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, 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.

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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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Green Politics

Why we must oppose austerity and join the Manchester protest – A Green Perspective

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We all know that austerity is a ‘social justice’ disaster. This morally reprehensible policy is forcing ordinary people – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable – to pay for the economic crash caused by the reckless speculating of unaccountable banks in deregulated financial markets. In its most extreme the cuts to disability benefits, the NHS and a vindictive regime of benefit sanctioning have led to thousands of deaths. Austerity kills.

On top of this, the economic justification for inflicting all this misery has been completely discredited with most economists agreeing that by shrinking the economy austerity has harmed growth, prolonged the effects of the recession (even the IMF is issuing proclamations against it) and utterly failed as an apparent strategy to reduce national debt. Austerity is revealed to be not an economic necessity but a repackaged conservative ideology to undermine the welfare state. The financial crash is being used as a smokescreen to implement the same brand of neoliberal policies (cuts to public spending, privatisation and de-regulation) that led to it in the first place.

All this is grounds enough for why austerity is wrong and why we must fight against it, and large protests like the 250,000-strong June 20th Demo in London and the ones in Manchester in October this year (co-organised by the TUC and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, to coincide with the Tory Party Conference) are crucial in building this struggle against a great social injustice. Nonetheless, within these debates and protest movements we must be sure to argue that austerity is also a huge obstruction to the aims of environmental justice and directly threatens attempts to mitigate climate change.

For one, if Britain is to transition to a sustainable carbon neutral economy it is going to need massive investment in infrastructure, housing and renewable energy. As well as stopping us from destroying the environment and the habitability of our planet, this could both provide jobs for millions of people and the fiscal stimulus needed to get the economy going again. But austerity takes us in completely the opposite direction. As long as we have a Conservative government pursing ideological austerity, determined to reduce state spending at any cost (whilst shamelessly cutting taxes for the rich and large corporations), arguments for investment will always fall on deaf ears.

Cutting ‘Green’

Each year in the UK 25,000 people die from the cold, and at least a third of these deaths are due to living in cold homes. This is because the UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, with expensive energy bills putting millions in fuel poverty. Under the coalition, home insulation was a disaster, with loans for insulation (the so called Green Deal) taken up by so few that new cavity wall insulations fell in 2013 to a quarter of previous levels. Under our new majority Conservative government the home insulation budget has been cut by another £40 million in the first round of departmental cost-cutting and the Green Deal loans completely scrapped (along with a decade-in-the-making plan to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2016). And it’s the same across the board.

Under Austerity the government is not only completely unwilling to embark on the investments our communities and our planet so badly needs, but is actually cutting what few vital green initiatives we already have. As well as backtracking on its home energy-efficiency and insulation programme, it is slashing the subsidies for biomass, aerobic digestion and biogas, as well as solar, onshore wind and even tidal power. So far the only renewable energy source that isn’t being cut is offshore wind (much more expensive than its onshore counterpart), and even its future seems uncertain.

The Green investment bank, which has increasingly played a pivotal role in providing start-up capital to the environmental industry (and one of the Coalition’s few positive achievements) is being privatised in the largest ever sale of state assets. Green taxes like fuel duty are being cut. Even the incentives to buy less polluting cars (through differential rates of Vehicle Excise Duty) are being scrapped from 2017. However, the cuts to the Environment Agency and flood defence programs have caused the most headlines after they spectacularly highlighted the – contradictory – long term costs of austerity, by contributing to the massive flooding that hit southern England (especially the Somerset levels) over the winter of 2013-14.
The ‘dirty’ economy rolls on…

What’s more, whilst environmental programs and renewable energy are being cut left right and centre, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry continue unabated (this is primarily in the form of tax breaks for oil companies and government funding for exploratory oil drilling), amounting to several billion pounds a year. As fossil fuel reserves decline (unfortunately not fast enough to stop us destroying the planet as more than two-thirds of current reserves need to be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming), the government experiments with riskier unconventional extraction methods, from offshore deep water resources, to the now infamous ‘fracking’. Everywhere we look the short-termism inherent in austerity is taking us the wrong way in the fight against climate change.

Outside of the arena of state action, by reducing people’s incomes as the cost of living increases, austerity is further encouraging environmentally harmful consumption. Austerity has seen the longest and sharpest decline in living standards in the UK since Victorian times, driving the demand for (among other things) cheaper food – which can currently only be provided through ecologically harmful processes. Food production is a major source of carbon emissions and ecological damage, but as our current economic system privileges ecologically damaging production norms – making the green choice the more expensive choice – people have no option but to take what they can get in the age of austerity. When people are struggling to put food on the table, they’re less inclined to worry about the environmental impact of that food or of green issues in general.

Join the movement!

For all these reasons and more austerity is an environmental disaster. If we want to make sure the UK does its part in ensuring we don’t warm the planet by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century (the internationally-agreed target we’re all very close to making impossible), then austerity has to end. We already know we owe it to the most vulnerable in our society and our wider communities in general, but now we also owe it to our planet to end austerity now. Anyone who cares about climate change has a duty to join the movement against austerity (The Green Party is an official affiliate and supporter of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity) and take to the streets to protest these policies that are having such a disastrous effect on both our society and our environment.

That’s why I hope you’ll join us on the streets of Manchester for the huge march on Sunday 4th October, and in the public spaces, faith centres and community halls for the ‘festival of resistance’ Mon 5th – Wed 7th (encompassing everything from workers’ rights, to welfare, to TTIP, to climate), where we can create the broadest possible demonstration of defiance to this government and a huge public debate about austerity that the Tories don’t want to have!

Transport details for #TakeBackManchester: http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/transport_to_manchester http://bristoltoryconfdemo.eventbrite.co.uk/

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Bristol Politics

“How Do we Stop the Tories in their Tracks” Bristol Peoples Assembly meeting

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The door to the City Road Baptist Church, beckoning us in

On Monday 18th of May we packed into the City Road Baptist Church for one of the most lively political meetings I’d ever been too.  The organisers had originally envisioned this being an open meeting for activists to discuss the anticipated hung parliament and the possibility of pushing a minority Labour administration to reject austerity, attracting a crowd of 40 or 50.  Anger against the victory of a Conservative government elected on such a slender majority (receiving only 18% of registered votes across Bristol) set to accelerate austerity prompted 4000 to take to the streets last week, and around 300 to come to the meeting.

The packed church as people file in

The packed church as people file in

The meeting started with speeches from the panel chaired by Naz Massoumi (Bristol Peoples Assembly), with James Meadway (economist and writer), Jess McLean (Bristol tenant and ACORN member fighting revenge evictions), Steve Turner (Unite Assistant General Secretary and Chair of the People’s Assembly) and Rosie, Millie, Ellie and Megan from Bristol Against Austerity (the group of students who organised last weeks demonstration).

James Medway began, reflecting on the election and how ‘getting 24% of registered voters to support them doesn’t give the Tories a mandate to accelerate austerity… 900 people in 8 constituencies made the difference between a hung parliament and a Tory majority government’.  In a very animated speech he concisely made the economic case against austerity explaining how and why it had failed in its own terms of eliminating the deficit (as George Osborne claimed it would back in 2010) within the last Parliament.  

He went on to explain how the Conservatives have used a global economic crisis (started in the American housing market and caused by reckless speculating in a deregulated financial sector) to attack public spending and sell the myth that austerity is the answer. “The austerity lie represents nothing more than a smash and grab of our collective assets by the richest in our society”.  Articulating a feeling common in the room James said “the challenge we face is huge, it would be depressing if it wasn’t for the 1000s of people protesting and meeting in reaction”. As James said “We have each other and we can fight this”.

Next we heard from the truly inspirational young women from Bristol Against Austerity.  They spoke of their experience organising the march, how it started with them venting their despair on twitter, deciding to hold a protest in the centre and “we put it on facebook, then 4 days later 5000 people were in the fountains”.  Since the protest they’ve received lots of press attention which has all “focused on us being young, and isn’t that fantastic.  But it’s not about us, it’s about the issues, about all the peoples whose lives are going to be affected by austerity”.

One of the many inspiring pictures of the Bristol Against Austerity March 13/5/2015

Going into their plans for the future, they explained how they were still doing A-levels, so couldn’t get involved in everything, but they want to start fighting the social consequences of austerity as “we need compassion not cuts”.  One such idea is to hold a protest through the centre on the day of Osborne’s emergency budget to collect for local food banks (a pertinent move as that budget will likely drive more people to food banks than ever before).

Jess McLean spoke about the harrowing experience of her and her children by unscrupulous landlord Jess property. Jess rented a house in a state of dilapidation, because the rent was cheap and she was promised a long term secure contract.  She worked hard improving the house, turning it into a home.  After she had improved it Jess property decided they could be getting a lot more for the house.  They tried to increase her rent and when she complained they tried to evict her.

With the help of a sympathetic Lawyer and ACORN the Community union Jess has resisted eviction, and is fighting to stay.  It is a story all to common in Bristol today, as immoral landlords and letting agents (seek to exploit the housing crisis for their own financial gain.  Reflecting on the need to mobilise and stand together to have a chance of pushing back against this Jess ended on a rousing not “People Power is what’s needed again in this country. See you in the streets on the 20th of June”

The panel, left to right, Bristol Against Austerity, James Medway, Naz Massoumi, Steve Turner, Jess Mclean

Finally Steve Turner, started by thanking everyone for coming and for making this happen, and the women from Bristol Against Austerity for inspiring so many to take action.  Following the lead of the others, Steve outlined how its not enough to just protest and march – these things all help – but we need to build a mass movement against austerity. “We need to mobilise our communities against austerity.  We need to occupy properties to stop eviction.  We need to be united together in everything we do”.

Steve said to meaningfully resist austerity we’d need radical action. “The history of progress is the history of civil disobedience.  You don’t change the world by writing letters.  You change it by standing up and fighting.  United we stand.  Divided we fall”.  We need targeted protests, peaceful direct action and civil disobedience to disrupt the government’s narrative and help build the social movement we need to stop this.  Steve ended with an urgent appeal to the crowd “If not you, who?  And if not now, when?”

The majority of the session was then opened up to 1 minute contributions from the floor (kept short to enable more participants).  We heard the experience of a host of people experiencing the sharp end of austerity, and a range of innovative and thoughtful contribution on how we build this movement, and how we start resistance austerity.  The People’s Assembly was live tweeting these and will collating them to use as suggestions for a plan of action in future meetings.  

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Me on the 4th row, contributing on the opaque nature of austerity and the need to expose and resist its broader policies of creeping privatisation and staff outsourcing as well as cuts, wage repression and redundancies

One thoughtful contribution outlined how there are key pressure points throughout the parliament such as attempts to pass contentious bills (like the bill to treble tuition fees in the last parliament that nearly failed to pass as students demonstrated outside), and to form a credible resistance and really disrupt the Tory austerity agenda we need to hit these hard, suggesting protest, occupations, and road blockades. Another key point was how solidarity is going to be key ‘we need local action, but we need a national movement too have any chance at reverse these vicious cuts’.  

One important point raised was the need for any anti-austerity movement to work with local councillors to resist cuts.  “We only have 16 conservative local Councillors.  We have a chance to do things differently in Bristol.  Our Labour and Green Councillors work for us, we need to hold them to account”.  Sadly due to a clash with the Green Party’s monthly business meeting few Green Councillors were able to attend, but newly elected Easton Councillor Anna McMullen skipped the Green meeting to come and was the only Councillor from any party there.

We then decided on some immediate actions, stalls and fliering to promote the national demonstration, days of action against both the official opening of the new parliament and Osborne’s emergency budget in July.  More concrete plans should come out of the People’s Assembly planning meeting next Monday that everyone’s invited too.  Having heard some fantastic speeches, and some inspiring stories, and having had my confidence restored by seeing so many others passionately opposed to this unjust and immoral social policy I left with my determination and resolve restored.  Politics doesn’t start and end once every 5 years with the general election, it happens when people get together determined to make change.

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics

Why socialists and opponents of Austerity in BristolWest should vote Green

Why did I, as a socialist, go Green?

The Green Fist of eco-socialism

The Green Fist of eco-socialism

I’ve always considered myself a socialist, a non-dogmatic fairly unorthodox one, but a socialist none the less.  Marx’s seminal analysis of our economic system may now be dated and the language in places ungainly and jarring, but it offers innumerable perpetually relevant insights and is a great conceptual entry point into analysing our society.  As such though I had been supporting the Green Party in local and European elections for some time – as they are the only electable party in Bristol that supports many of my own core beliefs like health care being too important to be subjected to the profit motive, the need to renationalise the railways and the energy sector, and the living wage, etc – I had never felt comfortable joining them, until quite recently. 

Since Labour have abandoned even the pretence of Social Democracy and standing up for ordinary people – instead wanting to be the party of Neoliberalism with a human face – there has been a greater and greater need for a party to the Left of Labour.  I have great sympathy to the Left Unity project and had thought about joining it (I just don’t think it’s going to be able to exert any kind of influence soon enough – if at all), before eventually going Green.  One of the many things that influenced this decision is the amazing surge in membership the Green Party has experienced in Bristol (and across the country), and the real chance it has of winning in Bristol West.  In Bristol West we’re lucky to be one of the few places in England where we can elect an MP opposed to austerity – a Green MP – and that’s a really worthwhile task.  If we ever want to move the political discourse of our country back to the left we need more people in positions of societal influence (no matter how small) advocating leftist politics.  This should be an end in itself, and could create the political and social space needed for more explicitly socialist movements to develop – if that’s what you want.  In the more immediate future, if we want to build a real opposition to austerity electing as many MPs opposed to it as possible is very important.

Why others haven’t

Now from conversations I’ve had with TUSC supporters and from friends of mine in Left Unity, I know many of the socialist left don’t like Darren Hall.  They see him as too right wing – his job in the RAF, engineering and civil service being brought up – and don’t think he’ll consistently oppose austerity.  On this latter point the deficiency of Greens on councils like Brighton in implementing cuts (and some Bristol Green councillors feeling they had to vote for cuts in past budgets) is referenced (though our only MPs fantastic record of voting against austerity budgets isn’t).  As such they intend to support their respective parties, saying we need a principled party to push both the Greens and Labour further left.  On a more long term basis, they think the Greens are too focused on elections and aren’t active enough in social movements and the community, and don’t like that we don’t have much in the way of theoretical analysis of the state, political power, or social class, and think that there’s too many middle class lifestyle change types within the party.  

I can sympathise with much of this view, and it would be very undemocratic and sectarian of us to say they shouldn’t stand or campaign or vote for the explicitly socialist left.  But if you want to elect an MP opposed to austerity in Bristol West, you really should vote for Darren Hall.

Austerity budgets are a ‘Red Line’ for Green MPs

At the Green Party’s last conference we passed a motion outlining what any elected Green MPs should do in the next parliament.  It states the likelihood of a hung parliament, and how in such a situation our priority should be to remove the conservatives from power, but without entering a formal coalition, and instead negotiating on an issue by issue basis – probably in some form of confidence and supply arrangement.  It goes on to state the very important part, that, ‘Rejection of an austerity budget would be a clear and objective ‘red line’ in any such negotiations’. Even if you have misgivings about Darren and his commitment to the anti-austerity movement personally, he is bound to follow Green Party policy, and here is the clear commitment for our MPs to vote against austerity.

So long as Darren follows the party policy adopted democratically by our conference, he is the only candidate that can win in Bristol West who is committed to voting against austerity budgets.  Obviously there’s the possibility that he might not, and you might feel betrayed.  But if we do manage to elect him, and that does happen, it would probably be very beneficial to the socialist Left of the UK.  

What if Darren doesn’t follow the policy?

When Darren had a high pressure interview on the BBC Daily Politics show last month, he was quizzed on what Red Lines we might have in any post hung parliament arrangement.  Darren failed to mention our above policy (easy to do in a high pressure interview), and despite instead focusing on how we reject neoliberal ‘trickle down economics’, this omission generated considerable angst amongst some people on our members forum, and with Green trade unionists I communicate with via email.  If we do manage to elect Darren, and then he doesn’t follow the above policy and votes for austerity it seems extremely likely to me that vast swathes of the Greens new members would become very disillusioned with the Green Party and leave (I know I would). 

Both TUSC and Left Unity  who are standing in Bristol (Left Unity in Bristol West) have their stated aim as building a new mass party of the left.  If Darren is elected and then discredits the Green party by voting for austerity, the exodus it would cause could contribute a lot to turning these tiny fairly insignificant left wing projects into larger parties.  For there to be a significant Left realignment they’d need as many of these more left wing Greens to join them as possible.

Conclusion

To conclude socialists and those opposed to austerity should help elect Darren Hall as he’ll either join the burgeoning anti-austerity parliamentary bloc of SNP, Plaid Cymru, left-Labour and Green MPs and vote against austerity or by voting for it he’ll discredit the Green Party and help you create a left party that will.  Either one seems to be a win win scenario for the radical left.  We’re on the cusp of an electoral breakthrough here in Bristol, and as a progressive I felt obligated to help and call on my comrades to do the same.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could return an MP to parliament who’s backed by the RMT, supports policies much to the left of the Labour leadership like renationalisation of public transport and essential services, the implementation of a living wage and rent caps, and opposition to Thatcherite anti-trade union laws and both neoliberalism and austerity? At the end of the day its up to each individual to make her or his own organisational and voting decisions and live with them, but these are the reasons why I think you should vote Green.

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Green Politics

My Green alternative platform for Hengrove

So that the people of Hengrove at least have the ability to vote for the Green Party should they want to, I’ve agreed to be the candidate in the coming local council elections.  Unfortunately in the past support for the Greens within Hengrove hasn’t been very strong, and as the Green Party is supported primarily through contributions from its members it sadly doesn’t have the resources to campaign hard in every ward.  I’d love to be able to go and try and speak to every resident and directly make the case for the Green alternative to the austerity business as usual politics of the establishment parties face to face, but we’re just not able to.  So instead I thought I should at least outline my core politics here so that if any Hengrove residents want to know about their local candidates and manage to find this site they can see what their Green option is offering them.

Obviously there are many many ways the council intersects with the lives of Bristolians, and many important issues that I would campaign on and attempt to address if elected.  To stop this post being too long I’m going to concentrate on four key areas that I personally think are going to be vitally important for any elected councillors to deal with.  The Bristol Green Party has a whole host of policies to deal with local issues, which I would broadly follow (as well as consulting with my constituents) to help me make these decisions and attempt to make a difference for local residents. 

Cuts and the economy

Some of the 50,000 people who marched through London 21/06/2014 Demanding the alternative to cuts and austerity

Some of the 50,000 people who marched through London 21/06/2014 Demanding the alternative to cuts and austerity

Cuts to public services and in particular the savage cuts to council budget are transforming the nature of both our welfare state and our local government. Regardless of which of the main parties forms the next government were going to be forced to endure another £30 billion of cuts by 2017.

Aside from their odious social impact cuts are flawed economically. Most economists agree that cuts have held back economic growth. On top of this austerity has greatly depressed wages, and with them tax returns. That is why the government has consistently missed its own targets; and why they have only cut the deficit by a third in numeric terms (a half as expressed as a percentage of GDP) when they said they would have eliminate it by now.

Services have already been cut to the bone.  Where this next round of devastating cuts will fall, and attempts to resist them will dominate the political landscape of the next few years.

We need our local politicians and our local communities, their organisations, trade unions, charities and campaigners all to work together if we are to have any hope of resisting. If elected I promise to fight for the people of Hengrove and Bristol and try to use the limited powers of local government to get a fairer deal for local residents.

I would never vote for ‘austerity’ council budgets and would instead press the council to demand a fairer alternative. I would use my position to amplify the voices of local residents and of campaigns and resistance to austerity and its social ills. This is work I already do as a volunteer organiser for the Bristol People’s Assembly, and as the Bristol Green Party Trade Union Liaison Officer. I would make this, and directly representing my constituents, central to my work on the council.

I would campaign for the Living Wage to be adopted across the city.

I would campaign to make council tax fairer and less regressive. 

I would campaign for the council to (like more than 60 other councils across the UK) call for the implementation of a ‘Robin Hood’ or Financial Transaction Tax (a tiny tax of about 0.05% on transactions made by banks, hedge funds and the financial sector) and any other progressive measures councils can promote to rebalance our economy in the interests of ordinary people.

The NHS and Public Services

Our public services, the people who provide them, and the people who depend on them are all being attacked to pay for the bailout of the banks.  The NHS in particular has been undermined by privatisation and being artificially run as a fragmented market system. Staff have had their wages depressed, and pensions attacked, whilst there are 35,000 less of them (and 10,000 less hospital beds) then in 2010 treating ever growing numbers of patients.

Everywhere there are campaigns attempting to resist these cuts and privatisation.  Last year I was proud to go on strike with my union and colleagues to fight for fair pay.  Just as important as anger over poverty pay was staff anger over creeping privatisation. I was privileged again this year to join the People’s March for the NHS in Bristol. Everywhere there is great anger among staff, patients and our wider communities as people see the damage being done to our health service.  We need to unite these campaigns if they are to be effective. And we need our representatives in local government to join us.  This is as true for the NHS as it is for any and all of our public services.

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

If I elected I will press the council to campaign for all local NHS services to be provided by the NHS and not the private sector. I will support all campaigns for fair pay for staff and all efforts to resist privatisation. In particular local campaigns to support the NHS reinstatement bill which is gaining support from across the political spectrum.  I will also fight to ensure all other public services, remain public, and be active in local campaigns to restore public ownership to public transport, energy and communications.

Housing

We’re facing a housing crisis in Britain, and particularly in Bristol. Short sighted housing policy (particularly right to buy which has reduced Bristol’s nearly 50,000 council homes of the 1970s to less than 30,000 today) and a lack of investment have left affordable homes in short supply.  Between 2011 and 2014 annual rents in Bristol increased by £1272; whilst wages fell by £1730 in real terms. Is it any wonder that homelessness is increasing?

Me and Darren Hall protesting against C J Hole's attempts to profiteer from the housing crisis and push up rents

Me and Darren Hall protesting against C J Hole’s attempts to profiteer from the housing crisis and push up rents

Me carrying my placard with C J Hole's unethical profiteering letter quote, filched from the BBC news website

Me carrying my placard with C J Hole’s unethical profiteering letter quote, filched from the BBC news website

I would press the council to make better use of its compulsory purchase orders to bring properties back on the market and object to any developments that didn’t contain a considerable proportion of affordable homes. The councils own requirement of 40% is not enough, but even this modest measure is far too infrequently followed.

As the sale of social housing and the encouraging of ‘buy to let’ have concentrated the ownership of property in the hands of an ever smaller number of people; tenants have been increasingly getting a bad deal. Their rights are frequently ignored, they face insecure tenancies, rip off letting fees and properties that are all too frequently poorly maintained. Across the UK 1/3 of privately rented homes now contain unacceptable levels of mould and damp

I will support campaign for tenants’ rights (like ACORNS ethical lettings charter), the abolition of letting fees, and the introduction of rent caps (as they have in Scotland); and I will campaign for longer and securer tenancies for renters.

Environment

Aside for the crises of inequality and poverty, the looming environmental crisis is the most series threatening our society (and species and planet as a whole).  I would encourage sustainability in everything the council does (especially energy, and procurement).  I would oppose fracking which is extremely damaging to the environment, is the completely wrong direction our energy policy needs to be taking, and puts private companies’ profits before the rights of home owners and communities.  I would be a vocal voice on the council for the campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies and make Bristol fossil free.  Finally I would join other Greens in campaigning for better air quality throughout our city (nationwide over 50,000 people die prematurely each year because of the polluted nature of our air).

Vote Green

We need strong alternative voices, prepared to fight for what they believe in and for ordinary people representing us if we are to have any chance of tackling the problems we face.  I believe I could be that voice for local people. If you want a strong independent alternative voice that’s committed to standing up for ordinary people and advancing social and environmental justice than I’d urge you to consider voting Green.

 

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