Kremlin has been targeting Green Party in German general election

Russia has been using social media, spyware and fake news to destroy the chances of the Green Party’s candidate winning Chancellorship ahead of tomorrow’s general election.

Baerbock: Green candidate is the number one target for disinformation campaign – Avaaz survey Sept 6

German Greens are headed for a record number of MPs in the General Election tomorrow (26 September), making it very likely they will form part of a German Government.

But the poll lead of the Green’s candidate for Chancellor – Annalena Baerbock – appears to have been destroyed by concerted online social media attacks many of which are believed to originate from Putin’s Kremlin.

The Kremlin is desperate to avoid a Green-led government that would be hostile to its pipeline project supplying Russian gas to Germany.

Baerbock has made clear her opposition to the pipeline since it makes the country more dependent both on Putin and on fossil fuel which will worsen the climate crisis.

Bloomberg reported in July: “Her opposition to completing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia is a particular concern. One person close to the Russian government said it would be prepared to go to great lengths to block her path to office.”

“One person close to the Russian government said it would be prepared to go to great lengths to block her path to office.”

Bloomberg news 28 July 2021

Both the other candidates for Chancellor – from the SPD (equivalent to UK’s Labour) and the CDU (Conservative) – have been accepting of the gas pipeline.

The Greens have reported to German security services an increase in cyber attacks that use Russian tactics well known to the US. Apparently party workers have been receiving large numbers of emails with a friendly greeting apparently from a contact that seek to install spyware on the internal Green Party system.

Baerbock herself has been targeted by false news stories and smears on social media.

In June, Bloomberg says, the US sent their top expert on election meddling Shelby Pierson of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to Berlin.

On September 6, the civil liberties group Avaaz also revealed that Baerbock has been bombarded with fake news more than any other candidate. It identified 84 fake narratives attacking German politicians and found that the vast majority – 71% – were aimed at Baerbock (see chart at top of this article).

Avaaz also showed that the AfD is receiving massive support via Facebook posts. “In 2021, the AfD will account for 64% of all interactions from party and parliamentary groups. At the other end of the spectrum, the Greens had only 0.3 million interactions over the same period. In other words: The AfD pages achieve 25 times more interactions on Facebook than those of the Greens.” Back in 2019 a study by the George Washington University concluded that in the run up to the Euro elections the “thousands of dubious Facebook accounts, the authenticity of which is doubtful, advertise the AfD”. Many of them are from outside Germany, the study said. Avaaz says the same happened again from October 2020 in the run up to tomorrow’s general election, with a huge spike in pro AfD Facebook posts this spring.

“Thousands of dubious Facebook accounts, the authenticity of which is doubtful, advertise the AfD”.

George washington institute report 2019

Shortly after the Greens announced Baerbock’s candidacy, on April 19th, posts appeared online claiming falsely that Baerbock wanted to ban children from having pets at home. Despite the party denouncing them as fake, officials were still getting asked about them months later as far right and other social media posters kept them alive.

Over half of all voters in Germany have come across at least one falsehood about Baerbock, according to the Avaaz survey.

On September 3rd online news outlet Politico reported that Kremlin financed TV station RT Deutsch was pursuing a twin strategy of promoting AfD while attacking the Green Party and Baerbock.

Politico said: “They also make routine references to both the CDU and SPD political parties, but mostly leave these groups alone in terms of promotion or attacking their polices…In a recent plagiarism scandal involving the German politician, the Russian outlet produced a series of articles that provided blow-by-blow details of Baerbock’s alleged wrongdoing.”

“Facebook, Twitter and google don’t have a good track record of dealing with non English language misinformation”

Mark Scott, digital writer for Politico 24 june 2021

Worryingly, on June 24th, Politico’s digital writer Mark Scott warned that the global social media giants were woefully unprepared for online misinformation inteference in the election. “Facebook, Twitter and Google don’t have a good track record of dealing with non-English language misinformation,” he said. “The companies are only now rolling out their election game plans in Germany. Yet after I did a search for #Wahlfälschung, or election fraud, on both Facebook and Twitter, I quickly found myself in a rabbit hole of false claims, conspiracy theories and politically-motivated hate speech.”

In September, another think tank, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, backed up these findings publishing a survey that found that Baerbock was subject to more conspiracy theories and disinformation than Social Democrat candidate Olaf Scholz and Christian Democrat candidate Armin Laschet. She was also the recipient of sexist attacks that the other candidates, both men, did not receive.

Not all these attacks can be directly linked to Russian sources and some of the sexist attacks and support for AfD’s anti-immigration stance is likely to be magnified by a sexist and racist attitude from a minority of German people. All three candidates have had stumbles and scandals and Baerbock’s seem small in comparison to Scholz’s failure as head of the country’s financial regulator to prevent major financial fraud at Wirecard for example. Yet both now have a neck and neck lead while the Greens are now polling lower than they have since at least the start of 2020.

There can be no doubt that a concerted Kremlin campaign has seriously hit the polling position of the Green Party in the months since Baerbock’s candidacy was announced, helping amplify some of her relatively minor mistakes and preventing her from achieving the Chancellorship.

The Greens are still likely to play a big part in the next Government, so Putin hasn’t had it all his way, but they look like being a junior partner to the CDU or SPD, or both.

EU and UK regulators need to toughen up regulation of online news urgently, or Putin will keep interfering with democracy.


Let’s talk about the growth disease


It is becoming ever more apparent that the Green Party must start talking a bit louder about the G word. Survey after survey has shown that Green Party members, unlike members of other political parties, put protecting the environment above economic growth.

Asserting that economic growth must not come at the expense of the environment is the unique selling proposition of the Green Party and lies at the core of all its policies. This is not a single issue, it affects every policy a Government can come up with.  It is the guiding light. It affects how the economy should be managed.  Greens say the economy needs to be put on a sustainable footing, so that it meets the true needs of people, and so that consumption happens at a rate that is compabitable with the speed at which natural systems can replenish themselves.  This means that worshipping economic growth, using it as a measure of national success, using it to drive employment, using it to drive “wealth” is the wrong goal.

Chasing growth at the expense of real human needs has given us global warming. Our continuing consumption of fossil fuels to drive economic growth means we are pumping out carbon dioxide and methane at a rate faster than our earth’s natural systems can absorb it. This needs tackling, but it is only one of the crises that we, largely in the rich world countries, have created by consuming stuff faster than the natural world can replenish it.

We have mass extinctions, desertification, deforestation, we have pollution of the seas, over-fishing, toxification of the air from diesel particulates, all driven by over consumption. All curable by shifting policy away from the mad worship of  growth and towards policies that focus on meeting people’s needs rather than boosting income.

Sometimes our leaders and spokespeople have seemed a little wary of saying this, of saying that the key difference and us, and say Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is that we do not believe that growth is the answer. More than that, in this already wealthy society, chasing growth is INCOMPATIBLE with equality and protecting the environment. Perhaps they are worried about the response. “Then you Greens must be in favour of a recession?”  It is quite difficult in a Question Time studio full of baying political party fanclub members to respond calmly to this. But respond we must.

Recession has become a bogeyman – something to be feared and avoided at all costs. But it is a manmade thing, it means two successive quarters where total UK consumption goes down rather than up.  With forethought and planning it does not have to lead to mass poverty.

A basic income, for example, would immunise people from the need for food banks and night shelters.

We need to have this debate but we will not have it if we do not voice it.

But because this view is not characterised as right or left; because it is not really part of the debate about nationalisation or privatisation or capitalism or socialism, because it goes against the grain of what every conventional political party and every conventional economist trundles out, it and the Green Party, is largely ignored by the national media.

Some of the Corbynistas and momentum people in the Labour Party have been moaning of late about the supposed “bias” of the BBC and others in attacking Jeremy Corbyn.

Well they perhaps have a point. But those of us in the Green movement and particularly in the political wing of the Green movement – which threatens the politicians where it counts – in the ballot box, can only look jealously on at the coverage Corbyn’s Labour is getting. If Corbynistas think being attacked in the media is bad, they should try being ignored.

We Greens can only dream of being attacked.  Bring it on. Let’s have a debate about growth. Let’s have a debate about whether a couple of per cent of growth makes anyone happier. At whose expense does growth come? Growth is leaving people left behind.

We have people on zero hours contracts. We have lots of people employed with very little certainty, very little job satisfaction, very long hours and very little leisure time. How has this made the country a good place to live? Growth in the national economy tends to be accumulated by the already wealthy.

So let’s say it loud and proud, the Green Party is for putting people’s needs before economic growth, quality of life before standard of living, community before consumption; co-operation before competition.

And when the other parties can say the same thing, then we will know we are no longer necessary.


Non violent direct action, Extinction Rebellion and the Green Party

Green Party members have a long and honourable tradition of taking part in non-violent direct action, from Green Gatherings at Glastonbury through Greenham Common to Newbury Bypass, from the Occupy Movement to the anti capitalist movement.

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Our own MP Caroline Lucas was arrested for sitting in the street at an anti-fracking protest at Balcombe in Sussex. Several of our councillors – including current co leader Jonathan Bartley – regularly risk arrest and have been arrested, for example, in XR protests and in anti-fracking protests and in anti tree-felling protests in Sheffield.

As long as many members and elected Green government representatives keep at least one foot in these movements, they will ensure the Green Party does not become professionalised, careerist and tame.

The “iron law of oligarchy” – developed by German sociologist Robert Michels in 1911 after he examined the newly formed socialist parties in Germany and across Europe, stated that the older and larger a radical movement becomes the more it will adapt to establishment mores and habits, the more its volunteers become salaried functionaries and the more it drops its original, revolutionary goals for what is perceived as “pragmatic” or possible. It loses it’s democratic structures and becomes oligarchical with a leadership caste controlling a bureacracy and all the levers of internal power within the movement. This depressing theory basically states that you can never have a good democratic movement because if it obtains some success it will become oligarchic.

There are several examples of this in the UK. I would argue that this has happened to Friends of the Earth, the Labour Party, The Co operative Party (once a separate movement from the Labour Party, now just a vehicle for channeling funds to it), the Liberal Democrats and some unions, particularly Unite under Ken McClusky. These organisations are now very much part of the establishment, and are reduced to begging the rest of the establishment for gradual change rather than insisting on big, revolutionary change.

They take a role in the cogs of Government, yes. I am sure FoE executives get to sit in closed rooms with ministers quite often to tweak this law or that to make it slightly better. But they have lost the possibility of implementing and driving basic changes. They can’t say to the Government “Minister, if you don’t make these changes, people will be out on the streets, causing disruption.” Parties like Labour and LibDems and some unions believe they are competing with the existing power structure. They may be. But what is the point if they are not really presenting an alternative to it?

This is the danger for the Green Party as it becomes more and more successful at winning elections. If we spend all our time on election campaigns and then in council work, there is a very real danger of losing sight of the urgent need for a revolutionary change in the structure of society and the economy. We will get worn out by a litany of “we can’t convene that meeting until after the Covid crisis” and “We can’t change that planning rule because the National Planning Policy Framework tells us not to.” “We’ll set up a task and finish group to look at that. But we can’t tell you when it will be implemented.” “We can’t object to that bypass because so many people seem to support it and we’ll lose votes.”

On the other hand if we refuse to compromise with power structures eg, refuse to stand and raise the deposit for certain elections (the Police and Crime Commissioner springs to mind), spend all our time on the streets waving banners and planning actions, instead of knocking on doors and listening to residents, we end up becoming a powerless sect, “defined out” of establishment discourse and largely irrelevant, but with quite fun little gatherings every so often where we can all agree with each other and bemoan the state of the rest of the world that doesn’t think like us.

We would be an alternative to mainstream politics, but we would not be competing effectively for power.

Is there a way out of this depressing “Iron law of oligarchy”? Well yes. Thomas Mathiesen, Norwegian sociologist and prison abolitionist, had a theory of “the Unfinished” detailed in his book “The Politics of Abolition” written in 1974, the year that began so many Green movements around the world, including Britain’s Green Party.

This theory of the Unfinished is that a movement of “outsiders” without power or salaried positions can tackle the hierarchical, centralised, paid establishment, by deliberately always choosing to remain “unfinished”. By refusing to choose between short term goals and long term ones, refusing to choose between revolution and reform, between street protests and joining councils and governments. Between having one leader who basically decides everything (all other parites) and the option of having no figurehead at all so that the press can’t work out who to speak to and we get ignored (the old Green Party).

We need to do both, is the point.

We need to organise to win elections and have a professional central press office but we also need direct action that in someway disrupts the actions of the state, makes them sit up and take notice and injects some urgency into the debate.

In this way, the enemy, the establishment, can never quite pinpoint the Greens. If they attack us for being a bunch of irrelevant law breakers, then they have to explain why we are now taking an active, respected role in some many council administrations and as elected community leaders. If they tell us at the council or Government level that they can’t do anything about climate crisis straight away and have to wait until after the Covid emergency, then we can take part in street actions to say otherwise.

Of course to glibly say that we need to do both, does not resolve the relatively rare conflict where it is the same individual having to choose between going doorknocking in an election campaign or going down to London to take part in an XR action when they are on the same day. Which is the person supposed to prioritise? The answer boils down to explaining to our activists the relative importance of election action days.

If this is looking like a very close election, and there are looking to be only a few votes in it, and there are very few days until polling day, then of course members who are also involved with XR actions should be told how much of a difference their couple of hours work on the election campaign can make. A few more votes will be the difference between having an elected Green, a voice in the room of power for the next four years or not. This compares to their presence at an XR event, which is generally not dependent on managing to talk to and win over a handful of people.

However, if it is clear we are heading for a very decisive election victory (or defeat), in a particular campaign. If it is a long time from polling day and the election action day is simply distributing leaflets, then we should be honest about that and suggest that for this occasion they may be of more use at a day of non violent direct action.

The other area of potential conflict is when some in XR have on occasion decided to stand for election themselves by registering XR as a political party. (Here, I’m not talking about Roger Hallam, from whose new political party XR have now dissasocciated themselves).

This is a strategic error. The only party capable of winning elections that is bringing anything like the XR agenda forward already is the Green Party. In fact, I would go further and say that it is a mistake for XR, during election time, to pretend that they are non-party political. If anything they should be advising their activists to go help in Green Party targets where we have a good chance of winning.

Our first past the post system shows no mercy nor forgiveness for newly-formed parties with little branding or experience. The Womens Equality Party and the now forgotten “big name” MPs of Change UK, can testify to that.

Just as the Green Party must acknowledge that groups like XR are worthy of support, so should XR acknowledge that the Green Party is the only political party that is remotely near its agenda and is capable of influencing local and national government. By sticking to the “we aren’t party political” line XR lay themselves open to becoming irrelevant and ignored once the next fashionable protest movement comes along.

XR are for the moment a very useful movement for the Green Party, and I’m proud so many Green Party members are also involved. But it isn’t all about XR. There is Greta Thunberg’s School Strike movement in which many of us, or our children, have played active roles. There are individual actions by individual Green members and councillors, there is Christian Climate Action, and so on. If the Green Party did not exist, XR would have no chance of getting any of its desired policies implemented. If XR did not exist in its current form, there would be other movements doing similar things for Green Party members to support and take an active role in.

Taking part in non violent direct action, many organised by groups like XR, is an essential complement to Green electoral campaigning. But it should never be a replacement of it.


County councillor work, Local politics, Politics, Uncategorized

Suffolk U-turns on pre-school funding

County councillor work, Local politics, Uncategorized

The new Green group on Suffolk County Council – my first report

Robert, elfrede, Andrew 2

Me, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw and Andrew Stringer – the Green Group on Suffolk County Council

New County Council 

There are now 52 Tory Councillors out of the 75 total on Suffolk. Greens increased from two to three. We three Green County Councillors have teamed up with four LibDems and five Independents to form the LD, Green and Independent Group.  Here we are at Endeavour  House (county hall) – minus Richard Kemp
Guild Group, SCC
We are the second largest group after Tories because Labour have been reduced to just 11.  However, we have said we do not want the status of “official opposition” – which means our leader gets a bit less money, but we don’t have to come up with alternative budgets, etc.  
Our leader for the first year is LibDem David Wood, (on the far left) and Andrew Stringer is deputy. This is likely to change in the second year. We have appointed a spokesperson for women, the LibDem councillor Caroline Page. We are the first group on the county to do so, and she has received some press coverage for highlighting an underspend on carers. We are a big enough group so that at least one of us is on every committee.  Our two rules are:
1. We share all information from committees etc
2. No one tells anyone else in the group how to vote, except by persuasion.
We are the only group whose members all represent the people in the divison where they live. I have been appointed to the audit committee and the pension committee. 
Risky pension?
The pension committee is preparing to put the bulk of its £2.6bn in assets into a “pooled pot” with other local authorities across the East and South East as demanded by central Government.
This will reduce, but not remove, the ability of Suffolk County Council to invest sums in the local economy, which is something I am keen to see it do. Though it is early days I would also like to see the pension fund examine whether it is wise to remain so heavily invested in fossil fuel companies. This is because I agree with the Governor of the Bank England Mark Carney who has warned that government legislation to cut CO2 emissions could pose a substantial risk to the value of oil and gas assets.  The London Borough of Waltham Forest has already agreed to do this.
£400k for care beds for the dead
I have attended my first audit committee which heard that the council has inadvertently paid £400,000 to private care homes for beds for people who have died. This seems to have been a mixture of some care homes not telling the county when their patient dies while in other cases they told the county but no one in the county told the people making the payments Fortunately this was spotted by the head of internal audit and we are told better internal reporting measures introduced. The last time they checked the overpayments had reduced to just £40k. The county has recovered all the money it is owed. The county’s own care homes were all outsourced about four years ago to Care UK. I suspect that when this contract happened, county staff were not geared up to control payments.
More say for backbenchers and opposition
Before the election, my friend and the then Green group leader Mark Ereira and the then Ukip leader proposed a motion to introduce a committee system to the council and scrap the cabinet system. This was amended to something like “explore the options in a cross party working group”. The Conservative-dominated working group has decided that they want to have cabinet committees, which is a hybrid system that allows the Conservatives to control everything, but hear opposition voices from the committees. Labour and our group have pushed them successfully to have 12 members on each of these committees which means there will be two from our group, alongside two Labour and 8 Tory councillors on each committee. They can only advise and the 100% Tory cabinet will make the decisions still, but it’s better than before.
National Politics, Uncategorized, World politics

The way to get a fairer voting system is to vote Green not Labour

andrew weaver john horgan BC

In British Columbia, Canada, Green leader Andrew Weaver agrees a deal with NDP’s John Horgan to end unfair first-past-the-post voting and bring in a proportional system

Hey ho. We are entering the final stages of a general election campaign which looks like cementing our out-of-date two party system in place for at least another five years.

Labour have failed to put a proportional voting system into its manifesto. Despite calls from many in his party, Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his script that he does not need it to win, nor does he want it – oh and he can win the Green’s only seat in Brighton. So Labour are asking for your vote on the basis of maintaining the unfair voting system which has given us a majority of “safe seats”, expenses scandals, indifference to voters and all the rest of it.

Social media is full of idealistic people saying they wish Greens and Labour would work together. Well that will only happen if people vote Green rather than Labour in this general election.

Across the pond in Canada, Greens in the Canadian province of British Columbia have just agreed a deal with the New Democratic Party (the Canadian equivalent of Labour) which will overturn the winner-takes-all voting system in that province and bring in proportional representation. It will also restrict private and union donations to political parties.

The Greens were able to do this because the New Democratic Party (NDP)  needed the three newly elected Green MPs to form a majority Government. In the British Columbia elections last month, the Liberal Party which had ruled the province for 16 years lost seats to bring their total down to 43. The NDP won 41 seats. The Greens tripled their representation from one to three MPs.

A party can not form a government just because it has more seats than any other single party.  It can only form a Government if it has more seats than all the other parties combined. If it does not it must seek a deal with some other party to give it a majority. So both the NDP and the Liberals knew they had to do a deal with the Greens. In the end the Greens went with the NDP because they promised to fight against a massive proposed oil pipeline  and to scrap first-past-the-post voting and introduce proportional representation.

Both parties have hailed this as an example of the sort of non partisan co-operation that voters want and are urging Canada’s central Government to follow suit.

Over here in the UK it just so happens that some pollsters are now predicting that there could be a hung parliament in Britain after this election, with Conservatives winning more seats than the other parties but unable to form a Government, because their seats will not outnumber the total of other parties’ such as Labour, SNP and Greens.

We heard this before the 2015 election and it did not happen and it seems unlikely again this time but it does make the point that Greens are needed in parliament.

If Greens double their number of MPs from one (Caroline Lucas) to two – with a win against Labour in Bristol West, then the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever leads Labour after June 8th, to end Labour’s official resistance to a fairer voting system would be intensified.

The SNP also support proportional representation, but they are not standing in England, and UKIP too support it but are unlikely to win any seats anywhere, including their former seat of Clacton (where the popular Douglas Carswell is standing down).

So if you want Greens and Labour to cooperate it is no good voting Labour in seats that are either safe Conservative or safe Labour.

The Green Party has tried to seek a pre-election deal with Labour. Labour has refused and has refused to put a fairer voting system in its manifesto.  If voters want the two parties to work together, they need to pressure Labour, not the Greens. They need to send a message to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn by voting Green in safe Labour and Tory seats. A larger Green vote will be noticed, a larger Labour one will not in seats that they either can’t win or are sure to.

And then there is Bristol West. Here the Green Party came a close second to Labour last time (LibDems and Conservative were in 3rd and 4th place). Many left-Green supporters think they must vote Labour in Bristol West to ensure that Labour have as many seats as possible so that they can form a Government.

But this is to misunderstand the way Governments are formed.  A Green win in Bristol West will serve to cut the Tory majority just as well as a Labour win. And it will have the added advantage of putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to make a fairer, proportional voting system  Labour policy.

So if you want a fairer voting system, and you want to get rid of the Conservative government, vote Green, not Labour.


National Politics

Corbyn, the accidental leader, is finished


In my last blog on Jeremy Corbyn I suggested that his halo had cracked because he was not entirely honest about his thoughts on Brexit.

Because he did not believe in remaining in the EU himself, he failed to support Remain wholeheartededly. His USP (unique selling proposition) had been that he was a man who stood by his principles. He failed to do that. Bang goes the sole reason for his popularity.

Four months on, he is now openly supporting Brexit, but not, he says,  because he believes in it, but because the people have told him to. His comments on Blair’s speech about the dangers of a right wing Brexit are telling:

“Well, it’s not helpful. I would ask those to think about this – the referendum gave a result, gave a very clear decision on this, and we have to respect that decision, that’s why we didn’t block article 50. But we are going to be part of all this campaigning, all these negotiations about the kind of relationship we have in Europe in the future.. The referendum happened, let’s respect the result. Democracy happened, respect the result.”

This does not sound like a conviction politician. It sounds like someone trotting out an ill-prepared line. Blair made some valid criticisms of the extreme right wing Brexit that we are likely to be landed with, one that would see the feeding of the NHS to American private health providers, and the undermining of employment and environmental protections. Where is Jeremy’s criticism of the extreme right wing Brexit that we are likely to get?

Since the referendum (or even before it), Jeremy could have come clean about wanting to leave EU. He could have unveiled his vision for Brexit if he thinks it is a good idea. But either he doesn’t have a vision, or he is not sure whether it is a good idea or not. So why support it? One is forced to the conclusion that he is afraid of his heartland voters.

This is a man in a muddle. He is finished. The truth is, he was always an accidental leader, as this piece in Business Insider explains.

Along with Diane Abbott and John McDonnell he is a member of Labour’s “Socialist Campaign Group”. This band always try to have a candidate for Labour leadership elections to represent the few remaining die hard socialist MPs. But all had received derisory votes when they had stood before. In June 2015 when the  Campaign Group MPs got into their huddle, they decided it was Corbyn’s turn to have his name put forward. The Guardian asked Corbyn, why you?  “Well, Diane [Abbott] and John [McDonnell] have done it before, so it was my turn,” he replied. He said he was running only reluctantly “All of us felt the leadership contest was not a good idea – there should have been a policy debate first. There wasn’t, so we decided somebody should put their hat in the ring in order to promote that debate. And, unfortunately, it’s my hat in the ring.”

He never expected to win the leadership battle and in a revealing interview with John Snow he refused to say that he wanted to be primeminister. The rumours are that at one stage he wanted to resign but John McDonnell persuaded him it was his duty to remain. But his apparent honesty and apparent loyalty to the package of values labelled socialism fuelled the hopes of thousands. I was not one of those people. To me socialism is a tarnished ideology and tacking on Greenery to it was never going to be an answer to the calamity of overconsumption by the wealthy western world. State ownership doesn’t deal with the need for healthy, decentralised local economies and communities, nor the need to protect future generations. The natural world can’t support our current rate of consumption. Yes we need some redistribution. But just divvying out the spoils is not going to protect future generations. It’s about cutting our economic cloth to fit the environmental reality.

But even I would admit that there could have been an opportunity nonetheless to tweak the national narrative.  Corbyn, had he the personality, could have risen to the occasion, used the platform he was unexpectedly gifted to lever in some new ideas into the national consciousness. A people’s quantative easing, a funding of the transition to sustainable energy, a basic income for all. All Green Party ideas that John McDonnell has toyed with, ineffectually.

But Jeremy’s brain was stuck in old Labour ways – full employment, listening to sector pleading from unions, even when the unions are trying to prop up a harmful industry.

Confronted with a Welsh mining community his instinct was to promise to look at reopening coal mines. Faced with losing a byelection in nuclear powered Copeland, he abandoned his opposition to nuclear power, promising the workers a shining new nuke station. Back in June 2015, trying to appeal to Green voters, he promised “no to new nuclear“. Asked for a fairer voting system and a deal with other parties trying to remove the Conservatives, he ruled it out. The Labour Party comes before fairness, it seems. He has not risen above his party to lead the people, he has sunk into it.

He is a Labour tribalist first and foremost. Only the blindest of socialist heroworshippers can still think that he will lead Labour to a victory in 2020.   The only question remains now whether he is loyal enough to his party to quit as leader before he ensures his party one of the worst election defeats in its history.

apple juice, Nature, Out and about, Uncategorized

Ashmead Kernel – the apple that took 280 years to be recognised


Ashmead Kernels on the kichen table

“What an apple, what suavity of aroma. Its initial Madeira-like melPhilip Morton Shand, author and grandfather of Camilla Parker Bowles.lowness of flavour overlies a deeper honeyed nuttiness, crisply sweet not sugar sweet, but the succulence of a well devilled marrow bone. Surely no apple of greater distinction or more perfect balance can ever have been raised anywhere on earth.” Art critic and pomologist Philip Morton Shand (right), BBC Radio 1944.

“Outright winner was Ashmead’s Kernel, so good we almost eliminated it from the competition as it was not fair on the others.  This is an intensely aromatic apple, with a pleasing balance of sweetness and acidity.  Crisp and juicy.  It is a late season apple that stores very well.” Gloucester Apple Trust – tasting notes 2005.

“Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again…” Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie

This autumn ten of the 25 apple trees I planted six years ago have finally borne worthwhile fruit.  I had to look up my planting notes to work out which ones they were. Five of the trees were Ashmead Kernel. They were absolutely laden with very large almost khaki-coloured fruit. Some of the branches were bent down almost to the ground with the weight. Closer up you can see the colour is green underneath but overladen by the furry “russet” coat, which is a sort of light brown in colour.

I picked them all. Most have been pressed into apple juice – which is particularly flavoursome – and are now in the freezer in plastic bottles. But I still have a tray in the cellar because they are meant to keep into February. They are both acid and sweet at the same time, as the tasting quotes above show. The four pictured above I’ve just brought up from the cellar. The boys gobble them up very fast.

They are called Ashmead after the Gloucester worthy who first grew them in his garden in what is now Clarence Street, Gloucester in about 1700. Sadly the original tree was destroyed when a new road was built through the garden in the nineteenth century. The site of his garden is now taken up by this unlovely Primark outlet. primark-gloucester

Luckily, a local nurseryman name of Wheeler propagated the apple for sale in about 1766 and it became locally successful ie in West Gloucestershire. It is seen now as one of the finest products of Gloucestershire, so could quite likely have contributed to Laurie Lee’s drink of golden fire, quoted above from his novel Cider With Rosie.

Despite Morton Shand’s wartime fervour for its taste,  according to some info I found from a community orchard outside Bristol, it did not come to national notice until the 1960s when it showed well in blind testing conducted by East Malling Research Station. It finally gained acceptance when, in 1981, it was awarded a First Class Certificate by the Royal Horticultural Society – after nearly 300 years.

If you surf the web, rather pleasingly, there are quite a few American bloggers talking about how much they like it, but how difficult it is to grow, including one poor chap who only managed to find a couple of apples in a very special supermarket when they were past their best in December. He had to nibble the top and bottom bits (near the poles) to get the “acid drop” taste, which had seeped away during storage nearer the apple’s equator.

I knew none of this when I bought the saplings from a nursery six years ago. I chose the trees based on what was available (the nursery had run out of many  of its varieties and generally takes bookings a year ahead) that fruited late and kept well and were reasonably disease free. So I’m feeling quite smug about my choice.

A few of my Ashmead Kernel apples have got a  mild case of “bitter pit” which is thought to be brought about by lack of nutrients but with my apples it is not severe enough to affect the flavour.

The whole idea of planting late fruiting varieties was to have enough apples to keep in the cellar and last us through winter, so we’ll see how they last.

They are there in the musty gloom alongside about seven trays full of Claygate Pearmain, the other five of my planted trees that did really well this year.

Here are some of the Claygate Pearmains.


The sun-kissed Claygate, fruit of a glorious Suffolk autumn

Like the Ashmeads, they are covered in russet but they have a rosier tint on the side where the sun reached them, this segues first into orange, then yellow and then green as you travel around the apple’s equator. But the whole skin is suffused with greeny freckles.

The flesh is softer in the Claygate and it does not have Ashmead’s sharpness, but they’re still nice.

Claygates also have a back story. They were discovered in a hedge in the village of Claygate, in Surrey by Claygate resident John Braddick in 1821.

The Claygate trees have this year been even more prolific than the Ashmead. But strangely, one of the five trees produced a mass of smaller apples and hardly any full sized ones. I tried to thin out the baby apples in mid summer but that tree may either have been more attractive to bees for some reason and so set more fruit or it may have been one that I missed.

Here are some tasting notes on Claygates from the Orange Pippin website

“After a month in cold storage, the tropical fruit flavour develops into one of the most deliciously complex apples I’ve ever tasted. I would rank this in my top five desert varieties. A shame it is not widely grown in USA.”

“A very superior apple. Flavour is incredibly complex if picked when ripe and stored for a week or two. There are definite pineapple notes on offer. So far, this is the best apple I have ever tasted.”

It’s such a joy and privilege to be keeping alive these historic discoveries. And they are discoveries. Each of the hundreds of English apple varieties represent a little fortutious accident of nature, not deliberate breeding. Apples can not be “bred” like many domestic plants and animals. The pips do not grow true – they do not grow up into the same variety of apple they came from. The blossom on the tree is fertilised by pollen from another variety. The tree produces a predictable apple variety, but no one can predict what genes the seed inside the apple contains.

Often people’s carefully planted and long-tended pip grows into a tree that does not even produce apples.  Johnny Appleseed, despite his name, and what I was told at school, did not go around America scattering pips. He planted nurseries, with the aim of selling trees, not orchards for selling apples.

So it is up to nature to produce new varieties. When an apple arrives that happens to be tasty to us humans, it is our role to discover it, whether it is in a hedge, like Claygate Pearmain, or in someone’s garden. And then we have to propagate that plant, from cuttings, not from pips.

As you saw, Ashmead’s Gloucester garden is now a store selling cut-price imported  clothing and it is unlikely that any of the commuters living in Claygate would have the time or inclination to scan their local hedgerows for new varieties of apples today.  So we can only keep on propagating the discoveries of our vigilant ancestors.

National Politics, Uncategorized

How Corbyn has cracked his halo

jeremy corbyn

The thing Jeremy Corbyn had going for him, as far as the general population is concerned, was his integrity, his refusal to compromise, his refusal to schmooze and simper and smarm. His apparent ability to stand up for what he believed in, regardless of what was deemed establishment opinion, rightly earned him the respect of people from all walks of life and political views.  He did manage to crack the establishment consensus that austerity is the only solution. Conservative strategists like Lynton Crosby saw that in his character and in their souls feared it. There is no one in the Conservative party who could win in the integrity stakes against Corbyn.

But during the EU referendum campaign Corbyn failed to be true to that. He adopted a tactic of laying low and appeared half-hearted in his support for Remain. So he was absent from many of the big Remain rallies and media appearances. The few speeches he did give sounded passionless and flat.  Opinion polls show that many of the people who voted Labour in the last general election (about a third of them) were intending to vote Leave. Another big chunk, lacking guidance from anyone they trusted, are likely to be a part of the 28% who stayed at home and sat on their hands. If Corbyn had been as active as Cameron in standing up for EU membership maybe those people would have been emboldened to go and out and vote and the ballot would have gone the other way.  That is one reason why not just Blairite MPs but strong, left wing Remain campaigners have turned against him

He also got principles confused with reality. I too was initially ambiguous about which way to vote in the referendum. But as I saw how the leaders of the Leave campaign were deliberately manipulating people into blaming immigrants for many of the country’s problems I realised I couldn’t afford to sit on the fence. Much though I disliked a lot of what the EU stood for, I realised voting Leave would embolden and legitimise racists, without achieving much change for the good, and without even reducing immigration by a significant amount (assuming that was the desired outcome for many people). Corbyn must have seen this but he perhaps loved his left-wing principles more than the reality and he wasn’t going to bend. So Corbyn not only betrayed the Remain side by being half-hearted, he also helped embolden racists.

But if he believed in Leave then why should he have loyalty to Remain? The Labour Party forced him into that box, as did probably the majority of the new young members who voted for him.  So the deeper betrayal was to his own persona. His image of integrity has been tarnished because he is seen to have been untrue to himself. If he wanted to Leave he should have come out and said so.  If he decided that Remain was the right thing to do, however reluctant he was, he should have come out and said so properly. He should have described publicly his own battle with the issue. Instead he bowed to pressure to support the Remain side, even when he did not really believe it. THAT is the key error.  That is just what St Jeremy was not supposed to do, speak for something he doesn’t believe in. The halo has slipped badly. If he wants to get his image back, he needs to acknowledge the mistake he made in the referendum campaign. Come clean, admit his true position on Europe and apologise for not being clear about it before. Unless he does that he will never repair the deep crack to his reputation.  But I am not sure he has the personality to admit he is wrong. The very inflexibility in him that has won him support is about to destroy him.


How nature programmes get things out of proportion


Michaela – stronger than a stoat


I have a lot of time for Chris Packham and BBC’s Spring Watch. But the other day his co-presenter Michaela Strachan repeated the age old nature programme gimmick of scaling up small animals “feats of strength” to human size and then being amazed.

“Wow,” said Michaela, “That stoat carried the rabbit all the way back to its kits, and the rabbit weighs more than it does.  We’ve worked it out astoat with rabbitnd it’s as if I carried a red deer stag by my teeth.”

Weight lifters sometimes go in for that kind of mistaken mathematics as well, with smaller bodybuilders or weight lifters often claiming that “pound for pound” they are stronger than their bigger rivals and that therefore they have better muscles.

When gymnasts have to lift their own bodies on the parallel bars, it is always harder for a big person to do it than a small one. This is not because the small person has done more exercise.

The mistake here is to assume body weight is proportionate to strength. Body weight is not proportional to strength. What determines the strength of a muscle is its cross sectional area, not its weight or volume. A thicker muscle can exert a bigger force, a longer, thinner one with the same volume would be weaker.  Never mind the size, feel the thickness!  Your strength is proportionate to the cross sectional area of your muscles.

Thankfully, as you grow, the cross sectional area of your muscle increases, as does its length and overall volume. But here’s the key to it all: your muscle volume and weight increases at a faster rate than your muscle cross section does.

So if you are a tall person trying to lift yourself up on the parallel bars, you will find it harder than you did when you were smaller, because your weight has increased by more than your muscle cross section.

Heavyweight boxer Mohammed Ali was 1.91m high and in his prime weighed in at 107kg while Amir Khan, a light welterweight, weighs just 63kg and his height is 1.65m

Amir: Feel my cross section

So Ali is roughly 1.16 times taller than Khan but 1.7 times heavier.

mohammed ali

Ali – it’s all about the cross section

Every inch increase in the length of our muscles is cubed when it comes to the volume of the muscle but only squared when it comes to cross sectional area.

So Ali’s muscle cross section will be larger than Khan’s but nowhere near 1.7 times larger.

Obviously Ali is stronger than Khan and Michaela is stronger than the stoat. “Pound for pound” Khan is stronger than Ali and the stoat is stronger than Michaela Strachan. But that’s not a fair way to look at it. Cross section for cross section they are all roughly the same strength because all four of them are very fit.

So how could Michaela really take on the stoat in a fair challenge? The stoat has a cross sectional area of about 12 sq cm.  You can probably fit around 40 stoat waists into Michaela’s waist. The stoat carried a rabbit weighing a kilogramme. So, to match the stoat, Michaela should carry something weighing 40kg. This is about the weight of a large family dog, like a German shepherd. It’s roughly what British soldiers carried on their backs when they yomped across the Falkland Islands.  Not easy, but certainly more achievable than a male stag.

I’m sure she’d do it to feed her kits.