Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Hackney North Hustings

Well, the only public hustings of the campaign in Hackney North took place on Tuesday evening, organised by Hackney and Tower Hamlets Friends of the Earth - and, as this report in the Hackney Citizen confirms, it seemed to go alright for me.

Yes, I know, 'Green Party candidate does well at Friends of the Earth hustings' is probably not the headline of the century - but I was glad to have had the opportunity to debate with the other candidates, particularly as the discussion ranged much more widely than simple, 'green issues'.

Probably the most interesting debate arose from a question that was about sustainability, however - and it was around the definition of the word 'reality'. The questioner raised the point that economic commentators are always going on about the need to face fiscal reality as regards the deficit - and yet there is a thundering silence about the reality of environmental limits, and the fact that our economy is exceeding them more and more every year.

What was particularly eye-opening was the response of the other candidates. They just didn't get it. Not in a deliberately evasive way - they just didn't grasp the scope of the question. At all.

Darren, the Conservative candidate, answered as you might expect - the issue is the over regulation of business and the ingenuity of the free market will solve the problem, so no need to worry. Well, that's not an answer I agree with, but at least he answered. Diane and Keith, on the other hand, simply talked about their various programmes of green investment. Fair enough, I certainly agree that we need a short-term stimulus to start building the low-carbon infrastructure we need to transition to a sustainable economy (and, of course, the mainstream party packages on this are pitifully inadequate) - but neither of them seemed even to realise that at some point they would have to address the current driver of the economic model...economic growth.

As the excellent report from the SDC, Redefining Prosperity, accurately points out, continued economic growth in developed economies is totally unsustainable. And as Tim Jackson, the report's author, comments: "The purpose of the economy is not to grow, but to bring prosperity...the conditions in which we can flourish as human beings." The great challenge of the 21st century is going to be crafting societies which are more equal, more sustainable, and do not rely on economic growth for stability. The most eye opening part of Tuesday's hustings was that the three other candidates don't seem even to realise this - let alone have a plan about how to get there.

P.S. It would seem I won't have the opportunity to make this point at another hustings, since I haven't been invited to the one on Sunday. Apparently 23% of the vote borough wide last year isn't good enough to get in on the debate. Needless to say, I am deeply unimpressed.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Green Party Battlebus

So, occasionally the campaign powers-that-be allow me to stop doorknocking and go and do visibility raising joining the Green Party's battlebus in its tour around Hackney!

All powered by recycled chip fat, I'm glad to assure you. :)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Afghanistan - the three party consensus

The debate between the three establishment party leaders that I have just seen was perhaps one of the most dismal televisual experiences of my life. A debate on global issues which hardly touched on climate change in an international context? A 'debate' on global issues in which all leaders agreed on our insane adventure in Afghanistan, arguing only about how brave they thought British soldiers are?

Regular readers will recall that I have posted about Afghanistan before, and my feelings remain the same. This is a war which has been dragging on for years, has killed many thousands of innocent people, and which has no clear strategy. We are still there not because of any coherent aim, but because it would embarass the Government to leave - and to admit that the near decade of slaughter in that country has been for nothing.

As this excellent article by Johann Hari in the Independent points out, the three establishment parties are in lock step on this issue. Far from promising 'change', the Lib Dems and the Tories have nothing to say about this war. They are happy to propose cuts to public services - but apparently the £4 billion per year price tag on our venture in Aghanistan is sacrosanct.

One of the many lobbying emails I have received in the last few weeks has been a list of questions from the Stop The War Coalition - and I thought, for the avoidance of doubt, that I might end this post by making my responses public. If elected, I will campaign vigorously for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. It's the only policy that makes any sense.

1. Do you support the immediate withdrawal of British and NATO troops from Afghanistan?


2. Did you support the war in Iraq?

No - in fact, I took direct action against it, breaking into RAF Fairford and preventing B52 bombers from taking off.

3. Will you oppose any military attack on Iran by the United States or Israel?


4. Do you support the immediate closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison?


5. Are you opposed to the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons?


6. Do you oppose the attacks on Muslims and the growing Islamophobia in British society?


7. Do you agree that the use of anti-terrorist laws to restrict the right of protest is an attack on civil liberties?

Yes - particularly as someone who has been targetted in the past by blanket anti-terrorism laws, including during the DSEI Arms Fair in London.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Claiming Credit For Things

Is not a good idea, if you actually had nothing to do with them.

Following on from my slight surprise at claims in the Labour Clissold ward newsletter about 'achievements' which were actually just the delivery of basic council services, I've just been copied into this email from the Chair of the Stoke Newington Common Users Group, to Hackney Labour Party:

"Dear Hackney Labour Party

I live in Cazenove ward and got your election broadsheet the other day and am told that a similar one with the same information was delivered to people in Northwold Ward.

In it you imply /claim that the council was responsible for the creating the new play area on Stoke Newington Common.

This is simply not true. That playground was fundraised for, designed and commissioned by local residents in the Stoke Newington Common Users Group.

This makes one wonder what other mistruths you may be relying on.

Yours sincerely,

Berni Graham
Chair SNUG"

Surely with such a huge majority, Hackney Labour have enough of a record to rely on without irritating community groups in this way? It doesn't seem a particularly viable long-term strategy.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Two Confusing Labour Leaflets

In the last few days, I've had a couple of Labour leaflets through my door - both of which had slightly strange elements to them.

The first was Diane Abbott's Freepost leaflet. Most of it was perfectly solid stuff -though I was disappointed to see that she didn't mention the war in Afghanistan, preferring instead to point back to her opposition to the war in Iraq. However, the odd part was her assertion that "I am currently campaigning to make it easier for innocent people to get their name off the DNA database". This is odd because, as a potential constituent pointed out to me about a week ago, this vote on a Tory/Lib Dem amendment was the most recent opportunity for MPs to support the deletion of innocent people's DNA records as soon as they are found not guilty. Umm, Diane voted against it!

I am genuinely wondering if I have gotten the wrong end of the stick here, as it seems strange in the extreme to trumpet a policy stance in a leaflet which goes out to 70,000 voters if it is so easily disproved by one of your most recent votes. Does anyone out there fancy writing to Diane and asking what on earth that vote was all about? I'm certainly intending to ask her about it at our next hustings.

The second Labour leaflet was a capacious four sides of A3 from my opponents in Clissold ward. Again, most of it was fine - though I'm not sure claiming Hackney's recycling rate as an achievement is very wise, given that it is amongst the lowest in London - but the strange bit was the map on the inside cover. Clearly wanting to make it seem as if they had been doing things on every street, the incumbent councillors laid claim to pretty much anything that has ever happened in the ward over the last four years - including the delivery of completely basic services. Working street lights, in this leaflet, qualify as a major victory. Roads without potholes are, it seems, the height of Hackney Labour's ambitions.

I have no particular objection to this. If Labour really want to portray themselves as nothing more than competent bureaucrats, bereft of a wider vision for the borough, I'm happy for them do so! Personally, I prefer our leaflet - the one that sets out a scheme for free insulation throughout the borough, a living wage for all council employees including contract workers, a local job creation strategy, renewable energy for public buildings, disinvestment of the £10 million that the Council has invested in the arms trade, and much much more. I think that local people will respond to a party that can deliver basic services *and* look to shape a progressive future - so long may Labour continue to talk entirely about dog mess!

In other news, the Green Party's General Election manifesto was launched today, and you can find our Hackney manifesto online too. Happy reading!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Welfare State demonstration

I took some time out from doorknocking yesterday to go along to the demonstration to defend public services and the welfare state. Below, I briefly explain why.

And here I am with some other Green Party members, just before the march set off! :)

Friday, 9 April 2010

Digital Economy Bill

Wow. Gordon Brown called the election on the date we all predicted, and suddenly my inbox had hundreds of emails in it! It's been great to hear from so many people in the constituency over the last week - but answering all my correspondence, as well as doing some media work and knocking on doors to chat to people face-to-face has meant that my blogging hasn't been too up to date. Apologies for that.

I have been doing a fair amount of connecting with people on Twitter though (@HackneyMatt for those who are interested in following what I'm up to), and the major political event for that site over the last week has without doubt been the passage of the Digital Economy Bill.

As this speech by Tom Chance - the Green Party's spokesperson on intellectual property - makes clear, this is a deeply flawed and illiberal bill. A survey of just some of its possible effects makes extremely worrying reading - but perhaps even more worrying is the way that it was passed. Despite constant and increasingly urgent warnings from thousands of concerned citizens about the gaping holes in the logic of the legislation, Parliament had a grand total of five minutes to discuss forty-two clauses of the Bill. This was excused by the fact that the law was being passed during the 'wash up' - a time at which debate is curtailed so that non-controversial legislation can be passed before the end of the Parliamentary term. Once again, Members of Parliament have shown contempt for the concerns of ordinary people - and if elected, I will fight for the repeal of the Digital Economy Bill.

I should also add that, in the interests of honesty and transparency, Diane Abbott did the right thing on this and voted against the Bill. Congratulations to her - I'm happy when we agree! Now, if only she can persuade Lord Mandelson to drop the whole thing....

In other news, readers might be interested to read a short interview with me in Red Pepper about the campaign, along with a few thoughts on the medium term prospects for the left in Hackney.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Labour's Hung Council Ploy

From what voters have been telling me on the doorstep over the last week or so, it seems that Hackney Labour Party (particularly in Clissold ward) have been claiming that a Green vote will lead to a hung council.

This is fairly silly, for two major reasons:

1) Labour have a huge majority. Labour currently hold 45 out of 57 councillors (see the graph below), the Mayoralty, both Parliamentary seats and the London Assembly seat that covers Hackney. Over the last four years, the Tory group has been an utterly ineffectual opposition - this year, they didn't even bother to put an amendment to the budget. In contrast, despite being on her own as a Green councillor, Cllr Mischa Borris put a fully costed amendment to the budget - and would have done more if she had been part of a Green Group. Hackney needs more progressive and effective opposition to Labour, not less!

2) Hackney has an Executive Mayor. One of the main arguments that the Labour Party used when pushing for the centralised system of an Executive Mayor is that it would no longer be problematic if the Council ended up in no overall control - after all, the Mayor gets to pick his own Cabinet however he wants. They can't have it both ways - selling the Mayoral system as an antidote to hung councils, and then spreading scare stories about hung councils once we have a Mayor!

As this graph of the results last time (for parties who are standing in 2010) shows, it couldn't be tighter in Clissold ward. On May 6th, voters will have a choice. Add a few more Labour councillors to a Council already run by them - or take your opportunity to elect a strong, progressive and coherent voice of opposition, who will hold Labour to account for the next four years.

Just to end, I should add that I find Labour's whole emphasis on this issue disappointing. It focuses on the 'horse race' rather than policies. The Greens are pushing Hackney Labour on social justice, sustainability and local democracy - perhaps it is no surprise that Labour councillors don't want to talk about these issues on the doorstep, but instead resort to trying to scare people into voting for the 'same old, same old' once again. I don't think it will work this time.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Older People's Pledge

I was pleased today to launch in Hackney our national Older People's Pledge - a pledge which makes us the only political party to back demands for a state pension of £170 a week, accompanied by a whole set of key national policies designed to make Britain a better place in which to grow old.

After a lifetime of hard work and contributing to society, pensioners deserve better than having to scrape by on an inadequate state pension. It's only fair that the basic state pension should be enough to live on - which is why Greens would make sure that all pensioners receive a non-means-tested £170 per week, as well as free social care for all who need it, as is currently offered in Scotland.

The figure of £170 per week is calculated as the minimum required to keep the basic state pension above the official poverty line, according to the National Pensioners' Convention, in their Pensioners' Manifesto (which you can download here).

The National Pensioners' Convention have been kind enough to acknowledge our work in this area, and one of their spokespeople commented this week:

"The NPC welcomes the Green Party's commitment to improving the basic state pension for Britain's 11m older voters and hopes that other parties will see the economic and moral sense in tackling pensioner poverty. This is something no political party should ignore."

In addition to raising pensioners above the poverty line, the Greens are pledging to end the default retirement age, so that people have the freedom to go on working and contributing to society if they wish to, free from discrimination on the basis of age.

Michelle Mitchell, Age Concern and Help the Aged’s Charity Director, said:

“We welcome the Green Party’s focus on older people and desire to address the challenges of ageing as we head towards the general election. Abolishing the default retirement age and increasing the basic state pension are absolutely key to improving the retirement prospects for millions of older people.”

We'd pay for the £170 per week pension in a variety of ways. There are roughly 12 million pensioners living in the UK and a further 1 million living abroad. Paying a single rate of £170 per week, and a couples rate of £300 per week, will cost £110bn per year. The current basic state pension, plus certain other specific pensioner benefits like Pensions Credits paid to those of pension age (which would become redundant if the basic pension rate was raised to the level we propose) costs £70bn. For the remaining £40 billion, we would abolish tax relief on pension contributions (£20 billion), and the national insurance rebate on employer and employee contributions to private pension schemes (£19 billion). The final £1 billion will come from increased income tax receipts from pensioners.

In 2009-10, the full basic State Pension is £95.25 a week. For a married couple who both qualify, it is £190.50 a week. From April 6 2010, these figures will rise by 2.5% - with a Green government, they'd almost double.