Monday, 28 February 2011

My 1-2-3-4 picks for the London Assembly List

I returned from a half-term break in the Scottish Highlands (posts to follow!) to find the ballot papers for the Green Party’s Mayoral and London Assembly selections waiting for my attention. I’d already decided who my London Assembly 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th preferences would be going to, and here is my decision, plus the reasons behind it:

1st preference: Natalie Bennett

Natalie has been a member of the Green Party since January 1st 2006, when she joined as a New Years' Resolution. Whilst most New Years’ Resolutions are forgotten by the second week in January, Natalie couldn’t really have thrown herself into Green Party activism with more gusto. She served as Internal Communications Coordinator on GPEx for four years – that really is beyond the call of duty! – and has founded the group ‘Green Party Women’ within the party, making links with women’s campaigns and NGOs, promoting women within the party and forming excellent new policies.

In short, she never really stops, and with such an incredible drive, coupled with the fact that she is extraordinarily articulate, she would no doubt be the very best Green Party London Assembly member imaginable.

Indeed, Jean Lambert MEP’s comment that ‘Natalie can take the pressure’ really struck a chord with me. She can, and that is of course essential for any high profile, elected Green. So for all of the above reasons, plus many more too numerous to list here, Natalie is my first choice for the London list.

2nd and 3rd preferences: Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson

Jenny and Darren have done fantastic work over the last ten years as our hard-working, articulate and dedicated team on the London Assembly. From campaigning on issues as diverse as the London Living Wage, to improving cycling provision, their work in planning and housing and their efforts to highlight the problems with London’s air quality, we couldn’t have asked for two more eloquent ambassadors. Both fully deserve to be re-elected to carry on their important work.

4th preference: Caroline Russell

Although relatively new to the party, Caroline has massively impressed both me and others with her community campaigning work and her engagement in Green politics.

The story goes that Caroline was approached by no less than three parties: Islington Labour Party, the Lib Dems and us Greens. All had been impressed by her dedication to the issue of pedestrians: she is the Chair of Islington Living Streets, and is absolutely passionate, not to mention incredibly knowledgeable, about the issue.

Caroline went home and read all three parties’ manifestos, and – of course! – she found that she agreed with the Green Party’s philosophy and aims. It is always good when we can turn a community activist into a Green Party member and a candidate; it’s something we, as a party, are particularly good at. (Contrast that with the Lib Dems, to whom a ‘community activist’ is someone who can hold a petition aloft whilst looking a bit perturbed, or, alternatively, squat down and point at a pot hole, looking simply devastated).

I’m sure Caroline – who follows in a rich tradition of excellent Green Party Carolines, let’s not forget! – would make an excellent Assembly Member, carrying on her dedication to campaigning about important issues that affect the lives of all Londoners.

So that’s my 1-2-3-4, and yet there are so many excellent candidates still left to choose from!

I would really encourage all London Green Party members to take a look at the candidates’ leaflets, attend the hustings if they can do this coming Saturday, and then have their say – deadline for ballot papers is 12 noon on March 17th. It’s both important for internal democracy that we have a good turnout, plus we’ll be campaigning for these folks so let’s make sure we have the very best candidates at the top of the list!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Feminist 'Big Bank Bail In'

On Saturday morning, NatWest in Camden Town became a crèche, as part of nation-wide protests organised by campaign group UK Uncut. Parents and children swooped on the branches of the bank across the UK, and Camden Town saw a large gathering of parents, armed with craft materials and musical instruments.

I was there with Clementine, my 4 year old. In Camden, nursery provision will be cut from 25 hours a week to just 15 hours a week as a result of Government cuts. Meanwhile, it is estimated that the UK loses over £25 billion a year in tax avoidance. If even a quarter of that could be clawed back we would be able to avoid these huge, devastating cuts which will impact on every single child in the UK.

Bank staff and customers looked on as the children indulged in homemade cakes, sang songs (accompanied by a guitarist, as pictured above) and enjoyed craft activities (glitter featured heavily) - oh, as well as causing much pandemonium (at one point some boys decided to see what would happen if they poured a pot of glue into a toy trumpet...).

Parents handed out leaflets to explain that there was a serious reason behind the fun event.

We cannot underestimate the loss of these services for local families. Universal, affordable childcare is a lifeline for low and middle-income families. People are justifiably angry that whilst the Government cuts are impacting on normal people, the banks are seemingly getting away scot free.

Take, for example, the CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, who will be awarded an £8 million bonus this year. That would be enough to cover both Camden and Haringey’s childcare costs!

After a rousing final number we left peacefully, point made. The press were there in force (I was interviewed by Sky News, for example), so the message we were there to promote was hopefully spread far and wide. And NatWest will be vacuuming glitter out of their carpet for some time yet (I speak from bitter (glitter!) experience...).

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Featherstone votes 'Yes' to Forest Sell-Off

In yet another epic betrayal, Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone last week to voted to sell off Britain’s forests.

The government is planning a massive sell off of the UK’s forests. They could be auctioned and fenced off, run down, logged or turned into golf courses and holiday villages.

Three Conservative and four Lib Dem MPs rebelled and voted with Labour on Wednesday night in a Commons forestry debate. A further seven coalition MPs abstained and many others spoke but did not vote, suggesting they were unhappy with the proposals. However, Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone instead voted to sell off the nation’s forests.

We can't let that happen. We need to stop these plans. National treasures like the Forest of Dean, Sherwood Forest and The New Forest could be sold off. Once they are gone, they will be lost forever, which will both alter the landscape of this country and irrecoverably damage the environment.

A national campaign to stop the sell-off has already gathered almost 500,000 signatures - if you haven't signed it yet, please click on the below link.

The public bodies bill, which would give the government the authority to sell all English state-owned woodland, goes before the Lords next week and the Commons later this month.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Featherstone: Beyond Hypocritical

I was staggered to read Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone’s assertion last week in the Ham and High that ‘we should protect our most vulnerable’ and that, locally, ‘the drastic cut to service for older people is a very poor decision’.

Why was I staggered? Because Ms. Featherstone, as a Government minister, is in part responsible for the drastic and unfair cuts to public spending, the impact of which we are only beginning to see. The cuts will dismantle the welfare state, send inequality sky-rocketing and hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. A cabinet of millionaires (and that includes my own MP) have decided that libraries, healthcare, education funding, voluntary services, sports, the environment, the disabled, the poor and the elderly must pay the price for the recklessness of the rich.

The National Pensioners’ Convention reported on the ways in which the Comprehensive Spending Review would impact on pensioners. Amongst other findings, it highlighted that:

- The Winter Fuel Allowance is to be reduced in 2011 from £250 to £200 for households under 80, and from £400 to £300 for the over 80s.
- Funding for the £280m Warm Front programme will be cut over the next 2 years to £110m in 2011-12 to £100m to 2012-13.
- The money for adult social care will not be ring-fenced, leading to concerns that cash-strapped councils will use it for other services.
- Local councils will have their funding cut by 27% over the next 4 years. This is likely to affect all non-statutory services, some of which, such as day care centres and meals on wheels are vital to many older people.

This, of course, is exactly what is happening in Haringey, with Abyssinia Court in Stroud Green being threatened. I visited the centre in 2008 in my role of Green Party candidate for the area, and was impressed by the staff, the atmosphere and the facilities.

That Ms. Featherstone would criticise the council for cutting services when they have had their budget slashed by the Government in which she is a minister smacks not only of a shameless hypocrisy, but it is also deeply patronising to the voters of her constituency. She herself will know that the constituents of Hornsey and Wood Green are diverse, informed and engaged, and unlikely to be fooled by such hypocritical statements.