Monday, 26 May 2014

Don't Let The Lights Be Dimmed

The last 24 hours has been filled with repeated fanfares and breathless TV newspeople proclaiming about the earthquake caused by the increase of the United Kingdom Independence Party's vote in the British stage of the European elections. A group of millionaires and friends of millionaires, funded by a multi-millionaire, have managed to win a 27.5% vote share (on a 34% turnout = 9.5% of eligible voters)  - up from 16.5% last time (on a 35% turnout - 5.8% of eligible voters) and have the biggest grouping of MEPs from the UK in the European Parliament.

But UKIP's historically lazy MEPs are not the real issue - the issue is the attitudes and culture they foster and amplify. And these are ones of manufactured anger and fear of difference; of lies about EU regulations which often are the sole protection for workers and consumers against the big predatory multinational corporations that UKIP loves; and of a willingness to berate and bully their opponents in the name of a twisted democracy.

During the campaign, UKIP candidates successfully had the police visit a Green blogger to have him delete an internet posting about UKIP policy, even although the police themselves admitted no crime had been committed. And then another issued a letter to voters calling for both his opposing candidates and anyone who voted for them to be hanged for treason. If they are like this in opposition, what sort of country will they run if they ever come to power?

And they are not alone. All across Europe in these elections, we have seen the rise of bitterly angry, right-wing eurosceptic parties, perverting the troubles of the poor into a crusade against equally poor migrants while shoring up the real problem - the tax-dodging, austerity-imposing rich. Although Greece has turned more to the leftwing Syriza coalition in response to the neoliberal European Central Bank's savage public spending cuts, the far right has grown there too. Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has taken one in ten Hellenic votes and there is even talk of an army coup - according to Forbes Magazine the "only half joking" preference of some international financiers.

In France, the Front National under Marine Le Pen has taken first place with a quarter of the vote, wiping out the Greens and pushing the governing socialists into third place. In Denmark, the far right People's Party topped the poll while the extreme-right Jobbik, widely accused of racism and anti-Semitism, finished second in Hungary. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Freedom Party of Geert Wilders' - which plans an alliance with Le Pen - finished joint second in terms of seats. Similarly the far right has performed well in Finland.

All these parties, and similar ones in other EU states, have common themes of taking back their countries, which generally translates into a call to continue with free trade by big business but to do away with laws such as the working time regulations and common product safety standards. This is because these, apparently, destroy the culture of their respective countries. But they don't talk about consumer protection, they talk about bureaucracy; they don't refer to safety in the workplace, but rather decry job-destroying red tape. They use the fears of ordinary people to reinforce the power of the elite.

Perhaps most troubling of all, rightists from Flanders, Denmark and elsewhere happily endorse Vladimir Putin as a true democrat after their own hearts, echoing as he does their calls to "take (his) country back". And perhaps it is Putin's Russia - also praised by Farage - that provides us with the nationalist right's  ideal template for a "country taken back". Putin's nationalism uses the language of patriotic freedom to crush many of the values and freedoms we have achieved, however tenuously, here. Gender equality, gay rights, respect for cultural diversity, freedom of expression, any attempt to seek economic or social justice - these are all subordinated to and largely suffocated by the National Will, expressed by a Leader selected via a managed democracy on behalf of a super-rich elite. "Difference" is tolerated very narrowly: and those who find the courage to kick against the limits placed on them end up out of work, in jail or exile, or dead in a ditch.

As growing numbers of Europeans embrace the xenophobia and monoculturalism of the Far Right, and the Establishment parties flounder, hoist on their outsourced elitist petards, now more than ever is it vital for the Left to advance the true alternative. That has to be one that focuses on a renewed drive towards egalitarianism, traversing national and cultural barriers to challenge the unbridled capitalist economic system and the thousand multinational corporations to whom our planet is so in thrall. It is possible - and if the elections show one thing, it is that, with their low turnouts, even the allegedly surging far right are still supported by minorities of national populations. We must not cede a narrative that allows the corporate media and the Tory rightwing to use UKIP's 9.5% share of the electorate to dictate yet further assaults on the rights and welfare of ordinary people.

As twice before, Europe sits on the fault-line: we can eradicate the gross inequality of wealth and power at the centre of our economic orthodoxy; we can put co-operation rather than competition at the heart of our Continent and yet become a beacon to the world. But equally, if our Demoi, our voters, commentators and political class, continue to indulge the grinning masks of Farage and his internationally franchised ilk, if we turn our world into one of closed borders and closed minds, we may once again sleepwalk into a nightmare from which, this time, there will be no coming back.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

UKIP - To the Barricades or the Boozer?

The local election results were declared yesterday with the media trumpeting a fanfare of stories about UKIP breaking through, parroting Nigel Farage's claims that UKIP are foxes in the "Westminster hen house" and that the main parties will need to adopt UKIP's agenda, especially on immigration, for any of them to have any chance of success next year in the General Election. Although no one has quite yet suggested UKIP will be swept to power itself, the prospect of "Kingmaker" Farage has emblazoned many a headline today. Additionally, there have been some pretty sycophantic interviews with Farage including such searching questions as "Is this a big breakthrough for UKIP?"; and "Have people voted for you because you say what ordinary people are thinking?"

 By contrast, although Labour won almost as many councillors as everyone else put together, reading some papers today, the impression given is that Ed Miliband is in crisis. And today the BBC even stooped to giving airtime to a complete lie that the Leader of the Opposition had pinched some Fanta from a Subway outlet (perhaps subliminally trying to link Ed to Fanta's dodgy origins as the soft drink of choice of Nazi Germany when the local Coca Cola franchise was isolated from its US parent at the outbreak of hostilities in 1941 - oh, as if they would be so subtle or well-informed!). At least they had to apologise afterwards.

UKIP's media people are pretty crap at their work, but it hardly matters when journalists seem more than a tad keen to do their job for them. In the case of print/online corporate media with its deregulatory agenda, this is no surprise, but with notionally impartial broadcast media (other than the notable exception of LBC) it falls into the category of a disgraceful breach of quality and possibly even regulatory standards. In fact, beyond someone in the newsroom telling them UKIP has done well, you seriously wonder if many of the TV interviewers actually took any time to check any facts before fawning over the beer-swilling former stockbroker. Little wonder that a twitter account parodying the BBC's Chief Political Correspondent Nick Robinson tweeted today;

But the whole narrative, the whole story, is fantasy. UKIP have done reasonably well - and certainly as a Green supporter, this blogger would have been delighted to see the Greens making the gains UKIP did (although, hidden away from the headlines, the Greens have actually polled very well indeed and more than doubled their councillors). But the rightwing, pro-business, anti-NHS Faragista party's showing is not exactly, to borrow an old phrase, "breaking the mould of British politics."

The facts are:
- UKIP won 162 seats out of 4,200 contested: 3.6% of the total
- UKIP polled an assessed national vote of 17%. That's up 13% on the last time the seats at stake were fought, but it is nearly 7% DOWN on their showing this time last year at the county council elections.
- Turnout was 36% across the country, meaning just 6.12% of the electorate chose UKIP
- UKIP polled extremely badly in London; their own spokesperson has bizarrely said this is because they struggle to win the support of educated people, something of an insult to his own supporters.

Who would have guessed Labour won the elections?
However reluctantly, no one would deny UKIP had a good night. But it was not the Spectacular! they were anticipating, nor the Breaking-News-Fest that the 24 Hour News media are portraying it as being. This isn't sour grapes - but rather a concern that by giving yet again a completely false impression of a groundswell for UKIP, a fiction will inform even further the panic among the three establishment parties, who will respond with ever more illiberal, rightwards shift in policy and action. Already senior Labour MPs are saying they must "talk more" about immigration, and Tories are even calling for a pact for the general election next year.

The truth is that UKIP have no functional party machinery across whole swathes of the country - in Kirklees they managed to put up in just 5 out of 23 wards (Greens and even the Lib Dems fought all of them) - and other than a big donation for the Euro-elections from a single donor, they are not flush for money. Their members tend to be semi-activists, reflecting the armchair location of many of them, and large quantities of their leaflets were delivered by commercial companies (including those with low wage, zero hours Eastern European staff).

Just as its arguments and policies depend on appeals to blind emotion rather than any informed facts, its organisation such as it is appears to be haphazard and chaotic. While the feelings of its voters obviously deserve to be taken note of and given the same weight as others, UKIP's showing should not be allowed to dictate the terms of political discourse - notwithstanding, of course, that more than a few in the three old parties in truth share much of UKIP's neoliberal worldview. Whatever happens, even if as is likely they perform better in the European results announced tomorrow, the polling of this revanchist, populist party should not be allowed to legitimise or necessitate an even further lurch rightwards in our politics.

So it's not a revolution - 6.12% is a theatre-outing rather than the People's Army march that Farage hubristically declared it to be. UKIP is lazy politics and the equally lazy (or biased, surely not?!) media would do well to take note. No one is going to the barricades when the leader is already down the pub.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

We Are Europe - Change It for the Better 22 May

For people not profit.
For consumers not corporations.
For planet, not exploitation.

We need a Europe that works for people, not big business. We need a Europe that improves the lives of workers, vulnerable people, the young and old.

We need a Europe for all of us.
We are Europe - change it for the better.

Today. Vote Green.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Guest Post: Bradley Allsop on Greens or UKIP?

Bradley Allsop explains why a Green vote is better than a UKIP one...

The past few months have seen a lot of attention on UKIP in the upcoming European elections, where the right-wing party are expected to come first or second.

Some are jubilant – I mean, they're sticking up a finger to the establishment and ridding us of an over-bearing EU in one stroke, aren’t they? Wrong.

If people want real change, and a party with a holistic vision of a fair future- then Greens are the only choice. Here are five reasons why a Green vote is a better vote than a purple one.

1. Green MEPs actually do something - Out of some kind of misguided belief that voting in the European Parliament would only “encourage” the Europhiles, Farage seems to actually take pride in his atrocious voting record in Brussels – compared to Greens who have the highest turnout out of any group. Whatever your views on the EU, we’re not going to leave it until at least 2017- so surely you want those elected into the European Parliament to actually try and fight your corner? Green MEP’s have already fought for caps on bankers’ bonuses, tougher regulation on City speculator’s, and measures to tackle youth unemployment- using their time in Brussels to actually help people. They’re also the only party talking about the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - one of the biggest threats to democracy we face.

2. Climate change - UKIP are climate change deniers. The party’s 2010 manifesto promised to end the teaching of climate change in schools. Climate change, and the impending energy crisis if we do not switch to renewables, are two of the biggest problems we as a species face. The Greens are committed to tackling this head on, so we can all live in a cleaner, more sustainable way, preserving the beauty of our world -  while UKIP opt for the “bury your head in the sand” technique. This also highlights a key reason to stay in the EU - it has already passed legislation concerning carbon emissions, recognising that climate change is not something any one nation can tackle alone. We need international cooperation of the sort that the EU can give us.

3. What you see is what you get - The Green party works in a far more democratic way that the other major parties. Conference (where any member can put forward a proposal, proposals that are voted for by ordinary members) is the highest authority, and there is no “whipping” of Green candidates and officials. As long as we adhere to what is decided by everyone at conference, we are given relative autonomy to fight for what we believe and do what we think is right. What you see is what you get with the Greens, a party not mired in scandal like certain other parties seem to be…

4. Fighting for the unrepresented - The Greens have fought tirelessly for the forgotten, on local, national, and international levels. We want the minimum wage to become a living wage, whereas UKIP want to impose a flat rate of tax – something which only benefits the rich. We have fought for LGBTQI rights, whereas UKIP blame them for the weather. We have made steps at conference and within party structure to have more BME candidates, whereas UKIP officials have told them to go back to “black land”.

5. Hope not fear - The Greens are offering a fair and bright future for everyone. UKIP are offering an ever-more divisive future, fraught with an ‘us and them’ mentality. The threats we face as a species demand cooperation between us all, not division. The Greens recognise problems with the EU and seek to reform it so it works for the hundreds of millions within it, whereas UKIP just seek to isolate us, and draw us into a stagnant culture devoid of variety. The Greens are calling on you to hope for better, whereas UKIP are asking you to fear the worst.

If you want to give the establishment a good kicking on the 22nd, don’t vote for a party of not-so-closeted racists led by a former stockbroker and ex-public school boy. Vote for a radical alternative to the mainstream parties – the Greens.

(This post was originally published on the Young Greens website HE|RE.)

Picture from the incomparable blogger, Another Angry Voice

UKIP hit the doldrums as the Greens Surge

The media story of the European elections has been UKIP - not whether they would win or not, but by how much. Who could stop Farage and his People's Army? Hadn't the fag-and-pint-a-man colourfully captured the nation's zeitgeist (oops, is that German?)? Didn't he articulate the public mood just right?

But after several weeks of Farage overkill on the TV along with a roll-call of dodgy candidates far too long now to dismiss as the odd crank - from the man who thought gay marriage caused flooding, to the one who says women are partially responsible for date rape to the one who called for his opponents to be hanged for treason - the UKIP vote is not soaring, but flat-lining. The latest YouGov polls show that after weeks of spending his multi-millionaire funder's cash, Nigel's vote share for the European elections on Thursday has not altered at all since January and he languishes in second place.

But what the figures also show is the untold story, largely ignored by the media: the rise of the Green Party. From a 5% vote share back in March, the party has risen steadily to now be on 12%, ahead of the Liberal Democrats (the fourth national poll to show this). If the Green vote comes out this week, the party is set for a stunning result with a big increase from its current 2 MEPs.

So let's see the media cover the real story, not the manufactured purple hype.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Crash - Nigel Farage on LBC

Last week, I posited that there was a seminal moment on BBC Question Time when, however slowly, the wheels finally began to come off Nigel Farage's bandwagon.

Yesterday, in a live broadcast interview with LBC's James O'Brien, the wagon seemed to crash into the rails to the extent that Farage's media aide intervened to try to bring the interview to an end as the UKIP leader's refusal to have his expenses audited was raised. See it all here.

Green Euroelections - Cllr Andrew Cooper, Lead candidate for Yorkshire & The Humber Region

In 2009, Yorkshire & The Humber region saw a rise in the Green Party vote at the European elections, but they were just pipped at the post, as in the North West, by the BNP. Just 1.3% separated the two.

Now, with the BNP imploded - their MEP left the party and set up his own, which is not standing - the Greens are working hard to gain their first seat in the region for the European Parliament. With councillors already elected in Scarborough, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, York and Kirklees, they have selected Huddersfield's Cllr Andrew Cooper as the lead candidate. Here he is.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Green Euroelections - Peter Cranie, Lead candidate for the North West Region

With the polls showing the Greens' support rising, including several now putting them ahead of the junior government party, the Lib Dems, here is Peter Cranie, the lead Green for the North West. Last time round, he lost by barely 0.3% to the BNP leader Nick Griffin. This time...

Thursday, 8 May 2014

"I have no time for you, sir!"

"I have no time for you, sir! None!"
The rejoinder to UKIP's leader Nigel Farage of a particularly eloquent and passionate but controlled member of the BBC's Question Time audience tonight as he dismissed the distortions and half-truths peddled by the populist snake oil salesman. Of course, the BBC has plenty of time for Farage - it was his 29th appearance since 1999, a record by far indeed.

But tonight, as the needle stuck yet again on Europe Endless, and as Farage even tried to justify his life of taxpayer-funded luxury as some weird sort of crusade, there was a sense of fatigue, of a bubble maybe not bursting, but certainly slowly, even subtly deflating. And the audience member's powerful face-off with the UKIP leader, pointing to how pseudo-patriotic populism has caused wars in Europe, could possibly be Farage's Nick Griffin Moment.  This could be the split-second event, the tipping point, when this over-exposed, hyped-up faux "character" was finally laid as bare and empty as the Emperor's wardrobe for new clothing.

Though of course, Nigel still got away with plenty of fibs - right to the very end where he claimed a presumably UKIP led British government outside of the EU would stop Pfizer's attempted takeover of Astrazeneca. In fact, the truth is UKIP favours a raft of "free trade agreements" which would effectively hand our sovereignty over to the the men in the Boardrooms and at the Directors' tables of multinational corporates. In such a scenario, any government trying to stop such a takeover would likely face being sued for damage to profits by Pfizer, whose right to taxpayer funded compensation would be written into law.

So, as the man said, no more time for Mr Farage. Please.