Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Meeting Royalty

The day started badly. An early text message informed me that the Addiscombe fair had been cancelled. I should have dived back under the duvet in denial with a promise to resurface in 3 days time. No chance. I informed my Good Lady that I was all hers for the day. I could see the sparkle in her eye shining brightly with excitement. We both knew what was going to happen next. It was just a question of in what order. It didn't take long to find out. The whole thing happened in a whirlwind and 5 minutes later I was being marched to Thornton Heath station to catch a train to London Bridge to see the Thames Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.

Now, being born and not much else in Lambeth before being raised in the Republic of Ireland, I was never likely to be the most fervent of monarchists on show by the Thames that day. Even my English Good Lady was only going to see the pretty ships and didn't care a jot about Queenie & Co.. Still, we keep an open mind on all issues, try to make the best of the day and avoid engaging anyone waving a Union Flag in conversation about Equality verses Royalty - Yeow Deecide.

One of many views of the Thames for the ticketless at Tower Bridge

From London Bridge we headed for the river bank and towards Tower Bridge. However, at every turn we were met by security detail announcing "tickets only". It was still 3 hours before the Pageant was due to start. I asked one security guard were tickets still on sale? Tickets were never on sale, invitation only, came the reply. On and on we went with repeated results. Every alleyway blocked to the Queens' loyal subjects. We asked where we should go to see the Avenue of Sail. "Just checking tickets here, mate".I could see the irate faces of a few others who were under the illusion that the display was meant for all and not for the lucky ones with friends in corporate places.

Not exactly preaching to the converted. Good on them.
"This is quite symbolic" I heard myself remark, "The security guards should be encouraged to spit on us to complete the imagery". I had only come across this blatant divide of the haves and the have not once before personally (although examples could, I'm sure, be taken from across the world and across the ages) when I had the good fortune to be in Barbados to watch both Ireland and England play cricket at the 2007 World Cup. How decadent. On a free day I left my B&B and headed for the North-West beaches in the hope of spotting a turtle. As it turn out I nearly head butted one while snorkeling but that's a different story. What was sickening was the fact that the locals were clearly not allowed on any beach where a massive hotel had plonked itself down for the benefit of my super-rich tourist counterparts. It was also clear the locals could never match the clout of these hotels if it came a battle of right of way over the beaches. Never imaged it happening back home in such unsubtle circumstances.

Much further on we eventually found a spot for the great unwashed to look back towards where the pageant would finish and the taller ships were moored. Half the assembled crowd looked a bit narked. The other half, mostly tourists, were delighted to be allowed watch from a distance the approach, in 4 hours time, of a Queen and her entourage who were made up of people just like the public, enemies of the public, born into a position of high social standing whose role in life is to maintain this inequality to past down to their offspring. That is their job. They're doing it wonderfully. They must wonder how we let them get away with it. As do I.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Compromised Opinions of the Croydon Incinerator

The opinion of Gavin Barwell, Croydon Central MP, towards the Viridor incinerator is completely irrelevant.

Many Labour supporters have spent the week trying to embarass Mr. Barwell into taking a firm stand against the incinerator. This is something Mr. Barwell cannot do.

Not because Mr. Barwell has a deep love for incinerators. Not even because he will spend more time being sweet talked by Viridors sale teams instead of listening to alternatives. These guys have well prepared pitch and will leave him thinking that there is only one option.
The decision on wheither or not to be build an incinerator has long since left the rights and wrongs of the issue behind.

The main reason for building an incinerator is now to avoid making Councillor Thomas looking like a fool.

Croydon Labour are as much to blame as anyone. Maybe it's the political system as a whole.

I would expect Mr. Barwell to come to his own decision on the merits of the incinerator. Wheither his political opponants like it or not, he is an intelligent individual. However, the Croydon Labour party would be popping champagne between now and Christmas if he came out against the incinerator. This is a prize too great for any Conservative to hand to Labour on a plate.

There is a precedent though.

In 2006 Kent CC were in the same shoes and went ahead with the Allington incinerator. At the time Councillor Keith Ferrin said it had to be done to deal with Kents' rubbish. Now he says he got duff information, that the decision was a stupid one and he curses the 25 year contract he has locked himself into.

That took real guts to come out and say that. I bet if he could turn back time to before the contact was signed and the incinerator built he would make a different decision. That is where we are now here in Croydon. We do not need to sleep-walk into another bad decision because we are too ashamed to admit we were wrong.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Londonwide Members of the London Assembly.

An unexpected pleasure of combining the local political and twitter battlegrounds has been the various tweetups that have been arranged by the ever resourceful members of the Croydon scene. These gatherings allow for a more informal atmosphere for people to meet each other for a chit-chat about whatever is going on in their lives or community at that time. Inevitably when I introduce myself with my twitter name of CroydonGreens a political discussion soon follows. Let’s be frank, that is why I’m there. To represent the Greens as an accessible political group and to dispel any lingering views that you have to be an extremist hippy to join up. It works in the opposite direction too. I have enjoyed the company of members of rival political parties and we can discuss issues honestly without the Punch-and-Judy style that is commonplace across the chamber floor of Croydon Council or on your twitterfeed. Long may what is said at tweetup stay at tweetup.
One discussion I did have, that I feel the need to follow up, was on the concept of the List system for electing additional members of the London Assembly. It was suggested to me that it was odd that certain members of the GLA did not have to answer to any particular area or electorate. That is technically true however it cannot be suggested that they do not represent anyone. For example, the 2 Green Assembly Members represent me. In theory it could be, and should be, argued that I am represented by the Croydon and Sutton GLA member, Conservative Steve O’Connell but that’s not really the case.
All politicians know which side their bread is butter on. Steve O’ Connell likes his bread buttered on both sides. *Let’s all take a moment to enjoy my cheap (although highly accurate) gag*. Most Croydonians reading this will be aware of Mr O’Connell’s work in his many jobs and will either admire him or despise him for it. Analysis of his record is not really the point of this post.
My point is this. Steve O’Connell does not need my vote to get elected; the colour of his rosette does that job for him. The same can be said of my MP, Malcolm Wicks and indeed my Ward Councillors. Therefore I cannot go to any of these people and expect to get any worthy response other than “I’ll see what I can do {now stop cluttering up my office}.”
The 9,000 people in Croydon and Sutton who voted for Shasha Khan at the 2008 GLA election would continue to feel this sense of disengagement if it were not for Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson fighting the good fight on their behalf. OK, since then we have managed to get our first MP elected but, let’s face it, the FPTP system used in Local and Parliamentary elections are always going to be more of a hindrance, than a help, to the Green Party cause.

The real allure of the upcoming elections in London is that it gives voters of other Parties who have an interest in green issues the ability to vote Green without having the guilt of turning their back their Parties' chosen candidate.
For example, a Conservative supporter can vote for Boris and Steve O’Connell and still give a vote to the Greens for the Assembly. I find there is a bit of snobbery within the Green Party at times when it comes to the values of those who vote Conservative. I find that many of those people hold deep concerns about the environment, it’s just not their number one issue and their worries are not being adequately met by their Party leaders. These are potential votes that deserve more than to be dismissed.

This is even more true for a Labour supporter who vote for Jenny Jones first and Ken Livingstone second in the mayoral election, knowing their vote will be counted for Ken when the big two slug it out for the role of Mayor; They can then vote for Louisa Woodley and round it off by ticking the Green Party on the Assembly list.
It is worth noting that all 3 LibDem members plus 3 more Conservative and 2 more Labour members are elected using the system, so it’s not as if this method penalises the bigger parties in any way. Curious that this structure is being used, without any of the bitter commotion that surrounded the AV disaster this time last year.
But that’s a different story.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


It has been something of a perverse source of pride that in my role as tweeter for the CroydonGreens I have managed to avoid getting into the routine slagging matches which occasionally plague the #Croydon timelines. The political debates on that hashtag range from interesting flow of news and information to tiresome tit-for-tat points scoring between those on the left and right as well as the politically neutral. However, you also need to reflect mood of the party activists as a whole which, after the Croydon Council meeting of Monday January 30th, was piping hot.

Briefest background: Conservative Councillors in Waddon promised to oppose an incinerator in Croydon  or on the borders with Sutton. At the Council meeting Green Party members looked on in horror as Councillors Harris, Hilley and Hoare raised their hands to actively vote through the plans by a margin of 35-33. It was exactly the sort of episode that convinces most of the public that politics is rotten to the core.

After the vote the Green Party members regrouped to assess the Council meeting. Some suggested they were too honest for politics - pointing to the example of Conservative leader Mike Fisher quite rightly deriding Labour for not attending the "public" consultation of the incinerator while conveniently forgetting that no Conservative turned up either. Clearly the man has no scruples. Is that what it takes to make it in the murky world of politics?

Emotions were high so I took the decision to reflect that in a tweet which tried to sum up both what happened and our feelings towards it.

#Croydon #Waddon "anti incinerator" Tory Councillors vote through adoption of incinerator. #gutless #shameful #selfserving #vile #twofaced.
Gutless? For failing to stand up to their Conservative colleagues.
Shameful? For bringing the integrity of politics down another rung of the ladder.
Selfserving? For putting their own political careers before anything else.
Twofaced? For saying one thing to get elected and doing the exact opposite when it mattered.
Vile? For the whole sorry business above.

For the word "vile" I could (and would) have used reprehensible or contemptible but, of course, twitter forces expediency of letters so "vile" it was.

It wasn't long before Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell was questioning the use of the word "vile" claiming it was totally unnecessary and suggesting that I avoid personal abuse. I responded that I was describing the actions and not the people.

This led to a debate of the word "vile". Some were amused that Mr. Barwells remark suggested the other words used were correct. Others pointed out that the word was not the issue that warranted discussion.  One tweeter suggested we all grow up. I sympathise with that view.

Within the Stop The Incinerator group, reaction was mixed. Some felt it was too strong and provided a convenient smokescreen to avoid the main issue. Others felt it wasn't strong enough, given what is going on. Either way I was wondering if I had completely misunderstood the depth of meaning hidden in the word. The next morning I heard a couple of Absolute Radio presenters describing sweetcorn in a sandwich as "vile". Yes!!! Exonerated by light entertainment.

I have no quarrel with Gavin Barwell. It's good to have a local MP with a twitter account for more than just decoration. My view is that the Waddon Councillors at the heart of this matter should be more than capable of defending themselves. Now THAT would be something worth discussing.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The South Croydon Incinerator Supposition.

Let's ignore the hypothetical basis for this scenario. How would it play out if the construction of an incinerator was being planned for the leafy wards of South Croydon? *dream sequence music*

Coulsdon: Well I suppose if it has to be built somewhere it might as well be somewhere central, like Kenley.

Kenley: Now hang on one cotton picking...

Sanderstead: Wait, that's downwind of us.

Kenley: Good shout, let's stick it in Purley.

Purley: I'll stick something in you in a minute. Ever heard of wind changing direction?

Kenley: Wont matter which direction it blows in if it's built here. Maybe we should look at building it in Sanderstead.

Sanderstead: Hope you have a good lawyer, 'cause there's going to be one hell of a lawsuit coming your way if you keep that up.

Kenley: What about that pointy bit down at the bottom of Coulsdon.

Couldson: What's with you and pointy bits? Look, all that extra traffic coming all the way down here will do no-one any good. It needs to be built somewhere.....else.

Purley: Actually, why does it need to be built ...anywhere?

Sanderstead: Got to burn stuff, right?

Purley:  All we need to do is to stop buying tat and chucking it away the next day.

Kenley: Speak for yourself, we do not buy tat. I do, however, like the cut of your jib.

Purley: Leave my jib out of it. There are 10 times the number of jobs in recycling than there are in incinceration.

Coulsdon: So we wouldn't need an incinerator at all if we put a bit a of thought into what we bought...

Kenley: ...and if we recycled every last thing that we could....

Purley: ...which will increase as the technology for recycling continues to improve...

Sanderstead: ...and if we put the responsibility of disposing of leftover materials back in the hands of those who make it...

Coulsdon: ...yeah, they'd soon get they're act together...

Kenley: ...and we wouldn't need an incinerator. Nice work people, nice work.

The Beddington Lane Incinerator Supposition.

Let's ignore the hypothetical basis for this scenario. How would it play out if the construction of an incinerator was being planned for the economically deprived area of Beddington Lane? *dream sequence music*

Beddington Lane: We wouldn't need an incinerator at all if we put a bit a of thought into what we bought and if we recycled every last thing that we could which will increase as the technology for recycling continues to improve and if we put the responsibility of disposing of leftover materials back in the hands of those who make it, they'd soon get they're act together and we wouldn't need an incinerator.

Everyone Else: Yeah, whatever *builds incinerator*

Monday, 29 August 2011

Croydon Council Meetings. An attempt at an impartial review.

Mob mentality is a big news story at the moment. What happens to so many people which makes them act in a manner which would be abhorrent to all but the most base of that group. Mob mentality is feared with good reason. You can't reason with a mob.

I've experienced it myself when watching football matches. Your player crudely takes out an opponent and your first reaction is to think "ooh, he meant that, that's not good". You feel ashamed that this player is representing you and 'your mob'. The ref whips out the red card and immediately you start to boo. Why? Is it because everyone else is doing it? Is it because you're afraid of appearing to be disloyal? Is it because your afraid of the consequences?

Well, yes it is. Hold that thought.

The last Council meeting I attending had a running Twitter football-esque commentary from a former MP. I quite enjoyed it, to be honest, although it may not have quite lived up to the standards of BBC neutrality. To continue the football analogy somewhat, it was clear that this game was not being played on a level field. One team had more players than the other and, irrespective of the efforts of every player, the outcome had already been decided. I understand this is based on election results but why bother having an opposition when no Conservative Councillor will ever vote against his party because of the mob mentality described above. I debated with myself over the merits of a secret ballot voting system but then we could never trust the word of a councillor [insert your own joke here] as we would never know if they had voted in line with their public position.

The vote on the 54 story Menta Tower catastrophe provides an excellent example of the problem. 11 members on the Committee, 6 Conservative and 5 Labour. This imbalance guaranteed the planning application would be passed despite impassioned pleas against it from the local Conservative MP and other prominent Conservative Councillors. My colleagues and I cynically disgust discussed the likelihood that, with the outcome predetermined, the Conservatives mentioned could appear to be on the side of the public opposition while still pandering to the business interest who are set to make a killing. Now, we may be wrong in our cynicism or we may be right but it does seem like a convenient truth.

Anyway, back to the meeting analysis. The next time I hear the phrase "...unlike the party opposite..." I may well scream. As for Councillors standing up to ask "Does the Leader of the Council agree with me that everything is better now that we're in charge?" What on earth is the point of that? It's just a waste of everyones' time. I may also point out that if the leader of the Conservatives slaps his Labour counterpart for huge percentage rises in council tax he must then undo those hikes to avoid looking like a hypocrite. For example, a Conservative 0% increases which comes the year after a 26% Labour increase is still 2 years of higher taxes for the public and extra expenditure for the Council. You can't have it both ways.

The follow up questions from the public gallery (to the Councillors answers of previously submitted written questions) are allotted about 15 Min's which is too short when you listen to the rubbish which arrives soon after (and I'm not just talking about the 'follow up' answers). Later, some questions from Councillors deserved some respectable discussion, but most were just trying to impress their own party leader. Even the debates usually have some valid arguments on both sides if you can stay awake to listen. Of course the debates are doomed to the fate of the predetermined vote which is another waste of time.

So what to do?

Well, I can only foresee two situations which would lead to a better Council make up. A couple/handful of single issue candidates or Resident Associations representatives would help clear some of frankly embarrassing exchanges which we are forced to endure.
The other option is one I've heard about from Brighton. Apparently each Green Party Councillor is allowed to vote on each issue as they see fit. How refreshing!
But then I would say that, wouldn't I?
I'm biased.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The riots were my fault.

I'm a Green Party activist. The riots were my fault. You see, I've been undermining the police and I'm feeling guilty about it. I have looked at the way they have behaved in many high profile cases over the last decade such as the Stockwell shooting, Ian Tomlinson, Fortnum & Masons, student kettling. Of course the police have a duty to protect people and property but it did look like they were picking and choosing which people and property they were protecting. It is easy to think that way. The police have done themselves no favours in this by (for example) their mistreatment of the Fortnum & Mason peaceful protesters who did no damage but were arrested on mass while black bloc anarchists were left to run riot. I bet the riot police this week were missing a bit of gentle UKuncut activity. However the bit I got wrong was to always presume the police are there only to protect the interests of big business. The recent riots were a stark reminder of their wider role. I'm guessing it was a reminder to the acting metropolitan police commissioner too. Pity for him that this has happened on his watch due to most of his colleagues leaving their posts for one reason or another. (That's another story).
I have faith in the majority of people to do the right thing. I believe that given the right opportunity people will reward you for putting your trust in them. This is central to my vision of how a more equal society will work in the future. I have argued long and hard that if you give people a greater sense of liberty their sense of self worth will be enhanced for the benefit of everyone. This liberty can only work if everyone feels a sense of belonging to the community. If they are left outside of society then they have nothing to lose if the society crumbles. We need to create a more equal society first before liberty for all becomes a free for all. While the wealth of the Nation remains in the tight fists of the few this can never happen. So, perhaps a little bit more reality in terms of responsible policing and responsible politics when talking about policing is in order. The police aren't all saints, but they are not all sinners either. I'll try to keep that in mind.

I'm a former Labour Minister. The riots were my fault. We spent 17 years watching the Thatcher/Major governments dismantling society. We got our chance do make a change and we bottled it. We slipped straight into the shoes of our Conservative predecessors and found them strangely comfortable. I found I could make good friends in the City. We got on so well and at one point (before things went wrong) we were collecting 28% of the treasuries income from the City and all they wanted was to be left alone and cut some of the regulatory red tape. It seemed too good to be true. It doesn't look so good now. If we get another chance before another 17 years go by I hope we wont bottle it again. I'm not going to promise anything.

I'm a Conservative backbencher. The riots were my fault. It was hard to stomach watching the looters parade in front of the media with bravado as if to say "we're untouchable". It was hard to stomach because it reminded me of our frontbenchers who bragged, yes bragged, about the cuts we were going to inflict on the public. The cuts to the police force are currently the favoured topic of the press. Many other cuts (forestry sell-off, NHS reforms, Prison sentencing) were subject to what the looters are now seeing - a public backlash. Having second thoughts now, maybe we should start thinking of the destruction we cause. It's just as real. Just not so easy to show on TV.

I'm a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister. The riots were my fault. The deal was pretty straight forward. I was to rein my coalition partners back from their policy of looking after their chums at the top of the social pyramid. I got caught up in the whirlwind of the media spotlight and while I was spinning I forgot about my election promises and tried to impress the big boys. It didn't take long for the public to spot the failure. Since then I've been busy keeping my fool mouth shut. The public wont let me get away with that either, I suspect. The people who voted for us to avoid a Conservative government certainly wont.

I'm a Public Relations supremo of the Police Force. The riots were my fault. The guys on the front lines make mistakes sometimes and when they do I seem to make the situation gets worse. When we got the wrong guy in Stockwell tube station, we told the press that Jean Charles de Menezes was a terrorist who leaped the ticket barrier to evade arrest. We lied. We were caught. When Ian Tomlinson died after being pushed by a police officer we denied it was anything to do with us. We were caught again by video evidence. Every time we try to hide the truth, public confidence is eroded. When Mark Duggan was shot in Tottenham our silence intensified the anger. When an outraged woman was pushed back by a policeman in front of an angry crowd, the touch paper was lit. After that, everything became too late very quickly. Well you know what? This is what you're vulnerable to when you cut the resources down to the bare bones. My opposite number at the Fire Brigade is saying the same thing. They were dismissed by the media as social pariahs when they had to go on strike to protect their working practises a few years ago. The cost of these cuts are taking their toll.

I'm a Green Party activist. I do what I think is best for everyone, and not just myself, in any given situation. I'm lucky my circumstances, education and moral compass mean I never have to stoop to looting. Some are not so lucky. We can work to eradicate inequality. For arsonists, and opportunist theft, we need a respected police force. For all that to happen, we need a Government with integrity. We haven't had one of those for a long, long time.
That is why I'm a Green Party activist.