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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Here Comes the Sixth Mass Extinction : And This One is Man Made

Readers of this blog may have seen on the news last week, in one of those rare instances where the national tv news features ecological issues, that the Northern White Rhino (see above) is about to become extinct. Only five of then still exist and the one male and four females are all too old now to breed. So that is it, when they are gone they are gone forever, bar some huge scientific leap which enables their recreation from frozen sperm and egg samples.
Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day . It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century.  Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming . Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species’ extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.
The latest edition of Green World, the Green Party's official magazine, contains a very good article on the extent of the problem entitled, "Protecting Biodiversity":



WHICH TYPES OF SPECIES ARE PARTICULARLY IN DANGER?

The answer is a broad range from amphibians and insects to birds and primates. The new 'Living Planet' report from the WWF and the Zoological Society of London reveals that there has been a decline of 50% in the world's wildlife populations since 1970. In particular:
- A third or more of the 6,300 species of amphibians are in danger of extinction.
- Globally, BirdLife International estimates that 12 percent of known 9,865 bird species are now considered threatened, with 192 species, or 2 percent, facing  an “extremely high risk” of extinction in the wild, two more species than in 2008.
-Across the globe, 1,851 species of fish , 21 percent of all fish species evaluated, were deemed at risk of extinction by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2010, including more than a third of sharks and rays.
- About 90 percent of primates, the group that contains monkeys, lemurs, lorids, galagos, tarsiers, and apes (as well as humans), live in tropical forests, which are fast disappearing. The IUCN estimates that almost 50 percent of the world’s primate species are at risk of extinction. Overall, the IUCN estimates that half the globe’s 5,491 known mammals are declining in population and a fifth are clearly at risk of disappearing forever with no less than 1,131 mammals across the globe classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable.
- Invertebrates, from butterflies to mollusks to earthworms to corals, are vastly diverse and though no one knows just how many invertebrate species exist, they’re estimated to account for about 97 percent of the total species of animals on Earth . Of the 1.3 million known invertebrate species, the IUCN has evaluated about 9,526 species, with about 30 percent of the species evaluated at risk of extinction.

THE SITUATION IN THE UK : THE STATE OF NATURE REPORT

On Wednesday 22 May 2013 The State of Nature report was launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London while simultaneous events were held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Unfortunately this did not receive any way near the media attention it deserved. Scientists working side-by-side from 25 wildlife organisations compiled a stock take of our native species, the first of its kind in the UK. The State of Nature report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.
Sir David Attenborough said at the time:

“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife."

You can read the State of Nature report here:

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/publications


WHAT IS CAUSING THE MASSIVE DECLINE IN WILDLIFE?

The short answer is human activity and human greed. Development and industrialisation leads to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation of habitat makes it impossible for species to breed as small areas of woodland and water are not enough as gene pools are limited. Pollution is of course an ongoing problem with amphibians particularly vulnerable as amphibian skin is sensitive to contaminants.
Intensive farming methods is a massive cause of bird decline in the UK as powerful insecticides kill the insects which birds rely on for protein to feed their chicks, particularly the insect grubs. Hunting of course explains the decline in elephants and rhinos, which are killed for their horns and tusks. Capitalism can perversely raise the price of these horns/tusks as each animal shot reduces the numbers and increases the rarity.
Add to the above the effects of global warming, logging, the introduction of invasive species, road building and over-fishing and you get the idea.

Therefore unless we act now, both in the UK and globally, the 21st Century will be the century when much of the wildlife which we often take for granted will vanish from the planet.

Open Meeting: THE NHS

The next open meeting organised by Colchester Green Party will be next Monday 2nd February and the discussion topic will be the NHS. The speaker is Chris Flossman from Essex Young Greens. The meetings are held in the back room of the New Inn pub, South Street Colchester, 7.30pm -9pm. A choice of real ales are available from the bar. All welcome including new people and non-party members.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Now is the Time To Register To Vote

According to an article in The Independent around 800,000 young voters (aged 18-24) in the UK are missing from the electoral register. By not registering to vote you lose the only power you have over the politicians whose decisions affect you. While it is not just young voters who don't register, the 18-24 age group are the largest demographic chunk of both non-registered potential voters and registered non-voters. Which is precisely the reason why tuition fees get increased while people my age, who got our university education for free, will not have to contribute to university funding via a graduate tax. It is also why benefits for older people are protected while housing benefit for the under 25s gets slashed. If you give up on politics then the politicians will give up on you. Nothing will change and you will keep getting dumped upon.
You will have recently received, or are about to receive, a voter registration reminder envelope (see below).





 As it says, if your details are correct then you need do nothing. However if your name is not on the list then you need to fill in the back of the form and post it to:

Colchester Borough Council,
Electoral Services,
Rowan House,
33 Sheepen Road,
Colchester,
CO3 2WG

It has been estimated that if only 10% of unregistered young voters register and then vote Green we could win council seats in Colchester. Make a difference.





Why I Would Not "Put the Queen in a Council House"

I'd just like to reassure my blog readers that I do not endorse any proposal to re-house the Queen in a council house. The main problem with any proposal to abolish the monarchy is the question of what to replace it with. An elected president is the obvious alternative, however such a role would be inevitably political and would lend the Head of State role, which carries a degree of assumed respect, to a political figure. Think of the kind of people who would stand; Tony Blair springs to mind.
Personally I enjoy the spectacle of the monarchy and anyone who knows me is aware of my Ricardian leanings (I belonged to the Richard III Society for a number of years). Therefore the Queen, Prince Philip and the corgis can stay where they are as far as I'm concerned.
I do hope our leader doesn't end up in the tower......




We Need to Save Our Farmers with Fair Trade Milk

Britain's dairy farmers are currently in a state of crisis. The big supermarkets have driven milk prices well below production costs and as a result farmers are having to sell up or are going bankrupt.Last week the number of dairy farms in England and Wales dropped below 10,000 for the first time and all the signs suggest that the exodus from farming will continue unless government action is taken.
Some readers of this blog may be thinking that this is actually a good thing either because they are vegans or because they see over-consumption of meat and its related products as contributing to global warming. While I myself am neither vegan or vegetarian, I do accept that ecologically it would be beneficial if worldwide meat consumption went down in the long term. However it is essential that any attempts to achieve this long-term are achieved in partnership with livestock farmers and via offering them financially beneficial alternatives rather than working against them. In the short-term however we must do everything to support British dairy farmers and for a number of reasons it is green to do so.

Why Should We Help Dairy Farmers?

Firstly if we don't help the small family dairy farms then they will disappear to be replaced with ever larger industrialised farms where the cows are put under even more pressure to produce milk yields beyond their metabolic limits. Already in the USA there are huge 'battery-cow' farms where 1000s of animals are kept permanently locked up inside narrow pens and injected with umpteen hormones in order to increase production. There are plans to set up similar institutions in the UK. Such institutionalised animal abuse is a far cry from the cow in the field who gets to live a natural life grazing in the open air. If, like me, you eat meat then the key consideration should be whether the animal has led a decent life before going to slaughter. Letting our dairy farmers go to the wall in order to be replaced by huge agribusinesses with battery style housing pens would be a huge setback to any real notion of animal welfare. See below:


If we are to avoid the above becoming the norm then we must defend our family dairy farmers.
Secondly if more of our farmers cannot survive in farming then the pressure will be on to sell their land to developers. The coalition government has removed virtually all planning protection from the ordinary countryside and created a 'presumption in favour of development'. In other words, if the land isn't farmed there is a high chance that the land will disappear under housing estates, shopping centres or warehouses. It will certainly not become a nice ecological meadow, well not as long as any of the other parties remain in government it won't.

What is Causing the Current Crisis?

The root of the problem is the distorted economic system and the supermarkets. The latter are driving down prices to a level that is destroying farmers economically. Most of the major British supermarkets are now selling milk very cheaply, in one case four pints of conventional whole milk for 89 pence (£0.89). Apologies for dancing between pints and litres, but four pints of milk is 2.27 litres, so divide that into 89 pence and you get just over 39.2 ppl (pence per litre). This is theoretically the total amount of money that has to be divided between the farmer, processor and retailer.  On the other hand two pints of organic milk cost on average around £1.14 instead. Doing the same maths, that makes the retail price of the organic milk almost exactly £1 per litre, more than twice the price of the conventional product.
As a result of the supermarkets, farmers are under pressure to produce more and more milk in order to make ends meet. Yet the result of doing so is even lower prices. It becomes a vicious circle. In addition Russia has banned imports of dairy products from the European Union in response to EU sanctions over the Ukraine. This has led to more milk staying in the EU and a further catastrophic downward slide in farm gate milk prices.

What is the Solution?

Ultimately the best solution to this would be regulation from on high either from governments or the institutions of the European Union. They would need to take on the supermarkets. However realistically this is not going to happen because national governments remain wedded to neo-liberalism and free-market zealotry. Until the UK and Europe goes politically green nothing will change this.
Therefore an alternative way to improve the financial fortunes of dairy farmers could be through the emergence of some kind of public contract, based on the principles of fair trade, where consumers can buy milk and dairy products knowing the price the farmer has been paid is equitable and fair.
This means using our purchasing power right now to support all those beleaguered small family dairy farms on the edge of a precipice, through the introduction of a fair trade milk scheme which gives them a guaranteed fair price, providing their production systems are ethical. We could challenge the various certification organisations to introduce a fair trade milk label, with some conditions for entry. A fair price should be agreed and then all fair trade milk given clear labels.
While I am often skeptical about green consumerism and its power to change things, it seems to me that in this case the only realistic short-term solution is a fair trade scheme, combined with a publicity drive to highlight the issues to the public.



Why The Green Party Should Not Join a Coalition Government

I welcome and fully support Green Party leader Natalie Bennett's recent statement in an interview that the Green Party will not join a coalition government after the election on May 7th. Rather we would consider each legislative proposal on a case by case basis and then decide whether to give our support. Clearly some readers of this blog will be thinking that we won't win many seats anyway, however I believe that they are mistaken. The Green Party currently has more members than either the Lib Dems or UKIP and we are currently the most rapidly growing party in the UK. However I can see very little benefit either to our growth as a party or, more importantly, our cause from joining any coalition government.
Firstly we need look no further than the current state of the Lib Dems to see the problem. Their low poll ratings and poor performance in the 2014 European and local elections is a direct result of their coalition deal with the Conservatives. Promises that they had made to the electorate, such as the tuition fees pledge, rolled easily away like water off a duck's back. Rather than draw lines in the sand and negotiate hard, they let the Conservatives set the agenda, either because they actually shared that agenda or they felt that they must defer to the bigger party. Moreover they have been used as a shield ever since by David Cameron in order to take the flak for the most controversial coalition policies. Whenever a massive cut to benefits or an NHS reform was announced it was more often than not a Lib Dem minister such as the hapless Danny Alexander who was offered up like a sacrificial lamb to appear on BBC Question Time to defend it. As a result the Lib Dems became more and more hated, while teflon Dave sat back and enjoyed the consequences.
The last thing the Green Party needs is to be used and manipulated in the same way by either of the grey parties. In the event of a Green-Labour coalition we could find ourselves in the position of being used on TV and radio to justify every controversial Labour tax increase or privatisation proposal and in doing so we would lend legitimacy to policies which go against either our interests or the views of the electorate. In the event of a Conservative-Green coalition we become Lib Dems mark two.
Secondly, we need to ensure that the voters know that when they vote Green Party they will advance our policies. That is that either the other parties adopt some of our ideas in fear of losing votes to us or that our elected MPs pursue a Green Party agenda. Making an overly compromising  coalition deal and following another party's agenda would only serve to create the impression that a green vote is a wasted vote.
Thirdly in order to keep winning seats we must present ourselves as a broad based party that is capable of taking votes from across the political spectrum. It would be a huge act of folly to ally ourselves too closely with any of the grey parties as we would alienate a section of our prospective voters for a generation.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Colchester's Heritage & the State of Butt Road Roman Church

We live in Britain's oldest recorded town which has a rich heritage from its past as Camulodunum. It should be a "must visit" destination for tourists and investment should be flowing into a town which makes the most of its historical sites and cultural capital. However unfortunately the best is not currently being made of Colchester's heritage and there needs to be a fresh approach by those in power locally.
An example of how not to promote Colchester's heritage is the current state of Butt Road Roman Church. It is an absolute disgrace how this site has been neglected. Situated near the Maldon Road roundabout, this was discovered in the 1980s during excavations for a new police station. The building has been interpreted on strong circumstantial evidence as an early Christian Church. It was probably built around AD 320-340 which would make it the earliest known Christian Church in Britain. Think about the implications of this. As such this should be a major attraction both on a tourist level and a spiritual level. However rather than stopping work on the police station they simply unearthed the cemetery and 371 Roman graves and built a huge modern building on the site. Having preserved the remains of the church itself they left it with just a sad looking little plaque which has been left to degenerate until it has become almost unreadable, covered in green mould (see pictures below):





What could be Britain's oldest Christian Church left unmarked with a mouldy old plaque which you can't read and an ugly police station built on what was its cemetery. Nice.

Another example of how not to do it is the architectural design chosen for Firstsite. Clearly they went for an ultra-modern design because the Arts Council wanted a gallery purely for modern art which was always far too narrow a stipulation in the first place. There is simply not the demand in Colchester for a large art gallery devoted only to contemporary art, however a large gallery devoted to contemporary and all other art is a very different matter. This could have been a real asset to Colchester, a chance to compliment Colchester Castle with a dual function art gallery and museum which made the best of Colchester's heritage and art through the ages. As such it could have been housed in a building which reflected this heritage, such as a design based on the Temple of Claudius (see below):

Sadly this was not to be.

Contrast this with how Leicester has dealt with its heritage in recent years and you see a marked difference. When in 2012 the remains of King Richard III were discovered under social service's car park, Leicester City Council could have removed the bones, covered up the site and carried on as normal. The old grammar school building nearby was about to be redeveloped into shops. Instead the Council closed the car park, bought the grammar school building and spent £4 million turning it into the Richard III Visitor Centre with the area around it re-landscaped. Firstsite cost £28 million, the Richard III Visitor Centre cost £4 million. Yet the latter has already brought into Leicester millions of tourists and £48 million worth of investment. 

The point is not whether like me you value Colchester's history and heritage for its own sake or whether you see it as a source of tourism and money. The point is that valued in the right way it can be both. In Colchester we need to up our game and stop neglecting the town's rich historical heritage.







Sunday, 18 January 2015

Ending the Growth Obsession


"What becomes a man if the process of production takes away from work any hint of humanity, making of it merely mechanical activity. The worker himself is turned into a perversion of a free being." E. F. Schumacher "Small is Beautiful".

The current left-wing/right-wing consensus in politics is that the more 'things' we make and the more 'things' we sell, the more people are employed and the better off everyone will be. So expand the production of goods and services, get people to buy them and all will be well because of the resulting economic growth. This growth is measured in terms of the Gross National Product, meaning a measure of the amount of money that has changed hands for goods and services in the economy. Not who spends it or what on; not how the money was made; not on the environmental and human costs of making and spending that money and not on the loss of finite resources involved.

So now for the reality.....

1) The Bluntness of the Measure

The GNP measure boils everything down to cold statistics with no ethical dimension. For example, if an oil tanker went aground off the UK coast and its cargo spilled out it would devastate bird and marine life. Yet at the same time, if you apply the GNP measure, it could cause economic growth. The money paid to the tanker company for the original journey, the money paid in insurance for the loss of the ship, the money paid to the salvage company and the money paid to the helicopter company to fly the injured to hospital... it would all add up. The system turns an environmental disaster into a national growth success. Every time we take finite resources from the earth, it adds to economic growth.
Of course this goes beyond environmental concerns. The GNP measure does not care what the money is spent on. Online gambling addiction for example can blight lives and destroy families. However access to all forms of gambling temptation has hugely increased over the last 25 years, a result of successive governments seeing it as contributing to growth. Some readers of this blog may be thinking that its not the job of governments to tell people not to spend their money on gambling or indeed on anything as it is a matter of personal choice. However this viewpoint is misleading as very few people would be free-market zealots enough to say that we should liberalise the selling of cigarettes to children and sell guns in supermarkets. The debate is not whether to interfere with what people spend their money on but where to draw the line. Growth for growth's sake as an absolute does not take into account the human cost at all and so the figure that the grey parties worship is meaningless.

2) Quantity or Quality?

We are not just talking about growth but growth on top of growth. If you start with one and have 3% growth rate in the first year then in the second year, if you have 3% growth again, that is not 3% on top of the starting figure of one. It is 3% on top of last year's 3%. In two years you are producing and consuming 6% more than when you started. By this measure, to maintain a 3% growth rate every year we have to double what we produce and consume in 25 years. A 3% growth rate over 200 years means that in 200 years time we will need to produce and consume more in a day than we currently do in a year. Also the pressure is on to expand the western standard of consumption all over the world to reach 8 billion people.
The system takes no account of the quality of what is consumed as it is fixated on the quantity. Indeed it is better for growth if your laptop becomes outdated in a year, your fridge goes wrong in six months, your tv conks out after a month and so on as you have to keep consuming. The pressure is on to either sell shoddy rubbish or keep upgrading. The pressure is also on to pander to the lowest common denominator in terms of taste. We are trapped in a system where advertising manipulates us into buying mountains of poor quality stuff which we mostly don't need.

3) The Poverty of Growth

Left-wing commentators tend to see growth as a means to end poverty just as much as free-market zealots. Yet the journey ends at the same station. As the saying goes, 'When you have cut down the last tree or polluted the last river, you will know that you cannot eat money'. As far as the right-wing, free-market model goes, it positively needs poverty to survive and certainly does not aim to end it, despite the guff you read from CBI spokespeople and so on. Firstly it needs poverty to justify further expansion. Ending poverty is used to justify everything from GM crops to building warehouses over ancient woodland. Of course if you were to actually end poverty then this argument would be rendered obsolete. So the supporters of the system make sure that the problem persists while at the same time using the problem as an excuse for more growth. In addition it needs poverty to provide cheap labour for employers. This is achieved by either keeping some of your own population so poor (by cutting benefits) that they will work for low wages or outsourcing production/services to parts of the world that are even poorer. Alternatively you import a new labour force from a poorer country than the UK in order to keep wages down. Whatever approach is used, it still boils down to the system positively needing poverty.
It is why any attempt to genuinely solve poverty, for example via a guaranteed citizens' income, is blasted as 'uneconomic' by the grey parties and business interests. Those with vested interests have predicted economic disaster with every attempt to put some humanity into the system, be it the abolition of slavery or the ban on children going down the mines.

4) The Blind Faith in Technology

The Green movement is not anti-technology. Technology has been a force for good in many respects. It is the ability to network and spread ideas on the internet. It is also kidney machines, premature baby units and umpteen labour saving devices which give us more free time to enjoy our lives. However the problem is that technology is also nuclear weapons, pesticides and soulless production lines. Technology can be either a force for good or a force for bad. It is how we use it that counts. The growth system takes no account of this and sees technology as good if it leads to growth, end of. Moreover it has blind faith in technological progress being able to solve the environmental problems which growth produces. Hence GM crops will allow us to build over the countryside and still grow enough food, so we are told. Nuclear energy will allow us to keep producing electricity while dispensing with fossil fuels, so we are told. The list goes on. It amounts to gambling with our future as an alternative to challenging the growth obsession.
The key word with technology should be appropriate. Appropriate technology should be decided by the effect on people in the widest sense rather than just increasing economic growth and profits. Polluting crops with carcinogenic pesticides would clearly fail this test but medical technology which helps the disabled to walk again would clearly pass.

5) The Great God 'Work'.

The grey parties like to justify everything and anything via the argument that it is 'creating jobs'. Build an industrial estate over an ancient woodland and you are creating jobs so its ok. More and more fast food restaurants selling saturated fat riddled burgers to children is fine as it is creating jobs. So our lives are about spending most of our waking hours looking at the clock praying for the hands to move a bit quicker because we hate what we do or we see the damage that it is causing? Or we are here in order to spend 40 hours a week turning out fizzy drinks to damage children's' health, chemicals which damage the ozone layer or umpteen mind-numbing plastic nick-nacks which some ambitious up-their-own-backside character, like you see on the BBC show 'The Apprentice', can persuade the public it is trendy to possess?
We need to establish the difference between work which develops human talents and does not threaten the planet and that which is merely a job which we are forced to do by the system to serve the system.
We also need to get away from a work ethic which sees work as a good thing regardless of its nature and as an end in itself. We need to create jobs but to create them in beneficial areas such as recycling, renewable energy and conservation. If the hours are not as long and there is more leisure time then we need to get out of the strange way of thinking that this is somehow a bad thing.

Some music: Levellers "Men-An-Tol"

From the 1995 album, "Zeitgeist"


Some music: Back to the Planet :"Teenage Turtles"


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Open Meeting: SOLVING COLCHESTER'S TRANSPORT CHAOS

The next open meeting of Colchester and District Green Party will be on Monday 12th January 7.30pm - 9pm. The discussion topic will be Colchester's transport problems and how to solve it. This includes the issues of public transport fares, traffic congestion on our roads, the state of the railways and the buses. Our meetings are held in the back room of The New Inn Pub, South Street Colchester. Drinks are available at the bar and new people are more than welcome. Come and join the discussion. We particularly welcome people who wish to get involved with Green Party campaigning or to contribute to our upcoming general election campaign. It is also an opportunity to share your views on transport with me, your Green Party candidate.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Railways: Its Time to Make Fares Fair

Colchester Green Party will tomorrow (5th January) be supporting the Green Party nationally by holding a static rally and leafleting session outside Colchester North railway station from 7am - 9am to raise awareness about the latest hike in train fares. Regulated fares, including season tickets, will be increasing by 2.5% and the overall average farewill be up by 2.2%. This is yet another fare hike which takes no account of passengers' ability to pay and outstrips wage growth. Indeed, average wages only went up by 1.6% from 2013-2014. Once again hardworking commuters are being squeezed like cash cows by the government and railway companies, making it harder to make ends meet. Colchester commuter Andrew Denyer is quoted by the Campaign For Better Transport as stating:

"My monthly rail travel to London is £551 and after my travel and bills have been paid I am left with only a few hundred pounds to survive the month on. If my travel goes up much further it will not be worthwhile to work as so much of my salary is taken by rail and car travel costs. I have not had a pay increase for four years and I have a wife and two kids to look after. The fare from Colchester to London should be £300 a month. It's now rising so fast it will be £1000 a month by the end of the decade. Please see sense and freeze fares for commuters as we are the ones that will drag the country out of recession." Andrew Denyer

In recent years fares nationally have been hiked and hiked to such an extent that the overall level of increase is massive. For example the cost of a season ticket from Milton Keynes to London has risen by 23.5% since 2010. Below you can see how these increases are way above the overall rate of inflation:


Spokespeople for the railway companies will no doubt be interviewed tomorrow telling us that the reason fares are increasing is for maintenance and improvement works. This is both true and misleading at the same time, since they always fail to add that passengers are being asked to pay more so that the government pays less. They also fail to add that a huge amount of money (£305 million in 2012 alone) gets siphoned off into shareholders' profits by these privatised companies, all of which would be saved had the railways remained in public hands. The fare increases serve to drive people away from the railways and into their cars which is a major contributing factor towards congestion on our roads. Colchester is one of the most car dependent towns in England and is regularly gridlocked, as are the roads leading out of it. About 95% of commuters use their cars to get into London rather than the trains and the government seem determined to drive this figure up higher. It is not just that they are put off the trains by the fare increases, it is also the overcrowding, the lateness of the trains and the in ability to get a seat which does it. Why should people pay extortionate ticket prices for a delayed and overcrowded train where they have to stand in the vestibule with other down beaten looking people every morning?

All of this is why the Green Party believes that enough is enough and it is time to renationalise the railways. This would actually save the taxpayer money as profits would be paid back to the taxpayer rather than to shareholders. For example, before it was privatised, state owned East Coast paid back £177 million during 2012 alone. Yet as far as the privatised companies were concerned, during the same year (2012) they received £1.1 billion in subsidies from the taxpayer and £305 million of this went to the shareholders in profit rather than back to you and I.
Furthermore, because a public sector system would save the money paid in profits, this could also be used to keep fares down. Which is why, before privatisation, walk-up fares were always cheaper than driving and regulated fares/season tickets did not keep being hiked up at above inflation rates.

Renationalisation would be:

GREEN: Because it reduces car use by encouraging people back to cheaper public transport.

BETTER FOR COMMUTERS: Because money saved by not having to pay shareholders gets used to but more trains on and improve performance and quality.

BETTER FOR THE TAXPAYER: Because some of the government subsidies are paid back rather than eaten away in  profits.

Above all else it would MAKE FARES FAIR!

Road To Ruin


Friday, 2 January 2015

Sir Bob Russell's Voting Record & How The Lib Dems Are Rapidly Becoming the Nasty Party





Readers of this blog may have noticed the recent spate of letters in the Gazette by Sir Bob Russell and Labour Councillor Tim Young regarding the bedroom tax. Sir Bob Russell's enthusiastic support for the principle that the state should dictate to people how many bedrooms to have and to use the tax and benefits system to drive people out of their homes is just another example of how the Lib Dems are rapidly re-branding themselves as the nasty party. Sir Bob seems completely oblivious to the fact that often quite vulnerable people are being forced out of homes in which they have lived for many years and away from whatever social/family support network they may have in an area and into often badly maintained flats. It does nothing to address the problem of sky high rents and the fact that the taxpayer, in the absence of a rent cap, is subsidising private landlords profits through housing benefit. Moreover the failure by the Coalition parties and Labour to control rents in the private sector has driven up demand for state sector housing. None of these parties has anything to say on the problem of the increasing population which is also driving up demand. By supporting the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems have helped to establish the precedent that the state can poke its interfering nose into people's very homes and pontificate from on high how many rooms people should have. This precedent could then be taken further by other parties as well as the Lib Dems so that voters live with the constant threat that whoever gets into power may use the tax and benefits system to try and force them out of their houses.

However this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Lib Dems' transformation into the nasty party. While Sir Bob Russell has been an excellent local constituency MP, his voting record in parliament tells a very different story. There is an excellent website called theyworkforyou.com where anyone can find out about the voting record of their local MP. The results for Sir Bob are rather illuminating. Here are some examples which voters may not be aware of:

1) Sir Bob Russell has voted against restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents.
Estate agents often charge these stealth fees for 'administrative work' and they can be very high. When I lived in rented accommodation it was nearly £70 every time I had to renew the tenancy. In the case of the very poor, the fees are subsidised by....   you guessed it the taxpayer. All going towards the agents' profits.

2) Sir Bob Russell has consistently voted against slowing the rise in rail fares. 
This has had the effect of  increasing the financial burden on commuters. Another massive hike in fares kicks in on January 5th.  Such fare hikes encourage more car use and the resulting increase in road congestion.

3) Sir Bob Russell has voted for the selling off of England's state owned forests. This Coalition policy, supported by the Lib Dems, increases the chances of our national forests and ancient woodland being built on by developers.

4) Sir Bob Russell has voted for the limiting of legal aid. Cuts to legal aid mean that only the most serious of issues now qualify, which threatens to deny many low and middle income people access to justice. Because large corporations and organisations can afford the lawyers fees, this means that justice is tipped in favour of the wealthy, including issues such as employment law and libel. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, but some people are more equal than others. Thanks very much Lib Dems.

5) Sir Bob Russell has voted for reforming the NHS so that GPs buy services on behalf of their patients. This measure also brought in a requirement that the private sector be given equal consideration when purchasing the services. Not only does this encourage the buying of services from the cheapest bidder (rather than the best in terms of quality) but also it adds another workload burden on GP practices and is a major stepping stone to NHS privatisation.

6) Sir Bob Russell has voted against restricting the provision of services to private patients by the NHS. This allows private patients to queue jump NHS patients for NHS services and is the stepping stone to a two tier service with increased waiting times for NHS patients.

7) Sir Bob Russell has voted in favour of abolishing the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which provided financial support to some young people in full time education (16-19). The EMA was means tested and focused on those students from  the poorest background. For the poorest of them the £30 per week they received was a lifeline which allowed them to stay on into sixth form education and still contribute to the family income. It was designed to encourage social mobility but the Lib Dems chose to vote for its abolition. The Minister in charge of social mobility is by the way.....  Nick Clegg. Heaven help us!

8) Sir Bob Russell has voted against a bankers' bonus tax and against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000. However Sir Bob has voted FOR increasing VAT and tax on alcohol.
This reveals an interesting sense of priorities. The average guy at the pub bar has to fork out more for a pint and VAT, which affects everyone, is hiked up. Yet bankers' bonuses are protected.

9) Sir Bob Russell has voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed. 
Such schemes are intended to prevent young people joining the ranks of the long term unemployed by 'nipping it in the bud'. Rather than helping young people into work the Lib Dems would rather let a section of our society languish on the dole while opening the jobs market up to more and more EU competition

10) Sir Bob Russell has voted for reducing central government funding of local government. In other words he has voted to cut the money central government gives to Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council. As a result the money has to come from increasing our council tax bills or cuts to services have to be made.

All of this, together with the Lib Dem leadership's enthusiastic support for raising student tuition fees, shows that the Lib Dems both locally and nationally are out of touch. They have nothing to offer other than austerity, enthusiastic support for an unreformed European Union and a higher cost of living for low and middle income earners. As I said, the nasty party.