Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Why I'm not a Labour Party supporter

Hearing Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour Party Conference from a few hundred yards yesterday (too far away for a shoe protest, close enough to realise he's got a little more charisma in person than on the telly) was a revelation.

There's been lots of analysis of the content of the speech (I won't add to it here - well, for now) but for me it was the imagery that struck home.

The slightly cultish atmosphere, the biblical references, the Himmler-esque propaganda film taking credit for British paralypmic champions, hit records and so on, the illiberal policies on anti-social behaviour (nicked, I understand, straight from the offensive 'gulags for slags' proposal championed by the vile BNP) - all of it delivered under three outsized, fluttering, digital Union Jacks.

For me, the seminal moment was when Sarah Brown called Gord-help-us 'my hero' and the delegates leapt into a spontaneous standing ovation. Weird - and not just a little scary.

Anyway, I left the speech pondering what it was that had driven me away from Labour in the first place. It didn't take me long to come up with a ten-point list, locally tailored, of course, that summarise, for me, the things I'd like to see changed:

1. The widening gap between richest and poorest, worse now than when Labour came to power in 1997

2. Failure to move Britain away from finance and service-led consumption-based economy directly led to economic downturn (predictably, and predicted by Greens): now local unemployment is rising fast

3. Failure to act on child poverty: shocking levels of children in Brighton Kemptown growing up in poverty

4. The CoMART fiasco costing the local taxpayer millions and leaving Kemp Town and Whitehawk without a community secondary school

5. Steady erosion of civil liberties and democracy since 1997

6. Labour's warmongering - costing billions and killing thousands while increasing the risk of terrorist attack here in UK

7. Labour's abandonment of Clause 4 of the party's former constitution: it's failure to recognise that all of our interests are best served by a more equal society and the best way to achieve that is state ownership and control of all public services - and many private ones too

8. Trident renewal plans and failure to show the courage inherent in unilateral nuclear disarmament

and, since yesterday:

9. Family ASBOs

10. Illiberal plans to take 16 and 17 yr old single mums into care (well the less well off ones anyway...)

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Vote for the party you believe in....

You know perhaps the warning I hear more often than any other is that by seeking to be elected a Green MP I'll just split the 'Labour' vote and let the Tories in. Can I, a proud socialist, handle the small part I'll end up playing in a decade of Tory misrule?

Never mind the fact that the gap between rich and poor has grown since Labour came to power, never mind the war(s), never mind the fact that unemployment here in Brighton Kemptown has nearly doubled in a year under a Labour government.

Never mind the impracticalities of the argument: there are as many Green party councillors as Labour ones now in Brighton and Hove - and, locally at least, it probably makes more sense to ask Labour voters to vote Green (wearing clothes pegs on their noses if necessary) to make sure we don't end up with yet another Tory MP.

No, this is nonsense even if all this weren't true.

In one of the more insightful analyses of the way grumpy Labour activists greeted Green party leader Caroline Lucas as a conference fringe event hosted by left-leaning Compass, writer Ian Dunt well argues the reason why.

'It is a pernicious and nasty piece of reasoning,' he writes.

'It is the intellectual equivalent of threatening your wife with divorce every time you have an argument.

'If someone believes in something, they should vote for it, not have the eventuality of a Tory government waved in their face for daring to consider their options.

'Labour's been using this argument for about a decade now and to say it's grating is an understatement. It's logical conclusion leads us to a one party state – an eventuality entirely compatible with the police state the party has tried to create in modern Britain.'

So yes, life under Thatcher was even harder than life under Blair or Brown. But not much, really, for those at the bottom of the pile. But vote Green because fairness is worth fighting for, not to keep either Labour or the Tories out.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Local Labour activists must be furious...

I bet local Labour Party activists are fuming. Just as they hope to be showcasing their national talent, and reminding shoppers and tourists that Labour do still form the Government (I can only presume that's what the machine guns are for) - the national press is reporting that Green Party leader Caroline Lucas is addressing a meeting hosted by left-wing campaign group Compass - but the Brighton Pavilion candidate Nancy Platts (who Caroline looks set to beat in next year's election) hasn't been invited.

The Compass chair was quick to try and dampen any fuss by telling the Guardian that of their recent policy documents, nine were supported by the Green Party and none at all by Labour. No wonder people are upset that Lucas is getting a chance to remind Labour Party delegates what they came into politics for in the first place...

But I don't see any hard feelings written on the face of Labour's Brighton Kemptown candidate Simon Burgess. Speaking on the BBC's regional Politics Show, Simon was proud to offer his support for Gord-help-us Brown, and, amazingly, revealed that he had been out on the doorstep of traditionally anti-war Queen's Park with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, talking up the war in Afghanistan. A brave man indeed.

Reflections on food (one of my favourite subjects)

I wanted to express my disappointment at the way Hove Lawns was taken over by stalls and events for Brighton Food Festival yesterday: there was little information around, and most of the food was pretty unhealthy (mostly meat based), expensive and uninspiring. OK there was some music, a bar and a stand talking about the impact of climate change on wild birds, but this was hardly likely to change anyone's attitude to food.

What could have been a wonderful showcase of Sussex food and local producers - and how a little bit of imagination is far more important than money in serving the family a tasty, healthy meal - became little more than a council-supported shopping experience.

And let's be honest: Brighton and Hove suffers from many food-related problems, but opportunities to buy stuff in central Hove just ain't one of them.

While we're talking food, here's some chilling facts, courtesy of the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership:

1. 16% of ten year olds in Brighton and Hove are obese and an additional 14% are overweight

2. On average each of us throws away £420 worth of food a year

3. Two-thirds of local traffic congestion is caused by people driving to buy food

4. More than a quarter of Brighton and Hove's 'ecological footprint' comes from food

I can't imagine the weekend's open air shopping will have made a lot of difference to any of these figures, but here's hoping (raises mug of builder's tea with soya milk to lips...)

Monday, 21 September 2009

A sobering film...

Tories complicit in new homophobic bulllies' charter

Greens in the European Parliament have condemned a Lithuanian version of the UK's infamous 'Clause 28' - a new law than will make it unlawful for teachers to promote services aimed at helping the victims of homophobia or transphobia.

Meanwhile, the Tory MEPs, have maintained their silence - abstaining in a vote of whether to insist that the Lithuanian authorities repeal the legislation.

Vicky Wakefield-Jarrett, my fellow Green party councillor here in Brighton, and our group's 'Equalities Spokesperson, said the Tory abstention was tantamount to complicity.

She said: "Clause 28 saw a number of lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual student support groups in schools and colleges across Britain closed for fear they were breaching the Act. It’s no stretch to imagine the same thing will now happen in Lithuania – and young LGBT people will suffer as a result."

None of this should be a surprise though.

When the British Tories decided to form a homophobic group in the European Parliament – one that contains Polish politicians who have warned that homosexuality spells ‘the end of civilization as we know it’ – it was only a matter of time before this started to affect the way they voted.

So of course the Tories have refused to oppose this: it just goes to show that, whatever individual Tory politicians are like, voting for them is voting for a homophobic party which will make life much worse for all LGBT people before too long.

Free tickets for Labour Party conference...

It seems the organisers of next week's Labour Party conference are already running scared at the thought of all those empty seats (who really wants to spend £140 in a recession listening to tomorrow's has-beens droning on about privatisation, war and the inevitability of cuts?) - and launched a plan to fill them up - giving them away free to Brighton residents.

The Independent reported last week that the freebies are on offer for the closing day, October 1st.

Personally, I'll be going on Tuesday, to hear what Gord-help-us Brown's got to say for himself, and to check out the policing operation - and its impact on people living in the area.

I've already received an angry report or two from traders predicting a collapse in takings - and been at public meetings which have heard how PCSOs are being 'temporarily re-assigned' to conference duties, but at the moment I'm with the majority who just think putting up with a few days inconvenience is the necessary price to pay for living in a conference town. We'll see.

Only a Green MP will fight local cuts

The last few weeks' headlines have made interesting reading for political party watchers: we've had the Tories appeal directly to Lib-Dem voters, the Lib-Dems appeal directly to Green voters (as if they'd be drawn to Nick Clegg's plan to slash public spending even more than the Tories ten per cent and Labour's nine per cent) and Labour appeal to, well no-one really.

It's all posturing, of course - and doesn't really signal any great change in the attitudes of any of the major parties: the Green included.

But whatever happens between now and next year's General Election voters will face a choice between three parties who have stated the need for cuts on a massive scale, representing a decimation of the public sector - clearing some of our astronomical national debt but at a cost of increased unemployment and further widening the gap between rich and poor - and, here in Brighton at least, a credible alternative in the shape of the Greens.

If I'm elected as MP for Brighton Kemptown I can't pretend that I'll be playing a role in Government - but I'll bring a radical Green voice to Westminster, and fighting to make sure that, whether it's Labour or the Tories wielding the axe, local people don't end up paying the price.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Celebrating food's role in the community

This Monday (September 21) will see the launch of Harvest Brighton and Hove, a lottery funded project that aims to increase the amount of food grown and eaten in Brighton over the next few years.

The project will be launched at an afternoon-long event in Jubilee Square (outside the library), where Brighton and Hove Food Partnership’s community chefs will be cooking up food to share using freshly harvested local produce.

The launch will take place just one day after the festival of Eid al-Fitr, when millions of Muslims around the world will mark the end of Ramadan.

Food has a great significance in Islam. Chapter 20, verse 81 of the Qur’an states: 'Eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustenance, but indulge in no excess therein.'

Bringing the community together in sharing the growing, preparation and eating of food is a central aim of the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan on Sunday, and the Harvest launch seeks to do exactly the same thing.

I hope the thousands of Muslims living locally will celebrate the occasion by attending the launch, in recognition of the community-minded approach to food shared by Islam and the Harvest project.

I hope Turing apology makes world a slightly safer place in which to be gay

Gordon Brown has apologised to the family of Alan Turing, the gay war hero, mathematician and code-breaker who killed himself in 1954 after he was convicted of gross indecency in 1952.

I am always sceptical of politicians offering apologies for things that happened a long time ago – and which they had nothing to do with at all.

And I can't help agreeing with Peter Tatchell, who has observed that singling out Alan Turing just because he's famous is unfair on the 100,00-odd gay men prosecuted under the same laws: either the Government are ashamed of Britain's history of homophobia or it isn't.

But with 77 countries around the world still outlawing homosexual activity, in many cases punishing gay men with execution or imprisonment, it’s an essential statement of our opposition to any persecution of gay men.

Coming on the very day when a British Consul was reportedly murdered in a homophobic attack in Jamaica, I hope it will give homophobes everywhere pause for thought – and make the world a slightly safer place for everyone.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Let them eat cake

As Christmas cards go on sale across the city and unemployment hits a 14-year-high, I have just learned that, even after getting the prestigious Brighton Pavilion for free, the cost to the taxpayer of last year's Festive drinks reception hosted by the mayor was more than £4,000. The mind boggles.

The idea of councillors rubbing shoulders over a glass or two of wine with senior public service managers and the city's rich and powerful brings to mind the image of Mary Antoinette, Imelda Marcos - or any number of leaders down the years who have spent their impoverished subjects' money on living the high life.

Perhaps the current mayor, Tory councillor Ann Norman, should cancel this year's event, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with everyone who is having to tighten thir belts in the current recession, and donate the £4,000 to the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project instead?

Threefold rise in local unemployment

Local unemployment figures released today show a threefold increase in joblessness across the Brighton Kemptown parliamentary constituency.

According to the Office of National Statistics, there are 2,534 people out of work and claiming benefits in eastern Brighton, Telscombe and Peacehaven, compared to just 806 a year ago.

It's a shocking indicator of how hard life is becoming under a Labour government and a Tory council.

A Green New Deal - and a Green MP to fight for it and resist cuts locally - is getting more urgent than ever.

Buying power: donations to political parties so far this year

A recent letter in The Argus made the bizarre claim that the Greens were somehow seeking to buy victory in Brighton parliamentary seats, with the help of millionnaire backers.

I wish that were so - and we had money to throw at the campaign.

Of course there's been a donation or two, thanks to the buzz created around our campaigns in Brighton, but mainly these are from working people with little money to burn: and have taken the form of time and skills donations - stuffing envelopes, making tea at meetings, that sort of thing.

This has allowed us to tell more residents what our 13 city councillors have been up to, the fact that Green candidates have won more votes than anyone else in all three elections held in the city in the last two years, and that we are committed to delivering a fairer city for all – and have plenty to say (and do!) beyond the obvious ‘environmental’ stuff.

Recent figures from the electoral commission tell the story plainly. They record the donations received by the major parties in the first quarter of the year as:

Tories: £5.5m

Labour: £2.9m

Greens £21,000

It's pretty clear to me that in the interests of democracy, and making sure people get the political representatives with the best policies, rather than those with the deepest pockets, we need to look again at the whole business of how political parties are funded. If elected, I will campaign in parliament for exactly that.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Your chance to meet Colin Firth at Brighton film premiere

Actor Colin Firth is to attend the Brighton premiere of his new film 'In Prison My Whole Life' to raise cash for Brighton and Hove Green Party.

The actor - who has notched up accolades and admiration for his performance as a football obsessive in 'Fever Pitch' - and the brooding Mr Darcy in the BBC production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice - will be at the Duke of Yorks showing at Preston Circus on September 29th.

The film looks at the life of imprisoned political activist and former Black Panther member, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who's death sentence for killing a police officer was overturned in 2001 due to errors made during his 1982 hearing.

It boasts ppearances from Mos Def, Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Snoop Dogg, Steve Earle and Amy Goodman.

Colin Firth, one of the film's Executive Producers, will answer questions from the audience after the film - as will Green party leader Caroline Lucas.

There are a limited number of seats available, and are available here.

Streets for people? Hardly...

This Sunday (September 20th) sees Brighton celebrate Car Free Day. Well, so the council would have us believe, anyway.

As part of its annual contribution to European Mobility Week, Brighton and Hove City Council is to host events including rickshaw rides, live music (including the fantastic Brighton Gay Men's Chorus), an 'enchanted forest' with activities for kids, and so on.

It'll be a great afternoon - my 5-year-old loved it last year, and I'm sure he will this year too.

But it's hardly going to achieve its primary purpose (and that which the EU funding it attracts is all about): changing people's attitudes to everyday transport.

Indeed, by hosting the event for just five hours, on a Sunday, in streets that are either pedestrianised or semi-pedestrianised anyway (The Lanes, New Road, Jubilee Street, Jubilee Square and Bartholomews) it seems the council has gone out of its way to completely minimise the event's impact on car users - and ensure no one is forced to think about how they get around the city at all.

The Tory council's attitude to the idea of reducing car use in the town centre couldn't be more obvious if it tried: remember, this is the council that believes in concreting over green space to create car parking and building new underground car parks under whatever parks are left.

Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Groningen's book - the Dutch city that leads Europe on cycling and pedestrian journeys.

More than half the city's 180,000 residents travel every day along one of the city's 46 dedicated cycle routes. Cyclists and pedestrians have priority over cars in the centre.

By viewing the city centre as the resident's 'living room', jobs and business have been boosted.

Groningen's economic development has improved, just as cycle use has increased and car use decreased, particularly for those very businesses that one fought car restraint (but are now clamouring for more of it).

The inner city has become a successful mix of living, working and shopping. There are fewer road accidents, and life expectancy has risen.

Or, closer to home, the council could look to the Baker's Bottom area of Brighton, where residents held a car-free street party on Saturday (pictured): they got to meet the nighbours and enjoy a vision of what life could be like without the chaos of parked cars that usually blights the lives of those living in the area.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Lucas launches General Election bid

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas officially launched her bid to become one of Britain's first Green MPs yesterday at Brighton's Fabrica Gallery.

Dr Lucas, who is also a Euro-MP, used her speech at the event - hosted by TV comedian Marcus Brigstocke - to reinforce the Green Party's commitment to building a fairer society and to tackling a spiralling inequality that sees as many as one in five UK children living in poverty.

Caroline said: "Greens are about delivering a dynamic economy, and one that benefits people waiting tables at restaurants in Preston Street, or those working in Brighton and Hove's unique digital media sector - not just a handful of people in the Square Mile.

"Greens are also about defending the Royal Sussex hospital as a local, free-at-the-point-of-delivery public service – so that everyone can access decent healthcare, and so that we aren't paying extortionate fees to private shareholders."

"With the economy and public services in crisis, and traditional Westminster politics perpetually mired in sleaze, only the Green Party offers the people of Brighton and Hove - and beyond - a future built around honest politics and common sense policies."

Couldn't have put it better myself. I just hope the reality that we in the Green Party are concerned about fighting for fairness for all - and not just banging on about the environment all the time - is filtering through to voters.

Kicking corporate ass

Why would anyone buy sweatshop-produced Nike trainers when they could get Blackspot sneakers, made entirely from recycled materials by unionised workers - who are treated well and paid a fair wage - in Pakistan and Portugal? They even boast a red spot on one toecap 'for kicking corporate ass'. lol.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Police use almost 4,000 sheets of paper each

A BBC investigation has revealed that Sussex Police are using more paper than any other force in the country - a staggering 3,900 sheets per employee last year.

Of course the sensible use of resources isn't just incidental to providing essential public services - it's absolutely at its core. With unemployment, tax evasion and national debt all on the rise, every penny counts.

In the face of Government cuts from above and an often spending-averse Tory-majority Police Authority below Chief Constable Martin Richards has already warned that officers and PCSOs could go in a £35 million shortfall over the next few years.

So I can see why the BBC - and Sussex residents - are so incensed by this.

But the reality, as is so often the case, is rather different.

As has been reported on this 'blog and elsewhere, things are a'changin at Sussex Police HQ.

Of course there's a way to go yet, but paper use has gone down - by about a half in just a few years. The force is in the process of recruiting an energy manager to ensure resource use, and costs, fall in other areas too.

I sit on the force's Environmental Working Group, which meets regularly to thrash out these issues - and share the good news stories happening across the force: the reduction in resource use, the new eco-building approach to local police stations, the Chief Constable's enthusiasm for making Sussex the 'Greenest' forces in the country, to name just a few.

The real story behind this headline could perhaps have been: SUSSEX POLICE'S PAPER CUT

Getting fraud in perspective

Another 'benefit fraudster' has been jailed in Brighton and Hove - despite the fact that such fraud (mainly a crime of desperation) costs the public purse a tiny fraction of the estimated £100 billion annual price of tax avoidance and evasion (mainly a crime of greed).

According to a Brighton and Hove Council press release issued yesterday, Shaun Waters of Varndean Road, Brighton, has been jailed for 16 weeks for over-claiming £22,625 in housing and Council Tax benefits.

Well I think depriving a man of his liberty - and a family of a father - for what amounts to a fairly petty crime is just plain wrong - especially when the biggest fraudsters are all walking free!

Make no mistake - sending benefit fraudsters to jail is another way in which the poorest in our society are discriminated against. How many greedy MPs ripping us all off with their inflated, and fraudulent, expenses claims have we seen in the dock?

But even if there wasn't an ideological angle to all this I still wouldn't favour sending Mr Waters and his ilk to prison.

Of course we should catch and punish benefit and expenses cheats and tax evaders to make sure everyone pays there fair share towards public services.

But this is completely disproportionate - custody is expensive (upwards of £500 a week - and probably much more), our jails are full and we know sending people to prison for offences like this just doesn't work.

We need to be making better use of non-custodial alternatives, like community payback, both to save the taxpayer cash, act as a better deterrent, and restore the link between the victim (all Brighton and Hove residents) and the offender.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Twenty is plenty, say St James's Street residents

Residents of the St James's Street area are backing a Green Party campaign calling for the area's speed limit to be reduced to 20 mph.

The move would improve safety and boost cycling while cutting noise and pollution - but would be unlikely to have make car journeys take longer.

After all, most vehicles using the predominantly residential streets around St James's Street are, by definition, travelling very short distances.

Some 4,000 people have been killed or injured on Brighton and Hove's roads since 2003: if reducing the limit to 20 mph saves some of these lives it'll have been well worth doing.

At a meeting of the St James's Street area Local Action Team last night a show of hands revealed near-unanimous support for the proposal.

The group discussed the way buses accelerate up St James's Street - even towards red lights - throwing elderly and disabled passengers around in an effort to shave a few seconds off journey times.

Green momentum could give party 21 councillors

Sorry this is a little late - but I've just today read this from Brighton blogger Neil Harding. He does the maths, and reckons that the Green Party could romp home with 21 councillors in the 2011 local election, if all parties' votes are in line with the swing seen during the July Goldsmid by-election.

I think Neil could be right. At every local election we seem to increase our numbers about two-fold. Voters do seem to like what they see with the Greens - a little familiarity is often all it takes to persuade people that we are about creating a fair society, and stronger neighbourhoods, as much as we're about the protecting the environment - though obviously they are all interwoven.

We'll have to see, eh: roll on May 2011!

Humanists praise Green Party for tring to get state funding out of religious schools

The British Humanist Association has welcomed the new faith schools policies adopted by the Green Party of England and Wales at its Autumn Conference in Hove on Sunday.

Conference delegates approved a range of policies, which sought to remove religious privilege from the education system and introduce more inclusive education practices. The most significant policy adopted said that religious organisations should not be involved in the running of state funded schools, meaning an end to divisive and discriminatory faith schools.

In addition, the conference called for abolition of the legal requirement to hold daily acts of compulsory collective worship. It also supported proposals that both state and private schools should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief in either their admissions policies, or in staff recruitment and employment.

Consideration for religious beliefs was also made. The conference approved plans to ensure that children and young people could practice their faith in schools, for example by providing prayer space. While schools themselves were to be prohibited from delivering religious instruction or encouraging adherence to religious beliefs, religious instruction could still be arranged for a time outside of the teaching of the curriculum.

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, responding to the news said, ‘the Greens Party’s new faith schools policy represents a very positive step forward for those who care about a more inclusive state education system. The Green Party has recognised how inappropriate religious privilege in the education system is for a pluralistic and respectful society, and to their credit has put forward a range of alternative secular proposals, which still show consideration for religious belief’.

A new community safety group for Queen's park residents

Just letting you know that if you live in any of the roads around Queen's Park (the park itself I mean) we (the local Green Party councillors) are setting up a residents' group in your area - and the first meeting's tonight!

A Local Action Team is a group of local residents working together to improve their community by deciding together what they most want to improve and working with the police and relevant council officers (who will regularly attend) to achieve this.

Tonight's meeting will be held at at St. Luke's School, Queen's Park Rise, at 7.30-9.30 (it will probably finish a bit earlier). The agenda is set by residents and for residents - my colleague Cllr Rachel Fryer it until a local resident wants to take over.

It would be great to see some of you there if you live near to Queen's Park.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Australian oil spill 'stretches from horizon to horizon' - senator

Australian Green senator Rachel Sieward has warned that a massive oil leak spilling into the Timor Sea stretches from 'horizon to horizon' and threatens reefs, whales - and even (shock!) beaches used by humans with disastrous toxic pollution.

Like a good campaigning politician (note to self: must do this sot of thing here in Brighton more often) she commissioned an aeroplane and went out to see the spill for herself.

As well as gathering all the evidence she needed to call for Federal intervention to clean up the spill - and argue that oil drilling platforms are an unsafe thing of the past - she made a short film of her trip:

Brighton Beach Patrol: Part Baywatch, part You've Been Framed

Channel Five's new series Brighton Beach Patrol takes a brash (but simplistic) look at our city's tourist industry - creating a vision that's part Baywatch and part You've Been Framed. It's certainly not a place I recognise, really.

We meet some of the lifeguards, PCSOs, coastguards and street sweepers trying to make Brighton a safe and fun place for the 8 million tourists it attracts a year.

But it's entertainment (well it tries) - not documentary - and it paints a picture of a singularly illiberal town. Dispersal orders are handed out like sweets and, Judge Dredd style, the police and council staff are there to stamp on any drunkenness or unlicensed trading quickly. (Perhaps that was the deal that meant the council allowed them to make the film in the first place?)

The programme didn't seem to have any glaring policy recommendations for a Brighton policy maker, but it did have some beautiful shots of the beach in the sunshine (including a couple of Kemp Town beach and a distant Brighton Marina) - and it's always good fun trying to spot someone you know in a local 'crowd' shot.

So, though I won't be too upset if I miss it I'll be tuning in for the next episode on Fiver tomorrow...

Scientists warn: 'Tsunamis heading this way'

According to yesterday's Observer newspaper, hundreds of scientists will gather in London this week for a scary conference on the likely increase in natural disasters caused by climate change.

The picture they paint is positively prehistoric - a vision of volcanoes, earthquakes, storms and tsunamis triggered mainly by a reduction in atmospheric pressure and dramatic movements of vast chunks of melting ice and avalanches as glaciers disappear in rising temperatures.

Of course they aren't warning that the earth is about to become uninhabitable tomorrow - but that the number of natural disasters is rising because of climate change, something that has long been suspected by climate scientists but difficult to prove.

Will this trigger an immediate, and serious, response, from policy-makers? I doubt it.

I think the evidence of the harm caused by climate change, how to limit its most devastating impacts and the humanitarian and economic arguments for doing so are all pretty unanimous now.

But maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised - one of the problems with legislating to tackle climate change is the fact that its most serious impacts are felt far-away, in terms of both time and place.

Of course it matters, say the politicians, if crops fail in Africa, and if Pacific Island countries are lost under a rising sea, but solving the problem can hardly be a job for us!

Every time there's another flood in Sussex, or day lost to unseasonal snowfall, for example, this argument gets a little harder to make - and the Government has made a some tortuous progress.

I hope it'll make more by arguing for a fair and ambitious global carbon dioxide reduction programme at the climate change talks due to take place in Copenhagen later this year.

And this latest report might just make that job a little easier - as it warns of tsunamis in Britain and that it's Europe and North America that look set to bear the brunt of any upsurge in disasters.

Perhaps the image of London's skyscrapers being flattened by tornado snaking along the path of a flooding, bank-breaking Thames will focus minds in Whitehall.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Green Party Conference 3

This afternoon The Green Party conference in Hove will host a panel of speakers debating Green Party policy on policing.

Sussex Police Authority member Ben Duncan (who is also a Brighton& Hove City Councillor), Metropolitan Police Authority Member Jenny Jones, Beatrix Campbell (criminal justice campaigner) and Matt Follett (Criminologist and Green Party Policy Co-ordinator) will debate Green approaches to Crime and policing.

How safe our communities feel - and the way we are policed - are central issues for the Greens.

We believe we need a fundamental shift from an increasingly armed police force whose job it is to protect the interests of the state and big business to a more visible, neighbourhood-based police service whose job it is to protect our human rights, not just from murderers, rapists and burglars, but from the state too, where necessary.

Being a member of Sussex Police Authority has given me a chance to make exactly these arguments - and with some successes.

I successfully proposed an increase in spending on neighbourhood policing, and have defended cash (from Tory assaults) for county-wide services for victims of rape and domestic violence, as well as playing a key role in improving the environmental sustainability of the police here in Brighton.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Green Party Conference 2

Well today's the second day of the Greens' conference in Hove - and the two big draw cards for me will be a panel session with Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and union leader Chris Baugh, all talking about how we make a 'Just Transition' to a low-carbon economy, and a two-hour hustings session ahead of votes for GPEx, the party's National Executive Committee. With competition fierce between the candidates for External Communications Co-ordinator, and Chair, there's already mud flying around - some of it will stick, whoever wins and whatever happens.

In a way the result isn't the most important thing - but whether a vote for the Communications head even goes ahead. Many party members are upset that only conference delegates will get a say, and argue all party members should be consulted in a postal ballot.

One candidate is even urging conference-goers to vote for no-one at all in the hope that nominations will be re-opened, triggering just such a party-wide ballot. Either way, all candidates seem hard-working, committed and capable to me - so the party's bound to win the vote either way.

Perhaps of even more interest is that five of the 12 posts on the executive haven't received a valid nomination at all - meaning almost anyone can put their name forward at conference and be elected unopposed. Perhaps we'll see a systematic coup at the heart of the party.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Green Party Conference 1

Hundreds of delegates will descend on the city this weekend as the Green Party's conference returns to Hove Town Hall for the first time since 2006.

This will be good news for the the green end of the local tourist economy - expect a roaring trade at Hove's 'The Greenhouse Effect' pub - and hopefully give many Brighton and Hove residents a chance to sample a vision of what a Green Brighton and Hove would look like.

As a local MEP and MP candiate for Brighton Pavilion, Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas is a familiar sight around town. But she is expected to be the biggest draw-card of the conference, with a speech in which the Euro-MP will blame Gordon Brown for the recession and call for tough new banking regulations.

Other speakers will include Liberty Director Shami Chakrabati and campaigning comedian Mark Thomas.

I'll be speaking too, alongside broadcaster Beatrix Campbell OBE, Green Member of the London Assembly and of the Metropolitan Police Authority Jenny Jones and former Leicester Green councillor Matt Follett, on Green approaches to crime and policing (more details later...)

I'll be 'blogging from the conference - and already have plenty to tell y'all about.

But of course the media will report what they like, as usual - and I'm sure it'll be the same old story about the culture clash between the bearded and staff-waving and the suit-wearing delegates.

As usual, it'll have little to do with reality (most people have a healthy dose of both within them, really), but hey.

If we were the Labour Party (and I'll be sharing reflections on their conference too, later this month) I'm sure we'd be running about in media panic mode trying to work out how to avoid any negative publicity (and consequently attract lots) - but we're not.

So, do expect the same old story about the annual hippies vs yippies wrangle, do come back here for some more accurate reports, and don't fret if you can't come along yourself: you'll have to miss Mark Thomas and Atilla the Stockbroker, but you can share the fun (in the form of Caroline Lucas's leader's speech, anyway), courtesy of the BBC, at 9.30pm on Friday. Just follow this link - and bookmark the page.

Katie Price revelations tell of need for better services for rape survivors

Good on Katie Price for urging any women who has been affected by rape to talk to somebody they trust about it.

Recent figures show that 40 per cent of adults who are raped tell no one. Sadly, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise – across the UK there is patchy provision of support services, and many people face a culture of disbelief and delayed responses when they do seek support. With successful rape convictions averaging out at 7 per cent in England and Wales, thousands of victims have no little or no access to justice. All too often, where you live makes the biggest difference – levels of support and conviction rates vary wildly between different areas.

At this week’s Green Party conference in Hove, I am proposing a new policy which would see Greens back a new national rape crisis hotline, funded by the government. This would provide 24-hour, seven day access to immediate support and referral for victims of sexual crimes – wherever they happen to live. People in need would be directed to the nearest and most appropriate local service; no one would be left alone to figure out how to access help and report a rape.

Currently, victims of rape face a postcode lottery. It is a national scandal that anyone who has experience such a horrific crime should be left feeling unable to even tell someone else what has happened. A new national hotline would go some way to ensuring all who need help get it.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Democracy in action - or just money to burn?

Well what a difference 50 miles or so of coastline makes: on the very day that Portsmouth City Council has banned its staff from using the social networking website Facebook, Brighton Council has launched a bid to hire someone and pay them almost £30K a year to do nothing else.

Well, not quite nothing: the lucky 'social media co-ordinator' will also have to post a 'tweet' or two on Twitter - and spot the next big thing in Web 2.0 technology when it comes along.

I'm a firm believer in the principal that councils should embrace new ways of communicating with citizens, both to broaden the reach of democratic accountability, and develop and enhance the skills of its staff.

Websites like 'fix my street' and 'they work for you' play an increasing role in ensuring elected representatives remain responsive to voters' concerns- and give good value for money.

Many councillors maintain blogs and keep residents' informed of their work and opinions using Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and so on.

But surely there is a happy medium of common sense when it comes to the way they are supported by staff - and frontline staff are encouraged to join them.

Banning Facebook rather than better defining how staff should use it at work is a little like banning reading because the odd Zest magazine makes it past security staff and into a pile of meeting agendas.

But going to the other extreme is equally as ridiculous: just weeks after bin men were told they faced pay cuts as the council just didn't have enough money in the pot it must really rankle to see this advert.

I'm hardly a technophobe - but I'll certainly be opposing such a shameful waste of taxpayers' cash if anyone ever seeks a lowly backbench councillor's view...

Political Heroes

Obviously there aren't too many Tory voters in these parts (well, fewer than Green Party ones anyway) - and whenever their elected representatives risk opening their mouths I remember why.

The latest outburst, coming from local Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan, has to send a chill down your spine, really.

According to a report in The Argus, duffer Dan has publicly let slip his penchant for fascists: apparently the MEP has named Enoch Powell as one of his all-time political heroes.

Yes, you heard me right: Enoch Powell, the man sacked from the Tory front-benches after warning that allowing immigration into the UK would result in 'rivers of blood' in our towns and cities. Nice.

For what it's worth, some of my political heroes (of course I've got hundreds) are Tony Benn, Rosa Parks, Jello Biafra, Jean Lambert, Wat Tyler, Peter Kropotkin, Alice Nutter, Benjamin Zephaniah and Murray Bookchin.

Who are yours? Answers please, on a postcard...

Cutting tax or providing new school facilities for central and eastern Brighton?

They say a picture paints a thousand words. Well this one certainly does: perhaps this is one of the saddest sights in Brighton and Hove right now.

In a city with a shortage of community school places - a perfectly good school, sitting empty, waiting to be broken up to make money for the site's owner.

Earlier this year, I wrote to the council's Children's Services scrutiny
(of which I used to be a member) asking what scope the council had to take over the financially-failed (but educationally good) school - and run it for the community.

I was told there were no such powers - and that the Council hadn't even explored the idea of buying the school - or stepping in to save it.

But now it seems the school is up for grabs again - and it comes down to a simple financial question: will the council spend some money on improving the provision of community schools here in Kemp Town, or will keeping council tax bills down prevail. So what about it?

Perhaps there's even a deal to be done: the school's letting agent, Cluttons, also acts for the council!

Bad news for Falmer Academy plan

The Guardian has reported that Government spending cuts will hit children in the catchment areas of new academy schools hardest - and first.

Though no figures are given (yet), it's pretty clear that Education Minister Ed Balls has lost faith in the Blairite model of replacing local authority-run comprehensive schools with 'free at the point of delivery' independent schools run by businesses, churches and other private bodies.

A bit of Labour backbone in the face of a massive privatisation gamble with the future of our children perhaps?

Maybe. But if so the losers of a decade of indecision about the way state schools are run are bound to be the children of Moulescoomb and Coombe Road.

The fast-improving Falmer High School is to be closed next year, with the pupils transferred to one of the new academies - the scheme's only saving grace was the extra Government money it would have brought in (£28m was the figure quoted during the original debate) but now even that's looking uncertain.

So it look like Brighton and Hove Council will have given up its say in the future of education for thousands of local children for no real reason at all.

If I'm elected as Green MP for Brighton Kemptown I will certainly do everything I can to find ways of improving all the schools in the area while keeping them in the state sector.

Can the Labour-Tory axis that has run things for so long make the same promise?