Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

How Capitalism defeated the Left and then itself

Paul Mason and Kondratiev Long Cycles

Marx was wrong.

Not about everything. In fact, all told, not about very much. But he was wrong about something that has been at the very heart of Marxism for a century and a half: the prediction that capitalism will face a crisis which will see it destroyed, and then replaced by something better.

It hasn't happened, despite plenty of people wishing it. Why it hasn't happened is a very important question right now, as capitalism is undoubtedly in a very deep crisis yet is signally failing to die let alone be replaced by something better.

This essay isn't about how to make that happen. Instead it is about why this has not already happened.

Crisis, what crisis?

The first half of Marx's prediction was undoubtedly correct: capitalism always faces a crisis. Or rather crises, because there have been rather a lot of them. This is perhaps Marx's greatest insight, that capitalism is not stable and these problems come round regular as clockwork. What's more, every now and again they are not ordinary run-of-the-mill crises but huge, industrial strength crises that threaten its very existence.

Marx lived through only one of these, so he missed the pattern, but in 1922 the Russian academic Nikolai Dimitrievich Kondratiev spotted it.

Kondratiev was the son of a peasant who had never-the-less managed to get into St Petersberg University. In 1917 he served for a few days in the social democratic administration that followed the fall of the Csar. With the Bolshevik revolution he returned to academia.
What Kondratiev spotted in his numbers was a 50-60 year cycle in interest rates. Marx had shown how overproduction caused regular recessions, but those cycles were over a much shorter time scale than these cycles. This was something much bigger and more fundamental. When he looked at other economic indicators the cycle appeared to be repeated. He traced two of these since the dawn of industrialisation.

This suggested that Marx's theory was wrong, or at least incomplete. If capitalism had survived two major catastrophe's already, why should the next one prove fatal?

Spotting the existence of the cycle though didn't explain it. Academics who followed Kondratiev thought changes in technology explained the cycles. These theories were plausible, but also contradictory. It's rare to find two that agree.

However of ex-journalist and fellow Lancastrian Paul Mason, looking at the problem anew from the present day, thinks there is more to it than this. Having witnesses recent events in Greece first hand, he knows a thing or two about crises. He also knows a thing or two about Marx, which is rare for a journalist.

This is his view of K Cycles and what they mean.

On your cycle

Capitalism requires growth. This is created by the capitalists using their unequal power over workers
to generate profits from the surplus value of their labour. In order to increase productivity they mechanise the workplace. That is Marx in a nutshell.

However, there are limits to this, and it is these limits that cause the periodic crises in capitalism. There is only so much work you can get out of a human being and, at any given level of technology, there is only so much labour you can save by investing in machines. There are other ways out of the conundrum too, such as new markets, new commodities and even new workers, but these have their limits too. At some point there is nowhere else for capitalism to go and capitalism faces an existential crisis.

According to the economists who explain it all with technology, the new machines then appear like magic to solve the problem. However according to Mason, the reality is a lot more messy.

But before we come to that, let's just sort out the time frames we're actually talking about.

The First Wave: 1780 to 1848

The first Kondratiev cycle started when capitalism started at the end of the eighteenth century. A lot of things happen one after the other, the first factories, the canals, better steam engines, railways, steel and so on. This is capitalism raw and primitive. Men, women and children exploited in Dark Satanic Mills. Labour was is unskilled, hours long and management is scary rather than skilful.

This cycle begins quietly but it's trajectory is evident from British, French and US data - the rest of the world is not yet affected much by capitalism - and that data points to it all coming to crashing end in about 1848, the Year of Revolutions and the year that Marx, along with his drinking buddy Engels, publishes The Communist Party Manifesto.

The Second Wave: 1848 to 1898

The second cycle follows on. This is capitalism as we know it. The bourgeoisie in their top hats and the workers in the flat caps. But this is different to what we had before. Labour is not monolithic. There are skilled and semi-skilled workers, there are trades, there are guilds and there is a financial system keeping the wheels turning. There are also Imperialists, seeking out new markets and new resources for exploitation.

But by the 1890s though the wheels are starting to come off the wagon. Economic crises are more frequent, labour unrest is more common and by Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee there is no part of the earth left which had not been brought into the global market. We are at the second crisis.

The Third Wave: 1898 to 1948

What rescues capitalism is the Second Industrial Revolution. New technologies arrive by the score.
The chemical industry produces artificial fertiliser, artificial dyes and petrol, which in turn powers cars, planes and motorbikes. Electricity lights us up and the telephone wires us up.

But perhaps more profound is the change in the nature of capitalism itself. The main actors are now no longer the rich capitalists, but the big corporations. These entities themselves appeared to fly in the face of everything Marx had written. Huge in scale, they ware protected by tariff barriers and operate state sponsored monopolies. Internally their organisation is based on function rather than competition. Writers as diverse as Rosa Luxembourg and James Burnham would eventually look at these big companies and wonder whether there really is much of a difference between capitalism and communism now.

The start of the downward curve of this wave is very easy to spot: the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which heralded the Great Depression. The final end came with the Second World War, a global crisis which, despite killing tens of million of people, never-the-less ushered in the next wave of global capitalism.

The Fourth Wave: 1948 to ?

The exact year this begins is a bit arbitrary, but 1948 is a good one, as it is the year of the Marshal Plan and the invention of the transistor. New technologies abound once again, but perhaps more significant is the change in the nature of society. This is the era of social democracy and the welfare state. 

No longer are the workers exposed to raw capitalism with no protection, they have health care, trade unions, unemployment benefits and representation in the political process. Over the next twenty five years almost everything the Left has fought for since the time of Marx comes to pass, and in return for these gifts from the capitalists the workers embraced consumerism, which in turn makes the wheels of the economy turn faster than ever before.

And then it all goes wrong.

Twenty five years into the cycle is 1973, and there, sure enough, is a huge crisis - the oil shock of 1973. Actually we could have picked other dates in that decade: the Nixon Shock in 1971 when the USA dropping off the Gold Standard or the second oil shock in 1979. Which ever one we go for though, it is clear that by 1980 the good times are over.

No Fifth Wave

If history had followed the deterministic course it appeared to be set on, the next cycle should have
started in 1998. Looking back to that year you can see some evidence for this. Bill Gates launched the second incarnation of his Windows software, and in the next few years Google, Youtube and all the architecture of the information revolution would be up and running.  At the same time we have the Kyoto Agreement of the previous year, potentially ushering in a new green industrial revolution.

But if this was the start of a brand new cycle, then we should not have had the biggest financial crash since the 1920s just ten years later. Instead of recovery the problems of the 1970s just carry on getting worse. Instead of a 25 year downward curve we have a forty year one, with no end in sight.

So what went wrong?

How Cycles End

To answer this question we need to look back at how each of the previous cycles ended.

But first a recap on what is going on here. After twenty five years of growth fuelled by increasing productivity from mechanisation, the economy starts to stagnate. Capital needs to look elsewhere for profits. With all the known markets all full there is only one source left, more exploitation of the workers.

Winding back to the 1810s, here we first see the staggering growth rates of the early industrial revolution start to falter. Capital has to call in the army to deal with the Luddites in 1812, and again in 1819 when 80,000 people gathered at Peterloo to demand reform. By 1832 though the Establishment is getting rattled, and agreed modest reforms. By the 1840s the Chartists are marching and, although an army of Special Constables is drafted in to meet them (including future Liberal PM Gladstone) the government effectively gives in.

Fast forward fifty years and the workers are marching again. Anarchists, communists, socialists
and most of all trade union are fighting back. In organised labour capitalism appears to have finally met its match. Many of the bourgeoisie really think the end is nigh.

So here we have it. The new cycles of capitalism are not created by the fortuitous arrival of new technology, nor by the enlightened insight of the capitalists. Capitalisms natural instinct is more repression, and only when that is stopped by the workers fighting back against does it try a different direction. It was not quite how Marx predicted, but not that far off.

Now let's look at the end of the third cycle in the 1930s. Once again the workers are mobilising, here and around the world. But lets ignore for a moment this country. Here we have austerity, but after the Royal Navy mutinies over pay cuts we dropped off the Gold Standard, listen to Keynes and start on the road to recovery. It is bad, but it could have been worse.

And in Europe it is.

The Death of Labour

When Hitler came to power in 1933 his first target is organised labour. When Dachau opens the first people to be enslaved there are 5000 communists and social democrats. Between 1933 and 1946 3.5 million Germans are interned for political reasons and 77,000 judicially executed.

The Left lost a civil war in Austria in 1934, resulting in the Social Democratic Party being outlawed, whilst between 1936 and 1939 Franco kills 350,000 anarchists, communists and republicans during the Spanish Civil War, and more in the repression that follows.

In Greece the dictator Metaxas bans all political parties (including his own, which was a somewhat unique move), arrests the communists and embarked on a war on Greek culture which sees even Plato put on a list of banned authors.There are other crackdowns in Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states.

In Russia the gulags have even more inmates than the German concentration camps, and a similarly terrifying death rate. For good measure the NKVD sends a team over to Mexico to put an ice axe through Trotsky's head.

What Orwell called "the flower of the European working class" is dying. Had Hitler stuck to exterminating his own people, and not had a go at the Poles as well, it may well have died completely. In the First World War many socialists became conscientious objectors, refusing to fight a war for capitalism. That does not happen in the Second World War. The survival of the Left depends on an allied victory.

Capital Wins

Fortunately the allies do win. Organised labour survives, but it is a close run thing.

For a while it prosperes too, but with the fourth cycle starting on its downward spiral this isn't going to last forever. The USA had thought it had been fighting communists since 1950, but really it was fighting nationalists. In 1973 though they have a real working class enemy in Salvador Allende of Chile.

Allende is deposed in a military coup and commits suicide. 3000 of his followers are killed and 27,000 are locked up, many being raped or tortured. Chile, meanwhile, is subject to a radical experiment to try to save capitalism. Now we call it free market reforms, or neo-liberalism, or austerity, but then it was known as the Chicago School model, as that is where its architects came from.

Taxes are be lowered, the state is shrunk, corporations are be given free reign, money is set free and organised labour is crushed. The capitalists ledgers are back in the black again, with the hit being taken by the working poor or the work-less even poorer. 

It works, sort of. Actually the free markets bits aren't that great a success, and Chile has capital controls in place for longer than Milton Friedman's fans like to admit, but crushing the trade unions proves to be a tremendous success. The model works, now it just needs to be rolled out.

The election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the USA allows this to happen. Reagan has striking air traffic controllers led away in chains whilst Maggie crushes the miners. Environmentalism, which for a while in the seventies had seems almost as big a problem as the oil price, is brushed aside, as Reagan tells us that most pollution is caused by trees.

Capitalism is back in business.

By the 1990s it appears that even the Left agrees. Clinton is elected to balance the budget and New Labour sweeps into power boasting that it doesn't mind if people get "stinking rich". The EU, which has been a bastion of social democracy for so long, goes with the flow.  

Then comes the credit crunch.

New exploitation, new technology and new financial products, it turns out, can't keep creating new money out of nowhere forever. The Left has been defeated, but still the problems of capitalism have not gone away.

Marx is suddenly being disinterred.

The Future

Kondratiev himself had paid a high price for his insight. His theory that capitalism wasn't inevitably doomed, but could reinvent itself with enough of a push, did not play well in Stalin's Russia. He was imprisoned in 1932 and then, on a cold September day in 1938, he is led out to the firing squad. He is the age I am now, 46.
His theory's status in economics is mixed. The Right had no interest in capitalism having a crisis, whilst the Left had no interest in capitalism surving a crisis. A handful of futurologists read him, but it took a journalist of the credit crunch to bring him into the twentifirst century.

Mason's view of what happens next is clear. We need to start the delayed fifth cycle. We need a new version of capitalism that will be based on information technology and a green industrial revolution. What's more, just like in the previous four cycles, we also need to redefine the nature of work. Mason believes that a new vision of intellectual property will set information free and a universal income will set people free.

He may be wrong on the details, but I do not believe he is wrong on the fundamental problem. The left's defeat was ultimately capitalism's defeat as well. The sooner we all, left and right, see this and move on, the better.  

Monday, 18 April 2016

Saturday, 26 March 2016

My Guide to the Top Five Irish Rebellion Sites

Michael Collins (1996) Can you see me?
Easter 1916 marks one hundred years since the uprising in Ireland that led, via a very torturous route, to the creation of an independent Irish state. It also marked the start of the disintegration of the British Empire. Nationalism and modern weapons would make the great European empires untenable, although it would be a while before most people realised this.

My own connection to these events is to have been an uncredited (and unpaid) extra in Neil Jordan's 1996 film Michael Collins. Twenty years ago I stood with four thousand other people to cheer Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, the late Alan Rickman as Eamon De Valera and Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan as they arrived at a replica of Dublin Castle and gave a victory speech in front of the ruins of a fake GPO. It was almost like being there.

Michael Collins is a film that managed to annoy just about everyone, crediting British forces with atrocities they didn't commit and omitting ones they really did, whilst sanitising the very messy business of the Civil War that followed semi-independence. Still, if it had been a Mel Gibson movie it would have been a lot worse. 

During my time living in the Emerald Isle I also got to march behind The Plough and the Stars, which was the flag that James Connolly's Citizen's Militia flew over the GPO in 1916, and which the Irish TUC brings out every year for its May Day march. I also lived in the former house of Joe Murphy, the Republican Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike, which must look good on my police file.

I also got a chance to visit some of the other places around and about associated with the bloody struggle for Irish freedom.

Here are my top five.

1. The General Post Office, O'Connell Street, Dublin

It all started at Easter 1916. Or was that when it all ended?

W.B. Yeats wrote that "a terrible beauty is born", but a few years earlier though he'd written "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone. It's with O'Leary in the grave". Yeats jumped the gun by three years, but in essence he was right. The last stand at the GPO, in it's magnificent futility, represented the old tradition of previous failed uprisings. It was the moonlight charge of half-pike's that was a traditional subject of republican myth and song recreated with modern weaponry.

The real Michael Collins was there. But as he was led away into captivity he was not thinking about romantic poetry but of the futility of defending a vulnerable fixed position. On the prison ship that took him away he was already making plans for a very different kind of war next time.

There was fighting elsewhere in the city in 1916 including trench warfare in St Stephens Green, a spot well worth a vist, where the park warden still fed the ducks during lulls in the fighting.

The GPO building has been rebuilt and is still a post office. The only hint of its role in the fighting
one hundred years ago is the magnificent statue of the dying mythological hero Cuchulainn in the window, a wonderful symbol of courage and sacrifice.

O'Connell Street itself has changed in the last century. In 1916 it would have been dominated by a pillar with a statue of Nelson on top, the twin of the one in Trafalgar Square. That was removed in 1966, as IRA's contribution to the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, with a rather nifty bit of dynamiting that left the rest of the street untouched. Just to prove who the real professionals were in this regard, when the Irish Army came to blow up the remaining stump they took out every window on the street in the process.

The pillar was replaced first with a piece of modern art known to the Irish as "the floozy in the jacuzzi" and then by the Spire of Dublin, which was considered to be rather more in line with the new look of the street.

2. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

The battle at the GPO ended with the Republican prisoners being led from the building through jeering crowds. That was not the start of the uprising, but what happened next was. They were taken across the city to Kilmainham Gaol, and for fifteen of them it would be a one way trip.

The gaol was closed in the 1920s and is now a museum. It doesn't appear in many tourist guides to Dublin, but it's worth a visit. As well as being able to see where the Easters rebels were imprisoned, and where those fifteen were shot. You can also see the Asgard, the yacht that Eskine Childers used to bring the guns over for the uprising. Childers had made himself a British hero by writing a story about a different boat, the Dulcibella, which his square jawed hero uses to thwart a German invasion in his 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands. Eleven years later it was from Germany that the Asgard brought the weapons.

Another former British hero who died in 1916, and who is often forgotten, is Roger Casement. He was hung for treason at the Pentonville Prison, three months after the executions in Dublin, for his part in trying to secure more German rifles. Casement had been instrumental in exposing the abuses in the Belgian Congo, and was the inspiration for the hero of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Lord Roxton in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

Another gaol associated with the War of Independence is Cork. Here Countess Markievicz, the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, and others were interred. However the museum there focuses on the less famous inmates who passed through, but on the ordinary prisoners there. It is worth seeing if only to remind us that for ever person locked up for being Irish and a rebel, a hundred were imprisoned for being Irish and poor.

3. Kilmichael Ambush site, County Cork

The events of 1916 were the spark that lit the fires of which broke out in rebellion in 1919. The war started with attacks on isolated Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. Once these had been abandoned the authorities were blind as to what was happening in most of the country.

The film has Michael Collins leading these attacks. In reality he certainly helped organise them, but volunteers in County Tipperary carried out the first attack on their own initiative. Soon though roving guerrilla bands controlled most of the Irish countryside.

The most effective leader of these units was Tom Barry from County Kerry. An unlikely rebel he was the son of an RIC constable and Easter 1916 saw him fighting the Turks with the British Army in Iraq. When he did eventually join the IRA he ended up in command of the West Cork Brigade and on 28 November 1920 they fought one of the most significant, and controversial, battles of the war.

The British authorities had tried to regain control of the countryside using units of Auxiliaries made up of veterans of the Great War. These 'Black and Tans' ended up being responsible for most of the war crimes committed by British troops.

Barry decided to do something about this. His unit of 36 men ambushed a Black and Tan patrol of 18 men near their base in Macroom. The IRA lost three dead whilst all but one of the Auxiliaries died, several after trying to surrender, or pretending to surrender, and others allegedly being dispatched after being wounded. Whatever the exact circumstances most Irish thought they deserved what they got. The loss of a decent sized force of veteran soldiers was deeply shocking to the authorities and Cork and the surrouonding areas were placed under martial law and a fair part of the City burnt in retaliation.

The Irish being the Irish there is a song about the battle. A (very) slightly fictionalised version also appears in Ken Loach's film The Wind That Shakes The Barley. There is a memorial by the side of the road at the scene of the ambush, whilst Cork Museum has a detailed map and plan of the battle, as well as some memorabilia. 

The spot itself is pleasant enough, but more the sort of place you pass through after fishing in Macroom or on the way to Gougane Barra. West Cork though is wonderful, and as well as the Irish it is now home to a population of formerly English Travellers, who relocated to Ireland after their own ambush at the Battle of the Beanfield.

4. Michael Collin's Cork, County Cork

Meanwhile in Dublin and other cities a different kind of war was being fought, one were the victims were usually killed in their beds. As director of Intelligence for the IRA Collins was responsible for the creation of a special execution squad that killed British spies and informers, shooting no less than twenty MI5 officers in one night exactly a week before the Kilmichael Ambush.

Despite Neil Jordan's film Michael Collins' legacy in Ireland is still mixed. On the one hand is the revolutionary urban guerrilla leader who won the War of Independence, and on the other he's the man who signed the Treaty and settled for a divided Free State rather than a whole independent one. He's the founder of the unarmed police force that replaced the hated Royal Irish Constabulary, but a person who, unlike the heroes of 1916, killed his enemies in their beds rather than in pitched battle.

Michae Collins armoured car, Curragh
The controversy stems from one simple fact, unlike almost every other Irish revolutionary, he was successful.

A Michael Collins tour of Ireland would start in Dublin. It would include the Stag's Head pub in Dublin where he used to drink, which was round the corner from his intelligence office at no. 3 Crow Street. It would take in the Imperial Hotel in Cork where he spent his last night, but it would end at the obscure village of  Béal na Bláth in his native County Cork.

Here he died after a confused ambush by anti-Treaty forces. His convoy included an armoured car, but its machine gun had jammed. Collins was the only fatality in the battle. The film plays fast and lose with the facts of this, but you can't get over the poynancy of the version of She Moved Through The Fair by Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftains that Jordan commissioned for the movie.

Béal na Bláth is not the sort of place that usually gets mentioned in tourist guides. There is a small monument there to the Big Fella, but little else.

In his home town of Clonakilty though there is now the Michael Collins Centre, where you can learn some more about his life.There is also more about Collins in the barracks that bears his name in the City of Cork, whilst the armoured car that failed to save him is at the main Irish Army Museum at Curragh.

Collins himself lies in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, where there is a visitors centre and memorial to other Republicans. The cemetery is also home to another legacy of Ireland's past, one that isn't remembered as well as Easter 1916, but which has at least had its own film made about it. This is the site of the mass grave of the 'fallen women' of the Magdalene laundries.

5. The Falls and Shankill Roads, Belfast

So when did Ireland's struggle for independence finally end? That is a difficult question.

One answer is 1921, when the British Empire threw in the towel and the Free State was formed. Another answer is 1923 when the Free Staters won the civil war or 1932 when the bulk of the anti-Treaty people gave up the gun and adopted democratic politics.

Another answer is that it never did.

Twenty years ago a walk down the two main streets of West Belfast would have endorsed that view. Soldiers in armoured Land Rovers, helicopters, fortified pubs, paramilitary murals and the occasional gun or bomb attack or bus being petrol bombed were the sights in offer to the rare tourist. It was like walking round a slow motion civil war.

You can still experience some of that side of Belfast, especially if you can find a black taxi driver
Women for Peace, Belfast 1976
prepared to give you an unofficial tour. Brits are certainly tolerated, unless (like me) they ask to view the Official IRA graveyard. However for the most part that Ireland has gone thanks to events of another Easter weekend, but this one only eighteen years ago.

The Good Friday Agreement is a good place to end the chain of events that started at Easter 1916. Tony Blair, David Trimble and Gerry Adams certainly deserve the praise they received for the agreement, but this was a peace created from the bottom as much as one imposed from the top. Countless community groups and peace campaigners of both communities had worked for twenty years to end the fighting. 

Unlike the rebels of Easter 1916, the heroes of the War of Independence and the fighters of The Troubles, these people have no memorials to their name, no museums about them and are not remembered in film or song or mural. But that Ireland today, north and south of the border, is at peace with both itself and it's former imperial master across the Irish Sea is thanks more to them than to the people with guns.

Lets remember that this weekend.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

An Activists Guide to Using Local Media

I am a media tart. I've been a media tart for nearly twenty years. It's nothing to be proud of. 

However I do try to use my egotism for good rather than evil, and so that we can share the guilt and you can be a media tart too I have written this guide.

It doesn't matter if your campaign is local, national or international in its scope, this is how you use the press. Mainly I'm thinking about local print media, but the same rules apply to local radio and online news.

Local papers have absolutely no interest in press releases sent to them by big, national campaigning groups. If it looks like it was written in London it will go straight in the bin. 

If you want to use local media properly you have to actually write the release yourself. This shouldn't be a problem, unless you've spent so long actually working for a big, London based NGO you've forgotten how to actually be you.

Why use local media?

To get your message across and help your campaign, obviously. But also because 97% of our national print media is owned by six billionaires who control the news agenda.

Another very practical because people need to see a story several times before they take notice. If people read about your campaign in the national media and then see you out and about on the streets, reading the local rag could be the magical third time that actually makes them take notice.

The Press Release

Okay, so here we go. What do you actually write.

Usually you will send the Press Release out as an email. Don't put it in an attachment, put the title in your subject line and the press release in the main text.

Aim something like this;


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday 1st January 2016

CONTACT Joe Bloggs 12345 67891011


Your headline should simply be factual, identifying you group, the issue and/or type of event and clearly stating that it is a local event. If you are part of a well known national organisation then make sure you give them a name check, but also state you are the local branch, not a bunch of visiting chuggers. 

It's not your job here to make it into a witty headline, so you're best just sticking to the facts. 

Your press release itself should be in three parts.

Start with a one or two sentence paragraph in which you describe your event in a bit more detail, stating clearly where and when it will be and what it look like. Make sure anything that will make the event visually interesting is mentioned; will there be costumes, activities, the local MP attending etc? This is what the press want to know and if this paragraph doesn't catch their attention the odds are they won't even read the rest of the press release.

The next paragraph, or at most two paragraphs, describes why you are doing this. Keep this brief, very brief. What is the issue and what is the target. Give just enough information to link the target with the campaign but no more. The papers will generally speaking have almost no interest in the ins and outs of the issue. However if your local action links to a broader national campaign that has been in the news make sure you point this out if it is not immediately apparent.

Finally you come to the last bit: the quote by a local campaigner. This is the most important part of the press release as it is most likely the bit that will actually get printed. Forget the dry, legalistic language of a typical big NGOs press office, this is you speaking and you need to make it interesting.

Here's how you do that: 

The Golden Rules 

Outrage is in 

What's the first thing you need to do when campaiging? Create a scandal. 

What you are campaiging against is probably is awful, but lots of things are awful. What we need to do is create a scandal. A scandal is something awful that could and should have been prevented.

Don't just say fracking is bad, for example, say:

 "It is disappointing, but not surprising, to find that in the same week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for a low carbon future, the government acts as a cheer leader for the fossil fuel dinosaurs of the oil and gas industry"

Punchy, poynant and personal

The three Ps of doing press.

Make your point as simply as you can but don't pull your punches and make it personal if possible. Something like:

"When the Arctic Sunrise set sail the campaign was about saving the Arctic, but very quickly it became about freeing our friends...(It is) now more vital than ever to save the Arctic from oil exploration and the earth from Climate Change.”

Only better, hopefully.

The fourth P is positive. 

Don't present a problem unless you can not only propose a solution, but a solution that is also something worth doing in itself. By demonstrating the gap between the world we have and the world we could have, you create more outrage.

How about Instead of a few hundred jobs in fracking, the north-west could have 100,000 in wind and solar power, in making our houses warmer and getting our public transport working.”

The Golden Rules of Local Media 

All the above apply to local media too, but there are three more rules you also need to remember.

This is a local story for local people

Your local paper will only print local stories, so your event absolutely must happen in the local area.

Also, you must also be a local person. If you're 'not from round here' find someone who is and name them in the quote instead.

If possible you also need to talk about issues that local people care about. That, unfortunately, doesn't usually include the end the Arctic ice cap or even the world. Instead they want to know about jobs, house prices and the safety of their children. Try to mention one of these in passing.

Finally you really need to try to make some connection between the big issue you're campaigning on and wherever it is you live. This could be tricky, but try. How will the problem affect your town? How will the solution benefit your town? Has anything like this ever happened there? It may end up sounding really corny, but do at least try. Terrible lines I've used in the past include:

"Whether it's floods in Woolley Bridge or famine in Afghanistan, you can't ignore the effects of a changing climate".

"Glossop was at the forefront of the first Industrial Revolution and we can be at the heart of the Green Industrial Revolution".  

It's all about you

Hopefully after reading about you people will take an interest in your campaign, but that is not where they are starting from. However they will be interested in why you are interested in the issue.

Remind them that you are an ordinary person just like them. You can mention where you live, where you work, whether you have children, what you like about the local area and so on, and then tell them why this issue important for you and how you found out about it. 

By doing it this way you are indirectly showing them why it is also important for them.

Get the Picture

A picture tells a thousand words, and more importantly it makes people read the article.

If you are publicising an event that has already happened then make sure you include a picture that will point well, preferably one with your happy, smiling faces front and centre and everyone posed in an aesthetically pleasing manner; handing out leaflets, waving placards or whatever.

If your event hasn't happened yet then try to describe it in a way that will make the local paper want to send someone out to photograph it. Tell them about your costumes, props etc. And if no snapper shows up don't worry, take your own picture and email it to the paper. 

That's a lot of things to remember, and to be honest you'll be hard pressed to do more than two of them in one press release, but if you manage it you'll have a great quote the press will want to use. 

Here's some of mine that worked.

Barton Moss is the latest skirmish in a global insurgency against what is the last stand of the fossil fuel dinosaurs. France and Bulgaria have already said no. Fracking is unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe and we call on the people of Britain to come to Manchester to say that we don’t want it here.”

The campaign at Barton Moss last winter appears to have driven the frackers out of Greater Manchester and there is no sign of them coming back soon. Now is the time to start looking for alternative ways of keeping the lights whilst getting the first city of the industrial revolution back to work."

Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors.Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors." 

After football, it is music that puts Manchester on the world map, and after the fantastic turnout for our march of Sunday, Manchester is also on the map for being at the heart of the global resistance against fracking."

Setting the Tone

You probably care a lot about the issue your campaigning on, but for the person writing the article about you it's just another day at the office. Don't take it personally if they don't run the story, or butcher your realease when they write it up. Try to find out what it is they really wanted and to help them out next time.
A bit of humour can also make the life of a jobbing hack a bit more tolerable, so don't be afraid of a little joke. We never got the press to print the line "The camp Cliff Richard has been penetrated by the Sheriff's men" but it gave the journalists a laugh reading it. They are people too. Try to make their jobs interesting for them.

Danger Areas

Athough not as in hoc to corporate interests as the big players, your local newspaper still needs advertisers to make it pay and contacts to give it good stories. As a result they will generally not want to publish stoires critical of local businesses, local government or the police.

You can get partly round this by following the advice about staying positive, but otherwise you'll just have to work around the problem and not tackle some issues head on

Journalists also don't like having to do extra work. Putting in facts they have to check or criticising people who they have to give a right of reply to makes it more likely they'll just take the easy way out and bin your story. 


Aim to get your Press Release to the paper at least a week before the deadline. If you don't know when this is ask, but usually papers go to the printers at least 36 hours before they appear on the shelves. 

If you miss the deadline you could try a phone call to get someone to turn up, but that's a long shot. Best not to miss it in the first place.

The Follow Up
Take a good photo at the event and send a follow up press release afterwards. This can be quite brief, but try to include some anecdotes about the people who attended and what they said to you.

If you don't get published don't worry. At least by contacting the press you told them that you exist and that you do stuff. Maybe next time the issue will have risen a bit more in the public consciousness and they'll take an interests. Maybe next time it will be a slow news day and you'll get covered. Don't give up.

If you are printed great. It's worth thanking the journalist concerned and asking what sort of story they'd like next. It can't do any harm. You also need to share the story on your own social media, linking to the report. It's your story, share it.

Another thing you can do though is get someone to write a letter to the paper about the story. With luck this will get printed next week and you'll have a second bite of the cherry so to speak. 

If you are really lucky some Outraged of Tunbridge Wells type will write in complainign about you, which means you can write back the week after complaining about them. Letters editors have one of the most thankless jobs in the press, usually dealing with people droning on about potholes and wheelie bins, so a decent spat over an interesting issue is what they pray for. Keep it polite, but in a letter you can let your true feelings show in the way you can't in a press release. 

And here's one I prepared earlier:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Saturday 24th October 2015 13:30

CONTACT Martin Porter xxxxx xxxxxx


Campaigners from Glossop called on their local MP to save the Peak District National Park from fracking. Fifteen campaigners gathered for a photograph this morning, in very wet weather, on the edge of the National Park in Glossop (picture).

Controversial plans which could allow fracking for shale gas under National Parks and Sights of Special Scientific Interest are to be discussed by a parliamentary committee on Tuesday 27th October. If enough MPs object there could be a vote in the House of Commons a few days later.

Greenpeace campaigners in Glossop, Derbyshire, are calling on their local MP Andrew Bingham to vote against the plans. Campaigners oppose fracking because of fears of water and air pollution, the dangers of increased lorry traffic on narrow country roads, the noise and visual impact and because shale gas is a fossil fuel which will contribute to Climate Change.

Spokesperson Martin Porter, who was part of the campaign against drilling at Barton Moss in Salford two years ago as well as this year’s successful campaign to get Lancashire County Council to oppose fracking, said:

It is unbelievable that less than six weeks before the most important conference on Climate Change ever, not only is the government pressing ahead with plans for a new fossil fuel, but they want to allow drilling under our most beautiful countryside.

“Fracking under the National Park would mean rigs in Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith to get at the shale gas. 83 years ago my grandfather, Claude Porter, took part in the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass which led to the creation of the National Park. If anyone tried to frack under the Peak District there could be a second mass trespass to save it.”


Photograph by Daniel Porter. Free to use.