6 Dec 2013

Green Party statement in memory of Nelson Mandela


 Dr Derek Wall, International Coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales stated:

'Nelson Mandela was an inspiring figure, he showed that resistance to injustice is possible and that reconciliation is vital. Our memorial to him must be our resistance to injustice and inequality. Those who fight for justice are often condemned until they win the fight and belatedly are then described as heros, we need to be aware that across the world there are new Mandela's who will be abused until they succeed in making necessary change.

However Nelson Mandela must also be remembered as a peace maker, advocating reconciliation between former enemies, this is a practical side of his work that we can all learn from. South Africa has made great progress but it is still a society where poverty divides communities, we are aware that from the Marikana massacre to battles against electricity privatisation, the long walk to freedom still has many miles to go. Mandela was never just one man, he was a product of a process iniated by South Africans and international networks for liberation and that process must continue'

26 Nov 2013

Marx or fried Mars bars?


The Tories are increasingly fond of deriding their opponents as Marxists - but DEREK WALL says there should be no shame in such a label

David Cameron has quipped that Ed Milband is living in a Marxist universe - which says more perhaps about the ideologically blinked perspective of our Prime Minister than the beliefs of the leader of the opposition.
You don't have to be a Marxist to believe that energy companies are overcharging us. After all former Tory PM John Major has said just this and he is not exactly an out-and-out communist.
In Cameron's free-market universe the stars and planets would be up for sale and no doubt molecules would only react with each other if paid a profit incentive.
However it is worth asking whether Marx should influence our political perspectives today.
Perhaps unusually, unlike Miliband, I am happy to call myself a Marxist.
In British politics this seems rather shocking, like admitting to consuming fried Mars bars or enjoying the music of Barry Manilow.
Marx famously remarked that he wasn't a Marxist and his views have been under serious attack pretty much from when he was exiled from Germany in the 1840s to today.
So is he still relevant and what can those of us on the left learn from him today?
As a Green I became interested in the cause of environmental problems. So many of them are products of capitalism and the theorist who explained capitalism best remains, in my view, the German guy with the beard.
Even right-wing economic commentators from the Economist magazine to the Austrian economist Schumpter have acknowledged - grudgingly - his power in this regard.
Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto wrote that history was the history of class struggle. This is a vital insight.
The rich and the powerful continue to work for their own interests. Whether we are discussing the bedroom tax or the assault on Iraq by the US and British governments, class interests remain significant in shaping politics.
The mass of us are, despite sociological debates, members of the working class. We are excluded from owning the means of production and have to work for others, the capitalists, who get fat on the use of our surplus labour power.
Marx was a key ecological theorist. He and Engels were concerned with issues such as deforestation, soil erosion, food additives and river pollution.
In fact one of the best statements of what green politics means can be found in volume III of Capital: "Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias (good heads of the household)."
His ecological ideas, which may surprise those who believe he was a prophet of unlimited industrial growth, have been explored in some detail in John Bellamy Foster's book Marx's Ecology. I highly recommend it.
There are other virtues to Marx. He wrote with flair and drew upon a rich literature. He was fascinated by science, history, indigenous peoples and worked obsessively to research his key themes.
I think, above all, he opened up a new way of thinking about politics and society. We are used to political parties and thinkers who draw up often somewhat abstract sets of demands for what they are "for" and what they are "against."
Marx didn't believe the key task was to paint a picture of a better world and challenge the vision of others. This was partly because he was a radical democrat, and knew that one person's vision might be oppressive to others - democratic discussion was necessary.
He also thought that it was important to understand social processes so that we could revolutionise society, rather than list how we would like to see things and why we disagree with others.
This is where his ideas are most enduring. If we understand processes such as the accumulation of capital and the creation of the state, we can potentially enact radical and positive change.
In this sense he and Engels were social scientists. While this seems a little abstract, I once read that Marx saw the world, like Shakespeare, as a theatre.
We often believe that appearances reflect reality, so when the government states that it acts in our interest we might naively believe them. Or we might view society as a conspiracy controlled by a hidden elite.
Marx, while conscious of class power, was aware that social processes shaped even what the ruling class does. Capitalism is more complex than a simple conspiracy from Marx's perspective.
We live perhaps as Brecht, the Marxist playwright suggested, in a theatre, but we can if we understand the processes of creating the dramatic illusion, such as the lighting, the set design and the script-writing we can create our own world rather than being puppets controlled by "extra-human" mechanisms.
Marx noted sagely that "if essences and appearances coincided" there would be no need for "science." For Marx social reality is neither a reflection of reality nor the product of a conspiracy. We need to dig a little if we are to understand it.
Capitalism is about the accumulation of capital.
We forget that human beings create capitalism and we often worship finance.
Stock market values are on the news. The material and emotional needs of human beings are not worth discussing.
Marx pointed to the possibility of a revolution that would put human beings back in control. Above all, he believed in the democratic control of the ownership of production. Rather than the economy being in the hands of a minority, driven by short-term considerations of profit, it should be shared by all.
Marx never claimed to have all the answers. Neither was he always right - for example, Che Guevara pointed out that Marx's criticism of the Latin American anti-imperialist leader Simon Bolivar, whom Marx condemned as a dictator, was open to challenge. His record as a feminist is also worth debating.
Marx's work nonetheless, as even his critics, acknowledge, remains a powerful form of analysis.
Even on the left excuses are used to dismiss Marx's work. However whether one is critical of countries that have tried to put his ideas into practice or the practices of existing Marxist political parties, I think we do still live in a Marxist universe.
Capitalism is after all still with us, inequality is rising and ecological problems are pressing.
We can use his ideas in a dogmatic or sectarian way but this is a mistake. Writing about his ideas and other important Marxist thinkers as a purely academic exercise is also wrong - Marx believed in social change not intellectual activity for its own sake.
Happily Marx's works are available for free, on the Marxist Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) which he would have loved.
And across the world, but especially in Latin America, grass-roots movements are inspired by his work.
Marx remains worth engaging with and on the big questions of reaching a truly democratic and ecologically sustainable society, I am sure I am not alone in finding his work essential.
And I think I need to go to the chip shop for another fried confectionery product. As a cyclist with the winter drawing in I need every calorie I can get.

21 Nov 2013

Caroline Lucas: Cameron 'attitude to green levies shows his contempt for the most vulnerable

Lucas: PM’s attitude to green levies shows his contempt for the most 
For immediate release: Thursday 21 November 2013
Commenting on reports that the Prime Minister has dismissed fuel bill 
levies that fund energy efficiency measures, as “green crap”, Caroline 
Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:
“These levies include funding for energy efficiency measures which help 
low income households cope with soaring energy prices.
“Whatever language the Prime Minister has used to describe them, his 
determination to roll them back says everything about his contempt for 
the most vulnerable, and his lack of interest in serious action to 
tackle climate change, or to bring down fuel prices in the long term
“By focusing the debate on green levies, which represent only a 
fraction of energy bills, the Government is obscuring the real reason 
for rising costs – which is the increasing wholesale price of gas, and 
the profits of the Big Six energy companies.
“If the Prime Minister really wanted to help families with their fuel 
bills, he’d be investing in a major energy efficiency programme to 
super-insulate the country’s housing stock.  This would bring nine out 
of ten homes out of fuel poverty, quadruple carbon savings, and create 
up to 200,000 jobs.”

27 Oct 2013

Green Taxes or greedy power companies?


Subsidies for environmentally friendly power sources are regularly maligned as leading to higher prices for customers - but what's the truth? DEREK WALL takes a look

The CEOs of Europe's 10 largest energy companies met earlier this year at the Brussels museum of Rene Magritte to lobby the European Union on energy matters.
Magritte was, of course, a surrealist well known for his paintings of umbrellas raining upon us.
Given the surreal policy objectives of the group, which wants to slash funding for renewables, the venue might seem appropriate.
Yet hardly a day goes by without an attack on renewable energy in the British media.
With electricity and gas bills climbing, the energy sector is keen to blame "green taxes" for rising energy bills, while suggesting that environmental energy will lead to the lights going out.
In Con-Dem Britain, where wages are often falling compared to inflation, most of us are having trouble paying the bills. Ed Miliband's demand that energy bills be cut has, for once, wrong-footed his opponents, both Blairites in Labour and our present neoliberal government.
The energy companies deny that they are fat cats and some blame their 10 per cent energy bill increases on environmental costs.
Ukip and a variety of reactionaries claim that wind turbines are the most dangerous form of energy and that there must be a war against environmental charges.
The Conservative Environment Minister Owen Paterson - famous for claiming the badgers have moved the goal posts - is a climate sceptic who wants to smash environmental protection. He has argued that climate change may bring benefits and is said to have a phobia of wind turbines.
So there are some powerful forces arrayed against renewable energy, but is the claim that it is pushing up bills correct?
There certainly are an array of complex charges that have environmental implications.
The objection of the energy corporations, especially the Magritte group, is that they will put prices down and cut their profits.
How can we be in a position where energy prices are rising but energy companies claim that their industry is uneconomic?
Adam Smith, despite being an advocate of the "free market," cautioned in The Wealth Of Nations that businesspeople would always like to get together to work out how they could rig markets for their own benefit.
He noted: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
European energy corporations have invested heavily in fossil fuel-based energy plants. But subsidies for renewable energy have pushed down wholesale prices and they are suffering.
The more that energy policies work to promote renewables the less profit they will make and the harder they will find it to remain in business.
Increased wind energy generated by community groups and solar from individuals' roof tops have the potential to put their business model under threat.
The array of supposed "green taxes" have had a modest effect on bills in the short term, but in the long term, as even the Daily Mail has admitted, will cut bills and thus cut company profits.
A good example is the "smart meter," which all homes will be required to have by 2020.
This will add a shocking £3 to the average bill but will make it much easier to see where we use electricity and so allow us to cut our bills.
Likewise subsidies for insulation and solar power are problematic for energy companies.
If you install a solar panel and get a grant for insulation, this cuts your bill. Over the long term all these measures will lead to significant cuts rather than rises in your bills.
Many sources of renewable energy have large fixed costs for installation but once set up can run virtually for free.
A solar panel gets the sun for free, a gas-powered station requires a constant supply of costly gas.
There is some truth nonetheless in criticism of green charges. In the short term they raise bills and could be funded in other ways.
The religion of the market means that we have to pay for ecological and other reforms.
Why not fund energy policy out of general taxation and raise corporation tax or the top rate of income tax?
A long-term shift from tax on corporations to taxes on individuals, shifts the burden on to the poorest.
This clearly is unacceptable.
And why even make power generation a source of corporate profits?
The new power station at Hinkley will see the French and Chinese state-backed companies that will build and run it guaranteed a price for their electricity which is above the market rate for decades into the future.
The mania for privatisation has meant that a number of textbook examples of natural monopolies, where competition doesn't work, have been sold off to fat cats.
Royal Mail, water, rail transport - all of these industries would be better nationalised.
All investment which is expensive in the short term will be ignored by private owners if they can, and issues of social justice and environmental quality will be ignored too.
While it is good that Miliband is challenging rising energy bills, he won't dare call for nationalisation. Yet privately run energy just does not work.
We need and are on the road to a renewable energy future.
Fossil fuels are rising in price over the long term and are the cause of climate change.
We need a different kind of energy supply system. Private corporations won't invest, but if the system was state-run and the richest started paying their fair share of tax it could easily be funded.
More and more energy will be produced by individuals and communities. In Scotland, for example, villagers in some projects collectively own wind turbines and feed into the grid.
The grid needs to be modernised. "Smart grids" work by balancing energy inputs over large areas.
Methods to store electricity need to be enhanced and funded.
State ownership and planning of larger power stations and the grid is necessary, but diverse local energy suppliers can feed in too.
The energy corporations are dinosaurs and sadly, rather than recognising that they need to be replaced with a system that works, Miliband merely wants to shave their profits a little.
A green solution involves evolving our energy system so that it is more sustainable.
We musn't be fooled by the climate sceptics who use populist rhetoric to fatten profits for corporations and ignore the needs of future generations.

Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales

16 Sept 2013

Green Party Conference motion on fracking

Fracking Song by Emily Blyth Green Party of England and Wales Local Party Support Coordinator

Emergency Motion: Fracking
Over the summer months the oil and gas industry stepped up their attempts to bringing hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (fracking) to the UK.
In Balcombe, Sussex, Cuadrilla have begun testing on wells that could eventually be ‘fracked.’ In other parts of the UK, such as the North West and North East of England, South Wales and others fracking companies are hoping to begun exploring for shale gas imminently.
Protesters, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, have been arrested for demonstrating against Cuadrilla in recent weeks.
At the same time the UK government has been promoting fracking as an environmentally friendly way to provide energy for the country. Fracking companies will be given tax incentives and communities who accept fracking will be given ‘financial compensation.’
Conference notes that experts from OfGem and Deutsche Bank have said that shale gas exploitation in the UK will have negligible impact on fuel bills.  Furthermore leading economist Lord Stern has said that the suggestion that shale gas will reduce the price of gas is “baseless economics.”
Conference notes that Water UK  - the body that represents water companies  - has warned that fracking could lead to contamination of the water supply.
Conference notes a study by Bloomberg which says that the UK may need to drill 10,000 wells to stop our reliance on imported gas.
Conference sends solidarity to protesters who have been fighting Cuadrilla in Sussex and those protesting against fracking elsewhere.
Conference re-affirms it’s commitment to renewable energy solutions and to moving away from climate change inducing fossil fuels.
Conference re-affirms its opposition to fracking in the UK and instructs elected Greens to fight against fracking at every level.
Conference instructs GPEX to publicise the potential harm that fracking can cause to enable the Green Party at every level to take a firm line to protect communities, drinking water and the environment.
Conference instructs GPEX to publicise the fact that a dash for unconventional oil and gas in the UK is highly likely to mean we will fail to comply with our legally binding climate change legislation. 

13 Sept 2013

Learning from Latin America fringe at Green Party conference

Green Party conference 17.00-18.15 Hall Four, Saturday 15th September.



Maria Vasquez-Aguilar from Chile 40 Years On
Alvaro Sanchez, Embassy of Venezuela
Samuele Mazzolini, Ecuadorian commentator and researcher on Chevron
Derek Wall,  Green Party of England and Wales International Coordinator

Where next for the Green Party?

Green Party conference opens today in Brighton.  Brighton has been at the forefront of Green Party electoral success, electing our first MP Caroline Lucas and first Green Party local authority.

However, it provides serious challenges for the party. 

Caroline Lucas has made a significant impact on the political system in Britain. From her arrest for opposing fracking to her passionate speech against war in Syria to her Private Members Bill to renationalise the railways, she is often a lone voice against austerity and neo-liberal economics. It is difficult for the Green Party of England and Wales to win seats at Westminster, given the first past the post system, so every Green Party member knows that the most significant task they face is to ensure her re-election. At the same time, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour Party machines are desperate to remove her. 

There are few firm voices in Parliament advocating ecological sanity, peace and opposition to the cuts agenda.  All on the left, not just those of us in the Green Party, need to support Caroline. Indeed, with Ed Miliband still committed to Tory cuts, it is essential that an alternative to austerity is present.

Opponents of the Green Party find it difficult to challenge Caroline’s record, but instead focus on the Green councillors' record in Brighton and Hove.  While some claim that trying to create socialism in one country  is impossible, none of us should dismiss the challenges involved in bringing in green policies in one city or town.  It is of course the worst possible time to be in local government, with life threatening cuts and  restrictions imposed by Eric Pickles. Also, the Greens run a minority administration and could be outvoted at any time.  Criticism of Green councillors in Brighton and Hove can be seen as a way in which opponents may suffocate the Green Party as  a resurgent force on the left of British politics.

 So how should Brighton and Hove Green Party councillors proceed in this uniquely difficult climate?  There are no easy answers, of course, but there are indicators.  One approach  is to advocate careful management even  if this means cuts.  This is logical, because as one minority council administration, resistance strong enough to fight the Tories and win looks unlikely.  At least in the Green Party there is a contrast with Labour, in that Labour councillors up and down Britain have been threatened with expulsion and sometimes removed if they advocate no cuts budgets.  In the 1980s Liverpool and other left wing councils stoutly resisted Thatcher, but in our decade left wing Labour councils who might provide solidarity with other no cuts administrations are a historical memory, like King Arthur or Boddicea.

Yet there is a point where we Greens become caretakers for catastrophe, managing as best we can, delivering cuts as compassionately as possible, showing perhaps that we are just as efficient or even better managers than councillors from other parties.  Yet the shit is increasingly hitting the proverbial and alternatives which are both  radical and  practical are essential.  Better delivery of policies that nevertheless bring misery is ultimately unsustainable.

The situation in Brighton and Hove reminds one of the travails of Labour governments in the 20th century.  When they tried to be good managers, to stop frightening the horses, to join perhaps the establishment and show they were safe pairs of hands, they, to be blunt, fucked up.  When Labour thought outside the prevailing wisdom they made real and effective changes.  Many of us would argue that the Greens risk being tamed, becoming another political animal too docile to challenge the power hungry corporations and militarist political establishment.  All Greens should remember that in the 1930s the Labour government embraced the Gold Standard, swallowed the conventional political medicine and embraced austerity.  Ramsay McDonald’s  policies nearly destroyed the Labour Party and his name spells the word ‘traitor’.  In contrast, the introduction of the NHS by Atlee’s 1945 Labour government provided something we all love. Business as usual for the Brighton and Hove Greens may simply be a recipe for defeat, if it appears to local Sussex voters that we are the same as the big three pro-austerity political parties but merely more efficient at delivery.

There are no easy answers for anyone in local government, resistance has to be built however difficult this may seem. Imaginative responses to the cuts are needed.  This weekend I am supporting Green Party proposals at our National Conference for a Progressive Council Tax.  This can be introduced in Brighton and Hove - the principle is simple, and it is legal.  Council Tax would nominally be raised to ensure the Council could protect its services, but  but about 80% of payers would actually receive rebates that amounted to a cut in their payments.  The minority at the top of the income scale would pay more so that money can be found to preserve front line services.

It is not a panacea, it will require a referendum, and on its own it is no substitute for Labour, the Greens and the trade unions up and down Britain taking on the government in a unified fight.  PCT requires detailed examination to iron out problems like shared households, however it is essential that the party does not close down this option and votes to further explore it, and any other means to practically challenge cuts and austerity.  

Derek Wall

12 Sept 2013

Green Party Executive Election winners

GPEX election results From members website

 The successful candidates:
Chair - Richard Mallender
Elections - Sam Coates
Equalities & Diversity - Shan Oakes & Jack McGlen (job share)
Finance - Michael Coffey
Internal Communications - Peter Barnett
Local Party Support - Emily Blyth

Commiserations to Simon Hales, 
Geoff Smith & Sam Riches.

11 Sept 2013

Gold mining in Greece: stories of resistance and repression

Noticed this on the Green Left email list so thought I would share

Come and hear first-hand accounts of resistance to gold mining in Greece by Eldorado Gold, a company listed on the London Stock Exchange.
Thursday 19 September, 7 to 9pm, Unite House, 128 Theobald's Road, Holborn, London, WC1X 8TN
Nearest tube Holborn. See map at http://goo.gl/maps/KAWWX. Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/163715900486791/ As spaces are limited please RSVP at RSVP.sittingonagoldmine@gmail.com

Under the pretext of a severe financial crisis Greece is reasserting its investor-friendly profile by opening up all goldmines across the country without regard to the threats that mining poses to the environment and to people’s livelihoods. Foreign investors are particularly welcome: fast track processes; tax relief; exception from damages; easy money; no royalties; no problems.  

But the true picture is not so rosy! Sham public consultations, questionable deals designed to advance specific corporate interests and the slow but steady destruction of the environment have been met with resistance. The struggle to oppose Eldorado Gold’s plans to create an enormous open pit mine on Mount Kakavos and within the ancient forest of Skouries has succeeded in capturing people’s imagination and inspiring waves of solidarity across the country. 

While organising their long campaign affected communities have learned a lot about Greek law; geology; environmental science; and the technologies of extraction. As they did so, they begun to ask questions about development, participation, human rights and the public interest. Their questions were answered by the riot police.
Now the people from Skouries are bringing this discussion to London. 

Lazaros Toskas 
member of the Struggle Coordinating Committee of Megali Panagia, will share stories of resistance and repression, of mining, rights and the politics of development. 

Other speakers from Corporate Watch, Greece Solidarity Campaign and London Mining Network.

Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles

Derek Wall ’s article entitled  Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles , argues that Ma...