Archives for posts with tag: George Monbiot

Deeply troubling? Is this democracy? Is this sovereignty? 

Should not political decisions be taken in the interests of the 99% ?

The Guardian article refers to troubling revelations by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and notes that the Electoral Commission is now investigating the role played by US billionaire Robert Mercer in our EU referendum – adding ruefully, “But if it discovers any breaches of the rules, the penalties are feeble”.

Journalist George Monbiot goes on to highlight the use of ’dark’ money that does not seek to influence elections directly, but to change the broader political landscape.  

He explains that dark money is funding used, without public knowledge, by front groups and some thinktanks which resemble ‘covertly funded lobbyists’. The research group Transparify ranks these “thinktanks” by their openness about their funding and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange are rated as “highly opaque”. But though they refuse to reveal their sponsors, they are often invited to speak by the BBC – in the Today programme, Question Time, (IEA’s Jamie Whyte on 5-Live today) and other media.

Monbiot cites the tobacco industry, which has sponsored the IEA since 1963 – a fact only revealed when a legal settlement forced open its archives. Last week the IEA published a report critical of the UK’s smoking ban and tobacco packaging law which was covered in the media, but with no reference to the institute’s funding-related bias.

Though the Conservative Party manifesto outlines a plan to “lead international action against climate change”, it also pledges to ensure oil and gas plays a “critical role” in UK energy provision. 

Ben Chapman in The Independent points out that the Electoral Commission files show oil and gas corporates’ donors to the May government including:

  • Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Jersey-registered oil and gas firm, Petrofac, who gave £90,000 in December.
  • Ian Taylor, chief executive of the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol. He has personally given the Conservatives £47,000 since Ms May won the party leadership in July last year, adding to hundreds of thousands he had previously donated.
  • Former Vitol partner Matthew Ferrey has also given £124,000 to the Tories since last July. He has now set up his own investment company which invests in the sector.
  • Alexander Temerko, Ukrainian-born former deputy chairman of the Russian Yukos Oil Company, who has donated £63,800.
  • Amjad Bseisu, the Palestinian-born boss of energy company EnQuest who previously worked for Petrofac has given £28,500 to the Tories under Ms May, while
  • Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of United Arab Emirates-based Crescent Petroleum, gave £28,000 in December.

The Independent article records accusations made against some of those listed, a legal case pending and a conviction and Monbiot ends:

“Why has there been no effective action on climate change? Why are we choking on air pollution? Why is the junk food industry able to exploit our children? Because governments and their agencies have rolled over and let such people make a mockery of informed consent. Now the whole democratic system is sliding, and the Electoral Commission is neither equipped nor willing to stop it. There’s an urgent, unmet need for new laws to defend democracy”.

 

 

 

 

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So says George Monbiot in the Guardian. He trounces Blairite MPs who, disloyal to their elected leader and helping to grant Theresa May a mandate, ‘tolerated anything the Labour party did under Blair’:

They “proclaim disenchantment now that it calls for the protection of the poor, the containment of the rich and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

The popularity of Corbyn’s recent policy announcements leads Monbiot to believe he has a chance, albeit slight, of turning this around. His pledge to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour is supported by 71% of people, according to a ComRes poll; raising the top rate of tax is endorsed by 62%.

He cites Labour’s 10 pledges, placed some time ago on another website, which could – incorporated in its manifesto – appeal to almost everyone. They promote the theme of security:

secure employment rights,

secure access to housing,

secure public services,

a secure living world.

Compare this with the attitude of the major funder of the Brexit campaign, billionaire Peter Hargreaves: ‘Insecurity is fantastic’.

Those who question Corbyn’s lack of experience and competence should remember where more ‘credible’ politicians led us:

  • Blair’s powers of persuasion led to the Iraq war.
  • Gordon Brown’s reputation for prudence blinded people to the financial disaster he was helping to engineer, through the confidence he vested in the banks.
  • Cameron’s smooth assurance caused the greatest national crisis since the second world war.
  • May’s calculating tenacity is likely to exacerbate it.

A progressive alliance/tactical voting?

Much advice follows; the most congenial is that Labour should embrace the offer of a tactical alliance with other parties:

“The Greens have already stood aside in Ealing Central and Acton, to help the Labour MP there defend her seat. Labour should reciprocate by withdrawing from Caroline Lucas’s constituency of Brighton Pavilion. Such deals could be made all over the country: and as the thinktank Compass shows, they enhance the chances of knocking the Tories out of government . . .”

Monbiot ends:

“The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean, and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation I will vote Labour on 8 June . . . I urge you to do the same”.

 

 

 

Birmingham traffic

George Monbiot looked for a summary – in clear and simple language – of the damage that traffic pollution can do to children, but he could not find one. Nor could the transport campaigns he consulted. So he wrote this short factsheet for a local school suffering high levels of air pollution, caused in part by the parents, sometimes driving their children just 100 metres up the road. Part of the problem is that many people are unaware of the link between pollution and health issues.

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What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children

Every year, we discover more about the harm being done to our children by the fumes that cars and other vehicles produce.

The more we learn, the worse it looks. In polluted places, the damage to their health can be very serious.

By driving them to school and by sitting in our cars with the engines idling, we are helping to poison our own children.

Here is what we now know about the harm that traffic pollution can do to children:

-It can damage the growth of their lungs. This means that the lungs of children who have been affected don’t work so well. The damage can last for the rest of their lives.

-It raises the risk of asthma and allergies. For children who already have asthma, pollution can make it worse.

-It can damage the development of their brains. Air pollution can reduce children’s intelligence, making it harder for them to learn.

-It can change their behaviour and reduce their happiness. Air pollution has been linked to anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.

-It raises the risk of heart disease later in their lives.

-It can cause cancer, both in children and when they become adults.

-Unborn children can also be affected by the pollution their mothers breathe. Air pollution is linked to babies being born prematurely and small.

-Pollution inside your car can be much worse than pollution outside, because the fumes are concentrated in the small space.

We don’t mean to do this to our children. But once we know how much we are hurting them, we can stop it, by changing the way we travel. Walking and cycling are ideal. And promoted c 2000:

Together we can sort this out, and protect our children from harm.

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The information sources for this factsheet can be found at https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2016/6/EHP299.acco.pdf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26825441, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001792 and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/05/the-truth-about-londons-air-pollution

The public was never consulted about the Capita contract

Even at City Council level, the Council’s corporate activities are protected from public scrutiny. Birmingham’s citizens were never consulted about the huge contract that was handed out to Capita (Service Birmingham). See Alan Clawley’s post in the Birmingham Press ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

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An order authorising the Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) was made in July 2005. Government approval was given on 16 February 2012 for the extension, a new fleet of trams and a new depot at Wednesbury; the sanctioned sum is £128m.

Steve Beauchampé earlier reflected at length on the decision-making process in the Birmingham Press. He made some valid points about the Metro extension in a Stirrer article and at the public consultation in 2011 but “they were essentially waived away as being out of date as Metro was the future”.

Beauchampé’s points summarised – readers, judge for yourselves:

  • When run on public streets trams can quickly become a disruptive transport system, one that displaces buses, a more popular and flexible alternative
  • With their rails and overhead mechanics . . . any breakdown or accident, repairs to the system’s infrastructure, road works can force services to be delayed, curtailed and cancelled.
  • Unlike buses, trams cannot be easily and quickly re-routed to account for changed passenger requirements, new roads or road re-alignments… in fact, the very reasons why trams were phased out of Britain’s towns and cities (including Birmingham in 1953) and replaced by buses in the first place.

£42.4 million of public money will be spent extending the Midland Metro from New Street Station to Centenary Square – a 5-15 minute walk, depending on New Street departure point and the walker’s fitness level.

Beauchampé describes the displacement of buses to the city outskirts, the damage to the retailers in the area “leaving the once thriving shopping environment of Corporation Street and Upper Bull Street a shadow of its former self.”

metro tracks

Why then has there been so little public outcry at the downgrading of the bus services?

“Partly because those most affected by the changes primarily consist of the groups within society that have almost no voice, and carry no influence; the elderly, the poor, migrants, students, the unwaged and the low waged. They are a captive market, people for whom switching to cars is not an option, and the decades-long annual increase in bus fares demonstrates that transport bosses realise this”.

“To the city’s politicians and professional media, most of whom rarely, if ever, use these bus routes (cars, taxis and trains being so much more tolerable) the effects are probably imperceptible. Yet the consequences for those passengers who do are very real. Sometimes the extra walking may amount to just a few minutes (albeit in both directions), but when it is wet, cold, dark, when you’re running late, weighed down with bags, coping with young children, elderly, infirm or disabled, these effects matter.

“The bus companies, primarily National Express, which owns Travel West Midlands and (crucially) operates Midland Metro, are not bothered. Passengers must still travel so the company doesn’t lose out fares wise, while removing buses from the core of the city centre allows their vehicles to turn around quicker (i.e. they are operating a shorter route) – far easier for passengers to come to them than that they go to the passengers.

“But the business and marketing community (and thus those councillors in the vanguard of the ‘Birmingham is open for business’ mentality) adore it; Metro is photogenic, it swishes along in a very modern, continental kind of way making a most pleasing sound. Oh, and Manchester’s got one.

“Metro’s champions see it as the catalyst for coaxing commuters from their cars, although as we shall explain this requires a far bigger project than mere city centre line extensions. Finally, there is the social engineering aspect: Metro is often viewed as an upmarket mode of travel and some of its proponents imagine/hope that those cruddy people (see list above) won’t use it . . .

“As right now, every extra metre of track that is laid takes us in entirely the wrong direction of travel”.

Beauchampé might agree with Monbiot – paraphrased: “When a council-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and . . . public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?”


Links to relevant analyses: in the FT, sham consultations by Anna Minton (Royal Commission Fellow, Built Environment) and in the Guardian by award-winning journalist George Monbiot. Other information: The Midland Metro (Birmingham City Centre Extension, etc.) Order 2005

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In a country where successive governments’ mismanagement of the economy has forced many into the arms of the state, the current regime:

  • attributes blame to the sick, the unemployed, the underpaid for a crisis caused by the feral elite (see Mark Steel);
  • decides that council tax will be now paid by many of the poor;
  • places legal redress even further beyond the means of the poor and average income citizen/subject;
  • and rewards those taking home more than £150,000 a year by cutting their income tax cut.

These developments are listed by George Monbiot, Guardian 2nd April 2013.

Writing on ‘Black Monday’, he says, “as the British government’s full-spectrum attack on the lives of the poor commences, the thought keeps returning to me.Most of the world’s people are decent, honest and kind. Most of those who dominate us are inveterate bastards. This is the conclusion I’ve reached after many years of journalism”.

“Why does the decent majority allow itself to be governed by a brutal, antisocial minority?”

Monbiot thinks that the decent majority allows itself to be governed by a brutal, antisocial minority because “large numbers (including many who depend on it) have been persuaded that most recipients of social security are feckless, profligate fraudsters . . . Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and the other media barons still seem to be running the country. Their relentless propaganda, using exceptional and shocking cases to characterise an entire social class, remains highly effective. Divide and rule is as potent as it has ever been”.

He sees a legacy of fear: “Even in a nominal democracy like the United Kingdom, the effect of five or six generations of justified fear of authority, persists, reinforced now by renewed insecurity, snowballing inequality, partisan policing”.

The power of a transformative idea is needed; the hope of freedom from want and fear swept to power a Labour government which was able, to create a fair society from a smashed, divided nation – “an achievement which – through a series of sudden, spectacular and unmandated strikes – Cameron’s government is now demolishing”.

Can readers suggest a transformative idea of this calibre which would appeal to a broad spectrum of public opinion?

 

The most convincing transformative ideas will be published and forwarded to George Monbiot and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.