Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


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The Left must not turn on itself over Europe

Until recently, much of the EU Referendum debate has been seen as a blue-on-blue matter. David Cameron on one side, and the person most keen to replace him, Boris Johnson, on the other. This has been the perception, but it hides a more complex picture under the surface.

Without a doubt, the Conservative Party is deeply split, and the rift could be very long lasting. Conservative MPs are evenly divided between Remain and Leave, and the membership similarly affected. No matter what the referendum result, the Conservatives will have to try to form a working Government with a tiny majority, hindered by the self-inflicted campaign wounds.

Labour also have difficulties. Their Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a long term critic of the EU, but is supporting Remain alongside 90%+ of the PLP. Labour voters are far less supportive of the Remain camp than the Labour Party itself. The latest You Gov poll show support for Remain at 65% and Leave at 24%. There have been warnings from Labour Campaigners that in many areas of the country, Labour voters are not coming to the Remain side. If the country votes for Brexit, the vast majority of Labour MPs will have backed the wrong horse.

I support Green Leaves, a campaign group for Green Party members and supporters who wish to leave the EU. Labour also has a campaign to leave the EU. There is a substantial debate within the left about how to vote on the 23rd June. This debate has become more and more fractious, and has become very hostile in recent days, given the poll movements that have brought the chance of a Brexit vote becoming more likely.

Baroness Jenny Jones, Green Party Peer, has published a number of articles setting out a left-wing and progressive case for Brexit. I have seen comments about her that are utterly disgraceful, and disrespectful to a person who has worked for the Green Party and progressive causes for decades.

I know good left wing people, who were supporting Leave, but due to being tired of being called fascists, UKIP supporters, traitors and so on have switched their support to Remain under duress.

There are no certain outcomes, no matter what the referendum result is. There are a range of possibilities that exist, and it is for each person to evaluate the best way to vote for themselves. Supporting Leave does not mean supporting Nigel Farage or the Tory right. Leaving the EU does not mean workers rights being destroyed or environmental protections diminished. Should Brexit occur, our Government who has struggled to get fairly basic things passed with a tiny majority, will have even more difficulty removing holiday pay or others workers rights, given they will be in civil war. The Conservative Party has too many MPs in marginal seats, who will surely cave in under the pressure a constituency mail bag, threatening their seat at the next GE. And the power handed to UKIP? They have one MP now, and will still have one after June 23rd.

I ask that people of the left understand that voting Leave isn’t traitorous.

I ask that people of the left understand that voting Leave isn’t a sign of stupidity or character defect.

I ask that people of the left understand that given the same partial and ultimately subjective information, others may come to a different conclusion.

 

 

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A Shuffle to the Right

The Cabinet reshuffle has set the tone for the second half of this Parliament, and gives a guide to the shape of the next General Election.

By leaving George Osborne in place, the Prime Minister has set out his stall to stick to an economic approach based on cuts and Austerity. This plan is now set in stone, and the Coalition is firmly chained to it.

The Green credentials of this Government, already looking very shabby, have been firmly cast away. Justine Greening, firmly opposed to a third Heathrow runway, has been removed as Transport Secretary. The Government is already talking about reviewing Airline capacity in the UK, a real insight into their current thinking. The Coalition agreement does include a no third runway clause, but increasingly that whole document is looking as durable as one of Gerald Ratner’s earrings. In addition, the Conservative back-bench rebellion over wind farms have borne fruit. A wind farm sceptic is now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

David Cameron is shaping his Cabinet to supply the red meat that Tory back-benchers and local activists are demanding. I believe we will see further benefit cuts, more anti-ECHR rhetoric, additional curbs to union rights and range of other policies to keep the Tory faithful cheering. He has realised he cannot win the election on the economy, so a line up of traditional dragons the Tories can slay is being prepared. David know full well he can cut back the public sector, attack benefit claimants and when the left stands up to this, he has created a common enemy. With the media largely behind him providing PR support, it could be an effective strategy.

The Liberal Democrats are in an appalling position. They know they have the power to pull down the Coalition. They also know they are politically dead whenever the General Election happens. David Cameron can push and push, and if they complain too much they will be left with a single-shot revolver on their desk. If they don’t like it, they know what the alternative is. Every time Nick Clegg’s MPs have caved in – the health bill for instance – they become weaker and weaker. They are now pitifully weak.

This shift has serious consequences for Labour. Labour has in effect been shadowing much of the Conservative’s policies. When the Coalition promises Austerity, Labour hasn’t fully rejected it. Labour simply says it would cut a bit less sharply and more fairly. When major cuts to disability benefits are on the cards, Labour says that they do need reform, but they wouldn’t do it quite like that. The timidity in offering a principled alternative is something that Ed Miliband may regret in the future. He has been good tactically, but on the strategic aspects of creating a credible alternative Government in time for the 2015 General Election, he has done much less well. How will Labour handle a media-led campaign against the ECHR, and a new populist attack on benefits? The record to date suggests very passively.

To conclude, this reshuffle is a serious game changer. Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats that haven’t yet turned into invertebrates need to work hard together to challenge what David Cameron wants to offer the country. If they don’t, Britain may be sleep walking into a nightmare.


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The election of Natalie Bennett shows the Green Party is a southern, white, middle-class party

The election of Natalie Bennett confirmed something the Green Party knows about itself. It confirms what people outside the Green Party think about it – it is a party of middle-class white people, who principally live in the South East.

This is not meant to be negative. I am sure that Natalie is capable and compassionate leader who wants to see the lives of those in the UK and abroad improved in a sustainable way, ensuring we have a planet worth handing over to our children. I am sure she gets as angry about inequality as everyone else.

What concerns me is the political class has become so controlled by white, mainly male, privately-educated people from a very narrow band of careers. Parliament is full of identikit Politicians who seem to be either Lawyers or from the Media.

Over time this has led to the real detachment of politics from the lives of millions of ordinary people. This has led to the decline in turnout at general elections. In 2010 24% of the socio-economic class AB did not vote. By comparison 42% of C2s did not vote, alongside 43% of DEs. The evidence is clear – Bus Drivers, Nurses, Cleaners and most other working people do not identify with our national party leaders. When David Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires say ‘we are in it together’ who believes them?

The irony is the Green Party is best placed to address the issues in everyday life that people struggle with – jobs, housing, schools for their children and so on. Only the Green Party really understands that it is the system we live under that generates the problems that people face. If you don’t change the system, you won’t change the outcomes.

Being financially limited makes green choices hard. A family struggling on a modest income may love to trade in their old car for an efficient hybrid one, but they don’t have the money. Public transport itself is very expensive too. They may not like buying imported school trousers for £3 from a supermarket, but they have no choice. Organic produce looks good, but when the weekly food budget for a family of four is £50, it is out of the question. Switching fuel supplier to a 100% renewable one could add £200 to their annual bill.

These reasons are why the Green Party struggles to break-through well into the areas where a living wage, affordable decent housing and good public transport would revolutionise their lives. The party needs to fight hard on these social justice issues first and foremost to win support beyond a middle-class with the financial means to make green choices. These measures would not only be popular, but help a sustainable economy too. Tell them you want them have a living wage and a good quality house first before telling them about melting glaciers.

This group is a huge army of current non-voters, looking for some inspiration and a vision. Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have left them behind. The Green Party has the vision to offer them.

This is why the Green Party needs a leadership that can appeal to the back streets of Leeds, Birmingham and Hackney. A leadership that talks their language and understands their lives.

This is Natalie Bennett’s biggest challenge.


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The Greens Crossroad

Two events have combined to leave the Green Party at a crossroads.

Firstly, the Green Party made some progress in this month’s local elections. In my own area, Kirklees, in wards where the Liberal Democrat was not an established Councillor, the Green Party over took them into third place. One seat was gained and the standing Green Councillor in another ward won by a convincing margin. Nationally the party made  a small number of gains. The Green Candidate came third in the London Mayoral race.

Secondly, on the 15th May, Caroline Lucas announced that she will stand down as Leader of the Green Party in September, since being elected in 2008. The MP for Brighton and Hove, and former MEP said:

Green politics has shifted from the margins to the mainstream of British political life. As the party grows, buoyed by a new generation of activists and underpinned by the achievements of our outstanding elected members, now is the time to make space for other talented Greens to come through and take us even further forward. For me, this decision is about staying true to green principles.

My experience in the local elections convinced me of one fact the party as a whole must accept – it does not have the resources: members or financial – to increase it’s vote beyond it’s current limits. Without strong media support, the only way to get the Green Party message across is old fashioned door-to-door leafleting and canvassing.

It’s membership is about one twentieth of the Labour Party,  one sixteenth of the Conservatives  and a sixth of the Liberal democrats (based on 2010 figures). This is simply inadequate for the required task. Every election means either getting a small vote from everywhere, or ignoring the majority of electors to focus winning a bigger share in a smaller area.

The election of a new Leader will be a moment to take some major long-term decisions. Does the party wish to remain as it is, and be a small voice, but be no more than a poorly resourced pressure group?

The alternative is to grow the party beyond it’s comfort zone. The party has a great message on the elements of social justice that could transform the lives of those living in poorer urban areas, left behind by successive Conservative and Labour Governments. The Greens are about more than renewable energy, although it is important issue. It should talk to those without work, those left in the poorest housing. It should explain it’s policies to pensioners, who would get a much higher basic pension without means-testing or degrading tax credits.

The new Leader must also work out how to handle the party’s relationship with other parties. This must involve making a clear decision about the possible co-operation with other parties where common aims exist.

The in-tray for a new Leader – a membership drive, a re-focussing of the Green Party’s message to reach a broader electorate and the possibilities for electoral co-operation –  is a challenging one. The internal debate within a very open and democratic party will be nothing short of a full-bloodied discussion and rightfully so.

I look forward to it.


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Moving From the Fringe

The Green Party is firmly established as a minor party in the United Kingdom. Currently it has 1 MP, 2 MEPs, 2 London Assembly Members and 147 Councillors [1]. The question it must face is how does it become a party of the mainstream?

Both the Conservative Party and Labour Party are in an ideological cul-de-sac. Since the financial crisis in 2008, neither has come up with a coherent alternative that can mend our broken economic system. Neither has come close to recognising the scale of carbon emission reductions required to ensure that CO2 levels do not rise above 450 ppm units, essential to capping global warming and preventing a global environmental catastrophe. Neither has a plan that that solve both national and international inequality.

The 2010 Green Party Manifesto [2] was a broad policy platform that provided a real alternative. It demonstrated that it had good policies for jobs, the economy and all the areas of concern to the citizens of the United Kingdom. It demonstrated a party that had moved beyond being just an environmental party, an image the probably still exists in the minds of many voters.

So how can the Green Party move onto the main stage of UK politics?

A new media strategy

The established media focuses heavily on the big parties. There is no national news channel or newspaper willing to give the party any sort of decent coverage.

However, the recent past has seen a growth in social media platforms, and this offers opportunities. Many of the people who would be attracted to the Green Party are young people, to whom Facebook, Twitter and others are a way of life. The Green Party should actively promote themselves in a viral-fashion, and this would get the message to huge numbers of people who probably do not watch many news programmes or read newspapers. This type of promotion is very cheap too.

Publicise itself on all issues

The party has a solid policy base in many areas, so when unemployment figures are announced the party should aggressively deploy it’s messages about how it would do things better that the Government. This would drive home to people that Green’s don’t just care about CO2 emissions, they care about their gas bill, their job and their child’s education.

Work the local community

The base for any party is its activists. Local newspapers and simple, cost-effective leaflets should be used to engage with local communities. If near to an estate is a waste ground that is used for fly-tipping, let the local Greens raise the issue, start petitions and communicate locally about getting it sorted out. This demonstrates to people that Greens don’t just worry about the rain forests, they want the local neighbourhood putting right.

This approach is an excellent base to win Council seats, which is a spring board to winning Parliamentary seats in the future.

Form alliances

The truth is that under FPTP the chance of getting Green MPs is virtually nil. In 2015, with just 600 seats to fight for, Labour will be desperate to hoover up the non-Conservative vote. No doubt people will be told a vote for the Greens is a vote that lets the Tories in. It is critical that Green voters do not allow themselves to be bullied into this. It should be made crystal clear – for Greens to support Labour (the best option at removing the Conservatives) Labour must commit to introducing proportionate representation. No commitment to PR, then no support.

PR would open the way for a better democracy, and if voting Labour in one election to get it is the price, it is worth it.

Overall, these steps would put the Green Party on the road to having a much bigger impact in the future. Of course, after years of fighting a guerrilla war from the fringe, the act of moving into the mainstream would be considerably out of the comfort zone of many people. However, if Greens want to turn their dreams and ideals into the policies of those power , these crucial steps must be taken.

Sources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Party_of_England_and_Wales

[2] http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies/policies_2010/2010manifesto_contents.html