Monday, 29 June 2015

Thoughts on a notable victory in Lancashire against fracking

In recent environmental news, Lancashire councillors voted to reject all forms of fracking at Preston New Road, after having received legal advice stating that they can reject applications for fracking.

Given the Conservative government's encouragement of fracking, especially without consultation from local people/local authorities, or respect to even basic property rights , this is an important and strong victory, which I believe will inspire a string of other victories against shale gas extraction.

What does it mean for the campaign against fracking?

1. Petitioning and lobbying councillors as well as MPs, MEPs etc. will work if the issue is strong enough and strongly felt enough within one's community. Large numbers of people are strongly opposed to fracking, and this was demonstrated in Fylde in the most recent general election when anti-fracking campaigner Mike Hill polled over 5000 votes in an otherwise very safe Conservative seat. Wherever fracking operations threaten we, the people, anywhere in Britain, we need to get everyone on board to stop them-councillors, MPs, or ordinary people.

2. Environmental damage and neglect has real consequences which people do actually consider. Fracking operations in many parts of the USA have contaminated water, contributed to substantial rises in cancer rates, ruin arable land nearby, and could potentially cause dangerous earthquakes in nearby communities. Blackpool actually experienced such a small earthquake in recent memory without fracking having come into effect, and worse could happen just about anywhere where fracking ventures.

3. We can all resist fracking and shale gas operations if we try hard enough, no matter what the Conservatives try to push through to promote it. Fracking has been defeated in many other places as well, and many nations (e.g. France) outlaw fracking of any type. We need to make sure that we resist divide and rule by organising to support renewable energy (even if the method of generation is not always so visually pleasing), by making sure as many people as possible are aware of how dangerous fracking is and how little benefit it will actually bring to the UK, and by resisting fracking as much as is possible.

Friday, 26 June 2015

My analysis of by-elections from 25/06/2015 and other thoughts

The results from local by-elections from yesterday were as follows:

Cambridgeshire CC, Romsey: Labour 829 (37.3%), Liberal Democrat 782 (35.2%), Green 467 (21.0%), Conservative 100 (4.5%), UKIP 46 (2.1%).

South Kesteven DC, Market & West Deeping: Independent Broughton 612 (23.2%), Independent Baxter 609 (22.9%), Con 605 (22.9%), Independent Shelton 426 (16.2%), Lib Dem 229 (8.7%), UKIP 224/129/113 (5.9%).

We had high hopes of winning the tightly-fought Romsey by-election, in light of us being able to win over large numbers of Lib Dem votes in Cambridge (the Romsey ward boundaries are the same), but sadly it was not to be, with Labour narrowly winning instead. Nevertheless, we did well enough here, and have regained enough support in Cambridge itself, to give us a good chance of winning back representation on Cambridgeshire County Council in 2017.

Although there was no Green Party candidate in the Market & West Deeping local by-election (actually a deferred election) a former Green candidate, Ashley Baxter (he contested South Holland & The Deepings in 2010; I do not know why he left the Green Party, though), did win one of the three seats. Despite the very high Conservative strength in rural Lincolnshire, the Conservatives only stood one candidate for the three vacancies. I believe UKIP's poor performance in this deferred election is either a sign of the protest vote going towards independent candidates, their increasingly sour reputation within Lincolnshire given their internal problems, or both.

I am also pleased that Europe is making good progress towards considering the idea of a basic income, a key Green Party platform. Finland is planning to introduce it within the next few years, and the Dutch city of Utrecht will be planning a useful experiment with it. I firmly believe it will be a successful experiment, because it will substantially reduce stress levels in the universal income group, as they will feel less pressured, less anxious about potential problems, and will not have to work as hard. This will in turn boost confidence, allow them to rest more, and be more flexible with their lifestyles.


Friday, 19 June 2015

My analysis of deferred elections (from 18/06/2015) and of the 2015 Danish general election

The result from the deferred local election(caused by the death of candidates after the close of nominations but before polling day) held yesterday that had a Green Party candidate was as follows:

Mole Valley DC, Holmwoods: Liberal Democrat 804/768 (50.2%, +24.7% ), Conservative 492/458 (30.7%, +2.1%), UKIP 201/180 (12.5%, -19.3%), Green 105/78 (6.6%, -0.7%).

The strong Lib Dem advance in Holmwoods, located in one of a tiny handful of seats where they finished second in last month's general election despite never having won it in recent memory (the others were West Dorset, Bosworth, Maidstone & The Weald, South East Cambridgeshire, the Cotswolds, North Wiltshire, and North East Hampshire), is likely to have been a result of the absence of a Labour candidate in this deferred election. They also won a seat from UKIP (their councillor, Stephen Musgrove, who won last year, resigned for family reasons) due to UKIP not having the 'Euro elections' effect this time around.

In the midst of all this, Denmark held its general election-and it showed up quite a surprise.

The Social Democrats gained 3 seats when I was expecting them to lose seats, although this was largely at the expense of their allies, the Social Liberals and the Socialist People's Party, who both lost 9 seats each (given they had won 17 and 16 seats respectively in 2011, their loss is substantial). Their loss was unsurprising due to collusion in passing neoliberal policies and giving tax breaks to wealthier citizens of Denmark; the Socialist People's Party withdrew from government but did so too late. The Red-Green Alliance, more left-wing than them, was set to make strong gains but only gained 2 seats due to a new Danish green party, The Alternative, striding onto the scene. The Alternative gained 9 seats from a standing start and unsurprisingly, it usually polled well in districts where the Red-Green Alliance polled well and where the Socialist People's Party used to have strong support (its best result was in Copenhagen Norrebro, Copenhagen's answer to London's Hackney in political and cultural terms, where the Red-Greens topped the poll).

The right-wing bloc overall won more seats but it was the Danish People's Party (Denmark's equivalent of UKIP) and the Liberal Alliance, both of which are Eurosceptic, who gained seats; the less Eurosceptic Venstre (Denmark's main centre-right party; ironically Venstre means 'left' in Danish!) and Conservative People's Party both lost seats and Venstre was pushed into third place overall for the first time in 25 years.

However, the four right-wing parties overall have 90 seats, compared to the five left-wing parties' total of 85. Thus, despite her party winning more seats and Venstre losing seats, Helle Thorning Schmidt has resigned as Danish Prime Minister-and Lars Lokke Rasmussen is likely to take over given the Danish People's Party's reluctance to lead government.

My position is that there has been a strong shift towards Euroscepticisim and populism in Denmark, and an increasing rejection of older, more established parties of Denmark and conservatism itself within the younger population. Even though Denmark has not been hit as badly by the Great Recession as many other European countries, the perceived threat of increasing control from Brussels has nevertheless spread to much of the electorate, especially in rural areas and small towns where the Danish People's Party polled strongly. The threat of TTIP was almost certainly another factor in the increased support for the Red-Green alliance, who are not only very left-wing but also anti-EU (they cooperate with the People's Movement Against the EU in European elections in Denmark) and the Alternative due to TTIP's serious threat to environmental protection within the European Union. To a lesser extent, we are also seeing similar shifts in Britain, although without proportional representation this cannot be accurately reflected yet.


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Why those boundary changes might not take place as described

Even though it has been only a month since the 2015 general election concluded, there have been resurging talks about the major boundary changes the Conservatives plan to push through by 2020 (or by the time they are forced to call an early election, which is a strong possibility given their small majority of 10 and the inevitability of by-elections during the next few years). However, given the current rules of these planned changes (set in 2013), the necessity to create large numbers of cross-boundary seats as a result, and the practical issues, I believe these are three significant reasons why those major boundary changes may never take place or might only take place in a substantially modified form:

1. These boundary changes would raise substantial objections from many Conservative backbenchers, and of course all opposition parties in the House of Commons. The Conservatives hold 11 seats in Wales (more than their small majority!)which, being considerably under the allowable electorate under the 2013 Electoral Administration Act (which required this major boundary review), will be redrawn or carved up and end up moving a lot of areas with substantial Labour support into these seats (many of which are not that safe at all). These changes could also leave the Conservatives without a viable winnable seat anywhere in Scotland due to how well the SNP performed across all of Scotland, even in the three constituencies they did not win. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party will be even more aggrieved by the boundary changes, because the South East and South West will lose fewer seats than the regions of the North and the Midlands.

2. The reduction in seats will necessitate large numbers of cross-county seats, which will undoubtedly raise substantial local objections especially in rural areas. The most worrying possibility is a cross-Tamar seat between Devon and Cornwall, which will substantially harm the cause of Cornish self-determination. Other major problems will arise if cities end up with vulgar fractional quotas necessitating messy half-urban, half-rural seats (one possibility I have imagined is Bristol East and Kingswood)

3. The final changes may be unworkable in practice for other reasons. Some large urban wards (e.g. in Birmingham) may need to be split in order for these quotas to be met, which will cause problems for reorganising polling stations for proposed constituencies. The fact even more constituencies will cross between authorities will also create additional expense for local authorities and election staff.

The best way to ensure fairness in representation is not to redraw boundaries, but to abolish first past the post altogether and introduce proportional representation. Proportional representation will also be more efficient, be easier for electoral officials, and will result in fewer and/or less frequent boundary changes as well.


Friday, 12 June 2015

My analysis of recent by-elections, the Tower Hamlets Mayor re-run, and my rebuttal of Darren Hall's statement

Just five weeks on from the 2015 general election, this week has seen some rather interesting by-elections, especially the re-run of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets election caused by Lutfur Rahman being (wrongly?) disqualified from office by an election court.

The results from the deferred election in Wyre Forest (held on Tuesday for reasons unknown) and two other by-elections are as follows:

Wyre Forest DC, Areley Kings East: Conservative 662/564/492, Labour 633/561/532, ICHC 404/378/326, UKIP 213/209/196, Green 66.

Sutton LBC, Wallington South: Lib Dem 1251 (44.2%, +6.9%), Con 936 (33.0%, +13.7%), Lab 181 (6.4%, -2.4%), Independent M 180 (6.4%), UKIP 164 (5.8%, -10.5%), Green 122 (4.3%, -2.7%)

Tower Hamlets LBC, Stepney Green: Lab 1643 (42.1%, +4.1%), Independent THF* 1472(37.7%, -4.9%), Green 272 (7.0%, -1.7%), UKIP 203 (5.2%, -2.9%), Con 158 (4.0%, -0.4%), Lib Dem 111 (2.9%, -0.3%), Something New 40 (1.0%). Labour gain from Tower Hamlets First.

* Tower Hamlets First was deregistered by the Electoral Commission earlier this year on the grounds that 'THF was not operating a responsible financial scheme and the running of the party did not follow the documentation given in the party's registration.'

And most notably, the Tower Hamlets Mayoral re-run (first preferences):

Elaine Bagshaw, Liberal Democrats, 2152 (3.2%)
John Biggs, Labour, 27255 (40.0%)
Andy Erlam, Red Flag-Anti Corruption, 1758 (2.6%)
John Foster, Green Party, 2678 (3.9%)
Peter Golds, Conservative, 5940 (8.7%)
Vanessa Hudson, Animal Welfare Party, 305 (0.45%)
Hafiz Khadir, Independent, 316 (0.5%)
Rabina Khan, Independent (ex-Tower Hamlets First), 25763 (37.8%)
Nicholas McQueen, UKIP, 1669 (2.45%)
Mohammed Motiur Rahman Nanu, Independent, 292 (0.4%)

On second preferences, John Biggs received 5499 to Rabina Khan's 621, meaning that John Biggs was elected, returning the Mayoralty of Tower Hamlets to Labour, and Tower Hamlets council was also returned to Labour control following their win of the Stepney Green by-election.

The result in Wyre Forest shows that the Independent Care and Health Concern Group is slowly but surely losing its influence in Kidderminster and the surrounding areas, which is unfortunate for community politics given that for many years before their 1990s meltdown the Conservatives regularly controlled Wyre Forest council and its predecessors (and in fact after an all-out election with boundary changes, the Conservatives have regained control of Wyre Forest despite only polling 38% of the vote in said election). With former MP Richard Taylor having finished fourth in the Wyre Forest constituency and with only two councillors remaining in Wyre Forest, their future looks bleak, as does that of the continuing Liberal Party within Wyre Forest (only Fran Oborski was re-elected amongst Wyre Forest's Liberals).

Meanwhile, in Sutton, the Liberal Democrats' increased share of the vote is a welcome sigh of relief for them, having lost six constituencies in London out of the seven they held in 2010. The Conservatives' closing of the gap is largely down to many UKIP voters returning to the fold (their presence in 2014 was boosted by simultaneous European elections) despite UKIP having good visibility in Sutton as their recent parliamentary results showed in both Sutton & Cheam and Carshalton & Wallington.

Amidst all the controversy of the Tower Hamlets Mayoral contest re-run, there is some good news for the Green Party: we beat UKIP this time around in both the Mayoral election and the local by-election, although I suspect tactical voting by UKIP voters wanting to prevent allies of Lutfur Rahman being elected may have been responsible, since we sadly did not retain our deposit in this re-run when we did in the 2014 election that was declared void. I must say it was unfortunate that Rabina Khan failed to stop Labour's return, because John Biggs made it clear he could not guarantee the left-leaning promises once made by Lutfur, which Rabina intended to carry on were she elected.

In other news, I would like to categorically state, in response to comments in the New Statesman by Darren Hall in an article by Tim Wigmore, that our left-wing and socially friendly policies actually helped us in recent elections, particularly where many left-leaning Labour voters once voted tactically for the Liberal Democrats-after all, many people in Britain still want a return to public railways and publicly-owned utilities. We have also been able to make substantial progress in the South West as well. Also, we are not to blame for a Conservative victory in any way-the failure of mainstream, so-called 'opposition' parties was. Finally, there is no evidence that Natalie Bennett is intending to stand for Mayor of London next year, and I have not heard of her saying she has plans to run.


Monday, 8 June 2015

My thoughts and analysis on the recent Turkish general election

Yesterday, the voters of Turkey went to the polls-and the result delivered a decisive blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who from 2002 to 2014 was Prime Minister of Turkey.

The conservative, right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) finally lost its majority after 13 years of power, although with 258 seats it is still the largest party in the Grand National Assembly, and may worryingly still be able to continue as a minority government, or, worse still, with the more extreme Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as coalition partners; the MHP gained 21 seats. Usefully, though, the left-wing Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) won 80 seats in the new assembly by passing the 10% threshold (its candidates previously stood as independents as independent candidates are exempt from the threshold).

The 10% threshold for representation (except for independent candidates) is the highest of any parliament using proportional representation for elections, and in practice is very unfair to minor parties and especially parties advocating Kurdish interests within Turkey; it has clearly been responsible for AKP holding majority power for so long even though the AKP has never won at least 50% of the votes cast in any Turkish election. The most recent years of AKP power have been marked by unjustifiable internet censorship, brutal violence towards peaceful protestors in Ankara, corruption scandals, and increasing centralisation of power. Nevertheless, the AKP vote only dropped from 49.8% to 40.9%.

From this point onward, AKP support may fade in the long term, despite more centrist parties not being able to gain significant support from the electorate in this election. Whether this election will also change the future of Turkey and lead to less authoritarianism and corruption now that AKP no longer has a majority remains to be seen-but one can hope.


Friday, 5 June 2015

Results from deferred by-elections and my thoughts on 2015's three election petitions

Yesterday, the first by-elections and deferred elections (deferred elections are caused by the deaths of candidates after the close of nominations) since the 2015 general election were polled, and the results were as follows:

Cambridgeshire CC, Wisbech South: Conservative 1020 (63.8%, +22.4%), UKIP 298 (18.6%, -19.8%), Labour 219 (13.7%, -2.7%), Liberal Democrat 61 (3.8%, -10.1%). Conservative gain from UKIP.

Kettering BC, Rothwell: Lab 951/623/614 (41.5%, +5.9%), Con 871/777/771 (37.2%, +0.7%), UKIP 370 (16.1%, +16.1%), Green 119/89/82 (5.2%, +5.2%).

Although we sadly had no candidate for the Wisbech South by-election, the heavy swing from UKIP to Conservative is noteworthy nevertheless. The strong support UKIP gained in the county council elections of 2013, directly preceding its win of the European elections and even more council seats in 2014, is likely to erode relatively easily in the next few years, especially if the spotlight ends up being shone on Thanet again whilst UKIP is running the borough council there. Even in places not well suited to Green gains such as Kettering (like much of the East Midlands, fought keenly between the Conservatives and Labour, and UKIP to some extent as well), we are nevertheless showing that Green support exists even in places that look supposedly barren of it.

Since the general election ended, three election petitions have been lodged, although George Galloway's often-talked about petition in Bradford West was never lodged, and the deadline has now passed.

The first is from Tim Ireland, an independent who was standing against Nadine Dorries in Mid-Bedfordshire, claiming that Nadine engaged in corrupt and illegal practices during the election campaign. Nadine would have had no logical reason to do this at all, given her 15,152 majority in 2010-the losses she would have incurred from engaging in such practices would have clearly outweighed any further progress she could have made in a seat that was already very safely Conservative. Although there is some evidence of her unacceptable behaviour during election hustings, this may not be enough to amount to corrupt and illegal practices-a complaint against her was made by someone else but the Crown Prosecution Service dismissed it because of insufficient evidence. Nadine's behaviour towards Tim at times does cause me some concern, but I still do not believe there is enough evidence to prove it amounted to corrupt and illegal practices, and would ultimately dismiss the claim if I was an election court judge

The second is from Ruth Temple, the Magna Carta Party candidate who stood against Jonathan Lord in Woking, claiming that Jonathan was not eligible to stand for election in the first place and should be disqualified from office. I can find no evidence whatsoever of him being ineligible for election (he is not in prison, he is a UK citizen, he had served legally as an MP during the last Parliament, he is not about to inherit a peerage of any kind, he does not hold another occupation disqualifying him from election etc.), and his nomination was approved by the returning officer of Woking. I therefore find Ruth's petition to be completely without merit and would dismiss it if I was an election court judge.

The third and most interesting is from Timothy Morrison, Euphemia Matheson, Fiona Grahame and Carolyn Welling, electors in Orkney and Shetland against Alistair Carmichael, the only remaining Lib Dem MP in Scotland. Alistair was responsible for leaking a false memo about Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, really wanting David Cameron as PM, rather than Ed Miliband, just before the election campaign started. The French ambassador has stated several times that this memo was false, and Alistair has admitted he knew the contents of the memo were false but spread word around the media anyway. However, making false statements about yourself as opposed to your opponent actually damages your chances of being elected or re-elected rather than improving them (which is what is stated in the petition). This petition has at least some notable merit, unlike the first two, but I will leave it to the real election judges since the case is not that straightforward.

UPDATE: In light of new evidence relating to Tim Ireland's election petition (which was not available to me when I originally wrote this blog post), and the claims made by Nadine Dorries about him, I would probably uphold the election petition in question, which would force a by-election in Mid Bedfordshire if it is upheld in reality. The three election petitions mentioned here are likely to be concluded by November this year, going on past records.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Of Learning, Labour, and Liberalism

It has become news to me that Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has proposed removing important loopholes from recent Education Acts to place local schools under even greater threat of academisation. The planned removal of a particularly important section for challenging academies, regulation 46 of the School Governance England 2012, and other regulations could mean that schools could end up being forced into academy status without any local consultation or any recourse at all. Academies not only take local schools out of democratically accountable control, but also generally do not even improve the standards of the school in question (some academies have had worse results); free schools are worse still because of the lack of a legal requirement for free schools to employ only properly qualified teachers. My Green colleague in Milton Keynes, Samantha Pancheri, has rightly said that business interests have no place in our schools-for that matter, only the interests of parents, teachers, children, and the community should be valued and respected in schools of any kind. In just a few years we have seen the damage academisation has done to our education as a whole-we must do as much as possible to stop schools being converted into academies or free schools.

With the Labour leadership election heating up, notable left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has entered the ring, but so far has only gained three endorsements compared to the 52 received by Andy Burnham and the 32 received by Yvette Cooper, wife of ex-MP Ed Balls; the current make-up of Labour MPs makes gaining 35 nominations an unlikely possibility for Jeremy. My position is that with the Labour right once again dominating these elections, with no realistic chance of being defeated, the remaining committed left-wing Labour MPs who often voted with Caroline Lucas in the last Parliament when it mattered, not just Jeremy Corbyn but also John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner et al. would in my opinion be better off defecting to the Green Party (since many of their views are now more in step with the Green Party than with the current Labour Party) rather than staying in the Labour Party and likely watch it drift further to the right (even though a drift to the right would just cause more damage to Labour rather than allow it to win over Conservative and UKIP voters).

Going to the Liberal Democrats, their leadership contest's nominations have just closed, and as expected, it is Tim Farron vs. Norman Lamb. In light of the sad and recent death of former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy at the age of just 55, who in 2005 led the Liberal Democrats to their highest strength since the 1930s before his alcohol problems ended his leadership of them, Tim Farron just might yet again prove that rumours of the Liberal Democrats' slow but sure demise are once again exaggerated if he wins, even though unlike in previous nadirs of the Liberals/Liberal Democrats (1950s, early 1970s, 1988-90), the Green Party is not only reasonably strong, but here to stay and staying on the left track.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Why I am backing Caroline Russell to be Green Party candidate for Mayor of London in 2016

The Green Party selection for Mayor of London candidate, and London Assembly candidates for 2016 has opened, and here is why I am backing Caroline Russell, Green Party councillor for Highbury East, Islington and the sole opposition councillor to Labour in Islington, to be the Green Party candidate for Mayor of London next year and to be #1 on the Green Party's list of candidates for the London Assembly next year.

I believe Caroline Russell, who has been a diligent Green activist and Local Transport Spokesperson for the Green Party, has the integrity, innovation, and passion needed to forge a new, green path for London and give the office of Mayor of London a new, forward-thinking vision which Greater London needs. Caroline has been a considerate, caring, and diligent councillor for the people of Islington and helps provide a useful voice of dissent in an otherwise solidly Labour council chamber. Caroline is also an excellent campaigner at promoting green issues and the need for clean air in our towns and cities, and also about the effective use of walking, cycling and public transport as a means of travelling within London.

Caroline is also very helpful to new Green activists, and I was particularly pleased with her given me a helping hand when I was helping deliver leaflets for two council by-elections in Islington in 2013, just before I stood in a local election for the first time over back in Hertfordshire.

I therefore believe that if you are a Green Party activist living in Greater London, you should vote for Caroline Russell to be the Green Party's Mayor of London candidate for 2016 and to be #1 Green candidate for the London Assembly in 2016.