This report is really a work in progress. It needs to be considered, discussed, ammended and thought about. You may find the attached pdf file easier on the eye (and it's got photos)

Over to you...

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 NatCAN Conference Report - 23rd February 2012 University of Central Lancashire

 

Introduction

In November 2008*, grassroots people, wanting to connect and make a real difference, set up North West Community Activists Network (NWCAN). We believe that activists are experts in their own lives and need to create their own, shared identity; while we welcome support from professional workers, we are nobody’s client group.

As we were forming NWCAN, the world financial crisis was looming and we realised that we needed to link up as widely as we could to find the strength to address wider economic issues and their impact on us all. Hence, in May 2011 we formed the National Community Activists Network (NatCAN). In eight months NatCAN’s social network website has grown to over 630 members, hosting discussion groups on every topic that activists hold dear, in every region of the UK and now internationally too.

On 23rd February 2012, NatCAN held its first public meeting, a conference at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. Over eighty people spent a day together, hearing some challenging thoughts from four guest speakers and chewing it all over in afternoon workshops.

 

This report covers what happened that day; it’s not just a record – it’s an inspiration for our next steps together


David Malone warned against the propaganda war being waged by the banking sector, which has the effrontery to claim that feckless people ‘taking’ loans they couldn’t afford from the banks caused the financial crisis!

It isn’t possible to ‘take’ money from a bank unless you happen to be an armed robber.  Banks ‘give’ loans to people because it is in the bank’s interest to do so. Loan managers are paid bonuses to approve loans. They lose their jobs if they do otherwise. It is the bank’s responsibility to ensure that the client is able to repay the loan. The banks created a housing bubble by giving loans (mortgages) until there was virtually no one left – unemployed, without prospects or otherwise - to give unsustainable (sub-prime) loans to. Then the housing bubble burst, as they knew it would. Good business for banks was a catastrophe for everyone else.

We are repeatedly told that banks have a ‘liquidly problem’, that they don’t have enough money to function (our fault not theirs) and therefore have to be bailed out by the public in the form of an austerity package, and all that it entails.  In reality, the banks have a massive ‘asset problem’.

The banks sliced up and packaged mortgages into so-called ‘asset backed securities’ then created a massive market in insurance for them, the so-called ‘credit default swaps’. These ‘asset backed securities’ and ‘credit default swaps’ figure prominently on the Assets side of any bank’s balance sheet and are now practically worthless.  Banks assign their own value to their assets by using the so-called ‘mark to model’ value rather than the actual ‘mark to market’ value.  Banks need assets to justify their existence and to continue ‘giving’ loans - but their assets are so much toxic junk, hence the problem.

Deregulating the banks has meant that they can do virtually anything they want without any legal consequence.


As David Malone says in his book ‘The Debt Generation’


“The financial system had become systematically corrupt. It is no longer fit, or even designed, for the purpose of spreading wealth. It has become a means of looting wealth from those foolish enough to observe the laws, and transferring it to those who regard themselves as far too clever and superior to have to bother with such trifling niceties.”

 

Banks are not too big to fail; banks are simply too big.  The banks in Iceland were not bailed out; the population wouldn’t allow it so they went bust.  Compare the situation in Iceland now to the situation in Greece.

 

David’s advice is not to accept the propaganda churned out by politicians and the corporate controlled media but to challenge it at every opportunity with basic logic.

 

It is the bank’s responsibility to ensure you can repay the mortgage before they give it to you. If the bank gives you a mortgage that you cannot repay, whose fault is it?  If you can’t repay your mortgage, why should the public have to repay the bank on your behalf?

 

To again quote David from his book

 

“Two years on (from 2008), hundreds of billions of pounds later (trillions if you include the US bailout) and nothing, precisely nothing, has changed…except the original bad debts have now got much bigger.  Now, instead of just banks, we have whole countries facing collapse as well. This is where the insane policy of bailing out the banks’ bad dept has led us.”

 

Anyone with the desire to understand the finical crisis can do so by reading books such as The Debt Generation, The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism or Economyths.

 

Following David Malone’s blog will keep activists up to date with developments as they happen.

 

Understanding the situation is one thing; knowing what can be done about it is another.

 

Positive Money is an organisation proposing a logical solution to the debt crisis.  The videos they produce on the topic are available on the NatCAN website.  They offer training for those sufficiently motivated to get on the speaking circuit and give presentations on the topic.

 

Activists should refute banking inspired propaganda at each and every opportunity, educate themselves to be more capable of countering propaganda, use independent news sources such as The Real News for information, join in relevant discussions on the NatCAN website and do not trust the political process but consider ways to actively campaign against the imposition of austerity and the continuous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to a global elite.  

 

Tim Gee, author of Counterpower, explained that for social movements to bring about fundamental change they have had to deal with the three pillars on which the power of ruling elites rests: ideology - the power of ideas, economics - the power of money and physical force - the police, armed forces and security services.

An analysis of recent in Egypt underlined the fact that, although the battle for ideas was easily won, as the spontaneous demands evolving from Tahrir Square were transmitted, locally and worldwide, via social media, the passive role of the armed forces was critical in the movement’s success. The situation is Syria is somewhat different, as it was in Libya.

The battle for ideas is where campaigns for change begin. For thirty years or more we have been subjected to neoliberal ideology.

As David Harvey says in ‘The Enigma of Capitalism’:

“The neoliberal movement that began in the 1970s, for example, constituted a radical ideological assault upon what the state should be about. To a degree it was successful (and often is was not). It led to wide-ranging state-sponsored changes in daily life (the promotion of individualism and an ethic of personal responsibility against a background of diminishing state provision), as well as in the dynamics of capital accumulation.

In effect, the neoliberal revolution succeeded in privatising the production of the surplus. It liberated capital producers from constraints – including geographical constraints – and in the process undermined the progressive redistributive character of state functions.  This produced the rapid increase in social inequality.

The problem of endless compound growth through endless capital accumulation will have to be confronted and overcome.  This is the political necessity of our times.”


In pointing out the necessity of winning the battle for ideas, Tim underlined David’s contention that we must not succumb to the propaganda war being waged by the banking sector, who blame us for the financial crisis and claim that only they have the expertise to solve it by giving us more of the same.

 

In his book, Tim points out that:

“When governments, corporations or other ruling institutions yield power, it is not through the goodness of their hearts. It is to save face when the people themselves have already claimed power.

The classic definition of power – associated with the theorist Robert Dahl – is ‘the ability of A to get B to do something that B would not otherwise have done’.  Counterpower turns traditional notions of power in their heads. Counterpower is the ability of B to remove the power of A.

In the hands of the few, power can be called oppression, repression, exploitation or authoritarianism – the ability to do a lot at the expense of the many.  Meanwhile, movements for freedom, emancipation, liberation, human rights and democracy have a common idea at heart. That idea is Counterpower.

Politicians bemoan people’s lack of interest in politics. When they do so, they are usually bemoaning the lack of people supporting their politics. Because when a real political movement rises to challenge a government, that government will do everything it can to hold the people concerned back. Governments will try discrediting the movement, smearing it, co-opting it, dividing and ruling it, or – if all else fails – crushing it.

Those who dominate a society have a whole range of tools available to then to keep certain issues off the agenda.  They can deny there is a problem; they can concede that this is a problem but declare that the maintenance of the problematic situation is necessary in context of a bigger ‘demon’; or, most insidious of all, they can declare that something is already being done about a certain problem while actually doing the exact opposite.

As early as 1918, Sylvia Pankhurst declared that, were a Labour government to be elected, it ‘would be swept along in the wake of capitalist policy’.  Her prediction proved prescient long into the future. Following the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1980s and 1990s, every mainstream political party in Britain signed up to capitalism’s most extreme manifestation.

After centuries of struggle for the redistribution of power within the state, campaigners at the turn of the millennium faced a new challenge.  As Joel Bakean’s documentary film The Corporation puts it: ‘150 years ago the business corporation was a relatively insignificant institution.  Today it is all-pervasive.  Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times, the Corporation is today’s dominant institution.

Whether feudal, capitalist or communist, elites have promoted the view that change had stopped happening as a shroud to disguise the over-concentration of power. Neoliberals in the US in the 1990s such as Francis Fukuyama claimed that the world had already reached ‘the end of history’.  Some declared the Soviet Union a utopia.  As has been quoted, as far back as 1794, Judge Braxfield declared that ‘the British constitution is the best that ever was since the creation of the world and that it is not possible to make it better’. But it is always possible to make things better.  Every time elites abuse power, people use Counterpower to challenge them.”

Activists should consider how to win the battle for ideas first and foremost and then take whatever actions are open to them to influence the economic and coercive elements of the power structures against which they struggle.

 

Andy Benson, a founding member of NCIA, explained how voluntary sector organisations and charities are no longer able to act independently and make judgments based on what they consider the best interests of their users, communities or society in general.  Over time, due to the introduction and acceptance of ‘service level agreements’ and ‘commissioning’, they have become an arm of the state.  With the push to accept a corporate model, contracts for service provision are going to huge organisations and the historic, locally-established voluntary sector is, at best, becoming a sub-contractor to big business, if not merely a sub-contractor to a sub-contractor.

We are experiencing the dismantling of the welfare state, with what is left being contracted out, a sustained attack of living standards and the continued enrichment of power and money. Politicians are making these decisions. So much of what we value is being demolished: sure start, libraries, museums, the arts, public services…it’s time public servants and charities set aside self-interest and speak up for the public good.

He pointed out that the breakdown of solidarity due to the prolonged attack on unions and working class conditions, together with the mass exodus from political party membership, has left people without a ‘tribal home’.  We have become ‘a trillion organisations with six members each’, lacking the confidence that comes with belonging to much larger groupings and losing the large scale impact that can come with that.  Fragmentation has led to loss of the capacity for the type of mass mobilisation we need now.

Andy suggests that the voluntary sector organisations and charities should put politics back into circulation, confront the power relations, seek peer solidarity and support, hassle the second tier organisations to come off the fence, redirect their resources and give proper support to groups trying to fight what is happening.  It isn’t good enough to accept commissions to implement state agendas that are detrimental to public good just to keep CEO’s and a reduced staff in employment and hope to influence government policy in some small way from the inside.  

 

Nick Beddow from the Community Development Exchange reminded us of W B Yeats’s words – “All things fall and are built again”

 

It is obvious that hard times are ahead for those who pursue social justice and equalities when something in the region of 92% of the cuts are still to come; let alone peak oil, environmental destruction, poverty, patriarchy, imperialism – the list goes on. The audacity of the cuts left us in shock & awe. How can we have Big Cuts and Big Society?  This is a ‘pigs will fly critique’ against a background, of burning community projects, widening inequalities and social destruction.

We can’t look to others for help, competitive survivalism is plaguing the sectors - self-regard rather than fighting for resources at grassroots - so we have to build resilience in ourselves.

We are not like the crew of a battleship serving under the command of a captain.  We are like small boats and when we work together as a flotilla we can find great strength in small numbers.  Small boats inter-connecting are sustainable, can take a lead from anywhere towards a shared destination and give mutual aid.  It’s about connecting, support, morale and care

If we behave like small boats in a co-operating flotilla, we could be very powerful against the causes of widening inequalities and social injustice.

Where Community Development had to slide into programmes to survive, the conditions now demand we rediscover the fire in our bellies. When Child Poverty and Youth Unemployment is endemic, when women are suffering the brunt of the cuts, public services are being decimated, unemployment is rising and benefits are falling while others receive outrageous bonuses and defraud society by using tax havens - it’s a wartime economy without homes fit for heroes.

We can transform the world if we work together. The new protest communities show how we’re adding new meanings to the word ‘community’.

NatCAN is developing rapidly as an online community. Face-to-face is always best but now we’ve got ways of staying close across the miles.

Now is the time to reassert Community Development values:  Social Justice, Equality, Collective Action and Community Empowerment. 

Empowered communities can work and learn together.  Hierarchal structures are ineffective against leaderless networks - you can’t wipe out something that doesn’t have a hierarchical structure of ‘the leaders and the led’ but instead has a horizontal CD way of doing things – facilitating, connecting and offering guidance when we have something to offer.   It’s not up to a small group to lead anyone.  It’s about having shared values, a shared vision, sharing our thinking, acknowledging our differences, valuing our diversity and learning from each other.

 

***

 

Here’s a reminder of what globalisation has brought us to  

 

 

Appendix:

 

*Coincidentally, it was November 2008 that Lehman Brothers went bust and it suddenly it became possible to imagine the end of capitalism – the system that replaced feudalism in the western world. 

 

Since 2008, the political and economic environment has changed dramatically. The free market, self-regulatory, financial house of cards, built on faulty neoclassic economic ethos, came crashing down as spectacularly as the previous collapse of the Soviet Union.  In the UK, the Coalition Government replaced New Labour and we entered a politically imposed age of austerity. 

 

In his latest book, ‘Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere’, published November 2011, Paul Mason (BBC Newsnight economics editor) says:

 

“To most people if may feel as though this period of disruption started with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But the real disruption began much earlier, with the onset of globalisation, and in particular after 2001. Once you grasp this, you can grasp the scale of the challenge facing those in power.

 

Right now, mainstream economics remains confused about the ultimate source of the disruption.  Is it our greed? Are these the growing pains of the Chinese century? Was it all down to testosterone on the trading floors of the major banks?

 

Actually, the answer is staring us in the face, but it’s unpalatable.  The root cause, simply put, is globalisation, and the resulting monopolisation of wealth by a global elite.”

 

Obscene wealth coexisting with abject poverty does not produce a stable environment.

 

People have rapidly become aware that what was previously taken for granted is simply no longer the case.  The worldwide ‘Occupy’ movement has brought the entire  ‘system’ under intense scrutiny; the ongoing revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East indicate that supporting repressive dictatorships in resource-rich countries is no longer ethically viable; the Euro Zone is in crisis, best epitomised by the situation in Greece, Spain and Ireland and confidence in political parties of both hues, who proclaim ‘more of the same’, has plummeted. 

 

It was against this background the first National Community Activists Network conference was held. 

 

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One of the contributors to David Malone's blog had this to day on the 29th of February:

"In all that I have read, both on this blog and on others, I have yet to come across a cogent plan – nor even a suggestion – of how we go about changing things...we need to start putting together shorter, snappy messages/questions (sound-bites, if you will) to counter the main stream media’s bias.

Here are a few of my humble suggestions…

1. On a finite planet, please explain how eternal growth is possible?

2. Why is interest charged on money loaned to business? If I borrow £1000 at 10% for my business, my business must grow at 10%, just to remain viable. The charging of interest demands growth. Growth on a finite planet…

3. How are huge interest rates on credit cards or ‘pay-day’ loans even legal? I thought higher interest rates were supposed to reflect greater RISK on the part of the lender. Yet the lenders have legal power to enforce the payment of debt PLUS INTEREST through reposession, bailiffs and the courts. So where is the increased risk?

4. If I lend you £1000, I take the risk that you might not pay it back. If you don’t, I lose that money. I can’t go to the tax payers of this country to demand they pay me back on your behalf. The Banks took the risk of lending billions – for example to Greece. And now that the Greeks can’t pay back what was lent, the Banks are demanding that all the tax payers of Europe pay them so they get their money back. Oh to be a Bank!

5. The government is trying to get back to growing the economy, demanding that the Banks lend to businesses and home owners. In other words, let’s go back to the way things were before all this started. Definition of stupidity: doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes."

In David Malone's blog I asked what activists could do regarding the financial crisis

This was one response:

Hi Joe
Actually one of the things I admire about this blog is it’s not being used as a platform to promote ‘The Answer’. It is all too tempting to set yourself up as an idealogue. I suspect you, like me, are yearning for some profound dramatic shift, a movement you can get behind to work for a better wiser future. I’ve given this some thought and I don’t believe this is they way to achieve lasting change. The mudane and prosaic truth is that change starts with you and is advanced or retarded by your ability to commit to behaving differently than before. Cultural change is slow and boring and will almost certainly take vested interests by suprise when it gains critical mass.
You shouldn’t really be asking other people what to do, but for what it is worth here are my thoughts :-)
1) Win the war of ideas against TINA. We are watching the exposure of institutional overeach (see Murdoch corruption investigations, government subversion of the criminal justice system, banking and insurance insolvency). When people lose faith with big government and big business there is a premium on trust and truthfulness. Inspire Trust.

2) Make a lifetime pledge to refuse further credit and prioritise paying off those debts you have outstanding above other goals. If, after taking financial advice, you agree those debts cannot realistically be repaid in your lifetime file for bankruptcy. Starve the Beast.

3) Get involved in the development and spread of complimentary currencies by starting or using a local currency (something akin to the Brixton Pound or Swiss Wir), community or market exchanges, barter, lending your money to the local credit union, peer to peer personal and business lending, Bitcoin etc. Anything you can do to increase diversity in the ecology of payment systems. I don’t know if any of the examples about would survive a currency collapse but the I am assuming some measure of value would be retained in these parallel systems. The idea is to get a functioning safety net in place for the basic goods and services we all need to survive. Sell the Alternative

4) Accept a lower standard of living will be our future due to resource restraints. Develop a strategy to get a better quality of life in compensation for this. Do More with Less.

5) Reject violence. This just legitimises a state crackdown. Instead, take every oportunity to satirise and ridicule your enemy. Subverting expensive marketing campaigns is joyful. Humour not Harm.

6) Since they only care about you as a unit of production (big business), a unit of future taxation (big government), or as a consumer be mindful of where you spend your cash. Ethical consumption has a place. Please also see ‘collaborative consumption’ where one pays to access a service or good not to own it. Quality not Quantity.

7) Reject phony leftwing / rightwing political arguments as a distraction. Shrinking party political membership and narrowing sources of funding tell me there are no popular political movements alive in this country. They are walking corpses. I don’t know what a genuinely popular new political movement would look like but it isn’t this. Reject false Oppositions.

8) Lobby for the finance sector to be Slowed, Shrunk and Simplified.

9) Teach your childern how to develop a built in shockproof shit detector. Explain to them about money, debt, power and the mistakes we made. Teach the History.

10) Remember its what you do not what you say that makes for lasting change. I am what I do.

That looks like a lifetime worth of work to me. Anybody got better suggestions?

I like these (Art Smith's) suggestions - and believe he's successfully countered his own argument against suggesting solutions. If alternatives are thought-through and are open to debate and development, then is it surely not only safe for us to promote them, but really also our obligation to do so? Even if it just allows us to stop digging the hole we're in whilst we figure out some better ways of doing things.

Some of the exciting suggestions for change that I’ve come across over recent months include:

  • Diverting US manufacturing capacity to developing renewable energy (apparently the solar energy hitting one central US State is equivalent to the energy used by the whole country; and on the outbreak of the 2nd World War, all the US’s car production capacity was transformed in just 6 months into one building the required ships and planes – ie when the will is there, this type of change is possible. See film http://www.climaterefugees.com/)
  • Introducing a wealth tax (a one-off tax of 20% on the wealthiest 10% of the population in the UK; this would pay off the national debt and is a serious alternative to the cuts in public services being carried out by the Coalition government. As put forward by Greg Philo, research director of the Glasgow Media Group - see http://www.glasgowmediagroup.org/content/view/44/45/)
  • Letting the banks with the toxic debt fail, and starting afresh with new or untainted banks. This way, the wealthy investors who took the risk in return for large returns, and those who exploited the lack of regulation to create the unsustainable bubble, take the hit on their wealth, rather than passing on to the rest of us. (David Malone).
  • Introduce a 21-hour working week (NEF: http://www.neweconomics.org/projects/towards-21-hours).
  • Implement a financial transaction tax.
  • Compel tax havens to abide by strict international rules (TheTax Justice Network and others).

I'm sure there are many more out there.

From the above lists, there are a number of things one person can do on their own (sphere of influence A - for one lonely person) - all fine. And if lots of individuals do this over time...and gifted individuals like David Malone do their huge bit by spreading awareness... the power of One! Becoming Two , becoming Ten etc

There are also a number of things which a single community can do if they take the lead  eg. as a transition town - LETS, credit unions, own currency, food production, etc (sphere of influence B - for an organised community)

There are some things a network, like NatCAN, could do eg, a national media campaign , drawing in the other two groups of people mentioned above  eg. helping to scale-up communities efforts by networking these shining points of light into a big (solar-powered) movement  (sphere of influence C - for an organised network)

And there are some things which need a national & international co-ordinated campaign (sphere of influence D  - a mass movement) . Just imagine it -  a 'general strike' against the finance sector - eg. everyone brings down the banks by withdrawing their money on a single day. That assumes a huge sea-change in how people see the world (not just from point of view of putting general good above personal interest, but a radical shift in understanding the need to tackle the finance sector and an unglazed view of what money actually is - and a deep sense of confidence that they are not cutting their own throats by doing it ie there is an alternative home we could all put our money into which wouldn't be vulnerable to corruption/ mafia hack. That we don't need banks - they need us).

That seems impossible to achieve now - it would need an inspirational, successful  example from somewhere in the world and a concerted campaign to make the case everywhere else.  (And maybe a huge organisational effort to create an international people's bank from our alternative finance projects). We need a load of patience - because it will sound too big and untrustworthy to most people. And completely barking mad to most. Because the illusions are still intact - most of the populations in Europe and North America and East Asia and Australasia are hoping that it will all go away - that they won't end up living the lives faced by the Greek people (and most of Africa, Latin America and Asia, day-in, day-out) - that growth will return to save the day, led by the mythical wealth creators.And without anyone actually saying it, there is the hidden desire that the finite resources of the planet can be grabbed over and over again by the powerful to shore up the game a while longer with a pacifying trickle-down to the lower classes (the rich countries are already buying-up the arable land of vulnerable countries, to grow bio-fuels as a cheap alternative fuel as oil becomes scarcer . Who's aware of that? Who cares? It's only creating starvation - let's have a concert sometime ..) So more wars over oil , more sad songs by soldier's wives. Business as usual. Telly on. World Cup. Soaps. Non-News.

So I think that a network group like NatCAN has a lot of potential for the media work and peer education about the roots of the current crisis and the range of actions possible in communities.  NatCAN can work alongside other national networks of protest and joint action eg AVAAZ, UK Uncut, Positive Money, 38 Degrees, Oxfam, A World To Win etc.

If we do our bit now, patiently and without angst, we may find international links in future, as the people of the world wake up to peak oil and the next big Economic Crisis. Who knows when today's dreams become tomorrow's real options? Let's avoid driving ourselves mad by thinking we can do more than we can right now. Otherwise we're in God Complex territory (also known as Trotskyism when I was a youth). Wherever we are, we can support and act in spheres A & B. And by being part of NatCAN, we open up sphere of influence C (with the potential to engage as we see fit if sphere D becomes a possibility).

Just read Ben's excellent post - so when I said "the above lists" I hadn't yet read yours Ben - too busy typing :) Lots of good ideas for using to pressurise Govt policy (if that is possible with this crew - they're "compassionate" in adhering to austerity and warmly embracing our future generations by kindly reducing their burden of debt apparently) 

Thanks Nick. Just reading your post... like the sound of the general strike against the financial sector! :) And I like how even just considering this sort of stuff releases some welcome excitement in me - something to do with offering a channel to all the pent-up ire I  feel over these issues I suppose. Very welcome! 

Loads of great comments! I've only briefly scanned this but it sounds like you guys are really switched on. Please do keep us all updated about what upcoming events there are because I'd very much like to have gone to that conference.

Robert, what most of us here would like you to do is find time to read through the report (and the comments to date) then give us your carefully considered opinion from a political perspective.
 
The atmosphere at even basic neighbourhood level meetings is now often dominated by anger at the outrageous, amoral behaviour of the financial sector and the sheer hypocrisy of politicians who advocate a strategy of compliance with the financial sector's wishes to resume business as usual. Most of us now realise that New Labour was a social-democratic variant of the neoliberal project begun in Britain by Thatcherism. New Labour disconnected from its political roots and evolved as the second party of capital. The Coalition has already gone further than Thatcher could have ever dared to. As Mike Rustin point out, in an article published in Soundings 48, 'the problem for the Labour Party over the next few years may lie not so much in pointing to the obvious weaknesses of current government strategy, as in finding an alternative model for our economy and society that defeats the neoliberal revolutionaries and puts the well-being of the  majority back at the heart of politics'.
 
At present, the demand for reform is squarely focused on the financial sector but that sector depends on political support. You at the Democratic Reform Party must have views on the concerns raised in this report. What are they please?

Thanks Joe, I'd be glad to speak from a DRP perspective. Based on the kind of questions asked here I won't be able to answer all adequately. But I'll say a little about where the DRP agrees and disagrees. And I'll start off by pointing out, related to your comments about neoliberalism, that it (neoliberalism) bears a great deal of responsibility for this crisis. The deregulations of Thatcher, Reagan and also those put forward as conditions for aid packages to the developing world in the 80s; these contributed to a weak regulatory environment in which, yes growth was higher than it otherwise might have been, but problems were allowed to spiral out of control and result in lower growth over the long-term. Indeed it was from a neo-liberal perspective that Greenspan, ex-Chairman of the Federal Reserve in the US, denied the existence of market bubbles. He's since admitted his mistake on air. But what a mistake!

Quite simply, the current system involves individuals taking risks, and the society at large bearing the costs, which is why the DRP thinks it is so crucial to decentralise power and empower the people.

Onto the conference:


With relation to what David said much of it is spoken about even in the Turner review published by the Financial Services Authority. So yes he's right that there is an assets problem related to over-leverage, the definition of capital (which Basel 3 only goes some small way towards improving) and also deregulation. I would stress that responsibility cannot fall entirely on banks and we must avoid bashing the banks outside of where logic dictates we point out certain flaws. But in that what reforms we have seen thus far are trivial I completely and utterly agree. Though this will soon change when the manifesto is reviewed, the DRP's current focus in finance is on redressing the regulatory imbalances, clamping down on tax loopholes, facilitating greater financial transparency and redistributing wealth through methods such as taxing bank bonuses and increasing the bank levy temporarily. The only point on which I disagree is with Positive Money. I realise that I won't be popular saying this but I have to be honest. I'm in a minority within the DRP on this position in fact; but I hold the problems they cite to be bang on, and the solutions they propose to be naive in the extreme. Though I'm happy to discuss it with you further.


With relation to what Tim said the DRP agrees 100%.


Andy, couldn't agree more. This is kind of what motivated me to set up the Democratic Reform Party; it was a choice between getting involved in a charity and setting up a party. I decided that, as you've inferred, a lot needs to be said in the political world, and the 3rd sector needs to stand up and start acting politically; for although many people have a negative image of politicians it doesn't change the fact that through politics you can change people's lives, and we should act to do so. Unfortunately the Conservatives haven't stuck by their promises to be 'the' party for the 3rd sector. The Coalition promised to cut the red tape. But at present it often takes months to go through the selection process for voluntary posts like helping in a soup kitchen. Charity managers spend many hours a week supplying different sets of similar information for central and local government regulators. And get this: the Coalition wants them to supply more information! The DRP wants to cut the red tape, recognize the great work they’re doing, and give them a helping hand.

Nick, “All things fall and are built again” - if only the party system worked like that! The DRP wants to build a new party system based not on adversary but consensus, and the ability for parties to rise and fall with much greater ease than today. I also love the small boat analogy; again this could be used to describe the Democratic Reform Party, which is about decentralisation and localism. Imagine a group of independents who agree that they share a set of values and can thus write a constitution, cooperate with each other, and accept that they will allow the party membership as a whole to vote on a national manifesto. That's the DRP.


From the Appendix I again agree. "The root cause, simply put, is globalisation, and the resulting monopolisation of wealth by a global elite." I would stress in relation to this that globalisation can be a force for good, but it needs democratising, balancing with localism, and also a sizeable dose of fairness/equity - the real sort though, not that espoused by Cameron.
Onto the comments. This phrase caught me: "The mudane and prosaic truth is that change starts with you and is advanced or retarded by your ability to commit to behaving differently than before." The wisdom of today speaks of empowerment. Empower yourself in business terms, allowing yourself to pursue your own ideas, and you will be both more passionate and productive. Empowerment in society and in politics is little different. For too long we have looked to individuals to solve the problems. But individuals are rarely all we make them out to be. Remember your school history lessons? Who would still be a hero today? Napoleon? Lincoln? Cromwell? Frederick the Great? Alexander the Great? Caesar? All of them today would be called war criminals, and little respect would come their way. Joe, you said that cultural shifts are slow. But we're going through a revolutionary one right now. Just a hundred years ago these guys were the greatest of the great. But today the heroes and heroines are people like Mandela and Suu Kyi; people who realise that they aren't any better than anyone else and fight above and beyond to ensure that others realise this truth: that we should all have equal rights. Did anyone listen to the DRP live broadcast yesterday? It summed up a lot of what's said here. So although I could answer all the subsequent questions it's important that I instead ask another: will you get involved in the debate to shape DRP policy? In general 2 minds are better than 1, and the days where the leadership took all the decisions, although very much suggestive of today, look increasingly archaic.

P.S. Don't go on the DRP website at the moment. Someone's hacked into it and put a virus there.
Fbook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Democratic-Reform-Party/185370051...
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/DemReformParty

Those who attended the conference will remember that Professor Margaret Leadwith, a keynote speaker, had to pull out at the last minute due so sickness.  Nick Beddow took her place. She has since written a paper, 'Another World Is Possible', concerning what she would have said had she been able to attend.

That paper is attached as a pdf file.

May we suggest you read it as it fits within the content of this report

Attachments:
John Diamond recommended a couple of books by Howard Zin at a conference he was addressing a couple of months back. Zin was an activist during the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti Vietnam War Movement in America.  He has this to say in ' You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train'.

"People are practical. They want change but feel powerless, alone, do not want to be the blade of grass that sticks up above the others and is cut down.  They wait for a sign from someone else who will make the first move, or the second. And at certain times in history there are intrepid people who take the risk that if they make the first move others will follow quickly enough to prevent them being cut down.  And if we understand this, we might make the first move.
 
What the (civil rights) movement accomplished was historic, but soon it came into contact against obstacles far more formidable than the signs and badges of racial segregation. First, an economic system that, while lavishly rewarding some people and giving enough to others to gain their loyalty, consigns a substantial part of the population to misery, generation after generation. And along with this, a national ideology so historically soaked in racism that non-white people inevitably from the largest part of the permanently poor.  
 
What the (civil rights) movement proved, however, is that even if people lack the customary attributes of power – money, political authority, physical force – as did the black people of the Deep South, there is a power that can be created out of the pent-up indignation, courage, and the inspiration for a common cause, and if enough people put their minds and bodies into that cause, they can win. It is a phenomenon recorded again and again in the history of popular movements against injustice all over the world."

He was a great person: from Wiki: "In one of his last interviews he said he'd like to be remembered "for introducing a different way of thinking about the world, about war, about human rights, about equality," and "for getting more people to realize that the power which rests so far in the hands of people with wealth and guns, that the power ultimately rests in people themselves and that they can use it. At certain points in history, they have used it. Black people in the South used it. People in the women's movement used it. People in the anti-war movement used it. People in other countries who have overthrown tyrannies have used it."

He said he wanted to be known as "somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power that they didn't have before".

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