Thursday, 31 December 2009

Looking forward to 2010 - the year that will see the first Green Party MPs returned to Westminster

As the sun sets on another year (for the 38th time in my life - how did that happen?) it's surely time to share my enthusiasm for 2010. I can't help thinking that, however you cut it, next year will be the one that Green Party MPs are returned to Westminster for the first time. I hope to be among their number. We'll be having a General Election within weeks - and there have never quite been circumstances like it. After three terms, the incumbent Labour Government is deeply unpopular. It's hardly surprising, really. We're at war on two fronts (and both the bodies, and the bills, are piling up), the gap between the richest and the poorest is wider than ever, public services are under attack, taxes and unemployment are both on the rise.

But no-one really wants to vote for the Tories either - certainly not in Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk, Kemp Town, Peacehaven or Saltdean. Many of us can remember the socal destruction wrought last time we had a Tory government. Younger residents are just gobsmacked, it seems to me, by the gibberish the Tories seem to speak on everything from the environment to the economy, the wide gulf between the words and spin coming out of Tory HQ and the reality of the Tory councillors and candidates here in Brighton and Sussex, and the Eton and Oxford background of so many of them. Voters want change - but not THAT change.

That's why the Green Party's vote share has been increasingly, steadily, over the years - and why polls are now predicting the Greens will pick up seeats for the first time: that 2010 will be our year.

To be honest, I reckon we'll end up with a Tory government (although I hope it's a hung parliament, so  the voices of all parties will have to be listened to - as Mary Mears is beginning to understand at Brighton Council) - and the question facing those of us living here in Brighton Kemptown is simple: in the context of a Tory government, who do you want to represent you locally?

I think the best answer is a Green Party MP. Of course, I would say that wouldn't I - but Greens have consistently shown they work tirelessly for the communities they serve (unlike some MPs from other parties).

So, please vote Green in 2010 - whether you live here in Brighton or not. Not only will you get a hardworking and honest constituency MP (unencumbered by a party line that will surely hamper Labour or Tory MPs whatever happens) you'll be playing a key role in changing the nature of debate at Westminster.

Remember, one more Tory or Labour MP will hardly be noticerd - but electing some Green MPs to Westminster will make a world of difference.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Labour's early Christmas present seems to be paying off already - latest poll shows Greens on track for victory here in Brighton

A month or so ago I mused that a Labour Party decision to focus their campaigning efforts on environmental issues in marginal seats was something of an early Christmas present for the Green Party here in Brighton.

To take the one issue that voters most often say they trust the Green Party on more than anyone - and make that the thing Labour candidates will talk about most (especially when Gord-help-us Brown and Energy Secretyary Ed Miliband were busy pretending the failed climate talks at Copenhagen had produced a deal worth the paper it was written on) seemed bound to make it more likely that we will win seats at Labour's expense in areas where the strategy was applied.

And the latest poll of voting intentions here in Brighton seems to show that to be the case: an ICM poll of more than 500 voters in Brighton Pavilion show that Green Party leader Caroline Lucas is on track to pick up the seat, with 35% of voters saying they'll vote Green in March - or whenever Gord-help-us decides to call this year's election.

Some 27% of people said they'd be voting Tory, and just 25% Labour. The Lib-Dems, who don't hold a single council seat anywhere in Brighton, look set to claim the votes of a mere 11% of people.

Perhaps even more interestingly, a full 63% of those who said they'd be likely to vote Labour or Lib-Dem said they'd switch to vote Green if they thought doing so would be the most effective way of keeping the Tories out. I'm not a fan of tactical voting myslef - I have always voted for the candidate I believed in most, and I hope most voters do too - but it does seem as though tghe Greens are set to win here in Brighton, however you cut it.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Christmas Eve poem

Marcus Brigstocke sums up Copenhagen climate talks in the style of Dr Seuss

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Homeless benefit from national Rage Against The X-Factor

If you were moved by my previous post about the nine-year housing backlog in Brighton and Hove then here's some excellent news - Shelter, the homeless charity that produced the figures in the first place, has benefitted to the tune of about £80,000 (and counting!) thanks to a bit of direct action to reclaim the Christmas Number One slot from X-Factor and Tory luvvy Simon Cowell's shmaltzy TV-produced pop.

More than a million people joined a facebook group dedicated to promoting download purchases of the Rage Against The Machine ditty (sample lyric: Fuck You! I won't do what you tell me!) in the hope of it becoming the Christmas number one single ahead of this year's predictable X-factor winner, Joe Someone.

It wasn't just about protesting about the way manufactured music has taken over the charts - but about the whole notion of an over-commercialised Christmas. And best of all, each purchaser was given the option of donating to Shelter with their purchase, in an attempt to do something a litte more useful than symbolic with the campaign's energy.

And best of all - it worked. Rage Against the Machine's 'Killing in the Name' was duly named Christmas Number One on Sunday - and the band has now said it will donate some of its 'windfall' profit to Shelter, and come over to the UK sometime in the New Year to play a free 'thank you' gig for British fans. I can't wait!

We should be included too! People deserve to know about all the candidates vying for their vote.

Yesterday a cunning ruse to hold US style televised leaders' debates was announced: TV viewers (ie most of us, really) will be treated to four and a half hours of policy announcements and platitudes from Gordon, Dave and Nick.

But in towns and cities like Brighton, Perth and Cardiff wannabe-MPs from other parties can, and will, receive substantially more votes than any of the 'big three' parties.

Here in Brighton and Hove its the voters wanting to learn more about the Green Party that will lose out from having the door closed on its leader, the MEP and Brighton Pavilion candidate Caroline Lucas. In some areas it's the SNP, in others UKIP, in still others Plaid Cymru.

Now it seems some of the smaller parties are preparing to take legal action over plans to exclude them from the  debates. They're beginning by taking detailed legal advice on whether such US-style debates break election rules.

Whatever the law says, it's clearly unfair to ask voters to choose between candidates when some - but not all - have benefited from massive media exposure.

Greenpeace activists face Christmas in jail for peaceful protest at Copenhagen climate talks

Four environmental activists are facing Christmas in a Danish jail for the heinous crime of interrupting a few politicians' dinner.
The Greenpeace volunteers were trying to encourage some of the heads of state in Copenhagen for the recent climate talks to show some real leadership - and demand a binding treaty likely to stave off the worst aspects of devastating climate change.
Not only were they ignored when it came to agreeing a treaty, they were rounded up and arrested too - and now face Christmas in prison.
I've written to the Danish authorities today demanding they are immediately released on bail: you can find out more about the case, and take action yourself, here.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Great video of what we needed to get out of Copenhagen talks, but didn't

Icy pavements take toll as 100 present with broken limbs at Brighton hospital - in one morning

I have just heard that more than 100 people have turned up at hospital this morning with broken limbs after falling on Brighton's icy  pavements. That includes one elderly resident of Leach Court who, I have been told, has fractured both a hip and an arm in three places.

This is terrible. According to Help the Aged and Age Concern  many older residents who break a limb in a fall never fully recover.

Brighton and Hove City Council is working hard to keep the roads open, both for traffic and the emergency vehicles having to rush around helping all the casualties, but many residents are feeling a little left out in the cold - literally - by the council's failure to grit side streets and pavements, especially in residential areas and outside the shopping centre.

The priority for everyone now must be getting the streets and pavements passable again, and ensuring all residents, especially those who are older or otherwise especially vulnerable, are ok.

When the thaw has come and gone we'll need some serious scrutiny into the council's response to this entirely predicted cold snap.

Of course the council can't control the weather, but it can control its response to it - and, crucially, how much money it spends on ensuring we are all safe and well in winter.

I hope some lessons are learned - they clearly weren't last time.

And if you think I'm being a little unfair on the council - just take a look at this self-congratulatory press release it issued before the weekend. Talk about pride before a fall! Trouble is, it's the council's political masters who are proud, and the city's older and more vulnaerable residents who are having the falls.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Copenhagen talks end in disastrous failure

Well world leaders have come and gone, played hardball with each other (as world leaders are wont to do), and completely failed to agree an international treaty designed to stop climate change and guarantee the future of life as we know it.

Hey ho. Failure was predictable enough after all. No-one really thought the likes of Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Manmohan Singh and Wen Jia-boa could put self-interest to one side to guarantee the future of the species. It was a bit like a game of poker between cowboys in which they all cheat, suspect each other of cheating, and all end up dead in a simultaneous shoot-out. Never has it been more obvious that we need politicians with policies for the next 100 years - not just the next 100 days.

So, a binding deal to cut global carbon emissions proved impossible to agree - and instead we've got the rather pathetic Copenhagen Accord.

It doesn't contain any binding targets for emissions reduction, and although it contains the hope that global temperature rises won't top 2 deg Centigrade it contains no mechanism, or even suggestion, for how that might happen, or who might be responsible making sure it does.

It's as though the world has signed up to a deal to promote lots of motherhood and apple-pie without mentioning either breeding or baking.

And even the Copenhagen Accord wasn't 'adopted' - it was merely 'noted', after objections from China, India and Africa.

The Accord spells the end of the Kyoto Protocol - the  mechanism for cutting emissions agreed in 1997. Kyoto was deeply flawed, but was, as has been oft-repeated, 'the only game in town'. Well now there's no game at all.

And yet Ed Miliband, so upset at the idea that African nations were comparing the talks' failure to a deal that would lead the widespread slaughter of their people that he reportedly rushed from his hotel bedroom to save the talks (!), has bizarrely hailed the agreement as a good news story.

According to The Observer, Miliband said the Accord "was definitely worth saving".

The deal "is a document that it substantive ways will make the lives of people around this planet better".

What nonsense. It won't make life better for the millions living in the floodplains of Bangladesh. Or the people of Tuvalu. Or the millions dependent on glaciers for drinking water in Africa, China, India and South America. It won't make life better for the 60,000 Brighton and Hove householders told their homes will be overcome by storm surge floods in the next few years. And it won't make life much better for my five-year-old son, who might be best off learning, as his Grandpa has advised, how to use a gun to make sure he's one of life's winners when society goes tits up.

The sooner we get rid of Miliband, Brown and their ilk - and replace them with politicians who are more committed to the survival of the species than of business as usual - the better.

As Sussex grinds to a halt in the face of a little climate chaos, perhaps the future is as well predicted by this snowman in Queen's Park as any other story: Endangered Species, reads the label. I guess the Sussex snowman has got a little less time than the rest of us, but I guess (s)he's talking for all of us.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Brighton's housing backlog will take nine years to clear, says Shelter

A new report by homeless charity Shelter has calculated that it would take Brighton and Hove council nearly nine years to clear their housing backlog, placing Brighton in the bottom third of the country. Shelter says a total of 82 authorities would take between a decade and 33 years to clear their waiting lists.

I am horrified by these figures. With Christmas fast approaching, I can imagine how difficult it must be for families living in temporary accommodation, or waiting to be moved. And with the weather getting colder by the day, and Brighton grinding to a halt (as usual) after a couple of inches of snow have fallen,, it is unacceptable that we should even have one homeless person sleeping on the streets in the UK. 

The Green Party believes that the Government has a key role to play in addressing the housing crisis by employing building workers in a large programme of environmentally sustainable social housing, creating both new homes and new jobs.

And locally, the Council has a responsibility to make extra efforts to ensure empty homes are brought into use - a real problem here in Brighton. Greens strongly advocate extra support to enable the homeless to get off the streets and into safe accommodation.

Mary M and Gordon B should be ashamed of themselves - I bet they'll be nice and warm this Christmas.

Caroline Lucas MEP, Green Party leader, and (hopefully) Brighton Pavilion's next MP, told today's Argus (not online yet): "Many families are forced to leave the city because they cannot find affordable homes, and workers such as nurses, teachers and local government workers struggle to afford to live in the communities they work for. The Council needs to introduce first time buyer grants, which would revive the private housing market, and stop the sale of council houses in order to put an end to this postcode lottery of housing."

She's spot on, as usual.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A 'Rainbow Coalition' to run Brighton Council? No Chance!

For once I find myself in complete agreement with Brighton Council's Tory leader Mary Mears: at last week's Council meeting she said 'The voters of this city didn't vote for a rainbow coalition to run the city' - and she's absolutely right.

But they didn't vote for the Tories to run the city either - the Conservatives hold just 25 of the 54 seats on the council, three less than they'd need for an overall majority. Most of these councillors are from Hove - the people of Brighton overwhelmingly chose Green or Labour councillors instead.

For the last two-and-a-half years though, they've had to put up with a minority Tory administration, limping along with the votes of a Hove independent councillor and the mayor's second casting vote. Democracy in action? Hardly!

But something changed at last week's council meeting. For the first time the Green and Labour councillors joined forces to reject some of the more extreme ideas, and to put some common sense back into a long-term planning document we were considering.

This has received lots of media interest, and generated even more hot air in the blogosphere - with everyone and his dog speculating that this will pave the way for a 'Rainbow Coalition' of non-Tories running the council.

But this won't happen: when voters chose to elect Green Alex Philips to represent them in the Goldsmid by-election in July they chose a great candidate, but also a party manifesto based on promoting social and environmental justice and creating a fairer city for all of us - policies the Labour Party has long since abandoned in favour of chasing votes.

Remember, Labour is the party that has presided over the fastest widening of the gap between rich and poor for about a century, that has taken us to war in Iraq and Afganistan (the body bags, and the bills, are still piling up) - and has used taxpayers' cash to bail out the richest bankers while hundreds are joining the dole queues - here in Brighton alone almost 1,000 redundancies have been announced in the last month.

After the Goldsmid by-election, we decided it wouldn't be fair on voters to form a governing coalition with either Labour or the Liberal Democrats. In the final analysis both simply have too many policies that voters have rejected: Labour must bear responsibility for the failings of the Government, and the disastrous policies of the last council administration here in Brighton, and the Liberal Democrats are a spent force here in Brighton. They haven't got a single councillor (they do have two in Hove, to be fair) - or policy, as far as I can tell. We agreed to work with them on an issue-by-issue basis to try and get the best deal for the people of this city, and to vote together on those matters we can agree on - and that's exactly what happened on Thursday.

I hope voters will switch to the Green Party in sufficient numbers at the 2011 council elections to allow us to form a Green administration that won't require us to sacrifice the very principles and policies that the electorate are increasingly telling us they like. 

So what next? In February next year we'll have to vote on a budget for 2010/11. The Tories' plans - for 160 redundancies and cuts in services, pretty much  across the board, are completely unacceptable. They'll make the city a cold and hard place - for all but the richest, those who live in the most expensive houses but use few public services.

So I hope we can work together again to protect the city from the worst impacts of the Tory administration's plans, but we won't be submitting a joint replacement budget. It's yet to be decided finally, but I imagine we'll be proposing a 'recession rescue package' for the least well off - and working together to save the public services earmarked for the biggest job cuts by the administration. Of course, that'll cost some money, and that means we'll have to look carefully at all of our revenue raising tools, including Council Tax. 

Watch this space.

Government backs Green Party policy on reducing road speed limits

The Government has today announced that it will be adopting the Green Party policy of cutting speed limits to 20 mph in residential areas - to save lives, cut traffic jams - and reduce climate-damaging carbon emissions.

Road Safety Minister Paul Clark said new rules would allow councils to put in place 20 mph schemes over groups of streets - without the need for costly - and often ineffective - traffic calming measures, such as speed humps. 

Cutting the speed limit is a common sense solution to Brighton's traffic problems that would have immediate effects. 1 in 40 pedestrians struck by a car at 20mph die, compared with 1 in 5 at 30mph. At 40mph the survival rate falls to 10 per cent. 

As Green Party leader Caroline Lucas said today: "The numbers speak for themselves: twenty really is plenty." 

Personally, I welcome the Government's change of heart over this issue. It's always nice to see Green Party policy adopted by others.

I hope they will go further to help make our streets safer, making public transport more affordable, and offering practical alternatives that make it easier for people to leave the car at home.

There's loads more information on the issue at the Twenty's Plenty website - and anyone wanting to add their name to a petition calling for Brighton and Hove to follow Portsmouth and Bristol's example by introducing a blanket 20 mph across the city centre and in residential areas can do so here.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Government tax panic - coming to a council near you soon...

Last Thursday Brighton's own Mary Mears, along with the leaders of every local council in the country, received an aggressive letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government warning them that the Government expects Council Tax rises to be the lowest ever, and that it will step in if any council dares to increase Council Tax by more than three per cent next year.

Now whatever we think of Council Tax - I think it's a deeply unfair tax that doesn't allow for the thousands, particularly older people, who live in larger homes (and therefore pay a higher rate of Council Tax) but have to live on low, and often fixed, incomes, and should be replaced with a form of Land Value Tax - it remains just about the only mechanism we’ve got for ensuring the cost of delivering a fair society are met according to people’s ability to pay.

For the Government to threaten direct intervention against any local authority who threatens to try and do exactly that is a direct assault on local democracy, and it will cost jobs, all for the sake of saving a few pence a week for those who, in the main, are most able to afford it.

And we're already seeing the effect. At a meeting of the Sussex Police Authority last week members effectively abandoned a promise made last year to create 31 new frontline neighbourhood policing jobs in order to escape the government's wrath: but creating these jobs was part of the democratic mandate that saw Police Authority members elected in the first place.

Add these 31 jobs to the 160 redundancies announced the week  before by Brighton and Hove City Council, the 450 at Lloyds TSB, the jobs to go at former retail giants Borders and Threshers, the 115 at the University of Sussex - well you get the picture - and we're talking a real jobs crisis here in Brighton, all for the sake of saving the richest a few pennies a week!

Just to be absolutely clear - I will continue to push for Sussex Police to try to boost neighbourhood policing by boosting its share of Council Tax by 3.77% next year - even if it means, not for the first time, that I find myself in a minority of one. I didn't take up local politics to be bullied by the Government - or to restrict myself to popular arguments.

New electoral roll confirms Brighton one of most transient towns in the country

The latest electoral roll confirms what many of us had already suspected - that Brighton has one of the most transient populations in the country.

In the last year, records for a staggering quarter of all addresses in central Brighton have changed, either as a result of people moving in to the area, people moving addresses within the area, people (mainly women getting married) changing their surname.

Some areas (Regency ward, for example, have seen more than a third of all records change in the last year) - I'll post all the details for Queen's Park when I've done the number-crunching!

Well the expenses scandal just doesn't go away, does it?

Well the expenses scandal just doesn't go away, does it?

Figures released this week show that Kemptown MP Des Turner claimed  £14,565.89 - more than half the average wage of his constituents - on top of his £65,000-a-year salary for taxpayer funded improvements and gadgets for his second home in central London.

The Argus carried as all the gory details - notably that we all paid about £2.5K for his new kitchen - and £350 for a telly.

I thought this was as good a reason as any to reproduce this cartoon - which tells the story of another Labour MP, former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who found herself in hot water when it emerged her husband had been using her parliamentary expenses to pay his bill for porn films.

Obviously there's no suggestion that Des has been getting the taxpayer to fund a porn habit - but it made me chuckle anyway.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Cuts Won't Work...

The Green New Deal group - a consortium of economists and environmental campaigners, including Green Party leader and likely next MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas - has just published its second report: The Cuts Won't Work.

This second report from the Green New Deal Group argues that the UK is currently missing a historic opportunity in the pre-budget report to tackle public debt, create thousands of new green jobs and kick-start the transformation to a low-carbon economy. 

The Cuts Won’t Work shows that, contrary to the policy of all the major political parties, cutting public spending now will tip the nation into a deeper recession by increasing unemployment, reducing the tax received and limiting government funding available to kick-start the Green New Deal. Instead a bold new programme of ‘green quantitative easing,’ rather than simply propping up failing banks, could help reduce the public debt and kick-start the transformation of the UK’s energy supply while creating thousands of new green-collar jobs.
This could be a real opportunity for the UK to show global leadership by implementing an interlinked package that recognises the need for targeted public spending in a downturn. Not to further fuel an economy hard-wired into ever increasing use of fossil fuels, but to revitalise the productive economy and lay the foundations of the low-carbon infrastructure of the future.

The opportunity for action is even more pressing than it was when President Franklin Roosevelt instigated his bold New Deal programme that touched almost every aspect of economy and society say the Group. The timescale is limited by the urgent need to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before the risk of uncontrollable global warming increases significantly. Today, there is a plan on the table that could revitalise our damaged economy while also radically restructuring it for a low carbon future.

The vision is needed to implement it before it is too late.

I think the report is spot on - although the most devastating impacts of climate change are yet to hit Sussex, mass unemployment is just around the corner. With about 1,000 local redundancies announced just this month, it's time to protect jobs and create new ones quicksmart.

Public finance crisis makes March election likely?

According to a piece in The Guardian, the Tories are banking (their favourite activity?) on next year's General Election happening in March, not May.

The billions of national debt racked up to prop up failing banks, and to fund the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mean next year's budget will be one of tax rises for everyone - and massive cuts in public services.

We've already seen a hint of that, in a letter send to all local authorities yesterday by the Government warning that any councils trying to protect local jobs by raising Council Tax more than 3% could be 'capped' - this has already put paid to plans to offset 100-odd job losses at Sussex Police by diverting some of the staff to neighbourhood policing duties (though I haven't given up fighting to keep Brighton's bobbies on the beat rather than put them on the dole yet!)

Then, of course, there's the Tory plans to slash 160 jobs from Brighton and Hove City Council - I am already being lobbied by staff warning that the plans will hit social care for older people hardest.

Anyway, the Tories' logic is that Labour won't want any election to happen after next year's budget, when much of this bad news will be out in the open - and I think their reasoning is pretty good really.

This week I have been invited to a Muslim wedding in Sudan next Februrary -I guess I'd better decline, and send best wishes by post instead!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Labour's early Christmas gift to the Greens here in Kemptown...

It seems the strategists at Labour Party HQ have come up with a wonderful wheeze for keeping the Tories out at next year's election - look for seats, like Brighton Kemptown, where the Green Party has traditionally done rather well, and campaign hard on, erm, environmental issues.

It's the early Christmas present we could never have dared wish for. Over recent months it's become pretty clear to everyone that there's little policy difference between Labour and the Tories, but people have had enough of the war, sleaze, bank-bailouts and economic collapse that Labour have imposed on us all, so we'll probably end up with a Tory government by default.

The only real questions left are whether the Tories will win an outright majority, and if so how big will it be - put simply, the more Tory MPs we return, the more scope they'll have for tax cuts, job losses and privatisation - and how many seats the smaller parties will pick up: will the Greens win seats in Brighton, London, Norwich and Edinburgh, in other words.

Personally, I think a Green MP here in Brighton Kemptopwn will be best able to challenge the Tory government to make sure the cuts don't hit us too hard locally - and to champion the interests of the constituency (and make the argument that 'Fair is Worth Fighting For') - without being encumbered by top-down party that's just suffered its heaviest defaeat in a generation.

And by stating their aim to make the policy battle about the environment, the one issue where Greens consistently outpoll the Labour Party - Mandelson and his cronies have juast made a more likely than ever that a Green MP is what Kemptown will return.

Thanks, Peter.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Campaign to protect public services - needed now more than ever

I've added mine to the 'Million Voices' campaign for better public services run by trade union UNISON (Hence the silly photo!)

In the week when the University of Sussex, Brighton Council and Sussex Police are all considering large-scale public sector redundancies right here in Brighton, the campaign could hardly be more urgent.

Unison. the country largest public sector union, hopes to persuade a million diferent people to join its campaign for people to come above profit in the public sector.

I hope they do - and I hope the Government listens - protecting public services and fighting for a fairer society are what drove me into politics in the first place.

Lib-Dem candidate in Brighton Pavilion quits

Breaking news: it seems no-one wants to be amng the first election candidates in the country to lose to a Green MP.

I've just heard that Andrew Falconer, the man chosen by the Liberal Democrats to stand against Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion - has stood down.

We all know the Lid-Dems are too yellow to be green. The Tories have just finished selcting their replacement candidate after David Bull quit - I wonder if Nancy Platts will be next to throw in the towel?

More news as I get it...

It's not just unemployment, child poverty's getting worse too

New figures published today show that unemployment and child poverty are both on the rise - as anyone watching the loal headlines would have already been able to tell!

This week alone we've learned of almost 1,000 job losses in Brighton - as Brighton Council, Sussex University, Threshers, Borders and Lloyds TSB have all announced redundancies.

And, surprise, surprise, an academic study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the New Policy Institute has just found that the number unemployed - or otherwise wanting work - is the highest for more than 20 years. 

The picture on child poverty - which affects about half of all children living here in Brighton Kemptown - is even worse.

According to the study, the number of children in low-income households stands at 2.1m, the highest its ever been - and that doesn't even include the children growing up in homes where all adults are unemployed.

I think this is an absolute disgrace - and it reminds me why it matters so much that we return some Green MPs to Westminster to try and stop the rot.

We need urgent action, starting with a guarantee that there will be no no redundancies in the public sector, a massive increase in public sector investment in green technologies - creating jobs not just happy bankers - no more welfare cuts for the most vulnerable, and an increase in support for education, training, play and children's services.

Yes, I know: that all sounds expensive... It's all about priorities after all - the Government could find the money in days to prop up the failing banking sector. To my mind, fair is worth fighting for - and creating jobs and ending child poverty is worth Government investment, even if that means Government borrowing rises a little, or those most able to afford it have to pay a little more tax...

Gassing rabbits on golf courses could see Brighton Council facing criminal charges

It turns out a controversial decision to gas rabbits to protect Waterhall Golf Course could have been illegal - and see Brighton Council facing criminal charges for breaking laws designed to protect wildlife.

The council has a duty to control rabbit numbers - and golfers had reported an increasing number of rabbit-related damage up at Waterhall.

So, without any effective consultation, it was decided to kill 'em all with poison gas.

Trouble is, the use of aluminium phosphate gas, the council's toxin of choice, is indiscriminate - and could have killed protected badgers - and other wildlife - too.

According to guidance from the British Pest Control Association: 

"Gassing of badgers and foxes is illegal.  As they may live in close proximity to rabbits, care must be taken that gassing does not affect badgers, foxes or any other species that might be at risk.  If in doubt, do not gas." 

Today Caroline Lucas MEP, who is a Vice President of the RSPCA as well as my counterpart Green Party parliamentary candidate in neighbouring Brighton Pavilion, wrote to Brighton Council leader boss Mary Mears, to express her concern at the blunder.

She expressed particular concern about whether there was adequate consideration of humane alternatives, and of the effects on other wildlife. 

"It's unclear if alternatives to gassing were looked into," she said.

"A site assessment was offered by a local expert in humane deterrence, and this wasn't taken up."

"Was there local notice given before the operation took place, and were there measures taken to ensure no badgers or other species were present? The council could be breaching the law if badger setts are harmed? Finally, do the council have a plan to prevent rabbits re-colonising the site?" 

"I would ask the Council to reconsider this action and liaise with local wildlife and animal welfare groups to establish a better long-term preventative and more humane solution to the problem. The killing of wild rabbits in this way can only ever be a temporary solution, as the rabbit population will re-emerge naturally."

Or, put another way, Vote Green or the bunny gets it, I reckon... 

I don't know what Mears has to say in reply: I guess she's saving it for the magistrate.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Not content with unemployment - now the Government wants to boost crime too

Government proposals to cut police budgets across the country by nearly half a billion pounds a year are nothing less than a disaster for communities.

They were included today in a series of reforms to the way policing is done here in the UK, and they are couched in terms of making better use of IT, cutting down bureaucracy and, surprisingly, thinning down street patrols.

But the reality is that you can't make cuts like this without losing jobs - and this is a measure which will take bobbies off the street and put them on the dole.

People want to see more police patrolling their neighbourhoods - not less - and any cuts that mean we see less uniformed patrols getting to know communities and listening to neighbourhood priorities, will be likely to lead to an increase in crime and, crucially, the fear of crime.

We are seeing the costs of bailing out the banks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coming home to roost: effectively we are being asked to pay for bankers' bonuses with the safety of our communities.

Here in Sussex the Chief Constable had already warned that jobs could go in the face of a £35m shortfall, even before today's announcement.

Greens believe that neighbourhood policing is working - and shouldn't be abandoned: no police jobs should go.

Tory Council budget plans add to Brighton unemployment woes

Yesterday evening I received my copy of the Tory administration's plans for next year's Brighton and Hove City Council Budget.

Hot off the press, it contains just the headline details at this stage. It will be publicly discussed for the first time next Wednesday - and then be subject to a range of scrutiny investigations (to check it's lawful, I think, but no-one really knows the point of the scrutiny process yet) - before being adopted (or not, a real possibility for the first time) by the Council next March.

A few hours of close reading later, and it's clear this budget will be an absolute disaster, particularly for the most vulnerable in the city.

If adopted, it will mean 160 jobs are to go, public services will be hived off to the private sector wherever possible, and cuts will mean less social care support, and respite care for older residents, less job advice for young people, less help with the costs of getting vulnerable children to school, reduced museum opening hours, and the cancellation of some bus subsidies - to name just a few.

I could hardly believe what I was reading, really. I woke up to the news that 450 Brighton jobs were to go at Lloyds TSB, spent my lunchtime hearing the details of plans to sack 116 from the University of Sussex, spoke with staff at retail giants Threshers and Borders about their uncertain future - and then ended my evening digesting the news that 160 council jobs are to be cut too.

And all in the name of lowering taxes - just about the only mechanism we've got for ensuring the cost of delivering a fair society are met according to people's ability to pay.

We've seen a derisory government grant as Gordon Brown continues his policy of withdrawing public support for council's on the south coast of England, and the local Tories are cock-a-hoop at the propect of one of the lowest Council Tax rises in history, at just 2.5%. 

This will be great news for a few - but bad news for thousands of the most vulnerable in the city. And an absolute disaster for the local economy: it doesn't take much wit to realise that the best way of helping people in a recession is to offer them job security, and make sure there's money being spent locally, and make sure public services are protected in the face of rising demand. 

The papers are available here.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Gossip from behind Brighton Council's political barracades

The next full elections for Brighton Council aren't scheduled to take place until May 2011.

But already the candidates are lining up, it seems.

A well-known Labour Party activist I bumped into in St James's Street the other day told me that he had been rejected as a local Labour council candidate here in Queen's Park - and that he may stand here as an Independent against Labour (and me!).

He suggested that only one candidate had been chosen for sure - and that she was a woman, though he wouldn't tell me who.

My money's on perennial election-loser Lis Telcs. Lis has contacts at the very heart of the party - and has desperately sought to be a councillor: she came 6th in the formerly safe Labour ward of Moulescoomb and Bevendean in 2007, and was beaten again, this time by Green councillor Alex Philips in the Goldsmid by-election earlier this year. If she wants to stand again, Queen's Park is just about the only ward left in which she hasn't been rejected by voters already, isn't already taken, or has no chance at all of returning a Labour councillor.

Whoever it is, I can't wait to meet her when she is finally selected. I hope she's as keen as the nice Tory boy I met yesterday, Patrick, who turned up to last night's monthly meeting of the Friends of Saunders Park, introduced himself as the Tory candidate for Hollingbury and Stanmer ward (if that's what it's called these days?), and promised to come back next time.

Monday, 30 November 2009

425 Brighton jobs to go as publicly-owned Lloyds Bank to close Sussex House

At 11.45 this morning the Lloyds Banking Group announced that it is going to close its Contact Centre in Brighton (Sussex House) on 28th May next year, resulting in the loss of 425 jobs. The Bank is moving out of the building and the work of a further 76 staff may be transferred away from Brighton.

As things stand, there is little prospect of more than a handful of these staff avoiding compulsory redundancy, obviously with serious consequences for local jobs and the local economy.

I'm flabbergasted: almost half the bank is publicly-owned - and I think the Government has a duty to step in and save the jobs, relocating some of the bank's call-centre activities from India to Brighton to do so.

It might costs the bank a little more money in the short term - but the costs to the Government - and the fabric of our society - of mass unemployment are much, much higher.

Yet again the Labour government seems more interested in protecting its investments - and encouraging the banks to make as much money as they can - even at the cost of hundreds of jobs.

Simon Burgess must be absolutely ashamed of himself.

Government must find cash to save jobs, courses and facilities at Sussex University

Some 150 jobs are under threat at the University of Sussex in the latest attack on higher education in the city.

As many as 122 academic jobs face the axe - and another 20-odd support staff.

The decision, which is subject to a 'consultation period' until next March, has already sparked fierce opposition: more than 1,500 people have joined a Facebook group opposing the cuts, and more than 500 have signed an online petition.

There have been demonstrations on campus - and another is planned for this Thursday (Dec 3rd) morning, at 9.30. If you want to join and make your voice heard, meet at Library Square.

Of course the row has centred on whether the University should concentrate on attracting more lucrative foreign students - who pay higher fees - and the most popular (and profitable) courses, or whether its role should be that of a publicly-funded institution designed to deliver higher education to school leavers across the country. There's really good summary of the issues here, courtesy of the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Personally, I think The University of Sussex plays a vital economic and cultural role in our city. Any redundancies or cuts – or even threats of them – are the product of privatisation and the introduction of the profit motive into the provision of higher education and must be opposed.

It is for the Government to fund universities, including Sussex, properly – not just leaving the job to vice chancellors to do so by juggling the figures, short-changing students and slashing less profitable academic courses.

I urge the vice chancellor to reconsider his decision, and to appeal to the Government to put its money where its mouth is in terms of its support for universities and students.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Brian Eno named artistic director for 2010 Brighton Festival

Musician and political campaigner Brian Eno has been named 'Guest Artistic Director' for next year's Brihhton Festival. The appointment has already got Greens across the city jumping for joy - as he's something of a fellow traveller, it seems (and I'm not just talking about his decision to name a 1975 album 'Another Green World').

Perhaps best-known for his haunting keyboard riffs in the background of most of Roxy Music's tunes, Eno has migrated into the world of politics a little. He's a regular critic of the Labour Government and the Tories alike on BBC Question Time, and a champion of civil liberties at a time when the cause of freedom from state interference needs a champion or two.

Check out this video - and watch this space for more on Brighton Festival as and when there are more tales to tell.

Brighton Tories lead Cameron's 'de-toffing' efforts

The bizarre Mail on Sunday (aside: Mark Thomas made me lol t'other day when he suggested its masthead should be forced to carry the words: 'The Newspaper that Supported Hitler') quotes two local Tories today in a piece about David Cameron's backfiring efforts to 'de-toff' the 'New Tories' by banishing candidates' double-barrelled names.

Simon Radford Kirby, the former pub mogul and Pevensey councillor who hopes to become Brighton Kemptown MP, and Scott Seaman-Digby, who was ditched at potential Tory candidate for neighbouring Brighton Pavilion a fortnight ago, have both quietly dropped their double-barrelled names, but deny being asked to so by their cuddly leader Dave Cameron.

After it was reveled that fellow Tory MP hopeful Annunziata Rees-Mogg had refused Cameron's instruction to change her name to plain old Nancy Mogg, Mr Kirby said he was exactly the same person whether or not he went by the name Radford-Kirby or just Kirby. Well he's spot on treally, and I just guess the question is wheter he's the right person for the job of representing Brighton Kemptown, whatever his name. The people I meet around the constituency on a daily basis certainly won't be supporting him - but it's not his name they object to: it's his politics.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Whitehawk's Crew Club is too important to close

Whitehawk's Crew Club plays an integral role in the community and simply must not be allowed to close.

This view is widely-shared - across the council, by senior police, by councillors - but Brighton and Hove Council last week decided there just wasn't enough money in the pot to keep the crew Club open ahead of planned improvements three years down the line.

Councillors of all parties met last week to decide on the level of long-term (three year) grants to community groups around the city. They agreed that, thanks to a lower than average Government grant to Brighton Council - and the expectation of a record low Council Tax increase, they just couldn't give the Crew Club all the money it needs to guarantee its future.

They can't realistically overturn that decision now without throwing community groups across the city into turmoil - but the council, and the police, must work together to help find the cash and keep the Crew club open.

But I have asked Brighton police to help as well as the council, and received informal assurances from both that the money can be found from other sources - I hope so, the Crew Club is simply too important to close.

Paltry Government funding for Sussex Police risks jobs

The Government has announced its annual grant to Sussex Police for the next budget year: 2010-11.

The cash meets most of the costs of policing in the county - most of the rest is made up by Council Tax.

And the magic number is ...drumroll... just over £174m, one of the lowest grants in the country.

This isn't entirely unexpected - the figure was first published as part of an earlier three-year funding settlement, but that doesn't mean I'm not sorely disappointed.

The Chief Constable has already warned that, with a Government grant at this level, Sussex Police faces a £35m cash shortfall over the next five years, and that jobs may have to go as a result.

The Government knew this - and, having spent billions bailing out the banks, could find an extra few thousand pounds to guarantee bobbies' jobs and safeguard neighbourhood policing here in Sussex.

It looks like Labour's priority lies in protecting the bankers - but not the struggle against crime and anti-social behaviour that's making some lives a daily misery here in Brighton.

Adding an extra few pence on Council Tax bills across Sussex might be the only way we've got left to make sure no jobs are lost at Sussex Police.

I hope the Tories who dominate Sussex Police Authority have got the courage to recognise that no-one likes tax but they are prepared to pay it for effective community-based policing. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Don't blame the train drivers!

First Capital Connect spin doctor Roger Perkins has offered an apology for the ongoing disruption faced by commuters using the Bedford to Brighton Thameslink route.

Of course rail users will be delighted to hear that he's sorry for the misery cancelled trains cause, but it's completely unfair - a a little cowardly - to lay the blame on the train drivers for refusing to work overtime, as he does.

Surely train drivers - like the rest of us - have the right to choose whether or not they work outside their contracted hours?

The fact is that responsibility for the reduced service lies squarely with First Capital Connect’s management, who have forced drivers into a position of industrial action with their unfair and unnecessary demands.

Imposing a pay freeze and requiring drivers to voluntarily work their rest days is symptomatic of a private company that puts profits first at the expense of passengers and staff.

The Green Party has long called for a renationalisation of the rail network and a commitment to an affordable, reliable and comfortable service. Let’s end the failed experiment of privatisation and get public transport back where it belongs, in public hands.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

What it's like to be a marathon-running novelist

I am not a novelist: I'd like to be, I have a few ideas, and I can string a sentence together if I try hard. They say everyone's got one book in them, so maybe one day I will be. I certainly won't be betting my house on it though.

I am not a marathon runner either. I'd like to be though, and I hope I will be on April 18th next year, when I'll tighten up my trainers and try to get round 26.2 miles of Brighton and Hove's highways, twittens and beaches. My training's going more slowly than I'd hoped, but it's still going.

But I do love the novels of Haruki Marakami - and this non-fiction effort - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - is as good as any of them, really. Though there can't be many marathon-running novelists out there, I bet there are a fair few people out there who, like me, would actually like to be both.

Even if that's not the case - Murakami's insights into a world seen through not one but two pretty solitary and weird lenses are quite compelling. With every new description you just want to yell 'weirdo' - then, taking a moment, realise he's actually spot on.

'What I think about...' is certainly a product of the orient. We don't chose to live either healthy or unhealthy lifestyles, he posits, for example, we're all a product of both - and it's getting the balance right that matters most. The solitary and emotionally draining practise of novel-writing is his most 'unhealthy' pursuit - running, he argues, is one of the ways he prevents writing from killing him. Mostly through suicide, he notes, being a novelist has taken a fair few lives prematurely.

Though he calmly slips in the fact that he gave up smoking as he realised it was simply incompatible with being a runner (perhaps the most compelling argument I've heard, really), and that he's cut back a little on the alcohol as he's become older, there's no preaching here. It's a compelling, and readable, account of what makes Murakami tick. It's so gracefully done that it's more like listening to a gentle monologue than reading, really, and I've absolutely no idea if it rings true or not. I'll take his word for it though.

If you're inspired by any of this, you can buy the book via this link, or, of course, get it free from your local library.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Friday, 20 November 2009

Banning words and burning books at paranoid Brighton Council HQ

Brighton Council's minority Tory leadership is becoming increasingly paranoid and twitchy as its grip on power seems to slip away.

Last month we had the bizarre news that the council was using tax-payers' cash to sweep the corridors of its Hove HQ for bugs - and shuffle staff around to make sure no secrets are overheard through the walls (tip for worried Tory councillors: lower your voices a little!)

But the latest news to leak its way out of King's House is even weirder: apparently the word 'green' has been banned from council-speak so leader Mary Mears isn't constantly reminded of our presence.

It seems senior officers have been warned to avoid using certain words known to wind up Mary's flagging administration - or risk losing support for future policy initiatives.
It's not just 'green' that has been effectively banned - there's a whole list of words and phrases that will be missing from Brighton council-speak as long as the Tories run things: 'Europe' and 'Government initiative' also make the cut.

I wonder how the French cabbage likely to be served to councillors during our next official meal (as part of the Government's 5-a-day initiative) will be described? Vegetable matter of unspecified origin and appearance, perhaps? Or, more importantly, when will they start burning books at King's House?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tories choose latest Brighton Pavilion candidate at poorly-attended election stunt

Charlotte Vere (pictured) has been selected as the replacement for TV doctor David Bull as the official Tory candidate for Brighton Pavilion by the less than 100 people who turned up to the party's so-called 'open primary' at the Grand Hotel last night.

I feel sorry for her really: she'll be giving up on a life in leafy south-west London (well hopefully she'll be moving to Brighton now) and work with eco-millionaire Zac Goldsmith to become the England's first Tory to lose to a Green MP.

But her heart's clearly in the right place, even if her head hasn't remembered the long-term social damage done to this country by Margaret Thatcher. I've never really understood Tory politicians, if I'm honest. I look forward to meeting her soon.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Spreading a little Christmas cheer on St James's Street

Regular readers of this 'blog will know that I believe many of the problems we face, the world over, from climate change and war to poverty and inequality, are caused by religion and commercialism.

So you might be surprised (if you're kind) - or think me a hypocrite - to read that I spent much of yesterday dressed as Santa Claus selling 'gifts' at a church Christmas bazaar.

But I agreed to dress up as the big man because I thought doing so would be an opportunity to bring some smiles to St James's Street - and that saying no certainly wasn't likely to either reduce commercialism or religious fervour, either here in Kemp Town or anywhere else.

And so it proved: trade at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church wasn't that brisk, but almost all the children who came in made a beeline to my corner of the hall. They left with a smile, a photo - and a little Christmas magic on a stormy and otherwise depressing November day.

You could argue that the very presence of a man dressed in a Santa suit charging cash for 'gifts' in Brighton six weeks before Christmas merely provides evidence that the whole story is a myth so it would have been hypocritical NOT to have accepted the invitation! Discuss...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

After all that: Starbucks to go?

Starbucks on St James's Street has certainly been responsible for some controversy.

After being refused planning permission to open in the conservation area, doing so anyway, and eventually winning a protracted legal battle to stay - despite opposition from Brighton and Hove Council, ward councillors, and regular demonstrations by residents' concerned at the multi-national's tendancy to threaten the viability of local, independent cafes - it is reported that the firm has now adopted a 'de-branding' strategy that could see it vanish from the street just months after opening.

In the face of collapsing sales around the world, the firm has decided that what most people really want these days is, you guessed it, coffee  from a local, independent cafe.

So the firm has, in a desperate bid to stay competitive, closed one of its biggest stores in its birthplace, Seattle, and replaced it with a '15th Avenue Coffee and Tea' shop instead - with no mention at all of Starbucks, and the style and design  copied directly from nearby successful independent cafes.

Don't be surprised then if, after all that fuss (and public money), Starbucks in St James's Street closes its doors soon, to be replaced by a faux independent coffee store that's part The Tea Cosy, part Red Roaster and part Metro-Deco.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Time to renationalise the railways - and get Brighton to London trains moving again

Rail travellers have been paying the price for failed privatisation again, in the face of hundreds of cancelled trains between London and Brighton - with all the attendant delay and inconvenience - over the last few days.

Drivers employed by First Capital Connect - the private company that runs trains on the Thameslink line between Brighton and Bedford - have been refusing to work overtime in a dispute over pay. That's led to hundreds of cancelled trains - and misery for thousands of commuters.

Basically, the rail company is offering its drivers a 3% pay rise next year, but nothing at all this year.

That's a scandal. Inflation might be low, but it's rising - and it masks the reality that food and energy prices are rising fastest of all.

It's completely unacceptable to impose a unilateral pay cut - to ask anyone to work for less, effectively, than they were being paid this time last year.

And it's not as though First Capital Connect doesn't have the money: research has shown that Britain has some of the highest rail fares in the world.

First Capital Connect must sort this out by treating its drivers fairly - making a little less profit, if need be, but paying its staff a fair wage and not simply passing on the costs to commuters.

And in the longer term, the Government must simply renationalise the railways. If private firms are incapable of doing the job - as they have been on the East Coast mainline - then the state needs to step in to guarantee services and keep fares down by removing the profit margin from prices.

The Green Party has calculated that removing the profit margin, and a proper programme of Government investment in the railways, could reduce the price of a Brighton to London commuter season ticket by £110 a year.

Yesterday, Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas joined Green councillors at Brighton Station to discuss the issue with commuters - more than 100 of whom agreed that renationalisation was the answer.

Cheap, efficient public transport is simply too important to be left to the vagueries of the private sector.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Labour's answer to crime and disorder: less cash, but a new website

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending one of Brighton and Hove's most vibrant community meetings: the St James's Street Area Local Action Team.

Every month, residents, traders, local councillors, council officers and neighbourhood police gather to discuss ways to make the area safer - to find ways of working together reduce crime an anti-social behaviour in the area.

The packed agenda included heated discussions about cycling, whether or not to lock New Steine Gardens at night, the impact of Southern Gas's plan to close the street next year for weeks digging up the road, and the disturbance residents are suffering at the hands of those leaving the area's many pubs and bars late at night.

But I could scarcely believe my ears when a council officer informed the meeting that Brighton and Hove had been selected to take part in a new pilot scheme designed to improve community safety.

We were all invited to visit a new Home Office website and enter details of where we felt safe, and unsafe, and why.

It was explained that the information entered would be used by the Home Office and the council to help them better target resources - but that actually there weren't any new resources associated with the scheme at all, so it'll just be another tool for shifting around the cash that's already there.

Sussex's police chief Martin Richards has warned that we face cuts, effectively, of £35m -and that police officers might have to be laid off to make ends meet. Police stations could even face closure as the cuts bite.

Tory members of Sussex Police Authority have voted to make things even worse, by increasing savings: putting tax revenue in the bank 'for a rainy day' - in other words choosing to make the cuts even deeper, ignoring the rain streaming down the windows.

The council's community safety team is under intense financial pressure too. The Tory administration has pledged to make the lowest Council Tax rise in the city's history, just as the Government is, effectively, cutting the amount of money it gives us here in Brighton and Hove.

The City Council's budget for next is yet to be published, but there are bound to be cuts somewhere.

But we've got a new website to help us weather the storm of cuts. Great. What we need is more cash for neighbourhood policing: more community engagement, more uniformed patrols on the streets - and more neighbourhood empowerment. Not another chocolate teapot which will uselessly gather information residents have been giving the police and Council, to little avail, for years.

Madeira Drive events in 2010

Brighton Council has just published a list of planned events taking place next year - including the usual crop of car-based rallies at Madeira Drive, a handful of events for Brighton Festival, and, of course, the inaugural Brighton Marathon! It's an impressive list.

I am delighted that so many different events - to cater for all tastes - are planned. They provide entertainment for residents - and play a key role in making Brighton an attractive tourist destination. A busy events diary is one of the mark's of our city's vibrancy. It keeps our hotels full (well fuller than they might be without so much going on, anyway) - and provides a welcome boost to turnover in our shops, cafes and restaurants as they are surely the reason behind many of the 8m or so tourist trips to the city made each year.

But as local councillors one of our roles is to defend the interests of residents - and that means doing the sometimes dirty job of holding event planners to account over the unintended negative side-effects of planned events.

For example, the recent White Air extreme sports festival held on Madeira Drive was fantastic - a real showcase for the city. I enjoyed it immensely, as did my five-year-old son (especially the glider simulator!) - but residents saw Kemp Town beach closed for three days, and disn't see a penny in compensation.

At last month's full council meeting I asked David Smith (the cabinet member responsible) whether he thought residents should be entitled to any payback for the loss of access to the beach for three days - even if only in the form of cheap tickets to future festivals.

He dismissed the idea roundly, claiming their was no loss of amenity at all. Well maybe being asked to pay £40 to walk on the beach outside your house for the day doesn't represent a 'loss of amenity' to him - but it certainly does to the thousand of Queen's Park and Kemp Town residents on low incomes.

And then there's the issue of air pollution and carbon emission generated by all the motor-based events. Surely the council could just adjust the way it charges event promoters so those events which generate more pollution are charged a little more than those which don't, creating a good old-fashioned financial incentive for events to clean up their act?

Any money raised in this way - and from a small levy on ticket prices, where these are charged - could be put into a 'Madeira Drive' fund to be spent on the regeneration of the area to everyone's benefit?

The full list will be discussed - and permission granted (or not!) at the next meeting held by the Culture, Recreation and Tourism cabinet member David Smith on December 8th.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Greens setting the agenda at Brighton Council

Yesterday I was invited to address members of Brighton Council's Environment and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Yes, quite a mouthful, I know.

I'm not a member of the committee, and therefore didn't have a vote or anything, but I was amazed really to find the meeting completely dominated by the Green Party's agenda - to see proof in action of how our 13-strong group is batting above its weight.

First there was the substantive stuff: the committee agreed to establish two separate scrutiny panels to investigate services for victims of rape and serious sexual assault (this was something I proposed myself, following conversations with victims, police officers and others, and discovering that rape victims in the city are taken to Crawley - as there are currently no round-the-clock support facilities available in the city), and one to look at whether following the lead of cities like Portsmouth and Bristol by establishing a blanket 20 mph speed limit would save lives and improve traffic flows - another Green Party campaign, this one led by Hove parliamentary candidate and St Peters and North Laine councillor Ian Davey (pictured).

And then there was the non-substantive stuff: a debate on roadworks (I've already blogged about this) sparked by Queen's Park Green councillor Paul Steedman. There was a discussion of the future of the London Road area which revolved around traffic congestion and the majority of residents' views that the last thing the area needs is a Tesco superstore. Although this was the clearly stated view of those living and working in the area - it tallies exactly with the Green Party's position on the issue, and a brief debate about the council's strategy for dealing with waste - and, perhaps bizarrely for such an urban authority, mineral extraction. There was wide acceptance of the view that we should do everything the law allows us to do to refuse to import waste from London, and that we need to boost recycling levels and find alternatives to landfill and incineration where we can. Again, exactly the Green party's position.

So it seems that the Greens' by-election win in Goldsmid is already making a huge difference. With 13 councillors, obviously we can't make any of the big, important decisions. But we can, and are, setting the agenda in which those decisions are being taken - that can only be good news for residents.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Tories announce Brighton Pavilion shortlist

According to The Argus, the local Tories have whittled the applicants to stand for parliament in Brighton Pavilion down to just six.

And it looks like, whoever is chosen, the party has already thrown in the towel.

Frankly I haven't heard of three of them at all - so I can't tell you anything about them.

But of the three I have come across, there's Andrew Wealls, who actually has some experience standing in an election locally and losing to a Green party candidate, Scott Seaman-Digby, a senior Tory national organiser, and Chelsea councillor Mary Weale.

Now it's up to the good folk of Brighton Pavilion to choose the final candidate, at an open 'primary' meeting next Wednesday. Anyone living in the constituency can vote, whether or not they are a member of the Tory party. Call 01273 411844 if you want to join the fun.

Of course it's all academic really: if this shortlist really contains the best candidates to Tories can muster it looks to me like they've already thrown in the towel.

Remember David Bull? His departure was clearly prescient - it seems the Tories just can't find a big hitter who wants to risk being the country's first Tory candidate to lose to a Green MP.