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Sunday, 13 November 2016

Donald Trump and the Catastrophic Failure of the Left

"The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer". Donald J. Trump

The idea of Donald Trump rebranding himself as a champion of the forgotten working class of America is about as absurd as politics gets. Yet amid all of the online fury and liberal media whining, it is clear that millions of working class Americans did vote for Trump just as many of them voted for Brexit in the UK. Maybe not a majority, but enough to make a difference. It may be true that Trump didn't actually win the election in numbers terms since he lost the popular vote. However until the US and UK reform their unfair electoral systems candidates have to work with what they have and in the key swing states where Trump and Clinton concentrated their efforts Trump won and that is what matters. Just as with Brexit, his victory says more about the failures of the left than it does about Trump himself who may well turn out to be the kind of loud PT Barnum type conman that America produces so well.
If you don't understand why millions of people voted for Trump, you are probably part of the reason why they did is an adage being bandied around social media and it's one I basically agree with. It may be true that there's a sucker born every minute, as Barnum once famously said. However whining on about how Trump voters are stupid, thick and too dim to realise that they've just voted for a billionaire con-merchant will achieve absolutely nothing. Of course they know that he's a billionaire who doesn't want to pay his taxes just as much as they know that he's a foul-mouthed boorish oaf who boasted about groping women. But for many who voted for him all of that is secondary to the fact that he offers something that seems different to the mainstream politicians of both left and right who have failed to address their economic concerns. Too many commentators on the left are content to just point out the ridiculous irony of all of this and go no further.
Liberal free-trade and globalisation are felt to have thrown whole communities open to worldwide competition. Jobs are believed to be moving to where labour is the cheapest, for example from the US to Mexico, and cheap labour is believed to be being imported in to keep the labour costs of US workers down. Of course the reality is much more sophisticated than that however, just as in the UK, real wages have declined since 2008 in many areas. The big puzzle is why many people in the US and the UK do not seem to place the ultimate blame for all this on the right-wing neo-liberal policies of the Reagan-Thatcher years or the banker-created crash of 2008 and indeed are rushing to vote for right wing politicians rather than the anti-establishment left.
Except that it isn't really a puzzle at all, it is surprisingly clear why this is happening. Since the downfall of communism, the mainstream left has struggled for an identity and has consciously sought to adopt huge chunks of the neo-liberal agenda. Blairism, Clintonism or whatever you want to call the centre-left has pursued policies of privatisation, PFI deals, deregulation and liberalisation of free trade and free movement. This shamelessly pro big business agenda has left whole communities adrift in a sea of decline. Moreover the centre-left has recast itself as being mainly about 'identity politics' , or rather this is how it seems to many. So the image of the left seems to be mainly about rights for minorities, diversity, opposing hate speech, safe spaces and political correctness. What the left has failed to do is to advance an alternative economic strategy to neo-liberalism. It's as if they threw their hands up in the air (collectively of course) in 1991 and said, "Ok, we've lost the economic arguments, but we have something else to offer instead." Bad move. As Bill Clinton himself once said, "It's the economy stupid". Identity politics has absolutely achieved great things and made the world a better place. A sizeable chunk of Trump voters in the swing states also voted for Obama, the first black president. However without an economic plan for those damaged by neo-liberalism a vast opportunity for the right has been opened up.
Moreover, Trump and Brexit are not the same right as Thatcher and Reagan. They have much in common of course however Trump has championed protectionism in his speeches. The whole idea of Brexit makes no economic sense in neo-liberal terms and for all her hand bagging of European leaders and 'no, no, no' rhetoric, Thatcher saw the EU as being about free trade. What is happening is that the right is appearing to offer a kind of interventionist kicking of the neo-liberal elites on the economic issue.  While the left remains tainted by the Clinton and Blair years.
Some centre-left commentators are taking comfort from the generation gap and pointing out that older voters tended to vote for Trump and Brexit while younger voters backed Clinton and Remain. So all they have to do is wait for the old to depart this mortal coil and all will be well. Very complacent thinking. In the US election only 54% of millenials backed Clinton, 6% down on those who backed Obama. Millenials also remain the age group least likely to vote in both the US and UK. Part of this may be down to the inability of an 'establishment' candidate like Hillary Clinton to turbo-charge her core age group in the same way that Trump did his. Yet it is still surprising that more of them didn't get out there and vote when they are so liberal on rights issues that they seem to exist in a perpetual state of being bitterly offended by something or other. To the easily bruised millenials, Trump must seem like the devil incarnate, hell's vile intelligencer, the incarnation of the beast. Again it comes down to the failure of the mainstream left in the US to offer a convincing or engaging enough economic alternative. Bernie may have done it, but Bernie wasn't on the ticket. There is no guarantee that millenials will have the same political outlook in twenty years time that they have now. Consider what happened to the baby-boomers. Also it is facile just to lump all millenials together as a homogeneous group. A middle class student at Berkeley will see things very differently to an unemployed labourer's son in Allentown.
It is clear also that voters today are less partisan. The old 'left-right' paradigm is fading away and people are more likely to switch their allegiances, including the millenials. Terms such as 'left-wing', 'socialist' and so on are not so much toxic as obsolete to many. Even Momentum has chosen a non-ideological brand name for itself.
So what now? If the so-called progressives on both sides of the pond want to stop the march of the right, and they certainly do, then they must start listening to those people who are voting for the right, particularly disaffected people from working class communities. Middle class progressives will have to pay more tax, it is as simple as that. The middle classes must give a greater proportion of their wealth up to those underneath them and the liberal-left sections of the middle class will need to make this happen. This will necessitate a fundamental shift in their thinking away from the neo-liberal consensus of the last 35 years. They will need to acquire the popular touch, which is an anathema to many on the left of politics. Unfortunately the opposite of being popular is being unpopular. Get it? Above all they will need to stop talking down their noses at ordinary people and their concerns.
It is essential to advance an economic agenda which clearly challenges neo-liberalism, de-regulation and big business while offering economic security. For Greens, this means showing how renewable energy, conservation and the green economy can revive communities while a universal citizens' income will provide greater security. It means challenging the nonsense offered up by the likes of Trump that tax cuts and welfare cuts will make the marginalised better off. Above all it means offering an alternative to both Trump and the grey political establishment.

Further reading:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-identity-politics-couldnt-clinch-a-clinton-win/2016/11/11/ed3bf966-a773-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html?postshare=3661479075893028&tid=ss_tw


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Living the Good Life: Eco House Open Day In Clacton


I had an enjoyable and inspiring afternoon learning about self-sufficiency and Eco DIY at the Eco House Open Day in Clacton today.





















In only 9 years, Tendring Green Party member Chris Southall and family have turned a 1930s home and small plot of land into an example of more self-sufficient living. Solar panels generate electricity, while rainwater in recycled and also bathwater via a reed bed. They grow 60% of their own food and the garden is brimming with apple trees, pear trees, vegetable plots and a polytunnel. There are several large vines brimming with grapes and you can find out about beekeeping and buy some of their honey. The very friendly hens roam freely around the garden and produce a good supply of eggs while the large pond is alive with frogs and newts.
We don't all have the time or land to do all of this but if most of us just did some of this we could make a difference.
I also met some people who are staying (and working) at the house as part of the WWOOF UK (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) project (see link below).
http://www.wwoof.org.uk/
Basically you sign up to WWOOF as either a volunteer or a host and then as a volunteer you get to stay with organic food growers and self-sufficiency people and learn new skills, techniques and methods.
Below are some pictures from the open day:

Tendring Eco Group Info

 











The Bee Hives

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Book recommendation: "A Citizens' Income" Clive Lord

Given that Clive Lord is running for the leadership of The Green Party, I decided to read his book "A Citizens' Income" and was very impressed. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting an introduction to green political thought. He manages to explain some rather complex ideas in a way that is straightforward and understandable, which is no easy task.
The first part of the book deals with the ecological crisis facing the planet and why we need a complete 'paradigm shift' to have any hope of solving it, meaning a shift in the fundamental world view shared by a significant number of people. Lord explains the exponential principle underlying economic growth and how the main problem humanity faces concerns 'the tragedy of the commons'. Put simply the tragedy of the commons is the tendency of people to make rational decisions which are in their short-term self interest but go completely against our long-term interests and those of the planet. For example a situation where nations recognise the long-term dangers of climate change but each individual one is reluctant to reduce their emissions if it affects their individual nations' economic growth. Lord uses the example of Easter Island as an example of a society that went to pot because of the tragedy of the commons (hence the cover design showing Easter Island statues), where a once thriving community destroyed all of its trees and much of its wildlife and ended up in a state of perpetual war and cannibalism as a result. Lord elaborates on some of the possible future consequences of unfettered growth and environmental destruction in the disturbing chapter, "Racism and the Environmental Crisis".
That is not to say that the book is one long doom laden prophesy of a 'Soylent Green' future, far from it. The second part of the book offers an optimistic possible way out and route to achieving a 'paradigm for sustainability', meaning a cultural attitude shift in the direction of green living. Lord suggests that the establishment of a 'Citizens' Income' is essential to this. A Citizens' Income would be a guaranteed payment to everyone, regardless of whether they are in work or not and free from any means testing or penalties. Lord argues convincingly that this would break the link between providing people with the means to sustain themselves and endless 'job creation' which takes no account of whether the jobs are environmentally beneficial or destructive. Lord argues that a minimum wage does not work because it fails to break this link and also that means tested benefits simply mean that the poor are subsidised by the slightly less poor rather than the wealthy. He devotes several chapters to explaining the economic arguments behind this with much convincing data. Lord ends on a positive note:

"As long as there is uncontrolled expansion of either population or economic activity, the Tragedy of the Commons is in motion.... The escape plan set out here may be improbable, but it is possible. The same logic applied to both the slave trade and child labour. The first to renounce either risked putting themselves at a commercial disadvantage, but an overwhelming consensus nevertheless developed in each case and they did disappear". (Clive Lord "A Citizens' Income" , pub. Jon Carpenter 2003,  page131).

Clive Lord recommends the following books be read as well:

Colin Hines "Localization - A Global Manifesto", Earthscan, London, 2000.

Clive Ponting "A Green History of the World", Sinclair Stevenson, London 1991.


Polluted Lakes and Fines for Non-recyclers

There were two green issue related stories in Friday's Gazette which immediately caught my attention. Both raise important and different questions regarding how best to deal with the issues concerned and to engage public support.

Pollution in Wivenhoe

The first story concerns levels of pollution in ponds and lakes in Wivenhoe, off Rectory Hill, which run into the River Colne. It seems that long streak of orange gunge has appeared on the water and dozens of dead birds and fish have been found. One of the lakes has been tested for arsenic and has been found to contain 1,320mg per kg when the upper safe limit is 17mg per kg. Additionally high levels of aluminium and manganese have been found. This is a shocking level of pollution and no wonder that that local residents have started to hold meetings to raise awareness of this.
According to the Gazette article there have been suggestions that a local gravel pit may be to blame for this. It is imperative that the Environment Agency get to the bottom of this as soon as possible, however there seems to be a fundamental problem. This being that the Environment Agency is basing its conclusions on water samples rather than sediment tests. This is blatantly inadequate given that heavy rain can dilute and distort water sample readings while the sediment remains full of pollutants.
Clearly they need to get testing the sediment and then get tough with either the quarrying company or whoever else is responsible for this situation.

Bin Fines for Poor Recyclers?


The second story is a rather alarming one about potential fines for people who are poor recyclers. According to the article Colchester's recycling rate has dropped from 46.3%in 2014-15 to 45.2% last year. Not much of a drop but a drop nonetheless. However Cllr Tim Young (Lab) is threatening to get tough with the public and, .."look at (using) the stick..." to get more people recycling. He states:
"If you start fining people, which we can do, then they are not going to like it but that is what it might take".
Well yes, they are not going to like it one bit and that raises a number of problems. We absolutely need to get more people recycling and Cllr Young is quite right to want to achieve this. My concerns however are on the specific approach of dishing out fines and whether this would work. On the one hand it is unclear as to what criteria would be applied when dealing out fines. Would they be for people putting out too many black bags, for putting recyclable items in black bags or what? Are all of our black bags about to be opened and fished through by council snoopers looking for plastic milk bottles or cans? It is right to ask these questions because of my second concern, that being that the council could risk alienating the public and making them hate recycling as an imposition enforced by snoopers and jobsworths. This is the last thing we need.  Moreover as Cllr Young pints out, there has to be cross-party agreement on this for it to work. All it would take is for one of the major parties to campaign against what they would call 'punitive fines' and the plan would probably be sunk.
Therefore I'd try and get away from the fines approach or at least only use them as a very last resort. Surely it is better to reward those people who do recycle in some way. How about a small council tax rebate for those who recycle? This could be funded by a slightly higher charge on those who never use recycling bins/bags or use them less than five times per year.
This would get away from the word fines with all of its criminal justice system implications. Evidence suggests that the 5p plastic bag charge has both worked in reducing the amount of bags used and carried public opinion with it. It can be done however it needs careful thinking and I'm not convinced that outright fines is the best approach.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

BREXIT: Why the Referendum Became a Revolt Against the Political Class

"We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street,
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet."

G.K Chesterton

A century or so after the poet and theologian GK Chesterton wrote those words, the people of England have spoken. After weeks on end of warnings from the great and the good, everyone from political leaders, archbishops, economists, major employers and business leaders and even celebrities such as Simon Cowell....... the people have voted in the opposite way. They have created a political earthquake, the repercussions of which are too early to tell but may well be the most contrary shift in this country's direction since Henry VIII broke with Rome. Why did this happen and why did the advice of the political elites and experts go so unheeded by so many?

THE ECONOMY

The Remain camp believed that emphasising the economic risks of Brexit would decide the referendum. "It's the economy, stupid", as Bill Clinton once remarked. On the surface this made total sense, it is standard political wisdom that most people vote with their pockets and their vote is based on economic self-interest. However the problem with this approach is that the public's trust in politicians and economists on this issue was badly dented by the 2008 financial crash and the events thereafter. The MPs' expenses scandal, bankers' bonuses, even the revelations of the Panama Papers (which revealed that Mr Cameron's father had set up his investment fund in a tax haven) - all of these things heightened the popular sense of a nest-feathering elite that had become fatally out of touch.
Project Fear banged on endlessly about the economic risks of Brexit seemingly oblivious to the fact that many people at the bottom of the social pile; those on zero-hours contracts and those in high unemployment areas such as the north-east have got little to lose and were prepared to take a risk. As if to emphasise how out of touch he was, George Osborne announced that Brexit could, shock... horror, lower house prices. Thus adding thousands of prospective first time buyers to the Leave side.

In traditionally Labour areas outside of London they voted in huge numbers for Brexit because the Labour Party took the conscious decision in the early 1990s not to speak for these people. Tony Blair and New Labour regarded them as an embarrassing bunch of backward proles who were as obsolete as coal mines in the new age of globalised capitalism and couscous eating metropolitan shiny happy 'now' people with jobs in the media.  I can recall a certain member of the Labour Party in Colchester, himself from the north east, telling me in the Blair era that these people, "should just move to the south". Very little effort was put into helping these areas which remain largely those of the white working class.  In Wales, which voted for Brexit, ex-mining areas are some of the most deprived areas of the UK.
Now in 2016, the Labour Party suddenly expected to be able to reach these people and that they would jump into line.  Why the hell would they when white working-class voters, the party leaders say, are bigots, raging against the modern world and globalisation? This condescending rubbish has come back in their faces because, during the campaign, it proved so disastrously self-destructive.

IMMIGRATION

Time and time again the polls suggested that immigration was the number one concern of those who were intending to vote for Brexit. Here the failure of the political class goes back a long way. Ultimately there are two ways in which this issue could have been dealt with more effectively and honestly by successive governments.  Approach one would have been to tell the electorate that immigration is good for the economy and for social diversity and to extoll its benefits. Approach two would have been to use the power that the British government has over non-EU immigration to reduce the numbers coming in from the wider world.
Governments could have chosen to do either one of the above or both. In fact they chose to do neither. Instead every government I can remember featured politicians earnestly saying how they were 'worried' about immigration and how they would 'do something about it', while actually doing the complete opposite. This disingenuous and deceitful approach has eroded the basic trust of the public in politicians who have been both too cowardly to point out the benefits of immigration and too cowardly to seriously reduce the amount of non-EU immigration if they were so inclined. Instead politicians have spent decades blaming the EU for high immigration, backed up by the tabloid press, and then wonder why the public don't want to stay in the EU. The term 'dur' springs to mind....

Moreover successive governments have failed to accept that there is a widespread perception in working class communities that immigration depresses wages and provides cheap labour for the bosses. Whether or not this perception is true or not is not the issue. It exists. They could of course have invested in these areas and spent some money on their public services. But no, the political class chose to impose austerity on these areas and since 2010 have provided inadequate investment in schools and hospitals to match the increasing populations.  I remember reading a newspaper article in the 1990s where a Labour Party commentator (maybe Frank Field) was warning Tony Blair that if he didn't help deprived working class communities then they could turn to the BNP. This fell on deaf ears. When Gordon Brown called a woman a "bigot" for moaning about immigration during the 2010 election campaign the disconnect between the political leaders and the working class was writ large.
The problem is that too many politicians DO see working class people as a bunch of backward, bigoted, racist peasants and would rather just insult or ignore their concerns. Yes their concerns may be wrongly directed and they may be rough round the edges and use politically incorrect expressions.
However you don't change peoples' attitudes by screaming bigot in their faces or ignoring them as the chickens will eventually come home to roost, as they did in the referendum.

PROJECT FEAR

For weeks on end, every news broadcast has seemed to begin with the latest dire warning from some or other expert, economist or Remain politician about the consequences of Brexit. Many of these economic warnings may prove to be accurate although I hope not. However it was too much, it was overkill and many people just switched off and stopped listening. Some of the Remain claims were so over the top as to be ridiculous; David Cameron warning about World War Three for example. Worst of all however was George Osborne's bullying threat of an uber harsh austerity budget. It felt like bullying because it was bullying and I suspect it added hundreds of thousands of votes to the Brexit side. The sheer number of employers writing to their employees demanding that they vote to Remain will have had the same effect.
Yes the Leave side also peddled obvious over-the -top falsehoods. Glaring ones such as the £350 million pledge. However the public simply felt that both sides were engaged in lying to them and so went with their gut instincts.



 






Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Green Party's Future: Ecologist, Lib Dems on Bikes or Labour Lite?

The upcoming Green Party leadership election will, I suspect,  receive little national media attention until the result is announced. However I believe it to be one of the most important moments in the party's history and one which will decide the direction of travel which this party takes for a long time.
Unfortunately the decision by Caroline Lucas to announce her joint candidature with Jonathan Bartley before any other candidates had announced theirs risks creating a done deal, a fait accompli. Caroline is an MP and former leader who has a huge personal appeal and so other candidates will be reluctant to stand against her. This risks denying the party the internal debate which it needs as well as creating a situation where Jonathan Bartley could be elected joint leader not on his own merits but on the coat tails of someone else. This is not undemocratic but it does seem like a manipulation of the rules.
The Green Party stands at a crossroads and there are three main possible directions of travel. In my view only one of them is genuinely green and the dangers lie in the following two directions being taken:

1) Lib Dems on Bikes.

The danger of putting too much emphasis on a 'professional' media image and talking from a script approach is that the party ends up with a vaguely left of centre liberal ethos which amounts to little more than wishy washy rhetoric about 'fairness' and 'internationalism' and a policy approach similar to the Lib Dems when led by Charles Kennedy.  There is of course also a danger that a kind of Green Blairism takes hold with a slick, centrist careerism and a centre-right approach however I believe that the former scenario is more likely. There is an element within the party who are very Lib Demmy in their approach: vaguely interested in social justice, very pro-EU, liberal on social issues and refugees but hostile to the idea of serious redistribution of wealth, trade unions  and the Labour left as personified by Jeremy Corbyn.
While I accept that many of this grouping have genuine environmental concerns, this seems to be confined to a light green approach of wishing to promote cycling, cleaner air, growing your own food, eco-friendly consumerism and so on. There is no sense of any desire for a serious and radical change in the direction of the UK or the world or for seriously challenging the assumptions behind endless economic growth and the destruction of the countryside. Many seem to believe that the planet can be saved if individuals just make the right choices in the marketplace and buy Ecover washing up liquid instead of Fairy Liquid.
I also accept that this is coupled with genuine concerns about social justice however this is seldom coupled with any radical critique of the neo-liberal economic system which creates inequality and erodes working-class living standards. It seems more about a rather namby pamby sense of niceness involving doing a lot for charity and worthy causes but remaining averse to paying more taxes or supporting trade unions when they stand up for the pay and conditions of their members.

2) Labour Lite

On the other hand there is also the danger that the Green Party could ends up as little more than a left-wing offshoot of the Labour Party which attempts to 'out-Corbyn ' Corbyn. Much of the Green surge of 2015 was due to younger people looking for a left-wing alternative to New Labour and a feeling that so-called 'Red Ed' was both uninspiring and not very red at all. This approach, which can be found on the Bright Green website and is personified by members such as Adam Ramsay, tends to combine a thinly-veiled contempt for ecological Greens with a radical left-wing social agenda involving redistribution of wealth, equality for 'Liberation Groups', anti-austerity and an obsession with bureaucracy and taking over the party structures.
However this is a new left devoid of the sort of class-war rhetoric or support for trade unionism found within the SWP or old Labour . It is Socialism-lite for the Facebook generation which shuns anything rooted in the history of the labour movement, Marxism, syndicalism or anything that smells of the organised working class. It has more in common with the new-left of the late 1960s and early 1970s although lacking that era's utopian visions, radical edge or cultural backdrop.

THE DANGERS

The Green Party is a broad church and there is room for people who share both of the above approaches . The dangers lie in either of the two above groupings gaining ground and becoming the dominant force within it. That is because the end result could well be a Green Party in name only.

The 'Lib Dems on Bikes' approach may well win us a few more seats however it would alienate many people who joined the Green Party for a radical alternative to the grey parties. The left of the party would clearly be alienated but also this approach would replace a genuine ecologist or green ethos with something barely distinguishable from the Lib Dems. Any centrist politician can be vaguely pro-green so why would anyone bother supporting a Green Party that has no radical ecologist agenda when this is no different from other parties? I didn't join the Green Party because I want people to see me as 'nice', I joined the Green Party because it is the only political party which has ecological concerns at the core of its origins and ethos as well as a radical approach to social justice.

The 'Labour-lite' approach would narrow our appeal, prevent us winning seats and change the party into a left-wing talking shop. There are many areas of policy where the ecologists and much of the Labour left disagree such as their commitment to economic growth and their desire to build, build build over our countryside. Even a basic knowledge of socialist history in Europe shows that while there are those on the left that have been strong on green issues, there are many more who have not. The Soviet Union was an ecological disaster.
Clearly it is possible to be an eco-socialist and to fight for a radical green agenda and socialism at the same time. However the Green Party can never win elections just by poaching voters from the Labour Party. It will never be able to take enough as many Labour voters will still stay with Labour, no matter how right-wing it goes, as they did under Blair. To win, the Green Party needs to be broad enough in its appeal and rhetoric to take voters from all the other parties, including even the Conservatives and UKIP. An overly leftist image might perform well in a university campus context but not in wider society.

THE FUTURE MUST BE ECOLOGISM

The Green Party cannot just be a single issue party and where I do agree with the Bright Green grouping is that we can't just talk about the environment and nothing else. We have to have a range of policies including those that promote equality and stand up for public services and the socially disadvantaged and excluded. Also this should mean something in real terms and in our policies, rather than just being a vague, namby pamby, bleeding-heart,  Lib Dem sense of civic niceness which doesn't amount to much in reality.
However if we downplay our commitment to environmental issues we will lose our soul and lose our purpose. We need to re-assert our ecologism.
The Green Party was founded in 1973 as PEOPLE (later renamed The Ecology Party in 1975) with ecological concerns at its heart. Its founders were inspired by The Limits to Growth, a 1972 book about the computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies. Ecologism is not a centrist approach, rather it challenges all of the assumptions of neo-liberal politics; the need for economic growth, centralised decision making, increasing consumption and global inequality.
Green issues can win us support from across the political spectrum. Many voters are worried about the countryside being concreted over with huge housing estates. They are fed up with seeing their towns grow without a corresponding investment in infrastructure. Issues such as climate change, world population and pollution are concerns for everyone regardless of political background.

We need to end the watering-down of the Green Party's ecologism and to re-assert The Limits to Growth in our party's philosophy.

THE NEXT GREEN PARTY LEADER

Whoever is elected as the new Green Party leader or leaders needs to be rooted in ecologism. Yes the party is a broad church and can have within it watermelons, centrists, people here for the social events and so on. However the leader should be someone rooted in the core ethos of the movement, someone to take us in the right direction. Yes they also need to be media savvy but not to the extent of being someone who is presentable precisely because they don't believe in the party's values like Tony Blair was in relation to Labour.
It would also be a mistake to elect a watermelon leader whose aim is to slowly peel off their outer skin until all that remains is the red.

The next leader needs to be Green rather than Lib Dem or Corbyn lite. Otherwise the Green Party could well be on the road to nowhere.






Monday, 30 May 2016

Colchester Borough Council, Glyphosates and Monsanto

I keep hearing that Colchester Borough Council are still spraying Monsanto produced glyphosates all over our pavements and also in Castle Park where children play. It is time that they came clean on this and issued an official statement as to whether they are or are not doing this and if so explaining the extent of the usage.
Glyphosates are herbicides and part of a wider family of chemicals called organophosphates, which were developed as a result of nerve gas experiments carried out in the Second World War. The group is very toxic to fish, earthworms and bees. Glyphosates are used as a weed killer and were brought to the market in 1974 by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup .  Roundup, the commercial name of Glyphosate based herbicides, contains many other chemicals which, when mixed together are 1,000 times more toxic than Glyphosate on its own.
The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded ‘Glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans’. The newly recognised dangers of Glyphosate come against a background of increased use in the UK. Glyphosate is used in public parks and other urban areas to kill weeds, and in the last year for which government figures are available, nearly a third of UK cereals, wheat and barley, were sprayed with Glyphosate – a total of just over one million hectares.



The Soil Association is calling for a UK ban on the use of Glyphosates sprayed on UK wheat as a pre-harvest weedkiller and its use to kill the crop to ripen it faster. New figures analysed by the Soil Association from government data were released at a scientific briefing in London on 15 July 2015. This revealed Glyphosate use in UK farming has increased by 400% in the last 20 years and it’s one of the three pesticides regularly found in routine testing of British bread - appearing in up to 30% of samples tested by the Defra committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF).
Professor Christopher Portier, one of the co-authors of the Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) recent report which determined Glyphosate’s status as World Health a probable carcinogen, reiterated the IARC’s conclusions, and said: “Glyphosate is definitely genotoxic. There is no doubt in my mind.”

In the light of this, I think we all have a right to know whether or not and if so why Colchester Borough Council is using these deadly poisons in our public places.



Nature Notes 3: Wildflowers For Your Garden


"Weeds are flowers too once you get to know them".
A. A Milne

Making a wildflower garden is very easy; just dig and rake over some soil or put some compost in pots and leave it to see what appears. However you may wish to manage things a bit more carefully if you want to avoid just the most common of plants. You can obtain a surprising number of wildflower seeds on ebay, however here are two easy to grow plants that I have tried growing:

RAGGED ROBIN



Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) is a perennial with ragged, deeply-lobed pink petals in the family Caryophyllaceae. It is a widespread though locally declining plant of marshes, damp meadows and wet woodland clearings. Carried on tall stems above clumps of dark green, strapped-shaped leaves, the lacy flowers appear to hang in the air like a mist.
Unfortunately Ragged Robin is in decline in Britain due to modern agricultural practices. Wet meadows, rush-pastures and fens have been drained for agriculture so that marsh plants have become much less frequent than before World War Two. Ragged Robins bloom from May to August, occasionally later, and  attract both butterflies and bees which feed on the nectar.
Ragged Robin is easy to grow, however it doesn't like to fight too hard with other plants for space. I grow it in pots and it needs to be kept damp so I grow mine in pots with no holes in the bottom. Clumps can be lifted and divided in autumn or sow fresh seed in late summer and leave outside to germinate the following spring. The seeds are very easy to collect as they sit in a cup-shaped flower head which can just be tipped over a jar.

RED CAMPION





Red Campion ( Silene dioica ) is a biennial or short-lived perennial which, like Ragged Robin, is in the family Caryophyllaceae. It grows in woodland, shady lanes, hedgerows and on mountain ledges and coastal cliffs. The bright rose-pink flowers of Red Campion brighten up roadsides throughout the summer. Just as the Bluebells finish flowering in our woodlands, Red Campion starts to come into bloom. If they grow side-by-side for a few weeks, they can turn a woodland floor into an amazing sea of pink and blue.
Red Campion prefers to grow in shady parts of the garden and does not tolerate marshy soil as well as Ragged Robin, so it needs pots with holes in the bottom. It is prone to blackfly. The seeds are easy to collect, just shake the seed heads over a jar.

FURTHER READING

"The Encyclopedia of British Wild Flowers" John Akeroyd


"Weeds" Richard Mabey





Sunday, 8 May 2016

So Close, But We Live To Fight Another Day


I finally made it home from the local election count on Friday morning at 5.30 am and managed about an hour and a half of sleep before getting up for work. I'm getting too old for this, yet I'm surprised how much I still managed to function on Friday, especially given that this was the most tense, frustrating and intensely disappointing election count that I've been to so far since I returned to being politically active in 2012.  Yet Colchester Green Party did achieve its best ever local election result. Overall we achieved over 9% across Colchester, however in Castle Ward I came within 21 votes of gaining a seat on Colchester Borough Council. As you can see below, with 21 more votes I would have beaten both Bill Frame and Daniel Ellis and taken the third place seat, it was that close at the top.

CASTLE - Conservative/Liberal Democrat

NICK Barlow (Lib Dem) 881
DARIUS Laws (Con) 854
DANIEL Ellis (Con) 801
BILL Frame (Lib Dem) 792
BARRY Gilheany (Lab) 452
MARK Goacher (Green) 781
CHARLES Ham (Green) 451
JO Hayes (Lib Dem) 769
AMANDA Kirke (Green) 511
KATE Martin (Con) 759
ISOBEL Merry (Lab) 484
JORDAN Newell (Lab) 427

I wish to thank everyone who voted for me and for all the Green Party candidates on Thursday. Especially I want to thank all those people out there who voted primarily for other parties, but gave us their third vote because they wanted to see a fresh voice on the council. I'm very sorry that you didn't get that fresh voice however we came close and will keep campaigning on the issues which we highlighted in the campaign. Colchester will now need a Green voice more than ever in the years ahead. We will keep pressing for more investment in our town centre, for better air quality, for more infrastructure investment and for the protection of our countryside and green spaces.

What the election result highlights more than anything is the futility of tactical voting. I was told on the doorstep by a number of people that they were reluctant to vote for me even though they preferred the Green Party message because I was less likely to win than the Lib Dems. Well I beat one of the Lib Dem candidates, came within 12 votes of beating another and I also beat one of the Conservatives and came within 21 votes of beating another. Therefore if I'd just had 21 of those tactical votes I would have won the seat. Greens can win in Castle Ward, its as simple as that.

I was surprised and disappointed on election night that the defeated Lib Dem candidates chose to make a series of rude comments to one of my fellow candidates, accusing us of causing their defeat. I understand that Bill Frame went on BBC Essex on Friday morning to spout the same line. I found this highly ungracious and it just reveals them to be bad losers. It is a flawed analysis, given that I won a significant number of third votes from Conservative voters, not just Lib Dem and Labour voters. Furthermore the Lib Dem candidates lost due to their own failings, because they failed to inspire, because they supported the wrong policies, such as the ridiculous "garden settlements" debacle and above all because they let us all down so badly in 2010. We don't have to take the accusation that we "let in Tories" from a party that enthusiastically joined a Conservative government for five years and backed every policy. They should take a good hard look at themselves before blaming others.

The Green Party will continue to campaign hard for a better Colchester  and for cleaner and greener policies.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Only the Greens Will Defend Colchester Library

Only Colchester Green Party will defend Colchester Library from further downgrading. At the Pensioners' Action Group Hustings yesterday, the representatives of ALL the other parties defended moving council services into the library and changing its purpose. Indeed they are all threatening to move even more public services into there using the ridiculous "Community Hub" piece of flim flam. Which means that Colchester library could end up with a small stock of populist fiction of the Catherine Cookson/Jackie Collins ilk and little else.
I care passionately about libraries because, as a teacher of History for 26 years, I know that it is only by reading developed arguments, extended explanations and different interpretations in books that students can learn the skills necessary to write extended prose themselves. You simply cannot learn as effectively by reading bite-sized chunks of information.

Friday, 15 April 2016

COLCHESTER GREEN PARTY FULL MANIFESTO 2016


Colchester and District Green Party


                                    For the Common Good


Our Manifesto for 2016
 
The Green Party will work for:

*An economy that gives everyone their fair share

*A society capable of supporting everyone's needs

*A planet protected from the threat of climate change

*A more democratic political system

The Green Party is the only Party that offers a genuine alternative to the other Parties to develop the local economy, to protect the local environment and to create a new kind of democratic politics.

LOCAL ECONOMY

* We would work to ensure that the growth of our town is matched by appropriate investment in infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and public transport links.
*We will support local businesses, encouraging schemes which keep money circulating within the local economy, instead of letting it be siphoned away by multinational corporations. We would support the funding of advice centres which will help those setting up a new shop or small business to deal with accountants and the tax man.
*We will prioritise the town centre rather than out of town shopping centres.
*We will explore ways of reducing the overheads of small businesses in the town centre.
*We will seek to attract businesses to Colchester that focus on recycling, generating renewable energy, energy saving and home insulation. This would bring investment and new jobs to the area.
*We will promote the building and upkeep of greener homes by giving grants for insulation and favouring design and build with low carbon materials and methods.

OUR ENVIRONMENT & COUNTRYSIDE

*The Green Party has long recognised that climate change is the worst environmental hazard facing us.
*We call for more stringent targets for reduction of global, national and local greenhouse gas emissions and for the establishment of effective enforcement mechanisms. Our local policies in areas such as transport and planning reflect this commitment.
*We will protect green spaces from development and utilise brownfield sites.
*We are opposed to the council's use of dangerous herbicides on our pavements.
*We will work with the Essex Wildlife Trust to promote bio-diversity.

*We are opposed to the building of a huge new town on the countryside near to Marks Tey ('West Tey') and will make every effort to protect Salary Brook from urban sprawl.

THE NHS

Our NHS is the most effective public service ever created in the UK.
*The Green Party nationally would end the creeping process of privatisation that is eroding it. We believe the NHS should remain a unified public service and we oppose Private Finance Initiatives.
*We will match growth in local population sizes with pushing central government hard for greater NHS investment.
*We will establish Community Health Centres that will provide community-based services.
*We are the only party to consistently oppose cuts to local council services and the NHS.
*We will strive to ensure there are sufficient numbers of qualified staff.
*We will ensure that mental healthcare has parity with physical healthcare.

WORK AND WELFARE

*We can reduce the cost of healthcare by building a healthier society-tackling air pollution, by reducing the stress and stigma of unemployment, reducing inequality and overcrowded housing and ensuring that everyone can have access to healthy, affordable food.
*We actively support food banks for as long as people are in need of them but our policy is:
*No-one who is working should be paid less than a Living Wage.
*Benefits payments should rise. The benefits sanctions regime is cruel and unnecessary.

HOUSING

*We all want warm, safe and secure homes. The Tories have presided over the worst housing crisis in living memory.
*Colchester Green Party will work to build and refurbish homes to meet everyone's need for secure and comfortable housing. Council and co-operative housing will be prioritised for funding, housing associations democratised and protections for private tenants improved.
*We will work to ensure that private landlords maintain their properties adequately.
*We will push for Colchester's derelict buildings and shops to be brought back into use, including those above shops and particularly the old cinema in Crouch Street.
*Colchester Green Party opposes the bedroom tax. No-one will be evicted who ends up in arrears because of this tax.

LOCAL DEMOCRACY

Time and again decisions affecting Colchester are made by Essex County Council with no understanding of what Colchester really needs.


*Localism is central to Green Party politics. We would campaign for more powers to be devolved from county council level to the borough, particularly roads.
*We believe that council meetings should be as open and transparent as possible.
*We will work to increase the involvement of residents and residents' groups in council decision-making processes by holding consultations at an early stage, before decisions are made by officers.
*The National Green Party is campaigning for a change to a proportional representation electoral system, replacing the undemocratic and unfair 'first past the post' system. We would campaign for Colchester to pilot proportional representation systems for local elections.

DEFENCE

*Colchester is a garrison town. We would campaign to ensure that our armed services have the up-to-date equipment and resources they need to do their job properly and safely.
*Cancelling the replacement for Trident will save an estimated £167 billion, some of which could be used to ensure that our soldiers have the best up-to-date equipment.

AIR POLLUTION

Surveys show that air quality is now poor in many areas of the town.


Air quality is one of our top priorities

*We will use local council powers to tackle air pollution by:-

-reducing traffic flows at key points

-providing better alternatives to driving for local journeys

-curbing speeds

-introducing 20mph speed limit areas

-working with bus companies to run cleaner and more reliable vehicles in Colchester

-providing more cycle lanes

TRANSPORT

*We will work to bring the railways back into public ownership, saving money and improving services, a policy supported by 66% of the population.
*We will campaign to return control of our roads to the Borough.
*CGP will work to end the traffic problems in the town centre with a combination of affordable and efficient public transport, improved cycle routes and by encouraging more walking and car sharing.
*CGP will press Essex County Council to make more effective use of the new park and ride bus lane with stops at the hospital and train station.
*We will lobby for more affordable fares and a proper bus station.
*We will introduce shared spaces for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians-initially in Queen Street, with an aim to create an inner ring of the High Street, Queen Street, Osborne and St Johns Street and Head Street..
*We will expand a 20mph speed limit in urban areas. Through these measures we would cut congestion, pollution and reduce road casualties.
*GP councillors would push for safe and properly planned cycle routes and the increased availability of cycle parking and storage facilities.

COMMUNITY SAFETY

*We will seriously examine why Colchester has a higher crime rate per person than inner city Birmingham and Liverpool. Solutions are complex but include many things that the Council can influence such as licensing, design of public spaces and youth and leisure facilities.
*We will work to halt cuts to police numbers and insist that any new development has a corresponding increase in policing resources.

COLCHESTER'S HERITAGE

*Colchester has a fantastic Roman and Civil War heritage and needs to make more of it. We would improve the information at the Butt Road Roman Church site.We would also push for the funding of an English Civil War museum in Colchester and a proper memorial to King Charles I.
*Colchester also played a major role in the 1381 Peasants' revolt. We would support contributing to the funding of a permanent statue to John Ball in Colchester and an exhibition detailing Colchester's medieval heritage.
*We would work fully with other parties to secure the future of Jumbo in a non-partisan way.
*We would work with the Church of England to bring back into use St Martin's Church and St Leonard's Church as community centres offering local services both secular and spiritual.

NO NUCLEAR AT BRADWELL

*We are strongly opposed to the proposed new nuclear power station at Bradwell on safety, environmental and economic grounds.
*Bradwell is already a nuclear waste site for radioactive waste from other power stations. New nuclear development would increase the amount of waste.
*There were radioactive leaks into the ground over a 14-year period to 2009 and a fire in 2011.
*Since 1952 there have been more than 17 major accidents at nuclear power stations throughout the world. Bradwell is only 9 miles from Colchester.
*A new nuclear power station would take 6 times as much cooling water from the estuary as the old one, seriously damaging the ecology of the estuary and the world-famous oyster industry.

EDUCATION

*The Green Party believes that all education should be free at the point of delivery.
*Nationally we would end tuition fees for students and replace loans with grants. Students leaving Essex University now face an average debt of £45,000.
*Nationally we would promote a comprehensive system of local schools and bring Academies and Free Schools back into the Local Authority system. Locally we would lobby central government on this and oppose academisation.
*We would campaign for increased education spending. Funding cuts are seriously affecting Sixth Form Colleges and Colchester has a very high profile Sixth Form College.
*Many children now have to travel several miles to school every day because their parents don't have confidence in their local schools or because school places aren't available. We would work to ensure that every child can attend their local school.



 

COLCHESTER GREEN PARTY


               FOR A CLEANER, GREENER COLCHESTER

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Use for Jumbo: Have Your Say!

Colchester Green Party are keen to hear your views as to what should happen to Colchester's iconic Jumbo water tower, currently languishing in a semi-neglected state. You can vote in the poll on top right of leave a message with your suggestion. Possible options include:

1) A restaurant/cafĂ©, which could offer panoramic views of Colchester, based of the principle of the Fehnsehturm in Berlin.

2) Penthouse apartments, utilising the space for housing.

3) A Civil War Exhibition. Jumbo becoming the location of the new English Civil War/Siege of Colchester museum which the Green Party are proposing, along with Charles I memorial.

4) Shops. Offering retailers an exciting opportunity to attract customers to a unique shopping experience.

5) An Eco-Tower. Allowed to return to nature as a site for nesting birds.



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Disgusting State of Ipswich Road

Several people have reported potholes on Ipswich Road to me. So this morning I took a look for myself and this is what I found. The fact that they have been circled by county council operatives could make it harder to claim on the insurance if your car is damaged by one. Suffice to say I will be reporting these on the county council's website. You can report potholes here: http://www.essexhighways.org/tell-us-pothole.aspx








Monday, 28 March 2016

Nature Notes 2: The Madness of the March Hare

In recent years I've enjoyed watching hares dancing and boxing in spring, in fields close to where I grew up in Leicestershire. The brown hare's spring behaviour can appear quite strange and has given rise to the expression 'as mad as a March hare'. In fact such 'madness' is simply part of their courting ritual.
Unlike rabbits, hares are not particularly sociable animals but they do show an intense, if sporadic, interest in each other during the mating season. This lasts from mid-February to mid-September however it is most noticeable at the start of the breeding season when all of the females tend to come into the breeding condition at about the same time. A male hare (a jack) will mate with as many females (does) as he can, following each doe around. Sometimes the boxing matches are between rival jacks fighting over the doe. They rise up on their hind legs, box and batter each other with their forepaws and turn in circles with their hind legs thumping the ground. Until recently it was thought that these displays were mostly between rival jacks however it is now known that it is usually the larger female fending off the advances of a too amorous male.
Having mated, the jack and doe go their separate ways, the jack to look for yet another doe.

Baby hares are called leverets. Each doe will give birth to several litters during the season, the first usually at the end of February/beginning of march. Litters consist of around 1-4 leverets which are born out in the open, usually in shallow depressions in long grass. Here they must lie absolutely still to avoid the attention of foxes and birds of prey.
Brown hare leverets.
Hares differ from rabbits due to the hare's longer, black-tipped ears, slimmer body and more muscular hind legs.
Hare

Rabbit
'Hareports'

In recent years some of the hares' most bizarre behaviour has been seen at airports. Several times in recent decades large numbers of hares have been reported at Heathrow, Gatwick and Belfast airports living on the grass along the runways. It seems odd that hares, which have very sensitive hearing, should live in such an ear-shattering environment, yet they seem to enjoy racing alongside the planes as they take off as if trying to outstrip them. However there is a sad side to this in that it is a symptom of the decline of viable habitats elsewhere.
Hares at Belfast Airport

Declining Hare Numbers

Unfortunately, like much of our wildlife, hare numbers are declining in the UK. Hares, unlike foxes for example, have not adapted to survive in urban areas, nor do they live in woodlands and most nature reserves are too small to support viable populations. During the 1800s there were around four million brown hares in Britain and this has declined by around 80%. The intensification of agriculture has been a major factor in this, since it has reduced the biodiversity and food supplies which hares need. For example 95% of hay meadows have been lost since World War Two. We simply cannot allow this to continue. You can read more about this issue on the Hare Preservation Trust website here:
http://www.hare-preservation-trust.co.uk/status.php


Further Reading

"Rabbits & Hares" Anne McBride Whittet Books London 1988