politics

‘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.
*Exhales*

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

Thousands across the world say ‘We Will Fight for Love’ after Cox murder

Thousands of people around the world have paid tribute to Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered yesterday outside her constituency surgery.

Over 150,000 people have now signed an online statement by Avaaz called ‘Jo Cox: We Will Fight For Love’, with messages of heartfelt thanks, sadness and compassion.

Later today, Jo’s friend’s and family launched a fundraising drive for three charities ‘close to her heart’, the Royal Voluntary Service, HOPE Not Hate, and the White Helmets (volunteer search and rescue workers in Syria). It has raised over £30,000 of its £50,000 target in just three hours.

Meanwhile online activism group 38 Degrees have launched a ‘Thank Your MP’ action, with thousands writing to their MPs after Cox’ killing to appreciate the work they do to help their constituents and their areas, while the group are also collecting hundreds of comments online to create a card of condolence.

The statement aims to counteract the hate that was shown yesterday with messages of hope, and is filled with comments from almost every country – including around a third from outside the UK.

Here are some of the tributes:

The Avaaz statement says:

‘Jo Cox was a mother, a campaigner, an MP, an advocate for the voiceless and those in poverty, and a passionate fighter for people and principles. She was also a friend to many in the Avaaz team.

‘Jo was passionately campaigning for Britain to stay in Europe. Not just because it was smart, or advantageous. Because she spent her life caring for Syrians, and Africans. She was a beautiful light of love for all people, for humanity. The man who took her life, stabbing her and shooting her over and over, screamed “Britain First”. Her life was taken by a kind of hate and selfishness that she devoted her time on this earth to fighting.

‘How would she want us to honour her? By coming together, sharing love for each other, and picking up the banner for love, for a truly Great Britain, that is great enough to love immigrants, and all people in our one human family.’

EU campaigning has been suspended until Saturday, while some MPs such as Rachel Reeves have temporarily closed their constituency offices. Flags are being flown at half-mast across the UK. British politicians have been paying tribute to Jo Cox.

The Avaaz statement, which has been shared over 7,000 times, also draws attention to the statement from Cox’ husband, Brendan, yesterday:

‘Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.

‘Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.

‘She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.’

‘Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.’

Tonight there are vigils in in honour of the MP in Parliament Square in London at 7.30pm (details on this Facebook page), in Edinburgh for 6.30pm, in Manchester at 7pm, and at similar times in Birmingham, Glasgow, Brighton, and Cardiff.

Green, left, growing – lessons from the Greens in England and Wales

[My first piece for the Green European Journal]

‘Neither left nor right, but forward’ has been a semi-official motto of many Green Parties across Europe since their inception in the 1960s and ‘70s. But as the Green Party of England & Wales’ (GPEW) Autumn Conference drew to a close this weekend, the party appears to be maintaining or indeed continuing its leftward drive. The implications could be promising both for Britain and for Green Parties elsewhere.

It’s an interesting time for British politics, with less than a year to go before the General Election. But what space does the Green Party hope to fill in the UK?

THE PARTISAN CONTEXT

One answer could be the space vacated by the Liberal Democrats, a party which joined the right-wing Conservative coalition in 2010. Previously seen as a centre-left party, all traces of this perspective seem to have disappeared with the onset of the austerity agenda, and in particular the near-tripling of university tuition fees early on in the government’s term.

At the same time, however, the Labour Party has been equivocal in its opposition to these policies. Despite the election of Ed Miliband to the leadership in 2010,a man previously thought of as on the centre-left of the party, they have pledged to maintain the government’s harsh spending plans for at least the first year of office, arguing “the next Labour government will have less money to spend.” This is despite the wealth of the richest 1000 Brits soaring by 15% over the past year alone to $874bn. He has also pledged to cut welfare benefits for the most vulnerable, with a cap on social security spending.

This means there is a large ‘gap’ to the left of the Labour Party for those who disagree with austerity, alongside the still significant proportion of people who agree there is an urgent need to tackle climate change. This was the defining message at Autumn Conference – the Greens positioning themselves as the ‘true left’, and ‘taking the fight to Labour’.

Yet there is another interesting – and worrying – dynamic currently at play. The rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) threatens to pull British politics even further to the right, feeding on (and equally, fuelling) an atmosphere of euroscepticism, welfare-bashing and anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s an atmosphere manifesting itself in an internal Conservative Party split, but, despite the non-proportional First Past the Post electoral system, it is a split that will still damage all those who value social justice and ecology as UKIP appear set to win their first Parliamentary seat next month.

Moreover, as the Conservative Party internalises UKIP policies, from an EU referendum to even harsher attacks on migrants, UKIP’s appeal does not decline. Why? Because it stems from a hostility to the ‘establishment’ and ‘the political class’, however mislaid it may be. In this context, a privately-educated, wealthy, white and male former stockbroker can pose as anti-politics if he speaks convincingly enough. This is how, with the help of extensive media coverage and generous funding, Nigel Farage has come to exert such a powerful and noxious influence on the British political makeup over the past three years. All this while the UK battles to discover what its true identity and place is both within itself – via the Scottish independence referendum – and the world, through the EU.

RADICAL GREEN SOLUTIONS

What should the Greens’ response be to this? As with the rise of the populist right in the rest of Europe, it cannot be to mimic reactionary policies. Instead – based both on principle and pragmatism – Greens can reassert how our message is different to all the parties.

Green Party members appear to have in part reflected this view last week, electing an ecosocialist as a deputy leader in Amelia Womack, alongside Shahrar Ali, a key figure in London. Womack came first in the ballot, arguably reflecting a desire for the party to adopt a radical response to the current political context. Incumbent left-winger Will Duckworth also came within a few dozen votes of winning the second deputy post.

At the same time, the party is promoting its key policies for the General Election which include a wealth tax on assets over £3m and the renationalisation of the railways, water and energy networks. Last weekend’s conference also saw the launch of a demand for a £10 (~13 EUR) minimum wage by 2020. Such ideas are backed by a vast majority of the public – yet are ignored by politicians.

Pushing these policies has been at the core of (now-re-elected) leader Natalie Bennett’s strategy over the past two years, as well as standing up for workers’ rights. The latter – as well as being morally right – has been at the core of attempts to win the backing of trade unions in the UK. Trade unionists now regularly speak at Green Party conferences and events (with several leaders and activists speaking at the most recent conference). Similarly, both Bennett and Lucas have spoken at a number of trade union conferences, including the still-powerful National Union of Teachers, and Trade Union Congress (TUC) fringes.

Though in the medium term it’s unlikely that the largely Labour-supporting unions will switch allegiances, support from the six million grassroots members and local branches will be vital in the coming years; indeed on a local level, unions such as the rail workers’ union RMT have donated to and campaigned for Green candidates. Meanwhile the Green Party’s welfare spokesperson and Trade Union Liaison Officer (a recently formed post) is also co-chair of Britain’s anti-austerity movement, the People’s Assembly. It’s an important symbolisation of the space that the Labour Party has vacated, and how the Greens see the terms ‘green’ and ‘left’ as symbiotic.

There are countless more examples like this – the fact that the party now asks for information on trade union membership on its joining forms, the Young Greens launching a campaign to get members unionised in their workplaces (‘Get Organised!’), a Philosophical Basis which states ‘inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet,’ and a recent core policy on employees being granted the right to take over their companies as co-operatives.

All these factors generate a view that GPEW is a real, progressive alternative to neoliberalism, contributing in part to public support for the party increasing dramatically over the past four years.

STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Despite a lower overall vote share, the Greens secured a third MEP in May through the South West Molly Scott-Cato, a green economist in a rapidly growing region for the party. Membership has approximately doubled since the election of Caroline Lucas to Parliament, from around 9,000 to over 18,000 today, and there are now nearly 170 Green councillors; successes exemplified in the highest poll ratings for the party since 1989, with the Greens increasingly equalling the Liberal Democrats in public support, at around 7%.

The growth of the Young Greens is also astonishing – a 70% rise in members since March to over 3,000, perhaps dialectically spurred on by the rise of UKIP.

REJECTING THE RIGHT

These statistics are than mere numbers but reflect a new vibrancy in a party keen to re-elect Lucas and potentially secure one or two more MPs next year. Being a ‘UKIP of the left’ – a fighting force that shakes up the political structure of the UK – could, ironically perhaps, be part of that. Meanwhile the politics of fear is pushing many towards the Greens’ ranks out of the need to challenge a rising threat.

Is the UK a unique case in these discussions? Certainly, few other countries (except perhaps Spain) are facing the kinds of constitutional and political destabilisation currently taking place in the UK because of the Scottish independence referendum. But the rise of the far-right is something that Greens are uniquely equipped to tackle, proudly able to say, for example, that unlike many social democratic parties, they genuinely oppose both the language and actions of intolerance that are spreading across the continent. Moreover, the scale of disillusionment with mainstream politics is not unique to the UK – distaste for the political establishment is widespread across Europe and must be drawn upon lest other more reactionary forces do so.

Crucially, we can also show that these parties pose no answer to the questions of devastating climate change, environmental destruction, or the politics of austerity that are blighting the lives of ordinary people.

With a discredited far-left, and a social democratic ‘movement’ that has capitulated to failed economic and ecological strategies, Greens in the UK – and perhaps in the rest of Europe too – are able to show that that when brave enough with our ideas and outspoken enough to present them, we can inspire those who have been left behind.

The results of the Green Party leadership election are out…

The results are now out for the Green Party Executive election – a ballot which included the election of the leader and deputy leaders of the party. Sadly it received little attention, but I think it merits some.

Firstly, big congratulations to ecosocialist Amelia Womack on being elected in the first round, and commiserations to Will Duckworth, a working-class left-winger from the Midlands who will be missed as deputy by many. But congrats to Shahrar Ali who as a confident public speaker and a strong profile will do well I’m sure.

And of course, congrats to Natalie Bennett for her (uncontested!) re-election.

Turnout hasn’t been worked out yet but going off a conservative 16k mailout figure I estimate it’s just over 15%.

Newly re-elected Green Party International Coordinator Derek Wall has posted the full results of the election on his blog here.

Reposted here from the email to all party members on Monday:

The results of the Gpex elections 2014 were as follows:

Party Leader: Natalie Bennett was elected 2618 Re-Open Nominations (RON): 183

Party Deputy Leaders:
In the first round – Amelia Womack was elected with 1598, Will Duckworth’s 1108
In the Second round – Shahrar Ali was elected 1314 to Will Duckworth’s 1277

Gpex Chair: Richard Mallender was elected 2640 to RON 101
Campaigns Co-Ordinator: Howard Thorpe was elected 2546 to RON 181
Elections Co-Ordinator: Judy Maciejowska was elected 2631 to RON 161
External Communication Co-Ordinator: Penny Kemp/ Clare Phipps/ Matt Hawkins were elected 2586 to RON 147
Management Co-Ordinator Mark Cridge was elected 2636 to RON 82
International Co-Ordinator: Derek Wall was elected 1416 to Anna Clarke’s 891
Trade Union Liaison Officer: Romayne Phoenix was elected 2639 to RON 94
Policy Co-Ordinator: Sam Riches and Caroline Bowes were elected 1786 to Rachel Featherstone and Anna Heyman’s 839
Publications Co-Ordinator: Martin Collins was elected 2468 to RON 249

Steady gains through shifting left – the future of the Greens?

Reposted from Chat Politics

It’s been a strong few years for the Greens. Membership has surged past 18,000 – up from around half that figure before Caroline Lucas’ success in Brighton. There are more Green councillors than ever, 170, and this May’s European elections brought an extra MEP in the South West’s Molly Scott-Cato, bringing the number of Green European Parliamentarians to three.

Leader Natalie Bennett, a surprise victor back in 2012, has proved more radical than some would have expected. Prioritising the renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, as well as joining picket lines across the country for a Living Wage and workers’ rights; she has arguably entrenched the leftward pull on the party that has grown since the election of Lucas as an MP.

The growth figures – both in terms of electoral success and members – suggests this strategy has worked, picking up disenchanted ex-Lib Dem and Labour voters and becoming the third party of students and ‘the youth’ through the Young Greens.

All this has led to the highest polling figures for the Greens since the historic 1989 European election, where the party polled 15%. Greens are currently level-pegging with the Lib Dems for the General Election. That’s both new, and very exciting.

What does this mean for the next year? It could bring an extra couple of MPs. Natalie Bennett is pouring plenty of work into her Holborn and St Pancras constituency, while activists are dedicated to re-electing Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. Although many expect the party will lose the council there, it seems likely that Lucas, a popular and hard-working MP, will retain her seat. However, Labour, targeting the constituency, are determined a Green alternative isn’t heard in Parliament which could threaten their position as ‘the’ ostensibly progressive party.

At the same time, Bristol is rapidly becoming a hive of Green activity, tripling the number of Green councillors at the recent local elections and becoming the first party by popular vote across Bristol West wards. The ramifications of this could be enormous, potentially securing a Green Parliamentary seat in local environmental campaigner Darren Hall. Alongside Scott-Cato, the South West could become a future stronghold for the party. Meanwhile, Greens expect to pick up further council seats in the Midlands, alongside Cambridge, London, Oxford, Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere.

But there are ideological differences bubbling underneath these steady gains. Although you probably don’t know about it, there’s a leadership election going at the moment. The Greens are picking their team for the next two years. Well, sort of. The leadership position is uncontested, effectively guaranteeing Natalie Bennett another two years in her post. But the two deputy posts are contested among five candidates. Three come from broadly the centre and centre-right of the party – admittedly still on the left of the so-called ‘political spectrum’.

But the other two; incumbent Will Duckworth and Young Green Amelia Womack, are proud ecosocialists who intend for the Greens to stress a radically different vision for Britain compared to the neoliberal consensus. One which proposes systemic change, not just cautious reforms.

We don’t know who will win yet, but it seems likely that Duckworth, with the incumbency advantage of recognition and popularity as a working-class non-Londoner, will keep his post. And Womack, so far the only self-declared female candidate, is effectively guaranteed a seat through the gender ‘balance’ rules, although she is pushing for a strong first preference vote nonetheless.

What this means for the future of the Greens is that, for the first time in the history of Britain, a de facto ecosocialist party could be – if it isn’t already – the third or fourth national party. And that is something that gives hope to those on the left, whichever political tribe they come from.

New songs, albums and radio stuff, plus a big move…

Some updates on my acoustic singer-songwriter side of life. Because you asked*.

I’ve got some new songs (you can have ’em for free)

As usual, they’re home recordings, i.e. I’ve stuck my phone on a random surface and hoped it came out OK. Most of the time it vaguely works. I think…

1. A cover of Defiance Ohio‘s brilliant rallying cry against modern society:

2. An instrumental piece inspired by Cornwall and the summer:

A new ‘album’

I’ve stuck together a collection of my recent demos in a free compilation thing called Luddite Ballads. Which I might use as the title of my actual new EP thing coming out soon from Rack Mount Records. More on that in a mo.

Actual new album thing

The proper EP I’ve been recording over the past year (feels like forever!) is finally coming out soon on iTunes and Spotify and all that stuff, so I’ll have something official for once. Which will be great. Keep your eye out! Just being mastered etc. at the moment I think so I’ll wack it on the blog when it’s all done.

On t’ Radio

I did a BBC Introducing session the other week with Radio York, as part of their York and North Yorkshire Introducing programme to get up and coming artists heard. You can still listen to it here. I’m 43:30ish in so listen out.

I play three of my own tracks, two of my favourite artists (Bragg and Guthrie) and have a general chat/interview about life, politics and music. It was good fun. Hope you enjoy it too.

On me travels

And with that, I’m off to Belgium to live for six months, working as a (paid!) intern with the Green European Foundation, a think tank linked with the Greens in the European Parliament. It should be exciting and a nice chance to live abroad (despite my lack of French/Flemish). I’ll keep the blog going and will keep strumming. See you soon.

—-

* That may or may not be true.

The Young Greens’ letter in the Guardian today

The Young Greens are in the letters page of the Guardian today arguing that the Green Party are the real third party in British youth politics.

It follows a fawning Guardian article earlier this week on Young Independence, the youth wing of UKIP.

I was pleased to write and sign the letter along with over 50 other Young Green activists and the entire National Committee.

Please share widely!

Young Greens’ growth spurt

While we welcome opening up the debate about parties, your article on Young Independence (Not all rich, not all white, totally Eurosceptic: meet Ukip’s youth, 4 August) ignored the real third force in youth politics right now – the Green party. The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green party, has grown by 70% since March this year alone, now standing at well over 3,000 members – more than Young Independence – and we have 60 branches in dozens of towns and cities across the UK.

This puts us ahead of the Liberal Democrats and catching up with Labour to be a highly significant force among young people, both within the student movement and outside. Poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.

Young Greens are at the forefront of campaigns across the country opposing the politics of the hard right and fighting for decent housing and jobs for all, free education, a living wage and publicly owned services – and opposing austerity, which hits young people incredibly hard. In contrast to the mainstream parties, we are also proud to be against the scapegoating of migrants and the refusal to tackle climate change.

This October we will be holding our convention in Brighton. We welcome all those who similarly value social and environmental justice to come along.
Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming Young Greens co-chairs, Josiah Mortimer, Laura Summers, Thom French and Fiona Costello National committee members, Charlene Concepcion National treasurer and London Young Greens co-chair, Amelia Womack Lambeth Green party, deputy leader candidate, Bradley Allsop Chair of Northampton Young Greens, Howard Thorpe Green party campaigns coordinator, Sahaya James Gloucestershire Young Greens chair, Karl Stanley Co-convener Young Greens North, Hannah Ellen Clare, Co-convenor Young Greens North, Joseph Clough Manchester Young Greens treasurer, Jantje Technau Canterbury Young Greens chair, Deborah Fenney Leeds University Union Green party secretary, Pete Kennedy Coordinator, Doncaster Green party, Samantha Pancheri Chair Milton Keynes Young Greens, Jo Kidd Chair Canterbury district Green party, Ross Campbell Liverpool Young Greens chair, Benjamin Sweeney Co-chair Dudley Green party, Mani Blondel North Staffordshire Green party, Keele University Young Greens, Rory Lee Bath & North East Somerset Green party, Darren Bisby-Boyd Peterborough Young Greens, Alex Bailey Peterborough Young Greens, Jack Tainsh Peterborough Young Greens, Emma Carter Leeds Young Greens, David Stringer Teesside Young Greens organiser, Alexander Catt Blackwater Valley Green party, Glen Marsden Manchester Young Greens, Duncan Davis Nottingham Young Greens, George Blake Keele Student Greens, Mike Lunn-Parsons North Staffordshire Green party and Keele Young Greens, William Pinkney-Baird Durham Young Greens, Harriet Pugh Manchester Young Greens, Merlin Drake Ceredigion Green party, Lisa Camps York Green party, Grant Bishop Birmingham Green party, Sam Peters Surrey Green party, Matthew Genn Sheffield and Rotherham Young Greens, Lucy Bannister Manchester Young Greens, Rustam Majainah Surrey GP, Matthew Maddock Keele University Young Greens, Huseyin Kishi London Young Greens, Portia Cocks Mid Sussex, Crawley and Horsham Greens, Graham Bliss Rugby Greens, Andrew Iredale Young Greens, Andrea Grainger Keele University Young Greens, Julia Lagoutte Durham University Young Greens, Lee Burkwood Waltham Forest and Redbridge, Alan Borgars Welwyn Hatfield Green party, Miles Grindey South East Hampshire Green party, Merryn Davies-Deacon South West Young Greens