Tag Archives: Labour

Space4Cycling in Crystal Palace

I’m supporting the Space4Cycling campaign in the Crystal Palace ward, where I’m standing for the Green Party.

I often cycle up and down Anerley Hill on the way to work. It’s a steep bit of road, difficult for those of us who aren’t zipping up to Cadence every weekend on expensive road bikes. Cycling uphill without wavering a little is hard work, so providing some protected space at the expense of a little car parking makes perfect sense.

Of course some people who currently park their cars there will lose out. But I want to see streets in Crystal Palace, London, the whole of the UK transformed to serve the needs of people on foot, bike and public transport, and this can only happen at the expense of cars because we have limited road space.

The alternative is to leave almost 20,000 vehicles a day trundling along Anerley Hill, creating peak hour traffic jams. This level of traffic is responsible for illegal levels of air pollution, which will remain until at least 2020 if we don’t do something drastic. Find out more about this here. If you walk down to Anerley Road on a school day, you’ll see dozens of children buying fast food, but very few on bikes. Designing roads for cars at the expense of bikes is unhealthy and bad for the environment.

I would also like to introduce 20mph limits on far more roads in the area, particularly for rat runs like Thicket Road, introduce ‘filtered permeability’ to more roads to reduce traffic, and fix the various barriers, potholes and speed humps that make cycling through Crystal Palace Park confusing and unpleasant.

I want to make it easy, safe and pleasant for everyone to cycle in Crystal Palace, whether they’re an 8 year old going to school in the morning, or a fit 80 year old heading up the hill to the shops.

Some thoughts on the Space4Cycling campaign

I think this new campaign from the LCC and all the local cycling groups is brilliant. It is showing yet again that cyclists can be mobilised to make their voices heard in the democratic system, and I only hope it has a big an impact on local councillors as their lobbying of the London Assembly has had.

I also hope that councillors elected in May honour their promises. I do wonder at the Labour councillors signing up in Southwark, a borough I used to live in and cycle through every day. The council has spent four years doing next to nothing for cyclists, while scrapping the London Cycle Network from its Transport Plan and actually removing cycle lanes from busy roads.

As the Stop the Killing campaign found, many other councils are just as bad. Are all these candidates honestly going to push for the cyclists’ proposals having failed to do so in the past four years? One can only hope.

My one other reservation is that it is difficult for smaller parties and independent candidates to get onto the site. For those who have never fought an election, I can assure you that it’s a huge challenge for small parties dependent on volunteers with full-time jobs just to get all the paperwork in to the returning officer, let alone get a list of candidates out to anyone who asks and respond to lots of lobbying requests.

This campaign web site has been live for some time now, and while very well organised parties can get their candidate lists out nice and early, many others won’t have a final list until nominations close next week.

At the moment, the web site gives a very poor impression of the Green Party, for example, even though we have consistently been the most pro-bike party in the capital. That isn’t just my biased opinion, it was also the view of the Londoners on Bikes campaign in the 2012 elections.

So at the time of writing over 12,000 people will have contacted an incomplete set of candidates, and might think the missing candidates and parties have nothing to say about cycling. I hope you, dear reader, will bear that in mind and hold off sending your lobbying email for a couple of weeks.

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A defence of ideology

A defence of ideologyOne of the many abuses of the English language in mainstream political parlance is the denigration of ideology.

Defending his government’s cuts to public spending, David Cameron wrote in 2011 that:

This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country’s problems, not by ideology.

More recently, Nick Clegg attacked Michael Gove’s education policies as ideological, reportedly saying:

Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education

In fact, Nick Clegg really appears to have it in for ideology because he attacks it all the time. He said a couple of weeks ago:

I don’t take an ideological approach to public spending.

But it isn’t just our dear leaders trying to avoid the whiff of ideology. You hear it all the time – the Government’s cuts are “ideological” (i.e. bad), the Green Party’s opposition to nuclear is “ideological” (i.e. invalid). Just as Cameron denied the charge, Greens sometimes protest that their opposition to nuclear power isn’t ideological.

Hang on a second, aren’t they all involved in politics?

My concise Oxford English Dictionary defines ideology as:

a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy

Surely David Cameron should be guided by a system of political and economic theories and beliefs when deciding what this country’s problems are, and how to deal with them? Surely Nick Clegg’s opposition to Michael’s Gove’s policies stems in part from his ideology, and one would hope his approach to public spending would follow his liberal ideology and not whatever “commonsense” notion struck him at each meeting?

The Green Party’s opposition to nuclear power is absolutely ideological. A core tenet of the party’s ideology is putting power, be it electrical or economic, into the hands of the people, not corporations. Corporate power tends to be unaccountable, to act in its own interests, to lie and dissemble when it has done something wrong. Nuclear power can only be run either by the state or corporations, and is largely run by the latter. Another core tenet, coming from our ecological roots, is valuing diversity and resilience. Staking a very large share of our energy future on one technology supplied by a couple of companies in a dozen or so plants that need fuel from a handful of countries doesn’t seem to fit the bill. The party aims for peace and nuclear disarmament, so any move by the UK government that would put more potential weapon material into the world, and that would legitimate nuclear weapons programmes in countries like Iran, should be opposed. So the Green Party prefers a diverse mix of renewable energy technologies that can be owned by individuals, community-led companies, councils, small enterprises and, yes, big companies who build massive offshore wind farms.

To my mind, it is our ideological objections to nuclear power that are our strongest arguments. I’ve never been able to get my head around the comparative costs, and I’ve never wanted to cobble together information about safety that I don’t understand. But I don’t trust nuclear PLC as far as I can throw them, and if we can do without nuclear then I’m ideologically opposed to it.

The most infuriating example of this ideology denial is the claim that “it’s just about supply and demand”. I see this all the time on Twitter and on blogs, whenever anybody has the cheek to write something more sophisticated than an A-level economics essay.

supplyanddemand

Apart from the fact that this is extremely simplistic economics, it is also very often used in an ideological fashion. For example, you see people saying that council housing is pointless because it is just trying to buck the market, and at the end of the day the housing problem just comes down to supply and demand. People making this argument will often claim that anyone who disagrees is both “economically illiterate” and “ideological”, as though an economic theory based on the logic of a free market that has no place for public housing isn’t ideological. A variant is that the planning system must be dismantled because it gets in the way of supply and so makes house prices high, as though there is no value to the planning system and no objective for housing policy besides affordable prices on the open market.

Of course, ideology can prevent people from finding shared ground. Many blame inflexible ideology for the state of affairs in American politics, illustrated by this neat cartoon:

ideology-is-the-source-of-political-gridlock-58326

But this is a defect of the political process and the entrenched positions of politicians who depend upon their extreme wings to win primary selection. It isn’t the fault of ideology per se.

Let’s not shy away from ideology, please. Let’s not pretend we are all pragmatists arguing over the best way to manage a one-party state. Let’s talk about our values, our beliefs, the theories that guide our decisions.

Addendum

This topic came up today in a conversation with a friend, Tom Hill. He suggested that “ideological” is often used to mean that somebody is ignoring, misrepresenting or lying about evidence to protect their own ideological position, as those who are pro or anti-nuclear are known to do from time to time! The same can be true of the reverse; somebody can try to pretend they are simply acting on evidence in order to cover their ideology, as Nick Clegg and David Cameron clearly seem to be doing in the above examples.

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Selecting a good politician

It’s selection time for the Green Party. In London we are voting not only on our list for the House of Lords (in case we get offered another seat there), but also for the London Assembly and Mayor. Since I work at the Assembly and I’ll be writing the manifesto for whichever people are chosen, I don’t want to endorse anyone here. But I do want to share a a few thoughts on what I’m looking for in a politician.

The most important thing for Greens to consider is that we will most likely only get one, two or three London Assembly members out of 25. There’s no room for colourful characters with narrow interests, bad tempers or a tendency for self indulgence. They need to be good communicators, both practical and radical, collegiate and disciplined.

We need to pick people who can get complicated and often innovative messages across to the mainstream media, to other politicians, to the public. It’s no use being Mr or Mrs Brains if you baffle people when you talk to them, or bore journalists with predictable soundbites. Politicians have staff to help with policy research and messaging, but nobody between them and their audience.

We rely on our Members to put across a good, rounded image of our party. Whatever your particular politics, will your choices show that the Green Party is both practical and radical, that we are able to achieve significant changes to Mayoral policy at the same time as advocating a radically different vision of London? Radical idealists might spend four wasted years making good speeches; practical realists might forget the reason they’re Green while working for minor concessions.

Our two/three members have, in the past, won a great many gains for London by working with other political parties and at times with the Mayor. The comparatively collegiate culture of the Assembly is one of the joys of working there. People who enjoy tribal politics, who thrive on factions and who find it difficult to work with others – especially if they’re those hated Lib Dems or “sell out” New Labourites, won’t get very far in the Assembly.

To focus on these basic political skills takes the final quality: discipline. Watching Caroline Lucas over the past few years, it’s been remarkable to see how hard she works to find realistic radical ideas, get them across to the public and the media in a compelling way, and work with NGOs, politicians across the political spectrum and anyone else willing to help her achieve our goals. To compare her to someone like George Galloway, who is an excellent speaker and fires a lot of people up, is to compare an effective small party politician to a character that can only be tolerated in a large party.

Of course this portrait of an effective small party politician reflects my politics; you may think we’re in this game for an entirely different reason. If you think there’s no progress without revolution or the Mayoralty, these reasons may not sway you.

It’s well worth actually watching the webcasts of a few Assembly meetings, perusing some committee reports and reading some press releases to get an idea of the work they do.

If you like the look of that work and can see its value, you might ask yourself: would this candidate be able to work cross-party on affordable housing funding and river deculverting, gain media coverage on these issues, and win some real gains for London?

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Why Ed should take a leaf out of the Green book

When I read the New Political Economy Network’s excellent pamphlet called ‘Britain’s Broken Economy’, my first thought was “that sounds just like our election manifesto, like the Green New Deal”. I span that thought out into this article for Bright Green Scotland… have a read and pass on to any Labour folk you happen to know.

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Ken vs. Oona – anything new?

Being a Green, I’m not following Labour’s hustings for their Mayor of London candidate too closely. But being a realistic left-of-centre Green, I’m hoping that either Ken or Oona get elected into City Hall in 2012.

Oona King hasn’t impressed me much so far. Her candidacy seems very light on detail, her policy pronouncements full of nice language but no specifics. As Martin Hoscik writes, Ken Livingstone is simply rehearsing his 2008 manifesto, with a few innovations (such as borrowing affordable housing money on the bond market) that are basically unfolding behind the scenes in City Hall already.

But on the BBC Politics Show on Sunday, King did get one impressive point in. Livingstone is basically gearing up for a re-run of the 1980s, when he battled with Thatcher from the GLC. He wants to fight, fight, fight every cut (transcript here). But as King pointed out, once the Mayor gets a cut-down grant she/he can’t do very much about it.

In the face of cuts beyond our control we need to innovate (whilst of course speaking out against the cuts and making them very uncomfortable for Lib Dem and Conservative MPs in London). King cited the example of co-operative home ownership, something I have recently worked on with Jenny Jones. I have also written in the past about opportunities for local communities to regenerate their area without waiting, cap in hand, for big chunks of government funding.

Given that Livingstone has jumped on the bond market bandwagon to raise money for affordable homes I hope he will use the next two years to take up other innovations, as King suggested. I also hope Oona King puts some substance behind her slightly vague but insightful suggestions.

A campaign of positive ideas for London’s very varied communities would be much more interesting, and beneficial to London, than two years of simply attacking the coalition Government’s disastrous budget.

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Why I could never vote for the Pirates

I’ve a lot of respect for anyone who steps up to run for election with a manifesto that, they genuinely hope, will improve the lot of their constituents. But aside from my obvious partisan reasons, I don’t think I could ever vote for a Pirate Party candidate in these forthcoming national and local elections.

I suspect I’m like the majority of people in that I really get put off by politicians saying “don’t vote for Party X or you’ll let Party Y in”, as though they’ve nothing more compelling to offer voters than “we’re not that lot”. Ultimately I would always want people to vote for the party they most support, give or take some tactical voting if they prefer. So if the Pirates are your bag then get involved with them.

But the Pirates are an unashamed single issue party. Their manifesto lays out a radical agenda for copyright, patents and online privacy. That’s an interesting proposition for an MEP who can take that militant approach in a very large Parliament. But MPs and councillors are constituency politicians, they need to represent and support people on every issue on the books with an open statement of their approach. If I were to vote for a Pirate, I’d want to know that they are concerned about the need for affordable homes, better partnership working to improve my town centre and urgent action on climate change. Even if I weren’t a committed Green, I’d want a local Pirate candidate to set her/his personal stall on those issues before they got my vote.

We Greens also have some good policy on these subjects, tying them into our wider approach to the economy, culture and government. When their grassroots and youth wing mobilise, the Lib Dems sometimes take these issues up, the Conservatives sometimes talk the talk and the split personality Labour government have made some good recent moves. I’d much rather vote for a candidate from a rounded party who also took the Pirates’ concerns seriously in these elections.

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The cost of housing doubles in London

Halifax have published a great little fact sheet on some key housing trends over the last 50 years. The most dramatic is that the cost of buying a home has risen 273% above incomes over that period, with the sharpest rise during the 2000s when they rose by 63%.

This is the increasing cost of housing adjusted for increases in income; or adjusting for inflation to state rises in real terms, for economists. Imagine if food or heating bills rose that quickly compared to incomes!

Whilst the property-owning journalists hail this rise in house prices, more and more people are squeezed out of the market, or forced to sacrifice huge chunks of their salary to repay mortgages.

Jenny Jones published a report on the housing crisis in London recently. She shows that over the past decade the cost of buying a home doubled in London, well above the national rise of 63%. This makes the misleading boasts of our Tory Mayor – as he fails to even meet his own modest housing targets – all the more sickening.

Unless we double the number of homes we build, which is pretty unlikely, or we make a radical shift away from home ownership, this trend is set to continue for another decade. But our Labour government and this Tory Mayor are both  committed to mostly building homes we have to buy, with a very small minority available for affordable rent, almost no land being held by communities to keep it affordable, and pretty much no support for alternative models like co-operatives.

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Can you balance right and wrong?

For your average closet climate change denier or otherwise-stuck-in-the-mud politician, the Balance is a great weapon to deploy against evidence-based policy. “Of course we want to tackle climate change”, the argument goes, “but we must strike a balance between this and [insert contradictory aim here]“.

If they understand the science of climate change, and have read the work of the Committee for Climate Change, they’d quickly realise they were asking for a balance between right and wrong, or more correctly and plainly for the wrong policy; you can’t really find a middle ground.

So lately we see lots of senior Tories running this trope in an attempt to rein in the green public face of the Conservative Party (despite the party demoting most of its green lights to the back benches). Riding the resurgence of denial in the Telegraph and Spectator, these MPs are boldly defending their right to ignorance. Three years after Stern put a conservative estimate on the cost of unchecked climate change at 20% of GDP, they decry mitigation efforts costing 2-5% of GDP which might “see the whole economy destroyed”, and call for a Balance to be struck.

It’s not just the neophyte Tories, either. In a London Assembly meeting today, Labour member Navin Shah joined the motorist lobby in pressing for weakened car parking controls in outer London. We need, he suggested, to strike a better balance between the needs of business and sustainable transport. Not the most exciting policy, I’ll warrant. But half an hour reading up on transport emissions would convince a moderately brainy 10 year old that we need to significantly reduce car usage in outer London; a further half hour would be enough to grasp that more car parking will do exactly the opposite. Promoting a balance between sustainable transport and business is nonsensical in the long term; the only option is to promote business within the constraint of sustainable transport policy.

It all brings to mind Ben Goldacre‘s rants against “humanities politicians and journalists” who have no proper training in the sciences or scientific method. Those politicians that want to put politics and economics before basic scientific evidence could take a lesson from Cnut, one of the wiser politicians to have graced this country.


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Dear Lily, culture is about more than cash

This video is just brilliant, it’s great to see ORG’s campaign against Labour’s absurd “three strikes” proposal picking up steam.

When I was more involved with the free culture movement I wrote my Masters thesis on a Lockean argument against Lily Allen’s view of copyright. The thing I love about the video is that it doesn’t just argue on the economics, as this brilliant essay on Liberal Conspiracy does quite effectively. No, he plays with – and demonstrates – the claim that culture should be something we all enjoy consuming, producing, sharing and learning from. He bought Lily Allen’s CD for his mum, which she loves, but that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

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Scrap those old boilers, politicians

This one is a no-brainer for blog action day. The UK’s Committee for Climate Change has called for it, Boris Johnson of all people includes it in his air quality strategy, and it will help people save money as energy bills rise.

The Government should set-up a boiler scrappage scheme (and you should sign the petition). Let people trade in old, inefficient boilers for new ones, or at least to get a massive discount. They did it for cars to help an ailing industry, why not do it with boilers to promote jobs across the country, cut carbon and help vulnerable households?

This fun little gimmick is of course one small piece of the unprecedented housing puzzle. How exactly do we cut emissions from heating, cooling and electricity by 90-100% across all the nation’s buildings in the next twenty to thirty years? The technical challenges are big enough, and with limp government exemplified by Labour up until a year or so ago – and matched by weak Conservative plans – getting the financing in place is a tricky subject.

But the hardest part will be selling it to the public. Loft insulation and new boilers are fine – more efficiency without visible changes. What about cladding that nice brick / pebbledash / stone house with external insulation? What about reducing some room sizes for internal wall cladding?

We need political parties that can implement this boiler scrappage scheme today, and begin to seriously address the wider challenge over the next two decades. We need MPs who are committed to a Green New Deal.

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