Monday, 24 February 2014

Haringey Lib Dems in Meltdown

As reported by the local newspaper the Ham and High almost two thirds (12 out of 21) of the Lib Dem councillors on Haringey Council are stepping down at the London council elections in May.

The departing councillors rather skirt around the reasons for taking this decision now, and the Lib Dem Group Leader cllr Richard Wilson even suggests that this is all part of natural process. Come off it mate, I’ve never known so many serving councillors quitting at the same time, and the reason is plainly obvious.

The Lib Dems in Haringey and much of London (and the north of England) are a toxic brand. People in these areas voted Lib Dem because they were unhappy with Labour in 2010, but are horrified by the subsequent ConDem government’s attack on the welfare state. These councillors know full well that they are highly unlikely to retain their seats and have no doubt been making alternative plans for some time. Rats leaving a sinking ship, you might reasonably conclude, rather than some natural turn over of personnel.

A brief look at the results of the GLA elections in 2012 paints the picture perfectly if you are in any doubt about the Lib Dems prospects at this year’s local elections. Labour won comfortably in every ward in Haringey, and in 18 of the 19 wards in the borough, the Green party beat the Lib Dems. I said at the time, that the writing was on the wall for Lib Dem councillors and sure enough they have just been marking time for the last two years. Some of them have no doubt tried to do their best, but such is the impossibility of providing good quality local public services, whilst central government funding for local authorities is slashed, have decided to jump rather than wait to be pushed.   

But what of our MP and junior Coalition Government Minister, Lynne Featherstone? Well she’s got another year to think about it, since she is not up for re election until 2015, but she is showing no sign of throwing in the towel like fellow north London MP Lib Dem Sarah Teather (Brent central). No, Featherstone seems to think she can win, because she is ‘personally popular’ unlike her party.

There is a great myth spread around by Featherstone and her supporters that she is a ‘good constituency MP’. We are bombarded in Hornsey and Wood Green (Featherstone’s Parliamentary seat) with leaflets telling us what a good constituency MP she is, a case of if you say something often enough, people will eventually believe it.

Well, I’m not buying it. I admit she is very good at self publicity, but that is all. She recently tried to take credit for the halting of plans to build a huge waste plant at Pinkham Way, for instance, but this was all the work of the residents in the Pinkham Way Alliance. This is only one example of Featherstone shamelessly claiming the credit for some achievement, when she’s done nothing but write the odd letter about it.

What’s more, she is an embarrassment in Parliament where she is commonly referred to as ‘Featherhead’ by other MPs (including some in her own party). But the main thing is, as the dozen departing Lib Dem councillors realise, personal reputation, whether real or otherwise, is not enough to save Lib Dem politicians. Featherstone will be unceremoniously booted out in 2015, for the part her party has played in propping up this deeply unpopular Tory led government.   

Close the door on the way out please Lynne, but make sure it doesn’t hit you in the face.        

Friday, 21 February 2014

The science is clear: global warming is real

A new word, ‘warmist’, has entered the vocabulary of discussion about climate change. It is often intended to mock and to imply that those who promote the fact that the climate of the earth is warming are members of some weird cult. It joins another word ‘denialist’ that is applied by some to those who refuse to accept that there is a human cause of climate change and disruption.

These words are unhelpful. Of course there is a fair debate to be had about the uncertainty of some of the precise details of climate prediction. But that is a far cry from the way in which extreme opponents of the conclusions of the science of climate change denigrate both the science and the scientists involved. This includes personal abuse of scientific leaders including the Met Office Chief Scientist and successive Presidents of the Royal Society.

Scientists are used to argument and to debate, and indeed science proceeds by posing questions driven by scepticism and uncertainty. One of the fundamental methodologies of science is to reduce uncertainty by means of experiment and observation. However, there is a difference between robust debate and unwarranted personal attacks.

Questions can be divided into 2 types, those for which there is an answer, even if we don’t know what it is, and questions for which there is no right or wrong answer and where different people will hold different views. The question of whether humans are causing climate warming is an example of the first type of a question, not the second. There is a correct factual answer. For this type of question Daniel Moynihan’s quote is apposite;
…you are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.
As with any science which aims to understand and predict the future state of a complex system, there are uncertainties in climate science. That humans are emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on an unprecedented scale, and the fundamental physics that carbon dioxide warms the Earth’s atmosphere, are not among these uncertainties. Climate scientists may not be able to quantify the precise impacts of climate change in a specific locality in fifty years time, but they do know we are performing a very risky experiment if we carry on emitting carbon dioxide at the rate we are today.

Climate change poses very serious risks, and responding to these is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s policy-makers. For this reason, there has been unprecedented rigour and global collaboration in the analysis and measurement of climate change. There is no equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in any other area of science. It is widely expected that the Panel’s ‘Fifth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change’, which will be published later this month, will present even greater confidence in the evidence that the climate is warming as a result of human activities.

This message may be unpalatable. The response should not be to shoot the messengers however - or to be abusive to them, which appears to be acceptable to a minority of commentators. How we respond is for all of us to determine. As John Holdren, scientific adviser to President Obama, put it in a lecture at Imperial College last year, we have 3 choices in responding to climate disruption, we can mitigate, we can adapt or we can suffer. The reality is that we shall have to do all 3. But unless we are very serious in our response, we and the other living inhabitants of the planet will suffer greatly.

Jointly written by Sir Mark Walport, the current Government Chief Science Adviser, and his 3 predecessors: Sir John Beddington (2008 to 2013), Sir David King (2000 to 2007) and Lord May (1995 to 2000).

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Earth Cannot Wait

The Earth Cannot Wait : Part 3 from STRIKE! mag on Vimeo.

The Green Party's Derek Wall (@anothergreen) on direct action, seven generation thinking and Marxist ecology:

"Even an entire society and nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. The are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries and have to bequeath it in improved states to succeeding generations"

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Floods Expose Absurdity of Austerity

In the last few weeks - intensifying in recent days as the flood waters have moved closer to London - it almost seems as if politicians have only wanted to help clear some of the mud so they can pick it up and sling it at their opponents. It is difficult to hear yourself think amid this cacophony of blame, but it is worth considering what the floods and our reaction to them tell us about the state and public spending.

Despite the usual spin and bluster, it is a fact that spending on flood defences has been cut by this government and frontline Environment Agency jobs have gone including, insiders say, those who worked alongside the emergency services and on flood warnings.

The Conservative chair of the relevant select committee of MPs has said the floods "reinforce our concerns about cuts to the Defra budget". And the GMB on Tuesday said most of the £130million extra funding planned will be spent on capital projects and will save few, if any, of the 1,700 jobs under threat.

This has been a horrible time for everyone whose home or business has been flooded and there will be no quick fixes for many families. But it is distasteful in the extreme that some on the right are preying on their misery by saying the only way to help is by cutting foreign aid that supports poverty-stricken and war-torn families around the world.

This rob Peter to pay Paul mentality is nothing new, but it exposes the absurdity of those who hanker for a smaller state. The idea that "our people" - whether our country or our constituents - are more deserving than others is not only crudely selfish, it also makes no sense.

Arch Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg is not waiting for "the market" to step in and pump out his constituents' homes, or drain the fields or rebuild battered walls and fences. No one in these communities is crying out for G4S or Serco to come to the rescue; they're asking for the state to help, in the form of the Environment Agency experts, the police, firefighters, local government officers and the armed forces.

For the likes of the privileged, Eton and Oxford-educated Rees-Mogg, the consequences of a smaller state are perhaps becoming apparent for the first time. But elsewhere, in the real world, others are painfully aware. A report on Wednesday revealed two-thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears and one in seven families face losing their homes. The National Housing Federation said its survey demonstrated the bedroom tax was "heaping misery and hardship" on already struggling families.

Much has been made of what David Cameron actually meant when - in a desperate bid to claw back some political capital in the flood-hit Tory heartlands - he insisted that "money was no object" in dealing with the fallout. But the more revealing part of what he said was that "we are a wealthy country". And, as if to reinforce the point, we learned on the same day that all of a sudden there was £2.5billion available for some new fighter planes.

Unions have consistently made the point that we are a wealthy country, that there is no need to force people out of their homes and to drive more people into poverty. We have also consistently warned about the real dangers of cutting public spending, and we have been consistently ignored.

The floods have exposed the gossamer thin argument for austerity and the cold, cruel ideology that underlies it. The inescapable truth is that we all rely on properly funded and resourced public services - maybe not directly every minute of every day but, nonetheless, all the time, because the alternative means abandoning people when they most need our help.
By Mark Serwotka General secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union and first published at The Huffington Post

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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Fresh Look at Our Drug Laws Is the First Step Towards a Sane, Evidence-Based Policy

One of the most talented actors of his generation found dead in his bathroom. Over a hundred young people needing treatment after a gig in Belfast where drugs were found. Teenagers dying after a taking Ecstasy on a night out. Every day the media present us with examples of the miserable failure of the "war on drugs". Yet the government presses on with the prohibition approach, refusing to acknowledge the obvious reality that it's not working.

When I was elected MP for Brighton Pavilion, the city had the highest mortality rate from drugs in the country. I wanted to find out whether doing things differently would help save lives, and was part of efforts to form a local commission to take a fresh look at the city's strategy to reduce drug-related harm. Thanks to innovative new approaches - increased training in the administration of naloxone which can prevent overdose, better data collection on drug use trends and improving services for people with a dual diagnosis - some great progress has been made. In the last few years we've seen a higher than average increase in numbers of people leaving treatment successfully.

Yet national policies, part of the broader international 'war on drugs', are the main barrier to further progress. The UK still approaches drug addiction as a criminal issue first and a health issue second. As the former Chief Superintendent of Brighton and Hove Police has said: "The use of drugs is not well addressed through punitive measures. Providing people with treatment not only resolves their addiction - thereby minimising risk of overdose, drug related health issues, anti-social behaviour and dependence on the state, for example - but cuts the cost to the community by reduced offending".

Those costs are enormous. In England and Wales alone, an estimated £3billion a year is spent fighting the war on drugs, to little effect. Over half of the 85,000 people in prison are thought to have serious drug problems. Rates of cannabis use by young people in Britain are amongst the highest in Europe.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that our approach is being dictated by a law that's over 40 years old and is not fit for purpose. There has never been an impact assessment of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act; nor has there been a cost benefit assessment, or any attempt to compare its effectiveness in reducing the social, economic or health costs of drug misuse with alternatives. Successive governments have seemed singularly uninterested in whether whether our current prohibtion-based approach is an effective use of public money.

Where alternative approaches have been adopted, the results have generally been positive. In 2001, Portugal adopted a new policy whereby drug possession was changed from a criminal offence to an administrative offence, following which there was a reduction in new HIV diagnoses and in drug-related deaths. In Switzerland, a series of new policies focusing attention on drug use from a public health perspective, led to a decline in crime rates. An investigation by Release looked at 21 jurisdictions that had adopted some form of decriminalisation of drug possession. Overwhelmingly, it found that such an approach does not lead to an increase in drug use but does improve outcomes for users - in terms of employment, relationships and likelihood of staying out of prison.

As Russell Brand has argued, if "we are aware that our drug laws aren't working and that alternatives are yielding positive results, why are we not acting?" Over the past year, I've been calling on the government to carry out an independent and authoritative review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. My epetition has received over 50,000 signatures, and the figure is rising rapidly. If 100,000 people have signed by the end of this week, the issue will have to be debated and voted on by MPs.

Slowly, it's starting to feel like this isn't such a hopeless cause. Even in the US, where Nixon first used the term "War on Drugs", the wind is changing - the Republican governor of Texas has stated his intention "to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalisation and keep people from going to prison and destroying their lives."

And now the deputy prime minister, back from a trip to Columbia, is arguing for "a proper debate about the need for a different strategy." It's not often that I agree with Nick, but on this occasion, he's dead right. Prohibition is costing lives, as well as billions of taxpayers' money - a fresh look at our drug laws is the first step towards a sane, evidence-based policy.

You can sign the epetition here and join our Thunderclap here
Written by Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party

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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Statement on Local Authority Cuts

The Green party of England and Wales fought the 2010 general election in opposition to the savage public service cuts supported by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. The Green party offered a different approach to reducing the country’s debts, which included making the wealthy (people and corporations) pay their fair share of tax, investing in the economy to produce sustainable growth through the Green New Deal, some cuts for example to Trident and pledging to protect public services particularly for the most vulnerable in our society.
Unfortunately, we did not win the general election and so are unable to put these policies into practice, although Caroline Lucas has almost single handedly taken the opposition to the Coalition government cuts agenda. The ideologically driven shrink the state policies of the Coalition government aim to reduce public spending and turn most of the public services over to private corporations. 
Our elected representatives in local government are on the front line in the assault on public spending, with local authorities having their funding from central government cut by around a third since 2010. Councils of all political stripes are hurting and they worry about whether they will even be able to fund their statutory duties in the future. Local government is under serious threat and everyone involved in it knows this to be true, despite the blithe statements about local authorities making efficiency savings and encouraging local business growth to pay for services, trumpeted by the Coalition central government. All the easy savings and many not so easy have been made now, and a future of even more of the same is daunting.
Haringey Green Party would continue to look for better and more effective ways of doing things in Council budgets especially on energy, transport, supplies, consultancy, and agency fees, whilst avoiding cuts in services, jobs, or wages and whilst recognising the importance of all sub-contractors’ staff (as well as Council employees) being paid a London living wage.  We would oppose any salaries in new appointments being over ten times the lowest full time wage.
Haringey Green party supports Green councillors who refuse to participate in or support an administration that implements any further cuts; and recognises that Green councillors may better represent the interests of their constituents by remaining in opposition at this time.
Haringey Green Party supports popular mobilisation against the cuts through demonstrations and where necessary direct action, in coordination with local, regional and national anti-cuts movements such as the People’s Assembly. HGP would welcome coordinated actions between Green and left councillors in different areas to resist cuts in services. 
HGP would welcome a national campaign for reform of local taxation and/or Council or GLA charges to make them more progressive and to capture more of the profits of developers to support local services, and would encourage and support any Green councillors elected here to pursue these aims as well as to campaign for local eco-taxes like levies on commercial packaging.
Haringey Green Party believes that Green Councillors, whenever faced with a need to make instant decisions about budgets in the Council chamber and whenever consultation with supporters and allies is not possible within the permitted time frame, should do whatever they judge to be in the best interests of the local population and consistent with Green Party policy.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Passengers face massive disruption if Boris’s cuts to ticket offices happen

The Mayor of London’s proposal to close all London Underground ticket offices and cut up to 1,000 tube staff is apparently supported by 82 per cent of Londoners, according to a poll commissioned by TfL.

However the question they ask in their poll doesn’t mention either the ticket office closures, or cutting a thousand staff, but TfL are now claiming public endorsement for the cuts. Polls commissioned by the unions also show overwhelming opposition from passengers to these cuts.

Closing ticket offices which are only used by 3 per cent of people making journeys does not sound much of a problem, except when you translate that into over a 100,000 people a day who are queuing up to sort out the issues which the machines can’t help them with.

I can see some merit to the argument that we utilize new technology to make staff more accessible, but these plans combine the closures with a huge reduction in staffing. Fewer staff will be around and when they are wandering about, we may, or may not, be lucky enough to bump into them. Ticket offices in most stations provide a reassuring focus point where you know you can find someone.

The presence of a staffed office provides an invaluable source of advice and assistance to passengers, way beyond the function of merely selling tickets. Get rid of a 1000 staff and you lose that reassuring presence which helps passengers feel safer, especially if travelling after dark.

Crime and abuse sadly occur in society and tube stations are no exception. In a recent survey of disabled travellers “enhancing personal security and safety” was ranked consistently as the most important benefit that staff provide to disabled passengers. CCTV cameras can never replace staff in making passengers feel safe waiting on a dark platform at night.

As we have tragically seen in recent years, emergencies do happen on our transport network and deleting staff posts as the number of passengers flowing through stations increases is irresponsible and could lead to injury or loss of life on the expanding tube network.

This Mayor – Boris Johnson – presided over annual fare hikes above the rate of inflation every year between 2008 and 2013. During this time, the real average increase in TfL fares was 11 per cent, hitting Londoners’ pockets over and over again.

Meanwhile, he throws away vast sums of public money on a succession of vanity projects including his New Bus and his cable car. While the Mayor wants to shed staff from tube stations to save money, the additional cost for the extra staff on the back of the 600 Boris Buses is an estimated £30m a year.

With record numbers using the tube and a massive predicted increase in passenger numbers these cuts to staffing are unnecessary, unsafe and unworkable.

He has slashed away at our public services. Earlier this month, 10 of London’s oldest fire stations closed their doors for the last time, 14 fire engines were withdrawn and 552 firefighter jobs were axed – all victims of this Mayor’s decision to cut council tax for the average family by 7p per week to make a political point, rather than safeguard our communities.

He has also presided over police front counter closures and is pushing for City Hall security services to be outsourced too.

Tube workers have been rightly praised, as heroes during the terrorist attacks, for making the Olympics a success and for keeping London moving. They now deserve our full support in their fight for a safe, properly staff tube.

Industrial action is a last resort and no one wants strikes, least of all tube workers who lose pay. But passengers face disruption and a worse service for years to come if these cuts take place.

This Mayor opposed the closure of 40 ticket offices by his predecessor and entered office in 2008 with a firm pledge to keep ticket offices open. He repeated his promise again in 2010. Now we see the Mayor quietly ditching his commitments and hoping nobody will notice.

I hope Londoners will see what he’s really doing and object to these dangerous cuts.

Written by Darren Johnson, Green Party London AM