Saturday, 26 March 2016

Alan's Green Thoughts' guide to upcoming elections in 2016

We are nearly there, everyone (for those of you in the UK)-2016 elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, London Assembly and Mayor, Police & Crime Commissioners, and also for local councils (depending on area) will take place in just six weeks.

Scottish Parliament:

Despite the fact that the SNP will continue to remain a dominant force in Scottish politics for the time being, the Scottish Green Party is set to make strong gains in this election. Patrick Harvie and Maggie Chapman, the leaders of the SGP, are lead candidates for Glasgow and North East Scotland (Aberdeenshire, the city of Dundee, and the surrounding counties, in essence). Other lead SGP candidates are Sarah Beattie-Smith (South Scotland), Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland & Fife region), John Finnie (Highlands & Islands), Alison Johnstone (Lothians), and Kirsten Robb (West Scotland). There is also a possibility of a Green gain in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency, where Patrick Harvie is standing.

Welsh Assembly:

With the possibility of the Liberal Democrats being eliminated from the Welsh Assembly altogether, it will be important for Wales Green Party to make a breakthrough so that a progressive voice can be heard in the Assembly from areas where Plaid Cymru lack support. Alice Hooker-Stroud, Wales Green Party's leader, and Amelia Womack, Green Party Deputy Leader, have been working hard for a gain of Green seats in Mid & West Wales (Dyfed & Powys, with Merionethshire from Gwynedd added), and South Wales Central (Cardiff and surrounding areas of eastern Glamorgan) respectively.  Interestingly, there appear to be no minor party lists fielded for the Welsh Assembly elections yet despite the fact that nominations have to be submitted less than two weeks from now.

Northern Irish Assembly:

Amidst all the usual sectarianism, there will be a full slate of Green Party candidates for the Northern Ireland Assembly election for the first time ever. Steven Agnew MLA is standing again in North Down, and Northern Irish voters can also vote for Clare Bailey (Belfast South), Ross Brown (Belfast East), Malachai O'Hara (Belfast North), Ellen Murray (Belfast West), Georgia Grainger (Strangford), Tanya Jones (Fermanagh & South Tyrone), Dawn Patterson (East Antrim), Helen Farley (South Antrim), Jennifer Breslin (North Antrim), Amber Hamill (East Londonderry), Mary Hassan (Foyle), Dan Barrios-O'Neill (Lagan Valley), Ciaran McClean (West Tyrone), Simon Lee (Upper Bann), Michael Watters (Newry & Armagh), John Hardy (South Down), and Stefan Taylor (Mid Ulster). Clare has a strong chance of gaining NI Green Party a second seat in the Assembly via the hotly contested and diverse Belfast South seat (the one to watch), which at Westminster level saw the highest ever Green vote in Northern Ireland last year and also the record for lowest ever winning percentage by a candidate (24.5%!). Ellen, meanwhile, is the first ever transgender candidate to stand in Northern Ireland.

London Assembly:

Can the Green Party gain a third seat in the London Assembly? In spite of UKIP being likely to re-enter the London Assembly, I believe they can especially if the Liberal Democrats fail to recover from 2015 and end up exiting the London Assembly altogether, which is a possibility given their lack of national exposure. Even if Sian Berry does not become the next Mayor of London (very unlikely due to the tight contest between Labour's Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives' Zac Goldsmith), her performance will likely ensure the Green Party retains the £10,000 mayoral deposit for the first time since the first Mayor of London election in 2000. Also, as UKIP could potentially implode following the EU referendum result on 23rd June, this will be an excellent chance for the Green Party to establish themselves as at least the third and alternative party in British politics.

Police & Crime Commissioners:

In these elections, Britain should hopefully see an average turnout of much greater than 15%, and no repeat of the situation in South Wales where some polling stations saw no voters come in at all for the PCC election there. Some police areas will also have Green Party candidates to vote for this time; so far they are Avon & Somerset (Chris Britton), Hertfordshire (Alex Longmore), Staffordshire (Paul Woodhead), and Sussex (James Doyle). More community policing, an emphasis on restorative justice when possible, greater police accountability, and environmentally efficient use of police resources are what Britain needs. 

Council elections:

In addition to many 'by-thirds' council elections, there will also be all-out elections in Bristol, Exeter, Elmbridge, Watford, Welwyn Hatfield, Colchester, Sheffield, Knowsley, Rotherham,  Peterborough, Warrington, Cherwell, Gloucester, Lincoln, Rochford, Stroud, Winchester, and Woking. Keep an eye out for Green gains in Bristol, Sheffield, Stroud, and Rochford in particular, and the Green Party also has a chance to win their first seats in both Exeter and Colchester and regain seats in Watford.

What of the other political parties?

Labour are likely to suffer some significant losses, given that 2012 (the last time those seats were up for election) was their best election year throughout the 2010-15 Parliament and that they will continue to lose their footing in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. UKIP is stronger now than in 2012 and the divisive 2016 Budget will put a damper on Conservative hopes. This will also be a test for the Liberal Democrats-and since they are in opposition, these elections could either help them survive or push them towards a lingering demise.




Friday, 25 March 2016

My analysis of recent local by-elections and my statement on the recent Brussels attacks

Readers, the results of local by-elections from the last 3 weeks that featured Green Party candidates were as follows:

(10/03/16)

Cumbria CC, Kendal Strickland & Fell: Liberal Democrats 1067 (59.9%), Labour 307 (17.2%), Conservative 172 (9.7%), Green Party 128 (7.2%), UKIP 106 (6.0%).

(24/03/16):

Allerdale DC, Dalton: Independent 133 (31.7%), Lab 118 (28.2%), Con 93 (22.2%), UKIP 53 (12.6%), Green 22 (5.3%)

Kettering BC, St Peter's: Con 468 (51.0%, +10.8%), Lab 180 (19.6%, -5.5%), UKIP 149 (16.2%, -2.2%), Green 93 (10.1%, -6.3%), Lib Dem 28 (3.1%).

It has been a slow month for local by-elections, partly because we are approaching the 2016 United Kingdom local elections, parliamentary by-elections in Ogmore and Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough, elections for Police and Crime Commissioners, the London Assembly election, the Welsh Assembly election, the Scottish Parliament election, and the Northern Ireland Assembly election. (I will cover these in further detail in tomorrow's blog post-stay tuned)

On the recent attacks in Brussels, which killed 34 people, I would like to remind you all that all victims of terrorist attacks (not just those in Europe and the USA), whether they be isolated attacks or parts of ongoing conflicts, and wherever they may occur to whomever they may occur, are worthy of remembrance. I will also say that values of peace, tolerance, and diversity must be kept in these difficult times of ours.

Alan.



Thursday, 17 March 2016

On the Spring 2016 Budget

Earlier today, the first budget of 2016 was announced. Since 2010, when George Osborne first became Chancellor of the Exchequer, every budget has been worse than the last, and this one proved to be no exception.

The cuts to taxes on fossil fuels, as well as cuts to corporation tax with no promise to invest more in catching wealthy tax avoiders and tax evaders, are clear signs that this Budget is once again on the side of the rich and powerful, yet the austerity lie is being maintained even with overwhelming evidence that austerity is a total farce. Cuts to capital gains tax, an increase on the threshold on ISAs, and an increase in income thresholds for (relatively) high-income earners are further evidence of this (the amounts concerned are earned by, for example, prosperous middle managers), and none of these measures are necessary when most people do not have over £15,000 saved in ISAs and when the majority of people in the UK earn less than the £26,000 annual average income.

Meanwhile, poor and vulnerable people in Britain are facing further pain under this latest budget, with the transition from DLA to PIP set to take away as much as £4.5 billion from people with disabilities and impairments over the next five years, compounding the latest cuts to Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) ESA payments. So hurtful are those cuts that the story of a Conservative disability activist resigning from the party over their cuts to vital disability benefits went viral within a matter of minutes. One cut that would be actually be useful to the UK has not been included in this budget, however. It is the cutting of the Trident nuclear deterrent, whose maintenance costs Britain £100 billion per year and which is useless, immoral, and illegal under the international Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, to which the UK is a signatory.

The worst item of all in this budget is the plan to convert every state school in England into an academy by 2020, which could effectively end public accountability of the school system. The failures of academy schools as well as free schools, which have been cornerstones of the Conservatives' education plans since 2010, have been exposed numerous times. It must also be emphasised that the traditional 3.00-3.30 pm finish for schoolchildren in Britain, which the Conservatives foresee an end to with this dangerous and wrecking plan of theirs, is there for a good reason-so that they are not excessively stressed by their schooling, so that they can concentrate on extra-curricular activity, so that their parents can spend important quality time with them, and that they have time to gain an effective rest.

In summary, this is another Osborne-sponsored budget worthy of nothing but condemnation and scorn for its cruelty, its blatant biases, and its destructive plans.

Alan.



Monday, 14 March 2016

My analysis of recent German Landtag elections

Last night, three states in Germany, specifically Baden-Wurttenberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt, held their latest Landtag elections.

The German Green Party made history in Baden-Wurttenberg, by finishing first a landtag election poll, and for the very first time. They managed 30.3%, which gave them 47 seats in the Baden-Wurttenberg Landtag, an increase of 11 and placing them ahead of the often-dominant Christian Democratic Union (CDU), giving Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, who in 2011 became the first ever Green Minister-President of any German Landtag, another term in office. The Social Democrats, the German Greens' coalition partners in Baden-Wurttenberg, were hit badly, though, dropping from 35 seats to 19 and finishing 4th.

Our German colleagues' success in Baden-Wurttenberg, however, could not be matched in simultaneous elections in Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate. The Greens there suffered losses of 4 seats and 12 seats there, and only just stayed above the 5% threshold in each case with 5.2% and 5.3% respectively. I am as of yet unsure how this has happened, given that environmental issues are more pressing than ever across Europe.

Another major story is the losses the CDU and the SPD have suffered in all three elections, and all due to the rise of the Eurosceptic and right-wing Alternative For Germany (AfD) movement, in a manner similar to UKIP in Britain. The refugee crisis and Angela Merkel's approach to it were a strong factor in the rise of the AfD, especially in Saxony-Anhalt where they came a strong second with 24.2% of the vote, displacing Die Linke (The Left) into third place and finishing with 24 seats, just 6 less than the CDU. Meanwhile, a moderate splinter group of AfD, the Alliance for Progress and Renewal (ALFA), failed to get even 1% of the vote in any of the three Landtags. Amidst all this, Die Linke had a poor night, losing 9 seats in Saxony-Anhalt (the SPD lost 15, however) and not going anywhere in either Baden-Wurttenberg or Rhineland-Palatinate.  The Free Democrats regained entry into the Rhineland-Palatinate landtag with 6.2% of the vote, which partly explains the Greens' bad performance and heavy seat losses there, and improved their position in Baden-Wurttenberg by gaining 5 extra seats. They were however disappointed about missing the crucial threshold in Saxony-Anhalt by a mere 0.1% of the vote, although the FDP have never been particularly strong in the east of Germany any more than the Greens have (compared to their strength in western provinces).

This historic win for the German Greens in Baden-Wurttenberg is truly a sign that contrary to popular belief, green politics can appeal to everyone and can work for everyone, and in any country as well. It is a shining example of the hope for us all when we all make the right choices.

Alan.

Friday, 11 March 2016

On recent cuts to ESA

Earlier this week, the Conservatives voted to override the House of Lords and force through cuts of £30 to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) received by claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Only three Conservative MPs rebelled against this cruellest of cuts (Heidi Allen, Stephen McPartland and Jeremy Lefroy), which were also not supported by any non-Conservative MP. The bill confirming this is likely to gain Royal Assent soon, alas, given that the Lords cannot delay it any further.

I myself claimed WRAG payments whist I was working part-time given that I, like many autistic people, struggle to find full-time work in spite of academic and non-academic achievements. These extra disability payments are not only a necessity instead of a bonus, but they are also insufficient especially given how public sector cuts have impacted on disability support for adults, students, workers, otherwise. And no amount of money can overcome or even ease the problems autistic people face in the world of work and elsewhere-only a supportive and accepting work environment can help, as I have experienced.

In light of changes from DLA to PIP which are occurring at the same time (which worry me since I am a DLA claimant), this is dangerous news indeed. Now more than ever must we help each other and unite against those who for no reason other than greed and cruelty wish to hurt society's most vulnerable people.

Alan.



Sunday, 6 March 2016

My analysis of the Slovak parliamentary election of 2016

Slovakia held its parliamentary elections yesterday, and as has often been the case in Central and Eastern Europe recently, it did not turn out well for progressive politics.

The ruling social-democratic party, Smer-SD (Direction and Social Democracy) was roundly defeated, losing 34 seats out of 83 and more importantly its parliamentary majority. Nevertheless, it remains by a considerable margin the largest political party in the Slovak National Council. The very worrying story of this election is the rise in support amongst Slovaks for hard-right, anti-immigrant, and racist parties. The Slovak National Party and a new group, People's Party-Our Slovakia, entered the Slovak National Council with 8.6% and 8.0% of the vote respectively which gave them 15 seats and 14 seats. 'People's Party-Our Slovakia' is actually a neo-Nazi party similar to the Slovak nationalist and anti-Semitic movement led by Nazi collaborator Jozef Tiso in World War II, whereas the Slovak National Party is ultranationalist and has expressed racist views towards the Hungarian and Romani minorities of Slovakia.

Meanwhile, the non-racist right-of-centre parties could not achieve much of an advance, with the free-market liberal party Freedom of Solidarity (SaS) only managing to gain 10 extra seats despite finishing a (distant) second to Smer-SD, and Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLaNO) only gained 3 seats. The moderate pro-Hungarian interests party, Most-Hid, lost two of its 13 seats and the Christian Democrats (KDH) only polled 4.94%, just 0.06% below the 5% threshold needed for representation; this left them without any MPs in Slovakia for the first time since it was founded in 1990, two years before Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (Slovak elects all its MPs in one nationwide constituency in the same way the Netherlands does.) This can be blamed not only on rising support for extreme-right parties as opposed to centre-right parties but also the rise of the Network Party which was founded by a former KDH member and is also moderately conservative, as well as the We Are Family party led by Boris Kollar (not affiliated with the 1970s song of the same name, by the way).

Real progressive forces sadly did not even come close to winning representation. The Green Party of Slovakia and the Communist Party of Slovakia only polled 0.67% and 0.62% respectively. The Green Party of Slovakia at least improved on their 2012 performance, whereas the Communist Party of Slovakia's support continued to decline, being 0.1% down on 2012.

Another story in a worrying political trend that is occurring amongst the refugee crisis and the continuing Great Recession-Western Europe is (mostly) opening up more to progressive politics and rejecting the failed austerity doctrine whilst Central and Eastern Europe are becoming more conservative and less open-minded politically overall.

Alan.

Friday, 4 March 2016

My analysis of by-election results from 25/2/16 and 3/316 and other thoughts

The results of local by-elections that featured Green Party candidates, which occurred on 25 February and 3 March respectively, were as follows:

(25/02/16):

Dudley MBC, Kingswinford North and Wall Heath: Conservative 1456 (53.8%, +4.0%), Labour 934 (34.5%, +8.4%), UKIP 262 (9.7%, -11.4%), Green 52 (1.9%, -0.7%).

(03/03/16):

Blackpool UA, Bloomfield: Labour 450 (57.6%,+12.8%), Conservative 150 (19.2% ,-0.6%), UKIP 118 (15.1% ,-10.0%), Green 32 (4.1%,-4.6%), Liberal Democrats 31 (4.0%).

Both of these wards were very safe for their respective parties (Conservative and Labour) and therefore the continuing decline of UKIP, particularly in Dudley, is the most noteworthy statistic about these results once again.

Onto the subject of parliamentary by-elections and the Green Party, I am pleased to hear that for the Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough by-election, where the date has not yet been announced, we have reselected our 2015 candidate, Christine Gilligan-Kubo. This seat is likely to be abolished in the next boundary review, so this year will almost certainly be the last time that combination of Sheffield wards will be contested at parliamentary level. And keep a lookout for a Green Party candidate in the anticipated Ogmore by-election, which will occur because the incumbent Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies is standing for the Welsh Assembly constituency that covers the exact same area in May. Ogmore will also be substantially altered by the aforementioned boundary review, like almost all existing UK parliament constituencies in Wales.

Alan.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

My analysis of and thoughts on the Irish general election of 2016

Whilst I was away at Green Party conference, the Republic of Ireland held its 2016 general election to elect members to the 32nd Dail. I will point out that at this time of writing that the Longford-Westmeath count has still not quite finished, with two of its seats left to declare. 156 seats including that of Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) Sean Barrett have been filled, though.

Despite claims of a 'recovery' which were often repeated throughout the campaign, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition (really more like the UK's previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition) was soundly thrashed by the electorate for the misery it caused to many. Labour suffered the heaviest losses, leaving them with just 7 TDs (Teachta Dailas, or members of the Dail) and 6.6% of the first preference vote, their worst result in Irish history. The only consolation at all for them was that the Tanaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton kept her seat in Dublin West despite there being a chance she would lose it. Ministers like Alex White in Dublin Rathdown and veterans like Emmet Stagg in Kildare North were not so lucky, however, and Labour lost representation in their former leader Eamon Gilmore's constituency of Dun Laoghaire. Fine Gael also suffered a substantial defeat, losing 26 seats to leave them with 50 and the loss of Fine Gael's ex-Defence Minister Alan Shatter in Dublin Rathdown was a particular blow of note. They still remain the largest party in the Dail, however, since Ireland is becoming more accepting of true multi-party politics.

Another reason for these heavy losses were the creation of Renua Ireland (a right-wing, liberal party) by 3 ex-FG TDs and the Social Democrats by prominent ex-Labour TD Roisin Shortall (TD for Dublin North West) and independents Catherine Murphy (Kildare North) and Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow). All 3 Social Democrat TDs were reelected although despite strong performances elsewhere such as in Dublin Central and Limerick County they failed to elect anyone else to the Dail. Renua Ireland, meanwhile, achieved 2.2% of the vote overall, enough to reclaim national election expenses, but lost all of their Dail representation despite the best efforts of Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, and Billy Timmins, who could not pick up enough crucial transfers in later counts.

Fianna Fail made a surprisingly strong recovery, more than doubling its 2011 seat total from 20 to 44, although this was expected given that its moderate profile made it 'transfer-friendly' again (Ireland uses STV for its elections) and how badly it had performed in 2011. It is unlikely, however, to ever again reach the heights it once did, and it did not become the largest party in the Dail either. This is partly because there are few if any real differences between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in practice and because the Irish electorate are no longer willing to let them simply play musical chairs on the Irish political scene as they once did.

Sinn Fein were initially expected to perform very well, but in the end they only increased their seat total in the Dail from 14 to 23, and actually lost one of their seats in Donegal. Part of the reason for this was because they proved not to be very adept at getting late transfers, since Sinn Fein is divisive in the Republic of Ireland amongst voters the same way it is in Northern Ireland, except less so. In many cases, however, their failures were rather close in the final stages as Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and various Independents scrambled for that constituency's last seat; in a notable example of this, Independent TD Thomas Pringle retained his Donegal seat against all expectations  and stopped Sinn Fein from winning a second seat there in the process (his native town had been moved out of the recreated constituency).

I am pleased for the performance of the Irish Green Party, who returned to the Dail by electing their leader, Eamon Ryan, in Dublin Bay South and their deputy leader, Catherine Martin, in Dublin Rathdown; they also saved their national election expenses this time around despite having the disadvantage of being excluded from a major Leaders' Debate of this election. Let us hope they do not repeat the mistakes of the 30th Dail of 2007-2011, in which Eamon Ryan was a Green TD.

Left-wing candidates in Ireland, however, proved to be the star of the show, especially in the Dublin area. Despite the fact that both Clare Daly and Joan Collins had left the Socialist Party (now the Anti-Austerity Alliance) and People Before Profit (PBP) but still got elected in their respective constituencies of Dublin Fingal and Dublin South-Central, the AAA-PBP alliance elected six TDs, who were Mick Barry (Cork North-Central), Gino Kenny (Dublin Mid-West), Brid Smith (Dublin South-Central), Paul Murphy (Dublin South-West), Ruth Coppinger (Dublin West) and Richard Boyd Barrett (Dun Laoghaire). Two of the other Independents 4 Change TDs, Mick Wallace and Tommy Broughan, were also comfortably returned although Seamus Healy had a more difficult time in a reunited Tipperary constituency. However, their support outside Dublin is usually rather limited, although Cian Prendeville performed strongly in Limerick City.

Direct Democracy Ireland, however, never got anywhere. Not a single one of their 21 candidates received enough votes to even save their election expenses and Ben Gilroy failed to repeat his 2013 Meath East by-election feat of beating Labour, although in Meath West next door his colleague Alan Lawes did beat the Labour candidate there. Most other DDI candidates got between 100 and 300 first preference votes apiece and they often came bottom of their constituency poll, including their leader Pat Greene in Louth. The 5 Workers' Party candidates suffered a similar fate but with less derisory results than DDI; a similar thing happened with the 3 Catholic Democrats candidates although none of them finished last in their constituency. Fis Nua did poorly as well in Clare and Donegal, although that was better than the new United People Party, which never even made it to a ballot paper this election when their sole candidate, Enda Reynolds, pulled out for reasons unknown.

21 Independent TDs were elected to this Dail, 5 from the Independent Alliance and 16 general Independents. The Independent Alliance elected Shane Ross (Dublin Rathdown), the first TD to be declared duly elected to the 32nd Dail, and also Finian McGrath (Dublin Bay North), Kevin 'Boxer' Moran (Longford-Westmeath), Sean Canney (Galway East), and Michael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway); their other candidates generally polled reasonably well depending on constituency. Notable other independents elected include LGBT advocate Katherine Zappone in Dublin South-West, local doctor Michael Harty in Clare, and brothers Michael Healy-Rae and Danny Healy-Rae in Kerry; Michael Healy-Rae received the most 1st preference votes of any TD elected this year with an impressive 20,378. My friend Fiona O'Leary, an autism rights activist, was not so lucky in Cork South West, winning only 423 first preference votes. For every independent who succeeds or nearly succeeds in getting a Dail seat, there are many who do not even come close to the mark in Irish elections. Several former FG/Labour TDs and activists who ran as independents, like Fidelma Healy Eames, failed to even save their expenses (a candidate needs to reach 1/4 of the Droop quota in their constituency at some point to reclaim up to 8700 Euros of election expenses). Pat Feeney in Galway West received the wooden spoon in the 2016 Irish general election by polling just 22 first preference votes.

With Irish politics more diverse than ever before, a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition might end up emerging through lack of an alternative government formation and a desire to avoid a snap election, even though these two parties have been bitter enemies since the 1920s. The Fine-Gael Labour coalition is down to a total of 57 seats from the 113 it obtained altogether in 2011, and can clearly no longer govern. Nor can Fianna Fail realistically form a viable government from other parties at present.

Alan.

UPDATE: The Longford-Westmeath count finally concluded earlier today, so all 158 seats have been filled.