Monday, 29 February 2016

My thoughts on the Spring 2016 Green Party conference

Readers, I had a good time attending my seventh Green Party conference (also my seventh in a row) up in the spa town of Harrogate, in the north riding of Yorkshire. This time it was only 3 days long, rather than 4 days long as our conferences normally are, although this helped me afford the cost of attending. Despite its relatively short length, I found it rather enjoyable and lively.

The good points about this conference:

1. We passed a motion affirming the rights of nature, which if implemented would not only outlaw drilling for shale gas but would also prevent destruction of forests and other wildlife habitats. We should live in harmony with nature, not exploit it simply for our own purposes.

2. We also passed an emergency motion calling for the outlawing microbeads, which are small plastic particles found in cosmetics and personal care products. They are now banned in the USA but not in the UK, so please be careful when you buy such products.

3. I managed to get my photograph taken with Larry Sanders, brother of US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

4. There was an excellent and well-attended anti-Trident rally outside the towering cenotaph in Harrogate Town Centre, which I was pleased to be at.

5. During the conference, I also heard that the Irish Green Party had regained representation in the Dail (the counting has not quite finished in some places as of today, so I will be reporting on the 2016 Irish general election in a later post), although I needed to point out to the announcer that Catherine Martin had also been elected in addition to Eamon Ryan.

6. After the conference finished, me and my good friend Clare from Birmingham went on a nice tour around Harrogate before I had to catch the train back.

The not-so-good points about this conference:

1. I failed to convince people that my 'neutral stance on the EU' motion should be heard.

2. The lively debate on Green Party leadership elections eligibility never occurred since we ran out of time before getting to the motion that planned to change it; even though I opposed the proposed changes I would have been glad to hear that debate.

3. My memory slightly malfunctioned during the Green Party Conference quiz, to the extent that I could not remember precisely what the word TARDIS stood for and to the point where I mistakenly thought that the Yorkshire Dales National Park had been around since 1858 (it was actually formed in 1967).

4. Vegetarian cafes and restaurants in Harrogate were somewhat hard to find.

5. I learned that a long-standing Welsh Green Party activist who I had somewhat known, Owen Clarke, had sadly passed away two months ago.

Let us keep going onwards and upwards, especially in the London Assembly and Welsh Assembly.


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Why recent events at London Metropolitan University demonstrate the need for greater democratisation of universities

Despite protests from arts students there, and the resignation of the CASS campus dean Robert Mull, London Metropolitan University sold the Sir John Cass building, which is London Metropolitan's main arts campus, to a property developer:

This decision was taken in spite of the fact that moving the arts faculty to the main campus in Holloway Road even when space there is already limited and will be further constrained by the moving of the law faculty there, is likely to result in the closure or severe downsizing of important courses there such as silversmithing and instrument making, which are important but hard to find UK-wide. Similar situations could end up being repeated across UK campuses-specialist courses, sometimes offered only by a handful of universities in the UK, are there for a good reason. Meanwhile, unelected chancellors and vice-chancellors are experiencing 14% pay rises to their already enormous salaries; most vice-chancellors earn at least £200,000 per year, and often over £300,000 per year, which is more than what the Prime Minister or any Cabinet Minister earns from their parliamentary salary and also more than 10 times the average national wage.

Now more than ever, it is important that universities open themselves up to more democratisation, in order to preserve their ability to be bases for strong and innovative academic learning and research. Currently, only the Chancellors of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London are elected; the rest are appointed usually by management boards that do not have any real student or lecturer influence. No vice-chancellor I know of has ever been elected to their position, either by the students or the lecturers who actually bring the academic part to the university itself. This is particularly problematic when many chancellors and vice-chancellors have never actually taught or studied at their respective university.

I therefore believe that it is important that in future, all students and lecturers are able to elect their university's chancellor and vice-chancellor, that they have more representation on boards in order to reduce pay gaps at universities and make sure the university is accountable to all, and that chancellors and vice-chancellors should come from the ranks of experienced lecturers who actually appreciate fundamental academic and ethical values, and that students and staff are able to recall their chancellor and/or vice-chancellor when it is necessary to do so.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

And so the EU referendum date has been called...

It is official-the date of the important referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union will take place on Thursday 23rd June 2016.

Keep this date in your diaries, readers, and if you are not already on the electoral register make sure you are so that you can vote in this referendum. And remember, consider all the facts as well as your individual circumstances before you cast your vote, either for yes or no-neither option can benefit everyone in Britain.

With just four months to go now, here are some useful and informative tips for you all.

1. Every vote could make a difference in this referendum. Many polls initially pointed to a clear lead for Britons remaining in the EU, but that has changed significantly and there is a real possibility that Britain could vote to leave the EU. We are all affected differently by Britain's membership of the EU, and whatever your circumstances, it is important that this referendum has democratic legitimacy.

2. Think independently when making your decision in this referendum-do not rely on the media. Now more than ever, it is important that we make sure that our chance to decide our future (given potential developments in the EU, and consequences of a Brexit) is not manipulated by the few for their own interests, and this includes all the various newspapers. Unlike in Ireland and Switzerland, national referendums rarely occur in the UK.

3. There is no need to spoil your ballot. The Remain/Leave choices are real choices, so spoiling voting papers will be meaningless here.

Friday, 19 February 2016

My analysis of local by-elections from 18/02/16

Readers, the results from yesterday's local by-elections that featured Green Party candidates were as follows:

Argyll & Bute UA, Oban North & Lorn: (1st preference votes): SNP 1113 (42.3%, +9.9%), Conservative 609 (23.2%, +13.5%), Independent 608 (23.1%), Green 300 (11.4%). SNP elected at stage 4; SNP gain from Argyll First.

Broxtowe DC, Toton & Chilwell Meadows: Conservative 910 (51.9%, +7.0%), Labour 368 (21.0%, -0.2%), Liberal Democrats 363 (20.7%), Green 111 (6.3%, -3.7%).

Lichfield DC, Chadsmead: Lib Dem 300 (40.0%, +14.9%), Lab 195 (26.0%, +1.6%), Con 159 (21.2%, -12.2%), UKIP 73 (9.7%, -7.4%), Green 23 (3.1%).

Manchester MBC, Higher Blackley: Lab 1062 (65.2%, +7.7%), UKIP 308 (18.9%, -6.9%), Con 130 (8.0%, -1.8%), Lib Dem 78 (4.8%, +2.1%), Green 40 (2.5%, -1.7%), Pirate 9 (0.6%).

None of these wards were Green targets and nor have they ever elected Green councillors, but the Green result in Oban North & Lorn is rather promising especially with the next Scottish Parliament elections coming soon. We are now only two-and-a-half months from the next set of elections in the UK (Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Irish Assembly, London Assembly, and local elections in England), and in spite of our two recent local by-election gains, UKIP's decline, and the Liberal Democrats' local recovery to an extent, May 2016 will be a crucial test for the future of British politics.


Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The truth is more powerful-and more appreciated-than a thousand lies

Peter Tatchell, a Green Party activist and long-serving LGBT rights activist, has reportedly been snubbed by Fran Cowling, an LGBT representative of the NUS, who has said she will not share a platform with someone with 'racist and trans-phobic views'.

Peter is neither racist nor trans-phobic, just so we are clear:

In any case, we cannot strike a blow against discrimination by resorting to the same McCarthy-ite smears (as Peter put it himself) as those who peddle discrimination use (e.g. the 'benefit scroungers' smears of right-wing newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail). Nor will assuming everyone is 'privileged' in one way or another just because of whom they are or what intangible characteristics they may have solve any problems or bridge any gaps in society.

Failing to share a platform with someone just because of who they are or what views they might purportedly have is also not amusing or clever-it just shows petulance and cowardice. If I had to share a platform with someone whose views I considered offensive and discriminatory, I would instead speak anyway at the event, and use truth, honesty, and justice to counter them, no matter how many lies or insults they would use to somehow justify discrimination against any group in society. Virtues like truth, honesty, and justice are what is badly needed in British politics, and it is effective and organised campaigns with these virtues to speak up for inclusion, tolerance and respect for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, disability, orientation, religious belief or cultural values, that will defeat hate and discrimination within our society.

We need clear, honest, and constructive solutions to real problems such as discrimination and socio-economic inequalities-not gossip, smears, 'no-platforming' and pointless bashing of political opponents without providing a real and useful alternative.


Saturday, 13 February 2016

The implications of a trend towards digital-only newspapers

Yesterday, The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, newspapers which I have been reading very frequently for years both online and offline, have announced they will cease all printing and become digital-only newspapers from late March 2016, almost 10 years to the day I first read The Independent cover to cover.

This will in all likelihood be just the start of a trend where eventually, all major newspapers in the UK (and in some other countries) will become entirely online publications.

What will all this mean?

1. It will cost less for us to view major newspapers, or rather 'news-sites'.

Most major UK newspapers, with The Times and The Financial Times being notable exceptions, can currently be read online for no cost at all, but if you want to buy them on a frequent enough basis, it will cost you hundreds of pounds each year. For example, if I bought The Independent 310 times per year, enough to cover every weekday of news and every weekend's worth of news it will publish, it would cost me a total of £454 per year. Even the cheaper national newspapers would set each daily buyer back around £200 per year at least, at a time when many of us are still feeling the effects of the Great Recession and suffering such things as pay freezes and above-inflation living costs.

2. Environmental costs of media publications will also decrease overall.

Tens of thousands of trees have to be cut down for the annual print of each major UK newspaper alone, since not all the paper they use is recycled. Although the energy usage of electronic devices capable of accessing the Internet is well-documented as are the environmental consequences of electronic wastage, a change of culture from where such items as iPads, iPhones, and laptops are treated as disposable fashion accessories rather than the vital modern tools they actually are will help cut environmental costs considerably in that regard. After all, a newspaper is just that-a newspaper; whereas iPads, Tablets, iPhones and laptops can continue to be used for accessing the non-news parts of the world wide web, and on a side note catch up to breaking news as quickly as it happens in a way that daily newspapers simply cannot.

3. Publications will also be more financially viable.

Printing presses are expensive to buy and maintain, hence why most newer media publications of varying views and interests are digital for the most part. This money could be freed up and used to cover the actual gathering and reporting of news and/or gossip.

4. There will greater pressure on media and the readers to keep up.

If a majority of newspapers, local as well as national, end up becoming digital-only in the same way The Independent is about to, the market pressure on them could increase exponentially which will put increasing pressure on smaller and more localised news outlets. After all, any non-public enterprise (private or cooperative) is ultimately more likely to fail than to succeed in the end and news publications are no exception to this unwritten iron law. There will also be more pressure on readers to keep up to date with the latest technology which in some cases is advancing faster than most humans can keep up on a regular basis.

All of this is worth noting, since potentially within the next few decades, printed newspapers of all kinds could be a thing of the past and online media will become the norm for the vast majority of newsreaders.


Friday, 12 February 2016

Analysis of by-elections from 11/02/16

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

Bolton MBC, Crompton: Labour 1,961 (70.9%, +7.0%), UKIP 321 (11.6%, -9.5%), Conservative 302 (10.9%, -0.7%), Liberal Democrats 117 (4.2%, +0.5%), Green 65 (2.8%).

Coventry MBC, Lower Stoke: Lab 1,235 (57.5%, +7.9%), Con 344 (16.0%, -5.2%), UKIP 290 (13.5%,-4.8%), Green 154 (7.2%, +1.1%), Lib Dem 124 (5.8%).

Eastleigh BC, West End North: Lib Dem 582 (53.0%, +13.2%), Con 315 (28.7%, -6.4%), UKIP 115 (10.5%, -4.9%), Lab 58 (5.3%, -4.3%), Green 28 (2.6%).

Hounslow LBC, Cranford: Lab 1264 (54.7%, +0.0%), Con 638 (27.6%, +1.7%), Lib Dem 265 (11.5%, +5.3%), UKIP 96 (4.2%, -9.1%), Green 48 (2.1%).

Notably, the Green Party candidate in Coventry, Aimee Challenor, has just become Green Party spokesperson on LGBTIQ rights, and given that the Lib Dems stood this time around when they did not last time in Lower Stoke, she has performed well in a solidly Labour ward (which the majority of wards in Coventry are, although this is not true in the southwest of Coventry) by finishing ahead of them and increasing the Green vote share. The lack of a TUSC candidate also proved helpful to the Green vote as it did to the Labour vote over in Coventry.

Elsewhere, apart from UKIP's vote share continuing to decline, nothing much happened in Bolton or Hounslow apart from us standing where we did not stand the last time those seats were up for election (the changes in Crompton, like those in Cranford are since 2014, not 2015, and thus from before the Green surge happened). Over in Eastleigh, the Lib Dems made some recovery in a ward the Conservatives came close to winning from them last year at the same time that Mims Davies, currently Conservative MP for Eastleigh, easily won the constituency from Mike Thornton.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

It is the people themselves who should be steering possible reforms in the EU-not David Cameron

Readers, Prime Minister David Cameron is trying another round of 'negotiations' with European Union Ministers about Britain's obligations to the EU, all to suit his interests and those of the Conservative Party in reality. Some of this is in hope that Britons will become more inclined to vote to stay in the EU rather than vote to leave the EU, but he once again plans to just use these 'negotiations' to give the UK opt-outs from important social parts of the EU whilst still leaving the UK with the substantial drawbacks of EU membership, such as the effects of the Lisbon Treaty and not affecting the drive towards neoliberalism within the EU as a whole.

What needs to be made clear in the context of the EU referendum, whichever side one takes, is this: since we are the people whose votes in the upcoming referendum on Britain's EU membership, we collectively should be steering whatever reform is possible in the EU, and no negotiations on Britain's compliance to EU terms should happen without our input or our voice. The majority of the UK media, whilst giving a lot of coverage to these 'negotiations', has never asked what reforms the British public (rather than David Cameron and his Cabinet) wants within the EU, even though they will be affected by them in one way or another.

I therefore ask you, the readers of my blog, what reforms, if any, do you want not only within the EU but regarding Britain's relationship with the EU?

Please tell me via the comments section of my blog.


Friday, 5 February 2016

My analysis of by-elections from yesterday (4/2/16) and other thoughts

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

Northumberland UA, Hexham West: No Description (Derek Kennedy) 501 (36.6%), Conservative 454 (33.2%, -15.1%), Labour 200 (14.6%, -0.3%), Independent (Diane Pickering) 125 (9.1%), Green 89 (6.5%). No Description gain from Conservative.

Shropshire UA, Oswestry South: Green 518 (48.8%, +17.1%), Con 367 (36.4%, -11.4%), Lab 95 (9.0%), Liberal Democrats 81 (7.6%, +1.8%). Green gain from Conservative.

At last, my Green colleagues regain local representation in Shropshire, which we lost in 2009 when South Shropshire District Council, where we had one councillor at the time, was abolished under the Local Government Act 2007 that created the unitary authority of Shropshire Council in the first place. I am pleased for the hard work of now-Cllr. Duncan Kerr, who was formerly a Green Party councillor in Bolsover meaning he was from 2011 to 2013 one of a handful of opposition councillors in a near-monolithically Labour authority, in addition to becoming the first Green Party district councillor in the whole of Derbyshire.
We also achieved a respectable result in Hexham West from a standing start despite the fierce contest between the former Liberal Democrat leader of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Conservatives.

However, I learned yesterday that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed by all 12 countries involved in it (the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Malaysia and Japan). If you are reading this blog and living in one of the 12 countries mentioned in the TPP, or have friends and family who will be affected by the TPP if it is ratified, please sign and share any anti-TPP petitions you can find and also take action to defeat this dangerous corporate power grab.

Finally, the Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Harry Harpham, has sadly died of cancer aged 61, just nine months after he was elected.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

My guide to the Irish general election of 2016

The Taoiseach of Ireland, Enda Kenny, announced earlier today that Ireland will go to the polls this month-specifically on 26th February, only 23 days from now.

1. How is it different from the last Irish general election of 2011?

Several new parties will be entering the fold-Renua Ireland (centre-right and liberal conservative, led by ex-Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton), the Social Democrats (centre-left, led by TDs Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, and Roisin Shortall), and Direct Democracy Ireland (plus a few splinter groups also dedicated to the concept of direct democracy). The Socialists and People Before Profit have also allied to form the Anti Austerity Alliance/PBP joint ticket, although TDs Joan Collins and Clare Daly, who were originally elected under the PBP and Socialist Party of Ireland banners respectively, have refused to join it.

There have also been significant constituency changes for this election, particularly since there will be 158 TDs elected, down from 166, and with 40 constituencies instead of 43. The formerly split counties of Donegal, Kerry, and Tipperary have been united to form 5-seat constituencies, and Leitrim has been reunited and joined with Sligo. Laois-Offaly meanwhile has been split into its component counties, each electing 3 TDs (deputies), with the 'Greater Dublin' area also having a major redrawing.

2. Who is standing?

As of this time of writing, there are currently across the 40 constituencies of the Republic of Ireland 88 Fine Gael, 36 Labour, 70 Fianna Fail, 50 Sinn Fein, 31 AAA-PBP, 36 Green, 21 Renua Ireland, 14 Social Democrat, 14 Direct Democracy Ireland, 5 Workers Party, 3 Independents for Change, and 2 Communist candidates respectively standing for election (not to mention 1 each from the Workers Unemployed Action Group, Fis Nua, and the Irish Democratic Party). There are as usual lots of independent candidates of varying beliefs and values; STV is the easiest means of proportional representation for independents to be elected (although since the Dail constituencies in Ireland have to be between 3 and 5 seats in size by convention, proportionality in Irish elections is limited at best).

3. What result is likely to emerge from this election?

The current Fine Gael-Labour coalition is likely to suffer heavy losses in this election, with Labour as the junior coalition partner bearing proportionally greater losses especially with the hard left AAA-PBP alliance on its tail; Fine Gael stands to lose many seats as well, however. Fianna Fail may recover but it is unlikely ever to see its previous highs again with the political landscape of Ireland more fragmented than ever before. This election will be crucial also for the AAA-PBP to establish themselves in the long term now that the urban left-wing ticket is no longer split, and also for Sinn Fein to establish themselves as the main opposition to the likely coalitions that will emerge. The Irish Green Party has a chance to regain a foothold in the Dail as well, and strong personal votes, particularly important in preferential voting systems, could see the Social Democrats and Renua Ireland maintain their presence.

4. Which constituencies are the ones to watch for this election?

In my opinion, Cavan-Monaghan and Donegal, since they are Sinn Fein's strongest outposts in the Republic of Ireland. Dublin Bay North, since it has the most candidates standing (19) and in such a wide variety as well. Dublin Bay South, because Irish Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is hoping to get his seat back (this is the best chance for them) and it will be an important test for Renua Ireland founder Lucinda Creighton as well. Dublin Central, for similar reasons to Dublin Bay North except there are only 3 seats to fight over with 10 different parties and 4 independents in the ring. Dublin West-could Joan Burton, leader of Labour in Ireland and current Tanaiste, lose her own seat and will popular AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger retain hers? Wicklow-the Social Democrats may be a new and relatively minor force in Irish politics, but can Stephen Donnelly's personal popularity see him through?