Tuesday, 30 December 2008

What is a life worth?

The answer apparently depends on whose life is being taken. Before I move on to more recent events, remember the terrorist attacks in Mumbai a month ago. This was one of the biggest news stories of the year and was described as if it were the worst terrorist incident in Indian history. The death toll from those attacks is now reckoned to be 173 people; in contrast the violence in Gujarat in 2002 claimed around 2000 lives. So why so much emphasis on the recent Mumbai attacks? Is it because the targets this time were 5-star hotels used extensively by westerners, including the media, i.e. an attack on people like us? Whereas the victims of the Gujarat violence in 2002 were overwhelmingly Muslims, slaughtered in reprisal for an Muslim attack on pilgrims on a train.

Fast forward to the last few days. Israeli jets killed more people in a day than the Mumbai terrorists in total. The leaders of the USA and its allies struggled to find words strong enough to condemn the killers in Mumbai, but when it comes to Israeli aggression, what do you hear? Nothing stronger than ‘urging both sides to show restraint’, or worse putting the blame on Hamas, as per Condoleeza Rice here .

The double-standards which are applied throughout this massacre are breathtaking. For example, Israel condemns Hamas for having put their police stations in civilian areas. I checked out the location of the main Tel Aviv police station and it is of course in a densely populated area, on Dizengoff Street, (noted for its designer shops apparently, I bet there aren’t many of those in Gaza).

So, in terms of loss of life in this conflict what’s the score? As I write it is something like 362-4 ; so if we take it that both sides are equally at fault, pace the BBC and others, then that makes an Israeli life worth about 90 Palestinians. That’s extreme even by the usual western media rating, where American and British lives are worth most, and at the other extreme are Africans in places like the Congo, which has seen the deadliest war worldwide since 1945 over the past 10 years and it’s barely been noticed.

The media then go on to explain that only about 62 of those Palestinian deaths are civilians; this seems quite a low proportion until one reads the small print and finds that all adult males are excluded just in case they include uniformed personnel (as reported in today’s ‘Independent’). I was at a vigil for Palestine yesterday in Manchester, and it’s strange to think that had an Israeli bomber wiped us all out, only half of us would have been deemed to be civilians.

As to what will happen next, I can only see the cycle of violence continuing. Those who pin their hopes on Obama to solve the crisis may be sadly disappointed. Even though he takes office in less than a month, he has been noticeably silent on the current events. With Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, and a hardline pro-Israel chief of staff, I think we can expect more of the same.

I think the Israelis are hoping that ordinary Palestinians will turn against Hamas as a result of this bombardment; that may actually happen but not in the way they hope. If I were a Palestinian in Gaza forced to live under permanent siege and seeing friends and relatives destroyed by Israeli jets I might well turn away from Hamas – but to a more extreme group that would never waste time on ceasefires with such an implacable foe.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Ain't no Midnight Train

To quote Buddy Guy and Johnny Lang
Indeed no trains at any time for a period of 58 hours, a unique achievement in Europe for the country that invented the railways. Incredible.
Maybe it’s a strange time to blog about public transport on a day when it barely exists, but if it’s hard to travel anywhere it means more time at the computer.

Actually its bus rather than train travel I’m talking about today. As you will all be aware, dear readers, transport has been a hot topic in Manchester recently, and a feature of the barrage of letters in the press is what can only be described as a fear and loathing of public transport, particularly bus travel. As a regular, indeed almost daily bus user, I find this very strange; I must inhabit a parallel universe.

Apparently, merely stepping on a bus exposes one to risk of violence from the antisocial members of the lower orders, blasting out their atrocious taste in music. I can honestly say that over the years I have travelled on the omnibuses of our conurbation I have never felt really threatened. Yes, the buses are often crowded and slow and the musical tastes of other passengers can be irritating, but on the plus side I can relax and read the paper on the way into work (and read the Manchester Evening News on the way home, although that only lasts me a couple of stops). Not only can I read the paper I can save money too. A weekly ticket costs me £10, colleagues coming in by car can pay that every couple of days for parking alone. It’s not that I only travel in the rush hour either. I often travel in the evenings, I also occasionally venture to other parts of the city outside the City Centre - Chorlton route.

So what is going on? Have I got used to a low quality of life? Am I just dead lucky? Or have I escaped the selfish air-conditioned bubble mentality of the average regular motorist?.

Having said all that there is a lot which could be improved in the buses which ply our conurbation, some of which would hopefully have been addressed had the TiF bid gone ahead. Of course all that has been kicked into touch now, by the sort of people who write the letters I referred to above. Any such improvements are now likely to be a long time coming.

So why the train reference at the start of the blog? Well, I'm experimenting with combining sound and text, and I couldn't think of a good song about buses. That's the problem I suppose, people really see the bus as the Cinderella of transport modes.
Incidentally there was one bus service running in Manchester on Christmas Day, and guess where it was running to?

Was it to the Cathedral, for people going to the Christmas service?

... No

Was it to the Trafford Centre for people to worship Mammon?

... No, not even there

It was of, course, to the &8$%^&*& Airport.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

'One Away....'

The title refers to the doomsday words of a British Trident submarine operator reporting the release of its first nuclear weapon, as revealed on BBC Radio 4 earlier today. In the absence of the cold war it is easy to forget that as I write this a British submarine is out in the Atlantic with weaponry on board that is more powerful than all the explosives used in world war 2 put together.

For me the programme was topical in a sense, as I was reminded recently that opposition to nuclear weapons was probably the single thing which tipped me into joining the Green Party in the early 80s. The reminder was last Friday when I met up with the group of people who were the backbone of Stockport Green Party (which is where I joined) in those days. It was the first time I had seen them in over 20 years! - so it was a really nostalgic evening.

In those days of course we Greens were competing with the Labour Party for the anti-nuclear weapons vote. Manchester's Labour council proudly proclaimed a 'Nuclear Free City', and indeed started a movement of Nuclear free Cities (we like to be first to do anything in Manchester). How times change, now Labour seem to regard genocide as legitimate, even to the point of committing billions of pounds to Trident replacement. And what are our local 'Nuclear Free City' Labour MPs and councillors doing to fight it??

TiF Bid Referendum - last few days:

Only a few days to go now on the referendum on the topic which has dominated Manchester politics for the past few months, namely the bid for £3 billion in transport funding, or 'the vote on the congestion charge' as the media, and its opponents always call it. I have commented on it before of course, and recently have hardened my 'Yes' position. This is not because I see the proposals as any less flawed than before, but because defeat will be interpreted as a victory for the motoring lobby, and will undermine any other (probably better) schemes around the country (and beyond) for years to come.

In addition, while I have been unimpressed by much of the 'Yes' campaign, the disingenuity of the 'No' campaign has been remarkable. To listen to them one would imagine that everyone will be paying a £1200 tax from December 12 onwards (including the large number of Mancunians without access to a car!). To get the facts straight, this is what you would need to do to achieve payment of £1200 in one year:
- wait until 2013, and fail to find any alternative travel plans in those five years.
- drive the worst possible combination of journeys at the worst possible times every working day, except for a few days annual holiday.
- never share your car with another car-user to spread the cost (both financial and environmental).

Monday, 1 December 2008

The beautiful game?

'Oil Rich Abu Dhabians - nil, American food millionaire one' as yesterday's Manchester 'derby' result may have been described. When you say you are from Manchester the one thing people these days know about the City is 'Manchester United'. This was a match between the richest club in the world and probably the most famous club in the world, and although both teams have Manchester in their titles, I gather that there was not a Mancunian player on the pitch.

It's a far cry from the days of the footballer's maximum wage. These days top players earn about as much in a week as a qualified nurse earns in 3 years, all for kicking a piece of inflated leather around a green field (the footballer not the nurse that is).

People who rage against the fat cats of the large corporations seem perfectly tolerant of these obscene amounts of money; maybe the reason is the hold that the 'beautiful game' has on the psyche of a large proportion of the male population.
Support for a football team is akin to 'imprinting' in baby geese; once you have pinned your allegience to a club it is almost impossible to change; they say it is easier to change your spouse than your bank - I would say it is far easier to change your bank than to change your support for a football club. (I speak from experience - for my sins I am a supporter of Newcastle United, and therefore lumbered with a team whose playing staff include a violent criminal - can I break free? - it hasn't happened yet. It does mean I am neutral from the point of view of this article though).

Assuming one can start from a neutral position, which team should a Green support? The Ethical Consumer magazine analysed the premership clubs for their ethical performance and surprise surprise, none came out that well. Of the 2 big Manchester teams City deserve some credit for a range of measures to reduce their environmental footprint; these included a large on-site wind turbine, although that plan has now been stopped over safety fears. United have no history of note in this area, (although today's Manchester Evening News includes an intervention in favour of the TiF proposals ( here)by Sir Alex Ferguson, albeit not for particularly green reasons).

Regarding the names which the teams proudly display on their shirts, City's 'Thomas Cook' will not go down too well with Greens concerned with the expansion of air travel, but United's 'AIG' the big US insurance company, have been major donors to the US Republican Party. AIG's loyalty to the US agenda was shown recently by the refusal of a UK subsidiary to provide travel insurance to visitors to Cuba on the grounds that it was one of the world's most dangerous countries along with Afghanistan and Sudan! (reported in the Independent).

So ranking on Green issues puts City above United in the table on top in my book, although that could change when the new oil sheikh owners get into their stride.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A week in the life...

... of a Green Party activist. Ok so I'm not feeling inspired this week so I'm using my weekly slot as a diary of some events which I have attended over the last few days. Not really a typical week - I don't think there is any such thing - but hopefully it gives the impression of diversity.

Last Wednesday Manchester Green Party hosted a public meeting on 'Faith and Climate Change' which featured guest speakers from the Christian, Muslim and Humanist faiths, and was attended by about 40 people. Whilst there is a whole ecosystem of groups campaigning on climate change in Manchester this brought some new angles to the subject, and there is every intention that it is repeated with different faith groups. The meeting was held at the 'Nexus Cafe' a relatively new meeting place, and thanks are due to the group of people who run the cafe for letting us use it.

Thursday saw 2 events: at lunchtime Gtr Manchester Stop the War held an event in Market Street at which 1,000 names of the many thousands of people who have died there since (soon to be ex-) President Bush declared victory there no less than seven years ago. This attracted a lot of attention (and support) from passers-by. Work prevented me from staying long, but an advantage of city-centre working is that I can take part in such events.

This was followed in the evening by a relaunch rally for Manchester Unite against Fascism (UAF), which was a lively event attended by over a hundred people. Any schadenfreude over the recent public leaking of the BNP membership list was short-lived as the possibility of the North West having the odious Nick Griffin as an MEP hit home. There will be more on this topic on this and related blogs to come. For an ongoing low-down on the BNP see the Lancaster UAF blog in the list on the right.

The most recent event of the last few days was a Tea-Party at the threatened Rose Cottage (mentioned briefly in an earlier post 'South of the River'. Seeing the beautiful 17th Century Cottage and its surrounding buildings in the flesh brought home to me the sheer vandalism of the Airport's expansion plans. The cottage is sandwiched between the M56 and the Airport and its immediate surroundings have become a haven for wildlife driven from the already huge expanse of the Airport. Small-scale compared to the Heathrow 3rd Runway maybe, but symbolic of the battle lines between those who recognise what is unsustainable and those who do not.

Of course this is only the part of the life of an activist; there is all the online stuff - emails, websites etc. Plus of course work, family and other interests. Anyone know any good multitasking courses?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Tif and the Charge - the Debate heats up

I thought it wouldn't be long before I returned to this topic. I am referring of course to the impending referendum on the TiF bid for transport funding and the linked congestion charge proposal. As ballot papers are due to go out very shortly and the deadline for voting is 11th December, the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns are engaged in all-out battle.
This was evidenced at a debate last Thursday organised by the South Manchester Reporter, in which I took part. An audience of around 180 took part, with a panel consisting of Lis Phelan (Chair of the yes campaign)and Andrew Simpson (of Peel Holdings and the yes campaign's favourite pantomime villain) plus representatives of the four main political Parties in the area (yes, four) as a supporting cast.

Clearly both Lis and Andrew have done a number of these events and now present their respective cases with the slickness of professional politicians. A vote was taken of the audience before and after - the pre-vote was 44 in favour (of the bid) and 57 against; the vote at the end was 74 in favour and 80 against. To me this this all suggests that opinion is pretty evenly divided (at least amingst people who attend public meetings) and is pretty entrenched on both sides.

Of the 4 Party representatives, there were 3 in support (Labour, Lib Dem and me for the Greens) and 1 against (the Tory). Manchester Lib Dems have clearly come off the fence now; actually I shouldn't be too hard on them as we Greens have also had internal differences of opinion on this. I have to say that, just as the devil seems to have all the best tunes, it is more fun to argue against the many flaws in the whole package than to argue in favour. The pragmatic argument in favour wins out for me however, and seeing some of the bedfellows one would have in the 'no' campaign, reassures me that I am in the right place.

Unsurprisingly there were many 'questions' from the floor; of course these were mostly comments, although there were some definite questions along the lines of 'where are you lot getting your funding from?' (on both sides). Arguments raged over the numbers of people who would pay and the use of the word 'zone'. Fortunately climate change and other environmental issues did get a good look-in (they haven't always in previous debates).

Interaction between audience and panel was fast and furious; I was at the end of the row and being a naturally polite person was reluctant to interrupt; at one point I confiscated a microphone to ensure I could get my turn. The 'debate' was billed to end at 9 pm, but continued till 9.20 and the time seemed to pass in an instant.

It is hard to overestimate the significance of the coming referendum; people all around the country are looking to Manchester to see what happens. Not just in this country too - apparently no less a person than Barack Obama is showing an interest. A referendum is unusual in itself - last time I remember being able to take part in one was for the Common Market (as it was then called) in the 70s.

I also think it is important to see this bid as only one of a number of changes which will be needed in Greater Manchester to reach a sustainable low-carbon future.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

South of The River

Manchester is in a strange city in the geographical sense. It's shape resembles a slightly squashed banana, sandwiched in between the neighbouring Greater Manchester boroughs. The centre is about 3/4 of the way up, leaving a south which is 3 times bigger than the north. In turn this south can be divided into an 'inner south' (down as far as the Mersey Valley) and Wythenshawe.

There are major cultural difference between the different parts of the city too. A look at the spread of Green Party members is revealing; the vast majority are in the centre and south, and 'inner south' at that. I would expect an analysis of members of groups such as Friends of the Earth to be similar. This in no way means that people living in the other areas are any less green or potentially green (Green Party vote levels are not that different across most parts of the city). It is maybe more that people in those areas are less likely to have time or inclination for involvement in a political Party.

Because of this imbalance, we are not always as aware as we should be about what is happening in these other areas, so I would like to do a series of posts highlighting them, starting South of the River (Mersey) with Wythenshawe (including, and at the risk of upsetting people there, Northenden).

Wythenshawe was built as a garden city in the 1930s and was formerly known as the biggest council estate in Europe (we like our superlatives here in Manchester). Over the years it unfortunately acquired a reputation for high unemployment, crime and poor health which it is still struggling to shake off. My wife worked for several years at a school in Benchill (which was officially the most disadvantaged ward in the country until it disappeared in the last boundary changes)and became well-acquainted with the difficulties. National attention was last drawn here when a 'hoodie' pretended to shoot David Cameron.

However there are moves to bring more of a sense of community to the area. The area is the site of a pioneering community radio station (Wythenshawe FM) which was set up in 2000 with the backing of Manchester's Radio Regen project. As well as providing local information, the station has made a point of providing training.
Huge amounts of money have been invested in the area, but the City Council's usual top down, control-freakery approach is less likely to bring dividends than initiatives which are genuinely rooted in the community. The latest such move featured in last week's Guardian (article here); time will tell how successful it proves.
Another avenue being pursued in Northenden is the creation of an urban parish council, which has the support of many groups and individuals in the area, but which the City Council seems determined to strangle at birth (control-freakery again). I will probably return to this in a subsequent blog.

It is interesting to note that the high unemployment has continued in this area, the part of Manchester which includes the Airport, despite the claims of jobs, jobs, jobs every time the authorities want to expand the airport. This conflict between Wythenshawe and its remaining green lungs is highlighted by the campaign to save Rose Cottage - see link here.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

BBC Shocker! (no - not that one)

These are not good days for the BBC - I'm not going to dwell on the Brand - Ross business, it's been done to death already, (although as resignations go up the chain, I will be interested to see if Gordon Brown goes). Unsavoury though that was, no-body died, - the arms industry is a different story.

The BBC's Top Gear programme is taking part in the MPH motor show which opened today in London, and the owners of the show, Clarion events, bought up the DSEi, ITEC and LAAD arms trade show earlier this year - see here

Campaign Against the Arms Trade have called on the BBC to recognise the level of public opposition to the arms trade saying "Clarion owns arms fairs which have cheerfully invited officials from brutal regimes such as China, Colombia and Saudi Arabia. Involvement with this trade is not an option for any company that cares about its reputation". In as much as the BBC has any reputation left. Protests can be hoped for - and expected.

No surprises that the programme in question is 'Top Gear' of course. This is a show, paid for out of the license fee/broadcasting poll tax of all of us, which glorifies speed and petrol burning and will no doubt have led indirectly to the deaths and injuries of many at the hands of boy racers trying to emulate the presenters (not to mention the climate change impact). The fact that it is apparently so popular is a slap in the face to all green-minded people in the land. I tuned into the Television Awards programme last night to see Clarkson hurtling down some highway holding a Bill Oddie mask in front of his face to fool the speed cameras as the show won an award for best factual programme (!).

Which leads me on to my 'Daft comment of the week'. A host of possible contenders here, even without considering Palin and co as the US election reaches its climax. No, my choice is an excerpt from Manchester Evening News' TV editor Ian Wylie, who in a half page eulogy to the show claimed that 'there can scarcely be a TV viewer in the country who isn't excited about the return of Top Gear'.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Tale of Two Cycling Cities

With 1966 becoming a fading memory it's good to know that there is another sport in which we rule the world, and have done consistently over several recent events. I am of course referring to track cycling, which was back in the news this week with two-wheeled gold medallists taking pride of place in the first bus for the Olympic parade in London. The current home of British cycling is at Manchester's velodrome, and there is even a chance of seeing some of these medallist out and about on the streets of the conurbation. Indeed one or two may have passed me, but at the speed I pedal on my 1985 Coventry Eagle, I would not have seen them for dust.

So Manchester leads the world in track cycling, and this can rightly be seen as a source of civic pride; this is one of the Cycling cities referred to in the title. Given that you would think that Manchester would be a leading city for ordinary cyclists too. Alas not.

This other of the two cities was also in the news this week, with figures on the accident rates for cyclists in the city, and its didn't make encouraging reading. Whilst facilities are better than they were, Manchester and other large British cities still trail comparable cities in continental Europe by miles. Some comparative statistics can be seen here for countries and for comparable-sized cities
This year Manchester had the chance to become Britain's cycling city, but lost out to Bristol. Some reason why may be gleaned from the following comment at a recent Cycle Forum meeting "Cycling England basically said that the Council had shown no leadership in promoting Cycling or increasing the amount of Cyclists in Manchester…when the bid went through the Council didn’t even have a Cycling Officer as he moved job and wasn’t replaced for 3 months."
In Manchester's current great transport debate cycling was little more than an afterthought, and its increasing profile during the consultation is due entirely to hard work by environmental groups such as FoE and Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign. This despite the leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese no less, being a cycle user.
Daft Comment of the Week
I'm introducing this as a new feature. For our inaugural comment we go from the least polluting form of transport to the most polluting, and a comment from John Twigg of Manchester Airport. What follows is as reported by the Manchester Evening News (so it must be accurate) from their Greenlife debate on Sustainable Cities this week. Bizarrely given the title, this event was sponsored by Manchester Airport (a bit like King Herod sponsoring a conference on successful child-rearing). The quote is "Creating a sustainable city is part of the long-term plan for us - we want to maximise the potential that air travel brings to the economy and population".
I think Mr Twigg has set a high standard for daftness here; however I fear there will be anough material around to maintain the standard for weeks to come.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

A piece of history

A piece in the business section of the Manchester Evening News caught my eye this week as it brought back memories of my life in a period of the mid-eighties. The article concerned the preservation of the Mather and Platt factory in the Newton Heath area of East Manchester, where I worked for two years.

I remember the almost Dickensian atmosphere of the plant with its noisy, grimy machine rooms (I was normally in the quieter confines of the IT Office, but I went out onto the floor occasionally). To environmentally-minded colleagues of the day it seemed the last sort of place that a Green should be working. Even now, a survey of Green Party members would probably show a majority in the 'helping professions' or in small scale ethical businesses; however there is a role for heavy metal-bashing too (where else would our renewable energy devices be made?), and it is those types of industry where environmental and energy awareness is likely to make the biggest difference.

It's easy to forget nowadays just how big East Manchester was as a centre for engineering in times gone by. The eighties of course was the heyday of Maggie Thatcher and the replacement of manufacturing in this country with service industry - particularly financial services (look where that's gone!) The last proposal for creating employment in that area of the city was to build a huge gambling den. That too is now history, and rightly so.

As the laissez-faire financial markets collapse around us, why not bring back appropriate (and cleaner!) engineering back to the area, as part of a Green New Deal to invest in sustainable technologies for the future instead of propping up the 'banksters'.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

The TiF Bid

Nobody could spend any time in Manchester these days without noticing that there is a big transport debate going on, with a proposal for massive public transport investment paid for with a congestion charge (the Tif bid). I won't go into the basic details - there are a range of sites from both proponents and opponents for you to sift through (various links in the text) - but this has been a more difficult subject for us Greens to deal with than you might think.

Colleagues in groups like Friends of the Earth express surprise that anyone other than a diehard motorist should oppose the scheme; it improves public transport, it discourages cars - surely it must be a good thing. Greens campaigning for other congestion charge schemes around the country might feel the same. However detailed reading of the consultation documents raises a number of issues from a true Green point of view.

The first issue is with the rationale of the whole proposal; it isn't for environmental benefit, it is to support continued economic growth in the City region. The problem to be solved is the negative impact of congestion on business.
The environmental aspects of the proposal are tacked on as an afterthought, indeed the 24 page consultation document sent out to households contains just 2 brief paragraphs on the environmental impact.

Reading the small print one finds out that the reduction in carbon claimed by the scheme is only a reduction in the increase that would result from a 'do nothing' strategy. A low carbon option was put forward by consultants Steer Davies Gleave in their Strategic Environmental Assessment; this was rejected by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) as being too radical. Walking and cycling have a low profile despite the fact that 17% of car journeys in the conurbation are of less than 1 km and 51% are of less than 3 km. And there is always the worry that AGMA will have an incentive to keep car use at a level such as to pay off the loan via the congestion charge for years to come.

Much of the public debate (particularly in the business-obsessed Manchester Evening news) has centred on the pro and anti business groups, ('United City' and 'Greater Manchester Momentum Campaign' respectively) slugging it out over which outcome will best suit their interests. The motoring lobby has of course been vocal in framing it as 'another stealth tax on the poor motorist'. Community groups may well be deeply involved in the consultation process, but if so, it is under the radar and one wonders how much say they will actually have.

Anyway, decision time approaches. The question is - from a green point of view is the scenario which would result from a succesful bid better than the balance of likely scenarios if it falls? Most green-minded people might answer yes, but it can be argued both ways.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The students are back!

Amongst Manchester's many claims to fame is that it has the largest campus in Europe (probably the largest anyway). Late September always shows a huge increase in the south Manchester population, public transport almost grinds to a halt, and the bars fill to overflowing. It is a time of high activity for student groups keen to recruit from amongst the freshers, and the Young Greens are no exception. As well as a series of Thursday sessions coming up on policy areas, they hosted a meeting with Green MEP Jean Lambert yesterday evening, and around 30 students braved weather which was vile even by Manchester standards to hear what goes on in the European Parliament, and what Greens have to say on the issues of the day.

Our newly-elected leader Caroline Lucas has such a good profile that the media sometimes forget that we have 2 MEPs. Jean's work in the Parliament has been as significant as Caroline's, and has focused on areas such as employment and civil liberties which many people don't automatically associate with Greens. Jean's website can be seen here

Despite representing London, Jean has made several trips to Manchester over the years and it is always good to see her up north. Unfortunately she had to get back to London after the meeting, but not before fielding questions on subjects ranging from education to Palestine. Also there to field questions was Peter Cranie, prospective Green MEP for the North-West.

Prospects for green activity at the Universities this year are very good. There are Young Greens on the executives of both Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University. Dan Lee is Campaigns Officer for Manchester University (a sabbatical post) and amongst other things, he is planning an intense week of climate-change related activity at the end of October.

Meanwhile over at MMU Tom Redford is working with other green-minded students to make an impact at that institution, although with the disadvantage compared with Dan of having to combine it with his studies. Tom has a blog in my bloglist on the left, (entitled the Thursday briefing), as indeed does the aforementioned Peter Cranie.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Flashmob works fast and no messing

Apologies to those of you who don't remember the Flash adverts from the olden days, but it did seem like an appropriate title. Today in front of Manchester Town Hall, about 100 people revealed themselves in bright red T-shirts bearing the slogan 'Stop Airport Expansion'. Timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference, this marked the official launch of the Stop Expansion of Manchester Airport campaign (SEMA). The Town Hall venue is appropriate; Manchester City Council own 55% of Manchester Airport. After a few minutes, and in the absence of any high-powered Labour Party representatives (no doubt kept well away from us), we got more adventurous and lay on the ground to spell out words across Albert Square.
A nice change from the usual type of demonstration - participants get to keep a nice T-shirt and there are no mountains of placards to deal with afterwards.

For me this made 2 aviation-related events in 2 days; the other being a Friends of the Earth action to demand the inclusion of aviation in the climate change bill. This time a minister was sighted - indeed it was the second time this year I have come within a few feet of Ruth Kelly. Given that in addition to that I have taken part in a demonstration outside her constituency office, I'm worried people will think it's an obsession.

Anyway the flashmob was followed by more on transport, a meeting at the Convention of the Left. This meeting pitched the Scottish Socialist Party's Ken Ferguson with prospective Green Euro-MP Peter Cranie, and their speeches and the lively debate which followed highlighted a division over the issue of free public transport.
The SSP made this a big campaign in the recent Glasgow East bye-election and a similar campaign is being launched in Manchester this week. From an out and out socialist perspective this makes sense, as well as having popular appeal; why not when we support a public health service free at the point of use. However, bringing a green perspective shows drawbacks. All forms of transport have an environmental impact, and our priority should be to reduce the need to travel, focusing on accessibility rather than mobility. Completely free public transport would run counter to that and help to perpetuate the model of long-distance commuting.

More on transport to follow soon no doubt.

Why do I know all these people?

Well the Labour conference is in full swing and as expected there is no shortage of meetings and events. There is also no shortage of disruption to life in and around the city centre, but the Manchester Evening News assures us it's great for the economy - of course they said that about the invasion of Rangers fans earlier in the year as well. But I digress. Taking advantage of all this whilst balancing family and work as well (and writing this blog) is not easy. However one thing that has struck me so far is the number of faces I recognise at said events.

Now this might be considered a good thing, but the phrase 'preaching to the converted comes to mind'. A good example is the fringe on 'A Green New Deal' held on Sunday night.' I half expected to be turned away, to make room for all the Labour MPs and delegates packing the meeting (it's supposed to be their conference after all). The meeting was full, but the regular Manchester climate change cognoscenti probably outnumbered the Labour Party. Most noticeably absent was Government Minister Yvette Cooper, who was due to speak on the platform. Whether or not she would have contributed more than the empty chair is debatable, but she could at least have been there to hear the arguments or provide a counter-argument. However, if anything, I found the lack of 'normal' Labour MPs there more dispiriting. Here is an approach to tackle the triple threat of climate change, the credit crunch and peak oil; given the events of last week it could hardly be more timely. For more information on the Green New Deal see here

Of course the Labour conference is not the only show in town this week. Running parallel to the 'official' conference is the Convention of the Left, with its own series of meetings and events, like the Edinburgh fringe which runs parallel to the main festival. Older readers will remember the days when the Labour Party was considered on the left, and no-one would have foreseen any need for a separate event.
For the reasons of balance stated above I have not been able to attend much of the convention, but people tell me it has been good-natured and positive overall, without the factional rancour which can arise. The Green Party's involvement in the Convention has been in the hands of 'Green Left' and Manchester Green Party, rather than official national involvement. On yesterday's evidence we are a little light on speakers at meetings, but seem to be regarded as good chair-people. Of the 3 meetings I have attended at the Convention, 2 were chaired by Green Party members.

One obvious question is 'Is the Green Party part of the left?'. You will get a difference of opinions amongst members. I think the answer is yes and no, but mainly yes. The 'yes' is that if by 'left' one means a real commitment to social justice and economic equity, to greater control over the corporations and financial institutions, to civil liberties and to international co-operation, then we are absolutely left. If being 'left' requires adherence to old industrial models and language and support for economic growth then we certainly are not. Any successful coalescing of left opinion which includes Greens has to be based on genuine understanding of constraints of climate change and resource use; I think the 'traditional' left is heading that way, but the jury is still out.

However the 'usual suspects' argument mentioned above applies to the Convention as well as the official Labour fringes, and agreed statements and worthy rants will count for nothing unless and until a much wider circle of people are involved.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

It's All Happening In Manchester

The coming few days see a flurry of political and campaigning activity as the Labour Party circus rolls into town. Whilst the Conference area is sealed off to normal citizens (including most Labour Party members, there are a host of fringes going on around the City Centre which are accessible to the public. There is therefore plenty of opportunity for those outside the Labour Party (indeed who feel there is a huge amount to criticise about said Party) to get involved.

Of particular interest is the Convention of the Left, a coming together of a wide range of organisations who regard themselves on the left of British politics and who are providing something of an alternative conference in the City. It includes many in the Labour Party - veteran campaigner Tony Benn was among those speaking at the launch of the convention). Among the sponsors are Green Left (a collection of Green Party members who take an eco-socialist view and have been seeking to build more bridges with the Trades Unions) and Manchester Green Party. It will be interesting to see how much attention this venture gets and how well the various groupings will rub along in the confined space of the Friends Meeting House lobby! See here for a full programme of the
convention events
There are also an interesting series of fringes on the vital subject of Climate Change run by the Climate Clinic and opportunities to get to meetings on everything from health to civil liberties.

So, get some time off work if you can and make the most of this once in every 2 years opportunity. You may meet some (relatively) famous politicians; you may get the chance to boo and jeer them, or even (long shot this one) change their opinions.

Of course no Labour conference in the City would be complete without a Stop the War demonstration. You would have hoped the need for these would have passed long ago, yet here we are with War in Afghanistan not only hotting up again but spreading to Pakistan. Yesterday's march took place in perfect weather, unusually for recent demos, which must have helped to boost the numbers. Taking that into account the attendance was actually pretty disappointing.

I was stewarding and got a good view of the size of the demonstration, and there couldn't have been more than about 10,000 there at most (the BBC quoted 'over 2,500', probably based on a police estimate). What should also be noted was the makeup of the demo; there were the large contingent of Socialist Worker Party, the other left Parties, some Greens and a significant number of anarchists. This last group seemed to worry the hell out of the Police and the Organisers but all passed off peacefully. The 'ordinary people' of the big 2003 demo and even the 2006 one in Manchester have largely gone. I saw no sign of any Liberal Democrats (apart from a couple on the No2ID campaign) but maybe that isn't surprising these days.

There were also hardly any banners from outside the Manchester area, reflecting my suspicion that people only think events are 'national' when they happen in London.

So maybe it is time to rethink this traditional march from A to B approach, and consider some of the more imaginative approaches coming out of the Climate Camp movement.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Green Party Conference Report

As there is plenty of dry information on conference elsewhere I will restrict myself to particular fringes and observations.
The main conference room lacked the usual tables where members can sit round during plenary session; instead the layout was the serried ranks more usually associated with the grey parties. "It's the start of a slippery slope" I heard from a couple of the anti-leader persuasion. I certainly hope that is not the case and put the seating arrangements down to the constraints of a Central London venue. Hopefully we'll be back to our distinctive table feature next time.
Why a Central London venue, with its implication for cost and space? To get more of the media along, for the great moment of transition to a leader / deputy leader, of course. Did it work? Well we got some great coverage on the BBC and the BBC and err, the BBC. But where were the national print media???
Now, don't get me wrong, I voted in favour of the new structure, and think that we have an excellent leader and deputy leader in Caroline Lucas and Adrian Ramsay, but anyone who thinks that most of the media in this country are going to start treating us fairly from now on is being very naive.

Another new experience, and related to the above, was the standing ovation. Is this another slippery slope? We have had such things before on occasions at conference, but this time you knew there would be a standing ovation for the leader and deputy leader speeches. Would they feel artificial? How long should they go on for? As it happens both Caroline and Adrian delivered very well and it did feel natural to stand to applaud them; even so, that question mark still lingers; is this a new ritual which we have to perform to be a 'proper' Party?

There was plenty going on at conference to inspire and encourage as well. The panel session on the Green New Deal was excellent, to hear how Solihull Greens went from 4th place to victory in a ward in 1 year (usual rule is you have to make 2nd place before you win) was inspiring, and we are heading into the future with a keen and promising executive along with our leaders.

I had an interesting experience on the journey home. In my first class compartment (before you say anything, in todays insane world of rail fares it was cheaper than standard) , I was perusing some excellent reports of Jean Lambert MEP on housing, insulation and renewable, when I overheard my neighbours in the carriage talking about the same subject! Turns out they are working in the insulation and renewables sector in Manchester, and one of them is the custodian of the council's Eco-House in Miles Platting.
It's a small world as they say, and shoes that there are some people out there in the 'Grey' world who can be our allies, at least up to a point.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

To avoid any confusion, Manchester in this case means the City of Manchester as opposed to Greater Manchester. For people outside the conurbation this seems a continuous source of confusion; people often ascribe events in Salford, Bolton, Trafford etc to 'Manchester'.

The Green Party functions as Local Parties, (not 'branches, please) each of which occupy a geographical area based on one or more local authorities or constituencies. Manchester Green Party currently has the rather complicated area of the City of Manchester plus the constituency of Salford and Eccles. There are thriving Green Parties in the neighbouring metropolitan boroughs of Trafford, Tameside and Stockport , whilst South Lancashire Green Party (for now) covers the rest of Salford, Bolton, Bury and Wigan.
Hello readers

This is the blog of Brian Candeland, currently Chair of Manchester Green Party. I am pretty new to this, and being on the upper side of 50 (slightly) may not be fully up to speed with current trends (having said that, I work in IT so should really have no excuse).

I intend this blog to be a combination of my own observations on events in Manchester and beyond from a Green perspective, and material which will hopefully aid the transition to a Green and sustainable society. Not everything I write may be strictly in line with current Green policy but I will flag up anything which might be controversial with a little (!) just to make it clear.

Having seen some of the existing green Party blogs, there are some hard acts to follow but I shall do my best.