Bedminster, Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

Why its “utterly irresponsible” not to vote against #cuts to #Bristol’s #budget

I was very proud of my local party at this year’s Bristol City Council budget-setting meeting where Green councillors condemned austerity and voted against (with a few abstentions) Mayor Ferguson’s latest budget that cut another £30 million from vital public services.

As Green group leader Ani Stafford-Townsend said:-

“These cuts are being presented by government as inevitable, but they are not; they are an ideological choice by the Tories. It is George Osborne who has chosen to slash public spending and force those on the lowest incomes to pay the brunt of bankers’ excesses. Instead, those best able to pay should be asked to foot the bill through fairer taxation and by cracking down on tax avoidance by big business.”

Of course not everyone was happy with that decision.  It would seem that chiefly amongst those dissatisfied with Greens voting against cuts were our colleagues in the local Labour party.  Labour had once again voted en masse to pass on these crippling cuts to the communities they’re meant to serve, and then branded us as “utterly irresponsible” for refusing to do the same.

My opponents in Bedminster went as far as to devote 1/5 of the front of their latest newsletter to reprinting this and even spuriously trying to claim it proved we were against recycling, and the adult social care precept Green councillors proposed and passed with the support of the local Labour and Lib Dems.

From the press release they sent out further attacking us, and interactions with some of their candidates on twitter, it seems their main argument for voting for cuts is that if they didn’t councils could be deposed by Whitehall and according to Labour it would have “resulted in Bristol being run by civil servants in London” who would then impose the cuts themselves.

As we explored in a previous blog, this is extremely unlikely due to the high political cost such a move would entail, and the resulting confrontation would at least gives us the chance (and I think a very good chance at that) to get the funding we need to run the services we rely on.

The only other option is to do as Bristol Labour have and accept the impossibility of resisting cuts locally, voting for cuts budgets where councillors make minor amendments to try and implement them in the least harmful way possible (the so called ‘dented shield’).

This is not a viable option.

Despite Mayor Ferguson’s pledge to implement the cuts without attacking frontline services many of these have already taken a beating to ‘realise’ the almost £90 million of savings forced upon our city. For example, halving the number of staff enforcing fly tipping has resulted in an almost doubling of the incidents of fly tipping on our streets (what a coincidence); libraries have lost staff and opening hours (and have an uncertain future with £635,000 worth of cuts still to be made after the local elections); the Ashton Vale book-mobile has been axed; the budget for social care has been savaged (for adults it was cut by 30% between 2010 and 2015 alone); youth centres have been lost; the Bush respite centre has had to half its beds; the list goes on.

So far where the cuts to frontline services have been most extreme – like to the Bush respite centre – it has only effected a small minority of our (most vulnerable) citizens (not that that makes it any better), or where it has effected larger numbers it has been through much less life or death problems like fly tipping.  As austerity intensifies over the next 4 years this will not be the case.

This month the council announced it expects to have to reduce its spending by another £75.3 million by 2020.  This is on top of the £90 million cuts already made (from a starting budget of £201million in 2010).  No amount of tinkering will enable the council to reduce its budget by nearly 80% and still maintain essential frontline services.  There is no least harmful way to make cuts on this scale.  

Cuts Bristol

Infographic from The Bristol Cable

In other words, if the council keeps on doing what Councillor Helen Holland and Bristol Labour like to describe as ‘the responsible thing’ and keep voting for the cuts budgets central government is passing on to us, at some point in the next four years we will see the widespread failure of more and more essential council services.

When we start to experience widespread failure of essential services, it is going to make little difference to the people who rely upon them if these cuts are being implemented by the council or by central government officials.  If we fail and the council is deposed the result will be the same as if we do nothing.  If we try we at least have the chance to avert this disaster and get the budget we need.  That’s why I think councillors who abandon their obligation to fight for the residents whom they’re meant to represent, and instead accept the cuts and the destruction of council services as we know them, are the ones who are really “utterly irresponsible”.            

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Bedminster, Bristol Politics, Green Politics

Why I’m Standing for #Bedminster

Growing up in an impoverished area of rural Lincolnshire, dependent on my Mum’s disability benefit (and the full time carer’s allowance my step-Dad got for looking after her) as our only household income, made me acutely aware of the inequality and poverty that blights our society (and the harsh reality of what living on benefits actually means).

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With my Mum and Dad (standing slightly awkwardly on the left) at graduation in 2013, a proud day with the people who supported me and got me there

This has left me with a lifelong desire to do what I can to redress some of the wrong and imbalances in our country, and to attempt to make things better for ordinary people.  That’s the key reason I want to be a Councillor.  To use the (limited) powers and influence of the position to do what I can to help people and to contribute to the creation of a more equal and sustainable society.

This would inform my priorities as a Councillor, where I would attempt to use the limited resources of local government to, as far as possible, oppose and mitigate the harmful influence of austerity (currently driving inequality), and its associated scapegoating of the most vulnerable in our society; and stand up for local people.

I’m one of the main organisers of the Bristol People’s Assembly, and spend most of my time in politics helping build up local resistance against austerity and cuts.  A big part of this involves lobbying and pressuring councillors to vote a certain way in council meetings – predominantly against the cuts budget’s we’ve had passed onto us these last few years.  Becoming a Councillor myself would help cut out the middle man.

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Me giving out placards at the start of the Bristol People’s Assembly protest against Osborne’s emergency budget last year (where £12 billion was cut from welfare as £12 billion was added to defence spending, and £83 billion of tax was simply uncollected)

On top of this, I was very alarmed to discover the average age of a councillor in the UK is 60.  Young people like myself are often maligned for failing to engage in politics – especially local politics – and for not voting (acutely so in council elections).  But is it any wonder when politics seems so remote from us, and our local representatives are unrelatable grey old predominantly white and predominately male politicians.

Whilst many of our elderly representative bring valuable expertise, and can be very sympathetic to our concerns, they can never truly understand what its like being young in austerity Britain.  They’ve been saved from the current experience of being young, with the mountains of debt attached to trying to get an education; of having to live with your parents (or a house share) well into your adult years due to the impossibility of saving for a deposit and the astronomical cost of rent; of being told the value of your labour isn’t even worth the fake ‘Living Wage’ the  Tory’s are brining in for the over 25s; the knowledge that we’ll probably live long enough to see the environmental disasters and climate change our elders have prepared for us; etc.  I want to be elected to try and end the chronic under-representation of young people and put my generations concerns back on the agenda.

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Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012, highlighting the Liberal Democrats broken promises that betrayed my generation and did so much to disillusion so many

For the last two and a bit years I’ve lived right on the border between Windmill Hill and Bedminster (next to Bedminster train station that oddly isn’t in Bedminster ward) and spend more time in the ward then I do in my own.  Bedminster has a rich history, and is home to a vibrant community, with bustling high-streets of independent shops, business and fantastic pubs.

As well as being a welcoming and integral part of our city, Bedminster has its problems.  There is poverty and deprivation throughout the ward.  There are few parks and green open spaces.  Public transport is extremely poor, nearby residents parking schemes have exacerbated endemic parking problems, and cycling provision is woefully inadequate  Housing is also a central issue.  We have a high percentage of people living in the private rented sector, many in insecurely rented and poorly maintained buildings at a very high cost.

Redevelopments can offer good opportunities, but without any provision for social or affordable homes they risk becoming the tools of gentrification that push up house prices and force out local people, many of whom have lived here for generations.  This is exacerbated by the unscrupulous practices of letting agents like C. J. Hole who sparked outrage last year when they wrote to landlords encouraging them to switch to C. J. Hole to raise their rents (and C. J. Hole’s profits); and Taylor’s who use discriminatory practices to prevent people on benefits for renting homes (see petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-discrimination-against-benefit-claimants ).

To tackle these problems Bedminster needs Councillors determined to take a stand and fight for the ward and its residents, and willing to work with the community and local campaigns.  I will be such a Councillor.

 

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, NHS, Protests, Railways, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

The Green Heart of #Bristol’s #SocialMovements

I joined the Green Party back in October 2014 at the start of the ‘Green surge’. I’d became increasingly aware that they were the only party consistently talking about restructuring the economy in the interests of everyone to tackle not only climate change but also the spiralling inequality infecting our society.

Within a month I’d been co-opted into being the parties Trade Union Liaison Officer, and was busy organising support and ‘Solidari-Tea’ for the NHS strike that winter. Me and my colleagues in 13 different unions across the NHS were striking after the government refused to give us even the miserly 1% pay rise recommended by its own pay review board. After more than 6 years of a freeze on NHS pay, things are becoming increasingly tough for more and more health workers. Green comrades got up at the crack of dawn and came to join me and other staff on the picket lines bringing flasks of hot Soladari-Tea and coffee for everyone (very appreciated on a bitterly cold winters morning). The hot drinks and support helped contribute to the vibrant hopeful mood of the picket, and I knew I had found my political home.

In the little over a year I’ve been involved with the local party since then it has consistently put itself at the heart of movements for social justice across Bristol.

Anna on Workers Memorial Day

Green councillor Anna McMullan highlighting the plight of Bangladeshi Garment workers at the International Workers Memorial Day event in Bristol April 2015

We’ve brought Solidari-Tea to picket lines across the city. Joining the men and women of the FBU striking against unfair and unsafe pensions that would see 60 year old running into burning buildings, and the RMT fighting to protect jobs and services on the new Inter-City express trains. Most recently we’ve been out in force to support Junior Doctors fighting against unfair and unsafe contracts that could see them working more than 70 hours a week without unsocial pay enhancements for working on Saturdays or into the night.

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Junior Doctors and their supporters (including Green councillor Carla Denyer front and centre) picketing outside the BRI

We’ve sent support to workers at the sharpak Yate food processing factory fighting against the imposition of longer contracts, to teachers at the Winterborne academy fighting against unmanageable workloads and bullying management, to staff demanding their fair share from wage stealing bosses at Café Amore and much more.

Action for Rail

Greens campaigning for the Public Ownership of Rail at Temple Meads in Feburary 2015

We’ve joined the Bristol Trades Council in campaigns for the Living Wage, worked with Bristol Stop the War to build opposition to the bombing of Syria, and have been at the heart of the Bristol People’s Assembly and its resistance to cuts and austerity. We’ve taken to the streets to call for the public ownership of our railways with the Action for Rail group, and campaigned against the exploitative practices of rogue landlords and letting agents through ACORN the Community Union.

 

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Green councillor Rob Telford at an ACORN picket of Tobie Holbrock who was refusing to repair unacceptable mould in his rental properties

Its been my great honour to be at the centre of most of this activity, but it was my leading role in organising the Bristol rally against the Trade Union Bill last November that was one of the most fulfilling actions. This brought Greens, trade unionist and members of the local Labour Party together with hundreds of ordinary Bristolians for a rally and demonstration in the fountains against the draconian bill, and imbued us with the spirit to resist these unjust laws.

 

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Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015

Unlike the Labour party that won’t support strikes because it thinks it has to appear to be neutral to look like a party of government, the Green party is unashamed in its support of ordinary people trying to protect their rights and improve their lives.  Just as it is unashamed of its support for all groups trying to enact positive social change. On picket lines, marches and demonstrations across our city the Greens are an increasingly regular and prominent fixture. Both in the council and in the streets of our city the Bristol Green party is taking a bold stand for people and planet, and I’m proud to be a part of it

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Bristol Greens joining the thousands braving the wet weather for the Bristol Climate March last November.

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Some of the Greens at the Bristol People’s March for the NHS 2015

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Greens protesting government plans to Scrap the Human Rights act and other things at the Bristol Makes Some Noise against austerity protest last year

Some videos: –
me speaking at the Don’t Bomb Syria rally-  https://www.facebook.com/BristolPeoplesAssembly/videos/1678031245741863/~

Anna speaking at ‘How do we Stop the Tories in their Tracks’ –

Green Party deputy leader Shahrar Ali speaking at the Scrap Trident rally –

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

The need for a ‘Needs Budget’

 

Poplar

Mural to celebrate the Poplar rate rebels who used the powers of local government to stand up to a Conservative and Liberal coalition government in the aftermath of the First World War

I’ve just been selected by the Bristol Green Party to be their candidate for Bedminster in next May’s Council elections.  I’m really excited and want to thank all our local members who voted for me; we came second to Labour in Bedminster by only 3% this year and we have a really good chance of getting atleast one of the two seat in the ward.  I intend to do a longer post on my priorities for the ward, but for now I thought I’d dwell on something that came up in the hustings, my opposition to any and all cuts budgets and the need for a ‘needs budget’.

As you should know the Green Party completely opposes Austerity as a failed economic model, that has held back the economy, and punished the poor and most vulnerable in our society whilst forcing ordinary people to pay for the bailout of the banks.

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Me (top centre) and fellow Greens (including Molly Scott-Cato our MEP, Tony Dyer our Mayoral candidate, former Bristol West candidate Darren Hall, and Redland Councillor Martin Fodor) at the launch of the report ‘The Power to Transform the South West’ which outlines how we transition to a carbon neutral eceonomy to save the environment and create jobs

Nationally our MP has been fantastic in continually voting against cuts and austerity and has one of the best voting records of any Left wing MP.

However, on the local level, the limited options available to resist the imposition of cuts has seen Green Councillors – most famously in Green controlled Brighton – adopt the same ‘dented shield’ approach used by Labour to try and minimise the worst excesses of local cuts and vote for cuts budgets (so they can amend and tinker with them).

The amount of money in the budget is imposed on local authorities by central government and its austerity agenda.  To set a legal budget within those confines means passing on cuts.

The alternative is setting a ‘needs budget’.  Disregarding the limit set by Whitehall this would set a budget adequate to cover provision for all the services local people need (hence a ‘needs budget’).  Such actions have been made illegal under section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which then obligates the councils financial officer to alert Whitehall as to what’s happened.  After that the council would have 21 days to set a legal budget or supposedly civil servants from central government would depose the council and set a cuts budget themselves. (Though it could also be achieved through using reserves, prudential borrowing, or acquiring alternative revenue streams to provide a needs budget without challenging the law). 

That being the case many feel they have no option but to pass cuts budgets that have minimised the threat to vital services as much as possible.

However, to me, and many others, this seems a very improbable course of events.  This is a government with a wafer thin majority, and deposing the democratically elected council of one of the largest cities in the UK would be a deeply unpopular move.  The drama would dominate the news and could be a spark that ignites the disparate movements we’ve seen trying to resist austerity these last 5 years.

Should it even get so far as civil servants being sent into the city, they would be met with large scale protests and no doubt a strike from local government workers who would then refuse to help them carry out their dirty work (and many civil servants are PCS members who would be unlikely to cross a picket).  With all that going on, the likelihood of the worst case scenario (the deposition of the council) happening seems very low.

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Banging the drum (or metal pot and wooden spoon) of the anti-austerity movement at a protest in Bristol

Instead they’d no doubt try and reach a compromise, in which we’d be able to win a better deal for Bristol.

One way this might work has already been laid out by our Mayoral candidate Tony Dyer.  The Conservatives have said councils can keep their business rates (probably from 2020).  Tony has challenged the government to give Bristol its business rates from 2016, which would allow us to reverse the cuts and invest in the many many infrastructural projects Bristol urgently needs (chiefly social and affordable housing).  If we set a needs budget and demanded we be given our business rates early to pay for it, it seems likely central government would, to some extent, give in.

Its not as far fetched as some might have you believe.  Remember despite the apparent dire state of the nations finances, in the last budget the Conservatives magicked up £12 billion in extra defence spending (the exact same amount they’re cutting from welfare, conincidently), and another £10 million for a private jet for the PM (among many other things).  Last year they found money for an 11% pay rise for every MP, and £15 billion for Osborne’s ‘Road Revolution’.  In short, they’re very good at finding extra money when they need it.  And in the kind of constitutional crisis they’d provoke by trying to depose Bristol Council, they’d no doubt decided they’d need the money.

Furthermore, councils have already had their budgets cut by so much that there simply isn’t that much more they can cut before statutory services start to fail.  The so called ‘low hanging fruits’ of council expenditure have already been picked.  If councils continue to live within the dictates of the law and refuse to try and set ‘needs budgets’, at some point in the next 5 years we’re going to see a significant failure of the basic services many people depend on.

The main argument against ‘needs budgets’ is that civil servants aren’t going to know our communities needs and their cuts will be far worse than the more compassionate cuts our Council will do itself.

As I’ve said this seems unlikely, and if it got to the point where implementing cuts will result in the failure of services how can civil servant driven cuts be any worse?  Also it would focus the blame for these cuts squarely back where it belongs with central government, and would make the Tories do their dirty work themselves.

We’ve already seen massive mobilisations against the government and its austerity program since the election. If unelected civil servants started deposing local authorites to implicate savage cuts; the protests, strikes and civil disobedience it would cause would be a significant challenge to the government.  

If several councils refused to set cuts budgets at the same time, their likelihood of success would be even higher.  The blowback from them attempting to depose multiple authorities at once could likely bring down the government (so they’d probably give in).  For that to happen we need people elected onto those councils making those arguments and willing to make a stand against austerity. 

If elected I will be one of those people.  I pledge to never vote for a budget containing cuts, and to consistently make the case for the alternative whenever possible.

no cuts guardian

Me (on the far left) and People’s Assembly comrades (and is that big Jeff in the seconr row slightly on the right) leading the Bristol protest against the emergency budget this summer.  Picture taken from the Guardian

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

#ClimateChange and the fight for #ClimateJobs

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The placard I made at the NEON event to call for A Million Climate Jobs in the just transition we need to a sustainable economy.  It lasted about 10 minutes against Sunday’s rain.

This is a talk I prepared for a NEON (the New Economy Organising Network) event to prepare for Bristol Climate March:

Climate change as we know is the most serious long-term challenge facing both our society, and our planet in general.  We are on the verge of reaching the point of no return, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic warming of the planet will be unavoidable, and the habitability of our world serverely undermined.

But as well as a challenge of almost unimaginable horror, climate change is also an opportunity.  As Naomi Klein has recently persuasively argued Climate Change can provide movements for social and environmental justice with a ‘collective lens’, a shared conceptual framework, sense of purpose and set of arguments for moving beyond the extreme Free-Market Capitalism (conventionally labelled NeoLiberalism) that is so impoverishing both our planet and our communities.

For decades the arguments of the alter-globalisation movement – that Free Market fundamentalism was causing spiralling inequality and social stratification – have fallen on death ears.  We now know those exact same policies have greatly exacerbated our excessive consumption of resources and our output of greenhouse gases, endangering life as we know it.

It also presents an opportunity in terms practice solutions it requires.  I don’t want to understand the scale of the problem and the response it needs.  To do our part in preventing catastrophic climate change the few decades we have left to actually do something about it, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-carbon economy.  Tinkering around the edges with carbon trading, taxes and offsetting just won’t cut it.

Climate Justice Jobs

The Bristol People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs. 29/11/2015.  3000 attend despite heavy rain.

The amount of carbon already in the atmosphere means that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow we’ve still locked in considerable warming, we have to act now to prevent temperature rises above 2 degrees (which would have extreme consequences across the world).

We need to cut CO2 emissions by around 75-80%.
We can achieve this if we cut our energy usage by half (very achievable with an aggressive program of energy efficiency and home insulation – Britain has the worst insulated homes in Europe, which contribute to an estimated 20,000 death every winter, as well as huge amounts of wasted energy) and supply at least half of that energy from renewable sources.

This will mean the end of many jobs in polluting and fossil fuel dependent industries (an estimated 350,000).  But it will also require millions of new jobs in building new infrastructure, renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and energy efficiency.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, have created a rough blueprint laying out how this might happen.  They estimate that nationally we need to create 1 Million Climate Jobs to do all this work.

The knock on effect of having all these people employed with increased spending power, and the allied industries needed to supply all the construction of this transition will create hundreds of thousands more jobs.  This always happens with new investment.

climate march bbc

Some of the soggy marchers as the rain started to ease off as we looped back round Broadmead, credits BBC.

The total cost of employing 1 million people, and supplying the material and supplies for the new climate industries would be about £50 billion.  However, the extra money received in taxes, and the loss of expenditure on benefits for all those extra jobs would instantly save £18 billion.  Much of this investment will provide long term returns that outstrip the cost of borrowing, (bus and train passengers buy tickets, electric cars and low energy appliances are sold for money, people pay bill for renewable energy, etc).  The Campaign Against Climate Change again estimate this would recoup around another £12 billion of these cost.  Meaning in total it would be £20 billion a year.

It sounds like a lot, but remember at the drop of the hat the government’s found an extra £12 billion for extra defence spending just yesterday.  Also we don’t collect hundreds of billions of pounds in tax avoided and evaded by the wealthiest companies and individuals; we’re wasting 100s of billions on replacing trident; and when the banks crashed the government happily bailed them out to the tune of £850 billion (whilst exposing itself to £1.2 trillion pounds worth of ‘toxic’ debts).

Despite the economic crash and austerity, this is actually an ideal time to invest, as interest rates on government bowing are at a historic low.  Much of the capital could be paid for a Peoples Quantities Easing (like the Quantitive  Easing they used to bail out the banks but this time for the benefit of everyone). Not only will we be saving the planet, but we’ll also get over a million people into secure long term jobs (easing the blight of unemployment) and provide a fiscal stimulus to get the economy going again.
Win, win, win.

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Green MEP Molly Scott addresses the crowd at the rally after the march on the need for climate jobs in a rapid (but just) transition to a carbon neutral economy.

Earlier this year research carried out by the Resilience Centre outlined in greater detail how this transition could play out in the South West.  We are lucky that the South West has an abundance of renewable energy resources, and has the capacity to not only provide all of its own energy needs from a diversified renewable energy system (and go completely fossil fuel free), but also to become an exporter of energy to the rest of the UK.

The report also stresses the economic impact of implementing the plan, which has the potential to create 122,000 jobs in the region (where unemployment numbers 126,000) and directly add over £4.2 billion to value of the local economy (48% the total value of the South West’s tourism industry, or 87% of the total value of its aerospace and defence industries).

A mix of onshore and offshore wind, marine and tidal, solar, geothermal and biomass dispersed across the region can meet all our long term energy needs; and provide full employment and a vital economic boost in these dark times of austerity.
The resilience foundation estimates that this would add an extra £4.3bn per year to the region (representing about 4% total economic growth to the South West economy).

This can be done.  In the last few years in Germany for example their Energiewende (Energy Transition) has seen the country rapidly move to an energy sector driven by renewables. The South West has even greater potential for renewable energy then most of Germany. It is not that we lack the physical capability to implementing this plan; it is just that we lack the political will.  We need political change (and the Green Party locally is increasingly playing an important part in this), but this alone will not be enough.

To get the kind of wholesale change we need, in the timeframe available, is going to require massive mobilisations of people in the streets and in our communities.  Our governments have been keenly aware of this looming disaster since at least the 1980s, they’ve seemingly endlessly negotiated and prevaricated, and all the while the emission have been increasing exponentially.  We need people power, this is far far too important to be left to the politicians and the institutional comprises they’re forced to make.  That’s why Sunday’s march and meetings like this are so vital.  Thank you inviting me here tonight and listening to me.  See you all on Sunday!

Links:
The Power to Transform the South West report can be found here:-  http://mollymep.org.uk/2015/04/17/power-to-transform/

A Million Climate Jobs now here:-
http://www.campaigncc.org/greenjobs

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Me, after the protest finished on Sunday.  None of my placards managed to survive the heavy rain and intense winds (they literally melted and then got ripped to shreds)

 

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Green Politics

Why we must oppose austerity and join the Manchester protest – A Green Perspective

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We all know that austerity is a ‘social justice’ disaster. This morally reprehensible policy is forcing ordinary people – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable – to pay for the economic crash caused by the reckless speculating of unaccountable banks in deregulated financial markets. In its most extreme the cuts to disability benefits, the NHS and a vindictive regime of benefit sanctioning have led to thousands of deaths. Austerity kills.

On top of this, the economic justification for inflicting all this misery has been completely discredited with most economists agreeing that by shrinking the economy austerity has harmed growth, prolonged the effects of the recession (even the IMF is issuing proclamations against it) and utterly failed as an apparent strategy to reduce national debt. Austerity is revealed to be not an economic necessity but a repackaged conservative ideology to undermine the welfare state. The financial crash is being used as a smokescreen to implement the same brand of neoliberal policies (cuts to public spending, privatisation and de-regulation) that led to it in the first place.

All this is grounds enough for why austerity is wrong and why we must fight against it, and large protests like the 250,000-strong June 20th Demo in London and the ones in Manchester in October this year (co-organised by the TUC and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, to coincide with the Tory Party Conference) are crucial in building this struggle against a great social injustice. Nonetheless, within these debates and protest movements we must be sure to argue that austerity is also a huge obstruction to the aims of environmental justice and directly threatens attempts to mitigate climate change.

For one, if Britain is to transition to a sustainable carbon neutral economy it is going to need massive investment in infrastructure, housing and renewable energy. As well as stopping us from destroying the environment and the habitability of our planet, this could both provide jobs for millions of people and the fiscal stimulus needed to get the economy going again. But austerity takes us in completely the opposite direction. As long as we have a Conservative government pursing ideological austerity, determined to reduce state spending at any cost (whilst shamelessly cutting taxes for the rich and large corporations), arguments for investment will always fall on deaf ears.

Cutting ‘Green’

Each year in the UK 25,000 people die from the cold, and at least a third of these deaths are due to living in cold homes. This is because the UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, with expensive energy bills putting millions in fuel poverty. Under the coalition, home insulation was a disaster, with loans for insulation (the so called Green Deal) taken up by so few that new cavity wall insulations fell in 2013 to a quarter of previous levels. Under our new majority Conservative government the home insulation budget has been cut by another £40 million in the first round of departmental cost-cutting and the Green Deal loans completely scrapped (along with a decade-in-the-making plan to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2016). And it’s the same across the board.

Under Austerity the government is not only completely unwilling to embark on the investments our communities and our planet so badly needs, but is actually cutting what few vital green initiatives we already have. As well as backtracking on its home energy-efficiency and insulation programme, it is slashing the subsidies for biomass, aerobic digestion and biogas, as well as solar, onshore wind and even tidal power. So far the only renewable energy source that isn’t being cut is offshore wind (much more expensive than its onshore counterpart), and even its future seems uncertain.

The Green investment bank, which has increasingly played a pivotal role in providing start-up capital to the environmental industry (and one of the Coalition’s few positive achievements) is being privatised in the largest ever sale of state assets. Green taxes like fuel duty are being cut. Even the incentives to buy less polluting cars (through differential rates of Vehicle Excise Duty) are being scrapped from 2017. However, the cuts to the Environment Agency and flood defence programs have caused the most headlines after they spectacularly highlighted the – contradictory – long term costs of austerity, by contributing to the massive flooding that hit southern England (especially the Somerset levels) over the winter of 2013-14.
The ‘dirty’ economy rolls on…

What’s more, whilst environmental programs and renewable energy are being cut left right and centre, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry continue unabated (this is primarily in the form of tax breaks for oil companies and government funding for exploratory oil drilling), amounting to several billion pounds a year. As fossil fuel reserves decline (unfortunately not fast enough to stop us destroying the planet as more than two-thirds of current reserves need to be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming), the government experiments with riskier unconventional extraction methods, from offshore deep water resources, to the now infamous ‘fracking’. Everywhere we look the short-termism inherent in austerity is taking us the wrong way in the fight against climate change.

Outside of the arena of state action, by reducing people’s incomes as the cost of living increases, austerity is further encouraging environmentally harmful consumption. Austerity has seen the longest and sharpest decline in living standards in the UK since Victorian times, driving the demand for (among other things) cheaper food – which can currently only be provided through ecologically harmful processes. Food production is a major source of carbon emissions and ecological damage, but as our current economic system privileges ecologically damaging production norms – making the green choice the more expensive choice – people have no option but to take what they can get in the age of austerity. When people are struggling to put food on the table, they’re less inclined to worry about the environmental impact of that food or of green issues in general.

Join the movement!

For all these reasons and more austerity is an environmental disaster. If we want to make sure the UK does its part in ensuring we don’t warm the planet by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century (the internationally-agreed target we’re all very close to making impossible), then austerity has to end. We already know we owe it to the most vulnerable in our society and our wider communities in general, but now we also owe it to our planet to end austerity now. Anyone who cares about climate change has a duty to join the movement against austerity (The Green Party is an official affiliate and supporter of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity) and take to the streets to protest these policies that are having such a disastrous effect on both our society and our environment.

That’s why I hope you’ll join us on the streets of Manchester for the huge march on Sunday 4th October, and in the public spaces, faith centres and community halls for the ‘festival of resistance’ Mon 5th – Wed 7th (encompassing everything from workers’ rights, to welfare, to TTIP, to climate), where we can create the broadest possible demonstration of defiance to this government and a huge public debate about austerity that the Tories don’t want to have!

Transport details for #TakeBackManchester: http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/transport_to_manchester http://bristoltoryconfdemo.eventbrite.co.uk/

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics

Election 2015: A good day for Bristol, a Bad day for Britain

The general and local elections are finally over.  Whilst I’m relieved that I’ll no longer be getting 50+ emails a day, and don’t have constant campaigning demands on my time, the results have been sobering.  After a fairly intense few months campaigning, casting my vote on Thursday had felt somewhat anti-climatic.  It was hard to get excited about a best case scenario of changing to a Labour government implementing austerity at a slower rate (and hopefully being moderated by an increase in Green, Plyd and SNP MPs).  Even so, I was in no way prepared for the horror of a full Conservative majority government.

I worked a night shift that Thursday and watched the BBC election coverage live as the votes came in (between pushing sick people around – obviously).  I sympathised with Ashdown’s sentiment of eating his hat if the exit poll was acurate.  Surely it couldn’t be.  The two main parties had been neck and neck – with Labour seemingly slightly ahead – in almost all the polls.  But as the results from more and more key marginal seats came back showing Labour failed to make progress in England, it became clear that the exit poll was right.  In fact, as the final result showed, even this had underestimated the extent of Conservative success.

Understandably (in light of what the majority of the polls and pundits were suggesting would be the result) the Conservatives have been quick to jump on this as a major victory and endorsement of their ‘Long Term Economic Plan’.  This is all spin.  In a normal election such a slender majority would be considered a disaster.  The Conservatives haven’t managed to significantly increase their vote share, other than scooping up more socially conservatives Lib Dems as their party has been effectively obliterated (for the forseeable future at least).  Labour’s vote actually increased more than the Conservatives, going up by 1.4% to the Conservatives 0.8% increase.  Due to the unrepresentative nature of First Past the Post this resulted in Labour’s number of seats decreasing by 6.2% whilst the Tory’s increased by 3.7% (don’t feel too bad for them, First Past the Post still massively skews the results in their favour compared to the smaller parties)

2010
Tory vote: 10.7 million, 36.1%, 306 seats.
Labour vote:  8.6 million, 29%, 258 seats.
2015
Tory vote
: 11.3 million, 36.9%, 331 seats.
Labour vote: 9.3 million, 30.4%, 232 seats.

My friend Samuel Bernard does a fantastic and more indepth look at these numbers, and where Labour went wrong here at: http://ceborgia.tumblr.com/post/118524860951/observations-on-the-2015-uk-elections

Labour did manage to gain some seats in England (largely at the expense of the Lib Dems), but this was massively offset by the loss of all but one of their Scottish seats.  Already there’s been a plethora of Labour voices blaming the SNP for their defeat.  Here’s John Prescott in the Mirror for example: “Just as they did in 1979, the SNP stopped a Labour government and helped the Conservatives”.  This is patently untrue.  Had Labour won every single seat in Scotland but the results in the rest of the UK had stayed the same, the Conservatives still would have won.  Labour lost this election in England.  Obviously their chances of an outright majority were severely curtailed by the loss of 40 Scottish seats, but it was their inability to win their key English marginal target seats that prevented them from even being in the position to work with other anti-Tory MPs in Scotland and elsewhere.

This was a terrible result for ordinary people in this country. We’ve empowered the Conservatives to do some horrible things. As a NHS worker, with a disabled mum, and friends and family from disadvantaged backgrounds, and generally as someone with compassion for my fellow man, I fear what a majority Conservative government will do over the next 5 years.

However, some slight solace was provided by our fantastic results in Bristol. We ousted Steven Williams, and although we (Greens) didn’t win, Darren Hall received a historic upswing of 23% in Bristol West, taking our vote to 26% and second place behind Labour (and well ahead of the incumbent Lib Dem on 18%). We also increased our vote by 9% in Bristol South, by 6.5% in Bristol East, and by 4.5% in Bristol North-West. The best news was on the council elections. We retained our seat in Ashley with an increased majority, and gained 7 new council seats (very narrowly missing out on an 8th in Bedminster, with some impressive finishes elsewhere), taking us to 13 overall. Despite only being a paper candidate, I even managed to double our number of votes in Hengrove from last year (not hard when you’re starting on such a low base).

Whilst the Green surge unfortunately failed to materialise into increased Westminster representation, our general progress was encouraging. Caroline increased her majority to 14.6%. We saved 123 deposits (compared with just six saved in 2010), we came second in four constituencies (Liverpool Riverside, Sheffield Central, Manchester Gorton, and of course Bristol West), and third in many more, and we beat the Lib Dems in 135 seats – compared to just 1 in 2010 (though this may have more to do with their collapse then just our strength). Overall our total vote quadrupled. This is a positive trend I hope continues.

What really struck me about the election was the turnout.  Billed as the closest election of our generation, where each vote counted more than ever (under FPTP) turnout was expected to be much higher.  In Scotland where people are still mobilised from the referendum, and the SNP offers a credible electoral alternative of hope to the fear and austerity of the Westminster parties, the turnout was very high (reaching as much as 80% in places).  In England, where the main choice was between Conservative austerity, and Labour austerity-lite (with Ed Ball’s saying “There was nothing I would reverse” in Osborne’s last budget and all but 5 Labour MPs voting for Osborne’s austerity charter in the last Parliament) there was no change.  Turnout seemed much lower than everyone expected.

As Sam points out, the vote in Conservative strongholds had been predictably high, “the Tory core voters are usually the demographic most engaged by the system and most motivated to vote. This isn’t a new story”.  Continuing a trend of recent general elections, turnout in Labour centres was much lower.  It seems that just keeping the Tories out wasn’t a good enough reason to get a sizable minority of Labour supporters out to vote.  This is hardly surprising when Labour were essentially offering watered down Conservative economic policy as their alternative to Conservative economic policy.  Sam again lucidly explains:

“In this scenario Labour fails to activate their traditional voter base in sufficient numbers. Keeping the Tories out provides inadequate a motivation to bring people to the polls for Labour. This supposition is supported by the Ashcroft polling showing that 24% of Labour voters this year had previously voted for the Lib Dems, a very significant number. Only 64% of Labour voters this year voted for Labour in 2010, while 68% were traditional Labour voters. This compares to 81% and 70% respectively for the Tories…

Trailing Tory discourse on austerity, Labour sets themselves up as austerity-lite. This isn’t especially appealing to those damaged by the cuts, and to the middle voter Labour do not have the credibility to be able to institute such policy when the Tories are already there, doing the same job, and have demonstrated their ruthless capacity to follow through. Voters that consider austerity either never necessary or now no longer necessary made up 83% of the Labour vote, 55% of the Lib Dem vote, 54% of the UKIP vote, 81% of the Green vote, and 89% of the SNP vote. Considering how much support Labour lost to UKIP, Greens and the SNP this could have made a big difference in challenging the Conservatives, both in holding on to voters as well as activating the same fresh voters they did. Labour have to buck their internally dominant right wing to turn this around.”

This (much more eloquently then I could have) outlines much of my own thinking as to the main thing that went wrong for Labour in this election.  The last sentence seems most interesting in relation to Labour’s future and the potential growth of the Green Party.  Already the right within the Labour party has been shouting about how they lost the election because Ed was too Left, and too close to the unions (despite them all calling on him to reverse policy to no avail) and that they’ve distanced themselves too much from Tony Blair and New Labour’s record. I have a strong suspicion they may use this electoral defeat to move the party even further right. Already the Greens are gaining increasing support for our stance on social justice and support for ‘Old Labour’ policies like renationalising the railways and utility companies, redistribution of wealth, and opposition to austerity, etc. If Labour moves further right this could well alienate more of its core demographic, and could enable the Greens to gain more and more support.

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