Friday, 21 March 2014

Budget 2014 Takes Doublespeak to New Depths

Casual readers of the budget might wonder whether it had been written by chancellor George Osborne or George Orwell. A garden city built in a quarry and growth built on a reinflated housing bubble are hardly reassuring evidence of the economy based on "more economic security and economic resilience" that Osborne claims to be his objective.

Most shockingly, the freezing of the carbon tax and the reduction in the rate of air passenger duty for long-haul flights makes it plain that the chancellor has no understanding of what resilience means, and how our failure to tackle climate change threatens it.

Resilience has followed hard on the heels of that much-abused concept 'sustainability' in helping to define the key characteristics of a sustainable society. Unlike the financial system, which cracked when it came under pressure, a resilient system would be able to bounce back even in the face of unexpected challenges; unlike the railway line at Dawlish, resilient infrastructure is based on built-in redundancy that means there is always an alternative when a system comes under pressure from an unpredictable event. It is exactly this sort of resilience that has been designed out of our economy and society by years of lean management and just-in-time production systems. From computer systems to food supply chains, the globalised market-place has left us less resilient than we have ever been.

So what would a budget for resilience and security actually look like? Let's start with finance. A resilient model for banking would insist on the breaking up of the consolidated megabanks so that banks were no longer 'too big to fail', and no one bank would be large enough to bring down the whole system. Mr Osborne could pop across to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and have a word with his colleague Vince Cable who operates RBS on behalf of its owners, us, the citizens of the UK. He might subtly suggest that he break it up into a system of local community banks, which could be required to actually act like banks, building supportive relationships with the local businesses that a resilient economy requires, rather than acting like casinos.

While on the issue of finance, we should also tell George that his desperate attempt to reinflate the housing bubble through extending the life of Help to Buy is storing up exactly the sort of catastrophic financial collapse that put us in this economic mess. It also does nothing for those who are most in need of reasonably priced housing, since it will only support mortgages they cannot afford and encourage house prices to rise even further beyond their reach.

The most fundamental cause of social insecurity in modern Britain is the failure of the housing market to provide affordable, comfortable homes to those who need them. Here the chancellor could act swiftly to bring in rent controls which would simultaneously reduce the massive amount of public money being wasted on housing benefit. He could also raise the borrowing limits on local authorities to enable them to build houses for those on their lengthy and growing waiting lists.

The greatest source of insecurity we all face is the unpredictable consequences of climate change, and it is here that Osborne's words ring most hollow. Here we see clearly the government's back-tracking on this most vital issue, building on the earlier folly of reducing green levies on energy companies, now further decreasing incentives to business to reduce their carbon emissions by freezing the carbon price floor. He has learned nothing about resilience from the winter's devastating storms and floods, but the urgent need for a consistent policy on climate change is now more evident than ever.

Real energy security comes from demand reduction as a result of improved energy installation in homes, combined with local generation from renewable energy sources. This government's mixed messages on renewable tariffs and taxes has undermined several proposed investments in wind generation, destroying jobs in my own home region of the South West. A higher rate of feed-in tariff limited to small-scale and community-owned electricity generation projects would be the best policy in the budget to ensure real energy security.

With a budget that achieves the exact opposite of the objectives the chancellor has set himself we are all wondering what will come out of the Ministry of Truth next. A Localism Act that centralises planning perhaps; or a Big Society that cuts benefits for the poor and vulnerable?

Written by  Molly Scott Cato Professor of Green Economics at Roehampton University and Green candidate in the European Elections

First published at The Huffington Post

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn Dies Aged 88 – An Icon of the English Left

Very sad to hear the news that Tony Benn has died. He had been very ill for a little while and when last I saw him in the flesh, which was a couple of years ago, he looked very frail.

I once saw him make a speech at The Free Trade Hall of all places in Manchester in I think 1980, and he was very powerful, electric even and really inspiring, and I left the event feeling as though the revolution was about to begin in the next week or so.

Times change of course, and the revolution (a peaceful one, of course) looks further away than ever now, but Tony Benn was the only figure on the left from the 70’s and 80’s and before that managed to keep up with the new politics of the left, attending Left Field at the Glastonbury festival for example and he could engage easily with the younger generations.

I thought of trying to get a video clip for this blog of Tony Benn in his prime, but in end thought it more appropriate to feature a recent one, like the one above, because he really did adapt with the times, and could be just as inspirational in his later years.

He will be sadly missed by all those of a radical political persuasion, young and old. He constantly reminded us of our power to change things, and to never give up hope. A great man indeed. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Boris’ rich investors won’t build the affordable housing London needs

Boris Johnson is heading down to Cannes this week to flog regeneration projects to investors and developers at MIPIM, the world’s largest property fair. He told the BBC he was going to “lobby key investors and developers to help double house-building, including more affordable homes”.

And yet affordable housing is the last thing on their minds, and the Mayor is all too happy to wave through regeneration schemes with or without it.

Take Mount Pleasant, for example. He took this decision out of the hands of the two local councils at the request of the recently-privatised Royal Mail Group, who own the site. They want to get planning permission so they can sell it on to a developer with a big mark-up.

In their plans, only 12 per cent of the homes would be affordable. The councils think it could be at least 50 per cent. But Boris took it off their hands before they could say no and is likely to wave it through.
The Mayor has been travelling the world to sell London. His argument is quite simple: building lots of homes is the only way to solve our housing crisis, and this is the best way to achieve that.

But what sort of homes? More expensive flats for rich investors, which could be left empty, or rented to insecure and overcharged tenants?

What’s more, the Mayor wants to stop prices rising by building more homes, and he can only build more homes if prices are rising. Spot the flaw?

I obtained copies of a brochure he took to China last autumn. One introductory page gives the game away:
“London has wealth preservation benefits, outstanding long term capital growth and an increasingly strong rental market.”
The message, in plain English, is that you can make lots of money from rising house prices and rents, and we won’t tax your profits away.

City Hall recently produced new research on London’s housing needs. To fix our housing problems over the next ten years it suggested we needed to build 62,000 homes a year, of which 41,000 should be affordable homes. So two thirds should be affordable homes.

But the Mayor keeps signing off developments like Mount Pleasant that are a long way from providing this. At Earl’s Court, only 11 per cent will be affordable, and those will only replace homes that are being demolished to make way for the expensive flats. At the Heygate estate, 25 per cent will be affordable, but these will only replace half of the 1,023 existing council homes being demolished.

The Mayor even signs off developments without any affordable housing at all, like One the Elephant, which I asked him about last October.

These are developments for the benefit of rich investors, leaving only crumbs for ordinary Londoners.

The simple truth the Mayor needs to learn is this: going to MIPIM isn’t the answer.

We need to bring in a land value tax to reduce demand from investors so that people on average incomes get a fair chance of buying their own home. For all those people stuck in the private rented sector for years to come, we need longer tenancies and rent controls modelled on success stories on the continent.

And if we are going to build 41,000 affordable homes a year, we need much more investment from public, not private, purses.

By Darren Johnson, Green Party member of the London Assembly

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bob Crow died this morning aged 52 - A working class hero


I was shocked today to learn that Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT union, has died suddenly.

I saw him only two nights ago, looking hale and hearty in the Barbican Centre where he was in the audience for a Cuban Solidarity concert in aid of the Miami Five [Cubans imprisoned in USA for fighting terrorism].

Like other Greens I may not have shared the same politics all the time as Bob Crow, but that is less important than sharing his complete commitment to fight for a better society and to not only represent his trade union members and gain advances in a very hostile political environment, but also be a shining example of the need to be true to your own values against all the smears and outrages of the media and still dominant neo-liberal forces intent on running down the lives of working people.

Unlike the BBC news today I believe that many Londoners did accept the inconveniences of the recent RMT and TSSA strikes in defence of keeping staff present in Underground stations for all our safety. He led from the front in that and rightly challenged the Mayor Boris Johnson on his U-turn from being elected on a promise to keep Underground stations properly staffed.

Ken Livingstone has suggested that all the relentless pressure from the media organs of the right wing press that we endure may have contributed to undermining his health, no matter his own integrity and unashamed ability to fight back.

A reminder if we needed one that the gloves are off as far as the people who wish to continue to rule us are concerned.

Bob Crow was an unquestionably fine and honourable example of not lying down to austerity, opposing putting people out of work, and resisting the financialisation of all our lives.

He will be missed by a great many and should be remembered as a beacon for solidarity with those in struggle.

Written by Gordon Peters Haringey Green Party

The video above is from a recent appearance on BBC Question Time 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Council of Europe recommends more powers for English local authorities

Councils in England should have more powers devolved to them, according to a new review into the state of local government.
The Council of Europe regularly reports on the state of local and regional democracy in the EU's member states. A delegation visited twice last year in only the second-ever review of the UK, the first taking place in 1998.

Published today, its report ‘Local and regional democracy in the United Kingdom' recommends greater devolution of powers to local government, increased tax-raising powers for councils and a fairer funding settlement for English local authorities.

The report concludes:
·         The ability of councils to provide "essential public services, quality health and social care and effective and adequate community services and facilities, especially to the growing number of older people" is under huge pressure following austerity measures.
·         It recommends devolution of powers to councils as "the ability of local authorities to discharge their responsibilities sometimes appears to be highly restricted by central government".
·         Despite significant funding reductions themselves, councils in Wales and Scotland are "better off financially than their English counterparts". The complex formula for distribution of central government funding produces "considerable uncertainty and effects of unequal treatment".
·         A diversified base of local revenue is an "urgent necessity" with council tax "limited by central or devolved governments, due to the referendum obligation" while "all rates are decided by government and funding is still dominated by central government grants".

Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman, said:
"This report recognises the huge challenge facing public services with councils having to find £20 billion worth of savings by the end of this current Parliament. The LGA has highlighted the impact this will have on essential services and the Government has listened by not making an additional reduction to local government funding in 2014/15.
"We feel this review is a fair reflection on the current pressures facing local government. The current model for financing and running local government needs to change and adapt to today's circumstances and it is important that local and central government works together to address these issues and takes these recommendations forward.
"Devolution of decision-making and tax-raising powers to local areas is needed to help save money and improve services and English communities need to be given the same significant say over everything from health services to public transport as they do across the border in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"Our European counterparts also identified the urgent need for a fair and equitable distribution of public money across the United Kingdom. The 34-year-old Barnett Formula is short-changing English communities by as much as £4.1 billion a year and a needs-based model is needed for a fairer deal.
"When the delegation returns to the UK in five years, I hope these vital reforms will be in full force and local government will be looking ahead to the future with renewed hope."

This is a press release from the Local Government Association, which is a cross party grouping of local authorities, Chaired by a Tory. It shows the depth of feeling in local government about lack of funding under the ConDem government.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Lib Dems beaten by Bus Pass Elvis Party in council by-election

This is the result of the Clifton North, Nottingham council by-election held yesterday.

Bishop - Bus Pass Elvis  67
Clarke - UKIP             536
Ferguson - Labour      1179
Marshall - Lib Dem        56
Rule - Tory                 1025

It would be remiss to let today pass without noting the highlight from last night's council by-elections. In Clifton North, Lib Dem candidate Tony Marshall was beaten into last place by David Laurence Bishop of the Bus Pass Elvis Party (Marshall received 56 votes to Bishop's 67). The party's policies include the legalisation of brothels with a 30 per cent reduction for OAPs.

Bishop told the Nottingham Post that he was now "confident" of beating the Lib Dems in the general election. He said: "I will either stand in Broxtowe or Skegness and I'm more confident of beating the Liberal Democrats than I was two days ago. It's not the best news for the Liberal Democrats. But perhaps people actually liked my policies of legalising brothels with a 30 per cent reduction for OAPs and holding an enquiry into the cost of vets fees."

The Lib Dems, who have lost their deposit eight times in parliamentary by-elections since 2010, have previously been beaten by Professor Pongoo, a climate change activist who visits schools dressed as a penguin.

Written by George Eaton and first published at The New Statesman

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

It's Official: Badger Culls Were Inhumane, Ineffective and Unnecessary

Last autumn, more than 1,800 badgers lost their lives in Somerset and Gloucestershire in the name of bovine tuberculosis control. From the very beginning, Humane Society International/UK and our Team Badger colleagues warned that badgers would suffer and that the cull would be ineffective. Now the government-commissioned report by independent experts, who have studied the evidence, has shown our grave concerns to be justified.


The independent report, leaked to the BBC at the end of February, shows that a significant proportion of free-shot badgers took more than five minutes to die.

 Additional analysis of compliance monitoring reports from Natural England (the statutory body responsible for issuing the licenses for badger culling) shows that, while the number of shootings they observed during the pilots was very low, nevertheless a third of those badgers were shot in the wrong part of the body such as the head or neck, some wounded animals needing to be shot a second time, in some cases after being pursued for five to ten minutes. These reports suggest that hundreds of badgers will have suffered considerably during the pilot culls.


The damning conclusions of the independent report are extremely important. The pilot culls were ostensibly set up to test whether the shooting of free-roaming badgers at night with shotguns and rifles would prove to be a humane, effective and safe way of reducing badger populations.

From the start Defra ministers have ignored animal welfare concerns, public opposition and overwhelming scientific evidence that culling badgers wouldn't help to prevent the spread of TB among cattle. While the cull was underway, Defra revised the badger population estimates downwards and extended the culling period well beyond the initial six weeks stipulated in the licenses.

The culls proved highly controversial and divisive, with members of the public turning out in force at rallies and at night in the cull zones to walk the footpaths, check the setts and provide assistance for any wounded badgers. More than 300,000 people signed Brian May's Stop the Badger Cull e-petition. Costs spiralled, with the total bill for each badger killed estimated to be in excess of £4,000.


Despite being given more time to kill more badgers, in the end the shooters failed to even get close to their kill target of 70%. In Gloucestershire they barely reached 40%, after shooting for more than 11 weeks.
Far from helping, most scientists agree that killing a smaller proportion of badgers over a longer period of time is likely to make things worse. This is because the remaining disturbed badgers roam more widely and the prevalence of TB in the badger population increases.


Let's not forget that culling badgers is also entirely unnecessary.
In Wales, annual testing of cattle, among other measures, was reintroduced in 2008. Since then, the number of 'reactor' cattle slaughtered each year has reduced by almost a half, without a single badger being killed. In England, similar measures are slowly being introduced, and while we are a few years behind Wales, we are already seeing rates of TB in cattle reducing.

In the 1960s, TB in cattle was brought under control using strict cattle testing regimes, movement restrictions and biosecurity measures. Over the intervening years these measures were slowly relaxed and abandoned altogether during cattle restocking after the BSE and Foot & Mouth Disease outbreaks of the 1990s and 2001 respectively. Reintroducing these stricter standards may be unpopular among some farmers who resist reform, but it is surely an appropriate way to bring cattle TB back under control while we await the introduction of effective cattle vaccines.

The obsession among some farmers and veterinarians with badger culling must end. Badger culling is inhumane, ineffective and unnecessary. The government, the British Veterinary Association, and farmers unions must recognise that the answer to the problem of bovine TB is within the industry's own hands. They must now abandon all notions of badger culling and focus on introducing and ensuring compliance with stricter cattle measures, and promoting vaccination of both badgers and cattle.

Only then will we have an effective policy we can all support.
Take action to help protect badgers -- Send a message to the Prime Minister: Kill the Cull, not the Badgers

Follow Mark Jones on Twitter:      

Executive Director for animal protection organisation Humane Society International/UK

First published at The Huffington Post

Monday, 24 February 2014

Haringey Lib Dems in Meltdown

As reported by the local newspaper the Ham and High almost two thirds (12 out of 21) of the Lib Dem councillors on Haringey Council are stepping down at the London council elections in May.

The departing councillors rather skirt around the reasons for taking this decision now, and the Lib Dem Group Leader cllr Richard Wilson even suggests that this is all part of natural process. Come off it mate, I’ve never known so many serving councillors quitting at the same time, and the reason is plainly obvious.

The Lib Dems in Haringey and much of London (and the north of England) are a toxic brand. People in these areas voted Lib Dem because they were unhappy with Labour in 2010, but are horrified by the subsequent ConDem government’s attack on the welfare state. These councillors know full well that they are highly unlikely to retain their seats and have no doubt been making alternative plans for some time. Rats leaving a sinking ship, you might reasonably conclude, rather than some natural turn over of personnel.

A brief look at the results of the GLA elections in 2012 paints the picture perfectly if you are in any doubt about the Lib Dems prospects at this year’s local elections. Labour won comfortably in every ward in Haringey, and in 18 of the 19 wards in the borough, the Green party beat the Lib Dems. I said at the time, that the writing was on the wall for Lib Dem councillors and sure enough they have just been marking time for the last two years. Some of them have no doubt tried to do their best, but such is the impossibility of providing good quality local public services, whilst central government funding for local authorities is slashed, have decided to jump rather than wait to be pushed.   

But what of our MP and junior Coalition Government Minister, Lynne Featherstone? Well she’s got another year to think about it, since she is not up for re election until 2015, but she is showing no sign of throwing in the towel like fellow north London MP Lib Dem Sarah Teather (Brent central). No, Featherstone seems to think she can win, because she is ‘personally popular’ unlike her party.

There is a great myth spread around by Featherstone and her supporters that she is a ‘good constituency MP’. We are bombarded in Hornsey and Wood Green (Featherstone’s Parliamentary seat) with leaflets telling us what a good constituency MP she is, a case of if you say something often enough, people will eventually believe it.

Well, I’m not buying it. I admit she is very good at self publicity, but that is all. She recently tried to take credit for the halting of plans to build a huge waste plant at Pinkham Way, for instance, but this was all the work of the residents in the Pinkham Way Alliance. This is only one example of Featherstone shamelessly claiming the credit for some achievement, when she’s done nothing but write the odd letter about it.

What’s more, she is an embarrassment in Parliament where she is commonly referred to as ‘Featherhead’ by other MPs (including some in her own party). But the main thing is, as the dozen departing Lib Dem councillors realise, personal reputation, whether real or otherwise, is not enough to save Lib Dem politicians. Featherstone will be unceremoniously booted out in 2015, for the part her party has played in propping up this deeply unpopular Tory led government.   

Close the door on the way out please Lynne, but make sure it doesn’t hit you in the face.        

Friday, 21 February 2014

The science is clear: global warming is real

A new word, ‘warmist’, has entered the vocabulary of discussion about climate change. It is often intended to mock and to imply that those who promote the fact that the climate of the earth is warming are members of some weird cult. It joins another word ‘denialist’ that is applied by some to those who refuse to accept that there is a human cause of climate change and disruption.

These words are unhelpful. Of course there is a fair debate to be had about the uncertainty of some of the precise details of climate prediction. But that is a far cry from the way in which extreme opponents of the conclusions of the science of climate change denigrate both the science and the scientists involved. This includes personal abuse of scientific leaders including the Met Office Chief Scientist and successive Presidents of the Royal Society.

Scientists are used to argument and to debate, and indeed science proceeds by posing questions driven by scepticism and uncertainty. One of the fundamental methodologies of science is to reduce uncertainty by means of experiment and observation. However, there is a difference between robust debate and unwarranted personal attacks.

Questions can be divided into 2 types, those for which there is an answer, even if we don’t know what it is, and questions for which there is no right or wrong answer and where different people will hold different views. The question of whether humans are causing climate warming is an example of the first type of a question, not the second. There is a correct factual answer. For this type of question Daniel Moynihan’s quote is apposite;
…you are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.
As with any science which aims to understand and predict the future state of a complex system, there are uncertainties in climate science. That humans are emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on an unprecedented scale, and the fundamental physics that carbon dioxide warms the Earth’s atmosphere, are not among these uncertainties. Climate scientists may not be able to quantify the precise impacts of climate change in a specific locality in fifty years time, but they do know we are performing a very risky experiment if we carry on emitting carbon dioxide at the rate we are today.

Climate change poses very serious risks, and responding to these is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s policy-makers. For this reason, there has been unprecedented rigour and global collaboration in the analysis and measurement of climate change. There is no equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in any other area of science. It is widely expected that the Panel’s ‘Fifth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change’, which will be published later this month, will present even greater confidence in the evidence that the climate is warming as a result of human activities.

This message may be unpalatable. The response should not be to shoot the messengers however - or to be abusive to them, which appears to be acceptable to a minority of commentators. How we respond is for all of us to determine. As John Holdren, scientific adviser to President Obama, put it in a lecture at Imperial College last year, we have 3 choices in responding to climate disruption, we can mitigate, we can adapt or we can suffer. The reality is that we shall have to do all 3. But unless we are very serious in our response, we and the other living inhabitants of the planet will suffer greatly.

Jointly written by Sir Mark Walport, the current Government Chief Science Adviser, and his 3 predecessors: Sir John Beddington (2008 to 2013), Sir David King (2000 to 2007) and Lord May (1995 to 2000).

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Earth Cannot Wait

The Earth Cannot Wait : Part 3 from STRIKE! mag on Vimeo.

The Green Party's Derek Wall (@anothergreen) on direct action, seven generation thinking and Marxist ecology:

"Even an entire society and nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. The are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries and have to bequeath it in improved states to succeeding generations"

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Floods Expose Absurdity of Austerity

In the last few weeks - intensifying in recent days as the flood waters have moved closer to London - it almost seems as if politicians have only wanted to help clear some of the mud so they can pick it up and sling it at their opponents. It is difficult to hear yourself think amid this cacophony of blame, but it is worth considering what the floods and our reaction to them tell us about the state and public spending.

Despite the usual spin and bluster, it is a fact that spending on flood defences has been cut by this government and frontline Environment Agency jobs have gone including, insiders say, those who worked alongside the emergency services and on flood warnings.

The Conservative chair of the relevant select committee of MPs has said the floods "reinforce our concerns about cuts to the Defra budget". And the GMB on Tuesday said most of the £130million extra funding planned will be spent on capital projects and will save few, if any, of the 1,700 jobs under threat.

This has been a horrible time for everyone whose home or business has been flooded and there will be no quick fixes for many families. But it is distasteful in the extreme that some on the right are preying on their misery by saying the only way to help is by cutting foreign aid that supports poverty-stricken and war-torn families around the world.

This rob Peter to pay Paul mentality is nothing new, but it exposes the absurdity of those who hanker for a smaller state. The idea that "our people" - whether our country or our constituents - are more deserving than others is not only crudely selfish, it also makes no sense.

Arch Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg is not waiting for "the market" to step in and pump out his constituents' homes, or drain the fields or rebuild battered walls and fences. No one in these communities is crying out for G4S or Serco to come to the rescue; they're asking for the state to help, in the form of the Environment Agency experts, the police, firefighters, local government officers and the armed forces.

For the likes of the privileged, Eton and Oxford-educated Rees-Mogg, the consequences of a smaller state are perhaps becoming apparent for the first time. But elsewhere, in the real world, others are painfully aware. A report on Wednesday revealed two-thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears and one in seven families face losing their homes. The National Housing Federation said its survey demonstrated the bedroom tax was "heaping misery and hardship" on already struggling families.

Much has been made of what David Cameron actually meant when - in a desperate bid to claw back some political capital in the flood-hit Tory heartlands - he insisted that "money was no object" in dealing with the fallout. But the more revealing part of what he said was that "we are a wealthy country". And, as if to reinforce the point, we learned on the same day that all of a sudden there was £2.5billion available for some new fighter planes.

Unions have consistently made the point that we are a wealthy country, that there is no need to force people out of their homes and to drive more people into poverty. We have also consistently warned about the real dangers of cutting public spending, and we have been consistently ignored.

The floods have exposed the gossamer thin argument for austerity and the cold, cruel ideology that underlies it. The inescapable truth is that we all rely on properly funded and resourced public services - maybe not directly every minute of every day but, nonetheless, all the time, because the alternative means abandoning people when they most need our help.
By Mark Serwotka General secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union and first published at The Huffington Post

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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Fresh Look at Our Drug Laws Is the First Step Towards a Sane, Evidence-Based Policy

One of the most talented actors of his generation found dead in his bathroom. Over a hundred young people needing treatment after a gig in Belfast where drugs were found. Teenagers dying after a taking Ecstasy on a night out. Every day the media present us with examples of the miserable failure of the "war on drugs". Yet the government presses on with the prohibition approach, refusing to acknowledge the obvious reality that it's not working.

When I was elected MP for Brighton Pavilion, the city had the highest mortality rate from drugs in the country. I wanted to find out whether doing things differently would help save lives, and was part of efforts to form a local commission to take a fresh look at the city's strategy to reduce drug-related harm. Thanks to innovative new approaches - increased training in the administration of naloxone which can prevent overdose, better data collection on drug use trends and improving services for people with a dual diagnosis - some great progress has been made. In the last few years we've seen a higher than average increase in numbers of people leaving treatment successfully.

Yet national policies, part of the broader international 'war on drugs', are the main barrier to further progress. The UK still approaches drug addiction as a criminal issue first and a health issue second. As the former Chief Superintendent of Brighton and Hove Police has said: "The use of drugs is not well addressed through punitive measures. Providing people with treatment not only resolves their addiction - thereby minimising risk of overdose, drug related health issues, anti-social behaviour and dependence on the state, for example - but cuts the cost to the community by reduced offending".

Those costs are enormous. In England and Wales alone, an estimated £3billion a year is spent fighting the war on drugs, to little effect. Over half of the 85,000 people in prison are thought to have serious drug problems. Rates of cannabis use by young people in Britain are amongst the highest in Europe.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that our approach is being dictated by a law that's over 40 years old and is not fit for purpose. There has never been an impact assessment of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act; nor has there been a cost benefit assessment, or any attempt to compare its effectiveness in reducing the social, economic or health costs of drug misuse with alternatives. Successive governments have seemed singularly uninterested in whether whether our current prohibtion-based approach is an effective use of public money.

Where alternative approaches have been adopted, the results have generally been positive. In 2001, Portugal adopted a new policy whereby drug possession was changed from a criminal offence to an administrative offence, following which there was a reduction in new HIV diagnoses and in drug-related deaths. In Switzerland, a series of new policies focusing attention on drug use from a public health perspective, led to a decline in crime rates. An investigation by Release looked at 21 jurisdictions that had adopted some form of decriminalisation of drug possession. Overwhelmingly, it found that such an approach does not lead to an increase in drug use but does improve outcomes for users - in terms of employment, relationships and likelihood of staying out of prison.

As Russell Brand has argued, if "we are aware that our drug laws aren't working and that alternatives are yielding positive results, why are we not acting?" Over the past year, I've been calling on the government to carry out an independent and authoritative review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. My epetition has received over 50,000 signatures, and the figure is rising rapidly. If 100,000 people have signed by the end of this week, the issue will have to be debated and voted on by MPs.

Slowly, it's starting to feel like this isn't such a hopeless cause. Even in the US, where Nixon first used the term "War on Drugs", the wind is changing - the Republican governor of Texas has stated his intention "to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalisation and keep people from going to prison and destroying their lives."

And now the deputy prime minister, back from a trip to Columbia, is arguing for "a proper debate about the need for a different strategy." It's not often that I agree with Nick, but on this occasion, he's dead right. Prohibition is costing lives, as well as billions of taxpayers' money - a fresh look at our drug laws is the first step towards a sane, evidence-based policy.

You can sign the epetition here and join our Thunderclap here
Written by Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party

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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Statement on Local Authority Cuts

The Green party of England and Wales fought the 2010 general election in opposition to the savage public service cuts supported by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. The Green party offered a different approach to reducing the country’s debts, which included making the wealthy (people and corporations) pay their fair share of tax, investing in the economy to produce sustainable growth through the Green New Deal, some cuts for example to Trident and pledging to protect public services particularly for the most vulnerable in our society.
Unfortunately, we did not win the general election and so are unable to put these policies into practice, although Caroline Lucas has almost single handedly taken the opposition to the Coalition government cuts agenda. The ideologically driven shrink the state policies of the Coalition government aim to reduce public spending and turn most of the public services over to private corporations. 
Our elected representatives in local government are on the front line in the assault on public spending, with local authorities having their funding from central government cut by around a third since 2010. Councils of all political stripes are hurting and they worry about whether they will even be able to fund their statutory duties in the future. Local government is under serious threat and everyone involved in it knows this to be true, despite the blithe statements about local authorities making efficiency savings and encouraging local business growth to pay for services, trumpeted by the Coalition central government. All the easy savings and many not so easy have been made now, and a future of even more of the same is daunting.
Haringey Green Party would continue to look for better and more effective ways of doing things in Council budgets especially on energy, transport, supplies, consultancy, and agency fees, whilst avoiding cuts in services, jobs, or wages and whilst recognising the importance of all sub-contractors’ staff (as well as Council employees) being paid a London living wage.  We would oppose any salaries in new appointments being over ten times the lowest full time wage.
Haringey Green party supports Green councillors who refuse to participate in or support an administration that implements any further cuts; and recognises that Green councillors may better represent the interests of their constituents by remaining in opposition at this time.
Haringey Green Party supports popular mobilisation against the cuts through demonstrations and where necessary direct action, in coordination with local, regional and national anti-cuts movements such as the People’s Assembly. HGP would welcome coordinated actions between Green and left councillors in different areas to resist cuts in services. 
HGP would welcome a national campaign for reform of local taxation and/or Council or GLA charges to make them more progressive and to capture more of the profits of developers to support local services, and would encourage and support any Green councillors elected here to pursue these aims as well as to campaign for local eco-taxes like levies on commercial packaging.
Haringey Green Party believes that Green Councillors, whenever faced with a need to make instant decisions about budgets in the Council chamber and whenever consultation with supporters and allies is not possible within the permitted time frame, should do whatever they judge to be in the best interests of the local population and consistent with Green Party policy.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Passengers face massive disruption if Boris’s cuts to ticket offices happen

The Mayor of London’s proposal to close all London Underground ticket offices and cut up to 1,000 tube staff is apparently supported by 82 per cent of Londoners, according to a poll commissioned by TfL.

However the question they ask in their poll doesn’t mention either the ticket office closures, or cutting a thousand staff, but TfL are now claiming public endorsement for the cuts. Polls commissioned by the unions also show overwhelming opposition from passengers to these cuts.

Closing ticket offices which are only used by 3 per cent of people making journeys does not sound much of a problem, except when you translate that into over a 100,000 people a day who are queuing up to sort out the issues which the machines can’t help them with.

I can see some merit to the argument that we utilize new technology to make staff more accessible, but these plans combine the closures with a huge reduction in staffing. Fewer staff will be around and when they are wandering about, we may, or may not, be lucky enough to bump into them. Ticket offices in most stations provide a reassuring focus point where you know you can find someone.

The presence of a staffed office provides an invaluable source of advice and assistance to passengers, way beyond the function of merely selling tickets. Get rid of a 1000 staff and you lose that reassuring presence which helps passengers feel safer, especially if travelling after dark.

Crime and abuse sadly occur in society and tube stations are no exception. In a recent survey of disabled travellers “enhancing personal security and safety” was ranked consistently as the most important benefit that staff provide to disabled passengers. CCTV cameras can never replace staff in making passengers feel safe waiting on a dark platform at night.

As we have tragically seen in recent years, emergencies do happen on our transport network and deleting staff posts as the number of passengers flowing through stations increases is irresponsible and could lead to injury or loss of life on the expanding tube network.

This Mayor – Boris Johnson – presided over annual fare hikes above the rate of inflation every year between 2008 and 2013. During this time, the real average increase in TfL fares was 11 per cent, hitting Londoners’ pockets over and over again.

Meanwhile, he throws away vast sums of public money on a succession of vanity projects including his New Bus and his cable car. While the Mayor wants to shed staff from tube stations to save money, the additional cost for the extra staff on the back of the 600 Boris Buses is an estimated £30m a year.

With record numbers using the tube and a massive predicted increase in passenger numbers these cuts to staffing are unnecessary, unsafe and unworkable.

He has slashed away at our public services. Earlier this month, 10 of London’s oldest fire stations closed their doors for the last time, 14 fire engines were withdrawn and 552 firefighter jobs were axed – all victims of this Mayor’s decision to cut council tax for the average family by 7p per week to make a political point, rather than safeguard our communities.

He has also presided over police front counter closures and is pushing for City Hall security services to be outsourced too.

Tube workers have been rightly praised, as heroes during the terrorist attacks, for making the Olympics a success and for keeping London moving. They now deserve our full support in their fight for a safe, properly staff tube.

Industrial action is a last resort and no one wants strikes, least of all tube workers who lose pay. But passengers face disruption and a worse service for years to come if these cuts take place.

This Mayor opposed the closure of 40 ticket offices by his predecessor and entered office in 2008 with a firm pledge to keep ticket offices open. He repeated his promise again in 2010. Now we see the Mayor quietly ditching his commitments and hoping nobody will notice.

I hope Londoners will see what he’s really doing and object to these dangerous cuts.

Written by Darren Johnson, Green Party London AM 

Friday, 10 January 2014

This perverse Mark Duggan verdict will ruin our relations with the police

After hearing the verdict in the Mark Duggan inquest I went with his family and friends to a local church in Tottenham where we tried to share a private moment before facing the media. A range of emotions was on display, but it is fair to say that stunned disbelief and anger dominated.

Having attended the inquest for three months, and having heard or read all of the testimony given, this was the last verdict that I or the family was expecting. The question on everyone's lips was, how could they come up with a verdict like that? The police have been quick to herald the verdict as a vindication of their flawed operation. But they too must realise that the verdict leaves many questions still to be answered.

Firstly the family is struggling to understand how the shooting of an unarmed man can still be deemed a lawful act. The "safety net" for police officers in such circumstances is that the killing is lawful if the officer has an "honestly held belief" that he or others are in imminent danger. But in this case the jury themselves stated it was their belief that Duggan had thrown the gun before being fatally shot, so where was the immediate, clear and present danger?

At the inquest, V53 – the officer who fired the fatal shots – said that he definitely saw the sock-covered gun and was even able to describe seeing the barrel of the gun sticking out of the hole in the sock. He also gave this sworn testimony in the two trials of the alleged gun supplier, Kevin Hutchinson Foster. On each of these occasions he stated he was positive that Mark had the gun in his hand when he shot him the first and second time. Each time he described it as a "freeze frame" moment, adding: "This is something that you do not forget." He further justified the need for shooting Duggan twice by describing how the first shot spun Duggan around so that the gun was pointing directly at him when he shot him the second time.

The jury appears to have put this evidence to one side, along with the fact that two other officers also testified on the same three occasions that they had seen the gun drawn and in Duggan's hand. It seems that the jury has delivered a verdict that neither fits the known facts nor chimes with the testimony of the independent witnesses.

Further, in coming to the conclusion that Duggan had thrown the gun before or on exiting the mini-cab the jury disregarded the scientific evidence as no traces of his DNA was found on the sock or the gun although his fingerprints were found on the lid of the box that the gun was allegedly being transported in. They also appear to have disregarded the evidence of the taxi driver, who said that he had not seen Duggan open the box during the journey or once the police had forced his vehicle to stop.

In fact there were no witnesses who saw the gun being thrown. A few police officers inferred that it was possible, but none of the 11 highly trained officers claimed to see Duggan making any movement that could have resembled him throwing away the firearm. Most surprisingly for the family was the jury's apparent ability to totally disregard the evidence of Witness B, the only independent witness to see the shooting. He was an extremely reluctant witness, who had to be tracked down by the coroner's team. He had filmed the aftermath of the shooting; the footage was later sold to the BBC. He has no historical links to Tottenham and no links to Duggan or his family. He was adamant that Duggan had a BlackBerry in one hand, and that both of his hands were held above head height in a gesture of surrender as he was gunned down.

The family, their supporters and friends believe the jury has got the verdict terribly wrong. But then we also believe this inquest was lost long before it even began. It was lost on the evening that Duggan was slain, as immediately after the shooting the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission began to brief the media with inaccurate and misleading information that ensured that Duggan was demonised, even before his body had turned cold. The headlines declared him a gangster who was on a mission to avenge the killing of his cousin, Kelvin Easton.

However, during the inquest no evidence was offered in support of this claim. It was further alleged that he was a large-scale drugs dealer, but yet again not a shred of evidence was provided to substantiate these allegations. But that did not matter, the mud had been slung and it clearly stuck as it was designed to. Even now most people still do not realise that he was only ever convicted for two relatively minor offences – one count of cannabis possession, and one count of receiving stolen goods.

So now the family is expected to put its faith in the IPCC. But few people in Tottenham, black or white, have any faith in this organisation's ability to be thorough, fair and impartial. The IPCC has faced much criticism during the inquest and the family believe that this criticism has been well-earned. During the inquest the IPCC's mishandling of the crime scene was revealed, including the fact that it gave permission for the mini-cab to be removed before investigating officers had even looked at it or had it forensically searched for evidence. It further transpired that the IPCC failed to respond to crucial independent witnesses, even those who tried to respond to their own urgent witness appeals.

The IPCC has chosen not to explore the possibility that the gun was planted at the spot it was found, even though it was 7m from his body and two independent witness gave the IPCC statements – and later testified – that they had seen an officer remove a gun from the mini-cab some minutes after Duggan had been killed. But the most crucial reason why the family and local community will have no faith in the IPCC's investigation is that its lead investigator, Colin Sparrow, revealed to the inquest that he knew Duggan had not fired any gun long before the IPCC began briefing the media that he had shot at police first. It is one thing for the IPCC to have made the mistake, but it still took three weeks to correct a "fact" it knew to be false; and in those intervening days Tottenham, and many other areas, burned.

This verdict will have a long-lasting and negative impact on police and community relations. Tottenham's black community will not view this judgment in isolation. For us, a lack of justice has become par for the course; Duggan's name now joins those of Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner and Roger Sylvester who have all died at the hands of the police and have not received anything that resembles justice.

It feels as though we are living in a parallel universe from mainstream society – for what is seen as justice by the mainstream is experienced as an injustice by the marginalised. This perverse and contradictory verdict will only add to the sense of injustice and hopelessness that has long been felt in disadvantaged and marginalised areas such as Tottenham.

Written by Stafford Scott and first published at The Guardian