Sunday, 14 December 2008

Haringey Green Party Amnesty International card signing a success!

Haringey Green Party this afternoon took over Hornsey Vale Community Centre and hosted an Amnesty International Greetings Card signing event. People from the local community joined us for mince pies and Christmas cake (both made by me!), and together we signed over 250 cards and letters to individuals and groups at risk around the world.

Jean Lambert, Green MEP, who was the Justice and Human Right MEP of the year 2005, was in attendence.

It gave us the opportunity to meet local people and get to know them as individuals, which is rather hard when, for example, canvassing on the doorstep! It also shows the people in Stroud Green that we are active and busy all year round - not just at election time. I absolutely loved meeting the people who came along - it was heartening that people would make the effort to come and sit in a hall with us and sign some cards to people in far-flung corners of the world.

At this time of year, when everyone is rushing around trying to organise Christmas, it can be good to take time out to consider those less fortunate than ourselves. By reaching out to them by sending a simple message of goodwill, we can not only boost their morale but also perhaps help to secure their safety. The arrival of these letters and cards let's the powers that be know that these people are known about around the world - they cannot simply be made to 'disappear'.

In short, a postive and worthwhile afternoon! Thanks to everyone who attended and made the event so successful and enjoyable.

After we had cleared up the hall, I had a brief sojourn to a very dark Stationers Park, which is right next to the community centre. With the smell of mulled wine in the air and the sound of carols being sung by the choir, I have to admit to feeling properly Christmassy!

Haringey Green Party Amnesty International Event is a success!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Gearing up for Amnesty International Event

Delivering leaflets in the dark - always a joy! This picture was taken this afternoon in Stroud Green, where Chris and I - plus Clementine, in her pushchair - delivered leaflets for next Sunday's event. As you can see, my fingers remain intact, despite the best efforts of some dogs to deprive me of my digits. (Is there such a thing as a phobia of letterboxes? If so, I am getting close to developing it!).

The leaflets were to promote next Sunday's Amnesty International Greetings card campaign signing event, which is being organised by Haringey Green Party. We'll be signing cards to people at risk around the world, including political prisoners and human rights campaigners. The cards not only serve as a morale boost, but also help to secure the safety of the recipients, who the authorities realise cannot now simply be made to 'disappear'.

We'll be signing the cards along with Jean Lambert, Green MEP, and everyone is welcome to join us. We'll be at Hornsey Vale Community Centre, 60 Mayfield Rd, Stroud Green from 1pm to 5pm next Sunday. Do come join us and help make this event a success!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Keeping the Green flag flying

Here I am, looking somewhat lonesome, waiting for the marchers to arrive at Parliament Square this afternoon. I was setting up the Green Party stall and getting rather cold, despite five layers of clothing. The police reckoned there were 5,000 of us there today - the organisers 10,000. It certainly seemed less than previous years, I'm sorry to say. But it's always a good event, which affords one the opportunity to talk to Green Party members and non-members alike.

A short blog tonight as I am exhausted!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

(Decent) Homes for Haringey

Last week, the Chief Executive of Homes for Haringey, Paul Bridge, visited the estate I live on in Highgate. I had arranged the visit having spoken to him a couple of months ago, when I alerted him to the fact that the ALMO is seriously failing in several ways.

It was a positive evening, and some of my neighbour attended, eager to put across their views. Paul Bridge has been the Chief Executive of the ALMO for 6 months now, and is very candid when it comes to admitting that the organisation has problems. He is trying to get his 800 staff to adopt a 'can-do' attitude, something some (though not all) of them lack at present.

We talked about the 'Decent Homes' programme, which is already underway. We were concerned that our estate isn't going to be dealt with until the final year (2012-13). That's a long time for people who are living in damp, cold flats with ancient windows, as some of the people in neighbouring blocks are doing. I recently showed the Chief Exec's Project Officer around my 90 year old neighbour's flat. The smell of damp hit us as soon as we entered the ground floor flat. It is no surprise that this pensioner is in and out of hospital with respiratory problems. "When are they going to do something?" she implored us. When indeed.

Paul Bridge told us that they are asking the Government if they can complete the Decent Homes programme in 4 years instead of the planned 6, which would mean our estate will get sorted two years earlier than is planned presently.

I hope this can happen. I am lucky - our block, although a bit damp (the windows go black with mould if we don't wash them down regularly) is no way as bad as a lot of the blocks on the estate.

I also hope that when the repairs are done, they are done to a standard which means they last and don't need doing again soon. (Especially as it will be us Leaseholders who will be forking out a considerable amount of money each to help pay for it all!)

The Chief Exec admitted that for years now Homes for Haringey has just been 'managing decline' and that some of the housing in the borough is in a truly shocking state. Let's hope, then, that the 'Decent Homes' programme can rectify that - and the sooner, the better.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Women Unite! Reclaim the Night!

Here's a picture of Sian Berry and me at last night's 'Reclaim the Night' march in central London. I hope the blurriness of the pictures conveys the energised atmosphere of the event - ! I attended the march last year and really enjoyed it. This year I took some Green Party placards along too, as you can see.

I wondered whether, by having the placards, we would get questioned about the Green Party's liberal policies about prostitution. I know that we've come in for some criticism in the past about this, and that some branches of feminsim, who would never want to see prostitution decriminalised/legalised, are very much against our standpoint.

We didn't get any comments, as it turned out, though the issue was very much in the air last night. Some sex workers, possibly from the English Collective of Prostitutes, took part in the march, much to some of the organisers' chagrin. (I overheard a heated discussion at the end of the event!).

When we passed the lapdancing club Spearmint Rhino on Tottenham Court Road (see top picture), the two rival groups chanted opposing messages to the tune of 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!"

Sex workers: "Sex Workers Riiiiiiights!"

Anti-prostitution feminists: "Women's bodies are not for saaa-aaale!"

It was quite a moment. For the record, I'm with the sex workers on this. As Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes wrote in a letter to the Guardian just this week, 'There is no sisterly understanding of, no identification with, women who for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of presssing economic need, work in the sex industry...Many clients are more respectful of the women whose services they pay for than feminists who claim to speak for us.'

It's a massively contentious issue, and obviously there's a world of difference between a woman who enters the sex industry of her own volition and someone who is forced into it, but wishing that prostitution didn't exist is pointless. It will always be there - we need to look at it openly and listen to women - and men, for that matter - who have experience of it - rather than trying to drown out their voices.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Haringey Council and Baby P

I was completely sickened, as I'm sure most people were, to hear of the case of Baby P. I can hardly bear to think of how much that child must have suffered. And here we have Haringey council again saying "lessons will be learnt". Wait a minute...I am experiencing deja vu. Did they not say that after the death of Victoria Climbie, eight years ago?

I do not understand how two social workers could have been given 'written warnings'. Just what do you need to do to get sacked from Haringey council? If these social workers are at all to blame (which, I assume, they must be, hence the written warnings), then how can there possibly be a grey area? If the death, and the long-term abuse of a baby is not grounds for sacking, it must literally be impossible for council employees to lose their jobs. Why?

I have tonight written to Ed Balls, highlighting what I, as a Haringey resident, see as a council in crisis:

Dear Mr Balls,

I email you as a resident of Haringey. I was very upset but unfortunately not surprised to hear of the terrible plight of Baby P. I have lived in the borough of Haringey for over two years and have been appalled at their inefficiency, lack of accountability, poor 'customer' care and evident lack of direction.

Haringey council is in crisis, and it's just a tragedy that this had to happen in order to highlight that. My own dealings with both the council and Homes for Haringey, the ALMO in charge of council housing in the borough, have again and again shown that here is an organisation that covers up - often in a very corrupt manner - any problems it has rather than dealing with them. It is a council that repeatedly claims it will 'learn from its mistakes' but fails to do so.

I cannot strongly urge you enough to take over control of the social services division in Haringey. Haringey cannot be trusted to even fullfil day to day, mundane requirements. I implore you not to put the lives of vulnerable children into the hands of people who do not know what they are doing, and do not care.

Yours Sincerely, Sarah Mitchell

P.S. I would like to add that earlier this year my local baby clinic was closed down, and the reason sighted by Haringey PCT was 'health and safety' problems with the building. The same building is still being used for other health teams. Documents unearthed by a ward councillor show that Haringey had earmarked the clinic for closure several years ago. At the time of the closure, one of the health workers said to me "There will be problems with babies we will miss because people won't have a clinic to go to. It is no exaggeration to say that a baby could lose its life because of this decision."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fivers for Drivers

This picture was taken last Thursday morning outside a petrol station near Old Street, London. What am I doing? Handing a fiver to a driver, of course. Why? It was part of a stunt to highlight that if Geoff Hoon, minister of transport, stands strong on EU emissions targets, it will save drivers of new cars in 2010 around £160 a year each on petrol and diesel bills. That's £382 million pounds altogether. Blimey.

The fact is, if cars are made to be cleaner, they will not only benefit the environment, but drivers' pockets also. It's a classic case of the economic argument and the environment going hand in hand, rather than, as is often assumed, in opposition.

So there we were, handing out actual fivers to drivers, and asking them to sign a postcard to Hoon, asking him to be a brave boy. The postcards were mocked-up fivers, with Hoon in the Queen's pearls, tiara and sporting her fetching bouffant.

It's funny how suspicious people sometimes are when you try to give them money. Some, however, didn't have too many qualms. Indeed, one guy crashed his van into a bollard in his eagerness to get his mitts on the moolah.

Please do send a card to Hoon - we had lots of them printed!


Fivers for Drivers!

Friday, 31 October 2008

By-elections, babies, banners...boobs.

I've neglected my blog for the last couple of weeks, so now it's time for an update. I was out 'till 1am this morning due to the Kentish Town by-election, where the Greens came third. It was a disappointing result, but with the Lib Dems doing their usual 50,000 leaflets per household, we were really up against it. I have never been part of a full 'telling' and 'knocking up' operation before, so it was very educational! Also, it feels good to be part of a team, all working for the same goal. I also love to see 'democracy in action', as lofty as that sounds. It's heartening to see couples and families coming to vote together on a freezing, dark night.

Rather less heartening was the presence of the BNP, who had a candidate standing. I wouldn't have wanted to have been a member of an ethnic minority walking around the (incredibly ill-lit) streets of Kentish Town last night, I can tell you. Just the very presence of those thugs is truly intimidating. But I expect that's partly their goal in life, to be threatening. If so, mission accomplished.

On a different topic, I have been researching maternity services in the UK, and putting together one of the major campaigns I am going to be running this year in the Green Party. Called 'Birth Right' (website coming soon - I hope!), I am going to be highlighting the problems of giving birth on the NHS, and pushing the viable solutions. The Independent Midwives Association have some excellent ideas, and I have been in touch with them today.

Another thing that's been taking up much of my time is preparing for the Campaign Against Climate Change march on 6th December. Placards, leaflets...Oh, and green hard hats!

As a post-script - I visited my favourite shop in the world today (ok, maybe I exaggerate slightly), Radio Days on Lower Marsh Street in Waterloo. It sells vintage clothes, ornaments, jewellery, telephones etc. Anyway, it's amazing. I'd recently read that with the credit crunch upon us, now was the time to shamelessly haggle with shopkeepers. Well, I saw a fellow female shopper take that to another level, when she asked for two cigarette holders for the price of one "and I'll show you my right tit." The poor fellow behind the counter was truly taken aback and politely declined the offer. I was a bit embarrassed for him really, but you have to admit it's a novel approach in these tough economic times...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Yesterday: Climate Rush! Today: Canvassing!

I attended Climate Rush last night. 1oo years since the Suffragettes 'rushed' at Parliament, we rushed at the Houses of Parliament (cue much argy-bargy) to protest about Climate Change. "Deeds not Words!" was the rallying cry. It was a really inspiring event with many a period costume and more children present than at your usual protest - and that can only be a good thing. More cakes as well.

Caroline Lucas gave a great speech as did Rosie Boycott. I saw Tamsin Ormond being arrested (again!). It was a brilliant idea and got much press - top story on BBC London last night.

I spent today canvassing in Kentish Town, in advance of the by-election on 30th October. It's us versus those dodgy Lib Dems (anyone fancy a trip to Arizona? That's where your Lib Dem will be holding his surgeries from now on....). They've already been touting old statistics as new ones, and saying that they've "saved" the Torriano pub when in fact it's far from saved. Politics, shmolitics - but it was great to hit the doorsteps and meet the voters. We got some positive feedback which is always a boost.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

An Everyday Encounter with Homes for Haringey...

Oh dear...Homes for Haringey really do need to think about who they employ...

A Housing Manager called to tell me that the pest control people were meant to put the notes through re: spraying the communal areas (we have cockroaches - mmm) but haven't done. I said last time the Housing Manager put the notes through. She said Pest Control are paid to do that.

I asked if she was coming to next week's Residents' Association AGM. She said no. I said I would have appreciated it if she could have responded to my emails about the date for the AGM, even if just to say she could not attend. (Well, I tried to say the above, but she had already launched into her tirade, as follows):

She repeatedly said I treated her like a child, that I was condescending, that I was 'telling' her what to do, telling her how to do her job, that we would never get on, that I was bullying her, that I was aggressive. She threatened to put me on speaker phone - which was odd, as I wasn't actually saying anything - more like sitting in shock! I tried to interject to say that I was not 'telling' her what to do, merely 'asking' for her to respond to emails. But there was no getting a word in edgeways. I noticed that I was shaking and my heart was racing, and as we were not getting anywhere, I said "Goodbye" and hung up the phone.

I then called the switchboard and asked to be put through to the manager's manager (!), to report this outrageous incident. I was put through to a woman and in the background I could hear the Housing Manager still ranting on, saying "She's called to complaint about me!" etc. The woman repeatedly tried (properly?) to put me though to senior manager and 'failed'. She then gave me his direct number. I called this direct number and it went through to the same woman again. I left a message with her asking him to call me.

The fact that she almost hung up without even asking for my phone number - I interjected and gave her the number - made me suspicious about whether the message will be passed on or not.

I was left extremely shaken by this unprovoked, personal attack. Another triumph, Homes for Haringey! Oh, for a telephone with a built-in recording facility - I could start podcasting these incredible exchanges! Watch this space etc etc...

Monday, 22 September 2008

My Dismay at Haringey (again)

I attended the Recycling Scrutiny Review meeting tonight and I wasn't very impressed. There were only 7 of us (don't think I was really welcome - oh well!) and nobody seemed to know much about recycling issues. I have suggested that at the next meeting they get Andy Moore from the Campaign for Real Recycling to attend, as he knows all the problems and the possible solutions. They seemed keen on this idea and I hope to push to make it happen. However, the feeling seemed to be that having this review was probably very much a cosmetic exercise, and that little notice will be taken of their conclusions.

One interesting - and alarming - point that came out of the meeting, and which came as a shock to all Cllrs, was that in the next few months Haringey plan to replace all of the on-street separated recycling tanks with co-mingled - meaning that Haringey will be 100% co-mingled. I was really surprised and disgusted about this, as these separated facilities are the only ones which are in fact 'real recycling' facilities, and are used by people who don't trust the co-mingled facilities - and rightly so! Those separated banks are the only way we in Haringey can ensure that our recycling is properly handled.

We haven't been consulted, and what's more, the woman from recycling who was at this meeting and broke this news said that one of the reasons they were making these bins co-mingled was so that it wouldn't be 'confusing' for residents - so that we'd have co-mingled at home and on the streets too. I find that really patronising - most people, I think, can in fact understand the current set-up...Green glass goes in there, yup....paper in there. I think I get it, wow!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

I was elected!

I found out yesterday that I have been elected as National Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Green Party. This is hugely exciting and also a big responsibility, and one I don't intend to take lightly. I'll be finding my feet for a few weeks yet but then I'm sure this blog will be full of the campaigning adventures this new role will take me on!

I was interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph today about whether fashion and politics do or don't mix. It's for a piece they're doing a couple of weekends from now in their 'Stella' style supplement. I had a really interesting conversation about all the questions surrounding the issue with the journalist doing the piece. Why do female politicians get labelled 'dowdy' if they play it safe in the fashion stakes, and then when they wear something even a little different, why does the entire media focus shift to what the woman chooses to wear, rather than what she has to say?

It all comes down to the notion that if a woman is deemed attractive, she can't possibly be taken seriously, or be considered all that intelligent. It's incredible that those beliefs still exist, but exist they do. Evidence, if it were needed, that we still live in a sexist, narrow-minded society, no matter how much we think we've moved on over the past few decades.

I told the journalist that I thought that without the art of self-decoration, life would be very dull. At the same time, the tyranny of looking good - the message that women have drilled into them that they must look perfect, slim, young and beautiful the entire time (even when pregnant - yes, they're making sexy pregnancy underwear now) - is a dangerous one, leading of course to all sorts of extreme behaviour.

By the way, has everyone else being enjoying the cosmetic surgery ads on the tube recently? There they are, alongside ads for car insurance and chick lit, like having a boob job is just a normal part of life.

Oh dear, this blog has started to get a bit ranty tonight - I started with elections and ended with boob jobs. And there I must leave it.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Green Party Conference

I've been at the Green Party Conference for the last two and a half days, meeting loads of people and running an Alliance Against Urban 4x4s stall. We've been asking people to sign letters to three key MEPs who soon have a crucial vote about CO2 targets for the car industry.

I've also been selling Alliance t-shirts and our infamous fake parking tickets, to be issued to shiny urban 4x4s!

It's been such an exciting conference what with electing our first ever leader, Caroline Lucas. Her acceptance speech was extremely inspiring, and has made me even more determined to be part of the effort to get the first Green MPs elected.

Yesterday I stood for the position of Campaigns Co-ordinator on the Green Party Executive. I gave a short speech in front of conference and the results of the ballot will be announced tomorrow.

All in all, an exciting if exhausting weekend!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Langworthy's make-over

A few weeks ago I visited Salford, where I was at university from 1996 to 1999. During my second year I lived on the infamous Langworthy estate in Salford, which is commonly known as 'Beirut'. Or at least it was.

In my day, the streets were full of kids throwing eggs and lit fireworks at anyone who looked a bit different from them, i.e. me. I fondly recall being called a "Fucking mature student" (strange as I was not a mature student), told I looked like a "fucking lion" due to my green fluffy coat (green lions, anyone?) and told, in no uncertain terms, to pay my taxes. (The tax issue was a particular bone of contention).

There was, as I recall, a particularly fierce dog who used to try to attack us as we weilded our way through the dog-poo smeared, littered and grafittied streets on our way to the university campus. It was no surprise when said dog featured on the local news after being put down - it had ripped a little girl's face.

It was a depressing place to live, to say the least, but I had heard that changes were taking place in Langworthy, and I was keen to see them for myself. Whole streets of once delapidated terraces, many of which were boarded up and badly vandalised, had simply disappeared. In their place was just an area of grass, split in two by the old cobblestone alley way and surrounded by a low fence. This arrangement reminded me of a graveyard plot.

Street names have disappeared along with the houses, and I supposed with their disappearance goes over a hundred years of history.

What has become of the houses that remain standing is even more incredible. Builders have kept the facades, with their original features, but knocked down everything else and rebuilt the houses as smart terraces with parking where the alleyway used to be and a garden on top of that i.e. on the level of the first floor. They have done an excellent job as far as I could tell but many of these houses, I was told, remain empty, with people unable to afford to buy them.

I wonder where all the people have gone who used to live here? That community I knew so well - and feared so much! - during my year of living there. The place was like a ghost town.

As I walked through the streets towards my old house - 115 Seedley Park Road - I felt like Scarlett O'Hara in 'Gone With the Wind' when she runs over the field after the war has ended, desperate to see whether her beloved family home, Tara, is still standing. She discovered it was, and I found the same of my old abode too. It looks a lot smarter than it did in my day - thank goodness - and I can only hope it is no longer cockroach infested and with condemned gas fires.

Ah, happy days...

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Ad men and women go to war!

Today I attended a meeting at the DfT with the ad industry and interested bodies. Boy, are they unhappy with us. They don't like that they are going to have to put CO2 info on their pretty car ads. Apparently it will ruin the ad industry and the economy...!

The same person, who will remain anonymous said at the beginning of the meeting "All of us support regulation and want to comply with the law." By the end of the meeting she was saying "If you give us specific guidance it's easy for us to get around." I think the latter comment might be the more honest!

The fact is, the DfT aren't going to backtrack on this - the legislation will be brought in. Whether it is strictly enforced is another matter. To be realistic, I am sceptical.

Now we have a month (the industry wanted 10 weeks!) to go away and decide what size the info regarding CO2 should be on the billboards. We want it big and easy to understand. They want it tiny, ignorable and incomprehensible.

The funniest thing was how they kept trying to tell us that the info didn't serve a purpose so why should it be there at all? However, if it doesn't serve a purpose and isn't generally read, why do they have such a problem putting it on there in the first place? Because it will make their ad unsightly? They should just see it as a challenge to creating subtler ads, like our friends the cigarette advertisers did, back in the day.

At the end of the meeting we were sworn to secrecy. We were told not to talk to the press. So I've granted anonymity to the above woman. But they're not going to stop me blogging about it. I just can't keep secrets, evidently.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Co-mingling / Co-mangling

I have been doing lots of research on co-mingled recycling, which is the system we've got in Haringey at present. As I have long suspected, NOT recycling is actually better than putting things into a co-mingled system. I sent the following letter to Cllr Brian Haley, cabinet member for Environment and Conservation at Haringey Council:

Dear Cllr Brian Haley,

I have recently heard from my local councillor Rachel Allison that Haringey Council are soon going to look again at their recycling scheme.

I live on the Summersby Road estate in N6, and we had recycling facilities introduced earlier this year, after two years of asking for bins to be delivered. Residents have taken to recycling easily, and the bins are regularly full.

However, we have discussed at Residents’ Association meetings the issue of co-mingled versus separated recycling facilities, and it largely agreed that we would prefer the latter scheme.

There are many reasons why separated recycling is better than co-mingled (aka co-mangled!), as I am sure you are already aware, namely:

A recent WRAP report pointed to the fact that only 12-15% of co-mingled recycling actually ends up getting recycled. If Haringey was really recycling, as it claims, 25% of its waste, that would still be low. But 12-15% of 25% is truly scandalous in 2008.
Glass that has been put into co-mingled recycling facilities is so degraded that it can only be used as road aggregate. Andy Moore of the Campaign for Real Recycling told me that recently roadfill people have been rejecting loads of late.
The paper gets so contaminated by glass fragments and the remnants of what was in the bottles and cans that no British papermaker can use it to make recycled paper. So it gets sent to the Far East. And what happens to it there? Maybe Malaysian papermakers have lower standards or better technology. Maybe not. Either way it would make more sense not to contaminate the paper in the first place.
A recent report showed that Greenwich’s co-mingled scheme ADDED 77% to the carbon footprint. In other words, people would be better off not recycling at all. This is disheartening, as residents are keen to ‘do their bit’ for the environment by recycling, an activity they undertake in good faith.

I know that by collecting a co-mingled recycling load you can increase tonnage and meet government targets more readily, but as discussion at our residents’ meetings has shown, people are not ignorant. They are wholly suspicious of co-mingling, as well they should be.

I also understand that by switching to separated recycling facilities, it may mean more collection lorries on the road. However, I can see two possible solutions:

1) Separate out the glass from the co-mingled collection to minimise contamination. This could be done relatively easily by giving residents a separate bag for glass.
2) Collect paper and cardboard (“fibres”) separately from glass, plastic and metal (“containers”). This method allows reasonably easy automated separation of “containers” and it means any leftover food and drink in the “containers” doesn’t contaminate the paper. The whole of Germany uses this system.

Regarding the increased trucks on the street, so we could fuel them using biomethane made from food waste, which has virtually no carbon or noxious emissions, and which Veolia is currently trialling in Camden.

It makes sense to switch to switch to separated facilities if Haringey TRULY wants to be the ‘Greenest Borough’. From an economic point of view, materials will be of a greater quality and therefore result in an increased revenue.

I hope you take the responsible, the ‘green’ and the correct decision, and opt for separated recycling facilities at the soonest possible opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter,

Yours Sincerely,

Sarah Mitchell
Chair, Summersby Road Residents’ Association.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Full Throttle Experience

Last week I attended the Motor Show at the vast ExCel centre in East London, along with my Alliance Against Urban 4x4s colleagues Sian Berry and Blake Ludwig. For anyone who hasn't visited this event, imagine a massive airport terminal with shiny cars of every description, groups of lads (some topless!), blaring music and annorexic girls trying to look seductive whilst standing folornly by the side of a car.

On the plus side, there was a Greener Driving section, with electric cars and even a new Tesla, the electric sports car that has just been manufactured. Sian was most impressed by this but I remonstrated that there was no room for a baby seat, much less a pushchair. Ever the pragmatist.

We also attended the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership 5th Annual Conference, which took place upstairs, well tucked away from the Hummer stands etc down in the car show. We wouldn't want to upset any car manufacturers with talk of low carbon, responsible travel and the like. They might cry.

We heard from a number of really interesting speakers (didn't stop the chap next to me snoring and drooling, mind you). The best speaker I thought was Prof. Dr Jillian Anable, a research fellow at the Centre for Transport Policy, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University. She and her colleagues has interviewed loads of drivers regarding their attitudes to motoring and the environment.

They found out that most drivers ONLY think about how much a car costs to run, not how much CO2 emits. That's just not a factor. Advertising doesn't help sell cars, but what it does do is cement brand loyalty. What car people bought was often a very arbitrary decision e.g. 'My friend said this was good.'

In terms of information that's available at car showrooms, people tended not to look at the fuel label, if indeed it was displayed. It really needs to be interactive, the researches concluded, and tell people what each car costs to run each week. This is the only thing that will stop most people buying gas guzzlers - that it's going to leave them penniless.

Another important thing to bear in mind is that 75% of cars sold are second hand, and these don't have to have any emissions data displayed on them. Indeed, as cars get less fuel efficient the more miles they clock up, this would be difficult to calculate. But with the govenment saying that they are going to consider starting to charge differential tax bands for older cars, it is unfair to do this without arming the consumer with all the information they need.

It is a massive task but it needs doing, both for environmental and economic reasons.

All in all, much food for thought.

And of course, on the way home I got to have a rare ride on the Docklands Light Railway, weaving its way through the haunting wastelands/soon to be Olympic village, which to me is what a ride in a Tesla is to someone else. I heart the DLR!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Getting Pushy

Here I am pushing a 'Mundo car' (the clean car of the future) down Torrens Street in Islington. That's Jean Lambert, Green MEP nearest the camera. My Alliance Against Urban 4x4s colleague, Blake Ludwig, is inside the car, steering blindly!

It's all part of a campaign to encourage MPs and MEPs to push (push, geddit?) for low emissions targets for car manufacturers. We're asking them to commit to 120g/Co2 per km by 2012. There are cars out there doing that right now - the technology exists. However, there are also cars out there doing 3 or 4 times that amount, such as the biggest 4x4s.

It was great that Jean came along and supported the campaign. It's a Europe-wide initiative and the website is:

Write to your MP, your MEP and your local councillors and ask them to support lower emissions targets - the car companies aren't going to choose to make their fleets clean, we must force them to do so!

Think of it as a challenge, ye car companies!

Stop and Search - more like stop and stare.

I saw loads police conducting 'stop and search' outside Archway tube station yesterday. Teenage boys were having their turn-ups searched for knives and the like. They even had a metal detector to walk under - I saw two policemen struggling to carry the frame into position.

I actually felt quite sorry for the police. What a massive waste of their time. Talk about knee-jerk reactions! Last year we all were told to be paranoid about terrorists, now it's youths with knives. Or maybe guns. Though knives seem to be the biggy at the moment.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's awful that people are getting stabbed and killed. But yesterday figures were released that showed that crime is down. So why are we being bombarded with front pages about how we're all going to be stabbed any second? Well, because whipping the public into a frenzy is what the tabloids do best.

But when that frenzy extends to the police, and they are stopping random young people in the street - cornering them as they get out of the tube - then you know things have gone too far. Imagine being a young man of 15, being searched in broad daylight by two policemen. Onlookers stop and stare. People whisper that you look like a bad 'un. What do you feel? Resentment, panic and a swiftly developing hatred of the police.

It's the quickest way to turn a law abiding young person into a detester and an antagoniser of the police.

So what is the solution? Well, it's more complicated than packs of police outside tubes with metal detectors. Why do people carry knives in the first place? To seem tough. To belong to a gang. Because the music they listen to tells them that's what you do. Because they have no positive role models, no father figures, no one to show them right from wrong. Because they live in shit conditions, people have had low expectations of them from birth and they see no way but the wrong way.

These problems are huge and deep, and are hard to remedy. Easy to put some police on the streets, stopping lads in baseball hats and hoodies, and then we'll all say "That Boris, he's doing something good for London. We're safe now."

Bullshit. I think we need to address the real issues, not skirt around the subject and further alienate people from the police. Let's get people onto the right track when they're young, and help them to stay there, for eveyone's sake.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

A Victory - though not for the Ad men!

Following Friends of the Earth and the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s' initiative to make the car advertisers stick to the guidelines re: CO2 emissions info on car ads, we this week had some excellent news. Our persistence has paid off, and following our efforts the Department for Transport has tightened the laws, so that misleading the public isn't going to be an option any more.

I am not keen to celebrate too early, however - advertisers are already saying that this is simply a challenge for them - it may lead to some very clever advertising that gets round the law in dubious ways. Think back to when cigarette advertising was made to carry, in huge letters, the fact that, well, smoking and being cold in a coffin are somewhat linked. The ads became, shall we say, 'arty' with all sorts of subliminal messages going on. Of course, cigarette advertising has since been banned - oh, what joy if ads for highly polluting cars were also outlawed! After all, polluting the planet will directly lead to the loss of human life. Bring on the ban, I say.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Recycling, Seed bombs, media training and Voting tactics.

Some updates:

We've finally got recycling in our street! Well, for our block at least. Oh, and it's co-mingled. But hey, better than nothing! And what's more - people are actually using it! I am overjoyed, though not so happy that it's currently overflowing. Come on Haringey, you're usually so good at picking up recycling and rubbish. Oh, wait a minute...

Our complaint about Homes for Haringey has now gone to Stage 2 level, which means we might actually get to see some improvements soon. I am also in the process of organising the estate's 'Gardening Day', which is going to be on May 11th. I attended 'Haringey Independence Day' yesterday, where I learnt how to make 'seed bombs' using soil, compost and wild flower seeds. I then came home and lobbed it into some wild, inaccessible ground between two blocks on the estate. I think it's be great to get the children making them on Gardening Day.

I had some media training the other day, so know I know how to evade questions and ram home a key message again and again...and again. The problem is, I, like a lot of people, hate it when politicians do that. I prefer to answer the question honestly and openly. More fool me.

It seems our mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, has the same policy, and this slightly backfired on her this week. When we went on our dinosaur hunt in Mayfair a couple of weeks ago, we had the audacity to take a taxi to transport four of us - myself and Sian included - along with all our placards, pith helmets and safari jackets. Sian admitted to this scandalous car journey and has been lambasted as a climate criminal in that bastion of quality journalism, The London Paper. I've written a letter defending her heinous crime - we'll have to see if it's published.

On a serious note, I am really hoping that Sian does well on Thursday, and also that the Green Party succeeds in getting more London Assembly members elected. Furthermore, I have actually been losing sleep about the possibility of Boris Johnson tasting victory in the mayoral race. It would be a disaster for London and all Londoners, plain and simple. Goodbye congestion charge, hello pollution and traffic chaos. Farewell to an Olympics that is any way sustainable, hello big business and multi-nationals. And let's wave goodbye to a London that celebrates multiculturalism and instead witness a man who tried to block the Stephen Lawrence enquiry attempting - and failing miserably - to try to run the most complicated, sprawling and diverse city in the UK.

In short - vote Sian 1, Ken 2! I have a feeling it will be close and those second preference votes will make a difference.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Hunting for dinosaurs in Mayfair

Here I am with my binoculars and pith helmet, searching for dinosaurs in Berkeley Square. Oh, there's one - the sadly not very rare Porsche Cayenne Turbo! Look at it it lumbers along at 5 miles per hour in a traffic jam. Wow! Look at it beltching out just short of 400g of CO2 per km - I'm awestruck.

13 of us turned up bright and early this morning for our Urban Dinosaur Hunt at the Porsche showrooms, hoping to shame them regarding their battle with Transport for London over the increased Congestion Charge for Band G cars. As well as spotting some highly polluting sports cars and 4x4s in the showroom, we saw some in the 'wild' too. A couple of press photographers came along which is always good - now we're looking out to see where the pics they took crop up...

Saturday, 5 April 2008

"Vote Green Party on May 1st! Don't forget to vote!" I spent a couple of hours hollering this today on Stroud Green Road, in an attempt to get the electorate to the polls - and to get them to put crosses in the right boxes when they get there. We were handing out 'Green money' which looks like a bank note but our mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, is pictured in place of the Queen - much more preferable, in my opinion. It also contains lots of information about how a Green London would be a cheaper, more affordable London.

Of course, giving out rather convincing looking money made us rather popular. I was especially popular with a huge dog which leapt on my back, paws on my shoulders, and decided it loved me. Unfortunately, I can't abide dogs, especially the big, slobbering, be-fanged type, so the feeling was decidedly not mutual. Uuuggghh...

Comedy moment of the day was provided not by the doggy-style moment, but by the ever-incredible Homes for Haringey. They've partially upheld my complaint, but deny that a member of staff was 'intentionally rude'...despite the fact that he was, and in front of the residents' association AND a local councillor. The letter from Homes for Haringey contained a classic non sequitur:

'Since working with Zuned, I have found him to be professional and he has successfully worked with Cllrs and residents groups successfully, and I have reason to believe that he would not work with yourself and your group in the same manner.'

Ha ha ha! Thanks, Homes for Haringey. And thanks also for the £20 'compensation' you've awarded me. Read my blog. Does The Mitchell usually accept being paid off thus? Nope. Stage 2 complaint, here we come!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Encounters with the Pink Dame

Radio 4 loses it's right to tag itself as the broadcaster of, and I quote, "intelligent speech" tomorrow morning at 11am, when my documentary, 'Encounters With the Pink Dame' gets another airing...much like a pair of well-worn bloomers.

I made the programme last year, and it was selected 'pick of the week' - always a thrill! I had a lot of fun making it, especially when I went a'visiting the Dame's Pink Pad in Hertfordshire. I was accompanied by the plain speaking Lancashire lass, Liz Kershaw, who presented the show, and David Prest, head of Whistledown Productions.

The Dame's son has kept the mansion EXACTLY the same since Babs's death a few years ago. Pink and turquoise furnishings, gold statues of Pan, fake dusty flowers and dozens of framed pictures, cartoons, portraits of the Dame herself. Then there's the stuffed toys, thousands of trinkets, four poster get the jist. Frankly incredible.

I was obviously on my best behaviour, and being, at the time, 6 months pregnant and unmarried, I was keen that Ian, Barbara's son, didn't discover my disgraceful circumstances, fearing that he would view me as scum - his mother certainly would have turfed me out!

However, despite my best efforts in the arena of etiquette, my presenter and Mr Prest both managed to make huge boo-boos. David asked Ian whether Barbara had ever met Raine Spencer...Ian gently reminded us that Raine was Barbara's daughter!

Later, another Raine-themed clanger was dropped by Liz when she said "Of course, Barbara outlived Raine didn't she?" (Silence). "Oh, have I said something wrong there?" Ian said that his half-sister was still very much alive.

Goodness me. I will be tuning in to hear my efforts at 11am, and anyone who misses it can of course 'listen again' on the web player:

P.S. It isn't essential to don huge fake eyelashes and a pink feathered hat when tuning into the programme, but you may find it augments your listening experience...

Monday, 31 March 2008

Working 9 to 5

Today I worked for the Alliance Against 4x4s at our office at Angel. It amazes me how ordered and straight-forward the working day seems in comparison to looking after the increasingly mobile, ever-mischievous Miss Cope. Indeed, 'phone calls, emails, writing and organising sans baby is a veritable pleasure.

Just watching the full council meeting now, live on the web - who needs soap operas with such a cast of fools and rogues (aka Labour)? Especially when the leader of the council screams, foaming at the mouth, that the leader of the opposition (Highgate's own Cllr Neil Williams) "couldn't lead a piss-up in a brewery!" What an absolute disgrace. Is it any wonder that the whole council is a complete mess when the leader of the council cannot even string a coherant sentence together without swearing and insulting a colleague in a most unprofessional manner.

I can only assume Cllr Meehan had visited the aforesaid brewery prior to the council meeting judging by the way he was talking...

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Flash-mobbing at Heathrow

Attended the flash-mob at Heathrow's brand new terminal 5 this morning with Clementine. There were 250 of us according to the Evening Standard (that'll be 500, then!). A lot of the residents of the villages that will be partially or completely destroyed should the third runway get the go-ahead were present. At one point people lay down on the shiny new floor (only made dirty by the Queen's Wood mud flying off Clementine's buggy wheels!) and spelled out 'STOP RW3' and other messages. It was all very good-natured and peaceful, and we got the usual "Get a job!" comments from travellers. Got one, thanks.

Incidentally, when I arrived I took off my jumper to reveal my red 'STOP AIRPORT EXPANSION' t-shirt, I was immediately surrounded by 3 policemen. I really am ridiculously law-abiding - my legs started to shake as they asked me "Have you got a ticket to travel? We can ask you to leave immediately, you know." They then proceeded to shepherd us into a small area in the arrivals hall. At one point a policeman told me to walk further across the hall than I was doing. It was all rather heavy-handed.

All this, and we've got very little press coverage in the free-sheets and the Evening Standard. But there's a very good reason for this: Terminal 5 has had an incredibly shambolic first day. Flights delayed or cancelled, luggage lost, 17 out of the 18 lifts broken, loads more technical glitches, passengers waiting for hours...Welcome to 21st century air travel. And this is a holiday?! Good luck with that...I'll take the Eurostar.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Mutiny at the baby clinic

I went to get Clementine weighed today at the baby clinic on Church Road. It's a fantastic place - only open once a week but the staff are lovely and reassuring. When I showed up they told me that they were sorry to say that they will be closing today - for good. Mothers in Highgate will have to travel to the far side of Crouch End or Muswell Hill.

In my election leaflet earlier this year, I pledged that, if elected, I would defend the well-used baby clinic. Even though I didn't become a councillor this time, I am going to kick up a fuss about this issue. Why? Well, as one of the fantastic staff members told me, they often pick up problems with babies very early on, and because people will be less likely to travel on two buses to go to a clinic (especially in those early days of parenthood when everything often just feels like too much), problems will go undetected and parents will go unsupported.

What is most galling is that although the clinic has been there for decades, they have given mothers - and staff, I might add - just one week's notice, probably so we don't have time to protest. This is completely against the Government's 'Our Health, Our Care, Our Say' pledge.

If we had a childrens' centre in the ward the clinic could be based there, but currently there isn't such a facility. This appears to be the thinking of Haringey Council: Highgate is a wealthy area - they can afford to send their kids to private nurseries. Well, let me tell you, not everyone around here has a grand and a half to spare a month for a nursery place! For those of us who aren't wealthy, Highgate is actually quite a difficult place to live in this respect.

Anyway, I've contacted a couple of local newspapers, I've written to all the letter pages, and we'll see whether anyone else wants to join me in a little local hellraising...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Sindy, the climate criminal

I have been doing some admin for the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s today -(, typing up some minutes from a meeting last week. We have some very exciting times ahead at the Alliance, and will be going in some different directions soon. Yes, that's right, we're going to do a complete u-turn and each buy Range Rover Vogues. Actually, we're not.

In a sister campaign we will be looking at the bigger picture - CO2 emissions, advertising, and a project called '4x4s anonymous' which will give 4x4 drivers a forum where they can talk to each other about their 'issues'. It will be done with our signature humour - firmly tongue-in-cheek!

And I am very excitied about making a film of Sindy (circa 1988) and her pink Range Rover. I loved playing with it as a child - perhaps I am a secret fan of 4x4s after all?! Sindy used to go off-road regularly - down the stairs, as I recall. There were many near-fatal roll-overs. What can I say...I'm an only child. I was bored.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

On letterboxes

Spent this morning delivering the lastest edition of the London Green News in Stroud Green. It's Haringey Greens' target ward and we're trying to maximise our vote there in the upcoming Mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections on May 1st.

I've done a lot of posting things through letter boxes this year, what with my by-election campaign (5000 leaflets delivered with the help of a small group of Greenies). I've become rather a connoisseur of what sort of letter boxes are good news for postmen/women/people/whatever! and what sort spell certain finger amputation.

Good: modern, big, an easy spring, half way up door.

Bad: faux Victorian style with 'Letters' engraved on it. I'm sure it's a very charming style but it's too small to get any post through - a fatal flaw, surely. Vertical ones are a pain the neck too, as you find yourself trying to levitate sideways in order to wedge your leaflet/paper through. Draft-excluding brushes? Great for the environment, bad for posting. You have to figure out the gap between the brushes, hold the damn thing open and stuff your paper through. By which time it's in tatters. And why oh why do some people insist on having a door with a letter box right at the foot of the door? That's just plain mean.

And don't get me started on rabid dogs...

Friday, 21 March 2008

Today I walked part of the 150 mile 'London Loop' with Chris and Clementine. Last year we walked the whole of the 78 mile 'Capital Ring' so the Loop is the next challenge. We walked from Gordon Hill to Enfield Lock today, and unfortunately saw a lot of dumping, like the above fridge. I just don't get it. It seems like a lot of effort to go to in order to get rid of something. We saw an oven in a river too.

Towards the end of the walk I spotted the infamous incinerator at Enfield - the largest in the UK. This is where much of North London's unrecycled waste ends up. In eastern Enfield, which sits downwind of the incinerator and is exposed to smoke from the chimney, the death rate of babies up to a year old is between 10 and 12 per thousand of population. The national average death rate for babies is 5.2 per thousand. It's thought that because they burn plastics, hazardous and radioactive waste the chimneys emit 'PM 2.5' particulates which lodge in people's lungs and cause asthma and cancer as well as rises in infant mortality.

Something to bear in mind the next time one fails to recycle...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Illegal adverts and recycling conundrums

A very exciting start to the day in Waterloo, with Clementine, and my two Alliance Against Urban 4x4 colleagues, Sian Berry and Blake Ludwig. Today we've sent a letter to Ruth Kelly, to the VCA and to the ASA regarding the illegality of many car adverts. It is against European law not to have the fuel consumption and CO2 emission info on all ads (billboards, newspaper ads, promotional material etc) in quite large print. However, many have it in just tiny print, or in many cases, not at all.

We highlighted this in front of a big billboard in Waterloo which had no info on at all, a clear breach of the law. Here I am launching the website

This afternoon I trudged around the estate in the rain with a representative of Haringey council's recycling team, trying to convince her that we had space for recycling facilities. So much red tape I'm surprised that people don't end up strangling themselves with it at the civic centre...but I am determined that, eventually, we will get recycling facilities here - even if it is the inferior 'co-mingled' variety.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

A tale of cobwebs and dubious stains

In an exciting development, I have volunteered to be an 'Estate Services Monitor' for Homes for Haringey. This involves ticking various boxes regarding the condition of the Estate.

My tick-sheet came with a very illuminating 'Performance Guide', which tells me what levels of cleanliness etc I should be expecting. It is fully illustrated with pictures of pristine floors ('Good/Excellent') through to litter-strewn grime-fests ('Neglect'). Guess where Summersby Road is on that scale? Clue: it 'aint pretty.

I never thought I'd get excited by pictures of filthy stairwells or grimy bin shoots, but stranger things have happened.

I guess if we weren't paying such a huge amount of money for cleaning, repairs and management I wouldn't mind so much. But with a 33% rise in service charges this year, the neglect is rather hard to stomach.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The blog starts here

Well, everyone else is doing it, I thought I might as well give it a go.

Today was very exciting - first of all there was the protest to attend at Highgate post office. I couldn't believe how many people had turned up to demand that the post office stay open - 150 to 200 people, apparently, including some local celebs such as Victoria Wood. Had a chat with Cllr Adrian Oliver, one of the two Green councillors in the Camden ward of Highgate. None in the Haringey ward of Highgate yet - but it's my job to change that in the future!

After the post office demo I took Clementine home, trained her paternal grandfather how to change a nappy, and then took off to the Royal Free for the maternity services meeting. The usual struggle to get them to admit they have problems with midwifes' attitudes and behaviour...not much gets done apart from a lot of denial, umming and ahhing. Very frustrating but I refuse to give up.

Posted a formal complaint regarding Homes for Haringey at Archway post office (queued for 10 mins - yes, they're so quiet those underused post offices these days - !!) and then home to take over from Grandfather Cope, who had started a small fire in my absence. An afternoon of babying and phoning the council on a myriad of subjects, as per usual.

Just a normal day.