Note from a warming planet

In Manchester today, it is mild and sunny, like late September.  Temperatures are unprecedentedly high in the UK and have been for days.

UK temperatures 13/11/2022 via Met Office

I picked runner beans (painted lady) yesterday and achoacha (a frost tender cucumber relative) today.  The beans have stopped flowering now but unless there is frost, the small beans will continue to mature.  I always lift the tubers and pot them up in sand so as to get an early start – these days, stray ones survive the winter in the open ground. The anoacha is still flowering but the leaves are beginning to go yellow.  Both these crops are usually killed by frosts in October.

I remember bonfire night as a child – always cold and often frosty but this year people weren’t wearing coats.

I know that weather isn’t climate but we’ve had month after month of record average high temperatures.

The extended growing season is a something to take advantage of but it carries an extremely ominous message.

Today I read that there are no more than 9 years to avoid a 1.5 degree global average temperature rise.  But that message hides some ugly reality.  That estimate is for no more than a 50 – 50 chance of avoiding heating of more than 1.5 deg.  We are already at something like 1.3 degrees.  The estimates don’t take full account of positive feedback loops and tipping points.

Meanwhile the UK government has a target of net (i.e. not real) zero carbon emissions by ….. 2050, yes a mere 28 years.  My grandchildren will already be middle aged by then, if they survive.  I’ll most likely be long gone along with many of the politicians and business leaders who refuse to take the drastic and radical action needed.  That action isn’t just necessary for the climate but to fend off the other escalating pancrisis events – neatly summarised in the Stockholm Environment Institute’s concept of planetary boundaries.  Those actions mean equitably deployed emergency actions – a managed degrowth programme.  There isn’t another way.


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Today’s salad

We have a small garden and grow fruit a few vegetables and a variety of salad crops.  Most days we can pick a salad (sparsely in December and January) and this is always a combination of cultivated and volunteer crops, including many regarded as weeds.  In summer we grow tomatoes in a small greenhouse. It is poorly located for winter (too shaded) but autumn sown rocket, claytonia, mustards and leaf beet provide early salads.  To give a flavour of the kind of salads we eat, rich in vitamins and minerals, here’s what we had for lunch today.  Note some of the wild and unusual species will not be to everyone’s taste.  Some people might not tolerate some of them (try a very little of anything new first) and its best to avoid large quantities of anything.  The two unusual Italian ones, Stridolo and Erba stella, are particularly recommended and seed can be located easily enough with an internet search.

Salad, 8 April

Sorrel *

Rocket *

Young hawthorn leaves (once known as “bread and butter” by many country children)*

Hairy bitter cress *

Land cress *

Water cress (from a 1 m. long stream fed by pump from small pond) *

Various oriental mustards *

Chives *

Wild garlic *

Nipplewort (Lapsana communis not usually a great option but volunteer plants inthe greenhouse produce quite soft leaves)

Dandelion (young leaves) *

Stridolo (aka Sculpit,  but it’s actually Bladder Campion, Silene vulgaris) *

“Salad plantain” (Erba stella or Bucks Horn Plantain – Plantago coronopus) *

Claytonia (miners’ lettuce) *

Sweet dock (red sorrel)

Young kale leaves (Cottagers’ and Cavolo nero) *

Babbington leek (Allium ampeloprasum babingtonii – young shoots from a cluster of bulbils) *

V young “Perennial Buckwheat” (Fagopyrum dibotrys) (invasive)

V young ground elder (or Bishops’ Weed, Aegopodium podagraria) (invasive) *

  • = recommended for flavour and/or texture
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Notes for the New Year from Plague Island

Apocalypse vasnetsov
Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov.
Painted in 1887.
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, in the UK we live on a plague island (with some of the highest rates of Covid infections and deaths, globally), politically isolated from our neighbours and with an import-based economy.

Graph showing Civid cases per million, UK and world

Via Our World in Data.

Cumulative Covid-19 deaths per limmion UK and various countries and world

Via Our World in Data

Brexit happened, in the hardest possible way. This graphic shows just how isolated Britain is.

However, the European Union is not without its problems. It is a capitalist alliance, functioning largely as part of the capitalist core that exploits the poorer countries, and ruthlessly acts to maintain its position. At this point, rather than going on about Brexit being a mistake and arguing for re-entry, which is unlikely to happen soon, and would be pointlessly divisive, it is necessary to establish an adequate response, from today’s reality.

The problems of this country are compounded by having a far right, kleptomaniac, lying clique in government and an official opposition led by centrist opportunists bereft of ideas adequate to the ecological, social and economic challenges facing us all.

Those challenges are, above all, those of a colonialist/neocolonial power in a world that has overshot its ecological and planetary systems’ capacities to support the scale of material and energy usage that capitalism has led to, and requires, while seriously contaminating the biosphere with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, heavy metals, antibiotics, nerve poisons, radioactive residues, plastics and other novel substances.

Yet the economic framework that approximates to providing for our needs is extremely vulnerable to the necessary reductions in flows of matter and energy to restore ecological balance, and also the reductions needed in the extraction of value required to cease exploitation and expropriation, and hence arrive at social and economic justice.

“The lifestyles of people in the richest nations are heavily dependent on resources extracted from poorer countries.”

United Nations Environment Programme 2019.

Addressing that conundrum is out of scope and out of the reach of the UK’s political system.

To pretend otherwise is delusional. For a while it looked like a renewed Labour Party might just (if it could drop the religion of economic growth and stick to a radical action-critique of capitalism’s commodification of everything) offer a way out. But even that slim chance was murdered, almost at birth, by the centrist opportunists in whose broad church the Labour Party has always kept some pews. It wasn’t just from within, but also from outside, with a relentless campaign against the then left leadership by nearly all the mass media, including the BBC. Only the small circulation socialist daily, the Morning Star was consistent in its broad support.

So we end up in a situation of crisis and emergency with no obvious political way of fixing it. Electoralism has proved to be largely a waste of time and effort, while extra-electoral social movements haven’t achieved the breadth of concern nor the persistence and politically intelligent creativity needed to force the change.

At this moment there are no satisfying overall answers, although there are some positive developments. The Welsh Labour government, now with Plaid Cymru support, does show signs of taking environmental and social justice issues more seriously than the UK party leadership. The new Leader of the Unite union appears to grasp the need to build an alternative via workplace and community campaigning and she links this to the wider agendas of climate and livelihoods. A variety of academics, practitioners and campaigners do understand the multiple dimensions of the pancrisis and the measures needed to confront it. However, all this is a long way from the kind of transformative capacity and mobilisation that is needed. Meanwhile it is vital to keep explaining what’s going on, and to support those who are trying to join the dots, the elements of resistance and transformation that we, and our sisters and brothers across the globe all need.

Mark H Burton

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Mismanagement or corruption? (Not the ) NHS Test and Trace

The UK government has spent £37,000,000,000, that’s 37 Billion Pounds, on what they call NHS Test and Trace. This is not provided by the National Health Service but by private companies under contract. It only covers England.

Until April this year, “Not the NHS Test and Trace” was headed by one “Dido” Harding, that’s Diana Mary Harding, Baroness Harding of Winscombe, a businesswoman and Conservative life peer.  She has been chair of “NHS Improvement” since 2017.  She has held a number of senior posts in retail organisations and was Chief Executive of the telecoms firm Talk Talk where she was criticised for poor response to a data breach that released personal information on millions of customers.

In May 2020, the Health Secretary M. Hancock put Harding in charge of the “track, test and trace” programme (later given the name NHS Test and Trace) to monitor cases of COVID-19 and trace the contacts of infected people, a function that is a major plank in reducing the impact of an epidemic or pandemic.  The legality of this appointment was challenged in November 2020 by the Good Law Project and the Runnymede Trust.

Not the NHS Test and Trace has a number of components, a veritable mosaic of privateers:

The contact tracers are employed by Serco, which subcontracted te work to 29 firms.

The US firm Sitel operates the call centre.

Test administration, processing samples in laboratories, and contact tracing are similarly all contracted to private companies. Deloitte is responsible for logistics, and statistics.  It subcontracts to the outsourcing privateers Serco, Mitie, G4S and Sodexo, as well as the Boots chain, to run the test centres.

In October 2020, over 1,100 Deloitte consultants were reported to be engaged. In March 2021, the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee disclosed that 2,500 management consultants were being used at an average cost of £1,100 per day.  128 mobile testing units were established by the army and handed over to undisclosed private contractors after July 2020. 

Here I am concerned with the scale of money awarded to this privatised entity.  The initial budget for the service was £15 billion, rising to £22bn in November 2020, and a further £15bn was allocated for 2021–22 to bring the total for the two years to £37bnThe Public Accounts Committee was damning in its conclusions, as late as March this year.  After nearly a year of operation, Not the NHS test and Trace had had no clear impact and the level of spending was “unimaginable”. It questioned the over-reliance on consultants, with some paid more than £6,600 a day, the failure to be ready for the surge in demand for tests seen last September, that it never met its target to turn around tests done face-to-face within 24 hours. Contact tracers only had enough work to fill half their time even when cases were rising.  There had been a splurge on rapid tests with no clear evidence they would help.

Some simple arithmetic reveals the extraordinary cost of this abject failure.  The failure of test and trace was one reason for the spread of the virus in the UK with one of the highest per capita death rates globally.

Cost of Not the NHS Test and Trace:  £37,000,000,000.  However, to be fair, the figure for the first year was £22,000,000,000  Let’s use this latter figure, and the government’s own data on the activity of the programme over the first year.

Number of test conducted over 12 months, 28/5/2021 to 26/5/2021: 121,939,769

Cost per person tested (not the cost per test but cost of the scheme per test done): £180

Number of people who tested positive that were contacted: 3,236,492

So the cost of the scheme per contact (not the cost of contacting a person): £6,797

Close contacts reached and asked to self-isolate: 6,913,587

So the cost of the scheme in terms of cost per contact asked to self-isolate: £3,182 (£3,439 if we excluded those traced by local health protection teams)

These are incredibly high costs as the Public Accounts Committee noted.

There was a better way, as a number of public health experts and campaigns have argued. The track record of local public health teams is much better than for the centralised, privatised Not the NHS Test and Trace.  Again, the government’s own data makes this clear, as this graph, using the weekly data, shows.

Not the NHS Test and Trace has improved since the beginning of this year, but it still underperforms the tried and tested local public health teams.  Everyone knows that to trace contacts and win the confidence of people to cooperate with tracing and taking precautions, local knowledge is needed.

It remains to ask the question whether this is monumental mismanagement, or whether there is corruption involved in doling out money to a gallery of privateers, many with links to the conservative party.  There is a smoking gun.

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More “Development” in Manchester: Hough End Fields

During the pandemic lock-down one of the places we rediscovered for local walks is the large area of Hough End Fields. Curiously, this was the site of Manchester’s first airport. It is a wide open space with playing fields for competitive sports. What we call “the other room” or the North Field, is smaller area bounded by trees and a stream.

Recently, the council built a brand new leisure centre there, with entrance on Princess Parkway, a commuter route into the city from the wealthier regions of Cheshire. For us in Chorlton, the centre replaced the local swimming paths, with gym, and this has made it harder for many people in the Chorlton area to access swimming and the other activities. The tramway goes past it but it is no longer a short walk and the tram isn’t cheap. Buses, pending the Mayor’s plan for re-regulation, provide an uneven service.

But with its position on the busy Princess Road artery, it is in a good position to capture “passing trade”. Now the council wants to extend the centre and “upgrade” the fields. Some aspects of the plan are reasonable: improving the pitches, which tend to get waterlogged, and adding a cafe to the building. There is poor quality changing room that it is proposed to replace with an extension to the new building. So far so good, but there are also proposals for all weather pitches, more car parking, and new pitches for rounders – sorry baseball and soft-ball. There is no recognition of the non-competitive uses of the fields. The biodiversity of the area is dismissed as poor, rather than planning to improve it but habitat restoration and creation. The all weather pitches potentially constitute a pollution problem, and increasing car parking is the last thing you would expect a city council that has declared a “climate emergency” to do.

One of those “done deal” consultations is in process – done deal in the sense that there appears to have been little or no involvement of the local community prior to drawing up the plans, but rather, a comprehensive proposal is offered with no scope for citizens redesigning it.

I have made comments and I share them here in case others would like to make use of some of the arguments and evidence that I have assembled.

My response to the proposal – CLICK HERE.

Direct link to the planning proposal: CITY COUNCIL DEVELOPMENT Erection of a two-storey extension to form sports field changing rooms, cafe facilities, flexible club/social/training rooms and gym space following the demolition of the existing building on site, formation of 3G football turf pitches and associated floodlighting and fencing together with associated park and an additional 100 space overflow car park

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The Green Man

The Green Man, and also sometimes the Green Woman, is a persistent figure in European folklore, although similar figures appear in other regions too. The Green Man, typically a face, surrounded by, or even sprouting, leaves, was a traditional carving found in churches. Yet the idea of the Green Man, a nature deity, is pre-Christian. He, or she, may represent the power of nature, of natural regeneration, and the foundation of the natural world on which we rely. He represents the cycle of nature, with leaves sprouting forth anew. In the story of Gawain and the Green Knight, written in the Cheshire dialect around the time of Chaucer, he is overlaid with Christian and chivalric symbolism but at root, literally at root, the story tells of the felling of forest, or of the fall of leaves in autumn, and the re-sprouting of trees after felling, or in coppicing, pollarding or hedge laying. That Green Knight can be none other than the Green Man.

My Green Man was noticed in Kenworthy Wood, itself a new stretch of woodland, regenerated even, on the south side of the Mersey as it flows, constrained by levies, through South Manchester. He is a natural pattern in the bark of a maple or sycamore tree, the moustache being one of the leaf scars made when the stem is young but remaining as it grows into a mature trunk. I cut out the face digitally from the photograph of the tree trunk and printed it onto watercolour paper. I then surrounded him with iconic leaves from the English woodlands, painting in acrylics, relying on leaves in our garden or from books. It was too early in the season for oak and hazel, and there was no elm to be had.

Leaves, clockwise from the top.

Holly Ilex aquifolium (upper leaves)

Holly is traditionally considered to be a plant with powers, which, since it is evergreen, persist in winter. Planted outside the house to protect against witchcraft, it was brought in to protect against demons and goblins. Holly was assimilated into Christian traditions (the thorns and the blood-red berries helped), especially over the Christmas period. And we atheists still bring leaves into the house to adorn the Christmas pudding. Its stems were favoured for walking staffs. Every winter, a flock of redwings, visiting here from Scandinavia, strip all the berries from our holly trees: first a scout or two come and then the rest of the flock.

English Oak Quercus robur

Oak has a particular association with the Green Man; it is oak leaves that are most commonly depicted in church carvings, surrounding him and sometimes coming out of his mouth. I has long been a tree of particular importance in Indo-European belief systems. It was associated with Thor, perhaps because oaks were often struck by lightening. It was valued for its timber, right up until the industrial age, and its acorns were of great importance for the feeding of pigs, allowed to forage in the forest, an important common right before the enclosures. The woodlands of cork oak in Spain and Portugal are pork-cork forests. Oak timber is hard to work when seasoned but pliant when still green. The trees, climax vegetation over much of England, are host to more kinds of insects than any other native tree.

Ivy Hedera helix

Like holly, ivy had magical powers, particularly during the shortest days of the year. It was always the associate of holly, being brought in to decorate the houses and churches. In early depictions of Father Christmas, he was dressed in green, not red, and wreathed in ivy. In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland ivy was thought to protect milk, butter and farm animals. Ivy flowers late, giving the bees a late feast, and the black berries are bird fodder over winter.

Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna

Geoffrey Grigson lists a whole page of local names, while we also know it as May and as Bread and Butter, on account of the taste and texture of the young leaves, a fine salad ingredient. It is Quickthorn because of its value for making a living fence, or hedge (quick meaning alive, as in the archaic usage, “the quick and the dead”). Its “quicksets” are its cuttings thrust into the ground. Throughout Europe it has been an important supernatural tree, perhaps due to the prominence of its red haws, the effusive May blossom, its thorns, and its ability to grow in most places. It also had a number of medicinal uses. As Thorn, it gave its name, like Ash, to one of the letters of the Scandinavian runic alphabet, still present in Icelandic, while as Huath it was equivalent to the letter E of the Celtic Ogham alphabet. In Ireland it is a “fairy tree”: we had one in an inconvenient place but no labourer would take it down. It was also known there as a famine food: “If all else fails, haws”, which taste rather like apples. A lump of the wood made a fine handle for my hazel walking stick.

English Elm Ulmus procera

Unlike the other classic trees of the English countryside (the oak and ash), the elm appears to have had little in the way of supernatural powers and beliefs associated with it. However, it was valued for its timber which resisted rot, and was therefore used for pipes, gutters, foundational piles, and coffins. “Was”, not only because other materials have superseded these uses but because of the devastation wreaked by Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s. I literally grew up “under the elms”, which were so prominent in the Worcestershire countryside before the disaster: a row of then lined our street, opposite the new houses, flanking a drainage ditch at whose edge we played, “under the elms”. As a boy I made a whistle out of an elm twig, and would have made a magazine rack at school from elm (I got as far as cutting out the pieces) had my wooodwork course not been cut short by our move to Ireland.


See above.

Holly (lower leaves)

The lower leaves are prickly but the upper leaves are not. The transition takes place between 3 and 6 feet, depending on the tree. It is as if the tree conserves its energy, only making spikes where they will be needed to defeat browsing animals.

Hazel Corylus avellana

Hazel was valued both for its nuts and its ability to produce strong poles when coppiced- cut down to ground level to regrow multiple stems. It was also used, often with willow, for making wattle hurdles, the infill of timber framed construction and also valuable fencing material. Like most other native trees it had sacred associations, still honoured today in its use for divining rods, a technology that might actually have a material basis. With its pagan associations it was a candidate for Christianisation, in its case via St Philibert, founder of Jumierges abbey in Normandy, where we went on bikes in 1979. From St Philibert we get filberts, though the English name for the nut is cobnut. Like Ivy and Holly, Hazel is a girl’s name but Hazel is occasionally a boy’s too.

Mark Burton

April, 2021

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Leaving Labour, again

I’ve just left the Labour Party, again.  I wasn’t at all active but did pay my sub, contribute to policy fora, and did some foot slogging and door knocking in the 2017 and 2019 general elections.

I originally left in disgust when Neil Kinnock announced the embrace of nuclear weapons, yes weapons of mass destruction, after years of association with CND.  After that, things went from bad to worse with Kinnock’s sell-out of the miners, and then the years of what came to be called neoliberalism under Blair and Brown.  I rejoined when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, a decent man but not a great choice to lead a mass party while undergoing attacks from both outside and inside.  He of course is suspended from the parliamentary party’s whip after making the factual statement that anti-Semitism in the party has been greatly exaggerated. (I am not denying its existence within the party, by the way – it is there, just as it is there across the whole of society).

Why leave now?  I despair of the current leadership, not just Starmer but most of his team, taking the party to the right, purging leftists on pretexts, purging members, interfering in selections of candidates, affirming support for NATO and nuclear weapons, and Britain’s role as international cop, and taking the line of the Board of Deputies as the only legitimate viewpoint of the Jewish communities.  Its economic policy has become unimaginative and timid, and it has failed in its duty of opposition to the Tories’ mismanagement of the Covid pandemic, which has led to some 130,00 excess deaths, and counting.  I had reservations about the “Green Industrial Revolution”, and the “Green New Deal” on which it drew, but at least it was an attempt to address the climate emergency through transformational actions.  I can see little of that in Labour’s current offerings.  I cannot realistically see this situation improving in the near future, even if and when Starmer, trailing the Tories in the polls despite the carnage, gets replaced.

I could stay and fight but I’ve never been one for political parties’ internal struggles and I’ve other things to focus on.  I wish those that stay and continue to work for a socialist Labour Party all the best but I seriously doubt whether that is a feasible proposition.  Labour has always worked largely for mitigation of capitalism, not for its replacement.  The current predicament of humanity, with the pancrisis that combines climate change, biodiversity loss, a pandemic and an economic crisis (to mention just four of its headline features), makes that project futile.  Capitalism has to go or it  takes us with it.  I don’t know how you make that happen but, despite my respect for many party members, including many dedicated councillors and some MPs, I can no longer see the British Labour Party as part of the solution.

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Theses on the 2019 General Election

Here is my attempt to cast some light on the General Election defeat.  I’ve written it as a set of “theses” to try and make the fairly complex argument concise.  I haven’t covered everything and some of this has already been said (I’ve linked some of those pieces), but here I’m trying to put together a number of frameworks for understanding.  I also suggest three things that Labour will simultaneously need to do to rebuild.  Insights from community psychology, decolonial thought, and ecosocialism should be obvious enough.  It does need a more thorough Marxian grounding, and I’ve not covered the economics of Labour’s policy platform, but that’s for another day.

  1. Labour lost because of a combination of factors.

  2. The Tory victory was a resurgence of the dominant English nationalism, what Tom Nairn, in a prescient article from 1977, called “Patrician Liberalism”.

  3. That resurgence was made possible by the steady erosion of the Labour movement’s industrial base, which led to the weakening and loss of labour movement institutions, together with the ways of living that created and maintained approximations of socialist consciousness. As Paul Mason summarises it (and you don’t have to accept his entire argument,In the end, we lost because part of the former industrial working class in the Midlands and the North has detached itself from the values that are now core to our party. That is the result of a decades long process, which began under Tony Blair,and was never going to be turned around in six weeks.” Callum Cant and Aditya Chakrabortty make similar arguments.

  4. The capture of the Labour Party by the insurgent left, meant that an internationalist, metropolitan, and largely University educated movement became the dominant culture, identity and activist membership. That constituency found it difficult to communicate to the “patriotic” (English nationalist), small c conservative, working class of the de-industrial areas. Instead, the simplistic, nationalist messages of the Tory/Brexit party machine, the illiberal, Patriotic right, the patrician (economic) liberals, of whom the paradigm example is “Boris” Johnson, found an easier resonance. Corbyn himself, the accidental leader, who also represents that internationalist socialist orientation, came unstuck in just the same way; this was why there was the typically unarticulated rejection of the “unpatriotic” man as future Prime Minister – the same thing that I experienced with regard to the more emollient Michael Foot (a left liberal / moral socialist if ever there was one), canvassing in 1983, again with an impressively transformative, and largely unread, manifesto.

  5. In that competition of ideologies, the easy option of blaming the foreigner, of pulling up the drawbridge, won out over the more complex, evidence-based and nuanced internationalist socialism of the revived Labour Party. In this way, it was indeed the Brexit election, not the Climate election, nor even the economic justice election.

  6. Despite this, this election was fought less on an overt racist platform than the EU referendum. That does not make the underpinning dynamic any less racist: the racism was unspoken. To examine this a little more, the assumption that England is somehow superior, is well ingrained. It depends on a history of colonial pillage and subsidy, that from the second half of the C19 benefited even the industrial proletariat. The erosion of the UK’s industrial base was possible, in part because of the subsidy from the colonies, and via the financial transactions of the City of London. The temporary subsidy of North Sea Oil also masked the decline in the UK’s industrial base. Sad to say, the colonial imaginary is also present, in a muted form, in Corbynite economic thinking too: Tony Norfield’s concept of national welfarism is relevant here, as are recent decolonial critiques of the Green Deal, for example that from Asad Rehman.

  7. The erosion of the industrial base was also facilitated by reforms enacted by the neoliberal turn, which exacerbated the foot-looseness of capital in general and UK capital in particular.

  8. The electoral difficulties of the British Labour Party also reflect the decline in support for social democratic parties across Europe, and beyond. Those difficulties have been masked by the First Past the Post system and by the leftward turn which meant that young militants in England joined labour whereas in continental Europe they would likely have joined Die Linke, Podemos, la France Insoumise, or Syriza.

  9. The counterfactual cases of Scotland, and Merseyside, are consistent with the Nairn thesis on English nationalism and the dominance of patrician liberalism. In Scotland there is an alternative yet broadly social democratic nationalism, one that is not attached to the imperial project of the England-Britain. The Merseyside case is different, but still live traditions of working class struggle (and a rejection of the Murdoch press) combine with a distinctive not very English cultural mix, making this struggling city more similar in political consciousness to that of the metropolitan progressive cities London, Bristol and Manchester.

  10. Labour is fundamentally an electoral machine. That does not mean that there aren’t good branches doing excellent campaigning and community-strengthening work. Nor doe it mean that there aren’t excellent examples of Labour administrations with innovative approaches to building resilient communities and local economies (Preston Labour’s community wealth building is a well known example. Hackney’s ambitious and well thought out work on greening the borough is less well known). However, Labour is still overwhelmingly an electoral machine, with its activists foot soldiers for winning elections. Of course elections are vitally important but the disillusioned voters of the former “Red Wall” postindustrial towns can hardly be blamed for thinking “it’s all very well you coming and asking for our votes but where have you been in the meantime?”

  11. In order to rebuild its mass support, Labour needs to simultaneously do several things. I suggest that these can all take place together, mutually supporting one another. That is the simultaneous construction of movement and counter-hegemonic ideology: that is, an organising set of understandings and a vision that re-interprets the world, making sense to people with diverse starting points, because it builds on what they know and experience already, adding in an organising narrative that is binding and hopeful. That has a number of components.

  12. It must be rooted, or grounded, in practical solidarity, basically community work, helping people, finding solutions, fighting exploiters.

  13. It must be imaginative: the ways of doing this won’t be the same as those of yesterday. The patterns of community life, the economic, social and environmental challenges are different and so are some of the tools that are now available.

  14. It must respond to the new challenge that will become ever more dominant, that of the climate and ecological crisis. That means tackling cold houses while expending less energy, building economic alternatives close to where people live, shock-proofing provisioning, particularly food and heat, and finding ways to use less and less energy. If we stumble into a civilisational collapse, then at least make it less dire than it might be otherwise.

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Things I’ve written lately, mostly elsewhere.

I’m rather aware that I’ve been neglecting this blog lately.  It’s not because I’ve been inactive, the opposite, in fact.  So here is a list of the most important things I’ve written over the last year and a bit.

“Properly” published stuff:

Kagan, C. M., Burton, M., Duckett, P., Lawthom, R., &Book cover
Siddiquee, A. (October, 2019). Critical Community Psychology: Critical Action and Social Change. (2nd Edn.). London: Routledge.

Burton, M. (2019). Degrowth: The realistic alternative for Labour.
Renewal, 27(2), 88–95. (now open access)

NLR 115 coverBurton, M., & Somerville, P. (2019). Degrowth: A Defence.
New Left Review
, (115), 95–104. Versión En español.

Burton, M. and Guzzo, R. (in press). Liberation Psychology: origins and development.
In L Diaz Comas and E Torres (Eds.) Liberation Psychology: Theory, Method, Practice, and Social Justice. To be published by Springer, North America.  Copy on request

Other pieces:

Six problems for Green Deals (12 September, 2019) Steady State Manchester.   A talk given as part of the panel session on The Economics of Climate Emergency, at Manchester Metropolitan University’s launch event for the Future Economies Research Centre.  Also available here at
Spanish translation here /Traducción a castellano-enlace

The new municipalists defeated in several Spanish cities. Posted on 27 May, 2019, here on Uncommontater.

Do More, Faster! Greater Manchester Climate campaigners call for serious climate action. Posted on 25 March, 2019 ,Steady State Manchester.

Steady State Manchester’s response to the 2019 Greater Manchester Spatial Framework  Posted on 15 March, 2019  Steady State Manchester.

What Kind of a Green Deal? The implications of material and monetary flows. (28 February, 2019)  Steady State Manchester.  This article has been syndicated at
This article has been syndicated at, and Enjeux énergies et environement

What’s gone wrong in Venezuela? Posted on 11 January, 2019, here on Uncommontater.

Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy: All CO2 and mirrors? (12 December, 2018) Steady State Manchester.

An economy that does not grow?(9 November, 2018) Steady State Manchester.
Also at and in Spanish at Revoprosper.

Earlier but significant work:
We need to end growth dependency, but how? 23 February, 2018 (A Critique of Positive Money‘s proposals). Steady State Manchester.
This article is now also available at Resilience and in Spanish translation, in two parts at Revo – prosperidad sostenible: Part 1, and Part 2.

After Peak Capitalism: The livelihood challenge.  On Uncommontater. November, 2017.



Posted in climate change, ecology, economics, Latin America, Manchester, politics, psychology, social policy, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The new municipalists defeated in several Spanish cities.

Updated re Barcelona, Sept 2019.

Here is a summary of the major results for the “Cities of Change” (or Fearless Cities / cover of book on the global movement of new municipalism - Fearless Cities, Spanish editionCiudades sin Miedo), where the insurgent, new municipalist, left gained power, in 2014. Most of these innovative coalitions have been defeated by the more traditional Spanish Socialist Workers Party, the PSOE (somewhat similar to the UK Labour Party) or in the case of Barcelona by the forces of the nationalist left (Catalan Republican Party, ERC) and the PSOE allied Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). In Madrid, although the radical Más Madrid grouping got the largest share of the vote, this was insufficient, even with the support of the PSOE and Podemos, to yield a majority of councillors. So the right, led by the Popular Party will now take over with support from Ciudadanos (opportunistic centre right) and Vox (neo-Falangists).

Against this disappointing set of results, the new municipalists in Cadíz and Valencia increased their support, despite the advances of the PSOE.

There are many reasons for these results, and they differ from place to place. In Madrid, the advance of the PSOE, together with in-fighting on the left is mostly responsible. A disastrous decision of Podemos was to support leftists who split from Carmena’s coalition and campaigned separately as Madrid en Pie, gaining no seats but 2.6% of the vote. That’s not to say Carmena’s city government was free from mistakes but factionalism has yielded defeat for the left. In Barcelona, Ada Colau and Barcelona en Comú’s principled stance on Catalan independence against both Catalan and Spanish nationalists (that people have the right to vote on the matter but BeC did not support the secessionists) and calls for dialogue will not have helped her.  However it remains unclear whether she will have to relinquish to position of mayor (see below).

In all the cities, the newness of the PSOE government and the (somewhat) leftward and green turn under Pedro Sánchez will also have led to former PSOE voters returning to the fold.

A summary of the principal municipal results is given in the table below.

Meanwhile in the European election, of those parties gaining representation, the PSOE gained 32.56% of the vote, the PP 19.95%, Ciudadanos 12.06%, Podemos and allies 9.96%, Vox 6.14, the republican left 5.56, right wing secessionists 4.54 and the liberal CEUS 2.8%.

City Change Comment
Madrid Más Madrid lost to the right.

Mayor Manuela Carmena unseated.

While Más Madrid gained most votes, the left vote was split by the candidature of former aliies now in Madrid en Pie which gained no seats. The seats of Más Madrid and PSOE together were insufficieint to prevent an unholy alliance of PP, Ciudadanos (Cs) and Vox unseating the radical mayor, Manuela Carmena.
Zaragoza Zaragoza en Común lost to the PSOE.

Mayor Pedro Santiesteve unseated.

Competition between Zaragoza en Común and Podemos led to ZeC getting just 3 seats, and Podemos 2 ,on the council. As the largest party PSOE will now take the city, although with support from the smaller left groupings.
Barcelona Barcelona en Comú pipped in terms of votes by the ERC.

Ada Colau congratulated ERC leader Maragall but could still retain the mayoralty.

UPDATE:  Ada Colau was able to form a minority administration with the  PCS and the passive support of Manuel Valls, former French Socialist Party PM who allied with Cs for the elections but subsequently broke ranks with them to enable Colau to take the mayoralty while blocking the independentistas (he was also appalled by Cs alliance with the far right elsewhere).

The Catalan nationalist left party ERC might takes over the city, on the basis of a slightly greater number of votes, though the same number of seats as BeC.  However its leader gave a victory speech that emphasised Catalan independence which is not supported by either BeC or PCS (the Catalan Socialist Party, allied to the PSOE).  As Colau says, Barcelona is a city of the left, not of independence.  Maragall wants to ally with the neoliberal secessionists but can’t form a majority. So the situation as of 28 may is unclear.  Colau could form a minority administration with PCS but would need tacit support from outside the coalition from Ciudadanos. BeC stood for dialogue in the Catalan independence conflict, against both Catalan and Spanish nationalists.
Santiago, A Coruña, Ferrol Marea Galicia lost all three cities to the PSOE.
Martiño Noriega, Xulio Ferreiro and Jorge Suárez unseated.
Valencia Compromís retained the city.

Joan Ribó continues as mayor.

Compromís strengthened its position despite increase in vote for PSOE
Cadíz Adelante Cadíz retained the city.

José María González ‘Kichi’ continues as mayor.

Adelante Cadíz strengthened its position, to one short of an overall majority. Podemos was part of this alliance.


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