East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Getting ‘There’

Green Train                   Transport_Lower_Fares           green bike co2 footprint

“I can’t take my chauffeur everywhere” past Conservative candidate for Tottenham stated when he was caught for drunk driving. That comment by Derek Laud could be argued to sum up government attitudes to public transport; that it is simply not on their radar even when it is irresponsible not to consider it.  Successive governments have lacked the will to prioritize public transport and invest the time and money needed to update services and improve access. Labour’s John Prescot promised in 1993 that “any privatisation of the railway system which there is, on the arrival of a Labour government will be quickly and effectively returned to public ownership”.  Promises broken. The Luis tram in Dublin connects the city efficiently and safely. We can shoot across Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, France and yet for us progress crawls and is often derailed by indifference.  The Green Party understands that an integrated, affordable, reliable green public transport system is part of the structure that can help build resilient, healthy economies and communities. Public transport is a tool for people and planet. It also plays an important role in supporting enterprise. Businesses large and small rely to some extent on public transport systems. It is needed by local food networks, producers and shops. This month our regional website recorded Green Councillor Richard Mallender, of Rushcliffe Borough Council and Green MEP candidate Katarina Boettge’s reactions to uneven public transport  expenditure: eastmidlands.greenparty.org.uk/news.html/2013/02/01/greens-slam-hs2-proposal. This post is an opening up of that debate.

While an increasing amount can be dealt with in the virtual world, via internet and satellite, there are times when human to human contact is the missing link. Meetings and conferences like the  Green Party Spring Conference and 40th birthday celebration this week rely on public transport beyond one high speed link. Local and regional services should not suffer for one high speed line.

Mobility for many is limited by inadequate public transport, often coupled with economic injustice, with isolation posing threat to the physical and mental well-being of many. Those reliant on public transport include the elderly, those with disabilities, students, young people and parents with young children. Buses and trains form vital life-lines to shops, post offices, places of work and study, play and social groups. These services are often unreliable, infrequent, expensive, vanishing. Instead of such retraction of service we need to broaden access and appeal. Air quality, public and planet health are adversely affected by congestion and over reliance on cars. Fuel poverty increases with over use of fossil fuels and energy security is threatened. Cycle lanes, walk-ways and better rail and bus networks with lower fares offer a healthful, sane and regenerative system in place of the predominant congesting crawl of cars squabbling over parking space. People are travelling ever further from home to work as local communities, economies and eco-systems are undermined.

If we are to support the strengthening of our communities and the building of a sustainable and durable economy we need efficient, affordable public transport. We need it to connect people; to empower ethical enterprise and those at risk of isolation, poverty and social exclusion. Improving services such as bus and trains creates and secures more jobs. This is needed in these times of economic insecurity. Improved air quality protects our health. Good public transport, efficient, green, safe, affordable, accessible is win-win. We are told it is not a priority. Frankly, what of importance does seem a priority in much of mainstream political rhetoric at the moment? The NHS, schools and other public services are struggling through cuts while we spend billions on weapons and millions on creating new roles in management. It is not a matter of lack of money as much as irresponsible lack of vision. Let us not allow those who rely on chauffeurs to dictate our direction and those who break their word to define our reality.

Happy travels and blue skies in this season of no leaves on the line 🙂

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The EU debate, democracy, and economic localisation – some thoughts

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So David Cameron has finally come out with his big Europe speech. And yes, it’s clear his policy is a mess of competing interests, many of which will be somewhat unsavoury to green tastes, from the little Englanders on his party’s right to his banker friends in the City of London. It’s also likely that the referendum he talks about will never ultimately come to pass, most obviously if ungrateful voters should for some curious reason choose not to reward his spectacular governmental record with a clear majority at the next election.

But actually, in theory I have nothing against either the repatriation of selected powers, or with a referendum on whether we should be a part of the EU. Certainly I’m extremely reluctant to throw in my lot with those who argue we can’t hold a referendum on the grounds that the uncertainty may spook the market. I’m afraid democracy is inherently uncertain. This is not an argument against it, it’s an argument against the free market forces that increasingly try to dictate the limits of what is democratically acceptable.

Unfortunately, it’s those same free market forces that Cameron et al (and that et al includes Miliband et al) want to enshrine as the very heart of the European project. This is very far from the green position. The powers we must most urgently reclaim are those which have been granted to market forces (or more precisely, to an international financial elite who make daily decisions about billions of pounds of investments) and have thereby been removed from democratic accountability anywhere. We must reclaim the powers needed to pursue the re-localisation of our economy, and with it, a real empowerment of society at a grassroots level. This is what green politics is all about.

But I deliberately say we must ‘reclaim’ these powers rather than ‘repatriate’ them, because it may well be the case that in some areas extra powers have to granted to international institutions in order to challenge the rule of the market – paradoxically we may need to internationalise in order to be able to localise. Certainly the alternative route to localisation, a unilateral throwing up of trade barriers, from capital controls to tariffs to import quotas, is distinctly unattractive. The green localisation agenda is emphatically not about cutting ourselves off from the world and throwing away the benefits of international co-operation. Without international co-operation we will never be able to effectively regulate international financial markets; we will never be able to stop the super-rich playing one state off against another in a global race to the bottom on taxation, environmental standards and much more. Similarly without international cooperation we stand no chance of ever being able to fight the profound threat of climate change.

We should also recognise that localisation in no way implies that absolutely all economic activity can or should be carried out locally. For example certain raw materials may only be available in limited geographical areas and must be traded globally or done without, or to give another example, renewably sourced electricity may be much more viable with an electricity grid that covers the whole continent of Europe and even further afield, this geographical spread would held to even out production of intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar energy. Another case is food security – for all the clear benefits of food sovereignty, it is also clear that without the ability to fall back on a functioning international food market, any country or region is at much greater risk of acute food shortages in the event of localised crop failures, which are only likely to become more common with ongoing global warming.

All these challenges can be best faced if we work together with other countries. Obviously the EU isn’t perfect. There is too much of an urge to centralise power in the EU for centralisation’s sake. Power should only be exercised at an international level where it will essentially be ineffective at a more local level. Also, if the EU itself isn’t democratically accountable then there’s little benefit it granting it powers to challenge the market in democracy’s name – and at present the EU is clearly not democratic enough. And the EU does do some good work even at present, for example much valuable legislation on workers and human rights has been passed at European level (just one of the reasons the Tory right wing dislikes it so much!) But regardless of what you think of the current set-up of the EU, we must recognise that voting to leave it would not be seen as a clarion call for a better kind of EU to be created, it would simply be seen as a turn inwards, away from the rest the continent, and that we cannot afford to do. It is only through participating in the EU and in other international organisations that we can hope to change them, and only by doing that can we begin to hope to change the world.