Friday, 29 January 2010

A busy month ahead for Brighton Council's standards watchdog?

I almost feel sorry for the local Standards Committee, the body charged with making sure all Brighton and Hove councillors behave according the Code of Conduct laying down the rules for how we must behave towards each other.

A few weeks back they visited all the political groups represented on the council to plead for less frivolous complaints. Their workload, they said, was getting clogged up with councillors' complaints against each other - they were being used, as I understood their point - as a political football.

Really, they exist to weed out corruption and unlawful behaviour. If a Tory councillor, for example, made dodgy backroom deal to sell off some Council-owned land for development - or took a backhander to nod through a planning aplication - the Standards Board would want to get to the bottom of it.

But after a particularly firey Council meeting last night I imagine they'll have their work cut out dealing with all the name calling from all sides.

When the archived webcast becomes publicly available I'll post some of the highlights here - meanwhile I'll just observe that the Code of Conduct doesn't require that we are all nice to each other all the time, so when councillors call each other dogs, idiots, fascists, hate-mongers, anarchists, communists, or kleptomaniancs - all names bandied around during last night's meeting - it shouldn't really be the concern of the Standard Committee at all. We're all big enough and ugly enough to look after ourselves! Perhaps that's why the new Chief Executive - John 'Axeman' Barraddell - looked so relaxed about the whole thing.

Of course most city residents just want their council to get on with the job of running the city - so I'm delighted we were able to do a bit of that too!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

All you need is love? More hateful nonsense from Blackberry...

 Poor old Paul McCartney. Well, not literally, of course: but he has to look himself in the eye every morning and reflect on the fact that despite everything, all the music, all the history, all the great animal rights campaigning, his songs are still being used to hawk shitty techno-devices designed to make our eveyday lives more miserable - and, ultimately, to fuel resource wars as we scrap over materials - and to clog up landfill sites around the countryside when it all, inevitably, gets chucked away.

John Lennon - by contrast - doesn't have to hear 'All You Need is Love' being used to flog Blackberry 'phones. Being dead, no-one can reasonably blame him for being just another corprate shill.

Personally, I'm with Bill Hicks on this one: once you've allowed your creations to be used to advertise products you're off the artistic rollcall for life.

Blackberry. I mean, for God's sake, is there a product more hateful out there?

They should come with a health warning really: 'Crackberry. They are addictive - and, just like too much drinking, or endless video games - letting it into your life can seriously damage your intimate social relationships.'

And remember,we already had phones before they invented the Crackberry: but this one was different - you could do work on it on your own time - let the boss into the bedroom, so to speak, in a way that just wasn't possible before.

Love, man.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Could this be the film that offends everyone?

I've always thought humour is one of the best ways of delving into the meaning of just about anything - and that one mark of a civilised, liberal, society is the degree of free speech accorded to comedians dealing with tricky subjects.

I guess I was schooled by Bill Hicks when he introduces a discussion on abortion during a stand-up comedy set after delivering the pre-amble: 'Let's talk about mass-murder of unborn children and see if we can't get a few belly laughs going...'

Anyway one of my favourite irreverent comedians is Chris Morris (he of Brass Eye and The Day Today fame). I particularly like it when he mocks the richest and most powerful - he's a particuilar fan of making MPs look as ridiculous as most of them really are.

In his latest film - 'Four Lions' - he takes a look at a bungling gang of English Jihadists. It's bound to offend almost everyone.

It opens in the US this week - and comes to these shores later this year. It looks great!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Is is finally time for Brighton Council to abandon Microsoft? Open Source Web browser use soars as security fears escalate

On Tuesday I reported that both the German and French governments had warned citizens to stop using Microsoft's Internet Explorer after it had emerged that a bug in the program had been exploited by hackers to breach data security for some users running the browser.

It has since emerged that the security breach at the heart of the warning was the chilling attempt to gain personal details of human rights activists in China - and could therefore be responsible for the execution, torture and imprisonment of Chinese activisit.

As the implications of computer software bugs go - this is about as big and scary as it gets really.

But despite the fact that UK politicians have finally started warning of the problem and calling for users to abandon the problem program in favour of cheaper, mopre secure alternatives - Lord Voldemort Mandelson steadfastly refuses to add the British government's voice to the chorus of oofficial warnings.

Meanwhile, users are flocking to open source alternatives anyway. Latest figures show that downloads of Mozilla's Firefox browser are have massively increased in recent days.

And, while Microsoft's engineers are working overtime to solve the security problem, another, potentially far more serious problem has emerged: some users of its Windows operating system could be vulnerable to hackers taking over their entire system.

It seems, for the US giant, anyway, it never rains - but it really pours. As a new project to use only freely available software promises to slash the price of home computing for millions, it seems that, perhaps now more than ever, could be the time to break free from Microsoft and Windows once and for all.

IT managers at Brighton and Hove Council: I hope you're listening. In the face of economic hardship, and increasing concerns about privacy and security, this city can't afford either software full of holes and bugs, or the exorbitant costs of Microsoft programs, much longer.

Nothing like a disaster to bring out the worst in people...

So far it is estimated that more than 200,000 people have died in Haiti since the massive earthquake that struck the island nation - perhaps the unluckiest on the planet - last week.

I have in turns been saddened, angered, moved, and motivated, by the stories that have come trickling out of the island in recent days.

But the ones that have truly appalled me have all related to groups, gangs or states for whom the disaster isn't alll bad news, and who have seixed an opportunity to further their own ends.

I'm not talking about the desperate, the hungry and the homeless in Haiti, some of whom have reportedly resorted to violence, looting, banditry and theft: these are, in the main, survival tactics and hardly a surprising response to tragedy on a massive scale and a desparate plight.

No, I'm thinking of the child traffickers, the ultra right-wing economists at the heart of the international money machine - and even the Israeli government, never one to miss a trick when it comes to exploiting someone else's suffering for a bit of good PR.

Oh and let's not forget  the bankers, taking a cut of all donations made - and those nations refusing to cancel Haiti's foreign debt regardless of whether that means rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts will be set back or not.

As well as donations and relief efforts, the people of Haiti - and thus all of us - need several things, and we need them now - and these things will onlt happen if international support for them is driven by our Governments. That means getting MPs everywhere to support them:

  • The cancelation of all foreign debt owed by Haiti
  • A commitment by the International Monetary Fund to halt all efforts to force privatisation and pay freezes on the battered public sector in Haiti as a condition of help
  • Increased international efforts to stamp out all forms of child trafficking and slavery funded through additional commitments to help Haiti made in recent and coming days
  • More money for relief efforts - from individuals and governments: and a ban on banks and credit card companies charging fees on emergency relief donations

So come on Des Turner - please make such a statement urgently.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Pride to come of age - thanks to Brighton Council £20,000 loan

Great news - Brighton's celebration of our LGBT heritage, Pride, will take place this summer - after Brighton Council agreed to loan organisers £20,000.

The parade and festival had been thrown into doubt after it emerged that the event faced a £50,000 cash shortfall.

But today I have learned that the 18th annual Pride will go ahead this year after the council agreed to plug the funding gap with a £20,000 loan - something Green Councillors have been calling for since the financial troubles facing the event emerged last autumn.

Caroline Lucas (pictured with other local Greens during last year's parade), Green Party leader and parliamentary candidate for next-door Brighton Pavilion said: the decision made good economic sense:

“The decision to loan Pride the money makes good economic sense as well as being a win for Brighton's LGBT community. Far and away the highlight of the city’s free cultural calendar, Pride attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from the rest of the UK and around the world and puts the city on the map. Local businesses take in more trade that weekend than any other, and the business case for supporting Pride is overwhelming. Greens are delighted the event has been saved.”

Councillor Vicky Wakefield-Jarret, Green spokesperson on LGBT and Equality issues on the council, said: "It’s great news that Pride’s financial security has been secured. Pride weekend is a defining feature of Brighton & Hove – a city renowned as the gay capital of the UK. Every year, the event gives us a unique platform to shout from the rooftops about our support for the LBGT community and our belief in tolerance, fairness and equality for all."

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Brighton Council must make it easier for city residents to help each other out in the snow and ice

The two cold 'snaps' we've seen over the last month or so have brought much of the city to a standstill. The economic and social costs have been enormous - the hospital has been overwhelmed by the victims of thousands of accidents, roads have been closed, buses cancelled, schools and universities shut, rubbish collections abandoned, and so on. 

On this 'blog, and elsewhere, I have argued that the Tory-run council could have done a little more to help residents stay safe and warm - and keep public service disruption to a minimum. That all costs money, I have argued, and the council could - and should - have spent a little more on the problem.

The fact that the post-Christmas spell was handled so much better than the pre-Christmas one was to be welcomed, of course, but just proved how the council could have done better in the first place. It's not as though the weather conditions weren't widely predicted - they were!

The Greens were quick to call for a full investigation into the council's response to the cold weather - and how it could be improved next time. I'm delighted to say Labour councillors have agreed to the proposal, and so a so-called 'scrutiny panel' is likely to be set up to carry out the investigation at tyhe next meeting of the Environment and Community safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee on February 8th.

Meanwhile - it looks like it could happen all over again. More snow is forecast for the UK, though latest predictions are for us to have none here in Brighton. Of course, that could change over the coming hours.

So today the Green Party has called on the council to do more to help residents help themselves: to draw up 'community snow plans', to install more, well-stocked,  grit bins, to provide 'community spades' to householders wishing to clear the ice outside their own homes, and to maintain registers of residents who are willing to help, either by making pavements safe or by checking on elderly or vulnerable neighbours.

Many people were ready to clear pavements and help in other ways in the recent bad weather, but there was no way of coordinating their efforts. In addition, in Kemp Town and Queen's Park many local residents don’t have gardens and they will need to be supplied with spades, if they are to help.

Government, torn between big business chums and Internet security, drags its heels

I do like to keep up to date with The Register when I can, an on-line glimpse into the world of IT. It's amazing how often political stories crop up: sorry to sound nerdy, but I just can't resist a story about technology and politics both at once.

The latest such yarn has its origins earlier this month, when a bug in Microsoft's Internet Explorer software emerged, after hackers from China managed to breach on-line security systems - so far, only big organisations, rather than indiviuals, have been hit.

But, according to the BBC, the German government acted quickly, warning all Germans to ditch Microsoft in favour of one of the free, more secure alternatives that are out there (personally I usually use Mozilla Firefox - another option is Google's Chrome, which is being heavily touted right now) - at least until the bug is fixed.

The French government speedily issued similar advice: but, it seems, the British Government is reluctant to follow suit.

Apparently Peter Mandelson, whose department would have to issue any such formal warning, is more concerned about hitting Microsft's profits than maintaining privacy - or security - on the Internet.

How very New Labour of him. Could it have anything to do with his infamous friendship with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen?

Here's some simple, free advice for Lord Voldemort Mandelson: if you want to avoid the stench of being accused or corruption 'just say no' whenever you're invited to enjoy parties - or free holidays - by the mega-rich bankers and businessmen who stand to gain and lose most from your actions, or, as in this case, lack of them.

Come to think of, I'm sure I'm pitching this advice wrong: Mandy's never been a fan of the free and simple.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Will 2010 be the year of 'The Internet Election'?

The current edition of PR week predicts that the looming General Election could be the first in UK history to be fought and won not out on the streets, atop soap boxes and in hustings meetings but in cyberspace, via tweets, 'blogs -and 'viral' e-mail messages.

It seems the big guns of political PR  have been so impressed by Barrack Obama's success in the 2008 US election with a great slogan  and personal e-mails to almost everyone on the planet (despite his failure to achieve just about any of his pledges in the year that's passed since he took office) that they are preparing to play the same sort of political game here in the UK. Dave Cameron has been holding policy discussions with about 40,000 voters via Google 'Moderator' chat (apparently) - and it's almost impossible finding a wannabe-MP without a personal 'blog these days.

Of course the thing about the Internet is it's as genuinely 'free' as the traditional media - newspaper and TV ads, poster billboards and so on - are inaccessible.

That means that, while it's certainly a powerful tool - it's a dangerous one.

Internet politics is playing with fire in the original sense.

Firstly, it levels the playing field between candidates (even I've a 'blog, in case you hadn't noticed, and a 'twitter feed' (@KemptownBen) - and it hasn't cost me a penny - I'm sure the two Simons  could - and will - outspend me on traditional adverts when the time comes.

But perhaps even more importantly political messaging can be subverted easily: the picture above (based on the original, right) has already received about 10,000 views, according to the PR Week article. I'm not sure what this is likely to mean for the election result, but it seems clear that the Tories' bulging war-chest (apparently they've already got £18m set aside to try to buy the election with) won't make as much of a difference as it has in previous elections.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Landfill Prize - for the most pointless, and wasteful, consumer products of the year

Have you ever seen something in the shops - or advertised (on TV usually) that seems entirely (not even almost) pointless, completely wasteful, usually over-priced, and destined to be binned before long, either because it just breaks or because its appeal is never going to be particularly long-lived?

Of course such tat abounds - my personal favourite is the 'Kindle' - and all its related e-book reader-type-products, as not only is it a completely unnecessary piece of electronic rubbish, it seeks to replace a design classic: the far-from obsolete, cheap and entirely reusable (ask any library!) book.

It creates a whole new market in copyrighted material as it does so, meaning literature is reduced from being a pastime and an art form to being a piece of tradable intellectual property.

Whether you agree with me or not about the Kindle (do please make a good counter argument, Kindle fans!) there is now an award for your favourite such pointless product: The Landfill Prize 2010. Previous winners include the Nintendo Wii Fit, The Motorised Ice Cream Cone - and the classic Digital Electronic Skipping Rope, for when a real bit of rope just won't do.

Of course, buying all this stuff plays a key role in keeping our economy afloat - I'm reminded of the laugh-out loud funny 'Modern Toss' credit crunch comic book title: 'Buy More Shit or We're All Fucked'.

There has to be a better way of measuring progress than tallying up the value of making and selling all this stuff: and there has to be a more sustainable way of creating a prosperous society than doing so too. Pretty soon we'll run out of space to put all the rubbish- and the resources to make it in the first place. I hope we've worked out some of the answers by then.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Hoping for a peaceful demonstration on Monday...

After years of watching - and taking part in - peace protests against Brighton's very own arms factory, EDO-ITT in Moulsecoomb, and the role it plays in providing parts ultimately used, it seems, by the Israeli military against children and civilians in Gaza and Lebanon, I must confess I'm always a little nervous before a big SmashEDO demonstration. The next such demo is on Monday - I'll be joining protesters from 1pm at the cafe in Wild Park - so, as usual, I'm a little jittery.

Mainly I'm nervous because I share the aims of the peace group - but the peaceful aims of the events are usually overshadowed by the fears of disruption to business as usual in the city. The message can get lost in the noise. I think most people in the city are, like me, sympathetic to the protesters, but wish they could take a more, well, peaceful,  approach to their peace campaigning.

And there's always some disruption: as often from the way marches are policed as from the actions of the demonstrators themselves. In short there has been a complete breakdown of trust between the demonstrators and Sussex Police, with most of the city's residents, and even some workers at the factory, caught right in the middle.

Despite repeated requests from the police, no-one from SmashEDO has come forward to liaise with officers - and let them know what the group's got planned. Police commanders say they'd like to deploy fewer officers and make the whole policing operation much lower key, but the lack of dialogue makes that impossible.

So we end up with vanloads of coppers on standby (here's a few, pictured, from last year's Mayday demo) - and tensions are ratcheted up, meaning trust between police and protestors is further eroded, increasing the likelihood of trouble before anything's even started.

But none of this is the protesters' fault. It's no wonder, really, that they don't trust the police. In the past Sussex Police have been seen to be taking sides in the way it has policed SmashEDO's regular vigils at the factory (do watch the cracking film 'On The Verge' to see for yourself).The lack of dialogue has led to a sometimes heavy-handed response from the police, further eroding trust and making it less likely that we'll ever break out of this vicious circle.

But, as I said today to Chief Inspector Simon Nelson, the man in charge of police relationships with the wider community throughout Monday's events, I'm hopeful that this trust can - and one day will - be restored.

Of course it takes two to tango, as they say, but I reckon the police - as the bearers of state sponsorship, so to speak, must have the courage to show the trust first. The trick, surely, will be to take a human rights based, and proportionate, approach to the way such marches are policed. The police need to get it in perspective: no powers intended to prevent terrorism should be used. No cameras or recording equipment should be confiscated. No-one should be kettled or contained against their will - unless, of course, they are being arrested for a criminal offence.

The police must remember that peaceful protest is as lawful - and important in a free society - as the activities of any single factory. Above all, all police officers must treat all demonstrators with dignity, and remember they are motivated, in the main, by the noble desire of trying to prevent civilian deaths in war.

I've made these opinions known to several senior officers - from the Chief Constable down - in recent months. And, actually, I'm quite confident that my views, as a member of Sussex Police Authority, are having some effect.

I've known Chief Inspector Nelson, a senior police officer with a poster of Ghandi on his office wall (have you ever heard of such a thing?) for a few months now - and he's genuinely committed to allowing, and even encouraging, peaceful political protest in Brighton.

I hope his approach continues to inform the way that future SmashEDO protests are policed - if it does I think we'll see less crime, less violence, fewer coppers (and those that are out and about wearing fewer riot helmets), more trust on all sides, more sympathy for the protestors objectives and, ultimately, a speedier end to bamb-making here in brighton and Hove.

But as I said to Chief Inspector Nelson today: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I know of at least two members of Brighton and Hove City Council, and two members of Sussex Police Authority, who'll be at Monday's demo. We'll all have our fingers crossed that the protesters, and the police, behave peacefully and proportionately.

Another former Labour politician helps out the Greens in Brighton

It's always a symbolic shot in the arm when a former political opponent comes out to back you in an election.

So it feels good having learned today that former Labour Euro-MP Hugh Kerr (pictured, left) is coming to Brighton tomorrow to help our local efforts: he'll be knocking on doors as well as delivering Green Party leaflets, trying to persuasde people that voting Green here in Brighton is the progressive, and realistic choice. If my son's up for a bit of 'posting', I look forward to joining him on the doorstep myself.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Latest school results make clearest case yet for nationalising private schools

Today's Argus reports that three Brighton and Hove state schools - Portslade Community College, Falmer High School, and Hove Park School - have been named as being among the worst in the entire country.

That's not really fair. Parents and pupils will be alarmed, and they needn't be, really. There are all sorts of reasons why performance, measured in terms of exam results alone, don't really provide a very useful measure of whether a school is a good one or a bad one.  All three serve socially mixed areas, with some pupils experiencing serious deprivation, in areas of the city where the cost of living is high yet wages are low. All three schools have undergone massive management disruption this year - and all three are improving. That's not to say they shouldn't improve more - and quickly: of course they should. That needs an injection of cash - and of course Brighton Council and the Government should find it.

But the same Argus story reveals one reason why the divide between the richest and the poorest is growing wider every year: the privately-run Brighton College has been named as one of the best in the country.

By my sums, enrolling a child at Brighton College  for the length of a school career costs just over £150,000. For that money, you'll buy not just smaller class sizes and better facilities but, it seems, better chances of doing well in your exam, and, probably, a longer life and higher future earnings into the bag. It hardly seems fair, does it?

What am I supposed to say to my five-year-old son when he asks why he can't go to the school over the road (I live opposite Brighton College) - but instead has to get the bus to Coombe Road every morning? 'Oh well, son, you can't go there because I'm not rich enough: sorry! By the way, it's not just that you've got a longer trip to school that's the issue - you'll almost certainly do worse in your exams too...'

I think the sooner the state has the courage to nationalise private schools - just as it has done, to excellent effect, in parts of Canada - and make them available to everyone, at the same time as massively increasing investment in every school to ensure all pupils can enjoy the very best (yes it'll cost a bit more but it seems the government can find the billions alright when it wants to, say, bail out the banks, or fund an immoral war, or an outdated nuclear deterrent, or the latest hair-brained scheme they dream up in Whitehall).

Funding for improving education, and stamping out the inequalities in society promoted by hiving off the wealthiest kids, often those with most to contribute to everyone else's education too, out of the state system? Is that really that extreme a solution?

The latest plan to lock up children on the basis of their nationality here in Sussex

Today I have come, thanks to the inspiring Brighton No Borders group, across plans by the owner of a 225-room hotel in Crawley to convert the site to the town's third immigration detention centre.

The building's owner hopes to makes a few quid by downgrading the rooms from business traveller use to detain children and families awaiting deportation.

Detention is no place for children awaiting deportation - whatever the details of any individual case children should never have their basic human rights (in this case  to liberty itself) denied simply on the basis of their nationality.

Locking up foreign children is perfectly legal - thanks to the deeply illiberal approach of this Government: indeed it  sits neatly alongside the ID-Card scheme, the use of full-body scanners at airports and the shocking fact that there are more CCTV cameras per person in Labour's UK than anywhere on earth.

If I'm elected to parliament I promise to use whatever means I can to seek an early repeal of this policy's legal basis, and indeed the Government's whole misguided approach to security and immigration. I'm with Benjamin Franklin when he famously said that those societies that limit civil liberties in the pursuit of improved security deserve neither.

Meanwhile, I urge Crawley Borough Council to reject the associated planning application - which include an external 5.2m high wire mesh and razor wire fence and extensive floodlighting and CCTV camera system on 6m high posts - when it meets to consider them on 25 January, and Arora Hotels International to withdraw its bid to make money from the whole murky business of locking up children.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Brighton Council leader earns us a Private Eye 'Rotten Boroughs' entry - again!

I do hope no-one accuses me of negative campaigning for posting this - but it made me laugh out loud and I thought it might make you chuckle too. It's from Private Eye, and I've shamelessly lifted it from their pages, but (Eye lawyers please note!) it's a free advert for an excellent magazine, not theft of copyrighted material. So please go and buy a copy. Of course if the notoriously litigious Eye staff disagree with my interpretation, I hope they'll let me know and I'll take the carton down.

Inside Venezuela's Revolution - Brighton film showing with leading Green politician

A rare chance to hear some of the stories from the everyday folk living in Chavez's Venezuala comes to Brighton next Wednesday (January 20th) in the shape of 'Inside the Revolution', a feature length documentary being shown, from 6.30pm, at the Friends Meeting House on Ship Street -  check out the trailer here:

'Inside the Revolution' comes with high praise from radical journalist John Pilger, who describes Venezuela as a country in 'extraordinary transition'.

"Watch this film because it is honest and fair and respectful of those who want to be told the truth about an epic attempt, flaws and all, to claim back the humanity of ordinary people," he says.

Former Green Party Principal Speaker Derek Wall (pictured right), himself a veteran Venezuela-watcher and committed Green socialist, will join director Pablo Navarette to introduce the film, and be on hand to answer audience questions afterwards. Gotta be worth £4, I reckon.

More cheery news from the electoral frontline

Cheery news again today: an influential local political blogger has speculated that the best way to keep the Tories out in Brighton Kemptown could be for Labour and Lib-Dem supporters to vote for yours truly in this year's election.

The Brighton Politics Blog argues that the Greens could pull off the shock of the 2010 General Election by winning not just in Brighton Pavilion, but here in Brighton Kemptown too.

Is it possible? In short , yes!

I have long argued that a Green vote in Kemptown is the progressive choice, and the one most likely to prevent the Tories picking up the seat.

Personally, I’m not a great fan of the tactical voting approach. It’s just too negative, I feel, to vote for the candidate most likely to beat the one you like least.

I prefer the version of democratic engagement in which voters choose the candidate they’d most like to be their MP, regardless of how that will affect other candidates – and I hope, just as we managed in Queen’s Park in 2007, we can convince previous supporters of all parties (and none) to trust an increasingly experienced, locally-focused and genuinely progressive Green Party candidate to do the job.

For me, the question I think voters should be asking themselves is: which candidate will do the best job of representing local interests, whatever happens nationally?

Monday, 11 January 2010

National media begin predicting a Green Party win here in Brighton...

Regular readers of this blog will know I've been predicting that England's first Green Party MP wil be elected here in Brighton for ages.

For several months the bookies have agreed - making Caroline Lucas the favourite to win in Brighton Pavilion.

Last month the first independent poll said the same thing, with ICM reporting the Green Party had an eight-point lead over its nearest rival, the Tory Charlotte Vere, and was a full 10-points ahead of Labour's Nancy Platts.

And today, the national media has begun to catch up, with The Independent reporting the ICM poll under the headline: 'Poll Surge suggests Greens On Course For First Commons Seat'.

The New Statesman mentions the poll this week too, in a piece about Labour's uneasy relationship with the trade union movement.

Of course, as they say, there's only one poll that counts - but, as local commentator Brighton Politics Blog says, Caroline definitely has the wind in her sails at the moment. Remember, you heard it here first!

UPDATE: Tory Blogger Iain Dale has come out for Caroline to win in Brighton Pavilion...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Pensioners are tackling poverty by burning books to keep warm

Every once in a while I come across a news story that makes me do a genuine double-take - and this week's news that some pensioners are handling the cold weather, and the high cost of fuel,  by burning books to keep warm, certainly came into that category.

Of course books, especially hard-backs, make excellent fuel in an open fire, and there's certainly no shortage of them (yet!) - just look in any charity shop window - but the real story here is the grinding fuel poverty faced by thousands of older people.

A story of such symbolic magnitude really ought to shame the Government into taking some urgent action to help people on low incomes heat their homes. 

With the coldest winter in 40 years upon us, more and more people are finding it difficult to keep their homes warm. The truth is that average household energy bills have more than doubled in the past five years, but energy companies are making record profits. 

Greens want to see the government take immediate action in two key ways:

- A windfall tax on energy companies to increase funding available for domestic energy efficiency measures

- Obligations on energy companies to automatically offer older people on low incomes lower social tariffs to help bring bills down

Last winter saw 36,700 excess winter deaths, an increase of nearly 50 per cent on the previous year and the highest for a decade. With temperatures reaching record lows, this tragic figure is likely to worsen this time around.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Tory mismanagement costs Brighton Council £1m

The mind truly boggles sometimes.

Economic times are hard for us all, Brighton businesses are struggling, unemployment is on the rise - and the council is frittering money away: about £1m so far this year, and it's only the second week of January!

On Monday we learned that the local taxpayer is going to have to meet the costs of a new £500,000 caretaker's cottage at the Falmer Academy - because the council demolished the old one by accident.

And next week the cabinet looks set to give the go-ahead to a £1m facelift of a city centre car park, half of the costs of which were only deemed necessary after work had already started.

Is it just me, or do the council's political masters and mistresses seem completely incompetent here?  The Falmer Academy looks set to be a disaster for the council: already staff are up in arms about pay, the bills are mounting up and academics and teachers seem to be queueing up to criticise the plans. It seems it's not just the children of Moulsecomb and Coombe Road who will end up paying the price for this privatisation fiasco.

And as for the car park? Couldn't the council find a better way to promote sustainable transport in the city?

Sooner or later voters will kick these idiots out of office in favour of a Green Party administration - and when they do I promise this: there will be no more academy schools in Brighton, no privatisation of essential services, no demolition of perfectly good cottages, and a  sustainable transport plan for the city that sees our dependence on ever-more car journeys into the centre banished back into twentieth century where it belongs. We need better, and more affordable, publicly-owned public transport - and improved facilities for cyclists and pedestrians before we spent vast sums of tapayers' cash on car parks.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Council and Government gang up to rewrite - and deny - local history

Yes, you read it right, but we're not talking about a Stalinist attempt to change our records of the way things used to be (who did what to who, when, and so on) just the far simpler job of making sure that records aren't kept, and that, where they do exist, public access to them is systematically denied - all in the name of saving cash, either to fund tax cuts for the most well off, or just to pay for something else.

Either way, it's an appalling deriliction of duty. The case for history has been well made: perhaps my favourite attempt was George Santayana, when he famously observed that if we don't learn from history's mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.

There have been three direct attempts to limit our access to history in recent week - and all should be resisted.

Firstly, the East Sussex Archive was denied £20,000 in funding for a new public access centre to local records for Brighton and surrounding towns ans villages going back hundreds of years. The cash was diverted to help pay for the London Olympics instead.

Then came the University of Sussex's scheme to sack 115 staff and lecturers in its latest bid to dig istelf out of a finacial hole - this would effectively meant an end to the teaching of any European history before the 20th century on campus. Very New Labour.

And now Brighton City Council has come up with an awful plan to close Brighton History Centre to save a few quid - and on the discriminatory grounds that it is mainly used by older residents.

Whether it be to trace family history, as a resource for historians, or as a low-cost way for people to look into their past, the History Centre is clearly important to many people.

The users of the Centre clearly get a lot out of their visits, including the help they get from the staff, who will all lose their jobs under the proposals.

Of course closing the centre will save the council a few quid but it will see the loss of yet another small, but significant, public service.

I think the bigger problem is that many people do not know where the Centre is, or even that it exists  - and the solution is to publicise and improve the facility, making it easier to use for all.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tory big guns head for Brighton

Yesterday, it is widely reported, the Tories had a 'mass canvass' here in Brighton Kemptown. Some of their sitting MPs, and supporters from elsewhere in the country, braved the wintry weather for a day out by the seaside - and were met by a handful of local Tories (they really do exist, apparently, even here in Kemp Town!) when they got here.

Some local residents were pleased to see them, I'm told - some less so, but either way it shows that Lord Ashcroft - or whoever's making the big strategic decisions at Tory HQ in London - reckons it's all to play for here Brighton Kemptown.

Nothing's in the bag here - and that's why everyone seems to be trying so hard.

But to be honest no-one I meet on the doorstep is very interested in a few visiting MPs. It's policies they want to hear about, policies that will make Britain a fairer place in the long-term, policies that will create jobs, cut climate change emissions, protect our much-loved public services - and defend local interests here in Brighton. I can't therefore imagine the big guns' flying visit will have made much difference.

Poor old Charlotte Vere must be feeling a bit dejected about it all though: Brighton Pavilion wasn't on the list of key marginals singled out for national attention - and given that the sitting MP's Labour, and the Greens are ahead in the polls - it looks like she's been abandoned and won't be benefiting from Ashcroft's millions, or Cameron's campaigning, at all.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Great election video from Norwich

This video is great - and not entirely irrelevant here in Brighton Kemptown, either. So I thought I'd post it here.

Council gritting failure costing Brighton businesses dear

Every week the e-newsletter of the Brighton and Hove Business Forum drops into my inbox - and every week I spend a few minutes reading the stories and looking at the figures showing how many shoppers have visited the city - and what this means for local traders.

There are always links to interesting articles relevant to local traders, employers - and, of course, the staff and workers 'servicing' them. Here's a perfect example from today's edition - an analysis of high wages from the New Economic Foundation arguing that increasing pay for the lowest paid adds more social value than boosting the salaries of the highest paid (obvious really: when I learned economics at school this was simply called the law of diminishing returns). It's this type of analysis that feeds directly into Brighton Green Party's Living Wage campaign that argues the national minimum wage is simply insufficient to live on here - and for the city's lowest-paid to receive a pay boost of about £2-an-hour (subsidised in part by capping the salaries of the most grossly overpaid public servants).

But I digress. I could hardly believe it this morning when I opened my newsletter up this morning to read that footfall in Brighton - that's the number of people out and about here doing their shopping - was down by almost 50% on last year in the run-up to Christmas. For good or ill - that's supposed to be the busiest time of the year for retailers and local traders!

It seems it's not just the hundreds of residents who suffered broken bones on the icy pavements who were let down by the council  - it's local businesses too. The only good news about any of this is that Green Party calls for a full investigation into what went wrong have now been heeded - and, with ever more chaotic weather a near-certainty in future years, there is some hope that the council might learn a lesson or two in how to cope with it.