Bedminster, Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

Why its “utterly irresponsible” not to vote against #cuts to #Bristol’s #budget

I was very proud of my local party at this year’s Bristol City Council budget-setting meeting where Green councillors condemned austerity and voted against (with a few abstentions) Mayor Ferguson’s latest budget that cut another £30 million from vital public services.

As Green group leader Ani Stafford-Townsend said:-

“These cuts are being presented by government as inevitable, but they are not; they are an ideological choice by the Tories. It is George Osborne who has chosen to slash public spending and force those on the lowest incomes to pay the brunt of bankers’ excesses. Instead, those best able to pay should be asked to foot the bill through fairer taxation and by cracking down on tax avoidance by big business.”

Of course not everyone was happy with that decision.  It would seem that chiefly amongst those dissatisfied with Greens voting against cuts were our colleagues in the local Labour party.  Labour had once again voted en masse to pass on these crippling cuts to the communities they’re meant to serve, and then branded us as “utterly irresponsible” for refusing to do the same.

My opponents in Bedminster went as far as to devote 1/5 of the front of their latest newsletter to reprinting this and even spuriously trying to claim it proved we were against recycling, and the adult social care precept Green councillors proposed and passed with the support of the local Labour and Lib Dems.

From the press release they sent out further attacking us, and interactions with some of their candidates on twitter, it seems their main argument for voting for cuts is that if they didn’t councils could be deposed by Whitehall and according to Labour it would have “resulted in Bristol being run by civil servants in London” who would then impose the cuts themselves.

As we explored in a previous blog, this is extremely unlikely due to the high political cost such a move would entail, and the resulting confrontation would at least gives us the chance (and I think a very good chance at that) to get the funding we need to run the services we rely on.

The only other option is to do as Bristol Labour have and accept the impossibility of resisting cuts locally, voting for cuts budgets where councillors make minor amendments to try and implement them in the least harmful way possible (the so called ‘dented shield’).

This is not a viable option.

Despite Mayor Ferguson’s pledge to implement the cuts without attacking frontline services many of these have already taken a beating to ‘realise’ the almost £90 million of savings forced upon our city. For example, halving the number of staff enforcing fly tipping has resulted in an almost doubling of the incidents of fly tipping on our streets (what a coincidence); libraries have lost staff and opening hours (and have an uncertain future with £635,000 worth of cuts still to be made after the local elections); the Ashton Vale book-mobile has been axed; the budget for social care has been savaged (for adults it was cut by 30% between 2010 and 2015 alone); youth centres have been lost; the Bush respite centre has had to half its beds; the list goes on.

So far where the cuts to frontline services have been most extreme – like to the Bush respite centre – it has only effected a small minority of our (most vulnerable) citizens (not that that makes it any better), or where it has effected larger numbers it has been through much less life or death problems like fly tipping.  As austerity intensifies over the next 4 years this will not be the case.

This month the council announced it expects to have to reduce its spending by another £75.3 million by 2020.  This is on top of the £90 million cuts already made (from a starting budget of £201million in 2010).  No amount of tinkering will enable the council to reduce its budget by nearly 80% and still maintain essential frontline services.  There is no least harmful way to make cuts on this scale.  

Cuts Bristol

Infographic from The Bristol Cable

In other words, if the council keeps on doing what Councillor Helen Holland and Bristol Labour like to describe as ‘the responsible thing’ and keep voting for the cuts budgets central government is passing on to us, at some point in the next four years we will see the widespread failure of more and more essential council services.

When we start to experience widespread failure of essential services, it is going to make little difference to the people who rely upon them if these cuts are being implemented by the council or by central government officials.  If we fail and the council is deposed the result will be the same as if we do nothing.  If we try we at least have the chance to avert this disaster and get the budget we need.  That’s why I think councillors who abandon their obligation to fight for the residents whom they’re meant to represent, and instead accept the cuts and the destruction of council services as we know them, are the ones who are really “utterly irresponsible”.            

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, NHS, Protests, Railways, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

The Green Heart of #Bristol’s #SocialMovements

I joined the Green Party back in October 2014 at the start of the ‘Green surge’. I’d became increasingly aware that they were the only party consistently talking about restructuring the economy in the interests of everyone to tackle not only climate change but also the spiralling inequality infecting our society.

Within a month I’d been co-opted into being the parties Trade Union Liaison Officer, and was busy organising support and ‘Solidari-Tea’ for the NHS strike that winter. Me and my colleagues in 13 different unions across the NHS were striking after the government refused to give us even the miserly 1% pay rise recommended by its own pay review board. After more than 6 years of a freeze on NHS pay, things are becoming increasingly tough for more and more health workers. Green comrades got up at the crack of dawn and came to join me and other staff on the picket lines bringing flasks of hot Soladari-Tea and coffee for everyone (very appreciated on a bitterly cold winters morning). The hot drinks and support helped contribute to the vibrant hopeful mood of the picket, and I knew I had found my political home.

In the little over a year I’ve been involved with the local party since then it has consistently put itself at the heart of movements for social justice across Bristol.

Anna on Workers Memorial Day

Green councillor Anna McMullan highlighting the plight of Bangladeshi Garment workers at the International Workers Memorial Day event in Bristol April 2015

We’ve brought Solidari-Tea to picket lines across the city. Joining the men and women of the FBU striking against unfair and unsafe pensions that would see 60 year old running into burning buildings, and the RMT fighting to protect jobs and services on the new Inter-City express trains. Most recently we’ve been out in force to support Junior Doctors fighting against unfair and unsafe contracts that could see them working more than 70 hours a week without unsocial pay enhancements for working on Saturdays or into the night.

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Junior Doctors and their supporters (including Green councillor Carla Denyer front and centre) picketing outside the BRI

We’ve sent support to workers at the sharpak Yate food processing factory fighting against the imposition of longer contracts, to teachers at the Winterborne academy fighting against unmanageable workloads and bullying management, to staff demanding their fair share from wage stealing bosses at Café Amore and much more.

Action for Rail

Greens campaigning for the Public Ownership of Rail at Temple Meads in Feburary 2015

We’ve joined the Bristol Trades Council in campaigns for the Living Wage, worked with Bristol Stop the War to build opposition to the bombing of Syria, and have been at the heart of the Bristol People’s Assembly and its resistance to cuts and austerity. We’ve taken to the streets to call for the public ownership of our railways with the Action for Rail group, and campaigned against the exploitative practices of rogue landlords and letting agents through ACORN the Community Union.

 

Rob ACORN

Green councillor Rob Telford at an ACORN picket of Tobie Holbrock who was refusing to repair unacceptable mould in his rental properties

Its been my great honour to be at the centre of most of this activity, but it was my leading role in organising the Bristol rally against the Trade Union Bill last November that was one of the most fulfilling actions. This brought Greens, trade unionist and members of the local Labour Party together with hundreds of ordinary Bristolians for a rally and demonstration in the fountains against the draconian bill, and imbued us with the spirit to resist these unjust laws.

 

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Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015

Unlike the Labour party that won’t support strikes because it thinks it has to appear to be neutral to look like a party of government, the Green party is unashamed in its support of ordinary people trying to protect their rights and improve their lives.  Just as it is unashamed of its support for all groups trying to enact positive social change. On picket lines, marches and demonstrations across our city the Greens are an increasingly regular and prominent fixture. Both in the council and in the streets of our city the Bristol Green party is taking a bold stand for people and planet, and I’m proud to be a part of it

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Bristol Greens joining the thousands braving the wet weather for the Bristol Climate March last November.

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Some of the Greens at the Bristol People’s March for the NHS 2015

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Greens protesting government plans to Scrap the Human Rights act and other things at the Bristol Makes Some Noise against austerity protest last year

Some videos: –
me speaking at the Don’t Bomb Syria rally-  https://www.facebook.com/BristolPeoplesAssembly/videos/1678031245741863/~

Anna speaking at ‘How do we Stop the Tories in their Tracks’ –

Green Party deputy leader Shahrar Ali speaking at the Scrap Trident rally –

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

Why we need unions! #HeartUnions

Alice Right to Strike

We are often told that unions have become irrelevant to modern society, or worse that they are in some way negative.

No institution is perfect, but trade unions do amazing work standing up for their members in the workplace and increasingly in the community (see for example the role unions played locally in helping block the environmentally and medically damaging biomass facility in Avonmouth).  Many of us are given negative perceptions of trade unions because of how they are portrayed in the press (usually only ever mentioned if they’ve been forced into industrial action and then only described as militants needlessly causing trouble) and the legacy of the 1970s.

People who are against unions often argue that in the past ‘over mighty union barons’ ‘held the country to ransom’ and would strike ‘at the drop of a hat’. There may be some small germs of truth in this, but this is a gross exaggeration and is in part the result of attempts to undermine the legitimacy of unions and collective action.  Even if this had been the case the situation in modern Britain is so far removed it makes such comparison meaningless.

Today union membership is at a historic low (though it has moderately increased in recent years), as is the power and influence of unions in our society.  They’re even marginalised in the Labour party these days (though this could change under Corbyn).  We already have some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the ‘democratic’ world which are about to get even more restrictive with the governments draconian new strike legislation, making union action very difficult.  Furthermore, no worker ever takes the decision to strike and lose pay lightly (especially with the financial hardship of recent years), and with unions so comparatively weak and increasingly defensive the situation has to be pretty bad before they feel forced to resort to striking.

The decline of union power seen in terms of membership and coverage of collective bargaining agreements

This has been the nature of the industrial action I have been involved in as a steward and branch officer for my hospital’s branch of UNISON.  Continued pay freezes and rises below inflation have seen the value of NHS pay fall by between 10-16% since 2008.  At the same time Government policies – like cuts to community care and other public services – have led to a huge increase in hospital usage (by 10% between 2013 and 2014 alone), whilst we have lost 35,000 staff (and 10,000 beds) since 2010.  Those of us who are left are doing more work, for less money, whilst our pensions are attacked (we pay more in each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) in a health service with an increasingly insecure looking future.

Yet it still took until the winter of 2014 for our unions to decide enough is enough and resort to nationwide strike action.  Even then it was only two 4 hour strikes over two months (and the threat of further action), as they wanted to minimize the impact on patients and were scared of being portrayed as too militant in the press.  A far cry from the irresponsible militant image peddled by the Government and mainstream media.

My above example also highlights the pivotal role unions still continue to play in protecting the interests and wages of their members at work.  By actively asserting the rights of employees to the fruits of their own labour they can act to restrain excessive pay at the top.  Stronger unions advancing the interests of their members provided a strong check on the growth of inequality (which has exploded since the 1980s).  In the 1970s the richest 1% in the UK owned around 5% of all wealth.  Today the richest 1% own more than 15% of all of the wealth in Britain.

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The decline of union power was just one of many factors that have seen Britain experience the fastest growth in inequality of any OECD country.  But we should not ignore the important role unions can and do play in the fight against inequality.  Rebuilding the union movement expanding into the precarious industries like social care, temping agencies call centers etc, and giving it the confidence to fight, could go a long way checking the insecurity and low wages so emblematic of work in modern Britain.  It’s doing it that’s the hard thing.

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As the number of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated by unions has fallen – the pale blue line) income inequality has increased exponentially

That’s why we need to ensure all of us active in political and social movements not only join but also get active in unions in our workplaces.  And if there isn’t one, try and set one up (a hard task alone but local unions and trades councils and unions already organising in that industry elsewhere will be only too happy to help you).  We also need to encourage as many of our coworkers, friends and people we know in general to do likewise.

Unions have always had a larger social role beyond the ‘bread and butter’ issues of jobs and wages. Time and time again their financial and organisational support has been essential for the success of campaigns from the fight to win the vote for men and women to the anti-war and the now the anti-asuterity movement. Increasingly through initiatives like the Campaign Against Climate Change and A Million Climate Jobs Now unions are getting involved in the central challenge of our time; the fight to stop global warming and the destruction of the habitability of our planet.

As individuals we are almost powerless to overcome the status quo and effect change in our society.  But collectively we are strong.  Unions allow us to come together to stand up for ourselves and provide an organisational structure for that collective strength. For all these reasons and more, we need unions and we have to work together to defend them, especially in light of the government’s most recent attack.

Next week the TUC will be launching its #HeartUnions campaign to highlight the amazing work trade unions do in our society.
There’s a fair bit going on in Bristol.  The Trades Council has a list of some of this activity.  If you can, make sure you get involved:

https://bristoltradesunioncouncil.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/heartunions-get-involved/

love unions week

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Uncategorized

#ScrapTrident #StopBombingSyria #WelfareNotWarfare, 2nd Feb 7pm at the Trinity Centre

Here’s a blog I’ve done for the Bristol People’s Assembly on our 2nd of February rally, the links between war and austerity, and the need to oppose both.

If you’re free in Bristol on Tuesday the 2nd of Feb, then please come and join us at the Trinity centre from 7pm.

Bristol People's Assembly

stop trident

On the 2nd of February the Bristol People’s Assembly is joining forces with the Bristol CND and the Bristol Stop the War Coalition to host a public meeting and rally against the renewal of the trident nuclear weapon system and the continued bombing of Syria.  Join us in calling for ‘Welfare not Warfare’.

The government is expected to force a vote on renewal of Trident in a few months time. The majority of the British people, including the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (though sadly not all of his MPs), the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist all oppose nuclear weapons. They are deadly relics of a bygone era, weapons of mass destruction that would indiscriminately kill millions, and which are completely useless against the threats Britain faces. They don’t keep us safe and they divert resources from essential spending.

We are seeing devastating cuts to vital services, most tragically…

View original post 637 more words

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

The need for a ‘Needs Budget’

 

Poplar

Mural to celebrate the Poplar rate rebels who used the powers of local government to stand up to a Conservative and Liberal coalition government in the aftermath of the First World War

I’ve just been selected by the Bristol Green Party to be their candidate for Bedminster in next May’s Council elections.  I’m really excited and want to thank all our local members who voted for me; we came second to Labour in Bedminster by only 3% this year and we have a really good chance of getting atleast one of the two seat in the ward.  I intend to do a longer post on my priorities for the ward, but for now I thought I’d dwell on something that came up in the hustings, my opposition to any and all cuts budgets and the need for a ‘needs budget’.

As you should know the Green Party completely opposes Austerity as a failed economic model, that has held back the economy, and punished the poor and most vulnerable in our society whilst forcing ordinary people to pay for the bailout of the banks.

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Me (top centre) and fellow Greens (including Molly Scott-Cato our MEP, Tony Dyer our Mayoral candidate, former Bristol West candidate Darren Hall, and Redland Councillor Martin Fodor) at the launch of the report ‘The Power to Transform the South West’ which outlines how we transition to a carbon neutral eceonomy to save the environment and create jobs

Nationally our MP has been fantastic in continually voting against cuts and austerity and has one of the best voting records of any Left wing MP.

However, on the local level, the limited options available to resist the imposition of cuts has seen Green Councillors – most famously in Green controlled Brighton – adopt the same ‘dented shield’ approach used by Labour to try and minimise the worst excesses of local cuts and vote for cuts budgets (so they can amend and tinker with them).

The amount of money in the budget is imposed on local authorities by central government and its austerity agenda.  To set a legal budget within those confines means passing on cuts.

The alternative is setting a ‘needs budget’.  Disregarding the limit set by Whitehall this would set a budget adequate to cover provision for all the services local people need (hence a ‘needs budget’).  Such actions have been made illegal under section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which then obligates the councils financial officer to alert Whitehall as to what’s happened.  After that the council would have 21 days to set a legal budget or supposedly civil servants from central government would depose the council and set a cuts budget themselves. (Though it could also be achieved through using reserves, prudential borrowing, or acquiring alternative revenue streams to provide a needs budget without challenging the law). 

That being the case many feel they have no option but to pass cuts budgets that have minimised the threat to vital services as much as possible.

However, to me, and many others, this seems a very improbable course of events.  This is a government with a wafer thin majority, and deposing the democratically elected council of one of the largest cities in the UK would be a deeply unpopular move.  The drama would dominate the news and could be a spark that ignites the disparate movements we’ve seen trying to resist austerity these last 5 years.

Should it even get so far as civil servants being sent into the city, they would be met with large scale protests and no doubt a strike from local government workers who would then refuse to help them carry out their dirty work (and many civil servants are PCS members who would be unlikely to cross a picket).  With all that going on, the likelihood of the worst case scenario (the deposition of the council) happening seems very low.

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Banging the drum (or metal pot and wooden spoon) of the anti-austerity movement at a protest in Bristol

Instead they’d no doubt try and reach a compromise, in which we’d be able to win a better deal for Bristol.

One way this might work has already been laid out by our Mayoral candidate Tony Dyer.  The Conservatives have said councils can keep their business rates (probably from 2020).  Tony has challenged the government to give Bristol its business rates from 2016, which would allow us to reverse the cuts and invest in the many many infrastructural projects Bristol urgently needs (chiefly social and affordable housing).  If we set a needs budget and demanded we be given our business rates early to pay for it, it seems likely central government would, to some extent, give in.

Its not as far fetched as some might have you believe.  Remember despite the apparent dire state of the nations finances, in the last budget the Conservatives magicked up £12 billion in extra defence spending (the exact same amount they’re cutting from welfare, conincidently), and another £10 million for a private jet for the PM (among many other things).  Last year they found money for an 11% pay rise for every MP, and £15 billion for Osborne’s ‘Road Revolution’.  In short, they’re very good at finding extra money when they need it.  And in the kind of constitutional crisis they’d provoke by trying to depose Bristol Council, they’d no doubt decided they’d need the money.

Furthermore, councils have already had their budgets cut by so much that there simply isn’t that much more they can cut before statutory services start to fail.  The so called ‘low hanging fruits’ of council expenditure have already been picked.  If councils continue to live within the dictates of the law and refuse to try and set ‘needs budgets’, at some point in the next 5 years we’re going to see a significant failure of the basic services many people depend on.

The main argument against ‘needs budgets’ is that civil servants aren’t going to know our communities needs and their cuts will be far worse than the more compassionate cuts our Council will do itself.

As I’ve said this seems unlikely, and if it got to the point where implementing cuts will result in the failure of services how can civil servant driven cuts be any worse?  Also it would focus the blame for these cuts squarely back where it belongs with central government, and would make the Tories do their dirty work themselves.

We’ve already seen massive mobilisations against the government and its austerity program since the election. If unelected civil servants started deposing local authorites to implicate savage cuts; the protests, strikes and civil disobedience it would cause would be a significant challenge to the government.  

If several councils refused to set cuts budgets at the same time, their likelihood of success would be even higher.  The blowback from them attempting to depose multiple authorities at once could likely bring down the government (so they’d probably give in).  For that to happen we need people elected onto those councils making those arguments and willing to make a stand against austerity. 

If elected I will be one of those people.  I pledge to never vote for a budget containing cuts, and to consistently make the case for the alternative whenever possible.

no cuts guardian

Me (on the far left) and People’s Assembly comrades (and is that big Jeff in the seconr row slightly on the right) leading the Bristol protest against the emergency budget this summer.  Picture taken from the Guardian

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

#ClimateChange and the fight for #ClimateJobs

A Just Transition.png

The placard I made at the NEON event to call for A Million Climate Jobs in the just transition we need to a sustainable economy.  It lasted about 10 minutes against Sunday’s rain.

This is a talk I prepared for a NEON (the New Economy Organising Network) event to prepare for Bristol Climate March:

Climate change as we know is the most serious long-term challenge facing both our society, and our planet in general.  We are on the verge of reaching the point of no return, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic warming of the planet will be unavoidable, and the habitability of our world serverely undermined.

But as well as a challenge of almost unimaginable horror, climate change is also an opportunity.  As Naomi Klein has recently persuasively argued Climate Change can provide movements for social and environmental justice with a ‘collective lens’, a shared conceptual framework, sense of purpose and set of arguments for moving beyond the extreme Free-Market Capitalism (conventionally labelled NeoLiberalism) that is so impoverishing both our planet and our communities.

For decades the arguments of the alter-globalisation movement – that Free Market fundamentalism was causing spiralling inequality and social stratification – have fallen on death ears.  We now know those exact same policies have greatly exacerbated our excessive consumption of resources and our output of greenhouse gases, endangering life as we know it.

It also presents an opportunity in terms practice solutions it requires.  I don’t want to understand the scale of the problem and the response it needs.  To do our part in preventing catastrophic climate change the few decades we have left to actually do something about it, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-carbon economy.  Tinkering around the edges with carbon trading, taxes and offsetting just won’t cut it.

Climate Justice Jobs

The Bristol People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs. 29/11/2015.  3000 attend despite heavy rain.

The amount of carbon already in the atmosphere means that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow we’ve still locked in considerable warming, we have to act now to prevent temperature rises above 2 degrees (which would have extreme consequences across the world).

We need to cut CO2 emissions by around 75-80%.
We can achieve this if we cut our energy usage by half (very achievable with an aggressive program of energy efficiency and home insulation – Britain has the worst insulated homes in Europe, which contribute to an estimated 20,000 death every winter, as well as huge amounts of wasted energy) and supply at least half of that energy from renewable sources.

This will mean the end of many jobs in polluting and fossil fuel dependent industries (an estimated 350,000).  But it will also require millions of new jobs in building new infrastructure, renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and energy efficiency.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, have created a rough blueprint laying out how this might happen.  They estimate that nationally we need to create 1 Million Climate Jobs to do all this work.

The knock on effect of having all these people employed with increased spending power, and the allied industries needed to supply all the construction of this transition will create hundreds of thousands more jobs.  This always happens with new investment.

climate march bbc

Some of the soggy marchers as the rain started to ease off as we looped back round Broadmead, credits BBC.

The total cost of employing 1 million people, and supplying the material and supplies for the new climate industries would be about £50 billion.  However, the extra money received in taxes, and the loss of expenditure on benefits for all those extra jobs would instantly save £18 billion.  Much of this investment will provide long term returns that outstrip the cost of borrowing, (bus and train passengers buy tickets, electric cars and low energy appliances are sold for money, people pay bill for renewable energy, etc).  The Campaign Against Climate Change again estimate this would recoup around another £12 billion of these cost.  Meaning in total it would be £20 billion a year.

It sounds like a lot, but remember at the drop of the hat the government’s found an extra £12 billion for extra defence spending just yesterday.  Also we don’t collect hundreds of billions of pounds in tax avoided and evaded by the wealthiest companies and individuals; we’re wasting 100s of billions on replacing trident; and when the banks crashed the government happily bailed them out to the tune of £850 billion (whilst exposing itself to £1.2 trillion pounds worth of ‘toxic’ debts).

Despite the economic crash and austerity, this is actually an ideal time to invest, as interest rates on government bowing are at a historic low.  Much of the capital could be paid for a Peoples Quantities Easing (like the Quantitive  Easing they used to bail out the banks but this time for the benefit of everyone). Not only will we be saving the planet, but we’ll also get over a million people into secure long term jobs (easing the blight of unemployment) and provide a fiscal stimulus to get the economy going again.
Win, win, win.

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Green MEP Molly Scott addresses the crowd at the rally after the march on the need for climate jobs in a rapid (but just) transition to a carbon neutral economy.

Earlier this year research carried out by the Resilience Centre outlined in greater detail how this transition could play out in the South West.  We are lucky that the South West has an abundance of renewable energy resources, and has the capacity to not only provide all of its own energy needs from a diversified renewable energy system (and go completely fossil fuel free), but also to become an exporter of energy to the rest of the UK.

The report also stresses the economic impact of implementing the plan, which has the potential to create 122,000 jobs in the region (where unemployment numbers 126,000) and directly add over £4.2 billion to value of the local economy (48% the total value of the South West’s tourism industry, or 87% of the total value of its aerospace and defence industries).

A mix of onshore and offshore wind, marine and tidal, solar, geothermal and biomass dispersed across the region can meet all our long term energy needs; and provide full employment and a vital economic boost in these dark times of austerity.
The resilience foundation estimates that this would add an extra £4.3bn per year to the region (representing about 4% total economic growth to the South West economy).

This can be done.  In the last few years in Germany for example their Energiewende (Energy Transition) has seen the country rapidly move to an energy sector driven by renewables. The South West has even greater potential for renewable energy then most of Germany. It is not that we lack the physical capability to implementing this plan; it is just that we lack the political will.  We need political change (and the Green Party locally is increasingly playing an important part in this), but this alone will not be enough.

To get the kind of wholesale change we need, in the timeframe available, is going to require massive mobilisations of people in the streets and in our communities.  Our governments have been keenly aware of this looming disaster since at least the 1980s, they’ve seemingly endlessly negotiated and prevaricated, and all the while the emission have been increasing exponentially.  We need people power, this is far far too important to be left to the politicians and the institutional comprises they’re forced to make.  That’s why Sunday’s march and meetings like this are so vital.  Thank you inviting me here tonight and listening to me.  See you all on Sunday!

Links:
The Power to Transform the South West report can be found here:-  http://mollymep.org.uk/2015/04/17/power-to-transform/

A Million Climate Jobs now here:-
http://www.campaigncc.org/greenjobs

me climate

Me, after the protest finished on Sunday.  None of my placards managed to survive the heavy rain and intense winds (they literally melted and then got ripped to shreds)

 

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In search of Social Justice: From LibDem to Green

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

As a naive first time voter in 2010, like many people in Bristol (and across the country) I was taken in by the Liberal Democrats. Their pledge to ‘vote against any and all rises to tuition fees in the next parliament and pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative’ (not just a promise but a signed pledge to the NUS); their opposition to trident nuclear weapons; their commitment to electoral and constitutional reform; their opposition to the anti-immigration rhetoric that was just starting to become mainstream; and many other policies all seemed to show them to be committed to the kind of politics of social justice and defence of ordinary people that Labour was increasingly abandoning under Blair and Brown.

The whole style of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats seemed to offer something different than then slick career politicians of the other parties and their big governments and spin doctors.  The Liberal Democrats had until then what seemed like a great record on civil liberties compared to the increasingly draconian and authoritarian surveillance policies Labour was introducing ostensibly to fight terrorism (or the experience of the previous Conservative government).  Nick Clegg fought the whole election on a platform of breaking the cycle of corruption and lies so prevalent in our political system.  The Liberal Democrats 2010 BBC Party Political Broadcast started with Nick Clegg wondering through an empty post-apocalyptic London, largely alone save for thousands of scraps of paper (each displaying a broken Labour or Conservative promise) blowing menacingly in the wind. ‘Broken Promises’ started Clegg ‘there’s been too many in the last few years; there’s been too many in the last 30 years’ but he promises ‘the trail of broken promises can come to an end… we can say goodbye to broken promises’ if we vote for the Liberal Democrats.

I think that’s what made the Liberal Democrats decision to go into coalition and break so many of their core promises for seemingly so little return feel like such a betrayal.  They didn’t just compromise their position to go into government.  They introduced policies fundamental opposed to many of their core policies and completely at variance with the position they stood on; a position that was explicitly critical of the other parties for doing just that.  Initially I hoped they’d at least moderate the conservatives, but became rapidly disillusioned as they turned their back on students, coseyed up to conservative scapegoating of welfare recipients (and the vulnerable in general) for the financial problems caused by our financial and political elite, enabled the increasing (and increasingly disastrous) privatisation of vital public services and generally (and continually) failed to stand up for ordinary people.  On this last bit, their support for the ‘Bedroom’ tax is a case in point.

Labour who pioneered many of the market structures being introduced into our public services (like PFI contracts and the internal market in the NHS), who greatly exacerbated the deregulation of the financial sector (that started with Thatcher and greatly contributed to the 2008 crash), and continually failed to provide an alternative to austerity, seemed to give no real opposition. Instead of breaking with the neoliberal (the economic and social doctrine followed by Thatcher, Blair, Brown and now the coalition) politics of the past; Labour assimilated even further the need to privatise public services, cut benefits (most worrying with Rachel Reeves focus on the unemployed and the removal of benefits to the young) and the drive to reduce all aspects of life to a monetary value.  

I remember seeing the Green Party broadcast in 2010 and finding their politics to be very appealing; but sadly they didn’t stand in my consistency and back then didn’t seem like a realistic option.  This is no longer the case.  Over the course of the parliament they’ve slowly but steadily gained Councillors (and minority control of a council), MEPs (beating the Liberal Democrats in the last European elections), and members.  In the last year this steady growth of membership has turned into a booming surge.  They now have over 58,000 members in England and Wales alone and nearly 70,000 across the UK (for comparison the Liberal Democrats and UKIP both have just over 40,000 members). More and more people are starting to identify with them as a viable force for positive social change.  It is now evident they have become a real force in British politics (albeit a small yet growing one).

Once I started to consider the Green Party as a viable choice, I quickly realised far from being a single issue protest party they have an extremely comprehensive set of policies that offer an actual and radical alternative to business as usual.  These are politics rooted in social and environmental justice.  Whilst the other parties compete to see who can privatise and sell off what remains of our national asserts the quickest; the Green party seeks to restore public ownership to essential services like transport and utilities.  Whilst other parties seek to represent the interests of corporations, and the rich; the Greens seem to be the only ones prepared to stand up for ordinary people.  Whilst the other parties offer so many slightly different shades of neoliberalism and austerity; the Greens are willing to put forward a genuine alternative.

The central tenant of the party, that social and environmental justice goes hand in hand, seems to me like it should be the central preoccupation of our time.  The same set of neoliberal policies that has impoverished our communities and entrenched inequality over the last three decades has also seen an exponential rise in the emission of greenhouse gases and the acceleration of global warming.  Tackling inequality and climate change (the most pressing threats we face) should be the central aim of politics.  For ordinary people things have gotten worse in our country over the last few decades. Our major political parties have been largely converted to a mantra that the state and public sector is automatically inefficient, and that private competition automatically drives up efficiency and cuts cost, that sees faith in the ‘free market’ as the supreme organising principle of human society and the drive for profit as the only justification for human activity. 

The period roughly between the end of the Second World War and the advent of Thatcherism was far from perfect.  But the welfare state ensured decades of full employment and a decent minimum standard of living for everyone.  In 1978 the year of the highest level of equality in modern British history, the richest 1% of our society controlled around 2.8% of wealth.  Today the richest 1% controls over 15% of all wealth in our country.  In the 1970s, the average CEO got around 10 times the pay of the average worker.  Today they receive over 160 times.  Control of the world supply of labour by western multinational corporations, and the flooding of the domestic market with cheaply manufactured good from the Far East (and the inflation of a huge credit economy of debt) has hidden the decline in living standards that goes hand in hand with massive transfers of wealth to the elite like this.  But this can only go so far.  As the richest take more and more there is less and less money for the rest of us.  Less money for wages, less for hospitals and schools, less money for housing and for all public services in general.  Worst of all is the social and human cost of inequality and the poverty it causes.

The tickling down of wealth is a myth.  Allowing the richest to get ridiculously wealthy isn’t good for all of us.  They wealth bubbles up to the top and it just stays there, it never trickles down.  If tax cuts and more wealth for the super-rich created job, surely we’d be drowning in jobs right now?  The 1000 richest individuals in our country have seen their wealth double under this government.  The number of billionaires in this country has also doubled since 2008.  The 5 richest families in the country now control the same amount of wealth as the 12.5 million poorest.  Our politicians have given themselves a nice 11% pay rise (and are now claiming more expenses then during the height of the 2009 scandal), and the bankers who are the most directly responsible for the crash have seen their salaries and bonuses continue to grow far out of all proportion to their worth.  In contrast the other 99% of the people have seen their standards of living fall to pay for both the bailout and the further channelling of wealth to the top.  This has been starkest for those dependent on the welfare state (benefit recipients and service users) those employed in public services, and ordinary working people in general.  Prices have risen far higher than wages for about 90% of this parliament, resulting in a real terms decline in wages of about 8-10%.  900,000 now rely on food banks.  Almost all new jobs have been in insecure zero hours contracts (1.8 million people are on these as of February 2015), part time contracts, or self-employment (where wages have declined by over 20%), as people are forced to take whatever they can find.

They Green party recognises all this and has policies to tackle it.  They would renationalise the railways (a move supported by 2/3rds of the British public that could save around £1.2 billion a year for exactly the same service yet is supported by no other major party).  They would bring locally accountable public ownership to the energy companies (a transformative move in stark contrast to Labour’s cop out on price freezes).  They would drive out the private companies that profit from our NHS, and roll back decades of piecemeal privatisation to reinstate the health service as a unified publicly owned and run service (which could save £10 billion a year).  They would create a truly progressive taxation system that closes the ridiculous loopholes that allow industrial scale tax avoidance and seeks higher contributions from those who can afford it.  They would encourage not just a truly living wage as the minimum wage (rising to £10 an hour by 2020) but would also seek to introduce pay ratios where the highest paid full time employee in an organisation cannot earn more than ten times the lowest paid full time employee.  They would end right to buy (which has ravaged our countries housing supply) and build 500,000 social homes (most of the cost is borrowed by local authorities who pay back the debt with the rent they receive on the homes).  They would create almost 1,000,000 jobs in the transition to a zero carbon economy by investing in local renewable energy supplies, public services, house building, and ordinary people.  These (and many other fantastic policies) are the progressive policies we need to make our society and our lives better.  That is why I support the Green Party, and why I encourage others to do the same!

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