Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Top economist backs the Greens

Greens and economists are often at odds. The reductionist short-termism that is usual in conventional economics is the antithesis of the Green view. So it's nice - if perhaps a bit worrying - when a top economist endorses us.

Here's what Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said in a recent interview with the Guardian:
“I think the Greens are right. We have to make sure that the benefits of growth are shared more equally. Anybody who is concerned about our environment has to be committed to a more egalitarian policy, because we can’t let those at the bottom have inadequate means.”
That's not entirely a Green view, of course. The problem with growth is not just that the benefits have gone to the richest 1%. It's also that the planet cannot stand continued growth in material things. Unlimited growth in mining, manufacturing and population, to name but three, is not merely undesirable but impossible.

We have been sold growth on the basis that everyone would benefit in the long run. But guess what? This is the long run and most of us haven't.

It's time for a new approach - an approach based on meeting needs and respecting planetary constraints rather than making profits. The Greens are the only party that has this at the centre of its thinking. The only party looking to the real future.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Islamic reformation has begun!

Most Westerners look at the escalating violence across the Middle East, and in Africa, with horror. We compare the brutalities of Islamic State and Boko Haram with the largely peaceful and tolerant societies we live in. We note that whilst Islamic State has re-invented state-sanctioned sexual slavery and kills homosexuals the Irish people have conducted an energetic but civilised debate and will legalise gay marriage.

Why, we ask, can't they be like us?  Why can't they agree to differ about sex, religion and politics?

Now this question ignores our own brutalities, such as Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition, and our roles in creating Muslim extremism and frustrating democracy in the region. These deserve our condemnation. But for now I want to recognise that the extremism and brutality we see have distinctively Islamic roots.

Some people have reflected on European history and decided that our tolerance is the result of the Protestant Reformation. They've called on Muslim leaders to create their own reformation - I've done so myself.

That, I now see, is wrong. That's not because Islam does not need reform but because the Islamic Reformation has been underway for the last century. For the Protestant Reformation is not what you may think.

Mehdi Hassan made this point in the Guardian recently:
Luther did not merely nail 95 theses to the door of [his church] ... He also demanded that German peasants revolting against their feudal overlords be “struck dead” ...  and authored On the Jews and Their Lies ..., in which he referred to Jews as “the devil’s people” and called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues. ...  Luther helped establish antisemitism as “a key element of German culture and national identity”.

The Protestant Reformation also opened the door to blood-letting on an unprecedented, continent-wide scale. .... Tens of millions of innocents died in Europe; up to 40% of Germany’s population is believed to have been killed in the thirty years’ war.
All true. The Reformation and the nationalism that grew alongside it did release great violence and did divide Europe, roughly, into a Catholic South and Protestant North. One mark of its success is that the Peace of Westphalia,1648, ended the Pope's claim to rule Europe and guaranteed Christians the right to follow forms of Christianity not favoured by their kings.

The Reformation took 130 years to get to that point but many scholars put its end at 1750 - a full 230 years after Luther's decisive act.

But let's go back to Hasaan: 
The truth is that Islam has already had its own reformation ... Wasn’t reform exactly what was offered ...  by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the mid-18th century itinerant preacher who allied with the House of Saud? He offered an austere Islam cleansed of what he believed to be innovations, which eschewed centuries of mainstream scholarship and commentary, and rejected the authority of the traditional ulema, or religious authorities.
Some might argue that if anyone deserves the title of a Muslim Luther, it is Ibn Abdul Wahhab who, in the eyes of his critics, combined Luther’s puritanism with the German monk’s antipathy towards the Jews. 
Just so. Lets also note that both men allied themselves with local rulers. Both reformations were puritanical and nationalistic. Ibn Abdul Wahab is the Muslim Luther for all those reasons. So we may date the Muslim Reformation from 1844, the date of his pact with Muhammad bin Saud.

But the reform process is not over. A 'reformist' current has been active in Muslim lands since the time of Ibn Abdul Wahab, most obviously in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was politically ineffective for many years; I'll leave the historical explanations for others but I suspect that the Ottoman Empire, colonialism, military strongmen and secular politicians all played their parts.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 marked a key point in the evolution of the Reformation - a Shia response to Saudi Arabia's Sunni fundamentalism and the creation of the second Muslim Reformation state. Or, some may think, a Counter-Reformation state.

The appearance of Islamic State and Boko Haram should therefore come as no surprise. They, too, are puritanical and harsh and though Islamic State claims universal jurisdiction Sunni nationalism clearly plays a key part.

Another parallel concerns religious 'ethnic cleansing'. Reformations and Counter Reformations are inherently intolerant. They seek conversion, forced if necessary, to their peculiar truths and the banishment or death of those who will not convert. The Protestant Reformation (and the wars that followed) created hostility to Jews, the division of Europe into Catholic South and Protestant North and the emigration of the Huguenots (Protestants) from France. The latest phase of the Muslim Reformation in the Middle East has led to the expulsion of Arab Christians, the persecution of Yazidis and the segregation of Sunii, Shias and Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

I think three things are obvious:
  • The political processes of the Muslim Reformation are far from from complete. They may take much longer than the Protestant Reformation!
  • Those processes are only incidentally concerned with the West.
  • The Reformation will affect every mainly Muslim country to some degree; and many others. To a large degree it already has.
This implies the existence of fanatical states and would-be states across the Muslim world for at least decades. The wars that they wage will do great damage, with most victims being Muslims. They will provoke repeated waves of refugees both in the region and more widely.

This is a very unpleasant prospect but there is hope. For the Protestant Reformation led to the Enlightenment, to religious tolerance and ultimately to the less dogmatic and enthusiastic forms of Christianity that are now the Western norm. I believe that Islam will find these changes harder but, with luck, they will prove possible.

We must all hope so.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The tartan elephant in Labour's room

The contest is on and the hopefuls are entering the ring. All, so far, speak of the electoral disaster and the need to reach out to 'aspirational' voters. Look, for instance, at Chuka Umuma's article. He takes 10 paras to argue for a move to the right and dismisses Scotland in one sentence.

Yet it is in Scotland that Labour lost 40 seats - in England and Wales it actually gained two!

So a serious analysis should start with Scotland. Why doesn't he?

I think there are two reasons. First Labour finds it hard to even think about the Scottish losses - the wound is too raw. Labour thought it had a right to its 41 Scottish seats. It's still in shock.

Second, serious analysis would lead to unwelcome conclusions. The SNP's attraction was part nationalist and part political. The SNP's policies (eg against austerity and Trident replacement) were generally left of Labour's so the way to get those seats back would be to move Left. The current leadership contenders fear that that would lose them English votes.

It's also possible that some of them actually believe in the Blairite doctrines of free enterprise, privatisation and 'liberal interventionism' - that they really are red Tories - but I see little sign of any principles at the momemnt.

Which is doubtless good for parties of principle, such as the Greens.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Post-election: Taking the Next step

Many businesses have welcomed the election result. Next, whose CEO Lord Wolfson is a Tory peer, has done more - it's taken advantage of it.

Next has just announced that the 800 staff entitled to extra pay for Sunday working (staff who joined the firm before 2008) will lose that right. Those that won't give it up may be fired. A Next spokesman said "Working on a Sunday ... has become a new normal – so Next feels it is no longer justifiable to pay some of its staff up to 50% more" for Sunday work.

Mark Hix, GMB’s national officer for retail workers, responded: "Next claim that they consider Sunday to be a normal working day. ... There can hardly be a better example of a company that has a total disregard for family life."

This disregard for family life, indeed for anything other than pounds and pence, is now so common as to go unnoticed. But its wrong. It should always be challenged.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Greens beating LibDems in London

The latest IpsosMORI poll puts the Green Party on 11% in London, 4 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats. There's been a big swing from from Labour and Liberal Democrats

The poll demonstrates a huge rise in support for the Greens in London since 2010 and cements our position as the third biggest party in the capital following our strong performance in the 2012 Mayoral and London Assembly elections.

This follows from the membership surge of 2014/15. We now have 11,000 members in London. We are contesting all the London seats and half our candidates are women.

According to my fellow candidate Tom Chance, Co-Chair of the London Green Party:

“Of course this is exactly the news we want to be hearing just before the election but it reflects the feeling we’ve been getting on the ground throughout this campaign when our members have been out and about meeting voters. People are feeling let-down by politics in Britain and they’re hungry for an alternative to the austerity message being served-up on a daily basis by the “established” parties.

What is so exciting is that here in London we already have a great basis from which to deliver that change for voters. We finished third in the last Mayoral election. We have two assembly members, an MEP, and four councillors. This is giving us the base we need to build our influence and our presence. Voters can go out to the polls on May 7th knowing that by voting Green, they’re contributing to a rapidly growing movement in London. We really are on the verge of making history.”

Monday, 4 May 2015

I am number 922!

No, I'm not in gaol! That's the number of the certificate given to me by local 38 Degrees members at last Friday's hustings to show that I've received the NHS petition. It's an odd feeling - I'm more used to being an activist for change than one of those being lobbied!

Of course I welcome the petition which asks me to defend the NHS, resist privatisation and provide sufficient funding - all of which is both my personal commitment and the policy of my party.

Our priority in the new parliament should be to reverse the current privatisation and restore the duty of the Secretary of State to provide a universal NHS. You know, like we used to have.

But then there are major challenges for the NHS:
  • We should give mental health parity with physical health.
  • We should integrate social and medical care
  • We should ensure that treatment is as good at weekends as on weekdays.
In the long run (and this got applause at the hustings) we need to address the causes of ill health which include poor diet, lack of exercise, economic inequality and excessive consumption of alcohol.

I'd like to believe that good policies on food, housing transport, tax, air quality, etc., would reduce the need for spending on treating disease. But I don't. I think they will reduce the need to increase that spending. The growth is driven by our longer lives and the ingenuity of doctors and scientists in devising new treatments - which in turn extend our lives.

See the Green Surge!

A photo gallery shows the Green Surge. If you joined since 22nd May last year to could get your photo in this gallery - details on the website.