‘Roses and Thorns’ – a song to the left

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written a political song (or a blog on here, for that matter). Considering I consider myself a political songwriter that’s says something – mainly about the fact that I’ve genuinely just been too depressed at the state of it all.
But I really had to vent, because I think what is going on in politics at the moment is genuinely scary.
We’re all being stripped of our European citizenship because of a campaign arguably based on misinformation. Right-wing populism is growing in the UK, and across the continent. We have a Prime Minister seemingly set on ripping up everything that was good about the EU in these negotiations – with scant claim to a mandate.
And yet the left is in total disarray. I’m a proud Green, but I’m also a pluralist, and I think it really matters for the whole left that Labour is in turmoil – i.e. that we don’t really have a functioning opposition.
And as someone who wants a progressive alliance, it scares me that Labour are 17 percentage points behind the Tories. It’s too easy to blame one side of the party or the other, or to scream simplistic, mono-causal assertions about what’s led to this, because we are where we are, and there is fault on both sides. It’s churlish and dogmatic to deny it.
While it’s easier said than done, the left as a whole needs to learn how to communicate, how to work together, how to reach out beyond those who already agree with us, and find a some kind of a path forward. We have to.
Because if we don’t get our arses in gear we’re handing a free reign to those who want to rip up all that we value about this country – from our NHS to our diversity, from our social safety net to our internationalism. The situation is too urgent for us to waste time navel-gazing, name-calling and pointing fingers.
So, I’ve vented. Here’s the song I had to get off my chest. I’ll write much more positive stuff I hope soon, but for now this is a plea to all those who consider themselves progressive to turn their guns away from each other and to focus on the real battles ahead.

Roses and Thorns

Now is not the hour
To be battling inside
Both sides hunting witches
When the fight’s to stay alive
To keep the red heart beating
To stir the fire sleeping
Because there’s few of us already on our side
And in these new times
A hard rain is falling
In these new times
The day is far from dawning
And it don’t feel like
Something better’s calling
So think faster
Dream deeper
This could be the last chance
We’re gonna get
And now is not the hour
To be arguing who’s clean
You’re writing just for rallies
When the fight’s to be believed
By the ones for whom the red heart
Doesn’t beat for them
Oh there’s roses but there’s thorns here
You’ll have to start again

Sian Berry: ‘Khan and Goldsmith wouldn’t meet the Greens’

The Greens’ London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry has said that the Labour and Conservative teams refused to meet with the party to discuss who Green supporters should back as their 2nd preference on May 5th.

Speaking to me for NovaraMedia, Berry claimed that ‘neither of the candidates wanted to meet with us to talk about them’ – despite the fact that 2nd preferences have been decisive in every single Mayoral election since the London Assembly’s first election in 2000.

She said that “Sadiq specifically turned [a meeting]…down’, while Zac Goldsmith simply “didn’t arrange” one. Labour’s response was apparently dismissive – “[Sadiq said] he didn’t want to seek the 2nd preference recommendation.”

It follows a meeting of the London Federation of Green Parties on Monday to debate and vote on who the party should recommend Green supporters back as their 2nd choice. In 2008 and 2012 the party asked members to vote for Ken Livingstone after Jenny Jones.

Under the capital’s Supplementary Voting system, Berry’s voters’ 2nd choices are counted if she doesn’t win enough support to make it into the final round – a likely scenario.

It was widely thought that the Greens’ would back a 2nd preference Labour vote this time. However, statements from Sadiq Khan on various issues and a refusal to meet have frayed relations between the parties: “You’ve got some real red lines there – Sadiq’s [pro-expansion] position on Gatwick, and Zac has been appalling on the Silvertown Tunnel [i.e. in support]. Those are things that either of them could easily have given way on.”

Berry stated that two candidates are “really hard to tell…apart – [Khan] visited the City and said he’s going to be a mayor for big business – that’s not what you expect from someone who says he going to be a mayor for all Londoners.”

This election the party put forward four ‘red lines’ to the two lead candidates, which they would need to give ground on to win official 2nd preference support – an end to road building, airport expansion and enforced council estate demolitions, and to reduce London’s inequality.

Discussions outside of official meetings had proven unhelpful. “We’ve had chats with them, including during debates. One example is [council] estate demolition – I’ve challenged them a number of times during hustings to condemn the councils that are doing it and they’re doing it on Labour and Conservative councils – and they haven’t.”

Berry also hinted she is against the system of recommending Green supporters back a 2nd choice – “This whole idea that we should instruct our voters who to vote for anyway is a bit wrong – they can think for themselves what kind of campaigns the others are running.”

Outgoing Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson wrote for MayorWatch that ‘London’s Greens have grown over the past 16 years, it’s no longer appropriate to endorse rival mayoral hopefuls’.

Around 50 members of the London Federation of Green Parties debated the Mayoral race on Monday, at the final ever meeting in the party’s traditional North London HQ Development House, with members voting unanimously not to back a 2nd preference.

Members also voted on whether to make a statement against the Goldsmith campaign, which has been viewed as ‘divisive’ on Khan’s faith. Members voted by around 4-1 to not officially condemn the Conservative campaign, in what may be seen as a boost for Goldsmith. Berry was among the minority voting to condemn the Tory campaign.

With Berry battling it out for third place with the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon and UKIP, last Monday’s vote may turn out to be a key moment in the Mayoral race.

Final day to help Wales elect its first Assembly Member

Green Party members have just today left to support the crowdfunding campaign to help elect Wales’ first Green Assembly Member.

Amelia Womack, Green Party E&W Deputy leader, is standing for the proportional list seat of South Wales Central – which covers Cardiff – and is aiming to raise as much as possible of the £2,000 needed to run the last six weeks of the campaign that remain. So far she has raised over £1,000.

The crowdfunder ends at midnight on the 29th March, with the flexible funding model meaning that the money raised will fund a campaigns officer, leaflets and materials, as well as potentially billboards, and could make all the difference in what is a tight race for the last list seat in the region. The seat that could come down to either Greens or UKIP winning it, with UKIP expected to surge this election from zero to up nine AMs.

South Wales Central is seen as the most winnable seat in Wales, alongside Mid and West Wales, and Greens from across the country are targeting it hard.

Crucially, a Labour vote on the list in South Wales Central is effectively a wasted vote, given their high support in the constituency ballot, under the Additional Member System form of PR.

The crowdfunder states that “We have seen the difference just a handful of Greens make in institutions across the country. We have Greens in Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Irish Assembly and the London Assembly – now it’s Wales’ turn to get the Green representation our nation deserves by electing Amelia Womack to bring our Green vision into the Senedd.

“Unlike other parties, we don’t have millionaire donors, donations from big business, or financial support from trade unions. We rely on you – our members and supporters to fund our grassroots campaigns.

The party has calculated that just under 6,000 extra votes are needed on top of last time to ensure Womack is elected on May 5th, as the candidate at the top of the list.

Womack grew up in local Newport and lives in Cardiff. She is also standing for the constituency seat of Cardiff central.

Can you support the crowdfunder? Chip in what you can here and help Wales Green Party shake up the Senedd.

Another Europe Is Possible: The left enters the EU debate

This piece was published by Novara here

If there’s one thing true of the EU debate, it’s that it’s been pretty uninspiring so far, to say the least. Even the most hard-core of politicos can’t get themselves particularly worked up about it.

That doesn’t mean it’s been without its controversies and battles. But in-fighting doesn’t generally equal exciting and stimulating debate. The leave side seems to be in turmoil, with people dropping like flies from the two main campaigns, Vote Leave and Leave.EU. Labour Leave has just broken away from the former, and a new ‘Grassroots Out’ campaign aims to hit the doorsteps where it sees the other two campaigns have failed. Headed by Farage, it already risks being seen as a UKIP front.

In contrast, the ‘remain’ camp has been relatively stoic – less EastEnders, more BBC Parliament. The arguments hurled around seemed to have been, predictably, more of a wrestle between statisticians than positive visions of the EU: “We’ll lose x jobs if we leave the EU,” “our GDP will fall by y” or “big businesses will be less likely to come to the UK”. All potentially true, but hardly rabble-rousing stuff.

The gist among some already-weary progressives seems to be that Britain Stronger in Europe – the apparently monolithic representative of Europhiles – follows Cameron’s renegotiations with either approval or complacence, while free movement, welfare and workers’ rights are traded away.

With Corbyn staying out of the EU debate (he’s leaving it to the Big Beasts of Brown and co.), and with Labour Leave headed by Kate Hoey, seen as on the right of the party, it all begs one thought:

Where is the left?

It’s with that question in mind that I headed to the launch of the first major attempt to give the left a voice in the EU debate: Another Europe is Possible. While the name is a bit of a mouthful, it’s fairly obvious what they want – a progressive EU (with the UK in it).

This ‘critical in’ vote is something that resonates with basically everyone I know who’s vexated by Eurozone austerity, TTIP, deregulation and the ‘neoliberal’ politics of Juncker et al…but who also have an instinctive attachment to the European project, expressed through things like environmental protection, a maximum working week, holiday pay and all that other nice stuff.

Needless to say, the critique of the EU as it stands was unrelenting. ‘EU institutions have been implicated in broken economics’, founder Luke Cooper told the two hundred-odd who packed out a former brewery in Brick Lane, Shoreditch – a venue just opposite where BSE held their launch a few weeks ago. ‘But we have to ask – what would Britain look like after Brexit?’ The answer was fairly clear to most of the young crowd: not a socialist Britain, that’s for sure.

It turns out it’s a theme. ‘There are huge problems with the EU. But is leaving the EU a better bet?’ asked Asad Rehman, a Senior Campaigner for Friends of the Earth. ‘The arguments on the pro-side are too much about fear rather than a positive vision’. Vision was talked about a lot. We certainly need one.

The left leave camp have of course slammed the EU’s rightward turn. In the same way though, they’ve slammed every European government’s rightward turn – free market dogmatism isn’t exclusive to the European Union. ‘Can you name an institution not dominated by neoliberalism?’ asked Marina Prentoulis. ‘National governments are pushing a neoliberal agenda too.’

The elephant in the room was that Prentoulis represents Syriza, a party that has done the same – with a Commission-shaped gun to its head. But what of the new Portuguese socialist government, and movements in Spain, Italy and elsewhere that are threatened by EU institutions? Will forced capitulation become a trend?

The question made for a less enthusiastic atmosphere than would have been the case say 10 years ago, when progressive legislation was being passed all the time. But there weren’t many champagne corks popped for the ‘bosses club’, as the NUS’ Sahaya James put it, in the room on Wednesday. There was more of an overwhelming and understandable fear that out of Europe, the right of the Tories would be given free rein to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state.

Above the fear however there was something else. A willingness to try and shift the debate – and to build not a network of politicians but of grassroots activists across the UK: activists with few illusions about the EU, other than a genuine belief that there is some hope in the left-wing movements emerging across Europe. That there could be a truly ‘social’ Europe if we fight for it – across borders.

The challenge now however is to not just talk about a vision, but to actually come up with one. In the midst of a campaign seen by many socialists as dominated by stat-throwing and cosying up to business, such a positive and values-based vision for a reformed EU – albeit one ‘two million miles from Cameron’s’, as Caroline Lucas MP put it – could be a game-changer. Wednesday’s launch may have been the start of something very interesting indeed.

Young Labour may back Proportional Representation this month #yl16

Young Labour, the youth branch of the Labour Party across the UK, could soon back Proportional Representation if a motion in favour is passed at its upcoming conference this month.

The conference for members between the ages of 14-26 will be held in Scarborough on the 26th and 27th February – and electoral reform supporter George Aylett is proposing a motion for the organisation to support the Single Transferable Vote.

If you’re a member/supporter, get behind the ‘Young Labour advocates replacing our current voting system, First Past the Post, with the proportional Single Transferrable Vote (STV).”

Here’s the motion in full:

“Young Labour notes that:

  1. The 2015 general election saw the Conservatives win 51% of seats in parliament with just 36.9% of the vote; that this is the result of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, which has consistently produced a similar mismatch between votes and seats in previous elections;
  2. There is growing support for reforming the electoral system to make seats proportional to votes, with 57% of the British public agreeing with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” in recent polling;
  3. The TUC and STUC have recently resolved to support reforming Westminster’s electoral system to make it more proportional.

Young Labour believes that:

  1. The limitations of FPTP have contributed to a wider trend of falling engagement and rising mistrust in politics
  2. While the Labour Party has benefited from this system in the past, it has encouraged us to take ‘safe seats’ for granted, which has led to the loss of disillusioned former supporters to UKIP, the SNP, or disengagement from electoral politics
  3. It is in the interests of communities to have an MP to hold accountable and to discuss local issues with, so the link between community and MP should not be broken.
  4. Electoral reform in itself is no panacea for a wider crisis of democratic politics, but must proceed alongside widespread economic reform to give working people more power in their workplace and in public services as well as in parliament.

Young Labour therefore resolves: 

  1. To support conducting future British elections using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) – a proportional system which keeps the link between communities and their MPs. This model is used in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scottish local elections.”


Don’t rush the referendum: June is too soon

First published on the ERS blog here

On Tuesday, David Cameron announced the details of the government’s initial ‘renegotiation deal’ with the EU in the run up to the referendum. It clears the way for the ballot to be held in June – something some politicians are keen on.

But since that’s only four months away, it’s not a lot of time to have a full debate about this major constitutional issue. There’s also another issue though – it will clash with the May Assembly elections in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

There’s a real risk an EU vote so soon after the May polls could undermine these important devolved elections. It’s vital the EU referendum doesn’t overshadow the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish elections – the former of which in particular receive little UK-wide attention as it is.

There’s a question of confusion and issue-clashing too, with two very different ballots held one after the other – potentially knocking both debates off course and away from issues which are actually devolved.

A June EU vote would only serve to add more busy-ness to an already busy day of elections, with Police and Crime Commissioners also being picked – despite issues of justice and policing not being fully devolved. That’s not to mention the problem of ‘voter fatigue’ – the issue of turnout declining if there are too many votes within a short period of time. People get bored.

April and May will see the EU debate reaching its peak if the vote was to be held in June –overlapping significantly with the devolved elections. Don’t we want to give both debates a clear run?

So here’s a proposal. Let’s have genuinely focused discussions about these two important decisions by conducting the campaigns at different times. Both debates need a decent amount of time, coverage and political space in order to give voters the ballots they deserve.

Josiah Mortimer will be working with ERS Cymru in the run up to the Assembly elections in May

The TV debates in Wales need to include all six parties

First published on the ERS blog

It’s less than 100 days until the Assembly elections in Wales (and Scotland, Northern Ireland and the London Assembly for that matter). The election debate is heating up.

So broadcasters are making their plans for televised election broadcasts – including who exactly will feature on them…

Electoral Reform Society Cymru are calling on media outlets in Wales to include all six major parties in their election debates, to make the upcoming broadcasts as inclusive as possible. We’ve already got the conversation started

Although the arrangements for the TV election debates have yet to be decided, there’s a strong case for including the six biggest parties. Last year’s UK general election debates featured seven leaders. Any fears about timing and messiness were entirely allayed – they were a huge success.

Why should six parties appear? For one thing, there are six parties with a genuine chance of winning Assembly seats this May. Their voices should be heard.

Secondly, the public in Wales deserve as open and inclusive a debate as possible, especially given that the proportional electoral system means there is now a truly multi-party political system in Wales, with a diverse range of viewpoints in the democratic arena.

As well as that, the Assembly is getting more powers. There’s going to be a greater need for scrutiny, including those parties that might join any coalition. Voters should be given a true representation of the options available in May.

Last year’s Westminster TV debates drew in millions of viewers because there was a real debate with clear differences of opinion. It makes for good democracy.

So, here’s the long and short of it: it would be wrong for broadcasters in Wales to exclude the Greens and UKIP. Their support has grown significantly since the last Assembly elections. And both parties are in the race to secure their first Assembly Members this May. It’s only right that they should face the scrutiny of the public and other parties.

Let’s open up these TV debates to reflect the diverse political landscape Wales has today. To exclude serious contenders for seats would be a missed opportunity and would only let down voters.

I’ll be working with Electoral Reform Society Cymru in the run up to the Assembly elections in May.

ERS Cymru will be releasing three mini-manifestos ahead of the Assembly elections, as well as polling, research and seat projections.