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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.