Thursday, 25 February 2010

Abbott and Lib Dems - Absent on Climate

So, I've gone on record before as saying that Diane Abbott is one of the better Labour MPs. I'm interested in honesty in politics, and there's no point in pretending that she is Geoff Hoon, or Charles Clarke. However, what she does now seem to be is - well - disinterested.

A lot of people whom I've been canvassing have said that they will vote for me because "These days we seen Diane more on the telly than we do on the streets". And, it would seem from news today, more on the telly than in Parliament.

Yesterday was the scene of a rebellion in Parliament, over the crucial issue of Emissions Performance Standards for new coal-fired power stations in the UK. A vital plank of any coherent and logical plan for climate sanity. I quickly checked the list of how MPs voted - and - umm...Diane didn't bother to turn up. Having, apparently, told Friends of the Earth that she would be rebelling.

Now, I know that this is a pretty basic promise - but I can guarantee that when there is a vital, close-fought amendment, on which I have been lobbied and made promises about - I'll turn up to Parliament to vote!

Just to let you know how close it was - the amendment was defeated by 252 votes to 244 - slashing the Government's 57-strong majority to just eight. And Diane didn't bother to attend.

It's worth noting, as well, that she wasn't the only one who didn't turn up. The Lib Dems, great defenders of the environment they, saw 13 of their MPs not bothering to vote either...including Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Vince Cable. Inspiring.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Parliamentary pledges

One of the most interesting things about being a Parliamentary Candidate is all of the different campaigns, community groups and organisations who contact you to ask for your support, your interest and your opinions. I've been signing up to a number of pledges recently, including (as just a small sample!) the NUS pledge to oppose top up fees and the marketisation of education, a pledge to oppose privatisation of the NHS, a pledge to oppose cruel sports, and one to support Cancer Rearch UK's Cancer Committment. As an example, the press release from the latter is included below.

If you want to know my opinion on any matter, or would just like to let me know what you think are the most important issues in this election, don't hesitate to email me: matt.sellwood [at]


Matt Sellwood, who is the Green Party's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hackney North & Stoke Newington, has joined hundreds of candidates across the country in signing up to Cancer Research UK's Cancer Commitment, aiming to make UK cancer outcomes among the best in Europe in the next ten years.
Matt said: "I am delighted to pledge my support for Cancer Research UK’s vital campaign. Cancer remains the public’s number one fear. With a concerted effort from the next Parliament, we can give hope to the millions of people affected by cancer and their friends and family.”

More than one in three people in Hackney North will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. In the last thirty years, the UK’s 10-year survival rates have doubled but cancer survival rates still lag behind the best performing countries in Europe such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. Cancer Research UK is calling on Parliamentary candidates to commit now that if they are elected, they will help make cancer outcomes for patients in the UK among the best in Europe in a decade.

The Cancer Commitment calls on MPs in the next Parliament to take action in five key areas:

Detecting cancer earlier
Providing world class treatment
Preventing more cancers
Tackling cancer inequalities
Protecting the UK’s research base

Jon Spiers, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning at Cancer Research UK, said “To consign today’s cancer challenges to tomorrow’s history books, we must act now. Our thousands of scientists and our millions of supporters are hoping to see MPs in the next Parliament step up to the challenge.”

For information on Cancer Research UK’s Commit To Beat Cancer campaign, visit:

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Maximum Wage

Green Party Spring Conference was in Finchley this year, so I could hardly not make an appearance. This weekend I am busy working, leafletting, and trying to have a social life - shock! horror! - but I did manage to attend on the Thursday and Friday.

As always, there was plenty of policy being made (we are one of the few parties left with a truly democratic internal culture - any four members of the party can propose policy and have it debated), discussions being had and campaigning plans being hatched. The most interesting decision of the two days, to my mind, was one that I couldn't actually speak on - I was co-chairing the plenary session where it was discussed!

At long last, after the session on Friday, the Green Party has firm policy in favour of a maximum income differential within UK firms. I have been a fan of the idea of a maximum wage (in one form or another, there are many ways in which it can be done) for years, and it's great to see the Party adopting such a radical proposal, which sets us out way ahead of the establishment political consensus. We have set the differential that we would pursue at ten times - in other words, the highest paid worker in an organisation could not earn more than ten times as much as the lowest paid. Given that, in some big firms in the UK today, that differential is currently well over 100, this is pretty meaty stuff.

Having said that, there have been rumblings about this idea for a while in the mainstream press, with this article in The Mirror being only the latest example. NEF guru Andrew Simms, with his usual foresight, was writing about it in the Guardian way back in 2003. And, of course, there are actually operating examples of such schemes across the world - with perhaps the most famous being the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain.

The effects of inequality in our society are obvious, and there hasn't been such a prime opportunity to deal with them for decades. I hope we won't let it pass - and that policies like this will take centre stage at the next General Election.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Hackney North, Lib Dems, and numbers

Through my letterbox, this morning, popped the latest piece of Liberal Democrat literature - complete with lots of graphs and stats, claiming to prove that Keith Angus is poised to sweep to victory over Diane Abbott.

Oh dear.

I haven't met Keith in person yet, but by all accounts he's a nice and personable chap. I think, however, that he's in trouble if he thinks he is convincing anyone that he is about to deliver Hackney North for the Lib Dems.

At the risk of indulging my inner electoral geek, lets take a quick look at some figures.


Labour Diane Abbott 14,268 (48.6%)
Liberal Democrat James Blanchard 6,841 (23.3%)
Conservative Ertan Hurer 4,218 (14.4%)
Green Mischa Borris 2,907 (9.9%)
Independent (politician) David Vail 602 (2.0%)
Socialist Labour Nusrat Sen 296 (1.0%)
Monster Raving Loony Knight Knapp Barrow 248 (0.8%)

It's already obvious from the figures above that the Lib Dems are way behind Labour in Hackney North. While they achieved a decent swing in 2005, they are still 7500 votes behind Diane Abbott - it would be easier for me to overtake them then it will be for them to defeat Labour this year. And the problem is, of course, that the situation is far worse for the Lib Dems than the above figures indicate. Take a look, for example, at these results, from the local elections a year later.


Labour - 38%
Green - 24%
Tory - 20%
Lib Dem - 17%
Others - 1%

Oh dear. The Lib Dems in fourth place. Well, OK, that could be a blip. How about something more recent....perhaps the figures across Hackney in the European elections of last year?


Labour - 34%
Greens - 23%
Others - 16%
Tories - 15%
Lib Dems - 12%

Twelve percent? Umm. Hmm. Doesn't quite feed into the 'Lib Dems sweeping to victory' meme that Keith is trying to get out there.

Now, don't get me wrong. People vote differently in different elections, and I'm not claiming that the Euros (with their different turnout, choices, electoral system and so on) are a perfect match for the way that people will vote in 2010's General Election. The Lib Dems are unlikely to come fourth. But they are even more unlikely to win, with only two councillors and an unbroken record in the last four years of getting nowhere in Hackney elections.

The difference between Keith's campaign and mine is that I am being honest. I recognise that, while it can be tempting to claim that you are on the verge of victory, if you aren't it just ends up looking silly.

What I'm committed to doing is clearly setting out my principles, talking about the issues which are important to me and the Green Party, and letting people know that they have the opportunity to vote for a candidate who is radically focused on social justice and the environment.

Diane Abbott is likely to win the forthcoming election - but precisely because she is not threatened by someone to her right, the electorate in Hackney North have an opportunity to give their vote someone who is speaking out loudly and consistently against inequality, injustice, environmental destruction and war - and to make sure that Diane knows she needs to do the same over the next Parliamentary term.

With your vote in 2010, you can ensure that the main challengers to Labour in Hackney continue to be a radical and growing Green Party - rather than Nick Clegg's confused, wishy-washy and ultimately ineffective Lib Dems. The choice, of course, is yours...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Mental Illness - The Unspoken Barrier

Most people in our society still don't understand mental illness. Too often it is seen as a weakness - something that is 'put on' by those who somehow don't want to face reality and 'pull themselves together' - as opposed to a medical condition which can blight lives and which deserves understanding and compassion.

I'm fortunate not to have visited the very outer reaches of such conditions myself - but when I was younger, I suffered deeply from social anxiety and clinical depression. It made life extraordinarily difficult for almost two years, and there are few weeks when I don't thank my lucky stars that I am now in a better and more stable mental place than I was.

Perhaps the worst thing about it all was the feeling of helplessness that not being in control of one's own mood, outlook and social reactions engenders - and the knowledge that many people simply don't understand how a chronic mental condition can affect every aspect of one's being. Someone with depression is not being 'lazy' or malingering - they are sapped of their energy, their drive, and their passions. It's not a good place to be, and when combined with anxiety attacks, it's even worse. Millions of people suffer, in one way or another, from such illnesses - often in silence.

It doesn't have to be this way - and it shouldn't be. That is one of the reasons that I am supporting ReThink's campaign to overturn the blanket ban on anyone receiving treatment for a mental illness being able to serve on a jury in the UK. Rather than being based on the capacity to make sound judgements, the ban applies to anyone receiving treatment - even if their condition is being effectively self managed, or simply monitored by their GP to ensure against a relapse. This is just one example (there are many others, including election to Parliament, in fact) of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness.

Mental illness doesn't have to destroy lives - it can be managed, survived, and worked through. Winston Churchill's 'Black Dog' depressions didn't stop his career, and neither did Abraham Lincoln's frequent bouts of intense melancholy. Marcus Trescothick has bravely spoken out about his own anxiety disorder, and has found happiness back at Somerset, having defied the expectations being laid on his shoulders by others. In contrast, the recent suicide of Robert Enke shows just what can happen when mental illness is viewed as weakness, and when those suffering feel that they can't speak out.

Politicians hardly ever talk about this issue.

They should.

I will.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Recession, Exclusion, and Community Finance

The recession continues to bite, and there are few places it is hitting harder than in Hackney. We already suffer from a historically high unemployment rate, and many people in the borough don't have the backing of strong community links or a financial safety net to fall back on.

From my own experience, I can attest to the impact of the recession on provision for the homeless, particularly in Hackney, as a result of the redeployment of significant council grant funding. The most vulnerable people in the borough are being hit hardest, and have the least ability to survive extended periods of financial difficulty. A recent report showed, for example, the impact on those who turned to Christmas loan sharks to buy presents for their family or travel to be with their loved ones over the festive season.

According to the Financial Inclusion Centre, over 5 million vulnerable households in the UK are seriously affected in some way by financial exclusion, and it is estimated that vulnerable consumers could be paying between £800-£1,000 a year in higher costs because they are excluded from mainstream financial services. Rejected by big banks, and unable to get decent loans, they are too often thrust into the hands of criminal gangs or predatory lenders - where in other places and times they might have had the support of strong family networks, community centres, cooperatives and mutual societies to rely on. Not to mention, of course, the welfare state - now increasingly set at such a level as to make it extremely difficult to live without employment.

There are efforts being made to reinvigorate and enhance those community networks of finance, however. The Hackney Credit Union continues to do good work in this area, and various TimeBank and LETs schemes in London are attempting to value people's time, rather than their earning power. FairFinance is operating in Dalston, trying to offer loans more reasonable than those from predatory lenders, to people whom the mainstream banks often won't touch. And reports such as Towards a Royal Bank of Sustainability remind us of the importance of a national approach to all of this, now that so many of our major banking players are propped up by the public purse.

Green MPs would make it a priority to diversify and mutualise much of our system of finance. It makes no sense for the majority of our money to be tied up with increasingly complex and unrealistic derivatives trading, when there are real, sustainable, socially and communally cohesive projects just waiting to be invested in throughout the country. While they might not make the return of a South Sea Bubble, they also stand much less chance of bursting. Our system of finance needs to be based on the needs of real people, and of the planet - not on the needs of the richest few.