any future immigrants to these shores, because the initial discomfort, no matter how extreme, did not last for ever. At the end of the century, as the red brick turrets of Westminster Cathedral began to rise into the sky above Victoria Station, it was clear that, thanks to the Irish, England now embraced a sizable Catholic population. Inside, there were pillars of Cork and Connemara marble, a bronze statue of St Patrick, and a mother of pearl shamrock. Britain was at last a country not merely of religious reform but of religious variety and tolerance, a fact which would be increasingly important as members of other faiths began to congregate in these islands."

The lesson remains as relevant today as it was in the 19th century. For me, this is the real meaning of St Patrick's Day wherever it is celebrated from Melbourne to Manchester.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Green Left Fringe at Green Party Conference

I have been unable to blog for a few days but hopefully can get back to normality now. I spent Saturday at the Stop the War Coalition Steering Group, which covered a range of issues from the recent demonstration in Luton against troops returning from Iraq to the political situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine and the issue of NATO and its expansion in the east. We also discussed forthcoming demonstrations against the G20 Conference in London on April 1st and the anti-NATO demo in Strasbourg on April 4th, which includes a counter summit on April 5th. I will be going to Strasbourg for this and hope to speak on behalf of the Green Party. I will blog more about the STWC Steering Group anon.

In the interim, Green Left are organising a fringe meeting at the Green Party's Spring Conference in the Blackpool Winter Gardens on Saturday 21st April at 1pm on 'NATO's Eastward Expansion. A new Cold War in Europe?' We are very pleased that Andrew Murray, Chair of Stop the War Coalition is speaking.

On the eve of the NATO 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg and with France having rejoined NATO after 40 years, it is very timely to discuss this issue. There is also the fact that relations between Russia and NATO are coming to a head with the Star Wars missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic on the way. Will NATO try and do a deal with Russia to get Russian support for the war in Afghanistan (supply routes through Russia being a major factor) and to neutralise any resistance towards threatening Iran. Or will the Obama administration continue to push Russia around, with Clinton saying last week that Russia has no natural sphere of influence. With Croatia joining the EU and NATO next year and the ongoing situation with Georgia and Ukraine there is everything to play for. Meanwhile vast sums of money continue to be poured into the arms trade and the war machine, with the danger of nuclear war in the background.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Conference on Surveillance and Security in Europe this Saturday

Notice below of the London Federation of Green Parties/Green Islands Network Conference on Surveillance and Security in Europe this Saturday at Dragon Hall in London. Steven Agnew’s contribution on Northern Ireland has become even more significant in view of recent developments there.

Also further news on surveillance techniques used by UK police against journalists covering the Climate Camp and the role of the Met Police.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/mar/10/climate-camp-surveillance



Green Islands Network and London Federation of Green Parties
Conference on Surveillance and Security in Europe
Saturday 14th March 1.30pm to 4.30pm at Dragon Hall, Stukeley Street, London WC1
1. Discussion of Surveillance in Europe with Tony Bunyan*, Jean Lambert MEP and Guy Herbert**
2. Break
3. The Security State – Northern Ireland Today with Steven Agnew*** and Jean Lambert MEP
The conference will be followed by a Social and Networking Event in the Ship Inn, Gate Street, Holborn (Complimentary food and drink) 5pm onwards.
http://www.fancyapint.com/pubs/pub194.html
*Tony Bunyan
Tony Bunyan is an investigative journalist and writer specialising in justice and home affairs, civil liberties and freedom of information in the EU. He has been the Director of Statewatch since 1990 and edits Statewatch Bulletin and Statewatch News online. He is the author of The Political Police in Britain (1977) and Secrecy and Openness in the EU (1999). On behalf of Statewatch he has taken eight successful cases on access to documents to the European Ombudsman against the Council of the European Union (the 25 governments). In 2001 and 2004 the "European Voice" newspaper (owned by the Economist) selected him as one of the "EV50" - one of the fifty most influential people in the European Union.
** Guy Herbert
Guy Herbert is Director of NO2ID, the organisation campaigning against the introduction of ID cards in the UK.
*** Steven Agnew
Lead candidate for the Green Party for the European Parliament in Northern Ireland; Research Assistant to Brian Wilson (Northern Ireland Assembly Member) and Animal
Rights Spokesperson for the Green Party in Northern Ireland.
http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&q=stukeley+street+wc1&cr=countryUK%7CcountryGB&um=1&ie=UTF-8&split=0&gl=uk&ei=oE6oSdD-Fpm1jAfGzKX_Dw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&resnum=1&ct=title

With the support and assistance of the European Parliament

Monday, 9 March 2009

New Candidacy for European elections

I had it on good authority at the Climate Change Trade Union Conference on Saturday that Bob Crowe of the RMT is due to hold a press conference on Thursday at which he will announce that he is standing at the head of a list in the London region for the European Parliament. The new group will be called 'No to the EU. Yes to Democracy'. They will probably put up candidates in other regions also. They are being supported by the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of Britain, along with some of the SWP. Respect, from what I heard, has not taken a decision, but George Galloway is said to be opposed. Some Respect members I spoke to said that the candidates would be "massacred".

The problem is that by starting so close to the elections and although having considerabel union resources at their disposal, they will not gain a seat. However, they could inflict considerable damage on the Green Party - unless, of course, they draw away some of the Labour anti-EU vote who would otherwise have voted for the BNP.

Having worked hard with the Green Party Trade Union Group to build bridges with the RMT and also been on their picket lines I am particularly disappointed by this development. The Green Party has a policy of renationalising the railways and our policies on Europe are very close to those of the RMT. We are opposed to the Lisbon Treaty and have supported abolition of the Working Time Directive Opt Out and other measures supportive of workers rights.

As Tony Kearns of the CWU said at the conference on Saturday: "We have to abandon our sectarian positions and work together as one movement towards preventing climate change and creating a more equal society." I regard this move, if it is indeed the case, as a retrograde step.

Climate Change Deniers

After having spent all day Saturday at the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Conference, it is dispiriting to see that there are still those who deny it completely. Even more dispiriting to see that the current President of the Czech Republic, and now also President of the EU under the rotating presidency, Vaclav Klaus, is amongst them.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/09/climate-change-deniers

It rather reminds me of a quote which Jeremy Paxman gave in his television programme yesterday about Victorian painters. Recounting a famous debate between the scientist Huxley, who was called 'Darwin's bulldog' and the Bishop of Oxford on the question of evolution, the Bishop asked Huxley: "And are your ape forbears on your mother's side of the family or your father's?" To which Huxley replied: " I would rather be decended from an ape than a bishop!"

There are, of course, still many who do not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution - these are the so called creationists. There are millions of them in the USA. The climate change deniers are the 21st century equivalent of those who opposed evolution theory in the 19th. Thankfully they are becoming extinct and will soon be no more than a footnote in the history books.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Conference

I will be attending this event tomorrow in London. I did not manage to get to last year's conference which I heard was excellent and inspiring. I will be speaking at a workshop from 12pm to 1.30pm on International Perspectives post-Kyoto which is particularly relevant for someone who is standing as a candidate for the European Parliament in London on June 4th.
Saturday, 7th March

Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Conference

Venue: Franklin-Wilkins Building, King's College London, Stamford Street, London

Speakers include:Chris Baugh, Tony Kearns, Jean Lambert, Ian Lavery, Mark Lynas, John McClean, John McDonnell, Caroline Molloy, Ann Pettifor, Dave Prentis, Phil Thornhill and Matt Wrack.

Time: 11 am to 5 pm

Contact: climatetradeunion@googlemail.comFacebook event is here.To register it is £10 (£5 unwaged) and you can pay at the door. Cheques payable to Campaign against Climate Change.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Up the pub

Following on from my posting earlier this week on matters relating to taverns and inns, a colleague in the Green Party pointed out this report from the Guardian. It proves many of the points which I was making. Hopefully if my support of traditional pubs and the campaign for real drink proves successful, I will become the first CAMRA sponsored MP. I would certainly hope to be more reliable towards their aims than some of the Labour MPs sponsored by various trade unions, whose only contribution seems to be to attend their union's annual conference and receive grace and favour accommodation, while resolutely pushing further measures through parliament which do nothing to strengthen workers rights or indeed the quality of life of the union members. Revised Job Descriptions are called for!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/mar/04/pub-closures-beer-tax

A despicable and disgusting government

I am not going to put my own opinions here today on the Welfare Reform Bill, but am going to quote from a wide ranging group of organisations who attended the lobby of parliament on Tuesday last organised by the PCS trade union. I agree with what they say and attended the lobby in solidarity. Ann Gray spoke for the Green Party and her speech can be found here http://greenleftblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/pcs-welfare-reform-bill-lobby-march.html Many of the speakers pointed out that it was the mark of a civilised society how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable members. On that score New Labour scores a solid 'null points'. I decided not to lobby my MP, the so-called 'Minister for Fairness' Harriet Harman. As a loyal member of the Cabinet she will troop into the lobby to support this Bill. As one PCS campaigner commented to me; "I wonder what her concept of fairness is?"

Mark Serwotka (General Sec of PCS) Jobseeker’s Allowance of £60 per week is only 60% of the average social security payment in the EU. Instead of listening to the investment banker David Freud, the government should listen to the Rowntree Foundation, whose research has demonstrated that 54% of those living in poverty have a working parent in the house. The private companies asked for 20% of the money up front before they even started with the job finding programme, then they increased it to 40% as they realised that it would be much more difficult than they first thought to place job seekers. PCS independent research has indicated that only 6% of the public support the private sector running the welfare system.

Jackie Robertson (UNISON National Disability Committee) We are opposed to welfare being used for privatisation and marketisation as an experiment. The motto of the government for disabled people should be to make work accessible. Disabled people don’t want to live on benefits but they don’t want this scheme either.

Tony Woodley (General Sec of UNITE) Unemployed workers have paid into the welfare system and deserve to get something back. The unions opposed these changes under Thatcher and will oppose them now. What we are seeing is the stick for the poor and a factory load of carrots for the fat cats.

John Mc Donnell MP We are putting forward a series of amendments to this Bill. We are witnessing the twin obsessions of New Labour – punishing the poor and privatisation. The unemployment figures which are announced are inaccurate and are regularly updates within two weeks, this is because Job Centre staff cannot keep up with the increases. There should not be profits at the expense of benefit savings. This is neoliberal ideology pure and simple. Support the long term unemployed and do not punish them. We will monitor the votes of MPs in constituencies and if they vote for this Bill, we will come for them.

Sarah Carr (Child Poverty Action Group) There is nothing in this Bill regarding an adequate income. This has the effect of removing Income Support from lone parents and mortgage interest is limited to two years. There is an ideological obsession with punishing lone parents. Research commissioned by the DWP indicates these measures are unlikely to change behaviour but will increase poverty. The government has stated that universal childcare will not be available until 2015 but what is to happen in the interim?

John Mason MP (SNP) I have just come from the Committee meeting where they are voting on the amendments. The 9 Labour MPs are voting down all the amendments and the Tories are abstaining, only the Lib Dem MP and I are trying to support the amendments. They have formed a united front. The Tories are claiming that the Bill originates with them. We have been defeated on an amendment to include a person’s basic income before taking punitive measures.

GMB Deputy General Secretary Labour don’t deserve to be re-elected. 2500 former Remploy workers are now working in ASDA or because of disability blocked from employment. Support for the private sector’s control of welfare means profits only before anything else.
Katie Clarke MP (Labour) There has been more privatisation under Labour than in the 18 years of Tory rule. The ideological stranglehold of New Labour on the Labour Party must be broken.

Release (Organisation assisting drug addicts) Drug addicts need support and not punishment. This Bill will lead to enforced punishment by the DWP. This already happens under the criminal justice system – there is no analysis of how successful it is and it is very expensive. These addicts will be forced on to a ‘Treatment Programme’ by the Job Centres and this will be known to landlords and others.

General Sec of UCU (Lecturers Union) Sending thousands of poor people into the arms of private advisors may encourage debt as these companies will have a vested interest in those people taking out loans.

National Association of Probation Officers There is currently a case load of about 240,000 and one third of these are due to drug and alcohol related offences. Many of these have a reading age of 11 or less and may have mental health problems and chaotic lives. If forced to attend interviews for their benefits the conflict with staff will increase dramatically. Instead there should be a gradual and supportive path to returning to work and not the punitive regime of this Bill.

Single Parent Action Network We oppose moves to force single parents on to JSA. People who do not understand the system will be punished most. Older children will be left at home on dangerous council estates. A ‘Work Related Activist Programme’ already existed and was popular. We confronted David Freud (the architect of the new Bill) with evidence based research that voluntary schemes were more successful. His reply was – no comment.

National Unemployed Workers Centres More and more people are applying to the centres. The campaign to raise benefit levels has fallen on deaf ears for years. Now there is more understanding as more people find themselves on the dole. The Employment Minister, Mc Nulty, was recently asked by the Sun if he could live on £60 per week and he replied that he could not. Things are bad when the Sun is more aware than this government. We need to draw up a new blueprint for a welfare state and not just be reactive.

Frances O’Grady (Deputy Gen Sec TUC) Thousands of workers are frightened and facing redundancy. Nick Clegg was incredibly facile for stating that unemployment was an opportunity to reinvent oneself. The real scroungers are the tax dodgers. Putting the private sector in charge of the unemployed is like putting Frank Goodwin in charge of a bank. David Freud said that bankers act like lemmings and then the market implodes – this will happen to the job market. Putting money into the hands of the poor is the most effective financial stimulus.

Fire Brigades Union Who do the public want brought to book the speculators or the unemployed? The answer is obvious.

A lone parent activist Why, after all we have heard, are the unions still supporting the Labour Party and this despicable and disgusting government?

Mark Serwotka (PCS) We don’t and our campaign fund is independent and for the support of our members. We must take this campaign beyond parliament and into every town and community in the land. The poor cannot be ground down like this. Every MP will hear our voice.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Price of Drink

Last night on Newsnight there was a report that Scotland is about to increase taxation on alcohol in order to discourage binge drinking and an appalling increase in deaths due to alcohol. The SNP Minister for Health was interviewed stating that this was one of the measures which her administration in Edinburgh had to take to do something about the problem, which has increased exponentially over the last decade. The problem is clearly a major one in Scotland but is this going to solve it?

Newsnight produced a graph indicating how the price of alcohol in relation to earnings has dropped substantially in the last twenty years, thus allowing more and cheper drink to be consumed. Meanwhile the excise duty on alcohol in the UK remains one of the highest in Europe. I remember the huge fuss a few years back over 'booze tourists' nipping across the Channel to Calais to buy cheaper French plonk and returning with vans packed with Stella Artois or Chateau Naff. I went to Calais a few years back and noticed that the town's major source of income was alcohol hypermarkets with signs in English everywhere conveniently pointing to 'Cheap Beers and Wines this way'. In fact Calais's whole economy seemed based on this. Now with the currency difference the trade has declined as bargains are not as easy to find as before. Indeed it was rumoured that many unscupulous shoppers were selling their cheap imports in Kent and adjacent counties leading to a further drop in profits for the local pubs.

The graph on Newsnight also illustrated an historical fact, that amounts of alcohol consumed in the UK was very high in 1900 and only began to subside after Lloyd George's World War I government introduced strict licensing hours, which included pubs having to close for an hour or two at lunchtime. This was reputed to be in order to encourage the munitions workers to return to their shell manufacturing bases in a sober condition, so that trenches on the Western Front could continue to be bombarded. Alcohol consumption then declined dramatically until after World War II when it began to climb again. However, it is only in the last twenty years that it has begun to reach the levels last recorded before the First World War. It is not surprising that alcohol consumption was so high in the pre World War I Victorian world, when the denizens of the blighted smoke filled cities of the industrial revolution had only drink to ward off misery and depression. Drink, it was said, was the curse of the working classes. Now it appears to be approaching those levels of consumption again.

This suggests that the advertising filled 'buy now and buy often' and celebrity laden society of the last twenty years has failed on every level. Most concentration is on the economic and fiscal failure but Thatcherism and its successor Blairism has also failed on a deeper and more fundamental level. The glue that held society together was dissolved in a culture of greed and sleaze and personal ambition in a world where Thatcher said that society no longer existed, only the family and the individual. The replacement of the corner pub where people could converse quietly by the large gastropub where the background music is turned up deliberately to increase consumption and where screens everywhere discourage any personal engagement, creates the sort of alcoholic excess we are now witnessing. The idea a few years ago that liberalising the licensing hours would introduce a continental drinking culture was always a pipe dream. In the meantime supermarkets offering cheap booze lead to an average of six pubs per week closing down. We should be encouraging the small local pubs which produce real beers and locally sourced food and which often act as a social fulcrum for their communities. The alternative is the smashed bus shelters and violence ridden streets overseen by CCTV cameras which have become the reality of many town centres.

Increasing the cost of alcohol is not going to solve the problem. Addressing the issues behind that overconsumption and the way alcohol is marketed and sold will. It is time for a campaign to save small scale pubs and a real drink policy, along the lines of the real food one. But it also time that the medical community addressed the issue of how much of all this alcohol problem is really a mental health issue and addressed the real underlying problems. The Victorians addressed the problem with a religious Temperance movement, some of whose monuments are still visible today. We need to find a new remedy for the problem and more CCTVs it is not.