Category Archives: Politics

Stroud MP tables question on British resident still held in Guantanamo Bay

Stroud MP, Neil Carmichael, has tabled a written question to the FCO about British resident, Shaker Aamer, who is still being held in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial. In light of this (and previous interactions with him which you can read here), this is a copy of my latest letter to him on the subject. 

Dear Neil,

Thank you for taking action on Shaker Aamer’s case. It is important that those within the FCO are regularly made aware that voters, including your constituents, have not forgotten about Shaker Aamer and that also we are not prepared to witness inaction from our own government and elected representatives on this issue.

I note however 2 things from the question you submitted and Mr Ellwood’s eloquent response:

  • Mr Ellwood did not really answer your question. You, very clearly, asked ‘what assurances he has had from the US administration about the (a) treatment of remaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay (b) efforts to seek the release of Shaker Aamer‘ to which the Minister replied that the UK government ‘continue[s] to seek assurances regarding Mr Aamer’s health and welfare…‘I note that ‘continue[s] to seek’ dodges your direct question around what existing assurances the UK government has on Mr Aamer’s health and chances of release or trial. As such, I request, that you write in person back to Mr Ellwood asking him to clarify what current assurances the UK government has regarding Mr Aamer’s health and his potential release or trial as well as highlighting your concern about reports of his ill treatment and deteriorating health.
  • Secondly I note that although your question was important it was not specifically what I asked you to ask. I originally asked you 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.’

    As such, in addition to the existing point in the letter you will be hopefully writing to Mr Ellwood, I ask you to reiterate that your constituent, upon whose behalf you are writing, will not settle for anything short of an agreed and fixed timeline for either the trial or release of Shaker Aamer. 

Lastly, I note that I have not heard back from you regarding my original request that you:

‘…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.’

As such, I humbly request you use your position in the HoC to make representations for a full debate. If this is not possible I ask simply for an explanation as to why it is not possible or desirable in the current circumstances.

I hope you do not feel pestered by these on-going chains of communications and requests for actions – that is not my intention. I hope instead that you feel the enormity of the challenge that we face in securing the trial or release of British resident Shaker Aamer and the evident importance of ruffling some feathers to secure this.

In addition I am still awaiting an explanation or apology to the apparent plagiarism that you undertook in your initial response to me about Shaker’s case. How is it that Sajid Javid’s constituent received an identical letter to the one I received purportedly from you? The good people of Stroud elected you Neil, not the Tory Whip’s Office. When we write to you, we want to hear your thoughts on the subject not those of the Whip’s Office – is that too much to ask for?

As always, I look forward to your response by email.

Best,

Steve Hynd

This is a copy of the tabled question and the answer provided by the FCO:

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assurances he has had from the US administration about the (a) treatment of remaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and (b) efforts to seek the release of Shaker Aamer. (215169)

Tabled on: 19 November 2014

Answer:
Mr Tobias Ellwood:

With the exception of those relating to Shaker Aamer, the British Government receives no specific assurances from the US administration about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as no British nationals remain among them. However, whilst Shaker Aamer is not a British national, his connections to the UK mean that he remains a high priority for the British Government. We continue to seek assurances regarding Mr Aamer’s health and welfare through our engagement with the US authorities, and we continue to make clear to the US that we want him released and returned to the UK as a matter of urgency.

The answer was submitted on 25 Nov 2014 at 14:43.

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Read Stroud MP’s copy and pasted response to constituents concerns

As British resident Shaker Aamer remains being held, without charge or trial, in Guantanamo Bay I decided to do what I could to increase the pressure on the US authorities to ensure his release.

In a personal plea to my local Conservative MP Neil Carmichael I wrote:

“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.”

Just under two weeks later I received a response from his office saying:

“I share your concern about Mr Aamer’s continued detention in Guantanamo”

It went on to assure me that:

“Securing Mr Aamer’s release is a high priority for the Government and I understand that it has been using all diplomatic channels available to communicate this.”  

I wrote back naively thinking that these words were at best his own genuine heartfelt views but that at worst, they might be those of his caseworker who would be employed to write such responses on his behalf.

Sadly not, they appear to not even be his caseworker’s words.

Today someone on twitter shared with me this response to their letter to their own local Conservative MP, Sajid Javid.

Javid Aamer letter
A word for word match to the response Neil Carmichael sent to me.

Now I personally find this insulting and misleading. I would have been disappointed to receive a cut and paste response if it had been made clear it was such, but to try and pretend it represents some original thoughts on the subject is, in my mind, reprehensible.

If I had wanted the views of the whips office I would have asked my MP to relay to me the views of the whips office. I didn’t. I waned his own views on the continued barbaric incarceration of a British resident in Guantanamo Bay.

To respond to a matter of, quite literally life and death, in such a glib institutional way is a damning reflection on the seriousness in which he takes his job. Following up and acting on the concerns of constituents is one of the cornerstones of being a MP.

On this occasion my local MP Neil Carmichael has utterly failed.

I hope he makes an effort to amend for this but I suspect stony silence is more likely. It has been a month now since I wrote back to him and I am still awaiting a response.

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UKIP, not the Greens, are attracting the most former Labour voters

Farage
Today’s polling from YouGov shows the Conservatives beating Labour and the Greens beating the Lib Dems each by one point. Some within the Labour party (and media) are panicking that this is a symptom of Ed Miliband’s failure to inspire more left-wing voters who are in turn moving to the Green Party.

The problem is, the polling does not support this.

Of those surveyed who voted Labour in 2010, a significant 76% of them are still planning on voting Labour in 2015. This is more than the Conservative equivalent (75%) and significantly more than the Lib Dem equivalent (28%).

This does however suggest a 24% voter leakage. It is UKIP however, not the Greens, who are picking up most of these disillusioned former Labour voters. 10% of those who voted Labour in 2010 said that they are now planning on voting UKIP.

In comparison the Conservatives are picking up 7%, Greens 4%, SNP/Plaid 2% and Lib Dems 1% of former Labour voters.

Labour have a problem here but the problem is UKIP shaped, not Green! Labour’s response though has been to appoint Sadiq Khan to lead a unit responding to the Green threat whilst essentially ignoring the much larger and significant threat of UKIP.

This might well be one of a list of mistakes that may just cost them the majority they are seeking in 2015.

If the Green Party though are not picking disillusioned Labour voters, where are these new found supporters coming from?

The Green Party are making their gains primarily through disillusioned former Lib Dem voters. 16% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 are now planning on voting Green in 2015. Specifically the Greens are making huge ground among young voters (especially 18-24 year olds) which used to be a Lib Dem strong area.

16% of 18-24 year olds said they would vote Green compared to just 8% of who said they would vote Lib Dem.

Both the Green Party and Labour’s relative position in the polls are dependent on the sinking Lib Dem ship continuing to sink (more 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to vote Labour than they are Lib Dem!).

If after 2015 the Lib Dems end up back on the backbenches and start to regain some of the trust they lost in government and Labour attempt to run a government, it will be interesting to watch where these floating voters settle.

There is a big chunk of the electorate who are no longer attached to one political party which is going to make the coming decades hard to predict and interesting to watch.

In the words of Master Yoda – “Difficult to see, always in motion are the future”

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BNP tweets ‘remembrance’ tweet day late

The BNP were left embarrassed after tweeting a remembrance day message 24 hours late.

Opps.

BNP

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Poll finds Labour at record low and Greens on record high

The Ipsos MORI poll due to be published in today’s Evening Standard has caused ripples today as it shows support for Labour at a record low since 2010.

However behind the headlines there is another interesting figure to pull out of this latest polling – the Green Party are on a dramatic high securing 9% of the voting intention of all adults over the age of 18:

Mori poll

Despite this quite momentous rise in the polls the Ipsos MORI write up of the results does not mention the Green Party once.

UKIP by contrast (down 2% at 14) get four mentions in the write up. The Liberal Democrats (just one percentage point above the Green Party at 10%) equally also get four mentions.

Frustratingly, it is from this text that lazy journalists will copy and paste their articles not bothering to look at the data tables behind the polls (something which I have to do if I want to find out how the Greens are doing).

If they did, I am sure that they would use the headline finding of this poll (Labour being on a long-term low) but equally is it not noteworthy that the Greens are reaching such competitive heights?

Let’s see if any journalists pick up on this…

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Green Party membership surges past 25,000

On June 9th Hynd’s Blog reported how Green Party Membership was growing in a way that the other ‘bigger’ parties were not. At that time they had just over 17,000 members.

On September 17th Hynd’s Blog reported that Green Party membership had tripled between 2002 and 2014. At that time Green Party membership stood at about 18,500.

On the 3rd October Hynd’s Blog reported that Green Party membership was, for the first time in the party’s history, over 20,000.

Today, 11th November, Hynd’s Blog notes a tweet sent from Derek Wall (former Principle Speaker and now International spokesperson of the Greens):

This is, by anyone’s standards, quite an extraordinary growth in party membership. In their words:

In the last 2 weeks someone has joined the Green Party every 10 minutes”

ten-minutes-450x314
Hynd’s Blog is excited to see this growth in progressive political participation!

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UKIP and Greens to influence the 2015 General Elections

Both UKIP and the Green Party are consistently polling at record highs. Hynd’s Blog takes a look at how this might impact the outcome of the 2015 General Election. 

polling station
There is a broad feeling within the Westminster bubble that Labour will win the most seats at the next election. Opinion polls, with the exception of the aftermath of Miliband’s farcical conference speech when he forgot to mention the deficit (opps), show that Labour have consistently polled a few points ahead of the Tories.

Significantly though few expect them to secure enough seats to form a majority government. This means that a coalition is more than possible.

The latest uniform swing predictions put Labour short of an absolute majority by just one seat.

uniform swingIf this prediction comes true then Labour could comfortably (mathematically speaking) enter into coalition with one or a range of parties and rule with a majority government.

However, there is also a scenario where the Lib Dems (currently estimated to pick up 23 seats) fail to have enough support to help Labour secure a coalition with an overall majority.

With this in mind, the relative rise of both UKIP and the Greens and the demise of the Lib Dems takes on a whole new level of interest. No longer is it a given that the Lib Dems will secure enough seats to be able to go into coalition with Labour (or Conservatives) and form a majority government.

It is also worth looking at how in key marginal battle grounds the new found support for both UKIP and Greens might cause a split in the vote a cause an upset.

Those, including myself, who used to talk about the UKIP support just being an electoral blip, have surely enough evidence in front of them now to admit that they were wrong. Equally after a strong showing at May’s European elections and continued growth in support in opinion polls the Greens are increasingly securing their places as a major player in British politics – despite many commentators patronizing dismissal.

To illustrate the current consistent support both the Green Party and UKIP are enjoying I have looked back over the last 10 YouGov voting intention polls. This show that both UKIP and the Green Party are relatively consistent in their new highs within the polls (16-18 % and 5-7% respectively).

graph

The next obvious question then is to ask where this new found support for these two relative outsiders is coming from.

Peter Kellner over at YouGov provides us with this useful infographic from surveys that had a collective sample is 26,724, of whom 1,314 said they would vote Green and 3,401 Ukip:
UKIPGreen demo
Kellner analysed these findings saying:

“In many ways the Greens and Ukip are mirror images of each other. Half of Ukip’s supporters are ex-Tory voters, while the Greens attracted half of their vote from the Lib Dems. Green voters are younger, more female, better-educated and more middle-class than the average – whereas Ukip voters are older, more male, more working class and far less likely to have a university degree. Ukip voters veer to the Right in ideology and choice of newspaper, while Greens veer to Left.”

UKIP, although picking up working class Labour voters, are overwhelmingly picking up former Tory voters. The Greens on the other-hand are picking up a lot of former Lib Dem voters.

If the Greens maintain this level and demographically specific support we can expect to see:

  • Greens returning Caroline Lucas as MP in Brighton Pavillion (Labour’s number one target seat in the South East).
  • A possible second MP in former Lib Dem strong holds (they are targeting Norwich South and Bristol West).
  • A significant impact on Tory/Labour marginals (likely to dent the Labour vote).
  • An increased threat of sitting Lib Dem MPs losing their seats – this is especially true in Lib Dem/Labour marginals.
  • Greens increasing their vote share across the country looking to secure deposits (by securing 5% or more of vote) and possibly beating the Lib Dems.

If UKIP maintain this level and demographically specific support we can expect to see:

  • The standing UKIP MPs (who knows how many other current Conservative MPs will follow Douglas Carswell’s example and defect) returned with little challenge.
  • UKIP gaining a significant number of seats (exact numbers are hard to predict but probably the gains will be counted on one hand).
  • A significant impact on Tory/Labour or Lib Dem marginal (likely to dent the Tory vote more than the Lib Dem/Labour vote).
  • An increase in vote share leaving them with at least double that of the Lib Dems.

In addition there is also a small chance, that UKIP (and even less likely Greens and nationalists) will secure enough MPs to become the minority partner in a coalition themselves – unlikely though.

With all this said and done we are left with more questions than answers: Is this the end of two party politics in the UK? Is our electoral system up to the job with the potential demise of two party politics? Will the Lib Dems enter back into coalition? Would Greens look to join a progressive alliance to form a government? Will Nigel Farage become the next DPM?

So much of this that seemed like an impossibility 4 years ago suddenly seems dramatically possible! When all the talk is of voter apathy it strikes me that there never has been a more exciting time to be involved in politics as the status quo is ripped wide open.

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

This is a copy of a follow up letter sent to my local Conservative MP, Neil Carmichael, in response to his response to my original inquiry:

Dear Neil,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter regarding the ongoing detention without charge or trial of British resident Shaker Aamer.

It is heartening to note from your reply the seriousness with which both yourself and purportedly the British government takes this issue. However I note that your otherwise positive response failed to take note of, or respond to, my request for you to take two actions to help secure Shaker’s release or trial.

I write to you now therefore to reiterate those requests to:

  • 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 (1).
  • 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.

Without actions your supportive words are left as nothing more than well intentioned words.

I understand that ultimately Shaker’s future rests in the hands of the American government but I urge you to do what you can, at this time, to ensure that he doesn’t have to endure one more day in this inhumane legal limbo.

I once again look forward to a timely response by email.

Steve Hynd

  1. 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.

You can read my original letter to Neil here and you can read a copy of Neil’s response to my original letter below:

Thank you for contacting me about the detention of Shaker Aamer.

I share your concern about Mr Aamer’s continued detention in Guantanamo Bay. I believe it is vital that he is released as soon as possible and returned to the UK so he can be reunited with his family.

The Prime Minister personally raised Mr Aamer’s case with President Obama at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland and later wrote to the President reaffirming the importance the UK places on the request for Mr Aamer’s release. The Former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, also raised the case with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in June this year.

Securing Mr Aamer’s release is a high priority for the Government and I understand that it has been using all diplomatic channels available to communicate this.  Foreign Office Ministers have often reiterated that the British Government’s policy is unchanged – that it will support efforts in the United States to close Guantanamo Bay and to seek the return of UK residents and nationals.

While any decision about Mr Aamer’s release ultimately remains in the hands of the United States Government, please rest assured that I will support the UK Government’s efforts as it does all in its power to seek his return.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Neil Carmichael

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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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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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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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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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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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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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