Tuesday, 29 March 2011

March 26 Demonstration

I marched proudly in London this Saturday, on the TUC organised demonstration against the reckless cuts in public services that the ConDem government has inflicted on the people of this country, in their ideological push to minimise the state. The gathering had a carnival atmosphere, with lots of families and pensioner groups, as well as the heavy union membership turn out. Unison and the GMB were particularly noticeable in the cavalcade of protesters with their banners and airborne balloons, as far as the eye could see.

The authorities accepted that at least 250,000 marched and the organisers claimed 500,000, and being a veteran of marches in recent years, I would put the figure at much nearer half than a quarter of a million people on this demonstration. The police worked closely with the TUC on arrangements for this march, so it was no great surprise to me that it passed off peacefully. At times though, I felt as though the TUC stewards were forcing us to walk on this side or that, when there was no real reason I could see for doing this, but I complied with their wishes quite happily.

I didn’t see all of the speeches at Hyde Park, and missed Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader’s contribution, but when I saw it later on television, he didn’t seem to capture the moment very well, and it seemed to fall a bit flat to me. At one point, when he said that there needed to be some cuts, he was actually jeered by the crowd.

Of course, events away from the main march have made all the headlines, with direct action type protests by maybe a thousand or so people unleashing a torrent of condemnation from mainstream media outlets and the Home Secretary herself, Theresa May, labelling these events around the main march as ‘violent’ and ‘mindless’.

Violent is something of an exaggeration, with no one seriously injured, but there was damage to property, with many smashed windows around the west end of London. Whilst I do not condone this behaviour, it is wrong to describe it as mindless. Banks and other corporate interests were targeted for their symbolic value, drawing public and media attention to tax avoidance practices and the way that government policies pander to these companies.

It is also important to draw a distinction between the actions of some who caused this damage to the likes of Starbucks and HSBC, and members of UK Uncut, who peacefully occupied commercial premises such as Fortnum and Mason, many of whom were arrested and charged with ‘aggravated trepass’, and spent twenty four hours in police cells. This type of protest is perfectly legitimate, and probably more effective than just marching from A to B.

Obviously, the ConDem government has ignored this demonstration, but this is just the start of a massive campaign to win over public opinion to reverse these damaging cuts. I hope the unions call coordinated industrial action, which they can do legally over changes to occupational pensions, but this should be seperated from community campaigns to save public services, which should include more peaceful direct action protests.

Everyone who values our public services and the welfare state itself, must support whatever demonstrations and protests that are organised in the coming months. What is at stake, is the very fabric of our society, and we must not let this deeply reactionary government get away with it.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Rapper's for the NHS

Topical rap by NxtGen about the perilous future of the NHS under the ConDem government.

Good that the younger generation appreciates the threat to and values the NHS, which was founded over sixty years ago. I was reminded when speaking to an older person recently of the situation before the NHS was formed, when if you had to go to a doctor, you needed to have the money to pay for it.

A situation quite unthinkable nowadays, or is it?

NxtGen's facebook page is here.

Monday, 21 March 2011

War in Libya

US, British and French air and sea forces have begun to impose a ‘no fly zone’ over Libya after the United Nations, with regional support from the Arab League, authorised this and further to ‘use all necessary measures’ to protect civilians from attack by military forces. This phrase is very similar to the widely recognised UN language of ‘all necessary means’, which is code for military action. The resolution does though specifically prohibit the use of international ground troops.

Colonel Gaddafi has responded by declaring two ceasefires so far, but reports from Libya say that fighting has continued in a number of cities, and western air and missile strikes have targeted Gaddafi’s forces and air defence systems, with over a hundred Cruise missiles being fired at Libya, causing widespread damage to air defences and almost certainly involving civilian casualties, or ‘collateral damage’ as the military likes to call them.

I think everyone who has watched the scenes unfold in Libya, has been shocked by the brutality of Gaddafi’s forces, firing on unarmed protesters and shelling residential areas where the opposition have taken over towns, with hundreds and maybe thousands of civilian deaths the result. But this move by the west is an extremely dangerous one, as Gaddafi has been quick to use foreign attacks on Libya to rally support for his regime in Tripoli particularly.

In the east of the country much of which is under rebel control, foreign intervention has been welcomed, indeed the town of Benghazi, the centre of resistance to Gaddafi, would probably have been overrun by now, without the action to take control of Libyan airspace. These situations can escalate though, and ‘mission creep’ is common once military action is taken, although I do not think that there is any great appetite amongst western governments for a ground invasion. It is difficult to know what the west thinks it can achieve by its actions.

It seems to me that there are three possible scenarios resulting from western forces controlling Libyan airspace. Firstly, it will limit Gaddafi’s army’s mobility, as any columns of military vehicles will be subject to air attack, and given the huge distances involved between Libyan cities, this is a severe handicap to Gaddafi. The hope appears to be, that his regime will implode as those around him see that they will be unable to win the war, and either defect or even assassinate the leader. There are no signs of this happening yet.

Secondly, once the situation in the east of the country is stabilised, it may be envisaged that the rebels will be able to march towards Tripoli without fear of their convoys being attacked by Gaddafi’s forces, and eventually take the west of the country. If this does happen it will be a slow process, and much intense fighting will take place in those towns held by Gaddafi. It is hard to see how the UN resolution will allow western forces to support the rebels when they are attacking these towns, as in effect, they will be causing civilian casualties, and should according to the resolution, be stopped by western forces from doing this.

Thirdly, and I think this is the most likely outcome; Libya will be in effect partitioned with Gaddafi holding the west and the rebels the east of the country. This would mean that western forces will have to stay in Libya (or whatever the east decides to call itself) for the long term, which is a highly undesirable and costly situation. Of course the east contains most of Libya’s oil reserves, and so it could be that the western powers will settle for this state of affairs, and try to throttle Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli through economic sanctions, but Saddam Hussein managed to cling onto power for over a decade in Iraq under similar circumstances.

It is clear to me that western governments want Gaddafi gone, but the UN resolution does not authorise regime change, and there appears to be cracks already surfacing in the coalition that has backed foreign invention. Liam Fox, British Defence minister, has said that Gaddafi might be targeted himself by war planes or missiles, the US Defence secretary Robert Gates, has disagreed with this statement, saying it would be ‘unwise’ to set goals that might be unachievable. Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, has said that he doesn’t support the missile strikes, and didn’t think that this would be part of applying a no fly zone.

Whilst it is understandable to want to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s brutal tactics, western intervention in Muslim countries has an unhappy history, and the situation in Libya has all of the ingredients, for another long term disastrous foreign policy intervention by western governments.

Photo from Al-Jazeera

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Nuclear Power Plant Crisis in Japan

If it wasn’t bad enough for the people of north eastern Japan, that the strongest earthquake in the country’s history, and the second strongest recorded anywhere in the world, followed by a devastating ten metre high tsunami, with probably thousands killed, now two of the country’s nuclear power plants have exploded. Reports are coming in that a third reactor has over-heated and exploded adding to radiation emissions that have led to an exclusion zone being created, and an evacuation of the population in a 20 kilometre radius of the power plants.

Whether a 20 kilometre exclusion zone is large enough has to be called into question, as the US navy has reported detecting low level radiation 160 kilometres off shore from these nuclear installations. Unfortunately, governments and nuclear authorities do not always divulge the full truth about nuclear leaks, with the old USSR supressing accurate information for years about radiation emissions from their nuclear plants, and I remember reading in Tony Benn’s diaries, that when he was Energy minister in the 1970’s, he was informed, by ironically, a Japanese diplomat, that there had been a leak at Britain’s Windscale (now renamed Sellafield) nuclear plant, when he had received no such information in the UK.

Why nuclear power plants were built so close to seismic fault lines as they have been in Japan, defies all sense, and I have read in the British press that some Japanese scientists’ have been warning the authorities about this for years. Japan has been very enthusiastic about nuclear power, and has a plan to increase their capability from a third to a half, of electricity generation over the next few years. But, at what risk?

The whole nuclear power debate in the UK has gone rather quiet lately, with the Lib Dems doing one of their numerous U turns, and now backing the ConDem government’s stance on increasing nuclear power capability here. The last Labour government, also did a volte face and started looking more favourably on the nuclear industry, once it dawned on them that reducing carbon emissions, and so slowing climate change, would be extremely difficult without recourse to nuclear power.

Even some greens like James Lovelock and George Monbiot have sided with nuclear in an effort to halt climate change, and some in the English Green party itself have become advocates of this approach. But nuclear is not carbon free and stocks of uranium, needed to power these plants, is estimated to be fairly low, whilst non uranium based nuclear power is at least fifty years away, if indeed it will ever become feasible.

This debate needs to be reopened, and potential risks need to be reassessed, as well as costs and the disposal of waste. Although the UK is not particularly susceptible to earthquakes, these nuclear installations are always built on the coast, and if the oceans rise as a result of climate change, which seems to be highly likely, the same sort of problems experienced in Japan as a result of the tsunami, could be coming to a town near you.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Support the TUC Demonstration – 26th March

From what I hear about advance coach and train bookings, it appears that the TUC demonstration on Saturday 26th March is going to be very well attended, with some predictions that a million people will join the march through central London. But, let’s not be complacent, and everyone who can possibly attend this event should resolve themselves to do so. A huge show of opposition to the ConDem government’s attack on public services and the welfare state itself, is necessary to display for all to see, the strength of feeling aroused by these damaging slash and burn policies. This is no less than an attempt to turn back the clock to Victorian era social policies.

I know that there is some cynicism amongst the public about single set piece demonstrations after the massive anti-war march in 2003 was pretty much ignored by the Labour government, but a low turn-out will be easily dismissed as a ‘vested interest’ protest by public sector employees. Communities (service users) need to show solidarity with the unions on this, and to be quite frank, to encourage the often ‘conservative’ minded union leaders to escalate the battle and call coordinated strikes which they can do legally, over things like the proposed changes to occupational pensions.

I also expect this protest to be a bit different from other large scale marches, in that I expect there will be perhaps hundreds of smaller direct action type protests surrounding the main demonstration, where organisations like UKUncut have led the way with sit ins at high street banks. It is important that large numbers attend the main protest to make the smaller flash mobs more difficult for the authorities to contain. There are hundreds of legitimate targets for protest in London which given a large main demonstration, will be impossible to police.

The establishment has been busy lecturing the population that there is no alternative to the cuts, but there is indeed an alternative to this devastation of our communities, it just doesn’t get much publicity from the mainstream media, so we must make them listen, and this protest can be the beginning of the process.

We could start by ditching the ridiculous white elephant that is the Trident nuclear weapons system, saving billions of pounds. Then there is increasing income tax and National Insurance contributions for high earners (those on more than £44k per year pay only 1% NI on earnings above this figure, whilst everyone working pays 11% below this amount). It is further estimated that £120 billion is lost in tax revenue from wealthy individuals and corporate bodies to tax avoidance and evasion, these loop holes should be closed. Investment in energy efficiency measures like insulation would save millions of pounds. And the tax exemption for private schools must end and the savings be channelled into state schooling. That’s a starter for ten anyway.

The UK deficit is not even all that large by historical standards and we have the sixth largest economy in the world as measured by GDP, so why the urgency to cut public provision so savagely? Well, that’s because these cuts are ideologically driven by a government that wants to shrink the state, whatever the level of public debt, and they want to try and get the pain out of the way now. So in four years’ time they can call a general election and hope everyone has forgotten what they did to country.

Now is the time to stop the ConDem government dead in its tracks, and we should demand a general election immediately, because this government doesn’t have a mandate to inflict these policies on the people, since most were not in the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos at last year’s general election. Mubarak said there was no alternative in Egypt, and look what happened to him.

Activists from Haringey Alliance for Public Services are meeting at 10am on 26th March at both Turnpike Lane and Seven Sisters tube stations to travel to the protest.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Voters Desert Lib Dems in Barnsley Central

Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724 (60.80%, +13.53%)
Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953 (12.19%, +7.53%)
James Hockney (C) 1,999 (8.25%, -9.01%)
Ends Dalton (BNP) 1,463 (6.04%, -2.90%)
Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266 (5.23%, +3.58%)
Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012 (4.18%, -13.10%)
Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544 (2.25%)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198 (0.82%)
Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60 (0.25%)
Lab majority 11,771: Turn out 36.5%

The opinion polls have been foretelling it, but in the Barnsley central by election, we now have solid evidence of the collapse in the Lib Dem vote. Their vote plummeted by over 13% compared to the general election here less than a year ago, finishing in a humiliating sixth place, behind not only Labour and the Tories, but also UKIP, BNP and an independent candidate, and losing their deposit with only 4.18% of the vote.

To set this result in historical context, it was the Lib Dems third worst result in an English by election ever and the worst since 1976, and it was the first time they have sunk to sixth place in a by election anywhere in the UK. Furthermore, I can’t remember a party that is in government ever losing its deposit at any election in this country.

The Lib Dems have tried to make much of the low turn out, and at 36.5% it was low, but not unusually so when set against recent by elections. There is no doubt about it, this was a very bad result for the junior partners in the coalition government, before public spending cuts have even been fully felt by the voters. The portents are not good for the Lib Dems in the English local authority, Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections in May this year, and perhaps the AV referendum too. It does look, in northern England, London, Scotland and Wales that the Lib Dems will incur heavy losses, for propping up a Tory government.

This result was also bad for the Conservatives, falling over 9% from the general election, and the good performance of UKIP claiming second place, may explain the dwindling share of the vote for David Cameron’s party. The BNP, although they saved their deposit, had a poor result, down almost 3% on the general election, and this may be down to the divisions within the party recently.

For us Greens in London, this result is very encouraging (although we didn’t stand a candidate in Barnsley), and indicates that we could gain at the Lib Dems expense in the London Assembly elections in May 2012, and increasing our representation on the Assembly from two to three members is a perfectly realistic goal now.

The only hope for the Lib Dems, is that if they can hang on in the coalition government for a full term, and if the economy has picked up by then, all will be forgotten and they can claim that the austerity policies they helped force on the country, came good in the long term. This is possible, but I have a feeling a lot of Lib Dem voters at the 2010 general election will not support them ever again, because they thought voting Lib Dem would improve a Labour government, not land them with a Tory administration, hell bent on dismantling the welfare state.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wood Green Civic Centre Occupied by Angry Crowd

Several hundred people protested outside the budget meeting at Wood Green civic centre on 25 February. The building was occupied, and more than twenty people managed to break through a small police line and enter the council chamber, where they delayed the council meeting by nearly two hours. Two were arrested after 3 van loads of TSG officers were called in to clear the building. A solidarity vigil was quickly organised outside Hornsey police station where they were taken.

Haringey councillors were due to pass cuts of £87 million over three years, with more than a thousand jobs to go and three quarters of the youth service being destroyed. The cuts will also hit the elderly with care homes and drop-in centres being targeted.

After some speeches from local activist organisations and an open mic, the crowd moved into the building, and at first queued politely for the public gallery, but soon decided to attempt an occupation of the council chamber.

A Haringey Green party member who took part in the occupation, gives here her account of what happened next. “Those of us who weren't occupying the chambers ran off to break into the secret council meeting that was being protected by the police, someone smashed a fire-alarm so that the swipe-card doors to the canteen where the council were would open! Needless to say it was a bit chaotic we were mostly trying not to get bundled by the police and shouting ‘Whose Town Hall, Our Town Hall’ at the top of our voices!”

“It was good to exercise some civil disobedience in the face of these outrageous cuts - at least better than being on yet another demonstration where you don't make any sort of impression. Still - I would also have been happier to know that there had at least been some engagement of potentially anti-cuts councillors (if indeed there are any), and to know that there was some comprehensive campaign - I've been randomly attending a few local demos over the last few months and always left thinking - is there any other campaigning? What is the strategy here?”

Meanwhile, in the chamber, the activists were told by a councillor that they must leave the building or that he would ask the police to arrest them. After some discussion, a consensus was reached, and while people on the ground floor were being forcibly removed from the building by TSG officers, the occupiers and the people in the public gallery walked out together as a group. Noisy protesting continued outside the chamber, and then a group headed down to Hornsey police station for a solidarity protest over the two who were arrested.

Almost immediately, the councillors, who it seems had been waiting outside the back of the building, then poured in through the back door and up to the council chamber. There, starting their meeting two hours later than scheduled, they proceeded to vote through the devastating cuts.

Last year Haringey’s director of children and young people’s service received a salary and pension contribution of £282,670. Tonight, he voted to pass a 75% cut to Haringey’s youth service.

Bulk of the report from Indymedia. More on the demonstration and other resistance to the cuts can be found on the Haringey Alliance for Public Services website.