Sunday, 31 January 2016

My tribute to Sir Terry Wogan

Former veteran BBC Radio 2 presenter and DJ, Sir Terry Wogan, sadly died earlier today. I first heard the news whilst at Sunday Mass.

Throughout his 50 years in broadcasting both in Ireland and Britain, Sir Terry was known for hosting such things as Children In Need, Wake Up Wogan, and even Eurovision on occasions (these were before I was born, however).

Having listened to Wake Up Wogan and that once-famous jingle as a child, I will always remember his smooth and warm presenting style and the various songs from all eras that were played on Radio 2 during his time on air. And so, farewell-BBC radio just will not be the same without him.

In memory of Michael Terence Wogan, broadcaster and presenter, born 3 August 1938, who departed this life on 31 January 2016, aged 77 years.

Monday, 25 January 2016

My message of support to the Plane Stupid protestors

Earlier today, at Willesden Magistrates' Court in the London Borough of Brent, 13 protestors from the Plane Stupid activist group, which campaigns against airport expansion, were found guilty of 'aggravated trespass', despite using the defence of necessity.

I believe, however, that taking peaceful action against airport expansion and increasing aircraft emissions will be increasingly important for our own sake, and thus believe necessity is a valid defence here, given how pollution causes thousands of early deaths in Greater London alone and aviation's role in accelerating artificial climate change.

What is also important is that unnecessary expansions are curbed and that people are encouraged towards other forms of transport when possible.

Friday, 22 January 2016

My thoughts on by-elections from 21/01/16 and why the Psychoactive Substances Bill is not a good move

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

St Helens MBC, Thatto Heath: Labour 964 (71.1%, -3.8%), UKIP 182 (13.4%),Conservative 147 (10.8%, +3.7%), Green 62 (4.6%, -3.0%). All changes are since 2012.

Southwark LBC, Faraday: Lab 1072 (60.9%, -0.6%), Liberal Democrats 255 (14.7%, +8.5%), Green 138 (7.8%, -3.8%), Con 117 (6.6%, -2.8%), UKIP 93 (5.3%), Independent (Dean Porter) 47 (2.7%), All People's Party 38 (2.2%, -4.5%).

Thanet DC, Newington: Lab 288 (37.7%, +1.3%), UKIP 229 (30.0%, -14.2%), Con 156 (20.4%, +0.9%), Independent (Alan Hodder) 49 (6.4%), Green 20 (2.6%), Lib Dem 12 (1.6%), Independent (Graham Birchall) 10 (1.3%). Labour gain from UKIP.

South Lanarkshire UA, Hamilton North & East (1st preference votes): SNP 1089 (42.9%, +2.4%), Lab 855 (33.6%, -9.4%), Con 469 (18.5%, +8.4%), Green 83 (3.3%, +0.1%), Lib Dem 45 (1.8%). SNP elected at stage 5; changes are since 2012.

Not a particularly good night for the Green Party, even though we beat the Liberal Democrats in both the South Lanarkshire and Thanet local by-elections. The Newington by-election in Thanet is particularly notable because UKIP have already lost majority control of their only council, and Labour's win of a UKIP-held council seat strikes another crucial blow at the already split administration (several 'Independent' councillors in Thanet were once part of UKIP).

On another note, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which will effectively ban 'legal highs' (by giving police powers to seize legal highs on a scheduled list, is coming close to law despite objections from even a few Conservative MPs, most notably ex-minister Crispin Blunt (MP for Reigate) over the inclusion of poppers, who was joined on that vote by David Davis (MP for Haltemprice & Howden). It is already well-known that the war on drugs is not working, and this bill will make that whole situation worse if passed. In addition, police cuts are being planned across Britain and this will distract police manpower and resources from tackling more serious crime. It is much better to keep legal highs legal but regulated and under control, and to educate people about the potential dangers of legal highs.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Other MPs at risk due to boundary changes

Notable coverage of divisions within the Labour Party has now also extended to which critics of Jeremy Corbyn face losing their seats in the next round of major boundary changes(as documented by The Independent), which will be the heaviest shake-up of United Kingdom parliamentary constituencies since the 1983 general election. Theirs will not be the only constituencies redrawn or broken up completely, however.

Here is a list of other notable MPs who face losing their seats or a much more difficult challenge if and when these boundary changes go through:

Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru, Arfon): Welsh constituencies will be subject to the most substantial redrawing due to Wales now being subject to the same electoral quota used for England and Scotland as well-no extant Welsh seat, not even Ynys Mon, will survive unaltered and many will effectively disappear. Most of Arfon will likely be joined with Dwyfor Meirionydd in 2020, leaving Bangor to join Ynys Mon as a new constituency. Plaid Cymru's hard work means a hypothetical Ynys Mon ac Bangor seat will be notionally theirs, but Labour strength in both parts means Hywel Williams still faces a challenge to retain his seat at the next election.

Stephen Crabb (Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire): South Pembrokeshire (with Carmarthen West almost certain to join Carmarthen East & Dinefwr to reunite Carmarthen/Caerfyrddin, which will notionally be a Plaid Cymru seat) is set to absorb the majority of Preseli Pembrokeshire with the coast around Fishguard joining Ceredigion. The current Secretary of State for Wales may find himself with nowhere to go in 2020.

David Mundell (Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale): The Borders area of Scotland will be no more immune to boundary changes in terms of its constituencies than the rest of it (except Na h-Eileanan an lar and Orkney & Shetland, of course). David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland, will see his seat be split three ways, into seats that will all be notionally SNP-held, if narrowly (his own majority over the SNP is just 799 votes/1.8%) because of the tremendous swings the SNP managed from Labour last year.

Ian Murray (Labour, Edinburgh South): Edinburgh South is likely to be split up next time. Neither of its successor seats will be quite as bad for the SNP, nor are they likely to select Neil Hay again for any of them after what he did during the 2015 campaign. Unless things go wrong for the SNP in the near future, Ian Murray, Labour's Shadow Scottish Secretary, will likely have to try his luck in an English seat.

Iain Duncan Smith (Conservative, Chingford & Woodford Green): The Woodford Green part is set to help recreate Winston Churchill's old seat of Wanstead & Woodford (called Woodford until 1964, but Wanstead & Woodford was just a new name), whereas Chingford will have to take parts of solidly Labour Walthamstow to retain enough electors. Iain Duncan Smith is one of the most unpopular Conservative MPs in Britain and he will likely be defeated whether he stays in a newly drawn Chingford seat or moves to a new Wanstead & Woodford seat which unlike the old, resolutely Conservative Wanstead & Woodford seat tat existed before 1997 will be marginal if created, and notionally Labour on 2015 results due to the fact Redbridge is trending towards Labour overall.

Seema Malhotra (Labour, Feltham & Heston): Part of her constituency will probably go to a seat containing large parts of Twickenham, another could be joined with most of Hayes & Harlington which John McDonnell currently represents, and the rest to be joined with Southall simply due to the unfair and practically unworkable quotas set in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2011 (10% is far easier to work with than 5% in terms of deviance from the electoral quota). Will she be forced out simply by boundary changes?

Sadiq Khan (Labour, Tooting): If he does not become Mayor of London this year his political career could be cut short when his seat of Tooting has to gain an extra ward somewhere to increase its electorate to allowable levels. That ward will likely be solidly Conservative (most wards in Wandsworth are either solidly Conservative or solidly Labour locally and nationally) and could spell doom for Sadiq at the next election.

Tom Brake (Liberal Democrats, Carshalton & Wallington): The only remaining Lib Dem MP in Greater London could be forced out by boundary changes as well (unless the Liberal Democrats make any notable recovery), since Tom Brake's current seat will likely have to expand to include solidly Conservative Coulsdon.

David Davis (Conservative, Haltemprice & Howden): Haltemprice & Howden will likely be split up since major boundary changes could result in Goole being unjoined from the North Lincolnshire part of 'Yorkshire & The Humber'; Goole could then end up being joined with Howden. There are not enough electors in Kingston-Upon-Hull for three full seats in that city so it could expand westwards to take the Haltemprice part of David Davis' seat. The selection contests in North Lincolnshire/East Yorkshire could be rather interesting for all parties....

Tom Watson (Labour, West Bromwich East): The West Midlands urban conurbation is very vulnerable to the next round of boundary changes as many constituencies there are undersized and their wards are rather large. Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East could be broken up, as the many undersized seats nearby combined with the knock-on effect of the number of seats being reduced by 50 nationally will mean a complete redrawing of seats around the Sandwell/Walsall/Dudley/Wolverhampton area.

Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats, Sheffield Hallam): Sheffield Hallam is the right size in electorate numbers but other nearby Sheffield seats are not. Sheffield Central and/or Sheffield Heeley could end up expanding westwards forcing Sheffield Hallam to expand northwards and take in Labour-supporting wards, which could force Nick Clegg out given the effort Labour made to unseat him in 2015.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservative, Somerset North East): This well-known backbencher will likely see his seat being broken apart, and with nearby seats no longer being in the hands of the Liberal Democrats he may have to challenge another Conservative MP or at least face a challenge.

Cat Smith (Labour, Lancaster & Fleetwood): She is a noted supporter of Jeremy Corbyn but could end up losing her seat if it reverts to Lancaster & Wyre (its current electorate will be below the allowable parameters and the Blackpool constituencies are also a bit undersized at present) since the Wyre area is solidly Conservative.

There are many others who will face the same problems when the boundaries are shaken up, of course, particularly in metropolitan areas.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Local by-election analysis (14/01/2016) and other thoughts

The first local by-election of 2016 where there was a Green candidate saw the following result:

Cornwall UA, Launceston Central: Liberal Democrats 515 (63.0%, -7.0%), Conservative 226 (27.6%, +10.4%), Green 65 (7.9%), Christian Peoples Alliance 12 (1.5%).

Quite a decent start to the year for us, particularly given the generally low turnout of local by-elections in the cold month of January and given that we did not stand in this ward in the last elections for Cornwall Council in 2013. The swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives was helped by the absence of a UKIP or a Labour candidate, and the good personal vote of the previous Lib Dem councillor, which matters strongly in the South West.
It is not surprising the Christian Peoples Alliance polled so poorly-they are unknown in Cornwall and their candidate, John Allman, is a perennial candidate with a poor track record; he polled 52 votes in the whole of the North Cornwall constituency in which Launceston resides in last year's general election.

Also, it was earlier announced that maintenance grants for undergraduate students, whose importance lay in the fact they helped people study without giving them the fear of more debt on top of their tuition fees (I took out a maintenance grant for my undergraduate psychology degree at Hertfordshire, so I know this well) are set to be scrapped without a vote or debate, via a small committee of just 17 MPs (of which 9 are Conservatives). They are apparently to be replaced with increased maintenance loans, which will further add to the already substantial debt burden of students past and present. Please sign and share this petition here so that the government will reconsider this inconsiderate and undemocratic move:


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Why having homes fit for human habitation is actually important

It has been reported that an amendment to the Housing Bill which would have required homes to be fit for human habitation has been defeated by the Conservatives (Ayes: 219, Nos: 312; the only non-Conservative MPs to vote against were UKIP's Douglas Carswell and the UUP's Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott); 73 Conservative MPs who voted against the amendment are landlords who would be affected by this legislation. This amendment would update an existing law whose terms have not been updated since 1957, when the limits specified were actually significant sums of money.

This outdated law means that currently homes are only subject to being required to be fit for human habitation if their annual rent is less than £80 in London and £52 elsewhere-but due to the substantial inflation that has happened since 1957, especially during the 1970s, this sum would not even cover rent for a week let alone a year. And London in particular has large numbers of tiny homes barely the size of large cupboards for which extortionate rents are still being charged, and places which are clearly not fit for human habitation especially when overcrowded.

This amendment was moved for good reason: if a home is unfit for human habitation, not only does it mean it is not practical to live there on a daily basis, it also means it could actually be dangerous for people to live there due to damp, lack of a usable fire exit, structural issues with the house or flat etc. Homes also need to be of a minimum size to be liveable as well-we have one of the smallest average house/flat sizes in the world even though we also have considerable numbers of large houses and mansions dotted around.

Safe human habitation is an essential human need-market rents are not a need of any sort.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

On reshuffling and rushing

There has been much speculation about the results of the reshuffle of Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet, which resulted in the sacking of Michael Dugher as Shadow Minister for Culture, and also Pat McFadden. This in turn caused the resignations of Kevan Jones, Stephen Doughty, and Jonathan Reynolds from the Shadow Cabinet in protest at these two sackings.

It must be pointed out that the Conservatives have been no better than Labour, and in fact often worse, in terms of cabinet reshuffling or choice of cabinet ministers. In particular, Michael Gove's incompetence on so many levels means he has no business being in the cabinet at all, let alone as Justice Secretary (and I thought before that appointment Chris Grayling was the worst Justice Secretary Britain has had in living memory). Liz Truss, the current Environment Secretary, has no more respect for the environment than Owen Paterson ever did and the two worst Conservatives in the cabinet by far, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, are still there from the time of their initial appointments back in 2010.

Whilst there was talk of the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, the Conservatives were pushing through their dangerous Housing and Planning Bill, which will end lifelong social housing tenancies if passed and instead limit them to five years. This could mean an end to social housing in Britain as we know it and accelerate social cleansing, particularly in cities. It could also privatise planning applications and extend the right to buy to  which could have serious consequences for communities. Notably, a list of amendments was pushed through at 3 am in the morning simply because the Conservatives refused to move the debate at a more reasonable time.

These two stories alone also expose fundamental flaws with our current system of passing legislation, and of the balance of executive, legislative and judicial power within the UK. Due to the powers Secretaries of State have in practice (e.g. due to statutory instruments which can be implemented without proper debate within Parliament), this gives party leaders and whips unfairly high levels of power over policy-making when it really matters. Many Cabinet ministers are also often chosen (and allowed to remain for too long) due to prior connections or friendships with their party's leadership rather than strong competence in the field they are supposed to be minister for. They can also be sacked simply for holding differing opinions on some issues. Also, few if any MPs are willing to be awake in the early hours of the morning for legislative debates-they are just human, after all, and therefore diurnal in the same way you and I are.

I therefore believe it is time that the Cabinet system as a whole within Parliament should be scrapped, and that necessary executive functions should be performed by multi-member committees elected by Parliament as a whole (although with somewhat reduced levels of power so that they cannot just override the legislature) similar to committee arrangements that exist on some local councils within the UK; this will be particularly important if there are future coalition governments of some type in the UK. There should also be changes to standing orders to the way Parliamentary business runs regarding legislation and debates, not just to stop filibustering and also blocking of private members' bills, by just a few government-backed MPs, but also to make sure debates cannot just be held at early hours in the morning or so late at night.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

What really needs to happen with Britain's railways

Recently, the next round of rail fare rises was announced-a surprisingly low 1.1% increase given that many fare rises have been considerably above inflation and thus above pay rises. However, for regular commuters like myself, this small fare rise will have a real impact, particularly when the quality of our privatised railway network has been declining in spite of often above inflation rail fare rises over the years.

Another major problem is that these fare rises are occurring everywhere in Britain despite the gulf of public transport investment between Greater London and elsewhere, particularly in the north of England where many railway lines that were closed in the past (and not just in the infamous Beeching Axe) have not been replaced or are only covered by heritage railways which do not operate year-round and do not cover all the line and stations they were designed to replace. The fare rises generally do not go towards railway investment but in practice to the pockets of shareholders and private owners, which ironically have often been publicly-owned railways in another nation (e.g. in the case of SNCF, the French state railway network).

So what, in short, needs to happen with Britain's railways in the near future to benefit passengers, staff, and transport?

1. Bring the railways back into public hands, and with participatory democracy in decisions made about our rail network in order to attempt to prevent re-privatisation. After all, we travel on them, we pay for tickets, and we endure the delays when things go wrong, so we, the people, need a voice in how they are run.

2. Open new railway lines (to replace ones closed in the past) where there is sufficient local demand, to reduce reliance on car use and to make sure the needs of smaller communities are met.

3. The rail network on the northern Scottish mainland needs to be electrified, at least to some extent-England and Wales have lots of electrified railway lines but northern Scotland has none. Electrified railway lines are more efficient, have lower running costs, are more reliable, and are better environmentally.

Keep up the good work on campaigning to bring our railways back into public hands for the public good.


Friday, 1 January 2016

Welcome to 2016 :)

Hello, readers, and welcome to 2016.

So, what is coming up this year?

First of all, there is the important race to be the new Mayor of London in May, and also the London Assembly election alongside it. I wish the Green Party candidate for Mayor of London, Sian Berry, all the best in her campaigns.

Secondly, there is also the Scottish Parliamentary election and the Welsh Assembly election, where my Green colleagues stand to make historic strides.

Thirdly, there are also local elections in England which will be the first test for five-party politics within the UK outside of a general election, which indirectly boosts local election turnout significantly.

Fourthly, it has been indicated that a crucial referendum on Britain's EU membership will likely take place sometime in 2016, although not on the same day as local elections. I maintain my neutral yet informative stance on this issue and seek to promote it should it be confirmed as happening this year.

Finally, there will be several parliamentary elections in several different nations of Europe over the course of 2016-the one to watch this year will be in the Republic of Ireland.

Best wishes, Alan.