East Midlands Green Party Blog


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No Minister, this winter’s floods are not ‘Unprecedented’.

David Cameron was ill advised to brag about how much flood defence work has been done during his premiership – surrounded as he was by flood water in York. “Like much of the rest of what you have done as prime minister David, your actions on flood prevention have been demonstrably inadequate. That’s why you were surrounded by flood water!”

The line being taken by this lamentable government is that the floods of this winter were ‘unprecedented’. The impression that they want to leave with the public is that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent them and that they are a one-off event, unlikely to be repeated. “So, Environment Minister Truss” [who has repeated the ‘unprecedented’ line like well trained parrot] “were the floods of 2007 or of 2014 also ‘unprecedented’? Doesn’t ‘unprecedented’ mean ‘not happened before’?”

After the 2007 flooding in the West country, there was a Government review of flood prevention, yet the area flooded again 7 years later. Was the review implemented in full? Apparently not. The Government, both Labour and Tory, chose to bail out the banks so leaving thousands of people now having to bail out their homes. Flood prevention can be an expensive business and needs long term planning, so on taking office in 2010, the Tories, with their LibDem side kicks slashed the budget for flood defences in 2011, eviscerated the Environment Agency, and to please their developer friends tore up planning regulations to allowing more flood plain development – to ‘boost the economy’.

Failing to invest in flood defence is equally costly, £1.5 billion the estimates cost of the York floods alone. The difference being is that the cost of prevention falls largely on the public purse, that the Tories are deliberately shrinking. The cost of repairing the damage falls largely on private pockets, 99% of which are being rapidly emptied by Tory policy, and after all, disasters are good for the economy – nothing like a bit of destruction to stimulate business.

Enough cynicism – what should be done, what would the Greens do? First we remind everyone that extreme weather events such as we have seen in December 2015 were the predictable outcome of the failure to combat climate change over the last 20 years. The damage wrought by flooding and storms is the price of climate scepticism and the inaction that it spawns. While it is still not possible to ‘prove’ that the Christmas storms are a result of climate change, it is the increasing frequency of violent weather that is indicative of the changing climate, and underlines the need to take preventative action.

Flood prevention needs long term planning, by people who understand the whole water cycle. It is not just about dredging – which can make matters worse in some cases, or building up river banks. It needs to include a management plan for the whole of a river catchment. It also needs an understanding of future patterns of weather. We have to accept that the extreme weather events that we have been seeing over the last decade are not ‘unprecedented’ one-off events, but the shape of things to come. We have to plan defences that can accommodate such events on a regular basis.

Flood prevention begins in the uplands of the river catchment. Here land use needs to be designed to enable the land to hold water and to slow down run off so as to take the strain of drainage channels – streams, dykes and rivers. This will include tree planting and permanent ground cover, plant roots helping to hold soil in place and to increase the capacity of the uplands to hold water and release it slowly.

It will include the middle reaches of the catchment where natural floodplains need to be created where the rivers and streams are allowed to burst their banks and flood the land creating temporary storage lakes for excess water. Rivers need to be allowed to meander, so again increasing their capacity. Straightening rivers only increases the speed with which water is delivered to the lower reaches of the river, where most of our major urban areas are sited. There has to be a ban on building on designated floodplain. The designation of these areas of land has to be done by hydrologists who know what capacity is needed to avoid serious flooding and not by ministers in Whitehall offices wanting to hit house building targets or major infrastructure development for the purposes of boosting the economy.

We have to look now at adaptation to flooding. We can’t move our towns and cities that are mostly built on rivers and their natural floodplains. Move electric circuits above the 100 year flood level, because this level is likely to be reached each decade of this century. Treat walls so that they are less vulnerable to water and will dry out more quickly. Make it possible for ground floors to be cleared of valuables at short notice. Make effective temporary flood defences available to all in need – there must be something better than leaky sandbags for blocking off doorways. Improve local warning networks and properly equip and train local emergency services so that they can act quickly and effectively, something that the army is not able to do.

In the medium term we will have to grasp the nettle of giving up on defence work and allow some areas to flood, just as we will have to abandon some areas of coastline to erosion. But this needn’t mean that such land can’t be developed if that is necessary. We can learn from Venice and the bronze age lake dwellers. Build on stilts, let water run freely through the ground story, encourage such flood prone communities to be more self sufficient, so that being cut off isn’t a major problem. Local self reliance is going to become ever more important in a warming world. This doesn’t mean ‘survivalism’, it means building resilient communities with effective local government that can develop the needed long term planning and ensure that the resources needed in an emergency are there. Letting local government escape from the ‘one size fits all’ approach adopted by central governments of the last 30 years, able respond to local needs and local circumstances, not the needs of Ministers with an election to win. This is the Green view of sustainability and self reliance. Not isolationism of the ‘survivalists’, but liberating local communities, villages, towns and cities from the dead hand of autocratic government, enabling them to manage local resources, respond to local needs and adapt to the physical, climatic and biological changes that will be coming our way.


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Greens share common grounds with farmers.

The Green Party recognises the fundamental importance of those who work on the land and the contribution that farming makes to the rural economy and to wider society. However, many farmers do not currently receive fair reward for the food that they produce or for the many other ‘public services’ that they provide. We believe that letting conventional market forces dictate agriculture policy, as successive governments have done, can’t lead to the sustainable supply of food that should be the principle aim of farming. The aim of Green food and farming policy is to achieve food security over the long term.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as follows: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The FAO says further that: “The right to food is a human right. It protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.” The current policies of the British Government have failed to do this, hence the rise of hunger in the UK and of food banks. It is frankly shocking that in the worlds seventh richest economy, there are people who can’t get enough to eat on a regular basis, it is a scandal that the response by our rulers to this is to blame the hungry and poor for their plight.

The Government approach to food security is to build a competitive economy to enable the UK to buy its food requirements on the world market. The role of agriculture is to contribute to the national balance of payments to finance this policy – so farming is encouraged to intensify and to maximise output like any other industry. Further, the Government looks to developing countries to supply more of the world’s food. This policy, supported by Labour, Tory and LibDems, expects the poorer countries of the world to feed the rich. This a high risk unsustainable policy that is morally indefensible, like much of the rest of free market ideology.

It is unfortunate that the current leaders of the farming community in Britain buy into this ideology, supporting further intensification of agriculture to maximise output and return on investment. At the same time they do recognise the need to preserve soil fertility, and that farming needs a healthy and properly functioning natural environment. They recognise the dangers of climate change, after this winters floods how could they ignore it? They understand the importance of sustainability. They want to see farmers able to make a decent living in return for their hard work. Yet they fail to see that the free-market economics, focusing on competition and ever growing returns is leading to irreversible environmental damage that makes farming practice unsustainable and is forcing thousands of farmers out of business.

There is an unfortunate tension between the farming community and Greens. This is over issues like animal welfare, access to land, industrial scale farming and hunting. We both need to get beyond these differences and look at what we have in common. This is what the Wildlife Trusts are successfully doing in their negotiations with local farmers over conservation. They accept that at present they can’t agree on badgers or foxes or hedgerows. But they recognise a common interest in maintaining a healthy and properly functioning environment, and that they can and need to work together. Greens and the farming community need now to adopt the same approach.

Our areas of agreement are far more significant that areas of disagreement. We both agree on the need for a healthy and viable agriculture sector to produce our food, and that that farmers need to be able to earn a decent living. We accept the idea of agricultural subsidies from the taxpayer in recognition of the importance of maintaining food supply, and because agriculture can’t operate like a traditional business due to the variable nature of the environment. We both know that farming needs a healthy and properly functioning natural environment and that farmers are well placed to implement long term conservation policies that are in the national interest, and that farming practice needs to be sustainable over the long term. We both want to see farming enterprises being an integral part of a robust rural economy supporting good and sustainable jobs.

And we both agree that farming faces critical challenges from Climate Change and that it must adapt to survive.

This is a lot of common ground and Green Food and Agriculture policy, together with other policy areas, fully addresses these issues. We firmly believe that our policies, based on sound science, need to be implemented if we are to maintain a sustainable food production capacity in Great Britain. Yes, we have our differences with some farmers, on GMO, on cloning, on intensive farming, on the appropriate business model for a healthy farming sector. But rather than trade insults over disagreements, we need to understand each other’s position and find agreement. These are vitally important issues to get right. They are not a matter of opinion, they can be answered through the proper understanding of science, which includes ecology, the science in which this Party is grounded.


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Sustainability, am I a loony because I care about my daughter’s future?

We need to live sustainably, it’s a word commonly used by politicians but I wonder if they understand what Sustainability means. Looking at the internet, one gets various definitions in regards to environment, social and economic issues. I found the following definition the most useful:
Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.
Sustainability is important to making sure that we have, and will continue to have, the food, water, materials and resources we need for our well being and to protect our environment.
Basically sustainability means considering our future and ensuring that we do not destroy or use up the resources that we need for our comfort or even basic needs. Furthermore, if we think about our children and grandchildren and their future, we must ensure that we leave them a world that can provide for their needs.
I find it rather strange and difficult that as an environmentalist, I am perceived as an idealist or even a “looney”. Considering our children’s future should be a normal, caring and responsible thing to do. Looking after the planet for our children, is therefore, not an idealistic question but a pragmatic necessity. We hear that we must live within our financial means, otherwise we would be considered as short-sighted and selfish. Post recession, we were all blamed for the banking crisis by the ConDem government since we apparently have not lived within our means. It is absurd to blame us for the failure of a unregulated casino banking that gambled our money away. However, labour and ConDem obviously understand sustainability in a financial sense, because that’s what living within our means refers to. Money can be managed; if one system of economics does not work, we can change it (although with difficulties and some would suffer more than others from such a transition). However, we only have one planet, we cannot change that. We are currently living as if we had three planets, that is simply not sustainable!
Talking to people on the streets, I get the sense that most are not interested in environmental issues. I can appreciate that many are seriously struggling to eat and pay for heating, the environment may not seem a priority. But without the resources, it soon will become apparent how all prices will hike; extreme weather conditions, high energy prices will ultimately cause serious unrest world wide. We will be facing civil wars mass migration.
So being responsible and wanting to live within our means (environmentally speaking) surely should be an absolutely necessary priority. So why am I the looney? We appear used to the fact that politicians and corporations are looking after their immediate and selfish needs, all in the name of growth. Living as if there is no tomorrow for purely selfish reasons, should cause outcry, but no that is perceived as normal. And I am the looney? Strange and scary world, we are living in.


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Real Nappies

Considering the future of our planet – the home of our children and grandchildren, should be a must for us all. We are currently using up important resources, destroying our planet, creating far too much waste; all for our immediate and often selfish needs, as if there was no tomorrow. There are endless examples of what we are now take for granted, but which are simply unsustainable.
Getting involved in politics, meeting with business and very different people, I have learned a lot of things I otherwise would not know much about. For example, I have recently met with a company “Bambino Mio” who manufactures and distributes reusable or real nappies. So I learned about disposable nappies and the environmental impact of the production and disposal of nappies.
Disposable nappies use about 3.5 times more energy than real nappies to produce; using eight times more non-renewable materials. This is simply not sustainable.
Increasingly more parents are now buying reusable nappies for many reasons. Sometimes because of their environmental responsibility, but also as they can be cheaper (particularly if the parents have more than one child). By the way, they look very nice too.
Disposable nappies amount to around 5% of the UK’s waste, mainly ending up on landfills; each nappy can take up to 400 years to decompose, giving off methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas in the process. Currently councils, therefore the council tax payer, are carrying the full costs of disposal. The UK has agreed in principle to a EU Directive to adopt a zero-waste policy. Hence we must address unnecessary waste, and that means doing something about disposable nappies.
In some areas, councils have offered voucher schemes which make real nappies cheaper for parents. The costs saved from the waste disposal were basically covering the voucher scheme costs. Obviously everybody benefited from less waste, which otherwise will fill up our countryside with waste tips.
An alternative approach to this problem would be a Green Party policy where producers and distributors of any products would have to pay environmental levies that directly reflect the real costs of their products, including disposal. By real costs I mean the carbon footprint, the resources used and the environmental damage a product really causes to our shared environment. At the moment, these costs are carried by us and our future generations. We accept that such levies would partially be passed on to consumers and we want to ensure that family incomes are not damaged by such price hikes. But over time, these costs will level off leaving no long term problems for future generations to sort out. However, families as everybody else need to accept the need to change their consumer behaviour, since we otherwise will leave our future generations in difficulties. If all families switched to reusable nappies then they would become even cheaper. And finally, other Green Party economic policies would ensure a sound financial basis for families, to address the struggles that so many are finding under the rule of the free market ConDem Government.
I think I speak on behalf of most parents in saying that we want the best for our children both today and in to their future. Therefore, we owe it to them to live now within our means environmentally speaking, so we can leave them with an unspoiled world that offers them the resources they need.


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Vote for a Green New Deal

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Amidst all the froth that is 24 hour news, and away from the unhealthy warmongering on both sides that is happening in Ukraine, two recent publications have received some warranted attention in the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, the recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a call for action by governments to address potentially calamitous global warming. The third in a series (the first report focussed on emphasising the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and has been caused primarily by human activity and the second outlined the catastrophic consequences of failing to take action) the report concentrates on the actions that can and must be taken to address global warming, and stresses that is entirely possible to take these necessary actions providing there is the political will to do so.

The authoritative report, the cumulative work of over 1200 international experts, concludes that the cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global climate change is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, and to invest instead in renewable energy, with the aim of quadrupling renewable electricity generation by 2050. Whilst lamenting the failure by governments to provide an adequate response up to now, it says that it is still not too late to act, providing governments, cooperating on an international basis, step up to the mark.

Secondly a new book, called ‘Capital in the Twenty First Century’ by the increasingly renowned French economist Thomas Piketty provides concrete proof of what many of us have suspected for years, namely that capitalism, far from promoting the economic well-being of all, entrenches inequality and privilege, which it tends to increase over time. The study, based on a more detailed analysis of wealth and income data than has ever been previously carried out, concludes that:

“Capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based”

Piketty argues that the structural inequality which capitalism creates must be countered by high levels of taxation of both income and wealth, an initiative which will require international cooperation between governments with a common determination to take on wealth and privilege.

These two important publications are well timed for the Green Party’s European Election Campaign. We have recognised that the world’s ecological and economic crises must be addressed together. Moreover, we have developed a programme which aims to do just that. Under our Green New Deal, increased taxation of rich individuals and large companies, and a much tighter control of banks and other financial institutions, will provide the resources for increasing the incomes of the poorest, and for defending and improving the public services on which we all rely. It will also involve the greening of our infrastructure, creating well paid employment insulating homes and other buildings, promoting energy-efficient public transport and transforming our energy production so that it is primarily based on renewables. Together with Green parties across Europe we are offering a real programme for change, based on sustainable economics and social justice.

Of course Greens in the UK, and across Europe, don’t think that the election of a few more Green MEPs will be enough in itself to solve the world’s problems. Indeed we recognise that real change is not the sole responsibility of elected politicians. Greens support and get involved in trade union and community campaigns in defence of jobs and services, and against so called ‘welfare reform’. Greens have been at the forefront of direct action campaigns against fracking and other forms of dangerous energy. Nevertheless, we do think that success in the forthcoming Euro elections will represent an important step in building the movement that is needed to secure a sustainable and socially just future for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

Green Party members in the East Midlands will be working hard in the next few weeks promoting our message of Hope. Our hope is that our candidates, including myself, will be elected to the European Parliament on May 22nd. With your help, that is possible.

Vote Green. For the Common Good.


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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.