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Year 2000 No. 152, September 15, 2000 Archive Search Home Page

Response of RCPB(ML) to the Electoral Commission Project Team

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Response of RCPB(ML) to the Electoral Commission Project Team

Nature on Organic Farming

Cuba Feeds the People Organically

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Response of RCPB(ML) to the Electoral Commission Project Team

RCPB(ML) is a registered political party under the provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. It is registered as "Revolutionary Communist Party Britain (Marxist-Leninist)" and in the Welsh form of its name as "Plaid Gomiwnyddol Chwyldroadol Brydeinig (Marcsaidd-Leninaidd)". For a party to stand candidates under its name in elections (other than parish and community elections), it must be registered.

Under the provisions of the new Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill, which is scheduled to receive the Royal Assent in November, parties will have to submit schemes for the regulation of their financial affairs to a government Electoral Commission. This will be a pre-condition for registration and therefore, when and if the Bill becomes law, for fielding candidates at an election. A party which is already registered under the 1998 Act will have to submit such a scheme very shortly after the new Act becomes law. It would also be a precondition of being able to develop a financial scheme that it should have a constitution setting out how the party’s structure and organisation are determined. This constitution therefore would also need to be submitted alongside the draft scheme. If a party fails to submit its scheme to the Commission within the time allowed, its registration would be suspended. The party would then not be permitted to field candidates under its name at an election.

The Home Office Electoral Commission Project Team has written to registered political parties with draft guidance on what is required of the financial schemes that the Bill is proposing, and has asked for comments on this guidance. RCPB(ML) has replied to the Project Team with its comments. We are publishing below our Party’s comments on the implementation of the Bill.

IMPLEMENTATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES, ELECTIONS AND REFERENDUMS BILL : COMMENTS

We think it is remiss that registered political parties have not been consulted, not simply on the question of the draft guidance on the financial schemes that registered parties will be required to submit, but on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill as a whole.

The Bill is premised on a narrow definition of a political party as simply an electoral machine. RCPB(ML) does not accept such an emasculation of the definition of a political party. Among the broader aims we take to be part of a modern definition of a political party are those to politicise the members of the polity, to assist citizens to participate in governing the society, and to encourage citizens to become the decision-makers and exercise control over their own affairs and the affairs of the polity, for example. In our view, it is not financial irregularities that are at the root of the debasement of standards in public life, if by public life is meant the conduct of politicians and political parties. At the root of the political crisis and the crisis in credibility lies the fact that sovereignty is not vested in the people, and that the working class and other sections of the people are marginalised from the political life of the society and are not able to exercise their fundamental right to be the decision-makers in society. Because the government will not address this problem, the standing of politicians and political parties is at an all-time low, and the level of political culture and discussion is being completely debased. Therefore, the Bill, in our view, is taking up the wrong issue if its aim is to remedy this dysfunctionality of the political process.

We believe that the concern of all who are engaged in political affairs should be to ensure the broad participation of all citizens in debating all the problems the society is faced with, whether they be economic or political, military, cultural, social or environmental. This could be said to be the precondition of ensuring that they are able to exercise their right to be the decision-makers. This presupposes that their participation in the decision-making process cannot be limited to casting a vote at election time and for the rest of the time remaining at the margins of the political process and becoming increasingly discontented. However, the Bill under consideration does everything to entrench this fundamental flaw in public life and will only contribute therefore to a further lowering of standards in this regard.

We believe that there are concrete problems a Bill could address which would provide mechanisms for remedying the situation. However, its logic as it stands is that limits should be placed on spending at election time, and that certain restrictions be placed on parties’ fund-raising activities so that any one party is not able to inequitably buy advertising time and space, in other words to buy votes and influence. These aims taken at face value will not ensure a level playing field for political parties, irrespective of the failings of the present political system. There need to be mechanisms in place at election times which ensure the both the equality of political parties, and also ensure that it is not the political parties, as special interest groups, who decide on the selection of parliamentary candidates. Apart from the customary laws of fraud and similar questions, it should not be the concern of the state how political parties are financed once this question of ensuring the equality of all registered parties and the participation of the electorate in the selection of candidates is resolved. But it is the concrete guarantee of the participation of all members of the polity in the electoral process which an electoral Act should address.

For example, even if the electoral system were to remain one of first-past-the-post and of casting a ballot for candidates who have already been selected for the electorate, then the issue still presents itself as to how the elector may make an informed choice. It is up to the state to make sure in this situation that mechanisms are in place to enable the elector to do just that. We are of the opinion that the legislation of the Bill does little in this direction. The issue is really that it cannot be democratic that the size of a party’s budget or the amount it has available for campaign expenditure should have any bearing on the electorate’s ability to make informed judgements on a party’s policies and its programme. This is still a recipe for maintaining an unjust position of privilege for those political parties which have the means to bankroll an election campaign. Nor do we believe that the decision as to whether a party be registered or not should be based on such accounting and financial criteria that the Bill proposes. These are not the political criteria on which, if there is to be such a register, a decision should be based.

In fact, what RCPB(ML) advocates is that the entire electoral process should be organised in the open with no privileges whatever going to political parties. If the electoral process were organised on this principle, then it would not be party machinery which dictates the composition of parliament, and within parliament dictates the thought and action of the elected representatives. But, even given the present electoral system, what must above all be guaranteed is the equality of all registered political parties before the electoral law. In our view, this could be ensured by, for example, banning all expenditure by political parties on campaigning once an election is announced. Instead, public funds should be used to ensure that all registered political parties receive equal exposure to the electorate and are enabled to stand candidates as and where they wish. This is an immediate measure that can be introduced pending a more fundamental overhaul of the electoral system whereby electoral commissions in workplaces, educational institutions and so forth are funded to enable the electorate to select candidates whom they wish to nominate for election. Political parties could also present proposals for which candidates may be considered for selection, but it should not be solely their prerogative, and public funding would ensure that they do not retain this privilege, especially those who have access to large sources of funds. The expenses of the election of candidates should then be met by the state, which indeed should also enable elected members to be recalled if they do not perform their duty according to their mandate. All in all, the electoral law and regulations must facilitate rather than hinder the participation of the people in the electoral process.

Whether a candidate has money or not, whether they agree or disagree with the views of particular political parties, no matter which, they should have an equal opportunity to present themselves for election. Only if the process of selection is financed through public funds can this become a reality. This is how the matter of the financing of political parties and of raising the standards of political culture in society appears to our Party.

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Nature on Organic Farming

In August, the prestigious science journal Nature reported the results of one of the biggest agricultural experiments ever conducted.

A team of Chinese scientists had tested the key principle of modern rice-growing – planting a single, high-tech variety across hundreds of hectares – against a much older technique: planting several breeds in one field. They found, contrary to the tenets of monoculture farming, that reverting to the old method resulted in spectacular increases in yield. Rice blast – a devastating fungus which normally requires repeated applications of poison to control – decreased by 94 per cent. The farmers planting a mixture of strains were able to stop applying their poisons altogether, while producing 18 per cent more rice per acre than they were growing before.

Two years ago, another paper published in Nature showed that yields of organic maize are identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in the organic fields dramatically improves. In trials in Hertfordshire, wheat grown with manure has produced consistently higher yields for the past 10 years than wheat grown with artificial nutrients.

The paper showed that organic systems have further benefits. Soils on organic farms in which a mixture of crops are grown are healthier and have better structure than on conventional one-crop farms. They are retaining nitrogen and carbon in a variety of different forms. Because nitrogen fertilisers are not added all at once – as they are in a conventional farm – but released from soil stores throughout the year, less nitrogen is needed, less energy is used, and less nitrogen is washed out of the soil to pollute rivers. Over a five-year period, 60 per cent more nitrogen (as nitrate) was washed into groundwater from the conventional system than from either of the two organic systems.

The paper also points out that the use of mineral fertiliser annually adds 70 million tonnes of nitrogen to the soil – the equivalent to all natural additions of nitrogen – and the ecological consequences are being felt. Old-fashioned farms grew a variety of plants and livestock, where there was little waste and few deleterious effects outside the farm. Intensive agriculture has led to a decoupling of manure from the fertilising of crops and to deleterious dumping of waste. Nature writes that "sustainable and productive ecosystems have tight internal cycling of nutrients, a lesson that agriculture must relearn".

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Cuba Feeds the People Organically

Cuba was forced into organic farming by the economic blockade, but has now adopted it as policy, having discovered that it improves both the productivity and the quality of the crops its farmers grow. Many of the foods people eat every day are grown without synthetic fertilisers and toxic pesticides.

A report, Cultivating Havana: Urban Agriculture and Food Security in the Years of Crisis, points out that Cuba’s organic food movement developed in response to crisis. It explains that before the revolution that threw out dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, and to some extent during the years of the links with Cuba to the Soviet Union, the island followed a typical pattern of colonial food production: it produced luxury export crops while importing food for its own people. In 1990, more than 50% of Cuba’s food came from imports.

"In the Caribbean, food insecurity is a direct result of centuries of colonialism that prioritised the production of sugar and other crash crops for export, neglecting food crops for domestic consumption," the report says. In spite of efforts by the revolutionary government to correct this situation, Cuba continued in this mould until the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The break-up meant that 1,180,000 tonnes of chemical fertilisers, 15,400 tonnes of herbicides, and 9,100 tonnes of pesticides, could no longer be imported, according to the report.

One of Cuba’s responses to the shock was to develop "urban agriculture", intensifying the previously established national food programme, which aimed at taking thousands of poorly utilised areas, mainly around Havana, and turning them into intensive vegetable gardens. Planting in the city instead of only in the countryside reduced the need for transportation, refrigeration and other scarce resources. By 1998 there were more than 8,000 urban farms and community gardens run by more than 30,000 people in and around Havana.

Urban agriculture is now a "major element of the Havana cityscape", the Food First report says, and the model is now being copied throughout the country, with production growing at 250% to 350% per year. Today, food from the urban farms is grown almost entirely with active organic methods, the report says. Havana has outlawed the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture within city limits.

Martin Bourque, Food First’s programme director for sustainable agriculture, said that at first sustainable agriculture was seen as a way to "suffer through" the shock of Soviet withdrawal. "When they began this effort, most policy makers could not imagine any significant amount of rice being grown in Cuba without the full green revolution technical package (e.g., high off-farm inputs). But by 1997, small-scale rice production had reached 127,000 tonnes, 65 per cent of national production. Today everyone agrees that sustainable agriculture has played a major role in feeding the country and is saving Cuba millions of dollars" that would otherwise go "to the international pesticide cartel", Martin Bourque said.

According to official figures, in 1999 organic urban agriculture produced 65% of Cuba’s rice, 46% of the fresh vegetables, 38% of the non-citrus fruits, 13% of the roots, tubers and plantains, and 6% of the eggs.

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