Bedminster, Bristol Politics, Green Politics

Why I’m Standing for #Bedminster

Growing up in an impoverished area of rural Lincolnshire, dependent on my Mum’s disability benefit (and the full time carer’s allowance my step-Dad got for looking after her) as our only household income, made me acutely aware of the inequality and poverty that blights our society (and the harsh reality of what living on benefits actually means).

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With my Mum and Dad (standing slightly awkwardly on the left) at graduation in 2013, a proud day with the people who supported me and got me there

This has left me with a lifelong desire to do what I can to redress some of the wrong and imbalances in our country, and to attempt to make things better for ordinary people.  That’s the key reason I want to be a Councillor.  To use the (limited) powers and influence of the position to do what I can to help people and to contribute to the creation of a more equal and sustainable society.

This would inform my priorities as a Councillor, where I would attempt to use the limited resources of local government to, as far as possible, oppose and mitigate the harmful influence of austerity (currently driving inequality), and its associated scapegoating of the most vulnerable in our society; and stand up for local people.

I’m one of the main organisers of the Bristol People’s Assembly, and spend most of my time in politics helping build up local resistance against austerity and cuts.  A big part of this involves lobbying and pressuring councillors to vote a certain way in council meetings – predominantly against the cuts budget’s we’ve had passed onto us these last few years.  Becoming a Councillor myself would help cut out the middle man.

budget protest 2015

Me giving out placards at the start of the Bristol People’s Assembly protest against Osborne’s emergency budget last year (where £12 billion was cut from welfare as £12 billion was added to defence spending, and £83 billion of tax was simply uncollected)

On top of this, I was very alarmed to discover the average age of a councillor in the UK is 60.  Young people like myself are often maligned for failing to engage in politics – especially local politics – and for not voting (acutely so in council elections).  But is it any wonder when politics seems so remote from us, and our local representatives are unrelatable grey old predominantly white and predominately male politicians.

Whilst many of our elderly representative bring valuable expertise, and can be very sympathetic to our concerns, they can never truly understand what its like being young in austerity Britain.  They’ve been saved from the current experience of being young, with the mountains of debt attached to trying to get an education; of having to live with your parents (or a house share) well into your adult years due to the impossibility of saving for a deposit and the astronomical cost of rent; of being told the value of your labour isn’t even worth the fake ‘Living Wage’ the  Tory’s are brining in for the over 25s; the knowledge that we’ll probably live long enough to see the environmental disasters and climate change our elders have prepared for us; etc.  I want to be elected to try and end the chronic under-representation of young people and put my generations concerns back on the agenda.

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Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012, highlighting the Liberal Democrats broken promises that betrayed my generation and did so much to disillusion so many

For the last two and a bit years I’ve lived right on the border between Windmill Hill and Bedminster (next to Bedminster train station that oddly isn’t in Bedminster ward) and spend more time in the ward then I do in my own.  Bedminster has a rich history, and is home to a vibrant community, with bustling high-streets of independent shops, business and fantastic pubs.

As well as being a welcoming and integral part of our city, Bedminster has its problems.  There is poverty and deprivation throughout the ward.  There are few parks and green open spaces.  Public transport is extremely poor, nearby residents parking schemes have exacerbated endemic parking problems, and cycling provision is woefully inadequate  Housing is also a central issue.  We have a high percentage of people living in the private rented sector, many in insecurely rented and poorly maintained buildings at a very high cost.

Redevelopments can offer good opportunities, but without any provision for social or affordable homes they risk becoming the tools of gentrification that push up house prices and force out local people, many of whom have lived here for generations.  This is exacerbated by the unscrupulous practices of letting agents like C. J. Hole who sparked outrage last year when they wrote to landlords encouraging them to switch to C. J. Hole to raise their rents (and C. J. Hole’s profits); and Taylor’s who use discriminatory practices to prevent people on benefits for renting homes (see petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-discrimination-against-benefit-claimants ).

To tackle these problems Bedminster needs Councillors determined to take a stand and fight for the ward and its residents, and willing to work with the community and local campaigns.  I will be such a Councillor.

 

 

 

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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

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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Bristol Politics, Green Politics

Hengrove’s search for an alternative and UKIPs immigration rhetoric

Hengrove is an interesting ward. In 2010 in the council elections (which being at the same time as the general election had the highest turnout of any of the council elections of the last 5 years) the Lib Dems won a large majority. In keeping with the experience of voters across the country – general revulsion at the Lib Dems record in office – their vote steadily plummeted. Then suddenly in 2014 UKIP came out of nowhere to win the council seat. This says to me that Hengrove is a ward where most people are tired of the establishment parties and are looking for an alternative.

The search for an alternative

Many people across the country are now increasingly seeing UKIP as this alternative. It’s easy to see why. Despite their constant gaffs and scandals, the ability of UKIP spokespeople – especially Farage – to speak their mind (no matter how controversial) marks a striking contrast to the focus group crafted sound bites coming out of the two and a half party establishment. The EU is a very flawed institution. It’s overly bureaucratic and undemocratic. That’s why the Greens advocate fundamental reform and a referendum on membership. Denying the undoubted flaws of the EU just strengthens UKIPs hand. On top of this as inequality has exploded over the last three decades in many ways things have been getting worse for ordinary people.

But UKIP offer no real alternative. Other than an opposition to the EU, UKIP support all the same basic economic and social principles of the establishment parties. Namely the undermining of public services and the rights of working people, and the channelling of wealth to the elite.  They used to support a flat rate of tax for all at 31%, but had to settle for just lowering the top rate of tax to 40% (and raising the amount of money you can earn tax free) in 2014 as the party attempted to look ever more populist. This tax cut would be paid for by even more savage cuts to public services then the ones promised by any of the three establishment parties. They support further deregulation of the financial markets (the same deregulation carried out by Thatcher, Blair and Brown that largely contributed to the crash). Many of their spokespeople are extremely hostile to public health care (despite policy u-turns because of the unpopularity of NHS privatisation). Many of them are extremely hostile to workers’ rights – unsocial hours pay, holiday entitlement, maternity and paternity leave, union rights and sick pay.  The majority of their policies represent a more extreme version of core Conservative policy.

More Conservative than the Conservatives

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That’s why most of their elected representatives, key party officials, and donors are all ex-Conservatives or prominent Conservative supporters. Farage himself was a conservative activist for 16 years before leaving the party to found UKIP, who describes Thatcher as his political hero and UKIP as the only party truly keeping the spirit of Thatcherism alive. Their policies support the wealthy and the elite, and that is why they are mainly funded by some of the dodgiest tycoons and hedgefund manager in the country. Farage, a privately educated former financial sector worker (not a banker but a commodities trader) has done very well to pose as an anti-establishment figure.

Falling living standards and the scapegoating of Migrants.

Things have been getting worse for ordinary people these last few decades (especially in these years of austerity). The reasons are largely the result of macroeconomic ‘neoliberal’ policies. (Neoliberalism is the set of free market social and economic policies followed by Thatcher, Blair, Brown and the coalition. Broadly it is the idea that the public sector and state is automatically inefficient, and that private ownership and competition naturally drives efficiency, this advocates privatisation, deregulation of financial markets and cuts to public services).

But it’s hard to blame academic sounding impersonal economic forces for changes to your own life. It’s easier to blame a scapegoated ‘other’.  Migrants are frequently cut off from us, both culturally and linguistically. Though going through similar social and economic experiences (though from a much more marginalised perspective) they are frequently newcomers and easily become this ‘other’ to many.

The main problems people blame on immigration is a shortage of housing, the overcrowding of schools, and the extra pressure on hospitals. These are all problems that immigration may slightly exacerbate.  But the main problem is government policy and a lack of investment.

The Housing Crisis

The UK is facing a housing crisis. Under ‘Right to Buy’ council houses have been sold off at discount prices (whilst councils have been prevented from building anymore). House building in general as at an all-time low; the few houses that are built are increasingly luxury apartments to service the rich. Buy to let mortgages and tax breaks for landlords have allowed a very small (and increasingly amateur) group of society to dominate the UKs housing supply.  Private Landlords have even now acquired many of the houses sold off under right to buy (passed on from their original owners) and are now collecting a huge subsidy through the housing benefit needed by their tenants. It’s not just that immigrants and asylum seekers have stolen all our houses – as some would say – but that they’ve all been sold off by the government and they haven’t built anymore.

The Strain on our Public Services

There is great pressure on our schools at the moment. But this is largely government cuts not simply the extra capacity of migrant children.  Immigrants contribute through taxes and economic activity far more then they take out in benefits and using the public sector.  Funding just needs to follow the changing population. Immigrants are younger and usually hold a higher level of qualifications then the average Britain, and are less likely to be receiving benefits and make a positive contribution to both our workforce and our society. As an aging society we need the injection of youth and vitality immigration provides to run our public services. The NHS is completely dependent on this vital function they provide. You are far more likely to be treated by an immigrant in the NHS then be waiting behind one.

Inequality and Austerity, not poor people from abroad

Our public service and living conditions aren’t being undermined by immigrants. The main problem is inequality, privatisation, and cuts to public services.  The period roughly from the end of World War II until the advent of Thatcherism wasn’t perfect, but we had a much more equal society; in which full employment and a generous welfare stare guaranteed a decent basic standard of living for almost everyone.  Throughout the later 1970s (the period of greatest income equality), the top 1% controlled less than 5% of wealth in the UK. Today they control 15%.

Control of the global supply of labour, the flooding of the domestic market with cheaply manufactured goods in the Far East, and the ballooning of the debt based credit economy, have masked the decline in living standards necessary for massive transfers of wealth to the elite like this. But there is only so far this can go. More money for the already extremely wealthy means less money for everyone else. Less money for wages, housing, schools, health care, public services and ordinary people.

A Real Alternative

As I have outlined in previous posts, the Green Party has policies that go a long way to addressing the inequality (and the establishment politics that fuels it) that so blights our society. Instead of acting as an establishment Trojan horse to implement even more hard line free market policies; the Green Party would stand up for ordinary people, and offer a real (and far smarter) alternative to business as usual austerity politics. I ask the people of Hengrove who revolted by our corrupt and exclusive political elite have voted UKIP in the previous election to look at the record of UKIP MEPs and councillors, and really scrutinise their policies. Contrast that with the record of Green representatives and the focus of Green policies and ask yourself who is a better champion for your interests, and a better option for punishing the establishment parties at the ballot box.

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Uncategorized

Bristol Councils Austerity Budget and media silence

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The cornerstone of a healthy democracy is a well informed electorate.  To be able to have an objective view on the key issues that effect our lives and how our representatives (or would be representatives as we enter the election period) respond to these issues people need information.  Without this information how can people claim to be making an informed choice and doing anything other than ‘tribally’ voting for the person or party they like best? Our media supposedly fulfills this key societal function of informing people as to what’s actually going on in the world around them, and what our elected officials are doing (or not doing) about it.  Sadly our media lets us down.

There are countless examples both nationally and locally of how our media fails to hold the powerful in our society to account; and how by outrageous bias in presenting the facts (or simply not presenting them at all) it enables politicians and corporate interests to get away with horrendous injustices.  In recent years this can be seen most starkly in the way the popular press runs a plethora of articles focusing on benefit fraud by people at the bottom of our society whilst ignoring tax avoidance by people at the top.  Benefit fraud, whilst being repugnant, is an extremely marginal activity that costs the treasury inconsequential sums when compared to industrial scale tax avoidance by the super rich and multinational corporations, which in comparison receives almost no coverage.

This then creates an atmosphere in which politicians can attack the benefits (and wider welfare state) the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society rely on whilst ignoring the crimes of the elite (who just so happen to be their friend, peers, and in many instances financial paymasters).  It also creates a symbiotic relationship between politics, press and people, where the government cuts benefits to disabled people, the press increasingly only refers to disabled people in ever more negative ways, and people responding to this negative messaging increasingly turn on the disabled.  Since 2007/8 there has been a 213% increase in reported hate crime against disabled people.

Innumerable social thinkers have come back to this issue, to me one of the most enduringly persuasive accounts of this is in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model.  Chomsky and Herman outline the structural propensity for a marketised for profit media to marginalise alternative views and set the terms of reference for debates.  Far from being a conscious conspiracy by the elite, it is more the natural result of the functioning of the market economy in media.  George Monbiet’s recently touched on the issue during his talk in Bristol where he examined some ‘socially constructed silences’.  These are important issues (such as the role of fossil fuel extraction in climate change – a subject which has never been discussed at any of the international talks on limiting greenhouse gas emissions) around which artificial silences have been created in the media (and society at large) to protect vested interests.  Say what you will about Russel Brand but some of his ‘TREWS’ videos highlighting the abject corruption and bias of much of the media, especially the Murdoch empire and the Sun are extremely compelling and convincing (its especially heartening to see how many views his videos on this subject can get, bringing these issues to new and wider audiences) e.g.

This is an issue that isn’t going to go away and we need as many people vocally challenging this state of affairs as possible if we are to have any hope of it improving.

For me, what has really highlighted how poorly we are served by our media locally was the reportage of this years budget setting meeting of the Bristol City Council.  I say reportage but that’s probably a strange term to use as there was none.  Previous budgets were reported in all the local press, the Bristol Post, Bristol 24/7, even the Jack FM website ran a piece of ‘churnalism’ on the core facts.  Previous budgets even made it into national news outlets (not surprisingly as Bristol is one of the largest cities in the UK) like the BBC and the Guardian, etc.  Yet this year there was nothing.  (The BBC decided to report on the recent extension of the Resident Parking Scheme – which will have a small impact on a lot of people and may be extremely important to a very small minority, but surely must be less important and is going to have less of an impact than a budget with millions of pounds worth of cuts to local services?).  Before the actual budget setting meeting itself the local media posted a few token articles from quiet narrow party political positions, explaining various parties position on council tax (inconsequential rises or complete freezes) – without any consideration of the context of the wider austerity budget. For example:

http://www.bristol247.com/channel/news-comment/daily/politics/bristol-lib-dems-pledge-to-freeze-council-tax

The only immediate releases in the wake of the budget passing, was in relation to the threatened closure of Libraries.  Obviously the closure of libraries is a very important issue that impacts on a lot of peoples lives, so it’s only natural it should be reported on.  But again, without the context of the large budget cuts of which the cuts to libraries are just a small part, the reports were quiet useless; and would give the uninformed observer a very misleading impression of which of their elected officials were the most responsible.  Why is there such silence?

Someone has suggested to me that the local media to some extent is prepared to downplay stories overly hostile to the mayor.  Such an explanation would seem far to conspiratorial for me, but the complete lack of coverage for what to me seems to be the most important meeting and event in the council calender does make me wonder what on earth is going on?  I suppose part of the answer must be that because its the second year of a three year budget this individual year could seem less important.  But even so, you’d think they’d give it at least a cursory glance.

If you wanted to know about the budget, the only coverage has come from the websites of local political parties (who are naturally going to have a bias in favor of their Councillors and the position they adopted – or outright lies in the case of Bristol TUSC), or the council website itself, e.g.

http://www.bristol.gov.uk/press/bristol-city-council-sets-annual-budget

These of course just uncritically post rose tinted views about how great the mayor and council have been in managing to pass a balanced budget, and their efforts to ‘modernise’ services whilst delivering ‘fiscal responsibility’.  An insultingly disproportionate amount of text is devoted to outlining the one off additional spending as a result of the extra council tax that was collected last year.  Whilst I’m sure this extra £3 million will be very appreciated, compared to the £90 million (and nearly 1000 jobs) lost over the 3 year period (and the £90 million already lost) its completely inconsequential, and these cuts are only glossed over in passing.

A local press worth its name wouldn’t allow the mayor and council’s official exposition of the events to go unchallenged.  We have to be critical of political authority. Its the only way we can ever hope to challenge corruption and vested interests within our society.  The council budget, and the lack of press interest makes me despair.  When Bristolians go to the polls in May, to make an informed decision surely they need to know how their representatives stood up for them (or didn’t) in this most important issue?  I’d like to offer some indepth analysis of how the different parties voted on the budget, but fear I have made this post already too long.  In short, for very different reasons the Liberal Democrats and the Greens (the later on adopting a more principled anti-austerity line) voted against the budget; the Mayor’s austerity budget passed with the support of an unholy alliance of Conservative and Labour councillors (who for their part exacted slight tokenistic amendments in return for their support).

The mainstream press can’t be relied on.  Our only hope is the development of independent media (like the Bristol Cable) and social media (blogs like Another Angry Voice).  These allow us to see events free from the corrupting corporate influence that so dogs the mainstream press, and offers a place to keep radical and alternative ideas alive.  Read these, create your own media, complain to the Bristol Post and Bristol 24/7 for their shocking lack of coverage, and question everything.  The power is in our hands.

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