Monthly Archives: October 2013

Does Bridgend CBC have alternatives to implementing Con-Dem cuts?

The revelation that Bridgend CBC is cutting £36million from its spending over the next three years was shocking enough, but hearing that they are already targeting things like home care services for the disabled, nursery education and school transport emphasise just who is being made to pay for the mismanagement of the economy by successive governments.
This isn’t even the end of it. George Osborne’s autumn statement revealed that the cuts will now have to continue until 2018, such has been the failure of the chancellor’s economic strategy. Not surprisingly, the dawning realisation of what this means for some of the most hard-pressed families in the country has brought howls of outrage.
But the situation facing Labour councillors is especially acute, since not only are the funding cuts political, but the burden of current and projected needs in working class communities like Bridgend are enormously greater. People in Bridgend, I am sure, did not elect Labour councillors to merely administer cuts for the Con-Dem government but to represent and protect their interests at the local level. It is all well and good that Cllr Nott, leader of the Council, hollers with outrage that the cuts will cause “extreme pain” but voters are increasingly beginning to ask what he is planning to do to protect the hard-pressed people he represents.

Labour’s approach nationally thus far has been to identify central government as responsible for the painful choices facing Labour councils, but to accept that these savage cuts are effectively a fact of political life, at least this side of a general election. The responsibility of power, we are told, means taking ‘tough choices’ to avoid still worse consequences. But is it true that Labour councillors have no choice but to become the instruments through which Pickles will deliver cuts to deprived communities in Bridgend?

Once upon a time, the Labour Party would have been talking about empowerment, community and decentralisation, echoing its grassroots co-operative traditions, and providing real alternative models of service delivery. No more. Such socialist ideas have been purged in Blairite New labour. Furthermore, those expecting a Labour government to restore local government structures and finances to the status quo are likely to be disappointed. As with so much else, Labour may oppose the scale and pace of the cuts today, but will not make promises to reverse those cuts the Tories have already implemented or set in train.
Of course, many councillors want to demonstrate that they are more than hapless accomplices of Eric Pickles’ cash‑grab from local services. But they are shackled by their blind loyalty to a Party that is no longer the one they joined a few decades ago. A few Labour councils, and the UK’s only Green Council in Brighton, have been seeking ways of implementing some progressive measures. So, for example, they have committed themselves to becoming living wage employers and stipulated minimum pay standards in the course of procurement from contractors. Some have instigated a ‘Fairness Commission’, bringing together academics and social policy experts with councillors in open public deliberation to take evidence on inequality in their boroughs and make practical recommendations for directing what limited resources are available to tackle the problem. None of this will be found in Bridgend.

Shock, horror! A number of Labour councils have even been actively exploring co-operative initiatives around renewable energy. In Preston the local authority has suggested that erecting wind turbines on council-owned land would put £1.5 million a year into the council coffers. No such creative thinking between Cllr Nott’s ears.

The stock response to the argument that Labour councils could refuse point-blank to deliver the coalition cuts is that any alternative, deficit-based ‘needs budget’ would lead directly to Eric Pickles assuming direct control over local budgets and implementing cuts with no thought for those most in need. It is true that no course of locally-determined resistance can ultimately succeed without direct confrontation with central government based on a mobilisation of local communities nationwide. But were Labour to spearhead a national campaign of militant resistance involving local communities in determining their collective needs, the secretary of state wouldn’t find it easy to suspend the entire apparatus of local democracy. And unlike during the epic rate-setting disputes of the 1980s, individual councillors no longer face personal financial ruin, since – although they can be debarred from office – the power to surcharge expelled councillors no longer exists in law. But Labour simply has no stomach for a fight any more.

The Labour left is, of course, an impotent sideshow these days. Even those advocating a militant ‘no cuts’ stance recognise that it would require a strategy for building confidence and extending community support. But there can be no excuse for councillors failing to exhaust every option in their power to delay and contest the implementation of cuts – in the first instance by drawing on reserves and making full use of prudential borrowing powers – to buy time in which the forces of resistance in the community can be consolidated. Bold and determined resistance could inspire levels of popular support that could transform calculations of what is politically possible. Had the people of Bridgend voted for the Green Party instead this Labour group, this is what they would have got. Public resistance, embodied in movements like the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PAAA) has thus far has not shifted Labour councillors from passing cuts budgets. But then such movements are supported primarily by the Green Party and Plaid Cymru – with hardly a Labour councillor in sight.
There have been some limited local exceptions, such as the two Southampton Labour councillors who refused to vote with the ruling Labour group to close a leisure centre they had explicitly promised to save at elections a few months earlier. Following their decision to form a rival group on the council, Labour Councillors Against the Cuts, they have been formally expelled from the party!!

Grassroots resistance has failed to grab many national headlines thus far. But things may be beginning to change. The decision of Newcastle Labour leader Nick Forbes to announce the total axing of the city’s arts and cultural funding, for example, has brought together a coalition of incensed workers, community activists and high-profile arts figures. Birmingham, meanwhile, is facing the complete destruction of its youth services, with more than 1,000 job losses and further areas of council provision threatened with being ‘decommissioned’ in the future.

The stakes are also about to be raised significantly. Labour councils are going to have to make specific choices as people are thrown into extreme financial hardship due to the latest benefit ‘reforms’. The circumstances might be the result of central government policy, but will they employ bailiffs to evict families who have fallen behind on their rents due to the new benefit cap? Will they prosecute people who fall into arrears due to the removal of council tax benefit?

Anti-cuts councillors could be more imaginative about forms of practical resistance. For example, they could consider technical measures beyond options presented by council officers – such as drawing up a charter of immediate defensive measures to which Labour councils could sign up, in dialogue with tenants and residents associations, unions, community activists, charities, faith groups and others with experience of working with real social needs. This might consist of working with the unions to ensure that services are kept in-house, not privatised; protecting council tenants through a moratorium on all evictions; developing long-term debt repayment schemes for council tax bills or social housing rents; implementing licensing standards, including de facto local rent controls on privately-rented accommodation; and so on. But we have already heard Cllr Nott dismiss some of these ideas out of hand.

Unless Labour can actively demonstrate that it is on the side of working people in actions and not just words, then its councillors will be treated with the same contempt as representatives of the other mainstream parties. If this leads to people turning to truly ecosocialist alternatives like the Green Party, then there could still be a silver lining to this miserable cloud that hangs over us all.

Much of this article is based on the following two reports:

IMPORTANT EIA Directive plenary vote – Email action – WE NEED YOU

Begin forwarded message:

Subject: Fwd: [IMPORTANT] EIA Directive plenary vote – Email action – WE NEED YOU

Date: 4 October 2013 13:39:45 GMT+01:00

Dear all,

The European Parliament plenary vote on the review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive will take place next Wednesday, October 9. You can find more details about the vote and a link to an updated template letter to send to your MEP inAntoine’s email below. Amendments to the report closed today so these are the final voting recommendations.

Aside from a few minor changes, the most important amendment we need support for is AM 79, which guarantees mandatory EIAs at exploration stage. As you may know, there has been intense lobbying against this amendment. I would especially ask you to lobby Liberal MEPs (listed here:, as some are planning to vote against Amendment 79 and support instead a compromise amendment, which was negotiated in the past few days. We really need as many Liberal MEPs on side to swing the vote in our favour!

Feel free to adapt the letter below as you see fit. I suggest adding a line at the end mentioning that we will hold pro-fracking MEPs to account at next May’s elections. Please also make sure to add your full address so your MEP knows you are a constituent.


Please post any replies you receive in the Facebook event so we can keep track of how each MEP is planning to vote.

​The Greens/EFA group has requested a roll call so we will have a record how our MEPs vote.

​Many thanks to everyone who has been lobbying their MEPs for this important vote since mid-August! If we don’t get a majority supporting mandatory EIAs, it will be a major victory for the fracking industry, so please keep the pressure on!

Best wishes from Brussels, Geraldine


Dear all,

I know this email is coming a bit late but we are finally able to send you information about the final plenary vote on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive. You may remember that the vote was supposed to take place last month but the European Parliament decided to postpone the vote to October.

Therefore, we need to contact again our MEPs just like we did a month ago, with some very small adjustments as new developments have happened that we need to address.

  • The vote will be on Wednesday 9th of October, at 11.30.
  • We need to call MEPs to support the amendments 31, 54 and 79, but we also need to ask MEPs to reject new amendments (n° 112 and 115) tabled by pro-shale gas MEPs aiming at undermining the amendment 79.

These new really bad amendments (which are taking out the reference to exploration and reintroducing the daily production threshold of 500.000m3 of gas) pushed me and Geert to make slight adjustments to the email action that we suggested last month. You will see that we extended the picture to explain why the reference to exploration and why no reference to a daily production threshold are really needed.

Therefore you can find below links to a template letter, to a list of MEPs, and to pictures translated in 10 different languages. But as usual, you are free to translate and adapt the letter according to your needs, priorities and positions. What we really need is that:

  • You contact your MEPs to share this message and the voting recommendations,
  • You spread the word around you: The more messages MEPs will receive from concerned citizens and groups of mobilisation, the better.

Therefore, here are links to:

If you have any question, remark or feedback from MEPs, please let me and Geert know about it. Please contact us separately in order not to overwhelm the listserves too much.

Many thanks in advance for your crucial help,

Human Rights – will you miss them? Maybe, just maybe!

The Tories have been eroding our freedoms and rights since they day Cameron took office. We are in serious danger of silently acquiescing in unprecedented attacks on our civil liberties. State surveillance, human rights violations, censorship of the media, the ‘gagging Bill’: the ConDem’s record of authoritarianism is truly frightening. And yet, through the skilful manipulation of public opinion over a handful of cases like Abu Qatada, aided by odious rags like the Daily Mail, the British public seems prepared to see the the Human Rights Act torn up and for us to be withdrawn for the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

I can only assume that most people do not understand what they would be giving up – because rest assured, these rights belong to all of us, me and you included, not just the the ‘ill-deserving’ criminals, terrorists and immigrants spotlighted by the Tory media. These are the rights you are happy for Theresa May & Co to shred, your rights as a human being:

  1. Mutual respect of each others rights – usually binned before wanting to conquer others. (We haven’t seen Poland partitioned for quite a while now.)
  2. Right to life – doesn’t get much more basic than that. Unless you don’t value it very much.
  3. The right not to be tortured – with that word ‘torture’ being open to debate about semantics. Those Police knuckles behind the ears we saw in Balcombe clearly don’t count, and what the British army get up to in Afghanistan is outside of European jurisdiction. But then again, so would we be if we withdrew from the ECHR .
  4. The right not to be enslaved – already being ignored near Newport it appears. It would open up new ‘Welfare’ reform possibilities for the Tories if removed. We are not far from the return of the workhouse already.
  5. The right to liberty and security – so we don’t have to be worried about being dragged from our beds in the middle of the night for crimes against the state – like trying to stop the frackers, or whistle blowing on war crimes, or protesting in the streets, or agitating in print/social media. You get the idea.
  6. The right to a fair trial – largely binned already for most with the Tories Legal aid ‘reforms’. The Guldford Four and Birmingham Six were bad enough. What hope would there be for the Balcombe Sixteen, getting in the way of Government policy?
  7. The right not be retroactively prosecuted. In other words, if binned, the Government could produce new laws and then prosecute people for breaking them before the laws were even passed. How neat would that be? It has proved to be a handy device for quite a few regimes down the years.
  8. The right to a private life – including a family life. Those traditional family values the Tories love espousing wouldn’t apply to those pesky immigrants, and as for privacy? State snooping is already a reality. Imagine it unfettered.
  9. The right to freedom of conscience and religion – want to choose your own deity, be it Jehovah or the FSM? State religion has long been a tool of control. As Seneca the Younger said, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”.
  10. The right to freedom of expression. Do you value being able to call the Tories ‘scum’? At least if I did I might get to share a cell with the Manic Street Preachers. I would say call me a ‘c**t’ if you like – but that liberty has already been eroded (most wouldn’t dare print it) by people imposing their ‘sensitivities’ on others, so where could this end?
  11. Freedom of association – Trade unions haven’t completely disappeared despite the Tories best efforts. How on earth did they muster 50.000 in Manchester? Never again, perhaps.
  12. The right to get married – to whoever you like? I suppose you can’t miss what you never had, especially if you are gay.

I can well imagine many readers bristling at the over-reaction of a raving leftie, so let me share with you the words of Pierre-Henri Teitgen, one of the founders of the European Court of Human Rights (ECoHR):

“Democracies do not become Nazi countries in one day. Evil progresses cunningly …. one by one freedoms are suppressed, in one sphere after another. Public opinion and the entire national conscience are asphyxiated. …. It is necessary to intervene before it is too late.”

The Human Rights Act and the ECoHR are far from perfect. This is an argument for reform, not the careless discarding of something precious, that was hard won (and, ironically, largely shaped by British Tories) and which I, for one, am desperate to hang on to.

What say you?

Andy Chyba

A couple of German (catastrophic) experiences with deep drilling going wrong

These videos we’re fed to me via comments on one of my many fracking pieces by an ex-pat living in Germany.

He has asked me to share them widely and therefore here goes.

The first is a report on high cancer rates in Germany biggest gas fracking field:

The second is not fracking related but a look at the catastrophic consequences of messing around with subterranean hydrology through geothermal borehole drilling – especially where chalk is involved:

Plenty of food for thought.