Saturday, 31 October 2009

Tesco caught telling porkies on planning

Retail giant Tesco has been caught telling porkies again - this time in an information leaflet designed to persuade local residents to back plans for a controversial new superstore in Manningtree, Essex.

The ruling, by the Advertising Standards Authority, upheld a complaint that PR guff produced ahead of planning decisions is 'advertising' if it is designed to 'affect readers' perceptions' of the proposed development, and 'stop them objecting', and as such should be regulated by the Committee for Advertising Practice Code (CAP) in the same manner as other forms of advertising.

It then upheld some of a claim that the leaflet in question, which made claims about the environmental and socio-economic benefits the development would bring, information on local shopping trends and an invitation to send Tendring District Council thoughts on the plans, was 'inaccurate and misleading'.

Tesco had argued that it could say pretty much what is wanted, as the leaflet did not constitute advertising but was in fact 'public relations material' which was designed to inform the public about a proposed development and the associated planning procedure.

Another small legal victory then in the ongoing battles taking place between communities and Tesco stores up and down the country...

Three people a minute join Brighton Green Party campaign for fair pay for women

Yesterday I joined forces with five of the city's Green Party councillors and party leader Caroline Lucas to tell Brighton rail users about the reality of low pay for women - and ask them to back our call for a change in the law.

In just 45 minutes almost 150 people signed our petition calling on parliament to tighten rules in the Equality Bill currently before it - that's about three people every minute.

We gave out both some food for thought: biscuits and cakes with a 17% ‘bite’ taken out to represent how much less women are paid than men - and information about the Green Party and our equalities campaigns.

Almost 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women working full time across the UK now earn an average 17 per cent less per hour than men working full time. Over the course of the year, this equates to women receiving their last pay cheque on October 30th – while men are paid all year round.

This remarkable calculation has led Unison and the Fawcett Society to declare October 30th to be 'Equal Pay Day'.

They are calling for a change in the law to end this gender-based pay gap once and for all.

The truth is that despite the many laws and regulations in place to ensure equality in the workplace, too many women are still getting a raw deal.

As Caroline said:

"Greens believe the Bill must be amended to include measures such as mandatory pay audits comparing earnings between men and women and legal changes to make it much easier for women to take equal pay cases to court.”

Cllr Vicky Wakefield Jarrett, the Green’s spokesperson on Equalities, said:

“Making sure women are fairly rewarded for the work they do is about more than fair pay, it’s about building a society where gender doesn’t ever act as a barrier or a hindrance. Greens believe everyone should be treated with respect and value, regardless of their gender.”

“Equal pay for work of equal value must be more than a theoretical legal right, it must be a reality. While many employers - including Brighton & Hove City Council - have taken steps to ensure women are rewarded fairly, too many others have failed to take action.

“The Equality bill poses a great opportunity to ensure every employer takes action to end the gender pay gap.”

The response was fantastic (even the Network Rail manager who moved us on did so with a smile): it seemed as though everyone we asked was prepared to back the campaign for equal pay. Its clear there’s huge public support out there for a change in law to ensure women get a fair deal.

Too many women are being paid too little for hard work, and it’s high time the Government did something about it. The sheer number of people prepared to stop and sign our petition shows just how much demand for action there is.

Friday, 30 October 2009

'Stop Hate Crimes' candlelit vigil at Old Steine tonight

Tonight campaigners from across the city will hold a silent candlelit vigil for all the victims of hate crime at the Victoria Fountain in the Old Steine at 9pm.

The vigil, one of hundreds taking part across the world organised by anti hate crime group 17-24-30, could be the first annual such event.

And not before time: it seems that hate crime against LGBT people is on the increase.

The situation in some parts of the world, such as Iran and Jamaica, and even countries in Europe, such as Serbia (which recently saw a homophobic murder at its Pride event), remains even more stark.

Tonight's vigil was sparked by the death of 62-year-old Ian Baynham after a suspected homophobic assault in London last month.

Paul Birrell, Chair of Pride London, said:

"I am sickened and saddened by this needless death. This is the fourth homophobic murder in London in the last 12 months and this has to stop."

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Joining the British establishment

It's reckoned that more than a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions result directly from deforestation.

The rainforests of Indonesia, for example, along with the carbon rich peat soils they grow on, form one of the largest natural carbon stores on the planet. They are a vital defence system against climate change.

Yet the rate at which Indonesia's rainforests are being destroyed makes it the third largest climate polluter after the US and China.

But there is no workable rainforest protection plan on the table ahead of global climate talks due to take place in Copenhagen in December.

I hate to admit this when it happens, but, not for the first time, I find myself in agreement with Prince Charles, who said:

'If we lose the battle against tropical deforestation, we lose the battle against climate change.'

Of course, the biggest single driver of deforestation isn't the western desire for wood, it's our desire for meat and processed foods containing palm oil.

Perhaps the best way to save the planet is to stop banging on about flying all the time and just eat a few less meat and dairy products.

Oh blimey, I'm agreeing with Lord Nicholas Stern now.

The heir to the throne and a peer of the realm (not to mention Sir Paul McCartney) - this is turning into a right establishment love in...

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

New Brighton political club hosts debate this Thursday

A new political club night - billed as a 'high profile cross between The Oxford Union and Have I Got News For You?' throws open its doors on Manchester Stret tomorrow.

The line-up for the first 'Real House of Commons' event boasts Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, Labour's Simon Burgess, UKIP's Mike Mendoza and councillors Paul Elgood and Maria Caulfield for the Lib-Dems and Tories respectively.

The debate, which takes place at The Latest Musicbar, starts at 7.30pm, with the opening question likely to be 'Who Should Be MP for Brighton?'

What's the betting everyone says 'Me!'

I can't get along as I'll be doing some half-term childcare, but the event promises to be a cracker. I hope it's the first of many, and I find myself on a panel someday soon. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Why we need a living wage here in Brighton

This 'blog has called for the minimum wage to be substantially increased before - to ensure that every working man or woman in the city is instead paid a fair 'living wage', enough that workers' incomes are sufficient to meet the costs of a basic standard of living: to ensure that work indeed provides a route out of poverty, in other words.

Debate rages about what level a living wage should be set at. As living costs vary from place to place (particularly the cost of housing) so should living wage levels. Here in Brighton, which has been dubbed the low-pay and high-cost capital of the country, a figure of about £7.50 an hour seems to tally with current thinking.

Improving pay and conditions for the poorest doesn't just improve child poverty, educational attainment and the health of those who immediately benefit, if rising pay levels at the bottom are combined with static pay levels at the top, they seem to benefit all of us.

Today research has been published that shows how urgently we need a living wage to replace the minimum wage: according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, low pay means having a job is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty.

It seems the reality of having a McJob - the low pay, low status, service-type work thousands of Kemp Town and Peacehaven residents are forced to endure - is a life of poverty, just as much as a life on benefits.

A living wage for all in Brighton and Hove would make this poverty a thing of the past - and we'd all benefit.

Since being elected as a councillor I've tried twice to persuade Brighton and Hove Council to pay a fair, living wage to the 1,000-odd staff it pays less than £7 an hour - but to no avail, thanks to opposition from both Tory and Labour councillors.

We'll keep trying. Setting an excellent example in the way it pays its own staff - and temps - is the first step Brighton and Hove Council can take to make our city a more equitable place, and improve health and social standards for all of us.

'Chap-Hop History' by Mr.B The Gentleman Rhymer

This is just great. Hope you like it. Congrats to Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer.

More equal societies do better at almost everything

Sometimes academics show clearly something that has always stood to reason. Sometimes, their findings are truly startling.

The Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinsonis a statistical romp through the data on a range of social ills: mental ill-health, teenage pregnancy levels, poor life expectancy, levels of crime and violence in society, and so on, and it finds something that is either remarkable, or stands to reason, depending on your perspective.

In short, Picket and Wilkinson conclude, the more equal a society is - the smaller the gap between the richest and poorest, in other words - the better that society performs, at pretty much everything, for pretty much everyone.

For example, they look at levels of crime and violence, and find that they are far more prevalent in countries like the USA, UK and Portugal and far less common in, say, Japan and Norway. This seems to be exactly as you'd expect if you were looking for a link between violence levels and inequality - but shows that crime levels are relatively unaffected by harsher punishments - indeed, they show, the reverse might even be true.

Countries with a more lenient judicial system based on the principles of restorative justice tend, if anything, to have lower crime rates than those that impose long prison sentences - or worse - for even fairly minor crimes.

But it's equality that's the clear driver here.

The same is true using just about any other measure.

Less equal societies, particularly the USA, UK and Portugal, tend to have poorer health, shorter life expectancy, lower levels of education and more teenage pregnancies, than more egalitarian countries, like Japan and the Scandinavian nations.

The question the book poses for policy-makers is startling: is the best way of improving social and health outcomes simply to improve levels of equality rather than tackle the individual problem?

Perhaps the best way, for example, of raising school performance, is to increase tax levels on the richest and increase benefit payments to the poorest, rather than to interfere with what the teaching professionals are doing in schools?

To take deliberate action to make society more equal, in other words.

If you want to, you can buy the book here - but I'm sure it'll be in your local library soon, if it isn't already!

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

Monday, 26 October 2009

Time for a tax on fizzy drinks?

A US thinktank has reported that most American states could wipe out their budget deficit with a one cent tax on every can of Coke or Pepsi sold, according to The Observer.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest says the proposals - which have united soda pop manufacturers and food lobbyists in anger but seem to have won president Barack Obama's backing - could raise billions while improving the nation's health by helping tackle obesity and diabetes.

I think it's a great idea - as long as it's part of a concerted effort to improve the long-term health of the most disadvantaged.

For an such effort to succeed, it must tackle social inequality too. As The Equality Trust has argued, more equal societies (that is, those with the smallest gap between the richest and the poorest) tend to have healthier, longer-living, happier citizens all all levels.

If it means more people are quenching their thirsts on juices, squash drinks and generally less sugary fare, great, but the real test of any tax is whether it leads to a more equal society or not.

And I can't help feeling this is another tax that could hit the poorest hardest, and so have exactly the opposite effect to that intended - unless the benefits are felt most by the least advantaged too.

Council Tax: to raise or not to raise...

It's that time of year again when the council focuses it's energies on next year's budget.

As ever, there are four crucial questions: how much money will we get from the Government, how much Council Tax will residents be asked to pay, how much money will the council raise from other charges, parking fines, for example, or bulky waste collection, and how will public services be affected by all this.

Personally, I think that we should raise Council Tax a little, perhaps by 3.5%, to maintain public services and fund some recession tool-kits for parents, older people, and others in the city most affected by recession.

But the Green Group's position is still under discussion - of course as it unfolds I'll post details here.

Meanwhile, there's a role for everybody, here. Bottom-up democracy works best when as many people as possible take part in the budgetary process: that's why Greens are in favour of participatory budgeting, essentially devolving cash to communities to spend for themselves on local priorities.

Of course participatory budgeting isn't on the Tory administration's agenda, but you can still express your views by taking part in a pre-budget survey which will reported to council along with the budget next year:

Sunday, 25 October 2009

White Nights v Black History Month - is arts festival an event for all?

Last night I enjoyed one of the most surreal nights of free entertainment Brighton has to offer as part of Brighton City Council-supported 'White Nights' festival.

Highlights included a midnight session at the swimming pool, watching a montage of film clips set in - wait for it - swimming pools, while eating popcorn and ignoring the swimmers below.

There were two giant plastic cats dispensing wisdom in Jubilee Square, a virtual cycle race through the streets of Brighton, animated space invaders projected onto the walls of the Unitarian Church in New Road, and a late night of apocalyptic poetry and 'live art' installations at the Phenix Art Gallery.

The streets were pretty full late into the evening, and everyone was really friendly. Somehow there seemed to be relatively-few tourists, so while the busy streets gave Brighton a cosmopolitan feel for the night people didn't seem to have the self-centred attitude so often displayed by tourists.

So all good, really: I look forward to next year, and hope the local Arts Commission and City Council are inspired to support more art-based, free, night-time activities throughout the year too.

But not everyone has been as enthusiastic as me about it. Last week all councillors received an email suggesting that it was ironic that 'White' Nights was taking place during 'Black' History Month - a celebration which, he implies, has received less council support.

The sender suggested the festival should be renamed 'light night' (as in many other towns and cities holding similar events), saying:

" an ethnic minority resident of the city I don’t feel that the name of the festival celebrates the diversity of the city or indeed of an arts festival."

Furthermore, he suggested the event could incorporate a celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of lights marked around the world with processions and street parties last week.

Well I think he might have a point: White Lights was fantastic. Although there were events specifically focused on ethnic minority arts, it still felt mono-cultural. According to the 2001 census (now hopelessly out of date, of course) the city's Black and Minority Ethnic Population is about 15,000 people. Not many of them were out and about last night.

But racism doesn't have to be deliberate, or obvious: I really believe if someone reports that they have been the victim of racism then they probably have - and we at least have a duty to look more closely at their claims. So let's see if we can make the festival a little more inclusive next year.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Kemp Town beach venue scoops tourism award

Congratulations to the Yellowave beach sports venue on Kemp Town beach for picking up a silver medal in the Sports Tourism category at the regional Tourism ExSEllence awards last week.

It's a big boost of confidence for the beach sports complex and cafe, which has brought many thousands of visitors to Kemp Town and our beach since it opened a few short years ago, and has been named a London 2012 training venue.

Soldier facing Court Martial for disobeying orders to address anti-war protest

During the first world war soldiers who refused to follow illegal orders were summarily shot for cowardice by their superior officers.

Thankfully, times have changed. Lance Corporal Joe Glenton is refusing to return to increasingly-bloody Afghanistan, and will address protesters at a 'Stop The War' demo in London later today - in direct defiance of orders.

His punishment will be a Court Martial and, probably, imprisonment for a while.

But for having the courage to stand up and say he's nor prepared to put his - and his colleagues - lives on the line for an obscure and unachievable goal, I think he deserves a medal for bravery.

It's Gordon Brown (who must be increasingly worried that even the armed forces are turning against the war) who should be on trial.

Friday, 23 October 2009

No post today? Blame the Government....

Like thousands of Brighton residents I didn't get my post this morning - postal workers and members of the Communication Workers' Union are striking for a second day this week.

Striking isn't an action anyone takes lightly - who wants to volunteer to lose a day's pay in order to stand around a brazier on a cold October morning?

But I'm glad The Argus is reporting today that public sympathy for the posties is high, and that most of us recognise this strike is about nothing less than saving the Royal Mail as we know it - a state-controlled, essential, public service.

It's necessary because Government policy has been to promote privatisation at EU level, and open up the postal market to competition from the private sector.

It stands to reason that the profitable postal jobs, like handling business mail between, say, London and Brighton, will be snapped up by the private companies - and the Royal Mail will be left handling all the second-class letters from mid-Wales to Aberdeenshire, and, finding it impossible to turn a profit be forced to close a Post Office or two just to stay afloat.

So that nice Mr Mandelson is, basically, seeking to dismantle the Royal Mail - and decimate local communities dependant on their Post Office along the way.

Or, put another way (in the words of a letter from Green Party leader Caroline Lucas (pictured, at Brighton's North Road sorting office) to CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes):

"this Labour Government is 'ill-serving' workers and the UK public alike... ...with its shameful privatisation of public services which has led to increased marginalisation and inequalities in terms of public access to services".

In her letter to Mr Hayes, Dr Lucas says:

"In our view, Royal Mail workers and management have been on a collision course since the private sector has been forced on the service.

"By removing profitable parts of the business for the benefit of speculators and investors, the Government has created an environment in which the interests of the population of the UK as a whole have been ill-served, none more so than your members.

"It is shameful that a Labour Government should have played such a role in the privatisation of public services, and in a way which has increased marginalisation and inequalities in terms of access to services.

"It is especially concerning that this Labour Government is not content with overseeing the dismantling of this vital service, but now appears to be colluding with Royal Mail management to undermine the rights of the Union and its representatives, and condoning the side-lining of the CWU in working towards the completion of the agreement from the last period of industrial action."

The Green Party leader offered the CWU the Green's full support in the
coming days, stating that "...we hope that any action is swift and
positive in its results. As we did two years ago, we will lobby at
every level to support the CWU cause."

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Councillors in Huddersfield adopt Green proposal to halt taxpayer-funded Christmas Parties

Last night councillors in Yorkshire voted for a Green Party proposal to stop funding Christmas Parties - and give the cash back to the local taxpayer.

The motion, proposed by the Kirklees Council Green Party Leader Councillor Andrew Cooper
simply said:

"This Council believes that the Party Groups hospitality allowance is unjustifiable and should be abolished."

Previously this £2,500 budget had been used to pay for food and alcohol for a Christmas Party for councillors.

The Green Party councillors had not been using their allocation under this budget and for many years had consistently called for the abolition of the hospitality allowance.

Speaking after the vote, Councillor Cooper said:

"The motion was put and no one could or would stand up and argue against it but when it came to the vote it was noticeable that the Conservatives failed to support the motion and abstained.

"I simply don't understand why a Party that professes to be interested in good management of public expenditure would be so anxious to hang on to their 'beer money' that they couldn't either support or even argue against the motion."

There's no similar budget line here in Brighton and Hove, but the council (and therefore the local taxpayer) does fund two mayoral parties a year for councillors and senior staff to rub shoulders with other city big-wigs over a glass of wine.

Somehow I don't see our local Tories being very impressed with the idea of having a 'Turkeys vote for Christmas' ballot here!

Cleaning Up and Greening Up in Tarner and Eastern Road

I've just got back home after one of my favourite events in the local calendar - the twice yearly 'Clean Up, Green Up' days for the Tarner and Eastern Road areas.

Four groups of local residents - numbers boosted by council staff, PCSOs and children from Queen's Park School - picked up persistent litter, collected bags of recyclable waste, and ended up planting spring-flowering bulbs at Tillstone Street, Hampshire Court, Kingswood and the Newhaven Street playground.

Four local councillors turned up: Bill Randall, Rachel Fryer, Paul Steedman and myself; I ended up at Tillstone Street, and really look forward to seeing the flowers come into bloom next year.

Events like this make a real difference to neighbourhoods - they really represent as bottom-up approach to improving people's immediate urban environment and quality of life.

More 'Clean Up, Green Up' days than ever are needed since the Tory council withdrew funding from the neighbourhood management team serving the area last year, and the date for the spring event will be in my diary as soon as the dust settles from today's activities and someone works out when it will be!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bendy buses - coming to a street near you soon?

It look like the infamous bendy buses - fresh from being scrapped from the streets of London by Tory mayor Boris Johnson - could soon be seen plying their trade here in Brighton.

The Argus has reported that Brighton and Hove Buses is to test one out for the 25 route between Palmeira Square and Sussex University.

I'm delighted - London's loss here could well be Brighton's gain. The bendy buses will put an end to overcrowding whilst enabling services to be run more cheaply on the busy routes - and could lead to fare reductions (though I'm not holding my breath).

By having three entrances instead of just one, they will reduce delays at bus stops and speed up services.

But a readers' poll on The Argus website reckons fewer than half of people would welcome them - and neither the city's Tories nor Labour politicians seem very enthusiastic either.

Personally, I hope the trial is a great success - and one which is able to reduce car dependency and, ultimately, allow bus passengers to enjoy cheaper fares, without making life harder for pedestrians or cyclists.

The bendy buses have got something of a reputation for being dangerous for cyclists - but this is wholly undeserved, as figures released by Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson clearly show.

According to Mr Johnson's figures, which come from the London Assembly's Transport Committee (January 2008), bendy buses on inner-city routes were in involved in, on average, 2.62 collisions with cyclists in 2006/07 - less than the 2.78 accidents with cyclists involving 'non-bendy' buses.

Whatever is eventually decided, strategic transport decisions like this should be made by the council - or perhaps the Government - and shouldn't be made on the basis of how to maximise the profit a private firm enjoys from running buses in the city.

City Council investigation into impact of students on Brighton shelved

Last year Green Party councillor Georgia Wrighton (pictured) called on the council to investigate the effect of the high number of students living in the city, looking at how best to harness students' cultural and economic contributions, how, if at all, the council could improve the housing conditions of students, and minimise the negative impact on communities of landlords carving up family homes into student dwellings - and students' sometimes rowdy behaviour.

In some streets in Hanover, Georgia argued, hardly any family dwellings are left, students are forced to live in often damp and otherwise poor accommodation, and any sense of community goes by the wayside in the wake of high turnover of residents.

Amazingly, Labour and Tory councillors agreed, and a scrutiny panel has published its final report: 'Students in the Community'. But that was more than six months ago, and now Georgia feels the whole thing is being brushed under the carpet.

"The Tory administration doesn’t seem in any hurry to properly consider, let alone adopt, some of the very sensible suggestions we made," she said.

“I’m concerned they hope to brush the ‘studentification’ report under the carpet – leaving the many residents who have asked for help in dealing with this problem wondering if the council are ever going to do anything about it."

It seems that, whatever the original intention, the council's scrutiny process is being politicised, and the investigation's final report is being sat on to avoid having to debate the reality: that having such a high proportion of students living in Brighton does cause a few problems, especially in some areas, but that these are massively outweighed by the benefits it brings.

And perhaps most unpalatable of all: the fact that, of those that do exist, many of the problems 'caused' by students in the city should actually be blamed on private landlords (including, I imagine, a few members of the local Tory party) and the Government.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Standing Up Against Global Poverty

This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting staff and volunteers from CARE International, who were in Jubilee Square trying to persuade people to stop shopping for a few minutes and stand up and take action against global poverty.

They were trying to draw attention to the fact the poverty for millions is getting worse, and that the most devastating impacts of climate change are already being felt by many of the poorest across the developing world.

CARE International were trying to get millions of people from 70 countries around the world to 'Stand Up And Take Action'. In the UK alone, more than 200 MPs and parliamentary candidates took part.

We all pledged to send a copy of the Vote Global International Development Manifesto – a package of recommendations endorsed by more than 70 development charities, including CARE International - to our manifesto development teams.

The manifesto - which urges policy-makers to focus their efforts on reducing developing world debt, increasing aid payments, preventing runaway climate change and limiting its impact on the poorest, making international trade fair, stamping out corruption and delivering human rights for all - sounds remarkably like the Green Party Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, and I can't imagine it'll be hard for our manifesto team to incorporate most of it.

According to CARE International's own report of the day, Labour and Tory candidates were just as supportive. I hope - but somehow doubt - that, whoever wins the next election, the Government does everything it can to stamp out poverty around the world.

Half of Brighton's Day Care Providers Failing To Meet Council Targets

News that half the registered day care providers used by adults with mental health problems in Brighton & Hove failed to meet the council’s own target service level has led to strong criticism of Brighton & Hove City Council.

A report considering the performance and monitoring of services for working age adults found that of 17 providers of day care services for those with mental health problems, only 8 met the council’s own service level targets. *

Keith Taylor, who yesterday addressed the Adult Social Care and Health Cabinet Member meeting considering the report, said he was shocked to hear that over half the city’s day care providers were deemed to be sub-standard.

“For the Tory-run council to allow this situation to drift without an immediate action plan to rectify the problems is letting service users down and failing in their responsibilities to the city," he added.

"We need swift decisive action to right this wrong, and we are calling on Cllr Ken Norman to get this problem solved without the delay of waiting for a once-year review.

“To entrust people with mental health problems to be cared for by agencies without agreed service levels in place is a negation of duty.

“With the number of these providers set to increase dramatically it’s difficult to have faith that the Tories will be able to exert any meaningful control over them, which could lead to increased risks for the vulnerable individuals in their charge.”

The full report can be viewed here.

Average 14-yr-old can buy 30 units of strong alcohol a week on pocket money

Latest figures published in The Mirror newspaper show that the average price per unit (roughly equivalent to a half pint, or a shot of whisky) of strong alcohol is just 17p.

The average 14 to 16-year-old receives between five and six pounds a week pocket money - about 30 units worth.

We're in the middle of a public health emergency with our children drinking more and more - and suffering the ill-effects. Brighton and Hove admits ten times as many people to hospital with alcohol-related injuries than the national average.

Earlier this year I joined up with Sussex Police Licensing Manager Jean Irving to take part in a Government consultation on guidelines for alcohol retailers.

We called (amongst other things) for a ban on supermarkets using alcohol as a 'loss-leader', and selling it for less than it cost in the first place.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, of course, ignored us: it seems Mandelson, Brown and so on are more interested in listening to their friends in retail - and the supermarket sector - than the police and local communities.

We simply must recognise that our efforts to stamp out the enormous harm done to children by excessive drinking isn't working, and that we need some pretty drastic measures to get it back on track.

That means banning the worst excesses of the supermarkets, as well as accepting that we ought to divert some of our efforts away from dissuading teenagers from smoking cannabis into reducing alcohol-related harm.

It means moving away from criminalising a generation of teenage drinkers to an approach based on minimising harm.

Police to provide detailed figures on rape and sexual assault levels in Brighton

Sussex Police has agreed to provide details of the numbers of rape and serious sexual offences which happen in the city - and, crucially, how often sexual offences lead to a conviction.

Every month the council's Community Safety Forum meets at Hove Town Hall to give councillors and representatives of communities around the city a chance to discuss recent crime figures and trends, and to receive reports and updates on the work of the council's community safety team, and the increasing amount of 'partnership' work between the police and the council.

Yesterday's meeting, for example, considered council support for the city's network of Local Action Teams, the recommendations of an investigation into older people and community safety (headline: older people in Brighton suffer less crime but have a deeper fear of crime than average).

Latest figures presented to the forum suggests that total crime is going down very slightly, although, worryingly incidents of burglary are on the rise. We heard how the police's focus on neighbourhood policing was delivering results - I only hope that forthcoming deep Government cuts (whoever wins the next election the police can expect to have their budget slashed) don't undermine all this good work.

But wherever future cuts in the police should fall, I'm delighted the police have agreed to provide specific figures on rape and sexual assault in the city.

As I've said here before, the figures are absolutely terrifying. According to the Home Office, in the UK more than five per cent of women and one in 200 men is raped at some point in the lives. More than one in five women and one in ten men are likely to fall victim to a serious sexual assault.

Specific figures for Brighton aren't available in the same way, but locally it's thought to be even worse.

Sussex Police are putting more resources than ever into bringing these figures down, but with sexual crimes often being the hardest to talk about reporting rates are low.

Just last week Brighton and Hove Council unanimously agreed my request to investigate whether the relatively poor provision of services for victims of rape and serious sexual assault contributed to a low reporting - and therefore conviction - rate here in Brighton.

And by supplying the figures on reported incidents, arrests, and conviction directly to the council, the police will be making the investigation a little easier, and enable both the council and community groups to act promptly on any sudden rises or falls in rape and sexual assault rates.

As has been said, one of the best weapons a community has in the fight against crime is precise, local information about where and when crimes are happening.

I hope the combined efforts of Brighton and Hove Council and Sussex Police will improve outcomes for the victims of sexual offence.

Other police news just in: according to The Argus personnel bosses have decided not to renew Sussex Police's Investors In People accreditation to save some cash. The award is a bit clunky - and accreditation is a bit of a cumbersome and expensive process, but I can't help thinking benefits to staff should be at the end of the queue when the cuts axe falls.

Last week members of Sussex Police Authority were told minor changes had been made to the police pension scheme without even hearing from s representative of the Police Federation or Unison, the largest union representing police staff. Is it any wonder that Sussex Police is failing to meet its own targets on diversifying the workforce by employing more women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Is it any wonder?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Brighton Council should discuss our city's own arms industry

Remember January? It seems a long time ago, doesn't it - maybe a little less so now in the chilly rain - but for those who lost family and friends, or whose homes were flattened, in the bloody Israeli assault on Gaza, time continues to stand a bit stiller.

Stunned at our impotence in the face of daily reports of horrific war crimes taking place on both sides (according to a UN report adopted on Friday), and the news that the a Moulsecoomb factory was manufacturing bomb release mechanisms being used as part of the Israeli bombing campaign, I decided to join forces with my Green colleague Keith Taylor and try and get the issues on the table at Brighton Town Hall.

We drafted a Notice of Motion calling on all councillors to deplore the attacks on Gaza and condemn the role of a Brighton factory in events in the Middle East.

We argued, in plain English, that the EDO/MBM bomb factory should switch production to peaceful components, so all councillors could lay their cards on the table - and make clear where they stood on the EDO's future as a bomb-making factory here in Brighton.

But the motion was never discussed. It was blocked by the then mayor and chief executive Garry Peltzer-Dunn and Alan McCarthy respectively, on the grounds that it was irrelevant to the well-being of Brighton residents.

Well we thought that was ridiculous, as do the several hundred people now who have signed a petition to the council saying so.

I met some (more) of the SmashEDO protestors today, and have agreed that we will present the petition on their behalf at the next full council meeting in December, and that we will work on a new motion condemning the bomb factory in terms the council's lawyers will find it harder to reject.

I don't rate our chances, as I reckon the Tory and Labour groups on the council will do almost anything to avoid having to put their money (or votes) where their mouths are on peace issues, but I'll certainly keep y'all informed...

Green Democrats meeting banned in Rwanda

It's pretty easy being a Green Party activist here in Brighton - but, by the power of Twitter, I've just received a chilling reminder that that's not the case everywhere.

It seems a meeting of members of the newly formed Green Democrats was quashed by the authorities in Rwanda.

Nearly 1,000 delegates from across the country looked on in disbelief as the mayor closed down the meeting in Kigali earlier this month.

As Amartyr Sen has observed, a functioning democracy is the bedrock on which delivery of other rights: to food, shelter, life itself, and other political and economic freedoms, must be built.

In a country with such a brutal recent history - I visited Rwanda myself in 1999 to meet some of the survivors of the genocide myself - the need for a non-tribal democracy to flourish has never been more urgent.

And with many commentators having argued the 1990s genocide - in which nearly a million people died - was driven by environmental stresses on the over-populated but lush central African nation, it's no surprise that 'greening' the country is a political priority for many.

But this report shows how President Paul Kagame - who enjoys the support of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama - is unable to deliver a real multi-party democracy to the people of Rwanda.

It chills my bones: and reminds me how lucky I am to be in Brighton.

We don't often have to contend with mayor Ann Norman blocking the entrance to our Green Party meetings at Community Base.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Closing Brighton-Ashford train line is madness

Southern Railways has revealed it hopes to end direct train services between Brighton and Ashford.

The firm argues that since Eurostar trains no longer stop at Ashford, there's little need for the service, and rail users would be better served by increasing Brighton to Eastbourne train numbers instead.

But Green Group convenor Bill Randall has today condemned the plans as 'madness' - Ashford is a rapidly growing population centre, which will need more links with other towns and cities in future, not less, and, in the face of rising fuel prices, we should be improving public transport systems, not removing them altogether.

If Southern, the rail franchise holder for the central South East, gets its way, travellers from Brighton to Ashford will have to change trains to make the journey from December 2010.The second train, from Eastbourne to Ashford, is a two-car train that is often overcrowded.

Brighton, Lewes and Polegate will lose their through service to Ashford, which is an important link between Sussex and Kent.

The journey will take longer, and people will be discouraged from taking the train and will be more likely to drive to Ashford. This service should not be scrapped, it should be improved with longer trains and proposals developed to electrify the line from Hastings.

Southern should think again, and it should also have another look at reopening the Lewes to Uckfield line, which would ease congestion on the Brighton to London line as well as restoring rail services to rural Sussex.

Of course the real answer is re-nationalisation of the rail network: train services should be provided because communities benefit from them - not because they are profitable.

Public transport should be a state provided public service - subsidised by the taxpayer where necessary, and never driven by the profit motive. But I guess that's another argument for another day!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Saving children from alcohol-related harm: ending pocket-money prices in supermarklet off-licences

Brighton and Hove Council has today announced more partnership work between anti-social behaviour officers, the police, and the NHS, to try and reduce the shocking number of alcohol-related hospital admissions of children and young people.

According to figures discussed at a series of recent Sussex Police Authority meetings, ten times as many Brighton and Hove children are hospitalised through drink than the national average.

Of course I hope this initiative makes a difference.

But it won't address the key problems: alcohol being made available at pocket-money prices, particularly in supermarkets, and a simple lack of things to do for teenagers and younger people.

If we're serious about reducing alcohol-related harm to children we need a change in the law - to ban supermarkets from selling alcohol for less than it costs them - and a massive injection of cash to provide better facilities for younger people.

Greens oppose self-imposed cuts in Susssex Police budget

Regular readers of this blog will know that Sussex Police faces massive cuts in the coming years.

Chief Constable Martin Richards has warned that staff may go as the police faces cuts of £35m over the next five years, thanks largely to poor Government funding.

Of course we can oppose the cuts - and try to ensure the axe doesn't fall on Brighton and Hove's increased focus on neighbourhood policing: putting more uniformed PCs and PCSOs on our streets to attend community meetings, getting to know our local communities, and so on.

But at a meeting of Sussex Police Authority yesterday members from across Sussex voted to impose even deeper, voluntary, cuts - by increasing savings at the same time.

Effectively, the police will be taking more council tax payers' money than ever whilst reducing expenditure and transferring more to its 'reserve accounts'.

Sussex Police has got about £50m stashed away in reserves, of which about £7m is in its 'General Reserve' - its 'money for a rainy day' account.

Well when I look at the increasing economic hardship being felt across Brighton and Hove, the stubborn crime figures and the prospect of police redundancies in the face of Labour and Tory proposals for cuts, I think it's raining.

But rather than spending some of this money to ensure there are no cuts in local police services, yesterday's decision will see about £3m transferred from operation budgets to the General Reserve.

Only two members opposed the decision, myself and East Sussex Labour councillor Godfrey Daniel.

I hope other members will be able to look the public in the eye when their are fewer bobbies on the beat, knowing that they could have done something to prevent it.

Dorset Gardens (Brighton) to host vigil for victims of transphobic murder

The 'Peace Park' at Dorset Gardens, Brighton, plays host to a vigil next month (3.30pm, Saturday Novemeber 21) to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The vigil will be once of a dozen or so events taking place around the world, to honour the victims of anti-trans abuse and murder: and to stand up and demand an end to all discriminaton against trans people.

There will also be a small exhibition at the Jubilee Library that weekend, detailing and remembering people who have been killed in the last year.

More name calling at Brighton Council

Greens are committed to ending age discrimination, in the workplace and wider society.

I believe it should be unlawful to either sack someone - or refuse to hire someone - because of their age. Further, employers should be forced to consider flexible working arrangements - and provide suitable Occupational Therapy services - to ensure older staff can continue to work as long as they are able.

Social care should be free at the point of delivery, carers should be paid for their work, and pensions should be higher - making sure no older person is left in poverty and forced to choose between heating and eating.

Of course this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the ways in which a Green MP would fight for a fairer, better deal for older people. Green MEP Caroline Lucas has worked with several victims of 'pension failure' and voted to oppose an EU-wide mandatory retirement age, opposed UK plans to limit adult education for older people, and to make it easier for older people to travel through the EU.

There's a good outline of our age discrimination and equal treatment policies here, and a summary of our position on pensions here.

Indeed, the Green Party's policies on giving older people a fairer deal was one of the reasons I joined the party in the first place.

All of which led me to do something of a double-take last week when, responding to an invitation to a training event for younger councillors, fellow Brighton and Hove councillor David Smart (pictured) said he considered the email concerned 'ageist' and asked whether the Green Party, which he claimed 'had spoken out strongly ... against ... older councillors', was behind the invitation.

Perplexed, I checked the records - I can remember Green councillors defending older people's services (and rights) on many occasion since being elected a councillor in 2007, but never 'attacking older councillors', strongly or otherwise.

Of course I couldn't find anything (though I do recall praising the Greens' contribution to making the council more like the population of the city as a whole, including boosting the numbers of 'younger councillors' if that's what hemeant).

So I contacted Cllr Smart and asked him to send me a reference - either point me to a record of what was said, or a link to the official webcast of the meeting - or, if he simply imagined the whole thing, to apologise for his mistake.

And, of course, he couldn't find a link or reference of any sort to the line - of course because we never said any such thing. In the Green Party firmly believe in a fairer city and a better deal for older people. We are deeply opposed to any age discrimination, and would never 'attack older councillors'.

I can only assume this is a new political tactic from the Conservative Group on the council: call the Greens names (based on a misunderstanding of our position) and hope we'll go away.

Last week, we were communists - this week we're ageist. I guess by next week we'll be racists and by November child-murderers!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

UN says more than a billion around the world are going hungry

Shocking. I've just heard on the radio that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that the number of hungry people in the world has topped one billion.

I'm reminded why I went into politics in the first place: both to create a better and stronger community here in Kemptown - and a fairer world for all of us.

Hunger is entirely preventable. There's enough food for everyone, it's just poorly distributed.

Failure to do so isn't just a human tragedy on a massive scale, it threatens peace and security for all of us.

This Saturday, I'll be meeting local volunteers and staff from CARE International, who are holding a stall outside the Jubilee Library from noon to 2pm.

I'll be giving my commitment that a Green MP in Parliament will consistently argue for measures to stamp out global hunger and create a fairer world where poverty is reduced.

A good start will be to increase aid payments (and keep all the promises of the past), to make international trade fair - by redrawing the rules of global commerce to put people and democracy before profits, to persuade the international community to enforce existing international human rights laws guaranteeing everyone the right to the food, water, shelter and healthcare needed for at least a basic standard of living, and to do all we can to limit the most devastating impacts of climate change on the world's poorest.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Communist Copwatcher from Kemp Town speaks...

It seems the Tories on Brighton and Hove City Council are a little more riled than I thought by the fact that I - and none of their number - have been appointed to represent the council on Sussex Police Authority.

At least week's council meeting, the Tories' Deputy Leader (and regular reader of this 'blog, I'm told) Ayas Fallon-Khan (pictured) asked me how I can justify being on the police watchdog.

I answered, honestly, that I am there because of the rules of democracy: basically because enough people voted Green in our last local election to warrant one Green Party member of the authority. When the nine councillor places were being divvied up between East and West Sussex Counties and the City Council, we argued that Brighton and Hove should have two reps rather than one - both to give the Tory administration a voice in the way policing is delivered and in recognition of the fact that policing Brighton and Hove is a bigger job than keeping much of rural Sussex safe.

But the argument didn't prevail, thanks to the opposition of a majority of East and West Sussex councillors - and the Brighton Tories were left out of the picture.

But Cllr Fallon-Khan, driven presumably by the Tories' historical distaste for democracy when they lose anything, responded to my explanation by calling me a 'Communist Cop-watcher from Kemp Town'. Today's Argus carries the whole saga in full.

I should be flattered really: I'm not a communist, but I am a cop-watcher, and I am from Kemp Town. Perhaps I should wear the badge with pride?

Meanwhile I'll press on with the job in hand: supporting better neighbourhood policing (my votes have helped deliver 27 new PCSOs and a new police station for Brighton since I took up post), making sure standards in police custody are high, and all detained persons are treated with respect, supporting better services for victims of crime, calling for more restorative justice, saving money by improving Sussex Police's environmental performance, to name a few.

As one commentator on The Argus story tells Cllr Fallon-Khan:

So stop moaning and just get on with your job please. I'm paying my council tax for results, not snidey remarks about someone who's doing theirs.

Brighton Council must extend lifeguard service - or risk tragedy

With our summers getting longer - and more tourists visiting Brighton and Hove then ever before - I could hardly believe it when I heard that the council-provided lifeguard service is scaled down at the end of August.

Whilst July was a bit of a damp squib this year, September had 20% more sunshine than average, and more sunny days in total then July. And it's the month when the sea is warmest!

But the lifeguard service is, as was always the case, scaled down at the end of August. As member of the summer 'seafront staff' told me, people are pretty much left to fend for themselves on sunny days in September.

This is crazy. It's a policy based in the past, when British summers were shorter and tourists in September few and far between.

It risks a human tragedy - and could costs the city's reputation as a seaside resort dear.

I raised the issue at last week's meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council only to be told by Tory cabinet member Cllr David Smith that the summer season had always run until the end of August and that people wishing to swim in September should do so in one of the city's public swimming pools.

(I still haven't worked out how to do this on Firefox, but IE users can see the whole exchange here, by clicking the Index Points tab and then at 01:12:21)

Hardly supporting the free, healthy, leisure activity of sea swimming - or encouraging tourism for that matter. I thought promoting Brighton as a tourist destination was actually David Smith's job!

The council must recognise that our summers are getting longer and more people than ever are choosing to holiday here – especially after the school holidays end.

On sunny September days people were swimming anyway (ignoring the signs telling them not to - pictured), and if a tragic accident occurs when the lifeguards were off duty Brighton’s reputation as a safe seaside resort would suffer untold damage – the price would be paid not just by the family and friends of the victim but by all of us.

So how about it, Cllr Smith - will you extend the lifeguard service into September next year?

Monday, 12 October 2009

More public toilets please: they're good for business, and people!

For several months now the disabled public toilet on the corner of Upper Rock Gardens and Upper St James's Street has been boarded up.

I'm able bodied and relatively fit: I can get about and tend to have plenty of warning when I might need to go.

Unfortunately that isn't the case for many. Those who are less mobile, or have urinary problems, for example, often need to be able to go to the lavatory at very short notice - and rely on public toilets being open, clean, working and accessible to do so.

If they're boarded up, dirty or, worst of all, sold off to boost the council's coffers by a few quid, there are some who will never leave home for fear of being caught short while out and about.

And that applies to many living in the Eastern Road area wanting to access the businesses, services and leisure facilities offered in the St James's Street area: exactly those people affected by this closure.

I raised this at least week's meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council, and was shocked to discover that the council has no plans at all to re-open the toilet - that instead it hopes local pubs, cafes and shops will throw open their toilets for public use and, where that fails, people will walk either up the hill to Queen's Park or down to the seafront, and go there instead.

That really isn't viable for many, as the Tory cabinet members responsible would know if they ever used public lavatories themselves.

So come on, let older, disabled and pregnant residents off the 'bladder leash' that keeps so many at home, by providing a few more public toilets and mending the ones that are already there.

It's not just about making life easier for some of our most vulnerable neighbours, it's good for business too.

If you're interested in seeing the debate in full, it's available on the council's archived webcast. I can't make it work in Firefox, but if you're an IE user, follow this link, and then click on 'Index Points' and again at 01:10:47.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Is it possible to be gay and a Conservative?

Is it possible to be a gay or lesbian Conservative? Of course there are some high profile gay Tories locally, and I bet they would answer 'yes', but I wonder how they really feel about their party's increasing alliance with homophobes and bigots from Eastern Europe: among them a Polish politician on record as having warned that homosexuality threatens nothing less than 'the downfall of civilisation'.

Another answer is that given by the readers of - in June 39% of them said they'd vote Tory in the next General Election; after recent media reports about the nature of some of David Cameron's strange homophobic bedfellows that's plummeted to just 22%.

Any yet another by an LGBT activist protesting at the Tories' Manchester conference, and reported in yesterday's Observer newspaper: ''s an oxymoron to be a gay Tory'

Of course the real issue for the LGBT community isn't whether a vote for local Tory boy Simon Radford-Kirby (pictured) is a vote for a government that would rather form alliances with homophobes than pro-Europeans.

No: the real issue is surely whether a Tory government will offer more than a few supportive words for the LGBT community - whether it will introduce concrete policies to end the remaining vestiges of homophobic discrimination.

I keep looking and listening - but I haven't come across a single policy announcement. Sure, Dave C seems like a nice guy, but the sad truth, as his frankly nasty alliance with the Polish Law and Justice Party shows, is that he just doesn't really care about defending the rights of any minorities.

He has a poor voting record on LGBT issues. Only last year voted to deny lesbian couples equal access to IVF fertility treatment. In 2003, he voted to retain Section 28.

Of course, Simon Radford-Kirby was too busy on East Sussex County Council to have a voting record on these issues, but I think it's about time we asked him to put his money where his mouth is on how he will behave if he's elected MP for Brighton Kemptown. Will he introduce, or support, specific legal reforms to end the homophobic discrimination that Gordon Brown is refusing to abolish?

Here's eight specific questions for him: I don't believe he's a reader of this 'blog so I have emailed him directly to ask him - if and when he answers I'll let you know what he says.

If elected, will you:

1. Amend the Equality Bill to protect LGBT people against harassment?

2. Repeal the ban on same-sex civil marriage and on opposite-sex civil partnerships?

3. Cancel Labour's proposal to allow faith schools to teach sex and relationship education in accordance with their own religious ethos, which usually condemns same-sex couples as sinful, immoral, unnatural and inferior?

4. Urge David Cameron to withdraw from the European Parliament alliance with the homophobic Polish Law and Justice Party, Dutch Christian Union and Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party?

5. End the blanket, lifetime prohibition on gay and bisexual men donating blood?

6. Halt the deportation of genuine LGBT asylum seekers to violently homophobic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria, Jamaica, Iran and Uganda?

7. Refuse visas and work permits to Jamaican reggae singers, like Bounty Killer and Buju Banton, who incite the murder of LGBT people?

8. Urge the police and CPS to prosecute record stores and radio stations that promote songs encouraging the killing of LGBTs?

Just to be absolutely clear, if I am elected MP for Brighton Kemptown I will. I wonder if Simon Radford-Kirby can and will make the same commitment?

Friday, 9 October 2009

We need 24-hour, local, services for rape survivors here in Brighton

I'm delighted that yesterday Brighton & Hove City Council agreed to conduct an investigation into local support services for those who have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted, with a view to examining whether the council can improve them.

Ever since hearing that there are no round-the-clock local services for rape survivors I have been concerned, and last night I asked fellow councillors to set up a scrutiny panel to examine provision for victims in the city.

It will also examine an idea adopted as Green Party policy last month: a Government-funded National Rape and Sexual Assault Hotline, to provide round-the-clock, seven day a week access to immediate support and referral for victims of sexual crimes, directing callers to local services where possible.

Rape and sexual assault figures in this city are shocking: according to Home Office statistics, more than five per cent of women and men are raped, and 21% of women and 11% of men are seriously sexually assaulted, at some point in their lives.

Here in Brighton, accurate figures just aren't available, but they are thought to be even higher.

And it destroys lives: not just those of the survivors and victims, but often those of their family and friends too.

Sussex Police provides a relatively good service in dealing with rape cases and supporting victims (at least here in Brighton) - but it isn't adequate at all.

It's thought that some 40 per cent of women who are raped tell no-one at all: usually because, apart from the police (often the last people a traumatised rape victim want to see) there is no-one independent and sympathetic to tell.

It's a national scandal that anyone who has experienced such a horrific crime should be left feeling unable to even tell someone else what has happened.

But the reality is that there is patchy provision of support services in the UK, and many of those who do seek support face a culture of disbelief and delay when they do.

And here is Brighton and Hove we're not well served.

Since the closure of Brighton Rape Crisis Project in 2002 survivors and victims of rape and serious sexual assault in the city have been able to access only limited specialist support services for a few hours a week, including those provided by The Survivors Network.

There is no round-the-clock support available for victims of sexual crimes beyond that operated by Sussex Police. While Sussex Police provide a good service in dealing with reports of rape and supporting victims, many sexual crimes go unreported, and many victims do not choose to go to the authorities.

Conducting a review of local services can only be a good thing, and should mean Brighton and Hove Council - putting its money where its mouth is - does everything it can to enhance the support give to survivors of rape.

On the National Rape Crisis hotline, Greens adopted this as party policy at our recent party conference in Hove.

The aim is to ensure people get help as and when they need it – and no one is left to suffer a postcode lottery of rape services.

That the Tories and Labour have backed our calls shows just how much support there is for introducing this national hotline. I hope the Government is listening.

Greens win Brighton and Hove Council support for 10:10 campaign

Brighton & Hove City Council last night voted to cut its CO2 emissions by ten per cent in the next year , after a Notice of Motion presented by Green Cllr Alex Phillips received unanimous, cross-party support.

In her maiden speech as a councillor, the newly elected Goldsmid Cllr proposed that the council join the 10:10 campaign – thereby committing to reducing carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010.

Speaking after the Hove Town Hall meeting, Alex said:

“I’m delighted the Tories have had a change of heart and agreed to sign up to this important campaign.

“Currently, the council is failing badly when it comes to lowering our carbon emissions – but doing more can seem like an uphill battle, with distant, hard to reach goals.

“Signing up to the 10:10 campaign means breaking down the task we face into much more manageable chunks."

Unfortunately, the cross-party support disappeared though when fellow Green councillor Paul Steedman proposed setting annual targets for further year-on-year cuts after 2010.

He had proposed annual cuts sufficient to reach the targets of a 42% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020 as recommended by the Government's advisory Committee on Climate Change, and cuts of 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 - but both Tory and Labour councillors rejected his proposals.

It's great to see this first step - that Tory and Labour councillors are prepared to take real action on cutting the Council's carbon emissions is good news.

But both Labour and the Tories need to move beyond the sound-bites and the 'easy wins', and start being really radical and ambitious, if we are going to have even a chance of making a difference on climate change.

Obviously, one council alone can't make a lot of difference: but this is yet another case when the Council could show real leadership in a way that drives others' behaviour and does have a real impact.

One day Labour and the Tories will understand the challenge we face - I just hope it's not too late when they do.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

MTV and Fox refuse advert designed to unprogram brand loyalties

This film isn't really my style, but I've shared it simply because I've been asked to nicely by the good folk of Canada-based Adbusters.

It's a TV advert which uses all the tricks of the trade to try to confuse the viewer and undermine the brand identities of the products mentioned: an all out attempt to subvert the attempts of Starbucks, McDonalds etc to sell more products.

Unsurprisingly, the TV networks wouldn't take Adbusters' money - and simply refused to air the advert.

So I've posted it here: in the hope that other bloggers will do the same and more people will see it.

For me though, this is an argument about basic human rights: we are, it seems, guaranteed the freedom of speech, but not the freedom to use the media to ensure anyone actually listens.

Advertising is, it's proponents would agree, an attempt to use one media or another to persuade you to change your behaviour - usually (but not always, of course) to buy something.

It seems to me that when an advert is refused for trying to use exactly the same techniques to try and promote a different message - one that is more beneficial to society - it's time for the law and government regulators to step in.

Moulsecoomb's lonely Tory councillor admits: people just don't like us

In the dark days of Britain (and Brighton) under Margaret Thatcher politics got personal. When public services were heaped on a bonfire of tax cuts for the richest, privatisation and council house sales saw much of our family silver frittered away - and when entire streets were wracked with unemployment and poverty, people began to hate the Tory politicians responsible.

I often think that we've moved on a bit: David Cameron is always at pains to be more likeable than clever, and to some extent he's succeeded.

But I bet he's fuming today, after a national newspaper covering the Tory conference in Manchester reports that Moulsecoomb and Bevendean councillor Maria Caulfield has admitted that most people just don't like the Tories - or trust them, very much.

'Not everybody can bring themselves to like us Conservatives,' clumsy Maria is reported as saying.

'It's not like 1997 when everybody loved Labour. People don't love us. We've got to earn their trust and prove that we're different from what they think we are.'

I guess that's why we don't see Simon Radford-Kirby round this way very often.

Isn't it about time Brighton and Hove City Council abandoned Microsoft?

Getting big organisations to shift the way their IT systems work is a bit like trying to deviate a container ship away from its planned course to save passengers from a sinking ferry: it doesn't usually work, it takes ages, officers on the container are reluctant (worrying about both the safety of their own mission, and the idea of the huge costs involved), but if it can be done the savings are huge and, while the benefits turn out to be real, none of the risks turned out to be very serious anyway.

Take Brighton and Hove City Council - despite the fact that Microsoft, one of the world's largest corporations, charges the taxpayer millions to use their 'Windows' operating system, and that it's prone to viruses, slow and crashes a lot, the Tory administration simply refuses to consider abandoning the system in favour of a free, Linux-based alternative.

And now they've just signed a new contract to use Microsoft systems for the next 10 years - as if we can really imagine what alternatives might be out there by 2019!

To be fair, they are consistently advised by senior officers that abandoning Microsoft would be too expensive and difficult: the main problem being that most of the IT staff (and 'end users') are well-versed in using Windows-based systems and retraining everyone would simply cost too much - and take too long. The same argument was probably made when some bright spark suggested automating council tax bills instead of working out everyone's rates on paper and filing the results in vast wooden cabinets in a dusty basement room at Brighton Town Hall. I'm glad it didn't prevail then and I'm not much more impressed with the argument now.

Of course retraining takes time and money - but if it will allow the council to save money on day-to-day costs of software licenses (Linux is free, after all, and Microsoft charges millions) then it will surely save the taxpayer cash in the long run. It should even be able to borrow money to pay for the training and pay it off with future savings so no-one even notices until everyone's bills start coming down.

Another argument offered against adopting a free open-source operating system is that part of the deal with Microsoft is that the Council receives external support - and emergency help if and when things go wrong. Well, maybe it's true that external support for Linux systems is a little harder to come by - but not too hard for all the other organisation that have made the switch. The London Stock Exchange, for example, Munich Council, in Germany or, most recently, Bergen Council in Norway. This is a bit chicken and egg, really: as more organisations switch to Linux-based systems, obviously there'll be more knowledge about fixing and customizing them, and more support services will become available. If everyone waits - we'll be stuck with Microsoft, and the high bills and poor performance for ever. Personally, I want our council to reflect the city's reputation for being a trailblazer. I think we are one of the most innovative cities in the country, if not the world, and we really deserve our council to show some leadership on this.

Security is another issue: though this one really seems to be a red herring based on the best efforts of Microsoft's marketing department. The simple truth is that Microsoft software and platforms are far LESS secure than open source alternatives. Organisations for whom security matters most have already realised that and made the switch.

Take the New York Stock Exchange. It switched to Linux in 2007 to IMPROVE its security, amongst other reasons. No computer industry watchers were that surprised when the Microsoft based TradElect system used in London, and running on Windows machines, crashed about a year ago, causing billions to be wiped of the value of shares and trading suspended for most of a day.

Of course there are other arguments - and perhaps we'll come to them another day. I'm certainly not trying to dodge them - and I hope Microsoft junkies will air them on this 'blog so we can discuss them further. I'm not saying these arguments are clear cut, just that if the council is prepared to take the gamble of closing a parking office in Brighton to save a few thousand quid, despite the inconvenience that seems to have caused just about everyone, then it ought to be a bit more bold about ditching Microsoft's expensive, and not very good, software, to save a lot more - and show some of the digital leadership residents of this city rightly expect.

Of course everything I've written above has been about the respective merits of the different systems - but for me the best argument is that Microsoft has repeatedly been found guilty of anti-competitive practices and is a bit of a corporate bully, and I don't think Brighton taxpayers should have to put up with, effectively, paying for a corporate bully's protection racket techniques.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Tories put environment on the back burner

Remember David Cameron's 'Vote Blue, Get Green' pledge? His husky-hugging on the slopes of the Svalbard glacier in Norway? His riding to work on a bike (albeit followed by a bag carrier in a car that he might as well have been sitting in)?

Well so do many of us in the Green Party - and the environmental movement. At the time we thought it was all nonsense: though we all hoped that the Tories had indeed switched their allegiance from their millionaire chums in the world of big business to our collective environment and the struggle to avert a climate crisis already spreading poverty and hitting the poorest hardest, most of us thought it was just a PR gimmick.

With it looking increasingly likely that the Tories will actually win power in next year's General Election, they're bound, we felt, to drop all this sooner or later.

And so it's been. In a piece to mark The Sun's defection to the Tories, last week, David C outlined his 10 priorities for a Tory government - and tackling climate change wasn't there.

Looks like if you want to 'get green' you'd better Vote Green after all.

Free training courses for Brighton community activists

Details have reached me today of the excellent Working Together Project’s autumn training courses for community activists.

There are courses in fund-raising, minute taking, producing a newsletter, chairing skills and being a treasurer - and best of all, they are free to people volunteering for community groups.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Plugging the torrent of leaks from Kings House - the Ministry of Defence way?

Well the Ministry of Defence's clumsy loss may just be Brighton and Hove City Council's gain.

As the dribble of 'leaked' stories from the council's Kings House HQ becomes a veritable flood (in recent days we've had news that the increasingly paranoid Tory leader Mary Mears has been spending council taxpayers cash on sweeping 'her' corridor for 'bugs', that her administration has managed to run out of cash for housing repairs and, of the G-Scene expose looking at her role in a dodgy-seeming housing deal) perhaps the council's top management and lawyers are looking for some advice on how to make sure all this dirty linen isn't washed in public.

Well now it's there, if they know where to look.

It seems the Ministry of Defence published a secret guide on how to avoid media leaks a few years ago - and now someone's leaked it onto the Internet for all the world, including the chiefs at Mears Towers, to read.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Open letter to Lily Allen - this is great!

Lily Allen makes great tunes. End of story. Her earlier ones, like LDN, tell a simple story - she cuts through the nonsense, sees the world for how it is and sings about it. To great beats.

But a few weeks ago I became aware of a nonsense essay she'd written on her MySpace page, decrying music file-sharing as a harbinger of death for new music.

Basically, she argued that by depriving record companies of income, file sharing was threatening the same companies from taking as punt on promoting new bands and singers - and therefore putting budding musicians off right from the start.

Well what rot.

And today someone sent me a link to a far better riposte than anything I could argue.

So do enjoy it.

And remember to play nicely and share.

Brighton: the alcohol harm to children capital of the UK?

I've just heard some pretty amazing figures at a meeting of Sussex Police Authority's Neighbourhood Policing Scrutiny Committee (of which I'm the Vice-Chairman), which I thought I'd share: five children are hospitalised each week in Brighton and Hove as a direct result of alcohol use.

That compares with 18 a day across the whole country - or 126 a week.

That's pretty staggering - it's about one case in 25 across the country, when, using a rough estimate based on population (about 250,000 out of 60 million) we'd expect to see more like a tenth of that.

It common knowledge now that Brighton is the drug death capital of the UK: it seems we take the dubious accolade of being the alcohol harm to children capital too.

More later when I've really got to the bottom of these figures.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Winter of discontent must be averted

Oh Dear. Reading The Argus this week and talking to colleagues at the Council and in the unions it seems clear that we face a pretty harsh winter here in Brighton.

I'm not talking about the weather here - it's the likelihood of a double whammy collapse in local public services thanks, it seems, to the council's clumsy financial management: a freeze on council home repairs AND a devastating rubbish collection strike.

Both are a direct result of the council mismanaging its budgets (even my five year old boy manages his bean-counting operation better, to be honest) - and the legacy of the previous council spending thousands on promoting privatisation of council homes and failing to banish sex discrimination from the way council workers are paid.

And in both cases, it'll be the tenants and residents of the city who pay the price. I'll bring more information on the repairs crisis facing council tenants when I find out more myself.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Latest poll predicts Green win in Brighton Kemptown

Well no sooner was I putting the Greens and the Pirate Party's recent electoral successes down to voters' trust in the bigger parties having broken down - and an overwhelming desire for change, for a 'new politics', than a BBC political correspondent says much the same thing, reporting a recent poll by Tory strategists which put nationwide support for the Green Party at six per cent.

If that translated in General Election votes, it would represent a big-enough swing to win here in Brighton Kemptown.

Greens and Pirate Party do well in Germany

Ok so I'm a few days late with this one, but I wanted to be perhaps the last to bring you electoral news from Germany.

The Greens did well, picking up 68 seats with more than ten per cent of the vote. The scientific liberals and free software gurus of the Pirate Party failed to win a set, but they did poll some 2 per cent of the poll - staggeringly they are reported to have picked up as much as 13 per cent of the vote among first-time voters.

I'm hardly supried that both the Greens and the Pirates have done well. People are fed up with the traditional big parties of politics: an increasing number of them are looking for radical, but sensible, solutions, to the big challenges we face: of climate change, of worsening poverty and inequality, of economic depression, of monopoly power, of attacks on our freedoms and rights.