Green Party ahead of Lib Dems in latest Lord Ashcroft poll

Can you remember how excited the Green Party was when various polls put them neck and neck with the Lib Dems?

Well, imagine the levels of excitement in Green Party HQ when they spot this week’s Lord Ashcroft polling which has them, for the first time, ahead of the Lib Dems!

Lord Ashcroft

More evidence to back up the Daily Telegraph’s assertion that next May’s election will be a 5 horse race.

UPDATE: I have just spotted on twitter that some Greens are claiming their membership has also broken 30,000 – it was only a few weeks OK that Hynd’s Blog was reporting it had broken 20,000 for the first time ever!

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First ever self defense programme for people with Dwarfism launched

A good friend of mine and occasional contributor to Hynd’s Blog, Eugene Grant, has launched the first ever self-defence programme for people with dwarfism. This is a cross-post of his article that explains why he sees the need for such a self-defense course. 

Eugene-2

I don’t even remember where I was going. All I remember is looking to my left, distracted by a homeless man asking for change as I walked past. When I turned my head back to the front, a tall man – about 6’ 0” – was advancing aggressively in my direction, just a few feet away, his hands outstretched towards me.

I have Achondroplasia – one of the most common types of dwarfism. In 28 years, I’ve had stones thrown at my head; I’ve been chased by youths on mopeds; I’ve been grabbed and assaulted by strangers. I was frequently bullied at school. The list of instances in which I’ve been verbally abused or threatened is too long to include here.

Now, I make no assumption that my experiences are representative of other dwarfs. But I know I’m not alone.

Throughout my life, I’ve studied boxing, self-defense, and martial arts: Karate, Kick-boxing, Ninjitsu, and Tae-kwon-do, to name but a few. Growing up, these provided a valuable outlet for me as a frustrated and isolated young man, who struggled to deal positively with an environment that felt harsh and hostile towards me.

And yet, over time I realised that so many of these forms of self-defence were completely inapplicable for people with dwarfism. Even at 4’6” – hardly small for a dwarf – my hips are at the height of most people’s knees. I’m never going to get my leg up high enough to kick an attacker in the head – as you’re taught in Taekwondo. Nor, at 7 and a half stone, would I try to grab, trip, and throw him to the floor – as you might in Judo. Like most dwarfs, my arms are short – making boxing difficult (but not impossible…).

I realised that what people with dwarfism, people like me, really need is a self-defense system designed for our body types and the sorts of threats and assaults (being grabbed, picked up, bear hugged, and so on) which, sadly, some of face all too often in our daily lives.

And so SPD – Self-Protection for Dwarfs – was born.

Designed and developed by myself, under the expert guidance and instruction of  Urban Warriors Krav maga Chief Instructor Kelina Cowell, SPD is a unique, practical, and applicable form of self-defense for people with dwarfism. For us, by us; tailored to the modern day environment (not the battlefields of feudal Japan!).

dwarfism dwarf boxing martial arts krav magaOf course there’s a desperate need for us as a society to re-evaluate how we treat those who are different; to think critically about how a dearth of real representations of people with dwarfism – and indeed other disabilities too – in the media perpetuate prejudices and spread stereotypes.

But as Kelina herself has said before, the world will never rid itself of violence, abuse, and discrimination. That we also need to address structural problems like poverty and inequality, social immobility and educational disadvantage, shouldn’t stop us from locking our doors at night to prevent burglars and home invaders.

Urban Warriors Self Protection for Dwarfs is a serious step forwards to helping people with dwarfism be better prepared to look after and defend themselves in times of crisis; to learn new skills and grow as individuals and as a community; and to build our self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

To me, that’s truly empowering.

All we have to do now is to spread the word, teach and train others, and watch the movement grow.

Interested? Want to know more? For more information about Urban Warriors Self Protection for Dwarfs, Please like the Urban Warriors SPD Facebook page, follow us on the Urban Warriors SPD Twitter page, or contact us urbanwarriorsspd at gmail.com

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3 ways Labour can still win back Gloucester

Gloucester
A new poll of Labour/Conservative marginal seats by Lord Ashcroft has found that my home city of Gloucester will be held, by the skin of their teeth, by the Conservatives.

This will come as a blow to the Labour party who placed Gloucester 38th on the list of must win key battlegrounds.

Significantly though, the poll finds some key variations between the national picture and that of local voting intention in Gloucester that provides some clues to how Labour can still win back Gloucester…

Local Labour need to win over former Lib Dem voters

The latest national YouGov polling reinforces a key trend that many, including those within the Labour party, have spotted and that is that there lead in the polls is based on picking up former Lib Dem voters. The latest national figures suggest 38% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to vote Labour in 2015, compared to just 26% Lib Dem and a meagre 11% Green and 10% UKIP.

Locally however in Gloucester, just 16% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to vote Labour compared to 25% Lib Dem and 20% UKIP.

This suggests that although the Lib Dem vote has collapsed in Gloucester like other parts of the country local Labour have failed to capitalise. UKIP are, as well as picking up ex-Conservative voters, also taking chunks of key demographics that Labour need to be claiming!

The size of the former Lib Dem vote share should not be underestimated in Gloucester…

In 2010 the Lib Dems picked up close to 20% of the vote in Gloucester (9,767 votes). Assuming that they retain 25% of this (approx. 2,500 votes) that leaves 15% of the total vote share in Gloucester up for grabs (approx. 7,500).

Interestingly Greens have also failed to capitalise on this. The poll predicts they will pick up just 7% of 2010 Lib Dem voters. This, combined with the higher than national average ‘don’t knows’ among 2010 Lib Dem voters in Gloucester, suggests that there are still a significant number of key floating voters in the constituency.

The campaigning will be important…

Local Labour must battle apathy and ensure a high turnout

Nationally the above mentioned YouGov poll suggests 6% of people will not vote and 13% do not know who they will vote for.

Locally however in Gloucester, Lord Ashcroft found that, 13% would not vote and 14% do not know who they will vote for. In short, according to this poll, Gloucester has more than double the national average of people planning on not voting in May 2015.

In 2010 Gloucester had a 64% turnout rate, marginally lower than the 65% national average. If this drops further this will in itself prove to be crucial as high turnouts traditionally favour Labour while low turnouts tend to support the Conservatives.

If Labour wants to defeat the Conservatives they must ensure a high turnout, especially among key demographics such as the 18-34 age range who typically are more likely to back Labour but also are much less likely to vote.

The 24 hour lead up to the election will be key in terms of Labour getting their supporters out and voting…

Labour need to get out there and knock on doors and deliver leaflets  

With just over 6 months to go until the election it is interesting to note that the poll found 70% of those surveyed said that they had not heard from any local political party in the last few weeks. Marginally more however had heard from the Conservatives than they had from Labour.

Being active locally and being seen to be champions of your local area remains an unmovable part of the path to electoral success. With so many floating voters in Gloucester this only reiterates the need for Labour to be getting out onto the door steps making the case for why they think voting Labour is the best thing for Gloucester.

The question though is not only will local voters hear them but, but will they believe them?

 

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Is there a case for making exceptions to the national minimum wage?

Conservative Lord Freud

Conservative Lord Freud

In 1997 the Blair government, to their credit, reversed 5 years of Conservative feet dragging and introduced the minimum wage. This policy, at its now slightly inflated but still chronically too low rate, is a basic safety net for paid workers.

Hynd’s Blog has consistently called for the advancement of the minimum wage to match that calculated as the ‘living wage’ – the minimum amount it is deemed to be able to have a reasonable standard of living off.

Today though the paper’s are not filled with the argument for increasing the minimum wage to match a ‘living wage’ but instead, the idea of some people being able to earn less than the minimum wage – an idea which Hynd’s Blog is not immediately and unconditionally opposed to.

Lord Freud, the Conservative Welfare Minister, has been thrown into the heart of this debate when a recording of him saying, “There is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage” was released.


In short, he suggests that certain disabled people are ‘not worth’ the meager £3.79 (for under 18s) that stands as the current minimum wage.

Moving this debate though beyond the despicable language that suggests you can assess the ‘worth’ of an individual there is a pertinent question to ask around whether or not exceptions should be made to minimum wage legislation – like for example the system they have in New Zealand.

I would personally advocate for a system where an individual employee could apply for an exception to the national minimum wage that is then assessed by a government agency so they can continue working in a job that they are perhaps good at but cannot perform at the speed or efficiency of other workers.

An example might be an adult with learning disabilities who works slowly and methodically at a certain task benefiting greatly from the social interaction, the responsibilities of work and the limited financial independence of a reduced salary but who works too slowly for a commercial employer to feel they can justify paying a minimum wage.

This opt out clause could easily be supported through an existing financial top up scheme comparable to that ‘disability premium’ income support to ensure the employee is protected whilst the employer does not lose out.

With this in mind, it is worth also examining the politics of the current uproar. Lord Freud’s comments were unacceptable and as such he needs to apologise. But, equally, the nature and severity of the attack from Labour on this issue only serves as party political point scoring and does little to add to the social policy question that the Conservative Cllr and Lord Freud were addressing – what is best form of legal protection disabled workers whose output is partially effected by their disability?

I don’t have the answer to this and certainly not the research to back up the above idea but it would be interested to get a discussion going – something unlikely to happen in the current media hyperbole.

UPDATE:

Full text of Lord Freud’s apology:

Lord Freud statement

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UKIP but not the Green Party included in TV leader’s debate

FarageBennettThe BBC this morning reported:

“UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has been invited to take part in a TV debate with David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg ahead of next year’s general election.

The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have announced plans to hold three debates.

One would involve a head-to-head debate between just the Conservative and Labour leaders, and another would include the Liberal Democrat leader.

The other debate would involve all three leaders plus Mr Farage.”

Almost instantly a variation of the pertinent question ‘On what basis is Nigel Farage included and not Natalie Bennett and the Green Party?’ was being replicated across social media.

Now UKIP have one elected MP, but of course The Green Party has also had one MP since 2010. Recent polling figures show UKIP flying high but have also shown the Greens polling in the same ball park as the Lib Dems.

Norman Smith, the Assistant Political Editor at the BBC, at least could foresee this inevitable anger and frustration:

But many still felt his language didn’t do the scale of this stitch up justice:

UPDATE:

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “With these statements the broadcasters are demonstrating just how out of touch they are with the public mood, and how ridiculously they cling to the idea that the future of politics looks like the past.

“It is clear from votes and polls that the public are fed up with the three business-as-usual parties and are looking around for alternatives.”

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The completely false Daily Telegraph headline: “Cannabis as addictive as heroin, major new study finds”

heroin use
The Daily Telegraph yesterday ran a story with the headline “Cannabis as addictive as heroin, major new study finds”.

The article opens reasserting the same headline phrase “Cannabis can be as addictive as heroin or alcohol”.

As I read through the article my ‘bullshit-o-meter’ that was already triggered by the headline started to go through the roof. I was fairly sure that quite a lot of what was written simply could not be true.

After I finished reading it I dismissed it as more sensationalist twisting of real research and thought nothing more of it until…I saw that a (slightly more than me) conservative friend had posted the story on his wall.

My perpetual obsession to share my crass inclinations with people led me to want to reply.

As such to provide a more factual response that just ‘well this doesn’t tally with my own worldly experience’ (which it doesn’t) and ‘this isn’t the impression I got from a limited amount of reading on the subject’ I decided to do a wee bit of internet research.

As with most ideas though, someone else’s ‘bullshit-o-meter’ had already led them to respond, quite comprehensively, to the article.   This person is Edward Fox, the project coordinator for TalkingDrugs.org, a website ‘operated by Release, the UK-based centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law’ who then wrote a response for Huffington Post.

As it soon became clear, he is a much more qualified person than myself to write on this and so I leave you with his (edited down) words (read the full article here):

The UK tabloid hysteria has flared again over the dangers of cannabis, distorting recent research in an act that will prove detrimental to further educating people on the real harms associated with drug use….

On Addiction

The Telegraph’s claim that Professor Hall at any point stated that cannabis is on a par with heroin when it comes to addictiveness is a pernicious manipulation of his words. The exact phrasing he used to present his study was, in fact:

“If cannabis is not addictive then neither is heroin or alcohol”

This in no way equates to equal levels of harm, nor addictiveness, and at no point does the Telegraph cite a quote by Professor Hall that can back up their absurd headline. 

On Cannabis’ Impact on Mental Health

Both newspapers claim that Professor Hall’s study found that cannabis causes mental health problems. This is conveyed by each as a statement of fact, when it is anything but.

Professor Hall’s findings were, rather, that the link between cannabis and mental health problems such as psychosis and depression has been found to be unclear. Research has determined that cannabis may be a contributing factor or heighten the risk of developing a disorder, but to frame it as a sole causation of a condition is misleading given the need to account for other confounding variables e.g. family history of mental illness and socio-economic standing. 

On Cannabis as a Gateway Drug

The Daily Mail states that the study shows that “cannabis… opens the door to hard drugs.” This is, in a sense, true as Professor Hall did find from analysing different studies that cannabis users may be more likely to use cocaine and heroin.

However, the Mail fails to note that this finding is based on the exposure of cannabis users to the drug market and/or factors completely unrelated to cannabis, such as the “risk-taking or sensation-seeking,” of the user in question.

Thus, a pharmacological explanation of escalation in drug use is falsely left on the table by the Mail’s inability to go into further detail, suggesting that the effect of cannabis on the user in and of itself serves as a gateway to other substances. 

Fox then concludes with this pertinent point:

Demonising drug users and manipulating research findings to sell papers serves only to avoid an open and honest debate on how to properly mitigate the harms of illicit drugs. If parts of the media continue down this sensationalist road, they will remain a malicious hindrance to real progress.

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Will UKIP’s leading lights oppose Nobel Prize winners for inventing LED lights?

Paul "the nutter" Nuttall - UKIP MEP.

Paul “the nutter” Nuttall – UKIP MEP.

It was announced today that Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura have won the Nobel Physics Prize for their role in producing LED lights.

Hynd’s blog sends its warm congratulations.

This advancement in technology is already having far-reaching impacts on improving people’s lives across the world.

Equally however, Hynd’s Blog is awaiting with excitement UKIP’s response to the news.

UKIP have quite strategically positioned themselves on the lunatic fringe of science misrepresentation and in the past claimed the EU is putting us all in danger of blindness and cancer for rolling out LED light bulbs.

To quote UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall in his article claiming LED bulbs cause cancer and blindness, “In the same way ultraviolet rays in sunlight can cause premature aging in our skin if we get sunburnt, there is a similar situation in the eye [when using LED lights].”

He goes on… “This is yet another example of ill-thought-out legislation made by the EU before they have got all the facts.”

Now, in case you are interested, Which? Summarizes the existing evidence looking at whether LED lightbulbs are dangerous saying that “CFL light bulbs will not cause skin cancer. Sitting very close to a light bulb that emits more than the recommended amount of UV light has similar effects to going outside on a sunny day – so some caution is recommended.”

On the issue of blindness they are unequivocal in summarising the best evidence out there… “Will LED lighting make me go blind? Absolutely not. Domestic LED lighting is not even close to being high energy enough to have any impact on your eyes.”

One assumes that despite the best evidence suggesting that LED bulbs do not cause cancer or blindness, UKIP will stick to their beliefs here and issue some sort of condemnation of what, in their eyes, must be the celebration of rolling out cancer generating machines into every household.

It’s not so much that I am looking for UKIP to make themselves look stupid here…oh OK… that is exactly what I am waiting for.

But there is a slightly serious note here – UKIP are disingenuous populists with little regard for scientific underpinning of policy. You vote for their populist agenda at your peril and in the face of much established science.

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My guide on how not to prepare and run a half marathon

In pain after my latest 21km of badly prepared for running

In pain after my latest 21km of badly prepared for running

‘A specialist in failure’ is how would so far sum up my running career. Three half marathons spread over 5 years and each one has, in its own way been a gigantic disaster.

Firstly my running history…

At the 2009 Brussel’s half marathon I undertook some serious training and at the nimble age of 23 I thought I might have a good chance of running it in a half decent time. I have since learnt that pints of gin and tonics the night before are not the best preparation for a 21km run.

Despite the hangover I stumbled round the course in 2:10.

Of course, the 2009 Brussel’s half marathon was meant as a warm up 5 weeks before the Stroud half marathon in the UK. Sadly, after literally stumbling over the finish line in Brussels and then starting a new job, my training schedule essentially ceased to exist.  I stopped running.

Again, I have since learnt that doing no exercise 5 weeks before a 21km is not such a good idea. However, hangover free and with a good night’s sleep behind me I managed to cut 10 minutes off my time and sneaked in just under 2 hours (notably 7 minutes slower that my to be father in law who is in his 50s and was running his first half marathon at the time).

On this latter occasion though I was running to raise some money for CLIC Sargent – an organisation that provides care for young people with cancer. So the money raised for a good cause provided a nice silver lining in Stroud.

For the last 5 years though I have dwelled slightly on these two relative failure of runs and always thought that I could, if I avoided being drunk and kept to a training schedule, manage to run a half marathon in a way that I was proud.

And so, 5 weeks ago I decided to sign up for the ‘Run for Fun’ race between Entebbe and Kampala here in Uganda.

I haven’t really run (let alone for fun) since 2009 and so the observant amongst you might have spotted a flaw already – 5 weeks really is not long enough to prepare for a half marathon.

However what I lacked in time, fitness and basic training I made up for in optimism. I not only signed up but also decided to start fundraising for the ‘The African Palliative Care Association’ (see ‘Why I am running for APCA’).

The problem with fundraising for a great cause is that it means you have to go public – you have to share your fundraising page on facebook, twitter and your blog etc. In other words, in my mind at least, there was no backing out.

2 weeks into my inadequate 5 week training I hit a rather painful stumbling block. Once again alcohol was at the root of the problem. Rather drunkenly on a Friday night I fell off the top of a moving Land Rover (spare me the ‘it could have been a lot worse’ comments, I quite realize this).

Luckily I did nothing more than land heavily on my bum – although it could have indeed been a lot worse.

This little alcohol induced stumble though did cause a lot of swelling all round my hip which took about 2 weeks to go down and left all of my muscles feeling rather tight.

For the last week before the date of the half marathon then I did not (could not) run. All I could do was a lot of stretching.

By the time the run came about my leg was feeling ‘OK’ with the exception of my groin that was still feeling tight on my right side.

In retrospect I had my doubts but spurred on my fiancé who was also running and who had also missed weeks of training due to a throat infection I thought I would ‘give it a go’ on the basis I could always stop if it started to really hurt.

16.5km and 1:45 into the race I was a feeling a bit tired but generally OK before sharp pains started shooting all down my left leg. This resulted in me limping the last 5km over a 45 min period brining me over the finish line at around 2:29.

To say that it was hurting at the end is an understatement (see above photographic evidence of me just over the finish line). This was, by far, the most pain I have been in after a half marathon! I guess not too surprisingly.

Despite this third failure our fundraising efforts once again provide the silver lining. 22 people donated a total of £332.69 to the African Palliative Care Association (You can still donate to this exceptionally good cause by clicking here).

So thank you to each and every one of you who donated!

And there it is, my running career, how I am slowly becoming a ‘specialist in failure’ and a few hints and tips on how not to prepare for an run a half marathon!

The only question remaining is…have I got one more in me? Will I manage to run a half marathon, sober, fit and well prepared?

Maybe.

 

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A letter to Neil Carmichael MP on the detention of Shaker Aamer

This is a copy of a letter sent to my local Conservative MP, Neil Carmichael:

Dear Neil,

I am writing to you once again about the case of the British resident still held in Guantanamo Bay, Shaker Aamer. I am writing again because there have been no significant movements towards either his release or trial since our last correspondence.

Days, weeks, months and even years have slipped by for both of us since our last correspondence on this issue but I am sure you appreciate the same sense of time sliding by will not be shared by Shaker who remains being held in the most awful of conditions within Guantanamo Bay.

At this point I ask for your empathy to spur action – imagine that this was your own father or brother being held without reason in such barbaric conditions and then remember that you have the power to bring about change on this issue!

The status quo will remain so only for as long as we collectively remain silent. I am asking you to speak out, loudly and with passion.

Why now?

In August of this year yet more troubling evidence (1) has emerged that Shaker has faced further beatings at the hands of those who hold him without charge or trial.

Years have passed for Shaker inside Guantanamo but I ask you to do what you can to ensure that not another single day goes past in the same way.

As such, as a matter of urgency, I am writing to you to ask you to undertake the following actions:

  • To make urgent representations for a full debate in the House of Commons for the release and return of British resident Shaker Aamer to the UK in accordance with the e-petition process (2).
  • To write to the Foreign Secretary outlining that your constituents will not settle for anything short of an agreed and fixed timeline for either the trial or release of Shaker Aamer.

I look forward to your response on this issue. Please respond by email rather than through HoC paper.

With optimism,

Steve Hynd

Sources:

  • (1) http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/2014_08_27_PUB_Shaker_Aamer_beaten_Guantanamo/
  • (2) The Government e-petition requesting “new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing detention in Guantanamo Bay” has so far obtained at least 117,442 signatures. An adjournment debate was held in Westminster Hall on 24th April but this did not lead to immediate action for Shaker’s return.

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Note to the Telegraph: Green MEP is not an avid bee keeper

Molly

Molly Scott Cato MEP – not an “avid bee keeper”

I was pleasantly surprised to see in today’s Daily Telegraph (not the natural bedfellows of The Green Party) an article that seriously examined the idea that the 2015 General Elections will be a ‘5 horse race’. It wasn’t long however before I started to spot the usual stereotyping that blights so much of the media coverage of the Green Party.

As a precursor to the rest of this blog it is worth highlighting the notable rise in quality media coverage the Greens have enjoyed over the last 6 months. This is, at least in part, thanks to the recently re-elected leader Natalie Bennett, who worked as a journalist including a number of years as an editor at The Guardian.

And yet it still feels like they are fighting an up-hill battle at every turn.

Using this latest Telegraph article as a case in point…The article is generally positive towards the Greens highlighting 7 reasons why they will be a major factor in May 2015’s General Election and yet a patronising whiff exists over the article and manifests itself in the smallest of details.

Take for example the section on last May’s European elections:

While Mr Clegg’s party lost 10 out of 11 MEPs, the Greens not only held their two seats but added a third – Molly Scott Cato, an avid beekeeper who became the party’s first ever South West MEP.

Why on earth would Ben Riley-Smith, the author of the article, choose ‘an avid beekeeper’ as a description for Molly rather than say, ‘a published economics author’ or ‘a former district councillor’ or ‘a former Professor of Economics’…?

This was a point that earlier today I raised on twitter copying in Molly Scott Cato MEP.

Her response just makes this point even more remarkable:

Curious. Not only did Riley-Scott choose the frankly bizarre description of ‘an avid bee keeper’ to describe this acclaimed author and academic but, bizarrely, this then turns out to be a complete falsehood anyway.

I then googled ‘Molly Scott Cato beekeeper’ to see where this apparent myth might have come from and sure enough, it appears in a number of other media outlets from the BBC (including the pun ‘making a buzz of her own’) to our local rag the Gloucestershire Citizen.

As Molly said in her tweet… #stereotypes.

This type of lazy stereotyping by the press perpetuates the myth that Greens are only interested in the environment. Even when an economist is elected the media look to describe her in outdated environmental terms.

This is in turn reinforces the perception of voters that Greens do address the issues that most concern them. Of course the irony is that ‘the economy’ consistently tops the list of issues concerning voters and yet journalists, like Riley-Scott, think it more pertinent to mention a completely made-up hobby of Molly’s rather than the fact that she is acclaimed economist!

Things are improving for the Greens in terms of media coverage but to say this is an uphill battle is an understatement.

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Green Party membership at 20,000 – up 45% in 2014 alone

Green membership2
The Green Party of England and Wales’ membership has grown by over 45% in 2014 alone. This means that, for the first time in the party’s history, their membership is over 20,000.

The youth branch of the Green Party, the ‘Young Greens’, has seen a particularly spectacular increase in membership with over 100% new members joining since March 2014 alone.

This coincides with what Hynd’s Blog reported in September that support for the Green Party amongst 18-24 year old voters had doubled since May’ elections. That ‘doubling in support’ fact came from consistent YouGov polling that found 10-11% of 18-24 year olds are planning to vote Green in May 2015.

Interestingly the last three YouGov polling data sets have shown that this increase has, if anything, increased. In the polling from the 29th/30th September the Green Party picked up 11% of 18-24 year old votes, from the 30th September/1st October 13%, and from the most recent 1st/2nd October 14%.

There is also good news for democracy hidden amongst this milestone for the Greens as well. At the 2015 General Elections Greens will be standing candidates in over 75% of seats – that is an increase of 50% from 2010.

This is important for democracy to ensure that voters, who would want to vote Green, have that option on the ballot paper.

Greens are cheerfully referring to this surge in the polls and membership combined with beating the Lib Dems in May’s elections as the #GreenSurge.

It will be interesting to see if this surge runs its course like a wave moving up a beach, or, whether these are the foundations for the Green Party moving into contention within mainstream British politics.

 

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The health cost of the government’s failure to implement minimum pricing of alcohol policy

alcohol
A doctor friend described to me the ‘minimum pricing of alcohol policy’ as ‘one of the few genuinely good public health ideas of recent years’. As with most policies that are good for public health but bad for big business it was quietly dropped. The coalition government instead opted to bring in a ban on ‘below cost’ selling of alcohol.

A study published in the BMJ has, for anyone that had any doubt, put to rest any suggestion that the banning of selling below cost alcohol has any serious public health benefit and, significantly, has clearly restated the case for the introduction of minimum pricing of alcohol (as our progressive neighbours in Scotland have done – awaiting a legal challenge from the Scotch Whisky Association).

The BMJ study concludes with an unequivocal statement:

“The ban on below cost selling, implemented in the England in May 2014, is estimated to have small effects on consumption and health harm. The previously announced policy of a minimum unit price, if set at expected levels between 40p and 50p per unit, is estimated to have an approximately 40-50 times greater effect.”

The implemented policy of banning the selling of below cost alcohol was found to reduce harmful drinkers’ mean annual consumption by just 0.08%, around 3 units per year. Put another way that is just over one pint, per year, drunk less by harmful consumers of alcohol.

In contrast, the study found that a minimum pricing of alcohol set at around 45p per unit would reduce harmful drinker’s consumption of alcohol by 137 units per year. In terms of pints that is approximately 60 pints less a year.

We have known for a while now that the minimum pricing of alcohol disproportionately impacts on those of us who consume the most alcohol (in the study a harmful drinker was defined as the 5.3% of the population over 16 who on average consumer 58 units per week for females, 80 units for males).

According to the study 2.2 million of us Brits are harmful drinkers (17.3% – 7.2 million are ‘hazardous’ and 61.5% – 22.5 million – are ‘moderate’).

The study found that 30.5% of harmful drinker’s alcohol would be effected by a minimum price of 45p per unit while just 19.5% and 12.5% respectively for hazardous and moderate drinker’s alcohol would be effected.

But this policy analysis isn’t just about reducing the amount people drink for an abstract notion of it being ‘better for our health’. The study connects it closely to alcohol related deaths stating:

“Below cost selling would save an estimated 14 deaths and 500 admissions to hospital annually, compared with 624 deaths and 23 700 admissions for a 45p minimum unit price”

In short and written another way, the coalition’s decision to delay the introduction of a minimum price of alcohol is costing Brits 610 needless deaths a year and a whopping 23,200 hospital admissions.

Something worth bearing in mind next time you go into an overworked hospital.

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On Lib Dems, Greens and the selective use of polling data

Anyone with any connection to the Green Party will have probably seen the below image over the last few days. Produced by the polling company YouGov it shows the Green Party neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats on 6% of the intended vote share.

GreenLDVI

Having an external and highly respected polling company like YouGov produce such an image is extremely useful to the Green Party as they continue to try and convince voters that they are a credible option and not a ‘wasted vote’.

What I am about to write does not contradict that.

That said, any assertion that the Green Party are currently neck and neck with the Lib Dems in the polls (plural) as some Greens are claiming is flagrantly not true.

An accurate description of what has occurred would read more like, “One poll, which stands as an exception, shows the Green Party neck and neck in the polls”.

Indeed, YouGov’s latest polling which directly followed the above quoted polling has the Lib Dems on 7% (+1) and the Green Party on 4% (-2).

In addition, the previous Lord Ashcroft and Populus polling both had the Lib Dems on 9% – significantly higher than YouGov has had them for months now. YouGov represents the worst predictions for the Lib Dems.

The UK polling report average, a calculated polling average from across the polling companies, currently has Lib Dems on 8%.

Equally, the 6% vote share for the Green Party represents a (fairly consistent) high for The Green Party. They are currently averaging 5% (according to the UK polling report average).

In short, there are, on average, a clear 3 percentage points between the two parties. And there is no reason to think that this will change anytime soon. It appears that the Lib Dems have reduced their support down to its committed core and the Green Party have impressively expanded their support beyond most people’s expectations.

Looking back 5 years it is interesting to remember where these parties have come from in terms of polling data. At this time 5 years ago with half a year or so until the general election ICM/News of the World polling had the Green Party on just 2% and the Lib Dems on 17%. Some Ipsos Mori polling had the Green Party on 3% and the Lib Dems on 25% (with the day before the poll results having Lib Dems on 27% with no mention of the Green Party). Some YouGov polling (that also didn’t bother recording Green voting intention) had Lib Dems on 21%.

In 5 years the Green Party have gone from not being counted or receiving 1-3% of the vote to consistently polling 4-7%. The Lib Dems have gone from being ‘the next big thing’ polling 16-30% to being stripped down their bare bones of voter support (6-9%).

So, where does this leave us in terms of expected vote share for May 2015? Well, I predict the Lib Dems will still be the third largest party in the Commons (with around 30 seats) and I strongly suspect the Greens will return no more than their one current MP (the case for electoral reform is as strong as ever).

Equally in terms of vote share, I expect to see the Lib Dem 2015 vote share a bit higher than the current polling (for common sense reasons such as embarrassment in admitting you plan to vote Lib Dem and support to good local MPs) and I also expect to see the Green Party vote share marginally drop as both Lib Dems and Labour put out ‘squeeze messages’ (if you vote Green you will let the Tories in).

The Greens are growing and working hard to offer a progressive alternative to the established establishment parties but any assertion that they are polling neck and neck with the Lib Dems is, currently, simply not true.

 

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2 graphs that explain the dangers of climate change

The New Scientist yesterday published this graph under the headline ‘World on track for worst-case warming scenario’:

New Scientist

The graph shows how we, as human beings who are the primary drivers of global warming, are following the ‘worst case’ projections that the IPCC set out in their climate modelling. The article explains:

“Models predict how much the world will warm depending on how much we emit in future. Scientists typically look at four different possible futures, ranging from an uber-green society to a worst-case scenario, in which no action is taken to combat global warming. Le Quéré [the lead author] and her colleagues show how today’s emissions are near-perfectly in line with the worst-case scenario. This means that, according to scientists’ best estimates, the world will be as much as 5.4 °C warmer in 2100 than it was before the industrial revolution.”

The article goes onto talk about the ‘2 degree guard-rail’ – in other words the internationally agreed assumption that we need to keep global rise in temperature below that of 2 degrees from 1990 levels.

As I wrote back in 2009 however, this agreed guard rail is based on science that is now nearly 15 years out of date (based on work done pre-2001). As this graph from a 2009 University of Copenhagen report shows – the expected outcomes or ‘dangers’ of climate change will occur at a significantly lower temperature rise than was estimated back in 2001.

Click on the image to enlarge:

Fig 8

(Source: page 16 from here).

This report explains the significance of these findings in no uncertain terms:

“…a 2oC guardrail, which was thought in 2001 to have avoided serious risks for all five reasons for concern, is now inadequate to avoid serious risks to many unique and threatened ecosystems and to avoid a large increase in the risks associated with extreme weather events”

It goes onto conclude:

“…although a 2oC rise in temperature above pre-industrial remains the most commonly quoted guardrail for avoiding dangerous climate change, it nevertheless carries significant risks of deleterious impacts for society and the environment.”

In short, the first graph shows how we are currently on course for the worse-case projections that climate scientists have predicted. This will have disastrous consequences. The second graph then tells us that the targets that we are so woefully missing might well prove to be inadequate anyway and that the probability of these disastrous consequences start to go through the roof at approximately 2 degrees of warming.

With this in mind, riddle me this…why is this not on the front page of every newspaper, on the agenda of ‘Cobra emergency meeting’ in Downing Street, the number one priority for voters?

Is it as simple as a case of our collective head’s being buried in the sand? I don’t know, all I do know is that if we want change, we have to demand it from our decision makers.

In 2015 the UK has a general election – make sure you only lend your vote to someone who understands climate change and whose party take these risks seriously!

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On the need for radical constitutional reform

This is a guest post from Mike Assenti (yes that Mike Assenti) who writes on the need for radical constitutional reform in not just Scotland but also Wales, Northern Ireland and even England!

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP - one of many comfortable conservative backbenchers

Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP – one of many comfortable conservative backbenchers

The votes are in and Scotland has (just about) voted against independence. This makes me feel a curious combination of relief and disappointment – relief as I think the union is the best outcome when looking at it rationally; disappointment for the Scots in that they have missed a golden opportunity to break from the dysfunctional, condescending Westminster.

Some support for the No vote came about in part because of the last minute scramble by the establishment to promise further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. This was met with the response by many (particularly on the English right) that we should see wider constitutional reform than just Scottish devolution, with further devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland, and even some form of English devolution.

In this, I find myself in the curious position of agreeing with the likes of John Redwood and Nigel Farage.

It’s a little disconcerting.

However, much of the focus of how this should be achieved seems to be on answering the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’. Posed in 1977 by the anti-devolution Labour MP for West Lothian, Tam Dalyell, this issue is about whether non-English MPs should be allowed to vote on matters that only affect the English. As more and more devolution has taken place, this question has taken on more importance, with England ‘missing out’ on being able to set its own agenda.

There is no good answer to this question as it is currently posed. One proposed solution would be to bar non-English MPs from voting or debating on purely English matters. This would see the creation of two tiers of MPs – the English able to vote on everything, and the non-English who are restricted on certain matters. Where would this leave perfectly capable non-English MPs who form part of the government? Where would this leave any non-English Prime Minister? Would it have been possible for Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling to be PM and Chancellor if they were prevented from participating in ‘English only’ issues?

I cannot see how this solution is anything other than completely unworkable.

The problem is that this question is being asked with the wrong mind-set. A contributing factor the Scottish Independence movement is the perception of being ruled by the English. Historically the English conquered Wales and Ireland, and these countries were then ruled by the English. When parliament deposed James II/VII in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for the crimes of being Catholic and promoting religious tolerance, they ended the reign of the House of Stuart that had united the Scottish and English thrones in the first place.

Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, the English have been, at best, the senior partners, and at worst, the absolute rulers of the other nations. Even within England, there is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that everything is skewed towards the South, and in particular London. If we can face up to and try to fix this mind-set, then we can have successful devolution that would leave a far greater proportion of the population feeling enfranchised, with the same powers available for all of the UK’s member nations.

Here’s my proposal of how we might achieve this.

We continue to have a Westminster based House of Commons and House of Lords. This is the British Parliament, and the seat of the British government. They are responsible for dealing with matters that affect the entirety of the UK, such as foreign policy, high level monetary policy, etc etc. The size of a constituency is made far, far larger, such that there are of the order of 25 constituencies across the UK. Each constituency elects around 10 or so members via a PR system (STV?), leading to around 250 MPs – less than half the current number.

We continue to have national assemblies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and we create a new national assembly for England. These assemblies are responsible for dealing with matters that affect each individual nation. Each assembly is devolved the same amount of power.

No one can serve on both a national assembly and in the British parliament at the same time. Each assembly is free to choose their own electoral system based on the wishes of the electorate. I would personally favour STV for the English assembly, with around 30 constituencies electing around 150 members. The English Assembly should not be based at Westminster, and ideally shouldn’t even be in London. Choosing Manchester or Leeds would have the beneficial effects of moving some power away from its current ludicrous concentration in London, as well as providing a boost for that area and helping to close the North/South divide.

Of course, we all know none of this will happen.

Challenging the status quo is not an easy thing in this country, and those in charge have extremely vested interests in avoiding change. The hallowed, ancient systems of government currently in place are revered by the old guard, with all their pomp and tradition better suited to the 18th than 21st century.

A system of PR would drastically reduce the number of both Tory and Labour MPs, as well as removing safe seats for idle back benchers of the ilk of Geoffrey Clifton Brown. Forcing members to choose between UK politics or English politics is also unlikely to be popular with MPs used to being in charge of the whole lot. Reducing the number of MPs will obviously result in many losing their jobs, but this would be necessary to help to pay for the change. It would of course be expensive as well, but that in itself should not be a barrier to long over-due constitutional reform that would be a huge investment in the politics of the future.

Whilst we’re on the subject of constitutional reform, maybe it would be a good idea to actually write a constitution. The UK is one of very few countries worldwide without one – the others being Israel, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

The Scottish Independence referendum has brought the question of what our United Kingdom is and what it should be into the foreground, and perhaps now is a good time for all Brits to discuss and agree on these issues. If we really are Better Together, then let’s explicitly define our relationship, making sure that everybody is represented, that power is fairly distributed and that the restrictions and legacies of the past are not all that define our common future.

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Stroud News and Journal: ‘Couple to embark on gruelling charity run’

This is from last week’s Stroud News and Journal about my up-coming charity run aiming to raise money and awareness of the African Palliative Care Association.

It is not too late to sponsor us – just click here

Click on the article to enlarge:

Image (142)
Thanks to the SNJ for their support!

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When The Daily Mail asks to use a photograph you’ve taken this is how you respond

Very proud of my good friend and occasional Hynd’s Blog contributor, Mike Assenti, for this wonderful response to the Daily Mail when the paper approached him asking to use one of his photographs.

Mike

Follow Mike on twitter @ClipOnMike.

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Green Party membership 2002-2014 up three fold

Today, Derek Wall from the Green Party tweeted this graph showing the growth in Green Party Membership from 2002 – 2014.

Greens 2002-2013

Two interesting points to draw out from the graph:

  • How low the membership was 10 years ago (I joined when the party had just 6,280 other members).
  • How consistently the membership has grown over the last 12 years (with obvious spikes).

In contrast when we look at membership figures (source: House of Commons briefing Sept 2014) of the three largest political parties in the UK we can see the exact opposite occurring:

  • Membership that used to be quite big but…
  • Now the membership is consistently slipping away.

party members hip

For the sake of comparison, if we look at the Conservatives compared to the Greens we can see that the Tory membership fell by more than half between 2000 and 2013 while the Green Party grew by three fold.

It is worth highlighting though that other smaller parties are also seeing a growth (the BNP serving as the exception).

party members hip 2

Perhaps what is most interesting however is to look at the percentage increase or decrease over the last 10 years to examine where the momentum is in British politics:

party members hip 3This one crass measure doesn’t tell you much but it does suggest that both UKIP and Greens are currently riding high.

The pertinent question though is will this trend continue and will all these small parties become bigger players in British politics or will we see some of them drop off like we did the BNP?

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Why I will be running for the African Palliative Care Association

APCA_logo final_NEW STRAPIt is important to state from the start, I don’t like running and nor am I any good at it. You would be right then to comment that it seems just a smidgen odd to decide to run 21 kilometres, out of my own free will, however good a cause it is for.

Well let me assure you that it is for an exceptionally good cause. I am fundraising for the African Palliative Care Association (APCA). APCA has been my employer now for the last 18 months. I am not too proud to say though that when I started working for them I knew little about palliative care – let alone palliative care in Africa.

I guess I was a little naive but I never expected the raw reality that I was met with on day one of my job. Literally millions of people suffering the most debilitating of pain because they don’t even have access to basic elements of palliative care such as access to pain medication.

I started to grasp the magnitude of what this actually meant when I went with staff from Hospice Africa Uganda on home visits. I met patients and their family who benefited from having access to oral morphine and who had grappled back a sense of normality in their life.

I remember meeting Bruno on the outskirts of Kampala. I remember how he had said to me that “You cannot be happy to see your dad suffering”. But most of all, I remember how deeply sincere he was when he thanked the hospice staff for coming, for caring and for bringing his monthly does or oral morphine.

This realisation though of how important palliative care services are only truly sunk in when I met someone who, like most Ugandans, did not have access to this service.

That person asked me not to publish her name and I can understand why. She spent 6 months nursing her mother who died of cancer as the rest of the family refused to let her seek medical help because of the financial implications. She watched her mother everyday lie in bed unable to move because of the pain she was in. With tears in her eyes she said to me one of the most powerful sentences that I have ever heard: “When I die, I don’t want to go like that.”

This is what APCA campaigns for. To ensure that no-one in Africa dies without access to palliative care.

Over the last 18 months of working for APCA I have almost every day had a realisation of some sort. Sometimes it is still about how dire the situation is in many parts of Africa. Other times it is about these faceless numbers impact on people lives. But increasingly these realisations come through meeting the varied and wonderful volunteers and staff who working to change all this.

Because of a small band of committed people there are now policies, projects and pain killers popping up all over Africa. The staff and volunteers I have met have at times humbled me but more often than not, they have inspired me.

In South Africa the national association is supporting the training of traditional healers in palliative care. In Uganda they have been training journalists and editors. In Zambia they are engaging the HIV AIDS community. All people who used to see themselves as separate to palliative care all now working to ensure everyone has access to these services.

When the palliative care community reaches out – others cannot help but to respond seeking out what they can do, how they can contribute to helping to end this perfectly preventable humanitarian disaster of untreated pain.

It is a natural response that I too felt.

But what can I, as a non-medical professional, contribute? And that’s when it struck me that even if I was already over stretched professionally, I could always do something that anyone of us could do…run a half marathon to raise money and awareness for APCA’s work.

And so, not only do I want you, if you can afford to, donate to APCA through my ‘Just Giving’ page. I would also love you to help me raise awareness of palliative care in Africa. Can you share this article on facebook, visit APCA’s website, or share this video?

Together I know we can do this – there are already hundreds of talented wonderful people out there doing the most amazing work. It might not be obvious how you can help but believe me, just by reading this article you have taken your first step.

There is a long-way to go and my half-marathon is really just the first few steps but together we can make a real difference.

You don’t have to believe me, just go and listen to patients both with and without access to palliative care and you will soon see the difference it can make.

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The satire of Downing Street trying to fly the saltire

saltire
With the news that the ‘Yes to Independence’ campaign had overtaken the ‘Better Together No to Independence’ campaign in the polls, the Yes campaign went on the offensive trying to paint the No campaign as panicking.

To counter this at the time, unfounded accusation, the No campaign launched itself into full panic mode.

Firstly, they cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) so the three party leaders could take a completely unplanned and, let’s be honest, unwelcomed trip to Scotland to try and ‘love bomb’ the Scots.

I can’t see that going wrong…

While I feel little sympathy for Cameron, I do feel a bit bad for Clegg as once again he fights in a referendum where he does more harm than good. He is, whether he likes to admit it or not, now part of the three figureheads of conventional Westminster politics who are to the No campaign what the Liberal Democrats were to the AV campaign.

Alex Salmond must have been laughing at the news that all three of them were heading north.

As if trying to write a satirical sketch for the ‘Thick of it’, it got worse. Someone somewhere decided to try and fly the saltire over Downing Street and impressively manged to get it wrong. Truly a wonderful moment – the satire of the saltire.

Watch this video:


It has been a long time since I have seen a collective political flap as big as this. Will the Scots find this late attempt to love-bomb them lovable? Or, and perhaps more likely, will they see through these latest twists and turns of political posturing?

I suspect the latter but I guess we won’t find out until the 18th September when Scots go to the polls.

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