Monthly Archives: February 2016

Living to fight another day – mental health and the activist

I read a bit of research recently that suggested that depression, mental illness and emotional stress are very common among libertarian political activists. As I am enduring bit of a slump again, and I tend to turn to reading and writing to help me regain some persecutive, I am going to have a bit of a closer look at this phenomenon.

As I think about the people I have met through campaigning and activism over the years, I can certainly recognise a loose correlation between those that are more committed to their activism and mental health issues of one kind or another, broadly ranging from depressive disorders to delusional complexes. Sometimes the activist community is very supportive and helpful. On other occasions it can feel alienating and harmful.

If I offer any advice at all, it is purely based on my own experiences and learning (often the the hard way). My first bit of advice is therefore not to consider anything read in blogs as a substitute for professional medical advice. That I would not have said this 10 years ago is, in part at least, because I have found that the understanding of mental health problems among GPs, in particular (as most people’s entry point into the medical support system), is hugely better than it once was – while recognising that there is a bit of a lottery in just how competent (in this regard) your particular GP may be. I do, however, think that it is highly likely that at least one GP in any practice is likely to be good in this respect, so it may be worth asking to see whoever is regarded as strong with mental health issues in a practice, rather than, perhaps, seeing your usual GP if you suspect that they are not so hot on mental health issues. I remain very critical of certain aspects of mental health Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.27.11treatment, especially an over-reliance on medications (while acknowledging that they usually have a part to play in managing some conditions), but if you are suffering from severe depression or considering harming yourself, then there really is a need to speak to someone straight away.

Living with depression is not easy. All too often mental health issues are overlooked and/or ignored – by everyone from the sufferer themselves, by people around us (that don’t understand what is going on), through to workplaces and wider society. Sufferers are too seen seen as weak or overreacting. Beside the personal sense of alienation that often goes with mental illness, the institutions of capitalist society offer sufferers very little control over their treatment. Typically, mental health treatment is fragmented and commodified, complete with hierarchies to negotiate, elements of coercion and the pressures of budgets, profits and bureaucracy.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.29.10Mental health facilities in schools (for both staff and pupils) are woefully lacking (although some recent attempts to introduce mindfulness to the curriculum and INSET programmes is to be welcomed). There’s generally no problem ringing in sick at work with physical ailments, but very few employers have any provision for for mental health leave. In my experience, short-term absences for mental health issues are regarded as highly suspicious – if you are going to be off with mental health problems, then at least make if a full-scale meltdown and have three months off!

In this context, it really ought to be a given that the class struggle community, in particular, should take issues of mental health seriously. It should be discussed and there ought to networks where sufferers can turn when they need support. This happens informally at best, but given the high incidence of sufferers as already pointed out, there is usually someone nearby that can at least offer genuine empathy. It is important for sufferers to realise that they are by no means alone. Talk to someone. They will understand and often be able to point you in the direction of further help. Don’t forget that the very essence of class politics is all about solidarity and helping each other.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.30.26I would always encourage people to try to find someone in person if you can, and I am far from alone with that advice. Telephone helplines, medical ones and the Samaritans in particular, can be valuable too. But be careful about relying on online forums and web advice. Self-diagnosis is full of pitfalls. Self-help after professional diagnosis and initial guidance is fine – and the way I have learned to cope.

As blokes in particular, we often resist reaching out and/or talking about ‘girly’ things like feelings and emotions. We need to recognise that these are symptoms of the divisive culture and false identities imposed on us by a ruthless and uncaring capitalist system. Whether we suffer from depression or not, as social animals, we all need to discuss our feelings and emotions. It not only helps us as individuals, but strengthens us a movement when we develop a healthy culture of discussion and support.

Part of the reason we get involved in politics is because we want to make the world a better place. That means most activists are happy to support comrades in need of a bit of emotional support. There are not enough of us to allow comrades to fall by the wayside. Sharing a sense of solidarity and common purpose makes comrades potentially solid pillars of support. We get great satisfaction from looking out for each other, as if we cannot look after our own, how could we ever expect to extend similar values to a wider society?

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.32.38Being realistic also means recognising that being involved in politics can bring more stress than enjoyment. We therefore also need to recognise that we, ourselves and every comrade, need to be able to take a step back from time to time. A few months off from any given group or project can help recharge the batteries, gain fresh perspective and help avoid things getting in ruts and stagnating. Similarly, we must all be wary of over-extending ourselves or expecting too much from others. It is never about people pulling their weight – it is about being comfortable with what you are contributing and being grateful for everybody else’s contribution, no matter how great or small. It is not good anarchist or socialist practice to have one person carrying too much responsibility within a group – and not conducive to good mental health either.

Be realistic about how much time you dedicate to a project and be open with others when you need help. If you are not getting the assistance you need, speak to others involved, let them know and give opportunity for others to step up. Ultimately, do not feel the burden is on you to make things work.

Despite our commitment to the cause, it’s always important to have other interests, preferably without any overtly political dimension. I would say that it is also important to maintain those friendships with people that do not share your political perspectives and involvement. This is achieved in no small part by avoiding political discussions and judgements. If nothing else, it will help maintain some broader perspective in your life. Hobbies and sports are great ways of keeping body and mind healthy – which again will benefit your political activities as well. We all need a break from contemplating the ills of global capitalism, lest it overwhelm us.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.34.01In essence, it boils down to being good, kind and respectful to each other. But sadly, far too often that proves beyond us. I read an interesting short essay recently entitled: Be Good to Your Comrdaes: Why Being a Prick is Counterrevolutionary. It made the point, that any of us familiar with party politics in particular will recognise, that political activism tends to attract a bunch of egotistical pricks, at least disproportionately. Many of the nicest people I know are leftie political activists that are caring altruistic, generous and giving. But I can also real off a list of people that are harsh, condescending and sometimes downright bullies. Politics shares a tendency with religion for people to take entrenched positions, even over small matters with people supposedly on the ‘same side’. When we have our own ideas and beliefs attacked, we tend to lash out in defence of our position, even if it is an untenable one.

Many of us have developed very thick skins over the years, but that can make us prone to using words or tones that can hurt our thinner skinned comrades. When we become so full of bitterness about the state of the world around us, we can tend to take out on those around us, even when those nearest, ought to be our dearest allies.

What happens, of course, is that people quit. It also make people reluctant to get involved. I quit the Green Party and I am reluctant join Plaid Cymru. Anarchist groups Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.37.04seem to have a better handle on this sort of nonsense, perhaps because it truly part of the core values of everyone therein. Party politics is inherently competitive and confrontational.

Even anarchist groups will attract their share of strident revolutionaries who can overstep the mark. Whatever the organisation, however, if has to be recognised that interpersonal meanness will always be counteractive to the greater cause. It sabotages the change, the revolution, that we want to see. When people act like pricks, they end up driving people away. Nobody wants to share the company of people that make them feel like crap. If they are not driven away completely, they can be tipped into a downward depressive cycle, lose their self-confidence and withdraw. They stop sharing their ideas or volunteering for activities. Meanness and bullying causes our numbers to be fewer and our remaining comrades to be less effective. This has to be intolerable for a group whose ultimate raison d’être has to be persuading the majority of the population to our way of thinking. If we think we can achieve this by humiliation and intimidation, or by ostracising critics, we may as well go straight to taking up arms and ‘persuading’ people at the end of a rifle.

We need to be comfortable with expressing criticism and disagreement. This is the only way we truly change minds. Being forthright should not prevent us from remaining friendly and respectful. It requires collective responsibility to deal with individual transgressors. Various tools can be used to structure debates, and training in effective chairing is worth considering. One suggestion that I have rarely seen implemented is that someone is assigned the task of monitoring the level of respect in meetings (a kind of behaviour referee if you like), someone other than the chair. Some sort of ‘three strikes‘ rule can then be implemented. But hey – it is down to each group and organisation to find some arrangement that works for them – so long as that is what they do.

The bottom line is that if someone’s pattern of intimidating or humiliating others doesn’t stop after ongoing intervention, then this person has to go – expelled or at least suspended – because whatever assets they bring to the group, they will be doing more harm than good.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.38.52To conclude – the number one thing we can all do to advance the causes we hold so dear is to value our comrades and be good to each other. In terms of looking after each other’s mental health, let’s pledge to stop giving our comrades yet another reason to be depressed!

(Draws heavily on an anonymous booklet entitled Class Struggle and Mental Health, published by Freedom Press, 2015)

“Tories on bikes” – the image of the Green Party among other left wing activists

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.45.01As a member of the Green Party until quite recently, with many friends and respected comrades still in the party, it was driven home to me today that, outside of the Green Left faction within the Green Party, the overall image of the Party is a pretty shocking one amongst left wing activists and anarchists operating outside of the Green Party. This came about when I attended the Cardiff Anarchist Bookfair today. Although there was some acknowledgement of some genuine ecosocialists within the Party, there was a lot of scorn poured on the records of elected Greens and especially the record of the Brighton administration.

It wasn’t until I got home, and started going through literature that I had picked up during the day, that I found an article in ‘Resistance‘, the paper of the Anarchist Federation, that Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.39.50encapsulated and, perhaps, informed this attitude towards the Green Party. It was entitled “Tories on bikes”: the Green Party in power, with quote being ascribed to a striking Brighton bin worker.

The article examines what it saw as the evidence of Greens selling out, with the inference being that we had been led to expect a lot better. I know that I and many members of Green Left can relate to this.

For those not familiar with what happened in Brighton, the article summarised it succinctly. It pointed out that Greens had long trumpeted a commitment the living wage (and still do), but that they (led by Jason Kitkat) tried to impose a “pay modernisation” scheme on low-paid council workers with the Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.49.26support of the council’s Tory group. The article alleges that this meant pay cuts of up to £4000 a year for some. More damning than this figure (which I suspect is an exaggeration) is the accusation of acting like the worst kind of union-busting boss, by threatening workers that if they refused the new terms, they would be sacked and re-employed on the new contract. In other words, acting like a bunch of Jeremy Hunts! Sadly, this is pretty accurate and the bin workers responded with a wildcat occupation of their depot.

Caroline Lucas comes in for some criticism that does not quite fit my recollections of events. It acknowledges that she voiced her opposition and said she would join the picket Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.51.11lines. I thought that she actually did do this at one point, but the article suggest that she never showed up. It does, however, say that she was seen picking up litter during the strike in June 2013, contrary to a statement from the bin-workers asking people not to do so, as it would undermine their strike action.

The bottom line here, and the point that discredits the socialist credentials of the Party in other’s eyes, is that when faced with tough choices, they fell into line and did the neoliberals bidding for them. The article describes it as underlining the sense of “a world of perpetual disappointment when your elected representatives betray you“.

Anarchists, of course, have come to expect nothing else. They rightly point out that the problem is not with who is in power or even with how they exercise that power. The Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.54.40problem is with political power itself. Notable anarchist, Noam Chomsky, points out that “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum“. In this context, the article concludes that the Green’s might well be on the fringes of that spectrum, but they remain part of the party political system that has been established to keep us quiet and compliant. This, ultimately, is why I gave up on the Green Party and party politics altogether.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 20.56.57The ironic thing is that it was good friends within Green Left that introduced me to people like Proudhon, Kropotkin and Bakunin – the veritable godfathers of Anarchist thought. They remain, to the best of my knowledge, committed to fighting the cause from within the Green Party. I am left wondering whether I should consider them to heroically battling to shape the Party into something truly worthy, or whether to consider them as naive fools, wasting their time and propping up an inherently flawed system. Discuss!

George Osborne – a very twisted Robin Hood? James Meek makes the case and explains the challenge for ‘the left’ into the bargain

James Meek is a writer for whom I have huge respect. His extraordinary novel The People’s Act Of Love, set in Siberia, post-Russian revolution, was nominated for the Booker Prize and won The Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize in 2005. More recently, his journalistic writing has also picked up awards. Just last year, 2015, he won the Orwell Prize for political writing of outstanding quality for his book, Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else. He also is a contributing editor of The London Review of Books, and it is his most recent contribution to this, entitled Robin Hood in a Time of Austerity, that forms the basis of the rest of this piece. (It is a transcript of this lecture given at the British Museum recently.)

We are all familiar with the legend of Robin Hood. Taking from the rich to give to the poor – redistributing wealth – has long been seen as a programme of the left. James Meek, however, suggests most convincingly that the legend has been twisted and usurped by the right, with the considerable assistance of their friends in the media. He explains it something like this:

  • The traditional poor (unemployed, disabled, refugees etc.) are accused of sponging off the state to live in big houses, wallowing in undeserved luxury, while not needing to work.
  • The rich, meanwhile, are redesigned as the ones who are ‘hard-working’ but forced to support the undeserving poor-who-are-considered-rich.
  • The Sheriff of Nottingham in this narrative is played by the assertive leftie whose modus operandi is to plunder the honest, hard-working peasants hard-earned wealth to give to the dishonest, lazy, social parasites, given more than they deserve.
  • Thus, the ‘Sheriffs’/baddies are played by Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Hugo Chavez, Russell Brand and their like, while the ‘Robin Hood’/good guys are played by George Osborne, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Jeremy Clarkson and their like.
  • This is all pedalled as the reality by rags like the Daily Mail, with their stories of immigrants getting £1000 social security cheques, malingerers with 11 sprogs living in 10 bedroom mansions at taxpayer’s expense, and slagging off any attempt to pick your pocket with tax-gathering devices from speed cameras to inheritance tax.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 11.59.36As I have pointed out before on this blog, the key signifier is the phrase ‘hard-working people’. This is a clever catch-all to draw in everyone from struggling shop worker to multibillionaire business people. They are all encouraged to take on the mantle of the put-upon peasant struggling to fend off the sheriff’s cruel tax raids. Thus we have society divided between the ‘hard-working’ and the ‘work-shy’. We are encouraged to speculate as to why some are not working hard and ‘doing their bit’ in these ‘difficult times’. They are probably plain lazy, feigning disability, benefit tourists from far-off shit holes, commie strike-inclined trade unionists, or any combination of these and more. They expect food on their tables, roofs over their heads (spare bedrooms even FFS), Sky TV and money for fags , full and free access to public services – and all the while contributing sweet FA and taking everyone else to be mugs. That’s all rather rich, isn’t it! Thus the poorest and most vulnerable in our society have been transformed into the despised ‘rich’ (those with more than they deserve).

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.02.20Meanwhile, in the wake of the banker-induced financial crisis, I and many Greens and other lefties got involved in a campaign to introduce the prosaically named ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on financial transactions. This was designed to discourage the reckless speed with which bankers and fund managers were shifting vast, destabilising amounts of money around the globe. The campaign has resulted in 11 European countries embracing the idea, but this will not include the UK unless Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. It is an idea that Thomas Piketty would like to see taken further to become some sort of global tax on capital, with the principal objective being reducing the extreme inequalities inherent in the capitalist system. Well, I guess we all can dream.

A socialist version of Robin Hood was very much alive and well for much of the twentieth century. It wasn’t just about robbing the rich; it was about taking back from the rich the excessive wealth accumulated by owners of capital and returning it to the creators of wealth – the shop-floor workers. A socialist Robin Hood is not just interested in confiscating the ‘box of silver coins’ and redistributing it; he would demand control of the system to shift the burden of taxation onto the rich, and spend the revenue for the common good. It can be argued that Elizabethan Poor Laws were a starting point, followed by these landmarks:

It was, in fact, the USA that set this last trend, on the back of the belief that it was the actions of the rich that caused their Great Depression. They were seeking to avoid becoming a class-bound society of aristocrats and peasants. They wanted to learn from the mistakes of old Europe in their brave New World. It worked for them for a long time. It was a golden era of nationwide (relative) prosperity and reducing inequalities. However, the elephant in the room was always the growing levels of debt. The traditional medicine for reigning in national debt has always been by some combination of tax increases and public spending cuts. Keynesian wisdom has always maintained that cuts are more harmful that tax rises – but that message has been increasingly lost since the Thatcher/Reagan era.

Thus we have two mainstream, but opposing, political narratives about what has happened in Britain in the last 15 years or so.

  • The Conservative ‘austerity’ narrative: Labour went on a reckless public spending spree in the years running up to the crash of 2008. As a consequence, like a household with too big a mortgage (and there were plenty of these about who related to the analogy), the answer is to cut spending deeply and sell off possessions. In this context, the tax take was flittered away and wasted. Tax is therefore a necessary evil at best that we should seek to reduce. Public austerity is therefore the only option.
  • The Labour ‘anti-austerity’ narrative: Gordon Brown didn’t borrow or spend excessively at all. The crash was down to the irresponsible borrowing and lending practices of major British banks. A country is not like a household. With its own currency, it can’t become bankrupt through excessive spending. The debts are easily managed. Austerity is an ideological choice by a Conservative Party intent on shrinking the state at whatever costs to those it protects. In periods of low interest rates, debt should be increased to stimulate the economy. Taxes on the rich (who are, almost by definition, hoarding their capital) should go up for the same reason.

James Meek points out the fundamental problems with both of these narratives.

The Conservative austerity narrative is based on lies. Gordon Brown had reduced the national debt that Labour inherited from the Tories in 1997. The crash was not caused by Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.10.07excessive spending, but by excessive saving. Vast sums of money (the lubricant of the economy) were syphoned away by countries like China and Saudi Arabia as they hoarded foreign currency reserves. Large corporations followed suit – hoarding cash instead of re-investing it. Wealthy individual capitalists were allowed to legally suck wealth out of firms and into their personal hoards. While the majority of us hit hard times, the mega-rich became conspicuously richer.

Countries like the US and UK found themselves hit by a double whammy. They had become reliant on imports from resource giants (like Russia and Saudi Arabia) and the manufacturing powerhouses (like China and Germany), and as if this was not bad enough, they had also allowed what was left of our manufacturing and energy production to fall into the hands of foreign owners, thus exporting much of the value-added that we could still muster.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.11.35Market economics meant that with such a glut of hoarded money looking for a somewhere to sit and attract interest, interest rates plummeted. So how were the bankers to attract the hoards of cash? Where was the easy money to be made? Well, look in the mirror. It was you and me, through the means of easy credit and, especially, sub-prime mortgage lending. It worked for a while. The banks grew and grew, and just like Mr Creosote, a waffer thin mint eventually caused them to go pop.

So the crash was not the result of crazy public spending, but it induced spending during the crisis to repair the mess and avert the threat of an economic depression unseen since the 1930s in the USA. Brown just about managed to achieve this. By comparison, Osborne’s austerity agenda stagnated the recovery and leaves us in no doubt that the real agenda is shrinking the state for ideological reasons.

Somehow this thin veil of lies, promoting the austerity agenda, have proved popular enough to see the liars elected to run the country. Labour singularly failed to defend Brown’s record and promote his achievements. Instead, they somehow conspired to let Brown’s major failings become the story – his failure to regulate the banks properly and Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.14.36thereby avert the crash in the first place. It really was all his fault! Northern Rock, in 2007, was one of the first dominoes to fall. Some of the things that were going on there beggar belief, but the regulators never saw a problem. Perhaps this is because there were pages on the Tearsury website explaining how to do it all!

Labour simply cannot pretend it didn’t know what was going on. The New Labour project took a gamble on trusting the bankers and financiers in order to counter a sense that Old Labour could not be trusted with the economy. It back-fired spectacularly as it turned out that the bankers and financiers were even less competent! The problem Brown faced was Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.17.56that if he had reined in the banks, it would have inevitably made it harder for ordinary voters to get mortgages and credit that they had come to expect and rely on. The Daily Mail headlines would have been full of Brown strangling the economy and killing off jobs. I guess that is the price you pay for making a pact with the devil!

So now we have Labour grass-roots supporters seeking a return to the policies of their halcyon days through the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. This is echoed across the pond with Bernie Sander’s advance at the expense of Blairite Hillary Clinton. Piketty’s timely book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has provided the intellectual support for this movement. Its main conclusion demolishes the position of the modern populist right. Piketty finds that throughout most of history capitalism can only ever Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.19.41increase inequalities, no matter how hard those hard-working families without capital assets work. Returns on capital will always outstrip the rate of economic growth as a whole. The only time when this was not the case was those years of big investment in public services and high tax rates on the rich in the mid-20th century.

There are some telling subtleties in Piketty’s analysis. For example, he concedes that taxing the mega-rich will not generate enough in itself to plug the holes in a country’s budgets. The biggest benefit of high tax rates on huge incomes is in the reducing of the concentration of wealth in too few hands. In other words, taxation is far from a necessary evil – it is a necessarily good thing. He qualifies this by conceding that citizens in wealthy countries need to retain ample income to generate the demand for all sorts of goods and services provided by the private sector. To this extent, Piketty can be seen as a centrist rather that a leftist. It is about getting a workable balance. As Meek points out, with a bit of money, a middle class family might legitimately choose send their child to a private school; but they cannot individually provide a universal education system and markets won’t provide it. Likewise, you can buy any car of your choice, but by yourself you cannot build and maintain a road network to use it on, and the market won’t provide that either. Be it education, health, roads, social security, energy or water, we all rely on common networks to meet our universal needs. Privatising them runs the risk, the near certainty in fact, that they will not remain universally accessible. We are seeing this already, are we not?

What this amounts to is the abdication of responsibility for meeting people’s basic needs by our government. Our public services, instead of being universal networks, are being run by global companies and overseas investors, disproportionately funded by the imposition of taxes, fees, and duties by the poorest sections of society, further impoverished by the levels of debt they have been lured into by legalised loan sharks.

I have long held the sadly cynical view that as long as the majority of the population feel that they are doing alright, an elected government can get away with squeezing the poor and pampering the rich. But this has to be seen as a horribly high risk attitude when our government is systematically decimating the public services and infrastructure we all rely on, while simultaneously handing over control of what is left to multi-national corporations, ultimately accountable to no-one but their shareholders.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.22.09This leaves us, on the left especially, with an enormous challenge, as James Meek puts it at the very end of his article:

“To make and keep universal networks requires the authority of the state, an authority that has been absent; and it’s hard to see where that authority might come from if the people don’t find a way to assert their kingship.”

We have to find a way. Personally, I believe that we have to focus on the things that unite the assorted factions of the left, along the lines of SYRIZA, and take that to the people – before it is all too late!

I still dream of a Welsh Ecosocialist Alliance

Election pact talks between Plaid Cymru, Welsh Liberal Democrats and Greens break down

So says the headline on the ITV news page today.

First of all, let me applaud the Plaid Cymru leadership for taking the initiative. It shows that they are beginning to learn some harsh truths for a start. They are not going to form a government on their own in May and they seem to finally be acknowledging this. As no party is going to form a government on its own in May, it is time to stop all the ridiculous posturing and get down to some serious politics.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.28.03The knee jerk reactions from Labour and Tories tell you all you need to know about these two parties that have grown ever closer, especially since Blair’s red toryism so beloved of Welsh Labour, on the back of the inbuilt injustice of our electoral systems.

Thus we have the anonymous Welsh Labour Spokesperson saying:

“By trying to stitch up local contests, these three parties have essentially tried to subvert the electoral process….. also a complete lack of respect to Welsh voters.”

Electoral alliances enhance democracy if done properly. It is not stitching up a local contest, it is giving a broader range of opinion a chance of getting representation. I vote for the chosen alliance candidate is a vote for the common elements of all the alliance parties. Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.30.23If Labour gets 50 % of the vote it still cannot be beaten, but a system that allows them to constantly clean up with 30 to 40% the vote – that is a system that shows contempt for the electorate. But it is a system that suits the big two – as they can regularly have all-powerful absolute majorities with a third of the vote – which given the typical turnout figures can mean less than 25% of the electorate. (Don’t forget, the Labour hegemony in the Welsh Assembly, with all those careers it has provided for the likes of Carwyn RT Jones, owes itself to that initial 50.1% of a 49.9% turnout in the referendum that created the Assembly in the first place!)

A similarly anonymous Welsh Conservative Spokesperson uttered the same disingenuous drivel, adding:

“it makes a mockery of their claims to be the Party of Wales if they were willing to leave some constituencies uncontested”

This may have superficial credibility, but I would assert that this depends on the integrity of the alliance put before people. If it is purely self-serving opportunism, then Anon Tory is right. But if it is a genuine alliance, rather than a mere electoral pact, then we are really talking about something noble that really does seek to address the needs of the Welsh people in increasingly dire times. It is exactly the path trodden by the Greek people in response to the ravages of ideologically imposed austerity as they rallied behind the Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.32.25SYRIZA alliance of more than a dozen anti-austerity parties, that otherwise would have never have been heard at all. The Party of Wales, with the interests of the people ahead of its own interests, needs therefore to become the driving force for the Welsh Ecosocialist Alliance that will contest every constituency on that basis. (An idea I put forward in November 2013)

This is almost certainly a long way from the tentative discussion reported this week. Although it may be the reason Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.34.23the Lib Dems ran away from the idea. While once upon a time they may have been convincing as libertarian (mild) lefties, they have no credibility for such a description these days, since Clegg’s neoliberal Orange Book. In fact, I am a bit surprised that PC even saw fit to try and include them. However, Tim Farron has some anti-austerity credentials and was a commendable gesture to at least talk to them. That they chose to walk away probably saves problems down the line, although I would have thought that anything that might help them maintain a presence in the Assembly would have been welcomed by them. They have a few very good people that are going to be lost to the Assembly for sure now.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.36.26As for the Greens, it is a huge relief that post-Bartolotti, Wales Green Party is back in the real world. Even before the ‘love in’ between Leanne Wood, Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon, in the run up to the General Election, I was sounding out the prospects of developing working relationships between PC and Greens at all levels. There was considerable potential at one time, scuppered by Bartolotti’s ego and and some unseemly sectarianism. It is encouraging to see the new leader off the Welsh Greens, Alice Hooker-Stroud, talking more pragmatically:

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.38.04“Our electoral system in Wales needs a good shake up. Progressive voters regularly have to hold their nose and vote for another term of a Welsh Labour government that has run out of ideas and has nothing left to offer but more excuses. Representatives of the Wales Green Party were approached to explore whether we could form an alliance as an alternative to our tired, inert one party state. People want real change, and we were looking to form alliances with parties who share common ground with the Wales Green Party to see if we could offer them a chance to vote for it.”

That reference to shared common ground is the crucial one. There is so much of it between the Greens and PC; far more than the average member of public will realise. It really is madness fighting over essentially the same votes for the most part. The bits that they don’t share are undoubtedly highly important to some of their respective voters, and this puts some people’s noses out of joint when talk of working together surfaces. However, with proper selling of an alliance, these voters would be cutting said noses off to spite their faces in not getting on board as they would not get their especial concerns addressed anywhere else.

In conclusion …….

This news amounts to nothing at the moment. Its timing raises legitimate questions as to what has motivated it. It is, however, and encouraging sign that some parties are seriously grappling with the realities that face them. It has to be the way forward and has to be applauded and encouraged, if not for this year’s elections (it should have been done at least 18 months ago, before everyone had candidates selected everywhere), it should be something revisited and developed for all our sakes.

Given the likely scenario of an assembly with no party close to an overall majority, watch the typical two-faced hypocrisy of Welsh Labour and the Welsh Tories as the scratch around to see what deals they can do to try and cling to what they believe is their god-given right to rule over us. Probably the most appropriate coalition would be between the two of them. A Labour/Tory coalition? You heard it here first!

PS. Most recent polling data – treat with caution after the General Election!


Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 22.47.49

  • Labour falling away
  • PC gaining most – but not enough!
  • PC+Greens+Lib Dems = more than UKIP (just!) (WTF!!!!)
  • Don’t knows increasing and likely to be decisive
  • ‘Would not vote’ low – a high turnout would be refreshing!


New Scientist editorial slams Tories irrational, nonsensical and harmful policies

The following leader appeared in this weeks New Scientist:

POLITICS is often said to be the art of the possible. Complex real-world problems rarely have neat solutions. But British politicians appear to have forgotten this: the impossible is becoming law.

Consider the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which attempts to ban almost everything that alters mental state. It was passed last week by mostly supine MPs after a clueless debate (see “You’re not hallucinating, MPs really did pass crazy bad drug law“).

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 17.42.31Last week also saw publication of the draft “snooper’s charter”, which asks for some powers that are nonsensical, because they bear little relation to how digital communications actually work, and others that are draconian. And it saw the release of the “evidence base” behind the drive for a seven-day National Health Service, though this provides scant justification for the proposed reforms, as the medical profession has explained.

Rationalists may hope these laws will prove unworkable. But with the government seemingly also bent on removing checks and balances on its power, from freedom of information requests to human rights laws, we should be concerned that it will instead be free to interpret their vagaries any way it wants, unchallenged.

In a democracy, that may seem unthinkable. But it is beginning to seem worryingly possible.

I have little to add. We seem to all be sleepwalking into some sort of Orwellian nightmare. Orwell, of course, was very familiar with the Spanish Civil War. Will the Tories keep pushing, provoking and alienating people until civil war erupts here?