Green general election campaign 2015

I was privileged to fight the 2015 General Election in the Wantage constituency on behalf of the Green Party. 

FaringdonThe campaign was dominated by issues of new housing, protecting the green belt, climate change (including flooding and drought) and proper funding for the public sector.

My focus in the campaign was on Green Party headline manifesto pledges, including pledges to create a million climate jobs to transition to a low carbon economy, the abolition of student tuition fees and the building of 500,000 new social housing units on brownfield sites during the course of the next Parliament.

Many people are very keen to engage with these ideas, in the context of the 'Green Surge' which has seen party members grow rapidly in 2014 and 15. 

 Coverage of the campaign

Wantage constituency debate from Didcot - BBC Radio Oxford

ROAR protest in Wantage  

Of course, the fight goes on after the election to ensure such pledges are picked up and implemented by the other parties in one of the most interesting elections for a generation....

For tribal peoples the earth gives health, progress often kills


Davi Kopenawa Yanomami is a spokesman for the Yanomami Indian tribe who live in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil and Venezuela. He was recently in Europe to raise awareness of threats to the Yanomami homelands and to publicise a report by UK-based NGO Survival International on how ‘progress’ or development often brings nothing but destruction and death for tribal peoples across the world (Survival International, Progress Can Kill).

Davi is a highly committed and redoubtable campaigner on behalf of his people. An experienced shaman practising the ancient traditions of his tribe, he led the long-running international campaign to secure Yanomami land rights after government officials, missionaries and gold miners brought fatal diseases and destruction to the region from the 1950s. In 1989, he won a UN Global 500 award, and after several more years of international campaigning, the Yanomami area was officially recognised by the Brazilian government just before it hosted the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Yanomami territory straddles the border of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. It is over 9.6 million hectares in size (four times the size of Switzerland) and the largest indigenous rainforest territory anywhere in the world. A highly important reservoir of genetic diversity, it supports 16,000 Yanomami who survive through a combination of hunting and gathering and small scale agriculture. The Yanomami use over 500 species of plants for food, medicine, artefacts and house building. They grow around 60 crops which provide the mainstay of their sustenance, but resources procured through hunting and gathering are still highly prized. They gather 15 kinds of wild honey and hunt with bows and arrows tipped with curare poison. Following highly traditional hunter-gatherer values, hunters never eat their own kill but share it out with others and get given meat to eat themselves.

The Yanomami live in large communal houses known as yanos or shabonos, which house up to 400 people. They are built in large ring shapes; each family has its own hearth and the central space is used for dancing and ceremonies. The spirit world is a vital part of life and spirits can cause good luck or illness. Shamans have the power to interact with and control the spirits, often with the aid of yakoana, a hallucinogenic snuff.

Although the Yanomami have managed to survive and thrive in their ancient territory, they still face a range of serious threats and their protected status is not guaranteed. Their land is repeatedly threatened by mining. In the 1980s, it was invaded by 40,000 gold miners who shot Yanomami, destroyed their villages and exposed them to diseases. Up to twenty percent of Yanomami died in seven years, a tragedy that was a major impetus to the creation of the Yanomami Park in 1992 and the expulsion of the miners.

But Indians in Brazil still do not have proper ownership rights over their land and the Brazilian congress is currently debating a bill which, if passed, will open up much of the Brazilian Amazon to large-scale mining. The Yanomami face other problems too: the Brazilian army is stepping up its presence in the area and government-controlled health provision is woefully inadequate. In common with other indigenous Amazonian tribes, the Yanomami are opposed to the legalisation of mining in their areas and argue that the best way to protect the rainforest is to allow it to remain under indigenous control. In Davi’s words:

“You napepe (whites) talk about what you call ‘development’ and tell us to become the same as you. But we know that this only brings disease and death…The forest cannot be bought; it is our life and we have always protected it. Without the forest, there is only sickness, and without us, it is dead land. The time has come for you to start listening to us. Give us back our lands and our health before it’s too late for us and too late for you”.

If the Yanomami still face a struggle to hold onto their lands, Survival’s report Progress can Kill graphically reveals that they are the lucky ones. Tribes across the world face the same devastating impact of the loss of their land. Once dispossessed, their prospects are bleak.

Hadzabe2003%20196The Survival report meticulously documents the life-threatening challenges faced by dispossessed tribal peoples. They include: diseases of contact, lowered life expectancy, HIV/AIDS, starvation, obesity and diabetes, suicide rates up to ten times higher than average and alcohol and drug addiction. Struggles to reclaim land from national governments are often vicous and rarely successful, resulting in little or no hope for the future. To take three examples: the Innu peoples of Canada, the Aborigines of Australia and the San Bushmen of Botswana all face challenges that have destroyed many of their people and threaten many more.

The Innu are the indigenous people of the Labrador-Quebec peninsula, in eastern Canada (Survival International: Innu; see also Samson, C). Up until the second half of the 20th century, the Innu lived as nomadic hunters, exploiting the wide range of seasonal resources across their vast territory, but relying in particular on the Caribou which migrate through their land every spring and autumn. Until recently, the Innu got everything - food, clothing, shelter, tools and weapons - from the caribou, which are of huge cultural importance to them.

During the last fifty years, the Innu have come under sustained pressure from the Canadian government (and the Catholic Church) to settle in fixed communities. Many of the Innu are still fighting to continue their traditional lifestyle, but this is very difficult as the government has broken up their territory into mining concessions, hydro power schemes, and road building and refuses to recognise the right of the Innu to own land without making significant concessions in return. The UN Human Rights Committee has described the situation of tribal peoples as 'the most pressing issue facing Canadians', and has condemned Canada for 'extinguishing' aboriginal peoples' rights.

The effects of this dispossession on many of the Innu have been traumatic. In addition to endemic unemployment and grim resettlement camps for many communities, addiction and suicide rates are sky-high. Among the Innu youth, petrol sniffing is a chronic problem. In the long term this can cause convulsions and permanent damage to the kidney, eyes, liver, bone marrow and heart. Alcohol and petrol addiction sets up destructive cycles that cause entire families to collapse. Babies can be born with defects, children get little care from their addict parents, elders become alienated from younger generations and teenagers have few alternatives except to become addicts themselves.

The report documents comparable health issues for the Aboriginal Australians. Compared to other Australians, Aborigines are: six times more likely to die as an infant; six times more likely to die from a stroke; eight times more likely to die from lung or heart disease; 22 times more likely to die from diabetes and their life expectancy is 17-20 years less than other Australians. According to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) “The health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is disastrously poor…the fundamental cause is disempowerment, due to various factors including continued dispossession from the land, cultural dislocation, poverty, poor education and unemployment”.

For Boniface Alimankinni of the Australian Tiwi Islands, the problem for Aboriginal Australians is that “We were ashamed of ourselves. We had lost our mastery. Our sons were ashamed of us. We had no self respect and nothing to give our sons except violence and alcoholism. Our children are stuck somewhere between a past they don’t understand and a future that won’t accept them and offers them nothing.”

Again and again, tribal peoples world-wide argue that what they need to regain their health, their sense of respect and worth and to pass something valuable onto their children is to return to their land. The Bushmen of Botswana have taken the Botswana government to court for repeatedly evicting them from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, created to protect the traditional territory of the 5,000 Gana, Gwi and Tsila Bushmen (and their neighbours the Bakgalagadi), and the game they depend on. In December 2006 they won a historic victory when the Botswana High Court ruled that the government had illegally evicted them from their land. Despite facing a continual brutal struggle to ensure the Botswana government respects the ruling, the Bushmen will not give up.

Doris Pilkington Garimara, Australian Aboriginal author of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence (2003), says: “The first step in the journey of healing is to reconnect with the land. It symbolises so much to us: it’s our family, our parents, our grandparents. It’s the umbilical cord, the bond between mother and children.”

Perhaps the final word should go to Davi Yanomami: “There is only one earth. We don’t have any more land. The land only has one heart. We cannot let the earth’s heart be destroyed. The heart of the earth gives people health and happiness. If there is no heart, we all die.”


Survival International: Bushmen:

Survival International: Innu:

Survival International: Yanomami:

Survival International, Progress Can Kill:

Colin Samson (2003) A Way of Life that Does Not Exist. Canada and the Extinguishment of the Innu. London: Verso

Photo: © Fiona Watson/Survival. For more information see the Survival International website.

48 poorest countries lose $197 billion 1990-2008 - and UK richest make £77 bilion in 2010

100_0162_2 A new report from Global Financial Integrity details massive capital flows out of the poorest countries of the world and examines how the structural characteristics of Least Developed Countries could be facilitating the cross-border transfer of illicit funds.

Compare and contrast this with recent reports in the UK press that the collective wealth of the country's 1000 richest people rose 30% in 2009-10 in the wake of the economic crisis.

Key findings of Illicit Financial Flows from the Least Developed Countries: 1990-2008 include: 

  • Illicit flows divert resources needed for poverty alleviation and economic development
  • Approximately US$197 billion flowed out of the 48 poorest developing countries and into mainly developed countries, on a net basis over the period 1990-2008
  • The top ten exporters of illicit capital account for 63 percent of total outflows, while the top 20 account for nearly 83 percent
  • Based on available data, African LDCs accounted for 69 percent of total illicit flows, followed by Asia (29 percent) and Latin America (2 percent)
  • Trade mispricing accounts for the bulk (65-70 percent) of illicit outflows from LDCs, and the propensity for mispricing has increased along with increasing external trade

GFI notes that approximately 60% of global trade is conducted by multi-national corporations, and half that amount is between subsidiaries of a parent company. They quote OECD, who argue that “intra-group transactions are not subject to the same market forces as transactions between unrelated parties operating on the free market, there is a huge potential for profit shifting via under or over pricing of intra-group transactions.”

In other words, multinationals are dictating the terms by which capital flows in and out of the world's poorest countries, and they have fixed these flows to ensure that in practice a developing country will derive little or no revenues from the FDI attracted to its territory. World trade on these terms represents no more than a global transfer of resources from the very poor to the very rich; as Nicholas Shaxon has revealed, corporations do not get taxed adequately in rich national jurisdictions either.

It seems to go without saying that until this is halted and reversed, we will not achieve sustainable development, either in the west, or across the world.

Will there be a tempest on Treasure island?

IMG_0824 Barclays admission that it paid just £113m in UK corporation tax in 2009 – a year when it rang up a record £11.6bn of profits - should give a boost to UK Uncut, the  network of campaigners for tax justice.

As Nicholas Shaxson's remarkable book, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, makes clear, the City of London Corporation operates by its own rules. Politically unaccountable, it is in effect the HQ for global offshore tax havens - those places where vast amounts of money is held in an effort to successfully avoid paying tax. As Shaxson says, "Tax havens and offshore finance have been metastatising through the global economy since the 1970s: the unseen component of financial globalisation. They lie at the heart of the global economy. Half of all world trade passes through tax havens....Recently the Mail on Sunday found that Barclays, Lloyds and RBS have over 550 tax haven subsidiaries between them". Img_0069

According to Shaxson, tax havens also played a major role in the economic crisis. The root of the subprime scandal was Wall Street’s ability to skirt regulations, and corporations were able to do this by partly operating overseas in London that allowed them to grow offshore at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, the race to chip away at regulations wasn’t only occurring between havens (US and UK) but also between states. The competition resulted in a complete gutting of the regulatory system, and the collapse soon followed

This iniquitous situation - how many among us can afford to avoid paying tax?  - is, according to George Monbiot, about to get worse. Planned amendments to the tax acts of 1988 and 2009 will mean "companies will pay nothing at all in this country on money made by their foreign branches. Foreign means anywhere. If these proposals go ahead, the UK will be only the second country in the world to allow money that has passed through tax havens to remain untaxed when it gets here. The other is Switzerland. The exemption applies solely to “large and medium companies”; it is not available for smaller firms".

IMG_0844Billions of pounds are going unpaid in taxes by the super-wealthy while ordinary people are asked to shoulder the burden. Will a perfect storm brew and we reclaim our Treasure island (as the Egyptians have reclaimed Tahrir - liberation - square in Cairo)? Only time will tell....

Intellectual Property Rights: Do They Work for the Poor?

Phone july 11 123Global intellectual property regimes are a recent phenomenon. Conceived as part of a wider set of economic ‘neo liberal’ structural reforms, their intention is to bring all commercial development under the auspices of a single system governing the patenting of material and intellectual resources for exploitation.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are granted on inventions, trademarks and industrial designs, while copyright is granted to literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs.

Patent regimes have been operative for several centuries in the developed West, and traditionally have remained national in origin and scope. What is unprecedented about the new generation of intellectual property regimes is the attempt to enforce them across the world, regardless of each individual country’s economic, research base or commercial capacity to manage or exploit them.

With systemic regimes of dispossession at the heart of Africa’s economic and governance problems, imposing an IPR regime on the resources people access fails to address the real issue. The real issue for most Africans is that they have very little property to protect, and they have grown used to living with the pervasive assumption that what little they may have can be taken from them at any time. Signing up rights over individual resources in terms of the TRIPS regime will do nothing to solve this problem, unless and until the wider questions of what property means to the poor, what property they have and are entitled to are addressed. If the IPR regimes that are to be imposed across the world are to be pro-poor, the first question they need to answer is: what of the poor’s property needs recognition and protection?

Read the whole article on Onislam (formerly Islam Online) 

Living Beyond Our Means: Where Is the Solution?

Hadzabe2003%20153The earth’s ecosystem is on the brink of disaster warns a report commissioned by the UN, funded by the World Bank, conducted by over 1,300 leading scientists from 95 countries, and launched at the Royal Society. Yet despite its impeccable science, which pinpoints the problems with expert precision, the report appears to offer few solutions to this crisis. Despite all the resources, as well as the expertise and lobbying capacities at the disposal of its institutional sponsors, little practical guidance is given as to how we might respond to the impending environmental catastrophe.

 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report estimates that up to 60 percent of the ecosystems that support life on earth are being degraded or used unsustainably. As the report makes clear, most of this damage has been done in the last 50 years.

“Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted,” the report says.

Read the full article at OnIslam (formerly IslamOnline)