Sunday, 26 April 2009

Getting Neighbourly

Haringey Green Party members Sarah Cope, Pete McAskie, Mary Hogan and Anna Bragga in deepest Stroud Green!

Yesterday I attended the Stroud Green Neighbourhood Day along with several other members of Haringey Green Party. It was organised by Stroud Green Residents' Association, and the sun shone all afternoon.

It was a great opportunity to meet local people, hear about their involvement in the community and find out more about the area. We had a guided tour of the Granville Road Spinney, a small wood which is an oasis of calm for local residents. There’s a wonderful mix of trees including plum, cherry, hornbeam, hazel and willow. There’s also a range of other woodland flowers, including ramsons and three-cornered leek. We sampled several edible plants including wild garlic.

The Police were there in the shape of the ward’s Safer Neighbourhoods team. We chatted with them for quite a while about issues in the local area and improving police presence on the streets. It seems that the team really want to continue to build up a good relationship with residents, which has to be positive.

It is great that these neighbourhood days are happening across the borough. I am currently organising the annual gardening day on my housing estate in Highgate – always a productive, enjoyable and sociable occasion.

By getting to know our neighbours, opening up our homes and getting involved with looking after the areas we live, we create communities, make friends and improve our quality of life. Indeed, recent research has shown that high earners with weak social links are less happy that those with little money and strong social links. And it costs nothing to put the effort into forging friendships and looking after each other, after all.

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Budget – A Wasted Opportunity to Green the Economy

The chancellor Alistair Darling, announced in his Budget on Wednesday, something like £1.4bn designed to ‘green’ the UK economy. As is always the case with this government, it is not clear whether all of this money is new money, or just a recycling of commitments already announced, in an attempt to grab a headline or two.

The chancellor’s announcement of a target to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 34% by 2020, though not nearly enough, is to be welcomed, but the nuts and bolts of planned spending on environmental matters does not fill one with confidence that this is anything other than an aspiration.

The £2000 offered to motorists to trade in their cars that are over ten years old is a case point. It is not clear whether this is in addition to the discount already on offer from car showrooms for the trade in of used vehicles, indeed it seems it is not. So, it is unlikely to tempt many to buy a new car at this time, whilst where it does succeed, we will see emissions rise by building new cars and scrapping old ones. A lose/lose situation it would appear.

The money promised for green initiatives, at £1.4bn even if it all appears is a drop in the ocean when set against a £175bn debt accrued by the UK government propping up the banks, and really is a huge missed opportunity to generate up to a million ‘green collar’ jobs at the same time as making us more energy efficient and really boosting the renewable energy sector in this country. Most other comparable economies are being much bolder than this, and so once again the UK is lagging well behind the leading nations.

The day after the budget, the government announced plans for the building of four new coal burning power stations, claiming that they will be equipped with carbon capture and storage facilities. These facilities are as yet untried at any large scale plant anywhere in the world, so it seems a bit risky to throw money at this kind of ‘green’ industry. What if it doesn’t work, will these power stations be closed? I doubt it. I’ve not seen estimates of the costs of these four new plants, but I would bet it will be a damn sight more than the pitiful £500m announced in the Budget to help the wind power industry.

As usual, this government is trying to spin the energy/environment debate, like so many other issues over the last twelve years. This time though, with an impending climate crisis on our hands, it amounts to criminal negligence.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


Anne Gray, 18.4.09

In the justifiable furore about police brutality which followed the events of April 1st and 2nd in London, we seem to be losing track of what the summit was really about. Suddenly - the ‘Washington consensus’ is dead, Keynesianism has been rehabilitated, and the leading capitalist governments are trying to spend their way out of recession. But is the era of neo-liberal economic policy really over, or is it just taking a new form ?

Let’s turn aside for the moment from the question of how many trillions of dollars worth of economic stimulus the world needs, and whether the politicians have ‘done enough’ in terms of these numbers. What is the crisis, and the British government’s solutions, going to do to the distribution of income and wealth ?

The recent measures to address the banking crisis will lead to a major transfer from poor to rich in at least six different ways:-

First, the massive rise in government borrowing means we, the taxpayers, one day have to pay more in order to get the national debt back down to size. Second, despite the government’s willingness to expand corporate welfare for the banks and let their executives get away with fat rewards for failure, public services are likely to be starved because ‘there isn’t enough money’. That is, public spending is now hitting a ceiling defined by the market’s confidence in UK government bonds and the economy’s future ability to repay. So, for example, schools and universities are currently faced with major funding deficits, and thousands of students will be unable to enter uni this year.

Third, the government are likely to have a further round of ‘selling the family silver’ to fill the hole in public sector finances. We can expect more privatisation over the next few years for this, if no other reason.

Fourth, the general message from the government has been that money can now be very cheap to borrow, but bankers must not take risks and the government is not taking any either – except where needed to provide corporate welfare to failing banks by buying their shares. Result; small businesses affected by the recession are going under, and new ones, especially the ones we need in innovative and ‘green’ sectors can’t start up or expand. The result will be greater monopolisation of the economy, with small shops and restaurants, farmers and small manufacturers all disappearing. The demise of Woolworths and MFI in the ‘big store’ category should not blind us to the likelihood that the survivors of the recession will be mainly the giants who already hold too much market power. The losers already include smaller stores like Myers in Crouch End, and key ‘green’ enterprises like the UK company recently applauded for pioneering the generation of wave power off the coast of Portugal.

Fifth, the reliance on near-zero interest rates to get the economy moving, without doing anything about the institutional basis of pensions and savings, has left many pensioners high and dry, and workers approaching pension age with the prospect that they could work till they drop without saving enough to retire.

Sixth, neo-liberalism for the unemployed is still going strong. Despite the soaring numbers on JSA, the government has continued with its welfare reform plans, which were bad enough when they were conceived in 2006-2007, a period when dole queues hit a historic low. Over the next 3 years the unemployed will be made to compete ever more strongly for a pool of vacancies that has all but dried up. There will be tougher benefit rules which will stop JSA for more people who fail to meet job centre requirements, and a new scheme to bully people into low paid jobs by threatening them with workfare placements after two years on the dole. Changes in the benefits systems for people with disabilities, and for lone parents, are designed to force many of them to start searching for work. If there is none, the government will waste a fortune on back to work schemes (now to be largely done by private contractors, who have already demanded a huge increase in the payments they get per person placed in work, because they know they will have so few). And to set even more people to chasing so few jobs will intensify the wage-reducing effect of high unemployment. Which of course is what neo-liberal employment policy since John Major’s day through Labour’s ‘New Deal’ has always been about – tough benefits rules to bully people to apply for more jobs, especially low-paid jobs, and hand cheap labour to the employers.

How would we, as Greens, address these problems ? There is much that needs fleshing out in Green Party policy, and much in the Green New Deal, published last July, that needs fine-tuning and updating as a result of the cataclysmic economic events of the last few months. But the Green Party is the only electoral force – apart from the remnants of Respect – to oppose privatisation. And it is the only party calling for less rules and more universal rights in the field of state benefits, the long-established Green ideal being a universal citizens’ income which would bring in-work and out-of-work benefits all together in one allowance and ‘means-test’ only through progressive income tax. We also need to think about broadening capital ownership as a key to democratising the economy and bringing down interest rates permanently, as proposed in Rodney Shakespeare’s book, ‘The New Economic Paradigm’.

Molly Scott-Cato, in her book Green Economics, calls for a different kind of economic stimulus which would not add to the national debt, a demand which she stressed at the recent Green Party conference in Blackpool. That is, spending newly created money directly into the economy to produce real wealth. Not the Bank of England’s ‘quantitative easing’, which simply buys up old government bonds from those lucky enough to own them and hopes that they spend it on something that creates wealth and jobs – rather than foreign bonds, or derivatives, or second-hand buildings. All of the forms of investment envisaged in the Green New Deal could be done as direct government spending. Likewise, under this heading we could place a large increase in benefits and state pensions (to bring them into line with most other west European countries, and update them to the relationship they held to wages in the years before Thatcher).

David Byrne, a prominent member of the Green Left group within the Green Party, was a signatory to an excellent letter in the Guardian on April 14th, joining with several socialist academics to call for an end to tax havens and much larger taxes on wealth and inheritance.

But the basic architecture of the pensions and savings system is a major obstacle to real economic change. It gives us all a purely selfish interest in the capitalist castle (of bubbles) in terms of rising house prices, and because much of our pensions saving is now stock-market dependent, in rising share prices. Older people need something solid to invest in which gets them away from this – a start could be local authority bonds which are seen in the Green New Deal as an important vehicle for ‘green’ investment and building social housing. Some detailed policy on local authority borrowing and investment, and on investment vehicles for social enterprise and creative lending to small business, would make a real contribution to developing a post-credit crunch economy of a saner and fairer kind.


by Paul Butler, College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University

Some of the more long-established members of Haringey Green Party may remember me as an active member and occasional agent and candidate back in the 1990s who left in 2001 to continue his education in North Wales (although I’m still a paper member of HGP). Having submitted my thesis and undergone a viva voce (defence of the thesis) I have now achieved a doctorate, and Mary Hogan has asked me to write about it for the Haringey GP blog.

The subject is strongly relevant to current issues in climate science, since it’s concerned with the investigation of the marine climate of the past, and in fact the academic who assessed my thesis, Keith Briffa, is one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. We can find evidence of past environments in natural archives, such as ice cores, stalagmites/stalactites and tree rings. What’s important is that they preserve some kind of timeline, so that we can work out the sequence in which the material was produced. It’s then possible to use our knowledge of how the material in the archive was produced to say something about its environment (temperature or rainfall, for example). For my work on the marine environment, I’ve been using the shells of clams. So my PhD has been dotted with cruises to various parts of the seas around the UK (and, in one case, to the north coast of Iceland) to collect shells of a particular clam – common right across the North Atlantic region - called the ocean quahog. Why are these shells useful? Well, they’re annually banded (you can see the banding in the picture), so that the material created each year is demarcated with an identifiable line which indicates a period of no growth, and they’re very long-lived (we found one off Iceland which had lived for just over 400 years). Importantly, all the shells in a population grow synchronously – in a strong growth year all the clams secrete large amounts of shell material and they all have wider bands, while in a weaker year they don’t secrete so much and have narrower bands. So the patterns in the shells can be matched, which means that by comparing patterns in shells of known date (from live caught clams) with patterns in dead shells, it is possible to work out when the animals which created the dead shells were alive. Using this process, I’ve been able to create an archive of material using shells from just off the Isle of Man which goes back to 1516. This is exactly what is done with tree rings, but they are only relevant for the terrestrial environment. Up until now, it has been very difficult to find an equivalent archive for the marine environment.

I expect anybody who’s got this far will be wanting to know if I’ve actually found anything in this groundbreaking archive. Well, yes I have, but to describe it would take up a lot more space than I have here, since I’d have to explain a whole lot of other rather complex stuff in the process. However, in the field of climate science just the creation of this archive is regarded as pretty important, so I am quite pleased with what I have achieved already, and I hope eventually that my work will feed into the models used to assess the impacts of climate change.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Trapped in Princes Street

A report on the G20 protests by Haringey Green Party member Anna Bragga, photos by EoS.

I returned from the G20 protests feeling shaken and appalled at the policing tactics employed. It is only thanks to my NUJ press pass that I managed to – eventually - escape the terrifying crush imposed by aggressive police. By that point I had spent at least two hours rammed in with other peaceful protesters, bursting for the loo and battling against a resurgence of a phobia of being trapped in tight crowds.

Just before the police cordon around the roads leading to the Bank of England was implemented, I, along with fellow Haringey Green, Sarah Cope, decided not to proceed any further into the protest as it was becoming clear that the police had one thing in mind - to pen everyone in. However, when we tried to retrace our steps and move away from the crowds, we were prevented from doing so by a row of officers who ordered us to 'move on', aggressively pushing Sarah in the process.

From then onwards we were condemned to a terrifying ordeal of being trapped in a confined space – a section of Princes Street - with an increasingly frustrated and angry group of protesters. When police in riot gear appeared and one protester was arrested, bottles started to fly over our heads, so we edged away from our corner of Princes Street to try and find a safer spot.

By now, a lot of people desperately wanted to be let out of the cordon and the atmosphere was becoming increasingly volatile. Luckily my NUJ pass gave me access out of the mob around about this time - just as my crowd phobia was escalating to terrifying proportions! I have been in touch with elected Greens on the Greater London Assembly and in the National Party about my experience and feel confident that they will do everything within their powers to hold the Met Police to account for the heavy handedness of their actions against peaceful protesters.

There must surely be a law against holding law abiding citizens against their will when they are at risk of harm.....including harm from the police! As a seasoned activist, I can honestly say that I have never experienced such bullying tactics by our own police, and it makes me very sad. The tragic death of a 47 year old man trapped for hours inside the police cordon, or ‘kettle’, could almost certainly have been avoided. I hope the full truth surrounding the circumstances comes to light and justice is seen to be done – for the family’s sake and for everyone else who suffered psychological distress and injury.

It is important that this tragedy serves as a warning to the Met Police. The strategies and tactics employed in Operation Glencoe were deeply flawed and dangerous and must never be repeated again. Marches, demonstrations and other forms of non-violent direct action will continue as long as we have a government and world leaders who believe that more of the same old free market paradigm is going to solve our problems.

We still pride ourselves in this country on our right to freedom of expression and the right to protest. Let’s not turn into a police state - a dictatorship. Only a brand new vision, a revolutionary Green New Deal, can transform the current global economic and climate crisis. You can help to make this a reality. All you need to do is Vote Green at this year’s European Elections and next year’s General Election and Local Elections. There really is a solution to all this madness!

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Battle of Threadneedle Street

I and several other members of Haringey Green Party attended the G20 Meltdown demonstration on Wednesday 1st April. The march from Liverpool Street to The Bank of England was very peaceful, and had a cheery air about it. Once we arrived at The Bank, the police penned us into a small area surrounding The Bank of England. They didn’t let all of the people into this ‘kettle’, and many marchers were left outside. I’d say, inside and out of the ‘kettle’ there was probably about 10, 000 demonstrators.

If you were inside the kettle as I was, the police would not allow you to leave, as I and a comrade tried to do several times. This went on for hours, and people gradually got more and more angry.

I realised that the most likely flashpoint would be at the police cordon on Threadneedle Street, and mostly stayed away from that area. Riot police and mounted officers appeared at this cordon, and tried to push the crowd back in a very aggressive fashion. One Haringey green, who was playing in a drumming band, was knocked to the floor and trampled by the crowd. Luckily, two other members of the band rescued him, or it might have been very serious indeed. As it was, he felt very unwell, was sick, and had to be taken to an ambulance.

There is no doubt in my mind that police tactics, particularly on Threadneedle Street, contributed to the subsequent riot that took place. These tactics seemed designed to provoke a violent reaction amongst demonstrators, and in this it was highly successful.

Away from Threadneedle Street, still inside the cordon, the atmosphere, at least at first, was completely different. It was like a carnival, with a solar powered music player entertaining the dancing crowd. In another corner, Billy Bragg sang ‘The Internationale’ in a cappella style, and the spring sunshine bathed the crowd. As Rosa Luxemburg said, ‘I don’t want to be part of a revolution that I can’t dance at’.

Unfortunately, I think a tiny minority of demonstrators came with the intent of causing trouble, but the way the police handled the situation, made the situation much worse, and in effect gave cover for these people to smash windows and pick fights with the police. The Green Party are all in favour of non violent protest, indeed it is the mark of a free and democratic society that people should be allowed to express their views. But when the police pour fuel onto these peaceful protests, by detaining innocent people in small areas, with no toiletry facilities, for long periods of time, it looks to me as if they really want a fight to start.

A 47 year old man collapsed and died in the area, and I hope we get a proper public investigation, with an independently minded coroner. The police were quick to rush out a statement saying that he was found with breathing difficulties and that they came under attack whilst trying to resuscitate him. People don’t normally just collapse for no apparent reason, and this is the same police force that told us that Jean Charles de Menezes, jumped over a ticket barrier with wires trailing from his jacket, which turned out to be completely untrue. Let’s get to the bottom of this, and perhaps we can all learn some lessons on how to police demonstrations in the future.