Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Fair pay for all is how the council can avoid a devastating summer bin strike

Any summer strike by bin men or any other staff will be devastating to both residents and Brighton’s vibrant tourist industry.

The council really must prevent it, by ruling out pay decreases, and finding the political will to pay all staff a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

It’s great that the Tory Council has tried to sort out the mess left by its Labour predecessor, who simply ignored the equal pay issue for years, but the answer must lie in increasing the pay of those at the bottom of the pile, not cutting the pay of those earning a little more. Both Labour and the Tories will be to blame if this mess spills onto our streets this summer.

The council is proposing pay cuts at the same time as advertising for a £170,000 a year Chief Executive: what kind of message does this send out?

Of course, increasing pay for the council’s lowest paid staff (including the 1,000-odd who are earning less than £7 an hour) will cost money – but the council simply must find it.

It’s all about priorities: we Greens introduced a motion in a recent meeting to cap the salaries of senior staff, which would enable the council to give the lowest paid more. It wasn’t even debated, as it was ruled out of order by (guess who?) senior staff.

Of course, it’s a difficult financial time for everyone, but I believe that the council should not implement pay cuts for existing staff at all: any wage cuts will hit those who can least afford it.

I hope there is no strike, but if there is we must remember: it’ll be a failure of the Tory council and not the CityClean staff trying to defend their pay working conditions.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Celebrating public service heroes

Yesterday I joined millions around the country - and hundreds in Brighton - in commemorating the first Armed Forces Day.

For me the events were a perfect backdrop for thinking about the remarkable sacrifice made by so many in the struggles against fascism and for peace and stability.

The noblest of aims, perhaps, and I salute those who have given up so much in their pursuit, especially men like 113-year-old Ovingdean resident Henry Allingham, who served in both world wars and has been an informal ambassador for peace ever since.

For Sammy, it was a lovely day out complete with parachutes - trucks and even tanks. Five-year-old boy stuff.

I'm looking forward to next year already: and I hope the powers that be will extend the commemoration to all public sector workers who give so much, and sometimes risk life itself, to make our lives a little easier.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Brighton Tory wannabe quits after party MPs forced to hand back £260,000

So Tory hopeful David Bull has decided to throw in the towel as the party's parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion.

Only David will know the real reason why: but the news comes hot on the heels after the latest chapter in the MPs' expenses saga.

Tory MPs have been ordered by cuddly leader David Cameron to hand back £260,000 to the taxpayer after being caught living the high life at our expense.

I've no idea whether this latest development influenced Mr Bull's decision: but it's certainly not a very lucrative time to be a Tory MP - and his website makes pretty clear he's a man with pretty expensive tastes.

Maybe he just doesn’t think its worthwhile now that the expenses are being reined in?

Whatever the reason, it leaves a void where the Tory candidate will be. Perhaps this will herald a return to Brighton politics for self-publicist David Van Day?

Perhaps he'll be able to enjoy earning a place in history by being the first person in the UK to come second to a Green MP - in the way that neither Lepper nor Bull have wanted to.

Oh and it'll save the local Tories a few bob on 'Vote David' stickers...

Friday, 26 June 2009

Goldsmid By-election latest: Labour mudslinging could be criminal offence

Oh dear - things aren't so looking rosy at Labour HQ. It looks like their latest wheeze - to spread a few lies about the Green Party candidate - might just have backfired, spectacularly.

The party's latest leaflet could see both Goldsmid candidate Lis Telcs and her election agent in breach of electoral law: both could end up being prosecuted and either paying large fines or even being debarred from standing in the forthcoming election.

The leaflet in question dedicates half a page to a cursory analysis of the Green Party candidate Alex Phillips and her Tory rival Andrew Wealls.

The trouble is - most of it is nonsense, and appears to be made up for the sole purpose of discrediting Alex with the electorate.

It states, for example, that the Greens' Alex Phillips is a student, hasn't worked with local councillors, and hasn't attended community events. All nonsense, and clearly designed to damage her electoral prospects.

Politics can be a dirty game. Telling a few lies might seem clever - though I doubt the electorate will be very impressed with a leaflet dedicated to talking about the other candidates rather than positive policies.

But it's not just electorally stupid, it's a criminal offence.

Section 106 of the The Representation of the People Act 1983 makes it illegal to publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct.

Since Alex has attended local events, worked with local councillors at a LAT meeting, and is not a student, the law is breached in at least three places.

If the police decide to take any action (prosecutions are rare but not unheard of) the leaflet bears two names: A. Dean and L. Telcs.

I imagine their lawyers will be busy clocking up some overtime this weekend!

Reaching for the stars...


Election stories: three come along at once!

1. Goldsmid latest: Labour resort to lies about other candidates in latest leaflet

2. Goldsmid latest II: Full candidates list published: UKIP are standing

3. Brighton Pavilion: Tory candidate David Bull quits

More later...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Time to stop US aid to Israel?

I know Israeli politics is a fraught arena, and one in which logic hardly has a central role to play.

But in recent days US President Barack Obama has had the courage to enter the maelstrom, and has placed his opposition to Israeli settlements on Palestinian land on record.

Such illegal settlements undermine the likelihood of bringing peace to the region - and constitute unlawful human rights breaches in their own right.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has just given Obama the finger: not merely refusing to criticise further settlements but actively continuing to support - and fund them.

But Israel receives millions each year in direct aid from the US, some of it in the form of the weapons and military aid necessary to maintain its grip on power in the region.

So can't Obama put his money where his mouth is - and threaten to withdraw all aid to Israel unless it stops the settlements, pulls down its 'apartheid wall' and begins respecting all UN resolutions - and the human rights of its neighbours?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Taking the pledge for Recycle Week

This week I've taken the pledge - well, a pledge, anyway: to recycle all the piles of old newspapers and magazines littering my flat - or else I won't allow myself to buy any more.

Since I'm such a boring news junkie that's going to be almost impossible: I'd better hope I stick to it (hey, even with The Tories running things it's easier to recycle paper in Brighton than run a marathon around it, and I'm determined to do that too).

The pledge is in aid of Recycle Week.

The annual event, now in its fifth year, seeks to draw attention to the sea of waste in which we're drowning, promote recycling and waste reduction.

This year the week's theme is 'let's waste less...', "encouraging all of us to try something new in an effort to go greener and cut back on the waste we all produce".

Of course the best way to reduce the amount of rubbish we throw away is to cut down on the amount of stuff we buy in the first place - but unless we're to be buried under trash or choked by new waste incinerators we'll need to recycle what's left.

The Government has set targets to make sure we do recycle about half of what we throw away.

That's pretty poor: I think we should be aiming for a zero waste society like those in parts of Canada and Australia.

But meanwhile (until we get that Green party government!) the council here in Brighton and Hove doesn't even hope to reach even this paltry target.

The council is set to adopt a new Waste Mangement Strategy in the coming weeks, and early drafts suggest our long-term recycling targets will be lower than the national average or Government target.

I think that's not good enough. We should be exceeding these targets - setting an example on how to cut waste, in line with the green aspirations of so many living here.

It could start with introducing food scraps and garden refuse collections, improving recycling collection at communal bins sites.

Even more easily, the council should recycle all waste from our parks, beaches and town centre locations, especially at and after events - and scrap the dubious contract with Veolia to burn a steady stream of Brighton's waste at the Newhaven incinerator for the next 30 years.

Then perhaps the council could say it had made a Recycle Week pledge of its own.

Taking a new role too seriously?

Last night a regular Green party councillors group meeting ratified our roles, responsibilities and 'briefs' for the next year.

As well as continuing as the Greens' spokesperson on community safety and policing, and speaking for the group on Human Rights, I have a new job: group spokesperson on sport.

As soon as it convenes I'll sit as one of the council's representatives on the City Sports Forum.

Meanwhile I've hit the ground running - literally - and signed up to run the first Brighton Marathon, which takes place next April.

I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’m hoping running a route round a city I’m so familiar with will help me make it to the finish line!

Greens believe the council should be doing all it can to encourage and provide support for participation in many different sports across the city, and at all levels.

Getting involved in some kind of sport isn’t just great for improving fitness levels: team sports can also help foster a real sense of community, and getting fitter can really help improve people’s self esteem.

Greens believe schools should be aiming to provide a full, unbroken half day per week of sport for every child, in addition to daily opportunities for physical exercise.

Watch this space for regular updates on how my training's going!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Goldsmid update: Lib-Dems feeling the Green heat

The Liberal Democrats in Goldsmid must be feeling the Green heat: they've just sent residents a detailed Environmental Survey and suggested that voting Lib is the best bet for a political party committed to tackling climate change.

I can't imagine many people will bother taking the time to fill it in - let alone return it.

Most local voters know perfectly well that the Lib Dems are, frankly, too yellow to be green.

With only two seats on Brighton and Hove City Council to the Greens' 12, it's no wonder they want to emulate the Green Party, and try and apply some quick greenwash to their policies.

But the reality is that the Lib Dems are all too confused about their policies on aviation - they are all to supportive of new runway building when it comes down to it (they supported expansion of John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, for example).

No-one knows exactly where they stand on waste incineration, nuclear power, road-building (they claim to be against it,m but seem to vote for new, improved roads at almost every opportunity: most lately the M74 Extension) or animal protection.

It's not that they don't say anything on these matters: they do, and it usually sounds great.

But once in power they tend to vote in different ways in different areas.

I hope whoever wins the by-election will be absolutely committed to delivering a fairer, safer and more Environmentally friendly Brighton and Hove. I wouldn't trust the Lib Dems tyo deliver one though, whatever they say.

Buck Off - great film teling the tale of the campaign against the St James's Street Starbucks

This film, narrated by Louis Louzou, tells the story of the unlawful St James's Street Starbucks up to the public inquiry into its future that took place at Brighton Town hall earlier this month. I'll post on that in a few days: meanwhile, two facts to remember:

1. The inquiry will announce it's result in September. It's rumoured though that the chain has secured an option to lease the former John's Camping shop on the other side of the street - and will simply move over the road and start the whole process again if they lose.

2. This film contains the startling revelation that the nearby Cherry Tree Deli and Cafe has suffered an 18% drop in coffee sales since Starbucks opened its doors - so the impact on the local community is already being felt, and hard.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Act now to protect Iranian political 'bloggers and twitterers...

Last night I received an urgent request for help from an Iraqi 'blogger: please reset your location details to Iran or Tehran on your 'blog and twitter accounts, and the time to GMT +3.30 (Tehran time).

According to my Iranian blogger contact, secret police are rounding up 'bloggers and twitteres who are describing events in the country, using a list of everyone registered in Iran and with this unique time zone.

If thousands of us around the world (and therefore out of reach of the Iranian secret police!) make these settings our own, the hope is that the secret police will be overwhelmed and free blogging and twittering will continue in Iran a while longer.

Freedom of speech on the 'net - and for journalists in general - must be preserved: it's only if people know what's going on that they can make an informed decision, and no-one will know what's going on if the police are arresting everyone who's trying to tell us!

So please change these details, even if just for a day or two: it takes less than a minute, costs nothing, and could prevent an innocent 'blogger from a night (or more...) in the cells, and help preserve the free flow of information about political events both inside, and beyond, Iran.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

WHO: Cars set to kill more than AIDS or TB within two decades

According to a report in the New York Times, traffic incidents are the ninth leading cause of death worldwide.

A new survey from the World Health Organisation reckons 1.3 million people die each year on the world's roads, and about half of them are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists.

And it's getting worse: the report reckons traffic will be the fifth biggest cause of death within 20 years, killing more people than either AIDS or TB.

The public health argument for making our streets safer couldn't be clearer.

We need to persuade more people to leave their cars at home by improving access to affordable, improved, public transport networks.

We need safer road networks for cyclists and pedestrians.

But perhaps most importantly of all, we need the Government and council to find the political courage to take on the motorists' lobby and adopt road safety and improving public transport as top priorities.

To paraphrase the late MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, 'the car is the weapon of choice by which the rich kill the poor in this country'.

We can, and really must, change that.

Monday, 15 June 2009

By-election update: Labour priorities - abandon Goldsmid and head to Kemptown

Labour have unwittingly revealed their Brighton and Hove Council by-election strategy: to abandon Goldsmid and concentrate on holding onto their parrliamentary seat here in Brighton Kemptown.

According to Facebook, local Labour big-wigs are to spend the Saturday just before the July 23rd by-election at a Brighton Kemptown Action Day.

I'd think it was Labour punishing Ms Telcs for seeming to abandon the party in her recent letter to voters, except even she plans being in Kemptown rather than Goldsmid herself.

What's going on?

The result of the Goldsmid by-election is of crucial importance to the city: if the Tories lost the seat they'll have lost control of the council - and the short Mary Mears leadership will come to an end.

Is this a tacit admission that Liz Telcs doesn't really mind if she wins or loses, as long as the Tory administration falls?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Caroline Lucas: Forget the BNP. What about the planet?

In today's Independent on Sunday, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas claims the real story of the EU election earlier this month, was the nationwide rise of the Green Party.

She rightly observes that most media attention has been focused on either the BNP winning its first seats at Brussels, or the demise of Labour. Neither of which, the local re-elected MEP says, offers us as much hope as the nationwide rise in the Green Party's support.

She's spot on: those in Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk, Kemp Town, Rottingdean, Telscombe, Peacehaven and all points in between have their best ever chance to elect a Green MP and ensure both a strong Green voice at Westminster and Brighton Kemptown's place in the history books.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Goldsmid by-election latest: Tories waste taxpayers' cash and Labour's candidate abandons party and adopts Green policies

I thought that missing Tory Paul Lainchbury's resignation might mean an end to national focus on the forthcoming by-election in Goldsmid.

But no, Private Eye (excellent as always, please subscribe!) has taken a final (?) look at the way the Tories' handling of the saga has cost the local taxpayer dear.

Under the headline 'The Curse of Gnome', the Eye has, as usual, found a new angle in its 'Rotten Boroughs' column: the outrageous £10-20,000 cost of the Tories' cynical attempt to put off Lainchbury's resignation until after April's annual council had approved Mary Mears' leadership for another year.

Here's their take on things:

SO, FAREWELL then Paul Lainchbury, Skidrow-on-Sea's absentee Tory councillor, who resigned on the day of last week's local and Euro elections.

After Lainchbury, who had missed every Brighton & Hove council committee meeting and community/resident group for a year, was exposed in the Eye, Tory council leader Mary Mears insisted he stay on long enough for Skidrow Tories - who now lose their overall majority - to select the new mayor and cabinet unopposed last month.

This meant the ensuing by-election could not be held on the same day as the Euros, prompting a special poll in Goldsmid ward costing an extra £10,000 - £20,000. Trebles all round!

That would have been enough to fund Green proposals the Tories said were just too expensive: supporting the Albert Kennedy Trust's work with young LGBT homeless men in the city, for example, or introducing an integrated travel plan for students attending the Varndean campus.

I imagine voters will be furious: the Tories can't really be expecting to win at all.

Meanwhile, the latest leaflet sent out to householders in the area by Labour Party candidate Liz Telcs seems to abandon the party (presumably in the wake of seeing the party's city-wide vote share slump to barely 15% in last week's election to the European Parliament) - though it does boast that she's being supported by local celebrities including a couple of Labour councillors and someone she knows from work.

It does boast some policy ideas too: remarkably they are almost identical to those announced by Green Party candidate Alex Phillips a couple of weeks ago: safer cleaner streets and more local school places.

Of course it's high praise for Alex that Labour are so impressed by her policies that they just want to adopt them for themselves, but I can't imagine voters will be so impressed.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Queen's Park ward surgery

Just to let you know I'll be holding a Queen's Park ward surgery, with my colleague Paul Steedman, today from 6-7pm, in the Community Room at St James's House, High Street.

All residents are welcome - do come along if there's anything we can help with, or for an informal chat, or just to say hello!

Afterwards I'll be hoping to meet more residents with a spot of summer street canvassing until dark.

The three of us hope to get round everyone in the ward eventually, so if we haven't called, and don't tonight, we will soon.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Desperate Tories announce school holiday by-election

Brighton's ailing Tory minority administration hopes to hold onto the seat of recently-resigned disgraced absentee councillor Paul Lainchbury by engineering one of the lowest turnouts in any council by-election in UK history, it seems.

According to The Argus, they have announced that the Goldsmid by-election will be held on July 23rd, in the first week of the school holidays - when many parents will be away.

This means turnout - traditionally low for council elections and even lower in by-elections - could be the lowest in recent history.

The demographics of voters will be affected too: with less young families, who are less likely to vote Tory, likely to take part.

I guess they must be pretty desperate at the news that UKIP will stand and split the Tory vote.

Maybe I'm being too cynical?

But either way in light of last week's results, in which the Greens trounced the Tories and Labour city-wide, I can't imagine it'll make much difference.

Green candidate Alex Phillips must be delighted.

The Church of Life After Shopping vs Starbucks, St James's Street

The public inquiry into Starbucks' appeal over local planners refusal to grant them planning permission for the firm's unlawful coffee shop on St James's Street takes place this week at Brighton Town Hall.

After seeking permission to open, being refused and opening anyway, after Brighton planners accepted the Green principal that a chain-store logo on a sign just couldn't be 'interesting' and therefore shouldn't be allowed in a conservation area, and after weekly demonstrations highlighting these issues - and others, the final battle will be fought tomorrow, Thursday and Friday.

Myself and fellow Green councillor Rachel Fryer will be attending the hearing, which starts at 10am tomorrow, after a short demonstration outside Brighton Council's historic HQ. Rachel is set to give evidence, arguing that the store's presence has pushed rents up in the area - and threatens the viability of local businesses.

We'll see what happens, but I fear we'll be stuck with Starbucks in St James's Street whatever happens: rumour has it that, anticipating being ordered to close, the chain has already bought up another empty shop (the former John's Camping Store on the other side of the road) and is prepared to start the process all over again.

Anyway, I'll post again on this when there's more to report. Meanwhile, here's a short film of the Church of Life After Shopping's Reverend Billy visiting the store last week. I hope you enjoy it.

FT says Brighton Greens' leap to first place fails to surprise most voters

Today's Financial Times reports that Brighton Greens' leap really isn't a surprise to most voters.

Long a Tory-supporting bastion, Brighton, which fell to Labour in 1997, exemplified Tony Blair's ability to attract the middle classes as no other Labour leader had done, writes Alistair Gray .

But the days of ascendency for the governing party have disappeared like mist on Brighton beach. Less than one in 20 residents here voted for the Labour party last week.

Browsing the boutiques of the edgy North Laine area yesterday afternoon, few of the trendy patrons were surprised by the disclosure that the Green party had jumped to first place with nearly a third of the vote. Debate, however, raged as to whether their performance represented a strengthening of environmental concerns among locals - or a mere protest against an unpopular government.

Luke Jefford, a 36-year-old graphic designer who knocked on doors for Labour during their 1997 campaign, voted for them again in 2005, but deserted to the Greens last Thursday, is typical of those who feel the party has betrayed its values.

"I was dyed in the wool Labour for many years," he said. "Down at the town hall in '97, I remember shouting from the top windows when [Michael] Portillo was voted out. But now there's a lack of direction."

A gleeful Paul Steedman, the party's general election campaign director who is based in Brighton, said the Brighton Pavilion constituency was now the party's "number one" target for the first Green member of the Commons.

The article also quotes Labour's Kemptown candidate Simon Burgess claiming that most voters, like him, think Gord-help-us Brown is the best man for the job of PM, and predicts that many will come back to the discredited party.

I can't help wondering which voters he's talking about. Certainly not the ones I met out campaigning, or the one's living in Peacehaven, Telscombe, Brighton or Kemp Town who abandoned the party in such huge numbers last week.

But as The Argus says in its comment piece today [not online yet - I'll post the link when it is]: "...the Greens were the only one who actually made an effort to canvass door-to-door and took the time to make sure they had a representative at most of the pooling stations across the city." So perhaps Simon didn't actually meet many voters at all.

Monday, 8 June 2009

A tale of two results?

Well, what a night.

For those of you who haven't seen the headline results of Thursday's election to the European Parliament, here goes:

* Labour faced near wipeout, losing three seats with national voteshare under 15%

* Racist and homophobic BNP pick up two seats, in the Yorkshire & Humberside and North-West England regions

* Greens hold two seats with a massively increased vote share: 11.6% in the South East (beating Labour, who received just 8.2%, into fifth place), and 9.2% nationally

* Across Europe, Greens and Leftwingers, as well as Tories, do well at the expense of centre-left parties

So all good.

And, as per my last post, the results here in Brighton and Hove were even better for the Greens: we were clear winners, polling about 34%. The Tories rustled up about 24% and Labour came a poor third with about 16% - less than half as many voted Labour as voted Green.

But though the same thing happened in Oxford and Norwich, where Greens topped the local poll, the results nationally weren't really as good.

The Greens had set themselves two measures of success: winning more seats, and keeping the BNP out. Though our vote share rose across the country, we didn't achieve either of these aims.

So there will be some lessons to learn (better targeting perhaps? We came so close in Eastern England, the North-West and the South-West - perhaps if we'd focused our efforts on just one of them we'd have won a seat? Discuss...)

But it's a tale of two results - and the news couldn't really be better here in Brighton Kemptown. A big thank you to everyone who voted Green - and helped by delivering leaflets, newspapers - or with telling on election day. We couldn't have done it without you!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Green Party storms European election in Brighton and Hove

Well there'll be plenty more time for full analysis of results later, but I can hardly wait to post this: Greens sweep the board in Brighton and Hove and trounce Labour across the South-East region.

The Brighton and Hove results were:

Green 19727
Conservative 13891
Labour 9113
UKIP 7570
Lib Dem 6410
BNP 1796

In the region, Cons won (4 seats), UKIP second (2 seats), Lib-Dems third (2 seats), Green Party fourth (1 seat - well done Caroline Lucas, re-elected for a third term, commiserations to Keith Taylor, so close, he'd have been a great MEP - wait to 2014) and, in fifth place, Labour, who pick up one seat.

Roll on the General Election.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

700-tree forest spruces up Valley Gardens

What if?

What if Valley Gardens, the green strip of land running from Brighton Pavilion to St Peter's Church, separating four lanes of traffic and serving as the boundary between central and Eastern Brighton, were to become one of the world's greatest parks, part of the gateway to a new, post-oil, 21st Century city?

They're the questions posed by University of Brighton architects and artists as part of a wonderful project to create a 'temporary forest' of 700 trees there for the next week.

The trees, all destined for Wild Park, in Moulscoomb, are evenly spread across the gardens, creating a wonderful space to sit and contemplate life and seek respite from the traffic jams taking root in the congested roads to either side.

The project has been supported by Brighton and Hove City Council - but I can't help fearing the council's Tory administration's love of car-based solutions to everything (remember their bizarre plan to build an underground car park beneath The Level?) will ensure that Valley Gardens remain little more than a central reservation as long as they remain in power.

Perhaps the appropriate question should be: what if we had a Green Party administration?

Green vote share doubles in Peacehaven and Telscombe

As the Green party's candidate for Brighton Kemptown at the next general election (I'm not going on holiday this year, who knows when things will get busy!), I've watched Thursday's local election results closely for any local lessons.

The real story will be much clearer, of course, when we know how Brighton residents voted in the European election as results are declared in the early hours of Monday morning.

All we know from that swathe of the Kemptown constituency that falls within Brighton and Hove City Council's boundaries so far is that turnout was low: 62,974 votes were cast - 32.99% of those eligible. That tends to suggest that those who have voted Labour in previous elections stayed at home, but we'll have to wait and see.

There was only one local vote held, for which we know the result, in the constituency: the Peacehaven and Telscombe Towns division of East Sussex County Council.

The headline result is that the Tories won fairly convincingly, with about 55%, and Greens, Lib-Dems and Labour were all almost neck and neck on about 13, 17 and 14 seven per cent of the vote respectively.

The last time the division was contested, in 2005, the Tories won, on a slightly lower vote share (41 per cent), Labour and the Lib-Dems both picked up about 26 per cent and the Greens managed just about six per cent.

In other words, the Tories have seen their vote increase by about a quarter, the Labour and the Lib-Dem votes have both collapsed, roughly halving in each case, while the Greeen Party vote share has more than doubled. So a fantastic result: well done Jonny Denis and Nicola McGilligan!

People power sees off Tesco superstore from London Road

Grass-roots democracy is alive and strong and living in Brighton, it seems.

A community-run campaign to see off a proposed Tesco superstore in the London Road area seems to have worked for now.

Shady property investment company St James's Investments, which has been sneakily buying up properties in the area for the proposed superstore, has announced it will no longer be working with Tesco - citing the loud and organised public opposition as a reason.

It warms the cockles, doesn't it. Hundreds of local residents - and local Green Party councillors - came together in the campaign group 'Another London Road Is Possible', which promptly gathered a petition with more than a thousand signatures opposed to the development.

It's results like this that get me through the dark times, when the superstores and multinationals seems to be able to trump local opinion, such as Tesco's bizarre ability to persuade a magistrate to grant it a license to sell cut-price alcohol to street drinkers and children in St James's Street - despite the clear opposition of local residents, other traders and Brighton and Hove Council, which had already said no.

The next test will be the public inquiry into the St James's Street Starbucks, which takes place next week. It'll be open to the public, so do come along, from 10am on Wednesday, at Brighton Town Hall.

For me, the issues are clear: Starbucks has defied planning rules, pushed up rents, threatens the livelihood of all the other tea and coffee shops (the ones run by the community) in St James's and George Streets - and is deeply unpopular, as evidenced by the weekly demonstrations that have taken place outside its doors.

But the community can win - and the struggle isn't over 'till it's over, as they say.

'In The Thick Of It' writer Armando Iannucci's 'Time Trumpet' had, for me, one of the funniest takes on why it matters. I know it's a a bit silly, but a serious message lies behind it, and it made me laugh. I hope it makes you laugh too.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Even the concrete cows in Milton Keynes were voting Green Party!

Well as is always the way with elections there's weeks of campaigning and hard work followed by a lull while all the votes are counted before results are declared.

With European Election results not even due to be counted until after the polls have closed across the EU on Sunday, we'll all have very short nails by the time they are!

I'll 'blog about local election results when I get them throughout the course of the day.

It's already looking like yesterday was a disaster for Labour, as widely predicted. With only three results in (new unitary Central Befordshire, Bristol and Lincolnshire) Labour have lost 23 councillors. The Green Party member on Bristol council has kept his seat: so no change there.

But I'm still feeling optimistic - in Milton Keynes even the famous concrete cows were voting Green!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Tories lose grip on power in Brighton after Hove councillor resigns

Well yet another resignation - not from the Government this time, but Brighton and Hove City Council.

Paul Lainchbury, the absentee Tory who has missed every committee and community meeting for a year, has finally done the decent thing and resigned.

This means the Tories have just 25 of the council's 54 seats, and even with the support of former Tory Independent Jayne Bennett they can't rustle up as many votes as the Greens, Labour and Lib-Dems (who have 27 between them).

No-one really knows what will happen next, but there'll be a by-election and, possibly, a quick motion of no confidence in unpopular - and widely regarded as failing - Tory council leader Mary Mears.

Given that (a) it was a pretty close-run thing last time, (b) Lainchbury's record as a councillor making it pretty unthinkable that the Tories will hold his seat, (c) the demise of the Lib-Dems locally, and (d) with Labour losing elections all over the place, the smart money's on the Green Party's Alex Phillips winning the seat.

That would put Labour and the Greens on equal footing with 13 seats apiece. Interesting times.

There's more on the whole saga in today's Argus

Burgess and Turner pledge misplaced loyalty in Gord-help-us Brown

After the shock news that yet another cabinet minister has resigned - this time Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell - you've got to wonder: is there anyone left who DOES want Gordon Brown to remain as Britain's PM?

Certainly the public mood suggests not. Labour under Gord-help-us Brown is expected to get a proper drubbing at today's local and European elections, and I'm yet to meet anyone 'on the street' with a kind word to say about him.

But, local paper The Argus has this week reported that Gordon Brown does have at least two supporters: Brighton Kemptown MP Des Turner and his helper and wannabe successor Simon Burgess.

Des 'Two-Homes' Turner reportedly said: “Gordon has enormous qualities but he is less good at instant communication. He should stay on until the next election and I still think it’s possible we can win it. The economy is central to it. Gordon’s response to the crisis has been a bold one and if his actions start to be seen to be producing results I am still naive enough in politics to believe the electorate will give him credit for that.”

And Simon Burgess, who plans to contest the seat when Dr Turner joins the ranks of those MPs stepping down at the next election, said: “I am not calling for him to go. The public need a lot of persuading on both the expenses issue and the economy. We have got a big job to do regardless of who the leader is.”

Oh dear. You'd think, after losing his safe council seat as long ago as 2007, he'd know better.

Here come the Greens!

Well all the weeks of campaigning come to an end today - and then it'll just be a nailbiting few days while we wait for the results to be announced on Monday morning, due to having to wait until polls close not just in the UK but across the EU.

I'll keep posting results, commentary and analysis here- starting with news of the local county council elections later tonight. Meanwhile, good luck to everyone standing, especially the Greens here in Brighton Kemptown, Caroline Lucas and Keith Taylor for the European Parliament, and Johnny Denis and Nicola Mcgilligan, the Green Party candidates for the Peacehaven and Telscombe Town division of East Sussex County Council.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Green Party leader wins ethical politician award - again!

News just in: Green party leader and South-East England MEP Caroline Lucas has just been named Ethical Politician of the Year - for the second time in four years.

The awards, which are organised by The Observer magazine, have this year been held on the eve of local and European elections taking place across the country.

Dr Lucas beat Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor Vince Cable and Conservative leader David Cameron to the top spot - picking up the prestigious award for a second time: she also won the title in 2007 against David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

Picking up the award, she said: “I am honoured that Observer readers have chosen to recognise my work in this way – it means a great deal.

"At a time of serious political malaise, economic upheaval and environmental challenges, the Greens’ positive vision for the future has never been more important.

"The party’s policies to create up to a million new green jobs, tackle climate change, protect public services and safeguard civil liberties are at the forefront of efforts to create a new political landscape in which people and planet are always at the heart of decision making.

“I am proud to be a member of a political organisation with strong principles and clear ideas, which is driven by a determination to bring progressive, engaging and ethical politics into the mainstream.”

Eve of polling media round-up: Guardian and Indy both back the Greens

I'd like to be 'blogging today about the chaos at the heart of Government, and whether Gord-help-us Brown can survive as PM in the wake of resignations from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, not to mention Beverley Hughes and Tom Watson.

Or about my frustration that Sammy's school is closed tomorrow so it can be used as a polling station, pitting the interests of democracy, education and working parents against each other. One parent I spoke to even told me that the EU had effectively forced them to takre a day off work, and they'd be voting UKIP as a result. Nice one.

But instead I thought I'd just round-up what some of today's papers are saying about tomorrow's likely results. You heard it here last and all that.

Well today's Guardian beggars belief really. In a radical departure from its normal Brown-ite stance, its leader says he's got to go now. And Jonathan Freedland calls on his readers to vote Green - tacitly admitting that voting Green would be the right course for progressives in a General Election too, if only we had PR:

“A vote for the Greens would make a lot of sense: utterly untainted by the expenses slime, they would instantly take their place in a Green bloc in Strasbourg that would have the heft to get things done. Why not exploit the proportional system for European elections and vote your conscience for once.”


Leftie cheerleader Mark Steel comes to the same conclusion in today's Independent.

In conclusion to a piece describing the way Britain's left has simply self-destructed (his stock in trade), he says:

"But the cheery note is that the Green Party has attained credibility while retaining its principles, and seems to be the home for many people who opposed the Iraq war, oppose the rule of bankers and private finance, and feel it might be worth looking at doing something about the fact the planet's about to melt.

"So I'm voting for them tomorrow, and if they implode in a petty row about nothing I'm obviously a jinx and I'm joining the bloody Tories."

Even the Mirror urges its readers to vote Green rather than stay at home, to keep the racist BNP out.

The website ukpollingreport.co.uk, has a useful summary of recent polls.

Based on recent YouGov, ComRes, ICM and Populous polls published in the Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and Times, they predict the Tories will receive the largest vote, the Labour, then the Lib-Dems - so no real surprises there then.

But opinion on fourth place is divided, with UKIP set to pick up between 10 and 17 per cent, depending on who you believe, and the Greens between nine and 15 per cent.

That would mean anything from five to eight seats for the Greens in Brussels, by my ready reckoning, if they were evenly spread across the country, which of course they won't be - and of course the only poll that really matters is tomorrow's vote.

And there's still time to influence that, so I'm off to do some ringing round to drum up help for our election day operations - and when I've done that I'll be dropping a few last minute leaflets off to my neighbours here in Kemp Town and Queen's Park. Onwards and upwards!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Guest 'blog from Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP: Reasons to be cheerful

I usually manage to find reasons to be cheerful. Hard to believe with everything that’s going on just now, I know, but there are some indicators that help. For instance, the European election’s just days away and we’re seeing poll after poll predicting a Green surge. And remember – pollsters traditionally underestimate support for the Green party.

I'm realistic enough to understand that some of it’s down to the backlash against Westminster excess, but not all of it. This surge began long before the Telegraph found out about duck islands and moat cleaning. It’s part of a discontent that’s been building for decades, the product of an unfair electoral system that practically guarantees a minority government – with more people voting against it than for it. We’ve got three main parties, except it’s hard to tell them apart. It’s no wonder that people feel apathetic, cynical, angry. Their votes have delivered corruption and incompetence, they feel patronised and now the expenses scandal adds insult to injury.

Political power is too important to be abused like this. How can a corrupt system tackle challenges like accelerating climate change, deepening recession, and increasing inequality?

We need to rediscover trust. We need to recreate a political consensus which will bring real change. The old way’s clearly not working. Hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs, and many face the loss of their savings and their homes. And at the global level, it’s even more dire. A comprehensive new study from Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum has found that, already, three hundred thousand people a year are dying as a direct result of climate change. Global warming is already here.

As far as climate change is concerned, our government has failed to protect us. Not only that, they’ve actually misled us. ‘Switch to low energy light bulbs’, they said, ‘Turn your washing machines down to 30 degrees’. And, at the same time, they're allowing big business to carry on with its wasteful, carbon-belching ways.
Of course, as individuals we all have a role to play, but we can't do it alone. We need informed, committed, trustworthy leadership.

Imagine William Wilberforce saying: ‘OK, we know slavery’s wrong but we have to think of the economy. So just cut down a bit. Have one slave instead of two.’

Or Emmeline Pankhurst: ‘We want the vote for women, but people don’t really like change. So how about our husbands just asking us what we think before they go out to vote?’

We need real leadership and vision to tackle the enormous challenges we face. The challenges are all interconnected, and so are the solutions. We need to promote green industries, restore sustainable manufacturing, and Britain could be at the forefront of the new technologies. The Green Party's proposals for a "Green New Deal" spell out a coherent policy for major investment in renewable energies and energy efficiency, one that could help provide a million good quality jobs, one that can reduce our fuel bills, as well as reducing the emissions which lead to climate change. And which Westminster party properly understands how to bring about that vision? None of them.

The European Elections on Thursday offer an opportunity to vote for a progressive politics you can trust. Greens have an impressive track record of championing higher environmental standards, promoting practical solutions to cut emissions and create jobs. We have been at the forefront of efforts to tackle inequality and injustice. And we have consistently argued for more transparency and accountability in Brussels.

Let’s use the anger we’re all feeling about the present shameful abuses of power to insist on change. I said I usually find reasons to be cheerful and I think we can start those changes now.

Please use your vote and choose Green in the European elections on June 4th.

Caroline Lucas is online at www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk.

Two days to go, and the Green Party endorsements come rushing in...

News reached my Kemp Town basement today of two new endorsement from single issue activists impressed by the Green Party policies and voting records in the run-up to Thursday's EU election.

First, the news portal UK Gay News, threw its weight behind the Greens on Sunday, with the following statement:

“The [Green] party’s two current MEPs, Jean Lambert ( London ) and Caroline Lucas (South East) have served the European LGBT community well and their voting record is superb. There is no reason to believe that the Green MEPs in the new Parliament will not continue in the same way – it’s in their manifesto.”

And now (for something completely different), the animal rights group Viva! (formerly Brighton-based), have backed the Green Party too. In an email to its members and supporters, the group said:

Dear Viva! friend,

As you know, Viva! is a non-party political organisation, but we support any political moves to end animal suffering and protect the environment. This is a one-off email to let you know that Caroline Lucas – the Green Party MEP – for the South East region is standing for re-election in the upcoming European election on June 4.

In a recent analysis by Protecting Animals in Democracy (PAD) Caroline Lucas came a joint best on animal rights. She is a long-standing vegetarian, and has been an outspoken advocate for animal rights and campaigns against factory farming.

Because the EU elections use a proportional representation voting system, every vote counts.

We hope this information is helpful for June 4!

Yours for the animals

I've no idea how much difference these'll make - but we're nearing the end game now, so I guess we'll find out soon.

New poll puts Greens on 15% - overtaking LibDems nationally for first time since 1989

A poll to be published the day before the European elections suggests the battle for third place will be between the Green Party, the LibDems and UKIP.

In the new poll, conducted by ComRes, the Greens have overtaken the LibDems for the first time since 1989. The polling organisation suggests the Greens may be about to match their historic 1989 Euro-election vote of 15%.

The poll shows support for the different parties as follows:

Conservative: 24%
Labour: 22%
UKIP: 17%
Green: 15%
Lib Dems: 14%
BNP 2%

If the poll proves accurate, the Greens will probably win seats in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands, East Midlands, South West and Eastern regions plus Scotland, as well as holding existing seats in London and the South East. The Greens may even scoop up a second seat in the South East, with Brighton councillor Keith Taylor joining party leader Caroline Lucas, who was first elected in 1999.

Last Sunday's Telegraph/ICM poll showed the Greens on 11%, ahead of UKIP nationally for the first time in the campaign. The Sunday Telegraph suggested that "the resurgent Greens" might win eight seats.

And in an earlier Green Party/YouGov poll, 34% of respondents said they would either definitely vote Green or consider voting Green if they knew more about the party.

Of course, voters are attracted by a party that's untainted by the current MPs' expenses trow, but it's not all protest vote.

I think our manifesto for a million jobs, aimed at tackling the recession and the climate crisis at the same time, has probably struck a chord with a lot of people.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Is Twitter the new e-democracy?

A new report has revealed that Brighton and Hove Council is the subject of more 'tweets' than any other council in the UK: in other words, people use the social-networking site - in which users can post 'micro-blogs' of up to 140 characters (about 20 words) about any issue - to talk about the council more here than anywhere else.

Many of these will contain links to longer 'blog entries, and interesting articles elsewhere. I use Twitter to natter (like a twit) to Kemptown residents, Green Party supporters and those, of any party persuasion, for whom politics floats their boats.

Often, my so-called 'tweets' do little more then carry a headline with a link back to this 'blog for those who are interested to read more. You can see my recent efforts in the column to the right.

But this report has caused some to ask whether the twitter service serves as an extension of citizens' democratic participation. Indeed the council itself uses it regularly to keep twittering residents informed about service delivery improvement, interruption and the like

So it certainly empowers some - but I'm not sure that twitter users wouldn't have found the information elsewhere - the council's website, perhaps, if they are really interested.

And there's no evidence that the council is responding to either queries or complaints made on twitter: though, of course, I'd be glad to hear to the contrary.

(And I can certainly say that, as a ward councillor, I'll certainly treat any 'tweets' I receive in exactly the same way as any conventional email).

So I'm not so sure that, whatever its potential, all this twitter activity really enhances local democracy at all.

The Argus reported the study's results and, not surprisingly, the council itself was typically self-congratulatory about the way it has embraced the twitter phenomenon.

But there is nothing in the report itself to suggest that many of these mentions were complimentary about the council.

In fact, I reckon (as a 'follower' of all mention of the word 'Brighton' on Twitter) the opposite is true.

Here, for example, are my last few tweets mentioning Brighton and Hove City Council. I guess they all count towards the total, and, as you can see, they aren't usually particularly complimentary:

bloody Madeira Lift broken again! It's like a deliberate plan by Brighton Council to make life hard for visitors 12:48 PM May 31st from web

Tory council abandons open local government in Brighton - and recycling targets! http://twurl.nl/36wbly 9:50 AM May 23rd from web

Brighton planners rejects parents' fears and give green light for 3G mobile phone mast just metres from two schools http://twurl.nl/maaplx 9:16 AM May 22nd from web

Labour candidate in Goldsmid by-election, Brighton, seems to abandon party at centre of sleaze row http://twurl.nl/77xrxt 7:42 PM May 20th from web

Reminder: police and council officers due to answer questions about crime and safety in Brighton St James's Street. http://twurl.nl/zmsynx 2:53 PM May 19th from web

Polls in Sunday's papers suggest Brighton and Hove could face 2nd council by-election http://twurl.nl/8800pm
11:50 AM May 18th from web

Brighton and Hove Council gives away free corporate advertising space at Jubilee Library http://twurl.nl/2uu43f 10:21 AM May 18th from web

You get the idea, I'm sure. But even if I'm unrepresentative (it certainly won't be the first time), it's clear that the study doesn't pretend to tell us anything at all about whether all those mentions of the council have been positive.

Perhaps the council should be ashamed it's attracting so much attention from the 'twitterati'?