Tuesday, 29 September 2015

My thoughts on the Autumn 2015 Green Party conference

Having come back from the Green Party conference in Bournemouth last night, I would like to say that out of the six conferences I have attended in my 3 years as a Green Party member, this was the best I have been to, or at least the joint-best I have been to. It was an exciting conference, a passionate conference, and a well-attended conference.

Here are in my personal opinion the good points about it:

1. I felt rather relaxed at this conference, possibly because of the location right by the seafront, and got to enjoy the beach somewhat despite not having brought my sandals. The beach marquee was also a great addition.

2. I was able to avoid getting lost this time, and found my way around Bournemouth without any problems, partly because Bournemouth is not as large as cities like Liverpool and Birmingham.

3. Important emergency motions concerning the EU, justice for the 'Liverpool Five' and the scandal surrounding rigging of emissions tests (not just by Volkswagen but other car manufacturers) were passed. We also passed motions to amend copyright policy, end food waste, and to call for women's sanitary products to be exempt from VAT.

4. We raised considerably amounts of money to help Syrian refugees-thank you to everyone who donated.

5. On the last day of the conference, I heard that Shell had pulled out the Arctic-having passed an Arctic Ocean protection motion last year, I felt particularly pleased with this news

6. I got to meet many new people from the South West, young and old, as well as some old friends from that region.

7. I was re-elected to the Equality & Diversity Committee meaning I can continue my hard work in the Green Party of supporting the rights and wishes of people on the autistic spectrum.

And conversely, the not-so-good points about it:

1. My emergency motion on the story about MMS and other 'treatments' being given to children with autism never got a hearing despite having received useful support. Nevertheless, I believe the fight to keep humanity neurodiverse, and for autism to be respected for what it can bring to society, and to bring all those who promote 'curing', 'treating', or otherwise somehow eliminating autism to justice, must go on for the benefit of both people with autism and people without autism alike, and that the Green Party should play their part.

2. During a meeting with good friends of mine on Saturday, I later overheard that England had narrowly lost their Rugby World Cup match to Wales at Twickenham.

3. I sadly did not get to perform this time, due to a lot of Bournemouth musicians (who nevertheless entertained the audience) playing their small gigs. My good friend Simon from East Staffordshire sung the Green Flag (my signature tune) at the end of the night on my behalf to make up for that, although I unfortunately did not get to hear it due to the bus schedule in Bournemouth necessitating me to leave before midnight so I could reach the guesthouse where I stayed.

4. On the same day I was re-elected to the Equality and Diversity committee, I read that my Greenwich friend Lucy sadly lost her seat on the International Committee.

Overall, however, I found the weekend ather enjoyable, and I would love the next conference to be by the sea as well. I am also feeling pleased particularly since this week (starting tomorrow) I will be attending my first postgraduate lectures, continuing on my path to becoming a chartered psychologist.


Monday, 21 September 2015

My thoughts on and analysis of the second Greek legislative election of 2015

Picture this, readers of my blog. A seemingly fair election, with proportional representation, where parties clearly differentiate themselves, in which you are supposedly compelled to cast a vote....but where there is still no real choice, where the outcome looks so bleak for you, your family and friends whatever the result, due to external forces beyond your control and accountability....imagine.

That was the second Greek legislative election that happened yesterday, and SYRIZA won it again, losing only 4 of their 149 seats from January., and on a turnout of only 55%, the lowest in Greek history. Their Popular Unity (LAE) splinter group, led by ex-SYRIZA MPs, just failed to enter the Hellenic Parliament polling only 2.86% of the vote (they only passed the 3% threshold in some constituencies) despite predictions it would pass the threshold. The Independent Greeks (ANEL) who Alexis Tsipras will likely again seek as coalition partners only lost 3 seats, meanwhile, still giving them enough to ally with SYRIZA (a new SYRIZA-ANEL coalition would have 155 seats, a decrease of just 7 from the last election and enough to govern with, given that SYRIZA's more notable rebel MPs were defeated when they split). The only other realistically possible coalition is between SYRIZA and To Potami (since SYRIZA's MPs will definitely refuse to allow coalitions between SYRIZA and New Democracy or SYRIZA and PASOK).

Despite anger over the U-turn by Alexis Tsipras on left-wing promises he made, and also over the bailout, the radical left ANTARSYA failed to even get close to gaining any seats and only increased its vote share to 0.85%. The only new party to enter was the Union of Centrists, who aim to represent the centrist legacy and values of Eftherios Venizelos, a notable republican nationalist of the early 20th century who was Prime Minister of Greece 100 years ago, and received 9 seats in the Hellenic Parliament. The other parties already represented saw little movement-To Potami lost 6 of its 17 seats, probably due to the Union of Centrists passing the 3% threshold, the far-right Golden Dawn worryingly came third but still only increased its seat total by one to 18, the Greek Communists' vote stayed almost exactly the same as January 2015, and PASOK's alliance with DIMAR, who had been voted out of the last Parliament, only received 4 more seats than in January.

What is clear in any case is that the debt repayment demanded by Wolfgang Schaeuble and the ECB will never be realistically completed for the Greeks and that in my opinion, Greece should just leave the Eurozone, reinstate the drachma, and reassert financial sovereignity which the European Central Bank took from them. Despite the unpredictability and financial chaos that could result, it will be better in the long term.


Friday, 18 September 2015

My analysis of yesterday's local by-election results (from 17/09/2015) and other thoughts

Readers, the results of local by-elections from yesterday were as follows:

Haringey LBC, Noel Park: Labour 1005 (61.3%, +7.5%), Liberal Democrats 247 (15.1%, +1.1%), Conservative 178 (10.9%, +4.8%), Green 124 (7.6%, -6.7%), UKIP 48 (2.9%, -3.3%), TUSC 38 (2.3%)

Haringey LBC, Woodside: Lab 1271 (61.7%, +4.6%), Lib Dem 435 (21.0%, +9.2%), Con 141 (6.8%,-0.9%), Green 122 (5.9%, -5.6%), UKIP 95 (4.6%, -2.7%)

South Ayrshire UA, Ayr East: Conservative & Unionist 1,527 (38.5%, +5.5%), SNP 1507 (38.0%, +6.6%), Labour 642 (16.2%, -7.2%), Independent B 218 (5.5%), Scottish Green Party 76 (1.9%). SNP hold on 4th count.

South Cambridgeshire DC, Bourn: Conservative 579 (46.5%, -9.9%), Lib Dem 247 (19.8%), Labour 235 (18.9%, -10.4%), UKIP 121 (9.7%), Green 64 (5.1%, -9.3%).

These local by-elections are the first since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, and initial findings unfortunately showed Green swings towards Labour (at least in metropolitan wards). Meanwhile, our performance in South Cambridgeshire was affected by the fact the Lib Dems and UKIP stood in this solidly Conservative ward when neither stood in South Cambridgeshire's last local elections earlier this year. I do believe that the Conservative-SNP contest in Ayr, one of the most Conservative towns in Scotland, was the most interesting, with heavy competition for transfers between the unionists and nationalists.

I also believe it is time to ask all Greens to stay strong, and remember that we still have a bright future in Britain, despite the fact that not only is Jeremy Labour leader but also that John McDonnell is Shadow Chancellor, and that with our campaigns for, and commitments to, environmentalism, social justice, fairer distribution, grassroots democracy, cooperative politics, and sustainability, we can and will prevail.


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Cometh the red raven: My thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader

Readers, you are almost certainly now aware that Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election-and easily, achieving more than three times the votes of his nearest rival, Andy Burnham, and winning in the first round. The Labour right's favourite, Liz Kendall, meanwhile polled a pathetic 4.5% of the votes. In a related story, Tom Watson also became Deputy Leader of Labour, although his win was not as easy as that of Jeremy's.

Quoth the ravens, 'let a united fightback begin.'

This is a strong breakthrough in British politics given how long the neoliberal consensus has dominated all three major parties, and how it was doing what it could to maintain its hold here. However, progress still needs to be made overall-there are still a lot of Labour MPs from the right who are dominating the Labour Party in practice and Jeremy is not that strong on environmental issues-his advocacy of reopening closed coal mines during his campaign was a case in point, as was his not so consistent record on environmental legislative proposals (e.g. he remained absent regarding a piece of legislation which would benefit frackers which we Greens rightly opposed). Caroline Lucas, meanwhile, has been solid as ever on these issues. He is also not supportive of a Citizen's Income and shorter working weeks, which I and many of my fellow Green Party members are supportive of as a fundamental change that I believe we humans really need in the long term. Quality of life should be measured on how happy, relaxed and content we feel overall, not by how many hours we work or how high our annual income ,or our nation's GNP/GDP is. We also need less focus on traditional nationalisation and more focus on cooperative politics.

However, his genuine efforts to distance himself from the Establishment and the dogma of right-wing media, which his rivals failed to do, and the hope he offers to many who want to oust the Conservatives from office as soon as possible, should be acknowledged by all of us nonetheless.

Friday, 11 September 2015

My analysis of local by-elections from yesterday (10/09/15)-rare ward double by-election in Scotland

Readers, the results of local by-elections from yesterday featuring Green Party candidates were as follows:

Edinburgh UA, Leith Walk (2 seats up for election, 1st preference votes): SNP 2,209 (36.2%, +7.7%), Labour 1,623 (25.7%, -7.5%), Scottish Green Party 1,381 (21.8%, +1.5%), Scottish Conservative and Unionist 501 (7.9%, -0.2%), Liberal Democrats 255 (4.0%, -1.1%), UKIP 102 (1.6%), Scottish Socialist 97 (1.5%), Left Unity 32 (0.5%), Independent S 26 (0.4%), Libertarian 17 (0.3%). SNP elected on 1st count, Labour elected on 10th count. SNP hold, Labour gain from Green.

Maidstone BC, Fant: Con 474 (27.1%, -2.2%), Lib Dem 447 (24.1%, +2.1%), Lab 352 (20.0%, -0.4%), Green 249 (14.2%, +3.9%), UKIP 180 (10.2%, -7.4%), Independent H 75 (4.3%). Conservative hold. All changes are since May 2015.

Sandwell MBC, Blackheath: Lab 915 (51.4%, +7.0%), Con 544 (30.5%, -0.6%), UKIP 287 (16.1%, -8.4%), Green 35 (2.0%) Labour hold. All changes are since May 2015.

Midlothian UA, Midlothian West (1st preference votes): SNP 1540 (43.2%, +3.5%), Lab 945 (26.5%, -9.0%), Con 524 (14.7%, +4.0%), Green 372 (10.4%, +5.2%), Lib Dem 162 (4.5%, -1.2%), Independent T 25 (0.7%). SNP elected on 4th count, SNP hold.

Our overall good performance this week was sadly marred by our loss of a council seat in Edinburgh, partly due to later transfers from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats benefitting Labour instead of the Greens; we actually increased our 1st preference vote with Labour suffering another swing to the SNP against them, and received more 2nd preferences from the SNP than Labour did. Fant proved once again to be a tight contest, with the Conservatives managing to hold out in the end despite strong campaigns from the Lib Dems and indeed us (Stuart Jeffery, who stood for the Canterbury constituency in May, has previously done well and secured a good 4th place despite strong campaigns by Labour, the Conservatives, and the Lib Dems (this ward became a five-way marginal in 2014!). The fact we doubled our vote share in Midlothian West despite it not being a target ward (our councillor in Midlothian represents Bonnyrigg) is also a particularly good sign given that even on this relatively small Labour-SNP swing, the SNP may gain an overall majority in Midlothian Council in 2017.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

The early implementation of IER needs to be countered-and fast!

Readers, you may have come across articles about the fact the Conservatives are bringing forward the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) by one year to December 2015 (due to amendment by John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-Super-Mare) against the recommendations of the Electoral Commission to keep the deadline to December 2016. This could mean that upwards of 2,000,000 voters could be wiped off the national electoral register, which is already seriously incomplete in parts of Britain (there are an estimated 8,000,000 voters in the UK currently missing from electoral registers, according to Hope Not Hate).

Worse still, the effects of this will be exacerbated in areas with young and transient voters like Hackney, and large student electorates like Cambridge-the exact areas where the Green Party performs well. Many voters who move around often (either because they are students or private renters) tend to be young but also aware, and they were particularly inclined to vote Green in recent elections. London in particular, where we have been performing strongly, will end up losing many thousands of voters, which will adversely affect its representation in Parliament because these new registers will be used as the basis for boundary changes (and keep in mind the legislation requiring a reduction in seats from 650 to 600 is still in place!). Meanwhile, local authorities in rural and affluent semi-urban areas (into which Weston-Super-Mare can be categorised into), which are generally more inclined to elect Conservative MPs and have higher proportions of older voters and owner-occupiers, are overall predicted to lose far fewer voters from their register (sometimes less than 1%).
Quite a few areas containing generally marginal constituencies will also be affected, such as Crawley, Southampton, Amber Valley, Northampton, and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

However, this can be countered within the next 10 weeks-a rejection order has been already been moved in both Houses of Parliament to strike out Mr Penrose's amendment so that councils will have more time to register missing voters, given that 3 months is not nearly enough time to register millions of missing voters across the UK. Students' unions and universities also need to get involved in pushing forward voter registration drives amongst students even though the next elections will not be for another eight months-but there will be long-lasting consequences from the boundary changes that will be based on these new registers. There are also other useful benefits in registering to vote-it is easier to get credit or a mortgage if you are registered to vote.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

My refutation of Michael Chessum's recent article

In a recent New Statesman article, Michael Chessum, a prominent left-wing student activist who like me was a frequenter of NUS conferences, has claimed that in the event Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour leader, 'the Green Party should shut up shop'.

This incorrect perception is based on a serious misunderstanding of the real position and the fundamental differences between Labour and Green supporters and members, no matter which wing they stand on.  

First of all, the four fundamental values of green politics, environmentalism, non-violence, social justice, and grassroots democracy mark greens out as different from the 'traditional' socialists and social democrats Jeremy is trying to win over. The fact Jeremy has spoken out in favour of re-opening coal mines, and his concentration on nationalisation, marks him out as not that green after all, despite making other pledges greens would be happy with such as scrapping Trident and withdrawing from NATO. As a Green, I believe in cooperative ownership of energy and transport instead, where the people themselves have real power rather than their government, and also in favour of a Green New Deal and better investment in green technologies to help rejuvenate employment across Britain.

Secondly, we arose from the grassroots, not the labour movement. This means we empower people first overall, and do not believe special interest groups should be able to have more leverage than individual human beings. We also believe decisions should be taken as locally as possible, that everyone should have a basic safety net (a Citizen's Income), and in disconnecting traditional notions of economic progress (e.g. GDP, GNP) from real quality of human life.

Thirdly, it must be said that not all greens set out to be socialist, which is also demonstrated in other Green Parties in Europe. Finally, Michael's claim that 'if the Green Party were part of a hypothetical British Syriza, it would be unique in Europe' is also incorrect because in Portugal the Portuguese Communists and Portuguese Ecologists already work side by side (in the Democratic Unitarian Coalition, or CDU); similar arrangements exist in Catalonia, Spain via the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV), which is part of United Left (IU), and also Italy where the Italian Green Federation has often worked with left-wing parties.


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

My thoughts on recent Green Party internal elections

Readers, I am pleased to tell you that the top four candidates in the Green Party's list for the London Assembly elections of 2016 are: Sian Berry (councillor in Highgate ward, Camden, and also our candidate for Mayor of London), Caroline Russell (councillor in Highbury East ward, Islington), Jonathan Bartley (Green Party pensions spokesperson), and Noel Lynch (who has previously been an Assembly Member, from 2003-2004). I am particularly pleased that we are first of the major parties to announce our Assembly List and our Mayoral candidate (since the respective Mayor of London candidates from Labour, the Liberal Democrats,the Conservatives and UKIP have not been formally declared yet, and nor have their London Assembly lists been finalised), since a green agenda will be particularly important for London's future.

However, with a surprisingly low turnout in this internal election and recent GPEx elections (where sadly I did not win the Local Party Support Coordinator post) it is clear that we all need to be switched on, and we need to take steps to raise participation rates and awareness of why these elections are important and what they will mean for us, in order for us to keep the Green flag flying across Britain and to ensure we are reaching out to as many people as possible (all humans can benefit from Green politics, after all).