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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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.

broken promises

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

Election 2015: A good day for Bristol, a Bad day for Britain

The general and local elections are finally over.  Whilst I’m relieved that I’ll no longer be getting 50+ emails a day, and don’t have constant campaigning demands on my time, the results have been sobering.  After a fairly intense few months campaigning, casting my vote on Thursday had felt somewhat anti-climatic.  It was hard to get excited about a best case scenario of changing to a Labour government implementing austerity at a slower rate (and hopefully being moderated by an increase in Green, Plyd and SNP MPs).  Even so, I was in no way prepared for the horror of a full Conservative majority government.

I worked a night shift that Thursday and watched the BBC election coverage live as the votes came in (between pushing sick people around – obviously).  I sympathised with Ashdown’s sentiment of eating his hat if the exit poll was acurate.  Surely it couldn’t be.  The two main parties had been neck and neck – with Labour seemingly slightly ahead – in almost all the polls.  But as the results from more and more key marginal seats came back showing Labour failed to make progress in England, it became clear that the exit poll was right.  In fact, as the final result showed, even this had underestimated the extent of Conservative success.

Understandably (in light of what the majority of the polls and pundits were suggesting would be the result) the Conservatives have been quick to jump on this as a major victory and endorsement of their ‘Long Term Economic Plan’.  This is all spin.  In a normal election such a slender majority would be considered a disaster.  The Conservatives haven’t managed to significantly increase their vote share, other than scooping up more socially conservatives Lib Dems as their party has been effectively obliterated (for the forseeable future at least).  Labour’s vote actually increased more than the Conservatives, going up by 1.4% to the Conservatives 0.8% increase.  Due to the unrepresentative nature of First Past the Post this resulted in Labour’s number of seats decreasing by 6.2% whilst the Tory’s increased by 3.7% (don’t feel too bad for them, First Past the Post still massively skews the results in their favour compared to the smaller parties)

2010
Tory vote: 10.7 million, 36.1%, 306 seats.
Labour vote:  8.6 million, 29%, 258 seats.
2015
Tory vote
: 11.3 million, 36.9%, 331 seats.
Labour vote: 9.3 million, 30.4%, 232 seats.

My friend Samuel Bernard does a fantastic and more indepth look at these numbers, and where Labour went wrong here at: http://ceborgia.tumblr.com/post/118524860951/observations-on-the-2015-uk-elections

Labour did manage to gain some seats in England (largely at the expense of the Lib Dems), but this was massively offset by the loss of all but one of their Scottish seats.  Already there’s been a plethora of Labour voices blaming the SNP for their defeat.  Here’s John Prescott in the Mirror for example: “Just as they did in 1979, the SNP stopped a Labour government and helped the Conservatives”.  This is patently untrue.  Had Labour won every single seat in Scotland but the results in the rest of the UK had stayed the same, the Conservatives still would have won.  Labour lost this election in England.  Obviously their chances of an outright majority were severely curtailed by the loss of 40 Scottish seats, but it was their inability to win their key English marginal target seats that prevented them from even being in the position to work with other anti-Tory MPs in Scotland and elsewhere.

This was a terrible result for ordinary people in this country. We’ve empowered the Conservatives to do some horrible things. As a NHS worker, with a disabled mum, and friends and family from disadvantaged backgrounds, and generally as someone with compassion for my fellow man, I fear what a majority Conservative government will do over the next 5 years.

However, some slight solace was provided by our fantastic results in Bristol. We ousted Steven Williams, and although we (Greens) didn’t win, Darren Hall received a historic upswing of 23% in Bristol West, taking our vote to 26% and second place behind Labour (and well ahead of the incumbent Lib Dem on 18%). We also increased our vote by 9% in Bristol South, by 6.5% in Bristol East, and by 4.5% in Bristol North-West. The best news was on the council elections. We retained our seat in Ashley with an increased majority, and gained 7 new council seats (very narrowly missing out on an 8th in Bedminster, with some impressive finishes elsewhere), taking us to 13 overall. Despite only being a paper candidate, I even managed to double our number of votes in Hengrove from last year (not hard when you’re starting on such a low base).

Whilst the Green surge unfortunately failed to materialise into increased Westminster representation, our general progress was encouraging. Caroline increased her majority to 14.6%. We saved 123 deposits (compared with just six saved in 2010), we came second in four constituencies (Liverpool Riverside, Sheffield Central, Manchester Gorton, and of course Bristol West), and third in many more, and we beat the Lib Dems in 135 seats – compared to just 1 in 2010 (though this may have more to do with their collapse then just our strength). Overall our total vote quadrupled. This is a positive trend I hope continues.

What really struck me about the election was the turnout.  Billed as the closest election of our generation, where each vote counted more than ever (under FPTP) turnout was expected to be much higher.  In Scotland where people are still mobilised from the referendum, and the SNP offers a credible electoral alternative of hope to the fear and austerity of the Westminster parties, the turnout was very high (reaching as much as 80% in places).  In England, where the main choice was between Conservative austerity, and Labour austerity-lite (with Ed Ball’s saying “There was nothing I would reverse” in Osborne’s last budget and all but 5 Labour MPs voting for Osborne’s austerity charter in the last Parliament) there was no change.  Turnout seemed much lower than everyone expected.

As Sam points out, the vote in Conservative strongholds had been predictably high, “the Tory core voters are usually the demographic most engaged by the system and most motivated to vote. This isn’t a new story”.  Continuing a trend of recent general elections, turnout in Labour centres was much lower.  It seems that just keeping the Tories out wasn’t a good enough reason to get a sizable minority of Labour supporters out to vote.  This is hardly surprising when Labour were essentially offering watered down Conservative economic policy as their alternative to Conservative economic policy.  Sam again lucidly explains:

“In this scenario Labour fails to activate their traditional voter base in sufficient numbers. Keeping the Tories out provides inadequate a motivation to bring people to the polls for Labour. This supposition is supported by the Ashcroft polling showing that 24% of Labour voters this year had previously voted for the Lib Dems, a very significant number. Only 64% of Labour voters this year voted for Labour in 2010, while 68% were traditional Labour voters. This compares to 81% and 70% respectively for the Tories…

Trailing Tory discourse on austerity, Labour sets themselves up as austerity-lite. This isn’t especially appealing to those damaged by the cuts, and to the middle voter Labour do not have the credibility to be able to institute such policy when the Tories are already there, doing the same job, and have demonstrated their ruthless capacity to follow through. Voters that consider austerity either never necessary or now no longer necessary made up 83% of the Labour vote, 55% of the Lib Dem vote, 54% of the UKIP vote, 81% of the Green vote, and 89% of the SNP vote. Considering how much support Labour lost to UKIP, Greens and the SNP this could have made a big difference in challenging the Conservatives, both in holding on to voters as well as activating the same fresh voters they did. Labour have to buck their internally dominant right wing to turn this around.”

This (much more eloquently then I could have) outlines much of my own thinking as to the main thing that went wrong for Labour in this election.  The last sentence seems most interesting in relation to Labour’s future and the potential growth of the Green Party.  Already the right within the Labour party has been shouting about how they lost the election because Ed was too Left, and too close to the unions (despite them all calling on him to reverse policy to no avail) and that they’ve distanced themselves too much from Tony Blair and New Labour’s record. I have a strong suspicion they may use this electoral defeat to move the party even further right. Already the Greens are gaining increasing support for our stance on social justice and support for ‘Old Labour’ policies like renationalising the railways and utility companies, redistribution of wealth, and opposition to austerity, etc. If Labour moves further right this could well alienate more of its core demographic, and could enable the Greens to gain more and more support.

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Bristol Politics, NHS

EmmersonsGreen ‘ISTC’ highlights the perils of NHS Privatisation in Bristol

In February 64 Bristol GPs signed an open letter to the Bristol ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (CCG – responsible for commissioning services to providers and administering the tendering process to the private sector) highlighting the shocking wastage of money represented by the Emersons Green ‘Independent Sector Treatment Centre’ (ISTC).  There letter – available here – compellingly highlights many of the problems creeping privatisation by stealth is introducing into our NHS.  Hopefully their letter and their campaigning and the campaigns of activist groups like Protect our NHS (who have helped organised the letter) can help generate interest in both this individual case of the perils of privatisation; and the wider place of health care in our society.

Reforms over the past few decades, greatly exacerbated by the 2012 Health and Social Care act, have been slowly but surely introducing a marketised health care model into our NHS.  Greens (and many others who care about our NHS) believe this model not only fails on its own terms of reducing cost and increasing efficiency (in fact doing the opposite) but also reduces standards of care, working conditions of staff, and has reprehensible moral implications.

From our conversations with health workers we repeatedly hear that Emersons Green ISTC does not provide as good care as the NHS centres, yet (as scandalously highlighted by the loss of £7 million over the last three years) the NHS has to pay Care UK regardless of the actual treatment it provides.  This puts GPs in the unenviable position of having to either refer patients to the Emersons Green ISTC to receive poorer service, or to effectively waste NHS money by sending them for treatment elsewhere.

This local wastage of NHS money provides a microcosm for the wider problems across the country.  We currently waste billions of pounds every year artificially forcing our health service to function as a fragmented market.  Recent studies have found the NHS to provide the best value for money service in the world.  The USA spends roughly 1/3 of its entire health spending on administration costs, whilst spending twice as much as the UK per capital on health for much worse results.  Yet this is the very model our leaders seem to be emulating.

In 1980 before Thatcher first introduced an internal market into the NHS, administration costs were around 5%.  Since then the main inflationary pressures to providing health care should have been the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, yet administration costs have now risen to over 15% of the total budget.  Much of this is down to the extremely time consuming and expensive bidding system for service contracts and the purchases provider split.  The government doesn’t collect reliable statistics for the costs of these measures, but it is estimated to cost around at least £10 billion a year.  This is a colossal wastage of funds that should be going to providing health care, before even taking into consideration the profit that private providers extract for running services.  Finally the hugely inefficient PFI deals pioneered by the Blair government and continued by the current coalition critically undermines NHS budgets to finance servicing debt repayments frequently far out of all proportion to the value of their investment.

As highlighted by the GPs letter, staff working for private providers are often unknown to NHS staff, and not fully integrated into local health care networks.  This adds unnecessary confusion and communication problems that lower potential healthcare outcomes.  In general wherever the private sector has been given a greater role in providing services, standards of care are depressed.  The flagship example of Hinchingbrooke hospital which was until recently completely run by the private company Circle Health is a case in point.  Quality of care, hygiene standards and patient safety were all compromised in the interests of profit.  The care quality commission (CQC) gave Hinchingbrooke the inspectorate’s worst ever rating for “caring”, and found it “inadequate” (the worst rating) for safety and leadership.  Circle have since pulled out of the contract, leaving the hospital under special measures.  We cannot let this happen elsewhere!

Locally Greens will be campaigning for the NHS to provide services to Emmersons Green and all health services except in extremely exceptional circumstances.  We hope the GPs letter and campaign will help pressure the Bristol CCG into making this a reality.  This will only happen if more and more people join with campaigns resisting privatisation like Protect OUR NHS (and political party’s committed to doing the same like the Green Party).  Nationally we aim to restore the ‘duty to provide’ healthcare by the Secretary of State for Health (removed in 2012); to ensure the NHS remains a unified public service; and to remove the internal market and private sector involvement that so blights the service.  To this end we are fully supporting Dr Allyson Pollocks’ NHS Reinstatement Bill that does just that and more to return the NHS to its founding principles and ensure our society has the health service it deserves.  On top of this we must ensure the NHS is given adequate funding to provide the service so many of us depend on, and has enough staff to meet its need.  We are committing to provide an extra £12bn of core funding every year to the NHS, to support and restore services and pay, improve mental health care, and make vital updates and improvements.

This extra money would be funded through progressive general taxation.  As already noted though we could save billions by remove ideological vanity projects that artificially force the NHS to run as a fragmented part-privatised service.  Greens seek to reduce the overall cost of healthcare not by simply treating the symptoms of ill health in individuals, but their causes among society at large – chiefly inequality and poor environments.

To reiterate the words of the much quoted founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan: ‘The NHS will last as long as their are folk left with the faith to fight for it’.  Our NHS is being undermined and sold off by politicians who frequently are directly financially benefiting by its privatisation, to give greater profits to private companies (usually owned by their supporters and peers).  We need to go out there and fight for it.  Join campaigns against privatisation, and this May the 7th, use your vote for the NHS.

Some Bristol Green Party supporters at the People's March for the NHS

Some Bristol Green Party supporters at the People’s March for the NHS

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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

cameron-farage-morph

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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Green Politics

The outright lies and slander of TUSC and the Socialist Party

The Green Party is often criticised from the more traditional far left parties for not being consistent enough in opposing austerity in local government.  To be clear here in Bristol the Green Group of Councillors has opposed every ‘austerity’ cuts budget, and the majority of our Councillors have voted against almost every budget.  However, in previous years our Green Councillor Gus Hoyt when serving on the mayor’s cabinet has voted (as an individual) for a cuts budget; as he had personally overseen a lot of the work trying to minimise the impact of said cuts.  Having done so much work on the budget Gus felt it would have been silly to vote against it; whilst the rest of the Green group voted against it on principle.   These cuts budgets are centrally imposed by Westminster leaving local politicians with few options.  They can either attempt to mitigate their impact on local services as much as possible, or refuse to set a legal budget and force central government to do the dirty work themselves.  There are legitimate arguments for and against both courses of action.  Whilst we would debate criticisms based around these decisions, they are at least valid in that they actually happened.

This is not the criticism TUSC through the Socialist Party is making.  Instead they are resorting to outright lies and deception to try and smear the local Green party.  In an article from the 25th of February entitled ‘Bristol Greens back ‘shocking’ austerity policies’ they contrast our strong anti-austerity message with increasingly contentious claims (that partially distort reality) that they believe show we do the opposite.   These then descend into outright fantasy in the finally paragraph:

“At last week’s budget-setting meeting – which is a year into a three-year cuts package of another £83 million – the Green councillors once again stayed silent while voting for it. Their behaviour continues to be a shocking slap in the face to those who looked to them to bring a fresh approach to local government.

TUSC will contest every seat this year, going head to head with Green councillors in some cases. Our message to Bristolians yearning for an alternative is: a vote for the Greens is a vote for the same old tired status quo that has decapitated jobs and services.”

Once again all of the Green councillors present at the budget-setting meeting voted against the ‘austerity’ cuts budget.  Far from ‘once again stay[ing] silent while voting for it’ Green councillors gave compelling speeches condemning the austerity budget in no uncertain terms, and then (along with some Lib Dems – but for very different reasons) were the only councillors to vote against it. Not a single Green Councillor voted for the budget this year (cabinet member or otherwise).  As austerity is supported by all the other parties the budget still passed, but this is not our fault; and is obviously the complete opposite to how TUSC are reporting the meeting.

Here’s a flavour of the speech from Green Group leader Charlie Bolton:

‘The cuts are not an act of necessity: they are an act of ideology.    They victimise those who did not cause the crisis in the first place, and discriminate disproportionately against the poorest and most vulnerable in society.     Some cuts are quite simply vicious:  55% of recipients of Disability Living Allowance have either had their benefit cut, or seen it entirely removed.’

The full speeches have been reproduced here http://www.bristolgreenparty.org.uk/news/green-group-statement-on-bristol-councils-austerity-budget

Surely TUSC should be able to differentiate themselves from the Green Party without resorting to outright lies and deception.  That they can’t speaks volumes for the state of their party.  This kind of outright lying and distorting the truth for personal gain is exactly the worst kind of politics, of the type that fuels general disengagement. I can understand that some local people opposed to austerity are reticent to support the Green Party, but I implore you not to lend your support to a party that would resort to such dirty, cheap and underhanded negative politics in the promotion of their own self-interest.  All parties and papers will colour their reporting with their own bias, but to completely fabricate events like this is the kind of thing we’d only expect form the likes of the Daily Mail, or the Sun or Express, etc.  Politics doesn’t have to be done this way, as is demonstrated by the extremely positive recent announcement by Left Unity that it seeks to work with all candidates (be they Green, Left Labour, SNP or Plaid Cymru, etc) opposed to austerity in the general election.  If we want to end socially destructive and economically illiterate austerity we need to work together, not resort to petty back stabbing and lying like TUSC have decided to do.

Here’s the bile TUSC and the Socliast Party are spewing if you can stomach it (I wonder if they’ll change it) http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/845/20161/25-02-2015/bristol-greens-back-shocking-austerity-policies

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Green Politics

Why We Oppose Austerity

Austerity politics are being used to make the poor pay for the mistakes of the rich.  Through austerity the cost of bailing out a financial elite who almost bankrupted our economy with their high-risk ‘casino banking’ in deregulated financial markets, is being foisted onto those least responsible.  Austerity makes the most vulnerable pay for a crisis they did not cause. It shatters lives and frays the fabric which binds our communities. It has increased unemployment, extended the economic crisis, and done nothing to solve any of the true challenges faced by our society: inequality and joblessness; the housing crisis and the environmental crisis.

Without even considering its overwhelmingly abhorrent social impact, austerity policies have failed on their own terms.  Before the election of 2010 Osborne promised that if we followed his austerity plan by 2015 we would have completely eliminated the budget deficit, and would have started running a budget surplus and paying back the national debt.  Instead they have reduced the deficit by only 1/3 in numeric terms (though they are now trying to obfuscate the extent of their failure by claiming to have reduced it by ½ as a percentage of GDP).    This is because their policies like public sector pay freezes and mass redundancies have depressed wages across society (except for the already very wealthy) and, with the government’s tax cut for the highest earners and large corporations, have greatly undermined its tax bases and revenue flows.  Despite all their cuts national debt is now half a trillion pounds higher than it was before they came to power.  And yet at the conservative party conference last year David Cameron had the audacity to say ‘Britain is a country that is paying down its debt’.  By conflating these two most basic economic terms, debt (the total amount of money owed) and deficit (the amount of money being borrowed), Cameron is displaying either his own economic illiteracy, or is cynically attempting to mislead the public.

In spite of government rhetoric that we are ‘all in it together’, a cabinet with the highest proportion of millionaires since the 1920s, has overseen a vast transfer of wealth from the poorest in our society to the wealthiest.  The accumulation of wealth by the super-rich in this country has greatly accelerated since the crash of 2008.  The number of billionaires has more than doubled.  The wealth of the richest 1000 individuals has also doubled since 2010 alone; and the UKs 5 richest families now control more wealth than the 12.5 million poorest in our country.  Whilst executive pay rockets and bankers bonuses boom, the rest of us are enduring the longest sustained decline in real incomes since the 1870s.  Over 3.5 million are now growing up in child poverty, inequality has spiralled out of control and over a million people are forced to rely on food banks.

Austerity disproportionately effects the poorest and most vulnerable in our society (despite government promises to do otherwise).  When all austerity measures are taken into account, including cuts to public services and changes to taxes and welfare, the poorest tenth of the population are by far the hardest hit, seeing a 38 per cent decrease in their net income over the period 2010-15. The way cuts to council funding has been implemented by central government has also been extremely unfair with Labour controlled impoverished inner-city local authorities (and Green run Brighton) being cut the most; whilst some wealthy Conservative councils have actually seen their budgets increased. Austerity is destroying our public services, and dismantling the welfare state.  This latter point can be further elucidated by the government’s last autumn statement, which unveiled further cuts till 2020 that will reduce government spending (compared to GDP) to levels not seen since the 1930s (before the establishment of the NHS or the welfare state in general).

It’s not that there isn’t enough money to pay for public services.  Britain is after all the 7th richest country in the world.  It’s a question of priorities, and our government prioritises protecting banker and the wealthy over public services and ordinary people.  Despite the top rate of income tax and tax on corporations being lower than ever, at least £35 billion a year is lost through tax avoidance by the rich and powerful.  If everyone paid their tax, there would be no need for spending cuts of any kind. By both our own historic standards and by international standards our debt is not high. The national debt is now actually smaller than it has been for most of the last 300 years, and the costs of servicing Britain’s debt remain at historic lows.  The financial crash and austerity are being used as a smokescreen to allow the Conservative party (with their Lib Dem enablers) to carry out the ideological policies they’ve always been wedded too; like privatising public services and dismantling the welfare state.  The dismantling of the welfare state is not a matter of economic necessity. Rather, it is a political choice, made on the basis of an ideological commitment to a certain vision of the state.

uk debt to gdp ratio

debt interest payments as proportion of GDP

 

Investment spending on productive assets – like renewable energy and genuinely affordable homes – can produce steady, long term returns that more than cover the cost of the interest payments on borrowed money.  With the costs of borrowing at such a historic low, right now is actually an ideal time to invest providing a well needed fiscal stimulus to our economy.  That’s why we propose a ‘Green New Deal’ to invest in the transition to a zero-carbon economy and create a million climate jobs; to build an economy that works for ordinary people (within the limits of one planet) and not just an unaccountable financial elite.  The solution to a collapse caused by banks is not to cut funding for librarians and care workers. It is to invest in building a fairer, low carbon economy which doesn’t rely on the financial sector or on scraping the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel.

Greens are often criticised from the left for opposing austerity nationally but then implementing spending cuts in local government – most obviously in Brighton.  This ignores the reality of local government, and takes emphasis away from the decision makers in Westminster that are slashing local council funding and must bare the responsibility.  The autonomy of local government has been steadily undermined by successive governments over the last three decades.  Britain today is one of the most centralised states in the world.  Local authorities are largely powerless to oppose Westminster enforced austerity.  Councillors could refuse to set legal cuts budgets, but all this would do would be to force central government to depose democratically elected local authorities and use auditors to run the council themselves and implement cuts.  This would at least place the emphasis for cuts squarely at the feet of those responsible, and could create local resistance that might galvanise the anti-austerity movement.  However, this is all speculative in a high risk strategy that would put local services under the control of outsiders with no knowledge of the specific needs of the local community.

Instead councillors have adopted a ‘dented shield’ approach that attempts to mitigate the worst excesses of cuts whilst protesting there imposition by Westminster decision makers.  The Brighton council has made some bad decisions.  But any decision it could make within the confines of a severely reduced budget would have been bad.  The Green adminstration in Brighton is in an extremely difficult situation, facing huge cuts by central government with only the barest minimum number of councillors to form a minority administration. On top of this its proposals are continually being blocked by an unholy alliance of Labour and Conservative councillors.  At the same time it has a record far better than hundreds of labour councils in far stronger positions.  Its decision to not evict the victims of the bedroom tax (often some of the most vulnerable in our society), or its implementation of the Living Wage for all council employees should be loudly applauded

If austerity is to be defeated, it must be defeated at the national level.  The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and UKIP are all committed to continuing austerity after the next election.  The majority of the cuts haven’t happened yet.  No matter which of the establishment parties win the election in May, the public services we rely on, and the very nature of local government are going to undergo savage attacks to implement the rest.  We need to draw on the support of all those opposed to this socially destructive and economically illiterate policy if we are to have any chance to smash the consensus of the Westminster establishment.  That is why we have started to create an informal anti-austerity block with Plaid Cymru  and the SNP, and why we are gladdened by the recent announcement by Left Unity that it will not run against anti-austerity candidates.  These moves to work together and unite behind anti-austerity candidates is extremely positive and has the potential to greatly amplify our voice. The prospect of overturning austerity by the next election (or more plausibly in the few years after as unstable minority or coalition governments attempt to implement increasingly savage cuts) are bleak; but they are getting brighter every day.

 

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