Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bath Against Cuts - Join Your Local Anti-Cuts Group

An important message from a member of Bath Against Cuts - Bath's number one opponents to cuts and austerity.

I expect you are all gutted by the election result but five years ago some of set up a anti-cuts campaign to fight the coalition's attacks on the poor and vulnerable. We together have done good work over the last five years. With a majority Tory government we are now needed more than ever. This new government will continue to attack the NHS, people on benefits and trade union activists. If you feel as I do please come to the anti-cuts organising meeting on Tuesday 12th May at the Ram Widcombe at 8 pm. 

The fight back starts now.
Bath Against Cuts usually meets on the first Tuesday of every month (it's the second Tuesday this month due to the election) at 8pm in The Ram.

For more info, follow @bathagainstcuts and check their facebook page

Read our post-election commentary here

Contact details of Bath and Bristol activist groups here - get involved

Anti-Tory Protestors Take their Message to Downing Street

36.8% of registered voters voted for a "majority" Conservative government. They claim that they have a mandate to rule, but yesterday Britain said otherwise.

On Saturday morning, word reached Bath that a huge demonstration against the Conservative's cuts and for real democracy was about to take place. Activists and campaigners promptly took action and made their way to London to make their voices heard.

Starting at Tory HQ, the several-thousand strong demonstration peacefully marched to Downing Street, to Trafalgar Square and then back to Downing Street. Left-wing activists of all stripes - anarchist-communists, socialists, Green Party members, badger cull protestors and more united as one against the Conservatives.

Police claim that there was violence against them and criminal damage. The most violence our comrades on the demonstration witnessed was against peaceful demonstrators by aggressive riot police, while the real criminal sat in Downing Street plotting his assault on the British public. What the police failed to understand is that their livelihoods are now as under threat as everyone else's, and that plans to privatise the police force with hired security firms such as G4S will mean that pretty soon demonstrations will start to include ex-coppers too. With chants of "We are peaceful" and "Protect us, don't fight us" largely ignored, the police hit, grabbed, pushed and assaulted those acting in the best interest of the country.

Nobody at the demonstration was at all happy about "Fuck Tory Scum" being sprayed on a memorial to women in the second world war, and it is strongly suspected that this was the work of an agent provocateur, rather than a genuine protestor. What better way to discredit a movement than to desecrate one of the least controversial war memorials on VE Day? We need to be better than this - better than them.

                                          Video of scenes from the demo

Police then kettled protestors for several hours. Spirits in the kettle were high, with demonstrators singing, dancing, playing instruments and holding an open mic session.

The feeling on the day was that this was Day 1, and a good effort. Already people reject their society and are coming together to create something better and to oppose those who intend to ruin much of what the disadvantaged in society and their allies have fought for over the centuries. Peace, solidarity, direct action, education and hope are the tools this emerging counter-culture is using. May this continue.

While people were understandably angry and a lot of insults were thrown against the Tories and Cameron in particular, many people we have spoken to during and since the demonstration are wanting to move on from this. We need to be the best we can be. We need to rise above hatred - that's their value, not ours. Focus our anger into creating something positive - because by hating, we are as bad as they are. Opposing and doing everything we can to stop them need not stem from hatred. It can also stem from our love for our fellow humans and our planet. They do not choose to use their ability to love. We can.

Read our post-election thoughts here

Get involved and join an activist group in Bath or Bristol here

Election Aftermath: Real Change Will Come From Us

On Friday morning, the United Kingdom woke up with a Conservative majority government, a result that nobody expected. This government is on a course to further the goals of capitalism, crush unions, strip away welfare, degrade worker's rights, increase the cost of tuition fees and wreak havoc on the environment, not to mention the badgers and foxes. But this also the beginning of something huge.

People are angry, and rightly so. Those that blindly voted for the party of the rich will slowly realise what they have done when their jobs, healthcare and education are affected. Under the current system, voting in this election was never going to bring about a radical change in society. Yes, proportional representation would be more democratic, and would give some of the smaller left (and also right) parties a bigger chance. Indeed, both the Greens and UKIP are now considering this among their top priorities. If the people of Britain wish to continue having a government then it is an improvement. But more importantly, we need to be building the society that we want to live in. Forming communities, sharing resources and ideas, showing solidarity with each other and rejecting the individualistic, isolationist and apathetic model of society that the powerful want us to inhabit.

There exist already numerous groups, locally and nationally, who are actively campaigning for and working towards a better world. Some of them are protest groups campaigning against things they feel are unjust. Some are political groups and parties who are advocating a different way of doing things. Some are charities, some are environmentalists. All have ideas on how to change the world. Many of these groups we have supported over the years, and we have now published details of how you can get involved.

Take a long hard look at the country and the world right now and ask yourself "What would I change?" "How would I like things to be?" and "What can I do to create this world I want to inhabit?". Then get out there and do it.

It is up to us, not politicians, to change the world. Real change can come from you. Get involved with the groups you support. Start other groups if you feel there are things not being addressed, and talk to other groups in your area about it. Get on the streets. Get on the internet. Talk to everyone you can. We need to build a strong movement for the sake of us all, and the sake of the planet. We need every one of you to be part of it, even if you can't offer much. Whether or not you stood up and were counted in the general election, all hope is not lost. The future depends on you and the world you help to create.

Over the next 5 years we need to be strong. We need to change the political narrative ourselves, not rely on parties to do it for us. If they want to stay relevant then they will need to reflect our views, not the other way around. And if they do not reflect our views then we should reject them.

Peace and love and solidarity in these dark times.

Get involved here:

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Special - Don't (Just) Vote, Get Active

Although this post contains sections specific to the Bath and the North East Somerset constituencies, many of the underlying ideas are relevant to other parts of the country. Standing Stone's Blog does not endorse any political party or the current political system. It is not our job to tell you who to vote for or whether or not to vote, but it is our job to talk about it.

We may not endorse parties, but some are clearly worse than others...
(Protest sign from Monday's David Cameron welcome party)
 In the next 24 hours the polls will close and the winners and losers of the election decided. Possibly. This election carries with it more uncertainties than any other election than we can remember (and some members of our team can remember quite a few).

To Vote or Not to Vote

Before we start addressing the issues with the individual parties and candidates, we will first address one of the most fundamental issues of this campaign. While some were turned against voting by Russell Brand before he came out in support of voting for Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Labour everywhere else, this is not a new idea. Many anarchists and revolutionary socialists have been saying this for centuries. Voting gives legitimacy to the government. It takes away our right to govern ourselves and puts it in the hands of others, who have not always acted in the best interests of the majority, or of oppressed minorities. Emma Goldman famously said on the matter 'if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal'.

At the same time, few would argue that Westminster-style representative democracy is not an improvement on a monarchy or a dictatorship - at least we have a say in who runs the country and can vote them out if they aren't any good. People in Britain have fought and died for the right to vote throughout history. There are some differences between the parties, and any one person is likely to agree with the policies of one party more than the others, even if they do not support the current political system itself. By voting for the party you agree with the most, you are in with a chance to have some of your views represented in parliament. But don't expect them to always keep their word.

While there is disagreement amongST our team and comrades on this issue, many of us agree that if there is no-one suitable to represent you, don't stay at home tomorrow. Not turning up to the polling station will not bring down the system, and you will be put in the 'apathetic' camp. Spoiling the ballot shows that you do have an interest in politics, but none of the candidates (or any of them, no matter what their views are) are suitable to be your MP. Maybe one day the spoiled ballots will get a majority somewhere and cause a constitutional crisis.

Deciding who to vote for (if you're that way inclined)

If you are among those who feels that voting can make a difference, then you'll need to carefully consider who to vote for. The first thing you need to be aware of is the whipping system. Essentially, even if your MP agrees with something, if they belong to a party that has whips they can be whipped into voting the other way, and in some cases MPs can lose their position if they rebel. Of the main parties, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats use whips. The Green Party of England and Wales and UKIP do not use whips. Proponents of the whipping system claim that it helps create strong governments, while opponents claim that it is a barrier to true representative democracy. We agree with the latter. So if you oppose the badger cull and your Tory candidate does also, be aware that it does not necessarily mean that they will vote against it in parliament.

Bearing this in mind, we recommend making a list of key issues that you are concerned about and reading up where candidates (for non-whipped parties and independents) and parties (for all candidates, but especially for whipped parties) stand on these issues. Here's our table for the 5 main parties as they currently stand in this election on the issues that we have covered in this blog over the years:

Green= good, Yellow=intermediate, Red=bad
Notes: Even though UKIP score a yellow, we consider them to be worse than the Tories in general due to their xenophobic policies and popularisation of casual racism. However they are more in favour of referendums and public engagement in politics than some of the other parties. Although we consider the Greens to have the most democratic policies of all 5 parties, they do not go as far as we would like.
Again, please note that even where parties have scored as green, don't expect them to live up to all of their promises - while some things will get through in some form or other, U-turns are not uncommon.

On Tactical Voting

Let's say for instance that you find yourself agreeing with the Greens more than the others and disagree with the Tories more than the others. It's neck and neck between Tories and Labour in your constituency. Do you vote Labour to ensure the Tories don't win, or do you stick to your principles and vote Green?

Tactical voting can help to keep the party you definitely don't want in power out. However, it means that someone else you don't like stands a better chance of getting in. By tactical voting, you are in effect diluting the message that you want to send to parliament. It means that the people you actually like are never going to get a chance. We recommend that if you feel that there is one candidate that you feel is suitable to represent you, then vote for them. They might not get in, but they will be in a better position next time. Here in Bath we've had several leaflets through the door from the Lib Dems saying "Labour and Greens can't win here - only the Lib Dems can stop the Tories!". We say that's nonsense. If people voted for Labour or Green then they would have a better chance of stopping the Tories - and would also be less likely to prop them up in government for 5 years!

So in summary, we recommend that if you think a candidate is suitable to represent you in parliament, then vote for them. But it's your vote - do what you will with it.

In Bath

We report on activism and radical politics in Bath, North East Somerset (and sometimes Bristol and further afield). So we assume that many of our readers would like to know which of the candidates running in Bath have supported causes that matter to us and our comrades.

First, let's talk about the ones who have not publicly stood up and supported any causes given space on these pages (to the best of our knowledge). Ben Howlett (Conservative) and Julian Deverell (UKIP) have not been seen by us on any political event or demonstration that we have covered (although Ben Howlett was seen with David Cameron on Monday, but on the other side of the wall to the demonstrators). Jenny Knight from the far-right English Democrat Party has not been seen anywhere near a demonstration that we have attended. The independent candidate Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst, a former Lib Dem who stuck to her principles and left the party due to their U-turn on tuition fees and supporting the Tories, has also not to our knowledge attended any events that we have covered. Apologies to the candidates if they have been present - and if they are reading this, feel free to comment below.

Steve Bradley (Lib Dem) was present on the recent Reclaim the Night march, but has otherwise been absent. Ollie Middleton (Labour) marched and spoke at the Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts (BSAFC) march in December 2014. We have seen him at various meetings also. Dominic Tristram (Green), and the North East Somerset candidate Katy Boyce (Green) have both attended numerous demonstrations covered on these pages. Dominic is the local NHS governor who was elected due to his anti-privatisation stance, and has been present on union picket lines and BSAFC marches, amongst other things.

As for the council seat candidates, those who have attended events or publicly supported causes that we have covered include Lin Patterson (Green, Lambridge), Jon Lucas (Green, Westmoreland), Rory Lee (Green, Paulton), Joe Rayment (Labour, Twerton), Vicky Drew (Labour, Lambridge), Sarah Huggins (Green, High Littleton), Vipul Patel (Green, Walcot), June Player (Independent, Westmoreland), Pam Richards (Labour, Kingsmead) and Sally Driver (Green, Widcombe). Again, apologies to any candidates not mentioned, we didn't have the pleasure of meeting you - but feel free to leave a comment below.

There are no Class War or Left Unity candidates running for MP in Bath, although there are two LU candidates running for council seats in Southdown.

For more information on candidates and where they stand, visit Democratic Accountability Bath

The Last Word - Don't (Just) Vote, Get Active

That's almost it from us - the choice of voting or not voting, and who to vote for if you are voting is up to you. Whatever you decide, choose wisely. Electing a government every five years or so is not the end of public engagement in politics. Politics should work from the bottom up. Most good things that politicians have done over the centuries have not been out of the goodness of their hearts, but because of public pressure and targeted campaigns. Direct action works. Whoever wins this election, be they the best or worst on offer, or somewhere in-between, the government will (almost certainly) get in. It is the job of the public to hold them to account, pressure them to work for us and, if necessary, get rid of the lot of them. History has shown that voting is only of limited effectiveness and that power can change people. You can find details of groups and events on these pages and by looking around on the internet, and we strongly suggest that you do. Nothing changes unless people stand up and fight for it.

Whether you are voting or not voting, if you stand for something, don't (just) register to vote - register your protest.

Monday, 4 May 2015

David Cameron Met by Angry Protesters in Bath

David Cameron arrives in Bath (Photo by Rabban)
David Cameron arrived in Bath this afternoon to deliver a speech to an audience largely shipped in from other parts of the country, with supporters coming from places as far off as Worcestershire and Hampshire to make up the numbers. Acting on an anonymous tip-off received late on Sunday night, protesters assembled outside Hayesfield Upper School at around 2pm on Sunday 4th May 2015 to make the prime-minister know he wasn't welcome in Bath.

Despite having only a few hours to organise in the morning, around 40 demonstrators turned out with placards and a megaphone. Groups present included Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, Bristol Anarchist Federation, Green Party, Infiltration Party, Bath Against Cuts, Bath Against the Badger Cull, 38 Degrees and the Labour Party.

Protesters outside David Cameron's speech
At around 2.45pm, a large Conservative bus arrived outside the venue with David Cameron's team. The soon-to-be ex-prime-minister turned up in a blacked out vehicle moments later, and was met with shouting and an egg, which narrowly missed him - although it is likely it splashed his shoes and trousers. The Guardian has since reported that it was the first egg of the campaign.

We caught up with the egg-thrower after the demonstration, who did not wish to be named. They told us "Throwing an egg at the prime-minister is relatively harmless compared to the damage he's doing to the country".

                                          Video of the David Cameron Protest

Protester Reiss McGuinness commented "David Cameron did not come to greet us, as to be expected".

David Cameron was seen leaving via the back entrance, probably because he did not want to face the people who have been negatively affected by his tenure as prime-minister.

Campaigners noted that the Conservative bus was left running with the engine on for the entirety of Mr Cameron's speech, which is at odds with their claim to be the "greenest government ever". Many attendees arrived in cars and in taxis with only one passenger. The bus was also parked on yellow zig-zags. The police were informed but did not move the bus on.

Video of the egg being thrown here

Read our Election Special here