East Midlands Green Party Blog

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Hope not fear; a positive view on EU migration

The Green Party supports European Migration, and welcomes European Immigrants’ contribution to the UK

The Green Party’s long term global vision is of an international economic order where the relationship between peoples, nations and regions are non-exploitative. In such a world local economies would be as self-sufficient as possible, whilst at the same time people would be free to live and work where they wished.
Although the Green Party accepts systematic problems within the EU, and thus supports a reform of the democratic controls within the EU; the Green Party opposes any EU border control.

The Green Party entirely rejects any suggestion that immigrants are to blame for our current problems. On the contrary many immigrants are victims of the same system of exploitation and inequality that blights Britain. Others are seeking to escape the consequences of climate change, environmental degradation and resource shortage, all growing problems in the 21st century.

The Green Party will defend immigrant communities from attempts to scapegoat them, and will stand alongside them and all communities in opposition to austerity. They, like all UK residents, are entitled to high quality public services and secure housing and employment, paid for by increased taxation of the rich and large companies and a determination to make sure everyone pays what they should, by a clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion.

The Green Party rejects any poorly informed propaganda that Eastern European immigrants have been flooding this country. Recent figures in fact show that 2.34 million EU citizens live in the UK, whilst 2.2 million Britons live in Europe. The Green Party acknowledges that in some areas public services have been struggling with the influx, however the Green Party argue that this has been caused by poor management, Government cuts and the lack of regulation for workers’ rights that causes exploitation of Immigrant workers particularly seen in certain areas. The Green Party further recognises the contribution of immigrants to our public services like the NHS.

The Green Party wishes to support European immigrants against scapegoating, public misconceptions and welcomes immigrant communities’ enhancement to our life in a multi cultural and multi racial United Kingdom.


Greens concerns over Bilateral Trade Agreements

At the recent Green Party Conference I attended a workshop on what on the face of it might sound like a not very exciting subject – Bilateral Trade Agreements, with particular reference to the TTIP. By the end of the workshop I realised what a minefield these agreements can be, often leaving Governments open to costly legal action by multinational corporations.
There are many different trade agreements or treaties between different countries. These treaties are agreed between two or more countries to help trade and bring in investment. The negotiations are all confidential and here in the UK they are dealt with by the unelected officials at the Foreign Commonwealth Office. Because of so called commercial confidentiality, little information gets out to the public or even to Parliament.
One of the big concerns of these agreements if that they allow Corporations or companies from one of the countries to sue the government of other country if they occur any losses due to changes of regulations. So if for example a country wanted to stop a company polluting a river, the polluting company could sue the Government for loss of profit. Also if a company believes that it has been treated differently to similar national company or organisation such as the BBC or NHS, it can demand the right to provide the service or sue for loss of profit. If the Government wanted to change the tax regime for business – increasing corporation tax on big business to help pay for public welfare for example, it would be open to a law suit. The disputes that arise between the foreign corporations and the Government are resolved by three arbitrators (one from each side and the third agreed by both), these are corporate lawyers discussing the claims behind closed doors. These cases are not heard by qualified Judges, they are outside the normal legal system which is not recognised by these arbitration tribunals. Yet their decision can cost the tax payer millions of pounds. One of these cases involved an oil drilling company, Occidental that sued Ecuador for losses after the Government demanded that they clean up a river they had polluted; the arbitration tribunal ruled that the government had to pay Occidental $1.77 billion for loss of profit. Scary and scandalous, isn’t it?
The EU is currently negotiating with the US the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement. This is a bilateral trade agreement, but the biggest ever negotiated and set to make the world’s biggest trading block. Please note that these negotiations are yet again kept confidential by the unelected European Commission. Some Green MEPs from Germany have recently leaked a document outlining the proposed agreement, which has raised considerable concern. The documents suggest that the Commission is about to sign over Europe’s right to set regulations around environmental, health and safety, economic, cultural and social issues. The rights of the Corporations will stand above those of the citizen.
What does this actually mean? For example, if the EU bans a drug due to health risks but a US company has been selling this drug in the EU, the company can then sue the EU for any losses they might occur. In the UK the treaty will give American companies the right to bid for any Government contract, its bid based on the expectancy that the regulations here will be ‘harmonised’ with those of the US. If the Government tries to keep higher standards, or to keep the service provision under its own control, it is open to being sued. This has big implications for the NHS and for state education.
We have endless examples of how badly these trade agreements can impact on our future. I feel confident in saying that the majority of British people would be horrified if they knew the full implications of TTIP. But strangely enough, this is not widely discussed. The Tories, Labour, LibDems and even UKIP are supporting this.
I was recently invited to speak on fracking to the Independent Group seminar of the Local Government Association. The group consisted of Independent, Green and UKIP councillors. I mentioned the TTIP, only the Green Councillor had heard of it, nobody else. I would have thought that at least UKIP would be against signing the UK’s sovereignty over to unelected bureaucrats.
I do not wish to have a future where decisions about our laws, tax and financial funding are being decided in private boardrooms. I do not want to see tax payers money being paid to multinational corporations to protect their profits. This would mean the end of democracy, all in the name of the so-called free market.
I already had some awareness on the controversial TTIP, and I have shared the Green’s serious concerns about losing our UK sovereignty. However, this workshop taught me that in the last decade many countries have already been signing up to similar treaties, and often even the Governments haven’t fully realised the implications of the deals that they are signing up to. TTIP will not be good for the the majority of people in the UK or in Europe, the Green Group in the European Parliament will oppose it. Vote Green on May 22nd to strengthen the Green’s opposition to this undemocratic proposal.

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Green Party Spring Conference 2014 in Liverpool

I attended the Saturday and Sunday of the spring conference. The conference lasts from Friday to Monday, but I could not attend all days due to child care.
Anyway, this was my first proper time in Liverpool, I had only visited previously to provide training – but I obviously did not see the City. My Hotel was a Green Hotel in the middle of the Ropewalks, a very stylish area in the Centre with all the trendy clubs. Although it was slightly pricey, I enjoyed the tasteful Hotel in a converted warehouse of some sort. Walking through the streets, I enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere. On Saturday night, we walked to Albert Docks, and we were astounded by the stunning architecture – a mixture between old and new. I believe it’s one of the Unesco Word Heritage.

The conference itself was inspiring and interesting. I particularly enjoyed a fringe on “Trade deals and investment treaties” by David Malone from Scarborough. I already had some awareness on the controversial TTIP, and I have shared the Green’s serious concerns about losing our UK sovereignty. However, this workshop taught me that in the last decade many countries have already been signing up to various treaties. Although this is all hush-hush and here is being dealt with confidentially by the unelected Foreign Commonwealth Office. These treaties are agreed between two or more countries to ease their trade and investment. Corporations or companies from these countries can then sue the other country, if they occur any losses due to changes of regulations, if they have been treated differently to similar National companies (including eg the NHS or the BBC), or if the taxation is not recognised by international expectations (assessed by the corporate lawyers, as no existing agreed guidelines). Any disputes are being resolved by three arbitrators (one from each side and the third agreed by both), these are corporate lawyers discussing this behind closed doors. National and mainly international law is not being recognised. One of these cases has been when an oil drilling company, Occidental sued Ecuador for losses after they had polluted a river; the arbitration ruled to pay $1.77 bil.
I left the fringe feeling extremely worried, but having gained a clearer picture about this rather unknown issue.

Another highlight was at one of the plenaries where we voted on a motion that would instruct the top five Green politicians (MP, MEPs, leader and depute) to use their public appearances to promote the anti-growth message. I agreed with the necessity of this message; however I did not agree to instruct Caroline, Jean, Keith, Natalie and Will to do so. They have been doing a great job, and are fully aware and astute when and how it is appropriate to promote whatever policy.
Anyway, the first round of voting decided against, someone encouraged 12 further members to ask for a paper vote. The chair asked that only members who were present at the debate should vote (as people keep coming and leaving throughout). At this time the motion got passed (I believe it was 89 for and 86 against). It was then being discussed that the chair was mistaken and that anybody could vote. Therefore, after a heated debate we finally voted yet again and it was passed again (108 for and 105 against). This is democracy alive! And I must admit, I found it rather amusing, but left with a sense that we, the Greens are truly follow a fair and thorough democracy.
Derbyshire Green Party has been trying to have the MPs remuneration pledge passed for a couple of years now. Peter Allen from Derbyshire and one of our Euro candidates has proposed this motion, due to the absence of John Youatt one of the main forces behind the previous two years work alongside Peter Jackson. I am delighted to say that this motion was passed with an overwhelming majority. Well done to Peter A., John and Peter J.!
There was also a motion to increase diversity in the party, which I obviously welcome. This motion was passed and it ensures a quota for the regional parties (ie European election nominations) for 50+ females and one in the East Midlands BAME candidate. I questioned who is a BAME candidate ie do white non British individuals count, what about travellers etc.; the proposers responded that this would be by self-definition. I voted in favour since I preferred this motion (although not clearly defined) to be passed than not. Someone voiced their concerns of abuse; I have the opposite concern that individuals could feel unsure of how define themselves. I, for example, do not know if I consider myself a minority; I am German but I have not suffered the historical and institutional abuse and discrimination like non- white communities have.

In the name of the East Midlands Green Party, we put in an emergency motion to support Frack Free Nottinghamshire in their campaign against some coal bed methane drilling near Retford. Unfortunately other emergency motions took priority and thus we run out of time and this was not put to plenary.
There were also many other interesting and significant motions, fringes and discussions including changes to our educational policies, “make corporations responsible” and to prioritise the issue of child sexual exploitation.
I have been greatly enjoying the conference; and although I left very tired with a hurting back, I felt inspired and saturated.


Women and Welfare, an International Women’s Day Perspective


I hope you enjoyed the week of International Women’s Day?

On Thursday I was at New Art Exchange in Nottingham on an intercultural panel of women working for the local community. It is estimated that over 70% of cuts so far have come out of the pockets of women. This has been taken in real term cuts in child benefit, benefits for childcare and the bedroom tax. Public service job cuts have affected more women than men too, with many women in care professions. Cuts to services for vulnerable women also have devastating effects with domestic violence, family homelessness, foodbank use and child poverty rising. The cuts affect women from new and emerging communities most of all. One of my hats in daily life is an interfaith women’s worker, at least until the funding runs out next month. I’ve searched for venues, found resources, publicized and coordinated events, been a speaker and facilitated discussions across faith and cultures. I’ve also found myself on the front line of threats caused by inhuman political choices by main parties.

Women in poverty and in Foodbank lines. Women working part-time and bringing up children alone with shame poured onto them and decreasing services to support them. Women on decreasing welfare. Women unable to access any welfare at all because of their place of origin or because they are not recognized as citizens or refugees. These are the very people targeted by hate and blame for the financial troubles of the country.  Women who have experienced domestic violence like 1 in 3 women across the nation. Women who experience rising hate crime in this culture of divide and rule. Women who have services squeezed and removed. Women who soon I will not be able to help. I write this in solidarity and determination for International Women’s Day to look at the foundations of inequality in the political norms of our country.

Last year a woman from our interfaith group who I will call Mary, was taken with only what she held in her hands to a detention centre under threat of deportation and without essential medicine. Mary was easy to disappear, on paper at least. A single woman of Malawian birth who could be taken in the clothes she stood up in with no family here to protect her. Yet  Mary has made the community here her family and this family have embraced her. For nearly 14 years she has volunteered her time in peace and interfaith work, in women’s empowerment and anti-violence. Mary came here to nurse but was not allowed to work or retrain without a visa she spent years fighting to get. She has experienced and overcome domestic violence. A founder member of the women’s group of the organisation I work for, she was on my interview panel. Her church has supported her and she has lived frugally with generosity of her time and skills to others. Yet she was  imprisoned without adequate medicine as prescribed for her blood pressure. Her home is in Nottingham now after all these years. She was given three dates of threatened deportation while she watched others dragged off screaming and crying.

It is an unwelcome emotional merry-go-round for her friends and supporters and an emotional torture for her. To visit her I had to be fingerprinted and body searched and have my possessions locked away. In the visitors hall there were Black and Arab detainees and white guards. There was an oppressive feeling to this dynamic. Male and female guards watch over an all women prisoner population. I brought some washing essentials it took five days for her to get after processing was complete. I am proud to be British, though I was less so sitting in the visitor’s hall of Yarls Wood Detention Centre.  I found it an unsettling place I cannot forget, though most of the guards were amiable enough to me. It is a prison and as a visitor I felt this too. It has a controversial history and there have been complaints of abuse.

Local Green Party members were among those who signed the petition I started. The Green Party is the only political party represented in Westminster that does not resort to blaming migration for the nation’s ills. It is the party where 50% candidates have to be women. I had to maintain a political neutrality within my role of Interfaith Women’s Worker. The women in the organisation are from many and no political parties. The petition, with hundreds of signatures, was sent to more than one recipient, a local MP and The Home Secretary,  a Tory and a Labour MP. Individual emails from myself and others were also sent.  From the office of the local Labour MP there was unhelpful advice to get legal representation, which of course had been done and is continuing. The Home Secretary did not reply.  Aside from individuals, it appears it is only the Green Party with understanding of migration. Mary is back home but remains under threat of deportation. She regularly has to report to offices in Loughbourgh though she is given no money to do so. She is not permitted to work and still waits a legal right to stay. I share Mary’s story (with name changed for her privacy) to give a human face to migration. All too often media and political coverage makes little to no distinction between new members of our community and terrorists.

Another woman has also lived under threat of deportation since I have known her. Last week she was moved by authorities to a moldy room in Coventry after years as an active member of  Nottingham communities. Months ago this happened to another woman, now living in Bradford. Most are not given welfare or allowed to work. Many live in absolute destitution, yet new members of our society are blamed for taking money and services. It is part of wider, blame the poor, the isolated and the vulnerable policies. Across the media and three mainstream parties, those who have, by choice or necessity, moved to these shores are demonized alongside those too ill to work, the underpaid and the unpaid. The funding running out for my role means less cross faith dialogue to help build communities and help bust myths and rising prejudice.  It means less support for women at risk.

The name I use is my maiden name, one I am proud of. My family came from a number of different lands two and more generations ago, while one thread is traced back to the doomsday book and another name heralds from Welsh soil. My family have been migrators and survivors. My mother teaches English to overseas students yet I am sometimes asked if I am allowed to work in this country, in which all but one of my grandparents were born. It is a question I am not asked if I use my husband’s name. Blaming the ‘outsider’ or ‘newcomer’ is way of silencing  vital debates on economics, social justice and environment. So is sidelining women’s rights. Too often the two come together in a toxic cocktail that poisons communities, kills off diversity, inclusion, equality and cooperation. We do need to discuss resources and use them wisely. We need to create jobs instead of seeing them squeezed by austerity measures while the bankers go back to their billions in bonuses. New and emerging communities, along with those with least money in society, are those often scapegoated for economic and job insecurities. This has happened for generations to women; our rights tied to times of economic success.  It is a tried and tested tool to deflect responsibility and avoid action to remedy a system which is broken.  So in solidarity, in sisterhood and brotherhood we invite you to help us work towards a fairer, shared, common good.

Antonia Zenkevitch, MA Human Security