Tuesday, 29 December 2009

What's the Core Strategy? - Comments

Firstly, a Very Happy New Year to one and all!

Now back to 2027...

Following on from my last post on the City Council's Core Strategy document for now until 2027, and having had a chance to read and comment on the document, here are some observations and thoughts.

Unsurprisingly, a key theme is 'growth' - not just the economy but the population as well. To some extent the City is at the mercy of higher bodies, the Region (which has its own 'Spatial Strategy', The 'Northern Way' group of northern cities and the Government itself. Even allowing for these constraints, the plan shows insufficient recognition of the imminent challenges of climate change and peak oil.

For instance, when listing employment opportunities in the city, the six main sources are stated as being aviation/airport, new media, financial services, IT, life sciences and manufactoring. Environmental technology only makes it into the second division here, despite the clear opportunities for retrofitting housing stock and other buildings.

The Airport is very prominent in the document generally; here the figures in particular seem to reflect pre-crash, pre-climate change optimism. Three options are offered posing three degrees of impact on the green belt; the least damaging is the first of these, which retains the existing Green Belt, and requires any expansion to be managed around that.

A population growth of around 100,000 (to 557,800) is planned over the next 20 years, with the increase in housing targeted mainly for the city centre (28%) and east Manchester (32%). 63,000 new residential units are planned in all. Affordable housing is encouraged, although they have given themselves a couple of get-outs i.e. "not if it would undermine 'proposals critical to economic growth' or if 'financial impact would affect scheme viability".

Despite the population increase, the number of District Centres is almost the same, the only new centre being Baguley, in Wythenshawe. It surprises me that there is no increase in the number of District Centres in the north and east and it makes me wonder what quality of services the increased population in those areas will get.

Incidentally the main reason for the population increase is givan as Manchester's regional capital status, i.e. forces outside the Council's control. There is no doubt however that our City fathers (and they are mostly men) welcome the challenges which this increase will bring. It is true that there are some environmental benefits in relatively high city centre dwelling, if that is also where people are working, but the city will have its work cut out providing sufficient local services, and balancing the increase with preservation of what green infrastructure remains.

A word that seems to crop up even more than growth is 'sustainable', which is used, misused and abused on a regular basis. Climate Change is mentioned extensively but it is clear that its challenges have not really been taken on board. The intention is that growth will be zero-carbon, 'decoupling growth from emissions', but as with the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP)there is insufficient detail on how they are going to achieve this, although it does include more detail than the climate change action plan with respect to improved energy rating of new build.

The targets on carbon reduction predate the CCAP and are slightly less bold (36% by 2020 vs 42%, and no mention of embedded carbon).

Once you find it (Manchester City Council just love to consult), the ability to respond online is good, with a chance to see previous comments, not just on this document, but on previous stages in the process. It's a pity that there are not more comments (and there's only 3 days to go now), particularly from ordinary citizens; good to see some fellow Greens in there though. Hopefully we'll have some effect.

Monday, 14 December 2009

'What's the Plan' - the Story continues....

Whilst most green-minded people have been focusing their attention on Copenhagen, and more locally on the City Council's Climate Change Action Plan – see previous blog post, the Planning Strategy process (now known as the Local Development Framework (LDF)) for the City rumbles on. We are currently in the consultation period for the 'Core Strategy' document – and indeed this is the core of the whole process, and will influence what happens in the City for the next twenty years. And yet, hardly anyone seems to be aware of the fact; another testament to our Council's communication strategy... Incidentally the Council's slogan to catch the eye is 'What's the Plan?' hence the title of this post.
How the different parts of the framework link together is illustrated in
this diagram. Any the wiser?

Having been involved in an earlier phase I did get an email advertising a series of drop-in sessions and I duly dropped in to the Chorlton session – I was the only member of the public there during my visit. I was also advised of a consultation event at the Town Hall, which I also attended (evening session). Again there was very little attendance from members of the public, although I was informed that the afternoon session had been much better attended. In mitigation, the evening session did coincide with a Rally with Climate Change Minister Ed Milliband, which will have drawn many of the green-minded people mentioned earlier. It certainly drew some of my Green Party colleagues, and I am reliably informed, and pleased to note, that they were very prominent in asking questions of Mr Milliband and the rest of the platform.

Anyway, Back to the 'Core Strategy':-
At the evening session I attended 2 workshops. The first was entitled ‘The Economy and The Airport’ – I was relieved to find that this was 2 workshops combined, and it wasn’t an assumption that the airport and the economy are the same thing (although they are sometimes made to sound that way). With the planners on one side of me uttering ‘growth, growth, growth’, and an Airport representative on the other, I did feel like a fish out of water – it’s at times like this one realises what we are up against.
The second workshop was on ‘The Environment and Climate Change’ although I said more about climate change in the first workshop.

Questions and comments made at these workshops have no bearing on the consultation apparently, to exert influence one has to submit formally.
One personal advantage of such a low attendance is being able to leave with one of the printed copies. The document is 194 pages long and submissions have to be in by 4th January. Good job Christmas holidays are coming up, to give me time to read it. I’ll post some more detailed thoughts on it when I’ve had a chance to do that. I'm particluarly interested to see how it stacks up against the climate change plan.
Here is the link to see the document on-line: Core Strategy. To maintain Council consistency in these matters, it is hard to find on their website.

Busy times

An advantage of working in the City Centre is the ease with which I can ‘drop in’ to various protests, actions, meetings etc. In many cases ‘drop-in is all there is time for. In recent weeks alone these have included a pre-Wave climate change ‘flash-mob’ with Oxfam, a ‘pots and pans’ protest against the Banks, a pre-planning meeting demo to ‘Save Hasty Lane (see previous blog post – in this case a quick 5 minutes before returning to work was enough to make a Manchester Evening News photograph), and a No2ID stall on the day the cards were ‘launched’ in Manchester.

All in all this gives an indication of the range of activities which can occur in the centre of our city during the week, and which may be of interest to a Green. No doubt this will continue, especially as elections approach...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

The City Council have now produced their long-awaited Climate Change Action Plan, following their ‘Call to Action’ earlier this year and the activists response of a ‘Call to Real Action’, and just in time for the Copenhagen summit. Sir Richard Leese and others will fly off to Copenhagen (i.e. by the most carbon intensive travel mode) and proudly brandish it in front of world leaders.

What do I think of it? Well, there are plenty of fine words in it. To be fair, the Council are being ambitious with it, particularly when compared with the other Greater Manchester boroughs. As well as a proposed 41% cut in the City’s carbon footprint by 2020, there is a ‘commitment to create a Total Carbon Footprint framework’ by 2013 (this means including embedded carbon, i.e. the carbon cost of everything consumed in and by the City). The 64 page document contains numerous welcome ideas ranging from the large-scale insulation of housing to increasing local food production.

But - of course there is a but; in fact there are several buts. In his foreword Sir Richard talks of a picture being painted of our City’s future, What follows however is a picture which is little different from the City today. On transport for instance there is no recognition of the need (beyond a nod to video-conferencing) to move away from the commuter model and the recognition that public transport also has a carbon cost.
The vision could and should be better. Major deficiencies are the lack of detail as to how the 41% will actually be reached, and the absence of any plan for beyond 2010.
It is somehow expected to co-exist with the Council’s other plans for continuous economic growth. And perhaps most blatantly, any recognition of the real impact of the airport (the air travel) is coyly shelved until beyond 2013.

Following the influence of Call to Real Action, the Council have included a large number of people in their writing groups and, to be fair, they have produced the plan in a relatively short period of time. So can I say that the approval on Weds 18th November of this document by the City Council marks a big step forward?….
Well, What a difference a day makes – on Thursday the 19th the Council Planning Department approved the demolition of 200 year old cottages, and a neighbouring beauty spot at Hasty Lane; this to make way for an extra airport freight hanger. Never mind that airfreight has been falling for 2 years (and in the promised low-carbon city should fall much further); never mind that the Wythenshawe councillors (of all Parties) unanimously voted to opposed the plan.

To their credit the Lib Dem councillors on the committee opposed the plan, but the Labour majority on the committee saw it through.
It is hard to have any confidence in the City Council’s ability to make the changes it claims to want, when it commits such blatant acts of vandalism in almost the same breath.

Cockermouth memory

The news of the terrible flood in Cockermouth brought back a memory for me, indeed one of the very earliest, and haziest, memories I have; this was of floods there in 1954 (our family lived there between 1953 and 1957). Although that was a very wet year, the floods in the town did not match what we have just seen, and there was never a day when 12 inches of rain fell; in fact before last week there had never been a day in Britain since records began when 12 inches of rain fell - that is no longer the case.

For me this illustrates that whilst extreme weather events have occurred throughout history, and while no single event on its own should be taken as proof of climate change, the evidence of more extreme weather is definitely stacking up.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It's Just Not Cricket!

Sport is the theme again in this blog, although this time it's the 'summer game'. Lancashire Cricket Club (LCC) are seeking to renovate their nearby Old Trafford ground and get back on the Ashes test trail. There is competition for the honour of holding test matches and other grounds around the country (e.g Southampton , Cardiff)have also been investing. None of the others to my knowledge however have prostituted themslves to the corporate monster that is Tesco.

I am stumped as to why LCC and Trafford Council haven't had the imagination to come up with something better.

It should be noted that this is no ordinary Tesco (indeed the Supermarket chain have had planning permission for a 47,000 sq ft store at this location for 5 years, but have done nothing with it, clearly hoping for something much bigger). A store of 140,000 sq. ft. is threatened which would make it one of the largest in the country, sucking the life out of all other retail sites for miles around. The plans have just been submitted and are not available for public viewing at the time I write this; the accompanying press release refers to a 100,000 sq ft store, so maybe even they realise they were going too far. We shall soon see.

For full details of the campaign, in which our fellow Greens in Trafford are very much to the fore see here.

This is not the only Tesco controversy in the area. They seem to be taking over the City Centre, much to the consternation of the growing inner-City citizenry, e.g. with this development in the Northern Quarter. and there are also plans for another huge store (another 140,000 sq ft again) in Salford. Greater Manchester is indeed becoming Tescopolis

A final point on the subject of cricket (which I do follow despite having absolutely no talent for playing it whatsoever) I notice the authorities are complaining about Ashes test being shown free on terrestrial television in the future. I see this as another example of the sad trend in sports for money to take priority over enthusing the nation's youth. In the light of this it is hardly surprising that in the English team's latest thrashing, its two highest scorers were South African and in the previous match the highest scorer was an Irishman.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

People Power on the Meadows!

A picnic on Chorlton meadows organised by the the Save the Meadows campaign
attracted about 250 people this afternoon. On a cool,overcast but dry afternoon, they celebrated this beautiful local amenity. Chants of 'ditch the pitch' and 'don't yield the field' were interspersed with balloons and ballgames, whilst local entrepreneurs sold home-baked food (70p for a cake and a hot chocolate drink - delicious and great value). At one point a buzzard soared high overhead - hopefully a good omen.

Picnicers were informed that 1000 letters of objection had now been received against the proposals, a remarkably high number. For my own part the more I think and know about this proposal the worse it seems. From the centre of the meadows field where the picnic took place, one gets an idea of the size of the development. The developers claim that there is insufficient capacity for footballers in South Manchester, particular for youth football. Well, on my walk down this afternoon, through Chorlton Park, I noticed that only 2 of the 5 pitches there were being used. As I commented earlier this is clearly a commercial development.

Whilst local Labour councillors have joined Lib Dems and the Green Party in opposing the development, the Council's Leisure Dept. are apparently supporting it. And whilst it is true that the Council is obliged to consider any planning application submitted to it, there is a pattern of threatened green space across the city (see below).
Opponents of the development from further afield include Prince Charles and Mike Harding; Mike's letter of support made reference to Manchester's position at the bottom of the charts when it comes to park provision. The application is still due to be heard on 19th November; let's hope the Council does the decent thing on this occasion and boots it out of play.

Examples of the council's cavalier action towards green space elsewhere in the city have already been covered on this blog. With regard to one of those examples - Charlestown Wood - an application for a village green has been turned down by the Council's Licensing Committee; this is apparently on the basis that the Woods are covered by the 1906 Open Spaces act and are therefore protected anyway. local residents are only too aware that the Council's intentions are far from protection, the matter has now gone to judicial review.

Next year is the International Year of Biodiversity; are Manchester City Council aware of this??.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

'Shaw station is closed'

...Was an internal email I received at work recently. The reason is that that the existing rail line is being replaced by Metrolink, and this work will take approximately 3 years. The reason for the Shaw mention is that the company I work for has its logistics operation in Shaw, and therefore people travel between the sites – I do myself occasionally. For the next three years public transport between sites will not be a practical option.
I wonder how many commuters who currently use that line and who will switch to the car, will give up the car for the Metrolink when it is finally in place?

Closer to my home in Chorlton, the next phase of Metrolink development (beyond the line to Chorlton already under construction) will put a line across the green lungs of the Mersey Valley. It will also, if existing plans are retained, take out the tree-lined central reservation of Mauldeth Road.

Trams have a place in the public transport system of our conurbation but they should be taking road space instead of existing rail and green space.

A further adverse impact can be seen in Didsbury as reported in this week’s ‘South Manchester Reporter’. Parrs Wood allotments were run down by the City Council, and are now to be replaced by a multi-story car park. The reasoning behind this is that it will form part of a Park and Ride scheme, linked to both the existing rail station and the proposed new Metrolink station (if and when the Didsbury spur gets the go-ahead). Sadly both local MP John Leech, and former Allotments Chair Geoff Bridson seem to have given up on the allotments and backed the proposal.

This is regrettable and short-sighted. For the City, and indeed the country, to meet the carbon-reduction targets which are essential to combat climate change, 2 areas where we have to change are food and transport. We need to be growing more food within the city, and we need to reduce the need to travel, not just by car but across the board. This move goes against both of those requirements. It will of course be argued that a ‘Park and Ride’ approach is better than people taking their cars into the city centre; I can understand that argument, but we have to think beyond that. The Council is busy preparing a Climate Change action plan, promising radical reductions, which it will proudly brandish in Copenhagen. How are expected to have any confidence in its ability to deliver?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Dear Sir..... Hello?

I've looked twice now, and a couple of other people have looked and it's just not there....
- The letters page in South Manchester's celebrated and long-running weekly newspaper 'The South Manchester Reporter' is absent from this week's edition. Time will tell whether or not this is just a one-off, in fact I will contact them to find out. There was definately a letters page last week as the Green Party's Gayle O'Donovan had a letter published. If this is really the end of the readers letters page, it marks the end of an era, as well as another step in the general decline of local print media. For years the letters page has been a highlight of the paper, a vibrant reflection of the area's dynamic and sometimes contentious political intrigues. Indeed the Reporter and I go back a long way, and I have letters on that page on a number of occasions over the past 20 years.

Even in the SMR's parent paper, the Manchester Evening News, adverts are encroaching onto the letters page, and it is often tucked away near the back of the paper and hard to find.

Of course there is now an online alternative. Every newspaper and broadcast organ has its website, and its corresponding 'Have your say' slot. However, even in this day and age not everyone has or wants an Internet connection, and if reader's letters disappear from the print medium, those people will lose their voice. Also, and at the risk of sounding snobbish, the composing of a letter usually involved a degree of thought; the quality of 'Have your Say' type comments leaves much to be desired.

Print media in general is struggling, with weak advertising revenue in the wake of the recession, and the increased use of the Internet. It may surprise some people to see a Green defending the continued use of the 'dead-tree' format of news publication. It may also surprise people to know the environmental impact of the Internet - indeed the carbon impact of Internet servers is comparable with aviation, and is growing even faster - see here). Apart from that, traditional local newspapers have had important roles in keeping the community informed and keeping local politicians and councils on their toes.

However the ability of papers in the Manchester area to fulfil that role has declined. The Guardian Media Group enjoys almost total control over the print media in the conurbation. Increasingly in thrall to business interests, it cut 70 editorial jobs and centralised its news operations earlier this year, weakening the reporting in the surrounding boroughs and suburbs. For earlier Manchester Green Party comment see here
The recent departure of MEN editor Paul Horrocks to set up a media consultancy may also be a sign of the times.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Meetings of all Colours

The last seven days have been busy, with meetings that could be said to have come in a range of colours.

On the Blue front, I attended a couple of the Conservative Party fringes at the Climate Clinic; as expected, contributions from the ‘natural party of government’ were thin on the ground, with most of the contributions from the floor at the first meeting I attended - on financing the Green New Deal - coming from the local climate change cognoscenti. The Tories fielded Greg Clark, who made some of the right noises before departing earlier; however I lack confidence in him having much influence over his shadow cabinet companions. Confusingly the Tories other climate change spokesman is called Greg Barker, and for a while I suspected that they were the same person on the meetings programme; maybe climate Tories just have to be called Greg (or Zac).
The other fringe was on ‘Can Climate Change invigorate Democracy?’ - There were about 20 people there tops – it may be good for democracy elsewhere, but not here.

Anyway the ‘Blue Meanies’ have departed, so we’re on Red and Green now (with a dash of Lib Dem orange). I observed a meeting of our City Council on Wednesday, given the Council make-up this counts as (very pale) red, plus orange dash. I would recommend every Manchester citizen to see their Councillors in action from time to time. There were the inevitable yah-boo exchanges between the 2 main groups, but of most interest to me were the motions on climate change and the impending EDL soccer hooligan / racist demo.

Proposing that the Council adopt the ’10:10’ reduction, the Executive member for the Environment Richard Cowell promised that the Council’s Climate Action Plan will be ‘Radical and Progressive’. The Lib Dems gave their support to the proposal (and reminded the ruling group of the existence of the Airport, although without going into much detail). It was passed without demur; now let’s see if anything comes of it in practice…

Thursday was our monthly Manchester Green Party meeting, and this week included guest speakers on the shenanigans at Manchester College – and Brimar arms campaign.

After attending a display of the consultation for Chorlton Precinct on Friday, I was present at the start of the battle of Piccadilly (red in tooth and claw), between the EDL and Anti-racists. As the anti-racists seemed in the overwhelming majority, I rounded off the week in a familiar green hue at a meeting to develop a response to the Council’s Climate Change action plan (mentioned above), as a follow up to the ‘Call to Real Action’.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Manchester gets the blues

After playing host to the Labour Party twice in the past 3 years, it seems a bit strange to get another shade of ‘mainstream’ politicians flooding the city. We can expect the usual transport chaos due to closed roads, and lost souls with suits and identity badges wandering the streets (and that’s just the journalists). It will be interesting to compare the feeling engendered by a Tory conference as opposed to a Labour one.

Following last year’s 'Convention of the Left’ it’s unlikely that a corresponding ‘Convention of the Right’ will emerge (or if it does I can guarantee that Manchester Green Party will be giving it a very wide berth indeed). There will however be a Stop the War march (Assembling at the war memorial at 1 pm); whether or not it will have the same oomph as a march against Blair and Brown remains to be seen.

From a difference to a similarity – the Climate Clinic will be in full swing at The Cube just as it was during the Labour conference (see their site for a programme of events). And just as with Labour we can expect that the main attendance at those meetings will be the environmentally-aware of Manchester; with Tory delegates in short supply other than the token shadow ministers. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong but I doubt it. As the polls are predicting a Conservative victory at the next General Election, let’s hope that some education goes on (of them not us).

Climate Change is of course only one of many subjects for fringe meetings around the conference. One meeting which has attracted a degree of advance publicity is one entitled “Have the Parties Got What it Takes to Clean Up Politics?” with former independent MP Martin Bell. Answers on a postcard….

One question which is bound to resound in the local media is ‘Will the Tories win seat(s) in Manchester again?’; given the Tories recent record in the City (I’m talking Manchester here, excluding Trafford, Salford etc), I’m amazed how much coverage this gets. It is 15 years since the Tories won a council seat at an election in the city, and as for winning a Parliamentary seat here, I reckon there is more chance of finding Elvis Presley alive on the moon.

In the most recent election in this City – this June’s European elections – the Conservatives were only the fourth Party, behind Labour, the Lib Dems and, of course, the Green Party (results here. And when the politically-neutral Manchester Climate Forum invited a Tory speaker to a recent public meeting, they couldn’t even manage to provide one.

But let’s try to put all that to one side and extend a welcome to our visitors, and make the most of that rarest of sights – Tories in Manchester!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Manchester Green Spaces - fighting on all fronts

We have a range of battles to protect our Green spaces in and around the City of Manchester at the moment.

In Hulme, Manchester Metropolitan University are proposing to build on the Birley fields (pictured below) in the heart of Hulme. The ‘consultation’ period is well advanced, but has never asked the basic question “Do you want this land to be GIVEN to MMU to develop?”. A campaign to protect this space has been set up under the name ‘Our Hulme’ which is a successor to the previous long running ‘Save Birley Fields’ campaign. More information can be found from Manchester Permaculture and the Facebook site Our Hulme.

A few miles to the south Chorlton Meadows are under threat from football pitches, including floodlighting. The location is the Hardy farm meadows area which is the route into the valley for residents in the eastern areas of Chorlton. Further information can be found here. Strength of feeling in the area against the plans can be judged by the size of the Facebook group which grew to over 5,000 members in the space of one month.

Meanwhile in the neighbouring city of Salford, the battle of Albion Green has been launched by local residents in the Poet’s Corner area of the City. More information available via 'The Mule'.

In the far north of Manchester a longer running campaign is seeking to save Charlestown Woods. Here Green activist Michael Prior is working with local residents and others to secure village green status for the threatened area.

Village Greens:

The qualifications for these are:
- Free and untrammelled access by the public for 20 or more years
- Used by a significant proportional of local people for informal social activity (including conversations)
- Unregulated access

The legislation comes from the 1906 Open Spaces Act and more information is available from the Open Spaces Society. It only requires one or more individuals to raise an application. A key requirement is to get verbal statements from local people that the land was used by them 20 years ago.

I understand the Charlestown application is proceeding well. An application for a village green for Ryebank fields on the Chorlton Stretford border ran into difficulties so it is not the right solution for every situation. It is however a useful potential tool to protect some of these remaining green spaces and one which campaigners may increasingly consider.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

'Ethical Consumer' - another Manchester success story

Twenty years ago (yes that heady year of 1989 again) two publications started out to help consumers apply ethical considerations to their purchases.

The more heavily promoted at the time was ‘New Consumer’ a relatively glossy publication based in London which I seem to remember folding in the 90’s (however I notice that the brand was revived in Scotland as a website + magazine – see here).

The other publication was the ‘Ethical Consumer’ based since its inception in Hulme, in Manchester. Founder members included a couple of Manchester Green Party members at the time, including Paul Harrison, the brother of Rob Harrison, who remains the editor of the magazine to this day. Deliberately less glossy than its rival, the Ethical Consumer survived the 90s and this month celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Associated with the magazine is the Ethiscore site where paid subscription opens the door to detailed reports on pretty much every type of product under the sun.

Unlike ‘New Consumer’ the Ethical Consumer refused to take paid adverts for a long time; when commercial pressures resulted in a change to accept advertising, the company entered a minefield of which advertisers it could accept and stay true to its position.

I have been a subscriber since it started, and found it useful on a number of occasions; I hope to join workers and other subscribers at a 20 year celebration. I also look forward to it continuing, and being around for the 40 year celebration!

Speeding up after the holidays

With August out of the way, the list of possible meetings to attend grows almost by the day.
Today, I am thinking of applying careful timing to attempt 3 in one evening:-.

Firstly a group called
OpenSpaces Co-op
are holding a Networking event in Hulme.
Then, there’s a meeting for the
Call to Real Action
campaign, and to round things off a meeting concerned with the threat of a massive Tesco development at the Old Trafford cricket ground, with people from Trafford Green Party and ‘Keep Chorlton Interesting’.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

There is a consultation / vote going on in Manchester regarding whether or not we have an elected mayor. In the light of low turnouts in local elections, the Government in its wisdom decided that what we needed was more ‘personality’ politics and ‘American-style’ elected mayors, (actually elected mayors could equally well be described as ‘European-style’ but our slavish obeisance of all things from across the pond wins out as usual).

It is now the City of Manchester’s turn to consult on whether we have a ‘Council Leader and an Executive’ or an ‘Elected Mayor and an Executive’; in some ways a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee – any more radical or different ideas are decreed as impermissible. It apparently comes down to whether you want someone like Richard Leese or someone like Terry Christian

The current City Council’s blurb on the consultation makes it clear they prefer the no-mayor status quo, (itself a temptation to vote for a mayor). The nature of the ‘vote’ as well leaves much to be desired – we received one voting slip for our household, for 2 present voting adults.

Some people may think this is an equivalent of the London Mayor – nothing could be further from the truth. In London the Mayor covers the whole conurbation of Greater London, and has a democratically-elected Assembly to provide checks and balances at that level. It would make some sense to replicate this in Greater Manchester, a conurbation of 10 local authorities with boundaries which cut across physical and social lines which is arguably second only to London in size in this country.

My use of ‘democratically-elected’ with Assembly was deliberate. The London Assembly is elected by a form of proportional representation, unlike Manchester City Council or indeed any other local authority in England. I’ve already mentioned the need for fair votes in a recent blog.

As in London a range of functions are administered at conurbation level from transport to waste to police, and of course Greater Manchester did have an elected authority until Thatcher abolished it in the 80s. My daily journey to work runs close to the Manchester – Trafford border, and no outside could tell which block of flats sat in which borough.
In addition to the above, responsibilities for tackling climate change are likely to pass up to the conurbation level, increasing the need for some sort of accountability at that level (at the moment the group of 10 authorities operate under the sinister-sounding acronym of AGMA).

However on that last climate change point, unless we get some serious commitment to tackle the problem, minor tinkering with the structure of the City Council will be no more effective than rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Manchester Pioneers

It is 50 years ago today that the Manchester Guardian ceased and became another London-based paper. Manchester nowadays seems to be regarded by the rest of the world as a provincial city with nothing to commend it except rich/famous football team(s) and occasional music trends. As the world’s first industrial city it should be more famous and respected than it is. For over 200 years it has produced pioneers in a range of fields:

For instance, without Manchester I might still be writing this on an old-fashioned typewriter. This was one of the key places in the development of the computer both via the Mark 1 ‘Baby’ and via Alan Turing who spent his latter years in the city.

Politically it has played a key role in radical movements across the political spectrum: Communism, Feminism, Free Trade and Zionism for starters – for more detail see here. Less well known is its role in African history of the last century see here

In the field of science and technology, Manchester has played a key role in several developments with particular resonance for Greens, in both a positive and negative way.
For instance, no-one could deny that energy is an important subject; and what is the international unit of energy? – the Joule, named after nearby Salford’s James Joule

Less positively (for most Greens anyway), the development of nuclear energy (and for that matter weapons) can be traced back to Ernest Rutherford who ‘split the atom’ whilst chair of physics at Manchester University.
Similarly those of us concerned with the growth of aviation, have to live with the fact that it was John Alcock, born in Seymour Grove Old Trafford, who made the first non-stop transatlantic flight (with navigator Arthur Brown).

Who will be the next Manchester pioneers? At this point in human history, wouldn’t it be great if Manchester led the way in solutions to the problems of climate change, peak oil and economic collapse? The present City Council doesn’t inspire much confidence, but there is a thriving alternative community, and maybe that ‘first city to industrialise’ tag should give us a head start.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Call to real Architects

Although building work has been hit during the recession over the last few months, Manchester’s skyline has been very busy with cranes and new buildings over recent years. Two recent pieces in the online ‘Manchester Confidential’ caught my eye (in between the restaurant reviews) – an interview with Will Allsop on the ‘New Islington project in Ancoats, and a debate on the merits or otherwise of the Beetham Tower

Read through both these pieces and see if you can find any mention of anything to do with ‘energy’ or ‘green’ or ‘climate change’. If so, you are doing better than either me or my computer’s find facility (actually green is mentioned in the Allsop article as one of the fancy colours for the recessed balconies).

This is in a city which apparently wants to be Britain’s greenest. Are the Allsops and the Simpsons (creator of the Beetham monstrosity) aware of this? Or of impending climate change or peak oil in general?. It’s all very well the City Council wanting to put lots of money in reducing the energy footprint of the Town Hall (as promoted in their ‘Call to Action’), but what are they doing to ensure top standards in these new landmark buildings around the city?

Just as Manchester’s buildings are an odd mix of shapes and styles, so are their approaches to energy and environment. On the plus side, the CIS building (Manchester’s tallest until usurped by Beetham) has extensive solar panelling (although I think extending it to a side which gets little sun was going too far). A stone’s throw away the Urbis building has a nice sloping roof – ideal for solar panels - except that it faces north! In the other direction going out of the city is a new complex calling itself the Green Quarter; I managed to find a way in the other day, and sure enough there are some grass and trees, and a nice water-feature, but nothing about the buildings which said ‘Green’ to me.

Regarding our recent ‘award-winners’ the Beetham Tower has made no effort whatsoever in the environment department; indeed according to the Environmental Investigation Agency it is using illegal timber. The curious crest on top rattles in the wind disturbing residents in normal buildings nearby – why not harness that troublesome wind?

Denton Corker Marshall has considered sustainability in the new Law Courts, to be fair, providing natural ventilation to all areas. However, there is still no attempt to harness renewable energy.

The Courts however are a public building, and there are few of these compared with the new residential blocks going up; here New Islington – how pretentious a name is that? – and Allsop’s ‘Chips’ are more the direction we are going.

So a message to architects: you can have your multi-coloured balconies and fancy little features, but please get real to the threats which are going to be facing the inhabitants of those buildings in the years to come, and build for a low-carbon world.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Fridays and 'Sky' days

Apologies for the long gap since my last post – only partly due to a brief holiday in the Asturias region of Northern Spain (reached by surface transport in case you ask!).

I seem to have returned to a flurry of activity on the cycling front. I have posted previously on Manchester’s split personality on the cycling front here
and maybe one of the two events I will describe below is an intention to bridge that gap.

But first things first; for some time now there has been an organised cycle commute from various points in the city on the last Friday of every month known as Critical Commute’ (the Critical being taken from the spikier Critical Mass which has a longer and wider pedigree). I have partaken on a number of occasions, although my more usual means of commuting is by bus. Numbers were getting fairly thin on the ground, which may be why the organisers (Friends of the earth/ loveyourbike) have amended the name to the less opaque ‘Bike Friday’.
This last Friday, 31st July was more widely advertised as a ‘launch’ and that certainly got more people out on the streets (there were about 70 at Albert Square - see photo - and 15 in the convoy from Chorlton alone). So whilst I rather preferred ‘Critical Commute’, if the new branding gets the numbers up that is all to the good.
Any minor quibbles about the name on that event were well eclipsed by my reservations on the name of today’s big cycling event in Manchester – ‘Skyride’ (due to sponsorship from Sky – you know, Murdoch’s lot), organised by British Cycling who are based in the city. From the advance publicity I naively thought that the whole city centre was closed to traffic, for cyclists to enjoy at will. It wasn’t as good as that, but it was good enough to tempt me to join the riders round the route from Albert Square to the velodrome and back. I have to say it look extremely well attended, and it was a pleasant change to cycle along traffic-free roads, especially with large numbers of other cyclists, of all ages. Less pleasant to see the s k y combination on everyone’s hi-vis jackets but that’s another debate.

This is the first of four such ‘Skyrides’ in various cities (Manchester taking the lead as it often does – for good or ill) ; we’ll have to wait until London for it to really make the news.
It will be interesting to see if this leads to any long-term rise in road cycling in Manchester (or indeed if the Bike Friday initiative really takes off). An encouraging sign was the number of families taking part in the Skyride.
However, a one-off event is one thing; what we really need is for people to feel safe cycling in Manchester not just on ‘Sky’ days, or even just on Fridays, but on every day.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Elected Dictatorships

With the expenses scandal, constitutional reform is back on the agenda, a recent poll showing a majority in favour of a change to the voting system for Westminster.

What has been less in the news is the need for voting change for that other bastion of first-past-the-post – local councils. The main story of the recent round of county council elections was Labour’s terrible showing. At the end of the counting all but one of the 24 County Councils were in Tory control. Wow, those Tories must have got an absolutely huge vote...

Well, no they didn’t. Their supremacy is entirely a product of the voting system. All these councils are effectively one Party states with all other parties, with their handfuls of seats, reduced to minor roles on scrutiny committees and the like. Take Kent as an example, the Conservatives have 74 of the 84 seats with all other Parties together getting just 10. This certainly doesn’t reflect the actual votes (the national Tory figure for the local elections was around 38%, unfortunately I don’t have the figures for Kent to hand, but it won’t have been more than around 50%).
Is this healthy for democracy? - hardly. It isn’t healthy for the environment either. From a climate change point of view, whilst cuddly Cameron rides round on his bicycle, these shires are full of backwoodsmen (and women ) who oppose any sort of renewable energy development such as wind turbines.

Of course you don’t need to go to Kent to see unhealthy one party ‘democracy’. Here in Manchester, we have had total Labour domination for as far back as anyone can remember. Labour currently holds around 2 thirds of the council seats and yet their share of the vote in the last 3 rounds of local elections is less than half (only 43% in 2008, the last round) .

Voting reform for local councils is an idea whose time has come; it is something that Greens in Manchester, amongst others will be looking at in the months ahead.

Answers to last weeks quiz - if you put c) for every answer, full marks!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Post Euro-election Quiz

Sorry no prizes, just checking whether or not you’ve picked up the facts, and not just the superficial media coverage. All questions relate to the 2009 Euro-elections just gone unless otherwise stated.

1. Which one of the following parties increased its number of votes nationally (as well as its %age) compared with the previous 2004 Euro-election?
b) Conservatives
c) Green

2. Which out of the following parties scored the highest number of votes in the City of Manchester
a) Conservatives
c) Green

3. In which City did the Green Party outpoll all other Parties?
a) Norwich
b) Brighton
c) Both of the above

4. Which out of the following Parties gained the most votes across the South East, Britain’s largest region?
a) Labour
b) BNP
c) Green

5. The Lib Dems gained a seat compared to 2004 – by how much did their vote increase since 2004 in percentage terms?
a) 2%,
b) 1%
c) It didn’t, it actually went down.

6. County Council Elections 2009: The BNP won 3 seats nationally, how many did the Green Party win in Norfolk alone?
a) 3
b) 5
c) 7
Supplementary question - which of these 2 results got most coverage in the media?

Answers next week

Saturday, 30 May 2009

North West Euro-election Stakes - Runners and Riders

In the interests of information and fairness, I present to you below the full list of Parties (+ 1 Independent candidate) standing in the North West for the European elections. It's a long blog post, as its a long ballot paper. Presented here as they appear on the ballot, I will try to be fair in my comments...

- BNP - forget fairness, if this bunch of racists get a seat it will bring shame on Britain and the North West in particular and damage community relations for years. To greatly reduce their chances see Stop Nick Griffin website listed to the right. Nuff said

- Christian Party - a subtitle 'Proclaiming Christ's Lordship' probably tells you all you need to know for now

- Conservative Party - well known 'major' Party

- English Democrats Party - another anti-EU Party (one of many) with an added touch of also being anti-Scottish; may get some votes after the Rangers fans antics in Manchester last year

- Jury Team - this election's novelty act perhaps (but lacking the wackyness of the Natural Law Party - remember them?); probably well meaning but a Party list of candidates all with independent views is hard to swallow. And how Independent are you when you've been set up by a millionaire, who also donates to the Tories?

- Liberal Democrats - well known 'major' Party; I do notice however that their recent literature pushes Chris Davies MEP (understandably) but makes no mention of their number 2 candidate, which suggests they've given up on getting a second seat.
- No2EU: Yes to Democracy - My Manchester Green colleague Gayle O'Donovan has done a good analysis of them here. Suffice to say they are Socialism with a National streak; history suggests that's not a good combination.

- Pro Democracy:libertas.eu - another novelty act contender. Will be fun in the North West if they get a seat, their lead candidate is dumping them and coming over to the Greens! see here.

- Socialist Labour Party (Leader Arthur Scargill) - the left splinter group that even other left splinter groups forget about.

- The Green Party - 10th on the ballot paper and 10% in the polls right now; plenty more on them on this blog now and in the future; for now a couple of facts which might otherwise go unnoticed:
We are the only Party in the North West with more women than men on the list (5 women, 3 men - most other lists are overwhelmingly male)
We are the only party in serious consideration for seats in the North West, where all the candidates have addresses in the North West

- The Labour Party - well known 'major' Party

- UKIP - surprisingly popular after their shambolic history since the last Euros. That really doesn't flatter British politics.

- Francis Apaloo (Independent) don't know anything about him, but may pick up more votes than independents in previous Euros in these peculiar times.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Drama in (Greater) Manchester's Second City

The second city in question is of course Salford. Salford is often neglected and probably deserves a blog post of its own, but it's a place that’s been in the news recently as the stamping ground of Hazel Blears MP, arguably one of the 2 most famous women in Britain over the last few days.

The drama I refer to (such as it was) was the count following a council bye-election in Ms Blears constituency, and therefore something of a litmus test on the effect of the expenses scandal on voters. There is no doubting the woman’s public profile; the counting room was full of TV cameras. In a crowded room the diminutive frame was difficult to find, until one realised that you could always tell where Hazel Blears was by seeing which way the cameras were pointing. At the risk of name-dropping, I once shared a platform with Hazel Blears, in the 1992 general election when she was a rising Labour star working her way up through the seats. How times change. But enough of celebrity politics for now.

I am a long-standing attender at Manchester counts so it was interesting to see how Salford did it - and they did it very efficiently I have to say. I also have to say that the turnout was so low (17.5%), it would have been hard to do it inefficiently! In the end, the drama was muted as Labour held the seat, albeit with a reduced majority, and the BNP threat amounted to nothing more than a slight increase in votes and third place. The atmosphere was surprisingly good-natured, marred only by BNP yobs thrusting kitkats and expense forms in Ms Blears face. For full result and Green Party comment see here.

If this result can be said to be any indication for the European elections, there is everything to play for. The BNP vote here rose by 18% from the last election, in the last Euros the BNP got 6.4% - an 18% rise on 6.4 - that gives about 7.6%.
The Green Party in this bye-election got 7.8%; hmmmmm...

Back to the 2 most famous women, (and back to celebrity politics?). The other is the redoubtable Joanna Lumley, with her succesful campaign on behalf of the Ghurkas. Now there's a formidable woman - I wonder which Party she's backing?
Who else but the Green Party, or more specifically Caroline Lucas MEP as seen here.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Shades of 1989 ?

I referred in my last blog to the time I was a European election candidate in 1989 and the spectacular (but seatless) result the Green Party achieved that year. This weekend just gone, opinion polls for European election intentions reminded me of that year as well! Of course circumstances are very different this time round, and much can happen between now and polling day, but given the sleaze and scandal surrounding other Parties it is hardly surprising.

The media are still very much focused on Westminster politics and barely acknowledge that a European election is just around the corner. In the light of that, as I left our North West Euro-launch I was pleased to see a set of stalls in Albert Square informing the public of the work of the European Parliament. I was also pleased at the response of one of the organisers whom I spoke to who informed me that 'lots of people I know are voting Green'. Whilst they weren't getting much response, they seemed to be getting more than the forlorn looking 'No2EU' stall in the corner of the Square.

One area which needs more public information about the European election is the voting system. The emphasis on Westminster-style first-past-the-post means that there is hardly any understanding of how seats are allocated, or even that people vote for a region-wide Party list. To fill the gap here are links to
- a vote calculator (NB this time round the North West has 8 seats, not 9 so adjust accordingly),
- a simple graphic, illustrating the importance for us to beat the BNP see here
(Incidentally, adding in UKIP to the mix doesn't change the principle - try it)

Voters thinking of voting UKIP or BNP as a protest against sleaze should consider the following:
- That UKIP' MEPs also have a bad record on expenses and sleaze, for an example see here
- The record of the BNP's local councillors (they have only about 60, half as many as the Green Party) can be found on the Lancaster Unity site (in list on the right) - look for 'Crap councillors' - its a long list

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Drop the Definite Article!

It was twenty years ago today - give or take a few days - that a man stood in the Elections Office at Manchester Town Hall, brandishing a set of nomination papers and a bag containing £1000 in pound coins. That was me, standing for the Green party in the 1989 European elections, for what was then the Greater Manchester Central Euro-Constituency. That year the Greens polled 2.3 million votes, an average of around 15% and won how many seats? Zero, nil, nada, diddly-squat. That's first-past-the post for you.

I was at the very same place a few days ago to submit the nominations for this years European election candidates. We now have a proportional system for European elections, but that still doesn't make it easy for us. The system seems to have been designed to give proportional representation a bad name, combining large regions with no local element and a high threshold for victory.

It seems that this year the Electoral Commission have made our task even harder. Parties are listed on the ballot paper alphabetically so where would you expect to find the Green Party? Under 'G' for Green? sadly not - I have been informed that our officially registered name is 'The Green Party' and so we will be positioned under 'T' for 'The'. Actually, even this is wrong - our name as recorded on the Electoral Commission website is 'Green Party [The]'; so 'G' is where we should be even with this ruling.

The ballot paper will therefore start with an outfit who shall be nameless but begin with a 'B'. Your eyes will then move on past more conventional Parties like the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and this years fly-by-nights like 'Jury Team', 'Libertas' and 'No2EU', and if you persevere, will eventually reach 'The Green Party' and 'The Labour Party' (who are similarly afflicted), with UKIP bringing up the rear. Whilst there may be some benefit in coming higher up the paper anyway, the biggest risk I fear is that voters who aren't sure if we're standing or not (in areas where we usually haven't the resources to stand)will look for us under 'G', think we're not standing, and vote for someone else. This is less of a problem for the Labour Party - their supporters will be sure they're there and search till they find them.

Both logic and fairness should dictate that the definite article in a Party Name is not relevant, and that a Party should be positioned where electors would expect to see it. I hope this will be overturned but we are dealing with bureaucracy here.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

One in a Million

The population of Mexico is currently about 111 million (according to the CIA who may or may not be telling the truth). The number of deaths from so-called ‘swine flu’ in Mexico has now been revised downwards to 109. Hence the 1 in a million statistic. And that is in by far the worst affected country. You wouldn’t think this was the case from the reaction; our media has been full of it – how they love a good health scare. It’s not just the media who are obsessed, the Egyptian Government is slaughtering the country’s entire pig population as a precaution (and worsening relations with the Christian minority there in the process).

It’s true that we are due a serious flu pandemic, and they can be very lethal, but the degree of coverage has been out of all proportion to the evidence so far. After Sars and bird flu, I think there is a danger of crying wolf.

Also this means that far more serious world events are being ignored, as well-expressed by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian last week. The serious and ongoing threat of climate change also slips under the radar; recent items on that front include the loss of the Antarctic ice bridge, a devastating heat-wave in India, and the city of Adelaide potentially running out of water.

Still gives me an opportunity for a joke: - Thanks to Dave Hampton 'The Carbon Coach' for this:
What did the Climate Change Activist say about the Frequent Flyer?
'The Swine Flew'.

‘Green Party Woman Is a Nightclub tart’
About time we clean-living Greens had a sex scandal, you might think, but this is fiction, a line (see here) from our new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who lectures at our very own Manchester Metropolitan University. As well as being the first woman laureate, Carol is openly gay, and probably the first laureate to mention the Green Party in a poem. We congratulate her.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

What I would have said...

at yesterday's UAF (Unite Against Fascism) North West conference, had I had the chance to do a full speech:

"Firstly can I convey apologies from Peter Cranie our number 1 candidate in the Euro-elections who had a prior engagement in Cumbria and has asked me to express his support.

UAF has supporters across the political spectrum. We will have disagreements as Political Parties but at least we are all legitimate Parties, the BNP have forfeited any right to be treated as such; their Press Officer Simon Darby has let slip that so called Party's true nature, by describing it as 'technically an ethnic group' - clearly an admission that the BNP is a completely race-based, and racist, organisation, unlike any legitimate UK political party.

If the BNP are elected, it will give them legitimacy far above any before, and tarnish British politics and damage community relations for years to come, maybe even decades.

It is vital that turnout in this election is high.

Clearly UAF can not be partisan, but I would stress that this is a proportional election, not ‘first past the post’ and usual assumptions about tactical voting do not apply. Labour, Lib Dems and Tories will all win representation; we will be competing directly with the fascists for a seat. We were just 1% point behind the BNP in the last Euro election, since then our membership and our number of council seats have increased across the North West, If we finish with a higher vote than them that will almost certainly prevent them getting a seat. So I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but if you’re thinking of how to vote tactically – bear that in mind; (for more information see 'Stop Nick Griffin' . In interests of balance, in a first past the post election in most places you would probably vote tactically for another Party, and understandably so.

But looking beyond this European election, all Parties (including mine) need to ask themselves why people in these areas targeted by the BNP feel neglected, why they are seduced by the politics of hate. These people need jobs, hope, and justice instead of an economic system that has betrayed them. Instead of bailing out the bankers and squandering billions on Trident and ID cards, we should be investing in Green jobs, in areas like insulation, renewable energy and public transport - providing employment as well as improving quality of life for these neglected estates and combating the threat of climate change.

And Government and Councils need to do so much more, - they must stop taking people’s votes for granted, and playing groups off against each other. Mainstream politicians must stop pandering to the right wing press, they must stand up to the scaremongering and the scapegoating of ethnic minorities, migrants and asylum seekers, and guarantee justice for the most vulnerable in our society."

'A Child of Our Time'.

It's surprising how often 2 (or even more) events on the same day can be connected. Following the UAF meeting I attended a performance of Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time" (by Salford Choral Society, of which my wife is a member). The writing of the work started 2 days before the outbreak of World War 2; the 'Child' in the title is a real-life 17 year old Polish Jew who, angered by the persecution of his mother, shoots a German diplomat; a violent pogrom follows in Germany, and the boy later 'disappears' after being handed over to the Nazis.
The opening chorus line is 'The World turns on its dark side' - let us make sure it does not turn on its dark side again.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Is St George slaying the racist dragon?

For years the cross of St George, and English nationalism in general, was feared by many to be the preserve of the far right. More recently a determined effort has been made in some quarters to ensure that St George and his flag unites people of every faith and colour who feel an attachment to the concept of England. This week, in the run up to St George's Day, how far have we come along that road?

I witnessed the St George's Day parade in the centre of Manchester today. To be honest it is not an event to which I would normally have gone (and the reason is not that I am half Scottish). There were relatively few ethnic minority faces (interestingly, and maybe depressingly, the highest concentration was on the army float around which young soldiers were dishing out recruitment leaflets). Outside of the Elizabethan costume, morris dancers and medieval pikemen, there was a shortage of colour literally in the floats as well; noticeable to someone who has witnessed the Mardi Gras parade and the Mela in Platt Fields.

There is much to be proud of in English history, including the contributions made to our country by other cultures, and it's a shame this was not more visible in today's march. I did have the feeling that this was targeted at the predominantly white north and east of Manchester, perhaps on the basis that the ethnic minorities have their own festivals? Yes, there was a good sprinkling of BME people both on the parade and watching but at the present time, with the risk of the far right exploiting people's fears and insecurities it's a pity that a parade in honour of our patron saint, (who is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine and Portugal) was not more inclusive.

Speaking of Palestine, it was noticeable that there were more Afro-Caribbean people than Asian at the parade. Yesterday, I attended the AGM of Greater Manchester Stop the War and the alienation felt by many Muslims in our society was very prominent, following the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. With the recent high-profile arrests of students in Manchester and Liverpool and the suspension of employees in Preston apparently just for receiving emails, the situation is likely to get worse.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Have we just had a lucky escape?

I am referring to last week’s arrest of various Pakistani students in Manchester and elsewhere and the North-West and the statement from Police that a major terrorist incident was just about to take place in Manchester (within days in fact). Amongst venues mentioned were the Trafford Centre, the Arndale Centre and the Birdcage Club.

Now, why am I not sighing with relief and praising Police for their prompt action?? Well for a start, after the recent G20 business, when the Police blatantly lied over the circumstances around the death of Ian Tomlinson, I no longer believe anything they say. It’s not as if that was the first time; repeatedly we get stories from Police forces which subsequently turn out to be complete porkies, from the events around the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes to the ’70 Police injured by protestors at Kingsnorth’.

Regarding these arrests, on the one hand we are told they are being speeded up because a careless chief Plod in London displayed the secret details to the cameras, on the other hand we are told bombs could have gone off this weekend (in which case how much longer where they going to leave it?). Nor should we be too Quick to see this as a cock-up – maybe it’s something more sinister as former British Ambassador Craig Murray points out.
According to a friend of my son, the Trafford Centre was swarming with police last Saturday; I went into the centre of Manchester (I avoid the Trafford Centre like the plague) and found it all quiet on the police presence front. Proves nothing either way.

It gives me no pleasure to feel this total lack of confidence. I am not naïve, I know there are violent extremists out there with the intention of committing murder and mayhem. But I am confident of some things:

- the suspicion and hostility shown to Muslims in our society, and the clamour on behalf of the police and others for longer detention without charge, will increase the risk of a violent response
- a police force which shows contempt for the truth time and again (in incidents ranging from the Hillsborough tragedy 20 years ago to the ‘Ricin plot’) has a diminishing chance of public belief and co-operation if and when there is a genuine terrorist incident
- there is far far more chance of being killed in a road accident in this country (and most countries) than by an act of terrorism.

So in conclusion no I don’t think we’ve had a lucky escape on this one.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Green Shoots Spring Forth in Manchester

Further evidence that Green can be popular and fun as well as worthy were illustrated by two events I attended in Manchester in the space of 3 days.

Firstly came the Chorlton Big Green festival, a new venture in what is arguably Manchester’s greenest (with a small g at least) suburb, and one which is sure to be repeated based on Saturday’s attendance. The organisers reckon an estimated 2000 people attended a day long programme of music, talks, films and visual events against a backdrop of ranges of stalls both inside and outside the St Clements Church venue.
The day was rounded off with a stomping ceilidh around the church pillars.

Excellent day though it was, much of the content could be described as a bit twee to hardened Greens, with a lot of emphasis on alternative therapists and arts and crafts, but hopefully there was enough message getting out there as well.

This was followed yesterday (Monday) by the launch of Call to Real Action at the Northern Quarter’s Nexus Café. This is the response of a number of green-minded people in Manchester to the City Council’s ‘Call to Action’ and has been mentioned in previous blogposts.

Before even entering the building I was struck by the window display of 3 models dressed entirely in clothes recycled from household and other objects. Inside, a packed café we were treated to various entertainments and the first sight of the finished 62 page ‘Call to Real Action’ document.
Actually ‘finished’ is a misnomer – this is very much a living document which will continue to grow and adapt in contrast to its Council-owned counterpart.
Unfortunately there were no Council representatives at the launch, but they will not escape exposure…

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Earth Hour

Last Saturday saw the second Earth Hour, whereby the whole world switches off the lights for one hour, as part of a call for action on climate change. Whilst many Greens were keen to support this I have to say that I had mixed feelings. It seems like a gesture to make people feel they are doing something whilst Governments and business carry on as normal. After all, domestic lighting makes a relatively small contribution to climate change compared with many other things.
As it happens I did take part, whilst I was with relatives on a weekend away in the North York Moors. What struck me about the hour however was nothing along the lines of ‘oh, isn’t this a noble thing to do’ but the fact that having a candle as the only source of light made the conversation flow more freely. It seemed a shame to put the lighting back on afterwards.
Greens are often accused of wanting to make people sit in the dark, but this hour struck me as an example of how reduced energy use can actually improve quality of life not reduce it. On a similar note, one of the many good sessions I encountered at the recent Green Party Spring conference in Blackpool, featured the ‘Happy Planet Index’, backed by research from the New Economics Foundation
Incidentally I gather that Manchester rather let the side down as a city (at least according to the Manchester Evening News). Perhaps the sneering comments of a particular MEN commentator a couple of days earlier didn't help...

Monday, 16 March 2009

Multi-track climate campaigning

One thing we are never short of in this fair City is a choice of climate change related campaigns. As I speak a number of activists, including several Green Party members, are engaged in writing a response to Manchester City Council's 'Call to Action' on climate change; this will be a hopefully much stronger 'Call to Real Action'

At the same time a campaign has started to make Manchester a Transition city, along the lines of transition towns such as Totnes and Kinsale but on a bigger sale; Manchester SERA (Socialist Environment and Resource Association - although despite the word Socialist it is still heavily linked to the Labour Party) seem to be focusing on this particular venture.

Sunday evening saw the launch of the 'Not Stupid' campaign in Manchester, when one of the Vue cinema screens at Salford's Lowry Retail Centre gave one of the Premiere showings of film 'Age of Stupid' (completely with live satellite link with the main Premiere in London. Manchester Friends of the Earth and Action for Sustainable Living were very prominent at this (along with myself and some other Green party folk).

The confluence of the threat of climate change and the economic crisis have given rise to more than one Green New Deal document for Manchester. Two I am aware of:

- 'Green New Deal for Manchester' produced by Green Party members Michael Prior and Steve Durrant, and presented to the Convention of the Left Renewal meeing in January

- a Bioregional approach produced by Mark Burton (also linked to Convention of the Left), which raises some interesting and unconventional ideas.

Also currently active are SEMA and Northern Climate Rush, whilst the almost indefatigable Marc Hudson runs occasional Manchester Cimate Forum events and produces the regular Manchester Climate Fortnightly ('McFly').

So something for everyone's tastes, from chaining yourself to a gate to writing to your MP.

Friday, 13 March 2009

A Brief Geography of Time

Whilst the attention of many fellow Greens was drawn to proposals for a major new business development at Manchester Airport this week, there were also headlines around a new high-speed link between Manchester and Leeds, which promised a reduction in travel time between the two cities of 25 minutes. This was much to the enthusiasm of local politicians and businesses, long frustrated by the relative neglect of surface public transport in the North compared to pampered London.

I most definitely do not share their enthusiasm. As long ago as 1993 Green transport guru Professor John Whitelegg referred to the concept of time pollution whereby fast travel doesn't actually save time, as people compensate by travelling greater distances and travelling them more frequently. I do not believe anyone really needs to travel between Manchester and Leeds in 25 minutes, as opposed to the hour that a reliable conventional train would take. Apart from the carbon cost of constructing a new special line from scratch, there is a general rule that the faster the journey, the greater the energy consumption. Also such a line would do nothing for commuters in either Greater Manchester or Yorkshire, as a train travelling at such a speed would not be stopping at places like Stalybridge and Dewsbury for their more modest requirements.

To the extent that we need better intercity transport links in the North, the money would be better spent on extending electrification of the lines between Manchester and Leeds and Liverpool, and reopening the Woodhead line (see Woodhead Tunnel campaign here) to provide a decent Manchester - South Yorkshire service. Any surplus should go into improved cycling and local public transport as part of an essential move away from the long-distance commuting model.

Regarding the proposed high-speed rail link from London northwards (whether or not it gets as far as Manchester), the pragmatist in me sees a desire to provide an alternative to air travel for the same journey. However the same arguments apply. Government, business and indeed all of us need to consider the likely growing impact of climate change and fossil fuel depletion, and challenge this growing time pollution.
I will refer those who say 'people will always need to travel faster and you can't stop progress' back to Manchester Airport - not to the terminals and runways but a nearby hangar. There you will see the supersonic museum piece that is concorde.

Sunday, 8 March 2009


No, not a Stevie Wonder song, but a noun derived from 'counter-intuitive' which may or not be a real word. I am using it here to cover that range of comments and research pieces which come to conclusions which are counter-intuitive to the normal Green view.

Two oft-quoted examples are the claim that 'a dishwasher uses less energy than washing up by hand' and 'cloth nappies are less eco-friendly than using disposables'. More on these later.

The Independent has been having a field day on this recently, following on from its spurious claim that the green movement is now pro-nuclear,on the basis that 4 people have made a statement in its favour. I am deliberately not linking to the Indie here, nor am I going to say much about Chris Goodall, one of the gang of four just mentioned, except that when the Indie broke the nuclear story I researched the guy and found that he has "form" in this area; see here As you will see if you follow the link The Times has obligingly provided a number of other 'counter-intuitive' claims.

So how should a Green respond? The first thing to consider is that statistics can be used to prove pretty much anything. To take the walking versus car driving argument; this falls flat if the walker in question ate the same amount before using his car and just put on weight instead, a more likely scenario in our culture. To return to the 2 examples in the first paragraph: in the dishwasher exercise, most people did the hand-washing whilst running a separate hot tap continuously for rinsing, a very wasteful practice. The minority who took the trouble to hand-wash in a low wastage way outperformed the dishwashing machine. In the nappy comparison, it was assumed that cloth nappies would be boiled at 100 C and tumble dried; again the high-wastage option.

So clearly these 'Counter-intuitives' should be received with caution; there are manufacturers prepared to bend statistics as far as they need to promote particular products, and there are others out there who relish the chance to throw those earnest hairshirt greenies into confusion. But having said all that those of us who are concerned about our carbon (and general environmental) impact do need to check these things out and beware of simple assumptions. A shared car will use much less carbon than an empty bus, whilst the impact of eating habits is often underestimated, or even ignored completely.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The New North American Villain

For years now, Canada has been seen as the enlightened one of the two huge North American countries. Whilst Bush was busy invading the middle east, locking people up without trial and trashing the planet, Canada was this fluffier, liberal, almost European haven across the USA's northern border.

Times change. Now we have that nice Mr Obama in the White House (well relatively nice, I notice today he still refuses to grant Bagram Airbase inmates proper human rights for instance), but his attitude to climate change seems a welcome world away from that of his predecessor. Meanwhile Canada under the Conservative Prime Minister Harper is pressing ahead with what is arguably the dirtiest and most damaging single project on the planet - the huge scale extraction of oil from the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta.

Last night (Friday) I attended a well attended and inspring meeting organised by Manchester Friends of the Earth and the Co-operative. It featured Jack Woodward, Canada's top aboriginal lawyer and legal council to the Beaver Lake Cree Nation; Jack spoke eloquently about the massive damage being done to the boreal forest there and to the lives of these First Nation people. And from a planetary point of view the exploitation of these tar sands could alone add 64 ppm to global CO2 - the single largest carbon emitter in the world; further information here on the lawsuit where the Beaver Lake Cree are taking on Albertan and Canadian Govts., and the multinational oil giants.
The Co-operative Society, based of course up here in Manchester are running a toxic fuels campaign on tar sands and oil shales.
Attendance at the meeting was about 70-80 and it is good to see Friends of the Earth in Manchester in such good health; they had seemed a bit quiet recently.

Finally, returning to the North American climate villain charts, of course the USA isn't off the hook: where do you think all this oil is heading?...

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Another Busy Week

With Christmas and New Year long gone, the campaigning season is well under way. This has been a busy and varied week:

On Tuesday, I attended the latest in a series of Manchester Climate Forum events. This covered both the global (Dr. Victoria Johnson described her experiences at the Poznan Climate Change talks late last year) and the local (current Manchester City Council Executive member for the Environment Richard Cowell giving his defence of the City Council's 'Call to Action' (more on this later)), to a bemused and disappointed audience.

Wind forward a day and the focus shifts to the Manchester University student sit-in on Gaza, one of a whole series of sit-ins by students around the country. I have to say this is music to my ears, as someone who remembers the summer of 68; for too long most students have come across as Thatcher's children, without a radical bone in their body. Maybe now the economy has collapsed, they have nothing to lose. As well as support for Gaza students are calling for disinvestment from the arms trade and Manchester Green Party have written to the Vice-Chancellor expressing our support for the students (letter here). However The Uni have a lot of interests connected with armaments and are proving more stubborn than many universities.

On to Thursday and a meeting of Manchester Green Party was treated to a summary of a short book written by local member Michael Prior ('Beyond Feelbad Britain' about the current financial crisis and possible solutions. More on this topic in a future blog I suspect.

Friday saw a return to Palestinian matters, as the convoy for Gaza drives through the streets of Manchester in the late afternoon, near the start of its long journey through Europe and North Africa. I and many others cheer it on its way as it passes the BBC.

Saturday saw the launch of a response to the City Council's vacuous 'Call to Action'. This is a 'Call to Real Action' by a collection of green activists (a number of whom I am proud to say are Green Party members), who are determined to produce an alternative set of proposals for the City which far exceed those of the City Council and their multi-thousand pound consultants from The South who go by the name of 'Beyond Green'. A lively and focused meeting promises much over the coming weeks. Website launched - here

Finally today (Sunday) - A fitting climax to the last few days in the shape of two hours on the BBC Radio Manchester midday 'What the Papers say' slot with Andy Crane. As someone who never buys a Sunday paper, not even the Observer or Indie on Sunday, my exposure to the horrors of the gutter press live on air gave me some trepidation. Expecting a formal studio I was surprised to see the programme recorded in the foyer of the Lowry Centre with Joe and Jane Public walking by. Two hours passed surprisingly quickly with half the programme taken up with music (including the live and entertaining Louis Barabbas , who stepped in at short notice so I'm giving him a plug). It emphasised the gap between the news as seen by Greens (climate change, war, resource depletion) and that seen by much of the country's population (celebrities, teenage pregnancy etc). It was the first time a Green had been on the show in the politician slot; hopefully given our 8.5 - 9% vote in City Council elections over the last four years it will not be the last.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


...Is a word that often crops up in the Gaza situation, indeed the Israeli government seems to regard disproportionality as good and legitimate. In this blog post, however I am referring to a different example of disproportionality, and one which risks offending some fellow campaigns. This example is the difference in energy devoted to anti-war campaigning between Gaza and the Congo, particularly given the vastly greater death and suffering in the Congo.

In the midst of messages urging me to support the Gaza sit in at the University of Manchester, I attended a demonstration concerned with the Congo. Attendance was around 150 people, small in comparison to the thousands mobilised for Gaza. Whilst there is a small but thriving Congo support movement in Manchester, it is not just the BBC who have paid little attention to this conflict, which has claimed some 5 million lives over the last 10 years. This is far more than Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine put together. One problem is there are no obvious good and bad guys, - certainly no obvious good guys. Placards at today’s demo attacked both President Kabila and rebel militia leader Laurent Nkunda.

There are however two areas where Western countries have an impact here. Firstly, the Government, in an astonishing denial of the situation in Congo, regards it as a safe place to return refugees. For more information, see here . There are various campaigns against deportations, and readers are urged to write to MPs and the Government to support these campaigns.

For the other reason, look at your mobile phone, or laptop (with which you may be reading this blog). Eastern Congo is the number one source of Coltan, which is an ore of the metal tantalum vital in creating capacitors. Rebel Groups and neighbouring countries have exploited used this to finance their military involvement, with western-based corporations willing to turn a blind eye in the pursuit of profit. See futher information here

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Manchester - Guinea-Pig City

In case anyone here thinks I have going to talk about furry animals, in line with one of the usual green stereotypes, I'll make it clear that this is guinea pig which (to quote Wikipedia) is 'a metaphor in English for a subject of experimentation'. In the old days, Scotland could be relied on for this role (remember the poll tax?), but they've got a bit of independence now, so step forward a new victim, Manchester.

To give 3 recent examples.

- A couple of years back our government got very keen on casinos, and one lucky borough was earmarked for the biggest casino of all. East Manchester was formerly a hive of industry, but is now a serious area of deprivation. This was deemed to be a perfect site for a huge gambling den, unprecedented in British social history. Manchester's Labour Council, lacking the imagination or ability to come up with a beetr solution for the area, were enthusiastic despite the warnings of many groups regarding crime and gambling addiction, and the consequent further impoverishment of many people in the area. It was subsequently pulled by Son-of-the-Manse Gordon Brown (without any alternative strategy) so we'll move on.

- The great transport bid / congestion charge debate roused many strong views, but a significant argument of the anti- campaigners was that Manchester was being used as a guinea pig for a particular form of road-pricing, with a scheme proposed which was unlike anywhere else on the planet. No other city was subjected to this, London has its congestion charge, true, but it also gets far more than its share of major transport spending. Greater Manchester, despite its considerable size has long been treated as a poor provincial relation. Maybe Manchester doesn't have enough marginal Labour seats?

- The third example hit the news a couple of days ago. The Government's stubborn and perverse determination to foist ID cards on us has already led to Manchester Airport employees being amongst the first to have to carry them, now Jacqui Smith wants Manchester to be one of the first places these are rolled out (see here), shamelessly promoting them in a school. Despite massive opposition, including from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Parties, the Government claims people can't wait to have these cards, indeed as I go about my business on the streets of Manchester I often come across huge mobs impatient to pay money to be fingerprinted and scanned - err not. For information on ID cards see NoID and for a less partisan view from an IT perspective Computer Weekly often provides some lowdown on this and other Government IT c**kups.

Daft Comment of the Week:
I haven't kept this feature up very well, so 2 for the price of one this week.
Firstly: the BNP's Simon Darby has let slip that 'Party''s true nature, by describing it as 'technically an ethnic group' - clearly an admission that the BNP is a completely race-based group, unlike any legitimate UK political party. Thanks to Lancaster UAF for that info. The BNP are claiming to be the victims of racism by the way - sheesh!

Secondly here's a quote about climate change from a Councillor Barton, a Tory on Birmingham Council, admittedly from last year but brought to my attention this morning by Spencer Fitzgibbon “We can’t even predict the weather three days ahead...It’s said that we are going to turn into a desert, but there’s not much sign of that happening yet.” Councillor Barton is tipped to become a Tory MP at the next general election, and this is in a city whose Conservative-LibDem coalition recently announced its intention of making Birmingham the UK’s first “sustainable global city”. (Actually some people who have been to Birmingham might debate the desert comment).
It's hard to do a daft Tory quote from a Manchester City Councillor as there's only one of them, but he is trying to get into the Daft Comment spot and will probably succeed before long.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Boon - or Bobbins?

As the banking crisis continues, alternative or complementary currencies are back on the agenda, as evidenced by George Monbiot's last piece in the Guardian , and a feature on Lewes Pounds on BBC's radio 4 in the last couple of days.

The idea of an alternative currency is not new, and back around 15-20 years ago, LETS schems (Local Exchange Trading Systems)were seen as a key part of the move to a sustainable society and there were close links between Green party activists and LETS schemes in various places around the country. The scheme in Manchester used a currency called 'bobbins' after the cotton industry and for a while local Green Party membership could be paid for in bobbins, though hardly anybody ever did.

Unfortunately in recent years I have heard much less about them, and even their co-ordinating body, Letslink, reports a likely drop in membership since the early days. I can think of two reasons why this might be. Firstly, the kind of people attracted to such schemes in those days meant that there were too many aromatherapists and not enough plumbers. Secondly I have noticed a decline in co-operation amongst people outside Green circles since then; to give a couple of examples:

- when our children were young we belonged to a local baby-sitting circle by which people sat for each other using tokens as a currency; it worked well for a while, but nowadays couples with young children don't seem to have such a facility, and often struggle to find sitters to whom they have to pay hard British pounds.

- when I started at my current workplace there was a milk sharing scheme, each person in a team bought the milk on a different day, over time people 'forgot' and the system fell apart until everyone had to bring their individual half pints which cluttered the fridge and regularly went off before consumption. (The company resolved this by bulk buying milk and providing it as a perk, so we went from co-operation to individualism to corporate paternalism).

This probably all started with Thatcherism and 'no such thing as society' but has continued throughout the 11 years of so-called Labour. But with the banking crisis maybe things are changing again. Whilst LETS scheme are less visible, new ideas have arrived with a broadly similar philosophy, such as Timebank and Freecycle. A prolonged recession caused by failure in the conventional economic system may provide the seeds not just for a revival of alternative currencies but their extension out of the trendy middle-class ghetto. Internet developments, such as 'Web 2.0' technologies may also help.

The next couple of years are an opportunity to see if this type of trading will be a boon to hard-pressed citizens, or if it will just be 'bobbins'.