Comment and editorial pieces

Ellie Chowns – Councillor induction completed

Other news from the past week: I’ve completed my official induction – lots of useful briefing meetings with officers from all parts of the council, although rather surprisingly not with anyone from Highways, which is one of the issues that ward residents contact me about most often. So, I’ve arranged my own meeting with the head of Highways this coming Friday.
I’m very much hoping that Balfour Beatty will appoint a new Locality Steward for our ward ASAP (I do keep on asking them about this…) It’s somewhat frustrating that we don’t have one in place at the moment, as it makes it that bit harder to make progress on addressing some of the highways issues that are coming up.
Tomorrow I’ll be attending a lecture at the Hfds and Ludlow College on ‘Hospitals and home: Good health care in Herefordshire’ (part of my developing interest in social care), and then going to the Cradley Parish Council meeting. I’m looking forward to meeting all the newly-elected parish councillors, and very much hoping that the PC will be able to move forward all together, leaving past divisions behind.
Later in the week I’ll be attending the Adults and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee meeting (again, as an observer, part of learning more about the sector), and on Friday it’s my first full Council meeting. So there’s lots to read…

Ellie Chowns – thoughts on Hereford University

Today I went to a briefing on Hereford’s planned new University, www.nmite.org.uk, given by Prof Janusz Kozinski, the CEO. It’s an ambitious plan – to create a completely new, engineering-focused University, with a project-based, problem-solving approach to teaching and learning. As a University teacher myself (currently working at the Uni of Bath) there’s lots about the proposed approach that I find very exciting.

Prof Kozinski and team plan to recruit the first ‘Design Cohort’ of 25 students to start in October this year, with the aim of expanding to 1200 students and 110 staff by October 2022. The new Uni could have a significant impact on Hereford city in all sorts of ways – economically, culturally and demographically.


One thing I’m still a bit puzzled by, though, is what the real focus of the Uni will be. Prof Kozinski talked a lot about ‘humanist engineers’, and emphasised the four key curriculum themes: Feeding the World, Shaping the Future, Living in Harmony, and A Healthy Planet. It all sounds pretty good from a Green perspective, doesn’t it? But… it’s puzzling because when I’ve heard others talk about the new Uni (including senior local Conservatives) the emphasis has been all about servicing the ‘defence’ industry; and the two key corporate partners so far are Siemens and Qinetiq. I asked a question about this, and didn’t get as clear an answer as I’d like.


So, the new Uni is something I’m going to be taking a keen interest in going forward. I think it’s great that Hereford will be getting a University; other cities of similar size (e.g. Durham) or smaller (e.g. Warwick) have world-class universities, after all. And although I’m not an engineer myself, I do believe that technology can help solve many environmental and social challenges. I like the vision of ‘humanist engineering’; I just wonder whether funding and other pressures might push the new Uni in other directions. So, I’m going to be writing to Prof Kozinski with some more detailed questions, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the proposals for the new Hereford University evolve.

BTW, I’ve got an idea for a project the first lot of students could tackle: finding some way to keep the heat in the Shire Hall in the bottom 25% of the room, where the people actually are. It’s often freezing in there during our council meetings (today I got so cold I could barely type by the end) though I expect it’s baking up by the roof, with all the rising heat. I can’t help feeling it needs a layer of triple glazing part way up…

Ellie Chowns – starting as a County Councillor

I’ve been in post as Ward Councillor for Bishops Frome and Cradley for about 6 weeks now, and it’s been a busy time, Christmas and New Year notwithstanding (Happy 2018 everyone!). In addition to a series of formal induction meetings and training sessions, I’ve been busy learning about Council business in a range of other ways, including: attending / observing several Cabinet and Committee meetings; introducing myself to all the other councillors and having one-to-ones with as many of them as possible from all parties; getting to know the Planning officers (very important, as there are a number of high-public-interest planning issues in my ward); making contact with the Highways department and with Balfour Beatty about several local roads issues; and attending Parish Council meetings in Cradley, Bishops Frome and Avenbury, as well as meeting several members of Acton Beauchamp Group Parish Council. I’ve done four site visits regarding planning issues at the request of local residents, and have followed up on them all with the planners – two have been redirected to Planning Committee, as the residents hoped. And I’ve attended the Bingo at Bishops Frome, and the Christmas Fair at Cradley!

I see my role as having two key elements really. The first is being an effective and accountable advocate for residents on issues they care about. So far, about people have contacted me mainly about planning issues, about road repair / maintenance / gritting etc, and about broadband access. I’ve followed up on them all and I aim to get even quicker as I get to grips with exactly who does what in the council. So far I’ve had 20 contacts (mainly email, some phone) from residents with various enquiries; of these I’m still working on addressing five, and several others are pending parish council or planning committee meetings.

The other part of my role is about contributing a Green perspective on Council work more widely – hopefully, helping it be more effective, transparent, and Green! I’m going to be focusing on three areas in particular in 2018: 1) sustainable transport, 2) adult wellbeing and social care, and 3) sustainable investment. On this last point, the Council is in the middle of selling off its council farms and I understand will get >£35m from doing so; it plans to invest this with a ‘Development Partner’ in the hope of yielding long-term benefits for the County. There are both risks and opportunities involved… I’m going to take a very close interest in these plans to try to ensure that they offer real benefits, are good value for money, and are sustainable in every sense of the work. I will keep you posted!

One final point for today. At the Cabinet meeting I attended this morning, councillors discussed the Cabinet’s proposals on next year’s Council Tax rate, and on the Capital Investment Programme. These will go to Full Council in 2 weeks’ time (Friday 26 January) and I’ll report back then in more detail. The Cabinet proposes to increase council tax by 4.9% (including a 2% social care precept). Clearly, when many people are struggling to make ends meet and wages are stagnant, any increase in Council Tax is going to be unpopular. At the same time, we simply have to pay for the vital local services councils provide – and demand for those services is increasing all the time. I don’t think most people realise that the largest share of the Council’s money is spent on adult social care (I think it’s about 60% – I’ll post some more details on this in a future post). Personally I believe social care should be funded on a national basis in the same way as the NHS, not via Council Tax. But while we fight that long battle for a better approach to funding social care, we need to do the very best we can to deliver good services locally with the resources we have and to care for the most vulnerable in our communities.

Please let me know if you’d like more detail on any of the issues I’ve touched on here, and please use this forum to engage in conversation on what you’d like me to do as your Councillor.

Ellie outside Parliament - let's put her in it!

ELLIE wins Bishop’s Frome & Cradley by-election

A remarkable result, representing a 14% swing from the Conservatives who had held the seat in 2015 in a two way contest.

Ellie Chowns, Green Party: 471
Conservative: 299
Lib Dem: 251
Labour: 19

Herefordshire now has FOUR Green County councillors.

Reactions:

Caroline Lucas tweeted: Absolutely brilliant news! Huge congratulations to the wonderful Ellie Chowns who will make a fantastic Green councillor.
Jonathan Bartley: Fantastic result!

 

 

Natalie Bennett: Something to celebrate.

 

 

 

 Hereford Times coverage mentioned the support given by It’s Our County : The Greens gained a bonus in this month’s by-election when the It’s Our County party publicly came out in support of Dr Chowns and joined her campaign. “I would like to thank IOC for backing me – like-minded campaigners should work together whenever they can,” she said.

The Canary, reporting on Ellie’s victory said, amid the political shake up the Conservative Party suffered a major upset.”

Political Scrapbook said, “Theresa May will be turning green quicker than her party’s council seats this morning as she hears the news of another by-election defeat.

The Tories last night lost their 16th council by-election defence since June’s general election in particularly embarrassing circumstances.

The latest capitulation came in the Bishops Frome and Cradley ward of the North Herefordshire constituency”

Hereford Times Talking Point 12 October 2017 – Economic Growth

Full text:

Apart from the Greens, all political parties say economic growth is essential. And many Councils, like Herefordshire, list economic growth among their key objectives.

What do we mean by economic growth? If we mean an end to poverty and inequality – a fairer share of wealth for everyone, then good. If we simply mean people buying more and more stuff they don’t need and can’t afford, definitely not.

In my view, the economic model we are being sold cannot deliver true prosperity, emotional wellbeing, equality and long-term security. It treats natural resources as expendable and disposable. It mortgages the future and threatens our descendants with poorer lives. Under the gig economy, people are treated as economic units to be exploited.

Pushing economic growth without considering the timescale is dumb. Is growing the economy meant to stop at some point or continue forever? Is endless growth possible? A finite planet with limited resources surely cannot support a growing population with ever-higher levels of consumption – however fast technology develops.

Expectation of endless economic growth is the key driving force behind our over-exploitation of natural resources. Measuring prosperity by consumption (GDP) perpetuates this economic system and threatens to make our planet uninhabitable.

The green movement is often accused of being unrealistic and impractical, but what is absolutely unrealistic is clinging to the out-dated and unthinking belief that we can go on expanding on a finite planet without consequences.

Global warming could be the nudge we need to re-think our approach – if we can get past the denial and wishful thinking about clean technologies. We can’t possibly run our high-consuming energy-intensive society on renewable energy alone without making other significant changes. We have to divest from over-consumption – not just from fossil fuels.

Securing our long-term future requires us to move away from the consumption-obsessed growth-based, values of global capitalism. This is a huge challenge, but we are deluding ourselves if we think that tinkering with business-as-usual will be enough. There are no proven models out there that we absolutely know will work. But that shouldn’t stop us exploring the possibilities.

A4103 re-surfacing work: Letter to Tony Johnson, Herefordshire Council Leader

From Dr Ellie Chowns (Green Party),

Bishop’s Frome & Cradley Ward

16 October 2017

Dear Councillor Johnson,

Re: Road closures for resurfacing work on the A4103

I will shortly be a candidate in the Herefordshire Council by-election at Bishop’s Frome & Cradley and I have been busy talking to residents about their concerns. Without a doubt the most urgent issue affecting residents and businesses in the ward are the current full closures of stretches of the A4103.

There is a great deal of local dissatisfaction and much criticism of the way Herefordshire Council and its contractor has managed this programme.

Residents have been forced to drive many extra miles on long detours making local road conditions dangerous and chaotic. Local businesses, frequently cut off and marooned, have suffered substantial loss of income.

Residents and businesses are baffled as to why total road closure was deemed necessary over so much of the programme. Haphazard and misleading signage has increased problems – one business owner counted 14 ‘road closed’ signs along the A4103 between the Worcester roundabout and her business at Cradley when resurfacing work had been completed on that section. There appears to have been a lack of real consultation with the communities affected.

In the wake of the Blueschool House overspend controversy, it is quite clear your council needs to keep a firmer grip on the way it oversees contracts. Councillor Johnson, I would respectfully ask you to use your authority to intervene in the way the A4103 resurfacing work is being handled and take steps with the contractors to implement fairer and less fraught traffic handling over the remaining weeks.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Ellie Chowns

Prosperity without Growth

Letter to Hereford Times 17 August 2017

 

Startling claim

MR A W Johnson, leader of Herefordshire Council writes about the need for a Hereford bypass (letters column July 13 ) citing as reasons, future traffic management and opening up the space for 6,500 houses and businesses which must be built by 2030.
He goes on to assert: “Our future depends entirely on growing the economy and income.”
This is a startling claim and I think it’s increasingly untrue.
A desirable future for the people of Herefordshire is definitely possible. But it depends on a whole host of things and unlimited economic growth will ruin everything that’s unique about it.
Since the mid 20th century the world economy has grown by more than five times. However, over recent decades expectations of further growth have created enormous levels of consumer debt. And now growth is increasingly stalled by hard physical limits such as depletion of resources, environmental devastation, financial crises, mountains of debt and the rapidly deteriorating net energy of oil.
Our future, Mr Johnson, does not depend on the fantasy of an ever-growing economy. Our future depends on us clearly seeing the reality of our situation, moving away from growth in consumption and towards improvements in the quality of life.
Herefordshire is a wonderful county, we can thrive, we can create something better. Growth is over – what about “prosperity without growth”.
BRIAN LUNT

Bridge over the River – Wye?

Letter to Hereford Times 17 August 2017

River’s role
THERE are interesting links to be made between recent items in the Hereford Times.
The river party ‘Wye Float’, and Herefordshire Lore’s new project ‘River Voices: Stories from the Wye’ are just two examples of the central role this beautiful river plays in our lives.
And of course this is the time of year when we see hundreds of tourists enjoying canoeing, birdwatching, and walking the Wye Valley walk.
Our council promotes the Wye as a prime attraction, and recommends walking from Hereford to Breinton Springs to admire this unspoilt stretch of river, and its surrounding meadows, orchards and woods.
Meanwhile, Tony Johnson, our county council leader, tries to persuade us of the ‘need’ for a massive bridge and road through west Hereford ‘to open up space for new housing’.
This road is also being promoted by the council as a relief road for the motorway system! More houses and more traffic – not exactly solutions to congestion!
Last week’s item on planning permission being refused for the decking and summerhouse overlooking the river Wye quoted councillors’ views that the construction ‘adversely affected the character and amenity of the landscape’. Following that reasoning, how much would smashing an enormous new bridge and road through Breinton’s unique scenery ‘adversely affect the character and amenity of the landscape’?!
Mr Johnson also appears in the paper making another desperate plea for suggestions on how to save money.
A good place to start would be to cancel this hare-brained scheme, which, as we know from experience, would end up costing us all a fortune, as well as causing irreparable damage to the precious green lung to the west of our city.

DIANA TOYNBEE

A message from Ellie Chowns

THANK YOU so much for your support, your activism, and your votes. I feel really proud of what we’ve achieved in North Herefordshire. We got 5.5% of the vote – one of the highest Green vote shares nationally, and more than three times the national Green average of 1.6%. Although we lost some votes, the decline here was much lower than nationally, and of course we saved our deposit! The Green vote was squeezed hard everywhere by the growth in the Labour vote. Of course I am sad that the Green voice hasn’t been heard strongly enough in this election, since our messages on climate change, on wildlife, on Trident, on voting reform and so on are still not getting the attention they deserve. But I am also very pleased that so many Green ideas have been adopted and promoted by Labour, with such great success!

In North Herefordshire – a very safe Tory seat – Labour came second with 18.9%, a completely unprecedented result for them. All credit to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour for proving everyone wrong. I’m amazed that Theresa May thinks she can continue as PM having shot herself in the foot so completely; and I am horrified at the thought of her coalition of chaos with the reactionary DUP. Heaven knows what the coming months will bring. But I can promise this: I will continue to stand up for Green principles and ideas; I will work to hold Bill Wiggin and the chaotic Conservatives to account; and I will certainly stand in more elections!

It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to represent the Green Party in this election. Locally we have run a fantastic, high-energy, high-visibility, high-quality campaign. We’ve been a credible, effective opposition to Tory cuts and hard Brexit. We’ve offered an inspiring vision of a better, greener future: investment in public services, serious environmental protection, and an economy that works for everyone. And today’s results show, yet again, that we urgently need political reform so that everyone’s vote counts.

Now more than ever, Green voices in politics are needed. If you’re not already a member, please consider joining the Green Party. Thank you again to everyone who helped with this campaign. You have been BRILLIANT!

A thank you from Diana

THANK YOU so much for your confidence and support over the past 7 weeks. I’m disappointed not to have delivered a better result. I’m really proud of Ellie in North Herefordshire, who got one of the best Green results in the country.

Thank you to those of you who spent so many hours leafletting or canvassing. Our campaign was professional, principled and passionate – people saw that, and I know that our time wasn’t wasted.

Our 2015 and 2017 campaigns, three county councillors, and ongoing commitment, have demonstrated to Herefordshire that we are competent, hard-working and really care, and we can continue to build on that (after a rest!). I could not be more proud of the campaign we ran, or of the AMAZING team we are lucky enough to have in Hereford. I could not have felt more supported, and appreciate every word of encouragement, every card delivered, and every conversation engaged in on behalf of us all.

I literally lost count of the number of people who told me ‘I love Green policies, and I think you’re the best candidate, but I’m not voting for you’, and this was reproduced around the country. It’s obvious why Green supporters have voted Labour, but it’s been pretty galling when people say a Green vote is wasted here, and go on to vote for a candidate who clearly wasn’t going to beat Jesse either!

Even though this result has been hard for the party nationally, and the thousands of activists who have thrown themselves heart and soul into working for the common good, we are genuinely delighted to see progressive politics back in the mainstream, and very proud of our role in this. It’s so exciting to see young people getting engaged, Tory lies and arrogance backfiring, and national debates continuing about the sort of politics we want.

Caroline and Jonathan have received massive admiration in the media for their outstanding, eloquent, principled campaigning. More and more prominent commentators are calling for an end to the scandalously undemocratic electoral system. PR has to be one of our main campaigns now – not just for the Green Party, but for democracy, and to move beyond the reductive red-blue boxing ring. Democracy needs diversity, and in a fair system there is plenty of room for all. The tide is turning!

Here in Herefordshire we will continue to be active in opposition, exposing Jesse’s voting patterns, protesting cuts, and pushing the local council to be more transparent. And of course we will continue our work for the health of our people, society, public services and nature.

We can all be proud to be members of the most progressive party, and the only one that understands that our natural environment has to be at the centre of political decisions.

I stood for parliament, but I’m just an ordinary member, and would love to get together more with others so we can build our confidence and courage. Please get in touch, with feedback on the campaign, ideas for activities or campaigns, or anything else. Green policies, and the Green way of doing politics, is needed now more than ever, and we have come out of this campaign with increased respect. No-one else is doing what we do, so let’s keep campaigning with pride and courage.

Best wishes, and good heart

Diana

Stop Theresa rubbishing our country

Dear Theresa. I think this rubbish belongs to you.

Yes, I am blaming you for the two bin bags of rubbish I collected in about 10 minutes this afternoon from the banks of the Lugg, an SSSI on the outskirts of Hereford. I was watched by a crowd of young people enjoying a barbecue, swimming, and dropping more litter – although one did stop to help me, whom I thanked.

We are all responsible for our own actions of course. But I am blaming your policies for making littering and environmental degradation a lot worse than it needs to be. Let me explain.

Firstly, you impose a boring, irrelevant-to-the-21st-century, stress-inducing curriculum on schools that crowds out everything that matters, anything that builds relationships or confidence, and anything that is fun: care for the planet, teamwork, people skills, responsibility. We can blame parents if we like but we have little power over what happens in the home. We – or rather you – do however have power over what happens in the classroom – a huge part of our young peoples’ lives. And your education secretaries have made schools into exam factories. Schools need the time and space to teach our young people to love their local and global environment, and each other. You are making this very difficult. Shame on you.

Secondly, and related to this, exam results are held as the be all and end all of achievement. This is wrong. It priorities a personal ability to remember facts over multi-purpose skills, plus attitudes such as kindness, generosity, encouragement and just doing your best. It makes a huge number of our young people feel like failures. With no stake in society, and heading towards low paid jobs which don’t stimulate them, or the dole, they don’t care. These are not bad kids. They are not actively vandalising anything. They don’t understand the consequences of what they are doing. Perhaps no-one has bothered to tell them. Your car crash of an education policy is part of this.

Thirdly, schools have already had their budgets cut in real terms, and this is going to get massively worse if you win this election. My own local school is facing a 9% budget cut which is the money needed for two teachers, in a school with only 8 to start with. As a safety centre manager until 2015, I noticed schools were increasingly finding it hard to fund the £5 per head to pay for a visit during the coalition years – to learn exactly about this kind of thing. It is worse now. Schools I worked with as Regional Manager for a Community Interest Company in 2015-16 were finding it hard to pay for our enterprise programmes, despite saying ‘this is exactly what our children need’, because they were having to lay off support and teaching staff. If you measure schools by a narrow academic curriculum, and slash their funding, it stands to reason they will only be able to deliver that narrow academic curriculum. All the things that we tell our kids are important are dropped. The things most parents look for in a school – the ethos, how happy the students are, extra curricular activities, pastoral care and careers advice. It’s not just exam results. The budget cuts you are imposing are doing real damage, just to fund tax cuts for your rich friends. That’s immoral. It’s not even ‘conservative’. And it hurts our young people.

Fourthly, you have utterly failed to tackle the environment crisis, which is why, in my humble view, there is such a crying need for an effective Green Party. The sheer volume of plastic waste in particular is a scandal, and my two bags today were full of it. This plastic is polluting our countryside and our water. At current rates the oceans will have more plastic in them than fish by 2050. I know there are no easy answers, but a government obsessed by the incompetent and self-inflicted wound that is Brexit, tax cuts for millionaires and selling off public services to their mates is unable to give the environment the top priority it deserves. You know – environment – that’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat – in case anyone thought this was a minority interest. This is your rubbish, Theresa, because the idea of throwaway plastic should be something we see as dated as fox hunting. Oh, yeah, that too. You’re too busy with utterly the wrong priorities.

So, this is your rubbish. How on earth anyone thinks you and your gang of liars (£350 million for the NHS?) are conserving anything is beyond me. I see myself as a patriot too, and you are trashing everything I love about my country: our schools, hospitals, libraries, streets, and environment – our civic pride basically – as well as our international standing. And our young people feel disenfranchised and cynical. They are poorly educated for the 21st century, not through bad teachers, but through appallingly bad government. Littering the banks of the beautiful Lugg river doesn’t mean they are bad kids. They have massive potential which your Victorian workhouse education system fails to recognise. But it is a symptom of a much bigger challenge. Your government, and its twisted and immoral ‘power-to-the-strong’ ideology, continues to let young people down. If we fail to invest in our young, we threaten all our futures.

Best wishes for your retirement,

Rob

Stand up for what matters in North Herefordshire

I’m campaigning on four key issues here in North Herefordshire.  I believe we need to:

  • Reverse the devastating Conservative cuts to local services;
  • Rethink how we treat the environment;
  • Remodel our economy so that it works for everyone;
  • Reform our broken political system.

1: Reverse cuts to local services

Our local services have been cut back to the bone over the past 7 years.  Herefordshire Council’s budget has been slashed by more than a third (£70 million over the past 6 years), with more cuts to come.  This has had terrible impacts on vital local services such as libraries and road maintenance, and on voluntary sector organisations such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Hereford Carers Support.  And what’s worse is – our own MPs have consistently and repeatedly voted for this over the past 7 years.

We’ve also seen big cuts to school budgets.  My own sons’ school in Ledbury is losing £600 per pupil over the next few years. Fully 99% of schools are facing per-pupil funding cuts.  This is absolute madness!  We should be investing in our children before anything else.

These cuts have been driven by the discredited ideology of austerity.  What that really means is: tax cuts for the wealthy, and cuts to public services for everyone else.  We are all the poorer as a result.

Public services are an investment in making life better for all of us.  Tax should not be seen as a burden – it’s simply how we pay collectively for things that we all want but can’t buy individually, like safe streets and healthy communities.

2: Rethink how we treat the environment

We’re lucky here in Herefordshire to live in such beautiful surroundings.  But we’re kidding ourselves if we think everything’s fine on the environmental front.  The warning signs are all around us.  2016 was the hottest year on record, as was 2015, and 2014.  In fact, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century, and our planet hasn’t been this hot for 115,000 years.   The Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2040.  There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that this warming is due to human activities.  Time is running out for us to change course.  We have to wean ourselves entirely off fossil fuels and move to a 100% renewable, zero carbon economy.

Biodiversity is also under threat.  60% of British species are on the decline, and 15% are threatened with extinction.  Sadly, farming is the main cause – so this issue is particularly relevant in Herefordshire.  Greens are calling urgently for an Environmental Protection Act – not least because many of our current environmental protections derive from European law and, as the Environmental Audit Committee said recently, there is a very grave danger that Brexit will be an excuse for watering them down or removing them altogether.

3: Remodel our economy so that it works for everyone

The economy should serve society, not the other way round.  Everyone should have the right to a decent job with decent pay, and a decent warm house to live in.  But we’re a long way from this.  The median wage is lower today than 10 years ago, and 6.2 million UK jobs (about a quarter) pay less than the Living Wage.  Meanwhile the wealth of the richest 1000 people in the UK increased by 14% last year, and the richest 1% own more than 20 times the wealth of the poorest 20%.  Greens would change the tax and benefits system to reverse these damaging trends, because greater equality is better for everyone.

Wages are low in Herefordshire, but house prices are relatively high, so we have a real problem with affordability of housing – we’re the second-worst in the West Midlands.  We also have one of the highest rates of fuel poverty too.  Greens would ensure that all homes are properly insulated, and make sure that all new homes are built to the highest environmental standards – creating thousands of new Green jobs.

4: Reform our broken political system

Currently, a small minority of voters in a few dozen marginal seats determine what sort of government we get.  It’s a recipe for complete complacency in so-called ‘safe seats’ like North Herefordshire, and so it’s not surprising that many people here feel disillusioned with politics.  We need a political system where everyone’s vote counts, and where MPs work full time for their constituents – unlike Bill Wiggin, who spends one day a week managing hedge funds in tax havens.  We need and deserve independent voices in Westminster, standing up for their home areas and holding the government to account.

North Herefordshire is the 46th safest Tory seat in the country.  It’s a place where the Conservatives, to be honest, take the electorate for granted.  It is not a key marginal, so it simply doesn’t make sense to vote tactically here.  Instead this is a place where voters can and should vote for what they believe in.  Greens are the fastest-growing party locally: we have more council seats than Labour and the Lib Dems put together, and we doubled our vote in 2015.  Every Green vote counts – it strengthens our message and demonstrates the depth of public support for the things that really matter: strong public services, care for the environment, an economy that works for everyone, and a political system in which everyone’s voice is heard.

On Brexit…

Dr Ellie Chowns, our candidate for North Herefordshire writes…

I campaigned for Remain on the streets of Ledbury and Hereford last year, and I believe that Brexit is a serious mistake.  It will cause many years of disruption to our economy, will limit opportunities for our children and young people, and is highly likely to undermine vital environmental and social protections.

Brexit was sold to the British people under false pretences.  Theresa May is now steering us rapidly onto the rocks of a hard Brexit, following someone else’s map, with her only concern being keeping herself at the wheel – no matter what the consequences for the country.  Meanwhile the vast majority of Conservative and Labour MPs have fallen into line (against their previous better judgment), citing ‘the will of the people’ when the truth is the country is split down the middle.

Greens believe that a hard Brexit would be immensely damaging, and is in no-one’s interest.  We will be campaigning vigorously over the coming two years to ensure that any Brexit deal includes a guarantee against erosion of social and environmental protections.  We also believe that the British people should have a say on the final deal: we are calling for another referendum in 2019 on the terms of the final deal negotiated by the government – with one option being to reverse Article 50 and stay in the EU.

If Brexit goes ahead, there may be one silver lining for Greens, and for Herefordshire – the opportunity to reform agricultural subsidies.  UK farmers currently get over £3 billion per year via the EU; in fact, subsidies make up more than half of farmers’ incomes.  Greens agree that the agriculture sector deserves public financial support – but it should be conditional on farmers contributing to public goods, rather than simply payment for owning land.  We would change the system so that subsidies would instead pay farmers for positive actions such as enhancing soil and water quality, protecting wildlife, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving animal welfare, managing flood risks, creating decent jobs (including encouraging new entrants to farming and horticulture), and producing healthy and affordable food.

If we had PR, would we be in this mess?

Neither Labour nor the LibDems seem to be showing much interest in an electoral pact with each other and with the Greens – though, the last I heard, Caroline Lucas was saying that the door might still be open. It seems to me that Labour are very suspicious of Proportional Representation (PR) – which has surely got to be a deal breaker – and that is deeply, deeply sad – writes blogger Libby Hudson.

I say this because, as luck would have it, about a week before the election was called, I took delivery of ‘The Alternative’i and have been dipping into it occasionally, particularly during the long, dark night of the soul which followed a claim that the Tories had hit 48% at the polls. (Incidentally, let’s hope this means the era of the ‘shy Tory’ is now well and truly over).

Anyway, I flipped through to Katie Ghose’s chapter on PR (‘Embracing Electoral Reform’) and it struck me, whilst reading it, that if we had had a decent system of PR, we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. (If you don’t agree we’re in a mess, it’s probably not worth your while reading any further.)

I voted for PR at the last opportunity – which was 2011, by the way. Yes, it does seem like a lifetime away. However, I was sceptical – I was worried about losing the constituency link, and I was even more worried about focusing power in the hands of party leaders. I was a Labour party member back in the day, and the leadership’s behaviour over regional lists in the EU elections in 1999 was one of the first indications that the Blair project wasn’t turning out quite as I’d hoped.

Ghose’s comments on how constituencies have worked out in Wales and Scotland were suitably reassuring, but what really leapt out at me was this comment (about STV):

Candidates can be put forward who reflect different wings of a party – challenging the dominance of any one faction”.

And so, I surmise, if we had a decent system of PR:

  • Maybe Cameron wouldn’t have needed the referendum to appease his own right-wing. It would either have one control – thereby probably forcing a Tory split – or been slapped into place by the electorate.
  • The Labour party would have a relatively pain-free way of resolving their internal issues, not least of which is the supposed discrepancy between what members want, what voters want, and what the so-called ‘Westminster elite’ thinks.
  • Furthermore, if PR of almost any kind had been operating since 2011, UKIP would probably have gone off like a damp squib, and the Greens would have more of a voice.

All arguments about PR handing power to extremists are blotted out by the puss oozing from the running sore of news stories about people being abused or beaten for the crime of being foreign and hate-inducing headlines about ‘Enemies of the People’ and ‘Saboteurs’. There’s something pleasingly ironic in the Daily Mail wrapping itself in the Union jack and yet using the same words as Lenin when he sent armed troops to dissolve the All-Russia Constituent Assembly.

In summary, then, my answer to the headline question: If our democracy worked properly, would we still be in this mess? Probably not. And, let me add that if Labour are holding back from a pact because they don’t like PR, then they are actually refusing what is probably the only remedy for their current malady.

iNandy, L., Lucas, C & Bowers (eds) 2016, The Alternative : Towards a new progressive politics’. Biteback publishing.

Ellie outside Parliament - let's put her in it!

Vote for What You Believe In – response to Polly Ernest, Hereford Times Letters 5 May

I sympathise with the desire of Polly Ernest (‘Get together’, HT letters, 5 May) and many others to see progressive parties unite around common ground and fight to oppose counterproductive austerity, growing inequality, environmental threats and extreme Brexit.  Indeed, the Green Party has been leading the push for electoral alliances against a deeply unfair voting system.  That system delivered a fragile Conservative majority in 2015, based on only 24% of the electorate’s votes, which led us into the instability of the Brexit referendum and now back, again, to another election.
Greens have been calling for months for Labour and the Lib Dems to discuss electoral alliances to secure reform of our broken political system – and we’ve put our money where our mouth is by standing down in key marginals like Richmond Park.  But the other parties simply haven’t reciprocated.
In any case, electoral alliances are only really relevant in marginal seats where an alliance can unseat the Conservative – and where it is a genuine agreement between parties, not one just standing down and losing its democratic voice.
In Herefordshire several candidates could claim to be best placed to beat the Conservatives.  For example, the Greens have more councillors than the Lib Dems and Labour put together; we more than doubled our vote in 2015; and we are the only opposition party to have gained seats nationwide in last week’s local elections.  But the fact is, neither Herefordshire seat is a ‘key marginal’.  Instead, this is a county where voters can and should vote for their own principles, and for the candidate they think has the ability and the integrity to represent them most effectively in Parliament.  This is not the time or place for tactical voting, but for voting for what you believe in.
For me, that means voting for someone who will campaign with all their might for investment in public services, protecting the environment, helping the local economy thrive – and holding Westminster accountable.
In the longer term, Greens will continue to work hard – looking for common ground with others – to reform our broken political system so that everyone’s voice counts equally.
Ellie Chowns

The environment should be at the heart of the election

If there is one issue that should be at the heart of this election, it is climate change. When we next choose a government (in 2022), it’s likely that global temperature will have risen 1.5C. That’s the level that nations (including the UK) pledged at Paris in 2015 should not be breached to avoid dangerous climate change.

At current rates of burning coal, gas and oil, we are on track to put enough carbon in the atmosphere in the next five years to push us past that temperature increase.

But it’s not inevitable. Rapidly increasing our efforts to reduce emissions – from homes, businesses and transport – and installing more renewable energy give us a fighting chance. To build support, politicians must spell out the consequences of not taking the decisive action urgently required on climate change and introduce policies that will drive that action.

Greens have long campaigned for warmer and more efficient homes, renewable energy, public transport, and better provision for cycling – measures that reduce emissions and are cheaper for society in the long term.

I urge voters to find out where the other parties’ candidates stand on climate change and press them to commit to increased action. Because, whatever government we have and however hard or soft Brexit is, the challenge of climate change will still be with us.

Rob Palgrave, Hereford

Published in The Guardian 4/5/17

Talk: Optimal Transport

Local activist and environmental blogger Richard Priestley presents a talk entitled: ‘Sustainable Transport, Local & Global?’ on Wednesday 10th May, 7.30pm at De Koffie Pot, Left Bank, Hereford. This is part of Left Bank’s regular Politics, Ethic’s and Ecology evenings most Wednesdays.

What might ‘optimal transport’ look like? Do some people suffer from excessive mobility and others from too little? Can global trade be sustainable? What are the latest technological innovations towards zero emissions vehicles and transport infrastructure? Individually and collectively, what can we do in Hereford? Richard Priestley will give a talk, show slides and take questions. He has recently written about the Cities and Cars here.

Why I’m supporting Diana Toynbee

Rob, our Communications Officer and Campaigner in Central Ward, writes about why he is backing Diana and his take on progressive alliances

For those who are interested, this is my take on why I’m supporting Diana Toynbee, the Green Party candidate in Hereford, and why although I am very much in favour of progressive alliances, it won’t work in Hereford – yet.

Firstly, to my Conservative friends, family and colleagues (even if you’ve never dared admit this to me!) – I respect your right to a different view and wish to stay friends! But I have no respect for the way this government are underfunding and selling off our NHS, decimating local services on which the poor and vulnerable depend, and implementing massive school budget cuts whilst imposing a stressful and frankly irrelevant Victorian curriculum on our teachers and young people. I have no respect for the way in which Theresa May seems to want a Soviet or North Korean-style parliament that is ‘united’ behind her, rather than the traditionally British idea of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition which actually improves government through effective scrutiny. I have no respect for the right wing extremists who have taken over the Tory party who will use Brexit to seek to remove current EU employee and environmental protections – and freedom of movement – in an attempt to make Britain an isolated tax haven for the super rich.

I’m voting for, and spending a frighteningly significant part of my time at the moment supporting Diana because I want to give Herefordshire her voice back in Westminster. Our Conservative MP is too busy in London being the minister for fracking, and he cannot speak out on what matters to us: massive cuts to school budgets, an NHS in crisis and being sold off for private profit, and a council which doesn’t even have enough cash to run our libraries, care for our elderly, or fill in the potholes – although it does seem to have enough to research building a motorway around the city to attract more traffic away from the M5.

With our grossly unfair election system in which people can win on a minority of the vote, there has been a lot of debate locally about standing a ‘Unity’ candidate to try and combine anti-Tory votes. Greens have stood down in a couple of seats nationally to support a better placed candidate, despite Labour and Liberal leaderships rejecting our calls for co-operation. Labour are still trying to unseat the UK’s best MP Caroline Lucas. Such a deal will not work in Hereford for the following reasons.

Firstly, the seat needs to be marginal, so that the deal has a good chance of success. Hereford is not marginal, and it is not even clear who the main challenger is. Here, UKIP were second last time, Labour third, and the Lib Dems who used to hold the seat were fourth. We don’t think UKIP are standing this time which is interesting, Labour are heading for a rout, and although the Lib Dems are growing nationally, I doubt they can make a lot of progress here where they have crashed from running the council to having fewer seats than the Greens – and where a strong focus on REMAIN will play negatively in a seat that voted strongly to LEAVE. Greens standing down or voting tactically will make little difference here – whereas in Ealing for example it could tip the balance.

Secondly, as with any deal, both sides need to gain. People join and support political parties for genuine reasons. We share values and want to change our country for the better. Where Greens have stood down, they have gained commitments on fair votes and climate change, or reciprocal support in other seats. This is not the case in Hereford where Greens would gain nothing for standing down. This is not being selfish – we are in the Green Party because we believe the environmental justice crisis is THE crisis of our age, and we don’t advance our cause by supporting people who want to build more roads or those who oppose the fairer voting system which would unlock progress on so many issues.

Thirdly, an alliance only works with a key local issue and a candidate who everyone can unite around. This worked in electing the NHS doctor Richard Taylor to Westminster in Wyre Forest as an Independent. He was an expert, he was genuinely good at working cross party, and there was a clear local issue – the local hospital. In Hereford, it’s hard to vote Labour when that party isn’t even in favour of  voting reform and they are staring disaster in the face nationally. Anyone suffering from Tory cuts will remember the role the Lib Dems played in starting this unnecessary transfer of cash from poor to rich, even under duress. The declaration of our Mayor as an independent caused some to think he could be a ‘Unity candidate’, but there are problems with this too. Jim is a decent, hard working local councillor, but an MP is more than being a good local councillor, or doing lots for charity. They represent us at national level and we expect them to vote for us on a wide range of issues such as military action, trade deals, schools policy, tax, climate change and the NHS. I cannot know what they will have to vote on for the next 5 years so I need to be confident in their principles and their ability to learn and listen. Jim has told me he is not interested at all in national politics, only local. I cannot in all good conscience vote for that, however good a bloke he is. It’s not just about promoting Hereford – this election is about my whole country too.

So Diana Toynbee is the only candidate I have confidence in on all these issues. Although I totally oppose Theresa May’s attempt to get rid of opposition by calling this unnecessary election now, a tactical alliance between opposition parties simply doesn’t stack up in Hereford. I hope it works elsewhere, and that we can keep discussions ongoing. I’ve had really positive conversations with both Lib Dems and IOC (the local-only party our independent candidate sits with on the council) in Hereford this week, which bode well for the future.

But now, for me – and I hope you – this is about voting for what you really believe in. I want to wake up on June 9th and feel I did the right thing for the long term, not feel queasy that I voted tactically for the short term (and didn’t get what I wanted anyway). Its not easy. But I think Diana will do well here – and the more votes she gets the more the issues she promotes will get addressed in the long run. That’s why I’m Voting Green.

If you made it to end of my article, congratulations, thanks for reading this far, and now feel free to go for a lie down in a dark room!

Budget fails to address today’s challenges

You might have thought that there was no one left on a trolley in a hospital corridor. That our social care system wasn’t on its knees. That climate change wasn’t a crisis that threatens our very future or that there was no air pollution epidemic linked to the deaths of tens of thousands.

This budget should have been an emergency intervention to end the chaos in health and social care and address the air pollution emergency, but instead it’s another resounding failure from a Government that’s got no ideas beyond an obsession with scaling back the state. With our NHS in peril and social care in crisis, this Budget was a chance for the Government to take a stand for the public services upon which we all rely. Instead they continue to push ahead with planned corporation tax cuts, and their handout to high earners, while unveiling woefully inadequate funding changes for the NHS and social care.

This budget is another climate failure – with the Chancellor failing to mention climate change even once in his speech. Rather than reversing the solar tax hike or ploughing money into renewables, the Government seems hell bent on drilling for more gas and oil in the North Sea, and handing further cash to the motor lobby with the fuel duty freeze. Britain should be leading the world in climate change technology and green jobs, but instead we’re lagging behind and laying the foundations for another dash for gas.

The time is now. Join us to stand for the Common Good.

Better Transport for Hereford

Another week, another argument between our local politicians about a western, eastern or both route for a bypass which will miraculously solve all our traffic woes.
The western route is supported by the Conservative county council and what’s left of the Lib Dems. It relies on massive housing development which will fill the roads up again. It’s such poor value for money, Government won’t even fund a survey, never mind the road itself, hence the need for lots of new houses so that the builders will be made to pay for it, putting up house prices so locals can’t afford them.
The eastern route supported by It’s Our County, the City Council and Jesse Norman MP is arguably worse. It would have to go across the Lugg Meadows, close to Tupsley houses, encouraging heavy lorries and congestion along Hampton Park Road and Ledbury Road. To say that the congestion, air pollution and noise will not be popular with residents is an understatement. This is the route already stopped by Government back in the 90s, due to cost and environmental damage. So again, they won’t give us money for it.
Our politicians keep asking for bypass funding. Every time, they are told a big no. They’re told we have to try other cheaper alternatives first, to address Hereford’s main problem which is internal, not through traffic. But they keep arguing, even though the answer is the same. Civil servants in London must think Hereford is a basket case.
As they argue instead of acting, we, our kids and elderly have to sit in poisonous traffic fumes. We endure dangerous roads for pedestrians and a cycle network which doesn’t join up. Bus services are cut. Walking or biking to school feels dangerous and unpleasant, so lots of us drive our kids instead.
We need councillors who can think out of the metal box. Instead waiting even longer for bypass cash, we could focus all our efforts on funding pedestrian, cycling and public transport facilities to rival those of the Netherlands. This isn’t anti-car. It would give us real choice about how we travel, improving public health and allowing the remaining motor traffic to flow freely. It would make our city more attractive to the tourists and businesses who bring in money.
We simply won’t get funding for a bypass until we’ve really tried the cheaper options. The £1.5million already secured is a good start, but we have to be consistent and determined to be taken seriously by government. How long are we going to wait in our traffic jams for our politicians to work this out? Or do we need new ones?
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