The blues can never be green: why the pausing of UK fracking is an election ploy

After the calling of a general election for December 12th, British politics has taken yet another unpredictable and exciting turn. Already the major political parties have begun to outline their election strategies; from the repetition of Labour’s 2017 strategy that boasts all the optimism of a Manchester United fan’s opinion on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to the Europhilic platform of the Liberal democrats that so nearly distracts from their voting record. 

With headlines dominated for so long by the haze of Brexit that it may now be the national sport of the United Kingdom, one might be forgiven for forgetting the very identities and positions of the mainstream parties outside of the European question. Thus, when the Conservative party announced the “suspension” of fracking operations in the United Kingdom, anyone who has taken an interest in the growing environmentalist movement worldwide would be forgiven for assuming this as the actions of a party that cares about the planet.

Fracking – one of the more contentious methods of extracting shale and natural gas – has received a large degree of public scrutiny in recent years. The potential for geological disruption, resulting in the increased chance of earthquakes and threat posed to local communities, is one of many ecological risks associated with the process, implemented at various sites nationwide. Andrea Leadsom, Business Secretary in the Johnson Government, argued that it was the right move for the Conservative government, who were “following the science… until the science changes”.

Leadsom — who infamously questioned on her first day as Theresa May’s Energy Secretary if climate change was real — seems here to justify the suspension of an environmentally damaging practice; until the point that the facts and circumstances change to allow the government to continue it again sans critique. Here we see the government enacting a temporary suspension of a profitable but ecologically destructive practice, until the science or circumstances change that justify them continuing with the destructive business.

Despite the Orwellian doublespeak of Leadsom, the move is nothing short of part of the election campaign launch of Johnson and the Conservative party. Forgetting for the moment the irony of a campaign centred around the idea of Britain deserving better than the brutal imposition of austerity and political buffoonery masterminded by the Conservatives themselves, Johnson’s political ethos focuses on the notion of “getting things done”. Let us get Brexit done, as the Conservatives cry, and we can focus on getting things done for the police force we have cut, the health service we have dogmatically hollowed, and on resolving the environmental crisis. Suspension of fracking, regardless of its motivations, is in the eyes of the Conservatives at least something they have actually got done in the past years of political weakness and ambiguity.

Indeed, one might be forgiven for forgetting what the political parties of the United Kingdom still stand for in these uncertain to-say-the-least times. The Conservatives can certainly be pointed to as the party of action when it comes to environmental considerations; they cannot be pointed to as the party of environmentalism. This is the party that abolished the department of Energy and Climate Change in 2016; the party that removed subsidisation of renewable energy construction and restricted the ability of renewable energy sources to develop in the United Kingdom; the party that ended the programme of sustainable home development due to a lack of profitability for investors. This is to say nothing of the continued support and subsidisation of Nuclear and non-renewable energy sources; many of which are not only unsustainable, but themselves not profitable. The fact that the Johnson Government has acted to temporarily halt fracking operations in the United Kingdom is simply a drop in the polluted ocean that Conservative policies and ideological profit-focus has helped to create.

This is hardly surprising. It is long documented that free market policies such as those championed by the Conservatives are wholly incompatible with ecological considerations; considerations which require the sacrifice of short term and individual self-interest in order to protect the common long-term good. Such profit-focus is integral to the continued dogmatic adherence to Neoliberalism that runs in the very blood of the Conservative party; an ideology that champions the free pursuit of self-interest for all, giving no consideration to considerations outside of capital and profit. Since the days of Thatcher’s gutting of regional communities, to the willing ignorance to the risks of the most profitable course that led to the Grenfell disaster, the Conservative party have long established themselves as the party that cares only for immediate economic success above any and all else. This perhaps explains why, before the enacting of such an election stunt, the party has been such a champion of fracking; almost a perfect metaphor for the extraction of short-term value with no regard for local communities or long-term sustainability.

It may be worth a modicum of congratulations to the Conservative party. Since Johnson took over as leader of the party and the country, the suspension of fracking is perhaps the one true item that the government can, unlike parliamentary votes and PR visits to hospitals, say that it has achieved success in. Make no mistake, however, the suspension of fracking is in no way motivated by a desire to protect the environment or communities affected by fracking. It is nothing short of a rudimentary and basic election tactic and attempted evidence for its “get things done campaign”; a crumb of success that will be weaponised as a counter argument to the myriad of environmentalist criticisms. When the “Science Changes” in the event the Conservatives win majority in the next election, such a suspension will be quickly and quietly repealed, leading to the next inevitable story of a small community ravaged by fracking disaster. 

As far as Environmentalism is concerned, the Conservative party line is evident; that the planet and the people that rely upon it are an afterthought, until the next chance for Johnson, clad in an ill fitting sports top or hopefully at the top of another zip-wire, to weaponise it for his own party’s success.

The West has an obligation to protect Rojava

8 months ago I wrote an article on Trump’s plan to withdraw support for the northern region of Syria known as Rojava but a last minute resignation within the US armed forces swayed Trump to reverse his decision. Sadly, trump announced via tweet that support for N.Syria, including Rojava, will be withdrawn, with the absurd assertion they don’t deserve support because they weren’t there at the battle of Normandy. By Wednesday, Turkey had already began to ramp up plans for a ground ‘offensive’, citing a need to protect Turkey from terror threats in the region.

As I write this piece, bombs rain down on the people of northern Syria and Rojava, a people who have been continually at war for the best part of the last decade. Trump has claimed he is withdrawing troops on the basis that the US needs to remove itself from the Middle East entirely. However, he is only moving 50 troops from the north of Syria to protect them from the subsequent Turkish invasion, green-lighting the invasion and inevitable destruction of Rojava and its people. This is nothing less than a betrayal – if not an unsurprising one – of the Kurdish people who have been allies to the US in defeating ISIS. As a consequence, the precariousness of the 90,000 ISIS prisoners that the Syrian Democratic Forces now hold, pose a serious threat to the resurgence of ISIS as a regional power. As well as this, Turkey is using the idea of the resulting Syrian refugees as a political pawn to gain European approval for their invasion, threatening to let 3.6 million refugees into Europe if the EU recognises the offensive for what it is – an invasion. Some, like Spain, have shown their colours and expressed support for the invasion.

What we must not also forget here is that Turkey is a NATO power (the second largest in numbers) and hence is supported and armed by other states like the UK and Spain. In fact, the UK has almost doubled its supply of arms to states on its own human rights watch list, including Turkey. Therefore, the British state is also complicit in this invasion: the ever turning wheel of profits from war spins on.

As discussed in my original article, the area known as Rojava was created out of the ongoing Syrian civil war, underpinned by the ideas of radical feminism, social ecology and democratic confederalism. It was originally conceived of by Murray Bookchin and later developed by the imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Since those beginnings the region has developed dramatically. However, we must take into account that although advances have been made on many fronts, there still remain many contradictions and issues that have not be solved, we must be pragmatic and try not to meet this revolution with the starry-eyed enthusiasm some of us previously held; it is not a perfect democracy, free of oppression and suffering, it is a revolution in progress with clear goals and should be viewed as such, supported and encouraged.

Nonetheless, it has been proven as a beacon of hope for a different kind of democracy, a different kind of life, for many around the world. It has inspired many from the globe to its cause under the banner of internationalism, through initiatives such as the Make Rojava Green Again Project, addressing the war of attrition Turkey and Assad have waged on the ecology of Rojava; the very soil and land the people inhabit.

Unsurprisingly this burgeoning society has caused reactionary responses in the so called west, such as the banning and confiscation of the Make Rojava Green Again book in Germany and the removal of passports of internationalists planning to aid the civil society projects.

With the invasion of Rojava by Turkey and the west’s implicit backing, clearly a war of ideas is at play. A war between a proto-fascistic NATO nation with an agenda to wipe out the Syrian Kurdish population and a hopeful political project.

It’s clear that what is really at stake is the lives of many Syrians. With Turkey’s invasion many will die and many more will be displaced (The international rescue committee predict that the offensive could displace 300,000 people living in the area), causing more misery and suffering to a community that has already suffered enough at the hands of autocratic regimes.

There is hope, because as mentioned in the original article, by an international volunteering effort. The Kurdish people and the wider population of Northern Syria have been resisting effectively for years and will not roll over now.

The US should reconsider their decision to dump the people of Rojava and instead use diplomatic pressure along with other NATO allies to prevent the invasion (reinstating the no fly zone on the North Syria border) and most importantly recognise, with support, the autonomy and freedom the people of Rojava deserve. As the citizens of these states we should provide our own forms of opposition and resistance to this injustice because if Rojava falls, we all fall.

If you believe in democracy, read below:

Rise up for Rojava

Information on the ideas behind Rojava

The internationalist commune

https://m.facebook.com/riseup4rojava/

The Portuguese Socialist Party sweep to victory but is this the end of their economic insurgence?

Three days ago, Portugal’s Socialist party (PS) won a huge mandate in their general election. Antonio Costa’s party won 36.6% of the vote winning 106 seats in their Parliament. Portugal stands alone in Europe as a place where progressive politics are hugely dominant. PS will most likely head into government with Left Bloc or CDU support.

Not only are their socialists about to enter their 2nd term in power they remain one of the few nations that uses proportional representation to have zero far right presence in their parliament. This success story can be traced to the hugely impressive economic recovery the government engineered.

However, with the Socialist Party gaining more power, oddly this may mean the end of radical political vision. Portugal’s economic recovery can be traced from the left-wing coalition that has ruled the country since the General Election in 2014. PS came 2nd but entered government with the left bloc and Portuguese communist party following years of austerity after a bailout. Portugal was one of the worst sufferers post the financial crash.

The conservative Portuguese Social Democratic party embraced austerity, CTT, public mail company and REN, national electric network, freezing public sector pay and raising regressive taxes like VAT. Education got a 23 per cent spending cut, and health and social security went the same way.

The result was 17.5 per cent unemployment in 2013, a 41 per cent jump in company bankruptcies and year after year of net economic decline.

The left took on the gauntlet in 2015 imposing a Keynesian approach to the economic crisis that many were highly sceptical of. PS enacted a reversal of the majority of the cuts while regaining this revenue from taxes on the richest.

The Troika reforms enacted by the previous government were overturned, a 30% increase in spending, while increasing the minimum wage, reversing VAT rises and reintroducing scrapped holidays.

They funded this by adding tax brackets at the top of the income scale while introducing taxes on sugar and increasing it on other luxuries.

The program has proven to be nothing less than brilliant. The economy has grown in every year since they took and Portugal’s economic growth was higher than the EU average in recent years, 2.4 percent in 2018, while unemployment rates fell to the level before the debt crisis.

Miraculously this has been achieved while reducing the deficit which is now almost zero, a historic low. However, this is unsurprising as tax has been levelled on those with the greatest ability to pay. This means spending is retained in the economy while tax take is not decreased. The economic program was designed eloquently to grow the economy and use this growth to reduce the public deficit.

However, such economic quality may be lost due to PS’s large win. A significant number of the policies that have been critical in Portugal’s recovery were only implemented due to their need for support from the 2 far left parties. 

The Left Bloc have struggled to increase their vote share in line with PS. They pushed for more infrastructure spending as well as a nationalisation program. Speaking to Joana Ramiro, a Portuguese journalist, she expressed her dissatisfaction with PS’s progressive credentials.

She said: “Calls for the re-nationalisation of main services, like those lead by the Labour Party, are something PS won’t hear a word of.”

PS’s current manifesto wants to keep the deficit low with controlled spending, but will increase public investment in the national health system and in transport system. This is on top of raising pensions and the minimum wage.

Many on Portugal’s left say this does not go nearly far enough to repair their struggling public services and run-down infrastructure. Their coalition partners may make this more progressive but at present PS offer run of the mill social democracy.

However, the left’s economic program over the last 5 years has helped PS gain a comfortable mandate for governing. While they may not be pushing the edges of radical reform, they show the EU’s left that rejecting austerity is key to winning back support.

Why are centrists so concerned about the ‘politics of division’?

‘The politics of division’ is surely the most banal of political clichés – the most lazy, yet tinged with benevolent intention. Scattered across the pages of history, an epithet to the bipartisan legacy of Obama, a monument to a noble ideal of a society without hate, fear, division; an expression of horror at our inability to communicate. But centrists too often treat is as a cause – rather than a symptom – of political failure. 

We condemn politicians from Johnson to Trump for cynically playing to people’s most base instincts – their jealousy, fear of the outsider, bitterness and nostalgia for an age of simplicity, where everyone could identify with a strong, secure national identity. In so doing, these populists accumulate support from those who have the least to lose. They perversely champion those whose livelihoods have been made less secure by the economic zeitgeist they advocated in the very first place.

Take our current Prime Minister, a man who seeks to portray himself doing battle with an establishment ostensibly bent on ‘suppressing’ the will of the people. This classical enthusiast seeks, like Cicero, to simultaneously appeal to the people and the senate – an ideological hallmark of Dominic Cummings’ Leave Campaign backed by businessmen, hedge-fund managers, Tory grandees and wealthy landowners. The notion that privately-educated Johnson has ever been anything other than an adornment of the establishment is simply nonsensical, yet this advocate of economic liberalism now seeks to be the ‘man of the masses’.

It is surely a sad irony that those who have lost the most are now defending an extreme government whose ideological commitments will hurt them even more. Of course, this is a generalisation – there was, for instance, and still is, a principled Lexiteer case. Nevertheless, the simple fact is that a no-deal Brexit may very well occur under the most right-wing cabinet in history.

To misappropriate the eloquent position of Grace Blakeley in her book Stolen, moments of radical political change often occur in times of crisis. There was no clearer example of this than the actions taken under the Thatcher administration. As she puts it, the Thatcher government asserted the interests of capital using ‘state warfare’: mobilising the state’s power to subdue labour, all whilst legislating for a light-regulation, low-tax economy that would further entrench the dominance of capital.

The circumstances would obviously be different in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the basic principle still stands. Such an event, with all of the associated economic and political turmoil, would provide an excellent opportunity to solidify the power of capital, remaking Britain a la ‘Britannia Unchained’. This entrenchment of power, indeed, would be over a workforce already atomised and alienated by successive years of anti-union legislation and changing economic conditions favourable to the service economy.

But centrists must take their share of the blame. To return to the original point, there has been a fundamental failure of centrists to engage in any meaningful way with the economic and political circumstances defining our age. By merely seeking to condemn ‘aggressive rhetoric’, they fail to ask the truly important questions; why heightened, aggressive language appeals to people at all. By merely waxing lyrical about the politics of division, they tragically fail to see that politics inevitably involves division, and inevitably involves fighting your own corner.

There has been no better example of this failure than the response of centrist Democrats to Donald Trump. They have criticised – with justification – his homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism. But declaring their outrage about the President’s rhetoric on Twitter won’t solve anything at all. By failing to offer structural change, and without listening to the voices of left-behind America, they merely offer hollow narcissism and petty sloganeering. By failing to actively engage in substantive, radical policy proposals to solve the contradictions of a broken economic epoch, they allow the President to present turbo-charged capitalism as a viable economic solution for industrial communities devastated by globalisation.

Indeed, the temptation to merely react to the immediately obscene statements of the President is invariably counterproductive. Trump thrives precisely because this is an age of cheap sensation, empty statements, information overload and contrived outrage generated, in part, by a media environment which needs to create a false sense of urgency. By denouncing his Twitter feed with vague insistences that we need to ‘come together’ and ‘unify’, they ironically distract from the devastating impact of his actual policies – playing into Trump’s tactics by allowing him to rally his support base against the ‘liberal media’.

Whilst the goal of rejecting ‘division’ is surely a noble one, treating it as an absolute is invariably a poor political tactic. During the Obama era, Democratic obsession with bipartisanship yielded political capital to the Republicans. As Cornel West asserted, this otherwise inspiring President bailed out Wall Street without helping ‘Maine Street’ – he oversaw a radical increase in drone strikes, he offered additional funds to the Israeli government, and in seeking to appease his Republican critics he called the Baltimore black youth ‘criminals and thugs’ – all in the name of ‘consensus’.

The tragic consequences of seeking unity over division are therefore clear. Politics is – to draw upon Christopher Hitchens, division by definition. Centrists have far too often appeared on the stage of history as the humanisers of the inevitable, bowing to a fundamentally conservative project.

Now, this is not to say that divisive rhetoric ought not to be condemned. It has left a bloody legacy, as the horrific murder of Jo Cox stands testament to. Neither should we accept the scapegoating of migrants, a cynical right-wing strategy that seeks to pit worker against worker merely on the basis of nationality, distracting from their fundamental class interest.

Nevertheless, centrists are obsessed with the politics of division precisely because their political framework has lost all credibility. Politics works where vigorous debate occurs. There is surely a dialectical relationship between the right and the left, each assuming radically different conceptions of human nature, society, the state and the economy; the flaws of each compensating for the other.

We ought to be suspicious of those who reject the ‘politics of division’ precisely because politics involves confrontation. Instead of merely condemning inflammatory rhetoric, progressives in the UK ought to offer a principled, grounded stance, revealing the cynicism of their opponents, persuasively putting forward an alternative vision which – crucially – appeals to those who are most likely to be disillusioned.

Merely complaining about ‘division’ puts progressives on the back foot,  ceding the dominant ideological position. Populism thrives on cheap sloganeering and provocative statements designed to invoke a reaction, engineered to put their opponents on the defensive. It’s time for the left to truly fight their own corner.

A land value tax won’t save the amazon rainforest: Instead we should look to indigenous communities to lead the way

Recently, an article published on this site by one of my colleagues attempted to revive the concept of a land value tax (or Georgism) as the answer to environmental degradation, specifically the tragic and rapid destruction of the amazon rainforest.

This tax is supposedly an excellent counter to the “demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left”. Although I agree that demonstrations in the UK will do very little, I wholeheartedly disagree that free market reform policies, like a land value tax, will be either implementable or have any effect in combating what is essentially a market driven process. It’s neither pragmatic nor possible. Instead there is a far more practical and proven method to protect the rain-forest already at play and it lies in the inherent power of indigenous communities.

To address the proposal of a land value tax, which i will preface, is not an idea without merit in specific contexts, such as urban and suburban plots of land but in this context it has significant barriers to its implementation.

Firstly, the concepts of a land value tax and the eco-tax mentioned in the article are two fundamentally different financial tools and in order to implement them in concert you have to radically alter the idea of a land value tax from a 100% (or near 100% tax) to one that is adjustable depending on the land that is being taxed. The reason for this is that the tax relies on the market determining the “highest and best use which can be obtained” for the land itself, which contradicts the need to value land in the rainforest as inherently useful in it’s current “undeveloped” state, to prevent further deforestation. Deforestation which is done to clear land to meet market demand from developed, so called ‘western nations’, for meat, soy and other practices like mining. The system of a land value tax ultimately pushes for the development of open land and has the potential for the premature release of farmland for development.

Secondly, there have only been a few instances of land value taxes being implemented with varying degrees of success and often not in the true (Georgian) sense of the idea. Furthermore, these reforms in ‘developing’ nations have led to an “exacerbation of the concentration of wealth”. In addition to this, the method of using international sanctions to enforce this tax has the potential to harm those very communities who’s land has been taken in the first place.

It’s within these communities that a practical and implementable way in which to improve the situation in the amazon can be found. It revolves around recognising the inherent power held by the many diverse indigenous communities of the amazon rain-forest. These individuals have been resisting colonial and then imperialist forces for many generations. Instead of using a theoretical concept of a global common ownership of land which can then be used to levy taxes, instead the international community should directly demand and support indigenous claims to the right over the land they live on.

By listening to the leaders from the amazon itself, those individuals and communities who are and have always been at the front line of a battle with state-backed corporate land grabs, we can formulate the best way, as an international bloc, to support, bolster, and work with them in saving the rainforest.

Many lands that are mandated by the government for indigenous use are still legally owned by the government itself. This is where many of the illegal activities associated with agribusiness are occurring. Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President, has been targeting these very indigenous groups, freezing the demarcation of new indigenous land and stripping the national indigenous foundation, known as Funai, of its powers. This is exactly what must be stopped and soon. It’s widely held that supporting indigenous land rights is a key process in preventing deforestation and destruction. It has been show that in some cases it can reduce forest fire incidents by 16% compared to areas that are simply ‘protected’ without land rights. This makes sense because these communities have been successfully and actively managing the rain-forest for countless generations. Initial reports from the world bank state that: “it will cost far less to save carbon by recognising forest community rights rather than relying on the future money markets”. Furthermore, one report outlined that it would cost £2 per hectare to recognise indigenous land rights.

Compared to a cut and paste tax requiring hoards of land valuers, this is a method that is both steeped in history and has already been implemented and measured. It’s ethical, anti-imperialist, and efficient. The World Resource Institute showed in their research that: “securing community forest tenure is a low-cost, high-benefit investment that benefits communities, countries, and global society”. However, this will not be the only way we can quickly and decisively stop the destruction of the rain forest. Perhaps an Eco-tax in some form and other international methods of pressure will be key in this collective endeavour, but this should always be fronted and led by those communities who live and resist within the amazon rain-forest itself.

For virtue signalling flag wavers, here are some ways you can help below:

Support the rainforest action network working directly with indigenous communities

Follow and support resistance on the ground and indigenous groups

Choose alternatives and pressure your own government

Is a General Election a trap for Labour?

Ex-PM Tony Blair has warned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to try and avoid falling into the “elephant trap” of a general election and Labour have voted against a snap election in the Commons but is a General Election a route to No Deal.

In a statement Tony Blair stated that he fears that the public “may fear a Corbyn premiership more” than a no-deal Brexit, leading to a general election defeat for Labour. Polling from YouGov does support these statements with 48% of the population preferring a No Deal to a Corbyn premiership. In comparison to 35% who would prefer Corbyn and a 2nd referendum over No Deal.

Blair stated that he believes the “Corbyn question” could dissuade voters away from voting Labour enough to vote Boris Johnson into power, thus leading to a no-deal Brexit. The government forecasts this scenario would be hugely damaging to the UK economy. If the UK had left on March 31st with No Deal economists forecasted the UK economy would have been £900 million worse off in 2019 alone.

Jason Stein, a former Tory special advisor and Amber Rudd aide this week claimed that the government are forecasting themselves to only pick up “roughly 295 to 300 seats”, and so although Labour are correct to avoid a snap election before the 31st October Brexit deadline, it could be well within their interests to fight a general election after the deadline.

A poll by ICM suggested that after 31st October, Labour would close the polling gap with the Tories. In comparison to a general election before the 31st October, the Tories would have a 7 point lead.

Labour are wise to avoid a General Election in October, but once an extension has been delivered they should rush to oust Johnson and fight a general election.