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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Book recommendation: "Stalin's Legacy: The Soviet War on Nature" Struan Stevenson

In 2014  Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was reported as suggesting  that only Communism is capable of successfully fighting global warming and that communist China should be viewed as a role model in the fight against environmental damage:

“[China] actually wants to breathe air that they don’t have to look at,” she said. “They’re not doing this because they want to save the planet. They’re doing it because it’s in their national interest.”

Clearly Christiana Figueres is ignoring the fact that China continues to expand its number of coal-fired power stations at an alarming rate, however there is a more fundamental mistake being made here ie that Communism as an ideology is somehow green or that its concern for, 'the national interest' (odd considering that Communism is in theory if not practice internationalist) is more likely to favour green approaches to the economy. As an antidote to this kind of guff I'd recommend the grimly fascinating book, "Stalin's Legacy: The Soviet War on Nature", by Struan Stevenson.

Some people may be thinking that, given the massive human cost of Stalin's economic policies (estimated by most historians as around 20 million deaths), that therefore attacking his regime for its ecological impact is somehow missing the main point. However Stevenson's book does not try to ignore the horrific human consequences,  the gulag system, mass starvation and slave labour, but rather to show how a blind indifference to individual human life and a blind indifference to the environment went hand in hand together. Communism as an ideology is purely materialistic and it promised a better material standard of living than Capitalism. It was never mean't to be an alternative to massive growth and mass consumption, rather it was supposed to do it better than Capitalism and produce more and faster economic growth, admittedly with less inequality in the 'workers state' that it promised. Obviously it failed but the point is that Communism was never supposed to end up like North Korea with a dead-end economy but rather to produce mass industrialism on a huge scale.
Clearly what I am talking about here, and the theme of Stevenson's book, is not Socialism in its broader sense but Marxism-Leninism as practiced in the USSR and those countries which adopted the Soviet model. In Russia itself prior to the Civil War (1918-1921) there were many socialists who favoured an approach to economics based on the peasants (82% of the population in 1900 and therefore the majority of 'the people'). For example the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) the heirs of the Narodnik (Populist) movement in the 19th century. The SRs actually won the November 1917 Constituent Assembly election, however Lenin closed the Assembly down by force because he didn't like the result and went on to eradicate all opposition to his own group, the Bolsheviks, in a Civil War which cost 10 million lives. There then followed, under Stalin in the 1930s, an attempt to industrialise the USSR in 10 years based on the mass use of forced labour. In the name of 'the people' the peasants (who were the people, at least most of them) were condemned as petite-bourgeois and branded as 'Kulaks' (private farmers) if they opposed the creation of huge collective farms run as industries, the communist equivalent of massive agribusinesses. Most of course were not Kulaks but members of their local Mir or village commune ie localised, socialist inclined small scale production units. However as Lenin once said, "telling the truth is a bourgeois prejudice", and so the peasants were sent on mass to the gulag system.
As far as the ecological impact of Stalin in concerned, Stevenson's book is a catalogue of grimness. Much of the book is concerned with the plight of the victims of nuclear testing in East Kazakhstan. Also there is the destruction of the Aral Sea, the desiccation of which reduced what was the world's fourth largest inland body of water to half its size in just 50 years. It is a searing indictment of Stalin's environmental impact and the Marxist-Leninist worldview which spawned his regime.

Why We Still Need to Support LGBT Charities Such as Colchester's Outhouse East

Given that we now live in an age of same sex marriages and gay characters featuring regularly on Coronation Street it may be tempting to think that LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) charities such as Colchester's 'Outhouse East' are no longer needed or irrelevant. While it is true that an awful lot has changed in the last 25 years, it would be naive to think that LGBT people all exist in the same situations and face no problems or barriers as a result of their sexual orientation or gender. In particular there are still major issues faced by young LGBT people and all family and domestic situations are not cozy ones typified by 'gay-friendly' parents and siblings. While attitudes are changing this does not mean that there are no longer homophobic parents or hostile family environments where young people are bombarded with anti-gay comments well before any coming-out process starts. Add to this the pernicious problem of homophobic bullying and language in secondary schools and you still have a huge reason why Outhouse East and similar organisations which provide advice and support need to exist. Stonewall, the leading UK gay, lesbian and bisexual charity, ( website: estimates that in the next year around 75,000 young people will be bullied because they are gay and around 21,000 will attempt suicide.
Furthermore there are people of all age groups that still need the services of Outhouse East. The organisation offers a free counselling service which is much in demand and attracts clients of all age groups. There are many people who grew up in less favorable times who still have never felt able to come out or deal with the situations in which they are in. There remains much ignorance out there regarding issues of sexuality and gender, particularly transgender issues.
As well as counselling, Outhouse East provides regular socials and has an extensive library. The address is 19 East Hill Colchester (halfway down the hill on the right-hand side, nearly opposite the Curve Bar). The socials are open to all and you just drop-in. For counselling services see the contact details on the Outhouse East website. The website address is:

Below are some pictures of the Outhouse and its facilities:

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Military Road to be Resurfaced!

I understand that Military Road will now be resurfaced from 05/01/15. Thanks to blog readers who reported the potholes and to people from all political parties, particularly Councillor Sue Lissimore, who pushed for this to happen.

Support the Campaign To Save Salary Brook Valley

Some of you may have seen the article in the Gazette (Thursday December 18) regarding the campaign by residents to have Salary Brook made into a country park to save it from development. Around 200 residents have backed this idea and I would invite all Green Party members and supporters to get behind this initiative to save this valuable countryside from the concrete.
Currently the Colchester East Community Association are campaigning to have Salary Brook named as an asset of community value due to its ecological value and the fact that it is a beauty spot. They state:

"It is a beauty spot with views of the valley from its ridges that are arguably, the best valley hillside views in the whole area (see the sample photographs).    There is easy footpath access to ancient woodlands, links to other well used footpaths through to Wivenhoe's natural amenities including its beautiful 'Colne river walk'.   Our valley has an air of tranquility, and an important wildlife population.   It provides a wonderful, easily accessible outdoor exercise amenity for all local people and their pets.   All of these aspects are irreplaceable and support our community's health and quality of life."

We simply have to defend our countryside from the unprecedented assault that it currently faces due to the government's reforms of the planning system creating a, 'presumption in favour of development' (ie a developers' charter) combined with the unacceptable targets for new housing being imposed on local councils by central government (the current draft local plan suggests building 21,000 houses on greenfield sites near Marks Tey and Greenstead).  We won't win every battle but it seems to me that Salary Brook is a prime example of an area of countryside with real ecological and social value that should be saved. 

Please cut & paste and circulate the 'Request for Support' email below. Then email the campaign team:

Colchester East Community Association (CECA)- ‘Save Salary Brook Valley’ Initiative.

We need to build our support (member) numbers to give extra leverage to achieving our future vision for this beautiful Valley. If you live near or come farther away to enjoy this lovely Valley, we want your support. Perhaps you could get sympathetic friends, neighbours, or other electors in your household, to send a simple email ASAP to :      and simply give it ‘Subject’ of ‘Count me in’ and ‘only if you wish’ add any thoughts you have on the issue.  
Thank you in advance the CECA team.

Below are some photos of what could be lost:

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The State of Colchester's Military Road : Potholes Galore

The current state of Military Road is completely unacceptable, yet despite it having been in this condition for a very long time nothing has been done bar a bit of bodging. The potholes in the stretch nearest to the St Botolphs roundabout are massive and on both sides of the road. It is a very busy road at certain times in the day and its a wonder that cars haven't been damaged. I've taken a series of photographs as evidence and will send them to Essex County Council Highways Dept. Lets hope something gets done. See below:

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Book recommendation: "Farmageddon" Philip Lymbery & Isabel Oakeshott

This is an excellent book and very topical given the recent horsemeat scandal. However despite the title it covers more than just the meat industry, it being an examination of the whole intensive farming industry and its impact on our countryside, health and wildlife.
The first few chapters cover topics that are fairly familiar, battery hens , pesticides and the decline in our wildlife. There is a whole section on the decline in bees with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) being linked to a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These are not sprayed on the plants but on the soil so that the soil itself becomes toxic and the whole plant gets to absorb the chemicals, becoming 'poison factories' to insects. In 2013 the EU voted to ban the use of neonicotinoids on crops deemed attractive to bees however the UK voted against the measure. Indeed a common thread throughout the book is the role that the EU plays in regulating food production and the fact that UK governments are often seeking to remove or prevent positive EU regulation in the interests of big business vested interests. Should a laissez faire , neo-liberal party ever lead the UK out of the EU then expect a round of deregulation of pesticides, sprays and animal care regulation.
However it is when the book moved on to animal care other than hens and then food hygene issues that it became a real eye opener. Battery style farming of cows on an industrial scale means that they have to be injected with umpteen antibiotics as their crammed in living conditions make disease rife. All of which leads to overuse and the result is super bugs and animals whose natural disease resistance declines. Cows and pigs stand all day in pens where they cannot turn round and are stuffed full of artificially enhanced food as grass grazing cannot produce the level of milk to 'maximise efficiency' or fatten them up for the kill quickly enough.
We then get full descriptions of unhygienic slaughterhouses, meat contaminated with faeces entering the food chain and the devastating effect on the basic nutritional quality of meat of factory production with the fat content going through the roof at the expense of protein. By 2030 annual obesity-related health costs in the UK are expected to soar by £1.25 billion. Meanwhile meat production is deliberately being 'outsourced' from the UK to those parts of the world where animal welfare rules are lax (thus maximising profits) and where they are less fussy about what gets bunged into the grinder, hence the horse meat scandal . The only surprising thing about the latter is that it was only horse meat they found and not a wider range of animal matter.
All in all this is a frightening book which I've only briefly summarised. Carcinogenic pesticides, GM cows producing 'human milk', But the best parts of the book are where they explode the myth that industrial farming is some kind of driver of equality, that it provides cheap food for all and that it is somehow immoral for people to oppose it. This is nonsense because factory farming of meat drives up overall food prices because of the vast quantities of grain and soya required to feed the animals. Factory farms deliver low cost (and lower quality) meat to people in the developed countries at the expense of cereal prices rising in the poorest parts of the world. As the 'Hundred-Dollar Hamburger' chapter makes clear, this then eventually does impact negatively on the price of an average bag of shopping in the UK as well.

Green Cats

It is quite clear which way my cats will be voting in the election.....

Friday, 12 December 2014

BBC Question Time Last Night : Brand vs Farage vs the Audience

Last night's BBC Question Time from Canterbury was certainly very entertaining. However it was also the kind of deliberately contrived sensationalist slanging match that demeans the issues being discussed and probably puts lots of people off politics. Which puts me in a bit of a moral dilemma since I did enjoy it, while at the same time thinking to myself whether or not I should switch it off.
Clearly the producers has decided that this was the big one; a chance to up the ratings and draw in viewers who'd normally rather drink a cup of cold bleach than watch a political discussion programme. Russell Brand vs Nigel Farage, the clash of the panto clown and the panto villain with the baying mob providing the extra fun. The rest of the panel were a collection of very sensible female politicians and columnists who wisely resisted joining in the insult trading and made some very good points from their various perspectives, all of which however were buried beneath the fun and games. Once again the Green Party was not represented on the panel, although neither were the Lib Dems.
The first question was all about whether adversarial politics puts people off. Oh the irony, given that the show was deliberately designed to be a slanging match. Hence the second question about immigration, a topic almost guaranteed to produce an emotional response from both sides. Off went Nigel Farage with his over-the-top claims about immigrants causing motorway traffic jams and in came the personal insults from Russell Brand and the best quote of the show when he described Mr Farage as, "a pound shop Enoch Powell". It was funny but does this kind of thing really achieve anything in terms of challenging UKIP's arguments... of course not. But then the show was about entertainment rather than serious discussion.
Russell Brand's worst moment came when an angry man in the audience, who looked like he could handle himself in a punch up, suggested that Brand should stand for election himself if he was serious. A very good point and all Brand could manage in response was a feeble: "I'd be scared that I'd end up like the others". It didn't work and Brand looked wrongfooted. As the audience started shouting at each other David Dimbleby sat back and let events take their natural course, presumably on the advice of the gleeful producers. Then came the woman with the blue hair, reputedly a Socialist Workers Party activist, who stood up and fired her invective at Farage, "You're a scumbag racist...." she screamed and stole the show. Acceptable political discourse it certainly wasnt.
The problem with all of this is that it reduces serious and complex issues to who can shout the loudest and who has the best one-line put down. Both sides in these debates tend to be equally ill informed. Having said that there were sensible points being made in the programme by both the people on the panel and the more restrained members of the audience. Its a shame that these sensible points, on both sides of the debate, were completely lost amid the pantomime.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Colchester's Transport Chaos

Although I don't myself drive, I am well aware of the constant traffic congestion at peak times in Colchester. I recently caught a taxi home from the main railway station during the evening rush hour which took far longer than it should due to constant jams on Balkerne Hill, Southway and beyond. I'm constantly hearing about what should be relatively short journeys taking an inordinate amount of time because of this. Students unable to get to college on time because the bus is stuck in stationary traffic, which often consists of cars with only one person in them, is common as is the problem of half-empty buses just driving past the people waiting at the bus stops for no obvious reason. One person recently informed me that the bus regularly, "turns round before it gets to our stop in order to save time", despite the fact that said stop is on the driver's allotted route.Clearly instances such as the latter prompt complaints, yet the problems go on, and on and on.... Rude drivers are undoubtedly a minority however this minority can tar the majority with their grumpy brush. When I once paid some of my fare with a build up of coppers in my wallet, the comment was something along the lines of:
"Huh, getting rid of your rubbish are you mate? You've got a nerve", before the coins were flung angrily into a greasy looking sack.

And don't expect the railways to be much better. The trains to London are often standing room only during the commuter run in the morning, as I have found myself on my infrequent trips to exam board meetings in the smoke.And this is then followed by the impossible challenge of fitting into the jammed full tube trains on the central line.... but that's another matter. All of this with another huge hike in railway fares on the horizon.

Unfortunately the root causes of the problems are over development, lack of investment in public transport and bus deregulation. Colchester has grown massively in the last 15 years with hundreds of new residents and cars. Yet since the 1980s bus services have been deregulated and have become unreliable and unattractive. It is clearly the case that we need to be encouraging car sharing in order to reverse the volume of traffic on our roads however we also need to strive to make public transport a viable alternative to using the car, rather than something people avoid like the plague.
The grey political parties have completely failed Colchester on this issue.I read a lot about awful suggestions in the Gazette & Standard, such as building massive relief roads through Highwoods Country Park, however this is a fallacy. The new roads would just quickly fill up with the same congestion. What is needed is the kind of radical green change that can only stem from national policy.

1) All bus services should be re-regulated on a national level. The Green Party would spend £1.5 billion on subsidising existing public transport to make fares 10% cheaper. Bus companies who continue to fail to deliver an adequate service should face financial penalties and the bringing back of inspectors should be encouraged.

2) The Green Party is currently engaged in a national campaign against rail fare increases. We would take the railways back into public ownership to prevent arbitrary price hikes and random cuts to services.

3) Green Party policy states that the £30 billion that the government has allocated to road building schemes over the next ten years should be diverted and invested in public transport expansion over the next parliament. That way we use existing funds and avoid concreting over the countryside.

4) Green Party policy is that least 10% of transport spending should be on expanding cycle lanes and making cycling a safer option.

5) We need to reform the planning regulations so that housing development proposals cannot go ahead without any regard to the impact on transport congestion.

Chris Packham & Animal Cruelty on "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here"

BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham has written an official letter of complaint to the presenters of, "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here" (Ant & Dec) complaining about the use of animals on the show. While I would question why the letter went to Ant & Dec rather than the shows' producers, I would totally support the sentiments behind Chris' letter. This awful programme regularly features maggot eating, chewing kangaroo genitals, rolling around in dug outs with live rats and so on all served up as entertainment. Its the modern equivalent of lobbing brickbats and faeces at the man in the stocks or going to the bear baiting ring. It is entertainment by humiliation all 'justified' by the knowledge that the Z list celebrities on it are desperate enough to do anything to revive their sagging careers. Together with the 'lets laugh at the village idiot' appeal of the early episodes of the X Factor it represents the sheer nastiness to which reality TV has sunk over the last decade in the drive for ratings. You can hear more of what I think about reality TV in my video below:

As far as wildlife is concerned, Chris states:

“It spoils the show because it’s simply out of date, some would say barbaric and actually it’s often pretty silly too, because many viewers recognise that the species used are not dangerous, or significantly toxic or venomous in the first place. I’m afraid I can guarantee that some animals are harmed during production, because they are fragile or easily stressed. Or simply killed, as they are in your ‘Bushtucker Trials’.”

Chris explains this further in an article in the latest BBC Wildlife magazine (see below).

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Why vote Green? Answering the difficult questions.

According to today's Colchester Daily Gazette, a recent poll by Lord Ashcroft polls suggests that I stand to get 6% of the vote in Colchester. Clearly its early days however I'm certainly well aware that we've got plenty of work to do in terms of getting the message across to the people of Colchester that voting Green is the best option in May 2015. However I honestly believe that the more most people find out about the Green Party the more they like us, while in the case of the other parties it tends to work the opposite way round. There are difficult questions to answer however, so having had a fair few of them pitched at me already in the last few days, I'll answer some of them on here.

Question 1: I do like the Green Party, however surely you've no chance of winning so voting Green is just a wasted vote isn't it?

Answer: Not at all. There is widespread disillusionment with politicians in general at the moment with the belief that they are all 'in it for themselves' or all the same. Many people are angry because they believe that the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour are just not listening to their concerns. Well there is only one way that you can make them listen and that is to stop voting for them. It is the only weapon you have. There is simply no point in complaining that they are all the same if you don't vote for anything different. In addition, even if the Green candidate does not win, increasing the Green vote share will have the effect of making the other parties sit up and take notice. You can see this happening at the moment with UKIP and the effect that fear of them is having on Conservative Party policy announcements. Clearly we would like to influence our rival parties in a different way however the point is the same in the sense that it shows that change doesn't have to result just from an outright win. No Green vote is a wasted vote. That said, winning will result in the most significant change and the only way for Green candidates to win is to vote for them .One thing is certain above all else and that is keep voting for the other parties and they will keep letting you down.

Question 2: But if I vote for you it might split the Lib Dem vote and let the Tories win.

Answer: The Tories won in the 2010 election because of the Lib Dems. As a result the Lib Dems were strong enough to hold the balance of power and to enter into coalition with the Conservative Party and therefore prop up Mr Cameron's government and all of its resulting policies. The Lib Dems are not the opposition party and the Conservatives the government. Both of them are the current government and the only reason that we have the bedroom tax, the tuition fee hike, further NHS privatisation, falling real wages and a cost of living crisis is because the Lib Dem MPs have lined up to vote for the policies which have led to these outcomes. They could have stopped them. They didn't.

Question 3: You Greens would just put our taxes up wouldn't you?

Answer: A common myth. No we wouldn't. What a Green Party government would do is to reform the taxation to make it fairer and certainly not hike up the overall tax burden for the average person. In general political parties hike up VAT on goods as a stealth tax in order to disguise tax increases. Because this hits everyone, including the very poorest, the Green Party would generally avoid this and instead concentrate on cracking down of tax avoidance by large corporations and wealthy people who hire clever accountants to worm out of their responsibilities while the 'squeezed middle' get to foot the resulting bill.

Question 4: Aren't the Greens just a bunch of hippies who are soft on crime?

Answer: Well I suppose we all think in stereotypes to some extent, but the answer is no to both questions. The Green Party is the fastest growing UK party among 16-24 year olds and is certainly not the preserve of any one generation or social demographic. Furthermore if by 'hippies' the questioner means people who care about the environment, want to make a difference, believe in what they do rather than just talk from a script to get elected, care about social justice and believe that our countryside is worth protecting then I'd simply say, what is wrong with that?
As far as crime is concerned, the Green Party is not soft. I can't help but notice that tax avoidance, which the Green Party would crack down on, is seldom highlighted  by those columnists who like to present the UK as awash with rising criminality. It may not always be via criminal methods but its certainly unethical. The coalition government will not invest in police resources to the extent that is needed to cut low level crime such as burglary and car crime. As a Green MP I would campaign for better police funding. Moreover only the Green Party has a serious approach to alleviating the social causes of crime as well as dealing with the consequences. Its very easy to take the 'hang 'em and flog 'em' approach which is basically shutting the stable door once the horse has bolted. Also the very politicians who do this the most they won't put the money in to expand prison places and end up having to cut the number of people being locked up. The Green Party will tackle crime by tackling its causes as the first priority; by initiating a £2 billion job creation programme, by introducing a guaranteed citizens' income in order to remove the need to thieve or beg to survive at the very bottom and we would concentrate police resources into crushing the big drug traders rather than wasting taxpayers' money by landing someone with a criminal record just for having a small amount of cannabis on him/her.

Question 5: All very well, but we like Bob Russell. What could you do better?

I'm not going to pretend that Mr Russell is a bad constituency MP. We need to be honest with people. He has done some excellent constituency work, helped a lot of people and does stand up against some inappropriate developments in Colchester. I would aim to continue with this and would see these qualities as something to aspire to rather than to disrespect. However there are local issues that I would prioritise which are still a massive problem such as transport, with regular traffic jams and inadequate bus services. Moreover the simple fact is that you cannot just divorce all connection between national politics and local politics. It can't be done. The former impacts on everyone locally. Mr Russell is a Liberal Democrat and largely (not always) votes for Lib Dem/Conservative coalition policies. For example, the coalition government has slashed the planning rules, removing most of the protection for the environment, and created a developers charter which has a presumption in favour of development. Mr Russell may oppose the planned dumping of a 2000 house estate near the A120 by Tendring Council, yet is is the government to which his party belongs which is responsible for the policies which have created the situation in the first place.
Its back to my answer to question 1; the only way to achieve change is to vote differently. I would aim to work hard within the constituency but also make a difference in parliament by not voting for the policies which I then have to shoot back to Colchester to deal with the consequences of. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Crisis at Colchester General Hospital

Like many Colchester residents, I have read about the unfolding problems at Colchester General Hospital with increasing concern and a sense of bewilderment that the situation has been allowed to get this far. I am not going to comment on the specific details of cases which have been reported in the Daily Gazette and other media. In addition I am not about to start criticising current Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell, who has held meetings with both Dr Lucy Moore, the hospital's interim chief executive, and with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Clearly Sir Bob is making every effort to contribute to sorting the problems out.
However I will make one point, which is not being made loudly enough. The population of Colchester is growing rapidly; the total figure for Colchester Local Authority (LA) was estimated at 173,000 in the 2011 census, an 11% increase from the 2001 census estimate of 156,000. In 2010 the Gazette suggested that the figure night rise to 207,000 by mid 2018. Given such large population increases and the huge amount of house building in the Colchester area over the last fifteen years, it seems to me that there has been inadequate investment in a corresponding increase in NHS facilities. Instead we have the decision to close Essex County Hospital in 2015. We also had the decision to move the popular North Hill walk in centre to a location further away from the middle of town and harder to get to. There has been completely inadequate investment in health infrastructure to cope with the extent of Colchester's expansion. I'm not suggesting that this is the only cause of Colchester General Hospital's problems however I'd be massively surprised if its not a major contributing factor. You don't massively increase demand without increasing supply.

UKIP and its Confusion over LGBT Rights

Given UKIP's recent confusing position on migrant repatriation, you would think that they would be capable of achieving clarity on their approach to other minority groups. Not a bit of it. As regards their position on gay marriage, here are some quotes from David Coburn, a UKIP MEP, in a recent interview with the Huffington Post:

"....false bollocks" that "makes a mockery of the holy sacrament of marriage".

"...equality Nazis" have pushed through something that only matters to "some queen who wants to dress up in a bridal frock and dance up the aisle to the Village People".

The odd thing is that, according to the Huffington Post, Mr Coburn identifies as gay himself. While I'm fully willing to accept that not all LGBT people wish to get married or see the issue as a priority, the use of derogatory language such as, "some queen" and the general implication by Mr Coburn that gay marriages are "false" suggests that Mr Coburn has a very negative view of the LGBT community in general.

This confusion is nothing new with UKIP. This year Nigel Farage has stated that a UKIP government would not reverse gay marriages. Yet in 2012 UKIP opposed same sex marriage and UKIP's youth chairman Olly Neville was sacked with party chairman Steve Crowther stating:

"In relation to the party's policies on areas including gay marriage .... Mr Neville has been publicly at odds with the party over the past few weeks."

It seems to me that UKIP are deliberately avoiding clarity on this and other issues in order to bring in the right-wing, rather homophobic, 'back to the 1950s vote while denying that they are doing so. Or it could just be that they are confused. Or riddled with prejudice.

UKIP and Labour: The Masks Slip

Recent events in Rochester have seen the masks slip from both UKIP and the Labour Party. Regarding UKIP, it seems that Mark Reckless was genuinely caught off guard when he made his gaffe suggesting that East European migrants could be offered an 'amnesty period' if we leave the EU, which carried the implication that repatriation of people already in the UK was being considered by UKIP. Later Mr Farage claimed that Mr Reckless was tired and misunderstood the question as being about illegal immigrants rather than legal migrant workers. I fully accept that a gaffe is a gaffe and that anyone can make them. The real story for me was the response I witnessed on media websites and social networking sites from people claiming to be UKIP supporters. Masses of comments along the lines of, 'who cares if they want to deport them, I'm still voting UKIP', and 'send them back' and so forth.
I'm not suggesting for one moment that all UKIP voters support the forced repatriation of people who have lived here for years, worked hard and paid taxes. However UKIP has clearly failed to make its position clear enough on this issue to avoid attracting supporters who think that the forced deportation of law-abiding people with jobs, houses and partners in the UK is an acceptable policy. 

Regarding Labour, well I'm not in the least bit surprised by Emily Thornberry's tweet. Arguably the hapless Mr Miliband's decision to sack her simply garnered more media attention to the matter than it would otherwise have got and ensured that this was the story on the day after the election rather than the Conservatives losing a seat. However that said, the issue has highlighted once again the huge gulf between those running the Labour Party and their grass roots voters. Here again is the picture which caused all the fuss:

I doubt that Emily Thornberry knew a single thing about the owner of the house and van when she tweeted the image. Rather she was implying that there was something wrong with hanging an English flag out of the window, something xenophobic, small minded, common.....
The problem is that the Labour Party is increasingly perceived as being run by people who are either middle-class champagne 'Hampstead left' socialists, Tony Blair type liberals or people who have distanced themselves from their working class backgrounds to the extent of self-hatred. It adds to the sense created by Gordon Brown's 'bigoted woman' gaffe that Labour leaders think that any sign of patriotism is racist and that working class people need to be 'educated' in the right way of thinking rather than listened to.

What both of the above problems indicate is that UKIP cannot be relied on to address legitimate concerns about immigration levels without appealing to extreme right wing people with dangerous ideas. Labour meanwhile cannot be trusted not to talk down their noses at the public and treat every sign of patriotism as vulgar or racist.

Greens beat the Lib Dems in Rochester

Regarding the Rochester by-election, I can't help notice how little the media is making of the Green candidate beating the Lib Dem candidate by over a thousand votes. This follows a similar Green advance in Clacton.

Here's hoping the trend continues in Colchester.....

Tuition Fees: A Tale of Two Pledges

The above image may remind you of someone. Google search Nick Clegg tuition fee pledge 2010 and a similar image may appear. Well when I say similar, there are a few noticeable differences. Nick looks rather happy and smiley while I'm striking a rather serious look. His pledge sheet is nicely word processed where as mine is home made.  Yet on the whole the images are similar and you may be thinking that this extends to their intent as well. Both Nick Clegg and I belong to neither of the main  two political parties. We are both fully aware that there is slim chance that either the Lib Dems or the Greens will form a majority government on our own following the next election but there is a chance that we may help to form a coalition government in a hung parliament scenario. However this is where the similarities end. In 2010 Mr Clegg knew full well that he would not be able to deliver the above pledge as leader of a majority Lib Dem government. Yet he and his party still trot this out as their excuse for not keeping their promise ie that they 'surprisingly' didn't win the election. About as surprising as Autumn following Summer.
Mr Clegg could have insisted on the keeping of his pledge as part of the coalition negotiations and deal. He didn't and it was dropped at the first hurdle. His much parodied apology was for making the pledge in the first place and not for dropping it. The simple truth is that the Lib Dems were only ever half-heartedly against tuition fee rises in the first place and only then in order to gain the student vote. The Conservatives and Labour will simply increase the fees whenever they feel like it, that much is clear.
However the Green Party can be relied on to oppose tuition fees regardless of circumstances. On a personal level I will never break the above pledge. This is because tuition fees add to long term inequality. A student who goes to a fee-paying school is likely to have his/her fees paid upfront by their parents, given that they are lower per year than the school fees in many private sector schools. They will emerge from university with no debt. Yet a state school student whose parents cannot afford to pay the fees up front will emerge with £27.000 fee debt as well as living cost student loans debt on top. Later in life when the latter student is hit with loan repayments with added interest (in other words a massive stealth tax), the former student pays nothing.
Therefore I will never vote for for the keeping of or the extension of the fee system.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

My General Election Candidate Profile

At the moment the ballot is taking place to select Colchester Green Party's 2015 General Election candidate and I am on the ballot. My profile statement is below:

My Background

I have lived in Colchester for twenty-four years during which time I have taught History at Colchester VI Form College. I was born in Leicester and grew up in rural Leicestershire before studying History at Lancaster University. My dad worked as a linesman for the electricity board  and my mum was a boot and shoe machinist. I was the first in my family to go to university and I know full well what education means in terms of increased opportunities. Before joining the teaching profession I worked for the NHS in the Finance Department of Leicester Royal Infirmary. I am currently the NUT (National Union of Teachers) representative at the College and have worked as a volunteer for the Outhouse East charity in Colchester for fifteen years and have, in the past, sat on the management board of the organisation.

Me and the Green Party

I have been a member of the Green Party for over two years and joined because I believe it to be the only major political party in the UK to be genuinely committed to protecting our countryside and planet as well as fighting for social justice and the common good. The other parties like to talk the talk on these issues but their willingness to turn words into actions is minimal. Currently our countryside is under unprecedented attack from overdevelopment and the Coalition's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has created a laissez faire approach to planning, with much of the protection of the countryside removed and a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' (which basically means a presumption in favour of development since the term sustainable is not defined and is open to a myriad of different interpretations).
Four years of austerity have created a cost of living crisis in the UK with an economy rife with high utility bills, transport fare hikes, zero-hours contracts and a minimum wage that is not a living wage. Meanwhile voters are losing faith with the political establishment and who can blame them when they are so out of touch with everyday concerns such as paying the bills and jobs.

What I Would Do For Colchester

1) Housing and Planning

Colchester is sufferering from overdevelopment and our green spaces and surrounding countryside are under attack. We need a green approach to development which is responsive to local needs and puts the provision of attractive affordable housing above the building of huge, ugly boxes sold at inflated prices and built in inappropriate places. Once the countryside is lost, it is lost forever. I would fully oppose Tendring Council's plans for 3000 houses on countryside east of Greenstead near the A120. I would seek to retain the town’s historic character, preserve greenbelt areas and end urban sprawl. Housing should be affordable and built on brownfield, not greenfield sites, with fewer huge developments. I would defend the countryside around Colchester from unwanted developments while also supporting the Green Party's national drive for rent caps and the abolition of the bedroom tax.

2) Jobs and Bills.

I  know that many people are too busy trying to make ends meet than to worry about political hot air and ..isms. That is why I would fight to get real rent controls in Colchester and across the UK, campaign against rising fuel bills and strive to create a local green economy which would jobs in renewable energy and conservation work. The Green Party nationally is committed to raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020 and as an MP I would fully support this.

3) Education

I am totally opposed to university tuition fees. I will never ever under any circumstances vote to keep or increase them. I would use my position as Green MP to campaign for their abolition. I am well aware that the behaviour of the Lib Dem leadership after the 2010 election may cause people to doubt what I, a would-be MP, is promising here. However tuition fees would have put me off going to university and I want to make this completely clear; if I were to break the promise I have made above then I would no longer be fit to be your MP. 

4) Health and Wellbeing

Centralised funding should be diverted to community health centres offering self-help solutions for preventing illness and promoting health. The health benefits of natural environments are well documented. I would campaign to ensure that all children and young people in Colchester have access to outdoor play and learning. I would use my position as MP to hilight the campaign against TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), which threatens to make it more difficult to resist creeping NHS privatisation.

5) Transport

In Colchester we have an ongoing traffic congestion problem. We need a green approach to transport with the new bus station made bigger and better and further investment in order to enable public transport to be an attractive alternative to car use rather than a headache. Many people in Colchester use trains to commute. I would campaign against rail fare price hikes that disadvantage commuters. The Green Party supports 20mph default speed limits and programmes to encourage car sharing, walking and cycling.

6) Community Safety

We must ensure that Colchester remains a safe place to live and work and that crime rates decline. We need an approach to crime reduction which focuses on the social causes of crime. I would oppose the proliferation of nightclubs in areas of town where they become linked to crime. I would propose revoking the licences of any venues linked to incidents of violent crime. I would also fully support the Green Party's national policy of introducing a guaranteed Citizens' Income in order to reduce petty crime caused by poverty. I would also use my position as an MP to campaign for increased police funding so that the resources are in place to tackle burglary, car crime and drug dealing.

7) Energy

All Colchester Borough Council-owned facilities would be audited and given energy reduction targets. We would generate locally sourced, affordable renewable energy to
tackle fuel poverty. I would strive to make it easier for residents across town to obtain replacement green bins and garden waste bags.

Is a Green vote a wasted vote?

No it isn't. Only the Green Party puts concern for ecology and the natural world at the heart of what we do and will oppose fracking.  Only the Green Party wish to abolish the tuition fees which are loading huge debts onto the shoulders of Essex University students. Only the Green Party will fight to ensure that the minimum wage is a living wage and that the NHS is saved from the creeping privatisation which all of the grey parties have allowed.
Above all, if you want the grey parties to listen or stop going back on their promises then you have to stop voting for them and vote for real change. Its the only power you have over them and the only way they'll listen. Not voting at all simply ensures that they still win.

And the EU?

Only the Green Party would stay in Europe but fight to radically change the EU for the better. The Lib Dems and Labour would keep it exactly as it is with no change. The Conservatives will promise to reform it while actually doing nothing. UKIP would leave the EU and then saddle us with trade treaties with the USA which would hand American corporations control of our economy. Only the Green Party would fight to make Britain's voice louder in Europe and the EU more responsive to concerns about wage levels and the environment.

Why HRH The Prince of Wales is Right About the Countryside

The latest edition of "Country Life" magazine contains an article by Prince Charles entitled, "How Much is Our Countryside Worth?". The article puts forward a number of crucial arguments which in my view make a lot of sense and should be given major consideration by the Green Party when  framing policy concerning rural affairs and agriculture. The central thesis of the article is that our countryside is under threat because the, "delicate woven tapestry", that is rural life, farming and rural human activity are themselves under threat. While accepting that there are intangible aspects of the countryside that defy valuation, ..."the haunting cry of a curlew.. an ancient hedgerow...", it is the economic value of the 'ecosystem services' and the farming industry that are the best defence against the loss of the countryside.
I think that there is much truth in this. It is very tempting for us in the Green movement to assume that the best approach to conserving the countryside would be to turn as much of it as possible back to wilderness free from human activity. However, as Prince Charles argues, in the real world this would be a massive mistake as unless we put a value on the countryside that is economic as well as instinctive then the developers will. At the moment our countryside faces an unprecedented threat from the two-headed monster that is profit-hungry developers and politicians eager to base economic growth on the construction industry. The current issue of the Green Party magazine, Green World, points out that the Coalition's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has created a laissez faire approach to planning, with much of the protection of the countryside removed and a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' (which basically means a presumption in favour of development since the term sustainable is not defined and is open to a myriad of different interpretations. In addition Green World also points out that the proposed new Infrastructure Bill is a developers' charter which will exempt fracking companies from trespass laws and make it harder to oppose road building in the countryside. No wonder so many rural communities feel under siege at the moment from developers. No wonder also that wildlife in the UK is undergoing unprecedented rates of decline as a spate of recent reports has indicated. For example on average farmland birds have declined by 55% since 1970. Some such as the skylark, lapwing and yellowhammer have declined by 70%.

Given the scale of the assault on our countryside, I would agree with the Prince of Wales that it is vital to emphasise the economic value of the countryside as well as its natural beauty. As Prince Charles states:

"...meadows and other semi-natural grasslands are estimated to store around 300 tonnes of carbon. They also provide homes for pollinating insects, which are estimated to be worth £440 million a year to the agricultural economy. They play a big role in tourism too. Visitors to the South Downs alone put over £300 million into the economy."

Moreover it is also vital to help the farming industry to survive and to encourage it to work in harmony with the countryside. Put simply, if the farmers move out, the developers will move in. This is because we live in a current UK zeitgeist of crass materialism whether we like it or not (and I most certainly don't). Unless we defend those rural communities that keep and maintain the countryside as countryside and unless we enable our farmers to prosper then the countryside will disappear under developments. The politicians of the grey parties will not defend it, indeed they will facilitate its destruction and are doing so now.
Prince Charles paints a gloomy picture. Farmers in the upland areas of the UK last year earned, on average, only £8000. 700 rural pubs (the hubs of the community) closed last year and also 400 village shops.
The Green Party must make it a priority to help and defend our rural communities:

1) We should aim to compliment initiatives such as Prince Charles' Countryside Fund with emergency grants to farmers and government initiatives to save local services , pubs and shops.

2) We need to be brave and take on the supermarket vested interests who are putting farmers out of business by driving down wholesale prices to unprecedented levels. The grey parties are timid in the face of big business and we need to put communities first.

3) We need to preserve and extend rural public transport.

4) We need to encourage farmers to farm in harmony with the countryside and provide funding for organic farming initiatives and small scale producers.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Its Time To Defend the Countryside Around Colchester

The countryside around Colchester is under unprecedented attack from developers and local councils. In particular Tendring Council has earmarked land to the east of Greenstead, near the A120 and Ipswich Road, for 3000 houses. The new residents of these homes will pay their council tax to Tendring Council yet it is Colchester that will face the consequences in terms of more demand on school places, hospitals and other public services since the houses would be on our doorstep rather than Clacton's. In addition to this, Colchester Council is now reviewing its own local plan with the possible consequence that a further 3000 houses could be dumped on greenfield sites within Colchester borough.

Tendring Council are doing this because their initial plan for between 4000-6000 new homes was overruled by central government and a new figure of 12,000 homes imposed on them from on high. It is a simple fact that the planning system in England is neither democratic or based on localism. For all the coalition's talk about localism, in reality the legislation allows local communities to ask for more development (the so-called 'right to build') but they are not allowed to ask for less development. It is pure deception. The Conservative Housing Minister Nick Boles has reduced a 5000 page planning regulation document to 50 pages, ditching most of the protection for the environment and countryside from the planning system. This was at the instigation of the Chancellor George Osborne and is part of what David Cameron was refering to when he famously spoke about, "dropping the green shit". Most Conservatives on Tendring Council fully support the imposition of 12,000 houses on local communities, because they are singing to the tune of their central government masters. However they would rather dump a significant number of them on Colchester than have to face the problem of providing more infrastructure in Clacton to support the new residents.

Tendring Council's plan for 12,000 new homes states only plans for 5000 new jobs. It does not require a BA in Mathematics to  see the problem here. Also both Tendring Council and Colchester Council insist that the new homes are for local residents and not over spill from London. Yet there are not 12,000 homeless people in Tendring or 3000 people on the streets in Colchester. Again, a degree in Mathematics is not required to see the situation. The houses are being built to cover population increase. It is about encouraging more people into the area without providing either the infrastructure or the jobs to support them. It is coupled with the government's 'social cleansing' agenda for London, ie using the benefits cap to shift the poor out of London and into places such as Tendring.

Clearly, as a Green Party, it is up to us to take the lead in opposing this top-down imposed increase in development on green field sites. It amounts to the concreting over of huge swathes of our countryside and no attempt to dress development up as 'eco-homes' or 'carbon-neutral housing' will alter this fact. Vast areas of farmland and countryside will vanish under buildings and that includes both wildlife habitats and green spaces for people to walk in and enjoy. 
None of the other main parties can be trusted to oppose this assault on our countryside. The Conservatives and Labour have both made it crystal clear that they support it. The Conservatives on Tendring Council have backed the 12,000 homes and so has Labour's Tim Young on Colchester Borough Council. They would rather speak up for profit-hungry developers and their national masters Cameron and Miliband than defend the interests of the local people who vote for them. The only solution is to place your vote elsewhere. As far as the Lib Dems are concerned, Colchester MP Bob Russell has an excellent record of opposing these development plans and is quoted in the Evening Standard as having said:

"Tendring Council has a huge acreage of land from the Stour to the Colne and from the North Sea to Colchester and it should not need to plonk a significant part of its housing on Colchester's doorstep."

Unfortunately, if you look at what Mr Russell has actually said he is not opposing the building of the houses on green field land, just the dumping of 3000 of them next to Colchester. Fair enough, Mr Russell is standing up for Colchester here and the Green Party should be prepared to do business with him. However his position is essentially that of a nimby : not in my backyard (not necessarily a bad thing) wheres we need to be niabys : not in anyone's backyard. Massive housing estates dumped on local residents without their consent in order to facilitate population increase and boost developers profits are not acceptable anywhere because the cost in terms of the destruction of our countryside is too high. No ifs and no buts.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Greens beat the Lib Dems in Clacton!

Chris Southall, the Green Party candidate, beat the Lib Dem candidate in the Clacton by-election. This is great news for the Green Party as it shows that voters who are disenchanted with the three main parties are not just turning to UKIP but coming our way as well. It also shows that the Lib Dems are a spent force in many constituencies and that people are recognising that if you're fed up with the New Labour/Tory duopoly and can't stomach UKIP then we are the alternative because, unlike Mr Clegg and Mr Cable, we genuinely believe in the common good and the protection of our countryside & planet. Well done Chris. The Results for Clacton are:

Also the Green vote went up by 3% in Heywood and Middleton.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Clacton By-Election : Reasons to Vote Green

Chris Southall (see above) has been nominated as the Green Party candidate in the up and coming Clacton by-election, following current MP Douglas Carswell's move to UKIP from the Conservatives. While the media narrative may focus on the UKIP vs Conservative Party battle, there are many reasons why voting Green is the best option. The Green Party, both nationally and locally, have policies which are broad based and aimed at a wide range of the electorate.
Many people in the wider area of the Clacton constituency have genuine concerns about over-development and urban sprawl. They don't want housing estates dumped in inappropriate places or their countryside to be concreted over and buried under unwanted developments imposed on them from on high. Only the Green Party has concern for the environment and our countryside running through its entire political DNA. We support the provision of more affordable housing but on brownfield sites and in places where they are wanted. We believe in localism and right of local people to determine what is best for their own communities rather than having to be passive bystanders as their countryside is swallowed up. If you live in a rural area or village, voting Green is the safest option if you want to preserve the countryside for future generations.
However we are much more than a single issue party. The Green Party is well aware that many voters in Clacton face diminishing real incomes, low wages and economic insecurity. We understand that many people are attracted to UKIP because they believe that their legitimate concerns about jobs and wages are being ignored by the other parties. People are right to be concerned as the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour are indeed led by people from similar backgrounds with very similar political attitudes and who, as Mr Carswell has described the Conservative leadership, "are not on our side". Conservative columnist Matthew Parris, writing in the Times, summed up this attitude towards Clacton residents with his comment:

"Clacton is going nowhere, its voters are going nowhere, its rather sad and there's nothing more to say. This is Britain on crutches, this is tracksuit and trainers Britain, tattoo parlour Britain, all our yesterdays Britain. I an arguing - if I an honest- that we should be careless of their opinions."

However voting UKIP is not the answer because their only solution is to leave the EU and reduce immigration rather than to address the genuine root causes of low wages and job insecurity. The Green Party however has policies in place that will genuinely challenge the political establishment on poverty, rather than just scapegoating Brussels and immigrants. These Green Party policies include:

1) Raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour by 2020.

2) A guaranteed Citizens Income for all, in order to reduce crime and push wages up, thus removing the 'poverty trap'.

3) A cap on rents to ensure that housing is affordable.

4) The abolition of zero hours contracts.

4) A job creation programme in the Green Economy , particularly renewable energy.

Green Party policies offer a genuine alternative to low wages and job insecurity. By voting Green you will be joining the real people's army, one that will tackle the root causes of economic decline while at the same time defending our countryside and our natural heritage. At the same time you will be voting for a party that is open to people of all ethnic backgrounds and believes that people are people and of equal value.

From the past... The Green Party Election Broadcast 1997

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Poll on Local Priorities

As a Green Party candidate, I am keen to find out what people feel are the the main issues that we should be prioritising locally in the Colchester area. Please take some time to fill in the poll on the left. You can tick multiple answers.

Support the Coggeshall Community Action Group

The Coggeshall Community Action Group are staging a protest walk on Sunday 14 (tomorrow) in opposition to a planned housing development by Honywood School and Marks Hall Estate.The group will meet at the Coggeshall clock tower in Stoneham Street at 11.30am on Sunday 14th September to walk through Coggeshall and on to Marks Hall.

The proposed £30million school could span the A120 joined by an access bridge and plans could see the current school site developed into houses. The new school would be built on a green field site which is unnecessary as the school already has a site and could be refurbished and rebuilt in stages. This is clearly a surreptitious attempt to get away with a large development on green field countryside by using the 'flipping' tactic ie swapping the housing estate with the school in order to depict those opposing it as opposing a school rather than urban housing sprawl. Also it is part of a dangerous trend whereby infrastructure improvements are funded only by housing/industrial developments and communities bullied into accepting this or putting up with run down facilities.
The Action Group is also asking people to write to the Charity Commission. See below (from their website):

Please write to the Charity Commission asap if you want to stop the Honywood Project!! The CAUSE group have written to the Charity Commission outlining our concerns and the Commission has written to tell us that Marks Hall must explain how the sale of the land is considered in the best interest of the charity otherwise they will not be allowed to sell the land. THE COMMISSION WILL TAKE INTO ACCOUNT ANY REPRESENTATIONS MADE BY THE PUBLIC OPPOSING THE PROPOSAL. 
We therefore need as many people as possible to write to: Tony Robinson, Charity Commission, PO Box 1227, Liverpool, L69 3UG saying, in your own words:
That you do not believe that it is not right for a charity which manages land left to the nation for the advancement of agriculture, arboriculture and forestry to sell agricultural land for 300 homes, an industrial park and a school.
That you do not believe it is in the best interest of the charity to give away five sixths of the proceeds of the sale of its land.
That you would like the charity to fully consider other options to secure the financial future of the Estate and that the Honywood Project is not the best way to go about it. (Please note that after several meetings with Marks Hall and three letters, CAUSE has still not been given any information on how the proceeds of the sale will actually be spent)
And anything else you feel about the behaviour of the charity. Time is ticking, please write!!!!!!! CAUSE - Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex, is a partner group to CCAG

There is a link to the Action Group's website at the bottom of this blog. Please lend your support.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Battle for Twyford Down: 20 Years On

Twyford Down is an area of chalk downland lying directly to the southeast of Winchester, Hampshire, England. It is situated near the South Downs National Park, next to St. Catherine's Hill. The down has been used as a settlement since pre-Roman times, and has hosted a fort and a chapel, as well as being a popular 17th and 18th century coaching route. When in 1991 the Department of Transport (DoT) announced the scheme to replace the A33 Winchester Bypass with the final section of the M3, there was widespread outrage. The road would destroy two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, two Scheduled Ancient Monuments and an area of outstanding natural beauty.
This was the most protected landscape in southern England, yet in just 2 years it was to change from a beautiful piece of historic land to a motorway.
The scheme was opposed for decades & became the subject of an official European Community environmental complaint. The European Community were ignored by the UK Government, and the complaint was later dropped amidst allegations of back room negotiations. The initial protest was led by the Twyford Down Association, local people who loved the Down, and adopted the conventional campaign tactics of lobbying, rallies, marches and legal appeals. They succeeded in getting the scheme reassessed and reassessed again, but the Government finally went ahead, despite numerous legal and political challenges.
National Friends Of the Earth intervened at the start of construction with non-violent direct action, but were forced to back off by the threat of massive legal costs. But while FoE camped on the threatened water meadows, a group of local young people were living on St. Catherine's Hill in the 'bender' dwellings which originated with the Gypsies, and which had become standard quarters in every protest site. These were the folk who were to become known as the Donga tribe.
Although the protests failed to stop the road being constructed, they succeeded in making the government of the day think twice about similar projects and, 20 years on, continue to serve as an inspiration to all those who value the countryside.

Some music: The Levellers "Battle of the Beanfield"

The Ongoing Rise of the Greens

Not since the 1989 local elections, when the Greens polled 15% of the vote, has it been a better or more exciting time to be a Green Party supporter. In the local elections this May the Green Party increased its vote across a range of Colchester wards, including my own New Town. Nationally, Green Party membership has increased by 28% this year alone and our youth wing is up by a colossal 70%. We are fast becoming the party of the youth of Britain. In a recent poll of voting intention by IpsosMORI we came in at 8%, level with the Lib Dems and a big increase from 2010 when only 1% voted Green.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Why the Green Party's Citizen's Income Would Benefit Us All

Given that it is almost impossible to pick up a copy of one of the tabloids without reading some or other article about 'scroungers', 'dole spongers' or 'benefits cheats', it might seem that the Green Party's promise of a guaranteed income for all is a hard policy to sell to the voters. However, despite the context of condemnation of the disadvantaged and the 'Benefits Street' poverty porn demonisation of the poor, its high time to shout as loud as we can about a policy that will actually bring positive advantages to everyone. Green Party policy states:

EC730 A Citizen's Income sufficient to cover an individual's basic needs will be introduced, which will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits (see EC711). A Citizen's Income is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to each individual as a right of citizenship. It will not be subject to means testing and there will be no requirement to be either working or actively seeking work.

It may seem on the surface that offering a universal basic income to everyone, including those who do not seem to be making the effort to look for work, will just encourage people to put their feet up and live off the taxpayer. This is what the tabloids would shout from the rafters. However this superficial emotion-based argument completely misses the point about how to encourage people into work. It is not whether or not people have an income or not that counts it is whether work pays ie whether you earn more if you work than if you don't. It is the gap that matters. At the moment we have thousands of people stuck in what is termed the 'poverty trap', meaning that their various benefits give them a higher income than getting a job would. This is indeed untenable and needs to change. However the primary cause of it is not generous benefits but the fact that we live in an economy based on low pay ie a minimum wage that is not a living wage, zero hours contracts with no guaranteed income and the importation of the cheapest labour from the EU in order to keep wages down. As a result, the taxpayer has to fork out millions to top up the earnings of the low paid in order to subsidise their exploitative employers and private landlords who are making money out of this crazy situation. Meanwhile for many facing a choice between working for a non-living wage or living on benefits that are slightly higher, the latter is the obvious choice.

The Citizen's Income however would be a major step to solving this. For a start, in order to attract a workforce, wages would have to rise to a higher level than the income. The higher the Citizen's Income is then the higher the minimum wage would have to be, its as simple as that. Clearly it would have to be paid to EU migrants as well (and the tabloids would howl) or free movement of labour in the EU curtailed, however the result would be that wages for those in work on the lowest incomes would have to rise as a result of the guaranteed income. Without the ability to keep a pool of people in total poverty as a means of threatening the poor into accepting the lowest of wages, and without the ability to use people from Eastern Europe to work for next to nothing then wages in general would have to go up. And this benefits us all.

It benefits us all in less obvious ways. For a start it would reduce crime. The main reason why it benefits the middle classes to have a benefits system for the poor is that you are less likely to get your house burgled or your car stereo pinched. If people have no income then their choices are crime, charity/food banks or prostitution. Threatening to remove the benefits of those, 'not actively seeking work' always was a tabloid headline grabbing fallacy that is causing far more social problems than it solves. Who wouldn't rather burgle a house than starve? The Citizen's Income would guarantee everyone a basic income without any moralistic caveats or attempts to distinguish the 'deserving poor' from the 'feckless' and as such would mean that there is less need for not but food banks but also petty crime. I'm not suggesting that it would solve all petty crime, where people have already built up patterns of behaviour, but it would surely have some effect. Coupled with a serious attempt (backed up with serious government spending) to get people off hard drugs, I suspect it could have a major effect.

The Citizen's Income would benefit the taxpayer in the long run by reducing the need to subsidise the wages of the low paid with umpteen other benefits because their wages themselves have risen, especially when coupled with the Green Party policy of raising the minimum wage to a living wage. It would reduce the need for food banks and the constant fear of petty crime which exists in certain areas of our major cities. Above all, it would ensure that wages in general would have to increase and that brings benefits to far more people than those at the very bottom of the pile.