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

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Isles of Brexit

Four years ago Danny's Boyle's Isles of Wonder opened the 2012 London Olympics.

Everyone said the show would not be as extravagant or spectacular as Beijing in 2008. It wasn't.

The press also uniformly said it would be embarrassingly awful. It wasn't.

Instead the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire delivered a show that was quirky, creative, amusing, touching and progressive.

After Bradley Wiggins rang the great bell, the Industrial Revolution literally burst out of England's Green and Pleasant Land to the sound of a thousand drummers. It brought with it a new industrial working class, the Suffragettes, the horrors of  Great War and immigration on the Empire Windrush, until the fifth Olympic ring rose out of the smoke, seemingly forged in the sweat and blood of two hundred years of history. It was an immensely powerful moment.

James Bond and a stunt double made the arrival of the Her Majesty interesting, for a change, in a section that is worth watching again if only for the look on Daniel Craig's face when he appears to be wondering what the hell is going on. A choir of deaf children sung God Save the Queen, then, to the theme tune of The Exorcist and narration by J K Rowling, a host of villains from children's fiction appeared to threaten the staff and patients of the NHS. Mary Poppins drops in to rescue everyone, and then it was Mr Bean helping the London Philharmonic play Vangelis' theme tune to Chariots of Fire.

Next  we had a medley of pop and rock hits from the sixties to the noughties, complete with pogoing
punks, twisted firestarters and all, as a background to a story of multi-racial romance during a night out on the town, which in turn was just a prelude to introducing to the world Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the internet, and then gave it away for free.

There was more: a spectacular modern dance to an acappella version of Abide with Me, the Arctic Monkey's, flying bicycles, David Beckham and a starting attractive female footballer on a boat, Paul McCartney and the amazing 204 piece Olympic Torch. Somewhere along the way some athletes came in too, but I went to get some supper at that point.

London had welcomed the world to the biggest party of the year. With the help of 9000 volunteers we had celebrated being the nation that had given the world an industrial revolution, a musical revolution and an information revolution. We had shown we were at peace with our history, comfortable with diversity and proud of our health service, our popular music and our children's stories.

The lad from Lancashire had pulled it off. Giles Coren, who had filed a scathing review before the ceremony had even opened, quickly had to have it pulled as he loved the show so much. The press, who 24 hours before had been predicting disaster, where ecstatic.

Everyone was happy.

Or almost everyone. Conservative MP Aidan Burley, a man who likes to attend Nazi-themes parties, called it "leftie multicultural crap", but he was a lonely voice on Twitter that night.

Fast forward four years and though, and that summer evening seems like it took place in a different country.

Events like these move to a different rhythm to the electoral cycles. Just as New Labour inherited the Tory's Millennium Dome, an empty shed which they filled with an exhibition designed by a committee, so it was the ConDems that inherited the event that Labour had brought to London. They tried to remove the NHS section and replace it with fighting Hitler, but Boyle stood his ground. Boris's intervention gave the Olympics a White Elephant of a stadium and erased the affordable houses. Finally infamous private security company G4S cocked up big style and the army had to be brought in to provide security.

Corporate failure and gentrification affected the rest of the country too as and austerity began to bite. Twelve months earlier social decay had made a rare entry into the news as the country had been convulsed by riots. But the show still went on.

When it all ended, with an almost equally amazing steampunk and Druidic paralympic closing ceremony, spending £9 billion pounds playing games in east London didn't seem quite as mad as it had done a month or so earlier.

But whatever the benefits to the nation were, they have been totally swallowed by the austerity that followed. At the top level English sport is doing well, but at the bottom our schools are home to some of the least fit, and least happy, children in the world. The NHS is in crisis.

Then there was Brexit. Outside of London, it appeared, a majority of people would prefer to wallow in hubris of lost imperial glory rather than have an immigrant for a neighbour.

Why the nation took collective leave of its senses and voted out is question that is still being debated, but as depressed newspeople went around the country recording the verbal diarrhoea of Brexiters one message came out crystal clear: this was a vote against 'leftie multicultural crap'.

Poor old Danny Boyle. He had pulled off a blinder, an artistic event that will be remembered when the sporting triumphs are forgotten, but alas neither art, nor sport, can really change the world.

Progress will continue, I hope, but England has left the party.

Watch the ceremony in full here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

"All that is solid turns into air"

Rod Holt looking serious at Keep Corbyn rally, Manchester 1 July 2016
So wrote Marx in the Communist Manisfesto 166 years ago, and this seems a very good description of UK politics over the last two weeks.

UKIP, although only given a single MP by the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system (and not even an MP they actually like), have never-the-less managed to get their main policy adopted by a reluctant government.

The Tories themselves, the most resiliant of all political parties, are regrouping after the resignation of their leader, and the humbling of both his prospective heirs.

The Labour Party meanwhile, is either a farce of tragic proportions or a tragedy of farcial proportions, with the parliamentary party and its resurgent membership either on a collision course or heading in opposite directions.

So what on earth is going on?

The obvious answer is that politics as we know it has ceased to exist. The traditional left/right split has almost become meaningless.

Political compass of UK parties May 2015
Various alternatives have been proposed. The two dimensional model of the Political Compass, which grades parties on both their economic and social liberalism, being a popular alternative.

The problem is, when you look at the UK, it turns out 90% of us voted for right wing, authoritarian parties. This might be true, but it's not very useful.

In my opinion, the extra dimension you really need to add at the moment, is whether the party is pro or anti-austerity.

UKIP, with their 'back to the 1950s/blame it all on the EU' views may not be a coherent anti-austerity party, indeed their billionaire backers and ex-banker leader (now ex-leader) rather suggest otherwise, but they did hoover up a huge chunk of disaffection with the status quo.  Anti-immigrant rather than anti-austerity perhaps, they are still different to the Tories.

In 2015 Labour offered up austerity-lite, and the Green Party were the only real anti-austerity party of the left. The SNP though were channelling the same disaffection north of the border as UKIP did in England, and mostly (if not entirely) sending it leftwards.

Today Labour is pretty much an anti-austerity party of the left, or rather it is a party whose members and leadership appear to be mostly anti-austerity, but whose MPs aren't. If Labour's current difficulties result in a split, then we will end up with an austerity-lite Blue Labour and anti-austerity Red Labour.

The Europeans

European Parliament as of June 2015
Looking out across Europe we see the same political mess as here. In the countries hardest hit by the Credit Crunch the fault lines are becoming clearly. Broadly speaking the people of Europe are up to 20% anti-immigrant right, 60% pro-austerity centre (usually split between two traditional parties) and about 20% anti-austerity left.

The error bars are at least 10% on those figures, and the results of individual elections are skewed by voters wanting to kick out corrupt or incompetent governemts and punish those seen as responsible for mess we're all in.

Hellenic Parliament as of September 2015
In Greece, for example, the pro-austerity left party PASOK has been almost completely wiped out, giving the anti-austerity parties of the left nearly 45% of the vote. However they also seem to have stolen support from the anti-austerity right as the Golden Dawn (the Greek BNP) and the Independent Greeks (the Greek UKIP) used to muster about 15% of the vote between them, whilst now they're down to about 10%.

Back in Blighty

In the UK in the last election the figures for the 2015 election (rounded to the nearest 5%) were:

UKIP (anti-austerity/immigrant right) 15%
Conservatives (pro-austerity right) 35%
Labour and LibDems (pro-austerity left) 40%
Green and SNP (anti-austerity left) 10%

Of course, in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn and his pals all voted Labour. If we pretend that Corbyn's election as leader immediately transformed Labour into an anti-austerity party of the left (which it obviously didn't), then the breakdown of the electorate after this years local government elections becomes:

Anti-austerity/immigrant right 15%
Pro-austerity right 30%
Pro-austerity left 15%
Anti-austerity left 50%

Clearly Labour did not become Syriza overnight, and 25% of the electorate have not become anti-capitalists since the general election. All we can say is that the true political views of UK voters are probably somewhere in the middle of these two sets of figures.

A 20/30/30/20 split is not impossible.

So what?

The obvious answer is chaos.

A progressive alliance?
Our first-past-the-post system, billionaire owned media and electorate that prefers to vote for confident idiots, gives an advantage to parties who are able to target marginal seats, reward the rich and present a confident front, which is the Tories.

However if we really do have 20/30/30/20 split in the vote, then no one politcial faction, even one prepared to play fast and loose with the rules for electoral expences, can guarantee victory on its own.

The question will be, what alliances will emerge? If Labour splits, will some of the austerity-lite middle of the party follow Corbyn and can an anti-austerity left 'progressive alliance' really work? These are very important questions.

Other deals are possible. Tory/UKIP is certainly on the cards. A Tory/Blue Labour/LibDem alliance of the pro-austerity middle is not impossible, and potentially unbeatable. Even a UKIP/Red Labour deal is not out of the question, as this is effectively the coalition that runs Greece.

To the barricades?

All of which is very frustrating to those of us who don't want to use politics as a game, but as a means of actually getting things done. Unless you really do think The Revolution is at hand, you have to
Occupy London, February 2012
vote for someone.

Even if you're sure you want to vote for an anti-austerity left party, unless you live in Chippenham, you can't actually vote for Corbyn yourself. We need some options, and they aren't easy right now.

The complete Marx quote is "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober sense, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

Alas, I think in the second half here Marx is in error, or at least premature. Sober sense is the one thing I feel I can safely predict is going to be abscent from UK politics for a while yet.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Why fracking is a Red Line on Climate Change

 My speech to the Draw The Line on Fracking rally in Manchester 6th July 2016 

Well, we never said it would be easy.

When we all gathered by the Arch de Triumph in December last year, wondering just how the French riot police would react to the demonstration that had tried to ban actually happening, we knew it wasn't going to be easy.

The Paris Agreement had been signed the day before. The newspapers were reporting the planet had been saved.

The action was to highlight the five Red Lines that we would not compromise on in the defence of the climate.

They were:

COMPLIANCE. The world needed to do what it promised now. Not in 2020 when the agreement becomes law, or 2025 when it is first reviewed, but now.

JUSTICE. Those worst affected must be compensated by those that polluted most.

FINANCE. The rich countries must pay the poor countries so they can develop without fossil fuels.

EQUITY. We must all have the same right to emit, rich or poor.

And finally an immediate, drastic and urgent cut in EMISSIONS. That meant no new fossil fuels.

Well, we knew it wasn't going to be easy.

So were we surprised when, before the ink was dry, our government licensed huge chunks of England for fracking? No. We knew this was the next battle we would have to fight: in Lancashire, in Yorkshire and here in Manchester.

Fracking is a toxic nightmare, it will frack our countryside, it will frack our water and it will frack our health, but it will above all frack our climate.

It is a new fossil fuel. Fracking does not keep coal in the ground. The fracking did cause US coal use to drop, but US coal exports increased by even more.

Whats more, the fracking boom unleashed a cloud of methane that can be seen from space. Methane is a Greenhouse gas thirty times more potent than carbon dioxide. It leaks from fracking wells, from storage sites, from every part of the US natural gas system. The worst leak of all was in Porter Ranch, Los Angeles (which is nothing to do with my family by the way!) where 100,000 tons of methane escaped from an underground storage facility. For the climate, this was a worse disaster than the Deepwater Horizon.

But as well as being a new fossil fuel, and as well as the fugitive emissions, fracking will lock us into a new generation of fossil fuel power stations. A gas fired power station will last for thirty years, which means the infrastructure being planned now will  could still be polluting in 2050, long after the UK fracking boom will have ended even if the industry's most optimistic forecasts are right.

We know what the alternatives is. It's wind and wave and solar. It's jobs and clean air and energy security. It's public transport and warm houses and fewer private jets. It's a sane, humane and ecological future.

It will happen.

It must happen.

But it isn't going to be easy.