Posts Tagged ‘Wind Power’

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

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American Scientists Plan March against Trump

January 28, 2017

After the massive numbers of people involved in the women’s marches against Trump held around the world last weekend, American scientists are also planning to organise their own demonstration against the Orange Caudillo in protest at his disastrous environmental and health policies.

In this video, TYT Nation’s Jeff Waldorf discusses a report in Forbes’ discussing the formation of the new group of scientists planning this march. The group has it’s own internet page, and in five days its members grew from 200 to 200,000 +. The group says it will include non-scientists as well as scientists, and is intended to advocate the greater involvement of science in government. It’s purpose is to defend climate science, evolution, and alternative energy. Waldorf states that he too believes strongly that science should be more involved in government. He also quibbles with the phrasing in the Forbes’ article, taking issue with the magazine’s description of the scientists as ‘believing’ in the environmental damage caused by the fossil fuel industries. Waldorf argues that scientists’ in these areas don’t believe, because they have proof that oil pipelines, such as DAPL, can rupture, creating massive oil spills and environmental destruction.

Waldorf also argues that, although he understands why people in America’s coal country wish to retain the industry for as long as possible for the sake of their jobs, renewables are now becoming cheaper than oil for the first time. It’s time to move from the horse and buggy to the automobile, is the metaphor he uses. He also notes that 75 per cent of Trumps’ own supporters are also in favour of solar and wind power, and natural gas. Waldorf himself is not in favour of natural gas, as it’s still a fossil fuel, with the environmental problems that poses. At the moment, the movement is still in the planning stage, but hopes to issue a mission statement soon. In the meantime, they state that a government that sacrifices science to ideology is a threat not just to America, but also the world.

I wish the scientists the best of luck in their campaigns against Trump’s attack on climate change and green energy. I think, however, Waldorf has a rather too optimistic view of science. There’s quite a debate in the philosophy of science over what constitutes ‘proof’. In one view, articulated by the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, science advances through falsification. You can’t prove a particular theory. What you do instead is show that other explanations are false. In many areas of science, the observable effects of experiments, may be tiny and ambiguous. This is why scientists have developed very sophisticated statistical methods for sorting through their observations in search of factual evidence that will support or disprove their theories. Thus, at the risk of nit-picking, it might be fairer to say that climate change and environmental damage by the fossil fuel industry is far better supported by the available evidence, than the minority view that no such change or damage is occurring.

I also think you have to be careful about relying too much on science to solve social problems. The British philosopher, Mary Midgeley, in one of her books pointed out that in some areas, what is needed is a social and industrial solution to a particularly issue, rather than scientific innovation. For example, it could be argued that in the struggle against world hunger, what is needed is not new, genetically engineered crops which produce vast yields, but better transportation methods and infrastructure to supply people with the food that has already been grown.

Despite these very minor quibbles, it is true that orthodox, respectable science in the above areas has been under attack for a long time to serve powerful interests in the fossil fuel industries. Trump this week imposed gagging orders preventing scientists and government workers in the Environmental Protection Agency from revealing their findings. Climate change is happening, and is a real danger to America and the globe. But this awareness frightens the Koch brothers and their wealth in the petrochemical industry. So they, and millionaires like them, are spending vast sums to keep the facts from ordinary peeps. America’s scientists are right to challenge this. Let’s hope their march in support of proper science goes ahead and is well-attended.

Trump Imposes Gag Order on Government Environmental Scientists

January 28, 2017

The Republican party since the 1980s, if not before, has a bitter hatred of environmentalism and loathes just about any and all laws, movements or protests to protect Earth’s precious natural resources, and the creatures with whom we share our beautiful world. Now Trump’s taken it to its latest development.

In this video, The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian discuss Trump’s imposition of a legal ban gagging members of the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing details of their work to the general public. Trump has also frozen official funding, so that the Agency may only publish its results and findings if these meet the official, ideological approval of his administration.

Uygur and Kasparian point out that this is intended to keep people ignorant, powerless and deprived of decent science education before Trump’s government. They also point out that this action by the Orange Dictator shows without question that the Republicans are anti-science. It doesn’t matter whether individual Republican voters support Trump’s policy, or they merely have to go along with it because they agree with his others reforms. The Republicans are anti-science, and they should now own it.

They also make the point that in any jobs that may actually be brought back to America through these bans, Americans will be fighting for scraps. The jobs in the petrochemical sectors drilling for oil, which the attacks on the EPA are designed to protect, will not be such to give Americans the standard of living they want. It would make far greater sense for the government to begin investigating in renewables – a whole new industry. At the moment, even the Chinese are beating America in investment and research into renewable energy, because, says Uygur, ‘the Chinese are smart’. But there’s no reasons why America shouldn’t be no. 1 in renewable energy. They’ve got enough sun in Arizona and wind in Chicago, the notorious ‘windy city’.

The Young Turks here are right. This is all about protecting the Republican party’s corporate backers in the petrochemical industry, like the Koch brothers. These two have financed a slew of fake astroturf ‘Green’ organisations and campaigned against genuine climate science produced by independent university laboratories. Koch money has been poured into Unis and state coffers instead to produce very politicised labs that have been set up to deny that climate change is occurring, and that drilling for oil is having a harmful effect on the local landscape of the US. This is despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, such as vast stretches of Louisiana wetland now made little more than one vast oil bog. Or the fact that there were over 300 spills from the oil pipelines crisscrossing America last year. The Kochs and their dollars try to keep facts like these well-hidden from the voters and the folks that have to live with the results of their environmental pillage.

And whatever the Republicans do, the Tories are nearly always bound to follow. The Republicans have heavily embraced fracking, and so have the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers. So you can bet that at this moment, Theresa May, members of her cabinet, or perhaps the members of some Tory think tank somewhere, is looking at these gagging laws, and wondering how something similar can be introduced over here.

Private Eye from 2009 on Corporate Lobbying at the Tory Party Conference

March 8, 2016

Private Eye printed this piece about the corporate sponsorship of the Tory conference that year in their issue for the 4th – 17th September 2009.

Conference Countdown

David Cameron has warned lobbyists to keep their distance at the Conservatives’ forthcoming party conference in Manchester. With the keys to No. 10 within his grasp, the last thing Dave needs is another cash-for-access scandal. But corporations that want to get close to the PM-in-waiting can always go the think-tank route.

Policy Exchange is the most Cameroonian of these bodies, and its preliminary conference timetable shows how easy it is for business interests to pay for face time with shadow ministers.

Shadow energy minister Charles Hendry will be speaking about “energy security and decarbonisation” courtesy of Oil & Gas UK, the trade body for the North Sea oil firms, alongside the group’s chief executive. As the meeting is being paid for by the oil lobby, energy security will most likely trump global warming, and wind and wave power, like energy saving, will not get much of a look-in.

Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien will be discussing whether funding for long-term care should be by “individual, state or partnership”. The answer may well be by “partnership” because the meeting is being paid for by Partnership Assurance which specialises in funding elderly care through equity release and insurance schemes and so has a direct interest in less government funding for elderly care.

Fellow shadow health minister Mark Simmonds meanwhile will discuss whether “We need more public health initiatives for the worried well?” The obvious answer would be ‘No we don’t”, but as the meeting is sponsored by Alliance Boots, which would love to be involved in government health initiatives to drum up more business, the answer may well be in the affirmative.

Shadow business minister Mark Prisk is addressing a meeting called “Britain won’t be great if we don’t make anything anymore”, paid for by the arms firm BAE Systems. He will speak alongside BAE’s spin doctor, Bob Keen. BAE’s contribution to Britain’s greatness includes taking huge amounts of the defence budget for military kit marred by cost overruns and late delivery – overpriced and late schemes like the Astute Class Submarine (£1bn over cost, four years late) about which the Tories have been making a fuss.

The British Airports Authority, so close to the current government, is taking no chances with a new administration and so is sponsoring a meeting on “infrastructure” with George Freeman, Cameron’s “A List” candidate for the safe Tory Mid Norfolk seat. BAA’s spin doctor, former spokesman for Tony Blair Tom Kelly, will also address Tory delegates at the meeting.

Shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey meanwhile will be talking about “the future of television ” on a platform funded by BT Vision, alongside the TV-on-the-internet firm’s chief executive. BT Vision of course currently lobbying the government to merge with Channel 4. So no hidden agenda there.

This shows how duplicitous Cameron has always been in trying to deny the corporatist agenda behind the Tory party. He wanted to hide the influence of the lobbyists at this party conference, just as his lobbying bill is supposed to make government more transparent by limiting them at Westminster. In fact, it’s aimed at charity and other political pressure groups and denying them access, and leave the corporate big boys untouched.

And it also shows the very deep connections between his Tories and the corporations seeking to profit from privatisation and government outsourcing.

Vox Political on the Questionable Effectiveness of Privacy Safeguards In the Government’s Snooper’s Charter

March 1, 2016

This is another very interesting and telling piece from Mike over at Vox Political. The government has promised to tighten up the provisions to safeguard privacy in its act giving the intelligence services greater powers to intercept and store personal information from the internet, according to BBC News. It’s been described, rightly, as a ‘snooper’s charter’. It’s been on the table for months, along with cosy reassurances from the government that everything will be fine and this is nothing to worry about. It’s rubbish. Clearly, this is a threat to the liberty and privacy of British subjects. Once upon a time the intelligence services had to take a warrant out from the British government in order to tap phones. This piece of legislation gives them free warrant – or freer warrant – as an increasing amount of legislation over the years has gradually extended their ability to tap just about everyone’s electronic communications. This is dangerous, as it effectively makes everyone automatically suspect, even if they have done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago I posted up a piece I found in William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, about the way the EU a few years ago condemned Britain and the US for spying on EU citizens. The European authorities were, at least at that time, particularly concerned about the way the US was using intercepted information for corporate, industrial espionage, not to counter any terrorist threat. So there’s a real danger that the British authorities will do the same. A long time ago, in that brief, blissful gap between the Fall of Communism and the War and Terror, the spooks at MI5 and MI6 really didn’t know what to do. The old Soviet Communist threat had evaporated, dissident Republican groups were still around, but Sinn Fein was at the negotiating table and there was a cease fare. And Osama bin Laden had yet to destroy the World Trade Centre and try to kill the president. Prospects looked bleak for Britain’s spies. It looked like there might be cutbacks, job losses. George Smiley, James Bond and the others might be faced with going down the jobcentre. So the intelligence agencies announced that they were going into industrial espionage. Lobster covered this revolting development, with appropriate boastful quote from the agencies concerned. So, if you’re a struggling businessman somewhere in Britain and the EU, with little capital but some cracking ideas, be afraid. Be very afraid. Because this bill will result in the Americans stealing your idea. Blum gave the example of a couple of German and French firms, include a wind-power company, who found their secrets passed on to their American rivals.

Mike also adds an interesting piece comparing the supine attitude of our own legislature to that of South Korea. The opposition there has been engaged in a week-long filibuster to talk their electronic surveillance bill out of parliament, to deny it any votes and any validity whatsoever. Bravo to them! Now if there’s a country that has rather more need of such a bill, it’s South Korea. They are bordered on the north with a totalitarian state that has absolutely no respect for the lives of its people, and which makes terrible threats of military action backed by nuclear warfare. It is run by a bloodthirsty dictator, who has killed members of his own family with extreme overkill. Really. He shot one of his generals to pieces with an anti-aircraft gun.

I got the impression that South Korea is like Japan. It’s an extremely capitalist society with the Asian work ethic. And it is extremely anti-Communist. I can remember being told by an spokesman for the Unification Church, who came into speak to us in the RE course at College, that the anti-Communist parts of Sun Myung Moon’s creed were nothing special, and were part of the general anti-Communist culture of South Korea. I honestly don’t know whether this is true, or whether it was then – this was the 1980s – and isn’t now. But clearly, the South Korean have very good reasons to be suspicious of espionage for their northern neighbours.

But their equivalent of this law is too much for them. And it should also be for us, if we genuinely value our privacy and civil liberties. But I’m starting to ponder whether we truly do. John Kampfner in his book ‘Freedom for Sale’ describes in depth the way Tony Bliar and Broon massively expanded the intelligence gathering powers of the authorities in this country, transforming it into something very like Orwell’s 1984. I kid you not. One local authority affixed loudspeakers to the CCTV cameras on particular estates, so they could order you around as well as keep you under surveillance. Pretty much like the all-pervasive televisions in Orwell’s Oceania. Kampfner also called into question the supposed traditional British love of freedom. He argued that it was actually much less than we really wanted to believe. Blair and Broon made no secret of what they were doing, and the British public in general bought it. Partly spurred on by the hysterics of the populist press, with Paul Dacre, Murdoch and the like demanding greater and more intrusive police powers to fight crime and terrorism.

Even Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, was shocked at how far this process went. In the 1990s he went on a tour of China. When he came back, he was shocked by the ubiquitous presence of the CCTV cameras. Alan Moore, the creator of the classic dystopian comic and graphic novel, V for Vendetta, said in an interview that when he wrote the strip in the British anthology comic, Warrior, back in the 1980s, he put in CCTV cameras on street corners, thinking that it would really frighten people. Now, he observed, they were everywhere.

I’m very much afraid that everywhere we are losing our liberties, our rights to freedom of conscience and assembly. That they’re being stripped from by a corporatist elite in the name of protecting us from terrorism, but which is really a façade for a military-industrial complex determined to control, and control absolutely and minutely. And what makes the blood really run cold is the sheer apathy of the great British public to this process.

I’ve been mocking Alex Jones of the conspiracy internet site and programme, Infowars the past couple of days, putting up pieces of some of his weird and nonsensical ranting. Jones is wrong in so much of what he says. He’s a libertarian, looking in the wrong direction for the threat to freedom. But fundamentally, he has a point. There is a campaign from the corporate elite to strip us of our freedoms. And our leaders – in the parliament, the press and the media, seem quite content to do little about it.

The Young Turks on the Devastation Caused by the TPP

January 25, 2016

I’ve posted a number of pieces about the damaging effects on the projected TPP trade agreement now being considered by politicians across the world. Left-wing bloggers and social activists have criticised the agreement on the grounds that it gives private corporations the power to sue national governments for legislation that may harm their trade. In effect, it takes power away from national governments to regulate and control industry, and gives it to big business. There have been a number of petitions launched against it in Britain, most notably because of the threat it poses to the National Health Service. Campaigners are trying to get the NHS omitted from the deal, as they fear that the TPP will lock in the Tories’ steal privatisation of the health service.

The TPP is also controversial and unpopular in America. In this video from The Young Turks, the anchors John Iadarola, Michael Shure and Elliot Hill discuss the findings of researchers from Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Unit. The Tufts researchers found that the claims that the TPP would promote economic growth and jobs were all wrong. Instead, they predict that in America, GDP will be 0.54% lower than it would be without the trade deal. The Japanese would also be worse off by 0.12%.

The also state that there would be minimal or negligible economic gains for the participating countries. There would be less than 1% economic growth for the nations in the Developed World after ten years, and only 3% for nations in the Developing World.

771,000 jobs would be lost due to the deal. The most severe job losses would be felt in America, which would lose 448,000. The countries that did not participate in the trade deal would also suffer massive job losses. In the Developed World, GDP would suffer by 3.77%, and 879,000 jobs would be lost, mostly in Europe. In the Developing World, the economic losses would include 5.24% of the GDP and 4.45 million jobs lost in China and India.

The Turks acknowledge that there are other predictions that the economy will actually grow under the TPP, and state they merely want to start a conversation about this issue. But from this, it seems clear that the TPP will be devastating to nations right across the globe. The only people, who will profit from it are the leaders of big business. Everybody else seems set to lose their jobs and see their nations become even more impoverished.

The Turks also ponder how it can be that whatever the price of oil, it’s bad for the economy. When the price is high, it’s harming the economy. When it’s low, this also harms the economy. John Iadarola suggests, half-jokingly, that it’s time we stopped being dependent on oil. He mentions that he did a piece the other day on how Denmark got 42% of its power from wind. He doesn’t say this would be possible in America, but something should be done to make America less dependent on it.

This programme provides further evidence that the TPP is altogether harmful, and should be firmly resisted by everyone, whether they’re in Britain, America, China, Japan, India or wherever.