Saturday, 28 March 2009

Democracy and the Bank of England

In 1997 the New Labour government trumpeted their flagship policy of giving the Bank of England (monetary policy committee) the independent powers to set interest rates in the UK economy. I could see why they did this. They were worried that the City of London would be panicked by the election of a Labour government, and this would cause the price of shares to fall, and possibly a run on the pound. The policy was spun as ‘radical’, but it was really a deeply conservative move aimed at signalling that Labour would continue pursuing a neo liberal economic agenda.

Not only that. It also sounded the death knell of democratic control over one of the most important levers of economic policy, by giving this power to unelected officials at the Bank of England. I thought at the time, that in principle this was wrong, since the people who would be affected by the decisions of the monetary policy committee, did not have the chance to vote for, or indeed dismiss the members of the committee. Still, all went well whilst the economy boomed, with low inflation and low interest rates, and Gordon Brown boasted of ‘an end to boom and bust economics’.

The Bank has the remit to control inflation in the economy, by raising base interest rates when the government’s inflation target is in jeopardy. It is clear now, that interest rates were kept too high (and were rising) at a time when the economy was on the brink of the biggest crash since the great depression of the 1930’s. But the blinkered view of the bankers stuck rigidly to seeing inflation as the danger and now we all have to deal with the consequences of their mismanagement of the situation.

Does the Bank of England feel any shame that they got things so disastrously wrong? Not a bit of it. This week has seen Mervyn King, governor of the Bank, lecturing the government on the contents of the next Budget. He said that there is no room for a (further) fiscal stimulant to the economy, because of the already huge level of debt accrued, mainly due to the public bail out of the high street banks. Given the dire state of the British economy under his stewardship, Mr King is lucky he is still in a job, a situation that increasing numbers people are not. This apparent admonishment of the government’s current and future economic policies, has been seized upon by the Conservative opposition, as evidence of a difference of opinion between the Bank and the government. Of course the Tories would have done little different to Labour, perhaps deregulated even more. What a cardinal sin, to disagree with the governor of the Bank of England on economic (and social) policy, whatever next?

Well, I’m no big fan of this government, but they are elected by the people, albeit within the confines of our rather undemocratic electoral system. Who the hell elected Mervyn King?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

'The Power of Community' and Transition Towns

On Saturday night, members of Haringey Green Party attended the Crouch End and Hornsey Area Transition Initiative (CHATI) film showing of ‘The Power of Community’, a film about how peak oil affected Cuba. The event was very well attended, and the audience was left with the question: how can we translate what happened in Cuba to the local area?

Cuba of course faced the peak oil crisis in the early 1990’s, during the so-called ‘Special Period’ in their history. With trade embargoes meaning no oil, medical supplies and other essentials, and no access to the world bank, food shortages and blackouts were common. The people of Cuba had to quickly re-think their lifestyles, turning to bicycles for transportation and to growing food on every available piece of land – even on rooftops.

Now 80 to 100% of food needed by city dwellers is provided by urban gardens, and these same gardens employ 140,000 people. Green jobs in action.

Furthermore, there was no access to pesticides during the special period, and organic farming became the norm. 80% of farming in Cuba is now by organic methods. Inspiringly, farmers supply free produce to pregnant women and older people, not because they are told to do so, but simply because they want to.

The health of Cubans has improved greatly since the ‘Special Period’, due to an increased intake of fruit and veg. That’s certainly a lesson us Brits could learn from, since we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

The above makes it sound like the crisis led to Cuba being some sort of Utopia. Of course, this is not the case what with human rights violations and lack of democracy as well as issues with dilapidated housing in cities such as Havana. Indeed now that the country has oil again (much of which they get from Venezuela, in exchange for doctors), many people have reverted to their cars. Old habits die hard.

But it was an inspiring film insofar as it shows what can come out of a crisis if people pull together and take small steps towards a big solution. That is really the ethos of Transition Towns – the community working together to find solutions to working out how we will survive in a post-oil world. It is frightening how things will change in our lifetimes, but we can view the future as a challenge rather than as a threat. And we can learn from places like Cuba now rather than wait until a crisis is upon us before we act.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Public Meeting on Green Work

Green Work and the Recession

Public Meeting - come along and hear about the most exciting ideas in British Politics today!

Called by Haringey Green Party

Thursday March 19th, 7pm

Kurdish Cultural Centre, Portland Gardens, N.8 (rear of Harringay Green Lanes overground station, approached via Green Lanes and Stanhope Gardens)

* The Green New Deal, a plan to help us find a way out of the triple crisis of financial crunch, rising oil prices and climate change.

* Limit working hours to share work and make time for living

* Oppose workfare and benefit cuts

London's Green Member of the European Parliament


Critical writer on political economy and Green Party activist

Chair, Haringey Trades Council

Crouch End Project and Crouch End Traders

The Green New Deal would:

create thousands of green-collar jobs

provide free insulation to every home

build safer ways of investing

raise finance for green energy

renew small and local businesses

increase food production in cities

invest in public transport

Greens who have been elected to local councils, the London Assembly and the European Parliament are already pushing through these ideas.

* Green work should be secure work. Jean Lambert has consistently pushed for employment rights for temporary agency staff.

* Green work must be well paid. Greens in the Greater London Assembly have pushed for a minimum ‘living wage’ of £7.45 per hour, in place of the pathetic national minimum wage of £5.73.

* Shorter working time can reduce layoffs; Jean has consistently challenged the UK Government's opt-out of the Working Time Directive and worked against it in the European Parliament. She recently backed the TUC’s Work Your Proper Hours Day on 27 February, the annual event which aims to ensure employees remember - and claim - their rights in the workplace. Over five million people in the UK regularly work unpaid overtime, handing their employers £26.9 billion in free work.

* Greens oppose the government’s Welfare Reform Bill, and supported the lobby of Parliament against it on March 3. Greens say no to benefit cuts, to forcing the disabled and parents of young children back to work, to workfare for the long-term unemployed, to privatisation of job centres and of back-to-work schemes .

Anne Gray on the Welfare Reform Bill

Anne Gray, who is the Green Party’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Tottenham, was one of a dozen or more speakers at last week's meeting on welfare reform in the House of Commons. Organised by the Public and Commercial Services Union, PCS, the meeting was called to oppose the government’s Welfare Reform Bill and help people lobby their MPs to vote against it.

The Welfare Reform Bill proposes huge changes in the benefits system, including a major extension of the requirement to seek work and compulsory work-for-benefit (workfare) schemes. Income Support will be abolished and most disabled claimants gradually transferred to JSA. The conditions for getting the new benefits for disabled people who are supposed to seek work or do work-related training may include compulsory treatment for drug addiction or other medical treatment. Lone parents, even those with very young children, may be required to attend interviews, make ‘action plans’ or attend training. People who stay on JSA over two years will be placed on compulsory schemes to work for their benefit without any extra money. Alongside these changes, the government proposes to contract out some job centre services and the majority of back to work schemes to private profit-making contractors.

Here’s what Anne said to the meeting:-


The Green Party is associated with campaigning for action to stop climate change. But it’s not just about that, the Green Party is also about social justice and keeping public services public. The Welfare Reform Bill is NOT about social justice, it’s a charter for INJUSTICE. We already sent the government our criticisms of it at the Green Paper stage (see

Around 3 million redundant workers, thrown out of their jobs as an indirect result of bankers’ greed, are going to be cannon fodder for the privatised back to work contractors, who will make big profits out of the redundant workers’ misery.

The whole idea that intensive placement services are the solution to unemployment is a bad bosses’ charter anyway. It makes people compete harder with each other for the few vacancies that are left in the economy, and thus reduces labour standards. If that creates new jobs, as the neo-classical economists tell us, it’s only because some employers respond to the availability of cheaper labour. But they only do that if there is demand. Supply side economics just doesn’t work if demand for labour has collapsed. So the government’s solution to rising unemployment just won’t work now.

The Green Party offers three solutions:-

1) Green Party policy is to create new jobs. We brought out the Green New Deal jointly with the New Economics Foundation. (For further details see ( ) It’s a plan to create jobs by investment in wind power, solar power, insulation of homes and other buildings, growing more sustainable food, care services, health services, better public services generally. If the government can spend all that money on propping up the banks, why not spend it for jobs that will meet real social needs and help us combat climate change ?

2) We advocate shorter working time. Our Green MEPs have struggled vigorously in the European Parliament to end the UK’s opt out form the 48 hour week. There is a wealth of continental experience, in France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium, about how negotiated reductions in working time can create jobs, by sharing work, through subsidised short time working, extra leave and so on. We need to learn from these and do it.

3) Rather than make conditions for getting JSA tighter, as the government proposes, we should be reducing conditionality. We should be moving in the direction of a guaranteed basic income for everyone, with no conditions, no means testing. The Green Party has been advocating this for years. (See A basic income without conditions would mean people could take what part-time and temporary work they could get without losing benefit. At present, if a friend asks you to paint her bathroom, dig an allotment, clear a garden, help in the local pub on a busy night, you can’t, it’s illegal. But unemployed people need to take what they can get and build up to a proper job again gradually. There is so much money now being given out in different kinds of tax credits in addition to JSA, child allowances and the new disability benefits that the government might as well do it, wrap them all up into one benefit. In fact the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work and Pensions suggested this in its 2007 report. It proposed a Single Working Age Benefit. It would save a fortune in administrative costs. But David Freud and his colleagues didn’t listen.

The unemployed need incentives to take part time and temporary work. Our approach is an incentives approach, not a workfare approach. But it is important not to let a basic income, like tax credits, subsidise bad employers and let them get away with low wages. Rather than pulling labour standards down we need to sustain and improve wage levels, and put money into the pockets of the poorest. We need to use the purchasing power of the public sector to ensure a living wage level in all contractors’ work, like the living wage policy the Greens have pushed through in the GLA – all GLA contractors must pay at least £7.45 per hour. We should be doing this sort of thing rather than paying people like Greedy Goodwin a pension worth the JSA of 200 people.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Decent Homes?

Everyone knows that having the builders in can be a stressful experience. It is something that a lot of Homes for Haringey Residents are experiencing right now, as their flats undergo the ‘Decent Homes’ improvements.
As a resident on a Homes for Haringey estate, I am keenly looking forward to having new windows, external doors and maybe a new roof. The windows will hopefully greatly improve the damp issue as well as providing better insulation against heat loss.
The fact that my estate won’t be deal with until the final year of the Decent Homes programme (2012-13) is however a problem. Homes for Haringey Chief Executive Paul Bridge has told me that he is asking the government for permission to complete the Decent Homes improvements in 4 years instead of 6. Apparently, this is infinitely do-able. Whether the Government will sanction this schedule change is another matter.
A few Sundays ago I was passing through Stroud Green and saw a great many Homes for Haringey blocks undergoing the Decent Homes improvements. Some had scaffolding up; some had new windows already in place. My hope is that a good job was done and that these improvements have increased the quality of life for residents.
I was however distressed to see that some of the blocks had been left in quite a state over the weekend. The above pictures were taken at Norman Court on Stapleton Hall Road. ‘Heras’ fencing splayed everywhere, tubes of sealant on the ground, tools abandoned in the grass…I was shocked that the residents had been left with this mess to look out on to. My hope is children didn’t get the chance to play in the mess.
It is great that improvements are been made to estates in need, but every effort should be made to ensure that contractors treat premises with respect. What is Homes for Haringey doing to ensure this happens? Who is monitoring the quality of the work and the way in which the builders are operating on a day to day basis? We would be very interested to hear from Homes for Haringey residents who have experiences of the Decent Homes programme, both good and bad.