Brazilian Corruption update

Corruption update

As I am in Brazil at the moment I thought it was time to give you an update about the political situation here. Not least because many of you could do with a distraction from the political situation back in Blighty! The pain of others can sometimes divert you from thinking about the pain you are suffering yourself.

The immediate prompt for this update is the fact that former President Lula has just be handed a nine year sentence for corruption, related to the big Petrobras scandal that has engulfed the country for the last few years. Lula and his Worker`s Party claim that the accusations which led to the court case have not been proven and a lot of information which they say proves his innocence has been ignored. Furthermore they claim that this case, together with another four or five legal cases set to continue hitting him are all merely ruses to keep him from standing again for President in 2018 (he still leads the polls for next year`s election!)

Nevertheless he has today (yesterday for you by the time I have posted this Blog!) been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison for passive corruption and money laundering. For more details, feel free to click onto the Guardian article about the case – (url given below.)

Politicians in Brazil are mired in scandals at the moment, as you may have gathered from previous posts here. President Temer himself stands accused of, and has been charged with, personal corruption charges. As a sitting president however, there has to be a political discussion of his case before it can be taken forward to the Supreme Federal Tribunal (SFT), the only court that can actually try him.

Two thirds of the lower house have to vote “yes” to the question of whether to take his prosecution forward to the SFT. The speeches for and against this have been going on during the day today and there have been some impassioned arguments delivered from politicians who have been dismissed from their ministerial posts just because they had indicated they would vote against him and replaced with people who expressed their loyalty. So there has been political corruption over the original financial corruption.

Quite frankly the majority of elected `delegados` (MPs) probably need throwing out and a big new broom needs to sweep through politics here. Now, where have I heard that idea before?!?

As I said above, Lula is still leading the opinion polls for next year. A president is only allowed two consecutive terms but they are allowed to stand again after a break. Clearly the legal cases have weakened his position but he is not yet ruled out of contention. Indeed, he is not yet in prison since he has the right to appeal and is free until his appeal is heard. As you will have seen here before, his successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year for massaging the budget figures to mask the poor economic position before her re-election in 2014. Having been impeached she is also excluded from standing next year.

President Temer may yet escape being tried for the corruption charges he faces, because the numbers of his supporters in the House may be large enough for him to escape prosecution at the moment, but my judgement is that he is probably a broken reed as far as the wider electorate are concerned.

Not all that long ago Aecio Neves, leader of the PSDB party, who was runner up in the 2014 presidential election, was suspended from the Senate by the Supreme Court (STF) and his sister was sent to prison for about two months on corruption charges (she is now serving house arrest). Despite apparently strong evidence of his complicity the political vote has allowed Aecio Neves back into the Senate recently.

It is also as recent as March since Brazil`s former “speaker” was jailed for 15 years. Until he was suspended some time before that he was third in line to the presidency.

Talk about corruption reaching to the very top of the political pile. No-one would believe it if you wrote a novel about it!!

Just by the way, whilst I am on the subject of Brazilian politics, one of the reasons Temer is said to have colluded in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is that the right wing here (represented by Temer, who nevertheless stood alongside left wing Dilma as her Vice Presidential candidate in 2014 and is also therefore tainted by the government decisions for which Dilma was impeached!) wanted to “free” business managements from the dead hand of union politics. The current government has now, just yesterday, succeeded in passing a significant piece of legislation seriously weakening the position of workers here. This is broadly equivalent to the legislation that Mrs Thatcher`s government imposed on the UK back in the early 1980`s.

There is no doubt that businesses have been hampered by restrictive union practices here but in a country where there are around 14 million unemployed people, austerity is not going to be alleviated by the new freedoms to sack workers more easily. (That is about the population of all of Greater London and the population of Scotland added together, just for comparison, by the way.)

 

 

Lula – goo.gl/TRSThC

Temer – goo.gl/KdTzb3

Neves – goo.gl/Fc5EUu     Neves sister – goo.gl/ouzd3n

Cunha – goo.gl/8yrgkn

Labour Laws – goo.gl/K4ENaZ

Posted in Brazil General, Corruption, Labour reform, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Liberal Democracy – which way forward? – #2 Liberal economics

Liberal Democracy – which way forward?

#2 Liberal economics

I saw recently a suggestion that the party should reclaim the title Liberal Party and drop the “Democrat” bit and I have to say as a long-time Liberal radical that idea appealed to me quite a bit. I would not want to push the idea to the extent that lots of members went off in a huff, but it does occur to me that if any time was the right time to change the party`s name NOW would be as good as any for a rebranding.

For a start the brand “Liberal Democrat” has certainly been “tarnished” in the eyes of many potential voters because of the Coalition. (Yes, I know there are many voices in the party saying we should defend the principles of coalition and I do, but we do have to acknowledge realpolitik and accept that for Jo Public, the voter, the outcomes of the coalition were seen more as negative than as positive.) So, in terms of timing, a name change may have more going FOR it than AGAINST it.

Secondly the word “Democrat” carries negative connotations not only from the coalition experience but from the failure of the Democrats in the USA in defending American politics from Donald Trump. Not a big issue in terms of our domestic politics but a psychological barrier nevertheless.

Thirdly and most significantly the word Liberal with a capital L carries a host of positive psychological capital even outside the Lib Dem Party context and – importantly for me – carries the connotations of a left-of-centre party which I believe we need to maximise going forward.

The reason I raise the issue here is that I want to begin a debate to redefine the party`s approach to economics and I would prefer to define any new economic stance as radical Liberal Economics rather than Liberal Democratic Economics. I already touched upon this in my last post when I took up Richard Grayson`s point about Orange Book economic thinking leading us up the wrong path into and during the coalition. We need a break of clear water between what was, and what will become, the main economic foundation of the “new” party for the future. (I was going to say “clear blue water” but thought that might be misleading!!)

Austerity and tax?

Someone suggested in a recent FB thread that Labour`s current stance on austerity held the ground on which any radical Liberal economic policy might seek to stand – therefore we should not try to go there. Up to a point it may be the case that Labour`s wish for some redistribution of incomes and wealth might coincide with where we wish to be, but let me suggest a number of points of differentiation for a Liberal approach to be distinctive.

Before going into a little detail, let me also make a couple of general points. First, it seems to me that there would be quite a large broad base of support amongst voters for a generally left-of-centre approach, the details of which can be negotiated upon should there be a parliament sufficiently balanced for such negotiations to prove fruitful (and, no, I am not talking about a `coalition of chaos` – that title has already been taken by the Tories and the DUP).  So we need to establish the groundwork necessary to become a legitimate part of that debate. I believe we would hold more leverage as left-of-centre rather than as a centre party.

Secondly let me reiterate a point I have made in a recent FB thread about this – if we can generate the votes within the party to go along this radical Liberal economic line it will form a sound basis to future-proof the party with an influx of younger voters and members, whereas it seems very doubtful that the Labour party could follow the Corbyn/McDonnell line for very long without breaking apart at the seams. And if that did happen the Labour party would be more likely to move rapidly back to the centre-right rather than centre-left

We, the Liberal Democrats, have experimented with Orange book neoliberal economics and it has been found to be seriously wanting in pragmatic Liberal party-political terms. It has brought us so low electorally that for us the only way is up! The Labour Party has yet to go through that `life-changing` ordeal, for their current view, in power. Their stance now is a rebound from Blair`s own neo-liberal economic position but that position still holds the majority of their MPs in thrall – I reckon there is a crunch coming for the Labour Party on economic issues and there will be a lot of collateral damage when it occurs. It would be good if we were placed to pick up at least a good proportion of the liberal facing pieces!

OK – Now to the detail.

Please bear in mind this is a contribution to debate. It is not a fixed position (I am open to counter argument) and I am not an economist, but I have been dealing with sustainable development issues both professionally and in a political context for over 40 years.

The greatest threat to sustainability from an economic standpoint is inequity between haves and have nots. This is a truism both internationally and in a domestic political context. For example a very large number of migrants both legal and illegal are economic migrants seeking to find a pot of gold for themselves and their families in an overheated Western economy. Also one of the issues that destabilised “strong and stable” was the gross inequality apparent in the UK. North versus South; rich versus homeless; nurses having to access food bank to manage.

International

I hold to the view that we should remain in the European Union and we will ALL be better off if we manage to stay but let that be a debate for another day. Whether we stay or whether we leave, the rest of the debate in this blog-post is primarily about (re)distribution rather than absolute incomes.

It has been demeaning to watch the Tories try to justify stealing money from International Development Funds – where consecutive governments have tried to live up to the 0.7% of GDP target set by the United Nations as a fair contribution to International Development – to try and ease the way to leaving the EU. They may still try to do it, so we must do everything we can to stop them.

My second point relates to the arms trade, one of the most shameful aspects of international trade this country has involved itself with since the slave trade was abolished. Setting aside for a moment our obvious “skill set” in making these foul implements and the huge profits that accrue to the armaments industries and the large positive `balance of trade` the country supposedly `benefits from`, the fact that many small countries spend inordinately huge sums buying weapons of war they probably do not really need skews global trade and generates a large part of economic inequity.

I know we will not win the argument in the short term, but that should not deter us from making the argument in and for the long term that the UK should be far more restricted in choosing customers for our undoubted skills in armaments manufacture. We should move towards the Scandinavian model of international relations and promote true sustainable development which would hopefully obviate much of the perceived “need” for countries to arm themselves to the teeth. In order to cope with the inevitable shouts of “creating unemployment” there should be a compensating investment in alternative manufacturing opportunities – green energy obviously springs to mind.

If we really want this to happen, we also have to acknowledge that it is unlikely to happen if we leave it entirely to “market forces” simply because of the large comparative advantages the UK armaments industry has in terms of the skill set and experience I referred to above. We could make an early start here, though by making sure that the industry actually follow the rules that are already in place and did not sell arms into warring areas or to countries with questionable human rights records. Saudi Arabia for example.

Really my key point is simple – if countries spent less on arms they could spend more on useful infrastructure. And this sort of expenditure is more likely to generate a positive multiplier effect.

Second suggestion for a radical international economic policy. Instead of spending 0.7% of GDP in ID, let us increase that to a full 1% of GDP. OK – I can already hear the howls of right wing thinkers (“for goodness sake don`t spend any more on Johnny Foreigner”!!) but my belief here is that the more we invest the more economies will be raised from the depths of subsistence to actual working economies. A Keynesian approach to global economy should raise economic activity, provided it is approached in a sustainable development framework. Also, if we instigate this raised level we will, in all probability be early beneficiaries of reciprocal trading that will eventually result.

Domestic economics.

We need to have a thorough formal party debate on all aspects of domestic economics in the light of the failures and problems associated with the Orange Book approach and the general rightward movement of economics over the last 40 years. I favour a serious look at Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the light of the recent Finnish experiment and experience, since this may act as a key redistributor of income to individuals (the Liberal view) provided the underlying taxation is sufficiently equitable to share the burden between the working population and business models that rely not on a workforce but on automation to make a profit.

We must move away from an overwhelming reliance on a younger smaller workforce when the population is ageing. Inter-generational equity is important. Intra-generational equity is important, too, and those who are better off should bear a much greater share of supporting the public purse than they do now after benefiting from years of right-wing, privilege-based Tory economics, sadly supported to an extent greater than I would have liked by the coalition.

We also need to clarify and cost a realistic nationally instituted Land Value Taxation (LVT) system which has been at the heart of potentially radical Liberal Economics as long as I have been associated with the Party and its fore-runner Liberal Party. The fact that Asquith and Lloyd George and Churchill all advocated LVT adds to its longevity as a good idea but it has never seen the light of day in the realpolitik world of UK politics. We need to work on it to get the exact mechanisms correct but there is now a considerable quantum of real experience in Australia, Canada and some States of the USA to draw on. There are considerable sustainable development benefits that would flow from LVT too, which is probably why the Green Party also advocates it.

I mentioned UBI above and there is work to be done in terms of using it as a potential basis for developing fair systems of social security support, disability support and so on. We also need to integrate it with a progressive tax-raising system that would claw such contributions back from the well off and the wealthy. Some people have referred to negative income tax as a similar system to UBI – there is after all an Inland revenue administrative system in place which knows out NI numbers and could (and does) give money out as well as collect it in. The old age pension is a form of UBI for older folk and works reasonably well, at least in principle!!

Feel free to feedback comments here or in the Lib Dem`s FB threads. I will try and deal with wealth redistribution in a future post.

Posted in Environment & Sustainable Development, Politics, Radical Liberal | Leave a comment

Liberal Democracy – which way forward?

Liberal Democracy – which way forward?

Becoming Radical

It has become clear in the last 24 hours that my hobby horse suggesting Tim Farron should stay as leader has been hobbled by the jockey declaring he was “at peace” with his decision, reported to me by Keith Watts from an unnamed third party with access to Tim himself. So time for me, indeed, for all of us, to move on.

Or, at least, for me to change my hobby horse! Maybe you can guess the new pony from my title. Those of you following the various threads where I have been commenting on FB may have seen a comment I made reminding folk that I have recently celebrated my 70th birthday. So I am in no mood to be patient with whatever change is necessary in the Liberal Democrats to make us an eminently electable party again.

Readers of my recent blogs will also know that I am in favour of the party becoming more “radical”, so I thought I should try and indicate more clearly where these thoughts may lead. My starting point for this post was to seek a definition of the word “radical” so we can be clear we all have the same understanding. There were two main definitions.

1 Radical – “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”

Synonyms for this definition included – thoroughgoing, far-reaching, wide-ranging, extensive

2 The second definition was more politically oriented – “advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change; representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party.”

Synonyms included – progressive, reformist, revisionist,

With me so far? The words I favour, that have the most meaning for me are “far-reaching, wide-ranging, progressive and reformist”. So, where will these words take us? And how does all this relate to our leadership problem?

Centre Party

I have already argued against becoming a “Centre Party”. Doesn`t affect the fundamental problems of political discourse in the UK and whilst it may have some appeal now that Tories have moved rightwards and Labout leftwards it will keep us excluded under the First Past the Post (FPTP) system as happened a couple of weeks ago. Of course part of our `far-reaching` change should be to change the electoral system but this is generally perceived to be in the self-interest of our party so is not helpful in elections. As I have been told on the doorstep often enough “Well, you would say that wouldn`t you?” Include it but don`t push it – should be a `given` for all potential leaders.

Europe

In order not to be accused of missing something important we need to be forthright over Europe, more so than we were in the GE campaign. We should adopt as our position “to revoke article 50”, which is a pretty fundamental stance, and propose to “lead the campaign to reform the EU” along with Guy Verhofstadt. BTW, I`d vote for him if he was standing in our leadership election.

Nuclear

You probably already know I am opposed to both nuclear weapons and nuclear power and I will argue the case for each opinion in more detail in another blog later. Suffice to say the old Liberal Party was opposed to both and the Green Party is opposed to both, so the Liberal Democrats have moved away from my favoured position and I dearly want my party back please. For reasons I will expound on another time I see these as vote winners for the kind of progressive party I wish to be a member of. And I believe they will be radical enough to attract votes from the younger demographic we need for future proofing the party.

Sustainable Development

Despite some mention in the 2017 manifesto and a brave effort by Tim to articulate the party`s stance on climate change, this aspect of Liberal Democracy has suffered over many years by being downplayed by various party leaders rather than becoming the centre-piece of Lib Dem policy. I have no idea of the number of iterations there may have been of the party`s Preamble to the Constitution since I left in 1998 but I was delighted to see the retention of the following paragraph for which I claim majority ownership. Not all the words were mine but I am proud to have been responsible for the final version of the paragraph…

“We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.”

With respect to this current blog post I take the view that Sustainable Development should become much more clearly the root of our economic policies and I would strongly advocate that the Green Liberal Democrats should, as a matter of urgency, take the lead in instigating a full-blown review of all Lib Dem economic policy areas to make them fundamentally Sustainable. Whoever is the new party Leader should be caused to focus on this area to future-proof the party.

After the hottest June for 40 years is anyone going to argue against this?

Economics

As well as the climate change sustainability I just referred to we also need to focus on the sustainability of equity in our economic policy areas. The reliance of many working people on the existence of Food Banks has exposed the Tories to much criticism. The Labour Party, however, has managed (with some justification, to be honest) to lump the Lib Dems in with the Tories because of our role in the coalition and we suffered much in the recent election because of this. The moderating effect we undoubtedly had on Tory austerity cuts were never fully appreciated and we may get a little recognition in hindsight, but we should not rely on this happening anytime soon.

However, of more significance, was the move towards a rather right wing “economic liberalism” which appears to have been significant in encouraging many in the Tory party to see the then Lib Dem leadership as “rather like them”.  Richard Grayson`s 2010 article in the New Statesman is illuminating (see goo.gl/SAN2tn). It is now clear that we need to have a significant debate in the party about an effective income and wealth redistributive strategy sooner rather than later.

I rather favour reaching a position described by one person on a FB thread – will have to paraphrase because I cannot just find it again to copy and paste! – as, “if you want to get rid of poverty you have to look no further than the Liberal Democrats because they are the only party to have worked out how to do it!”

I know it is a tall order but we have to be redistributive in radical ways. These need to be Liberal rather than socialist and libertarian rather than authoritarian. They clearly need not to follow Orange Book lines, which rather poses a major difficulty, given that the likely contenders for the party leadership, all have significant Orange Book links.

My key economics question for the hustings, therefore, might be “Are you prepared, now, to foreswear your previous attachment to Orange Book economics?” and see if they can think on their feet.

OK – I think this article is as long as I dare make it without trying your patience, but I will surely return to the theme of what it is that will make the party as radical as I would like it to be and as radical as I think it should be.

In conclusion I was reminded this evening of the words in a Joni Mitchell song – “… you don`t know what you`ve got `til its gone… “ by reading the following article in the HUFFpost goo.gl/Y61qn3 just highlighting what a good Liberal guy Tim Farron is. Thank you Tim.

Posted in Article 50, Birthday, Elections, electoral reform, Environment & Sustainable Development, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

June Election 2017 – whither now?

June Election 2017 – whither now?

I had a proxy vote for the June Election because I returned to Brazil for my 70th birthday party (some of you may have seen the pictures from that very enjoyable day) so I was already out of the country by the date of the election. One advantage of watching the election results from here is that by the time I was ready for bed at midnight most of the results were already in (we are four hours behind, here in Brazil!)

So I didn`t lose any beauty sleep and was sufficiently compos mentis to appreciate the fact that Mrs May had been royally stuffed in her excess ambitions. Sadly I was also conscious of the lack of progress of my own party`s fortunes and had seen Nick Clegg`s deep look of loss as his result in Sheffield was revealed to the world. Also sad that Simon Hughes suffered the vote squeeze that meant the Labour majority in Bermondsey tripled.

As I start writing this reflective piece, Mrs May is ploughing ahead with the very dubious support of the “DUP ten”. Will it last? George Osborne does not think so – “dead woman walking” was his take.

Jeremy Corbyn is still glowing with the limited progress his Party made in the face of the media harassment he suffered before and during the election period. The fact that Labour did NOT, in fact, implode as all the forecasts suggested is certainly a notable achievement for him. One that I will look at again below because it is relevant to my argument.

Very little, however, has been made of the fact that Labour`s relative success flowed from a major tactical voting exercise to keep Tories down as much as possible, rather than it being a positive vote FOR Labour. For me this was very apparent from the various threads appearing on Facebook where it struck me there was a general sense of nastiness in comments made by many self-declared Labour supporters who seemed to be more influenced than one might have expected by right-wing inspired media knocking of the Lib-Dems.

Remember the start of the campaign? The focus then was on Brexit and the hope that we might benefit by a huge surge in “remainers” of all parties congregating around the pro-European stance the Lib-Dems were taking. Mind you the leadership did not take any notice of my advice (see a few blogs ago where I said we should promise to revoke Article 50!!) but then they never have.

Strangely, a very large number of gullible, politically active, people appear to have thought that voting for the Labour Party would somehow save them from leaving Europe. Weird!

All of which leads me on to the purpose of THIS blog. My advice to the party, now, is that those of us who would call ourselves Liberal radicals should make a concerted effort to assert ourselves and move the Party away from its centralising pattern of behaviour. A pattern that has been apparent over many years. Let me explain how and why – see if you agree with me

My assertions and assumptions.

1 The sometimes-self-styled “leadership/platform” groups of Lib-Dems over many years have argued strongly that the Party should not try to present too much in the way of so-called radical policies, otherwise the Party would prove to be “unelectable”. I cannot tell you how frustrating it used to be to have good ideas quashed by the platform before conference debates or have excellent radical policies spoken against by the platform`s so-called heavy hitters.

Frankly it was this sense of banging one`s head against a brick wall (for example on nuclear power and nuclear weapons over many years) that eventually persuaded me that I was better spending my efforts on sustainable development issues outwith the Party. At that point, as far back as 1998, I “retired” from party-politics to become Founding Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Business at Nottingham Trent University.

2 As I have argued before in my blogs, the Lib-Dems target of trying to place themselves “centrally” between Labour and Tory was doomed to failure as the two parties both moved to the centre themselves and the “centre” simultaneously shifted towards the right. Unfortunately, now that the two parties have each swung strongly to their previously outlying Left and Right wings the “platform” call within our party will probably be to try and stake out the “centre-ground” for reviving Liberal Democratic Party fortunes.

In fact that call has already been flagged by Ming Campbell on the Election night punditry and I have seen other similar references in some of the post-election commentaries and quite a few Facebook threads.

A recent irritating thread of discussion commenting about which of the 12 MPs should now be the Party leader (when we already have one in place) shows a similarly valueless attempt to move or keep the party politically central with a “big-hitter” even though the thread is supposed to be “for a bit of fun”.

For me the much bigger problem is to get our policy platform correct to maximise our electoral appeal.

3 This over-weaning desire to centralise led to the disastrous 2010 coalition decision to support the Conservative Party too uncritically. It will be argued quite legitimately that the LDs restrained the Tories in comparison to how they would have behaved without us and have, indeed, behaved in the two years since 2015.

Please be aware, however, that the most significant words in my first sentence were “too uncritically” – Clegg`s failure was to be much too “pally” with Cameron and, sadly, the Party mostly fell into line behind him for the sake of unity. Seen from Brazil the unctuous nature of the coalition was sickly to behold and any successes of restraint applied by the party were not then made apparent to the electorate.

The next most-significant word in that sentence –  “disastrous” – was proven beyond doubt in 2015 and, with very little leavening, was demonstrated again last week. The party is barely above the six MPs the Liberal Party had in 1964 when I first stood as a candidate in a mock election at my school so I feel safe drawing the conclusion below.

My conclusion from all this? Being “Radical” will not make the Party any more unelectable than it is now. It is up to us not to let the Party Platform bully radical Liberals any more – ever. For me the most significant sense of forward movement of ideas was in the early 1980s when the Liberal Party had a set of policies rather more radical than today and then when Charles Kennedy was leader and the opposition to the Iraq war gave us a unique radical stance.

Two other issues add weight to my view that radical would actually be good for us. The first is the point I have already referred to. The fact that Corbyn`s left wing views did not, in the end, prevent a large percentage of the voting population from supporting the Labour Party. In particular the large degree of support from young voters is something we should be rather jealous of.

The second is the similar radical appeal that Bernie Sanders generated among younger voters in the USA. The centralising, elitist, focus of the Clinton camp had a similar effect there to undermining Sanders radical appeal. And now we all have to live with the resulting Trump effect.

Let us be clear, the First Past the Post (FPTP) system does us no favours, but we must somehow USE FPTP to win the power to change the system. We cannot rely on either Labour or Conservatives to suddenly see the light on the inequity of the current corrupt system. We therefore need to persuade the electorate we are worthy of their votes in our own right. Seeking to be the “Nice” party and wanting to become the “opposition” – which appears to have been our USP (unique selling point) in the recent election – clearly cuts no ice with voters.

We have to stand FOR something more substantial.

We have to stand tall FOR Europe.

We have to stand tall FOR tackling Climate Change

We have to stand tall FOR a nuclear free world, showing leadership by scrapping our useless, targetless Trident nuclear weapons as a starting point for disarmament, providing loads of money to support the NHS and all the other “nice” things we are FOR.

We have to stand tall FOR compassion to refugees (and well done Tim Farron for doing that in the GE campaign just past)

In short we have to BE radical and NOT be centrist.

If you agree with me please say so in the comments below, or in a discussion thread, share widely and follow the blog to let me know you are with me in my attempt to shake the party up a bit. If not I might just as well go back to watching from the comfort of my armchair again, drifting into quiet obscurity whence I came, enjoying the samba and planting trees.

Posted in Elections, electoral reform, Environment & Sustainable Development, Peace, Politics, Radical Liberal | Tagged | 4 Comments

Survival – Climate Change, Nuclear Power and other “stuff”

Back in the Fold #6

Survival – Climate Change, Nuclear Power and other “stuff”

I just published one blog today so I was not anticipating writing any more so soon,but a headline on a news article caught my attention and set my mind thinking about a whole host of things. All boiling down to the survival of the human race – you know, nothing significant or anything…!! The headline was this…

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

(goo.gl/4NPS6a)

So, first of all, my thoughts concerned the issue of Climate Change and the fact that virtually nothing has appeared in the main news headlines so far during the general election campaign here in the UK about Climate Change. That, in itself, is revealing about the unnatural category of this election – the most important threat we face as humans and it appears not to be an issue in a general election – what are the politicians and newspaper and TV news editors thinking, not to question parties on this threat?

Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron mentioned Climate Change in the “leaders debate” on ITV on Thursday but it took up no more than two minutes in a two hour debate and as far as I can see it has not generated any media attention since. As far as I can tell there is little about the issue in the manifestoes of either the Tories or Labour. You will know from my previous blogging that I think the issue of Europe is important – but even that is neither here nor there if global warming causes  an extinction event for humans sometime in the next century!

Doesn`t matter to me of course as I will probably be dead and recycled as fertiliser for some nicely growing oak trees by then, if my ashes are buried in the little oak copse I have specified. So why should I care? Briefly – as a humanitarian, a member of the human race and a liberal, I just do. Let that suffice for the moment.

In case you didn`t immediately read the article I referred to above, let me summarise it briefly. As part of humanity`s attempts to protect itself against disaster it was decided to create a super-safe (indeed, a “failsafe”) depository for seeds, especially food seeds, in case we need at some time in the future to reset the agrifood industry after some predictable or even unpredictable disaster or catastrophe.

The people who planned this depository decided to choose a place that did not need human intervention and maintenance 24/365. What better than a deep freeze store buried safely in the perma-frost of the Arctic under a mountain?

Well – perhaps somewhere that does not flood when a soaring 7 degree warming event allows the ice to melt and pour into the specially dug entrance to the storage cave!

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

And this is less than ten years after the “failsafe!” store was opened in 2008.

Second thoughts

And THAT set me thinking about the nuclear power industry. Those of you who know me well will know that for several years I was chair of the Liberal Ecology Group and the founding Chair of the Green Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Party had serious reservations about nuclear power and it was pretty well an article of faith in the Liberal Ecology Group that we opposed Nuclear Power.

It remained an article of faith for the Green Liberal Democrats (although I note that Steve Bolter, Vice Chair {political} of the GLD, has recently argued in Challenge that we do “need” nuclear power.) As an avid reader of science fiction in my youth I will admit to a hankering for “clean” nuclear fusion power, assuming it can be managed appropriately, but that is still a dream for nuclear scientists.

I remain totally opposed, however, to further development of nuclear fission power generation for two prime reasons, one of which you may already have guessed at from the first part of this article (but let me leave you guessing on that one for a couple of minutes, by dealing with the “other” reason first). My “other” reason is nuclear safety – and I simply have to say “Windscale, three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima” for you to know where I am coming from.

Proponents of nuclear power will immediately poo-poo my concerns over nuclear safety. “Those were the old designs”, “We know how to deal with problems now”, “ These can never happen again” – I can hear the litany of comments ringing in my ears from years of being told I worry too much about this issue. Before sticking my fingers in my ears and whistling loudly to avoid hearing this rubbish, let me say just two things. `Cover ups` and `Human failures`.

The problem with nuclear accidents is that they shouldn`t ever happen if things run smoothly, but if and when they inevitably do happen, the sheer scale of the disasters is beyond being coped with.  According to a Guardian article in February of this year the decommissioning of Fukushima may take as long as 40 years and radiation levels are higher than previously acknowledged (goo.gl/9kVHNm) Radiation from the original meltdown has reached the West coast of the USA and will continue to do so for years to come although researchers indicate for the moment that the levels are “harmless”. (goo.gl/YTN0CV)

A scarier scenario has been suggested – talking of starfish losing their limbs around the Pacific Ocean and other morbid dangers (goo.gl/dUJffl) but this article comes with a possible “fake-news” warning, so should be treated with considerable scepticism. Nevertheless the less-scary predictions in the Guardian are bad enough  … and this leads me on to the problem you may have guessed at.

Containment

A lot of low-level radioactive material is created by nuclear fission power generation and it is said to be a very low risk material hardly above the level of household waste that is buried in landfill sites. Civil low-level waste is also generated by hospitals and so on as well, but for the time being let us consider that to be a minor problem and skate over it. Even intermediate level nuclear waste is said to be a minor problem in terms of quality and quantity, so let us ignore that for the time being too.

Although small in quantity in normal conditions of use, it is the high-level waste (HLW) that provides the worrying scenario here. But we have to add in the waste that will have to be dealt with during the 4-decade long decommissioning of Fukushima, PLUS all the waste from decommissioning many nuclear power plants reaching the ends of their lives around the world.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) says, of high level waste, the following …

High-level wastes can remain highly radioactive for thousands of years. They need to be disposed of deep underground in engineered facilities built in stable geological formations. While no such facilities for high-level wastes (HLW) currently operate, their feasibility has been demonstrated and there are several countries now in the process of designing and constructing them.

(goo.gl/uxCmIg)

My point is simple. If the “failsafe” seed depository is so easily challenged after less than ten years, whatever trust can we put into “feasibility-demonstrated” facilities that will have to last securely for thousands of years. Never mind the “cover ups” and “human failings” I mentioned earlier.

On their “Myths and Realities” page, the WNA tells us that there is a pilot depository in New Mexico already storing HLW and demonstrating how safe it is. And yet … google `New Mexico` and `tectonic plates` and you get an article in Wikipedia telling you that “The youngest eruptions (of volcanoes) in the rift region are in the Valley of Fires, New Mexico and are approximately 5,400 years old”. Make of that what you may.

Probably I am being a bit of a worrit, but I have to say I am by no means convinced of the long-term safety of waste storage. Just saying.

So, what am I going to do about it?

All my life I have wanted to “Change the World”. So far, the impact I have had has been relatively minimal, I have to say, unless you look at the continuing impact of the Green Lib Dems, for which I can perhaps claim a little kudos. They are, however, a minority in what is already a minority party with only nine MPs at the last count and a poll figure that appears not to be shifting much in this unique election.

Barring my hoped-for landslide, discussed in recent blog posts, it may even be the case that Lib Dems stay a tiny minority in the next parliament. But I have rejoined the Party because it seemed to need help. Whether my help can make a difference has yet to be discovered – but I shall try.

I “retired” from Party politics nearly 20 years ago, partly frustrated at banging my head against a brick wall about Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons. Is the brick wall still there(?) – I rather fear that it is, but whether it can be torn down like the Berlin wall was in 1989 remains to be seen. I have rejoined the Green Liberal Democrats as well as the Party itself, but I celebrate my 70th birthday in a few short weeks so I shall not bang my head against this wall for very long. At my age head-banging can be a little wearisome.

If you would like to help me tear it down please get in touch, follow my blog, and spread the word. Together we can change the world.

Yes, we can!

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I should be gardening – Brazilian Conspiracy and British Politics

I should be gardening – BUT …

I should be gardening today (started writing this on Thursday!) after yesterday’s rain and today`s early morning sunshine … but … conspiracy is afoot. Or, at least, some of the conspiracy that has been afoot for a long time in Brazil has surfaced this morning and I thought you should know about it too!

It has been “common knowledge” for a long time that President Temer is somehow tainted with the endemic corruption in Brazil but up to now he has appeared Teflon coated and has claimed, of course, that all the allegations and insinuations are untrue. Today, however, it looks as though the “shoe has dropped”.

As part of a plea bargain, in their own corruption case, by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, they have passed over some tape-recordings which even Temer may not be able to wriggle out from if they demonstrate what they are alleged to show.  For all the details of this news, see today`s Guardian story here goo.gl/ZMZL31. – but essentially he has been caught speaking about “keeping the bribery going”.

Apparently, the same tapes implicate a whole raft of other politicians including another Teflon coated leader of another party Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega. As I write this the TV news in Brazil is showing ordinary Brazilians banging pans together as they follow the unfolding news story – they do this as a form of protest, but, so far, I have only ever seen it on TV there, never witnessed it live. Perhaps it is something we could try here as our Government ministers pass by to let them know what we really think of them!

What next in Brazil?

Of course, it is still too soon to say what exactly might happen next, but popular opinion will almost certainly strengthen to have President Temer impeached or persuaded to resign. One of the problems, however, is that ALL the next few people in line to take over the presidency are also tainted with charges of corruption.

A recent article ( goo.gl/0CmG9t ) looks at some of the candidates but even though written only a month ago it has been superseded by today`s news.

My view is that they ALL need booting out of office and that suggests there needs to be an early presidential election before the end of Temer`s term in 2018. All the main political parties are led by politicians who are implicated in corruption, however. Even the former President Lula, who has been forecast to try again, is fighting to repudiate corruption charges, having allegedly been given a rather nice property without charge.

Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached last year over apparent manipulation of government economic data to massage the figures into better than real shape, has not, thus far, been implicated in taking personal favours. She is a busted flush, however, and, as a consequence of the successful impeachment she is not actually allowed to fight an election as President although she could give it a run in the lower offices.

Marina da Silva, who, as an environmental champion would receive my support, does not seem in a strong position, though she came a creditable third in 2014. A Huffington Post blog provides a number of reasons for her failure to break through in 2014 (goo.gl/dSqDuj) but the new circumstances may provide her with a lifeline – she could position herself as Brazil`s “Macron”, except that she has had two failed runs for President already.

The sun has come out again – I really MUST go and do some gardening, but will return to my blogging task later….

British Politics

Well, I was going to continue to write about Brazilian politics, but perhaps you will forgive me and allow me to change tack and write about the ITV “leader`s debate” tonight (last night as I now finish writing this blog!). For me, it was a very enjoyable two hours of television without the weak and wobbly Mrs Mayhem and the vague and controversial Mr Corbyn participating.

It demonstrated how Theresa May comes across as so arrogant and carping – by her complete absence! – and it was very refreshing. I was also keeping tabs on a couple of Facebook threads as the programme went out and there was a consensus that it would be rather nice not to have to listen to the Cons and Labs of this country at all.

Maybe that was all wishful thinking, however, judging by some of the press comments on Friday morning. Several journalists were scathing about the programme and missed the presence of the so-called “big hitters” but I put that down to them being as jaded as the politicians of the two big parties. For me it was a relief not to listen to Mrs Mayhem`s nastily delivered soundbites.

The only journalist who seems to have seen it the same way as me is Robert Peston who tweeted….

And ITV’s political editor Robert Peston agrees.

 

✔@Peston

Not wrong – nuts. Just reminds everyone their leaders were too frit to turn up #itvdebate https://twitter.com/steve_hawkes/status/865301170637680640 …

9:25 PM – 18 May 2017

 

The debate was watched by a few million people who might have detected that Tim Farron, Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon have not given up on the idea of us keeping open the option of voting to stay in the European Union once the details of the negotiations are fully known. Plaid Cymru seem to have swallowed the guff about the “will of the people” being inviolable and unchanging, but it is clear to me that intelligent people are able to change their minds when confronted with FACTS rather than lies.

UKIP`s Nuttall is only worth mentioning to say that he showed himself up as the ignorant bigot that he is and was strafed successfully by all the others at several points during the debate. Disgraceful.

My first feeling after the debate finished was that it could have changed the possible outcome of the election on 8th June but was deflated to see the BBC News at Ten did not refer to the debate in their headlines and merely showed Mrs May pontificating on her Manifesto Launch earlier in the day. Will it change the outcome? We can only hope so.

My great-nephew Tom, who seems to have deserted the family norms of caring Liberalism, is actually looking forward to a Tory victory on 8th June, anticipating a champagne breakfast on 9th June. I blew him a raspberry on Facebook and decided to have a nice malt whisky then and there to celebrate the absence of the Cons and Labs from the body politic for a couple of hours at least!

Tory Manifesto – my reaction

As for the Tory manifesto – depressing stuff the lot of it, but I was particularly appalled at the negativity on the lack of understanding on poverty and social care. We are the fifth richest country in the world and it is appalling that some 4,000 people have to sleep rough on the streets every night and that 4 million children are considered to be below the poverty line.

Fatima was shocked upon seeing rough sleepers and beggars in the UK capital city when we visited London once. “I know this is a common sight in Brazil – but did not expect to see it here in the UK”. Now the Tories are planning to do away with free school lunches and “save money” by offering free breakfasts instead for infants and primary school children. As one parent said on TV just after this was announced “It would be much better for the children to have breakfast at home and be able to eat well at lunch time.”

Free school lunches was one of the Liberal Democrats ideas that happened during the Coalition – and it was well received. Money was spent on creating or upgrading school kitchen facilities to enable it to happen and now the Tories are to scrap it – to spend money on re-introducing divisive Grammar Schools. Crazy.

And, as for Brexit … well all I can say is “Don`t start me off!” How the Conners can say we`d be better of having “no deal” that staying in the European Union just beggars belief. We are already becoming worse off with the declining pound and food inflation and that is before we have even left the EU.

I am not going to say any more because I think you all know where I stand. Vote Liberal Democrat to stay in Europe.

And … Fox-hunting!!!??? For goodness` sake Mrs Mayhem. If you had not already done so you have just revealed how despicable you and your Tory mates are. Killing animals for pleasure. Disgusting.

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Time and tide

Time and tide

To paraphrase someone famous – “there is a time and tide in the affairs of men and women…” – mmm could it have been Shakespeare? Anyway, I believe that time is now and the tide has just changed. My political instincts are reacting as strongly this morning as they did in 1987, which was the last time they flared so vividly (more about this below as an explanation, but let me firstly tell you what my instincts are telling me.)

Mysteriously the Labour Party manifesto was leaked yesterday (gosh, I wonder who might have leaked it – politics 101 points to Corbyn`s team) and last night Jeremy Corbyn gave an interview to Laura Kuenssberg which presented an ambiguous view which seemed to be trying to suggest to European remain voters that Labour could be relied upon to make their points for them.

This (Thursday) morning, however, Corbyn has apparently made it clear that Labour WILL deliver Brexit as per the leaked manifesto and it is this clarity that I believe that has now provided the GAME changer in this election. My firm conviction is that now is the “time and tide” for the LIBERAL Democrats. But…..

BUT

But the change of direction of the tide must now be accompanied by an equal clarity by the Liberal Democrat leadership, not just from Tim Farron, but all the leadership involved in creating the Party`s message, that if we have the power to do it, or even influence it, the Liberal Democrats will revoke Article 50 at the earliest possible opportunity.

Veteran British diplomat John Kerr — now Lord Kerr of Kinlochard — drafted the text that sets out the procedure for leaving the European Union as part of an effort to draw up an EU constitutional treaty in the early 2000s

The UK diplomat, Lord Kerr, who drafted Article 50 has indicated there is nothing to stop Article 50 being revoked and this view has been widely echoed amongst European politicians and officials, so this would be the simplest mechanism to stop the lemming like rush for the cliff edge. What, you may ask, is the political position?

My view is that, given the nature of this unique election, if a majority of pro-remain MPs is elected to Parliament, it will come within the sovereign purview of Parliament to make this simple decision without reference to a further referendum. In other words, this General Election can effectively BE that second referendum that is much talked about.

We were told quite specifically that the 2016 referendum was just an advisory referendum. As such, nobody worried about building in a super-majority clause because it would be left to the sovereignty of Parliament to make the final considered decision. Somewhere along the way this was (in)conveniently forgotten by the Leave camp and neither Labour nor remainer Tories have had the guts to champion the alternative view.

Why am I saying this NOW? The simplest answer is “gut feel”. Let me explain.

I woke quite early this morning and, as I sometimes do if I awake early, I picked up my mobile phone and started browsing the Facebook feeds. There were several threads of conversation with which I started to interact and, from 7am through to 11am, I was wearing my fingers to the bone making and responding to comments. I only stopped at 11am because I had not even paused for any breakfast and thought I would fade away if I didn`t have at least some cornflakes. (For those of you familiar with UK advertising I actually had THREE Weetabix – I won`t try and explain it to those of you not familiar, it would take too long!)

I also took a couple of minutes out to Skype with Fatima in Brazil who was so worried at my excitement level she thought I might have a heart attack. I reassured her I would let her know I was still alive (actually I had better do that now before she worries too much – hang on… OK – done that, she was relieved and smiled.) Where was I…oh yes, I was being excited that we are, at this moment, this very moment, potentially at the tide`s turning point.

Tim Farron, I am now talking directly to you. Please do not miss this opportunity to state loudly and firmly and unmistakably that Liberal Democrats WILL revoke Article 50. It WILL change the nature of the General Election debate.

Now, for everyone (including Tim) this is the story about my flaring instincts. I have probably mentioned this in blogs before, so if you have heard the story please be patient.

I stood for the Liberal Party as a candidate in Broxtowe in 1983 against the Tory minister Jim Lester and we had been nowhere before then and folk were not feeling particularly political. So when I started to do my walkabouts in Beeston shopping centre people would divert their walks to avoid being “collared”. In other words, there was a sort of flow around me as people kept out of the way. As the election went along the Liberal message and the Alliance message began to get through to electors as a positive thing and my own publicity machine started working in Broxtowe.

As a result, towards the end of the election period people were now making a bee-line for me if I was in the shopping centre, actually wanting to talk to the Liberal candidate. It was great, I really started to enjoy electioneering and the messages succeeded.

Broxtowe had been won by Labour in a 1953 byelection and had subsequently turned Conservative, becoming a safe ministerial Tory seat with Liberals nowhere to be seen.  In 1983, I took second place away from Labour with just over 25% of the vote, Labour on just 21%.

Now comes the crux – pay attention. I stood again in 1987 and everything was looking good as the election started. People were coming to me when I was in the shopping centre and wanting to chat, I was even getting excited we could WIN in 1987, having been a creditable second in 1983.

Then came the fateful tipping point. Remember, if you will, that we were still in Alliance with the SDP and we therefore had TWO leaders, David Steel for the Liberal Party and David Owen for the SDP. Mrs Thatcher was in power and proving popular with her supporters but derided by her opponents.

Thinking the Alliance was doing pretty well, journalists decided to find out what would happen if the Alliance held the “balance of power”, so they asked the Party leaders “If you hold the balance of power after the election, will you go into a coalition with the Tories and support Mrs Thatcher to form a new government?”

David Steel said “NO” and was first to respond. David Owen, later in the day said “YES”.

The very next day I was in Beeston High Street and without exception voters suddenly started avoiding me. It was as if I was a block of stone in a fast-moving river. No-one stopped to talk to me – everyone sheered away from contact,  I could have had a terrible contagious disease!

The reaction was instantaneous. And clear.

I called Party headquarters to get them to change David Owen`s mind but no-one seemed to understand or do anything about it. But I knew – I was CERTAIN – from that point on that we had just lost the election. That is what I mean about flaring instinct. (We did indeed come third in the 1987 election with only 22.4% of the vote – Labour pushed us into third place, getting 24.3%)

THAT IS HOW I FEEL THIS MORNING – I AM CERTAIN THAT, IF THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ARE CLEAR ABOUT REVOKING ARTICLE 50, WE CAN ACHIEVE THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE AND BREAKTHROUGH THE FIRST PAST THE POST SYSTEM.

So, Tim, anyone out there who is listening. This is it. Remember where you heard this first – revoke Article 50 – say it out loud. “REVOKE ARTICLE 50 AND WIN THE ELECTION”

I just hope more people are listening to me than listened to me in 1987, otherwise we are completely and royally stuffed. We will burst out of the European Union and probably never get back in my lifetime. Young people will suffer the worst, followed probably by old people, like I will soon become, reliant upon a National Health Service that can no longer function because the economy breaks down and all the European nurses and doctors are thrown back to their home countries.

I have been writing blogs now for five years – I started blogging as a rite of passage on my 65th birthday – and this is by far the most important blog I have written. Please take notice of the depth of feeling that each and every word of this blog is imbued with.

 

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Brutus in Julius Caesar – Shakespeare

Posted in Elections, European referendum, History | Tagged | 3 Comments