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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What Integrity is Left?

red and green

Greens are changing the political conversation with our push against the shift to the right of other parties. A sure signal of success can be seen in Labour’s uneasy recognition of the “Green surge”. They have created a national anti-Greens unit, headed by Sadiq Khan, to bring the left to heel. Instead of re-examining their abandoned roots they are using misdirection to discredit Greens, with highly dubious and hypocritical stabs at Brighton and Hove high on their agenda. As one of the East Midlands’ Green Party candidates (for Nottingham East), I thought hard and spoke to my family at length before standing. It was always going to be a challenging journey. For ever increasing numbers of us, striving within the Green Party is a stand we feel the need to make proudly, together. I knew we would battle being ignored and that, if we did well, we would be under fierce and sometimes personal attack. We are now under fire because our voices are being heard! Greens are a party run by its membership, on donations and by volunteers. We are surrounded by a political landscape of corporate funded parties, pro-austerity dogma and scapegoating. Without media backing and with limited resources we have soared up the polls as 4th party in front of Lib Dems. We aren’t avatar politicians with slick campaign machines and spin doctors. As a party we have integrity.

Other parties have regularly betrayed their own membership and core principles. Most Labour policies are no longer either fair or ‘left’. Greens are the only party fighting austerity and climate chaos left in the running. Labour’s Ed Balls and Rachel Reeves are among those recently reasserting the same tired, tried and failed agendas of continued deep cuts and placing focus on rising spending to cover shortfalls. This means rising personal debts and inequality for the majority of people, supposedly to pay the national debts fueled by that very same philosophy!

The right-wing is fracturing even as it grows and becomes more extreme. This is the time to push against it! Progressively, it seems the Green Party are the only ones not leaning ever further to the right. Some Labour supporters speak about splitting the left vote but I would argue they are no longer a party of either left or non-discriminatory policies. They would never consider standing down as they ask us to. It seems undemocratic and manipulating to suggest we should allow them privileges based on a distant, more ethical past. I believe parties need to earn votes with good policies and stay true to core values. Green policies are created and voted for by our membership which helps avoid the betrayal other parties have suffered at the hands of their leadership.

The rise of the Greens is due to an increase in people voting for policies they want. People who have become distrustful of the whole political system are also turning to us, adding to our collective voice. We are the only party talking about job creation, not job cuts. We are the only party standing against TTIP and fracking, for a public NHS and a fair taxation system that takes easily affordable amounts from those who can best afford it, instead of punishing the poor in economically and socially bankrupt ways or passing our debts on to young people. One analogy I like is a ‘shared’ dinner; it makes no sense for those who have eaten more and have more in their wallets to pay nothing of the bill leaving those still hungry and with empty wallets to pay for it all.

I could say a lot more, but all I want to put across is that no one owns your votes or is entitled to your support unless you feel it is earned. Question any party’s sense of entitlement of your vote. Question anyone who says your vote and voice don’t count. I’m not going to ask you to believe me. Instead I am going to ask you to make up your own mind and vote for what you believe in. I recommend this independent survey which matches people with preferred policies.

http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/survey/select
Antonia Zenkevitch, Candidate for Nottingham East


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Election 2014: the untold stories:

sunflower

Our wonderful lead candidate did not win but The Green Party of England and Wales has beaten the Liberal Democrats into fourth place in the European elections for the first time. In pre-election polls, as we past them in popularity, you would have thought this would be massively news-worthy. Mainstream media, including the BBC implicitly undermined The Green Party through omission. Greens have been referred to anonymously as one of the “other” parties (where they have not been completely ignored) in the lead up to elections and in much reporting of results. This is undemocratic and offensively undermining, not only of the party, but of many of the voices of Britain and the democratic system itself. (The Guardian is the main exception to this criticism). The Greens were polling higher than we have for 25yrs. That shift was reported by most, not as a Green Party achievement, but as a failure of everyone else.  These polls were reflected in results.  We are now the official opposition in Liverpool, Norwich and Solihull. Brighton and Hove Council remain Green. We have Green voices in Labour councils of Islington and Lewisham. In the South West, where I grew up, there is celebration over another Green MEP being added to the indomitable two we already have.

The story in the news is the success of UKIP, but just as the success of The Greens has been underplayed, the success of UKIP is overplayed.  A deeply worrying movement in public thinking but 90% of the electorate did not vote for them. Many did not vote at all and that, more than anything, helped them win the seats they did. The Greens didn’t win as many new seats as UKIP, but we did not field as many candidates. Nor have any of our candidates been suspended for extreme raciest, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and ablest comments as a growing number of UKIP candidates recently have. We are not funded by large corporations as UKIP is. 99% of the party is run by volunteers and we have less funds than other parties to paper the world with flyers so we focus on target wards. The more members and support we gain the more we are able to build on this; to field more candidates so that everyone who wants to can vote Green. If recent polls and social media trends are read correctly, a growing wave of people are voting Green and even more want to.  In the north of the UK UKIP support thins out. In Manchester Greens came second in terms of the popular vote, with 21%. Yet parties with less of the popular vote gained seats and they did not. This is a strange aspect of our system meaning we have to fight even harder than mainstream, better funded parties to succeed. Yet we are truly in the game now, a rising voice of hope working against the rising voice of hate. It has never been more important to stand together.

Much damage may have been done by Russell Brand’s call to not vote. Many with preference to Green policies and disillusioned by mainsteam parties have not voted. However, on social media and in person I have heard many others say they voted Green for the first time. Many say it is the first time they ever voted. Others say it is the first time they voted for what they truly wanted. With the general elections only a year away this can only be the beginning of the surge. Hope has tenacity and strength and we have much to strive for and protect for the common good. We must strive against voter apathy, scapegoating and hopelessness and tell the world about our policies.

So what can we do now? Complaining to the BBC for its biased reporting of the elections is one thing we would very much suggest. Please see the petition against BBC news media blackout of The Green Party. What we can all also do is tell another story. There are parts of the country where Greens got a large percentage of the popular vote. There are parts of the country where we became official opposition. We held seats and gained seats, both in councils and the European Parliament. We did this in spite of media bias lumping us together in the category of ‘other parties’. We saw surges in the polls and on social media in spite of a mainstream media determined not to report positive stories. A party run by volunteers with policies so many want but fear they cannot have became a rising voice in this election.

My story, as social media bod for the East Midlands, is the over 24hrs in which #VoteGreen2014 was showing as one of four most popular hashtags on Twitter. At one point it appeared the second most popular hashtag. The other party people were talking about voting for was, unfortunately, UKIP. Occasionally Labour was also one of the popular discussion points. This means everyone seemed to be talking about voting either UKIP or Green. On Facebook, I saw people who once would have dismissed us sharing Green Party flyers and talking about our policies. I remember saying to my husband as he waved tea in front of my face while I continued my role in the growing team keeping Green seen, that this was democracy awakening. More people were not just voting for the usual suspects. Those voting in fear included those fearful of economic and job uncertainty. It is our combined job now to continue to convince people that Green Party is the party fighting austerity and for job creation and bank reform; measures that will protect them. We have to fight the wave of hatred and the excuses for bigotry. Humanity has been here before. The ugly fact is that hatred has won seats and the map has new shadows across it. The good news is that Greens are in a stronger position to strive for the common good.  We need all hands on deck to build on this.

Find the Petition against BBC Blackout of Green Party in the Elections at:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/bbc-news-stop-this-media-blackout-of-the-green-party?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1400968778

Antonia Zenkevitch, MA Human Security


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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

According to Medline Plus, ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. ‘Standard Care’ is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapists, practice.
Complementary medicine is used together with standard medical care. An example is using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical care. An example is treating heart disease with chelation therapy (which seeks to remove excess metals from the blood) instead of using a standard approach.
So before I discuss further my views on complementary and alternative medicine, let’s look first at the framework and some relevant points including Green Party policies on improving health, treatment and a patient-centered care approach.
What is health? When I used to deliver training about mental health, I always stressed the point that physical as well as mental health is a state or a continuum; it does not mean “illness” or “being healthy”. According to the World Health Organisation “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
The Green Party has well-thought, detailed and sound health policies, for full details please see http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he However, I will briefly outline some core concepts. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he
Ideally we address health prior to any illness, which means we must identify and then address risk factors, some are already well known like poor diet, others have been poorly researched due to the lack of funding, or due to large corporations lobbying. For example, there has been some alleged correlations between an increased cancer risk when living close to a nuclear power station; however making such claims would risk being sued by the industry (which holds a lot of power and funds). Another problem is that we might be scientifically aware of a correlation, but nobody acts upon it. The government’s own statistics show that in the UK 29,000 people die every year from air pollution. But little is being done.
The Green Party wants to collect data, complete additional research and then ultimately address environmental factors that cause ill health. Furthermore various Green policies would anyway ultimately improve our health since we would address issues like air and water pollution; and encourage eating more local, organic food and less animal products. Basically a Greener living would not only help the planet but also all of us. Additionally we need to improve education for all so that individuals can make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices and potential health risks.
The Green Party promotes a holistic understanding of health; furthermore we cannot address a symptom of an illness without understanding the individuals general health, mental health and their environmental situation. For example, we are aware that people with mental health problems tend to smoke more than others. If a medic would want to encourage somebody in this position to stop smoking without understanding that smoking may be a coping strategy for their poor mental health, it is unlikely to be successful and may even leave the individual feel unsupported, and not understood which may worsen their mental health. Equally, treating someone for a respiratory disease like asthma with conventional medicines, whilst they live next to a power station, could be considered as short sighted and actually imposing additional risks of side effects whilst not addressing the cause. So we want a holistic and integrative approach to health.
Another important aspect of the Green Party’s policies on health is the focus on the individual being empowered and enabled to make choices. I am a psychotherapist and I feel passionately about the need for each person to be central in their treatment; without the individual’s participation and ability to make an informed choice, the treatment outcome is likely to be jeopardised.
The pharmaceutical industry holds a lot of power; and I do question their integrity. Their focus is on illness rather than on supporting health. It is well known that they use cartel methods to fix prices. I struggle to trust their research methods, their own evaluation of effectiveness and risk factors, since ultimately they want to make a profit. I also question the industry’s lobbying, which has caused for example patients with depression to be easily prescribed antidepressants without the opportunity to first seek counselling. I see regularly clients as a psychotherapist who have been on medication for many years, often with terrible side effects, whilst their GP has been reluctant to refer them on to counselling. If they then come to counselling, the NHS only offers six sessions, which is in cases of long term mental health problems just not enough. So it is my experience that drugs are prescribed too easily, and that patients have little say when it comes to their treatment options.
So that leads me finally to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). I have some personal experiences with homeopathy, which I used once for a minor problem. To be honest I was rather skeptical but gave in to the advice of a dear friend. I must admit I was astounded about the quick and apparent improvement of my problem. I am fully aware that this could have been caused by the placebo effect, but so what? It worked, and completely without side effects. Homeopathic remedies do not actually contain any real chemical content, but the “memory” of the original substance. I know it sounds strange, but it worked.
There are a number of different CAM, and I do believe we must be careful as some can be extremely controversial for very good reasons. For example I do not support Chinese medicine that contains substances or parts from animals (often endangered species). So I would always ensure that the medicines are produced and distributed with safe, sustainable and green methods.
It is also known that some CAM can cause side effects or interaction with other drugs, therefore one must be cautious and seek advice before taking any. I would recommend, as it is Green Party policy, that all drugs including CAM are appropriately labelled with clear outlines of risks, side effects and possible drug interactions.
Many people take vitamins and food supplements in the hope that any potential deficiencies from their poor diet are being addressed. I am very skeptical about this, and I have seen a German documentary of a meta study that clearly showed that these supplements, specifically for antioxidants, are not only ineffective but actually increase the fatality rate. Apparently the supplement industry has been fighting to have these claims withdrawn.
The Green Party promotes a healthy mixed and balanced diet from organic and locally grown produce, which would make this need for supplements void, and it tastes better too!
I visited Weleda in March, we discussed medical regulation here in the Uk and in the EU, we further agreed on the necessity of a sustainable, organic and Green approach which is central to their production of cosmetics and medicines. I have since read about their CAM, here in the UK Weleda produces their Anthroposophic Medicine that constitutes an international school of medical thought and practice developed as an extension of modern scientific medicine, practised exclusively by qualified medical professionals. They do appreciate conventional medicine but believe that a human being has additional dimensions and to treat someone we must take the holistic view of healing. For example, something I appreciate as a psychotherapist when someone has a medical issue, we need to take their psychological dimension into account. Furthermore counselling or some creative outlet may help an individual to deal with their psychosomatic issues that are manifested physically. I regularly see clients who are being treated for various medical illness like stomach problems, which are actually caused by some suppressed emotions. So treating them with conventional medicines are just addressing the symptom not the cause.
Weleda is compatible with my personal and professional view of an integrative treatment approach, and I believe it is also in line with Green Party policies. But it must be foremost a personal choice.
I also think we must distinguish between alternative and complementary; I personally would be reluctant to use alternative drugs alone ie: not using any conventional medicine if facing a serious health concern. But I know that these treatments, correctly dispensed have their place in a holistic health policy.
I would support research, sound regulation and clear labelling for CAM as well as all conventional medicines. The Green Party’s policies do provide a framework that is compatible with CAM. It is right that people are given a choice – an informed choice.


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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.


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Breathless – our right to breathe

Taken by Antonia Zenkevitch at The Blue Wave March against Climate Change.

Taken by Antonia Zenkevitch at The Blue Wave March against Climate Change.

Successive government policies are failing in safeguarding the rights of many to breathe. Fracking plans are part of a long line of health threats being created. The Green Party is different.

3 people a day die of asthma in the UK, 200 a day are rushed to emergency care. Although triggers are diverse, some of these deaths are warning signals that the air we breathe is not safe.  Exhaust fumes, for example, can trigger an attack that leaves the airways inflamed, constricted, obstructed, twisted.  Air pollutants, harsh chemicals in the home or work place and stress are some of the triggers, as are extremes of temperature.  Areas of the world where fracking is underway show rising  asthma and other health crisis. Texas, where drilling is heavy has a 25% asthma rate in young children compared to national average of 7%.  The government fracking plans could raise mortality rates in the UK. Asthma rates already rising with connections to climate change, air quality and poverty arguably triggers. Resistant virus strains and threats to basic well-being and immunity also factors.

You may ask how is this related to the Green Party? I would answer it is related in every way.  The Green Party policies are generally cleverly designed and focus on protecting the things that provide well-being.  A good public transport system, green industry and a safe and funded NHS for example are fundamental to general well-being. These are also things that could save lives and dignity.  The Green Party shows the way in these areas within the political arena. No other party does. Asthma rates are political because they spur us on to re-examine political priorities. The government on the other hand seems to be gaslighting – playing a game of smoke and mirrors. Under the new De-Regulation Bill the Con-Dem Government would remove any requirement for councils to produce assessments after designating air quality zones. As there are unsafe air zones it strikes me as vital that assessments should be made and protection put in place. The De-Regulation Bill is also designed to ‘remove burdens on business’ (to be ethical?) and ‘repeal legislation no longer of use’ (according to whose priorities?). This bill paves the way for fracking for example in a similar way to fracking being made exempt from The Clean Water Act in USA. It is one of the ways the Com-Dem government risks lives and Labour gives no opposition.

I am a wheezy Green. Ours is one of the one in five homes in the UK affected by asthma. A quarter of a million people have asthma so severe that medicine available does not work for them and even mild asthma can be fatal.  In 2011 alone asthma rates rose 12 %. Child asthma rates are rising most steeply (as is child poverty) with more young systems unable to deal with hazards in the air.  I have had a couple of nasty attacks recently, have pneumonia  and am trying to get my airways working properly. Many of us also contend with airborne, food and other allergies.   The body under duress sometimes mistakes friend for foe. As I work in the underfunded voluntary sector it cost me a large proportion of wages in prescriptions after my becoming ill just to make sure I can keep breathing. How many cannot afford to breathe?

The privatisation of our NHS by Labour, Conservatives and LibDems in successive governments also endangers lives. (It also takes jobs and so destablises society and the economy). It takes longer to be treated. We are inundated with consumer choice and lacking in patient care. A friend of mine from University days has worked some years in a hospital blood testing lab.  Her hours are long, her weekends rare, the staff were just 4 to one large hospital. She tells me a ‘Super Lab’ with the same number of people serving 4 hospitals is the new way of apparently ‘putting patients first’.  This for me illustrates the vampiric nature of commerce coming before care.  Even the term ‘superlab’ seems crass.

Social injustice costs lives. Of the deaths caused by asthma and many other diseases, rising healthcare costs and decreasing benefits to those who need them play their part. There is systematic dehumanisation of so many in and out of paid work who cannot afford to eat well or heat their homes. So many literally cannot afford the cost of living.  If you can’t afford to heat your home the cold air can be rejected by asthmatic lungs.  Fear or emotional trauma can also trigger an attack. With so many struggling to make ends meet in a prevailing political culture of divide and rule, this increases the health threats to many. Under extreme pressure many people are more likely to smoke more, less likely to look after themselves and more likely to put their own and other’s health at risk.  A struggling single parent said in Life’s A Drag: Women, Smoking and Disadvantage, Hilary Graham, 1993 “I smoke more if I’ve got bills coming in, I tend to get worried. Like Christmas is coming and I’m not able to afford the things I want.” Then there is the hunger for so many, with Foodbanks needed ever more.  Poverty and austerity – that poison masked as medicine – are killers.

Climate Chaos and poverty are closely related threats. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, includes in its research the effects of Climate Change on health threats rising and continuing to rise. Asthma is one disease on the rise, together with respiratory allergies, airborne diseases, heart-disease and stroke, cancer, foodborne and waterborne diseases, human development defects, neurological disorders, mental health and stress related ill-health, heat related morbidity and mortality … The list goes on. Our Governments answer is willful ignorance unchallenged by Labour. Plans for fracking, licences for dangerous pesticides, erosion of safety measures to protect clean air ‘zones’, new airport runways all carry threats. You do not have to look for the tsunamis, droughts and ash clouds to see climate change take life. It is there in the silence after a fatal asthma attack takes a child on a day you can taste pollution in the air. Behind closed doors, in homes, climate chaos costs lives. Those it often takes are those with problems accessing or affording care.

Our health security relies on a great number of things; saving the NHS, tackling true causes of poverty, protecting land and water, investing renewable energy and clean air targets. These are all things central to Green Party policy and for the most part fundamentally lacking in the other parties. I choose to focus this post on asthma because, if you pardon the pun, I had something to get off my chest and the issue is literally close to my own heart. It is one issue that shows how politics based on the common good can change lives.  The idiocy and arrogance of successive governments literally leaves millions breathless.   The Green Party is challenging itself and the UK to be the very best it can be. Now, that to me is a breath of fresh air! For me personally being ill was a reminder that fighting for The Green Party and its policies is in so many uncountable ways a fight for life.

Antonia Zenkevitch 2014

References and Further Reading include:

http://greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

http://www.catskillmountainkeeper.org/our-programs/fracking/whats-wrong-with-fracking-2/air-pollution

http://www.asthma.org.uk/knowledge-bank-smog

http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/about.htm 


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Peace and Goodwill to all Life?

candles in the dark

The East Midland’s Green Party Blog has been going for a year. This year, as last year, we take a seasonal look at how we can each make a difference. This month’s theme is ‘life-style’ and I wanted to include a look at a seasonal theme of peace and good will to all people (and all life).

There is the song called ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’, in which some pretty odd gifts are presented. The image of 12 marauding lords a-leaping uninvited around a home bought to my mind some of the inappropriate gifts this government has offered to us in the last 12 months. Each one has drastic effects on lives. Simply to name 12 ills the government has been party to or failed in its duty to protect us from, I would include homelessness increasing, child poverty increasing, increased domestic violence with decreased prosecution, increasing debt to pay national (bank) debts, the promise of more water and land pollution with fracking, climate chaos remaining unchallenged despite renewed warnings from government’s chief scientist, the escalation of school privatisation, the escalation of NHS privatisation, increasing fuel poverty and shortages, alienation and dehumanization of emerging communities, disabled people’s rights and ability to thrive taken away. You could add much more. So where is the hope? Look in the mirror, it is you!

Many of these ‘gifts’ were also given by the Labour government, such as privitisation of public services like schools and the NHS.  Edd Milliband forgot to mention the environment at all in his spring conference speech this year. So it is left to us to protect community values in the face of threats posed by reckless and ruthless policies. For many it is a season of festivity,  giving and tradition. When we consider what we wish to share with loved ones this season and beyond let’s look at alternative gifts and ways of giving.

As the first day of Advent arrived and as many prepare for Christmas I am in the midst of Channukah celebrations. I’m an Interfaith Women’s Worker and on Sunday members of the women’s group were at my home sharing cake and hope. Zahra, a Muslim from Gaza and I speak of being cousins, while our friend from Malawi sits by our side. This friend who has been active in our local community for 14 years, trained as a nurse, has done much church, interfaith and women’s empowerment voluntary work, while staying within the law and not doing paid work until she has permission to stay. She  recently spent two and a half months incarcerated in a detention centre without adequate medicine for her high blood pressure and under constant threat of deportation.  When she was let out on bail she was rushed into hospital to deal with the damage her detention and inadequate medicine caused. That was in this country, this year. Another woman around my kitchen table, originally from Ireland,  has told her stories of a persecuted childhood on these shores where shops and homes were closed to her. The original, now retired, matriarch of the group who gathered these women, sits on my right. Across cultures, faiths, generations and politics we speak of our hopes for peace between peoples and peaceful and equal relationships between men and women. The Green Party is the only party that does not use newcomers to our nation as scapegoats for economic uncertainty and almost every other social ill, though our membership diversity in terms of faith or ethnicity is limited so far.  Many call this the season of goodwill but I would ask if goodwill should need a season? It is a good place to start and stretch ourselves from.

Here is a puzzle. Peace and social justice are cornerstones of The Green Party. Peace is a universal concept talked of much, acted on less. While there are many things we would like to see reformed in the EU, one reason to stay is Peace. In the last few decades since the second War to End All Wars there have been armed conflicts all across the globe. We take it for granted that we would not go to war with Germany, with France and with other EU countries. We may like to believe history has taught us lessons, but the trade and political relationships built up by the EU are a great safeguard. It would be politically and economically self-defeating for an EU nation to declare war on another.

Here is a question and each one of us will have a different answer. What are the gifts we are going to offer the world in the upcoming year?  In the year to come I would like to see The Green Party stretch further to welcome a more diverse membership. There will be those who will be offended at the suggestion we have further to go to be inclusive.  I will risk that in the pursuit of a greater gift we could all share; that of a broader more effective party, building on the generations of sterling work given so far. Within the limits of finance and facilities we should open the party to a membership that reflects the inclusiveness of its policies. Religiously neutral and non-pub venues mean more Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and others  feel welcomed. Venues with good access for people with mobility problems would increase membership, active engagement and comfort. Social media, Skype and phone trees could help where this is not possible. Ensuring conferences do not fall on the major festivals of any one faith too many times, if ever, would ensure against bad feeling. Ensuring that any and all allegations of prejudice are dealt with speedily and justly, not with punishment but as a chance to build greater understanding, awareness and tolerance would build us up, together. We cannot afford complacency with regard to diversifying our membership and ensuring welcome is an absolute, not an adjustment of structure. Our practices must live up to the promise of our policies.  We cannot be naive and fail to see where there are barriers to inclusion or that, however unlikely or uncomfortable it seems, even Green Party members may occasionally need to build tolerance and understanding of different cultures and beliefs.  We are in this Earth Ship together and most, if not all, cultures, faiths and creeds have notions of social justice and the importance / sacredness of the earth at their core.  The time has passed when we can afford to accidentally (or purposefully) leave any one out. So, if this is a season of goodwill to all humanity and all life let us expand our borders of what is possible if we dared to think, to dream, we could all work together. Once we were called ‘People Party’. It is a massive ask but it may be only we could do it, let us try to live up to that.

Wishing you peace, joy and sustenance now and in the future. It is a gift that rests in all our hands, unwrapped when we give to one another.

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch