East Midlands Green Party Blog


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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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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.


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Robin Hood Tax

Kat GP 3

The financial sector is probably the richest economic sector in the world, it’s turnover is truly eye-watering, figures that we can hardly comprehend. This sector operates in our midst, consuming goods and services provided by society and the natural environment. It seems reasonable to me that the sector should make a fair payment to help to cover the cost of these services and to contribute to the proper functioning of society.

This is the position of the European Union. Supported by public opinion across Europe, a majority of member states want the financial sector to make a fair and proportional contribution to public finances. This after all is what we are required to do as is any other sector of the economy. In addition a majority of ordinary tax payers think that the financial sector should be paying back what they have received form the European tax payer as the bail out finance needed to rescue them from their own failings. Let us keep reminding those who forget, like the Chancellor and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that it wasn’t us, the ordinary tax payer who brought the global economy to its knees, it was the financial sector. But it was us who were called on to rescue them from their own folly. It is reasonable that they should acknowledge this and begin to pay us back the 4.6 trillion Euros they have had from us. After all that is that they expect when they give us a loan.

In September 2011, the European Commission proposed a harmonised Financial Transaction Tax for the EU. Two important aims of this proposal are:
• to ensure that the financial sector made a fair and substantial contribution to public finances, and
• to discourage financial transactions which do not contribute to the efficiency of financial markets or of the real economy.

That to me seems fair, who’s going to argue about it?

Well the British Government for a start. Acting on behalf of their rich friends in the City, the Coalition Government promptly set about blocking the move. It seems that the richest among us do not like the idea of paying their way in the world.

Frustrated by the action of the UK Government and the blocking actions of Tory MEP’s, the European Parliament on 12th December 2012 voted to allow those member stated that wanted to implement a harmonised transaction tax to go ahead. From 22nd January 2013, The Council of Europe gave its consent to 11 member states began the process of developing a common framework for a FTT. Immediately the British Government, responding to the tug on the strings from the City, launched a legal challenge. While this is ongoing, wasting yet more tax payers money, it has not blocked the development of the FTT.

The countries that are developing the FTT lie at the heart of Europe and include the EU’s most successful economy, Germany. The other countries involved are Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia. Most of the remaining countries are supportive to various degrees, most are watching developments and reserve the right to join at a later date. Only the British Government is working to block the tax.

The new tax was supposed to have been finalised and implemented on 1 January 2014, but remains bogged down in detail but its supporters insist that it will happen. It is uncertain how much the tax will raise, current estimates are around 50 billion Euro’s per year, but it could be considerably more. There is also disagreement on where the money should go. Most will go to the national governments but the EU wants to be able to raise its own funds so as to reduce national contributions and the arguments and resentments that go with them. When the idea of a global currency transaction tax was discussed at the beginning of the millennium, it was intended that the money raised should be used to secure help for the emerging economies. Many in Europe want this ambition to remain in any allocation of funds. However the main motivation now is to rebuild Europe’s struggling economy, damaged by the apparent need to bail out the banks.

There is wide spread support for getting the financial sector to help to rebuild the economy.
A survey published by YouGov suggests that more than four out of five people in the UK think the financial sector has a responsibility to help repair the damage caused by the economic crisis. How this is done is more controversial since many who read the right wing press have a knee jerk aversion to the word Tax. However, surveys do indicate that a Robin Hood tax does have the support of two thirds of people in Britain, spread across the party divides. Perhaps the romantic appeal of Robin Hood and his merry men robbing the rich to give to the poor lives on in the hearts of the British people.

For Greens, expecting wealthy people and corporations to make a fair contribution to the welfare of society is not robbery. Our aim is to build an economy that serves needs not greed, that helps to move our country to greater equality for the benefit of all. A financial transaction tax will help this process. We accept its complications and that it needs to be global, but we want Europe to take the lead to show that it is possible. Greens in the European Parliament will work together to promote the Robin Hood tax and ensure that it works for the common good.


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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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Now it’s Fracking Bribery

The cynicism of the Con Dem government is staggering. It has deliberately driven Councils and Communities to desperation by cutting their budgets, and now it is bribing those same struggling Authorities to give permission for fracking that local communities have clearly rejected. If they do as the Government demands, turn a blind eye to the hazards, and the opinion of the electorate, they will be rewarded with extra cash from the fracking companies. Like some medieval torturer who, having starved his victim allows the smell of a succulent meal to drift into the torture chamber, so the Government waves the promise of cash at these desperate Councils. Inevitably this action will weaken further the trust between Councils and their electorate, as the Tories intend – residents will never be sure if a permission was given in the best interest of the community and country, or for the cash.

Cameron is now just acting as the industries mouthpiece. On the very day Total, the French energy company who are unable to frack in their own country because the French Government has banned it, announced a £30 million stake in UK fracking, he turns up at a drilling depot in Gainsborough. It just happens that Total have taken a stake in the companies that have exploration licences in Gainsborough. Doing the job of a company PR spokesman, he dutifully reiterated the claim that fracking will produce much needed investment, create jobs and lead to energy security, and that our robust regulations make it completely safe. There is no justification for any of these claims. They come from, a report commissioned by the frack company Caudrilla, headed by his friend Lord John Browne, ex of BP, that suggests that Britain can benefit by £3.7 billion a year extra revenue and 74,000 new jobs. These figures are just guesses. The 74,000 job claim included the extra staff needed in local shops to serve the security guards buying sweets! One wonders just how many of these 74,000 people will be security guards, such has been his governments and the industries failure to convince the British public that we need fracking.

To talk up the robust environmental regulations in the UK is to ignore the fact that the Conservative Party is doing all it can to abolish these regulations as ‘red tape’. It also conveniently ignores the fact that if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the USA that they are so keen on, does get the go ahead from Europe, then all such regulations will prove to be useless. Governments will do all they can to minimise green regulations for fear of being sued by corporations for loss of profit.

The dash for gas is a high risk strategy, not one that can lead to energy security. It is not known how much gas can be won or at what price. The demand for water will be colossal and will lead to escalating domestic water bills and water shortages. The cost of the disposal of trillions of gallons of polluted waste water is unknown and we can’t be sure that we, the tax payer won’t be left with the disposal bill. The same applies to the costs of the pollution incidents that will inevitably occur. And the gas will run out but we will be tied to a gas energy infrastructure, then what?

The one claim, that Cameron didn’t make and that has been quietly dropped by the industry is that fracking will lead to cheap energy. It will do nothing for energy costs since the gas, if it is ever produced will be sold on the open market just as the North Sea oil was, and we British consumers will have to pay a premium price, as we did for North Sea oil, so that the big energy companies can maintain their bloated profits.

In all, this is a thoroughly bad deal for the British energy consumer and tax payer. The only beneficiaries are the big energy companies and their shareholders who will send their profits off shore. It is an even worse deal because there is a real deal available that would give us affordable and secure energy. This is to use the free energy that blows over our heads, laps on our shores and shines in our faces. Yes, the wind, the sun and the tides are free energy, all we needed to do was invest in the infrastructure to capture them, store the energy as necessary and distribute it. No big deal any of that, just use the technology that’s already there. But, no one can take a monopoly on the wind, the waves or the sun, no one can threaten to divert it or switch it off if they don’t get their own way. No one can put it in a barrel or down a pipeline and sell it back to us at a profit. So this Government of millionaires, for millionaires isn’t interested.

There is only one Party seriously opposing fracking and that is the Green Party. We also have a clear and workable alternative energy strategy that would end fuel poverty and our reliance on fossil fuels. The only thing that will make the main parties rethink their fossil/nuclear energy [policies is a big green vote. Work with us to make this happen.


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Food Banks…a Christmas Scandal.

Broadcast this widely:…during a debate in the House of Commons this week on food banks, members on the Conservative benches saw fit to laugh. They found it hugely amusing that 60,000 of their fellow citizens, including 20,000 children are facing the prospects of Christmas with out enough to eat. Such is the concern of the British Government for the people on who’s behalf it governs, Ministers chose not to contribute to this debate. Ian Duncan Smith, Minister for Work and Pensions, who is responsible for the Welfare Reforms, wore an inane grin as he heard that half a million people would be relying on food banks in this festive season, he then sneaked out of the Chamber leaving his deputy to answer any awkward questions. Not that she demonstrated any sense of seasonal good will. Speaking in response to the Opposition debate, Esther McVey claimed that it was a good thing that more people were turning to food banks. In an attempt to echo Cameron’s ‘we all in this together’ she said, ‘we’re all having to pay back this £1.5 trillion debt personally.’

Why is this Ms McVey? Can we just remind ourselves where this massive debt came from. The Office of National Statistics has calculated that the true cost of the bail out of the Banks adds up to £1.5 trillion. So the Banks sheer incompetence has landed us with the debt that McVey tells us we all have to pay off, by, if necessary going hungry. These incompetents are still taking £millions in bonuses, while we tighten our belts to pay for their stupidity. This, the richest business sector in the world, with some of the most highly paid executives have plunged us all in to debt and they collectively and personally are doing everything possible to shirk their responsibility. So it is left to the little people to pay up for their folly and greed, to go hungry so that they can enjoy Christmas with the very best of Champaign to celebrate another year of total rip off of the British people.

No wonder the Tory benches were laughing. They must find our gullibility at swallowing their lies about the state of the economy uproariously funny. For them, the economy is doing just fine.

What triggered this debate was an e-petition signed by 150,000 people, calling on Parliament to debate the rise in food banks. Petitioners got their debate, but all they got from this Coalition Government was smirks, laughter and walk-outs. There are now more than 400 food banks operating in the UK and serving nearly half a million people in 2013, a growth of 170% in 12 months. The Government is fully aware of this fact. DEFRA commissioned its own report, completed in the summer, but it has failed to publish it. Why? Because we suspect it might point the finger at Duncan Smith’s Welfare Reforms. No wonder he scurried from the Commons Chamber before questions could be asked.

The Government claims that there is no link between welfare reforms and the growth in food banks. They claim that food banks are popular simply because they offer free food – this is what LibDem Minister Lord Freud told the Lords when trying to explain away their existence in this, the seventh richest country in the world. Clearly this ennobled Minister, enjoying his £300 per day attendance allowance on top of his ministerial salary is unaware that the users of food banks have to be referred to them by an accredited agency and carry an authentication voucher. No Minister food banks do not offer free food on a drop in basis. If the report gave any substance to Freud’s claim, it most certainly would have been published by now and the results blazed across the pages of the Mail and Telegraph. But the report will not do this, it will show that food banks are a result of benefit delays and refusals, bedroom tax and personal debt, low wages and zero hours and the dreadful choice some have this winter between eating and keeping warm.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Green Manifesto shows how we can build a fair and sustainable economy. Poverty is not a fact of life, it is a political choice, Greens refuse to accept that choice. Austerity is a political choice that the Greens reject. Fairness and equality in opportunity benefits all in society and that is our direction. Million pound bonuses and hunger this Christmas are the result of decisions taken by Parliament. Work with us to oppose those decisions, work with us for the common good, together we can make hunger and despair a thing of Christmas past.