Category Archives: Housing

A new and better kind of politics: Nick Duffell

 

In 2017, Nick Duffell described how our votes could form a new and better kind of politics.

THANK goodness that voting seems to be coming back into fashion. Even if election results defy prediction, nothing could be worse than political apathy, which has lately been the norm — especially among the young — given the historic struggle for universal suffrage.

This apathy is understandable since Britain’s mainstream parties, whose hegemony our first-past-the-post system maintains, have been barely distinguishable over the past two decades.

Much as we would like it to be the fault of personalities or parties, the underlying cause is that global markets exercise such dominant control of national economies that — despite their rhetoric — every party ends up as the “business-as-usual party.”

This is not to say that those who understand the socially vulnerable (we can discount the Tories, ruled as ever by the ethos of “wounded leaders,” as described in my psycho-history of the same name) can’t make some difference. Of course they can. But only a bit, because so many of our problems are profoundly systemic.

The Grenfell tragedy highlights Britain’s failure to invest in social housing since the ’80s and our total unwillingness to regulate the rental sector and property speculation.

Getting these things right will require more than simply voting Labour, however well intentioned Jeremy Corbyn is, and however well he sidesteps the public-school bully style of politics that dominates Westminster . . .

Read on here.

 

 

 

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Reviews of John McDonnell’s ‘somewhat alarming publication’

Chris Giles, Economics Editor of the Financial Times, reviews Economics for the Many, a collection of essays by leftwing thinkers who support the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, with an introduction by John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.

Giles agrees that there is an urgent need for a galvanising economic manifesto for the new left in British politics, because the UK economy has performed poorly since the global financial crisis a decade ago, with stagnant real wages, feeble productivity growth, large cuts to vital public services and many households finding either good jobs or affordable housing out of reach.

“At the core of this programme is a new set of models, institutions and strategies that, if put in place, would in and of themselves produce vastly improved societal outcomes”. It includes:

  • a plan to build a radically fairer and more sustainable society, in which wealth is shared by all.
  • changing the ownership of companies,
  • ending short-termism in the financial sector,
  • a programme of green investment
  • and much greater regional devolution of state powers.

Giles notes some inconsistencies and omissions and complains that “precious little space is devoted to how Britain should deal with an ageing society, housing or how to manage the existing public sector responsibilities of health, education, police or the armed forces”.

He concludes: “If you want a new left coherent programme, this is not it . . . But for all its flaws, the book serves a useful guide to the thinking and language of the new left. Fellow travellers must oppose austerity, financialisation and neoliberalism, while rising to the challenge of radical democratic ownership of the means of production”.

The book will be available in paperback this month and its online blurb says: “With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the extraordinary turnaround in Labour’s fortunes in the 2017 election, we have a real opportunity to build an economy in Britain that is radically fairer, radically more democratic, and radically more sustainable”.

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The Telegraph’s Liam Halligan writes in the Spectator: Those wanting an idea of how the world’s fifth biggest economy might look under Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn should take a look at McDonnell’s speech. For more detail, you can read the book he edited – Economics for the Many – published just before the conference . . .

McDonnell (above) writes: ”Calls for the nationalisation of water, electricity and gas, the Royal Mail and trains, greeted with howls of outrage and press derision, are very popular with the public”.

Halligan comments. “To some extent, that’s true. A recent YouGov poll suggested around 60% of voters think the railways and Royal Mail should be back in public hands, with half wanting water and energy companies re-nationalised”.

He touches on some of the inconsistencies voiced by Giles but continues: “Having said that, this volume does pose some relevant and pressing questions – with McDonnell asking, for instance, if government should ‘deal with Big Data’ by creating ‘new digital rights’. He singles out:

  • a chapter by technology researcher Francesca Bria on ‘surveillance capitalism’, which raises similar key issues, ranging from ‘the monopoly power of the tech giants’ to ‘a new tax on digital platforms’;
  • an argument by Prem Sikka, the respected accountancy academic, that ‘tax revenues are under relentless attack from wealthy elites’ and ‘tackling tax avoidance and evasion is one of the major social and political issues of our time’. He’s not wrong;
  • Ann Pettifor’s call for investment into jobs relating to renewable energy – a policy we’re hearing much more of, after 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the New York Democrat primary this summer, on a ‘Green New Deal’ ticket. Almost certain to enter Congress in November, her agenda will be catapulted into the political mainstream;’.
  • Christopher Proctor’s chapter about the need for academic economics to get beyond its ‘theoretical strait-jacket’, to become ‘more open, diverse and relevant to the real world’ and
  • McDonnell’s call for ‘a real devolution of powers and resources out from the centre’ of the UK -adding it is, indeed, disturbing Britain is ‘the most geographically unequal country in Europe’ – with ‘the richest single area – central London – but also nine of Northern Europe’s ten most deprived areas’.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto promise of a corporation tax rise from 19% to 26% (the Tories plan a cut to 17% by 2021) and the party’s proposal for public spending to increase by around £75bn, a 10% uplift, over the next three years, leads Halligan to warn, “Such measures could well result in a much weaker currency, higher interest rates and slower growth. Similarly, Labour’s share transfer plans may provoke capital flight, curtail investment and, in the words of the Confederation of British Industry, ‘crack the foundations’ of prosperity’ “. And Halligan ends:

Amid corporate scandals, a massive housing shortfall and polarising wealth inequality, UK capitalism faces a crisis of confidence. Senior Tories, if they fail adequately to respond, are fools. For, as McDonnell writes in this somewhat alarming publication, his ‘better world is in sight’ “.

 

 

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US Green New Deal campaign: US Senator Bernie Sanders

As Colin Hines and Richard Murphy write in the Guardian, British media has failed to notice that the US Green New Deal campaign is now centre stage. Supporters of the Green New Deal made their voices heard on Capitol Hill in December.

“The bold moral leadership of newly-elected members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has me feeling more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years,” writes Naomi Klein. But a whole lot of things need happen very quickly if the political tide is going to shift in time – including finding new ways to engage the public in this fight.

In this hopeful moment, Naomi Klein had the opportunity to sit down with one of the few politicians who has consistently focused on this issue — Senator Bernie Sanders, whose  record speaks for itself. They spoke at the Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, Vermont, this weekend. Sen. Sanders then hosted a ‘town hall’ on climate change with guests including Ocasio-Cortez, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, activist and “Big Little Lies” star Shailene Woodley, climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel, activist and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Mayor Dale Ross of deep-red Georgetown, Texas.

Naomi Klein’s interview with US Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent) was published on 3 Dec 2018 and may be seen here.

Highlights

Corporate media is not covering issues of poverty, inequality, health care and – above all – climate change so – after saying drily that the survival of the planet ‘might be of some concern’ – Bernie Sanders has been successfully working with ‘progressive media outlets’. One video had over a million views, more than CNN on the same evening.

As the latest ICC report says that we have 12 years to transform our energy system, Sanders proposes a ‘monumental task’ – getting countries all over the world to co-operate to do this:

“Think what it would mean for our people to get together to transform the energy system instead of waging war – making war on climate change.“ He continues:

The promise of a Green New Deal means:

  • reducing carbon emissions,
  • increasing energy efficiency,
  • transforming electricity generation and
  • using much more energy efficient building methods.

The poorest people in the world suffer most from pollution and climate change – see the incidence of asthma amongst children in the Bronx.

We must rebuild communities in a green way involving people from all communities which will have social and economic benefits – and above all – address climate change and our very survival.

How can it happen?

14,000 Californian homes were recently destroyed, this and other climate related calamities are signs of a worrying future unless we get our act together.

The grassroots will have to stand together. 18 members of the House select committee for the Green New Deal are already supporting these measures.

Remember in 1994 the passion which Newt Gingrich had the House sitting for 20 hours a day as he pressed his right-wing agenda.

We must push the progressive agenda with the same energy and passion, offering

  • a million new jobs
  • lower fuel bills
  • health care for all
  • living wage
  • and protection, training and resettlement for all who lose jobs during the process of change.

Hines also recommends:

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez Ignites Crowd In Climate Change Town Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha6PAyNVWbQ, New York Times article by Nobel Prize winner. Professor Paul Krugman , https://nyti.ms/2GMcJFm  and ‘Pass a Green New Deal’ in the Washington Post: which opens, “The world has until 2030 to drastically cut our emissions. Where do we begin?” and offers 11 policy ideas to protect the planet.

 

 

 

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A localised world is possible – four talented exponents with complementary messages –4: Karen Leach

Since 2001, Karen has been the prime mover and co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands, a not-for-profit organisation which promotes the environmental, social and economic benefits of:

  • Local trading, using local businesses, materials and supply chains
  • Linking local needs to local resources
  • Development of community and local capacity
  • Decentralisation of appropriate democratic and economic power
  • Provision of services tailored to meet local needs.

The localisation approach makes economic development and government systems more sensitive to local autonomy, culture, wellbeing and the responsible use of finite resources. It is growing in popularity with people and organisations all over the world.

Karen has played a leading role in Extending Localisation, an ongoing project identifying ways of extending economic localisation good practice in the energy, food, retailing, finance and manufacturing sectors around and beyond the West Midlands region.  She writes:

Since the general election Localise West Midlands has been reiterating the question “how can we have meaningful localism without decentralising economic power?” The UK economy is one of the most centralised in Europe, increasingly recognised as remote from people and society, exclusive and beyond control.

In a diverse, localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power, reducing disconnection, inequality and vulnerability. LWM is a thinktank, campaign group and consultancy that promotes this localised approach for justice and sustainability.

Contrary to the stereotype of planning reform opponents, we love economic development – community economic development, which fosters competition and enterprise, strengthens local distinctiveness, and works with an area’s resources, heritage, culture and social capital. We think the economy should be part of civic fabric not something done to the community.

The importance of small business in our economy is often underestimated. For one thing, you could say they contribute more to the public purse because they don’t have the resources to work out how to avoid it! More seriously, firms with less than five employees accounted for over 50% of the new jobs between 2000-2008; without startups, private sector employment would have declined. There is increasing evidence that large established businesses destroy jobs.

So decentralising economic power should be central to localism agenda – but it’s not. Much of the localism agenda simply builds community aspirations to be knocked down by powerful economic interests.

We need to recognise and plan for the collective strategic importance of the small scale. Our problems with the planning parts of the localism agenda are probably familiar to many of you:

  • a presumption in favour of development,
  • the lack of a workable definition of sustainable development;
  • the reduced ability to impose planning conditions that the developer might feel make a development unviable;
  • weakened retail policies;
  • the need to allocate more and rolling land supplies
  • and the abolition of spatial policy for ‘reducing the need to travel’.

The combined consequence of these is the reduced ability to differentiate between quality & poor quality development. This includes a lack of ability to protect economic diversity and accessible local services from bigger competitors: not just the odd independent shop but all types of businesses and the supply chain infrastructure and spatial environment that supports them – a weakening of urban renaissance.

Easier and more lucrative sites cherry picked for economic development or housing will not be integrated with existing economy or infrastructure.

In Darlaston in the Black Country, a colleague tells me that Asda closed their central store and applied for planning permission for an out of town site nearby. They pointed out they had a 99 year lease on the central site, and hinted that any use of the site would be blighted unless they got planning permission for the out of centre site. The council stood firm on policy grounds and the store did eventually reopen in the centre of Darlaston. Strong policy works to favour quality over poor quality development – under the localism bill it might not be possible.

Adverse consequences of catering to the private sector – two examples

We also have issues with providing for every need of private sector organisations that don’t necessarily have the public interest objectives or the accountability to take responsibility for them.

Developers in Ireland now blame the government for giving them planning permission for what are now ghost estates. In Digbeth, Birmingham, there was a compulsory purchase four years ago for site assembly – closing down local independent businesses including the last Italian-owned family business of the city’s Italian Quarter. That land has been completely empty for 4 years.

This raises issues over accountability & evidence of need and also of the danger of exclusive, blank slate large-scale development that ignores community economics. Why not work round and with existing uses? The local authority’s ability to challenge this is greatly reduced in the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF].

Neighbourhood planning goes some way to address this and has some positive potential for people to think about what local economy needs and how they can meet this, but it requires communities being able to protect, to say no and to set boundaries as well as saying yes. The failure to incorporate neighbourhood planning seems like a missed opportunity to strengthen local economies.

There is also the danger of vested interests swaying the NP agenda – it’s widely reported that Tesco was designing its off-the-peg neighbourhood plan for communities to adapt locally before the NPPF was written. How can that not be a conflict of interest? Of course pressures are worse in areas of deprivation to accept any development, however damaging.

One final example: good economic development on greenfield site: the former farmland land occupied by Lammas Eco-village in Wales used to bring the farmer £2,500 – £5,000 a year through sale of lamb. That same land now provides nine families with £60,000 worth of food, fuel and other goods and is predicted to be bringing in a surplus income of £40,000 by Year 5.

We need planning that can assess whether developments deliver quality of life, revitalised places, job creation, economic diversity, local multiplier. A blanket state of permissiveness doesn’t do it.

 

 

 

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