30 August 2013

An #ethicalforeignpolicy

This post should be read after the last one on Syria.
The issues are much wider than Syria, but the vote in the House of Commons has focused these issues on one country. What I say here needs to be applied universally and consistently.

There are some simple first steps. As I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, even up until July of this year, the Independent reports that we had current Arms Export licences in place for Syria. Given the intelligence report that there have been up to 14 chemical weapons attack, likely to have been by the Syrian regime on the rebels, why was Britain still doing anything in the Arms business with the regime in that country? So the first step is no Arms exports. I'd argue this is a universal requirement for a civilised society. It is abhorrent that we export weapons around the world and that corporation profit from death. Just think about those last two points. We allow companies, shareholders, pension funds and investments to profit from one human being killing another. Why were we still doing business with the Syrian regime last month? Are British companies still doing business with them?

Secondly, we need a consistent approach to non-democratic regimes. Yes, by all means "bring in from the cold" leaders of countries that are dictatorships moving towards democracy, but those have to be real reforms, with an understanding that the dictator knows they will soon be subject to a democratic test and are likely to be removed from power. However, the disgraceful situation that we have photos of Tony Blair with Assad in Downing Street and John Kerry dining with Assad in Damascus, with both now cheerleading the effort for a military strike, demonstrate that there is no consistent ethical approach to foreign policy.

Thirdly, we continue humanitarian support and we make provision for refugees from the Syrian conflict and other areas around the world, without the xenophobia and hatred that currently dominates the media discourse on anyone arriving in the UK. People have been killed with shells and bullets, but only now do we argue we should intervene.

We know what a foreign policy success and failure look like. Sierra Leone was a success in 2000. Iraq, the closest comparable example to Syria, is by most measures a failure, in terms of death and ongoing instability and terrorist attacks. When you embark on foreign policy through military intervention, initial mission objectives can change, as they did in Sierra Leone and Iraq. If there is a strategy and a capability to make a positive difference, the argument about intervention can proceed. If, as is the case with Syria, there is no one who has a clear idea about what happens after any initial military strike, then we enter very dangerous territory. Syria would likely retaliate against any strike. Israel is the obvious target, or Cyprus, or potentially a future terrorist attack. No consideration seems to have been given to this.

Finally, I reject comparisons with the build up to World War II. There is a civil war going on in Syria. It is complicated, with Al Qaeda against the regime. We are in this situation because we have failed over generations to encourage and safeguard genuine democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Instead, we in the west have been prepared to destabilise and overthrow regimes that did not suit us. To think we can fix our history of colonialism, imperialism and interference with a military airstrike in a complex situation, is to fail to recognise how we have arrived here.

There are actions we can take. No Arms Export licences and any other sanctions that hit at the heart of the Syrian regime. There was a story yesterday about the son of Assad posting a rant on Facebook - why is Facebook still providing a service to those individuals? What message does that send to the regime? Business as usual, liking funny images... What have we done in relation to Syrian financial assets and those of the individuals within that regime? These might not be the grand gesture of a military strike, but it will still have an impact, particularly if financial assets are seized.

I don't have all the answers. I don't think any of us do. However it is my judgement that supporting a military strike would have been the wrong decision. I respect arguments in favour may be sincerely made, with good intentions but I strongly disagree with them.

28 August 2013

Syria – a brief background

Foreign policy that is put together in a timescale of days or weeks and that does not have a clear end objective is frankly dangerous. That is where we are with Syria now. A lot of people know about what horrors have happened recently, but the history of a place and the culture has to also be understood before Western powers go down a path of intervention.

For 400 years, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire, ending in 1918 as Arab troops led by Emir Faisal, captured Damascus. At the Treaty of Versailles Faisal pushed for self rule and in 1919 elections were held in Syria. Shortly afterwards, the British and the French occupied Syria and forced Faisal out, splitting the country into three zones.

As nationalism continued, the French bombarded Damascus in 1925/26. Elections were held again in 1928, but again the French denied the Syrians independence. In 1936 the French finally agreed to independence in principle while maintaining full control. From 1940 to 1941 Syria fell under Axis control, then back under French and British control until 1945. Eventually in 1946 Syria was finally free of French occupation.

From 1947 to 1954 there were coups and instability. In 1958 Syria joined with Egypt in the United Arab Republic under Nasser’s rule. In 1961 Army officers seized power and ended the union. Another coup and then the 1967 war with Israel, eventually resulting in Hafez al-Assad seizing power in 1970. He held onto it in 1973 despite removing a constitutional requirement that the President had to be a Muslim.

The stability and repression under Hafez al-Assad continued as he was succeeded by his second son Bashar in 2000, but it has been his oldest son Basil (who died in a car crash) who had been expected to succeed him. As you can see, we didn’t seem to have a problem backing Assad when it suited our government.

So how does western intervention play out in the Middle East? We can look at the success stories:

Iraq today: "A series of co-ordinated bombings in the Iraqi capital Baghdad has killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens more, police and medical sources say."

Afghanistan yesterday: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the killing of 12 civilians in two separate attacks in Afghanistan."

Libya yesterday: "Libya's largest western oilfields closed when an armed group shut down the pipeline linking them to ports, its deputy oil minister said on Tuesday, reducing its oil output to a trickle."

The best you can say about our interventions is that without "intervention" things would be worse. That is not something you can test but the record indicates that for a successful foreign intervention, such as Sierra Leone, there needs to be a very clear objective. It is not obvious what that could or should be, given that the strongest part of the opposition are affiliated to Al-Qaeda.

Thank goodness for Caroline Lucas in Parliament, asking to see the legal advice to the government and showing real opposition to this. Let's hope some Labour and Lib Dem MPs also find the courage to oppose a motion that is designed to give the government a free hand in supporting an American strike.

Zero Hour Contracts

We know that unemployment hasn't followed a convential pattern in the economic recession we've just emerged from. The expected rise to over 3 million unemployed was thankfully avoided, but not without a cost. Many employees have effectively been reduced to casual labourers in their own jobs, with employers able to pick and choose who works and who doesn't. We call these conditions zero hour contracts.

In Wigan some workers are not taking this lying down.

As a Trade Unionist, I'll be asking members at our branch to send messages of support and to suggest that they think about whether they want to buy the products of a company that treats its workforce in this way. I'd ask members of the Greens in the North West to do the same. If Hovis does this to their workers, they won't benefit from my custom again.

27 August 2013

Andrew Makinson Comeback and a Liverpool Politics Overview

It looks like Andrew Makinson, formerly a Lib Dem councillor in Picton, will be their candidate in Church in the 2014 local elections. He will be hoping to retain the council seat held by sitting councillor Tom Morrison. I draw that conclusion as he is the editor of the latest Focus that has been circulating in the ward. He has the benefit of previous experience as a councillor and he is a resident in the ward (I used to live on the same street as he does).

You might be wondering why this warrants a blog post, but it encapsulates a much wider issue here in Liverpool. In 2010 before the local elections, the Liberal Democrats controlled the council and held 46 out of 90 seats. They are now down to just 9. After the next local elections they could be down to just 3. Since the advent of the coalition in 2010, only the Kemps in Church have been re-elected until 2015 and 2016 respectively in Church and in 2011 Barbara Mace narrowly held onto her seat in Woolton. While the Lib Dems might talk up their prospects in Wavertree (arguing that the Warren Bradley independent candidature and Jake Morrison independent candidate for Wavertree factors might somehow help them), Woolton, Church and Cressington are really the only seats they could hold in the next local elections. A best case scenario then for the Liverpool Lib Dems is 6 seats in 2014. A worst case is dropping down to just 3 seats.

In 2014 Labour will obviously have to campaign in Childwall to win the final seat there, but it won't be tough. With the Sefton Park Meadows issue, the Lib Dems may hope to somehow hold Mossley Hill, although we are more active there than ever before. Greenbank is one of our two target seats, we finished 2nd there last time with the Lib Dems finishing behind Lawrence Brown in 2012. The political effects of the Save Sefton Park Meadows campaign are still being felt, we aim to get our first seat outside St Michaels. In St Michaels, the independent Sharon Green is up for re-election, but that makes no difference to the fact that it is a Green v Labour contest there. The only other ward in the city with no Labour councillors is Tuebrook and Stoneycroft. Unless Chris Lenton was to decide to defect to the Labour Party, I think we can assume that the Liberal Party will continue to hold 3 seats in the city until Steve Radford retires, which is a testament to his excellence as a ward councillor.

Labour will want to win everything possible. What is different from 2011 and 2012 is the number of seats they need to target. There are just four or five wards where there will be a serious contest. That means every Labour resource will be targeted into these seats. It will make it very tough for the Lib Dems to hold the three seats above. It also makes it tough for us to make gains but as in other Euro Election years, we actually experience a "Euro boost" in our local campaigns which we missed out on in 2009 as it was a non-election year in Liverpool.

So what do I think will happen in 2014? Labour will gain seats. I think they will hold 79 out of 90 seats in the city after the 2014 election. The Lib Dems will be reduced to just 3 or 4 seats. We will hold 3 or 4 and Steve Radford's Liberal Party will hold 3 as well. That will potentially leave Jake Morrison as the opposition kingmaker in the year of his electoral challenge to Luciana Berger in Wavertree. It makes for interesting political times in Liverpool but it also illustrates the severe limitations of First Past the Post as a genuinely democratic system. Combined with the Mayor's powers, it leaves democracy in a poor state in our city.

We have our Liverpool Green Party AGM tonight. There is a lot to discuss and a lot of work to do (as always), but we are ready for the 38 weeks until election day.

A Green Vote - What Should it Mean?

Last year I stood as a candidate to lead the Green Party. The excellent Natalie Bennett was the winner in that contest, and has brought her organisation and strategic vision to the leader role. In the next two years we face a really important set of elections and it is crucial that we make progress as a political party. With Caroline Lucas demonstrating time and again how essential she is to British politics, the rest of us need to work on delivering the progress we need.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about what we must stand for as a party and how we articulate that. I nailed my flag to the mast during the leadership contest. I stood as an anti-austerity candidate and I would not change that. It reflects my view, as someone who lived in two council houses and saw the effects of unemployment when I was growing up.

Those parties to the left of the Greens, by which I mean TUSC or the SLP, will argue that there should be no cuts and that we should not hold power at a time when cuts are being implemented. There is a certain logic to this. If all Labour councils and the single minority Green administration were to threaten to give up administration at a council level, rather than implement cuts, it would have a significant political impact. A single council alone would be picked off, isolated and defeated. Whatever claims are made about militant running Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, the legacy here is clear, with not a single Socialist Party councillor in the city, and the well known Tony Mulhearn still not gaining enough votes to save his deposit in the Mayoral election last year.

So those to the left of the Greens will criticise us for implementing cuts in Brighton and Hove. There is no argument that Greens like myself, who are Trade Unionists with a working class background, can make that change the choices we’ve made. However the criticism that there was not a strong attempt by the Greens to resist cuts is wrong. There was a honeymoon period. In the first six months of the Green administration, the Greens proposed the end of the second home discount for council tax (which would have raised £177,000 in Brighton). In April of 2013, this was scrapped by the government. A small victory that will only now have a positive effect. The Green Party implemented the Living Wage in Brighton and Hove.

Readers will also recall the controversy over the first Green budget, where the Greens were proposing a 3.5% increase in council tax to raise money and defend services with the limited power left with councils. The then Green leader of the council, Bill Randall, argued in this piece that a rise was the right thing to do. Any larger council tax rise would have needed a referendum, which given the leaning of the local press, would not stand much chance of being won. The Greens were backed in this move by the GMB. It was Brighton and Hove as a Green council who spoke out on this and defied the pressure being heaped on them by Eric Pickles. Bill Randall wrote to 18 other councils (out of about 430 nationally) that were also considering a rise, asking for a united front.

So a much less ambitious plan, to partially reduce the cuts through a council tax increase, demonstrated that the Green Party in running a council, were willing to defy the level of cuts that the Tory and Lib Dem national government were forcing upon local councils. What happened next is well document by this Red Pepper article. The Labour group on the council voted with the Conservatives to vote down the increase. The following year Labour in Brighton agreed to a small increase.

There has been a lot going on in Brighton and Hove since then, including the damaging bin strike. After a full week of strike action, further negotiations finally resulted in a settlement. There is no doubt that the effect of this strike has been to damage the image of the Greens on the left. While we have experienced industrial action here in Liverpool, the fact that the service is contracted out largely immunised the Labour council and mayor from any blame, even though in my road and many others, bins went uncollected for three weeks. In what has normally been a safe Green seat in Hanover and Elm Grove, we lost a byelection by a narrow margin.

Things are hard in local government and as a minority administration, now down to 21 councillors out of 54, it’s clear that the remaining 21 months in power will be challenging, so what should we seek to be achieving? What benefit must be shown from electing a Green council? The idea floated by members about a Progressive Council Tax should be explored for viability but we must recognise that once again, a go-it-alone approach, without a number of other councils adopting our proposal, will be ruthlessly targeted for destruction.

So there has been a commitment from Greens to equality and social justice in council, even in times of austerity and central government cuts. We won't have satisfied our critics both to the left of the Greens who are small in number but vociferous, or to the right, which includes Labour and the rest of the political establishment.

What else matters? Well for starters, 44 out of the 46 air quality stations in Brighton and Hove are showing an improvement, with one of the two that hasn’t being one that is central and affected by the increase in public transport. Recycling in the city is slightly down, much to the joy of Labour (who have refused to apologise or remove the statement on emissions which is factually wrong), but this is based on the policies inherited two years ago. The plan for communal recycling in the city centre is expected to raise rates 3%.

Our record in Brighton and Hove will be measure in two years time in a document like this. There will be two judgements to be made by voters and they will not be made in conventional political terms. The first one will be whether Greens have addressed environmental concerns and improved the environment. That includes a reduction in emissions. We are already well on our way, but the reduction in CO2 emissions is crucial. The second one will be about whether we have improved quality of life, which will include better air quality, the living wage for low paid council staff and the quality of life for people living in the city.

I would love to see us take on another national battle on Progressive Council Tax but that should not be a battle that just the Greens fight alone. We need that strategy debated nationally, with fellow travellers and other councils, whether they be SNP or Labour run, to also consider how this could be implemented practically and successfully in the face of this coalition and their cuts. To take it to a referendum without a prospect of winning would be wrong.

Resistance to cuts is not futile and our first administration has had some small successes, but the record of a Green council that will be judged by Brighton and Hove voters in May 2015 is going to be based on more than just our opposition to austerity. It won't be a referendum just on how we handled the bin strike and the negotiations. It will be a judgement on four years in power and the difference that makes. The divide in the local Brighton and Hove party has been discussed at length. What is important now is how we go forward, with mediation a very Green approach. I hope to see a refocusing on what we can achieve over the four years, and I'm looking forward to speaking with good people from Brighton at our forthcoming conference.

20 August 2013

Lucas, Balcombe and what is at stake

I've been retweeting some of the messages from people who have joined the Green Party in the last 24 hours. Caroline Lucas and her arrest has been the inspiration. A politician with conviction who will lead by example. There will be many more who will have joined due to her stand.

We have opposed fracking. The first protest I was involved in was outside County Hall in Preston, just over two years ago, making clear our opposition to a 12 month extension of the original planning application for hydraulic fracturing for shale gas at Weeton, near Blackpool. Not all of us have faced arrest for doing so. Caroline remains our leading spokesperson and the inspiration for our politics.

Why does the fracking issue raise such concern? Pollution of ground water is a major issue for me but the basis for our opposition comes from an inescapable truth. Fracking will release more fossil fuels into the atmosphere. We are already in serious trouble due to Climate Change, which is triggering increasingly extreme weather.

Some sceptics are playing the "recovery" card in relation to Arctic Sea Ice. It is true that as we measure Extent (Arctic areas with 15% concentration or more of sea ice) and Area (30% concentration or more), then those measures are higher than last year. But it is also instructive to look at the North Pole as it appeared last week (look for the small green circle, approx 2 km diameter) and to remember that climate is about trends:

Reference: NASA supports an open data policy and we encourage publication of imagery from Worldview; when doing so, please cite it as "NASA Worldview". The Nasa Worldview site from which the image is copied is here: http://earthdata.nasa.gov/labs/worldview

If you haven't already seen it, you should also view a thirty year trend of Arctic Ice Volume. We simply can't afford to release even more greenhouse gases, including the methane released during fracking. Further fossil fuel use in a developed country is simply insane. We have the alternatives (and I'm not talking about the one that has released a further 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water into the environment today).

Energy efficiency and renewable energy. That is what we stand for. That is what we will campaign for.

Big profits for privatised energy companies and fossil fuels. That is what the others have settled for.

Join us. Do it today. We are the future, not them.

14 August 2013

For Frack's Sake

So the latest polling on fracking suggests that if it is going to happen in your backyard, 40% of people will be in favour and 40% will be against. I think this is actually difficult to reconcile with the huge opposition we are seeing at Balcombe.

If you ask about fracking generally, the same poll says 44% of the British public are said to be in favour with 30% against. This is despite general mainstream media support for the fracking industry and the best efforts of agencies to smooth over objections on the dangers to our water supply.

Politically that stacks up as all the other parties in favour, and the Greens representing the 30 to 40% of people who oppose fracking. Compare that to 68% being generally in favour of onshore wind and 67% who would prefer wind turbines to shale gas wells in their neighbourhood.

As Caroline Lucas, our Green MP, makes clear in her letter to the Telegraph today:

“...According to some estimates, exploiting 10 per cent of Britain’s shale gas resources would require 110,000 wells, or an average of 160-170 per parliamentary constituency”

Here in the North West, we are going to be at the frontline of the resistance to fracking. That is why the North West Green Party asked for the national description, “Green Party: Stop Fracking Now” to be registered three months ago. If you want to help the North West Greens get an anti-fracking candidate in every local election contest next year, then volunteer yourself or donate to help us to do it.

13 August 2013

The BNP (are unfortunately) Back

I’ve shared a tweet earlier today that unusually does not reflect my usual positive attitude about our prospects for the Euros. It highlighted the donations received by political parties in Quarter 2 of 2013, as recorded by the Electoral Commission. You might have thought Nick Griffin and the BNP were down and out. You might have thought that they won’t be able to mount a credible campaign next year. You might even be focusing on UKIP as the main nationalist threat in British politics. You would be wrong.

The BNP have had a terrible four years since Griffin and Brons were elected in 2009 as their two Euro MPs. They have been financially mismanaged, they have fought internally and they have split into two groups after a very close leadership contest. Last year the BNP accounts showed liabilities of over half a million pounds. Their membership was falling and it looked like they could collapse financially. That hasn’t happened. The explanation why is found in the latest Electoral Commission quarterly donation figures and 2012 accounts.

Despite a decline in membership during 2012, the BNP received some substantial legacy income. The claims by the BNP treasurer that even more legacy income will be received in 2013 have been substantiated by these latest quarterly donation figures from the Electoral Commission. From the point of view of their Treasurer, they are now back in the black financially and funds raised from this point until the election are not going to be used to pay off a huge debt, but instead will be channelled into the single electoral objective, which is to re-elect Nick Griffin.

So why do I think they continue to pose a real electoral threat. Let’s challenge some of the assumptions that are being made:

Myth 1: The BNP don’t have any activists left and won’t be able to run a campaign

That the BNP have less activists than in 2009 is absolutely true, but those members who remain are absolute diehard Griffin loyalists. They have been reduced to a rump, but there are no splits left and they will come to the North West to leaflet, and they will donate to and support Griffin in 2014.

Myth 2: You need lots of activists to run a successful Euro campaign

It definitely helps if you are a small underfunded party, if you have a lot of activists, but it isn’t an essential requirement in a Euro Election. In both 2004 and 2009 UKIP won seats in the North West despite a notable absence of any activism at a local level. What they did have was money.

Myth 3: UKIP’s rise will stifle the BNP

In the North West in 2009 more than one in four voters backed the BNP, the English Democrats or UKIP. One in four. The rise of UKIP at the expense of both the Tories and Labour leads to a possible scenario that UKIP, the Tories and Labour will all poll in the 22 to 24% range here in the North West. They would each win 2 seats, leaving the Greens, Liberal Democrats and BNP all capable of winning the remaining 2 seats with 7.5% or more of the vote (less than the 8% needed last time).

UKIP became the anti-politics vote in 2009 because of the expenses scandal, with huge national coverage. The BNP got lots of Griffin “will he / won’t he” win a seat coverage here in the North West. It is as you were. If the national climate of the Euro Elections is fought against a backdrop of anti-immigration and anti-European sentiment, there is no reason to suggest that the BNP won’t be able to attract those supporters again. They didn’t vote BNP in 2009 because of local casework by BNP activists or door knocking, but they did so because they recognised the BNP brand. That remains strong despite us enjoying the BNP infighting over the last few years.

Myth 4 – voting Labour is all you need to do to stop the BNP

This tactic works at a “First Past the Post” election. The BNP threw everything they had at a Cumbrian County Council seat in Maryport during the last local elections, gaining 41% but losing to Labour. This tactic doesn’t work at a Euro Election. An absolutely key point that people have to recognise is that whether Labour gets 22% (2 seats) or 27%+ (almost certainly 3 seats), it will not stop the BNP winning a seat if they get 1/3rd of the Labour vote share. In 2009 another 5,000 Green votes would have stopped Griffin winning a seat, but Labour would have needed an extra 50,000.

It is also worth pointing out that 9 months before the last Euro Elections, Labour’s General Election polling figures were at 32% nationally - this month they are polling at 35%. At the time of the 2009 Euro Elections they had dropped to around 25% in General Election opinion polls and in the North West they polled just 20.4% in the PR system used for Euro Elections.

The Labour Party is doing marginally better under Ed Miliband than they were doing under Gordon Brown at the same stage, but not hugely. I believe Labour is on track to gain the 27% to 30% they need for a third seat in this Euro region, but the idea that they could poll 36% to 40% or more is unrealistic. Any claims that they alone can beat the BNP are misleading.

Myth 5 – the BNP don’t have enough resources to run a Euro campaign

In the next 9 months Nick Griffin alone will draw a salary of around 63,000 euros and that is before you consider the 300 euros a day in expenses for simply attending the European Parliament. He won’t be badly off after 4 years and 2 months of an MEP’s salary. In comparison, the North West Green Party currently has around £45,000 raised or pledged for our Euro campaign. So basically, Griffin’s own personal income in 9 months will exceed our entire budget as we currently stand.

When you look at the BNP’s income for the next 9 months, do you think that will be evenly spread across 10 Euro regions, or do you think it will be entirely concentrated into the North West to retain Griffin’s Euro seat and a foothold in British political life? The question is entirely rhetorical. Every resource the BNP have will go into re-electing Griffin. It is simply complacent if we assume they are already defeated. We must work until every last vote has been won.

The Conclusions I am Drawing

- The BNP can lose vote share, perhaps dropping as low as 7.5% and could still win a seat depending on how (badly) Labour, the Tories and UKIP do

- The BNP will run a fully funded campaign in the North West, even if they barely achieve more than putting together a deposit to contest the other regions

- Labour in the North West are already expecting to win 3 seats in the Euro Elections but 4 seats is not a realistic possibility so Labour alone can’t stop the BNP, whatever claims they might make in their literature this time around

- The Green Party needs to beat the BNP in 2014. That alone does not guarantee that Griffin won’t win a seat, but if we gain 9% and beat them, it is difficult to imagine a situation where they can gain a seat as a 6th placed party (try using the D’Hondt calculator to test out scenarios)

In the next couple of weeks you’ll be hearing more from me about our dedicated campaign to attract those who didn’t vote last time, but who share the disgust we have about having a convicted racist representing our region as an MEP. In the meantime, if you want to help support us here in the North West, please visit our Green Action website. The Greens had donations of just over £27,000 in Quarter 2 of 2013 compared to nearly £96,000 for the BNP. Our money will be used nationally and spread over many regions, while the BNP will focus all of their resources here in the North West. We need your support to level the playing field.

12 August 2013

Green Party: Stop Fracking Now

Those of us able to remember the original Battlestar Gallactica series, know that “frack” was used as a term of abuse in much the way that another word beginning with f is used commonly today. It is also shorthand for “hydraulic fracturing” which I’d argue is even more offensive.

I’m very proud to stand as a candidate for a party that is against fracking. I’m also delighted that thanks to the North West Greens, the national party has registered the candidate description “Green Party: Stop Fracking Now” with the Electoral Commission, as one of the 12 descriptions we are allowed as a party.

The news that local groups are discussing standing anti-fracking candidates is unsurprising, given the strength of feeling the proposals are causing. It is absolutely crucial that we communicate to local groups, whether they be in Balcombe or Blackpool, that there is a party that will represent them and bring the expertise of running election campaigns.

Today David Cameron has said we should “get behind fracking”. The Green Party says we should get behind renewables and that we should stop fracking now. The others simply don’t seem to get the fact that we must, we absolutely must, stop digging fossil fuels out of the ground and we must do it as soon as we can. The climate consequences of further CO2 input into the atmosphere are terrifying. That is before we start to look at other problems such as water pollution and depletion (please post links here if you have additional research on it).

Cameron, Clegg, Farage and Miliband simply don’t get it. Why would they? It is all about a dash for “economic growth” and not about developing a healthy sustainable economy for the 21st century and beyond. Green Parties are the last best hope for action in our own country and around the globe. If you oppose fracking and you haven’t already joined us, then what in the world are you waiting for?

Neven's Blog

Arguably, the secret is out of the bag. The Guardian has revealed the best source of information on Arctic Sea Ice on the internet, Neven’s blog.

I’ll quote one of the comments below the article by Lochness Munster which is how I feel about the resource now being recognised much more widely:

“I've been lurking on Neven's blog every day for the last couple of years and am pleased that he, and it's excellent below the line contributors, have been recognised.

What does concern me however, is now you have highlighted it in the mainstream, it will almost certainly be attacked immediately by the denial industry's shills and astro-turfers.

One of the best things about the blog is that people with opposing views can participate in highly informed debate without the hate-fueled libelous junk that deniers inflict on every other climate comments thread on the net.

I hope this article doesnt have the same effect as TV travelogues have on the 'unspoilt best kept secret' type of holiday spots.

Guess I'll find out tomorrow.”

The new tactic for sceptics and denialists is to attack the messengers. This is the last refuge they have from the 97% consensus on Climate Change. I hope Neven’s blog remains the valuable and educational resource it has been for many years.

9 August 2013

A Response to Bright Green's Left Unity Post

While I was on holiday, a very interesting article went up on Bright Green about left electoral pacts. I’d suggest reading that first, along with the comments, but then come back here afterwards.

It is deja vu in the North West going into the 2014 European Elections. Labour will stand a full slate of candidates and fully expect to gain 3 seats in the North West after dropping down to just 2 in 2009. That will mean Arlene McCarthy MEP, Theresa Griffin and Afzal Khan. I saw Theresa Griffin at Liverpool Pride as part of the Labour group last weekend, although with a small child with a superhero mask on my shoulders, I didn’t feel I could saunter over to offer congratulations. Afzal Khan I’ve seen in action at the Hope Not Hate training event earlier this year, when I was full of ‘flu. He comes across well and related a good story about how a racist military veteran refused to shake his hand, despite the fact that Afzal’s own family had fought for Britain during World War II. They also have the plain speaking Julie Ward at number 4, who I followed through the selection process as the favoured “left” candidate within Labour. They fully expect to elect 3 MEPs.

I’m selected as number one on the Euro list for the North West Greens. If I get run over by a bus, then Gina Dowding, our County Councillor in Lancashire, would make a superb MEP as number 2. We are currently selecting the rest of our list (see this post). As I indicate in the post, I’m disappointed that we have not been able to offer our North West members the opportunity to select an independent (non Green member) to participate in the campaign on our list this time, and I will be proposing a motion to our national conference after the European Elections to make that possible in future.

The Socialist Labour Party and NO2EU (TUSC are using this as label again) have both declared they will again be standing in the North West, as part of a national strategy to stand everywhere (although someone should maybe let the SLP know that the elections will be in May not June). I’ll summarise very quickly the arguments that have run since 2009. Lots of people criticised both of these groups, arguing that if they had not stood, then the left would not have been split. Indeed if there had been just the two largest left of centre parties, Labour and the Greens standing, then instead of the right of centre ending up with 5 out of 8 regional seats (Tories 3, UKIP 1, BNP 1) with the then centrist Lib Dems gaining 1, it is true that Labour would have gained 3 seats and we would have gained 1. The Tories would have won just 2 and UKIP 1, with no Nick Griffin.

The argument as put above ignores the reality that many SLP and TUSC voters would not have voted for anyone else with any enthusiasm and the very real difficulty for voters on the left is that there are no preference votes in European Elections. I have no doubt that if voters used a proportional system with two preferences, we would have won a seat last time. I also think that the factually incorrect and downright misleading Labour claim “only a vote for Labour can stop the BNP” used in the Euro Elections here in 2009 had an effect. What we can say with certainty is that the SLP and TUSC will be standing in 2014 and both Labour and the Greens have to get on with our own campaigns and ensure that we do well to minimise the right of centre vote and seats. This is now a category into which I’ll include the Lib Dems, even though I accept there are still many left of centre activists who have not yet made a decision to leave, despite three years of coalition.

Last time round, Respect used their voice to urge a vote for the Greens. This was not entirely without controversy last time for us, but I think people understood that despite our differences, the endorsements from Salma Yaqoob and others for Green candidates were intended to help stop Nick Griffin, and were very welcome. More importantly the work done by Respect activists and members in delivering their own leaflets urging a Green vote, is something that I remain very grateful for. I was therefore delighted to be one of those who urged the Birmingham Hall Green Party to ballot their members about standing down in favour of Salma Yaqoob in 2010 for the General Election. She really came close to winning the Westminster seat. I also gave my personal endorsement for Kay Phillips, a GP who stood for Respect in north Manchester at the General Election, as someone who would campaign to protect our NHS.

The new kid on the political block, is the Left Unity movement, a response to a call by Ken Loach for such a thing to happen. As Sean Thompson makes clear in his comment on the Bright Green article,

“there is a strong feeling among many members that it would be ridiculous to stand in the Euro elections next May and some suggestion that the new party should formally support the Green regional lists as leverage to involve the Green Party in discussions about a non-aggression pact n the General Election in 2015”

This is perhaps the smartest move I’ve seen in left politics from a new organisation in some time. To rush into an electoral contest six months after formation leads to disappointment. We’ve seen it time and again on the left. If Left Unity instead takes a more strategic approach as suggested, then I’m certainly ready to listen here in the North West.

I’m a Green member and a Green candidate. If people vote Green that is what they will get in 2014 but the fact remains that Nick Griffin is still an MEP here and UKIP (with the racist language of their “bongo bongo land” MEP) will want to win 2 or 3 seats. I want to stop them and if regional members of Left Unity share that aim, then let’s talk, because I want to work with other people who want to sack Griffin and halt the rise of xenophobia and nationalism that UKIP represents.

5 August 2013

Vote for positions 3 to 8 for the NW Green Party Euro List

This post is being sent out because today Green World magazine and NW ballot papers for Euro candidates and a GPRC rep are being sent out.

A brief disclaimer to start with. Our rules prevent candidates cross endorsing one another, so this blog is to raise awareness of those standing in the ballot for our list places 3 to 8 in the North West. I’d urge everyone to read their statements, or if you were at hustings in Lancaster two weeks ago, to vote according to who you think would make a strong team. Brief biogs are in alphabetical order to ensure that there is nothing prejudicial about order!

Laura Bannister – Former co-chair of Manchester Greens, volunteers for the Trade Justice Movement, likes to drum with the trade union band at protests and marches. She has impressed me with her campaigning record and organisational skills.

Lewis Coyne – former convenor of Liverpool School Students Against War, Local Party support officer in Liverpool, good media experience and in the 30 under 30 national Young Greens scheme. He has impressed me organising election campaigns in Liverpool.

Richard English – comes from a politically Irish family in Dublin and works as a barrister, specialising in representing those who have mental health problems, and active in his local community. He impressed me by ringing me up to discuss the campaign.

John Knight – a trade unionist, involved with Macclesfield’s Transition Town movement and a keen walker and cyclist interested in countryside access and conservation. He has impressed me by securing a regular media column for us in his local newspaper.

Deyike Nzeribe – the current chair of Manchester Greens and an experienced target ward candidate in Hulme. Active in a national black activists network (BARAC) and the MEEN. He has impressed me with his thoughtful, intelligent approach to politics and campaigning.

Jill Perry – former co-ordinator for FoE in West Cumbria and a very experienced media person. She stood as an active list candidate (no5) in the Euros in 2009. She impressed me then by organising a very well publicised election tour of Cumbria.

Jake Welsh – our local party support for Lancs and Cumbria, as well as the Election Agent for Central Lancs Greens. He is an eco-socialist, involved in campaigns on animal rights and social justice. He has impressed me supporting local candidates in the NW.

Ulrike Zeshan – formerly the Equality and Diversity rep for the North West, she is multilingual, including three different forms of sign language and has an interest in European Politics. She impressed me by being able to speak Urdu and other languages.

I would also like to mention, in greater length and more fluent terms, two people who are not standing this time, who both would have made an outstanding contribution to the list.

Firstly, I must start with John Reardon, who is our target candidate in Carlisle and who would also make a superb MEP (one day). However he is incredibly busy being a Deputy Headteacher now, as well as all the target campaign work needed to win a council seat there. Our loss in the NW is Carlisle’s gain.

Secondly, I also feel very grateful that Clara Paillard, an independent trade unionist, with impeccable green campaigning credentials, also applied to join the list, as an independent. Now it was my view that the constitutional change we made after the Euro Elections in 2009, enable us to have mixed lists (which would include independents on our lists). That wasn’t the view taken by GPRC in their decision to interpret the constitution. I think we would have benefited hugely by showing the Green Party do things differently in politics, as we make clear in our philosophical basis, but that wasn’t to be this time. Clara would have made an outstanding speaker and advocate for green politics and social justice, and enable us to connect with a much wider audience than usual. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to submit her statement and apologise that she was not able to stand for us. It is something I think we need to address.

While I regret that our members don’t have these final two candidates to also consider, I would like to raise the point that for the first time in the North West, we have a really difficult lower list selection. There are some very talented candidates, two of whom will end up as reserves, when in any other previous selection process they would certainly have been ranked highly in the list.

We have eight candidates for just six places and it is difficult to think how to rank them. I have an idea of who I will be voting for positions 3 to 5 on the list after reading the statements and seeing candidates in action at the NW hustings but not yet an order. I honestly have no idea who I can leave out. It is a very difficult choice to make. If your ballot paper has arrived today, then I urge you to spend some time reading the statements and make your vote count. We must give everyone on the list the strongest possible democratic mandate.

1 August 2013

Why the Green Party is right to nominate Jenny Jones to the House of Lords

Firstly, congratulations to Jenny. She has stood twice in an internal democratic selection for us to choose a nominee to the Lords, and on both occasions topped the poll. In the first, both the Green Party in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Green Party also took part. In the second, the ballot was for the England and Wales Green Party only. She is the chosen nominee of our members and as usual the Greens have looked to run the most democratic process possible, given that this is the House of Lords we are talking about.

I have a huge amount of sympathy for those in and outside of the Greens who think that a democratic party should not touch the current House of Lords with a bargepole. It is a disgrace that the red, yellow and blue parties collude to prop up an undemocratic house of privilege, drawing its membership from appointees who owe their position to party loyalty or their history as a large donor. That is before we even look at the members who are there due to inherited or set aside positions. However, accepting the offer of a place, with a candidate who has been democratically selected, is the right decision.

My argument why we should take the place is based on our previous experience of having a member of the House of Lords [edit - Darren Johnston has pointed out we also has a peer in the 1980s as well, George MacLeod] and I'd urge you to read this to understand why, despite all the drawbacks, getting a single Green Party peer is a worthwhile step for us to take (original story on the Green Party website):

Green peer in asylum bill victory

24 October 2002

The House of Lords has voted for a humanitarian amendment to the asylum bill following the actions of Green Party peer Lord Beaumont of Whitley.Lord Beaumont hosted a debate which led to an important amendment to the nationality, immigration and asylum bill on Wednesday. The House of Lords voted to overturn a government plan to teach the children of asylum seekers in camps instead of local schools.

Lord Beaumont said: "I sponsored the meeting last night that was referred to in so many speeches. Statements from participants were immensely moving. Everyone spoke with one voice against the bill."

The Green peer, who is the only Green Party representative in the Westminster parliament, added "The amendment was carried by a single vote. I'm pleased that the Green Party view prevailed, but it's a continuing disappointment that a civilised country should be treating asylum seekers this way."

Government plan "divisive and unacceptable"

He concluded: "The Government's plans to teach children seeking asylum in camps rather than in schools is a divisive one, and something simply untenable in a modern society. This sort of isolation makes it difficult for families to become accepted in our community, and allows prejudice born of ignorance to fester."

Ideological purity might demand that we don't take the appointment, but if Jenny can table an amendment like this, improve a piece of legislation or expose malpractice using the scrutiny powers in committee during her time in the Lords, then it is a worthwhile appointment. We also want to reform the pretty undemocratic House of Commons too, but that hasn't stopped us electing an MP. There will be benefits to the party from this and I look forward to seeing Jenny in action.