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

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!

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?

De Koffie Pot to host Make Votes Matter campaigner

An innovative Hereford discussion cafe event is hosting a top campaigner with Make Votes Matter, the national fair votes alliance, on Wednesday 25th January at 7.30pm.

Klina Jordan will be at De Koffie Pot to lead a discussion on different voting systems and how reform could ensure everyone’s voices are heard. Entry is free and those from all political persuasions and none are welcome.

This is the latest in a series of Big Green Conversations presented by Hereford Green Party. The events are relaxed, informal and sociable and take place upstairs in De Koffie Pot at Left Bank every fourth Wednesday in the month. Topics so far have included Brexit, Progressive Alliances, Personality Types and Politicians, and Hereford’s ongoing bypass saga.

Organiser Rob Hattersley said: “We’ve had great turnouts so far for these sociable events. The idea is to listen to each other and understand different viewpoints. With Klina from Make Votes Matter, we’ll be asking how we get majority government with only 24% of the vote, about voters feeling their votes are wasted in ‘safe’ seats, and how different voting systems could mean everyone’s vote really matters.”

Let’s sort Hereford’s traffic right now

The news that Herefordshire Council has again failed to get funding to progress a bypass should make us all stop to think. Do we want to solve our traffic problems right now, or would we prefer to suffer another 20 years in traffic jams as we wait for them to find the money?

Most of Hereford’s traffic is internal. Half of all Hereford’s car journeys are less than 2 miles long. We could now switch our efforts to dealing with internal traffic and the 2 mile journeys which would never use a bypass anyway. This is much easier, faster and cheaper to fix.

This isn’t about forcing everyone to use a bike either. Just a small reduction in internal traffic could make the rest of it flow freely, as it does in school holidays.

Our politicians haven’t managed to deliver a bypass for decades. Do we trust them to deliver in the next 5 years when government won’t even fund a survey? Why are we still waiting? Why not solve our traffic issues now? A city wide 20MPH limit along with a proper well designed bike network, free school buses and better pedestrian facilities would make it easier and safer for our children to get to school and all of us to walk or cycle every now and then.

With air pollution a major factor in ill health for both young and old, even a small reduction in traffic volumes could reduce pressure on our underfunded NHS too, by making us all a little bit fitter, healthier and happier. We could start right now, but we need councillors who ‘get it’.

Mystery of the disappearing PC World bike racks

Hereford Green Party have asked PC World why the bike racks have disappeared from outside their store.

‘We are sure sure PCWorld want to play their part in reducing congestion and pollution, so we are mystified as to why the racks have gone, quite apart from the fact that if cycling customers cannot park their bikes securely they will shop elsewhere’, said Rob Hattersley from Hereford Greens.

‘It’s really important for customers to know there is somewhere safe and secure for their bikes, or they will simply drive and add to Hereford’s traffic problem’, Rob, a keen cyclist but also a driver, added. ‘A kind PCWorld assistant allowed me to leave my bike inside the store on this occasion! Actually, biking from home right to the till inside was kind of ideal, but that’s not the point!.

 

We’re on fire and most of us are asleep

There are reports in the serious press this morning about how Arctic ice melt appears to be out of control. As it does, the process speeds up, as, for example, ice areas which usually reflect the suns heat become green and soak up the heat instead. As tundra melts, there is an increase in the most dangerous of climate gases in the short term: methane.

This is a total emergency. This could not be more serious and it should be headline news every day. I feel as though I am in a house on fire but as a few of us shout ‘Fire, get out!’ everyone else groans ‘Oh shut up and go back to sleep’, then, as the smoke comes under the door murmur’ ‘I wish they’d shut up, they’re really obsessive about this not dying thing. All I want is another ten minutes sleep.’

And the fact that we are still considering burning more fossil fuel through fracking, and Trump is removing research funding into climate change, shows the level of insanity we are battling against.

There isn’t time! Get involved! Join a political party that takes the issue seriously, or a campaign group! Annoy your friends! (I do, both of them!).

The Brexit Car Crash: what did you do?

If the driver of your car was behaving erratically and endangering you both, and after discussion had refused to change course, would you accept that ‘decision’, or keep arguing that they should slow down?

Brexit is a complete and utter car crash for the country I love and for my children especially, who now face a much harder life than I have had so far as a result. So how dare anyone say I or other ‘Remainers’ should shut up and accept the decision? As it becomes increasingly clear how this is a catastrophic act of national self-harm, surely there is time for us to look at the clear evidence and change our national mind? And even if not, in a democracy, surely we have the right to argue for it? Democracy is not the same as mob rule, and MPs are elected not to follow the mob but to act in the national interest. They are democratically elected representatives, not delegates.

As it becomes clear how much damage Brexit is already doing to us, when we should be focussed on climate change, our NHS and poverty – and part of a secure Europe in an unstable world – Nigel Farage threatens to move to the States after ‘taking back control’! There is still time to change our minds, and we should.

Rob Hattersley - Communications Officer (South)

No more PE sick notes?

The i reports today that PE lessons at one of the UK’s top private school are being replaced by wellbeing classes. Leaving aside our views on whether or not private schools help or hinder equality or overall educational attainment, is traditional PE the best way to promote overall health and fitness?

From childhood I preferred co-operation to competition, and as a result I hated PE as a child. Lots of us did. As an adult, I keep pretty fit; I love walking and cycling and in recent years have taken up swimming, running and the gym. As a primary school teacher who loved exercise but hated sport, I tended to focus on lessons which all the children could engage with, rather than the sports focus which excludes up to half the class and actually puts them off exercise.

So I applaud what Wellington School are doing as long as exercise is built into the wellbeing programme. We should be educating our children for real life. Some sport is fine – it’s a useful way to learn teamwork and resilience – but it should be more varied than either what I experienced or was encouraged to teach. The sport must also be outweighed by the exercise for fun, and wellbeing element. If pupils want to extend their sports skills, they can do it after school. Good for Wellington – now for state schools.

Slow news day

James Harding, Director of BBC News, is considering ‘slow news’ to counter the constant bombardment of simple but largely unexplained news headlines.

Describing a movement which began with ‘slow food’, Harding argues that people are given too much headline information they cannot deal with, and not enough considered background explanation or analysis. He said ‘The BBC is pretty good at reporting the ‘What’, but we need to be better at the ‘why.’

I agree with him. If people are unaware of the facts behind the headlines, including when there are genuine differences of opinion, we end up with the ignorance and anger we are now facing on both sides of the Atlantic. We’ve come a long way even from CEEFAX and TELETEXT.