Friday, 18 December 2009

Copenhagen Failure

I really really really didn't want to write a blog that had 'Copenhagen' and 'failure' in the title. I've not written a word about it so far, in the hope that my cynicism might be proven unfounded - that the world's governments might, for once, throw off the shackles of an insane economic system and actually listen to the scientific evidence that is being screamed into their ears.

It seems it was not to be. Below, I append the first eleven days of summary analysis from Greenpeace UK, along with my own thoughts on Day 12 - today....

Day 1: South Africa joins India, China, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia in tabling commitments as the big developing world countries call the bluff of the rich nations.

Day 2: After years of negotiating a UN agreement a plan by Denmark to introduce an alternative, greenwash text is leaked to the media. The Danes, it seems just want a deal that says Copenhagen at the top. They don’t care whether or not it will save the climate.

Day 3: Despite Tuvalu having met all the requirements for their proposals for a legally binding deal to be discussed their request is refused. Tuvalu and their supporters in the developing world bring the main negotiations to a halt until everyone agrees to play by the rules.

Day 4: Tuvalu asks for a group to be set up to discuss amendments to the Kyoto protocol. Again they’re turned down by those who fear a binding deal and another portion of the negotiations is halted.

Day 5: Negotiations resume on all fronts as rich nations realise they can’t steamroller the poor countries.

Day 6: As the negotiators take a rest day the global day of action sweeps around the world. 100 000 people take to the streets of Copenhagen and millions join events around the world – piling pressure onto the talks.

Day 7: Round 1 to Tuvalu! A legally binding deal is back on the table as it appears the Danes have given up on their alternative text when a promised update fails to appear. Battle lines have been clearly drawn, on one side the nations who know that only a binding deal will deliver results, and on the other side, everyone else.

Day 8: Do they never learn? Again the Danes try to sideline discussions on Kyoto. This time it is the Africans who walk out. The EU, Australia and Japan retaliate by refusing to discuss their own commitments. More lost hours.

In the forest sessions it becomes clear that everyone except the Americans and Columbians want a deal that won’t end up subsidizing forest destruction. Worryingly the amount of forest nations are talking about saving is being talked down.

Day 9: As the world’s environment Ministers arrive the summit goes into ‘high level’ mode. Unfortunately the efforts by the Danes and others to avoid discussion of the Kyoto protocol means there is a huge amount of work to be done.

Day 10: With heads of state due to arrive everything is up in the air. There hasn’t been enough progress and the heads of state are going to have to earn their money.

Day 11: Finally some movement. Hilary Clinton proposes a fund worth $100 billion a year to support developing countries. It’s a number, but there’s no detail on where the money will come from. China responds by signaling that it is now prepared to talk about how its own commitments would be monitored – possibly removing a major block to a deal. The USA is still refusing to talk about a binding deal.As the heads of state prepare for their state dinner President’s Lula of Brazil and Sarkozy of France request that an evening meeting is convened to make progress.

Day 12: Today. Obama speaks. Possibly the worst speech I have ever heard from a non-denier head of state on climate change - not something I expected to be writing. At least Barack normally gives it some rhetorical welly. This was just inflexible, myopic tosh. And now it looks, as I write, that we are going to end up with a deal that will put us way, way, way, WAY over 2 degrees celsius of warming. Well into the region of tipping points. Well into the region where entire nations are going to be underwater in the coming decades, and in which millions upon millions of people will be forced from their homes.

This is insanity. THIS is the point at which we could have done something - and the people who run our governments - all of them, with a very few honourable exceptions -have completely failed.

Now, I have an analysis of why that is. It isn't because they want a world with more climate catastrophe, nor that they hate the poor (though a lot of them don't particularly care either way, of course). It's because the world economy needs to make a profit - and all the forces of profit are lined up against meaningful action. Sure, they will exploit loopholes and occupy market niches and do everything they can to make a quick buck out of climate change action. But when it comes down to it -business as usual is still the easiest way to turn a short-term bit of money. And we have failed to stand up in enough numbers, and to say "Ya Basta!" - "Enough Is Enough!"

Enough of warmed over words. Enough of platitudes. Enough of sitting by while the world burns. We have to do something, and we have to do it right now. And the answer isn't going to come entirely through the ballot box - though I think voting for the right candidates will help. It's going to come through ordinary people taking action in their own communities, linking up together, and showing governments that if they are incapable of doing something, then we will do it ourselves. I'll do my best to build a strong electoral challenge to this current shower of failures and charlatans - but I'll do my best to support community action while I'm doing it. Because only all of us, acting together, right now, can do what needs to be done. Lets get started.

P.S. If you want to see what our current 'leaders' think of people who try to point out the insanity of the current system, then check out this video. Several Hackney Greens were on this demonstration - beaten up for trying to assemble and speak out, nonviolently. It's a disgrace - just like the rest of the Copenhagen summit.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Good News, Bad News

As is often the way with campaigning, some bad news follows hot on the heels of success...


Regular readers will remember that I have previously posted about my involvement in the Hackney Keep Our NHS Public group, and particularly their campaign over the possibility of two new GP-led health centres being taken over by multinational corporations.

Well, the outcome of the bidding process for the GP-led health centre at Oldhill has been announced - and it has been won by a group of local GPs in the Lawson clinic! A real relief, at least for now.

The campaign has thrown up a number of crucial issues - not least among them the enormous cost to local GPs of making such bids (some £40,000+), and the huge amount of time-consuming effort that has to go into drawing up a bid (which requires complex financial modelling, which is not one of the skills GPs are trained in - they are trained to look after patients) and the cost to the PCT of going through the bidding process - some £3million.

Big commercial healthcare companies, of course, have these resources on tap. This is money that would be far better spent on improving existing GP surgeries and encouraging them to network to provide the extra services the GP-led health centres are supposed to provide. The government is rolling out 150 of these GP-led health centres across the UK - so the cost to PCTs extrapolates to £450 million. Just think what could be done with that amount of cash in the health service!

Also, despite the eventual outcome, the very real issue of the PCT's lack of consultation remains - along with the fact that our local Health Scrutiny Committee was not prepared to do anything about it.

Still, celebration is in order - and the campaign's Xmas party on 15 December at the Marie Lloyd pub (7.30-10 pm) will be a good opportunity....!


And now, the bad news. The proposed eviction of the Kings Crescent Community Housing Project has gone ahead, although all the squatters were gone by Tuesday morning, when the police turned up with riot gear and battering rams. The reason they were gone? According to reports from the scene, contractors broke up the water pipes above the squatted properties, flooding them! This not only drove out the community housing project, but one presumes also did serious damage to the flats.

So, now the majority of flats in that block, and many all over the estate, are unoccupied once more. The ones that were squatted are boarded up, and the Council has done its job - not the job of providing housing, which is supposed to be a human right - but of crushing any sort of alternative provision, quickly and with overwhelming force. And, in this case, quite possibly illegally - the appeal against the closure order against which the squatters never got to defend themselves remains lodged with the courts.

The mastermind behind all of this? Who else but Banksy's arch-enemy, Cllr Alan Laing:

He commented: "These squatters spoilt the quality of life for tenants who were paying to live in this block. They selfishly wrecked the structure of the building and now, due to this premises closure order, they are finally out of the block where they caused so much damage."

Unlike Cllr Laing, I actually bothered to meet the squatters. They struck me, at all times, as being pleasant, community-minded and constructive - and included at least one family with a week old child, just looking for somewhere to spend the winter. Interestingly, and tellingly, they have never been presented with the exact accusations of their alleged anti-social behaviour, nor have they seen any evidence, nor have they had a chance to defend themselves.

Welcome to Kafka's Hackney - if you try to house yourself in flats that have been kept empty, even if you say that you will leave as soon as they are needed, keep a look out for:

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Wave

I think it's fair to say that I have been on my share of climate change marches over the last decade - but the one on Saturday was definitely the biggest I have seen. It's always uplifting to see thousands of people on the streets, calling for exactly the kinds of policies which form the Green Party platform, and on which I am standing for election. However - it has to be much deeper and wider than just a march. We're only going to get real change if those people go back to their communities and (as many are already doing) get stuck into the everyday work of community building and persuasion on this issue. It doesn't have to be electoral - though I think that is a vital component of any movement - but it does have to involve speaking to the non-converted. That will be the major test of the climate movement over the next five years.

For now, here's a brief video of me at the start of the rally (in which YouTube has picked the grumpiest moment possible of me as the freezeframe, thanks guys!) and a photo, in which I am slightly cheerier. :)

Friday, 4 December 2009

Kings Crescent Housing Project

Some more from the Kings Crescent Housing Project, in their own words.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Kings Crescent Community Housing

Over the last week, I have spoken to and visited a number of people involved in the Kings Crescent Community Housing project - a squatted community just next to Clissold Park, a few hundred metres outside the boundaries of Clissold ward, where I am standing to be a councillor.

Kings Crescent Estate has been scheduled for large scale demolition and renovation for years, but the project has dragged on and on - and with the recession, seems to be going nowhere fast. Seeing that hundreds of perfectly sound flats remained unoccupied, the Kings Crescent Community Housing project moved in, and began to house a significant number of people who were rough sleeping or 'hidden homeless'. This included a young family who are currently being denied housing - to whom a baby was born just three days ago.

Hackney Council, of course, doesn't like this sort of thing. Far better for flats to stand idle and useless while people freeze on the streets than for the council to be embarassed by constructive squatting. So they have used legislation designed to close crack houses in an attempt to evict this constructive community - whose only 'anti social behaviour' appears to be the teaching of English and hosting CV writing workshops for the unemployed.

The closure order which Hackney Council has secured appears to be illegal - since they did not serve it properly and gave no opportunity for the squatters to defend themselves in court. Of course, they don't particularly care about that, because any appeal will be heard well after Thursday, when they are planning to evict everyone and (if past form is anything to go by) to smash up the flats so that no one can possibly live in them. They will then let them sit there, empty, probably for another few years....and certainly over the winter months.


I will be there on Thursday, doing what I can to try to ensure that these people are allowed to stay in the otherwise empty flats which they have made into a community. I'll keep you updated as to what happens.

Meanwhile, in their own words, the call-out from the squatters for help and assistance:

"I am involved in a squat in Stoke Newington that is currently housing about 20 -25 people. Some were sleeping rough before our squat opened, many have been unemployed since the recession, we have some students unable to access student loans and a family who had a baby on Friday whom the council won't assist with housing. We have quickly become a vibrant community offering free workshops (including English lessons as the majority of the people who live here have English as a second language).


We were not advised of the court hearing and therefore could not attend or respond - this is unlawful.

They have used a different piece of legislation (The Anti Social Behaviour Act) which makes it a criminal (not a civil) matter and means they have stripped us of our rights to have notice etc

They only advised us on Monday that we are to be evicted at noon on Thursday. We have lodged an appeal to attempt to postpone the eviction but since we have deliberately been given such a short amount of notice it is unlikely this will be read by a magistrate prior to our Thursday deadline.


We need as many people as possible to assist

If you have concerns about being arrested there is still a role for you as most of the squatters will occupy the actual flats. Please come and surround the outside of the estate making it more difficult for police to come through or come and just take a video or photos of any inappropriate police behaviour


Address: Flats 32-39 Lemsford Court, Green Lanes, Stoke Newington N4 2XN (opposite Clissold Park gate)

Planning meeting 7p.m. Weds 2nd (and welcome to stay overnight - they could strike early)

Official resistance to be ready from 10a.m - eviction due at 12


Please forward this to as many friends, mailing lists, associations who will be supportive

Thank you for any way in which you are able to assist whether you can attend or spread the word!"

Monday, 30 November 2009

ID cards - madness

Just a quick something I saw featuring one of our Hackney Labour MPs today - Meg Hillier, touting ID cards to students. Nice to know she's spending her time productively.

I cannot believe they are still spending money on this authoritarian white elephant, given the current fiscal climate. Idiocy.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Vision Thing

A piece of mine, on the importance of vision and idealism in political life, has been published on the widely read blog Liberal Conspiracy today. Check it out!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Citizens Convention

Having scanned the Queens Speech for any really meaningful committments to democratic reform or community empowerment (and, unsurprisingly, failing to find anything of any substance), I have just sent off this 38 Degrees e-action to Diane Abbott.

Calling for a Citizens Convention, an idea which is also supported by Unlock Democracy, the e-action asks Diane to sign Early Day Motion 148, in support of the Citizens Convention bill. I hope that by the time most of you read this, she will have signed up....

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Hackney Council and the Arms Trade

Did you know that the London Borough of Hackney has £9.5 million invested in arms companies at the moment, including £5.5 million in BAE Systems? Well, you do now - and if, like me, you think a company with this record of corporate crime shouldn't be allowed within a million miles of public funds, you can sign our online petition about the issue today.

Hackney Labour claim that, because of laws that commit them to thinking only about "the best financial return" when investing funds, they can't disinvest from the arms trade. Hackney Greens counter that it is perfectly possible to make a decent return without investing in death. The arms trade does not make up 3% of the UK economy - but it does now make up over 3% of Hackney Council's pension fund investments. We should disinvest now, and put that money into sectors that are guaranteed to grow and provide a return over the medium and long-term - for example, companies which provide green jobs.

Hackney Labour should take a courageous decision, and make a stand against the arms trade. They won't, of course - one of their most prominent councillors is a PR man for the arms trade - but that is just another reason why no one with a progressive point of view should be voting for them.

Freedom of Information request on Hackney's arms trade investments

The total amount (in £) of London Borough of Hackney's pension funds' shareholdings in the following companies for the years of 2007, 2008 and, if available, 2009

1. Lockheed Martin


2. Boeing


3. Northrop Grumman


4. BAE Systems


5. Raytheon


6. General Dynamics




8. L3 Communications


9. Thales


10. Halliburton


11. Finmeccanica


12. Rolls-Royce


13. QinetiQ


14. VT


15. Cobham


16. Meggitt


17. Ultra Electronics




Total Market Value of Pension Fund

Totals as a % of all LBH pension funds

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A Weekend In The Life....

Every so often, people ask me what exactly being an electoral candidate consists of. The answer is, of course, that it changes pretty much every day, depending on what issue you are focusing on, what person you are talking to, and when in the electoral cycle you happen to be. I thought it might be interesting to give you a snapshot of my weekend a small illustration of the kind of thing I've been getting up to.

Friday afternoon

Doorknocking on a council estate in Stoke Newington. Some really shocking conditions, including a bathroom floor that was absolutely full of damp and mould - but also some really good conversations with people who clearly want to improve their local environment. The usual rigmarole of spending ages trying to find someone willing to let me into the block, but then no one is's very rare to find anyone who is actively rude to a Green Party canvasser, unlike those from the main parties. Passed the casework issues onto Mischa Borris, our existing Green Party councillor for Clissold, who starts working on getting people's issues dealt with.

Friday evening

Fireworks Night party at Hawksley Court Estate. I always feel a bit funny about turning up to things like this in my role as a candidate - you never like to impose. However, Hawksley Court is actually opposite my house, so this is my local fireworks display! It's good fun, particularly since we brought loads of sparklers, and we get to meet loads of people. Such an impressive event, complete with food and drink in the Community Hall, and loads of happy kids having a good time. Great to see the local community getting together.

Saturday afternoon

Behold, more doorknocking. This time on a residential street, complete with lots and lots of HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation), with dreaded entryphones. I never like them, because its so hard to tell who lives where, and to get an answer. Despite this, I have a number of good conversations, and pick up some more casework for the ever-hard-working Mischa.

Saturday evening

Attend a meeting at the Day-Mer Community Centre on Howard Road, which is dedicated to providing opportunity and community to the Turkish/Kurdish community in Stoke Newington and further afield. The meeting is hosted by Day-Mer Youth, catalysed by the recent tragic shootings on Howard Road, and discusses the problems of youth unemployment, community disintegration and crime. Hackney Solidarity Network are there too, and talk about the need for different communities in Hackney to forge links together and recognise that their common problems have common solutions. I totally agree!

Sunday morning

Leafletting - I never like to doorknock on a Sunday morning, it doesn't go down well for perfectly understandable reasons. So I go out and leaflet instead, with our latest newsletter, complete with story about our opposition to NHS privatisation. You never know how many people read them, but its a major way of getting the message out there....and we put thousands out in each ward, every few months. Not to mention personal letters, leaflets about specific events, and all sorts of other stuff.

Sunday afternoon

I went along to the excellent Butterfield Green Community Orchard, to take part in their monthly gardening event. Good to get a different kind of exercise than walking up and down towerblock stairs, and really good to help out with such an inspiring example of urban regeneration. Lots of weeds were pulled, cups of tea drunk, and conversations had. I'd strongly recommend going along next time, if you're local!

Sunday evening

I'm here at home...updating my blog, checking my email...and watching (I have to admit it) Die Hard 4.0 at the same time. Who can resist a film featuring the line "Dude, you just killed a helicopter with a car!".

Monday, 2 November 2009

Gun Crime - No Easy Answers

I've written and rewritten this piece several times now - hence the delay in posting anything for a few days, for which I apologise.

I've rewritten it so much because it's hard to comment on the violent death of a 15 year old with anything other than tired platitudes. It's particularly difficult to do so when that person died not five minutes walk away from where you live. It's even harder still when you are certain that his death won't be the last of its kind in the area.

I am, of course, referring to the shootings on Howard Road last Monday - shootings which seem to have involved one group of local teenage boys trying to kill another group of local boys - and in one case, succeeding.

There's one school of thought which argues that, in cases like these, politicians shouldn't say anything at all. I can understand that - after all, so many political proclamations are nothing but thinly veiled pleas for electoral support...insincere and counterproductive pledges to 'get tough', or equally vague references to 'Broken Britain'. Despite this, I think that it is a duty for politicians to try to understand situations like this...because they are, without a doubt, political.

Yes, there will always be murders, and yes - young boys will always act out their aggression in some form or another - but the form which that aggression is taking in our communities today is a result of the society we live in...the society that has been fashioned for us.

In some previous posts, I've talked about the impact that inequality has in the UK, and pointed to the shocking rates of poverty in Hackney. In the hope that a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps this map of deprivation and gang activity in London (thank you to The Communard for pointing me to this) might make my point on this topic, too.

These young people, these children (because that is, usually, what they are), are not inherently evil. They are not born sociopaths. They are reacting to a society which tells them that they are worth nothing, which fails to support their development and growth, which destroys their communities and tramples on their dreams - and they are reacting by forming for themselves the only communities which they know - communities of violence, of tightly knit bonds between peers for whom status competition is everything, because they know nothing else will get them anywhere.

No politician can give an easy answer on the topic of gangs, violent crime and youth disaffection. There are no easy answers, and indeed politicians can only do a limited amount. This is a political problem, not just an electoral one, and it involves the whole 'polis'. It will only really be solved in the way that inequality will really be solved - by ordinary people organising in their own communities, from the grassroots up, and by society as a whole providing a future for these young men that is worth living.

I'm going to try to support initiatives that recreate solidarity, cohesion and power in our communities - but support is all I can do. It's up to all of us to do this - and if we wait for MPs, or the Council to wave a magic wand, we're going to be waiting a long time. Lets take this Howard Road wake-up call, and resolve, today, to start modelling in our own lives and neighbourhoods the way things could be...the way they should be. And at the same time, lets keep fighting for an end to the economic system that is keeping so many people of all ages in the kind of despair that breeds this violence.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Supporting the CWU

Hackney Green Party has pledged its full support for a universal postal service and is backing the postal workers in their dispute with Royal Mail management.

Royal Mail management are trying to force through cuts to postal workers' earnings, often using threats and intimidation and wrecking their conditions of service.

The Green Party supports the postal workers because Royal Mail is not complying with a 2007 agreement pledging there would be consultation and negotiation on a new phase of modernisation, together with maintaining reasonable levels of pay.

"It is vital that we defend the jobs, pay and conditions of the postal workers and continue the fight against privatisation of the Royal Mail. Competition and introduction of market forces leads to reduced levels of service, poorer pay and conditions and job cuts, in order to protect the profits of the private companies," commented Matt Sellwood, the Green Party's Parliamentary Candidate for Hackney North & Stoke Newington.

"Not only is depriving people of vital community resources bad for health and wellbeing, it is also bad for the environment - carbon emissions are increased when people have to travel further for services which were once available locally. As more Royal Mail contracts are sold off to privateers such as TNT, there are potentially more vans from different companies delivering to the same addresses - increasing emissions, pollution and traffic.

"Privatisation has failed. Public services which have been privatised have not improved. The actions of the Royal Mail management and the Labour gvernment in trying to bully the CWU in this dispute have been shameful, but we know the Tories would be at least just as ruthless in their treatment of the postal workers. We fully support the right of the CWU members to strike, and we urge the public to support them in their struggle."

Meanwhile Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, has 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, Lucas 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".

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."

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The BNP, New Labour, and Climate

A very hectic week so far, and thus not much time to blog. Normal service will be resumed shortly, especially as there is so much to write about at the moment!

However, I wanted to cover a few things briefly.

On Nick Griffin, the BBC and Question Time, I will just refer you to this excellent article by Gary Younge. New Labour have created the conditions for fascism - and now they are reaping the whirlwind. My own personal position remains that of 'no platform', which I will likely discuss at another time.

Secondly, there's my continuing Diane Abbott Watch - holding Diane to account and monitoring how she votes in Parliament. I've already blogged about her opposition to a transparent Iraq war inquiry and other such veerings towards New Labour orthodoxy - and yesterday provided another one. The Liberal Democrats, to their credit, put down a motion calling upon Parliament to support the 10:10 climate campaign (the campaign to reduce carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010, which Hackney Council made a big hoopla of supporting). Given the Council's stance, and Diane's reputation, you'd expect her to have supported the motion. Umm, no, as it turns out. As you can see from the vote tally, Diane voted WITH the government and against the 10:10 target - unlike other, more reliable rebels such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. But then, given that I also recently discovered her steadfast support for nuclear power, I'm not entirely surprised at this latest example of shaky green credentials...

Lastly - I've just come back from a public meeting in Clapton about Afghanistan. I'd urge everyone who can to go along to the demonstration on Saturday (meeting at Hyde Park at noon). The familiar litany of Labour's crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq never fails to make my blood boil - and I can do no better at expressing it than Pablo Neruda's poem about the Spanish Civil War. I leave you with it for now...

I'm Explaining A Few Things

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I'll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille's dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings --
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

London Mayoralty - It Matters

I went to Mayor's Question Time on Monday - I thoroughly recommend it if you are looking for some political kickabout and a decent comedy show. Not necessarily convinced if you are looking for an effective instrument to be used to hold the Mayor of London to account. The two Green Party AMs were excellent (I would say that, wouldn't I - but it's true), including Darren Johnson who had to chair the whole thing. The other parties were...mixed. Val Shawcross for Labour was impressively forensic in her questioning, I thought, while John Biggs just came off as hectoring and pointlessly rude - as did Len Duvall. The Lib Dems seemed fairly nonexistent...and then...the Tories. Oh dear.

Some of my friends in the Labour Party (yes, I have some) often criticise me for seeming to lay into them more than the Conservatives. This is hardly surprising, I answer - after all, Labour run Hackney Council, have both MPs in Hackney, and run the country. However, there is no denying that the Tories remain an appallingly reactionary lot underneath the Cameronite gloss. First to speak up was Brian Coleman AM - yes, he of Brian Coleman Must Go fame - a man who has never seen an expense claim he didn't think fair and just. His question was, god help us, about the 'fact' that there were far too many diversity officers employed by the GLA. He was followed by a non-entity asking about why Traveller sites needed to be provided in the London Plan (he actually said 'Gypsy' in a particularly vitriolic fashion, but then realised his error and backtracked). And so on.

I left City Hall feeling less than charitable about London Conservatives - not helped by Boris' seemingly complete inability to answer a question in any detail. As I found out the next day, however, he was apparently saving the detail for his attempt to explain the significant fare rises he feels are necessary for London.

As BorisWatch and other blogs have explained, his plans have a disproportionately heavy effect on low earners - precisely the people, frankly, that Boris Johnson doesn't give a stuff about. The problem is that people do still see him as a joker, a buffoon, a bit of a card. Well, this buffoon is running our city, and he's doing it badly.

As Jenny Jones AM put it, very succinctly:

“The mayor is pricing people off public transport, whilst favouring motorists by going ahead with plans to cancel the western extension of the congestion charge. Part of his fares increase will pay for the gap left by losing around £55m of congestion charge income. The Mayor has today highlighted the pollution caused by old buses, but he was the one who dropped the £25 congestion charge on gas guzzling cars, which would have generated around £30m in its first year. Everything the mayor does shows a bias in favour of the motorist and against public transport users. Even the long delayed increase in raising the congestion charge will be after bus and tube passengers have already started paying their extra fares”.

Boris - favouring motorists over users of public transport, and favouring rich users of public transport over poor users of public transport. Welcome to Tory London.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Keep Our NHS Public Rally

So, this evening I was on the steps of Hackney Town Hall, with the local branch of Keep Our NHS Public. We were drawing attention to a meeting of the Council's Health Scrutiny Committee, which was discussing the PCT's decision to put GP services out to tender for possible privatisation.

I've covered this issue in previous posts, so I won't write too much about it in detail now - but I should say that one thing which saddened me was the sight of several Labour councillors passing by, unwilling to say anything to the demonstrators. Shame, perhaps? Or just contempt for grassroots campaigners with whom their party would once have stood, who knows.

To her credit, Diane Abbott released a statement yesterday indicating her concern over the move. Nothing at all from the Lib Dems or Tories, as far as I can tell - and I was the only candidate for any elected office at the rally itself.

I filmed a very brief video at the rally, laying out in simple terms my opposition to these plans.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

UK Starts Deportations To Baghdad

Hot on the heels of my recent post about the horrific way in which asylum seekers and refugees are treated like a political football in this country, comes the news that the UK is to begin deporting people back to Iraq.

Yes, Baghdad...universally acknowleded by all to be a safe haven of peace and tranquility. Nothing bad could happen there, surely? Well, apparently the UNHCR (the body responsible for the rights of refugees internationally) don't agree - Denmark started deporting people back to Iraq a few months ago, only to be roundly condemned. Not that our Government, bereft of compassion or an ounce of human understanding, cares less, of course.

I'd urge anyone who can't get to the Keep Our NHS Public rally tomorrow to try to attend this demonstration on the deportations outside Communications House instead. While I can't be there at that time, I will continue to be involved in the fight against the unjust and immoral asylum system in this country.

Particularly, I will continue to speak out about the horrific conditions within the UK's system of immigration detention centres. They shouldn't exist in the first place - but even those who disagree with me on that must surely agree that state sanctioned mental health abuse against children is sickening. It must stop.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Gordon Brown - He Loves That Privatisation

I thought I would give myself a day before blogging about the recently announced £16 billion sell-off of public assets, which is the Government's latest economic wheeze. I thought it might make it seem more like common sense.

Didn't work.

So, you're facing an annual £175 billion deficit. Frankly, unless you start selling off the entire state, asset sales aren't going to make much of a dent. They particularly aren't going to make much of a dent if you are selling off some services (British Waterways is on the list, for example) which, one presumes, you are then going to have to lease back in various forms, or at least pay to use.

Whichever way I look at it, frankly it seems like a bit of a firesale to private companies - the kind of companies who have already benefited massively from Gordon Brown's reign under PFI contracts, PPP and various other dodgy financial instruments which have been used to channel public money into private pockets. The Lib Dems at least have pointed out that, if you think the sell-off is a good idea (which all three establishment parties seem to) you at least should try to get good value for the assets - i.e. not sell them off at the bottom of the market when you don't actually need to.

All in all, very strange...and another example of the way in which the UK's response to the financial crisis seems to be more and more mirroring Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" analysis - the idea that global capitalism now takes advantage of crises - whether financial, social or natural - to privatise everything in sight. Spare a thought in particular for the workers at the Dartford Crossing. Not only did they put in a large amount of work towards a failed attempt at employee ownership earlier in the decade (exactly the kind of thing that any Government supported by the Co-operative Party should be supporting, of course), now even the asset they are working with has been shipped off into private hands.

We have to stop this wave of privatisations - and stop them now. The answer to this crisis lies in public investment and support for greater economic democracy - not cuts and privatisation.

P.S. I haven't even covered the sell-off of the student loan book here - mostly because I am still trying to wrap my head around what that means, what dodgy ways whoever buys it is going to make profit out of it, and how exactly it is going to hurt people like me who still have lots of outstanding student loans....

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Another Consensus - On Asylum

I could probably spend the rest of the time from now until the General Election pointing to every way in which the establishment political consensus is dehumanising, immoral and just plain wrong.

Since I'd probably run out of time before I finished, here's just one more example - the continuing attempts to make poverty and deprivation obligatory for asylum seekers. Hot on the heels of the Government's despicable decision to cut asylum seeker benefits to just £5 a day, Rowenna Davis has written this piece on the experiences of one asylum seeker, contrasting it with the view at Conservative Party Conference.

I doubt anyone in the Cabinet, or Shadow Cabinet, has any idea how they would live on £5 a day - but they are happy to proscribe it for others. Disgraceful.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Mainstream Benefits Consensus Is Sickening

Apparently, the Tories are going to create jobs and opportunity by cutting benefits for disabled people.

Yes, I don't quite see how that one is going to work, either. It seems to me that further reducing the spending power of vulnerable people, dumping them on the JSA, and then forcing them to compete with millions of other unemployed people for dead-end jobs is probably not the solution to our economic ills. Economic ills which, lest we forget, have been brought about in large part by the kind of unregulated, cut throat, free market economics that the Tories have championed for so long.

Not that you'll hear Labour criticising the plans too loudly. Why? Well, because, as this piece by the BBC's Nick Robinson makes plain, there is a cosy consensus when it comes to benefits policy between Labour and the Tories. Neither are interested in supporting vulnerable people or maintaining a strong safety net for those who need society's help, but rather scapegoating easy targets for a quick headline. Little wonder then that Sir David Freud (who famously wrote New Labour's benefits policy in only three weeks, having never been on benefit himself and apparently not bothering to speak to anyone who had been) has so easily jumped from the sinking Labour ship and onto the Tory platform. I guess that is what rats do.

The Green Party's economics spokesperson, Molly Scott-Cato, explains the sheer idiocy of the Tory approach better than I can, while the excellent and still inexplicably Labour Don Paskini gives a short version of the Conservative policy on his blog.

The long and the short of it is - under either Tories or Labour, people on benefits will be treated as electoral punchbags for middle England. By the Greens, they will be treated as human beings who have a valuable contribution to make towards society. If I'm elected as an MP, I'll be campaigning to raise JSA, not lower Incapacity Benefit.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

More campaign endorsements

I'm very pleased that London's Green MEP, and the Chair of the London Assembly, have both taken time out to endorse my campaign!

Keep Our NHS Public





I am going to be at this lobby in 10 days time. I hope you will be too. As I've made clear before, I think that the creeping privatisation of the NHS is an ongoing disgrace. Lets make sure it is stopped in its tracks.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Market Morality

So, some people liked Gordon Brown's conference speech today. Others didn't. No one seems to have come to the same conclusion that I have, which is that he should resign as a result of it.

Allow me to explain.

You see, Gordon Brown spent quite a long time talking today about the failure of the free-market idea. About the fact that deregulation was a massive disaster, that laissez-faire economic philosophy got us into this mess and that market-driven capitalism cannot be allowed free reign. I agree with him. The only problem? Well, he's spent the last decade implementing exactly the policies he repudiated today. We aren't where we are simply because of the Tories - we are where we are because Brown and Blair decided to agree with the Tories rather than fundamentally challenging their ideas.

Here's just one example, from a speech he gave upon becoming Prime Minister to the City of London. It's one example of thousands over the last twelve years:

“Over the ten years that I have had the privilege of addressing you as Chancellor, I have been able year by year to record how the City of London has risen by your efforts, ingenuity and creativity to become a new world leader…. Now today over 40 per cent of the world's foreign equities are traded here, more than New York… 80 per cent of our business is international….

So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London….

And I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created….

Britain…. a world leader in stability….

So let me say as I begin my new job, I want to continue to work with you in helping you do yours, listening to what you say, always recognising your international success is critical to that of Britain's overall and considering together the things that we must do - and, just as important, things we should not do - to maintain our competitiveness… enhancing a risk based regulatory approach, as we did in resisting pressure for a British Sarbanes-Oxley after Enron and Worldcom….”

To those who want a translation of that last bit, it roughly reads "to maintain our competiveness, I agree that we shouldn't regulate financial transactions heavily, but instead rely on the common sense of bankers and the market to regulate themselves".

The sheer, nauseating hypocrisy of watching a man who has been a driving force in the continuing liberalisation of the world financial system (prefaced, yesterday, by Peter Mandelson, one of the most neoliberal EU Trade Commissioners in history) stand up and talk about the need for 'moral markets' (as if there were such a thing, markets are allocation systems, not moral agents) was almost overwhelming. It would have been so even if Brown wasn't still forcing bank liberalisation on the developing world.

The truth is, deregulation, destruction of capital controls and a globalised free market have led to this mess. As Robin Hahnel's anaylsis of the earlier 1998 crisis makes clear, the warning signs have been there for well over a decade. These problems have been caused by the deregulation championed by Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, and the Labour Government as a whole.

If he doesn't believe what he said today, Brown should resign because he is a liar. If he does believe what he said, he should resign because it proves that his entire tenure has been an abject, utter and complete failure from beginning to end.

As the Beijing Declaration and many other statements from the movement for 'globalisation from below' have shown, there are alternatives to the sickening spectacle of our leaders turning their policy on its head and yet still failing to challenge the root causes of the problem. Z Magazine's reflections on the US economy are largely applicable to the UK as well - while the recession may come to an end, the continuing problems faced by ordinary people will not - without more radical social, economic and political change. Capitalism is based on the primacy of profit, and unending growth is its inevitable consequence. After we have stabilised the current system, preferably through the methods recommended by the Beijing Declaration and similar statements, we must begin building an entirely new economic system - not a reformed version of this one.

It has to be said that until this point, the left has not stepped up to the challenge. Mired in sectarian squabbles from the last century, we have allowed the centre-right and right to regain some of the initiative. It is up to movements such as the EcoSocialist International Network to highlight the hypocrisy of our current politicians, to forge a movement of ordinary people determined to challenge the status quo, and to champion policies that will safeguard both the planet, and the people who live on it. We certainly can't rely on a man as dishonest (or terribly confused) as Gordon Brown to do it for us.

P.S. I haven't even started on the sheer, terrible awfulness of the policy he announced, which seems to advocate forcing 16-17 year old parents into a network of state hostels. At least temporarily, words fail me.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Caroline Lucas Reacts To Calais Clearances

My outrage at headlines like this has been tempered slightly by the knowledge that at least one political party in this country is standing up for basic human rights and decency. Caroline Lucas, as ever, said it eloquently:

- British and French governments’ plot to deport ‘Jungle’ asylum seekers breaks EU human rights law, says Green Party leader

Green MEP for the South East, Caroline Lucas, today responded angrily to news that French police have raided the ‘Jungle’ camps in Calais, reportedly detaining 278 people – 132 children of whom are said to be children.

Police have swooped on a squalid tented area known as ‘The Jungle’ outside Calais, home to hundreds of refugees and migrants from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. Around a fifth of them are thought to be children, living in desperate and dangerous conditions, sleeping rough, with little access to sanitation or resources.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MEP said:

“Today’s mass clearance and destruction of the ‘Jungle’ camps by the French authorities, involving the detention of hundreds of refugees, is simply unacceptable – and must be condemned by the international community.

“Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to seekers of asylum under both EU and international law, the French and British governments are turning a blind eye to the suffering taking place on their own doorsteps. Home Secretary Alan Johnson‘s glee in the wake of this aggressive police raid is particularly disturbing.

“The plan for mass deportations of these refugees rides roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"This short term ‘solution’ is not only inhumane – it will not work. The French are not playing their part in allowing people to claim asylum in Calais, and must commit to making the official procedures for seeking asylum more accessible to those in need. Equally, other EU Member states must recognise their duty to share the responsibility.”

The majority of refugees in the ‘Jungle’ have had no contact with official authorities since entering the EU. Many face a risk of deportation before they have even been interviewed in order to determine whether they are seeking asylum and are, therefore, protected by EU asylum law. They are also often at the mercy of ruthless people traffickers within the camps.

Caroline Lucas MEP concluded:

“Many migrants into France and the UK are fleeing in part from the dire consequences of the West’s foreign policy mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given this reality, you would hope that these governments would take their responsibilities to the international community more seriously.

“It is disgusting that vulnerable people from some of the world’s most troubled countries are treated so inhumanely on European soil. Many residents in the camps are genuine asylum-seekers and not illegal immigrants. It is crucial that those people fleeing persecution and war have free access to the correct information so that they know they can make a genuine claim for asylum.”

In a letter to the European Commission back in July, the UK’s Green MEPs called for an immediate suspension of plans to deport around 1,800 individuals from the ‘Jungle’, warning that the planned action – being taken jointly by the French and British authorities under the Evian Agreement – would be in direct breach of EU and international law on human rights and refugees.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Standing Up To The Government For Hackney

I've already written a little about the excellent work of Hackney's Green Party representatives - Jean Lambert in the European Parliament, and our two London Assembly Members at City Hall. I have been remiss, however, in not yet pointing to the excellent work being done by Hackney's existing Green Party borough councillor - Mischa Borris. Alone, she provides a progressive voice of opposition to Hackney Labour in the council chamber and committee room...and I very much hope that we can build on her good work in May, electing a strong Green Group to keep up the pressure she has created!

One good example of her work came last week, during the latest Council meeting. Hackney Labour put the following motion, knowing that with their massive majority it would inevitably be passed, and would allow some good opportunities for self congratulatory back-patting:

This Council

- Welcomes the £167m investment in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme from the Labour Government which has meant that 3 Hackney schools are currently being refurbished, with a further 3 secondary and 4 special schools being either rebuilt or refurbished.

- Endorses the Labour Government's commitment to invest £21.9billion of capital in schools from 2008-11 which means that every single primary, secondary, academy and special school will benefit from improvements.

- Is alarmed at reports that the Conservative Party would cut £4.5 billion from the BSF programme, which would mean that one in seven future rebuilding projects - a total of 360 schools - could not go ahead.

- Notes that the first phase of the refurbishments under the BSF programme have just finished resulting in state-of-the-art facilities, including an additional 9 classrooms at Stoke Newington School and 4 new classrooms and a refurbished dining block at Clapton Girls School.

- Further notes that, on completion, the BSF works will enable both Stoke Newington School and Clapton Girls School to increase their capacity – resulting in an extra 470 places, including for sixth formers.

- Welcomes Hackney Council's commitment to continue to invest in Hackney schools so that every young person being educated in the borough benefits from schools with excellent facilities - including new classrooms, laboratories, kitchens, IT facilities and sport areas.

- Is alarmed at reports that the Conservative Party would cut £4.5 billion from the BSF programme, which would mean that one in seven future rebuilding projects - a total of 360 schools - could not go ahead.

- Notes that the first phase of the refurbishments under the BSF programme have just finished resulting in state-of-the-art facilities, including an additional 9 classrooms at Stoke Newington School and 4 new classrooms and a refurbished dining block at Clapton Girls School.

- Further notes that, on completion, the BSF works will enable both Stoke Newington School and Clapton Girls School to increase their capacity – resulting in an extra 470 places, including for sixth formers.

- Welcomes Hackney Council's commitment to continue to invest in Hackney schools so that every young person being educated in the borough benefits from schools with excellent facilities - including new classrooms, laboratories, kitchens, IT facilities and sport areas.

Firstly, I think Mischa deserves congratulations just for being able to sit through all of this time-wasting spin. Particularly as the Tory group had all walked out of the chamber by this point, meaning that the entire opposition to Labour consisted of Mischa and two Lib Dem councillors. She could have stayed quiet and not 'rocked the boat' - but we Greens are about speaking truth to power, so here is what she said:

Hackney needs investment in state schooling, and the Green Party advocates public investment in Hackney schools as a key priority. To that extent, I do not disagree with parts of this motion. Of course it's a good thing that schools, including in my ward, are finally being refurbished and improved, after years of neglect. Clearly the improved exam results we have heard about tonight are a testament to that, as well as to good teaching and the hard work of the students.

But this is a bizarre motion. Motions are usually about a change in policy or they make a commitment to do something.

This motion does not commit Hackney Council to doing anything at all. It will not bring in a single penny more of investment into Hackney schools. It does nothing - other than take a swipe at the Tories! So what exactly is it's point? Why are we having to waste Council time on something that is pure political posturing by the administration?

The motion refers to the Academies programme. That Tories and Labour agree on academies should perhaps be no surprise. The slow and steady take-over of public services by private money, influence and control is the legacy of this Labour government, just as it is the promise of the future Tory government.

High quality local schooling which is publicly funded and, crucially, publicly controlled and run, and democratically accountable at local authority level - this is the kind of schooling Hackney's children need. Rather than raising a critical voice with national government over these issues, Labour simply offers pointless praise.

Doubtless I will shortly be reading on a Labour blog how the Green Councillor didn't vote for investment in schools. You can spin it how you like but I am not going to support a purely self-serving Labour motion which will do nothing for students in Hackney.

Absolutely right. And, just as Mischa predicted, a few days later a prominent Labour blog commented:

"The Greens and the Lib Dems dismissed the motion as 'pointless' - and they chose not to support it rather than joining the Labour group in standing up for raising the aspirations and achievements of Hackney pupils."

No. Actually, Mischa chose not to support the motion because it was nothing but empty spin and hot air from an administration grown so complacent that it can think of nothing better to do with its time than tell an empty council chamber how great the Labour Government is.

I truly hope that May 2010 sees a new wave of Green councillors in the council chamber, to keep challenging this kind of self-congratulatory nonsense.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Greens In Cuts Shocker!

So, this is the week in politics when the 'big three' parties showed their political colours and started calling for cuts - or 'savage cuts' in the case of the Liberal Democrats, who seem to be making their semi-annual attempt to look like serious players. Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, has started revealing ideas for reduced spending in his area of responsibility, and we can assume that this sort of thing will be replicated across government. Nick Clegg, meanwhile has hinted that the Lib Dems will soon be dropping the abolition of tuition fees as a policy - despite it being one of the few areas in which they have been distinctive from the other main parties over the last decade.

Of course, the revelation that has sparked all of this frenzy for cutting budgets is the fact that the UK is now borrowing over £16 billion a month due to a combination of the recession and mindboggling economic mismanagement from the Government (the two are, of course, intertwined). For their mistakes, public servants and the most vulnerable in our society are now expected to pay - and we don't even have proper control over the bailed-out banks as a result, due to the doctine of neoliberals such as Lord Mandelson. How their advice cannot be utterly discredited at this point, I don't understand.

Still, we are where we are - and luckily, the Green Party has had its own 'cuts agenda' for years. The difference is, we would cut harmful things and increase equality, rather than cutting pay for public servants and erecting more barriers to education, health and social services. Examples of ways in which we would plug the borrowing gap? Well:

- Trident and the two new aircraft carriers need to go. A saving of at least £130 billion over the lifespan of those projects.

- Tax evasion needs to be cracked down on properly, and tax loopholes closed. According to the TUC, a saving of £25 billion a year.

- Abolition of the £5 billion ID cards scheme.

- Increased taxes for those who earn well above the national average income, with new, higher tax brackets as people get richer.

- Complete withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and a significant reduction in the armed forces (both people and equipment purchasing) with retraining provided.

- A complete reorientation of the current ridiculous roads budget - for example, did you know that the widening of the M1 alone is costing over £5 billion?

And so on. The fact is, that there is a great deal of scope for the Government to raise money, and a great deal of scope for it to stop spending money on killing people and destroying the environment. You won't hear that at any of the three party conferences coming up - but you will continue to hear it from Green Party politicians up and down the country. It's their crisis - let's use it to build a better society for everyone.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Links to Community Groups

Just a word about the ever burgeoning links section of this blog. To be clear - the fact that a group appears on my links page does not mean that they have endorsed me. It simply means that I am supportive of their work, and that I largely believe in the same principles as they do.

Wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong end of the stick - I am listing these groups in order to let more people know about their work - not to claim that their work is 'mine' or that they are all Greens.

Of course, I'd hope that a number of their members will vote for me, as the ecosocialist candidate who holds the same beliefs as they do - but I would never assume their support without it being explicitly given.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Climate Change - Action Now!

A few people have recently commented that my lack of posts on climate change so far is strange, given my professional background in campaigning on the subject - and the fact that I believe it to be one of the most pressing issues facing modern society.

To be honest, not talking about the climate for a bit was a deliberate decision - I wanted to avoid going on about it precisely because that is what everyone expects from 'the Green'. My politics are based on the foundations of social justice, peace and democracy - and I wouldn't want those important issues to be submerged by constant discussion of environmental sustainability, important though it is to me. Of course, climate change is a social justice issue - one of the social justice issues of our time - but I wanted to leave a little time before exploring that concept fully.

However, there can be no doubt whatsoever that climate change is the greatest challenge facing anyone standing for elected office in the coming decades - and voters should be demanding answers from all of their candidates about what they are going to do to agitate for progress on the issue, and how qualified they are to do so.

What are my qualifications? Well, not only have I been campaigning on the issue for a decade (my first major bit of activism years ago at University was to co-found 'Oxford University Switch to Green', which got the Uni to start buying renewable energy, becoming the 7th largest purchaser of green electricity in Europe) but my professional life has also been dedicated to climate activism. My first full-time job was with the Climate Outreach Information Network, and then I moved onto Friends of the Earth. Amongst my other campaigning and journalism work, I now do self-employed event organisation for a social enterprise called Talk Action - putting on training courses about effectively communicating the issue of climate change.

Even if I didn't have that background in climate activism, simply by being a Green party candidate and sticking to party policy, I'd be head and shoulders above any candidate from any major political party. The latest scientific predictions suggest that an industrialized country, such as the UK, needs to reduce emissions by 90% by 2030, or approximately 10% per year from now on. Only the Greens are proposing any credible plan for doing this, while using the power of government to increase community cohesion and allow for a 'soft transition' to a green future.

Here in Hackney, that soft transition isn't being helped by our current Council administration. In Oxford, one of my major achievements was to push forward the adoption of the council's Climate Change Action Plan, and I became a founding member of the cross-party working group on climate change. In Hackney, believe it or not, the council is still working on releasing its Action Plan for climate change - let alone actually pushing forward with the scale of tangible projects that we need. Indeed, they seem in many ways to be going backwards. Recently, they have cancelled the 100% renewable energy purchasing policy that was introduced with great fanfare a few years ago, and have gone back to dirty energy instead. Genius. While Jules Pipe and others talk a good game on the climate (see their much heralded signing up to the 10:10 initiative recently), when it comes to action, they are woefully behind the curve.

I know that it can sometimes feel like a hopeless task to take action on climate change. There is no doubt that, without massive collective organisation, the problem is insoluble. While that is daunting, it is also a massive opportunity for the kind of grassroots, cooperative, social justice-based politics of which the Green Party is the electoral outlet. We are never going to get anywhere with this problem unless its solution holds out a vision for a better future - equal, fair, democratic and green.

P.S. If you'd like to read the best book on climate change, denial, and how to take meaningful action that I have so far read, you should check out Carbon Detox by my old boss, George Marshall.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Equality Is A Must

If you read one political book this year, it should be The Spirit Level. A masterly survey that summarises decades of research on the effects of inequality on society, it proves that all of the most important areas of our lives are worsened by extreme gaps between rich and poor.

Of course, this is exactly the case that Greens have been making for decades - that while absolute poverty is clearly something that must be tackled (everyone should have the basics of life, a principle that is contained within the UN Declaration of Human Rights), the ever widening inequality in our society is also at the root of many of the problems that we face. Someone can be above 'the breadline', and still feel insecure, stressed and anxious about their place in society, their power over their own life, and their ability to have any influence over their community.

As Marshall Sahlins has put it: "Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social has an invidious distinction between classes."

The Equality Trust, which is the project started by the authors of the book, provides a lot of the evidence base for the effects of inequality on the issues that trouble the UK today - and many of them couldn't be more relevant to Hackney, one of the most unequal boroughs in the country. The correlation between violence and inequality, for example, is striking - and instructive, given the latest in a string of shootings on Amhurst Road just this weekend. Similarly, the relationship between education and inequality is plain to see - and so on, from obesity to depression to drug use.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the book, however, is the way in which the authors reveal the obvious truth - that living in an unjust, unequal and dysfunctional society is bad for all of us - not just those in the bottom quartile or half. We all feel the effects of inequality. To quote from the Equality Trust website:

"One of the most striking and important features of these relationships is that the differences in the prevalence of the various social problems are so large. Some are two or three times as common in more unequal societies, but others are as much as ten times as common. The evidence suggests that this is partly because inequality affects the vast majority of the population - not just the poorest.

Finally, it tends to be the same societies which do well on each of the different outcomes just as it is the same ones which do badly. Because inequality affects so many different outcomes, if you know that a society does badly - for instance - on health, it is likely that it also does badly on a wide range of social problems: it probably has high levels of violence, high teen birth rates, a high prison population, lower levels of trust, more obesity, and a bigger drug problem. Put simply, it looks as if societies with large income inequalities become socially dysfunctional."

I pledge today that if I am elected to Parliament, the issue of poverty and inequality will be at the very top of my agenda. The Green Party is committed to higher rates of tax for the rich and better provision for the most vulnerable - and if you elect me as your MP, I'll do my utmost to make sure that Parliament starts striving to reduce the gap between rich and poor, not widen it.

As the Green Party's outgoing Policy Co-ordinator said at our Hove Conference only last week - "Peter Mandelson famously said that Labour are 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. Well, we Greens are 'intensely relaxed about the filthy rich getting a bit poorer'." Too right. Lets toss the Thatcherite consensus overboard, and get working to recreate some solidarity in the UK - and where better to start than Hackney?

Those who are interested in hearing more about the Equality Trust can check out this YouTube video:

Friday, 4 September 2009

Street Art or Sanitisation?

I am currently at Green Party Conference in Hove - of which more soon - but news of this act of vandalism has caused me to briefly break my blogging silence.

Honestly...this is idiocy on a truly staggering scale. Hackney Labour, you have outdone yourselves. Invading private property to wipe out a piece of art that enhanced the streetscape and of which the community is very fond, in a misguided attempt to sanitise and cleanse Stoke Newington of anything which might make it different, notable, or unique.

Labour make a big deal of their 'I Heart Hackney' campaign - and have accused those who disagree with their technocratic vision for the borough of wanting to Keep Hackney Crap. Well, I don't think Hackney is crap. And I don't think that a living, vibrant piece of street art should be covered up by a council determined to make Hackney identical to every other urban area in a commodified, sanitised and personality-free New Labour cultural desert.

Sure, some graffiti isn't any good. But we can make those decisions on a case by case basis. Eliminating a Banksy because you simply can't stand anything out of the norm? Wake up Hackney Labour, before you wash away everything that gives the borough its soul.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Monday, 24 August 2009

Jamaica, Homophobia, and Hackney

I thought readers might be interested to see this intriguing article, by Diane Abbott MP in the Jamaica Observer.

In particular, the following passage slightly surprised me:

In any case, it is not difficult to imagine how a campaign on the subject of gay rights by the High Commission would be received by the Jamaican populace. Parliament is on its summer recess at the moment. But when I next see the foreign office minister appearing concerned, I will suggest that he meets with Jamaica nationals here in Britain to get a more nuanced view of attitudes to gay men and women in Jamaica. This is a delicate issue on which public opinion in Jamaica and Britain take widely differing views. There definitely needs to be more dialogue.

Of course, no one could object to dialogue over such an issue - that is how progress is made. And, certainly, an aggressive and condescending campaign on LGBT rights from the British state would not go down well in Jamaica - for many understandable reasons. We have a long history of preaching at other countries, often the ones we formerly colonised and oppressed.

However - 'this is a delicate issue on which public opinion in Jamaica and Britain take widely differing views'. Indeed, it is an issue on which people everywhere take widely differing views - some people are homophobes, and others are not. As my friend Peter Tatchell has pointed out, we can't turn a blind eye to prejudice and discrimination anywhere - because it is still prejudice and discrimination. By all means, lets be smart, strategic and enter into much needed dialogue and discussion - but lets not avoid difficult truths because they might be uncomfortable. Homophobia is unacceptable, wherever it occurs.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Citizens Income (or, Lib Dems and the truth #1)

ADDENDUM: Please treat the first bits of this post (before the links and primer) as a polemic. Fellow bloggers have pointed out that I made the mistake of accepting some of the Lib Dem assumptions on the cost of Citizens Income, whereas their figures are actually way out in both directions! The policy links and CI primer are still entirely accurate. The original Lib Dem extract that prompted this post was: "the Green Party are calling for central government payments to everyone - including millionaires - at a cost to the taxpayer of a whopping £188 billion a year."

Anyone who has been involved in UK politics for any length of time knows that the Liberal Democrats have a reputation for - how shall I put this - bending the truth. They rarely lie outright (well, only when they get desperate) - but instead rely on a subtle blend of insinuation and omission of salient facts to do the job. For example, the Lib Dem leaflet I experienced while a councillor in Oxford, which claimed that I 'VOTED AGAINST RENEWABLE ENERGY'. Yes, I did. I voted against a small amount of money for renewable energy which was in the Lib Dem budget, and for a very large amount of money for renewable energy which was in the Green budget...

So, imagine my lack of surprise when the Lib Dem pseudo-newspaper 'Hackney News' dropped through my letterbox today, complete with misleading attacks about Green Party policy (as well as the obligatory Lib Dem graph, which I will deal with in a later post, for those electoral geeks amongst you, dear readers). Apparently, we want to spend £188 billion on central government payouts to benefit millionaires.

Lets unpackage that for a moment, shall we?

The policy being referred to is the Citizens Income (which, by the by, was Lib Dem policy until their shift to the right in the mid 90s). This would guarantee every UK citizen a basic income, as of right - currently pegged at around £60 per week, to match Job Seeker's Allowance, with more for the elderly, those with special needs, lone parents, and so on. It would replace our current, insanely complex and confusing benefits system, and ensure a safety net for every member of our society.

It would indeed cost around £188 billion. Our current benefits system, which would be replaced, costs £186 billion. I am tempted to write a leaflet with the headline:


But that would be dishonest confusion-mongering of the worst sort, obviously.

And yes, the Citizens Income would be universal - that's the point. So, like current child benefit, some money would go to those in high tax brackets. But since the Green Party would at the same time be raising the highest tax brackets (particularly for those earning over £100,000 a year), the incomes of the rich would go down. And the incomes of the poor would go up. Voila, a sensible, radical and easily understandable policy.

Keith Angus, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hackney North & Stoke Newington, doesn't agree with a Citizens Income. That is totally fine. I'd love to have a debate with him about it, which is what a General Election campaign is all about. But please, please, please....lets not get into the game of misrepresenting each others positions. Lets try to talk like adults, and treat the voters like adults too? After all, its the only way a democracy can really work.

For those who are interested, here is the Green Party's Policy Pointer on a Citizens Income, as well as two pamphlets from the Citizens Income Trust. Alternatively, you could read the primer below...


What is Citizens’ Income?

Citizens’ Income (CI), also known as Basic Income, forms the main plank of the Green Party’s social security policy. Under this system, all UK citizens would receive a Citizens’ Income of around £60 a week, which would replace most existing benefits. CI would be a universal benefit, paid to everyone regardless of their income, or whether they are actively seeking work, or whether they live with a partner. It would work in the same way as child benefit, which is currently paid in respect of all children, not just those in needy families.

What’s wrong with the current system?

The current social security system is incredibly complicated, consisting of a huge raft of benefits (Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Incapacity Benefit, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, State Pension, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Child Benefit, to name but a few).

Each of these benefits has its own eligibility rules. Depending on which benefit you claim, you might have to show that you are unemployed but actively looking for work, or working more (or less) than a certain number of hours, or unable to work; or that you are above (or below) a certain age, or single, or a lone parent, or have income below a certain threshold, or savings below a certain threshold, or that you pay a certain amount for childcare.

Because the system is so complicated, it’s very expensive to administer. There are substantial costs associated with processing application forms, working out the correct benefit rates to pay, and snooping on claimants to check that they have told the truth on their forms. CPAG estimates the administration costs of child benefit as around 1% of total costs, compared with 3% for means-tested tax creditsi. Earlier estimates put the cost of Income Support as high as 11.8%.

Because it’s so complicated, most people don’t understand the system properly, and because the forms are so daunting, many people don’t claim the benefits to which they are entitled. The government’s own figures put the uptake of council tax benefit at under 70%, and the uptake of jobseekers allowance at under 60%.

Again because the system is so complicated, mistakes are often made in assessing people’s benefit entitlement. Not only do these errors cost money (at least £2 billion in the case of tax credits), they can also have catastrophic effects on people’s lives.

Because so many benefits are means-tested or work-tested, the current system reduces people’s incentives to work. Unemployment benefits which are withdrawn if people start working mean that people’s incentives to get a job are reduced (the unemployment trap); income-support benefits which are tapered off as earnings rise mean that people have less incentive to increase their earnings (the poverty trap). Tax credits, which are in-work benefits with generous tapers, have reduced the scale of both these problems – but not completely, and at great expense and with massive complexity.

What’s good about Citizens Income?

CI is simple. It’s cheap to administer. It ensures an almost universal uptake – everyone will get the benefits they’re entitled to. It completely eliminates the poverty and unemployment traps and improves people’s incentives to work, particularly the incentives of people on low incomes. Because it’s payable to everyone, it’s almost fraud-proof, and it encourages people to tell the truth about their circumstances. And it gives people the security of knowing that their basic needs will be provided for, even if they fall on hard times.

CI will replace most, but not all benefits. Which other benefits will remain?

Housing Benefit will remain. Some form of disability benefit will be retained indefinitely, to compensate disabled people for the extra costs they face. And a supplement will be paid to lone parents.

How much would we pay?
About £60 a week for adults, and £130 a week for pensioners (these rates are about the same as current rates of Income Support). £25 a week would be paid in respect of children.

Wouldn’t everyone just stop working, and the country grind to a halt?

A few people might possibly give up their jobs in return for £60 a week, but there are good reasons to believe there will not be a mass exodus from work. In the UK in 2008, average weekly earnings for full-time workers were £479. Even people on minimum wages earn about £240 for a 40-hour week. It’s inconceivable that most of these people would opt for a massive drop in their incomes just because they could get £60 a week for doing nothing.

Remember, too, that it already is possible to get about £60 a week for doing nothing. The current system requires claimants to be actively seeking work, but if a person is determined not to work, the system will usually (and quite rightly) continue paying some benefits rather than allowing people to starve. The fact that we don’t currently see many people doing this means it’s unlikely that many people will make this choice under CI.

Even if only a few people decide not to work, is that fair? Isn’t CI a scroungers’ charter?

We have a choice. We can either pretend (as the current government does) that if people don’t want a job we will let them die of starvation. And we can spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money snooping on claimants to try and catch out the few people who try and defraud the system.

Alternatively, we can acknowledge that the hallmark of a civilised society is that we do not allow our citizens to starve. We can introduce a cost-effective, fraud-proof system which guarantees a very basic livelihood to everyone, unconditionally – and which provides proper incentives to work for the vast majority of people who do want to.

How can it be right to pay a benefit to everyone, even people who don’t need it?

Restricting a benefit to poor people creates more problems than it solves. It creates a system where benefits are stigmatised, where the poverty and unemployment traps are inevitable, and where the government has to spend money to check that people aren’t defrauding the system. The rich will be paying much more under our progressive taxation system anyway - £60 a week will not offset their additional contribution to society.

How would we pay for CI?

We would abolish the tax-free income tax band: people would pay tax on all their earnings, not just earnings above a certain amount. We would also increase rates of income tax rates – modest increases for most people, and more substantial increases for those earning over £150,000.

Who will lose and who will gain?

People with no income from employment will be about as well off as they are now (but they will be able to work without losing any benefits, so can easily become better off). People with modest earnings will be better off, people on average incomes will be about as well off as they are now, and people on the highest incomes will be worse off. Couples (particularly couples where one partner does not have a job) will gain more under these reforms than single people.