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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Don't Reduce Tuition Fees : ABOLISH THEM

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Ed Miliband's announcement that a Labour Government would reduce student tuition fees from £9000 per term to £6000 per term is a step in the right direction but is not good enough. It is a classic Labour compromise designed to try and persuade student voters not to vote Green and it won't work.  Natalie Bennett is the only party leader currently talking sense on this issue. The Labour compromise has been roundly condemned by all the usual suspects and vested interests that Ed Miliband is too frightened to fully stand up to. However the bottom line is that the existing fee system is unfair; it punishes the younger generation while leaving the older generations, who enjoyed free higher education, better off financially than the youth of today will be. Higher Education should be free, not made into a commodity to be purchased. Raising fees to £9000 per term was always and purely a cynical political move. It was about imposing a stealth tax on the young because the coalition parties saw believe that the 18-24 age group are less likely to vote than the older generations and that they will only realise the financial implications of debt repayments further down the line. 
Universities should be funded through general taxation, through income tax or a specific graduate tax on all of us who benefited from higher education, regardless of age. The fee system discriminates against young people. Today there have been many university spokespeople railing against Ed Miliband and Labour. Well they should be made to rail even more, rail till the cows come home. They should be thoroughly ashamed of how the universities are using students as cash cows to fund unnecessary refurbishments, huge salary increases and commercial activities. Universities should be independent, state funded centres of learning not commercial business with compromised curricula which play down and cut arts subjects.
It is a bit rich of Labour to want to reduce fees now when they introduced the principle of fees in the first place, shortly after the 1997 election. By doing so they set a precedent and made it easier for the Tories and Lib Dems to increase them later.

Guarantee: I will Never Support Increased House Building on Green Field Sites

I want to make something crystal clear to anyone thinking of voting for me in the upcoming General Election and who may have been alarmed by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett's well publicised pledge to build 500,000 new council houses in five years of a Green Party government. As a Green MP I would only support this plan as long as the homes were built on brownfield sites. Within the party I am currently calling for clarification on this matter as the location of these homes in terms of types of site needs to be made clear to the electorate. However I can promise Colchester voters that there is more chance of me flying to Mars on a spaceship made of chocolate than there is of me ever supporting building large housing estates over the countryside. 

Brownfield Sites Available

The current government estimates that there is capacity for 400,000 new homes on public sector brownfield sites, mainly former industrial sites, in London alone ( website). Add to this private sector brownfield sites and the capacity goes above 500,000 just in London alone.
Within Colchester there have been some excellent brownfield site developments in recent years. Within a short distance from my house part of the former Paxman diesel site was recently developed into a new estate which is a vast improvement on what was there before, that being a grotty disused industrial eyesore with a huge brick wall running down Port Lane. There have been some excellent developments down at the Hythe and there is capacity for more. Former factories, warehouse sites and garages can be transformed for the better by residential development.

My Record on this Issue

Preserving the countryside for future generations is one of my most cherished beliefs. I have helped people I know to campaign against a massive housing development imposed on the villages of Barwell and Stapleton in Leicestershire, where I grew up, by Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council for five years via letter writing, leaflet distribution, internet campaigning and liaising with sympathetic politicians from other parties.  In the Colchester area I have opposed imposed from on high green field development in Coggeshall and am currently writing letters and publicising the threats to both Salary Brook and Irvine Road Orchard. Back in the 1990s I supported the campaigns against the destructive road building schemes that were the Newbury bypass and Twyford Down projects. Admittedly this was via letter writing rather than Swampy-style direct action however the bottom line is that you can trust me on this issue. It is where my heart lies. Any attempt by any whip or similar 'enforcer' to make me do an about turn would be met with the phrase, "Go take a running jump".

The Green Party Must Not Abandon its Support For the Green Belt 

Unfortunately, at the upcoming Green Party spring conference, a new planning draft paper is being put forward by Tom Chance, a member of Southwark Green Party. This re-writes the policy chapter on planning following an enabling motion at the 2014 spring conference. The re-write contains a highly dangerous and thinly veiled attempt to water down the party's commitment to the green belt. I would urge any Green Party member attending this conference to vote against this draft paper.  The wording in question states:

LP510 Local authorities should review their green belt on a periodic basis where they are failing to achieve sustainable development, for example where they are causing sprawl and commuting beyond their bounds, and where there is scope for more sustainable development on existing green belt sites, for example near transport hubs. Reviews should seek to achieve the policies set out in LP406, ensure no net loss in the quantity and quality of green belt land, and should aim to ‘green the greenbelt’.

On the surface, this clause seems highly green ('green the greenbelt') and about preserving it ('quantity and quality'). But it isn't. Look closer. It suggests that councils should move the greenbelt around to facilitate development on existing green belt land. 'Transport hubs' means building on greenbelt land next to roads or railways. It is similar to Conservative Party proposals to encourage councils to shift the green belt around. Yes the quantity stays the same but it means that an area of land that can be developed on will be freed up for building and replaced with an area that no one would ever want to develop or could be developed such as a high flood risk area. It is about facilitating more building in the countryside.
To adopt this clause would be anti-Green and I will never under any circumstances support it if passed. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Please Support UNICEF's Campaign To End Violence Against Children

With UNICEF Children's Champion David Wiltcher
UNICEF ( The United Nations Children's Fund) has launched a campaign to end violence against children worldwide. 2015 is a critical year as in September the UN Heads of Government are due to meet in New York in order to review a set of goals established in the year 2000 and to set new goals and targets. In that year a target proposal was drawn up which was never adopted in the final set of targets. It was:

16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

UNICEF is campaigning to get the 16.2 target adopted this time round in 2015. I shall be writing to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett asking her to champion this cause. I would ask Green Party members to tweet support for the UNICEF campaign, using the hash tag 'End Violence'.

The figures on violence towards children are truly disturbing.
Worldwide UNICEF advises that a child dies every five minutes as a result of violence which is around 100,000 per year. Countless more experience violence in war zones and within the UK there are examples such as trafficking, the Rotherham child abuse scandal, the death of Baby P and many more.
Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 have been subjected to forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. More than 125 million women have been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting, mostly in childhood or early adolescence. Child prostitution in Thailand involved 800,000 children under the age of sixteen in 2004. According to Unicef there are 40,000 child prostitutes in Sri Lanka and 6.4% of the country's child population gets pregnant.
The charity War Child that there are 250,000 child soldiers in the world (often forced into fighting) and that 40% of them are girls.
Nigeria has the largest number of young homicide victims, with almost 13,000 deaths in 2012, followed by Brazil with approximately 11,000.

Therefore the UK should ensure the target proposed to "end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children by 2030" (16.2) remains in its current form in the final post-2015 development framework.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Its Time To Ban MPs From Being Bought By Business

By now you will most likely be aware of the latest cash for access scandal. Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, both former foreign secretaries, caught in a sting operation by Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph. Both of them were caught on secret camera offering to sell their 'services' for cash to what they thought was a Chinese firm. Sir Malcolm suggested that he would be willing to write to ministers on behalf of the company without declaring the name of the firm. Mr Straw boasted that he operated "under the radar" in order to use his influence to change European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm which pays him £60,000 a year. Straw also claimed to have used "charm and menace" to convince the Ukrainian Prime Minister to change laws on behalf of the same firm.
The implication is clear. MPs are currently accepting payments from business interests in return for using their connections to get policy changes both at home and abroad. 
None of this is illegal or is actually breaking the rules. That is the real issue here. It damn well should be. Not only is it venal and corrupt but also it means that whenever a government minister or MP gives his opinion on an issue which directly affects you, such as pensions, fuel bills, welfare, development, foreign policy and whether to go to war, you cannot be certain whether they are giving their own opinion or an opinion that has been bought by a powerful business interest.

What seems to have caused even more controversy is the sheer arrogance of Mr Straw and Mr Rifkind, as expressed in interviews yesterday. Neither has apologised because neither believes that their behaviour is in any way wrong. Mr Rifkind has resigned, I suspect because he was offered a metaphorical gun & glass of whisky and told to do the decent thing. He claimed that he is "self-employed" and "doesn't get a salary", despite his £67,000 salary as an MP. He claimed to have lots of free time and to spend it reading. Last year he registered £69,610 in 'outside earnings'. Mr Straw beat him though, raking in  £112,777 from his business interests.
It is time to end this kind of thing once and for all. Whichever party or parties win the election, it should be made a sacking offence for MPs to accept large payments from business interests for 'services rendered' or, to call a spade a spade, political prostitution. This does not have to include running a small family business or writing a book and so on. It should not be too difficult to work out a set of rules which are flexible enough to allow small scale activity while banning the big payments from outside businesses.
It may be necessary to increase MPs salaries and this would be very difficult to sell to the public. However I am going to be honest and say that this would be better than having MPs being 'up for sale' to whichever business wants to buy them.

What about me?

Well as a parliamentary candidate I would be more than happy with £67,000 a year. It is a massive increase on what I currently earn. That Mr Rifkind and Mr Straw seem to regard it as derisory shows them to be somewhat out of touch with the public to say the least. No wonder they find it difficult to empathise with cash strapped families.
If elected as Colchester's MP I guarantee that I will not take payments from business interests. If I did so I would expect to be driven out of the job.

How Do We Pay For 500,000 New Council Houses?

Following several media reports regarding the Green Party's housing policy and an interview earlier today with Natalie Bennett on the issue, I have been asked a number of questions about how I would cost the policy of building 500,000 council homes. Firstly, I will make it clear that such homes should be built on existing brownfield sites and not over green fields. We are not about concreting over the countryside. Secondly, it seems to me that the policy is not only affordable but would save money in the long run. Here is how:

Why Will Building Them Save Money?

The aim is for 500,000 social housing units to be built over 5 years. That is 100,000 units a year. Let's say they cost only £100,000 each because they are on brownfield sites, often on land belonging to Local Authorities, can be converted from empty properties using Empty Property Use Orders, and built of new highly insulated and inexpensive materials such as Structural Insulated Panels.
 So the programme will cost £10bn a year for 5 years. £50 bn in all.
 If each house lasts 100 years the programme provides 50 million HRYs. HRYstands for Household Roof Years. One HRY provides 1 household with living space for 1 year. So each HRY costs £1,000 in this house-building programme.
Now the current way for us to provide for these families is in Temporary Accommodation (TA). In 1996, the cost of putting 1 family in TA was £10,000 a year. In 1996 it was a conservative estimate, and I imagine that the costs have gone up a bit over the last 19 years, but let us stick with the £10,000 figure for the sake of being conservative.
 For each £1billion spent on social housing, the country saves £9 billion over the coming century.
 Therefore the full  £50 billion will bring savings of £450 billion overall, over the century.
£4.5bn of savings a year. We get an 11 year payback, and a total profit of £400bn on an outlay of £50bn.

So Where Does The Money Come From To Build Them?

The answer is that there are several options. Of course the money can be found.
We could of course borrow it from the banks, the same banks that we bailed out with £375 billion worth of Quantitative Easing (QE), but they would charge us interest, and why should we pay them interest?
 It would be far better to pay for it with a £50 billion of QE.
 Alternatively we could get some of it from a tax on private landlords, and also cancel Trident replacement which would bring in £15 billion over the 5 year term.
 In addition we could have a partnership with private investment.
 A combination of all of the above would find the money.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

County Council Needs To Rethink Decision to Move Crossing on Cymbeline Way

The crossing on Cymbeline Way
The saga of the Cymbeline Way pedestrian crossing rumbles on. Firstly it was proposed by Essex County Council that the crossing should be scrapped altogether. Then it was announced that the crossing will be moved instead (a process which could cost up to £35,000 of council tax payers money). Rodney Bass, the county councillor responsible for highways, is rightly concerned about the level of traffic congestion affecting Colchester. However proposals such as this, and the idea of reversing the direction of traffic on Priory Street, are eccentric, knee-jerk and risk creating more problems than they solve.
 The crossing is a vital link for cyclists and pedestrians travelling from Lexden and Prettygate to Colchester North railway station, Colchester General Hospital and the Turner Rise retail park. It is also a route used by students walking to St Helena School and Colchester Institute. Without the crossing, there will be the risk of people cutting across anyway and getting knocked down. Last year someone was injured doing just this because the traffic lights were not working. The last thing we need is a school pupil getting knocked down because the council have moved the crossing. The risk should not be taken.
Mr Bass has been accused in some quarters of having an anti-pedestrian and anti-cycling agenda. Personally I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, however it seems to me to be a no-brainer that if you want to reduce traffic congestion then you need to be encouraging more cycling, more walking and more use of public transport.
The main cause of traffic congestion is too many cars on the road.  Its hardly rocket science. 
In Colchester this has been amplified by the massive growth of the town. Over development, over reliance on the car, not enough cycle-lanes, lousy public transport.... these are the issues which Essex County Council need to be addressing. Moving the crossings and turning Priory Street into a rat run are panic proposals by crisis managers who have failed to plan ahead. The solution lies in forward planning, more emphasis on cycling, walking and public transport.

Some Music: Blair Dunlop "Something's Gonna Give Way

Excellent song about the effects of bullying from great new singer-songwriter.

The Greening of Popular Culture : How to Dump Cowell in the Dustbin of History

Since 2004 and arguably before, popular culture in the UK has been blighted by the Cowellisation effect. In 2004, with Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, Cowell was a judge on the first series of the British television music competition The X Factor, which he created using his production company, Syco. The X Factor has been with us since and enjoyed its tenth series in 2013. Earlier there had been Pop Idol, where Cowell had been one of the judges, and since then we've had Britain's Got Talent, the Voice and a string of other Cowellesque programmes.
Of course television talent programmes are nothing new; at one time there was Opportunity Knocks, presented by the irritating Hughie Green, and New Faces. However what is new is the way that Cowell's programmes have come to dominate the charts and achieve a grim hegemony over the music industry, stifling talent and numbing creativity. As of June 2014, The X Factor has spawned a total of 35 number-one singles: the ten winners' singles (six of which have been the Christmas number one), four charity singles (one each by the finalists of series 5, 6, 7 and 8), and 21 other number-ones by contestants who have appeared on the show (including winners and runners-up). One exception to this was in 2009  when hostility to the show's stranglehold on the Christmas number one slot prompted a successful internet-led campaign to propel Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" to Christmas number one at the expense of The X Factor winner Joe McElderry
Cowell's dominance of popular culture is anti-green for a number of reasons. It represents the triumph of the corporate big business establishment over the individual creative artist. Obviously in the past large record companies have often bullied artists into becoming more commercial or tried to screw them over financially via dubious contracts. However what Cowellisation represents is music shoved right down to its lowest common denominator level. The 'artists' record other people's songs, often written to a formula by a commercial business team, are judged solely on the 'purity' of their singing voice and the tunes and lyrics are kept as banal, asinine, safe and emotionally syrupy as possible in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible without frightening the horses. It is McMusic; riddled with ingredients which are bad for us such as mind-numbingly dull melodies and numbnut lyrics cribbed from a corporate script. Moreover the message being sent out to young people is clear and can be summed up as:

"Do not try and be creative as we believe that most consumers are too thick to understand that. Also we know more about 'music' than you do (or rather what sells). Therefore do exactly what we, your corporate masters, tell you to do. Sing our words and how we tell you to do it. You are the employee only, but we will still call you an artist to flatter your ego and manipulate you by inflating your vanity. You are a product and all that matters to us is the maximisation of unit sales. Do what we say and you will be rewarded with wealth and the ability to consume far more than you need. We will manipulate you into deluding yourself into believing that your motivation is love of music rather than love of money, which should not be particularly difficult." 

Yes none of the above is new. What is new is the way in which Cowellisation has achieved such dominance the mainstream music industry.

Why does this matter?

Why all of this matters most is the effect that the cultural context of any time, the zeitgeist, has on wider society, for example on the workplace or political arena. If the message being put out culturally is that the way to get on in life is to crawl to some big corporation and sing its bullshit tune then this is the message people may take with them into the world of work. It is a message of conformity, of subjugating your own initiative and creativity to the needs of the corporate bosses. The values which are being instilled amount to those of not questioning authority, laughing at anyone who doesn't 'fit in' with the accepted way of doing things (the accepted way being something defined by others and not yourself) and seeking material rewards for work rather than creative ones. The opposite of everything that rock and folk music used to stand for. Apply the same principle to politics and you get apathy and conformity.


Ah yes, snobbery. The charge that large corporate business loves to throw at anyone who questions the principle that selling truckloads of low quality rubbish that people don't need is a good thing. Question the fast food industry and you are a snob. Never mind the effects of such food on childhood obesity and other health issues, you are still a snob. Question the environmental impact of too much plastic food packaging and you are not just a snob but a 'middle-class Guardian reading snob'. Question the need for airport expansion and you are a 'tree-hugging hippy snob'. Question the Cowellisation of popular culture and you are an 'old snob', which is somehow worse than any other form of it apparently.
Everyone it seems is a snob apart from the likes of Mr Cowell who are making eye dropping amounts of money out of selling crud, exploiting the artists concerned and diminishing the quality of our popular culture in the process. 

And the solution is.......

The greening of popular culture is not going to be easily achieved however it is something which is already happening.

1) Shift to consuming music/culture via the internet and live shows. Obviously there are short term problems with the internet, for example if music is just free on the internet/youtube then artists don't make money. However with the big companies only interested in the formulaic and the internet being where the main audience is then there is no alternative.

2) Reform the way UK television works. Reduce the amount of advertising, remove the internal market from the BBC and appoint ombudsmen to oversee the quality of all TV programming. Less advertising and corporate involvement will see many of the small rubbishy channels go under. Less of them means less commercial pressure to dumb down the content of the main channels. Cowell would lose income and ship off permanently to the US. They can have him. Green Party policy on TV advertising states:

The “overall volume” of advertising on TV and newspapers will be controlled and cut, as part of a war on the “materialist and consumption driven culture which is not sustainable”.

3) Education reform:  Creative subjects should be given equal status to academic ones. More music, art and culture in schools.

4) A Cowell tax? I'm being faceteous, but really if it gets rid of him......

Video: Nature Special: Another Silent Spring?

Silent Spring


In 1962 Rachel Carson (1907-1964), an American marine biologist and conservationist, published Silent Spring a groundbreaking expose of the damage caused to birds and the environment in general by the use of synthetic pesticides. The book is often credited with leading to the birth of the modern green movement. It was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in US and European pesticide policy, which led to nationwide bans on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet over 50 years later the issues exposed by Carson are still very much with us and the danger of a silent spring is more acute than ever. Around 41% of the land surface of Britain is sprayed with pesticides. Around 70% of the countryside is farmed intensively with spraying, hedge removal and use of artificial fertilisers.
In 1997, the BBC produced an excellent documentary on the effects of pesticides and intensive farming methods on Britain's birds. Entitled 'Nature Special: Another Silent Spring?' you can view it below by following the youtube links. It features Chris Mead from the British Trust for Ornithology whose studies reveal the devastating rates of decline of British farmland birds. Between 1972 and 1996 the rates of decline were:

Skylark = down 75%, Tree Sparrow = down 89%, Turtle Dove = down 77%, Bullfinch = down 76%, Spotted Flycatcher = down 73%, Lapwing = down 62%, Reed Bunting = down 61%, Linnet = down 52%, Swallow = down 43%, Starling = down 53%.

Since these figures are from 1996 the situation by now will be even worse. Between 1980 and 2009, the overall  farmland bird population has decreased from 600 million to 300 million, implying a loss of 50%. As the video makes clear, when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring pesticides such as DDT were so toxic that they killed birds directly. This no longer happens however the modern generation of pesticides produce the same results indirectly by eradicating the insects, grubs and plant seeds on which the birds feed. The chicks are starved. Moreover intensive farming methods, such as removing hedges and removing stubble before the winter, add to the problem.
All of this is made worse by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy which needs further reform so that it moves away from subsidising production towards subsidising conservation. Fortunately in 2010, the EU announced that 31% of the 5 billion euro that was earmarked to deal with new (mainly environmental) challenges in agriculture would be spent on protecting and promoting biodiversity in the European countryside. This money is part of the EU rural development policy, which is supporting agri-environmental projects throughout the Member States. I remain skeptical about how far this will be seriously implemented however we will see.




Saturday, 21 February 2015

Video: Caroline Lucas the First Green MP

Why we need more Green MPs:

Should Traffic Be Reversed in Priory Street?


In what seems like an odd decision to me, Essex County Council roads boss Rodney Bass (Conservative) has put forward plans to reverse the traffic in Priory Street. These plans have been unanimously opposed by the Priory Street Residents Association in a vote conducted in a recent emergency meeting. Currently drivers can only access Priory Street, which runs from Queen Street to East Hill,  from Queen Street. However under the new plans, which are due to come into effect before April 13 without consultation, motorists will only be able to get on to the street from East Hill.
It seems to me that the least Mr Bass could do is to consult with the residents of Priory Street, as well as those who use the schools and religious institutions there, before and decision is finally made. Simply imposing a diktat from on high when the possible increase in traffic will impact on peoples' lives would hardly be inclusive or wise management. There is the real possibility that Priory Street could become a rat-run to the town centre and clog up with traffic in a similar manner to Brook Street, which in 2010 became Colchester's most polluted street.

Green Sci Fi : The Classic Series "Doomwatch"

The 1970s saw the rise of the green movement, and with it came the BBC drama series Doomwatch, created by Dr Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. A few years earlier this same writing duo had created the Cybermen in the classic Doctor Who story The Tenth Planet. Doomwatch ran between 1970 and 1972. In my view Doomwatch is one of the finest drama series ever made and a DVD release of the surviving episodes is long overdue.
The key figures behind the series were script writers Pedler, Davis and the producer Terence Dudley who later went on to produce another classic green movement related series Survivors. Pedler was a radical ecological thinker whose non-fiction book The Quest for Gaia gave practical advice on creating an ecologically sustainable lifestyle. He had previously collaborated with Davis on scripts for Doctor Who, a programme on which Davis had been the story editor and Pedler the unofficial scientific adviser during the 1960s. Their interest in the problems of science changing and endangering human life had led them to create the Cybermen and it was similar interests that led them to create Doomwatch. Doomwatch ran for three series and by the time of the third one in 1972 there had been behind the scenes rows between Dudley, who felt the scripts should be grounded in realism, and Pedler and Davis who were more prone to veer off into Doctor Who territory.
The basic premise of the series is the idea that mankind's greatest technological discoveries could well have increasingly negative consequences and therefore the time will come when a measure of governmental control will have to be devised to keep a watch on the effects of the various discoveries. Hence the creation of Doomwatch (actual name"Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work") , a semi-secret scientific government agency led by Dr Spencer Quist (played by John Paul). The job of the Doomwatch team was to investigate and combat ecological and technological dangers.
There are a number of particularly memorable episodes of the series which stick in the mind once seen. The Plastic Eaters features planes falling from the sky due to a man made plastic eating virus, while Tomorrow the Rat is a gruesome episode involving scientifically modified cannibal rats on the loose. At the end of the first series in Survival Code one of the Doomwatch team, Toby Wren played by a young Robert Powell, dies in an explosion while defusing a nuclear device. One of the best episodes Public Enemy involves waste products from a metallurgical factory poisoning local residents.

Doomwatch : the film

In 1972 an excellent feature film was made which added a new character to the team Dr Del Shaw played by Ian Bannen. The story, also by Pedler & Davis, involved a series of mysterious deaths on a remote Scottish island. Shaw is sent by Doomwatch to investigate the effects of a recent oil spill near to the island. The islanders are more than a little unwelcoming and Shaw eventually discovers that they are concealing a horrifying secret which involves toxic waste drums that have been dumped in the sea.

Here is the trailer:

There is an excellent book about Doomwatch entitled Prophets of Doom by Michael Seely which is packed with info on the series and contains a complete synopsis of every episode.

Doomwatch : the future

If ever there was a series that is crying out for a revival it is Doomwatch. Much has changed since the 1970s and the scriptwriters could have a field day with the ecological and technological threats of today; GM foods, global warming, fracking......   Think Torchwood but grounded in reality and dealing with real issues and concerns.
Otherwise at least the BBC could get their act together and release a box set of the original series on DVD.
In the absence of either of these, Doomwatch lives on in the form of the excellent website and in the form of my own fan fiction stories featuring a whole new Doomwatch team for the 21st century:

Monday, 16 February 2015

Please Sign the ePetition to Save Salary Brook Valley

The "Salary Brook Valley" (and its wider environs), meanders from the source of the brook’s spring water, near Ardleigh Reservoir, crossing Bromley Rd, through to Longridge / Greenstead, the A133 (Clingoe Hill) near the University, and to where Salary Brook’s spring water exits into the river Colne.
If you value this wonderful natural amenity please follow the link below, read and sign this ePetition:

Remember once it's gone it's gone forever!!!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Why Vote Green? Part 2 of Answering the Difficult Questions

Since the election campaign started I have been asked a whole range of difficult questions by people I know about Green Party policies. Following on from the first part of my interview with an imaginary difficult questioner ( ), here is a second helping:

Question 6: I heard that you Greens want to make it legal for people to join terrorist groups like IS and Al Qaeda. Is this right?

No it isn't. Fortunately Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has clarified this two weeks ago by stating:
"Obviously IS and Al-Qaeda are hideous terrorist organisations that advocate and support violence. If you are involved in them, support them in any way, then you are participating in inciting violence.That's a crime, rightly, and should be pursued to the full extent of the law."
Green Party policy states that people should not be punished for what they think. I think the vast majority of people would agree with this and would not want to live in  a country where Orwellian 'thought-crime' was an offence. However when it comes to belonging to terrorist groups such as IS whose entire ethos is about violence, jihad, and a contempt for basic civil liberties then we must draw the line. Obviously we can all list example after example of their human rights abuses from shooting girls for trying to go to school to beheading hostages and burning POWs alive. Add to that the very real threat that their sympathisers pose in Europe, including the UK, and it is obvious that it should be completely illegal for people to belong to such organisations. 

Question 7: What about the economy? You Greens would just drive away investment especially with all your talk about banning fracking and raising the minimum wage. Wouldn't you wreck the economy?

I'd like to challenge the assertion within your question. There is a false premise here that we would just drive away investment. The Green Party aims to initiate a £5 billion investment program in the green economy, meaning renewable energy, conservation work, home improvements and other projects. All would require construction workers, technology workers and entrepreneurs. However we do not accept that creating jobs in environmentally destructive projects is acceptable. Also we do not accept that the only way to create jobs is to drive down the pay and conditions of the workforce in a race to the bottom with other parties. We are clear that the green economy should not be one that is based on the further proliferation of zero hours contracts, a minimum wage below a living wage and illegal 'black economy' labour where even the minimum wage is not paid. Too often such practices are justified with the argument that without them the investment will go elsewhere. This is the politics of fear and the Green Party is quite clear about opposing it. We will invest in creating jobs in the green economy but not at the expense of creating a better society.

Question 8: What about immigration? You lot don't like talking about that do you? Don't you think that there are are too many ruddy foreigners in the country taking our jobs? Aren't we full up?

Firstly I'd like to challenge your view that we don't like talking about immigration. I'm more than happy to do so as it is one of the main issues which voters are concerned about. However it is an emotive subject and we all need to be careful about how we approach it and the language used. You ask if there are too many 'foreigners' in the country 'taking our jobs' and I think that there are may be some false assumptions here. Some people, I am not suggesting you, use the term 'foreigners' in an ethnic sense, yet if someone has lived in Britain long enough to get UK citizenship then they are not foreigners, regardless of ethnicity. Also if you are referring to new migrant workers then it is not the case that they are always 'taking our jobs' as you put it. Many come to the UK to fill labour shortages in jobs in which there aren't enough UK workers to fill them, in the NHS or care homes for example. Others are oversees students who we need to come here to help fund our Higher Education system. We need to have the flexibility to welcome these people. It is also the case that most migrants come here to work not to live off benefits.
However there are legitimate concerns about the effects of immigration that need to be addressed. I'm not one of those politicians who dismiss anyone who raises these concerns as a 'bigot' and I never will be. Immigration should not be used by employers as a means to drive down wages and working conditions. Opening up the unskilled labour market to increasing competition has been pushed by business people as a means to acquire cheap labour. In addition there is a large illegal economy in the uk where migrants, many from outside the EU, are trafficked, exploited and paid next to nothing. Think of the Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004 as an example. Therefore I would support the raising of the minimum wage for all workers, support every effort to ban employers from importing workers purely to undercut UK workers and support the cracking down on exploitation. Also we need more investment in training in order to get the unemployed back into work rather than just leaving them to sink.
You used the term 'full up' in your question. While there is no such thing as 'full up', there is a question here about population level, which is broader than just being about immigration. An increasing population means more demand on housing and other infrastructure, yet there has not been the investment in infrastructure to meet the rising demand. Also we cannot keep building housing over the countryside ad infinitum to accommodate a massively increasing population. UK governments need to get away from their obsession with economic growth and with trying to increase growth at a rate which necessitates increasing the population. Otherwise more and more of our countryside will disappear under concrete.  

Question 9: But we all know that this election is a two-horse race between Labour and the Tories. If I waste my vote on you I'll just be helping the Tories to get in surely?

Again I'd challenge the premise in your question. Several actually. Firstly I do not accept that a Green vote is a wasted vote. Even if I don't win the seat, every Green vote is a vote taken away from the other parties. And that makes them sit up and take notice. It is the only power that you have over the politicians. If you keep voting for the main two parties they will keep taking you for granted. There is absolutely no point whatsoever about complaining about the policies of these parties or moaning that 'they are all the same' or 'all in it for themselves' if you continue to dutifully vote for one of them out of fear of the other one. The more votes that they lose to the Green Party, the more that Green Party policies will start to influence theirs. You can see this effect happening with the rise of UKIP and Mr Cameron suddenly adopting the idea of an EU referendum in order to stop the hemorrhaging of the Tory vote.
The second premise that I would challenge is your view that voting Green would be 'helping the Tories get in'. As a Green Party candidate I am not seeking to win over just former Labour voters but former Lib Dems, angry at their party's performance in office, and former Conservative voters as well. Many Conservative voters are angry at their party's unwillingness to stop over development in the countryside and the watering down of planning regulations. 

Question 10: Well I'm a first time voter and I'm probably not going to vote for any of you. I don't know that much about politics and you're all a bunch of liars so why should I bother? None of you care about young people.

I think you are wrong and that you should bother. That said I get why you are angry given that, for example, the Lib Dem leadership clearly pledged to vote against raising tuition fees before the 2010 election and then ditched this pledge within days of that election. Younger voters were indeed deceived. However it is precisely because the 18-24 age group are the age group least likely to vote that politicians frame policy to protect older voters financially at your expense. The reason they put up tuition fees for your generation but did not go for the alternative of a graduate tax which my generation, who got our university education free, would have had to pay is that we vote in higher proportions to you. And the over 60s vote even more, which is why they kept their bus passes but young people under 25 face housing benefit cuts. Put simply, if you give up on politics then the politicians will give up on you.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

My Challenge To David Cameron Regarding Obesity & Benefits.....

I'd like to know from Mr Cameron whether or not he thinks that his colleague Eric Pickles should have to go on a diet or lose the right to part of his MPs expenses.

For anyone who isn't aware of the background to this question, Mr Cameron announced earlier today that people who cannot work because they are obese should either seek medical treatment and diet or have their benefits cut. Mr Cameron describes this move as a "moral crusade" and has further stated:

"People have problems with their weight that could be addressed, but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice. It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept support and treatment".

What Mr Cameron is doing here is pandering to the view that obesity is somehow an ethical issue, that being overweight is a symptom of laziness, fecklessness or even greed. Aside from the obvious offensiveness of such assumptions, they take no account of the fact that there may be underlying health issues surrounding the obesity which no amount of treatment will easily sort out. Moreover it is the politics of the schoolyard bully equating obesity with notions of 'lazy scroungers' who 'stuff their faces with burgers at our expense' and so forth. It reminds me of a recent article by the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, who described Deidre Kelly ('White Dee') who featured in the TV show 'Benefits Street' as: "a hideous obese slattern". Clearly these prejudices are very embedded in certain quarters and boil down to the essential view that obese people are lazy gluttons and people on benefits are feckless.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this issue is the ongoing problem of sizeist bullying in our schools. According to research by around 1 million children still experience bullying everyday in our schools and one of the most pernicious forms of it is obesity related. I'm not suggesting that Mr Cameron is advocating the bullying of overweight children, however politicians have to be very careful in terms of the language that they use and the attitudes which they pander to. Suggesting that obesity is somehow a moral issue or linked to fecklessness is not only ignorant but gives out all the wrong signals in terms of social attitudes.

Of course what Mr Cameron is really doing is trying to put forward a 'populist' excuse for further benefits cuts. However he needs to be very careful what he says, given that there are a number of Conservative MPs who are themselves on the large side and who no doubt receive taxpayer-funded expenses assistance. Therefore my challenge to Mr Cameron is.......

Given that you see the reduction of obesity as an ethical issue in which the tax and benefits system has a role, do you Mr Cameron think that your colleague Eric Pickles should lose access to MPs expenses should he refuse treatment?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Michael Moore's film "SICKO"

If you haven't seen this film then you really should. Seriously, you really really should. I guarantee that you will be cured (excuse the pun) of any temptation to believe that the US system of private insurance based healthcare is in any way preferable to the NHS. Unfortunately the UK media bombards us with stories about NHS failures or problems and yet we hear very little about the failings of alternative healthcare systems such as that of the USA.
As Moore's film makes clear, over five million Americans have no access to healthcare at all due to not being able to afford to pay the insurance premiums. So we get scenes of young men stitching up their gaping wounds with a needle and thread. However the film is mainly about those who do have health insurance and how the big healthcare companies screw them over by, for example,  invoking obscure clauses in the contract so as not to pay out. We find out about just how much these companies donate to US politicians in order to buy their support. We also get to see rescue workers from 9 -11 who have become ill due to breathing toxic fumes and who cannot get healthcare. In one bizarre scene they even try to get into Guantanamo Bay, where healthcare is free.
This is a brilliant film. See the trailer below:

Colchester's Crime Rate and How to Deal With It

Readers of this blog may well have seen the article in the Gazette on Monday January 26th about the shocking crime rates that Colchester and Tendring now have. The figures in the article come from the official website and have recently been released for the period October 2013 - September 2014. They reveal that Colchester has a higher crime rate per person than inner city Birmingham and Liverpool. More than seven violent or sex crimes are committed in Colchester every day. Colchester has 16.57 incidents per 1000 people compared to the Essex average of 13.39. In addition Tendring has one of the highest rates of violent and sexual crime in the country at 19.04 per 1000 people.

What these figures do is explode the myth that is often trotted out by politicians that peoples' perception of crime or fear of it is greater than the reality. They show that violent and sexual crime in Colchester is indeed rising and that there is a real and definite problem which needs to be addressed. Going into denial about the problem is completely unacceptable.

The Green Party And Crime

As far as the Green Party is concerned, we have an image problem as far as the crime issue is concerned and this must be addressed by us. Unfortunately we are perceived by some people as being soft on crime or more precisely as being a bunch of tree-hugging lefty hippies who feel sorry for the burglar who is ransacking your house and whose only solution is to ask him politely to consider mending his ways.This is a completely false perception and it is up to us to make this clear.The Green Party does not advocate patting chummy on the back and letting him carry on his criminal activities, indeed we have a comprehensive set of policies designed to both prevent crime in the first place and to ensure that criminals are caught and then do not repeat their offending.

Crime Prevention and Catching Criminals

The key to reducing crime rates is clearly crime prevention. Other political parties can bang on as much as they like about 'tougher sentencing', 'short sharp shocks' and so on but ultimately this amounts to shutting the stable door when the horse has bolted. It is evidence of failure and reactive politics, meaning that the problem has been allowed to get worse in the first place rather than being nipped in the bud. The Green approach to crime prevention includes the following:

1) End cuts to police numbers and police funding. The police are the mechanism by which the law is upheld. Providing that the police build good community relations, they are essential to the prevention of crime. Cutting police numbers, undermining police morale by attacking their pension provision and cutting police resources are going to make it harder for the force to do its job. In a context of rising crime rates, such austerity measures are dangerous. It is ironic that those political parties who are most vociferous in adopting a hang 'em and flog 'em approach to crime are also the least willing to invest in our police or in prisons. They promise to lock up more criminals and end up imposing swinging cuts.

2) Put more resources and greater effort into reducing social pressures which are conducive to crime. Essentially we must ensure that people are not driven into criminal activity by poverty. The introduction of a guaranteed Citizens' Income would be a major step in doing this. We must also end the current fashion for cutting benefits. The simple reality is that if you don't have enough to live on then your options are food banks, charity, begging, prostitution or property crime. Ensuring that people don't end up in this situation is not being 'wet' or 'soft'. Its about enlightened self-interest. It is fine for politicians to spout gung-ho soundbites about slashing benefits, 'clamping down on scroungers' and so forth however there is always a social cost to such actions. The bottom line is that it is not in anyone's interests to have people driven into crime by poverty , least of all the people who are made victims of crime as a result.
In addition we must end the liberalisation of gambling which leads to debt, desperation and sometimes crime.

3) End over development without a corresponding increase in police resources. Colchester has grown massively in the last 20 years and yet investment in the police has not matched this growth. The Green Party believes that over development is not just bad for the environment but also has negative consequences socially when it is not matched with investment in infrastructure.

4) Education. Around 50% of the prison population of the UK cannot read or write. Many are products of the care system and have lacked the parental support which helps others to emerge from the education system with qualifications. We cannot let this continue. Its hardly surprising that someone goes off the rails if they feel rejected all through their childhood then can't get a job because they are illiterate. The natural reactions are anger and desperation. Therefore far more resources need to be put into schemes which target young people vulnerable to ending up in this situation, particularly those in care.

5) Adopt a grown-up policy on drugs. Statistics show that up to 40% of burglaries are drugs related. People stealing to fund a hard drugs habit, heroin, crack and so on. Clearly we need to catch and lock up those who peddle and deal in hard drugs and the big drugs barons who reap in the profits from destroyed lives. However we must focus drugs policy on hammering the pushers and dealers, not on criminalising the addicts. The latter is pointless. What we need to do is invest far more resources into getting the addicts off drugs. There is no point in just locking them up and letting them continue their habits surreptitiously when inside. Drugs policy must target these finite resources on what is most important, namely catching and locking up the dealers/drugs barons and getting the users clean. We must prioritise resources so that we can really go for the criminal gangs behind hard drugs and break them. It is a complete waste of taxpayers money and police time to land some student a criminal record just for smoking a bit of cannabis while listening to his Pink Floyd albums. Therefore the Green Party would decriminalise such minor offences while concentrating resources on addressing the key issues.

Restorative Justice

A key aspect of Green Party policy on crime is restorative justice. Far too many people locked up in prison then go on to reoffend after release. In 2013 more than one in four criminals reoffended within a year, according to Ministry of Justice figures, committing 500,000 offences between them. This equates to a reoffending rate of 26.8 per cent. This is a massive failure rate which must be tackled. Therefore Green Party policy states:

CJ114 We will introduce the principle of "restorative justice", which while denouncing the crime, deals constructively with both the victim and the offender. The primary aim will be to restore and, if necessary, improve the position of the victim and the community; the offender will be required to make amends.

Prisoners need to be given more help in terms of learning to read and write, learning a trade or getting off drugs. Moreover since some prisons can be 'universities of crime' we must try and avoid sending young people to them in particular. There should be more emphasis on making convicted criminals do work in the community and work for their victim. Again this is not about being soft on crime but about preventing further crime and thus enlightened self-interest. There will be many criminals who would rather go to prison and sit in a cell all day than meet their victim face to face or do months and months of work for the community.