Enough Food for Everyone

IF_logo_banner_2_420x210

Caroline Lucas reported in her News bulletin in January that a new campaign was launched in Parliament called Enough Food For Everyone: IF, which aims to use this year’s G8 to focus attention on tackling the fact that one in eight people around the world go to bed hungry every night.  Caroline said that she will be campaigning alongside groups like Oxfam, to ensure development and environmental issues are at the top of the agenda. The British Government is to host the next G8 Summit at a hotel and golf course complex at Enniskillen in Northern Ireland on 17th – 18th June 2013. 

The G8 is short for “Group of Eight – a group of rich, northern hemisphere, mostly white, countries.  Membership of the Group is by invitation, its workings highly secretive, its decisions affecting the whole world.

The eight members in order of their rotating hosting responsibilities are: France, United States, United Kingdom, Russia (as of 2006), Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada.  Among G8 leaders to attend this year will be British Prime Minister David Cameron, United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since 1975, the heads of state or government of the major industrial democracies have been meeting to deal with the major economic and political issues facing their domestic societies and the international community as a whole.  In the past, the G8 Summit has dealt with big issues like international trade, and relations with developing countries, questions of East-West economic relations, energy, and terrorism. The Summit agenda has now broadened considerably to include social issues such as employment and the information highway, transnational issues such as the environment, crime and drugs, and a host of political-security issues ranging from human rights through regional security to arms control.

While some say that G8 helps build personal relations and allows for quick co-ordinated responses to a crisis, G8 can also be seen as an exclusive and powerful club which defends and promotes free-market capitalism and Western style democracy.  Many view it as an attempt at forced globalisation by the rich West and undemocratic because developing countries are excluded.  Free-market capitalism has not delivered on its claim that it is the best way to enable developing countries to be emancipated from their poverty.  Consequently non-governmental and civil society organisations and the Green Party are critical of the G8.  We use the media interest created around G8 meetings as an opportunity to advocate our concerns and to promote an alternative agenda. We are scandalised that the G8 makes decisions that affect many other nations and economies that are not represented such as the major ‘new’ economies like China and India.

The ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign tackles 4 issues head on: aid, tax, land and transparency. The IF Campaign argues that IF we all act together, we can make the world leaders change the future by tackling the four big ‘IFs’, each of which relates to the major topics on the G8 agenda: 

AidIf we make the right investments to stop people dying from hunger and help the poorest people feed themselves.  The UK government has committed to spending 0.7% of its national income on aid. We must make sure they keep this promise.

Tax – If we stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.  Too many unscrupulous businesses and individuals manage to avoid paying the taxes they owe in developing countries. They’re dodging millions of pounds every day.  Yet taxes are the most important, sustainable and predictable source of finance. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimates that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.  That money could help millions of people to escape from hunger. We can help stop this tax dodging if our government steps up to close the international tax loopholes.

LandIf we stop poor farmers being forced off their land, and use crops to feed people, not fuel cars.  The poorest farmers are losing their land to giant corporations. These companies don’t care that the land is already being used by local people to grow food. Stopping them would help millions of people get enough to eat.

TransparencyIf we force governments and big corporations to be honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.  Transparency and accountability are vital in the global food system. Decisions that can affect millions of people are made behind closed doors, without the participation of those affected. Corporates and governments must be more transparent about their affairs so that citizens can hold to account powerful players in the food system.

The IF Campaign recognizes that these are big IFs, but argues that if we press our leaders to make these happen, and IF they do, there really will be enough food for everyone.  

That’s why Caroline Lucas is joining with other organisations in a campaign to tell our leaders that if they take strong action to tackle the structural causes of hunger, there will be enough food to meet the needs of earth’s 870 million hungry people.

Because the venue for the G8 is in Northern Ireland, a Week of Action is scheduled to take place in London from 10-14 June.  You can join tens of thousands in Hyde Park, London on 8 June for one unmissable event to demand action on world hunger. More information on:   www.oxfam.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/our-campaigns/if

Donald and Jean Macdonald 

TIME FOR ‘PLAN G’: STOP FAILED AUSTERITY AND INVEST IN THE BILLION POUND GREEN ECONOMY

The Northants Green Party Blog

CarolineRESPONDING TO THE BUDGET ANNOUNCEMENT, GREEN MP CAROLINE LUCAS (BRIGHTON PAVILION) SAID: “Amidst the tax breaks for shale gas and boastful roadbuilding pledges, there is one huge green economy-shaped hole in this flailing Chancellor’s Budget.

“With the UK’s green economy now worth over £120bn – 9% of GDP – providing nearly a million jobs and generating a third of our most recent economic growth according to the CBI, it is completely inexplicable that George Osborne keeps pretending it doesn’t exist.

“Given the huge potential of green industries and clean energy generation to provide British jobs and prosperity, as well as the obvious environmental benefits they will deliver, it’s time to drop austerity and go for Plan G.

“There’s no doubt that the cuts have failed – now we need urgent investment in nationwide green infrastructure to stabilise the economy, tackle the environmental crisis and deliver clean and secure energy for…

View original post 486 more words

Nuclear Power is Not the Answer

Cloud_over_Sellafield_(non_radioactive)_-_geograph.org.uk_-_335287I am very concerned about the problem of the storage of nuclear waste.  The government wants to build new nuclear power stations. If their plan succeeds, it will be at the cost of blocking the real solutions to climate change and a reliable future energy supply. It will also result in the continued production of dangerous nuclear waste and an increased risk from terrorism, radioactive accident and nuclear proliferation.

Some environmentalists, faced with the urgent need to combat climate change, have reluctantly decided that nuclear power will have to be part of the energy mix.  However, climate change itself also threatens the safety of nuclear power stations; many reactors are built on coastal sites vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise, including flooding and erosion.

I am pleased that Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet decided on 30th January 2013 that West Cumbria should no longer be considered as a potential location for a deep geological repository. However, the problem of what to do with radioactive waste already in storage will not go away.

One of the fundamental problems of nuclear power is the hazard posed by the radioactive materials it produces. No one can guarantee that this highly radioactive waste won’t leak back into the environment, contaminating water supplies and the food chain.

To me, the government’s plans to allow ten new reactors to be built are shortsighted to say the least.  This would add threefold to the amount of highly radioactive waste we already have to deal with.

The nuclear industry is hugely expensive. The construction and generating costs of nuclear power are greater than most renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Added to these are the costs associated with dismantling nuclear stations and waste disposal.

Green Party policy is that nuclear power should be phased out and we should not consider building new plants.

This quote from Clean Technica sums up my view:  “Essentially, renewable clean energy technologies are a better choice than nuclear in every way. They are cheaper, faster to build, don’t create radioactive waste, aren’t as susceptible to environmental disasters, don’t require the same level of safety measures, and have far more public support. At current rates of growth, renewables are predicted to generate more electricity in the UK than nuclear by 2018, and expected to power 1 in every 10 homes in the UK by 2015.”

This is a much more encouraging picture than we are led to believe by the government.  They want us to believe that we cannot do without nuclear power.  It is ironic that the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has the responsibility for the legacy of decommissioning nuclear reactors, roughly £1billion per reactor (averaged international figures). The expenditure on decommissioning in 2012-13 is £1.5 billion which is 42% of DECC’s budget.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change is, of course, having its budget cut by Chancellor George Osborne, and it, in turn, has cut funding to a range of energy conservation and renewable energy schemes.  This is the legacy of nuclear power; every year from now to eternity, the government of these islands, whether Green, Red, Yellow, Blue, Purple or Pink, will have to find funds to safeguard the legacy of the long-ago nuclear power programmes.  This is why I believe the Green Party’s policy to phase out the use of nuclear energy makes sense.

© Jean Macdonald

Information taken from: 

Green Party Policy         http://greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

Greenpeace                   http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/nuclear/problems

Clean Technica                  http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/14/new-nuclear-power-in-the-uk-looking-increasingly-unlikely/#GXJY9Zi7HREGT86c.99

 

 

Time to Look Again at Defined Benefit Pension Schemes

Fair_Pensions

During my working life all my roles have been in the private sector.  I have always contributed to the company pension scheme, where ever I have worked, but this has always been a defined contribution scheme; i.e. the money I put in is invested and  supposedly builds up a pot to invest in a pension at the end.  I have worked for around 20 years and if I bought an annuity (annual pension) today, with the money I have contributed, I would probably get about £1,000 per year – not really enough to live on.  OK the value of my pot may go up over the next 20 years but if the last 10 years are anything to go by, it may not.  If I had worked in the public sector for all of this time I would probably have a guaranteed pension of about £6,500 (I know this because my sister is a nurse who is paid a little bit less than me and is of a similar age).

This does not seem fair to me.

I am not advocating a race to the bottom and Green Party policy seems enlightened in this area.  EC806 would introduce publicly administered pension schemes which would enable people voluntarily to provide for their retirement without recourse to the current private pension providers.  People would be able to contribute to a national additional scheme in which they would get fixed rate pension investment bonds in return for their contributions.  They would also be able to invest in Local Community Pension Schemes.

These Schemes would be administered by local authorities/community banks and would re-invest the money paid into them within the local community. These could offer the options of either fixed rate local bonds, or an equity-based scheme which would give variable returns from investment in appropriate local businesses which satisfied various criteria concerning environmental and social standards.  Those who have contributed to such publicly administered pension schemes should receive an annual statement detailing the current value of their pension fund, and an estimate of the future level of an annuity purchased by that fund on retirement.

So the Green Party is suggesting the public sector type of pension for all individuals.  You would get Fixed Rate Bonds when you make contributions. These bonds would pay a fixed rate of interest which would be the income on retirement.

Perhaps a further policy to consider would be a reduction in Employers National Insurance for those larger companies that offered their own defined benefit scheme to ALL employees (and an increase for those that do not) as they would be taking the burden off the Government for administering such a scheme and providing employees with a reasonable income in retirement.  The companies (particularly large corporates) would hold their hands up in horror and say they could not afford such a scheme.  This is what they are doing at the moment. They are using this excuse to close defined benefit schemes to new employees.  I believe this is just another example of these companies abdicating responsibility for helping to create a civil society, as is happening with the living wage and tax avoidance.

I work in corporate treasury (which can’t be all bad as the new Archbishop of Canterbury was a corporate treasurer) and in 2011 there was an article in The Treasurer (a riveting read!) which argued that defined benefit schemes can be afforded and are good for society at large.  So there is no reason why this Green Party policy could not work.

Now the public sector, why do different occupations in the public sector pay in different amounts of their salary and get out different pensions?  For example my sister (the nurse) pays in 8% of her salary and will receive 1/80th for each year worked.  MP’s can choose to pay in 7.9% of their salary and they will get 1/50th.  Why aren’t all public sector pensions the same?

In summary, it’s time to make pensions fair, defined benefit schemes for all public and private sector workers.  The same type of scheme with the same deductions and the same percentage of salary for all public sector workers.  Rather like the Green Party policy suggests.

© Katherine Cheatham

Building a more equal society means standing up for Welfare

120px-Welfare_Not_Warfare

Thanks to the Daily Mail and the Express, anyone claiming benefits has been made to feel as though they were born into a lower caste, hiding their scrounging and skiving behind drawn curtains. The inconvenient truth is, of course, rather different.  Most of those on housing benefits are working but wages are so low they can’t pay the rent. Its high rents in both the public and private sectors that has driven up the cost of housing benefit.  Almost all the money paid in benefits is invested in the local economy. Higher wage earners invest elsewhere including for example the global arms industries.

Does this matter to the Green Party? Well I for one think that “welfare reform” is the most important issue we are currently facing, let me explain why. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that the consumer society bequeathed to us by capitalism has hollowed us out eroding communal assets, skills and values because they cannot be turned into commodities. Consumerism doesn’t help us address climate change; we have to value people we will never meet, in lands we will never visit, who won’t be born until we are dead, consumerism doesn’t help. As Dawkins observed we aren’t hard wired to cope with issues where cause and effect are smeared through time and space, we need to adapt.

To build a society that has the capacity to take effective action we need to minimise inequality. The Spirit Level showed how inequality is the cancer that will wreck lives. We have to challenge the foolish mindset that sees inherited wealth as somehow earned and tells young people that if you haven’t got a job you are worthless. We have to value voluntary activities, raising children, caring for relatives and struggling to overcome mental health problems or addictions as just as valuable to society as stacking shelves in Tesco’s.

Thirty years ago when mining communities were under attack, elements of the Labour party organised a fight back. This time round Labour Councils are happy to dance to the Tories tune. Chesterfield, Bolsover and North-east Derbyshire Council for example have just voted to demand that every working person on Council tax benefit pays 8.5%. If these Councils are short of money, and from the money I have seen wasted at Bolsover that certainly isn’t the case there, then they should be increasing the Council tax not cutting benefits. The Council tax is paid by everyone and it is mildly progressive, those in large houses pay more. Instead they are taxing the very poorest in the community. They should remember from the dark days of the Poll Tax that this doesn’t make social or economic sense. Across the country other Labour authorities are requiring even larger contributions and when a Government grant drops out next year they will come back for more and more from the very poorest.

Council tax benefit is just one element of a phalanx of cuts which will come in on the 1st April, they include the Bedroom tax, which the Children Commissioner has said will harm our children; capping of universal credit which will have a particularly detrimental effect on ethnic communities;  and the continued destruction of support for the disabled.

As Greens I feel we need to stand-up for those on benefits at every opportunity and argue for a more equal world where the rich contribute more. We need to carry this message home not just in urban deprived areas but also in the leafy shires where poverty is still present but camouflaged.

© Duncan Kerr

BENEFIT CAP CLAP TRAP – by Peter Allen

The Green Party has spoken out strongly against the so-called “welfare reform” proposals being pushed through Parliament. A particularly pernicious proposal is the “Benefit Cap” which will leave families homeless or starving.

The proposal is that families which do not include anyone in work will have total “Welfare Benefit”, including Housing Benefit, capped at £500 pw, leaving unemployed families renting from private landlords, particularly in and around London, unable to feed and clothe their children whilst keeping a roof over their heads. In Central London Housing Benefit is currently limited to £400pw for families needing four bedroom accommodation and £340pw for three.

Elsewhere in London and the South East the limit is only slightly lower. It is almost unbelievable that the cap makes no allowance for the fact that rents in some parts of the country are two or three times as high as in others.

Even this Government believes that a lone parent family with three children needs a minimum of £273pw to meet essential living expenses after housing costs, and one with four needs £335. The Benefit Cap will leave the three children family living in private rented accommodation in Central London with only £160pw to live on. A four child family will have just £100 !

In reality the amount left over after rent is paid is likely to be even less, since rents for most homes in the private sector are higher than the current Housing Benefit limits, and the poor are already having to make up the difference by cutting back on essential living expenses.

The Government says it has decided on a £500 pw cap because this is the average net wage earned by families in work. Whilst not disagreeing that there should be some financial benefit from paid employment, the current Benefit rules already provide this, and many working families already receive large amounts of Housing Benefit in London, given the high rents in the private sector and the chronic shortage of social housing.

The proposal is outrageous. The real problem is a lack of sufficient decently paid jobs and affordable housing, in one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Unemployed families will be forced out of London in particular, perhaps into depressed seaside towns, where they may find housing but probably no jobs. Many may end up working back in London, in one of the

many essential low paid service jobs on which London depends. Maybe they will leave their children behind, and become migrant workers, like workers in China, with whom British business tells us we must compete!

There are plenty more planned too, including cuts to disability benefits and a freeze to child benefits. And the only thing Tory MPs are complaining about is the decision to stop Child Benefit payments to higher rate income tax payers!

Labour are all but silent on the issue of welfare “reform”, anxious to chase swing voters in marginal seats. Worried that many such voters are persuaded that the people to blame for their own increasing economic hardship/insecurities are those even worse off than themselves , rather than the super-rich ( greedy, dishonest and incompetent bankers in particular) and the capitalist system itself.

The Green Party must continue to say loudly and clearly that the poorest and most disadvantaged shouldn’t be the ones paying the highest price for a crisis which they did not cause.  Benefit claimants and migrant workers should not be scapegoated. Most benefit claimants are already in work, have recently been in work, are retired from work, will soon hope to return to work or are too ill to do so.

As for migrant workers…. please read this article published in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/felicitylawrence?INTCMP=SRCH

The Queens Speech, a ‘Squandered Opportunity’.

Responding to the Queen’s Speech to Parliament, Caroline Lucas MP said that the Coalition Government had squandered a vital opportunity to put action to tackle climate change and the growing environmental crisis at the top of its legislative agenda.  ‘Listening to the Queen’s Speech today, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the climate crisis has simply gone away. In the face of mounting scientific concern about the urgency of the threat we face from climate change, the deafening silence from this Government is unforgivable.’

We know why there is no action.  This government is protecting the investment in the carbon sector made by those who keep it in power – read the article on the Carbon Bubble, posted here earlier this year.  This Government is incapable of showing leadership – that is not its purpose.  Its purpose is to dismantle the State and sell it off to the private sector.  It is using what it calls the ‘economic mess’ as the smoke screen to do this.  It will only address the climate crisis when its backers in the financial sector are ready to make money out of it.  By then it will be a very costly task for us all.

Others see things differently.  Writing in the Financial Times, Nicholas Stern called for a ‘Queen’s Speech for Growth’, looking to the renewable energy sector to kick-start the shrinking economy.  He said ‘Policies to encourage low-carbon investment would provide new business opportunities, would generate income for investors, and would have credibility in the long term, both because they address growing global resource challenges, while tapping into a fast-growing global market for resource-efficient activities.’

In 2010, the Green Party manifesto called for a ‘Green New Deal,’ borrowing US President Roosevelt’s concept for an economic plan to end the great 1930’s depression by investing in public works.  The Green’s fully costed economic strategy would have seen the deficit cut by 2015 through investment in the green economy, increasing employment, cutting energy costs and boosting tax revenue. Corporate media empires chose to ignore this alternative strategy since they wanted to promote privatization and protect their interests in the carbon sector.  They hood-winked the electorate into voting for a range of ‘conservative’ economic strategies that, as we warned – have led to a double dip recession and rising unemployment.

The Green programme set out clear targets to cut carbon emissions to avoid warming exceeding 2°C, we called for cuts to annual carbon dioxide emissions of 10% – starting now, with the aim of reducing emissions by 65% by 2020 and 90% from 1990 levels by 2030.  The key to doing this is to decarbonise the energy sector.  To achieve this we proposed:

  • Reducing energy demand through insulation and energy efficiency measures, creating new local businesses and thousands of jobs
  • Investing in genuinely renewable energy sources, aiming to obtain half of our energy from renewables by 2020, backing this with direct government investment with strong and clear policy support, creating genuine energy security, boosting business and employment
  • Switching the investment planned for new coal, nuclear power and nuclear weapons to research into renewable energy technologies and their commercialisation, creating a major export potential
  • Supporting renewable heat with a levy on waste heat from power stations, supporting sustainable energy crops and combined heat and power, helping councils develop heat distribution networks, boosting local employment and the rural economy
  • Supporting the adoption of bio-gas from sustainable organic sources, but opposing the large scale cultivation of bio-fuels, especially in poor countries
  • Bringing the electricity network and gas mains into the public sector to develop them to suit renewable energy schemes and introduce smart meters and appliances
  • Support Europe-wide renewable energy initiatives, including the building of highly efficient Long Distance High Voltage DC power lines.

In addition, Greens proposed a range of other policies to encourage low carbon living.

  • Develop public transport as an acceptable and reliable alternative to car travel.
  • Change planning guidelines to ensure that facilities are within reasonable walking distance of residential areas, cutting the need for travel
  • Support to small and local business, including local supply networks.
  • Decarbonise food production by supporting small-scale organic farms supplying local markets.

Had Greens been in government, we would now be creating jobs, boosting tax revenue and securing long-term energy supply.  These policies will have to be adopted as some time, in some form.  As Nicholas Stern understates in his Financial Times article, ‘there is a recognition that actions [on low carbon investment] cannot be delayed indefinitely’.  However, the longer action is delayed, the costlier it will be for all of us.  We are hearing may calls at present to ‘make the switch’ – to seek out cheaper energy suppliers.  If consumers are really serious about making long term savings on their bills there is only one switch that will be effective, the switch to Green policies.

Mike Shipley

 

The Carbon Bubble

In 2010, the Climate Change conference in Cancun adopted an agreement that carbon emissions should be limited so that the rise in global mean temperature should not exceed 2°C.  In addition, it was recognised that this rise might need to be reduced to 1·5°C.  Although the sceptics didn’t notice, that conference accepted the science of Climate Change.  What it didn’t do was to understand the economic implications of restricting temperature rise.  It’s not simply calculating the cost, Nicholas Stern did that, it’s around 2% of global GDP and rising.  We now have to understand the grip carbon assets have on the global economy and find ways of loosening it.

If we are to limit temperature rise to 2°C, the Potsdam Institute has calculated that global carbon emissions in the period 2000 to 2050 will need to be limited to 884Gt CO². In the first eleven years of this century, thanks to the inaction of political, economic and business leaders, the world has emitted 321 GtCO², leaving a carbon budget of 565 GtCO² up to 2050.  At present, despite the global recession, emissions are rising and the 2°C carbon budget will have been ‘spent’ by 2027.  After then, we leave the 2° world and enter 3°+.  At the last Climate Change conference in Durban in January, there was a behind the scenes acceptance that we will have to adapt to 3°C of warming.  That is not a comfortable prospect and millions of people will suffer as a consequence.

The reason why global leaders find it so difficult to implement the policies that will limit temperature rise to less than 2°C is not due to scepticism but because the global economic structure is built on unsustainable practices and resources, notably carbon based fuels.  Limiting temperature rise to 2°C or less requires a switch to sustainable practice, and a switch away from fossil fuels.  We know this, so why isn’t this happening?

A report called Unburnable Carbon, by the Carbon Tracker Initiative showed that the top 200 oil, coal, and gas companies have reserves that will emit 745 GtCO², these reserves represent their market value, and the market naturally assumes that these fuels will be burned.  In addition, these companies continue to prospect aggressively, needing to replace reserves that underpin share price.  Around 50% of the valuation of a fossil fuel company lies in its declared reserves.  When Shell announced a 20% reduction in its reserves its market value fell by £3 billion in a week.  Naturally, these companies try to secure new finds as a buffer to maintain their value, profits and dividends.  In the oil and gas sector, this now means ‘unconventional’ sources like tar sands and shale gas.  To finance these explorations, investors continue to pour money in to the carbon sector, assuming that this investment will yield burnable reserves that will secure a return on their investments.

Exactly how much carbon, and therefore warming potential, private companies have on their books is difficult to estimate because of confidentiality.  Further, the private sector accounts for only about one third of global carbon stocks, add in state enterprises and total reserves would yield 2,795 gigatonnes. Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors has estimated that if all proven and probable oil and gas reserves are burned, CO² levels will rise beyond 700ppm, leading to 3.5°C to 5°C of warming.  Add in the proven coal stocks and the planet becomes uninhabitable.

The problem lies not with science but with economics, and all the human failings that are associated with it. The world economic system is built on carbon.  This is not simply our reliance on carbon fuels to drive economic activity; global assets are built on the value of fossil fuel companies.  Between 20% and 30% of the value of the London Stock Exchange is based on fossil fuel.  Fund managers invest heavily in fossil fuel companies, seeing them as a safe haven for investment with above average returns in the short term.  The funds invested in fossil fuel assets include pensions, life assurance schemes, and personal savings plans.  A majority of people in the western world have their future security tied to the fortunes of these carbon rich companies.  We are indeed all in this together.

If we are to restrict the rise in average global temperature to less than 2°C, the rate of burning of fossil fuel will have to be restricted.  Sequestration technology is not going to be ready in time.  To achieve this target, only 20% of known reserves can be burned over the next 40 years, and this might have to be reduced further if feedback loops begin to kick in.  That means that 80% of the assets of fossil fuel companies are un-burnable.  None of the unproven and unconventional reserves that are now being prospected for at great expanse can be burned.  There can be no return on the investment in 80% of reserves and in all new prospecting. This is the carbon bubble.  Depletion of fossil reserves isn’t the issue, it’s the fact that they can not be used.  The wealth of some of the worlds biggest and most powerful companies, and therefore of stock exchanges, is based on an unusable asset.  If these companies had to devalue their reserves by 80% the carbon bubble would burst – remember what happened to Shell with a mere 20% downgrade.

The heavy investment in carbon assets also explains the reluctance of governments to back renewable energy.  Renewables coupled with efficiency measures can replace fossil fuels, and without nuclear power.  With a range of technologies like wave power waiting in the wings, existing technologies can more than cope with efficient demand.  But if governments promoted these technologies, the value of carbon rich companies would decline.  It isn’t just scepticism that stops the deployment of renewables, or that stops agreements to limit temperature rise, it’s vested interests and their control over the political process.  We can suppose that those who profess scepticism, like many MP’s of the ruling Coalition, have heavy investments in carbon rich assets.

Denial of climate change is a smokescreen that hides the real denial that lies at the heart of global economics: the denial of long-term consequences.  Economics does not think in the long term, profit today is the mantra, tomorrow is somebody else’s problem.  Greens keep focusing on the scientific argument, refining their arguments with ever more facts, trying to convince the so-called sceptics with the sheer weight of the evidence.  Apart from the lunatic fringe, most of these sceptics may well accept the science, however, they are not interested in science and statistics, what they are interested in is how they maintain their position of wealth and privilege in a warming world.

There are ways to break out of this carbon strangle hold.  To do so we need:

  • political action to require long-term accounting.
  • investors to take the decision to begin the switch to low carbon assets.
  • everyone who can afford it, to accept lower returns in order to secure the only long-term investment that matters: the future health of our planet and all who live on her.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King has responded to the concern expressed by Carbon Tracker and others and is considering whether over exposure to carbon assets represents a risk to market stability.  A small step and it remains to be seen whether investors will similarly take note.  However, a globalised economy needs international agreement to require climate change to be factored into market valuation.  The markets will not do this until it is too late.  A strong political lead is required.  We can help this process by being informed about the dangers of another asset bubble bursting, by being aware of our own exposure to this danger, and by demanding effective preventative action.  We can also work to help the Greens promote a new, low carbon and sustainable economy.

Mike Shipley

Business as Usual at Davos

In a statement released ahead of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January, the leaders of the world’s major financial institutions made a remarkable ‘admission of sorts’. They recognised that the policies of austerity that they have been forcing on governments across the world carry serious risks and on their own, are not likely to work. In stead, they are calling for governments to adopt policies that will boost jobs, tackle inequality, and green the global economy.

Note who made this call, Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund, Robert Zoellick of the World Bank and Pascal Lamy of the World Trade Organisation. They were joined by the heads of eight other multinational and regional organisations including the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, and the UN World Food Programme.

The people who have forced governments to adopt austerity cuts with the claim that they were necessary to ‘solve the global economic crisis’ have woken up to the fact that such cuts, unequally applied across society as they are, risk damaging social cohesion, and as they say, lead to ‘negative economic and social consequences.’ They are now calling on governments to reappraise their aggressive deficit reduction programmes appealing to them to apply what they call ‘fiscal consolidation’ in a ‘socially responsible manner.’

Of course this is not an open admission of guilt or a full recognition that the austerity packages were misguided. To do that would risk destabilising those governments that have, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, adopted such policies. Rather than execute the necessary U-turn and encourage Governments to start investing in the green economy, they want to see public-private financial partnerships to generate the investment they see as necessary to secure economic growth. In other words, they want to see private companies given access to what remains of the public coffers. Their focus remains on public sector finances and they fail to acknowledge that it was corporate and private sector debt driven by the needs of the consumer economy that precipitated the crisis. They fail to see that the private investor needs a strong ‘steer’ from Governments’ own investment programmes. They think that pious calls to all to play fair by the rules of globalisation to secure ‘growth’ will avert the bigger crisis that most new recognise is yet to come.

It would appear from reports that the World Economic Forum was itself dominated by concerns for the Euro-zone and public finances, and who was throwing the best parties. Here the real business of Davos was conducted, deals made that would make the rich richer, and projects floated that would further deplete the world stock of natural capital, and that would continue to leave millions of people desperate for the basic means of survival.

The Davos jamboree is a sham, it will not find solutions because it is a product of the problem with its exclusivity and shameful conspicuous consumerism. It has nothing new to offer and its only idea is ‘growth’ demonstrating how still economists fail to grasp the fact that the Earth is round not flat. If Christine and her colleagues are serious about equality and greening the global economy, they are wasting their time and damaging their digestive systems at Davos.

But in truth, Davos isn’t about finding solutions, despite the pious ‘statement’. It’s about power. About ensuring that the economic power that underpins political power is held firmly in private hands. It is about ensuring that by the time policy comes to the floor of democratically elected parliaments, it is already decided – like the austerity packages. Better solutions are available, and if they were implemented the economy would respond – because the economy isn’t the problem, it is the means to deliver the agreed programme. At the present, the agreed programme is private wealth and the control of global power. Davos Man may be starting to recognise that climate change, mass unemployment, water, food and energy shortages are a threat to his world, but he is not prepared to do anything effective to counter them, he prefers to fiddle with the economy while the world heats up.

Once again, it is down to us, the affected majority, to take things forward, each of us taking small steps, a myriad of small steps globally creating an unstoppable forward momentum. Once again world leadership, this time in the guise of the World Economic Forum, has failed us.

[Mike Shipley, February 2012]

Caroline Lucas' e-petition to promote Tax and Financial Transparency

Please see following message received from Caroline’s Senior Parliamentary Press Officer :
Hi all,
You may remember that, back in March, Caroline tabled a Tax and Financial Transparency Bill aimed at tackling corporate tax evasion and avoidance: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/17-03-2011-tax-evasion-bill-parliament.html
She has now launched a related e-petition to galvanise public support for the proposed measures – we are also hoping that this will help to put pressure on the Government to make time available for the second reading of the Bill on 25 November and raise awareness of the issue more generally. Over 1,800 people have already signed since 11 Oct.
The petition itself is here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/18996. Obviously the more signatures the better, so please feel free to circulate far and wide! It might also be useful as a reference point in local media work around the cuts, tax issues and the economy.
UK Uncut are supporting and have posted a nice piece with video footage of Caroline here: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/help-make-corporate-tax-dodgers-pay-their-fair-share
Many thanks,
Melissa
Melissa Freeman
Senior Parliamentary Press Officer
Office of Caroline Lucas MP

Caroline Lucas’ e-petition to promote Tax and Financial Transparency

Please see following message received from Caroline’s Senior Parliamentary Press Officer :
Hi all,
You may remember that, back in March, Caroline tabled a Tax and Financial Transparency Bill aimed at tackling corporate tax evasion and avoidance: http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/17-03-2011-tax-evasion-bill-parliament.html
She has now launched a related e-petition to galvanise public support for the proposed measures – we are also hoping that this will help to put pressure on the Government to make time available for the second reading of the Bill on 25 November and raise awareness of the issue more generally. Over 1,800 people have already signed since 11 Oct.
The petition itself is here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/18996. Obviously the more signatures the better, so please feel free to circulate far and wide! It might also be useful as a reference point in local media work around the cuts, tax issues and the economy.
UK Uncut are supporting and have posted a nice piece with video footage of Caroline here: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/help-make-corporate-tax-dodgers-pay-their-fair-share
Many thanks,
Melissa
Melissa Freeman
Senior Parliamentary Press Officer
Office of Caroline Lucas MP

Greens Defend Rail Jobs in Derby & UK

Rally in Derby on Saturday 23 July

The Green Party has condemned the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government for giving a £3 billion order of new rolling stock for Thameslink trains to Siemens.

The rival bidder, Derby-based Bombardier, has laid off over a thousand workers, as the last remaining train builder in the country. The Bombardier factory in Derby is now under threat, and so are thousands more jobs in the Derby area in other rail businesses that supply the factory.

Green Party transport spokesperson Alan Francis said:

“We need more train carriages and more manufacturing jobs in the UK. Train manufacturing in this country should be expanded, not forced to close down. It is a dereliction of duty by the government to stand by and see the loss of skills and jobs.”

Derbyshire Green Party Chairman David Foster said:

“The coalition government is playing political football with the livelihoods of thousands of people in Derby and Derbyshire. One of the most worrying aspects of this deplorable decision is that it continues the trend of dismantling the whole engineering industry and technical know-how in this country. We have already witnessed the demise of the British automotive industry and rely heavily on foreign manufacturers. If we don’t wake up to what is happening, we risk losing our national engineering heritage. I urge the people of Derby and Derbyshire to show their opposition to this decision and come to the rally in Derby on Saturday 23 July.”

At a pre-general-election rail debate in Westminster in 2010 (1), Alan Francis was the only politician to argue not only for more train carriages for the rail network, but to also to state that they should be built in the UK to preserve British jobs.

Francis was on a panel with Chris Mole, then a Labour government transport minister, Stephen Hammond, then a Conservative shadow transport minister, and Norman Baker, then a Lib Dem shadow transport minister. The debate, before an audience of senior rail industry people, was chaired by the BBC’s Nick Owen.

When questioned about orders for new carriages, all of the panelists claimed that they wanted to see more carriages on the network. But Francis was the only one to talk about building those new carriages in this country. Alan Francis said today:

“This shows that all three of the main parties are so wedded to the free market, they are willing to sacrifice British manufacturing and British jobs. After the debate, I was congratulated by a member of the audience from a Derby rail company. He thanked me for being the only panellist to raise the issue of train building in this country.”
Notes
1) The Rail Debate, 17th March 2010, Central Hall, Westminster, see part 8 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxuBUEorm_I&feature=related

Greens Defend Rail Jobs in Derby & UK

Rally in Derby on Saturday 23 July

The Green Party has condemned the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government for giving a £3 billion order of new rolling stock for Thameslink trains to Siemens.

The rival bidder, Derby-based Bombardier, has laid off over a thousand workers, as the last remaining train builder in the country. The Bombardier factory in Derby is now under threat, and so are thousands more jobs in the Derby area in other rail businesses that supply the factory.

Green Party transport spokesperson Alan Francis said:

“We need more train carriages and more manufacturing jobs in the UK. Train manufacturing in this country should be expanded, not forced to close down. It is a dereliction of duty by the government to stand by and see the loss of skills and jobs.”

Derbyshire Green Party Chairman David Foster said:

“The coalition government is playing political football with the livelihoods of thousands of people in Derby and Derbyshire. One of the most worrying aspects of this deplorable decision is that it continues the trend of dismantling the whole engineering industry and technical know-how in this country. We have already witnessed the demise of the British automotive industry and rely heavily on foreign manufacturers. If we don’t wake up to what is happening, we risk losing our national engineering heritage. I urge the people of Derby and Derbyshire to show their opposition to this decision and come to the rally in Derby on Saturday 23 July.”

At a pre-general-election rail debate in Westminster in 2010 (1), Alan Francis was the only politician to argue not only for more train carriages for the rail network, but to also to state that they should be built in the UK to preserve British jobs.

Francis was on a panel with Chris Mole, then a Labour government transport minister, Stephen Hammond, then a Conservative shadow transport minister, and Norman Baker, then a Lib Dem shadow transport minister. The debate, before an audience of senior rail industry people, was chaired by the BBC’s Nick Owen.

When questioned about orders for new carriages, all of the panelists claimed that they wanted to see more carriages on the network. But Francis was the only one to talk about building those new carriages in this country. Alan Francis said today:

“This shows that all three of the main parties are so wedded to the free market, they are willing to sacrifice British manufacturing and British jobs. After the debate, I was congratulated by a member of the audience from a Derby rail company. He thanked me for being the only panellist to raise the issue of train building in this country.”
Notes
1) The Rail Debate, 17th March 2010, Central Hall, Westminster, see part 8 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxuBUEorm_I&feature=related

Greens in the High Peak Borough Council Election 2011

This Government is leading a concerted attack on local democracy. Their aim is to see Local Authorities contract out all services to the private sector, a move being pioneered in Bury. They want Councils to do nothing more than simply award contracts to private companies. Yet the private sector’s principle interest is profit, not delivery of service. It answers to shareholders not users of services. It is not democratically accountable. Green Councillors across the county are resisting this policy that will hit the poorest hardest and benefit the richest most. Greens know that the Government’s cuts are both unfair and unnecessary. We have produced an alternative programme for reducing the deficit, boosting investment in green jobs and avoiding savage cuts.

Investment into reducing the energy demand of the country needs to be happening now if we have any chance of minimising the damage of climate change. Almost 60% of our carbon emissions come from manufacturing and consumption, more effort must be made to reduce this figure along with major improvements to public transport and changing attitudes towards how we use our cars.   The Borough Council should aim to become carbon neutral, it should take advantage of the Feed In Tariff to turn its building stock in to energy generators, cutting its energy costs and raising revenue.  Green Councillors in Norfolk are setting up a Council owned Energy Supply Company, using the Feed In Tariff to finance fitting solar panels on Council buildings, selling surplus electricity back to the grid, so cutting costs and raising revenue. Green Councillors in Kirklees set up a free insulation scheme for council tenants that has enabled households save on average £150 on their annual energy bills. Greens deliver new ideas, not cuts.

Too many Councils are failing to protect the interests of small business and the local economy, always favouring the interests of big business.  Throughout the country, Green councillors with the support of local landlords, traders and residents have managed to stop many attempts by supermarkets to build unnecessary stores that would cause the closure of local independently owned shops. Local stores provide a wider social and economic role and one that is central to a sustainable neighbourhood. Over 50% of the turnover of independent retailers goes back into the local community whereas the supermarkets effectively take money out of the local economy. They also meet the needs of the disadvantaged, socially excluded and elderly, particularly those with a lack of mobility who cannot access more distant shops.

Green Councillors have also fought to save local markets and helped establish farmers markets to encourage the sale of locally produced food.  The Borough Council should review its land holding aiming to make land available for food production for local supply, again raising revenue for local services. Greens bring cooperation with local business not sell out to big business.

Untold billions was found to bail out the banks and replace Trident yet when it comes to safeguarding our children’s future and the lives of many people around the world both Labour and the Lib-Con Coalition do not see it as a priority. Greens are planning for a safe and sustainable future for all.

March Against the Cuts

Being green is not just about environmental matters and it would do none of us any harm to involve ourselves in other campaigns as well. That’s why some of us will be attending the March Against the Cuts in London on 26 March and why we shall also be protesting about the planned benefit changes which are going to lead to the poorest people in the country becoming poorer still.

Secretary of State for Work & Pensions Iain Duncan Smith has announced changes to the social security system which are intended to cut the amount spent on benefits by £18 billion a year from 2013. No matter how these changes are dressed up this is going to hurt. When public spending is being slashed and unemployment is rising it will mean sharing fewer resources among more people and only a fool will believe that increased poverty is not going to result, among the unemployed (which could include any of us at any time) the disabled (ditto), children and elderly citizens.

It isn’t necessary to wait till 2013 for cuts to bite however. From April this year changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), designed to make it even harder to show that someone is incapable of work through illness or disability, will take effect. The aim of this measure is to take money off the poor in order to help pay for the excesses of the rich, whose unregulated greed led to the crisis of capitalism which got us into this financial pickle in the first place.

One particular example of how the rules work illustrates very clearly the inhumane nature of the new test. Currently a person who is registered blind is exempt from the WCA. This exemption ends in April and blind people will have to score 15 points on the test just like everyone else if they are to keep their entitlement to Employment & Support Allowance. The rule now is that if you are blind and possess a guide dog, and you can walk across a road with your dog and without the need for another person’s assistance, you do not score the necessary 15 points. To you or me this sounds very much like testing the dog rather than the claimant, and we might also ask what this particular challenge has to do with a working situation. Indeed, those of us who work in this field will be asking that very question when these cases come up for appeal, as they
inevitably will do so, from this Spring onwards.

If you are wondering why I am commenting on this on a green website, the reason is as follows. Even if we were indifferent to the injustices involved, which we certainly are not, it’s clear that as poverty increases local businesses will take a huge hit. With their
high overheads they cannot fairly compete with the supermarkets who use food items as loss leaders. There will be reduced demand for organic food, which is more expensive than the stuff flown in from overseas, and people will have less or no money available to take the costly steps required to make their houses more fuel-efficient, so these are issues which going to affect us all.

by Chris Connolly

Time to take the Tesco out of Food Policy

Green Party food policy supports the production of healthy and humanely produced food, giving priority to local production for local needs, integrated with habitat conservation.  Greens also call for a fair price for family farm businesses and greater support for the provision of allotments and local markets.  A Ministry of Food should oversee policy delivery.  To stimulate greater home production, Government must make agricultural land available for sustainable production.  Where possible, this land should be held in Trust for the community, preventing it falling into the hands of the big, intensive landowners.  Government can lead the way by identifying underutilised public land, including that held by the Ministry of Defence – food security is an integral part of National security.  It should also require that the Royal Estate follow its lead.

Local Authorities need powers to take over the management of under-utilised land, similar to the powers they have over vacant private housing, making this land available for allotments or smallholdings.  They have to be empowered to rebuild the local market infrastructure that the supermarkets have destroyed.  Schools and colleges should work to develop knowledge, interest, and skills in growing and preparing food, so encouraging young people to see agriculture as a worthy career.

When Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmers Union addressed his Union’s conference this February, he roundly criticised government’s failure to adopt a serious food policy.  He said their approach was ‘leave it to Tesco’ – to leave it to the markets and rely on food imports to make up the growing food deficit.  Greens support his warning that this is ill advised in a world where a combination of both rising population and prosperity and the increasing frequency of so-called ‘natural’ disasters, is putting pressure on food supply.  He might have added that the reliance of western style agriculture on oil was adding a further twist to the rising spiral of food prices.

Historically the UK government has run a cheap food policy the purpose of which has been to underpin the low wage strategy that the captains of industry have wanted to pursue in order to minimise their costs and maximise their profits and dividends.  In the days of Empire this involved importing cheap food notably wheat from North America and sugar from the Caribbean to provide adequate calories for the workforce.  Now, this policy of relying on imports and letting the supermarkets use their muscle to force down prices, is failing.

Governments the world over have learned that if the workers get hungry they get upset and may riot.  Inadequate food supply has been an underlying cause of the revolutions taking place across the Middle East.  The World Bank acknowledges this and says that global food prices are at a dangerous level.  In response, the G20 will meet to discuss the economic and political impact of food and commodity prices.  French President Sarkozy, currently chair of G20, has blamed commodity speculators, and indeed, it is shocking that human beings will manipulate food prices for personal gain, consigning hundreds of thousands to hunger and misery.  But the problem lies deeper than this naked greed.

The problem lies in the ‘commodification’ of the earth’s resources – turning everything into something for sale and then leaving supply to the market.  Markets will always sacrifice long-term benefit for short-term gain; their interest is in profit not people.  Governments have a duty to look after the long-term interests of the people, and they are failing to do this.  They are in the position to develop policies that will deliver an adequate and balanced diet to their citizens.  However, these policies will require a fundamental shift in methods of food production and distribution; it will require standing up to the powerful interests that are manipulating food and agriculture policy.  It will require curtailing the dependence of food supply on oil.

There is no real food policy in the UK.  The last Government began a tentative process to look at the issue spurred on by the rise in oil prices and the global food riots of 2008.  Professor Tim Lang, a leading thinker on food policy and then advisor to the Cabinet office, exposed some revealing thinking underpinning entrenched government attitude to food supply.  Defra was of the opinion that self-sufficiency was neither possible nor a desirable goal for a trading nation.  They also took the view that the UK could and should buy on open markets.  National food security was relevant for developing countries they conceded, but not for the rich countries of Western Europe.  The Labour Government did not complete its policy review and we can presume that under the present administration Defra has returned to this default position.  If it does recognise a problem, it will doubtless listen to industry lobbyists and see the solution in more intensification, mega-dairies, and GM technology.  More reliance on increasingly scarce oil in other words.

Since Defra questions self-sufficiency, it is fair to ask if it is possible. This question was asked in 1975 by Kenneth Mellanby, founder Director of Monk’s Wood Ecology Research station, which of course has now been closed.  His answer, given in a book ‘Can Britain Feed Itself’ was a clear ‘Yes!’  More recently, Simon Fairlie, editor of ‘The Land’ revisited Mellanby’s work in the light of today’s population and land-use.  This time he gave a qualified ‘yes’.  We could do it, but meat consumption would have to decline by about one half.

A stunning demonstration of what happens if you take oil out of food production is to be seen in the film “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” about Cuba after it lost Russian oil and still not able to afford other sources.  In its 2006 Living Planet Report, the WWF named Cuba as the only sustainable country in the world.  This was largely due to its system of organic food production, made necessary by its lack of oil.  Cubans enjoy a high standard of health with a life expectancy of 78, equivalent to any developed country.

Pioneers in the UK are showing the way.  Around the country, Transition Communities are looking seriously at local food security, developing the important concept of ‘food catchment area’.  With rising prices set to continue, their work is less academic and increasingly urgent, made even more so by the inability of Government to address the matter.  In Manchester, Unicorn Grocery specialises in ethically grown and wholesome fruit and veg.  The cooperative business has bought 21 acres of prime growing land at Glazebury, Warrington.  Its intention is to lease out plots to organic growers and provide the outlet market for the produce, bringing healthy, locally grown food to urban south Manchester.  It is initiatives like this that government needs to foster, not GM and mega-dairies.

[Mike Shipley February 2011]

Our Forests are Not for Sale

With an irony that will be lost on the ideologues of the ConDem Government, 2011 is the International Year of Forests. The UK’s response to this UN led drive to raise awareness among people of the importance of woodland will be to sell off England’s publicly owned woodland. [The sell-off proposals only apply to England, thankfully for the other British Nations this is a devolved function]

England is no longer a well-wooded country, with only 9% of its land area designated as forest. A long history of clearances and the depredations of the industrial revolution denuded the once lush natural woodland cover that would, if left to nature, cover much of the land area. By the end of the first Word War, cover was down to less than 5% and our strategic reserves of timber reaching crisis point. Blockaded, the UK had come close to defeat through a lack of pit props, which threatened our ability to mine the coal desperately needed for the war effort.   In 1919, the Liberal-Tory coalition of Lloyd-George responded to this by establishing the Forestry Commission, giving it the task of replanting and managing our Forests as a strategic reserve. It is with further irony that the present alliance of these Parties is set to emasculate the Commission.

How Lloyd George, Liberal father of the welfare state, must be turning in his grave!

The English Public Forest Estate [PFE] is made up of over 1000 woods covering 258,000 hectares, 18% of English woodland. Of this area, 24% is ancient woodland and 10% classified as priority conservation areas. 45% of the woodland is in the National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and 26% are Sites of Special Scientific Interest. These figures demonstrate the heritage and ecological value of publicly owned woodland. To add to its public value, 90% of the Forestry Commissions free holding is open to public access. In Derbyshire, there are 3154 ha of Commission woodland, from the Heritage woods of Ladybower to part of the new National Forest in South Derbyshire.

In simple monetary terms, the PFE is currently valued at around £700 million, a mere drop in the ocean of the National Debt of £950 billion. In 2007-8, the net cost of managing the estate was £15 million, after accounting for profits of about £60 million. This is about 30p per person in England. Put this in perspective. The official cost of the Bank bailout, agreed by the Treasury, was £850 billion of public money. This is £13,755 per UK resident. At least Caroline Spelman, Minister charged with the job of overseeing the sale, admitted that this was not a revenue generating exercise by a cash-strapped Government. What she would not admit was this is ideologically driven – that the Tory landowners want this land under their control.

One of the first acts of the Thatcher administration in the 1980’s was to enable the sale of public woodland through the 1981 Forest Act, resulting in the sale of thousands of acres of public land. The Labour Government reined in this policy after 1997, with about 10,000 ha of ‘surplus’ land being sold over the next decade. This was land considered marginal to the Forestry Commission’s core business. On coming to power, the Tories once again lined up this publicly owned land for sale, immediately planning to sell 40,000 ha, and planning to change the law to allow the disposal of most of the rest.

What is their motivation? Spelman says it is not primarily economic. When fully worked out – that is when all values are based on the restrictive covenants that the Tories are promising – it is likely that there will be no net gain to the Treasury from their policy. She claims that one of the main motives for a sale was the need to ‘enhance biodiversity.’ Other’s claim that sale to the private sector will enhance ‘public enjoyment of woodland’. These claims do not stand up to analysis and are frankly laughable. Certainly, there are well-managed private woodlands with excellent public facilities. Most of these facilities are charged for, and, reading the small print you will find that access is concessionary and not a public right ‘in perpetuity’ as with present Forestry Commission owned land.

Since the Norman invasion, land ownership has underpinned the power structure of this country. The Conqueror awarded his loyal lieutenants rich country estates and there after, crowned heads continued to buy loyalty with gifts of land. All this built on the presumption that the land area of the British Islands belonged to the monarch. The ordinary British people did not quite see it this way and fought to keep traditional common rights of use and passage. But the greed of their Lordships knew no bounds; they excluded the people, denied common rights, hung them, flogged them, and transported them if they had the effrontery to try to exercise these rights by taking small animals for the stew pot or wood with which to heat it. Land ownership was the clear line in the sand that divided the ruled from the rulers – and that is the way the descendents of the Norman Barons want to keep it.

History aside, there is another reason for the sell-off that fits in with the right wing agenda of this Government, tax avoidance. Investors who buy woodland can benefit from a range of grants and tax incentives and tax avoidance loopholes designed to encourage private ownership of woodlands in the UK. The income and profits from timber sales in woodlands managed commercially are free from both Income and Corporation Tax and after two years of ownership, woodland is not subject to inheritance tax. With a shortage of such investment woodland on the market, the Tories, with the help of the Liberal Democrats, are offering public land as tax-free investments to their loyal and rich supporters. So once the land is sold, it will provide zero return for the taxpayer.

No matter what Spelman says, incorporating this private landholding in to a strategic plan for biodiversity, for watershed management, for erosion control, as a reserve of a vital resource, as a managed carbon sink and as a national recreational asset will be all the more difficult for being split up and managed according to different criteria.  Forging agreements that will last hundreds of years, across a wide range of different interests, many with a commercial imperative as the bottom line will be expensive. The private players will want and expect public subsidy if they are to act in the public interest. This policy therefore has a price tag that we will have to pay. The Tories are selling an asset that could at the very least is revenue neutral, and are creating a liability, the scale of which they have no clue.

What can you do? Look at the Defra consultation, which is open until 21st April 2011.http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm.

Support the Woodland Trust that has a petition and a response to the consultation.http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/Pages/default.aspx

Sign the petition by 38 Degrees opposing the sale, and join in their campaign. http://38degrees.org.uk/

Write to your MP stating clearly your views and seeking his or her position. Publicise both through letters to the papers. Make your voice loud and clear, ‘Our Forests are Not for Sale.’

[Mike Shipley, 30 January2011]

What the papers won’t be saying about benefits.

Once again this week, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, alluded to the “dependency culture” which he claims to believe is preventing many welfare benefit claimants from looking for work. He also announced plans whereby claimants who refuse an offer of work from a Jobcentre will face the sanction of losing their benefit for three months. As a welfare-rights worker of 20 years’ experience I think I know what I am talking about on the subject of Jobseeker’s Allowance and, to bring a bit of balance to the subject, I’d like to make some observations.

The idea that claimants are offered jobs when they visit the Jobcentre is a myth. There are simply far too many claimants and too few jobs to make this a reality. The overwhelming majority of unemployed claimants (and there are sure to be many more of us joining their ranks in the next year or two), would jump at the chance to work. This is why most of them have already performed voluntary work or taken up work experience already, without having to be bullied into doing so by the threat of sanctions. The Coalition Government, like the Labour administration before it, has successfully demonised the unemployed in the media by implying that the unemployed must be at fault for not having a job. Like Norman Tebbit before him, Iain Duncan Smith has said that if a job is not available in someone’s backyard, they should get out and look for one. While Norman Tebbit referred to his dad getting on his bike to find work, IDS reckons the unemployed should hop onto the bus. The example he gave – that if there is nothing in Merthyr Tydfil then the townsfolk should take a ride to Cardiff where there is work a-plenty, will have come as quite as a surprise to those in Cardiff’s own queues down at the dole office.

Let‘s look at some figures now, and see what the allegedly work-shy are “dependant” upon. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in order to achieve a decent standard of living a single person in the UK should have an annual income of at least £14,400. The current basic weekly rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance is £65.45 for a single person aged between 25 and 60, or £51.85 if between 18 and 24. These weekly figures represent annual benefit income of, respectively, £3403.40 and £2696.20. Multi-millionaire IDS has not explained to us why or how anyone would be crazy enough to consciously choose to try to manage their daily lives on such meagre amounts. £65 is nowhere near enough to pay for a weekly food shop plus a fuel and phone bill and a TV license, let alone for such small luxuries as an occasional night out, a bus ride to the town centre (or from Merthyr to Cardiff!), a trip to a football match or a cup of coffee and a bun in a café.

People who are too sick to work, meanwhile, through physical or mental illness or a combination of the two, presently receive £91.40 a week in Employment & Support Allowance, providing they can get through the increasingly inhumane Work Capability Assessment. Labour’s last Secretary of State, Yvette Cooper, was so proud of the toughness of the WCA that she boasted, in the House of Commons, of the number of claimants who had failed to get through it. This year I have had to represent, at independent tribunals, claimants who have been found fit for work (and thereby not entitled to their £91.40, or £4752.80 a year if you prefer), despite having conditions including a broken leg in plaster, diabetes-associated blindness and agoraphobia to name but three.

That the Tories, traditionally the “nasty party”, should take a harsh attitude to the most vulnerable people in UK society is appalling but maybe only to be expected. That the Liberal Democrats should jettison their liberalism by supporting them is shocking, but that Labour, once the party of Clem Attlee and Nye Bevan, should acquiesce in robbing the sick and the poor of their already miserable benefits should make every one of their supporters hang his or her head in shame.

The unemployed people of the UK are the victims rather than the creators of the country’s financial crisis, which resulted not from benefit payouts but from the excesses of unbridled capitalism, and yet it is they, together with workers in the public sector, who are first in line to pay the price. If the descendants of the party that invented the Welfare State are no longer prepared to support claimants’ standards of living then there is a vacancy to be filled by a compassionate party that will do so, and promote “fairness” in its true (rather than its Cleggist) sense.

[Chris Connolley, 12 November 2010]

Who’s to Blame?

The ConDem Government is rewriting history. To protect the guilty, they are attacking the innocent. To protect the comforts of the affluent elite that secured their victory, they are planning to attack the most vulnerable in society.

We are being led to believe that feckless spending on welfare and social projects by the Labour government caused the current economic crisis, the crisis they use as justification for a crippling round of public service cuts. The shrill and deceitful voices of the popular press are telling us there is an army of scroungers out there, who have stripped the cupboard bare.

Is our collective memory really so short that we have forgotten the events of 2008? Have we forgotten already about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, of Bear-Stearns? Forgotten about top financiers’ outrageous bonuses? That is what Mr Osborne, Mr Cameron, and Mr Clegg would like us to do, as they stand poised to slash our public services in order to shore up our ailing economy.

Let us take a very short step back into history. To quote Wikipedia: “The late-2000s recession [or the Great Recession] was an economic recession that began in the United States in December 2007.” The recession that has dragged the word economy down began in the land of the free market, minimum regulation, private social provision, minimum government. In other words, the political and economic model that the ConDems want to emulate here caused the global financial meltdown – not government spending on social projects or poverty relief.

Those economists who have not swallowed ‘free market’ dogma completely agree that the roots of the crisis lay in too easy credit leading to a boom in demand, leading in turn to a rapid rise in asset values, including housing. This asset inflation supported more borrowing and credit to produce more consumption and a further round of asset inflation, an economic house of cards.

The crisis was not inevitable. It was driven by US ideology, a belief that resources were inexhaustible, that the world could and would underwrite American debt, that debt could be turned into an asset to create more wealth and consumption, that unfettered market forces solved all problems. As former BBC economics editor Evan Davies said, “It was a result of a system heavily grounded in bad theories, bad statistics, misunderstanding of probability and, ultimately, greed.”

We do remember what happened. The markets panicked, asset values fell, un-payable debt [“toxic assets” – remember debt had been turned into an asset!] grew and led to major company collapses. Banks began to fail. Small ones were allowed to go to the wall, but when the big boys felt the chill, they panicked governments into believing that they were too big to fail. So with a speed that deceived the eye, governments across the developed world bailed out their banks. Public money was used to prop up private business, business that had been, to say the least, imprudent. The lead to bail out was set in the home of the ‘free market’. As Paul Reynolds, BBC World Affairs correspondent observed after the events of 2008, “The American free-market creed has self-destructed while countries that retained overall control of markets have been vindicated.”

Still the free-marketeers resist financial regulations. The ConDems promptly proposed scrapping the Financial Services Authority. They are turning a deaf ear to calls for windfall taxes on Bankers’ bonuses. There is no discussion on a financial transaction tax [Tobin Tax]. They lead us to believe that it is we, the people who use social services like health and education, who are to blame.

We must not accept the blame – we must ensure that blame is laid and remains at the door of those responsible. Joseph Stiglitz is in no doubt where the blame lies, and he is well qualified to know, better qualified than the proprietors or editors of the right wing media, or our puppet politicians: he holds the Nobel Prize for Economics. This is his observation:

“This band of greedy oligarchs have used their economic power to persuade themselves and most others that we will all be better off if they are in no way restrained—and if they cannot persuade, they have used that same economic power to override any opposition. The economic arguments in favor of free markets are no more than a fig leaf for this self-serving doctrine of self-aggrandizement.

Worse still, much of the money flowing into the banks to recapitalize them so that they could resume lending has been flowing out in the form of bonus payments and dividends.”

Joseph Stiglitz, Fear and loathing in Davos, The Guardian, February 6, 2009

No, do not accept the blame. Fight the cuts!

Who’s to Blame?

The ConDem Government is rewriting history. To protect the guilty, they are attacking the innocent. To protect the comforts of the affluent elite that secured their victory, they are planning to attack the most vulnerable in society.

We are being led to believe that feckless spending on welfare and social projects by the Labour government caused the current economic crisis, the crisis they use as justification for a crippling round of public service cuts. The shrill and deceitful voices of the popular press are telling us there is an army of scroungers out there, who have stripped the cupboard bare.

Is our collective memory really so short that we have forgotten the events of 2008? Have we forgotten already about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, of Bear-Stearns? Forgotten about top financiers’ outrageous bonuses? That is what Mr Osborne, Mr Cameron, and Mr Clegg would like us to do, as they stand poised to slash our public services in order to shore up our ailing economy.

Let us take a very short step back into history. To quote Wikipedia: “The late-2000s recession [or the Great Recession] was an economic recession that began in the United States in December 2007.” The recession that has dragged the word economy down began in the land of the free market, minimum regulation, private social provision, minimum government. In other words, the political and economic model that the ConDems want to emulate here caused the global financial meltdown – not government spending on social projects or poverty relief.

Those economists who have not swallowed ‘free market’ dogma completely agree that the roots of the crisis lay in too easy credit leading to a boom in demand, leading in turn to a rapid rise in asset values, including housing. This asset inflation supported more borrowing and credit to produce more consumption and a further round of asset inflation, an economic house of cards.

The crisis was not inevitable. It was driven by US ideology, a belief that resources were inexhaustible, that the world could and would underwrite American debt, that debt could be turned into an asset to create more wealth and consumption, that unfettered market forces solved all problems. As former BBC economics editor Evan Davies said, “It was a result of a system heavily grounded in bad theories, bad statistics, misunderstanding of probability and, ultimately, greed.”

We do remember what happened. The markets panicked, asset values fell, un-payable debt [“toxic assets” – remember debt had been turned into an asset!] grew and led to major company collapses. Banks began to fail. Small ones were allowed to go to the wall, but when the big boys felt the chill, they panicked governments into believing that they were too big to fail. So with a speed that deceived the eye, governments across the developed world bailed out their banks. Public money was used to prop up private business, business that had been, to say the least, imprudent. The lead to bail out was set in the home of the ‘free market’. As Paul Reynolds, BBC World Affairs correspondent observed after the events of 2008, “The American free-market creed has self-destructed while countries that retained overall control of markets have been vindicated.”

Still the free-marketeers resist financial regulations. The ConDems promptly proposed scrapping the Financial Services Authority. They are turning a deaf ear to calls for windfall taxes on Bankers’ bonuses. There is no discussion on a financial transaction tax [Tobin Tax]. They lead us to believe that it is we, the people who use social services like health and education, who are to blame.

We must not accept the blame – we must ensure that blame is laid and remains at the door of those responsible. Joseph Stiglitz is in no doubt where the blame lies, and he is well qualified to know, better qualified than the proprietors or editors of the right wing media, or our puppet politicians: he holds the Nobel Prize for Economics. This is his observation:

“This band of greedy oligarchs have used their economic power to persuade themselves and most others that we will all be better off if they are in no way restrained—and if they cannot persuade, they have used that same economic power to override any opposition. The economic arguments in favor of free markets are no more than a fig leaf for this self-serving doctrine of self-aggrandizement.

Worse still, much of the money flowing into the banks to recapitalize them so that they could resume lending has been flowing out in the form of bonus payments and dividends.”

Joseph Stiglitz, Fear and loathing in Davos, The Guardian, February 6, 2009

No, do not accept the blame. Fight the cuts!