Sunday, 31 May 2009

Crime is falling - but fear of crime is rising. It's time for more neighbourhood policing.

Leicester City Councillor and criminologist Matt Follett explains why the Green Party believes that tackling anti-social behaviour with neighbourhood policing is a bigger priority than using armed police to stamp on bank robbers. Tackling crime matters, in short: but not as much as tackling the fear of crime.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Latest expenses scandal raises a far bigger question

So the latest MPs' expenses scandal to hit the headlines is the case of Labour MP Frank Cook claiming, supposedly, a fiver he made as a church donation as a necessary expense of the job.

To be fair, he says he can't remember the donation, and has apologised. It probably was necessary that he made a donation to the church while attending a service - and it's only a fiver anyway.

On the evidence presented by the BBC, Mr Cook's crime hardly seems comparable with, say, Celia Barlow's £28K home improvements claim or Elliott Morley's phantom mortgage. I guess he's unlikely to be pushed, either by Gord-help-us Brown or his constituents.

But it does, for me at least, raise a much bigger question: that of the strange, historical relationship between the church and the British state.

In short: why does the head of the Church of England still have a constitutional role in signing new laws onto the statute books?

I'm proud to be an atheist. None of the various competing theological explanations for human history or the shape of society and our relationships with other peoples and species have ever convinced me. My parents never tried to use their privilege to embed any particular religious explanation for things into my growing mind.

The world's religions have undoubtedly brought much good, and provided justifications for remarkable charitable acts and social activism over the years. The opposite is also true. Just look at Al-Qaida, for example, or the genocidal policies of the Israeli state.

On balance, I think a scientific, and socially tolerant, attitude provides the best explanation for the way things are - and respecting others' religious views is key to a fair, peaceful society.

But I've never understood how the clear majority of people in this country who aren't followers of the Church of England square the idea that we live in a real democracy with that particular church's role.

I hope when the dust settles on all these expenses scandals we get some real constitutional reform. As Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has said, we need to blast this rotten system apart.

It isn't just about proportional representation, and getting rid of all the frankly stupid dressing up ceremonies - there can be no room in a modern democracy for a constitutional role for a monarch who serves as a great, harmless tourist attraction and head of a minority religion.

God save the Queen. But please don't ask me to endorse the authority of either of them, or pick up the bill.

Preventable climate change is killing 300,000 a year, says think-tank. So why aren't the culprits behind bars?

A new report by the Global Humanitarian Forum, a think-tank run by former UN Secretary general Kofi Annan, reckons climate change is already killing more than a quarter of a million people a year - mostly from heatwaves, floods and forest fires - and it's getting worse. By 2030, according to the report, it's likely to be causing the premature deaths of half a million people a year - and costing survivors as much as $600 billion annually.

So yet another international report (how many will it take) warning of the terrible human cost of not preventing runaway climate change - I don't know about you but I'm getting a bit mind-boggled by all this.

Surely if a government fails to prevent an entirely predictable - and indeed widely predicted - death, let alone half a million of them a year, it's either a breach of humanitarian law (if the death(s) are in another state) or a breach of the internationally guaranteed right to life (if at home).

So isn't it time we stopped talking about climate change as primarily an environmental issue (though it certainly is that too) - and began talking about it principally as a human rights issue, or even a criminal matter?

We know which governments are failing to push for global agreements on cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that UN scientists agree are fuelling climate change, and we know which activities, and which companies, are most responsible for producing them. We know which politicians and businesses are trying to deny the problem and undermine the efforts of others.

And we know that people are dying as a result. So isn't it time we stopped having a debate about it and started the prosecutions?

Friday, 29 May 2009

Greens oppose new facilities to handle Brighton's waste outside the city

Communities in both Newhaven and Peacehaven are bracing themselves for the impact of major developments to handle Brighton and Hove's waste: an incinerator at North Quay, Newhaven, to burn the city's rubbish, and a sewage treatment works at Peacehaven to treat the city's waste water.

Both are an affront to the basic principles that waste should be minimised (I'm saying we should throw less away, not go to the toilet less!) and handled as close as possible to where it is produced.

Today I received an email from a Peacehaven resident who wasn't sure what the Green Party's view on these developments, presumably confused by the claims of Brighton Kemptown's Labour and Tory MP wannabes to oppose them when both are going ahead thanks to the nods of our Labour government and Tory-run East Sussex County Council.

Let me be clear: we are absolutely opposed to both the proposed incinerator at Newhaven and the planned sewage treatment works at Peacehaven, but without representation on East Sussex County Council, or in Government, our objections, like those of affected residents, have been ignored.

Green councillors here in Brighton and Hove have consistently opposed the Waste Management Contract for Brighton and Hove, which ties the city into a long-term deal with Veolia to keep the proposed incinerator in business.

We think the city should be adopting strategies to boost recycling and reduce the amount of rubbish it produces that needs any sort of disposal, and that the incinerator will encourage exactly the opposite.

Further, we believe the proposed incinerator is poorly sited, potentially unsafe, socially decisive, and, possibly only viable thanks to unlawful funding arrangements with Brighton and Hove City Council: the region's Green Party MEP Dr Caroline Lucas has made a formal complaint to the European Commission about this and we await the outcome of that.

I myself made these arguments while giving evidence on Dr Lucas's behalf at last year's public inquiry into the compulsory purchase of land at North Quay, Newhaven, for the incinerator.

As for the sewage treatment plant, we believe a solution must be found that allows Southern Water to treat Brighton and Hove's sewage within the city limits, and will not require the 'export' of our waste into East Sussex. We have pushed for this at every stage, and made our views known to both Southern Water and publicly.

Latest poll shows collapse in Labour vote, Greens and Lib-Dems neck and neck going into final furlong

Latest polls show there's everything to play for in the last few days before Thursday's elections to the European parliament.

A Populous poll to be published in tomorrow's Times puts the Tories out in front, with a 30% share of the vote, the xenophobic UK Independence Party second with 19% and Labour facing a mass cull of MEPs with just 16% of support.

The Lib-Dems and the Greens are almost neck and neck in the fight for the last seat or two in the larger regions (12 and 10 per cent respectively).

So it really is five-party politics, and, against the odds, show that support for UKIP is even higher, and for Labour even lower, than in the 2004 election. I'd have hardly thought it possible, to be honest.

Well, that's it, voting's over (well, for me)

Well, that's it. My democratic right has been exercised. I have returned my postal ballot, to be keep safe by the Brighton and Hove returning officer until next Friday when it'll be opened and added to hundreds of thousands from across the South-East.

It hardly conjured up all the images of bygone battles for universal suffrage, or of queues waiting to vote in the Zimbabwean sun, but I trust it will count, just the same.

I know there have been cases of postal vote fraud (most notably some dodgy Labour tricks in the West Midlands a few years back, but examples abound) but I think the biggest problem likely to affect most postal voters in these elections is accidentally making a mistake.

I don't just mean getting their cross in the wrong box on the ballot paper (though I've got to admit even that's a possibility, given that it's a massive ballot paper, needing a few unfolds even to be able to look at it all at once, and the fact that some of the parties seem to be listed alphabetically while some aren't - The Green Party are listed under 'T' for 'The', for example, not 'G' for 'Green').

No, it's the four-step process that, I fear, some will get wrong: putting the cross in the box, sealing the ballot in an envelope, signing a separate identification form and then putting the whole lot in a second envelope for return.

The problem is only likely to get worse as the clamour for electoral reform grows louder by the day and public dissatisfaction with the bigger parties means we are likely to see more parties and independent candidates contest future elections.

Perhaps we need a simpler system, for the able-bodied at least - putting voting papers straight in a ballot box on election day, perhaps?

Community 'clean-up' at Craven Vale

Residents are planning a 'Big Tidy Up' in Craven Vale and the nearby woodland on Saturday 18th July, between 10 and 2.

As ward councillors, Paul, Rachel and myself have taken part in several similar 'clean up green up' events in the Tarner and Eastern Road areas - here we are pictured at the latest near Hampshire Court.

They make all the difference to residents' quality of life and, because a deep clean is actually involving people who live in the area, the results tend to last a little longer than when CityClean do the job.

I hope loads turn up: there'll be free refreshments on offer, and badges, stickers and certificates for children.

There'll be a a planning meeting at The Vale Community Centre, Hadlow Close, at 3pm on June 30th.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Local Labour MP spends £28K of taxpayers' cash on home improvements

Labour apologists in Hove have been milking the fact that local MP Celia Barlow hasn't been caught spending our money on a second home.

Brighton MPs Des Turner and David Lepper have been squirming since it emerged that both claim for second homes in the capital, despite the fact that they represent thousands of commuters who can't even dream of abandoning the daily Brighton to London round trip - let alone getting the taxpayer to foot the bill.

But their colleague from the city's wild west Miss Barlow claimed nothing last year in second home allowances, choosing to get the train back from Westminster to her constituency instead.

Great, I thought. A Labour MP showing some honesty and integrity, seeking to live like their constituents. But now it has emerged she claimed more than the cost of both Des and Dave's second homes put together - more than £28,000, to spruce up her Hove home (and no, Celia, I'm not just jealous!), and claim moving costs. The taxpayer even footed the bill for her stamp duty,l according to The latest Telegraph expose.

I've no idea if that's legal. I know it seems ridiculous, but of course MPs made up the rules themselves, so they're a bit lax when it comes to stamping on either tax evasion or fraud, as we discover a little more clearly every day.

I'm sure Gord-help-us and his kangaroo court will let us know sooner or later.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

New poll: Greens are 'most trusted to put Britain before self'

The Greens look like being the main beneficiaries of any anti-sleaze protest vote: latest polls suggest support for the Green Party is up, whilst that for UKIP and the BNP is down.

The reason is contained within a YouGov poll to be published later today. 2,000 people were asked to name the three parties whose candidates they thought were least trustworthy.

The Greens topped the poll - just five per cent of respondents thought Green Party candidates were more likely to put their own interests above those of the country.

Labour candidates were the leasst trusted: almost half of all respondents (45%) thought they were likely to put their own interests first.

The Conservatives fared almost as badly, with 40% naming them. Next were the BNP, the LibDems and UKIP on 20%, 16% and 15% respectively.

The new poll was released in the same week that campaign group Open Democracy rated the Green Party's leader Caroline Lucas as the joint best British MEP on accountability, transparency and reform.

The bottom nine places in the Open Democracy survey were occupied by four Conservatives and five UKIP MEPs - with the tenth-worst British MEP slot being held jointly by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and an MEP each from Labour, the Conservatives and the LibDems.

Don't sleepwalk into climate change - Greens take over Kemp Town beach

Zombies took over part of Kemp Town beach over the Bank Holiday weekend, to warn people not to sleepwalk into climate change - and urge them to vote Green on June 4th.

The Green Party's 'battle bus' - an old London Routemaster modified to run on recycled cooking oil - was parked up near Brighton's Palace Pier on Sunday and Monday, hotfooting it to Essex when the rain started at about 5pm.

Local activists and others (including, somewhat bizarrely, four Brighton councillors) turned a few heads when they took part in a uinque political flashmob experiment: they all 'made like Zombies' to the music of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' as a giant banner was unfurled urging sunseekers not to 'sleepwalk into climate change'. Look out for video footage soon!

The public response was excellent - and not just from those locals in a Green Party heartland (the bus was parked on the boundary of three Brighton council wards, Regency, Queen's Park and St Peter's and North Laine, represented by eight councillors, all of them Green) - but the many visitors in town for the sunny Bank Holiday.

The hunger for literature proclaiming any alternative to the crooked 'Westminster parties' was palpable: the big question for me though, as the election looms, is not how many voters abandon Labour, the Lib-Dems and the Tories, but how many will be bothered to vote at all.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Lucas: let's replace model of global competition with one of global co-operation

Parliamentary reform in less than 150 words

The Green Party has long campaigned for radical parliamentary reform, to give people more influence over the decisions that affect them at every level of government.

The principle of subsidiarity is at the heart of our vision. We want more powers for local councils, not for unelected quangos.

We want a Bill of Rights, a written constitution, an elected second chamber. A power of recall. Measures to promote the involvement of more women and members of ethnic minorities. We want fixed term parliaments.

Above all, we need proportional representation. Our first-past-the-post electoral system almost always results in a minority government - a government that more people have voted against than have voted in favour of.

It’s time the mother of parliaments caught up with the rest of Europe and more truly reflected the diversity of political opinion in the country as a whole.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Green MEP tops 'transparency table'

Brighton's Green Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has topped a table of UK MEPs doing most to champion European Parliament reforms and transparency - including full scrutiny of their expenses.

A new survey two weeks ahead of European Parliament elections puts Dr Lucas in joint first place.

Tory MEP David Sumberg (North West) is in bottom place under the rankings devised by Open Europe, the think tank campaigning for EU change.

The organisation awarded points to all 785 MEPs from 27 countries for their record over the five-year European Parliament term which has just ended.

Marks were given in 20 categories, from good attendance and fighting euro-budget waste to promoting accountability and ending expenses secrecy.

Open Europe monitored a range of MEPs' activities, including voting records, written declarations, and whether MEPs opposed "wasteful activities", such as meeting in Brussels and Strasbourg, and a controversial failed bid to get taxpayers to top up their pension contributions.

A Swedish Green MEP, Carl Schlyter, won the most points - 55 out of a possible 58.

The lowest score under the Open Europe formula was registered by Italian far-right MEP Roberto Fiore, who managed just two points, including a ten-point penalty for being convicted and jailed in Italy for alleged "subversive association" with terrorists.

Caroline Lucas scored 43 points, putting them in joint tenth place out of 785 MEPs and at the top of the UK table.

Mr Sumberg was given ten points, placing him last out of 78 UK MEPs and 729th out of all 785.

Open Europe said Mr Sumberg was absent from most of their "snapshot" votes, and in those that were recorded, Mr Sumberg voted to give more tobacco subsidies to farmers, and abstained on a European Parliament decision on whether or not to respect the outcome of the pending Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Brighton's Euro-MP: it's time to blast open 'rotten' parliamentary system

You heard it first here. Well, no, maybe on last week's 'BBC Any Questions'. But you'll be able to hear it here for ever!

Now I've worked out how to do this, look out for more audio clips soon.

UKIP leader and South-East MEP Nigel Farage claims £2m in expenses

Well today's news makes it clear: they're all at it. It's not just the Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem crooks in Westminster, the UK Independence Party leader and MEP Nigel Farage has admitted he's had his snout in the taxpayers' cash trough too.

According to a report in today's Observer, the silver-tongued anti-European has managed to pocket some £2 million in EU expenses.

Four UKIP MEPs have either been convicted of of investigated for fraud in the past few years.

People are furious about all this, and are set to abandon the Westminster parties in their droves on June 4th. It looks like their options for an 'anti-greed' party just got one party smaller.

Brighton voters fed up of crooked Westminster parties

Latest polls put the Green at about 10 per cent of the vote: and show a collapse in support for the 'Westminster' parties.

After spending a couple of hours leafletting and talking to people enjoying the free Brighton Festival Fringe events in New Road yesterday, I can't say I'm surprised.

We were listening while handing out our anti-sleaze leaflets, and Festival-goers' anger was palpable.

I met one man who said he would be voting BNP - that's one more than said they'd be voting Labour or Tory on June 4th.

There was a single over-riding message though: local MPs may not be the most crooked, but it's the political parties at Westminster that are ultimately responsible for all the dodgy expenses claims - they didn't deal with it until MPs got caught, and they won't be voting Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem again.

The trouble is, in a four-way race you only need a quarter of votes to run the country, and even that assumes a 100 per cent turnout. In reality, it's much less. Even if, as seems likely, voters abandon the biggest parties in their droves, they still might end up running the country, with candidates selected behind closed doors.

Surely it's time now for widespread parliamentary reform, to deal with a whole system that's become rotten to the core, and ensure that the UK parliament looks a little more like the population it's trying to represent?

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Council clams up on the day communal bins reach Walpole Terrace

Unbelievable, isn't it. On the day a shiny new communal bin turns up in Walpole Terrace, I hear that the hapless cabinet member responsible for the new rubbish regime is refusing to answer councillors' questions.
And not just once - he's said he won't answer any in future, too.

Green councillor Jason Kitcat has been doggedly pursuing faults in the new communal bins at council and cabinet meetings, raising concerns about noise, ease of use, cost to the local taxpayer, the bins' impact on recycling - and future plans for the bins.

Geoffrey Theobald, the cabinet member responsible, has never been over the moon about facing such such scrutiny: but has, generally, tried, at least, to answer Jason's questions: but it all changed on Thursday, when he gave a single answer to five questions about the negative fallout from rolling the bins out, saying he would neither answer the questions, nor any in future.

In his written reply, he says:

I firmly believe that the interests of the hard working Council Tax payers of Brighton & Hove is better served with officer time and resources being spent in delivering the service rather than having to research and answer an endless list of questions that add no value to the service.

I have always treated questions from Members and the public with respect and answered them. However, given what I have just said, and having taken advice, I do not feel it would be appropriate to continue to reply to a constant and endless list of questions on this subject from one Member.

And concludes:

I do not therefore intend to answer your questions on communal bins.

I'm not sure where this leaves us, to be honest. It's apparently every councillor has a right to ask questions on behalf of residents at cabinet and council on any aspect of service delivery - but there is no commensurate duty on cabinet members to actually answer them.

If we can't get answers as elected members it proves to me the this Tory administration has decided the best way to avoid difficult discussions or any scrutiny of the way, for example, communal bins are managed, is to shut down debate.

Hardly an open and transparent approach to local government. Is it any wonder most people are disengaging with a political process mired in sleaze, scandal and opacity.

Perhaps the way forward, if the Tories are refusing to answer questions from Green councillors, is for the same questions to be asked using the Freedom of information Act - making any future refusal to discuss the issues a breach of law.

You can see the bizarre spectacle of Jason being allowed to ask so-called supplementary questions even when the first weren't answered in the clip below. The first viewer to spot the Tories' confirmation that they aren't bothered about improving the city's recycling rates gets a special prize!

Friday, 22 May 2009

'Two homes Des' just doesn't get it

Brighton Kemptown's Labour MP Des 'Two Homes' Turner just doesn't get it, does he?

He's quoted in today Argus as saying he "doesn't see the point" in publishing his expenses in full himself.

"Doesn't see the point"?

How about clearing up some of the public anger at the shameless way so many of our trusted MPs have behaved, helping themselves to tax breaks, duck ponds, and, sometimes, just money for homes that don't even exist?

I'm sure it isn't that he doesn't really care what his constituents think because he's stepping down at the next election anyway.

Whatever his reasons for not immediately publishing details of all his expenses claims - they're ever so complicated, after all - I really hope that voters don't allow the status quo to prevail by tarring all the political parties with the same brush and not bothering to vote on June 4th.

Planners reject Queen's Park parents' 'phone mast safety fears

Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee has granted permission for a new 3G 'phone mast to be built on Freshfield Rd just metres from Queen’s Park School and the Royal Spa nursery, despite the objections of both schools' headteachers and most parents.

I met a lot of parents from Queen's Park School when I went there twice last week to let them know about the application, and collect signatures on a petition against the mast, and most were deeply concerned. Some 70 signed our petition.

Lest be clear - no-one's saying we shouldn't have mobile 'phone masts, just that while any uncertainty remains over the safety we don't put them on top of schools or hospitals.

But this was not so much a bad decision by planners (though it was certainly that!) as much as it was a failure of the planning system.

Residents were represented at the planning meeting by my fellow Green Party councillor Rachel Fryer.

Speaking afterwards, she said:

"It is clear that members of the planning committee shared concerns about phone masts being sited so near to schools.

"Unfortunately, due to planning law and government ruling, potential health risks could not be used as a reason for refusal.

"This is despite the fact that the Stewart report of 2005 on the health effects of mobile phone masts, found evidence of effects occurring at levels below recommended guidelines and the report recommended a precautionary approach, such as that used in Australia, where no masts are erected within 1km of any school or hospital.

“It is high time that mobile phone companies worked together to share network coverage so there is not a continual need for more phone masts, wasting energy, resources and causing potential increased health risks.

"We also need to ensure there is independent research regarding the health effects of masts and until we are absolutely certain they are safe, we should exercise the precautionary approach along the lines of that in Australia.”

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Vote Green to clean up politics, says Darren

Green Party Member of the London Assembly and parliamentary candidate for Lewisham Deptford Darren Johnson appeals to voters to clean up Westminster.

A musical interlude from our MPs

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Labour candidate in Goldsmid by-election 'abandons' party at centre of sleaze row

The official Labour Party candidate in the council by-election due to be called any day now in Hove appears to have abandoned the party in a letter to all voters in the Goldsmid ward.

There's no mention of Labour at all on the front page of the leaflet, a letter printed to look as though it's hand-scrawled, in a gentle Tory blue.

She bigs up current Goldsmid councillor Melanie Davies, without mentioning her party either, and admits: 'I know politicians have had a bad press lately'.

She waits until an informal 'PS' to grudgingly concede that she is 'backed' by, among others, the local Labour Party. Does that mean she will be standing for Labour or as an independent?

Directors quit from EDO-MBM en masse

According to a report on Indymedia, all but one of the directors of Brighton bomb factory EDO-MBM have quit en masse.

Three quit the board of parent company EDO (UK) last week - Joseph Daniel, James Barber and Bruce C Scott - bringing to ten the total number to quit since June 2008, and leaving Paul Hills as the company's sole director and secretary.

What's going on? Rats deserting a sinking ship in the face of growing public anger at their bomb-making activities, perhaps?

Homophobic church unveils plans to brainwash Brighton

Back in 2007 when we heard the news that dwindling congregations meant St Peter's Church would have to close its doors, I remember a number of discussions - and public chatter - about how to save the building, and its fantastic stained glass, for the community.

Social housing seemed the most sensible option raised at the time - a close call though, as plans for a University of Sussex library and city centre outpost were briefly mooted too.

But now a small Christian sect has announced its plans to take over ('plant') the church - and use it as a hub for brainwashing the 98.5 per cent of Brighton and Hove residents who don't choose to go to church every week.

The Holy Trinity Brompton church - who brought us the 'Alpha Course' - which seeks to deliver a fast-track (10 week) route to evangelical Christianity using deeply homophobic and anti-feminist arguments along the way - plans to ship staff down from London and have St Peter's up and running its way within weeks.

The new masters of St Peter's connect social deprivation in the city with its 'godlessness'. They fret that fewer people go to church regularly here in Brighton and Hove than anywhere else in the country, and seem to suggest that if more of us did then there'd be more jobs, less poverty, better housing standards and so on.

To be honest, my mind boggles. Each to their own I suppose, but I do worry that those living in the Tarner area, recognised as facing some of the worst social deprivation, and, in some cases, mental ill-health, in the country will find themselves ruthlessly preyed on.

One former worshipper quoted in the BBC said the church tends to play mind games on people - and prey on the most vulnerable.

"You have to be a strong personality to resist, but I did. They were working on me all the time," she said.

The Westminster cesspit

In case you'd forgotten what all those Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem MPs were up to with your money, here's a quick recap courtesy of Channel Four News:

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Cromwell with some timeless advice for our crooked MPs: 'In the name of God, Go!'

In momentus times (constitutional crisis sparked by corruption and lost public faith in our representatives, perhaps?), it's always worth scanning the history books to see how things unfolded last time (there's nothing new under the sun!)

So here, for your daily spot of light relief, I reproduce for you Oliver Cromwell's speech 'In the Name of God, Go', made during the dissolution of parliament more than 350 years ago, on April 20, 1653:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? is there one vice you do not possess? ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.

Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do; I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place; go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

(Thanks to Brighton campaigner Sue Baumgardt for this)

St James's Street community safety meeting tomorrow, 7pm

Just to remind you that the next meeting for the Local Action Team is tomorrow Weds 20th May, 7pm at Dorset Gardens Methodist Church.

The meeting will be themed around alcohol issues in the area, with Linda Beanlands (Brighton and Hove Council's Head of Community Safety) and Inspector Rob Leet from the Neighbourhood policing team due to turn up - so do come along if you're interested in makig the St James's Street area a safer place to live, visit and do business in!

Ghurka champion Joanna Lumley backs Green Party in June 4th elections

Actress turned human rights campaigner and Ghurka champion Joanna Lumley has urged voters to support the Green Party in next month's elections.

Her endorsement of the Greens - and the party's leader and Brighton Euro-MP Caroline Lucas, ends speculation that she might stand herself - as an anti-sleaze candidate.

She paid tribute to Caroline Lucas's tireless work promoting human rights - and better animal welfare standards.

How the European Parliamentary election will work

I've almost lost count of the number of times someone has asked me to try to explain how the elections to the European Parliament actually work. Yes, it's a proportional system, designed to enable smaller parties to be represented if they poll about eight per cent or more.

But it's a complicated system, known as d'Hont after the geezer who invented it, presumably.

The point is that every vote counts on June 4th - and this film is one of the best explanations of why I've seen:

Reverend Billy's 'Church of Life After Shopping' comes to St James's Street Starbucks

Street theatre with a message comes to St James's Street on Monday, June 1st, when international anti-consumerist preacher Reverend Billy brings his 'Choir of Stop Shopping' workshop to the street's unlawful Starbucks.

Reverend Billy, who is based in New York but is in England to promote his new film 'What Would Jesus Buy?', will bring his workshop to St James's Street at 4.30pm, ahead of a show at The Basement arts centre.

The choir will be joined by local residents and traders to tell the US Coffee Giant to respect planning laws, and to celebrate all those helping to keep the community vibrant, local and sustainable.

The preacher urged local people to come and join the show: we're here to support your campaign to keep Brighton remains local, independent, and community minded, not the other way round, he said.

The 'Choir of Stop Shopping' has already been banned from every Starbucks in the USA for its annoying habit of trying to spread their 'gospel' of 'sustainable consumption, strong local economies and access to public space and free speech'.

Well I can see why Starbucks doesn't like that much!

As the Reverend says on his own website:

We like independent shops where you know the person behind the counter or at least you like them enough to share a story and a smile.

Our neighbourhoods, parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatised world of brand imagery and chain stores.

So we are singing and preaching for local economies and real – not mediated through products – experience.

I'm looking forward to it. Watch this space for further details and pictures!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Three cases of snout in trough disease?

With all this focus on those in the Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem parties who have abused the MPs' expenses system to pocket cash for non-existent mortgages, paid for second homes, top of the range TVs and even moat cleaning, it's easy to forget to look at how much Brighton and Hove's own MPs are claiming.

Between them, the city's three Labour MPs have cost the taxpayer nearly half a million quid in expenses - a total of £419,000.

All the figures are available on this handy website, which compares MPs' expenses claims with their attendance record at House of Commons debates, to determine the value for money they provide.

The figures are by no means the worst - or best - in the House of Commons, but they do show that it cost us about £1,600 a time, in expenses alone, every time one of MPs actually turned up at work.

Of course included in these totals are their travel claims.

On the face of it, these seem pretty modest: 'Two-homes' Des Turner, for example, only charged the taxpayer for just under 47 miles of travelling - about the distance of a single journey between Brighton and London.

Southern Rail only charges about £20 for this journey - even a door-to-door cab will probably only set an MP back about £60 or so. But how much did Dr Des claim? A staggering £5,807 - or about £123.91 a mile!

As the Green Party's candidate to replace him as Brighton Kemptown's MP I was quick to promise that, if I'm elected, I won't be buying a second home at the taxpayers' expense.

No, let me make it quite clear: I'll be commuting between Brighton and London, as thousands do every day , and campaigning for better public transport and cheaper trains too.

I certainly won't be claiming £123 a mile of your cash for the privelege!

Labour website urges party to adopt Green Party policies

The Labour Party seems to be in a bit of a spin these days: I think it's reeling from the news that so many of its MPs - even Old Labour stalwarts like Elliott Morley - have had their snouts in the trough, spending your money on their second homes, often entirely fraudulently.

The public is furious. And rightly so. The polls are full of the news that voters will either stay at home - or reject the three biggest parties - in the European Parliamentary election on June 4th. This weekend polls revealed that more than a third of people were considering voting Green - and that national support for the Greens is running at 11 per cent.

Well I hope that's true: I think if voters want to clean up politics they should vote but reject those parties whose MPs are at the heart of these scandals.

Even TV presenter Esther Rantzen agrees: according to the BBC South lunchtime news she's so disgusted she's considering standing for parliament herself, as an anti-sleaze candidate, a Martin Bell for 2010.

But perhaps even more interesting is the fact that LabourHome, the party's on-line discussion forum, is carrying articles suggesting Labour takes a leaf out of the Green party's book, both in terms of policy and presentation.

One post notes that 'The Greens seem to be saying a lot of what makes sense, and rightly so: it's what Labour should have been saying all along!'.

Tory shadow housing minister to face Brighton's homeless

The Tories' shadow housing minister Grant Shapps comes to Brighton today - what a nerve!

The numbers of people being forced to sleep on our streets is on the rise, and its an absolutely shameful indictment of Britain today.

And as a councillor I've almost lost count of the number of peole that have contacted me about the inadequate availability of suitable council housing.

Meanwhile, properties across the city sit empty. 45 Newhaven Street, for example: it's a family home, close to the city centre, and it's been sitting idle for six months.

And the Tories, who are responsible, have the cheek to come to Brighton to crow about how they've got the solutions!

In truth, Mr Shapps (who?) and the Tories have little to offer Brighton and Hove’s homeless and poorly housed people, fellow Green Party councillor Bill Randall said this morning.

"They tinker around the edges of the housing crisis while the local waiting list rises and nationally two new households are formed for every new home built.

"Indeed, plans to abolish regional targets would bring house-building to its knees and confirm that that the Tories would rather suck up to NIMBIES than help the homeless. Nothing has changed since Thatcher was in power.’

Roll up, roll up... get your free corporate advertising here

Does anyone know the going rate to rent about 50 square metres of public library window space in one of the city's top footfall locations, Jubilee Square?

Well, as long as you don't mind your logo appearing backwards, and only on sunny days, not a single penny, apparently.

Perhaps Brighton and Hove Council is missing a trick here: it should be charging rent - or something - to Pizza Express for all those times when this reflected logo essentially means the Jubilee Library becomes the firm's latest advertising medium.

Or maybe the council should take steps to declutter our mental environment by roughing up the library's glass frontage so it just doesn't happen any more.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A second by-election for Brighton and Hove?

Today's polls raise a tantalising possibility: a second by-election for Brighton and Hove.

According to the Sunday Express, the Green Party looks sets to double its six per cent of the vote at the last election to the European Parliament... A ComRes poll of European voting intentions, commissioned by UKIP, put the Tories on 28 per cent, Labour on 20 and the Lib Dems on 14. UKIP were on 15, the Greens on 11 and the fascist BNP on 4 per cent.

If our national average poll is 11 per cent then, taking those regions where we are likely to poll significantly less - Wales, Northern Ireland and Yorkshire and Humberside - into account, our vote share in South-East England could well rise over the magic 14 per cent, enough to return two MEPs in the region.

Because of the list system, that would mean St Peter's and North Laine councillor Keith Taylor would join Caroline Lucas in Brussels, meaning he would have to step down despite his popularity and excellent record in the ward - and leaving Brighton and Hove Council facing not one, but two by-elections.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Better out than in? (Brighton Festival 2)

The old Circus Street fruit and veg market has been opened up again for the first time in years this month - as the unlikely setting for Anish Kapoor's outsized sculpture 'The Dismemberment of Jeanne d'Arc'.

There was only one place in the market offering a view of the entire work, and its ghoulish portrayal of a dismembered woman's body reveals itself.

Until you land in it the installation is a strangely impressive set of large, blood red, rocky objects, among which to wander aimlessly, enjoying as a context through which to see the impressive architecture from the inside, to drift off in time and into a lively market, long before the developers gave the building's shell one last outing by sponsoring an art event for Brighton Festival.

But it didn't seem that unusual, the bottom of Albion Hill having a relationship with visual art and colours.

Graffiti is banned now in Tarner Park, but it adorns the exterior of Circus street Market - and brightens up a drab walk day after day. As does the outdoor decor of the Ocean Rooms.

Anish Kapoor has certainly given us something to think about - but its scale and commercial feel mean I can't help liking the art outside the building more than the exhibition within.

Remember to register to vote by Tuesday - you can't vote for clean politics if you don't

Many have warned that so many voters are disgusted by politicians of the big three parties due to revelations that many have been abusing their expenses that few will bother to vote on June 4th.

But that would be a disaster for democracy itself: and would just mean that those who do end up being elected aren't truly representative of the communities they serve.

What's more, the very politicians whose parties lie at the heart of these expenses scandals are likely to benefit most, as are the forces of ultra-nationalism and the fascist BNP: hardly heralding a new era of 'clean' politics.

So voting for someone, anyone, who can trust on June 4th is essential if we're going to reclaim democracy and kick sleaze out of politics once and for all.

But you can't vote for anyone unless you're on the electoral register - make sure you are here, before the cut-off date: Tuesday, May 19th.

Green Party's Human Rights speaker Peter Tatchell arrested in Moscow

Peter Tatchell outside Brighton Pavilion with Green Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas

The Green Party's Human Rights spokesperson Peter Tatchell is among 40 people arrested in Moscow today as police use violence to break up a Gay Pride march in the city, according to march organisers.

Last year, Tatchell was beaten up , this year arrested by the same authorities who outlawed the march but gave permission for counter-demonstrations by far right ultra-nationalists.

Some European diplomats are said to have witnessed the violence and arrests - and are planning formal action, which could EU involve sanctions.

But we need't wait for the Eurocrats to act half-heartedly, we can take action ourselves - starting by boycotting tonight's Eurovision Song Contest - and moving on to a simple boycott of Russian goods until its government makes a clear commitment to respecting LGBT and all human rights.

Russia is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech - and freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexuality. If Moscow isn't prepared to respect these rights, then the Cuoncil of Europe should take firm action against the state.

Pride organiser Nikolai Alekseev, who was held down by five fully-armed riot police during his arrest, said:

"I call upon all of the artists who are due to perform at tonight's Eurovision to boycott tonight's event and send a message that Russia's state oppression of human rights is not acceptable.

"The Russian Government is using this years Eurovision in Moscow as a gala showpiece to show the world how far the country has improved since the early 1990's. However, what was witnessed this afternoon on the streets of Moscow shows the world just how little Russia has travelled when it comes to supporting fundamental human rights.

"The police brutality that we witnessed here this afternoon is shocking. We planned a peaceful march to highlight the dire state of LGBT rights in Russia today. The police, given violent legitimacy by the openly homophobic Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, did not hold back with their weapons, despite the world's media watching.

"We were defending the often violated human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians. We demand the same legal protection against discrimination and hate crimes that none LGBT people enjoy.

"This episode has shamed the Russian Government and Moscow authorities before the world."

Money well spent?

On Thursday we councillors, and a number of civic dignitaries, enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the annual mayor-making ceremony, and mayoral reception in the Royal Pavilion's banqueting hall. But was it taxpayers' money well spent?

I'm not arguing we shouldn't do this stuff - I enjoyed a drink or two myself, and even the odd vegan canape (ie a posh chip, served singly rather than by the portion!) - just that we should find a way of making sure local community groups and orgasnisations get to benefit too.

Why couldn't the council have had a slightly less boozy reception this year (the refreshments bill alone came to about £4,000), given the grim economic reality facing many city residents, and the mood of disgust at politicians' greed sweeping the country in the wake of scandal after scandal.

They could have given the money saved instead to one of the many groups struggling to make ends meet as donations dry up: the Brighton Women's Centre, for example, which reported last week that without a serious injection of cash may be forced to close its doors.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Brighton's Tory administration limps on awhile longer...

Well, the coup didn't happen. The minority Tory administration in Brighton and Hove managed to limp on for another day, just.

Paul Lainchbury, the 'absentee' Tory councillor for Goldsmid, turned up, and didn't resign after all. He just nodded his assent to Ann Norman being elected mayor and Mary Mears being named leader of a minority administration again - and then left sharpish.

I guess he's in the clear now to resign - but what a cynical last act as councillor it'll have been, to have propped up a failing minority administration that the electorate don't want, and can only command 25 out of 54 seats on the council.

I can understand why people are so turned off the party politics of the 20th century. Oh no, that'll be all the crooks in parliament spending our money on their moats, porn films and second homes.

Of course, when we Greens tried to express our discomfort with this betrayal of the city, a furious Lady Mears told us off for the heinous crime of ruining some of the Tories' day by bringing politics into the council chamber... seriously! I'll post some footage from the council's webcast archive when they get round to making it accessible. Meanwhile, you can read an 'objective' take on the meeting, courtesy of The Argus.

Vote Green for safer streets and a local primary school place for every child, says Goldsmid candidate

The Green Party activist hoping to be elected councillor for Goldsmid when absentee Tory Paul Lainchbury steps down, Alex Phillips, has set our her priorities for the ward.

She said she wanted to see a local school place for every child, and pledged to campaign for a new primary school to meet the needs of young families, and end the use of temporary classrooms.

Alex also said a Green vote was a vote for better buses on Old Shoreham Road, more cycle lanes, car club cars, pedestrian crossings - and a 20 mph speed limit on residential roads.
She said she would fight to protect BHASVIC fields from development, and to replant the railway embankments that were vandalised by Network Rail.

Ms Phillips, who is a trustee of Latitude Safe Space, a local charity for single homeless women, also said she'd wok to improve council housing - and community safety.

“I’ll work with the Clarendon and Goldsmid Local Action Teams and the Portland Road & Clarendon Forum to improve the safety and cleanliness of the streets and to tackle crime, vandalism & anti-social behaviour," she said today.

“I’ll also press for changes to the communal bins to make them easier for older residents and others to use and encourage more widespread recycling.

“City-wide, I will campaign for more affordable housing and greater efforts to create and retain jobs in the city and to support local businesses.”

“Alex is a hard-working and committed member of the Green Party who brings a breath of fresh air to this campaign,” added Green Group Convenor Bill Randall.

"She is standing for a party untarnished by the greed and sleaze that has dominated headlines recently.”

Time for a Congestion Charge?

Just days after Brighton's Green Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas warned that the city faced a 'summer of smog' due to dangerous pollution levels in 18 areas of the city, The Argus has reported that the 18 pollution hotspots identified in 2007 have risen to 30 now - and the problem is getting worse across Brighton and Hove.

Members of the planning committee have even started rejecting bids to build homes with windows in these areas for fear of the health impacts of daily exposure to high - and unlawful - levels of pollution.

And guess what - pollution levels are worst at traffic hotspots: the Vogue Gyratory and Preston Circus face the worst problems of all.

Brighton Kemptown's problem areas include: Eastern Road, Grand Parade and Lewes Road.

Isn't it time we looked at introducing a Low Emissions Zone, banning heavy-emission vehicles form certain areas - or introducing a London-style Congestion Charge?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A coup at Brighton and Hove council?

Well it seems I might be wrong when I worried that today's council meeting might be the most pointless in history. I've just heard a rumour that absentee Tory councillor Paul Lainchbury for Goldsmid will resign minutes after his casting vote has ensured Mary Mears's election as minority leader of the council for another year.

She knows she'd never win the vote without him: the numbers just don't stack up.

Erm, that's democracy. If there aren't enough Tory councillors to sustain a vote for a Tory-run council by 6pm, whey should the electorate have to put up with it for another year, just because there were at 5pm?

Some would say waiting until after the leader of the council has been chosen before resigning is a deliberate act of trying to distort democracy. In some places, that's called a coup, and its perpetrators, conspirors and beneficiaries end up in prison, or worse, when voters manage to re-assert democracy.

All in all, it promises to be quite an interesting meeting now. If you're interested too, watch the webcast.

City Council cancels Baltic Pride event

City councillors in Riga, Latvia, have decided to cancel 'Baltic Pride', the LGBT celebration due to take place in Riga this weekend.

The annual gay pride march was scheduled to take place in the Latvian capital on Saturday, to coincide with a weekend of events marking IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on Sunday 17 May.

But on Tuesday 34 out of 60 members of Riga City Council voted to ban the march on the grounds of public morality.

As if public morality is harmed more by celebrating freedom than banning marches! I think their city councillors have forgotten that they are in the EU now, not the Soviet Union, and respecting human rights to free speech, free assembly and freedom from discrimination are as essential requirement of Latvia's accession to the union in the first place.

It makes me realise how our Brighton and Hove Tories aren't so bad after all. As a city councillor in Brighton, I can't imagine any of my colleagues seeking to ban Pride here.

Maybe drunkenly suggest that 'all gays are paedophiles...' when they think no-one's listening, but they'd never have the bottle to try and silence Brighton's LGBT community, whatever they, and their neo-fascist bedfellows in the European Parliament, really think.

Jean Lambert, London's Green MEP, is reportedly outraged by the decision, and has promised to raise the decision with European Commission.

Lottery cash boost for local organic food in Brighton

Great news: despite so much lottery cash being diverted from community projects to pay for the London 2012 Olympics, some has been able to trickle down.

I've just heard the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership has been awarded £500,000 over four years from the Big Lottery Fund to increase the amount of food grown in the city and to encourage people to eat more locally produced food.

'Harvest Brighton and Hove' is one of the first projects in the country to receive a Beacon grant from the Big Lottery’s Local Food scheme, awarded to projects which have national significance.

Harvest Brighton and Hove aims to increase the amount of local food produced and eaten within the city, and encourage more people to grow food in their gardens, patios or even window boxes.

It will encourage food growing in underused and unusual spaces, for example on land around housing and workplaces and will provide people with the skills and opportunities to grow food – whether at home, school or in community gardens.

It's totally in line with Green Party thinking locally: we have unsuccessfully called on the Tory council to give over more public land to food production, and promote a 21st Century 'Dig for Victory' scheme to boost health, equality and food security.

Hopefully this cash will enable exactly that to happen, and the residents of Brighton and Hove will benefit dramatically.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

‘Smog’ warning for Brighton's traffic hotspots

Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has warned residents of Brighton's traffic hotspots they face a ‘summer of smog’ after the Government admitted it would fail to meet EU clean air targets that came into force in 2005.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s Air Quality Action Plan lists 18 ‘hotspots’, where pollution levels exceed EU limits. Air quality is particularly bad at Preston Circus, the Vogue Gyratory, Lewes Road, Grand Parade and Eastern Road.

Just last week planners banned new buildings in the Lewes Road area having windows that could open because of health fears over poor air quality.

“That’s incredible – pollution is so bad in some areas of the city that experts say just breathing poses a health hazard,” Dr Lucas said.

“But rather than take steps to sort it out the Government refuses to adopt the new rules while the council bans opening windows.”

Alex Phillips selected as Green Party candidate for Goldsmid by-election

Brighton and Hove Green Party has selected Alex Phillips as its candidate to contest any by-election called for Goldsmid ward.

Alex, who lives in the Seven Dials area, works for the local party, and would be a fantastic councillor. She's committed to the ward in which she lives, is experienced at handling residents' issues and casework, having dealt with lots of it on behalf of Euro-MP Caroline Lucas for years, and knows her policy onions too.

Alex is also a well-organised and hard-working campaigner: when voters realise that only a Green vote can keep the Tories out, and are inspired by some of our positive messages, I'm sure she'll be joining us in the 12-strong group of green Party councillors in Brighton and Hove.

We might not have to wait that long for a by-election either: rumour has it council leader Mary Mears could call one as soon as this week... watch this space!

Tory councillor earns Brighton and Hove a namecheck in Private Eye's Private Eye's 'Rotten Boroughs' column - again!

Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column today gives us all another update on the ever-absent Tory councillor for Goldsmid Paul Lainchbury.

I reproduce it here, and again ask the Eye's copyright lawyers to look favourably on my little 'blog: again, I'm not trying to steal the story, merely promote the wonderful magazine and inform Brighton and Hove residents of its continued relevance in the hope that they'll buy lots of copies!

Anyway, here's the article:


As the Eye went to press absentee Skidrow-on-Sea councillor Paul Lainchbury who, we revealed last issue, takes so little interest in council affairs he no longer bothers to claim his allowance, had still not resigned, despite the uproar caused by our story.

Even the dozy Brighton Argus reported it after the Eye appeared. The problem for Skidrow's Tories is that a by-election would risk their one-seat majority, so council leader Mary Mears wants Lainchbury to hang on. Councillor Fiddler, the character played by the late Sid James in Carry On Girls, would surely have approved: he also plied his trade in a fading seaside resort, the aptly named Fircombe, rather than Brighton.

For me, the issue isn't that Mr L isn't doing the job, it's that Mary Mears, as council leader, hasn't stepped in to ensure Goldsmid residents are best served.

Anyway, the Greens are selecting their candidate for any possible by-election tonight: the three candidates are former candidates Martin Grimshaw and Rob Jarrett, and Alex Philips, who works for the Greens and lives in Goldsmid. More news later!

Green Party plans to scrap VAT to help small businesses

Green Party leader and Sussex Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has told small businesses only the Greens have the policies to help them through the current recession.

Unveiling the party's package of measures to help small business ahead of next month's European and County Council elections, Dr Lucas pledged to scrap VAT and merge National Insurance and Income Tax to reduce bureaucracy.

She said small businesses faced increasing pressure from anti-competitive practises, late payments and complex regulation.

"Yet it is not small businesses that cause the most pollution, waste the most resources and exploit their workers.

"They serve largely local markets and strengthen local economies and communities. They provide many jobs, are centres of creativity and innovation, and lead in the emerging green economy, providing organic food and services like insulation or community transport.

"Many are cooperatives or community enterprises. Small business goes with the grain of the green ethos – building a local and increasingly self-reliant economy means building up small business.

"The Green Party would introduce a framework of policy to give preferential support to local and smaller businesses and counteract the excessive power of global corporations. Most significantly we would reform the tax system by replacing the Unified Business Rate with a land tax paid to local rather than central government, and by banding corporation tax so that small businesses pay lower rates than larger businesses."

Dr Lucas unveiled a number of specific policies to help small businesses flourish under the current recession.

She said the Greens would:

* Reduce bureaucracy by scrapping VAT.
* Simplify PAYE by merging National Insurance with Income Tax.
* Support local community banks tasked with supporting small local enterprises.
* Introduce legislation to outlaw late payment.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Starbuck off - you're nicked!

Yesterday marked a dubious anniversary for St James's Street: a year since the controversial Starbucks coffee shop decided to defy planners and the wishes of local residents by opening its doors without planning permission.

There have been weekly demonstration outside the controversial store, come rain or shine, since then. Saturday's anniversary demo attracted about 70 or 80 people - on a rainy, wintry, day, this has sometimes fallen to just two or three.

But Saturday was a sunny spring day and the community seemed to come out in force: as well as two of us ward councillors (me and Rachel Fryer), we had Louis Louzou from the Sheltered Housing Action Group, several faces from the St James's Street Area Traders group and even Green Party leader and Euro-MP Caroline Lucas (pictured).

There was a singer (of sorts), a stall giving passers-by free hot drinks - and even some impromptu street theatre. It could have been a Brighton Festival event if it wasn't for the police presence (seven at one point!) and the slightly confrontational atmosphere.

Throughout the hour I was there - only four people entered Starbucks, and they were all wearing 'Abercrombie and Fitch' branded shirts. I don't know what that means, mebbe staff in their 'dress down' uniform?

At one point, two lads were arrested, given a warning and sent packing for yelling 'Fuck Starbucks'. I was reliably informed by the officers present that swearing in public is an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act - does your mind boggle? Apparently it all comes down to the possibility of accidentally offending passers-by.

I hope the June 10th planning inquiry acccepts that Starbucks is bad for local businesses, local residents - and local democracy - and can find a legal solution for that list of offences to all of us, whether we're passing by or not.

No news is good news

There's been a lot of nonsense spoken and reported about last week's Mayday protest and 'unauthorised' street party in Brighton on Monday.

The real headline, for me, was how well it all went. Obviously The Argus had a different story to tell, so it talked up the mayhem.

But I spent few hours with senior officers who were much more relaxed, and agreed that there was little cause for concern, and a while with demonstrators, who wanted to make their arguments, but weren't really interested in causing any damage or destruction at all.

Anyway, here's my favourite pic of the day, a surreal moment when the protest - and a phalanx of running coppers - snaked through Pavilion Gardens, and past Anish Kapoor's 'Sky Mirror' installation for Brighton Festival.

I overheard one protestor say to another: 'Oh I'm so glad we came this way, I really wanted to see some art while I was down here'

Green Party Election Broadcast

Well, here's the much-anticipated Green Party European election broadcast, as promised. It'll be showing on the bigger screen tonight, on ITV1 (6.25), BBC1 (6.55) and BBC2 (5.55).

If you like what you see, why not print off a 'Vote Green' poster and stick it up in your window?

Tories confirm by public denial forthcoming by-election in Goldsmid

The Argus has reported that Tory leader of Brighton and Hove Council Mary Mears says (a) there won't be a by-election in Goldsmid anytime soon, and (b) the Tories have never tried to block absentee Cameronista councillor Paul Lainchbury from resigning.

Since public announcements from Tory and Labour politicians usually represent big fat whoppers I guess that means (a) there will, and (b) they have (wonder what they've got on him?)

Please, tourist bosses, remember St James's Street!

It has been reported that North Laine traders are to benefit from a new council-backed Visitor Centre in the Toy and Model Museum underneath Brighton Station.

Great. The city's independent and small traders need all the help they can get: most tourists arriving in Brighton head straight to the beach, and reminding them of the quirky and unique shops in the city can only be good for everyone.

But please don't lets forget the St James's Street area: it's only a few minutes walk away, has more than its fair share of quirky, independent, cafes, bars and shops - and probably needs support even more than the North Laine (but it's not a competition!)

Plans for a mobile phone mast outside Queen's Park School

Mobile 'phone giant O2 has put in a planning application for a 3G mast on Freshfield Industrial Estate between Southdown Mews and Edward Street, right behind Queen’s Park Primary School.

Now I'm all for mobile 'phones - I certainly wouldn't be without mine - and as they get better and better at handling serious data flows it stands to reason that new, bigger, masts are needed.

But while questions remain about the health impact of living, literally, in the shadow of a 'phone mast (and they do!) I can't begin to condone building them near schools.

In Australia there is a ‘cordon sanitaire’ principle, meaning no 'phone masts are allowed to be built within 500 metres of a school or a hospital.

If you would like to view the plans then go to

Click 'planning', then ‘register of planning applications'. Select 'I agree' and click 'continue'.

In the Application Number box, enter the application number BH2009/00481 and click 'search'. You should see a summary of the application. Click 'details'.

You can then access more information about the application, e.g. by clicking 'documents' you can access plans, design and access statement, and so on.

To object/comment, click 'make a comment' or email or

Green Party political broadcast - tonight

In case anyone's interested, the Green Party's election broadcast ahead of the European and County votes on June 4th will be broadcast tonight.

It'll be shown three times: on Five (but they haven't managed to confirm when yet, so I guess if you're a Five viewer you'll just have to take your chances), on BBC2 at 5.55 and BBC1 at 6.55.

I haven't seen it yet, but I have heard the music (celebrity Greens Franz Ferdinand AGAIN!), but I'll post it here as soon as I can.

In case you want to watch it and (a) I'm too slow and (b) you've got better things to do tonight (blimey that's a lot of ifs), it's due to be repeated on Five on May 26th and BBC1, BBC2 and ITV1 on May 27th.

I fell in love with an orange girl (Brighton Festival 1)

I do love Brighton Festival. But it isn't the official events, the operas (as Malcom Tucker says, they're all vowels), the plays - or even the fringe events that bring big names to town and sold out weeks ago.

No, for me, it's the unexpected gems round every street corner (like this geezer, who I snapped playing his violin on a tightrope outside Pavilion Gardens on Saturday).

Or the busker doing free stand-up in New Road: Mark Gwynne Jones. It's not often you get to see a busker reading his own poems. Mark's included the fabulous 'I fell in love with an orange girl' about someone overdoing it on the sunbed. It made me laugh out loud, and it was free, in the street, on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

One rule for the MPs, another for those on benefits...

Both The Guardian and The Independent have published letters from local resident and secretary of the Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre Tony Greenstein. Although I don't agree with everything Tony says and does this is absolutely spot on: he makes the point that it's one rule for MPs and another for benefit claimants, who would have been arrested by now if they had taken the same approach to form-filling as Gordon Brown and his gang...

So Gordon Brown "inadvertently" claimed for a plumber's bill twice and Jack Straw claimed the full cost of his council tax, despite a 50% rebate. But there is no defence of "inadvertence" if you are unemployed and overclaim. On the contrary, you will be subject to the full force of the law, interviewed under caution and as likely as not prosecuted.

There is something obscene about a situation where bankers are rewarded for the consequences of their own gambling, MPs are able to get away with expenses fraud but the poor are penalised for the slightest error.

Well said Tony.

The 'Me! Me! Me!' generation, home to roost

So now, according to today's Observer, MPs are to face investigations for tax evasion over their profiteering from taxpayer-funded second homes. According to former standards supremo Sir Alistair Graham, Home Secretary Wacky Jacqui Smith has been 'near fruadulent'. I remember the destruction wrought to this country by Margaret Thatcher while I was growing up. I just can't believe that Labour MPs have been so incapable of keeping their fingers out of the till that we're destined to have another Tory government in this country. I guess it's not their fault: this Labour government just represents the 'Me! Me! Me!' generation, come home to roost.

St James's Street community meetings

It's that time of the month again... and a whole new cycle of St James's Street Area community group meetings is nearly with us.

The businesses and traders group will be having its next meeting on Wednesday (May 13th) at 7pm at the New Madeira Hotel on the seafront.

The Local Action Team, which is open to everyone but is primarily aimed at residents, and has a community safety focus, meets at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church, again at 7pm, next Wednesday (that's the 20th) - and will be having a special discussion abut licensed premises, especially in light of the perverse decision to allow Tesco to add its cut-prize booze to the St James's Street mix. The council's Head of Community Safety, Linda Beanlands, has said she'll come along.

I'm hoping the local PCSOs make this one as well, so I can remind them of 'Innkeeper' - Sussex Police's very own database of every licensed premise, any conditions under which it operates - and the history of any complaints or other aggravation connected with any particular license.

Please come - or if you can't, leave your concerns as comments and I'll raise them...

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The most pointless council meeting in the history of Brighton and Hove?

I've just been perusing the agenda for next Thursday's full meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council. I wonder if it's the most pointless meeting in the history of the council: as it's the annual council meeting, councillors are not allowed to submit any motions. Nor written questions to cabinet members or the leader of the council. No public questions are allowed. No deputations. No petitions are presented, and no items referred to council by any of the council's other committees will be considered. It's not even 'the done thing' to make a political argument of any sort.

So what's it for? It's largely ceremonial, really: all the councillors turn up and endorse the 'election' (all stitched up in advance, of course) of Anne Norman as mayor while her family and friends look on with a warm glow of pride.

Now there's nothing wrong with ceremony, in its place, and I certainly don't begrudge another family of Tory grandees their 15 minutes of fame, but is it really giving good value to the taxpayer? I wonder how much it costs: all the senior staff salaries, webcasting, member allowances, room use charges, refreshments. It must run to five figures... can't we spend the money on modernising council accommodation, or supporting communities, or boosting local Green industries and creating jobs? Anything really without the 19th century pomp and circumstance?

Friday, 8 May 2009

The rise of Tescoism

A recent Tesco rally at the head office in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England

Thanks to the Daily Squib for one of the funnyist - and chilling - images I've seen all week (and thanks Charl for forwarding it)

The Daily Squib has a great line in making readers squirm as it pokes fun at the rich and powerful, but this is almost too close to the bone even for me.

But, as with the best satire, there's more than a grain of truth in it. This is the same Tesco, after all, that dominates British retail, that sucks money out of local communities, that destroys town centres, jobs and neighbourhoods everywhere it goes and that, just in case you've forgotten, has just been granted a license to sell cheap alcohol to street drinkers in St James's Street, despite the opposition of ward councillors (that's me and Rachel), the local residents and businesses who will be forced to pay the price daily, and even Sussex Police.

Poor Gordon Brown makes a Nazi gaffe this time

Poor, beleagured, Gordon Brown.

He really hasn't had a great week: losing not only a vote in the House of Commons - but the goodwill of much of the country - over whether or not to allow former Ghurkas to retire, with their families, in the UK, being attacked by his own ministers over his clumsy YouTube video - oh and getting caught giving his brother six grand of taxpayers' cash for a 'cleaner'.

And then to cap it all Mr Brown somehow was allowed to be photographed in front of a wall with children’s images of the Second World War, including several swastikas, at Prendergast-Hilly Fields College in Lewisham, southeast London.

The images were part of a school project entitled Life in Nazi Germany and there were other displays in the room, such as Life in Rome, but Downing Street defended its handling of the visit, arguing that it would have been a bigger story if it had asked the pupils to take their work down.

I don't think it's that Gord is trying to be an idiot - just that he, and all his Malcolm Tucker style advisors - have just giving up trying altogether.

Toys for the Boys...

The Ministry of Defence has sponsored a set of "HM Armed
Forces" dolls. All are -- for now -- male and white and none
have missing limbs or bear the psychological scars of warfare.
These toys are a part of the government's drive to make war
acceptable and the army something to be emulated, as are the
resurgence of military parades and recruitment campaigns aimed
at teenagers.

The Ministry of Defence said: "These toys showcase our people
and equipment and this commercial recognition proves the high
level support for our forces among the British public."

Unless of course "our forces" are doing something the British public
opposes, such as the 68 per cent who think all British troops
should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Thanks to the Stop The War Coalition

Police delete London tourists' photos 'to prevent terrorism'

This was first reported a few weeks ago - but it's worth telling the tale again in case anyone missed it. It's a great metaphor for the way basic freedoms and human rights are being eroded under this Government.

But hang on a minute, the argument goes, we haven't really got any choice. We are losing some of our freedoms, the freedom to carry an unsearched bag on to an aeroplane, say, in the fight against terrorism.

It's not a fight we started (so the tale goes - some would argue precisely the opposite, of course) - but if we're gonna win it we have to give a little.

Well, whatever you think of the premises here, this argument can only work if the human rights in question are only curtailed to the extent necessary to prevent some unspecified act of violent extremism.

Is this what's happening? Hardly: it seems the freedom to take holiday snaps in London is the latest quasi-terrorist activity to be banned.

Austrian tourist Klaus Matza and his son Loris were just acting like any other tourists when they took pictures of some of London sights during a recent visit. The trouble is, they aroused suspicion when taking snaps of buses and a bus station in Walthamstow and Vauxhall.

And now the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matkza, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was "strictly forbidden". The policemen also recorded the pair's details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

As Matzka himself said soon after the incident: "I understand the need for some sensitivity in an era of terrorism, but isn't it naive to think terrorism can be prevented by terrorising tourists?"

"Google Street View is allowed to show any details of our cities on the world wide web," he said. "But a father and his son are not allowed to take pictures of famous London landmarks."

He said he would not return to London again after the incident.

"We typically crisscross cities from the end of railway terminals, we like to go to places not visited by other tourists. You get to know a city by going to places like this, not central squares. Buckingham Palace is also necessary, but you need to go elsewhere to get to know the city," he said.

He said the "nasty incident" had "killed interest in any further trips to the city".

Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and a Green party member of the London assembly, said: "This is another example of the police completely overreaching the anti-terrorism powers.

"They are using it in a totally inappropriate way."

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Why voting Green makes a difference - despite bias in electoral system...

How Euro-MPs actually voted

Here's a fantastic tool for helping make your mind up ahead of next month's election to the European Parliament: a vote tracker.

Using the dropdown menus you can find out exactly how your Euro-MPs voted over the last year: cut through the guff by checking the voting record.

It's a fairly depressing exercise in so many ways, chiefly because the Labour and Conservative reps are so often in the same bed of free trade and privatisation of public services. It's no wonder socialists and others in the trade union movement get so frustrated.

Too much packaging - maybe your council can help!

Sometimes I forget that the reason East Sussex and Brighton councils are so keen to build their new waste incinerator at Newhaven is, primarily, because there's simply too much rubbish being produced in the first place.

And so much of that waste is packaging, deliberately-produced boxes, bags and wrappings designed to be eye-catching and convey brand-identity at a glance, but rarely to minimise rubbish.

But there are rules: excess packaging is outlawed by Trading Standards regulations.

According to The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 (as amended), packaging volume and weight must be the minimum amount to maintain necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer.

So, in theory, every council in the country has a role in enforcing these regulations - and taking excess packaging off the shop shelves.

The practise is slightly different, of course. Brighton and Hove City Council can't even keep our streets free of uncollected rubbish, so what hope can we have that it'll keep the marketing machine in check and cut the city's packaging waste.

But to be fair, the council has now, eventually, produced its new waste plan. It doesn't look like it'll do much to bring an increasingly chaotic rubbish and recycling service under control, but it does set a target of encouraging complaints about excess packaging and investigating 20 cases a year.

So perhaps we can all do our bit by reporting any goods sold in too much guff.

Here's my contribution: the packaging for a Bach's herbal remedy: the box is more than twice as big as it needs to be - it even has a little fold to help it keep it's shape!