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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Food For Thought: A Foot Stompin' Fundraiser For The Foodbank

There will be a charity concert at the Headgate Theatre on 1st May at 7.30pm. All proceeds will go to Colchester Foodbank. Tickets are £10 and can be obtained from the box office or by calling 01206 366 000. The show will feature a range of artists, including some talented young singer-songwriters from Colchester and the up and coming folk band Fishclaw.
Also performing will be my former landlord, the Colchester singer-songwriter Paul Riley whose CD "The Wanderer" I can fondly remember the recording sessions of.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Education Should be Debt Free

What We Can Learn From Richard III Today

The reconstructed head of Richard III, showing the DNA analysis discovery that he most likely had blond hair.
"Queen to Pay Tribute To 'Evil' King" screams today's Sunday Express front page headline. Thankfully they had the sense to put the word evil in speech marks, however it is still the case that the image created by Shakespeare of an evil hunchbacked murderer lingers. Put simply, this image, created as propaganda for the Tudor dynasty, is that Richard plotted his way to the throne long term, battered Henry VI to death, murdered his brother George, had his young nephews (the 'Princes in the Tower') smothered with pillows, carried out random executions on a whim and poisoned his wife.
I don't intend to go into into the complex historical arguments as to why it is unlikely that any of the above 'crimes' were committed by Richard. My aim here is to outline the positive lessons that Richard III's reign can teach us today and which echo down the centuries from the 15th to the 21st. Although for those interested in the supposed crimes, here is my video on the Princes in the Tower:


I grew up in Stapleton in Leicestershire, only a few miles from the site of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard died. Richard III is a local hero who has fascinated me since I was very young. I never accepted the view that a man who died such a brave death could have been a conniving, cowardly villain racked by guilt at his umpteen murders (ie the Shakespeare version of events). Later I discovered the classic biography by Paul Murray Kendall which challenged this negative view and the rest, as they say, is history.....


Richard III as King was progressive and years, if not centuries, ahead of his time. The main Ricardian principles which we can celebrate today are:

1) Richard as a legal reformer who championed the poor and disadvantaged.

During his brief reign, Richard III enacted the following legal reforms: reintroduction of bail; access to the law for poor people via a system of legal aid; measures to reduce corruption in jury trials; translation of the law from French and Latin into English and posting of the law in public places.
Before Richard, anyone accused of a crime, particularly poor people, could be locked up for long periods of time before trial. The poor would seldom receive justice as there was no system of legal aid. Richard tackled both of these problems and championed the disadvantaged in the face of the wealthy vested interests. We could learn much from this considering that the current coalition government has slashed legal aid provision. In addition, since 1066 legal documents were written in French or Latin which ordinary English people could not understand. It was an elitist way of denying them legal knowledge. Richard had the law translated into English and posted in public places to increase access to it.

2) Richard as an inclusive King who fought the North/South divide.

Richard was a popular ruler of the north of England during Edward IV's reign, despite not being a 'northerner' himself. During his reign he did much to try to end the imbalance of power in England and tackle the attitude of the southern gentry that northerners were inferior or foreign. He attainted 113 disloyal southerners and introduced the policy of plantations which was the progressive planting of northerners in the southern shires in order to achieve a more inclusive rule. Given the nature of the current House of Commons, which is dominated by white middle-aged, middle-class males we still have some way to go in terms of political inclusiveness.

3) Richard the opponent of sleaze in government.

Edward IV's court was racked by sleaze and scandal, much of it involving Lord Hastings and Mistress Shore.  The law by which Richard III was made king, Titulus Regis, condemns this sleaze and reaffirms the point that those in power have a duty to serve rather than just to amass wealth.

4) Richard the brave who fought on the front line.

Richard did not send people to war while remaining safe himself, letting others pay the price for his decisions. Unlike Henry Tudor, who tended to hide behind his army and do nothing, Richard fought on the front line and led the last great chivalric cavalry charge in an English battle.

Here is my video on what we can learn from Richard today:

Two essential books about Richard which present a positive view of him:

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Some music: Radiohead "Fake Plastic Trees"

Natalie Bennett & Shahrar Ali Conference Speeches March 2015

The Books Which Inspired The Founding of The Green Party

What is now The Green Party of England and Wales was founded in 1973 as The PEOPLE Party. In the summer of 1972 Lesley Whittaker a surveyor and property agent bought a copy of Playboy magazine in which there was an interview with Dr Paul R. Ehrlich about overpopulation and how he and his wife were giving up two years of their lives to the cause. Erhlich had recently published a book about population growth entitled "The Population Bomb", which the article was about. This article inspired Whittaker and her husband Tony to form a small group of professional and business people 'Club of Thirteen', so named because it first met on 13 October 1972 in Daventry. In November 1972 the Whittaker's, Freda Sanders and Michael Benfield agreed to form 'PEOPLE' as a new political party to challenge the UK political establishment. Officially formed at the start of 1973, The PEOPLE Party produced a Manifesto for a Sustainable Society as a background statement of policies. This was directly  inspired by "A Blueprint for Survival" (published by The Ecologist magazine). The editor of "The Ecologist" magazine, Edward 'Teddy' Goldsmith, merged his 'Movement for Survival' with PEOPLE. Goldsmith became one of the leading members of the new party during the 1970s.
The third book which inspired the founders of PEOPLE was "The Limits to Growth". Commissioned by the Club of Rome, The Limits to Growth is a 1972 book about the computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.

Themes: Population and Economic Growth

The major theme of all of these books is the alarming rate of global environmental degradation resulting from human activity. They warn against the effects of unlimited economic growth and population growth on the world's resources, biodiversity and human well being. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to criticise these books, particularly The Population Bomb, for getting the timings wrong and predicting that utter disaster would happen before the end of the 20th century. However while the timescale may have been over the top, the essential warnings within these books remain starkly convincing. Moreover they show that ecological concerns were the main reason that what became The Green Party was founded in the first place. The key point stressed in The Population Bomb is that it took from the evolution of humanity until 1830 for the population to reach one billion. The next billion took only 100 years. The third billion took 37 years. The fourth billion took 13 years. And so on. The cause is not just too many births it is also the falling death rate. The world's population will continue to grow as long as the birth rate exceeds the death rate, it is as simple as that. When it stops growing or starts to shrink , it will mean either the birth rate has gone down or the death rate has gone up or a combination of the two.
My problem with those optimists who now criticise these books  is that they see the pattern in the West as a universal one (that increasing prosperity lowers the birthrate) regardless of cultural, religious or traditional factors. It also tends to fly in the face of the majority of the span of human history. Ehrlich says of the optimists in, The Population Bomb:

"They are a little like a person who, after a low temperature of five degrees of frost on December 21st, interprets a low of only three on December 22nd as a cheery sign of approaching spring."

It fails also to take into account that the death rate will continue to fall. Even the optimists accept that the population could be 11 billion by 2100. Given the likely increase in world consumption as consumerist lifestyles spread along with urbanisation, the result may well be that by 2100 the rain forests have gone, adding to global warming and we will have passed the point of no return. Also by then loss of habitat will have resulted in the mass extinction of tigers, elephants and a mass of other species, in the wild . The best hope is the reduction in world poverty, as economic security is the best chance for lowering the birthrate. Also the emancipation of women. However both need to be accompanied with an acceptance of the issue.

The Subsequent Development of The Green Party

In 1975, PEOPLE was renamed and relaunched as The Ecology Party. Then in 1985 it became The Green Party of Great Britain. In response to the rumours of a group of Liberal Party activists about to launch a UK Green Party, HELP (the Hackney Local Ecology Party) formally registered the name The Green Party, with a green circle as its logo. The first public meeting, chaired by David Fitzpatrick (then an Ecology Party speaker), was 13 June 1985 in Hackney Town Hall. Paul Ekins (then co-chair of the Ecology Party) spoke on the subject of Green politics and the inner city. Hackney Green Party put a formal proposal to the Ecology Party Autumn Conference in Dover that year to change to the Green Party, which was supported by the majority of attendees, including John Abineri, formerly an actor in the BBC series Survivors who supported adding Green to the name to fall in line with other environmental parties in Europe.

Finally The Green Party of England and Wales was created in 1990 when the former Green Party split into separate parties: Scottish Green Party, Green Party in Northern Ireland, and England & Wales.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Why I Will Stop Listening To 'Media Experts' and Talk From the Heart

Among all the negative comment from the grey media this week, one headline from the Daily Mirror grabbed my attention (Link to Article):

'Stop talking about hedgehogs!': Green Party leader Natalie Bennett given interview advice by media experts

The article claims that "exasperated" media experts have been drafted in to improve Natalie's communication  skills and that they have told the "gaffe-prone party chief" to stop talking about hedgehogs. The extremely carefully worded and admittedly amusing hatchet job of an article goes on to state:

"She believes the cute but spiky back garden creatures will help win over key support as the election campaign hots up. A source inside a recent prickly session revealed: “She kept saying the most important message to get across was on hedgehogs. She kept telling us British people just love hedgehogs. In the end we had to tell her - stop talking about hedgehogs, and start talking about housing and the economy.”

The point of the article was to present Natalie as both out of touch with the person on the street and eccentric, with the implication that the rest of the party is as well. I'm surprised the term 'tree-hugging' didn't appear. The fact that all I have ever heard Natalie talk about in interviews recently is social issues such as housing, the economy and social justice doesn't stop the Daily Mirror implying the opposite. My fear is that the party will react to such grubby journalism by taking its advice or rather by taking the advice of the "media expert" it claims to have used as "a source inside". 
This would be the wrong approach.  The best approach to such drivel is to laugh at it. Embrace it and throw it back in their faces.
People are fed up with politicians who talk from a script about a series of set issues which the policy wonks deem to be the key battlegrounds. What you get is the same old predictable stilted comments with the same old rote learned phrases in them. Everyone scared of talking "off message" and being honest. It looks false and it is false. 

As the Green Party we need to be proud of our ecological underpinning. The election campaign is an opportunity to raise awareness. Yes we need to talk about the big economic and social issues but also top stand up and be proud of our aims to combat climate change, promote renewable energy and reverse the decline in our wildlife. If we don't no other party will. To give in is to cave in to mockery which is weak and self defeating. 
They can only laugh at you if you aren't laughing with them. 
I have never hugged a tree in my life and I don't intend to do it just to prove a point. That would be equally false. However we need to talk from the heart about the issues that we care about. That is what I will do. I am a media expert free zone.
According to the Mirror article, Natalie has stated:

“Hedgehogs are an iconic species. The collapse of their population is a symbol and sign of how much damage has been done by industrial agriculture that has removed hedgerows and other natural refuges and blanketed our countryside in pesticides. Industrial agriculture combined with housing sprawl and traffic growth is ravaging our natural environment.”

Damn right. I hope that we all keep saying this and keep highlighting the catastrophic decline in UK wildlife. If the average "media expert" doesn't get it then send him/her a cuddly toy hedgehog with "Best wishes from The Green Party" on it. 

Some Music: Lindisfarne "All Fall Down"

We Must End Neo-Liberalism, Starting with the UK

According to Naomi Klein, Canadian journalist, activist and author of "The Shock Doctrine" and "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate" ( :

“We are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” 
― Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate


Obviously climate change is a global issue rather than a national one. However it is up to developed nations such as the UK to set precedents and advance the fight back. The current rate of global warming is extremely alarming. Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850. Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering from the sea-ice loss. Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. In the Northern Hemisphere, thaws also come a week earlier in spring and freezes begin a week later. Coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperature, suffered the worst bleaching, or die-off in response to stress, ever recorded in 1998, with some areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent. Experts expect these sorts of events to increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures rise.

As Naomi Klein shows in "This Changes Everything", Neoliberalism and free market fundamentalism are preventing initiatives to combat global warming rather than encouraging them.
In 2010, for example, the United States challenged one of China's wind power subsidy programs on the grounds that it contained protectionist supports for local industry. Ironically China filed a similar complaint in 2012 targeting various renewable energy programs in the EU, singling out Italy and Greece. Time after time neo-liberal trade agreements have encouraged more and more air travel, transporting of goods over ridiculous distances and challenged localised production on the grounds that it is protectionist. Secretive trade deals such as TTIP are the inevitable consequence the path we have been on since the late 1970s. As Klein puts it:

"You have been told that the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth is digging us in deeper every day. Change requires breaking every rule in the 'free-market' playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies".


I get annoyed when green campaigners use the term 'left-wing' to describe themselves. It is exclusive, limiting and associated with the politics of class conflict. Many 'left-wing' regimes have had terrible environmental impacts ( Yet it is the case that the right has been so comprehensively hijacked by neo-liberalism since the late 1970s that we think in these terms. We need to be moving forward. Which means rejecting both neo-liberalism and the old anti-ecologist left. However eco-socialism is welcome.
Which brings me to Mrs Thatcher.......
For a time in the late 1980s Mrs T actually managed to convince some naive souls that she had 'gone green'. Tutored by Sir Crispin Tickell, British ambassador to the UN in New York, she made several dramatic environment speeches. The first, to the Royal Society on 27 September 1988, galvanised the emerging green debate in Britain by stating:
"For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world's systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself."
The second, to the UN general assembly, in November 1989 was aimed at the international community. Thatcher had by then understood the environment's political importance in a globalising world and was the first major politician to hold out the prospect of international legislation. But the real motivation was because the Green Party looked dangerous after securing 15% of the UK vote in the European elections only months before. Back when Sara Parkin and David Icke were the principal speakers. I remember this well as I was living in Leicester at the time and recall that anyone who was not going to vote Labour was undecided between Green or Conservative.

Now for the reality.......

Maggie was about as green as I am a freshly squeezed watermelon. Her enthusiasm for green issues soon evaporated. She opened the Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research in 1990 but did not attend the Rio Earth summit, leaving her successor, John Major to formally sign up Britain to forest, climate and other agreements. In retirement she had nothing more to say about the environment until her 2002 memoirs, when she rejected Al Gore and what she called his "doomist" predictions about climate change.
The reason for this is that Mrs Thatcher was one of the chief architects of the rise of neo-liberal fundamentalism along with Sir Keith Joseph and economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. She was not only anti-green to the core but also a bad conservative as well. By a bad conservative I mean that she and her ilk desired to transform not to conserve and to create an economic model which would unleash unfettered destruction of the natural environment and the institutions of civil society.


When Mrs Thatcher was plotting how to transform the economy in the early 1980s, she instructed her patron and close ally Sir Keith Joseph to give every member of her new cabinet a copy of  a 1981 book by Martin Wiener entitled "English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850–1980". They were ordered in no uncertain terms to read it. Wiener was an American academic whose book had ironically found favour with some of the dinosaurs on the academic Marxist left such as Eric Hobsbawm. This shallow, nasty little book's main contention was that English culture was holding back rampant capitalism and development because of its sympathy with the countryside and nature.It was a concerted attack on the British elite for its indifference to and wariness of industrialism and commercialism. Although the commercial and industrial revolutions originated in England, Wiener blamed a persistent strain in British culture, characterised by wariness of capitalist expansion and yearning for an Arcadian rural society, which had prevented England, and Britain as a whole, from fully exploiting the benefits of what it had created. Constable paintings of rural landscapes, William Blake's art and paintings, William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, Wordsworth's nature poetry and so on were all to blame. Wiener believed that any concern over pollution or the human cost of the industrial revolution was some foppish upper-class indulgence. His solution was to forget such 'sentimentalism', forget the countryside and concrete it over. Let loose rampant development!
The poisoned legacy of the Wiener Thesis lives on today in David Cameron and George Osborne. Freeing up the free market must come first. So the planning rules have been reformed to create a presumption in favour of development and remove environmental regulations. When Cameron talked of "dropping the green shit" you could almost see the ghosts of Mrs T and Sir Keith Joseph smiling down on him.


Since the UK was at the forefront of the neo-liberal revolution, it should be at the forefront of its demise. Currently free-market fundamentalism dominates the thinking of all the grey parties as well as the governments and functionaries who shape the policy of the EU. It dominates culture in the UK in ways that Wiener would be proud of. The answer lies in a return to protectionism. We must adopt a new approach which I would term the ten heresies.


1) Protect small localised producers from competition from international corporate interests via tariffs and preferential trade agreements.

2) Regulate all economic activity to serve ecological goals.

3) Preferably use our influence to reform the EU away from neo-liberalism and use its institutions to achieve heresies 1 & 2. If this is not possible pull out of  the EU.

4) Raise income tax in order to expand and subsidise renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels.

5) End all road building schemes, impose high taxes on air travel and reduce airport capacity.

6) Weave ecology into the curricula of all schools. Put as much emphasis on encouraging children to become young naturalists as it put on IT skills.

7) Impose tariffs on imported milk and food to protect small local farmers.

8) Create public works programs, paid for via general taxation and selling government bonds, in conservation, renewable energy such as wind farms, planting new forests and other key areas of the green economy.

9) Ban all development in the countryside

10) Reduce the working week, expand leisure time and set a target of zero unemployment.