Monday, 23 April 2012

GLA Elections – Make the Difference – Vote Green

The GLA elections are fast approaching with polling day (3rd May) less than ten days away now. In Haringey, we in the Green party have leafleted half of the borough, and run weekend stalls throughout April in several locations, and are hopeful of increasing our vote locally and across Greater London.

Unfortunately, the campaign has been dominated by the Boris (Johnson) versus Ken (Livingstone) for the London mayoralty, and featured a dismal and rancorous debate between the two big party politicians, which has barely gone beyond accusations of tax avoidance by both the front runners for mayor. This tactic seems to have favoured Boris Johnson, by conjuring up the image (with the help of the London Standard newspaper) of Livingstone as a shifty character, and Johnson is narrowly ahead by two points in the latest opinion poll. He has successfully diverted attention away from his lamentable term as mayor, where public transport fares have nearly doubled, and Barclays Bank have benefited to the tune of some £40 million by getting city wide advertising on ‘Boris Bikes’, as reported on this blog here.   

Opinion polls also indicate a collapse in the Lib Dem vote, with mayoral candidate Brian Paddick polling only around 8% of the vote. Here lies one of the most interesting aspects of the elections, more so for the London Assembly than the mayor contest, which is always between Labour and Tory candidates. In the 2008 GLA elections (pre entering coalition with the Tories at Westminster) the Lib Dems tried to be one the ‘big boys’ by attempting to win a constituency seat on the London Assembly, putting all their efforts into one area. The tactic backfired and not only did they not win the targeted constituency, but they lost one seat from the London wide Member constituency.

This year the Lib Dems do not have such lofty ambitions and will be extremely grateful if they retain their three seats on the Assembly from the London wide Member list. It looks as though Labour will benefit from disaffection with the Lib Dems, but the Green party hopes to gain votes from these voters too. It seems to me that many voters are still not convinced by the Labour party, post Blair/Brown, and the spectacular success of George Galloway’s RESPECT party in the Bradford West parliamentary by-election, is evidence of this mood.

Many voters I think, are dissatisfied with all of the main parties, and may be open to voting for smaller parties, like UKIP, BNP, TUSC and the Greens. The Green party has had representation on the London Assembly ever since it was formed in 2000, and are as such, London’s fourth party, so we are in a good position to make gains this year. 

The party has set out a five point plan for London with the following pledges:
                                    Cut Public Transport Fares and Reduce Traffic
                                                                       Improve Green Spaces and the Environment 
                                                                        Make Housing Affordable 
                                                                        Reduce the Gap between Rich and Poor     
                                                                        Rebuild Trust in Policing

London’s voters have the chance to show the establishment parties what they think of their elitist obsession with pandering to the wealthy and austerity measures for the rest of us.

Make the Difference, Vote Green on 3rd May (especially on the orange coloured proportional ballot paper).

For information on the London elections and the Green party, click here

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Go Green this May - Salma Yaqoob

I am calling today for Respect supporters in Birmingham to back Green Party candidates standing in the local elections on 3 May.

This May, Birmingham will finally call time on a Tory-Lib Dem council leadership that will be remembered for the jobs they have destroyed, and for the public services they have so badly undermined. Labour will once again be in control, but I have little confidence that they have the vision or the will to stand up to the Tory-Lib Dem government.

Birmingham needs better than the failed austerity of the Tories and Lib Dems, and we need better than the austerity-lite offering of Labour. In these local elections, I believe that the Green Party is the best choice for those looking for a radical voice in Birmingham.

The Green Party has been consistent in its opposition to the breakup of the NHS, have championed the call to create new sustainable jobs with a living wage, and campaign to protect our valuable green spaces. The election of Green councillors would help to shake up the council chamber, and is just the sort of fresh voice that the city needs. The Respect Party will be supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign in the referendum on an elected mayor for Birmingham.

But, in the local elections this year, I hope our supporters will go Green!

Written by Salma Yaqoob, RESPECT Party Leader First published on Salma's blog here

Friday, 20 April 2012

Green Party Publishes Most Inclusive and Accessible Manifesto Ever

The Green Party has published its most accessible and inclusive manifesto ever for the London mayoral and assembly elections on May 3rd.

Translated into 17 languages the party’s policy proposals are also available in Large Print Large Print, Easy-read, audio, British Sign Language and Subtitled versions. Campaign materials such as its London Green News have also been produced in a range of formats, including audio versions.

A specific ‘accessibility’ manifesto also sets out how the Green Party aims to make London an inclusive city. The Party has also produced a customised tube map, showing what the London underground looks like if you have a mobility impairment, which has gone viral across the internet and social media.

“The Green Party’s vision is of a truly inclusive capital where those who are too often excluded are placed at the centre of London’s life” said the Green Party’s mayoral candidate Jenny Jones.

“Our commitment to real equality in London is reflected not just in our policies but the way they are being presented and being made accessible to all Londoners.

“At this election every vote counts because of the proportional system. So every vote for a Green mayor or a Green Assembly member is a vote for an inclusive London."

For more information, contact Joe Williams on 07825511927, @earsopen or

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Fracking Given Green Light in the UK

Just when we're told drought has become endemic in the UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has given the go-ahead for a process that will desiccate us more than any we've tried before on these islands: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

High-volume fracking needs between 1.6m and 2.5m gallons (between seven and 11m litres) of water for a single well. All that water is smashing rock. All those millions of litres are giving the shale rock a BTEX injection; BTEX is benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

If a political cell were to threaten to poison our drinking water by setting off depth charges near subterranean faultlines, and then further threatened to pump in radioactive isotopes, should such a cell be asked to help compile the government report into their activities? It is indeed a bizarre report that the Department of Energy and Climate Change has put out, a bit like an inquiry into Syria focusing on the effect of the pollen count on the dictatorship.

Nary a mention of volatile organic compounds contaminating aquifers, so busily are the authors consumed by counting all the holes caused by fracking in Lancashire – until they triumphantly conclude that fracking poses scant risk of earthquake.

To which I say well, not ones that will topple the Blackpool Tower, maybe. Not seismic tremors you can feel beneath your feet, but earthquakes all the same. Earthquakes by definition, in fact. For fracking works by detonating shale rock thousands of feet underground, and for all that the shale gas industry may say these are controlled explosions, there is, however, no such thing as a controlled earthquake.

The department has overturned the borehole ban while allowing a hosepipe ban to stand. This was a mistake. Never come between a vixen and her cub, nor between the British and their love of gardening and clean water.

Even in the best-case scenario in which the frackers don't, by some miracle, rupture aquifers and pollute drinking water, the process itself will drain us dry in the vain hope that it might earn us enough foreign capital to pay for the imports of Volvic and Evian that we will need to put on our crops.

And what if fracking does pollute our fragile aquifers, as it has done in Pennsylvania and Wyoming? Well, here the timing of the report happily coincides with another topical emergency apart from drought – and that is debt. The financial crisis. Our skintness.

The words of the US governments's Environmental Protection Agency should chill every British bone to the marrow when they say that ground water contaminated by fracking is "typically too expensive to remediate or restore". (And if you want a glimpse of the appalling powerlessness of fracking-afflicted communities in the United States then watch the Sundance-award documentary Gasland.)

In Europe, meanwhile, Bulgaria has became the second EU country after France to ban fracking. The Bulgarians' indefinite moratorium followed a campaign which ranged across the whole political spectrum.

In any British electoral constituency where fracking is proposed, the issue will be every bit as much of a political earth-mover as in Bulgaria. People will vote against type, and against party loyalty. No MP, MEP or councillor will dare follow the party whip in the teeth of civil ire that will ignite like methylated tap water in a Pennsylvania kitchen, an anger which even the gas firms' PR teams will not be able to extinguish. In any constituency where fracking is proposed, you can forget about psephology. Fracking will not just undermine the shale geology of Britain but may sink half the recognisable political landscape too. That's the hope, at least.

Written by Rob Newman
First published in The Guardian here
The video above is from the US in an area where fracking is being used

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tax Giveaway to Multinational Corporations

This week is parliament's last chance to amend the 2012 budget: a budget entrenching a strategy for the UK and the global economy that has already failed. Time is short. The Commons will have just three days to debate and scrutinise the finance bill – 670 pages of complex legislation, much of which poses threats to jobs, public services and fiscal stability in the UK and abroad, not least by opening up a major new area of tax avoidance for large multinational companies. Parliament must find its voice, and do what it can to soften the blow.

George Osborne's message is clear: the wealthiest individuals and corporations will be further rewarded, despite clear signs that they are neither creating jobs nor helping to reduce public borrowing. Meanwhile the growth of a finance-driven economy vulnerable to the twin storms of financial crisis and climate change will be further incentivised.

The chancellor's unfair and regressive decision to cut the 50p top rate of tax may have stolen the headlines, but at the heart of the budget there is another tax giveaway to multinational companies. These are the proposals to change the tax rules covering "controlled foreign companies" (CFCs). By redrawing the scope of taxes on large UK companies' overseas subsidiaries, the proposed changes will make it far easier for multinationals to shift profits into tax havens. While Osborne claims to find aggressive tax avoidance "morally repugnant", his budget gives the green light for big business to step up their tax dodging.

A glimpse at some typical British companies shows quite how much potential tax revenue they generate in developing countries. Barclays makes almost £1bn profit in Africa alone; the brewing company SABMiller makes £1.9bn across Africa, Asia and Latin America; mining giant Anglo American declares profits of £2.8bn in Africa and Latin America. At the 2011 average global rate of 23%, the corporation tax on these three companies' profits alone would contribute well over £1bn to government revenue in developing countries.

These changes will undermine the UK's public finances. Bizarrely trailed as a measure to "[protect] the UK tax base against avoidance", in fact the Treasury itself estimates that the CFC rule changes will cost the exchequer nearly £1bn a year: part of a £20bn package of corporation tax cuts over the course of this parliament.

The government's current proposals simply ignore the vast majority of ordinary taxpayers who want big business to pay its fair share of taxes. According to a YouGov poll conducted for the development agency ActionAid, just 14% of UK voters support proposals to weaken the UK's rules against tax havens. By contrast an overwhelming 79% want stronger tax avoidance action from the government, including 73% of Conservative voters and 87% of Liberal Democrat voters.

But the impact of these tax changes will also go well beyond the UK. Because they effectively reward UK multinationals who shift their profits from the global south into tax havens, this charter for profit shifting will also damage the public finances of poor countries where UK multinationals operate.

ActionAid has estimated that watering down the UK's anti-tax haven rules is likely to cost exchequers in the global south £4bn a year. Just as health services and education are being attacked in the UK, so the budget's new CFC rules are also effectively an attack on developing countries' ability to fund their own public services. Anti-poverty campaigners and concerned voters – many in my constituency – have raised concerns over the proposals. The government's response has been predictably muted. The Treasury says simply that it hasn't considered the impact on developing countries because the rules are "designed to protect the UK tax base".

Setting aside the fact that the Treasury itself expects an erosion of the UK tax base from these rule changes, it makes no sense to ignore the effect of multinational tax breaks that may deny poor countries revenue equivalent to nearly half the UK aid budget.

Taking account of the budget's impact on revenues at home and abroad isn't a radical ask: the World Bank, the OECD, the UN and the IMF all called on G20 countries last year to undertake precisely this kind of "spillover" analysis to ensure that changes to their tax regimes don't damage the fiscal efforts of developing countries. The government has thus far ignored this advice, just as it has ignored the UK public's overwhelming distaste for multinational tax dodging. It's time to make it listen.

Written by Caroline Lucas, Green Party Leader
First published at The Guardian here

Monday, 16 April 2012

Greenwash Olympics in London

Human rights and environmental pressure groups have joined forces to campaign against three sponsors of the London Olympics.

The protest campaign - called Greenwash Gold 2012 - has targeted Dow Chemical Company, BP and Rio Tinto.

The group has made three animated films about the firms and members of the public will be invited to vote online for the "worst corporate sponsor".

All three companies have defended their ethical record.

The films include footage of:

A survivor of the Bhopal gas leak disaster in 1984. Dow agreed to purchase the Union Carbide Corporation - whose subsidiary Union Carbide India ran the Bhopal pesticide plant - in 1999. The purchase was completed in 2001.
A representative from the Gulf Coast where communities have been dealing with the environmental impact of BP's oil spill in April 2010
A woman from Utah who claims she is fighting against "life-threatening" air pollution levels caused by one of the mines from which Rio Tinto is providing the metal for the Olympic metals.

'Money talks'

Meredith Alexander, who quit as a commissioner of the 2012's sustainability watchdog in protest over the link between the Bhopal disaster and Dow Chemical Company's involvement in the Games, chaired the campaign launch.

"The Olympic values are all about celebrating our common humanity. But the Olympics is also big business," she said.

"There is an expensive machine behind the Games that is funded by corporate sponsors. Sadly when these sponsors are selected, money talks much more loudly than values."

Dow has always denied any liability for the chemical gas leak and maintains the £288m ($470m) settlement for those affected is fair and final.

BP refused to comment on Greenwash Gold 2012, but in June 2010, the oil firm's regional vice president Peter Mather defended the company's actions.

"Our focus as a company is 100% on the Gulf of Mexico, doing the right thing - doing the right thing on the seabed and our focus is also on the shore," he said.

A Rio Tinto spokesman, defended the company's actions saying: "We operate within the parameters of our air permits and are consistently in compliance with US Environmental Protection Agency and Utah Division of Air Quality regulations, which are based on strict standards for protecting human health."

London 2012 is yet to comment on the campaign launch.

First published by the BBC here

The campaign group for a cleaner Olympics are the Counter Olympics Network

Friday, 6 April 2012

Working Tax Credits versus the Rise in Personal Allowances, Who Gains?

This week the worried calls were coming into my constituency office. The combination of cuts, freezes and rule changes coming into force on Friday amount to one of the most ruthless assaults on the finances of low- and middle-income families ever seen. Coming on top of austerity measures that have already hit ordinary families the hardest – including a VAT hike costing them an average £450 every year – they are set to deepen a cost of living crisis with which many are already struggling.

Perhaps the cruellest measure is the withdrawal of working tax credit from couples with children who can't increase their working hours to a new, higher threshold of 24 per week. When George Osborne first announced this measure in 2010, he assumed the economy would be booming by the time it took effect. But the government has refused to reconsider the change, even though its failed policies have delivered a stalled economy with rising unemployment, with many more employers now cutting hours rather than offering extra shifts.

In my own constituency of Leeds West, 285 families could see their weekly income fall by £73 as a result. Around the country as many as 212,000 families – including about half a million children – are at risk of being casually dropped below the poverty line as a result of this single measure. There is no starker illustration of how this out-of-touch government is letting families on low and modest incomes pay the price of its own economic failures.

Other measures mean that anyone relying on tax credits or child benefit is affected in one way or another. More than 850,000 families with incomes above £26,000 (if they have one child) or £32,000 (if they have two) are losing all their child tax credit – contrary to David Cameron's promise during the last election that only those with incomes of more than £50,000 would be affected. Child benefit payments, as well as the main elements of the working tax credit, are being frozen for a second year, falling further behind the rising costs of food, fuel and fares.

Households being hit from all sides like this will see the coalition's headline policy of raising the personal allowance – worth just 82p a week in real terms – as slim compensation. And indeed, new analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms that, overall, the gains resulting from the higher personal allowance are cancelled out many times over by losses caused by other changes: as of Friday families with children are, on average, £511 worse off when all this government's changes in the new tax year are taken into account.

The excuses offered by Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners are that this is all necessary to get the deficit down. But by raising taxes and cutting spending too far and too fast, they have choked off the recovery and added £150bn to their own borrowing plans. This will hardly be helped by cutting tax credits designed to ensure work pays – meaning thousands of families will be better off leaving their jobs and claiming unemployment benefit.

At the same time they are giving a £3bn tax cut to the highest earners in the country– a boost of more than £42,000 a year to those with incomes of a million – on top of paying £1.6bn more in pensions tax relief to people with incomes of over £150,000. Osborne talks about encouraging "work and enterprise", but it seems different rules apply to the millions trying to earn whatever they can to give their children a decent chance.

People are coming to the conclusion that this government finds it easier to empathise with people who find it hard to get by on more than £150,000 a year than with the rest of the population, who are now struggling with the consequences of its unfair choices and failing economic policies.

Written by Rachel Reeves
Labour MP for Leeds West

First published in The Guardian