Thursday, 31 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Christmas Eve poem

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

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Homeless benefit from national Rage Against The X-Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Copenhagen talks end in disastrous failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She's spot on, as usual.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this space.

Government backs Green Party policy on reducing road speed limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Cuts Won't Work...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public finance crisis makes March election likely?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 7 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Peter.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Campaign to protect public services - needed now more than ever

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

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

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

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

Lib-Dem candidate in Brighton Pavilion quits

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

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

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

More news as I get it...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to guidance from the British Pest Control Association: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tory Council budget plans add to Brighton unemployment woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The papers are available here.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Gossip from behind Brighton Council's political barracades

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

But already the candidates are lining up, it seems.

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

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

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

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