Thursday, 23 June 2016

Leaving the EU: Forward to the past?

Yesterday's decision is depressing. Like the rest of the Green Party I regret it but we recognise that it is the decision of the people.

Many things, however, will not change. Geographically, culturally and politically we will still be part of Europe. And our sovereignty will still be limited by a web of international treaties and relationships.

As we unweave the strands labelled 'EU' there are some things we’ll be glad to see go. Of these the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the secret treaty that seeks to make our parliament subject to corporate courts – is the most toxic.

But some things we should keep. Our EU membership provides useful protections for our health, human rights and environment. There is nothing at all un-British about such protections which were often pioneered by the UK before joining the EU.

On both these the UK government has taken the wrong side – backing TTIP and undermining our rights. As we leave those of us – clearly a majority – who reject TTIP and value these protections need to watch what’s being done in our name. We need – immediately – to insist on open access to the negotiating texts of the agreements that will replace our EU membership. And we need to organise to resist the underhand attacks on our rights that the Tories will make in the name of UK independence.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

How to recognise a Green housing scheme

We see lots of planning applications, and less formal proposals, to build homes in Enfield. Many of them (eg the Cat Hill and Fairview school schemes) raise environmental issues.

Given that we don't have enough homes in Enfield and that the population will keep rising we need to build a lot more homes. So how should we judge new schemes?

We need more homes, especially for those who can't afford decent homes. Developments are supposed to provide 40% 'affordable' homes but this is a distraction because developers generally find ways to avoid providing so many and more because most so-called affordable homes are not affordable by people on average pay.

In my view this problem is insoluble if numbers continue to rise. It is certainly not soluble without some serious creativity about the interplay between population, housing, finance and benefits. And that probably needs a new national policy - or several!

So, while we work on the broader issue, we can ask for 50% affordable homes. It won't solve the problem but at least those 50% won't be luxury flats for offshore investors!

High environmental standards, especially low energy use. Our policy is that all new buildings should meet passivhaus standards for energy. (Of course, the surest way to do that is to follow the passivhaus method but we don't insist on that.) We've pressed this on various council officials and departments over the last few years but all we ever get back is "too expensive". Well, that hasn't stopped other councils, such as Camden and Wolverhampton, from building to those standards so it's obviously possible.

Larger schemes should provide more than housing. They should provide local shops and community facilities. How many and which shops and facilities will obviously depend on what's already available but, as we saw in the case of the Ritz Parade, they might include a GP surgery, meeting rooms, a school, a theatre or a cinema. Green space would be good too.

And I'd add one thing that is often forgotten - space for politics and community action. Many 'public' shopping centres are actually private. On various occasions I have been told by security staff to stop distributing election leaflets in Edmonton Green shopping centre, filming for the BBC in Palace Gardens and collecting for the RNLI in Palace Exchange.

There ought to be outdoor space that can be used for politics and community action, provided that it doesn't cause a nuisance. And there should be indoor rooms for hire.
As a Green I give priority to active travel - walking and cycling - since it is healthier and more sociable. So, specifically, I want to see:
  1. Green space within walking distance.
  2. Good walking and cycling routes to shops, entertainment, etc.
  3. Accessible routes for people with nobility problems.
But that's clearly not enough. Many people have to travel much further than they can walk or cycle for work, shipping or entertainment. So a scheme should provide good public transport connections. Specifically there should be bus stops within walking distance and a tube or train station accessible by one bus ride (or walking, of course).

Now its only in the largest schemes that the developer can address all of this. He won't be able to move a tube station or even a bus route. So the responsibility must shared between the developer and the Council. We need both parties to recognise their responsibilities.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Let’s make GREEN points on every issue

This is a guest post from David Taylor. David was a very early member of the Green Party and a principal speaker from 1994-97. He's concerned that the party isn't making enough impact.
"It has been noticeable that we haven’t been scoring the points we should have on the ecological crises, or attacking other parties for failing to support life (a better word than ‘environment’). We have missed report after report that we could have responded to. In consequence the media turn to NGOs and not to us for comment, and thereby miss the political points which need to be heard.
The negligence and, we presume, ignorance of mainstream politicians when dealing with these issues makes them vulnerable. We can win arguments again and again when we come from a green perspective.  And ecological points can be made on most of the governmental or social issues of the day.
Here are sorts of the things we should be saying:-
  • Terrorism: We should be pointing out how many more people are suffering and dying from air pollution each year – asthma, emphysema etc.
  • Refugee crisis: We should be pointing out that climate change and environmental degradation are among of the causes. Syria, for instance, experienced 20 years of drought before the war began. This was almost certainly the worst drought in 500 years.
  • EU referendum: We could be stronger on the huge benefit of the EU’s environmental directives and exposing, in ardent terms, the ignorance of the outers who deny climate change. It was, for example, the EU that cleaned up our beaches.
  • Environmental damage: We should expose the culpability of the WTO and corporations for ecological collapse. For instance, after yesterday’s report on massive coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef we should have attacked and publicly embarrassed the Australian government for its support of coal mining.
  • NHS:  We need to make the most basic, and popular, green point of all; that we are spending more and more on the NHS (and building up greater deficits) because people are getting sicker and sicker (cancer, diabetes etc), more stressed and more obese. Tackling these health issues (on which all mainstream parties have shocking records of inaction) with controls on junk food, a reduced working week, tighter controls on environmental pollution etc will do far more to save money than forcing junior doctors to work more at weekends. We might even win over Jamie Oliver...
The beauty of these arguments is that they cut across the Left-Right spectrum and will attract broad support. 
There is one key concept to get across. The Green message is not about ‘the environment’. What a counter-productive word that has been! It’s about ‘life’ and ‘health’. We should just stop using the word ‘environment’. It is ranked way down the list of priorities for most of the electorate and makes people think of whales and litter. We are the party for Life and for Living... That has resonance."

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

How Andy Cooper creates 'clear green water'

Guest post from Sandy Irvine of Newcastle Green Party:
"Andrew Cooper spoke at a rally here last night with some 370 people present. He made many telling and distinctive points. He also made some good jokes. But I would stress how he created clear green water between us and the others, all Labour supporters. They were Owen Jones (by video link), Chi Onwurah MP and a regional Unison organiser Claire Williams. The chair was a Momentum leader in the NE.

All the Labourites failed to mention in their presentations any ecological issues (the MP did say in passing  “the climate is changing” but that was it!). Instead they simply talked in terms of more and more rights. There was also a lot of bollocks, if I may use scientific language about the “workers united will never be defeated” (actually they have been on several occasions and no-one defined what actually a ‘worker’ was). One, I forget which, talked of “levelling everyone up”. Presumably this meant giving everyone in the EU a typical UK living standard. That would mean not a 3 but a 5-planet economy! Andy more than held his own, not least in rebutting in the Q&A Chi’s assertion that sustainable growth was possible. He also countered well the ‘right to move’ with the ‘right not to have to move’.

I know that election results can sometimes be depressing but 10 years ago we would not have been invited on the platform. We also had speakers from the floor and gave out a lot of literature. Our local Young Greens organised the room and technical side, doing an excellent job.

I have to note in passing with the regards to the ‘progressive alliance’ debate just how hostile are Labourites to our ideas. It is not just ‘tribal’ but deeply ideological. They will also routinely betray any deals with us."

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Immigration: Time for a grown-up conversation

Why do so many people oppose immigration? And why do we on the left have such difficulty discussing it?

There are five kinds of objection to immigration.

The first is racial and is really about non-white immigrants. Older readers will remember the Tory MP who coined the phrase "British-born immigrants". He meant black and brown Britons of course; no-one was worried by Australian or even German immigration. Its root is a fear of difference and its the source of the right-wing hostility to immigration and immigrants exploited by the National Front, BNP and English Defence League.

This is racist, even fascist, and beyond the pale of civilised discussion. Few people now hold this view but it stays in our minds because of WW2 and because it used to be quite normal. For many of us opposition to racism was a test of political virtue and meant hostility to immigration controls - since they were demanded by obvious racists ranging from Tory knights to street-fighting thugs.

But there are other sorts of opposition to immigration.

The second is nostalgic and not necessarily or usually racist. The people who feel this don't generally hate non-whites. They do feel a sense of dislocation that familiar areas just don't feel familiar any more. Churches have become gurdwaras, faces brown or black and saris replace dresses in the shops. These are often the 'left behind people' - old and poorly educated - described in Revolt on the Right.

The third is cultural and is based on worries about integration. The current focus is on Muslims. Surveys show that many Muslims hold attitudes, notably toward women and gays, that are increasingly out of step with modern Britain. Many do not want to integrate and feel entitled to insist that British law and institutions impose their views on the rest of us, or at least on their fellow Muslims. The tendency of loud-mouthed self-appointed community leaders to attack democracy and tolerance and foresee 'the Islamic flag flying over Downing Street' is politically marginal but reinforces these worries.

The fourth is economic. Immigrants are supposed to be taking 'our' jobs and living off benefits provided by 'our' taxes. In fact immigrants generally take jobs that Britons don't want and draw less in benefits than Britons do. They also pay taxes and their presence stimulates our economy, creating more jobs. Indeed, they are more likely than Britons to be entrepreneurs!

So the economic objection is weak on the average. But we're not all average. Immigration does produce winners and losers and those with least capital and skill - the 'left behind people' mentioned above - are often the losers, facing energetic competition for the low-paid jobs for which they are qualified.

Finally there is a resources issue. The UK is a small and densely populated country that relies heavily on imported raw materials, food and fuel. In many cities, but especially in London, increasing numbers are experienced as rising rents, congestion on the streets, difficulty in getting GP appointments and a shortage of school places (and of places to build new schools). Now it's obviously true that immigration is not the only cause of these problems but its equally obvious that it is A cause.

And the future may be no better. The UK has not been self-sufficient for well over a hundred years but has so far been able to sell enough abroad to buy what it needs. Over the next thirty years Indian and Chinese economic growth and climate change will gather pace. We can expect increasing competition for shrinking supplies. We may have real difficulty in feeding our population.

So what's the bottom line? I think there are two:
  • There are real disadvantages (as well as advantages) to continued immigration.
  • Much of the opposition to immigration is fairly rational (insofar as politics can be rational) and not covert racism.
It's time for a grown-up discussion about population and immigration. It's time to stop seeing all critics of immigration (or of Islam) as closet racists and to recognise legitimate concerns. There are no easy answers, least of all BREXIT, but we do need answers.