Thursday, 30 October 2008

Workfare is not the answer — Anne Gray, Green Party Candidate for Tottenham

'Writing Off Workfare: For a Green New Deal, not the Flexible New Deal' is the Green Party's response to the government's 'public consultation' on welfare reform.
The Green Party proposes a non-means-tested Citizen's Income that would free people to help disabled and elderly relatives, and to take odd jobs or voluntary work, which many unemployed people need to do without being punished for breaking JSA rules. It also makes a detailed critique of the government’s proposals based on recent academic research – much of which the government has ignored – and the actual experiences of people on benefits.

The Welfare Reform Green Paper, 'No One Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility' seems unduly influenced by large companies that see the privatisation of job centre services as big business. The consultation asks 29 questions, none of which are addressed to the impact of growing global recession and diminishing global resources upon employment. The Green Paper puts forward many new obligations for claimants – including working for nothing more than benefits – but hardly any incentives or new money for the unemployed. Instead it offers new business opportunities for private ‘providers’ of back-to-work services, some of whom will be big multinationals. It strips benefit claimants of what little bargaining power they have, both against these ‘providers’ and against employers offering unreasonable conditions.

The 'Green New Deal ' adopted by the Green Party at its Autumn Conference advocates a 'green jobs' programme. These would be real jobs at real wages, many created by local authorities, highlighting work which will help to avert climate change and extensive training in construction and engineering skills. The government has since seized upon the energy saving ideas of the Green New Deal but not its redistributive aspects – a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, and a rise in benefits for the poor.
The Green Party opposes work-for-benefit schemes and the privatisation of back-to-work services, which would hand money to shareholders rather than help the unemployed. The government’s proposals would impose workfare with payment of £1.70 per hour on anyone who couldn’t find a job within two years. Many lone parents and people with health problems are in this position through no fault of theirs. The Green Party shows how they – and other future victims of the recession – would suffer under the government’s proposals for workfare and for tougher benefit rules.

Anne Gray (pictured above), co-author of the consultation response, said: "Workfare is collective punishment of the unemployed. What they need is real jobs and real training. Our plans would focus on giving unwaged people the money and the jobs they need, not on spending a fortune to enable big companies to make money out of policing the unemployed

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Interview: Anne Gray - Green Party Candidate for Tottenham Parliamentary Constituency

How long have you been a Green Party member and what is your political background?

I joined just in time to do election work for the Euro elections in 2004. I was a member of the Labour Party briefly in 1984-5, and the Communist Party in the 1970s, but I have had a lifetime of activity in various non-party movements, starting with CND as a teenager. In recent years I've mainly been involved with campaigning about benefits for unemployed people which linked with my academic research work, and campaigning against the anti-terrorism laws which are really a disaster for civil liberties. I've also been working with the Sustainable Haringey Network, mainly on food policy issues, and we have started a food coop to give people a chance to reduce 'food miles' and buy organic at affordable prices . And I've also been working with the local campaign to preserve the Health Service, because the 'polyclinics' proposal is really privatisation by stealth, and the American multi-nationals could take over quite a lot of our doctors.

Can we avoid climate change disaster?

Only if we try pretty hard. The scientific predictions get worse every time they hit the Guardian. But we just have to try - otherwise the consequences are unthinkable - with the ice caps melting and rising sea levels, Bangladesh and the Netherlands would drown, and many coastal cities across the world, including London and particularly parts of the Lee Valley up to Tottenham, would go the way of New Orleans. And as someone who feels the cold a lot, I dread the end of the Gulf Stream which keeps our country warm in winter - but it could happen as the Arctic ice shrinks. To avoid disaster, as books like Monbiot's 'Heat' have warned us, we need a very drastic cut in transport-related emissions, particularly in flying and private car use, but also in lorry traffic and shipping, and we need to stop using fossil fuels for heat and power. Britain is said to be the Saudi Arabia of wind power, and manufacturing both of turbines and of solar power gear would be something the government could invest in right now as a way of beating the recession. The predictions about what happens to the climate if we do nothing are dire, but the scenarios for cutting back CO2 emissions if we do the right things actually make saving the planet sound quite feasible - we could get it right if we take all the steps that people like Zero Carbon Britain or the transition towns movement are advocating.

What individual things have you done to reduce your carbon footprint?

I haven't had a car since 1989. I cycle where I can, though the roads aren't that friendly. I have solar power on my roof, lots of roof insulation and double glazing. I try not to put the central heating on till November unless it's really cold - having been brought up with 1950s heating systems, I'm used to wearing big jumpers at home. And I try not to fly - overnight train and boat journeys can be fun and more relaxed than all that boring airport security. Though I did get stuck in the French railway strike whilst trying to go to a conference in Italy last year, which wasn't that clever.

What is your view on the current financial crisis?

The gut reaction is shoot the bankers, but I don't believe in the death penalty and anyway a couple of my friends work in the City. We do need strong powers against economic sabotage and whilst some journalists had a go at the government for using anti-terrorism powers to seize the assets of the Icelandic bank which holds Haringey's (and other councils') payroll funds, to me it seemed the only sensible use of these seizure powers to date. I call it economic sabotage when greed has led banks, which means the people who work in them , to take unreasonable risks with other people's money. We need to understand what's at the bottom of the crisis, how to deal with it, and how to make sure it doesn't happen again. The root of the problem is a capitalist system in which markets are somehow sacred and people are allowed to pursue their own financial interest in thoroughly unproductive ways. So much of the British - and especially the London - economy is about making money from money, which actually creates nothing useful, just a transfer from borrower (often poor) to lenders (that's shareholders and big-bonus bank staff - often wealthy). The banks made lots of money in recent years by lending to borrowers who were 'bad risks' so that those people and companies could drive up the price of homes, in the process giving a bonus to the 'haves' and making life more difficult for 'have nots' who couldn't afford to buy a home. The banks abandoned the old practice of rationing mortages to one home per household, which if you think about it must have helped to keep house prices down a bit. 'Buy to let' is basically more risky than 'buy to live in' because the lettings market or the tenant's ability to pay can go wrong, as well as the borrower's solvency. The regulators - especially in the USA, where the rot started - didn't stop the banks being greedy and lending too widely. But the regulators here turned a blind eye too, even when it became apparent that some banks, like Northern Rock, were taking too big a risk both about who they lent to and where they got the money to lend out - Northern Rock had only 27% of its funds from savers and the rest from short-term money markets where the price of funds could go up suddenly.

Now the system is in a real mess. Billions of taxpayers' money has been handed out to banks in rescue loans and share purchases. What happens to public finances if it doesn't get paid back ? However this has shown up the government's attitudes on a lot of important things it might have borrowed for in the recent past - it's as though it's ok to provide welfare for the bankers but the unemployed, the sick, decent elder care, the inner city schools are apparently 'unaffordable'. The government could have got much tougher about the conditions of the rescues, demanding much more long term control and a limitation of pay, pensions and bonuses, in some cases big fines I would say, for the senior bank staff who took bad decisions.

Clearly the recession has begun, and so has the slide in the value of people's savings and pension funds, which is going to be especially bad for a lot of older people. As the economy goes down, we shall need to struggle hard to preserve public services and the value of benefits and pensions, and demand that the rich pay up in terms of taxes and special levies of various kinds. Some of this could come from new taxes on real estate - not capital gains, because those are done for, but the actual capital values of homes and other buildings which are still huge in posh parts of London. Despite the recent fall-back of the oil price, we should still call for a windfall tax on energy profits.

Green economic policies will really score in a recession. Caroline Lucas already helped to launch the Green New Deal, a great programme for creating jobs in sensible ways which will help against climate change. But if we get a serious recession (or even if we don't), there are many ideas in the green economics tradition which are helpful. LETS schemes, based on bartering each others' labour, can help local people make do if there are no jobs. Credit unions are a way of creating our own cooperative mini-banks, under depositors' control, and providing low or no-interest loans to individuals or businesses. They're rather like the original British building societies or the cooperative credit schemes which are familiar to Caribbean, African and Pakistani traditions. For example we could set up credit clubs to finance solar power, or home repairs, or build greenhouses - all of which would help create jobs. Local food production, which is what we are working for in Sustainable Haringey, could provide food security if imported food becomes unaffordable or even unavailable because of high transport costs or credit problems.

What are the issues you plan to stand on at the 2010 Haringey council and General Elections?

We live in a time of crisis and it partly depends on the next two years' events. But amongst my priorities would be peace (if we are still, heaven help us, shamed by our government's share in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan), opposing privatisation of public services especially health, and getting decent wages and benefits. Tottenham is one of the worst places in the country for child poverty and we need to work hard on that whether or not we get elected. I've just been writing a Green Party response to the government's consultation on welfare reform, criticising their workfare proposals which are pretty much the opposite of our approach to benefits - the Green ideal is a basic income for everyone whether they work or not, rather like a child benefit for adults. The whole benefits system needs re-vamping to make it easier for people to work a bit when they can, not lose all their benefits or be prosecuted for fraud because they do two weeks work when something like decorating for a friend is all they can get. A lot of unwaged people could benefit from going to college for a year, or two or three, but the JSA rules don't permit them. At least we could push to make Tottenham a pilot area for some special schemes, because of its extreme situation.

What kind of result do you expect in these elections?

We stand a reasonable chance in Stroud Green and Haringay wards if we can get to talk to enough voters.

It would be a miracle if the Green Party won either Haringey constituency in the general election. But I think that's not the point, or not all of the point. We know the other parties feel threatened by the Green Party's arguments on climate change, and so they start to take up our policies. It would be a victory if they did the same about privatisation and about getting out of Iraq. And the larger the vote for the Greens - though the same would apply to any small party - the stronger the argument for proportional representation. It's when we have that key change in the voting system that British politics will become much more democratic and then Greens will really surge forward.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Jean Lambert MEP Addresses Haringey Greens

Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP for London addressed the October meeting of Haringey Green Party. She explained something of the workings of the European Parliament and its relationship with the Commission and the Council of Ministers. The Parliament has stronger powers when it comes to the environment and employment issues, as co-decision making is required. That is, agreement needs to be reached by Parliament and the Council of Ministers (made up of national government ministers).

Asked about her greatest achievement as a MEP, Jean said that as a member of the Employment and Social Affairs committee she has successfully pushed the Green Jobs agenda, particularly linking training to climate change. Jean has made strong links with the European Trade Unions Federation and there is much interest in taking this forward. Jean has a good track record on employment issues and also pursuing issues associated with asylum seekers and human rights.

Jean thinks that the current financial crisis may provide an opportunity for change, but there is also a risk that a jobs first and economy first mentality may overshadow the environment and a sustainable future.

In the 2009 European Parliament elections, London representatives will be reduced from 9 to 8, due to European expansion to the east. Jean finished 8th in 2004 but we will need to put in every effort if she is to be re-elected next year.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Alexandra Ward By-election Result

LIB DEM 1460 - 50%

LAB 772 - 26%

CON 443 - 15%

GREEN 221 - 7.5%

BNP 27 - 0.9%

T/O 35%

Yesterday’s by-election in the Haringey ward of Alexandra saw the Lib Dems retain their council seat by a comfortable margin. This was the expected result and demonstrates that they are still strong in the west of the borough.

James Patterson, the Green Party candidate achieved a respectable 7.5% of the poll, and this was only pulled off with a lot of hard work put in by James, pounding the streets and knocking on doors. By-elections are always tough for the greens, as the bigger parties can concentrate their resources on one ward, often bringing in people from all around London, to help them campaign. All in all, not a bad result for us.

The same cannot be said for the British National Party, who polled only 27 votes, a tiny 0.9% of the total vote. Recently they polled only 29 votes in neighbouring Hampstead, so they are pretty irrelevant in this part of north London. Well done to the voters of Alexandra, for rejecting the BNP’s brand of populist immigrant bashing, so soundly.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Community Unites Against the BNP

Around sixty residents of Alexandra ward, Haringey met last night in St Andrew’s church hall, to express their opposition to the British National Party, who are standing a candidate in next week’s by-election in the ward.

The meeting was called by Haringey Trades Union Council, Haringey UNISON and Haringey Federation of Residents Associations to encourage and support local people in opposing racism and fascism. They delivered a leaflet to all households in the ward, urging a rejection of the BNP.

The BNP have never stood in Haringey elections before, and although in the recent GLA London wide member election they attracted only 49 votes from the ward, many present felt that we should not be complacent.

Haringey greens had a strong presence at the meeting. David Rennie (pictured above) spoke of the dangers of racism spreading through our community which has enjoyed racial harmony. He said, 'the BNP's obsession with immigrants, is ridiculous in so far as we are all immigrants – out of Africa. That most of us here have white faces is a minor matter of climate: we evolved white skin to get more Vitamin D from the sun.' Kathryn Dean pointed out that many white working class residents felt that they had no effective electoral representation, and are concerned with issues like housing. It is all too easy for the BNP to whip up tensions in the community.

Pete McAskie, Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, worried about the publicity that the local press had afforded to the BNP candidate in the forthcoming by-election. This was echoed by James Patterson, Green Party candidate in the Alexandra ward by-election, when he said ‘The BNP thrive upon controversy and publicity of any sort’.

The meeting resolved to deliver a second leaflet to residents of the ward, and to organise other protests against the fascists.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Sarah Mitchell in The Telegraph

Sarah Mitchell, Haringey Green Party member is featured in The Daily Telegraph fashion pages.
Is there a stereotype of a Green? Yes! Sandal-wearing, beardy men. It's completely out of date and it's actually quite fun to confound people's expectations because if they've got a particular stereotype in their minds they can dismiss you
How important is image to a politician? Even people who say they don't judge on appearances do to some extent. The fact is, people are interested in the personal lives of politicians and what they wear is a good indicator of what they're like as a person
Is it harder for female politicians to get it right? There is a real double standard in politics. Men can just wear a suit, whereas what women wear is scrutinised - remember when Theresa May's shoes made front-page news?
Describe your own style Vintage. I go for a 1950s look. I got married earlier this year in a 1950s cocktail dress. I really love the feminine, flattering shapes
Do you adapt your wardrobe for work? I wouldn't have worn a really bright vintage dress to speak at conference. I was standing for national campaigns co-ordinator and I think people would have been thinking about what I was wearing rather than what I was saying
What did you wear? A smart jacket from M&S, a box-pleat skirt from Zara and a 1950s red polka-dot blouse. So I got my little signature bits in there but wasn't totally outlandish.When I came off stage some people complimented me on my speech, others on my lipstick and glasses

Tottenham Food Coop

A non-profit food market based on volunteer labour and sustainable food:-* organic dry goods like beans, rice, couscous, flour and dried fruit at wholesale prices* a place to buy and sell fruit and veg from your garden or allotment* good value fresh organic fruit and veg from farm suppliers close to London (cut those food miles !)* fair trade organic tea supplied by Indian farmers through a non-profit importer called 'Just Change'* fair trade organic Palestinian olive oil from the Zaytoun coop
Come to the Tottenham Food Coop’s next sales day on Saturday 1st Novemeber, 12 noon till 3pm at Broadwater Farm Community Centre, Adams Road, N.17.
Please bring your own bags. Our policy is to minimise packing materials.
Can I sell too ?
Yes please! Let’s have those home grown apples, courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins, home made jam, cakes, pickles. You can sell for charities or make a bit of money.
Contact details below.
How to get there
The Community Centre is at the end of Adams Road, next to Lordship Recreation Ground. Enter the park from Lordship Lane; follow path along the left (east) side of the park and turn left towards the estate; the centre is the first building. W4 or 123 bus from Tottenham High Road, Bruce Grove or Wood Green/Turnpike Lane. W4 goes along the edge of the Broadwater Farm estate. From west Haringey, take W3 or 144 along Lordship Lane.
Who’s running the coop ?Tottenham Food Coop is a Back to Earth Project in partnership with Sustainable Haringey and Broadwater Farm Community CentreA few volunteers (connected to ‘Sustainable Haringey’) started it off in July. We need more people to help with sales and ordering.
Could you sometimes give an hour or two especially on a Saturday, to make sure we keep going and expand to weekly sales?Get involved in the coop and help develop its plans
Food coop contactsE-mail Information about the coop will regularly be put on the internet as things develop at the Sustainable Haringey web site - google Sustainable Haringey if you don't already know it (then click ‘food’ under ‘working groups’ on left of page, then ‘Tottenham Food Coop’).Phone: Anne Gray on 07791 904375 (but not Oct 3 to 16) or Shelly Fennell 0208 444 4500