Monthly Archives: April 2015

The battles against insanity and inequality are intertwined

One of the unexpected consequences of my recent breakdown has been rediscovering a passion for reading, study and learning. I have now completed the 8-week Mindfulness programme and I am beginning to emerge from the gloom and look to fill my time positively.

To this end, I have enrolled onto the Open University’s Futurelearn programme of free online courses and have just completed the first week of a Mental Health and Well-being 6 week course that I am already getting a lot from. Particularly encouraging and timely has been the fact that much of what I have long-felt to be true – and is reflected in the Green Party’s philosophical basis to an extent – is becoming increasingly accepted as the way forward.

For example, a recent report prepared by the British Psychological Society, entitled A psychological perspective on very serious health problems, has highlighted the following preventative strategies:

  • Equality

Evidence shows that a major contribution to serious emotional distress is not only poverty but particularly income inequality – the growing gap between the richest and poorest people in society. In their influential book The Spirit Level, sociologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate that mental health problems are highest in those countries with the greatest gaps between rich and poor, and lowest in countries with smaller differences. Equal societies are associated with more trust and less paranoia. This suggests that rather than primarily targeting our efforts at individuals, the most effective way to reduce rates of ‘mental illness’ might well be to reduce inequality in society.


  • Reducing discrimination and oppression

A classic paper on this was published in 1994, entitled Environmental failure – Oppression is the only cause of psychopathology. Whilst some might think that goes too far, there is no doubt that people who have been subject to oppression, and particularly discrimination (racism, homophobia, discrimination on grounds or gender, disability or ‘mental health’) are put at risk by these experiences. We can all work to combat discrimination and promote a more tolerant and accepting society, the paper suggests. Tell that to ukippers!

  • Reducing harmful drug use and addressing its causes

Alcohol and tobacco are unquestionably the most serious substance-related public health issues, but cannabis and other drugs have been associated with mental health problems in general and psychosis in particular. Over-use of recreational drugs appears to make it more likely that someone will experience a psychotic crisis.
This does not necessarily mean that we need a stronger clamp-down on drugs and many people (including most Greens) argue that de-criminalising the possession and use of drugs would be an important positive step towards protecting people’s health. It is also important to address the social problems that lead people to turn to taking drugs, including poverty, inequality, unemployment, hopelessness and feeling disenfranchised from society. The supposed ‘war on drugs’ we hear so much about is, according to commentators such as Noam Chomsky, merely a cover for international interventions and, domestically, a distraction that allows repression in the inner cities and an excuse for attacks on civil liberties.

(various online sources)

The Spirit Level was a book I first read back in 2010, when it was first published. I read a review of it around the time I joined the Green Party and it resonated with the geographer in me and helped confirm my view that the income inequality was quite possibly the most important issue facing the country, the world and our role as guardians of the planet. It is an essential read for any ecosocialist. It has, of course not been anywhere near universally acclaimed, but the solid research underpinning it makes its assertions as irrefutable as, say, the evidence for global warming – i.e. it is only not clear to fuckwits and/or vested interests.

Of course, some of those vested interests control our media, so don’t expect rational coverage of such ideas. After all, 98% of scientists are in agreement on global warming, yet the media feel ‘obliged’ to offer both sides of the non-existent debate! The public therefore often form an opinion that there is a lot more controversy than there really is. These attempts to overthrow large bodies of scientific evidence that may have important political implications are a well-established practice, and the subject of another interesting read, Merchants of doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.

It may be beginning to sound as if I have been seduced by conspiracy theories and paranoia. Why would vested interests want to deceive us about global warming and work against drives for a more equal society? Well, don’t take it from me – take it from Noam Chomsky – arguably the most important intellectual alive today. I have been revisiting some of his views on ‘How the World Works’. It has re-affirmed my confidence in ecosocialism as the way forward – and re-inforced my loathing of the USA.

Chomsky explains how, ever since the Second World War, successive US governments have been committed to maintaining a right-wing status quo. For Republican, read Conservative (Tory); for Democrat, read Labour (Tory-lite). (Similarly, for Tea Party, read UKIP (ultra-Tory)) This means, in practice, business interests are always allowed to prevail, workers are divided and weakened, and the burden of reconstruction after wars/economic recessions/environmental disasters etc. is placed squarely on the shoulders of the working classes and the poor. Sound at all familiar?

Antifascists, socialists of any sort, and any campaigners for a fairer society, be they charitable organisations, religious orders, or intellectuals, were and are an obvious and unacceptable threat to this now-traditional order of things. The US became adept at installing fascists and Nazi collaborators in places where social revolution raised its ‘ugly’ head. If it required extreme violence (or even if it didn’t), that was never a problem. Sometimes softer measures sufficed – such as subverting elections or withholding/obstructing aid. Chomsky points out that the threat of a good example was considered such a danger to the status quo that no country would be exempt from being dealt with – no matter how weak or poor it was. He cites these examples:

“Take Laos in the 1960s, probably the poorest country in the world. Most of the people who lived there didn’t even know there was such a thing as Laos; they just knew they had a little village and there was another little village nearby. But as soon as a very low-level social revolution began to develop there, Washington subjected Laos to a murderous ‘secret bombing’, virtually wiping out large settled areas in operations, it was conceded, had nothing to do with the war the US was waging in South Vietnam.”

“Grenada has a hundred thousand people who produce a little nutmeg, and you could hardly find it on a map. But when Grenada began to undergo a mild social revolution, Washington quickly moved to destroy the threat.”
(Being a Commonwealth country, this was a rare occasion of British dissent against US intervention. The UK Government had no such problems with most of the following litany – Grenada did not break the ‘Special Relationship’)

Chomsky goes on to write the following, explaining and condemning the US responsibility for these devastating interventions (I have added some cultural references in brackets which prove we weren’t all blind to what was going on):

This is just a sample of the large scale war crimes the US and its friends (Thatcher and Blair to the fore) have been up to and getting away with. See a fuller selection here (and this is just up to 1999).

This makes every US President (and most UK Prime Ministers), since World War Two, war criminals – certainly by the standards they themselves set at the Nuremberg Tribunals. This is up to and including Obama and Cameron.

Looking forward, the question needs to be asked as to just how long left-wing progress, in places like Greece (Syriza) and Spain (Podemos), will be allowed before the ‘right’ attempts to orchestrate its catastrophic demise.

In the meantime, Syriza in particular has offered us a shining beacon of hope that change via parliamentary democracy may yet be just about possible. There have been rumblings of change around the globe. The Arab Spring and Occupy have been effectively nipped in the bud, but what of rumblings in these isles? There is a very tangible wave of anti-Westminster sentiment sweeping the land from an eclectic range of sources; be it UKIP, the Scottish YES campaign, the anti-austerity alliance (potentially) of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, or Russel Brand’s no-vote ‘Revolution’.

Has anyone noticed the media spin on all this? Years of apathy and, by inference, tolerance of the status quo, was portrayed as stability. Now that people are finally beginning to get off their backsides and organise, we are in a crisis of democracy! The Economist recently portrayed it thus:
“Between 1980 and 2000 democracy experienced a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many”   Really?
This is a classic example of right wing propaganda. It is targeting the politically literate (maybe 20%) who may have some role in decision making. Their acceptance of the underlying doctrine is crucial. They are constantly drip fed it through the broadsheets and the BBC. The vast majority, however, are sometimes characterised as ‘the bewildered herd‘.They are supposed to just do as they are told and put their trust in the ‘responsible’ people. They are the target audience for the less subtle mass media – the tabloids, the sitcoms, Premier League football etc.

The undermining paradox of tory doctrine (be it the full-fat, lite or ultra variety) is that creating greater inequalities actually increases the need for big government – more police, more prisons, more health and social services. These services are always expensive and never fully effective. The most effective and civilised way to achieve the Tories’ purported dream of a smaller state is reducing inequality. The Scandinavians sussed this out a long time ago. It is not rocket science, so it suggests that Chomsky’s critique is the one prevailing. There will be no ‘good example’ here in a hurry! Corruption and the unbridled greed of the ruling classes will see to that. Thatcher and Blair have embedded a tolerance of this in the UK public, which we see today in the pro-austerity agenda of the Con/Lab/Libs at this General Election.

The Labour Party has to take the greatest responsibility for perpetuating the appalling status quo. We expect nothing else from the Conservatives, but with its history of emerging from the workers movements and trade unions, with proud achievements such as the creation of the NHS, the Labour Party has become a disgusting travesty. Watching Lord (vomit) Kinnock and Saint Blair milk their status to the max must be making Milliband’s mouth water. After all, Kinnock never even managed to win a General Election, losing two even when Thatcher had been rumbled as the Wicked Witch of the West.

To quote from The Spirit Level:
“It is now time egalitarians returned to the public arena. We need to do so confident that our intuitions have been validated and found to be truer than most of us ever imagined. Because the evidence shows that few people are aware of the actual scale of inequality and injustice in our societies, or recognise how it damages the vast majority of the population, the first task is to provide education and information.”

I guess this is what I am hoping to achieve as my contribution to the revolution we need to bring about. We need to address the bewildered masses. We are on the right tracks. We need to keep asking questions, keep demonstrating, keep writing letters, keep voting. It has to be sustained and organised. We need to keep learning from our mistakes and keep working with the right people in a non-sectarian way for the common good.

But we had better watch our backs and beware of the biggest single threat to any possible peaceable revolution, ‘the world’s rent-a-thug’ as Chomsky calls the USA, appropriately enough. History tells us that when they feel the winds of social change gathering momentum, they will stop at nothing. With the British Establishment as longstanding allies, it is almost certain to get ugly at some point.

But to end on a more positive note, I will now go and meditate on this now:

Green Party 2015 General Election Manifesto

A couple of days ago, the Green Party (GPEW) launched its manifesto for the GE in three weeks time. Indeed all the parties have been busy launching their manifestoes in the last few days. They make interesting reading.

A manifesto is a published declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the political party. A manifesto should usually accept previously published policy but can promote new ideas and prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author(s) believe(s) should be made.

I can assure everybody that the Green Party does this properly and rigourously (in part because I was responsible for a small part of it – yes, on fracking). I would like to publicly commend the work of Brian Heatley, in particular, and all the many other contributors, for providing such a well written, thorough document that is accessible to all (via the full range of versions available)

Lots of work has gone into costing the pledges within it, which makes it disappointing when we hear Natalie Bennett and Pippa Bartolotti floundering around for a few headline figures in interviews, and even more disappointing and disingenuous of some of the media to exploit these personal weaknesses when the figures are readily enough to hand. Sample pledges:

  • Investment in renewables (£35bn)
  • Increase in NHS budget (£12bn, then 1.2% p.a)
  • Early years education (£8bn p.a.)
  • Class size reductions (£1.5bn p.a)
  • Abolition of tuition fees (£4.5bn)
  • Cancellation of existing student debts (£30bn)
  • Increase in Social Housing budget (£4.5bn p.a.)
  • VAT reduction to 5% on restaurants/tourism and related + home renovation (£7.6bn p.a.)

Sample budget increases:

  • Cancelling Trident and nuclear disarmament (£100bn+ over 30 years)
  • Stopping landlords writing off mortgage interest against tax (£5.8bn)
  • Increasing minimum wage to £10p/h (£2.4bn p.a. saved on tax credits + £1.5bn increase tax/N.I. revenue)
  • Wealth tax of 2% on top 1% (£10bn in 2016 and rising)
  • Robin Hood Tax (£5bn in 2016 and rising)
  • Abolition of upper NI threshold (£14.5bn in 2016 and rising)
  • Increase in Corporation Tax (£12.5bn in 2016)
  • Reducing tax evasion (£12bn in 2016 and rising)
  • VAT & fuel duty on aviation fuel (£16bn in 2016)

Over the course of a 5 year parliament, the manifesto details £672.7bn of revenue increases to set against £136.9bn of revenue decreases. This gives a net increase in revenues to fund our programmes of £535.8bn. Of course, some of these issues, especially regarding health and education, are devolved matters. Which brings us to Wales Green Party. Available in English and Welsh (of course), they have produced a kind of addendum designed to go alongside the GPEW manifesto. Sounds fair enough, but at the time of writing the links to it on the Wales Green Party website are not working – possibly due to an attempt at rectifying a bit of a gaffe (shurely not!) over the ever-sensitive issue of Welsh independence. The manifesto for the Green Party of England and Wales states:

“Greens have long supported the process of devolution in Wales. We believe that the people of Wales should enjoy the degree of autonomy, perhaps including self-government or independence, that they wish to have, as expressed in a referendum. “Up until such referendum, Greens in Wales will focus on improving and maximising the potential of the current settlement.”

Hear, hear! But the Welsh addendum doesn’t mention a referendum. Au contraire, their stated approach to Welsh governance is pretty much identical to the mainstream neoliberal parties with Wales having to settle for a ‘reserved matters’ form of devolution. The Welsh manifesto addendum states:

“We believe that the starting position should be that all powers are devolved from Westminster to the Welsh Government except for those that are best retained at a UK level.”

Not surprisingly, this discrepancy is already being jumped on to illustrate how out of tune WGP continues to be with GPEW. I had better stop here methinks!

P.S. The link to the Wales addendum became functional again a few hours later – unamended as far as I can tell. On reflection, it seems to be more of an early bid for support in the Welsh Assembly elections next year than having much relevance to the General Election this year, but that is fair enough and more realistic I suppose. Achieving some success in those WA elections would be all the more realistic with some form of pact with PC in place – but WGP’s position (at odds with GPEW) on Welsh governance makes it clear that this will not happen.