Why did Green leader Natalie Bennett choose a newspaper apology for a broadcast disaster?

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green party
It is both admirable and sadly telling that Natalie Bennett took to the pages of the Guardian today to apologise for her ‘car-crash interview’ on LBC radio yesterday.

It is admirable in the sense that it stands in stark contrast to the political culture of today where the public pushes an unrealistic expectation of perfection that is perpetuated by a media and political arrogance.

Natalie’s apology reads as a genuine breath of fresh air. We all fuck up. She’s embarrassed and sorry that she did on this occasion – an occasion that should have been about her party.

Fine – let’s move on.

That said, it is also worryingly telling that she choose (or her PR team choose) to take to the pages of the Guardian to make this well-crafted apology.

When the going gets tough, this particular political leader resorts to that comfy home-ground for her; the liberal-left leaning print media (and her former employer).

If she wanted to offer both a heart-felt apology and a sign to show that she has the statesmanship to someday rule this country (surely the ultimate aim of any party) then would not a heartfelt TV interview have been better placed?

Her apology is welcome but it does still leave many wondering – can Natalie Bennett do Green Party policies justice when put on the big stage alongside skilled (and highly trained) orators such as Cameron, Clegg and (to a lesser extent) Miliband?

I’m still not sure.

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Listen to the Green leader’s car crash of an interview

It – was – really – painful.

There is no other way to describe it. Throw away comments like ‘a car-crash of an interview’ suddenly seem suitably apt. Natalie Bennett’s interview on LBC this morning was one of the worst I have heard from a party leader – ever!

If you haven’t already and have the stomach for it, then have a listen:

For a long time I have argued that Natalie Bennett has revolutionised the Green’s media presence. Whether this was utilising her experience in the industry – she used to work as the editor of the Guardian Weekly – or whether she has just rode the wave of the ‘Green surge’ is unclear. But the results are clear. There has been much more and better coverage of Green politics in the UK’s print media.

But, that said, there has been a continuous disparity between the consistent, and quite impressive, coverage Natalie has secured in the print media with the consistently below par appearances on broadcast media. This car-crash didn’t come out of the blue – there have been a series of skids, near misses and dented body work that should have warned of the forth coming three lane pile up of a car crash.

Remember this?

With this in my mind, one wonders whether the Green’s hard thought victory of being included in the Leader’s TV debates will be as much a blessing as they might have hoped. How will she hold up to the oratory skills of Cameron, Clegg or, to a lesser extent, Miliband?

Only time will tell.

Finally though it is worth highlighting, just like Guido Fawkes has, that it is refreshing that Natalie at least had the moral and political courage to then apologise to her party for the poor showing – how many other party leaders would have done that?

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Bristol City Council commits to go fossil fuel free

disinvestment
Bristol City Council has committed to go fossil fuel free! Or, more specifically, to not knowingly invest funds into companies whose primary business is fossil fuel extraction.

Despite the fact that Bristol City Council, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t currently hold any direct investments in fossil fuels anyway is beside the point. The entrenching of an ethical investment policy by a public institution is more about the potential to raise people’s awareness as it about ensuring that the Council will not fund the industries that are, at least in part, responsible for the dangers facing us and our planet due to climate change.

In short, I think this news is huge and really exciting.

And yet strangely the up-take of this news has been limited.

Bristol’s Mayor, George Ferguson, tweeted it to his 27,000 followers, there was a mention in passing in the Guardian and the campaign group pushing for fossil fuel disinvestment wrote a short blog!

That combined with an excited text message from my friend (incidentally I love that I have friends who get excited about fossil fuel disinvestment) seems to be the only ripples this news has had.

Even Bristol Greens, who played a significant part in securing this, seemed to be oddly quiet having published a general article on disinvestment last Friday that makes no mention of this exciting news coming from Bristol!

I think it only fair that a hat tip goes to Green Party Cllr Charlie Bolton who tabled a question at January’s member’s forum that led to the amendment of Bristol County Council’s ‘Ethical Investment Policy’.

On a related note, I am delighted that another organisation that at some point deemed me employable, the Quakers of Britain, have been really vocal during the recent ‘disinvestment events’ and have adopted an awesome position on the subject:

“Friends have discerned that investment in these companies is incompatible with a commitment made by Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) to become a low-carbon, sustainable community.”

Quakers are once again leading the way showing the role religious institutions can play in ethical investment, as Bristol is for local authorities.

As I say, I think these are some of the first pretty exciting yet tentative steps in tackling the entrenched carbon intensive norm that currently operates within our society.

You can read more about Quaker’s disinvestment here and more about Bristol’s disinvestment here.

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Why the recent silence on Hynd’s Blog?

The observant amongst you would have noticed a near unprecedented month’s silence on Hynd’s blog. What can I say other than sorry?

Well lots…I can give you an explanation and my plan ahead.

In the last month I have packed my bags and left Uganda, meandered my way through East Africa and ended back here in the place I will always think of as home, the West Country of England. Specifically I am in Bristol (aka Brizzle).

And what brings me back to these wet and windy shores I hear you ask? Well…politics of course!

I have accepted a job as (and this is a job title that I cringe at slightly) ‘Head of Mayor’s Office’ in Bristol City Council with the independent Mayor, George Ferguson. More about this in a second – promise.

This last month’s virtual silence has been filled with a whirlwind of activity including climbing Mt Kenya, Africa’s 2nd highest peak (after a particularly severe bout of food poising), a 32 hour train ride between Nairobi and Mombasa (an “experience”), packing and unpacking houses back in the UK and now, finally, the completion of my first week in my new job.

Never has the phrase ‘no rest for the wicked’ been more apt.

While much of the above adventures could have been something to blog about in itself I simply have not had the time sat in front of a computer to translate experiences into blogs – let alone to keep up my near obsessive following of British politics that formulates itself into so much of the content.

What can I say other than sorry?

Oh yes – the plan ahead…

Working for the Mayor means that I will have to make a few shifts in how Hynd’s Blog operates. Firstly, I think it is important to say that I can’t be quite as impartial as I was before. I have always written things as I have seen them – laying praise on those I thought deserved it and criticising actions that I thought deserved criticism. Although the Mayor is an independent he (and by extension I) have to work across the political spectrum. This means trying my hardest to not piss people off (the anti-thesis to some bloggers’ objective). This means at times holding my virtual tongue.

Secondly it is to say that if my first week in the job is anything to judge life by, I am now working in many of the hours that I have traditionally set aside for blogging. Even when in full-time employment before I have always found occasional lunch-times, breaks and after work hours to smash my opinion into the keyboard. Lunch-meetings and evening functions make it look like this will be quite hard to keep going. This means less regular blogs.

But on the positive side this new position exposes me to a whole word of fascinating progressive projects and politics that I am sure I can and will take great pleasure in sharing, analysing and responding to. Just today I have visited the incredible Knowle DGE school in south Bristol (an amazing school for kids with – very different special needs), Elm Tree Farm (a super impressive social enterprise) and this evening I will be heading to Bristol Youth Mayor’s election results.

I hope you will be as interested in reading about these sorts of things as I will be to keep writing.

And so the coming months will see Hynd’s Blog take a less regular format but one that I hope will still inspire people to come back and read, respond and share the content of Hynd’s Blog.

I am as passionate as ever….just busy!

Oh, and as always, if anyone’s is interesting in blogging on a subject to thousands of readers then please do read the ‘Contribute’ page.

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What is a ‘major political party’? Greens to overtake UKIP in membership size

leaders
It is expected that in the coming weeks the Green Party will become the fifth largest political party in the UK by overtaking UKIP in terms of membership.

According to new figures collected by Adam Ramsay at Open Democracy, the Green Party are now just a few hundred members short of UKIP and a few thousand short of the Liberal Democrats.

Labour  190,000
Tory  149,800
SNP 92,000
Lib Dems 44,576
UKIP 41,514
Greens 40,879
Plaid  8000
BNP  500

This latest twist in membership size will only add weight to those who are calling for the Green Party to be included in the TV leaders debates. What would constitute a ‘major party’ (what Ofcom deems them not to be) if it is not more members than UKIP, beating Lib Dems in some polls and getting more votes and MEPs than the Lib Dems in May’s European Elections?

Of course, the political elephant in this very Westminster room is the SNP that currently have roughly double the membership of the Lib Dems and are being tipped by some to wipe out Labour in Scotland.

Are the SNP not a ‘major party’ in UK politics?

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Anti-tobacco campaign publishes anti-Semitic cartoon

For most the depiction of large nosed Jews oozing wealth and disproportionate business influence is one that we solemnly associate with an evil that existed in the previous century. These offensive caricatures are something associated with the horrors of the anti-Semitism that swept across Europe and which played an intricate role in the death of over 6 million Jews in the holocaust.

For the first time in my life I today saw such an image, not in a museum or a historic article, but on a live contemporary campaigning facebook page.

The ‘Tobaccokills UG’ facebook page aims to ‘Support the Tobacco Control Bill and help to reduce the negative effects of tobacco-use in Uganda’. It has over 41,000 ‘likes’.

Yesterday it published this overtly anti-Semitic cartoon:

A screenshot taken from the 'tobaccoKills' Facebook page

A screenshot taken from the ‘tobaccoKills’ Facebook page

At the time of publishing the cartoon had already been shared a dozen time.

The cartoon takes little analysis to draw out the obvious anti-Semitic undertones. The projection of the ‘greedy’ and ‘powerful’ business man with physical characteristics such as his large nose all point to offensive Jewish caricatures.

In case there was any doubt the cartoonist then includes a speech bubble that states ‘Sorry but your health maybe hazardous to our profits’.

The subtext is clear: ‘Jews care more about money than they do people’.

To the adminstrators of the Facebook page I repeat the comment that I left when I first saw the cartoon and have so far not received a response for….please remove the picture and apologize for publishing it.

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The time is now for young people to revolutionize British politics

The Green Party of England and Wales have huge support among young voters. The problem for the Greens is that it is traditionally these young voters who do not make it to the ballot box.

YouGov

22% of 18-24 year old voters recently told YouGov that they plan to vote for the Greens. That is the same figure as those who intend to vote Tory, 50% more than those who intend to vote UKIP and more than four times those who plan to vote Lib Dem.

The obvious problem for the Green Party is that these voters, who they are so popular among, are also traditionally the ones who fail to make it to the ballot box on polling day.

Indeed in the 2010 General Election less than half of young voters eligible to vote took up the opportunity. One poll suggested that 60% of the UK’s 3.3 million first time voters in 2105 will not vote.

In contrast, about 70% of over 65s will vote.

If young people voted in similar proportions to the older generations our political landscape would look very different to the tired two-party-politics we see today.

The fact that young people don’t vote in large numbers is depressing not just for Green Party activists but also for our democracy in general.

From this I take a simple message. If you are looking for a pragmatic, realistic and effective way of revolutionizing how we do politics in the UK, you could find worse ideas than supporting initiatives that encourage youth engagement.

There are various movements and campaigns around but the one that seems to making the difference this time around is ‘Bite the Ballot‘. They have done an online Q and A with each of the party leaders (you can watch them here), placed young people in the heart of our local government, and pushed for wide-spread voter registration.

In short, I think they are doing important work at an important time.

If you want, you can follow ‘Bite the Ballot’ on twitter by clicking here. You can also donate to their work by clicking here.

Supporting initiatives like these should draw cross-party support. Greens and Labour might have the most to gain tactically from better democratic engagement with young people, but ultimately we will all benefit from a healthier democracy.

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Tell Cameron and Obama to let Shaker Aamer home to his family

Shaker AI
If you, the wonderful reader of Hynd’s Blog, have a spare 30 seconds I would urge you to support an issue close to my heart. Click here to sign the Amnesty International petition calling for the release or trial of Shaker Aamer, the one remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay.

The petition simply calls for Obama and Cameron to:

  • Secure the release of Shaker Aamer and return him to the UK without delay, if he is not to be charged and brought to fair trial
  • Give Shaker Aamer immediate and regular access to independent medical assessments and care
  • Immediately investigate all allegations that Shaker Aamer has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that anyone found responsible is brought to justice

I, alongside 12,860 people have already signed this petition. Please join us. Then please do also encourage friends and family to do the same.

Together we can raise a voice loud enough that will force the authorities to listen.

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Awesome cartoon column from Cheltenham MP, Martin Horwood

A hat tip to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood and the local rag The Echo for publishing this cartoon column in light of the attacks in Paris last week.

Jan2015_MartinHorwood_JesuisCharlie 1
Jan2015_MartinHorwood_JesuisCharlie2

 

Nice to see a MP thinking creatively about how to communicate important messages around freedom of speech and thought

 

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Cheering on a rapist

Picture the scene.

You are stood with your 10 year old son and 12 year old daughter on the terraces of your local football club. It is the first game you have taken them to but you can see by the way they are both responding to the ebbs and flows of the game that they are hooked.

You take a second to think back to the time you too stood in the same spot next to your own parents and feel happy with this sense of passed down community and belonging that local football clubs can gift to individuals.

As the game moves into the final 10 minutes and your team experience more near misses you see your kids nervously look at the clock. At that point all you hope for is a goal. A goal to be able to see your kids experience that communal elation as the terrace erupts in excitement.

As you reopen your eyes from a silent prayer you see your team’s new signing has picked up the ball deep in the oppositions half and cuts through two defenders before unleashing a strike into the top corner of the net. As the ball bulges the back of the net everyone around you roars and reaches for the sky in delight.

The normal celebrations though are cut short. As the opposition fans start chanting songs about the new signing being a rapist.

Confused your kids look up.

A second passes before your daughter, old enough to know exactly what a rapist is, asks you to explain what they are shouting about.

What can you say?

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Green Party Deputy Leader to take on Labour Party Deputy Leader at General Election

Amelia Womack

In a small quirky twist of British politics the Green Party today announced that their Deputy Leader, Amelia Womack, will be standing at the General Election in Camberwell and Peckham against Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman.

Womack, who previously unsuccessfully stood to become a MEP and local cllr, was elected Deputy Leader last September. She holds a BSc in Environmental Biology and an MSc in Environmental Technology.

Harman was elected MP for Camberwell and Peckham in 2010 with a huge 59.2% of the vote. The Greens stood the high profile London AM Jenny Jones in 2010 and received just 2.9% of the vote.

Although unlikely to win, or even stop Harriet Harman from being returned to parliament, Womack might well preside over a significant increase in the Green vote in the constituency as large amounts of the 22.4% of Lib Dem votes will be up for grabs.

The challenge for Labour will be to pick up enough of the former Lib Dem votes to stop a significant rise in the Green support that might place them as an awkward and credible threat for future elections.

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Labour lead but support dropping as Greens continue to grow

The Labour Party Hold Their Annual Party Conference - Day 5

Ed Miliband has every reason to be looking glum as despite seeing Labour leading in the polls he has hit an all time low in personal ratings and his party has dropped support throughout 2014. 

To support their latest polling, YouGov have produced this neat little chart that tracks voting intention over the last three months.

3 month voting intention
Some in the Labour Party have got all excited that, despite those embarrassing glitches in December, this poll shows them ahead of Conservatives. The Green Party are also delighted that, once again, this poll shows them ahead of the Lib Dems.

The problem for the Labour Party though is illustrated in this other YouGov chart which looks further back at voting intentions across 2014.

voting intention 2014

Here we can see the long-term trend of Labour support dropping throughout 2014.

What is equally interesting is how this drop in support for Labour correlates with Miliband hitting an all time low with his popularity ratings. Is Labour’s drop in the polls a reflection of Miliband’s all time unpopularity, or vice-versa? A chicken and egg question.

Miliband

And so the question remains – where are these Labour supporters from the early coalition years going? And thus we move onto the relative growth of the Greens.

YouGov paints a nice picture of Green Party support consistently growing through 2014 which resulted in YouGov proclaiming ‘Greens ahead of Lib Dems in longer trend‘ in an article in December 2014.

While Greens are only picking up about about 4% of the 2010 Labour vote two additional points have to be made:

1) Labour dropping another 4% from their 2010 low point to the Greens is significant.
2) Labour, in the last year, have continued to drop in popularity when, while in opposition, they should be riding high on anti-government sentiment – they are not.

Before Green readers get too excited though it is worth pointing out that this growth in support is unlikely to result in any additional seats. In Norwich South (feasibly the Green’s second target) a Lord Ashcroft poll showed them doing well but considerably behind Labour.

As with many seats, the battle to pick up former Lib Dem voters between the Greens and Labour may well prove crucial.

The General Election in 2015 will bring more of the same in terms of overall outcome but it might, just might, also go down in history as the start of the breakdown of two party politics.

 

 

 

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David Drew still on odds on favourite to win back Stroud seat

ladbrokesDavid Drew, the former MP for Stroud and Labour Party candidate for 2015, is still odds on favourite to win back the Stroud marginal seat according to new odds tweeted by Ladbrokes.

This shows no real significant change since February last year when Hynd’s Blog reported that Ladbrooks had Drew at 4/9 to win back his old seat.

If you were interested in an outside bet though, Ladbrokes are now giving odds for the Green Party at 50/1.

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Take rosettes out of politics to help resuscitate democracy

rosette_1628747c

This is not a radical cry for the removal of political parties from our decision making mechanism. Far from it. This is merely a cry to those tiny number of people on the insides of national and local parties. Please, for the love of Hynd’s Blog, take off those ridiculous rosettes.

They are a symbol of one of the strongest held perceptions in politics and that is that politicians cannot be trusted. If you want to be listened to – start by taking off your rosettes.

For a long-time now I have encouraged any candidate of any political party to take off their rosette. This normally occurs when they are about to go infringing on people’s personal space and time by ‘door knocking’.

I do this not because their particular flavour of political party might be unpopular than but because politics per se is.

Or, to be more accurate, politicians are.

By wearing a rosette politicians shoot themselves in the foot on the first step they hope to take on their journey of democratic representation.

At the crux of my argument is the assertion that if you want a constituent to talk to you, let alone trust or vote for you, then you need to give yourself a fighting chance in the first few seconds on the doorstep. This is unlikely to happen if you were a badge that basically says, ‘Watch out, I’m a politician.’

As much as you might honestly believe that you are different to all the others, or your party is not like those overs, most people don’t share these subtleties. They see you – a politician – as untrustworthy.

New polling from IPSOS-Mori out today highlights how deeply rooted this mistrust of politicians is. Just 16% of respondents said they would trust a politician to tell the truth. This is an opinion as old as IPSOS-Mori’s polling.

IPSOS Mori
In other words, even if you got a constituent to listen to you, about 84% of constituents wouldn’t trust what you have to say. This is more than bankers…a profession not known at the moment for their commitment to honesty.

This might seem like a trivial point but it is one of the pebbles on the starting line of democracy that is tripping up genuine interaction and engagement.

It’s axiomatic that the removal of the rosette is only the first step to rebuilding trust. The long road ahead in our efforts to resuscitate democracy involves strange concepts like keeping promises and working hard to represent constituents needs.

But that is for tomorrow. Today, still with 4 months left until the election, I beg and implore candidates and sitting MPs, MEPs and Cllrs alike – get rid of those ridiculous rosette.

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Why I keep on blogging: Reflections on 2014

firstImage

Walking with friends in mid-Wales

One of the many things that inspired me in 2014 was reading Henry Coetzee’s assertion that (and I paraphrase from memory) ‘there are few things cooler in life than getting an action photo of yourself doing something awesome but few things less cool than stopping the action to take a photo’.

I couldn’t agree more.

And so it is that I am writing my reflections of Hynd’s Blog for 2014 a few days before the end of the year because, in my mind at least, there are few things cooler than writing about life in all its wonderful contradictory complexity, but there are few things less cool than spending time online when there is life to be lived outside the window.

My next couple of days will take me into the internet nether zone of the mid-Wales valleys to spend New Years with old friends. My computer will be left where it belongs – on my desk at home and so these reflections will come a few days early.

This project, Hynd’s Blog, has always been, for me at least, about enhancing, understanding and/or challenging life – not replacing it.

I find it so interesting that this is a distinction that so many bloggers seems unable to spot.

Anyway, before I disappear into mid-Wales I wanted to reiterate my thanks to each and every one of you lovely people who take the time to read my ramblings. You’re ace and don’t let anyone ever tell you anything else!

Seriously, you are the only thing that distinguishes all this from a virtual equivalent of locking myself into a dark room and talking to myself. You are what makes Hynd’s Blog a conversation.

So…Thank you!

And what a rather large conversation it has grown into.

Hynd’s Blog continues to grow into something that I had no idea it had the potential to do. Tens of thousands of people come to read my ramblings every month and this, quite literally, never ceases to surprise and equally delight me.

From all over the world people are coming to read, to comment, and to interact with issues that mean the world to me. From local politics to the finer details of micro brewing; from human rights violations to the relative merits of lower league football people are coming here, to Hynd’s Blog, to engage with them.

As amazing and wonderful as I find this, it also adds a pressure, in my mind at least, to keep Hynd’s Blog being something worth reading. At times good articles seem to flow easily from my meandering mind to article form and at others it feels like drawing blood from a stone.

At these lowest times those, the times when I wonder why I bother writing, I have almost invariably been lifted by the sweetest of emails from both friends and strangers that makes it all somehow feel worthwhile.

Haters will always be haters (and believe me there are plenty of them) but it is each of you that have made the effort to leave an interesting or kind message or comment that makes me want to keep Hynd’s Blog going.

Hynd’s Blog remains a labour of love and you are part of it.

2015 will see me move back to Bristol after a few years of living in Uganda…Different people and issues will be on my doorstep but I am excited as ever to keep writing about them.

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that you are as excited to keep reading and interacting with them.

If so, roll on 2015…

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Green Party to hold Brighton Pavilion in 2015 General Election

Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas

Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas

According to the latest Lord Ashcroft polling of marginal constituencies across the UK, the Green Party are set to hold onto their only current seat, Brighton Pavilion.

The polling puts the Green Party ten points ahead of Labour (38 to Labour’s 28%).

Both parties see the Brighton Pavilion seat as their number one target for the South East of England.

Significantly the polling finds the Green Party picking up a huge 44% of 2010 Lib Dem voters. Labour in contrast picks up just 21% (with the Lib Dems picking up just 13%). This is opposite of the national picture which sees Labour picking up roughly double the Green Party of former Lib Dem voters.

Equally, the polling suggests Labour have been unable to plug the hole that saw so many former Labour voters turn to the Green Party in Brighton. The polling found that 27% of 2010 Labour voters were planning on backing the Greens. This is compared to about 4% nationally suggesting that either the Greens/Labour are doing something locally that is swaying voters and/or that Labour voters do switch to the Greens when they think the Greens have a chance of winning.

Labour however, to their credit, do appear to be matching the Greens in their campaigning efforts with about 1 in 4 of those polled saying that had heard from Greens and/or Labour in recent weeks.

It will be a bitterly battled fight but at the moment it looks like the Greens are on course to return their only MP, Caroline Lucas.

Read more on the marginal polling here.

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24 hours in the UK

slad
Last year when my plane touched down at Heathrow coming back from Uganda I was met with a wonderful scene to welcome me back to old blighty. Queuing to enter the terminal building, what the British do best, an elegant determined woman pushed to the front of queue – sacrilege! One chap next to me notices that I have clocked this queue jumping outrage and chips in with the comment, “fucking French huh”.

What a welcome back to the UK – baseless xenophobic queue based hatred all performed to the backdrop tinny Christmas carols under a smattering of drizzle!

This year I was a smidgen disappointed to find no Christmas carols on repeat but delighted to make it out of the airport without witnessing any casual racism.

Once back in the hills and valleys of the ‘West Country’ though I took little time to head out for a walk. Thinking that this is what made the UK amazing I walked with uncharacteristic clear skies and meek winter sunshine hitting the frost covered ground. I was in a buoyed mood striding across farmer’s fields and down hidden valleys following bubbling brooks.

This mood was lifted further though with what truly makes the Great Britain great. With every dog walker passed a friendly ‘good morning’ was chirped followed by a compulsive observation of the uncharacteristically good weather: “wonderful day for it” or “you couldn’t ask for a better day” before then swiftly apologising for their dog who would be eagerly sniffing my trouser legs.

These small interactions last less than a few seconds but make up an integral part of the DNA of British culture.

Warmed by the simple pleasant jollity of rural British life I stopped in the open fire warmth of a local pub – the Woolpack in Slad – where I had arranged to meet family.

Sat sipping local real ales on slightly uncomfortable wooden furniture (why is that both pubs and churches consider it a virtue to have furniture that in other walks of life would be considered completely unfit for purpose?) I watched dogs curl up on the floor close to their owner muddy wellington boots. With a low warm afternoon winter sun breaking through the window I sat back with family around me and listened to the impromptu piano/saxophone performance that only added to the ambiance.

Outside, after a hearty pub lunch, we strode up Swift’s Hill which enjoys some of the finest views in the region down over the Slad Valley across the market town of Stroud and out to the Severn Valley and across to the Black Mountains in Wales. A few clouds clung to the horizon to exaggerate the sunset as wonderful pinks and oranges were thrown over the fields and footpaths.

It felt like the weather was welcoming me back to the UK, giving me 24 hours of pleasure before it inevitably resumed in the monotony of drizzle that everyone seems to perpetually believe might stop at any moment but so rarely does.

Walking back over the fields I make a decision to call into another pub on the way home. Instead of live piano/saxophone renditions, this pub instead has the unmistakable sound of football coming from the TV screens. Excited to be able to watch my national sport with my fellow countrymen I step in and order my pint of warm frothing ale.

Looking for a place to sit I approach a stranger with the prerequisite of “excuse me, I am terribly sorry, but would you mind if I possibly took a seat” motioning towards one of five empty seats surrounding him. Smiling warmly the man looks up from his Daily Telegraph with impeccable replicable manners and says, “Please, it would be an honour”.

How wonderful is that – being told it would be an honour for me to sit next to him.

Buoyed by these little interactions I sit happily watching Arsenal score four goals with the return of their star striker – Giroud. In an unspoken acknowledgment I suggest to the man next to me through nothing more than eye contact that I was happy, that I was delighted to be back in the UK and that in that moment I could think of nothing I would rather be doing.

Responding to this the man next to me commented in a perfect middle England accent, “Typical isn’t it”. “What’s that?” I responded. “The fucking French keeping such an English institution like Arsenal afloat” he sneered.

Sigh.

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Living the best day ever

This is a cross-post of an article that I wrote for the Africa edition of ehospice news reflecting on the lessons learnt from Hendri Coetzee’s book ‘Living the best day ever’. 

kadoma1
Palliative care, by definition, is both a science and an art form that involves accepting the reality of death. What you have left when you accept this is what the profession calls ‘preserving or improving the quality of life’.

Never before though, have I been challenged to re-examine the concept of ‘quality of life’ than when reading Hendri Coetzee’s book: ‘Living the best day ever’.

Hendri Coetzee was a South African living in Uganda perpetually searching for the best day ever. This search led him to become a legend throughout the extreme sports and exploration world.

In 2004 Hendri led the first ever complete descent of River Nile from source (Lake Victoria) to sea (the Mediterranean). The 4,160 mile trip took four and a half months and crossed two war zones.

Coetzee was also the first person to run the rapids above the Nile’s Murchison Falls, a section of river filled with some of the biggest white water in the world, and holding one of the highest concentrations of crocodiles and hippos.

He would go on to complete this section of river a further seven times and he remains the only person ever to run the section by himself. He also ran large sections of the upper and lower Congo River, walked 1000 miles along the Tanzanian coast and was the first person ever to snowboard the glaciers in the Ruwenzori Mountains.

In short, his résumé was one of the most impressive in the business.

It was not, however, his outlandish adventures that makes Coetzee’s book such a challenge for anyone to read, but his burning passion for life. Deep within all of his adventures was an intertwined journey to accept the fullness of life – to be able to appreciate it to its full. Only by understanding and ultimately accepting one’s death, Coetzee believed, can we truly experience a ‘quality of life’.

Speaking to some, and by no means all, palliative care patients I have come across a stillness – a deeper happiness – that I have rarely seen elsewhere. It is a happiness that comes fundamentally from within, a spiritual or psychological wellbeing.

Does this come from an acceptance of one’s own death?

Early on in the book, when undertaking the Murchison Falls section of white water, Coetzee writes: “In our society we avoid the thought of death as if recognition alone could trigger the event. Thinking about your own death is seen as a sign that mentally, all is not well. Some people live their entire lives with the sole purpose of minimising the chances of it occurring to them, instead of preparing for the inevitable. After avoiding the issue for so long, it is almost soothing to invite death on my terms.”

Reflecting on this, I wonder how many palliative care practitioners spend their professional hours encouraging patients to think about their deaths, to make preparations and to become comfortable with the idea whilst then perpetuating the myth in their own lives that life is infinite?

I only speak for myself when I write that I am too often guilty of this self-delusion.

To live a truly high ‘quality of life’ do we have to be comfortable with the idea of our death? I don’t know.

For Coetzee though, this acceptance was clearly linked to the life he chose to lead. Writing about his desire to keep going on clearly dangerous expeditions he wrote: “Psychoanalysts may diagnose a death wish, but missions like these enhance the appreciation of life. It is no coincidence that death and rebirth are related in all forms of religion and spirituality. When you accept that you are going to die, and it will be sooner than you think, it becomes impossible to merely go through the motions.”

Even the acceptance of my own inevitable death cannot push me to actions that so invite the prospect of death earlier than it otherwise would arrive. There is too much to live for to put my life on the line in search of living just that one day to the extreme – in the search for the best day ever.

That said, it is imperative for the palliative care community to understand the full spectrum of thought that exists out there. Just as there are people who are terrified of the concept of their own passing so there are people like Coetzee that can write the following words:

“Death is coming for us all…the day we will have to face the crossing will come sooner than we think. I hope my day is many many years away, but… I don’t want to make the greatest leap in life in a vague dream. I want to have the chance to look it in the eye, to say: ‘You have had me in your sights all your life, but it’s on my terms that I come.’ Tibetans believe that one can find enlightenment at the moment of your death, as long as you prepared yourself for it during life…I have had the best day ever more times than I remember. So yes, I believe I am ready to die if that is what is needed to live as I want to.”

Hendri Coetzee was pulled from his kayak by a crocodile deep inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his body was never recovered.

At the end of his last ever blog entry though, after completing a section of river that many assumed impossible to kayak, he wrote: “We stood precariously on a unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day.”

I have no idea if – when it came – Hendri Coetzee was prepared for his death. It is clear though, that he lived life to the full and died in way he had to have expected.

Not many of us can say that and for that alone ‘Living the best day ever’ is worth reading. I think we can all learn something from Hendri Coetzee approach to both life and death.

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Greens ahead of Lib Dems in 3 YouGov polls in a row

YouGov

 

The Green Party are, for the first time, consistently ahead of the Liberal Democrats in YouGov polling.

The Green Party have in the past been level pegging or just beating the Liberal Democrats. But as I wrote before, it would be disingenuous to suggest that ‘Greens are ahead of the Lib Dems’ in the polls in general.

In the most recent three pollings for YouGov however the Greens have finished ahead of the Lib Dems on each occasion (see data set 1, 2, and 3).

It is interesting to note that in these last three polls, the Green Party are picking up an average of 18% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010. In other words, just under one in five former Lib Dem voters are now planning on voting Green.

This will have a huge impact on Labour (who themselves are losing 4% of their 2010 vote to the Greens) who are relying on the exodus from the Lib Dems to bolster their stuttering performance in the polls.

It is important to note however that this is just one polling company – when we look at the average across different companies we can see the Lib Dems maintaining a lead of 2% over the Greens (see UK polling report).

That said, this is yet another milestone on a ‘Green surge’ that is increasingly becoming hard for the political establishment to ignore.

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One graph that shows young people’s support for the Green Party

YouGov have released this fascinating graph showing the marked increase in support for the Green Party among 18-24 year old voters.

Greensurge

Currently on an average of 19% with young voters the Green Party have seen their support grow from an average of 7% in January 2014 – a 12% increase in less than a year.

This rise is mirrored in the ‘Young Greens’ (the youth wing of the main party) rise in membership which doubled between January and October 2014.

In university cities that double up as key marginal seats this will be crucial come May 2015.

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