uk 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
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As we pick up the pieces: 9 thoughts on Brexit

Like many, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the result of Thursday’s vote.

But as we try and pick up the pieces and make sense of the situation, here are some thoughts on Brexit:

1. No one on the left knows how to react, because almost no one saw this coming. Almost all the polls predicted a Remain win. All the betting companies predicted a Remain win. Every party – including UKIP – predicted a Remain win. The ramifications aren’t yet clear, but they are of course huge, and fairly terrifying.

2. This was a vote both against the ‘establishment’, and against immigration. It was a protest vote, and one with huge consequences, a ‘working class revolt’. Many who backed Brexit are said to already be regretting their decision – after doing it to feel some semblance power in a politics that feels distant, undemocratic and elite-driven. This is a result of alienation.

3. There is a gaping generational divide that was made clear on Thursday. The Remain side probably would have won had Cameron agreed to letting 16 and 17 year olds vote. He rejected it to his own demise. And 75% of 18-24 year olds say they backed staying in the EU, compared to just 39% of over 65s.

The sad fact is this: the baby boomers took the Millennials out of Europe – despite the latter being the main ones to face the consequences. However, far fewer 18-24 year olds actually voted than older people – meaning we partly have ourselves to blame. The Remain side did themselves no favours (see the cringe-inducing ‘Votin’ push and the total lack of youth issues discussed in the referendum), but regardless: Britain’s generations are at war with each other.

4. The Greens should back re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged this. Many feel like the referendum result was won on the back of an extremely poor debate – and one arguably based on false pledges on the Leave side – both on cutting immigration and investing in the National Health Service (Leave claimed Brexit would put £350m per week into the NHS). Those pledges have already been back-tracked upon.

Nearly three million people – almost a tenth of the number who voted – have signed a petition calling for a re-run of the referendum. So re-joining the EU would be a vote winner for the Greens. With a leadership election currently going on, this will no doubt be raised.

5. At risk of stating the obvious, British politics is now in turmoil – if it wasn’t before. Cameron has resigned and we are facing a Conservative leadership contest – one which will be led by the pro-Brexit, right-wing of the party. The next two years will be full of tortuous negotiations. And the Labour Party are facing their own leadership election, with around half of the Shadow Cabinet expected to resign this weekend over Corbyn’s alleged lukewarm support for the EU and lack of campaigning during the referendum. Many believe it was Corbyn who lost the referendum – as someone perceived to be a long-term Eurosceptic. And he is now facing a very serious leadership challenge.

So while Britain is locked in a constitutional crisis – not least given the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted to remain in the EU – the main parties face their own internal crises, and struggle to come to terms with the ramifications for Britain’s place in the world, and their own visions for the future.

6. Another Union is breaking apart. Scotland and Northern Ireland are drifting away. Both voted strongly – by around two thirds to one – to stay in the EU. The UK is divided, and it appears we face (again) the prospect of the breakup of these nations.

Nicola Sturgeon pledge for a second independence referendum has already met strong support, support that is likely to be far higher than last time. Polls are already showing a significant chance of a pro-independence victory (although polls are arguably no longer to be trusted after Thursday’s vote…).

Either way, the consequences of Thursday’s vote are immense when it comes to the future constitutional state of the UK as a unit. And while Irish unification appears off the cards for the time being in NI, tensions are rising there too.

7. English (and Welsh) politics is moving to the right. The Brexit win has vindicated UKIP — who are not going anywhere, contrary to some expectations. With the Conservatives also moving to the right, the ‘centre ground’ has shifted. It is highly likely that many of the hard-won rights won through the EU will be torn apart — including many elements of the social chapter and key environmental protections and business regulations.

But Thursday’s vote has made me realise something depressing: England is actually rapidly becoming a conservative nation. This was a right-wing populist vote, led by reactionary forces and which will benefit and embolden reactionary forces. How does the left respond?

8. The left is, understandably, in a state of mourning. It will take time, but we have to to rebuild and recover. This is a defeat that is felt deeply and has knocked the left for potentially years to come back – but we have to start trying to now. And to get some ideological clarity in a deeply confusing post-Brexit context.

With Labour in turmoil (not least following Hilary Benn’s sacking), it is left to other movements and parties to begin the fight-back to the rightward shift that we will now likely see. And we must work with the social movements likeAnother Europe Is Possible, which campaigned for a progressive Remain vote, to do this. The left is in a poor place to fight the attacks on workers’ rights and environmental protections — but it is in our hands, and we have to get back on our feet and redouble our efforts as soon as possible.

9. We are still European. It’s vital progressive movements across Europe continue to keep their arms open to the UK. We have to keep working together cross-borders.

Of course, it will be much harder without the EU, but we have to try – the crises we face are international. But as a progressive movement, we must deal with them internationally, despite this huge setback: we are still stronger together, and have to keep working as such.

For now, we are lost and saddened. But we will do all we can to ensure the solidarity we had through the EU isn’t completely lost. We have to.  

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.

100 days to go: six thoughts on the Greens and May

First published at Bright Green

We are just 100 days away from the General Election.

With this in mind, let’s look at the Greens prospects for May and the months ahead.

1. The effect of both the steady Green surge of 2014 (doubled membership) and the Green tidal wave that has been January thus far (membership leaping past UKIP and the Lib Dems to nearly 55,000) on the Greens’ seat prospects are by no means clear.

It is very likely – touch wood – that Caroline Lucas will keep her seat. What will happen in Bristol West and Norwich South though is extremely uncertain, with us standing a fair chance in Bristol – a city with the second highest Green Party membership in England & Wales after Brighton. Whether our final vote share under First Past the Post will actually match our current polling levels of ~9% is also unclear. People, sadly, do vote tactically, and surges don’t last forever. But we can hope. Moreover, there will be plenty of council seats on May 7th for Greens to win.

What is clear is that our national vote share will be significantly higher than in 2010 (1%) – with a 5%+ average vote meaning dozens more candidates will at the very least keep their deposits. At £500 a pop, that’s good news in itself, but even better news for the narrative that the Greens are a growing party, and setting us up well for 2020.

One thing is certain – we have a lot more feet on the ground, a lot more campaigning acumen (recruiting campaign co-ordinators in every region) and a lot more money; both through increased subs income, extensive use of crowdfunding, and things like, you know, Vivienne Westwood’s £300k donation.

2. The Labour attack dogs are out.

This has been clear for a while, with the establishment of the Sadiq Khan led anti-Green unit. But Labour will be jumping on any policy flaws or cock-ups by Green candidates in the coming months – and promptly sending them off to the press. We have to be on guard.

3. The media have spotted the Greens, at last. But…

While media coverage is excellent for our profile – it’s a double edged sword. They will do anything they can to pick apart party statements, past embarrassments, internal spats and minor controversies. This week we saw an article in almost every paper picking up one side comment from Natalie Bennett on putting the Queen in a council house. The Telegraph went further in a piece called ‘Drugs, brothels, al-Qaeda and the Beyonce tax: the Green Party’s plan for Britain’, while the Spectator followed suit. And today’s Sunday Politics interview with Natalie Bennett was shocking, in the sense that Andrew Neil was at his most vicious, consistently picking on obscure policies and refusing to let Natalie answer. His treatment of Jim Murphy was, funnily enough, incredibly tame.

What is interesting is that many of the attacks are coming out in the right-wing press, rather than from more centrist/lefty media operations that would in theory back a Labour win. What does this mean? Well, the right are getting scared that Green party policies might actually get implemented.

4. The TV debates will be a game-changer.

Being excluded was already a huge victory – it energised activists, bolstered the narrative of the ‘alternative’ and the ‘underdog’, boosted our coverage and recruited thousands. But being included in the debates could do the same – it will establish us as a truly ‘major’ party, whatever Ofcom says. In part of course, this depends on performance – Natalie will have to do well to see anything like the Cleggmania of 2010 happen for the Greens (a poisoned chalice?). But the very act of appearing on two of the three debates will set a precedent: having boosted our 2010 vote, we’ll have to be in the 2020 debates, too.

5. Voter registration and core demographic turnout will be key for the Greens.

Our support is incredibly strong among students. Yet under the new voter registration system, nearly a million people could be left off the Electoral Roll – mostly students. We need to get them registered and get them out on polling day, something which will need the kind of organisational structure and efficiency we’ve not traditionally been famous for as a party.

6. The next government could be the most left-wing we’ve had in decades.

All the predictions are that Labour will be the biggest party, but not by much, meaning the minority government could have to rely on SNP, Plaid and potentially one (or more!) Greens’ votes. The red lines have already been drawn, and the latter three parties – a parliamentary left-wing alliance – have set Trident as their condition for a confidence and supply agreement. Labour are in meltdown in Scotland, on track to win as few as four seats to the SNP’s 55. Austerity and rail renationalisation will of course be two other agreement-breakers. Add to the potential Europe-wide ramifications of Sunday’s Syriza election victory in Greece, and it could be bye-bye neoliberalism. Let’s hope so.

See you on the doorstep.