Friday, 23 October 2009

Green Leader Backs Postal Workers

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, today promised to “lobby at every level” in order to support striking postal workers and accused the Government of
effectively “dismantling” Royal Mail with its ongoing
programme of privatisation.

In a strongly worded letter to the Communication Workers Union - released this afternoon - Lucas, who is also the Green Party candidate for Brighton Pavilion, accused the Government of “ill-serving” workers and the UK public alike and criticised the Government for its “shameful privatisation of public services” which has led to “increased marginalisation and inequalities in terms of public access to services”.

The move comes as the row over today’s first postal strike escalated, with Gordon Brown calling upon the strikers and Royal Mail to “get around the table” to end the industrial dispute and the Tories attacking Labour for failing to deal with the crisis.Several Brighton and Hove Green Councillors will be joining the picket line in central Brighton tomorrow (Friday).

In the letter to CWU Secretary Bill Hayes, Caroline Lucas says: “In our view, Royal Mail workers and management have been on a collision course since the private sector has been forced on the service. By removing profitable parts of the business for the benefit of speculators and investors, the Government has created an environment in which the interests of the population of the UK as a whole have been ill-served, none more so than your members. It is shameful that a Labour Government should have played such a role in the privatisation of public services, and in a way which has increased marginalisation and inequalities in terms of access to services.”

“It is especially concerning that this Labour Government is not content with overseeing the dismantling of this vital service, but now appears to be colluding with Royal Mail management to undermine the rights of the Union and its representatives, and condoning the side-lining of the CWU in working towards the completion of the agreement from the last period of industrial action.”

The Green Party leader offered the CWU the Green’s full support in the coming days, stating that “…we hope that any action is swift and positive in its results. As we did two years ago, we will lobby at every level to support the CWU cause.”

Lucas used the letter of support to draw attention to the fact that in Brighton and Hove during previous industrial action: “Green Party members and our active Trade Union Group joined the CWU on the picket line, Green councillors promoted your case, including getting Brighton and Hove Council to support your action, and we publicly backed your position.”

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Healthy Haringey?

Having travelled past the variously-named Hornsey Poly-Clinic/Hornsey Central Hospital/Hornsey Neighbourhood Health Centre on the bus umpteen times, it was good today to final get the chance to visit.

It was the AGM of NHS Haringey (formerly Haringey PCT – do keep up!),and I attended with my ‘Defend Haringey Health Services’ hat on.

The building is an odd combination of steel and glass with the war memorial (which was on the site already) tacked on the front, at an angle. Patients whose doctors have moved into the building have complained that they cannot hear their name being called because of the acoustics.

There’s a café downstairs run by Muswell Hill’s ‘Feast’ – good to see a local business getting the franchise, I thought, though a quick glance showed that their environmental credentials needed improving. Bottled water – so 5 years ago! If the land at the back of the building is turned into a community garden, a plan which is on the table, perhaps fruit and veg could be grown there and used in the café?

Richard Sumray, chair of NHS Haringey, kicked off the AGM by saying that resources are getting tighter – a point underlined by Harry Turner, Corporate Director of Finance. Who said there had already been a small cut in spending on primary care services.

They hadn’t scheduled questions, but we activists didn’t let that stop us. I asked where the cuts in primary care services had been, and on top of that, whether the Executives planned to take a pay cut? After all, Tracey Baldwin, Chief Executive of NHS Haringey, reportedly earned £190,000 last year.

Ms. Baldwin laughed at my suggestion and patiently explained that their wages are determined by the Government’s pay scales and there isn’t anything they can do about it. (I’ll let you insert your own comment here!)

We also asked what the plans were for the building – much of it is empty still. We were told that they don’t really know what’s going into it (the Millennium Dome situation springs to mind!) but it’ll be what we the patients want.

So here’s my wish-list: I’d like a good, sympathetic Dr I see often and can build up a relationship with, thus getting continuity of care.I’d like a baby clinic, more podiatrists and mental health provision. I’d like to see a user board that properly represents the community and has a real say about how things are run.

But here’s the big ask: I’d like to then pick this up and put it in a small practice, within walking distance, so people don’t have to get two buses to get there, especially when they’re feeling unwell.


When I brought up some of these points I was told that people don’t mind travelling on two buses if they are going to a nice building. I was told that mothers want to go to the polyclinic (again, because it’s a sexy building – supposedly). My reply: I’m a mother. I don’t. I want to go to the one around the corner (which was closed down with one week’s notice). I was also told that people don’t care about seeing the same GP and that is why they often go to A&E.


I love the NHS, and to see it taken apart before my eyes was thoroughly depressing. Let’s defend our local doctor’s surgeries whilst we still have them!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Spinning the war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is fast running up the UK political flagpole. A succession of British ex-army generals are making noises that the army wants out, and now, Eric Joyce a ministerial aid, has quit the government over the way the war is being justified.

The recent Afghan elections are subject to loud claims of fraud from opposition parties, whilst we continue to prop up the corrupt government of President Karzai and a collection of narco barons.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown talks deluded nonsense about ‘our aims being realistic and achievable’, but what are these aims?

The first justification to be trotted out is that by fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, we are stopping terrorism visiting the streets of the UK. This is verging on risible. There has not been a single link to Afghanistan with terrorism in this country. Meanwhile, opinion polls say that two thirds of the British public are against our involvement in this eight year long occupation, so few seem to be convinced by this argument.

The second justification for this occupation, is that we can stop opium growing in Afghanistan, and so reduce the supply of heroin onto our streets. It is true that opium growing has reduced this year, but this is mainly due to the rising price of wheat, making it an attractive alternative crop. The price of wheat will fall again, and so too, the price of heroin will rise, the presence of the British army has little to do with the situation. The Taliban did manage to almost completely wipe out heroin production in Afghanistan before the US/UK et al invasion, albeit by brutal means, but foreign armies actually increase the attraction of growing this crop, as has been seen since 2001.

A recent British army operation, dramatically entitled ‘Panther’s Claw’, saw around 3000 British troops clear an area the size of the Isle of Wight of 500 Taliban fighters over a couple months. In the process, a dozen British soldiers were killed and getting on for a hundred wounded. Of course, as soon as the British withdraw in substantial numbers to fight in another area, the Taliban will return.

The truth of the matter is, that we have got ourselves involved in a civil war in Afghanistan, rather reminiscent of Vietnam, with no doubt the same abject defeat for the invaders, in the long run. The Russians, with hundreds of thousands of troops, were unable to quell Afghan resistance in the 1980’s (although we did supply the resistance with as much weaponry as they could use). The British army also failed in the nineteenth century to occupy this country, have we learnt nothing from history?

The sooner the US cuts a deal with the Taliban, the sooner we can bring some resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The British government should tell the Americans that this is the case, and announce plans for the withdrawal of our forces. I don’t think that the British public will put up with the continuing level of losses to our armed forces for much longer, in a far away country that they know nothing about. And how much is all this costing, with cuts to public services being roundly predicted?

Time to cut the spin, and come up with a sensible plan, to get us out of this disastrous situation.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Dirty hands, happy faces




Stroud Green candidates Anna Bragga, Sarah Cope and Pete McAskie attended a ‘guerilla gardening’ event on Tottenham Lane. A neglected piece of land, supposedly one that the council should’ve been tending, is in the process of being transformed into a mini oasis of colour and scents.

We met the woman behind this excellent venture, Bethany Wells, and spent several hours with a group of volunteers. We swept up debris, dug over the soil and started planting donated plants such as geraniums. We enjoyed cakes, art, and homemade lemonade, not to mention the great community spirit!

The idea is that anyone who wants to can come along to the plot, which is next to the police station on Tottenham Lane, and do a bit of gardening whenever the fancy takes them. Bethany explained that rather than wait for the council to do something, she decided to take action and sort out the land herself. It’s a good attitude to have.

Earlier this year, together with a group of residents on my estate in Highgate, I cleared a disused garden and planted vegetables, fruit and flowers. We are now enjoying the fruit of our labour, with carrots, onions, tomatoes, beans and potatoes in abundance!

The guerrilla gardening movement is an interesting one. Since reading Richard Reynold’s excellent book ‘On Guerilla Gardening’ earlier this year, I can’t go past a disused plot, flower bed or tree pit without imagining it either blooming or providing food for local people. There are health, environmental and community benefits to this kind of action – it needs to be encouraged!

http://guerrillagardening.org/

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Chainsaw Massacre’ leads to public outcry



“Haringey Council kills more trees than vandals do.” Thus spoke Mary Craine, former chair of the Tree Trust, at Monday night's public meeting, held on the subject of street trees by Haringey Green Party. It was a well-attended event, as it seems that trees provoke all sorts of strong reactions in people.

We called the meeting because residents in Stroud Green have repeatedly told us that they have worries about the street trees in their ward. The phrase “brutal pollarding” was used again and again, with additional concerns raised regarding the council’s replacement policy and the issue of subsidence.

The replacement issue is an interesting one. Only 3 out of the 19 wards in Haringey had less trees planted in the period of 2007-8 than it did in 2004-5. One of those three wards was Stroud Green. In 2004-5, 75 trees were planted in Stroud Green. In 2007-8, only 10 were planted – with only a pitiful 3 trees planted in the ward 2006-7. This may be because less trees were felled in this ward than in others. Or it may be that less trees were planted there, full stop. (Note that I haven’t called these newly planted trees ‘replacement trees’ – as Mary Craine said last night, “’Replacement tree’ should be struck out of the vocabulary”).

Replacing a broadleaf tree such as a lime, a plane or an oak, which may live to be hundreds of years old, with a very ‘snapable’ ornamental, which will never grow to a great height, is clearly not a good deal. The idea is that it will be less likely to cause subsidence (more of which later). However, broadleaf trees do a far better job of mitigating the effects of climate change, they create a natural canopy, thus slowing down the fall of rain and reducing the likelihood of flooding, and they also create a beautiful, calming ‘treescape’, much loved by resident. Indeed, one resident told me he moved to Stroud Green in the 1980s – and has stayed there ever since – precisely because of the beautiful avenues of trees. (Pollarded stumps don’t quite cut it).

The pollarding is done mainly to stem the tree’s growth and make them less likely to cause subsidence. In 2003, London Boroughs had 25 million pounds-worth of subsidence claims brought against them. However, in Ken Livingstone’s ‘London Tree and Woodland Framework’ it is stated that less than 1% of the trees in London are responsible for damage to properties. There are a myriad of causes of subsidence, but the ‘blame the tree’ brigade tend to shout the loudest.

There are lots of tests which should be done before a tree is blamed and slaughtered. The operative word here is ‘should’. Because of a lack of political will, (that’s why we need Green councillors!), a lack of money and a lack of people, shortcuts are inevitably taken.

A plethora of other problems threaten street trees, including the council’s tendency to use strimmers and ‘sit-on’ mowers (thus damaging the bark at the base of the tree), plus not bothering so much with ‘after-care’ when a tree is planted. Add to this the problem with the sub-contractors who carry out the tree works not being regulated, and, as Mary Craine put it “street trees are vulnerable trees, wholly dependent on people.”

So what can we do? Pete McAskie, target ward candidate and parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, suggested that rather than coming and pollarding every tree in a street, every other tree could be pollarded on a visit. This would lessen the visual impact. This suggestion was commended by Peter Corley, the present chair of Haringey’s Tree Trust.

Anne Gray, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Tottenham, said “There is no time like the present for including communities in looking after trees.” Rather than paying private contractors to fell, pollard (and possibly damage) our street trees, Anne suggested that we could train young people to become tree surgeons and possibly promote the formation of a local municipal enterprise or cooperative to provide tree care services. Experience shows that the more a community is involved in the planting and the maintenance of a tree, the more they will protect it from vandalism.

We’ll be taking forward a list of questions we’ve compiled having scrutinised Haringey’s Tree Strategy document. Last night’s meeting was the start of a campaign to bring street trees higher up the council’s agenda. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…

Saturday, 4 July 2009

After The Euro Elections, What Next ?

Green vote up by 44% in Euros

Greens are definitely on the up. During the six weeks up to the June 4 European Parliament elections, Green Party national membership rose by 12%. The Green Party
increased its vote by 44 per cent across the UK compared with 2004, although we gained no new seats. By contrast, the BNP had less people voting for it than in 2004, but got two MEPs having had none before. How to keep the BNP out was an issue quite a few people raised with us on doorsteps. And the response to canvassing got ten times warmer after the big parties became enmeshed in the parliamentary expenses scandal.

The only party against privatisation

But this 44% rise is not merely a protest vote. The new members we see are recognising the Green Party for its sense of vision, for being the only realistic radical alternative around. As Caroline Lucas said in the Indie on 14th June (http://tinyurl.com/o7jmnv), we’re the only party in the running which proposes to re-nationalise the railways, and we’re also very concerned about the creeping marketisation of the health service – Greens oppose PFI and private sub-contracting as they are more expensive and risky for the taxpayer in the long run as well as leading to worse working conditions for employees. We have campaigned locally and London-wide against polyclinics, because they are a stalking horse for privatization of GP services. Sarah Cope, candidate for the next Council elections in Stroud Green ward, has been actively campaigning for better maternity services too.

Creative ideas about jobs and benefits

And Greens have some important proposals for the unemployed – not only the Green New Deal, a jobs plan which other parties have rushed to emulate with much weaker and less ‘green’ imitations, but the ideal of a guaranteed income for all unwaged people which would not depend on means tests or attending interminable job centre interviews. The plan for a Citizens’ Income has been on the back burner for many years, but it takes on a new importance as the recession bites and as government tries to save money by pressurising disabled people into job search when the jobs just aren’t there.

Joined-up thinking – prevent the problems, save costs

The Green Party, as Jenny Jones recently said in the Guardian (see http://tinyurl.com/nz9pvx), is a party of joined up thinking. Think global, act local, is a slogan many people know us for. But it goes way beyond slogans. Joined-up health policy – preventive services (one of the main targets for recent cuts), good food, less pollution, less road accidents, could save the NHS a fortune. Joined-up benefits – why have Job Seekers Allowance for the unemployed but a load of bureaucracy to switch to tax credit when you get a job? Joined-up policy on crime means bringing back park-keepers and bus conductors plus more constructive activities for youth, all mentioned in the Green Euro manifesto, and long-term prevention through better support for children who show challenging behaviour at school.

Joined-up thinking is what we, and the electorate, certainly need for 2010, which will see the local elections in May and maybe a General Election the same day if Labour hangs on that long. Local government is going to be strapped for cash like never before. Nationally, public spending is heading for cuts in 2010/11 of up to 10% or more to pay for the banks’ bailout and because tax revenues fall in a recession. Time to switch money from things (like energy bills in public buildings, and landfilling rubbish) to people. Time also to review councillors’ expenses, which in Haringey rose by £320,000 in the last year. Some novel solutions may be required. Even Tory Essex has realised that the county council can save money and provide more to the elderly by scrapping the high cost of agency home help fees and starting its own social care enterprise. (They might have got the idea from Greens in Brighton, who with 12 out of 53 council seats have been advocating a non-profit social care enterprise for some time).

We may need some creative partnerships of local doctors, council and voluntary or community groups to head off privatisation of doctors’ surgeries and the run-down of local health services. We could restore local post offices which have been lost in Crouch End and elsewhere by linking a willing shopkeeper to a mini-office of some council department, saving costs by sharing a single shopfront building.

Social justice and real democracy

When you talk to us on your doorsteps, you often mention the things you think Greens care about – trees, recycling, noise. Actually we care about much more than that – Greens are basically a party for social justice as well as the environment (although without action on climate change social justice will be impossible). You also talk to us about things local government ought to deal with better – like parking, crime, and council housing. Unlike many councillors and candidates for the big parties, we do not limit our response to a ‘casework’ approach. Making an enquiry for Mrs. X, speaking up for street Y to keep its free parking, may get votes but we know the problems are much deeper than that. Local government has lost touch with its public and needs to develop much more effective forms of local accountability and democratic input into policy planning. Crime and the housing shortage have deep-seated social causes which need to be addressed.

But there is a third group of issues people don’t talk about on doorsteps – indeed when these hit them hard, they may not want to talk to strangers at all. Many of the problems facing Haringey’s population only hit them at certain times in their lives: when there’s a serious problem about their children, when trying to arrange help and care for an elderly relative or for themselves, or when they are made redundant. Only then do they realise just how much public services are in trouble – and few are probably aware just how much worse things may get because of budget cuts in the next year or two. The big things in life are going to be difficult for more and more people: competition for fewer jobs, negative equity, and a shrinking ‘welfare state’.

As the issues get more serious, it will take some real vision and a lot of hard campaigning by NGOs, community groups and trade unions to carve out some victories. Greens are proud to play a part in these campaigns, as they have done elsewhere with significant successes - like in Lewisham where, with only 6 Green councillors out of 54 Council members, the Greens overturned cuts in social care, local hospital services and a swimming pool closure. To achieve more like this we need to think ahead – not just react - make people aware, mobilise and act with vision. Let’s hope we can meet that challenge in Haringey in the year ahead.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Database Society

I was at a well attended local meeting of the NO2ID campaign the other night. This was the first meeting of the group locally here in Haringey, although a national campaign has been running for some years now.

The ID scheme isn’t just about identity cards. A huge database is being constructed to keep tabs on everyone in the UK. People will be obliged to give notice of any change in their registrable facts and such things as NHS appointments and MOT tests will require identity verification and therefore appear in the audit trail. Anyone newly applying for a passport, or renewing an existing one, will automatically have to be interviewed. The Home Office has the power to record personal information on the database without informing the individual. But, there is no duty to ensure that such data is accurate. The state gets control of your personal information and you have no means of checking whether it is accurate or not.

And it doesn’t end there. We heard at the meeting about children as young as five having their fingerprints taken at school often without parental consent and an operation in Yeovil where pub landlords are forced to check customers’ fingerprints, before serving them a drink. Is this the sort of society we want to live in?

The Green Party supports this campaign because we believe that the ID scheme has serious implications for civil liberties, will not deliver the benefits claimed by the government, in terms of reducing crime and terrorism and is a huge waste of money. The £5 billion cost of the scheme would be better spent on real crime reduction initiatives such as employing more police officers and having more local police stations.

The local NO2ID group will be running a stall in Crouch End (outside Budgens) from 12pm to 3pm on Saturday 27 June and their next meeting will be on Wednesday 8 July at 8.15pm, venue The Gate pub, opposite Alexandra Palace railway station.

More information on the campaign here www.no2id.net

Monday, 8 June 2009

Haringey European Parliament Election Results


Lab 14,093 - 28.5%
LD 11,550 - 23.4%
GRN 8,528 - 17.3%
Con 7,396 - 15%

Turn Out 32.4%
So we finished third in Haringey, beating the Tories into fourth place. Great result.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Decent Homes - One Year On




Yesterday I attended the Homes for Haringey Review of Year One of the Decent Homes programme. The programme is intended to bring the council homes in the borough up to the Government’s ‘Decent Homes’ standard – which is in fact quite a low standard, but would be an improvement on how things currently stand in terms of living conditions for many residents.

Claire Kober, leader of the Council, told us that whereas a year ago 42% of council homes were ‘non-decent’ (should that be indecent?!), that figure now stands at 36%. Almost 1,600 homes have been brought up to the Decent Homes standard, many benefiting from new external doors, new windows, kitchens and bathrooms, plus some other improvements.

Sounds promising. We then heard from each of the four contractors who have been assigned the job of doing the work: Apollo, Lovell, Mullaley and Wates Living Space. I was particularly interested to hear from the latter contractor, as readers of this blog will recall I posted a piece here in February about Norman Court in Stroud Green. It was the weekend and the block was part way through having the contractors in to do the work. Heras fencing, equipment and building materials were splayed all over the grass, along with litter and other waste.

The representative from Wates Living Space told us that their surveys showed that 97.5% of residents were satisfied with the work that had been carried out. Conversely, however, he claimed that, and I quote, “Tenants moan like buggery.”

Homes for Haringey are trying to encourage the contractors to ‘do their bit’ for the community. Wates Living Space held a community day last year at Carlton Lodge, which the above smooth-talker claimed was “a bit half-hearted if I’m being honest.” They plan to do better this year.

I stood up and asked what the procedure was for ensuring that things were left tidily and safe on a night and at the weekend. I was told that there “should” be a tick-sheet, but that “I am sure you are now going to tell me that isn’t happening.”

I confirmed that was indeed what I was going to do. I held up some photographs (one of which is posted at the top of this piece) of the mess at Norman Court on Sunday 8th February. I showed them briefly to the audience and then took them up to the front to give to the Wates Living Space representatives. One of them came and spoke to me later and said that things would be improved. Sadly too late for Norman Court residents.

All four contractors spoke of improving communication with residents. A resident of Norman Court I spoke to a few weeks ago complained to me that the tone of the letters had been aggressive and demanding from the start, and that coordinating access to the flats with the builders had been a logistical nightmare.

Another area the contractors have fallen short on is the amount of local people they have managed to employ. Obviously it makes sense to employ local people on many levels: it boosts the local economy, it means less far to travel for workers and local people have local knowledge – always helpful.

In terms of environmental impact of the Decent Homes programme, it was all very vague. Wates Living Space boasted that they had been voted 29th in The Sunday Times Best Green Companies list, and that only 5% of their waste actually went into the ground. (I take it that 5% doesn’t include the stuff pictured above outside Norman Court!).

Many residents had their chance to speak today, although they were often fobbed off with stock answers. It’s good to see residents coming out to have their say – I’d like to see more people involved in this way. I just hope we were listened to and that the second year of the Decent Homes programme goes more smoothly.

Maybe there’s something to be said for being on the final year of the programme – my estate won’t be touched until 2012. By which time the contractors will be exemplary in every aspect, I’m sure…

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

How green are the Liberal Democrats?

By Jenny Jones, Green Party London Assembley Member

As a Green I get very annoyed by political parties' green claims when it's so often just wordy greenwash, not backed by action. For example, Liberal Democrat environment policy is one of the great enigmas of modern British politics. The Lib Dems so often proclaim good policy, and so commonly don't stick to it. It wouldn't be unfair to say that what's most consistent about them is their inconsistency. And they have remained true to this principle historically.

Back in the 1990s Paddy Ashdown's Lib Dems wanted a moratorium on roadbuilding. But they wholeheartedly supported the Newbury bypass, the Batheaston bypass, and so on, right up to the M74 extension in Scotland. This year Norman Baker has been saying a Lib Dem government would stop spending on roadbuilding; but his colleagues in Lancashire are still supporting the Lancaster northern bypass. They have spoken in favour of congestion charging nationally, but against it in Edinburgh, Manchester and York.

They have a tendency to say one thing at the national level and do something else at the local – though not consistently. In the 2002 local elections the Lib Dems lost control of Sheffield council by arguing for a new incinerator, and gained control of Hull by campaigning against an incinerator. They currently support incinerator projects in Exeter, Plymouth and Barnstaple, and also in Essex, despite having proclaimed support for a zero waste strategy – which means no incineration.

They want a zero carbon economy by 2050 – in principle. But they have opposed windfarm proposals in Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon and Worcestershire. In Lewisham they recently voted against a Green party budget package that would have insulated 25,000 homes for free. And when it comes to aviation, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, it varies.

The Lib Dems have opposed the expansion of Heathrow, but have been happy to expand Birmingham, Carlisle, Exeter, Liverpool and Norwich airports. They were wildly enthusiastic about Manchester airport's second runway – except in Stockport, which lies under the flightpath. And then, having supported a £172m second runway, doubling Manchester airport's business in the space of a decade, the local Lib Dems have recently been campaigning against a new airport warehouse, in order to save a local cottage. The Save Rose Cottage campaign features in their local publicity as an example of their environmental credentials.

I have to say they really don't get it. In January this year Norman Baker was complaining, quite reasonably, that British rail passengers pay the highest fares in Europe. Then he said his party would improve matters by freezing UK rail fares. (At the highest level in Europe.)

It seems the Lib Dems know much more about pursuing the Green vote than about pursuing Green policies. In their "green tax switch" announced last September, they promised to "cut income tax and switch to green taxes on pollution instead". No serious Greens would contemplate this. We rely on income tax to fund schools, hospitals and public services. If we replace this funding with eco-tax revenue, then either we have to rely on keeping the pollution going, so as to keep the revenue coming in, or else we have less money for schools, hospitals, public services and so on.

No, they don't get it, and that's a huge annoyance to those of us who do.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Green Surge in the European Election Polls

Whilst canvassing for the Green Party in the run up to the European Elections, I and other members have reported a very positive feel from the voters. This seems to now have gone into overdrive with the revelations in The Daily Telegragh about MP’s expense claims, which MP’s tried to suppress. The voters I have spoken to over the past week or so, have been pretty animated about the issue and many are saying that they will vote Green to register their disgust with the Westminster parties.

Who can blame them? MP’s have demonstrated their complete contempt for the public with these outrageous claims for non existent mortgages, swimming pools, moat cleaning and the rest. The belated remorse and the promise to pay back the most extravagant of the claims seems not to have impressed the electors either. One man put it like this, ‘if I stole a car and then returned it to the owner, I would still be charged with theft.’

All of this is now feeding through to the opinion polls for the European Parliament elections on 4th June. Polls appearing in the Sunday newspapers show a surge in support for UKIP, The Green Party and to a lesser extent the BNP.

It could be that people are reluctant to tell pollsters that they will vote for the BNP, so these polls may be understating support for the far right party, we will see.

The idea that UKIP will benefit is somewhat perplexing. They are the traditional vehicle for protest votes at European elections, but in this case they are a very strange home for voters protesting about dodgy expense claims. Two of their MEP’s have been thrown out of the party over dodgy dealings during the last Parliament, and often they have no intention of being hard working MEP’s, signalling their contempt for the EU generally, whilst turning up in Brussels every now again just to qualify for their payments.

The two sitting Green MEP’s, Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas, have worked tirelessly in the European Parliament for a diverse range of issues from scrapping the UK Working Time Directive opt out to making sure food is clearly labelled where it contains Genetically Modified foods.

A national opinion poll for ComRes/The Sunday Express at the weekend put Green Party support at 11%, almost double what is was in 2004 the last time Europe voted. Even better, the same poll put support within the south east of England at 16%, ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Other polls also show an increase in support for the Green Party.

If you want to vote for a party with an excellent reputation for integrity with policies to tackle unemployment, tax havens and disastrous climate change, think about voting Green.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Met Cover-Up

I attended the Metropolitan Police Authority’s monthly meeting at City Hall today, along with Anna Bragga, my fellow Haringey Green. We had both attended the G20 protest on April 1st, and have both since logged complaints with the IPCC. We were therefore very interested to hear what would be said about the tactics of the police during the event.

The public gallery was quite full with other protesters, including members of the group ‘Defend Peaceful Protest’ - my colleague Anna is an active member of this group. Although the public are meant to remain silent, it was often hard to do so, what with the bare-faced lies the Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin and Chris Allison, the Assistant Commissioner were regularly spouting. I literally sat there gasping as they liberally re-wrote recent history.

For example, according to Goodwin and Allison, the cordons were initially ‘filter cordons’, where you could go in and out at will. That certainly wasn’t our experience. We repeatedly tried to leave immediately after the cordon was formed – and we were given short shrift. Indeed, I was pushed by a policeman in the direction of the other protesters.

We were also told that the cordons were loosened during several times during the day to let people out. There were shouts of derision from the public gallery at this claim.

We heard that police didn’t stop people and ask for I.D…funny, that’s exactly what DID happen to both Anna and I, the minute we stepped of the bus at Liverpool Street. We were questioned for 10 minutes about why we were there, and asked for photo I.D. A policeman told us that they had stopped lots of people with “bricks and stuff” and that they wanted to protect us. Curiously, there is no mention of finding these “bricks and stuff” in the official account of events – just the discovery of fake police uniforms. I suspect this copper was employing scare tactics, designed to discourage us from attending the protest.

Whilst the policeman attempted to fill us with fear, our details were radioed through and we were checked for criminal convictions. When they found us to be clean, they let us go. But less than an hour later we were trapped in the kettle.

As Jeanette Arnold, MPA member said, “If that’s not unlawful arrest, I don’t know what is.” There was resounding applause.

I couldn’t help but laugh when the problem of the ‘missing’ police I.D numbers was dismissed as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Better Velcro is to be used in future, apparently. Velcro is the answer to police corruption… ‘Fashion tape’ would be my recommendation – they sell it at Oasis, I believe…

As I suspected might happen, the Met are keen to see this is a problem with just a few officers (“we have a small number of serious issues we need to deal with” was how they put it) rather than a systemic failure. But a few days before the protests, Met officials were claiming “We’re up for it”. Sounds pretty confrontational, doesn’t it?
The overriding attitude that day from the police was aggressive, uncooperative and intimidating. This wasn’t just a question of a few officers being out of line – this was a problem which came from the top down.

The whiff of corruption in that chamber was overpowering. I hope that the MPA members, Jenny Jones included, will work tirelessly to expose this and not accept fob-offs or lies, which is clearly what they are already being offered by the Met. See:


http://www.defendpeacefulprotest.org/

Healthy Debate

Last night I attended a meeting of the Stop Haringey Health Cuts Coalition. The purpose of the meeting was to plan the key issues to focus upon and the ways in which the group is going to campaign.

The coalition has had some notable successes over the years. Less doctors surgeries are going to move into the Hornsey Polyclinic than was at first suggested, meaning that less people in the area will lose their local surgeries – hopefully. This makes sense not just from a practical point of view – who feels like travelling when they are ill? – but also from an environmental perspective.

The group also have done much to encourage the PCT to carry out consultations, though this still doesn’t always happen. Last year the Highgate baby clinic closed with one week’s notice, and with no consultation at all. Also, consultations can often be a paper exercise, with decisions made before the public have their say.

Stop Haringey Health Cuts Coalition have been tireless in attending the council’s overview and scrutiny committee and demanding that councillors act in the best interest of the health of residents. The group feel, though, that they usually do not get listened to – and they were famously chucked out of a meeting, of course!

It was agreed to make the broad issues for the campaign to be fighting cuts and opposing creeping/galloping privatisation. I stressed that we need to make sure that the campaign has a local focus: people generally won’t get interested unless they know how the cuts/privatisation will affect them and their families. Local GPs closing down will impact on people’s lives very quickly, and very negatively.

But the issue isn’t simple. A Unison representative at the meeting said that in the East of the borough, there are lots of ‘crap doctors’, and that fighting to keep them working would be pointless.

Another interesting piece of information that the Unison rep imparted was that yesterday some of the mental health patients from St. Ann’s Hospital had been moved to Edgware. The reason for this is that some of the wards at St Ann’s have been declared unfit for human habitation. Anyone who saw the recent photos of some of the rooms inside the hospital would certainly agree.

A productive meeting, then, with many new people attending, myself included. I suggested that we carry out our own consultation with residents, so that we can prove that we have the weight of public support behind us: it is easy to assume we know how other people feel, but as the issue of the ‘crap doctors’ illustrates, things are rarely black and white. We need to engage with the complex issues and problems within the NHS and offer tangible solutions, whether at a local or national level.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Getting Neighbourly



Haringey Green Party members Sarah Cope, Pete McAskie, Mary Hogan and Anna Bragga in deepest Stroud Green!



Yesterday I attended the Stroud Green Neighbourhood Day along with several other members of Haringey Green Party. It was organised by Stroud Green Residents' Association, and the sun shone all afternoon.

It was a great opportunity to meet local people, hear about their involvement in the community and find out more about the area. We had a guided tour of the Granville Road Spinney, a small wood which is an oasis of calm for local residents. There’s a wonderful mix of trees including plum, cherry, hornbeam, hazel and willow. There’s also a range of other woodland flowers, including ramsons and three-cornered leek. We sampled several edible plants including wild garlic.

The Police were there in the shape of the ward’s Safer Neighbourhoods team. We chatted with them for quite a while about issues in the local area and improving police presence on the streets. It seems that the team really want to continue to build up a good relationship with residents, which has to be positive.

It is great that these neighbourhood days are happening across the borough. I am currently organising the annual gardening day on my housing estate in Highgate – always a productive, enjoyable and sociable occasion.

By getting to know our neighbours, opening up our homes and getting involved with looking after the areas we live, we create communities, make friends and improve our quality of life. Indeed, recent research has shown that high earners with weak social links are less happy that those with little money and strong social links. And it costs nothing to put the effort into forging friendships and looking after each other, after all.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Budget – A Wasted Opportunity to Green the Economy

The chancellor Alistair Darling, announced in his Budget on Wednesday, something like £1.4bn designed to ‘green’ the UK economy. As is always the case with this government, it is not clear whether all of this money is new money, or just a recycling of commitments already announced, in an attempt to grab a headline or two.

The chancellor’s announcement of a target to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 34% by 2020, though not nearly enough, is to be welcomed, but the nuts and bolts of planned spending on environmental matters does not fill one with confidence that this is anything other than an aspiration.

The £2000 offered to motorists to trade in their cars that are over ten years old is a case point. It is not clear whether this is in addition to the discount already on offer from car showrooms for the trade in of used vehicles, indeed it seems it is not. So, it is unlikely to tempt many to buy a new car at this time, whilst where it does succeed, we will see emissions rise by building new cars and scrapping old ones. A lose/lose situation it would appear.

The money promised for green initiatives, at £1.4bn even if it all appears is a drop in the ocean when set against a £175bn debt accrued by the UK government propping up the banks, and really is a huge missed opportunity to generate up to a million ‘green collar’ jobs at the same time as making us more energy efficient and really boosting the renewable energy sector in this country. Most other comparable economies are being much bolder than this, and so once again the UK is lagging well behind the leading nations.

The day after the budget, the government announced plans for the building of four new coal burning power stations, claiming that they will be equipped with carbon capture and storage facilities. These facilities are as yet untried at any large scale plant anywhere in the world, so it seems a bit risky to throw money at this kind of ‘green’ industry. What if it doesn’t work, will these power stations be closed? I doubt it. I’ve not seen estimates of the costs of these four new plants, but I would bet it will be a damn sight more than the pitiful £500m announced in the Budget to help the wind power industry.

As usual, this government is trying to spin the energy/environment debate, like so many other issues over the last twelve years. This time though, with an impending climate crisis on our hands, it amounts to criminal negligence.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

AFTER THE G20, WHAT ?


AFTER THE G20, WHAT ?
Anne Gray, 18.4.09

In the justifiable furore about police brutality which followed the events of April 1st and 2nd in London, we seem to be losing track of what the summit was really about. Suddenly - the ‘Washington consensus’ is dead, Keynesianism has been rehabilitated, and the leading capitalist governments are trying to spend their way out of recession. But is the era of neo-liberal economic policy really over, or is it just taking a new form ?

Let’s turn aside for the moment from the question of how many trillions of dollars worth of economic stimulus the world needs, and whether the politicians have ‘done enough’ in terms of these numbers. What is the crisis, and the British government’s solutions, going to do to the distribution of income and wealth ?

The recent measures to address the banking crisis will lead to a major transfer from poor to rich in at least six different ways:-

First, the massive rise in government borrowing means we, the taxpayers, one day have to pay more in order to get the national debt back down to size. Second, despite the government’s willingness to expand corporate welfare for the banks and let their executives get away with fat rewards for failure, public services are likely to be starved because ‘there isn’t enough money’. That is, public spending is now hitting a ceiling defined by the market’s confidence in UK government bonds and the economy’s future ability to repay. So, for example, schools and universities are currently faced with major funding deficits, and thousands of students will be unable to enter uni this year.

Third, the government are likely to have a further round of ‘selling the family silver’ to fill the hole in public sector finances. We can expect more privatisation over the next few years for this, if no other reason.

Fourth, the general message from the government has been that money can now be very cheap to borrow, but bankers must not take risks and the government is not taking any either – except where needed to provide corporate welfare to failing banks by buying their shares. Result; small businesses affected by the recession are going under, and new ones, especially the ones we need in innovative and ‘green’ sectors can’t start up or expand. The result will be greater monopolisation of the economy, with small shops and restaurants, farmers and small manufacturers all disappearing. The demise of Woolworths and MFI in the ‘big store’ category should not blind us to the likelihood that the survivors of the recession will be mainly the giants who already hold too much market power. The losers already include smaller stores like Myers in Crouch End, and key ‘green’ enterprises like the UK company recently applauded for pioneering the generation of wave power off the coast of Portugal.

Fifth, the reliance on near-zero interest rates to get the economy moving, without doing anything about the institutional basis of pensions and savings, has left many pensioners high and dry, and workers approaching pension age with the prospect that they could work till they drop without saving enough to retire.

Sixth, neo-liberalism for the unemployed is still going strong. Despite the soaring numbers on JSA, the government has continued with its welfare reform plans, which were bad enough when they were conceived in 2006-2007, a period when dole queues hit a historic low. Over the next 3 years the unemployed will be made to compete ever more strongly for a pool of vacancies that has all but dried up. There will be tougher benefit rules which will stop JSA for more people who fail to meet job centre requirements, and a new scheme to bully people into low paid jobs by threatening them with workfare placements after two years on the dole. Changes in the benefits systems for people with disabilities, and for lone parents, are designed to force many of them to start searching for work. If there is none, the government will waste a fortune on back to work schemes (now to be largely done by private contractors, who have already demanded a huge increase in the payments they get per person placed in work, because they know they will have so few). And to set even more people to chasing so few jobs will intensify the wage-reducing effect of high unemployment. Which of course is what neo-liberal employment policy since John Major’s day through Labour’s ‘New Deal’ has always been about – tough benefits rules to bully people to apply for more jobs, especially low-paid jobs, and hand cheap labour to the employers.

How would we, as Greens, address these problems ? There is much that needs fleshing out in Green Party policy, and much in the Green New Deal, published last July, that needs fine-tuning and updating as a result of the cataclysmic economic events of the last few months. But the Green Party is the only electoral force – apart from the remnants of Respect – to oppose privatisation. And it is the only party calling for less rules and more universal rights in the field of state benefits, the long-established Green ideal being a universal citizens’ income which would bring in-work and out-of-work benefits all together in one allowance and ‘means-test’ only through progressive income tax. We also need to think about broadening capital ownership as a key to democratising the economy and bringing down interest rates permanently, as proposed in Rodney Shakespeare’s book, ‘The New Economic Paradigm’.

Molly Scott-Cato, in her book Green Economics, calls for a different kind of economic stimulus which would not add to the national debt, a demand which she stressed at the recent Green Party conference in Blackpool. That is, spending newly created money directly into the economy to produce real wealth. Not the Bank of England’s ‘quantitative easing’, which simply buys up old government bonds from those lucky enough to own them and hopes that they spend it on something that creates wealth and jobs – rather than foreign bonds, or derivatives, or second-hand buildings. All of the forms of investment envisaged in the Green New Deal could be done as direct government spending. Likewise, under this heading we could place a large increase in benefits and state pensions (to bring them into line with most other west European countries, and update them to the relationship they held to wages in the years before Thatcher).

David Byrne, a prominent member of the Green Left group within the Green Party, was a signatory to an excellent letter in the Guardian on April 14th, joining with several socialist academics to call for an end to tax havens and much larger taxes on wealth and inheritance.

But the basic architecture of the pensions and savings system is a major obstacle to real economic change. It gives us all a purely selfish interest in the capitalist castle (of bubbles) in terms of rising house prices, and because much of our pensions saving is now stock-market dependent, in rising share prices. Older people need something solid to invest in which gets them away from this – a start could be local authority bonds which are seen in the Green New Deal as an important vehicle for ‘green’ investment and building social housing. Some detailed policy on local authority borrowing and investment, and on investment vehicles for social enterprise and creative lending to small business, would make a real contribution to developing a post-credit crunch economy of a saner and fairer kind.

CLAMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE – A REPORT FROM WALES


by Paul Butler, College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University

Some of the more long-established members of Haringey Green Party may remember me as an active member and occasional agent and candidate back in the 1990s who left in 2001 to continue his education in North Wales (although I’m still a paper member of HGP). Having submitted my thesis and undergone a viva voce (defence of the thesis) I have now achieved a doctorate, and Mary Hogan has asked me to write about it for the Haringey GP blog.

The subject is strongly relevant to current issues in climate science, since it’s concerned with the investigation of the marine climate of the past, and in fact the academic who assessed my thesis, Keith Briffa, is one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. We can find evidence of past environments in natural archives, such as ice cores, stalagmites/stalactites and tree rings. What’s important is that they preserve some kind of timeline, so that we can work out the sequence in which the material was produced. It’s then possible to use our knowledge of how the material in the archive was produced to say something about its environment (temperature or rainfall, for example). For my work on the marine environment, I’ve been using the shells of clams. So my PhD has been dotted with cruises to various parts of the seas around the UK (and, in one case, to the north coast of Iceland) to collect shells of a particular clam – common right across the North Atlantic region - called the ocean quahog. Why are these shells useful? Well, they’re annually banded (you can see the banding in the picture), so that the material created each year is demarcated with an identifiable line which indicates a period of no growth, and they’re very long-lived (we found one off Iceland which had lived for just over 400 years). Importantly, all the shells in a population grow synchronously – in a strong growth year all the clams secrete large amounts of shell material and they all have wider bands, while in a weaker year they don’t secrete so much and have narrower bands. So the patterns in the shells can be matched, which means that by comparing patterns in shells of known date (from live caught clams) with patterns in dead shells, it is possible to work out when the animals which created the dead shells were alive. Using this process, I’ve been able to create an archive of material using shells from just off the Isle of Man which goes back to 1516. This is exactly what is done with tree rings, but they are only relevant for the terrestrial environment. Up until now, it has been very difficult to find an equivalent archive for the marine environment.

I expect anybody who’s got this far will be wanting to know if I’ve actually found anything in this groundbreaking archive. Well, yes I have, but to describe it would take up a lot more space than I have here, since I’d have to explain a whole lot of other rather complex stuff in the process. However, in the field of climate science just the creation of this archive is regarded as pretty important, so I am quite pleased with what I have achieved already, and I hope eventually that my work will feed into the models used to assess the impacts of climate change.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Trapped in Princes Street

A report on the G20 protests by Haringey Green Party member Anna Bragga, photos by EoS.

I returned from the G20 protests feeling shaken and appalled at the policing tactics employed. It is only thanks to my NUJ press pass that I managed to – eventually - escape the terrifying crush imposed by aggressive police. By that point I had spent at least two hours rammed in with other peaceful protesters, bursting for the loo and battling against a resurgence of a phobia of being trapped in tight crowds.

Just before the police cordon around the roads leading to the Bank of England was implemented, I, along with fellow Haringey Green, Sarah Cope, decided not to proceed any further into the protest as it was becoming clear that the police had one thing in mind - to pen everyone in. However, when we tried to retrace our steps and move away from the crowds, we were prevented from doing so by a row of officers who ordered us to 'move on', aggressively pushing Sarah in the process.

From then onwards we were condemned to a terrifying ordeal of being trapped in a confined space – a section of Princes Street - with an increasingly frustrated and angry group of protesters. When police in riot gear appeared and one protester was arrested, bottles started to fly over our heads, so we edged away from our corner of Princes Street to try and find a safer spot.

By now, a lot of people desperately wanted to be let out of the cordon and the atmosphere was becoming increasingly volatile. Luckily my NUJ pass gave me access out of the mob around about this time - just as my crowd phobia was escalating to terrifying proportions! I have been in touch with elected Greens on the Greater London Assembly and in the National Party about my experience and feel confident that they will do everything within their powers to hold the Met Police to account for the heavy handedness of their actions against peaceful protesters.

There must surely be a law against holding law abiding citizens against their will when they are at risk of harm.....including harm from the police! As a seasoned activist, I can honestly say that I have never experienced such bullying tactics by our own police, and it makes me very sad. The tragic death of a 47 year old man trapped for hours inside the police cordon, or ‘kettle’, could almost certainly have been avoided. I hope the full truth surrounding the circumstances comes to light and justice is seen to be done – for the family’s sake and for everyone else who suffered psychological distress and injury.

It is important that this tragedy serves as a warning to the Met Police. The strategies and tactics employed in Operation Glencoe were deeply flawed and dangerous and must never be repeated again. Marches, demonstrations and other forms of non-violent direct action will continue as long as we have a government and world leaders who believe that more of the same old free market paradigm is going to solve our problems.

We still pride ourselves in this country on our right to freedom of expression and the right to protest. Let’s not turn into a police state - a dictatorship. Only a brand new vision, a revolutionary Green New Deal, can transform the current global economic and climate crisis. You can help to make this a reality. All you need to do is Vote Green at this year’s European Elections and next year’s General Election and Local Elections. There really is a solution to all this madness!


Friday, 3 April 2009

The Battle of Threadneedle Street

I and several other members of Haringey Green Party attended the G20 Meltdown demonstration on Wednesday 1st April. The march from Liverpool Street to The Bank of England was very peaceful, and had a cheery air about it. Once we arrived at The Bank, the police penned us into a small area surrounding The Bank of England. They didn’t let all of the people into this ‘kettle’, and many marchers were left outside. I’d say, inside and out of the ‘kettle’ there was probably about 10, 000 demonstrators.

If you were inside the kettle as I was, the police would not allow you to leave, as I and a comrade tried to do several times. This went on for hours, and people gradually got more and more angry.

I realised that the most likely flashpoint would be at the police cordon on Threadneedle Street, and mostly stayed away from that area. Riot police and mounted officers appeared at this cordon, and tried to push the crowd back in a very aggressive fashion. One Haringey green, who was playing in a drumming band, was knocked to the floor and trampled by the crowd. Luckily, two other members of the band rescued him, or it might have been very serious indeed. As it was, he felt very unwell, was sick, and had to be taken to an ambulance.

There is no doubt in my mind that police tactics, particularly on Threadneedle Street, contributed to the subsequent riot that took place. These tactics seemed designed to provoke a violent reaction amongst demonstrators, and in this it was highly successful.

Away from Threadneedle Street, still inside the cordon, the atmosphere, at least at first, was completely different. It was like a carnival, with a solar powered music player entertaining the dancing crowd. In another corner, Billy Bragg sang ‘The Internationale’ in a cappella style, and the spring sunshine bathed the crowd. As Rosa Luxemburg said, ‘I don’t want to be part of a revolution that I can’t dance at’.

Unfortunately, I think a tiny minority of demonstrators came with the intent of causing trouble, but the way the police handled the situation, made the situation much worse, and in effect gave cover for these people to smash windows and pick fights with the police. The Green Party are all in favour of non violent protest, indeed it is the mark of a free and democratic society that people should be allowed to express their views. But when the police pour fuel onto these peaceful protests, by detaining innocent people in small areas, with no toiletry facilities, for long periods of time, it looks to me as if they really want a fight to start.

A 47 year old man collapsed and died in the area, and I hope we get a proper public investigation, with an independently minded coroner. The police were quick to rush out a statement saying that he was found with breathing difficulties and that they came under attack whilst trying to resuscitate him. People don’t normally just collapse for no apparent reason, and this is the same police force that told us that Jean Charles de Menezes, jumped over a ticket barrier with wires trailing from his jacket, which turned out to be completely untrue. Let’s get to the bottom of this, and perhaps we can all learn some lessons on how to police demonstrations in the future.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Democracy and the Bank of England

In 1997 the New Labour government trumpeted their flagship policy of giving the Bank of England (monetary policy committee) the independent powers to set interest rates in the UK economy. I could see why they did this. They were worried that the City of London would be panicked by the election of a Labour government, and this would cause the price of shares to fall, and possibly a run on the pound. The policy was spun as ‘radical’, but it was really a deeply conservative move aimed at signalling that Labour would continue pursuing a neo liberal economic agenda.

Not only that. It also sounded the death knell of democratic control over one of the most important levers of economic policy, by giving this power to unelected officials at the Bank of England. I thought at the time, that in principle this was wrong, since the people who would be affected by the decisions of the monetary policy committee, did not have the chance to vote for, or indeed dismiss the members of the committee. Still, all went well whilst the economy boomed, with low inflation and low interest rates, and Gordon Brown boasted of ‘an end to boom and bust economics’.

The Bank has the remit to control inflation in the economy, by raising base interest rates when the government’s inflation target is in jeopardy. It is clear now, that interest rates were kept too high (and were rising) at a time when the economy was on the brink of the biggest crash since the great depression of the 1930’s. But the blinkered view of the bankers stuck rigidly to seeing inflation as the danger and now we all have to deal with the consequences of their mismanagement of the situation.

Does the Bank of England feel any shame that they got things so disastrously wrong? Not a bit of it. This week has seen Mervyn King, governor of the Bank, lecturing the government on the contents of the next Budget. He said that there is no room for a (further) fiscal stimulant to the economy, because of the already huge level of debt accrued, mainly due to the public bail out of the high street banks. Given the dire state of the British economy under his stewardship, Mr King is lucky he is still in a job, a situation that increasing numbers people are not. This apparent admonishment of the government’s current and future economic policies, has been seized upon by the Conservative opposition, as evidence of a difference of opinion between the Bank and the government. Of course the Tories would have done little different to Labour, perhaps deregulated even more. What a cardinal sin, to disagree with the governor of the Bank of England on economic (and social) policy, whatever next?

Well, I’m no big fan of this government, but they are elected by the people, albeit within the confines of our rather undemocratic electoral system. Who the hell elected Mervyn King?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

'The Power of Community' and Transition Towns


On Saturday night, members of Haringey Green Party attended the Crouch End and Hornsey Area Transition Initiative (CHATI) film showing of ‘The Power of Community’, a film about how peak oil affected Cuba. The event was very well attended, and the audience was left with the question: how can we translate what happened in Cuba to the local area?


Cuba of course faced the peak oil crisis in the early 1990’s, during the so-called ‘Special Period’ in their history. With trade embargoes meaning no oil, medical supplies and other essentials, and no access to the world bank, food shortages and blackouts were common. The people of Cuba had to quickly re-think their lifestyles, turning to bicycles for transportation and to growing food on every available piece of land – even on rooftops.


Now 80 to 100% of food needed by city dwellers is provided by urban gardens, and these same gardens employ 140,000 people. Green jobs in action.


Furthermore, there was no access to pesticides during the special period, and organic farming became the norm. 80% of farming in Cuba is now by organic methods. Inspiringly, farmers supply free produce to pregnant women and older people, not because they are told to do so, but simply because they want to.


The health of Cubans has improved greatly since the ‘Special Period’, due to an increased intake of fruit and veg. That’s certainly a lesson us Brits could learn from, since we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.


The above makes it sound like the crisis led to Cuba being some sort of Utopia. Of course, this is not the case what with human rights violations and lack of democracy as well as issues with dilapidated housing in cities such as Havana. Indeed now that the country has oil again (much of which they get from Venezuela, in exchange for doctors), many people have reverted to their cars. Old habits die hard.


But it was an inspiring film insofar as it shows what can come out of a crisis if people pull together and take small steps towards a big solution. That is really the ethos of Transition Towns – the community working together to find solutions to working out how we will survive in a post-oil world. It is frightening how things will change in our lifetimes, but we can view the future as a challenge rather than as a threat. And we can learn from places like Cuba now rather than wait until a crisis is upon us before we act.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Public Meeting on Green Work


Green Work and the Recession

Public Meeting - come along and hear about the most exciting ideas in British Politics today!

Called by Haringey Green Party

Thursday March 19th, 7pm

Kurdish Cultural Centre, Portland Gardens, N.8 (rear of Harringay Green Lanes overground station, approached via Green Lanes and Stanhope Gardens)

* The Green New Deal, a plan to help us find a way out of the triple crisis of financial crunch, rising oil prices and climate change.

* Limit working hours to share work and make time for living

* Oppose workfare and benefit cuts

With
JEAN LAMBERT,
London's Green Member of the European Parliament

and

SEAN THOMPSON,
Critical writer on political economy and Green Party activist

KEITH FLETT
Chair, Haringey Trades Council

CHRIS THOMPSON
Crouch End Project and Crouch End Traders

The Green New Deal would:

create thousands of green-collar jobs

provide free insulation to every home

build safer ways of investing

raise finance for green energy

renew small and local businesses

increase food production in cities

invest in public transport

Greens who have been elected to local councils, the London Assembly and the European Parliament are already pushing through these ideas.

* Green work should be secure work. Jean Lambert has consistently pushed for employment rights for temporary agency staff.

* Green work must be well paid. Greens in the Greater London Assembly have pushed for a minimum ‘living wage’ of £7.45 per hour, in place of the pathetic national minimum wage of £5.73.

* Shorter working time can reduce layoffs; Jean has consistently challenged the UK Government's opt-out of the Working Time Directive and worked against it in the European Parliament. She recently backed the TUC’s Work Your Proper Hours Day on 27 February, the annual event which aims to ensure employees remember - and claim - their rights in the workplace. Over five million people in the UK regularly work unpaid overtime, handing their employers £26.9 billion in free work.

* Greens oppose the government’s Welfare Reform Bill, and supported the lobby of Parliament against it on March 3. Greens say no to benefit cuts, to forcing the disabled and parents of young children back to work, to workfare for the long-term unemployed, to privatisation of job centres and of back-to-work schemes .

Anne Gray on the Welfare Reform Bill


Anne Gray, who is the Green Party’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Tottenham, was one of a dozen or more speakers at last week's meeting on welfare reform in the House of Commons. Organised by the Public and Commercial Services Union, PCS, the meeting was called to oppose the government’s Welfare Reform Bill and help people lobby their MPs to vote against it.


The Welfare Reform Bill proposes huge changes in the benefits system, including a major extension of the requirement to seek work and compulsory work-for-benefit (workfare) schemes. Income Support will be abolished and most disabled claimants gradually transferred to JSA. The conditions for getting the new benefits for disabled people who are supposed to seek work or do work-related training may include compulsory treatment for drug addiction or other medical treatment. Lone parents, even those with very young children, may be required to attend interviews, make ‘action plans’ or attend training. People who stay on JSA over two years will be placed on compulsory schemes to work for their benefit without any extra money. Alongside these changes, the government proposes to contract out some job centre services and the majority of back to work schemes to private profit-making contractors.

Here’s what Anne said to the meeting:-

WELFARE LOBBY SPEECH 3 MARCH

The Green Party is associated with campaigning for action to stop climate change. But it’s not just about that, the Green Party is also about social justice and keeping public services public. The Welfare Reform Bill is NOT about social justice, it’s a charter for INJUSTICE. We already sent the government our criticisms of it at the Green Paper stage (see http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/workfare-is-not-the-answer.html).

Around 3 million redundant workers, thrown out of their jobs as an indirect result of bankers’ greed, are going to be cannon fodder for the privatised back to work contractors, who will make big profits out of the redundant workers’ misery.

The whole idea that intensive placement services are the solution to unemployment is a bad bosses’ charter anyway. It makes people compete harder with each other for the few vacancies that are left in the economy, and thus reduces labour standards. If that creates new jobs, as the neo-classical economists tell us, it’s only because some employers respond to the availability of cheaper labour. But they only do that if there is demand. Supply side economics just doesn’t work if demand for labour has collapsed. So the government’s solution to rising unemployment just won’t work now.

The Green Party offers three solutions:-

1) Green Party policy is to create new jobs. We brought out the Green New Deal jointly with the New Economics Foundation. (For further details see (http://www.neweconomics.org/gen/z_sys_publicationdetail.aspx?pid=). ) It’s a plan to create jobs by investment in wind power, solar power, insulation of homes and other buildings, growing more sustainable food, care services, health services, better public services generally. If the government can spend all that money on propping up the banks, why not spend it for jobs that will meet real social needs and help us combat climate change ?

2) We advocate shorter working time. Our Green MEPs have struggled vigorously in the European Parliament to end the UK’s opt out form the 48 hour week. There is a wealth of continental experience, in France, Germany, Denmark and Belgium, about how negotiated reductions in working time can create jobs, by sharing work, through subsidised short time working, extra leave and so on. We need to learn from these and do it.


3) Rather than make conditions for getting JSA tighter, as the government proposes, we should be reducing conditionality. We should be moving in the direction of a guaranteed basic income for everyone, with no conditions, no means testing. The Green Party has been advocating this for years. (See http://younggreens.greenparty.org.uk/AboutUs/Policy/CitizensIncome) A basic income without conditions would mean people could take what part-time and temporary work they could get without losing benefit. At present, if a friend asks you to paint her bathroom, dig an allotment, clear a garden, help in the local pub on a busy night, you can’t, it’s illegal. But unemployed people need to take what they can get and build up to a proper job again gradually. There is so much money now being given out in different kinds of tax credits in addition to JSA, child allowances and the new disability benefits that the government might as well do it, wrap them all up into one benefit. In fact the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work and Pensions suggested this in its 2007 report. It proposed a Single Working Age Benefit. It would save a fortune in administrative costs. But David Freud and his colleagues didn’t listen.

The unemployed need incentives to take part time and temporary work. Our approach is an incentives approach, not a workfare approach. But it is important not to let a basic income, like tax credits, subsidise bad employers and let them get away with low wages. Rather than pulling labour standards down we need to sustain and improve wage levels, and put money into the pockets of the poorest. We need to use the purchasing power of the public sector to ensure a living wage level in all contractors’ work, like the living wage policy the Greens have pushed through in the GLA – all GLA contractors must pay at least £7.45 per hour. We should be doing this sort of thing rather than paying people like Greedy Goodwin a pension worth the JSA of 200 people.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Decent Homes?





Everyone knows that having the builders in can be a stressful experience. It is something that a lot of Homes for Haringey Residents are experiencing right now, as their flats undergo the ‘Decent Homes’ improvements.
As a resident on a Homes for Haringey estate, I am keenly looking forward to having new windows, external doors and maybe a new roof. The windows will hopefully greatly improve the damp issue as well as providing better insulation against heat loss.
The fact that my estate won’t be deal with until the final year of the Decent Homes programme (2012-13) is however a problem. Homes for Haringey Chief Executive Paul Bridge has told me that he is asking the government for permission to complete the Decent Homes improvements in 4 years instead of 6. Apparently, this is infinitely do-able. Whether the Government will sanction this schedule change is another matter.
A few Sundays ago I was passing through Stroud Green and saw a great many Homes for Haringey blocks undergoing the Decent Homes improvements. Some had scaffolding up; some had new windows already in place. My hope is that a good job was done and that these improvements have increased the quality of life for residents.
I was however distressed to see that some of the blocks had been left in quite a state over the weekend. The above pictures were taken at Norman Court on Stapleton Hall Road. ‘Heras’ fencing splayed everywhere, tubes of sealant on the ground, tools abandoned in the grass…I was shocked that the residents had been left with this mess to look out on to. My hope is children didn’t get the chance to play in the mess.
It is great that improvements are been made to estates in need, but every effort should be made to ensure that contractors treat premises with respect. What is Homes for Haringey doing to ensure this happens? Who is monitoring the quality of the work and the way in which the builders are operating on a day to day basis? We would be very interested to hear from Homes for Haringey residents who have experiences of the Decent Homes programme, both good and bad.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

How the Environmental Agency rate Haringey


The Environmental Agency has released reports about each of London’s boroughs. Haringey’s report makes interesting reading. How is our borough doing in terms of the council’s aim to make us the ‘Greenest borough’?


The amount of waste sent to landfill has apparently decreased from 46% in 2005/06 to 31% in 2007/08. However, attending the ‘Recycling Scrutiny Review’ meetings over recent months, I have been concerned about our councillors’ cluelessness about recycling methods. The borough operates a ‘co-mingled’ recycling scheme that means the quality of recyclables is degraded. How much of our recycling is actually recycled is debatable.


Indeed, how much Haringey have encouraged consumers and retailers to cut down on the amount they need to throw away in the first place is debateable. Elsewhere, Green Councillors have introduced branded cloth shopping bags to replace plastic bags, and have addressed the issue of helping shopkeepers deal with large amounts of recyclables.


There is, however, an active Freecycle network in Haringey, where local people can offer unwanted items for free, From settees to hi-fis, bookshelves to kitchen utensils, it is an excellent way of both saving money and the planet. See: http://www.uk.freecycle.org/


Furthermore, Haringey has a long way to go before it is the ‘Greenest borough’ in that the ecological footprint, per capita, in Haringey is 5.52 global hectares per capita, which ranks only 15th out of the 33 London boroughs.


However, how reliable the Environmental Agency’s report is can be called into question. For example, incidences of Japanese knotweed are plotted on one map. I happen to know that an area of Queen’s Wood (‘Compartment M’) is absolutely overrun with the hard-to-eradicate plant. This is not marked on the map.


Also, it is claimed the incidences of fly-tipping have decreased. This is not the experience I have had on my Homes for Haringey estate in Highgate.


A useful report, then, which highlights the long way Haringey has to go before claiming to be truly ‘Green’. But some of the ‘facts’ are sadly to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Recession and Green Politics


The conventional wisdom is that when the economy takes a downturn, so too does the public’s interest in matters environmental. The theory goes, that voters will only make concessions to the environment when they are feeling prosperous, and so all of this goes out of the window when times are economically bleak, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ as the Clinton Democrats in the US used to say.

There does seem to be some evidence for this. In the late 80’s the English Green Party scored its best electoral percentage nationwide of 15% in the 1989 European elections, but with a recession in the early nineties, the party never even approached this kind of popular vote thereafter.

Paradoxically, an economic recession is actually rather good for the environment. The downturn in production and consumption slows down the exploitation of the planet’s resources and the resultant pollution associated with economic growth. People have less money to spend so make do and mend instead of throwing away goods and buying new ones, and businesses put on hold investing in expanding their markets.

Of course, recession is not good for people as they are thrown out of work or put onto reduced hours and wages generally are held down. Home repossessions increase, family breakdowns occur and crime increases. So, you won’t find Green politicians going around calling for more recessions to save the planet.

The Green Party (in conjunction with the New Economics Foundation) is advocating ‘The Green New Deal’ as a response to the current economic crisis. This is a golden opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive my mixed metaphors. Here we have a situation where the prevailing economic orthodoxy of neo liberalism has failed to provide sustainable wealth creation and a sustainable environment. The Green New Deal offers a different way, by massively investing in public transport infrastructure and renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes. This will provide useful jobs and start to move us towards a sustainable environmental situation.

The Green New Deal on its own will not be enough to achieve a sustainable and socially just future, but it is a big step in the right direction, and who can deny that it is urgently needed?

'On Thursday, 19th March, Haringey Green Party hosts a public meeting on Green Work, which will feature a panel of speakers led by Jean Lambert, MEP, discussing the Green New Deal and the recession. It will be at the Kurdish Cultural Centre, Portland Gardens, N8 (close to Green Lanes, back of Harringay Green Lanes station) at 7pm. Non-members are welcome

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Blooming Complicated


Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, and so of course we will see cut flowers quadruple in price overnight. But whilst flowers might be the obvious choice for a would-be wooer or a loved-up lothario, there are environmental and ethical question marks about the flower trade.

Roses from Kenya may have been tended by underpaid workers who have had their health adversely affected by exposure to harsh chemicals and pesticides. Flowers obviously require large quantities of water and this contributes to drought in already arid areas. The flowers are often flown thousands of miles before they reach your supermarket or florist…Where is the love?

So what is the Ethical Eros to do? The obvious answer it to buy flowers that are local, organically grown and/or seasonal. In the UK, the flower of February is the snowdrop. You can buy ones grown wild in UK woodland, the bulbs wrapped in moss and then posted to the recipient of your choice complete with a message and instructions on how to re-plant them. And of course they’ll keep blooming every February, meaning you never have to bother buying Valentine’s flowers again…See http://www.cambosnowdrops.com/pricelist.htm

On a similar note, how about a sapling? As your love blossoms, so will the tree…
But what about Fair Trade flowers? Here’s where things start to get complicated. If flowers bear the Fair Trade label, it does mean that the people growing them have worked in better conditions and that 8% of the export price has gone to the farmers to use to fund community projects.


However, it won't tell you how much pesticide was used, or how much CO2 was emitted, in the process of growing them and sending them to you. It won’t tell you which country the profits end up in, or the local environmental impact of people flocking to flower growing areas. Or indeed whether flower farms take all the water in dry developing countries and use it to grow flowers for us to give to people we fancy.


It looks like we need a better sustainability label – there are plans to introduce one for flowers in the UK by 2010. Until then, the most guilt-free flowers are local, seasonal and/or organic. Or maybe just think outside of the (chocolate) box and give something more original this year?