Monday, September 22, 2014

After Scotland:
– Freedom for Barkingside?

BraveheartBack in 1979 a revolution was about to take place. The frontiers of the state were to be rolled back, red tape and bureaucracy were to be culled and we the people were to be set free from state interference in our daily lives to live long and prosper, tax as a proportion of GDP was to be halved, and then halved again. It didn’t happen. And the reason it didn’t happen is because politicians do not like to give up power. The scope for manoeuvre resting with local authorities has steadily declined since, even to the point where the Secretary of State can now intervene and forbid local councils from producing a simple newssheet. Our own Redbridge councillors have been reduced to the point where they now squabble over how much the tea and biscuits cost.

There has been some devolution. Wales, Scotland and Greater London, but these are mixed with a hotch potch of half baked ideas, resulting from, you guessed it politicians who interfere in the design process with the intent to engineer a situation that is beneficial to them or their party. Proportional Representation is fine and dandy for these new institutions but not for those who really hold the reins of power in Westminster.

So, in the wake of the Scotland vote we now have a renewed energy in Westminster for devolution, but will it happen and if it does will it be a dog's breakfast as usual. Our local debate on local democracy, viz the demise of Area Committees is meaningless unless our Local Authority has some actual powers that we the local residents can get involved in and influence the decisions they make. That’s what our local councillors should really be talking about, and not just to us, but to their masters in Westminster.

Here’s a few notes from Redbridge Deputy Leader, Wes Streeting, taken from Facebook:
Glad we finally have the beginnings of a debate about devolution of power in England. A few thoughts:
  • Anyone who thinks the answer is more politicians isn't listening to what people are saying. We don't need an English Parliament. No new regional assemblies. We have quite enough waste on the public payroll without adding to it.
  • We have a great layer to devolve power to. They're called local authorities. Trust them. They've been tackling budget cuts, shifting goalposts, endless short changing and public service innovation more effectively than Whitehall. We do need to look at the calibre of people we get in local government - elected representation and professional officers - but local government would be up for the challenge.
  • Revisit the shape of local government. Is the current size and shape right?
  • Stop beating up on London. It's a major economic driver for the country and suffers from gross inequality. Maybe scrap the London Assembly and replace it with leaders of London Councils. No offence to sitting members (people like Tom Copley and Fiona Twycross work really hard and try to leverage as much as they can from their office) but it's a toothless talking shop and I resent paying for it as a taxpayer.
  • The biggest political reform needed isn't structural, it's cultural. It takes more than a bullet point to deal with this, but essentially it's about politicians being authentic, honest about tough choices and clear about the values that inform them.
And here’s a Statement from Katie Ghose of the Electoral Reform Society:
This referendum has demonstrated that when it comes to deciding the future of our country, people want to be asked. It would be a terrible waste if we do not build on that passion by ensuring everyone in the UK, and not just Scots, have a say in where power lies.
Now is not the time for top-down commands on our constitution, issued by political leaders in the immediate, frenzied aftermath of this momentous vote. The future shape of the country is too important to be rushed through Parliament without consulting the people.
We need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to determine where power lies in the future. We can draw on international examples to create a process which does justice to people’s passion for change.
Such a process needs clarity of purpose, and certainty about how its conclusions will be taken forward. It needs the full support of all the political parties, but it must also retain its independence from them.
Above all, a UK Constitutional Convention must capitalise on the enormous amounts of interest and passion sparked in Scotland by the independence referendum, and bring that passion for determining our political future to the rest of the United Kingdom.
But when we have reports like this, I am minded not to hold my breath:
A Parliamentary report reveals that £200 million has been wasted on failed 'public-private' PFI projects for waste management, writes David Hall. The obvious solution: to allow local authorities to build and operate their own, which is cheaper and more flexible. The only problem: under UK government rules, it's PFI or nothing. More ...
We have to move beyond the doctrines and ideologies that prescribe everything should be in the private sector or everything should in the public sector. We have to make a sound judgement as to which is better in each individual case and we need politicians and the media to be honest with us. No more nonsense like we subsidize railways but invest in roads. Or we subsidize renewable energy but invest in fossil and nuclear. And the biggy, we have to rethink how we fund local democracy through taxation, particularly business rates, and perhaps have a good look at a proportion of VAT being kept locally.

Here’s Nick Clegg explaining that his is bigger than Natalie Bennett’s.

Further Reading:

Scottish Referendum Has to Bring Real Change Across the UK

Why it's time for a People's Convention to draw up a new constitution for our country

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End of the Nation State and Democracy - TTIP

TTIP - Beware what Lies beneathI don’t read newspapers any more and I don’t watch TV unless it’s football. I take the view that if it’s important someone will tell me, usually via my RSS feeds, Twitter or Facebook or in the pub. However, our Chair reads Tory newspapers and it appears that the establishment press are not reporting on TTIP as he was completely unaware of this when it was mentioned recently in the Fairlop Oak. It stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and it is currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States and Canada, in SECRET. Except that it is not that secret as the Multi-National Corporate Lobbies are not only being allowed in but are integral partners in the shaping of the agreement and no doubt an agreement that will be in their interests.

The most recent development has been for the EU to rule out an attempt to make this process, and the agreement, democratic by including us, the citizens of the European Union. John Hilary, director of War on Want and member of the Stop TTIP campaign said:
"This is an outrageous decision by the European Commission. These trade deals are already facing unprecedented opposition for their secrecy and unaccountability, but now we are denied even the right to petition our own EU leaders. An unelected executive, facing growing vocal opposition, has put his hands over its ears. “
The big idea is to remove trade barriers, which in itself is not a bad thing, but it also seeks to remove regulations and red tape. You know, those things that protect us as consumers or workers like hygiene standards and Health & Safety plus those things that protect our environment, our living conditions, air quality and so forth. And here’s the biggy. It will allow Corporations (who are renowned for avoiding taxes) to sue governments (who don’t actually have any money themselves, it’s our tax£s) if they pass legislation that restricts a corporation's ability to make a profit or adversely affects their bottom line.

We already have an example of this with the Pacific Deal where the Asian arm of the cigarette company Philip Morris used the treaty to sue the Federal Australian government for introducing legislation to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes and tobacco products.

And as a portent of things to come Syngenta is currently petitioning the US government to increase the legal limit for its bee-killing pesticides, in one case by over 400 times. Back in April 2013 they threatened to sue individual European Union officials involved in publishing a report that found the pesticides posed an unacceptable risk to bees before the EU imposed a 2 year ban. They are now suing the EU.

Meanwhile, here in the United Kingdom (while it lasts) all four Tory Parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and UKIP) support TTIP. This is quite ironic for UKIP for while they are all for free trade, free market and less regulation, they actually support giving away our sovereignty to the Corporations while wanting to regain it from the EU. They [UKIP] frequently cite Agenda 21 as a “global government conspiracy” but are blind to the real threat as it fits in with their own flawed ideology. And the Labour Party is not much better. They say they will exempt the NHS from the deal (if elected), but we must ask why they are not doing so for the rest of our public services, not to mention the rights gained for workers and consumers that their predecessors fought so hard for.

Oh, The Green Party of England & Wales (and I think the completely Independent one in Scotland) are, as far as I can tell, the only UK political parties campaigning against TTIP. For an explanation just consider who funds political parties ….

Further Reading:

TTIP: the biggest threat to democracy you've never heard of (New Statesman)

The TTIP deal hands British sovereignty to multinationals (The Guardian)

Trade talks 'must include healthcare' (BBC)

How will the new EU team line up on GMOs, TTIP and energy? (The Ecologist)

London Greens say no to secret TTIP trade deal (London Greens)

The price of trade (Ruscombe Green)

Monday, September 15, 2014

People’s Climate March

This is an invitation to change everything.

On September 21st, the eve of a historic summit on climate change, people across the world will take to the streets in their hundreds and thousands to inspire the world’s most powerful leaders to take ambitious action on the climate crisis.

With our future on the line and the world watching, we have the opportunity to meet this moment with unprecedented mobilisations in cities across the globe.

Together, we’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet. A world safe from the ravages of climate change. A world with good jobs, clean air, and healthy communities for everyone.

There is only one ingredient required: to change everything, we need everyone. Join us. - Sept 21st, 12.30pm Temple Place.

Via Avaaz:

The delicate balance of the planet's biosphere is tipping -- threatening all life on earth. It’s our "holy shit" climate moment according to a NASA scientist and we need a holy shit response to change the future. World leaders meet at the UN next week -- we can push them to act by greeting them with the largest march against climate change in history, joining from right here in London:

One agreement with common sense steps to end dirty energy can save us. That's why the UN has called an urgent climate meeting with all major world leaders — if we greet them on September 21st with the largest ever global climate mobilisation in history, we can break through the walls of mega coal, oil, and business that prevent even the best politicians from doing what is right.

Whether it's the 'arctic methane bomb', the rapid acidification of our oceans, or apocalyptic flooding, climate change is the biggest threat humanity is facing.

100% clean energy is a realistic goal. Already, 20% of the world's electricity comes from clean energy, and solar power is cheaper than coal in many countries! We just need to get our leaders to agree to put their foot on the accelerator.

Further reading:

Global warming: it's a point of noreturn in West Antarctica. What happens next? (The Guardian)

Mini ice age took hold of Europe inmonths (New Scientist)

Climate scientist drops the F-bomb (Salon)

The most influential climate changepaper today remains unknown to most people (Inside Climate News)

IPCC climate change report:averting catastrophe is eminently affordable (The Guardian)

Renewable energy capacity grows atfastest ever pace (The Guardian)

Solar price parity arrives early (MSN)