Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Is this the Ungreenest Government ever?

Some months back I attended a public meeting entitled 'Is this the Greenest Government Ever?' with speakers including local Lib Dem MP John Leech.  The verdict of the meeting was that it was too soon to tell, and that whilst being the greenest ever wasn't setting the bar very high, things still weren't that promising.  Given the events of the past few days, it might be more appropriate to turn the question round to 'Is this the Ungreenest Government ever?.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

High Speed Rail - Green? - Good for Manchester?

There's been a lot of propaganda around recently in support of the Government's High Speed Rail plan (HS2) for London to Birmingham, and subsequently to Manchester and Leeds.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a group of people with balloons and leaflets in Piccadilly Gardens, seeking to convince passers by to sign up to  the scheme.  Adverts can also be seen on the local buses.  Is it the boon its supporters claim?  Is it green?  is it worth the cost? 

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Greens and Art

I've thought it myself, and I've heard other people say it 'the green movement would benefit from more artistry'; and for green movement also read protest movements generally, including the recent anti-cuts demonstrations.  Well, if some recent events that I've attended are a guide, there is a growing interweaving of political action and art.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The battle for Fourth Place

It's nearly the end of the football season and the title might suggest a football piece (after all its the main topic of conversation in Manchester this weekend), but no - I'm talking politics.

Everyone knows about the 'Big Three' but other Parties such as UKIP, the Green Party and even the BNP often like to claim fourth place (I'm excluding the SNP and Plaid Cymru as they only stand candidates in their respective countries; I'm also excluding Northern Ireland).  So who should be fourth (or top of the Championship if the 'Big Three' constitute the Premiership)?.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Watching the Red Tide come in

Observations from the Manchester count:

It was another late night, although not as bad as last year with the co-incident general election.  This time there was the co-incident AV referendum, so the first task was to separate out the two sets of ballot papers from each box.  This gave the opportunity to gauge the referendum vote - I'm pleased to note that in my ward, Chorlton, the 'Yes' vote was definititely in front, probably at least 60% 'Yes'.  Sadly, Chorlton is not typical of the country as a whole in this respect.  

My view is that the referendum ballot should have been allocated a separate box at each polling station; actually my view is that the referendum shouldn't have been held on the same day as the council elections at all - I blogged on this last summer when the referendum was announced.

As the counting progressed a clear pattern was emerging in those South Manchester seats where the Liberal Democrats were defending.   In ward after ward Labour were out-polling them. 

There were even optimistic noises from fellow Greens who saw areas where they seemed to be challenging the Lib Dems for second place in their former heartlands.  In Whalley Range, Ayo Ogolo - standing for the first time - came within 50 votes of the Lib Dems, in a ward where recently they had two councillors.    But the big victors in the City were undoubtably Labour; it gradually became clear that they had won all 32 seats up for election (33 including a co-incident by-election in Burnage).   A red tide indeed.            

Talking to a couple of Liberal Democrats, I got the response that while they were expecting it to be bad, they didn't think it would be this bad.  They were taking it with a mixture of grim resignation and gallows humour (I saw one sporting a yellow rosette and a 'No2AV' sticker).       

The results couldn't be announced officially until a separate verification of the referendum ballots was done, which was taking forever, and so for the first time ever I left before the declarations (leaving at 2.45 am).

So now to digest the results.  Whilst at a national Party level the Liberal Democrats may have had it coming (all those students, and other people who thought they were voting for a progressive Party...), I don't celebrate their wipe out.  Many good local councillors (and I include Paul Ankers, my Lib Dem opponent in Chorlton in this) have been put to the sword in the process and an increasingly one Party Labour state in Manchester is bad for democracy.      For us Greens, our vote has held up amidst the carnage, but it hasn't really grown much.

The big step forward for us is that we came second in four wards; we beat the Tories in 15 wards and the Lib Dems in 6 - definitely our best result in terms of beating 'major' Parties.  In all our second place wards we've  got a long way to go to beat Labour on Thursday's showing; however if the Lib Dem decline continues, someone will need to fill the gap; that could only be us.  Interesting times ahead - even if we are stuck with first past the post for the foreseeable future.

Full results are available on the Manchester City Council  website.      


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Not your typical Royal Wedding Weekend

Another long weekend partly thanks to Will and Kate, but to be honest they haven't featured much in my activities over the past 2 days. 

In fact for much of the duration of the wedding I took part in a walk on Manchester's 'Radical, Rebellious and Riotous history' - a well-presented and well-attended 2 hours in which Michael Herbert (who has been researching and writing about Manchester's radical history for 30 years) underlined the many times when Manchester and it's people were in the front line of reform (e.g. I never new that the first fatality in the English Civil War was a linen weaver in what is now Market Street). Michael Herbert is planning to put more of these Manchester-based walks together in future, under the name Red Flag Enterprises. 

All of which segued nicely into a protest in Albert Square, organised by people in the uncut movement, and featuring a mock funeral for our public services.  Coffins and wreaths represented areas ranging from the NHS to the Arts were preceded by a long trumpeter (pictured right).  One of the things I like about the Uncut movement (as well as telling it like it is about the rich and powerful) is its use of more imaginative, almost street theatre, approaches to protests.  It was a small but select band, which fortunately avoided the wave of arrests on peaceful protester which took place elsewhere in the country on Friday (for shame! - see various Youtube videos for evidence).

On Saturday I was back in Chorlton, where I am standing as candidate in Thursday's local elections.  Unity Arts Manchester were running a workshop for children in Beech Road Park, and I was pleased to meet them and have a lengthy chat with one of their volunteer workers, about the work they do in the city for both children and adults, bringing people from different cultures together to celebrate and enjoy our rich heritage.   One impact of the cuts is that they may have to carry more of the burden of issues which would previously have been handled by the paid public sector (without more money to help); it hope that doesn't adversely impact the work they currently do - i fear it might.  

In the same area, I visited the monthly farmer's market outside the Horse and Jockey; whilst I am often critical of the Council, the markets here and outside the Library have been a welcome addition to the Chorlton scene.  We'd like to see more though, and a higher percentage of food actually produced within our city and it's immediate environs.

Next up (this afternoon) - Speaker's corner - an initiative in Platt Fields Park, modelled on the famous Hyde Park speakers' corner.  A chance for a bit of oratory (getting nervous already), whilst a number of my colleagues join the May Day march and rally in the city centre.     Then there's some leaflets to deliver... and so on...

Coming up for me in the next few days:  Speaking at a debate on the AV referendum at Manchester Students Uni. on Wednesday, a slot on Peace FM radio station, later on Wednesday night and the official launch of the 'Save Manchester Sure Start' campaign on Tuesday lunchtime.        

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Save Manchester Sure Start

Yesterday I attended a public meeting of 'Save Manchester Sure Start', a campaign launched when the council threatened to privatise Manchester's 36 SureStart Centres as part of 'The Cuts'.  A number of women spoke eloquently and sometimes movingly of how much Sure Start had helped them in difficult times; how it was so much more than a basic service for young children.  A key point raised time and again was that the early intervention provided by and through Sure Start Centres prevented situations where social services would have had to get involved, saving grief for parents and children - and saving money for the authorities including the council.

Another key topic was an alleged campaign of intimidation by the council against staff working in Sure Start Centres.  There is plenty of evidence that staff and users have been discouraged from campaigning on this issue since it first arose earlier in the year.    Council Leader Sir Richard Leese, who attended the meeting, claimed that this was because of the 'Purdah' which prevents local councils from expressing political views during election campaigns.  However the problems precede that and include a leaked email instructing Children's Services staff to block out parents campaigning to protect their Sure Start centres (as reported in 'The Mule').

The campaign produced the following draft statement which was agreed overwhelmingly at the meeting (with the addition of a deadline of Tues 3rd May for the council to agree - just before polling day...).  I agree totally with the statement.

"This forum believes that the children of Manchester are the City's future and as such they should be regarded as its major asset.  We are committed to work tirelessly to ensure that all the public services in the city are providing the best public services to our children's futures and the resources needed should be regarded as a long term investment not just for our children but also for our communities and Manchester as a city.

This forum believes that the first stage of this investment begins at birth.  We believe that all children are equal and should be guaranteed equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender, disability or social economic status.   All public services should be inclusive not exclusive.  It is the view of the Forum what these criteria are currently being delivered through Manchester City Council's Sure Start Childrens Centres.

This Forum agrees that despite the City Council's finances, Manchester's Sure Start Childrens Centres should remain publicly funded and run as a public service which in our view  will ensure better quality standards and greater accountability with parents, users and our communities.

This Forum believes Manchester City Council should agree to holding a 3 month consultation involving representatives from the Friends of Manchester Sure Starts Forum and the Trade Unions to discuss in detail all the options regarding the financing and future of Manchester Sure Start Childrens Centres.  The outcome of that consultation shall be produced in a report with options for Manchester City Council to consider. 

In conclusion, until that process has been completed this Forum calls on Manchester City Council to suspend with immediate effect all outsourcing related work on its Sure Start Childrens Centres"   

As well as being thanked for attending the meeting Leese was given a tough time.  Under pressure he did appear to put on the table a '4th Option' of keeping the Sure Start Centres under Council control.  We will see.