The simple satisfaction of cycling into work along the River Frome into Bristol

img_20161129_084152

My daily commute follows the River Frome into the centre of Bristol. Or I should say, as close as the modern infrastructure built around the river allows. Every day I pass the same weir, the same log spanning from one bank to another, the same bridge where the river finally disappears below the concrete centre forever from sight.

There is a simple satisfaction in observing how the river responds to the weather and countryside that feeds it. After heavy rains the weir can almost disappear under surging dirty brown water washed from ploughed farmers’ fields. A few days of no rain later, and you will be left with a clear trickle struggling to make it down its shallow path.

img_20161129_084437On days like today, when the temperature drops below freezing, this slow flowing river begins to freeze over altogether leaving sheets of ice floating in the river’s eddies.

Wrapped in thick coats, scarves and hats, the red flushed faces look out as the dog walkers crunch over the frozen muddy puddles. On one section of path, just south of Broom Hill the puddles perpetually sit never normally fully draining. Today though, they are iced over leaving a crisp brown path slicing through the centre of a frost filled field. The small wooden picnic bench which normally sits opposite a small outcrop of limestone perfect for some climbing in warmer months is today frozen white.

img_20161129_083919About 2 kilometres north of the city centre the River Frome emerges from the steep valley in which it has been travelling and my commute cuts up through the open expanse of Eastville Park. In these winter months, the sun rises directly to my left, beaming gently through the historic horse chestnut trees that cast long shadows over the frozen ground.

img_20161129_084616As the river fights its way through the monstrosity of modern out of town shopping my route slips alongside the equally awful piece of urban engineering – the M32, the first real reminder that you’re heading into a major city centre. From here the river dips below concrete in places and the off-road cycle route weaves between skate parks, railway bridges and underpasses.

The embedded heat in the concrete on this stage of the commute means that despite the air temperature being close to minus 4, nothing is frozen. The concrete is grey, the grass green and the sky blue.

Nothing of the surroundings for the last bit of this commute gives any hint of the weather or countryside that surrounds the city. It is then that I feel a huge sense of privilege to have such a commute. Also though, I feel a sadness that for most people, even those whose daily commute is outside of their cars, most people in Bristol would not have seen the frozen field that I cycled through this morning.

As I arrive in the office buoyed by the beauty of the seasons, I can’t help but to wonder what impact it is having on us as a society for most of us to never fully experience or appreciate the changing of the weather, seasons and nature that will always sit beyond our control.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogging, Bristol, Outdoors, Photography, Social comment

Walking in the South Lake District – November 2016

A few photographs from last weekend’s walking in the South Lake District mainly around Coniston area.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Leave a comment

Filed under Outdoors, Photography

How you can help the unaccompanied child refugees in Calais

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On our doorstep, just two dozen miles from the British coast, is a refugee camp that is being demolished leaving people in the most desperate conditions. There are hundreds of children in these camps, many of whom have a legal right to be in the UK. Due to feet dragging, legal technicalities and lack of political will, their temporary shelters are being demolished and they are being left exposed having to fight not just for their rights, but their very survival.

In the next week or two this camp will be fully demolished. Unless our government acts, unless we act, many of these accompanied children will more than likely just go missing and disappear. This happened before, it is likely to happen again. The thought of the exploitation they will likely face should this happen should be enough to inspire us all into action.

Last week I went with the MEP, Molly Scott Cato, who I work with and visited the camp and met with some of the refugees and volunteers. What I saw was the end result of an uncaring and uninterested government. It was simply awful. A policy to do nothing left vulnerable people with nothing. I saw no government representation, no officials offering support, only volunteers where government agencies should have been.

It is worth noting, that the refugee camp in Calais is not, and never was, actually a refugee camp but just a makeshift camp with refugees in. This distinction is important. The former implies order and support and the latter implies disorder and little sufficient support.

Our government’s limited response to this is in the last few days is shameful. At the last minute they generously offer to accept a fraction of the children they are obliged to support. Too little too late. For too long they have been focusing on building a hugely expensive “security wall”.  Perhaps a wall fits better with this governments fortress Britain mentality, but does little to support the children living in the camp. This whole time, rather than resorting too counterproductive Trump-esque style tactics, the British Government could have been registering the children identified to them by NGOs in the camps, to stop them risking their lives trying to get to the UK illegally.

We now face a ticking clock while the camp is demolished. To stop children disappearing, the UK government must step up and process all children with a legal right to be here. This is either through the Dublin III Regulation which entitles them to be reunited with family members living in the UK or under the Alf Dubs amendment which is supposed to bring the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in Europe to safety in the UK.

There are of course children there who don’t have a legal right to be in the UK and for some it may not be in their best interests to come here anyway. For those the UK government needs to be pushing the French authorities to do more in providing reception facilities to these children so they can go through the appropriate asylum process in France.

Whilst in the camp I heard reports of children being turned away by French authorities when they tried to register to claim asylum. Worse still, I also heard numerous reports of excessive use of violence from the French police. Volunteers talked to me about rubber bullets and tear gas being fired directly into groups leaving some minors with serious injuries.

History will judge our own and the French government’s actions and inaction poorly.

This government behaviour has, to some extent, been mitigated against by an army of volunteers that should be highly commended. Until government steps up to its legal and moral reasonability the goodwill of you, I and volunteers is all some have at the moment. If you have not already I urge you to write to your local MP urging government to act urgently. This cannot wait. There is a sample letter here but more powerfully, you can explain why this is important to you in your own words. Secondly, if you can afford to, please send phone credit to the refugees in the camps. This is crucial all the time but even more so during the up-coming demolition. Lastly, if you have time, volunteer either in the UK or the camps yourself.

This is a moral crisis. Primarily a crisis of government but one that touches on each of us. As Dr Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

I doubt many in government have read Dr Seuss. But you have, so please act.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Hynd's Blog, Middle East, Photography, Politics, Social comment, War

Visiting the Lofoten Islands – Norway

lofoten

The Lofoten are arctic islands. They are dramatic in every respect. From the jagged mountains that stretch out of the impossibly blue seas, to the never setting sun, right through to the eye watering prices they ask for their locally crafted ales. Incredibly, everyone I meet on these islands seem oblivious to it all, quietly going out to their work which seems to be mainly farming or fishing.

Maybe because of the never setting sun, but these islands hold a timelessness. The islands support some of the oldest mountains in the world that stand as watchman over every day’s activities. Time ebbs and flows intertwined with just the occasional break for dried fish, homemade waffles or, I’m told, the alarming local specialty –lutefisk!

At any time in the never ending day you can glance up in any direction to see mountain peaks. Often they are lit with unworldly pinks and oranges as the sun roller-coasters through the sky dipping precariously close to the horizon before soaring back up to warm this unlikely mild arctic climate.

As you travel along single track roads every house you pass seems to hold the archetype of the Norwegian Grandmother with the smell of waffles wafting through the air by every open window. Step away and this sweetness sits in juxtaposition to the smell of the sea salt mixed with ever present the potent ever present fishing industry clustered around every port.

The coastline dominates both the industry here and the geography. Wherever you are on these small island it seems you’re always close enough to hear the sea perpetually lapping against the shores. The same back and forth that defined these islands for millions of years that offer a reassuring promise that they will do for a millennium to come.

With waffles seemingly cooked continuously and with the sun refusing to set, the need to distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner melts away like the soft, sweet brown cheese that melts into the hearts of the freshly cooked waffles. As a visitor, it’s hard not to melt into this routine of existing.

Despite all this, despite the magnificent mountains, despite the crashing sea that stretches out in every direction, despite the spectacular light that shines a warmth gently onto everything we do, despite all this, everyone I meet seems unaware of it. Or at least, only interested only in making sure we, the visitors, are well fed and enjoying our time here.

Dried fish and wet shores, a warm sun perpetually in a cold sky, such massive mountains on such a small series of islands. In a way this juxtaposition of life, land and beauty makes perfect sense. In many ways little seems to make much sense on Lofoten. The one thing you can say for sure though, is that everything on the Lofoten Islands is dramatic and that if you haven’t already, you should visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography, Travel

I want my country’s confidence back

Mo Farah - Jon Connell Fickr

Picture by Jon Connell – Flickr

“I want my country back…”

This is the lazy rhetoric of the Leave campaign. I want my country back…from what, or to when, seem to be questions they are unable or unwilling to answer.

But I think I can though, so here goes.

More than anything I want my country back from the recent poisonous rhetoric of the Leave campaign. When did it become OK in this country to produce political videos depicting refugees as “vicious snakes”? At what point did it become OK to produce political videos that depict a women being raped by a political entity? At what point did it become OK to produce posters so dehumanising, degrading and despicable that they are compared to Nazi propaganda – by the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer?

I want this to stop. This isn’t the politics of a country that I am proud of. This is the politics of the gutter.

It hasn’t always been like this though. And that’s what I want my country to return to. Metaphorically speaking, I want my country back to that balmy summer of 2012 when the country came together around the Olympic Games to celebrate our role in the international community.

Do you remember it? Kids playing in the street, spontaneous acts of kindness, citizen ambassadors? I remember the image of Mo Farah flying the Union Jack and how it became a symbol of our nation: confident, energetic, multi-cultural, welcoming, high achieving.

After that incredible summer of the 2012 Olympic Games a study was done to explore what impact it had on our international standing. The results were clear, people from around the world saw us Brits as more “distinctive, daring, charming, energetic, trendy and authentic”.

The world came to us and we embraced them confident open arms.

Skip forward 4 years and we seem have retreated further into ourselves. Without the same confidence we have half-turned our back on our neighbours, arms crossed, protective.

So how do we get our country back to that outward looking, confident country we were all so proud to be part of?

I can tell you it is not going to come from either the mainstream Leave or Remain fear based campaigns. While the Leave camp are hell bent on dog whistling on immigration, the Remain record is stuck on the question of “what if” we leave.

I want to be asking a different question. I want to be asking what it is about the EU that has secured peace for decades, secured a higher quality of environment and worker protections. And, significantly, what was the role of the UK in that process?

When we start to dig deeper we can find a proud history. One that stretches from Churchill’s post-war vision to our leadership through the EU in tackling climate change, promoting human rights, and exporting democracy. A role in the UK plays in the EU that we can be really proud of.

This is what we must be focused on and, crucially, asking how can we look to build on these successes?

I will be voting Remain on Thursday not out of fear but because I want my country’s confidence back. I want us to reclaim that outward facing, confident and positive feeling that gripped us back in 2012. I want us to be leading not leaving the EU. I want us to remain a positive, confident, tolerant country.

1 Comment

Filed under EU politics, Politics, Social comment

In memory of Douglas Nicol – former Bath Councillor

Douglas Nicol was a man who greeted with back slaps, booming smiles and sparking eyes but it was the way he gifted the most subtle of kindness that I will remember him by.

I first met him when working for Don Foster MP in Bath and Douglas was a newly elected councillor. He was as hard working a councillor as he was insistent that I join him in the pub after a day’s work. It is a memory of one of these such occasions that resonates as my main memory of him and what I wanted to share now after hearing of his death.

We were walking through the centre of Bath towards the sort of pub you have to duck through the doorway to get into – all low ceilings and eccentric locals. We were going to meet some of Doug’s friends to watch the rugby and enjoy a few beers, perhaps two of the things he enjoyed the most.

Douglas knew me reasonably well by this point and he also knew that at this time I had less than little money. As we walked Doug stopped to get money from a cash machine and handed me a £20 note. I looked quizzically at the note and then him. With sparkling eyes he said it was so I could buy his mates the first round of beers. The only way he insisted, to introduce yourself to his friends.

Everyone, myself included, would have thought Douglas a top guy if he had gone to the bar and paid for a round for me. But this small act which was more about enabling friendships than anything else optimised his endless thoughtful and unassuming kindness.

This anecdote could have been pulled from hundreds of different examples of his kindness. Someone who didn’t spend enough time with Douglas (or someone who had spent too much time with him) might have missed these small acts, but they were littered into his day to day life, into his actions as a councillor and into the very way in which he approached people.

I am sure he will be missed by many. RIP mate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bath, Politics

Be outraged! Manchester nightclub hosting ‘free midget’ night

Today I was alerted to the Restricted Growth Association’s Change.org petition calling on the Oxford Club in Manchester to reconsider its decision to host a ‘free midget night’.

I will copy here the reason I wrote for signing the petition so you know why it’s important to me.

“Everyday people with restricted growth get both physical and verbal abuse thrown at them. Part of why this happens is because of a culture that doesn’t value them but instead sees them as entertainment, a point of comedy, a thing for the rest of the world’s pleasure. It is in this mind-set that people think it acceptable to pick dwarfs up, to try and balance a pint of beer on their heads, or in this case, host a “midget night” in an entertainment venue.

Just imagine if those things happened to any other minority? There would be outrage…I am signing this petition because I think there both should be and needs to be outrage in the scenario, please also sign and share this petition.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Social comment

The memory of ‘mischief’

MischiefI’d never buried a photo before. I was expecting it to feel awkward, odd even. Burying photographs was, in my mind at least, the past-time of the melodramatic.

But on this overcast autumnal Thursday morning it didn’t feel odd. It felt completely normal, completely natural, and as I found out, remarkably in common with others who have suffered the loss of miscarriage.

To understand how my wife and I got here I need to talk about a few months ago and the joyful surprise shock of finding out she was pregnant. It was certainly a surprise, but a very welcome one. The prospect of becoming first time parents is as exciting as it is utterly daunting. It is the sort of exciting that sits deep in your belly far away from the rationality of your mind.

Immediately however we were given words of caution. The pain in her gut we were told might be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy (we now think it was actually a symptom of endometriosis – a condition impacting around 2 million women in the UK alone and yet remains one of our societies many unspoken taboos).

There were however weeks, after which the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy was dismissed, where we could see a new life embedded into the womb, living, offering the promise of all that life could lay ahead of it.

There was one particular moment. A moment when my heart skipped a beat, when my life seemed to freeze for a second, when this gloop of cells that we had affectionately started referring to as ‘mischief’ showed a heartbeat, perhaps the most definitive sign of life. It is this moment that is both etched into my mind’s eye and also the one that is now printed on a piece of photographic paper decomposing in compost under an array of flowers.

As soon as we suspected a miscarriage was a possibility, my wife and I talked of a need we both felt to plant something, to grow something, to have something to mark this oh so sad possibility. At the time though I thought this was just us – something that said more about my wife and me than about the experience we were going through. It turns out however that this is remarkably common.

One of the wonderful staff at the hospital who talked to us with the patience and understanding that we needed gently dropped into conversation that decades earlier she had planted a tree. Her main reflection now is that she worries she wouldn’t be able to take it with her if she were ever to move house.

The hospital staff also gave us the compassionately crafted NHS literature on miscarriage which has a whole section on the prospect of burying something to mark the loss and that many also marked this by planting something nearby.

And so this is how we found ourselves folding a small photo of a gloop of mischief and placing it down into pot of moist compost. Mischief was measured in millimetres but sits with a magnitude hard to explain in our hearts. I can’t explain why but it feels right knowing that mischief is buried deep in moist compost surrounded by bulbs of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells with a medley of late summer flowers sitting on top like a multi-coloured crown.

This is just my reflection of something that has happened to my wife and I, but one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage – which left me thinking how I had lived three decades of my life without hearing someone talk about it. I hope that if someone who has experienced a miscarriage reads this that they feel reassured that they are not alone.

9 Comments

Filed under Politics

The end

It had to come at some point. It just did.

I feel sadder than you can imagine writing this. But this is, for now at least, the end of Hynd’s Blog.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how I hoped to fit blogging into my new job and life back in the UK. It was an ambitious plan that I really wanted to make work because I have, in an odd sort of way, grown to really love this blog.

Sadly though, despite the optimism (something that I like to think optimises the last 5 years on this blog), despite the support from so many friends, family and complete strangers, despite the very best of intentions, I just have not been able to implement this plan.

A number of factors have forced me into this situation. There are two that spring to mind.

Firstly, not having enough time to research topics that are close to my heart has pushed my writing closer and closer to either the descriptive or the repetitive of others opinions. Descriptive and repetitive are two adjectives that act as nails to an analytical blog’s coffin.

Secondly, the metaphorical biting of my virtual tongue that I referred to in my previous post has, sadly, pushed the content on Hynd’s Blog closer and closer to the mundane. Again, not the best adjective to be associated with a blog.

A little about the second point:

I am no longer just having to worry about my own reputation – something that it is easy to be flippant about – but also one of an elected Mayor. Most civilised readers of this blog would find it hard to comprehend the level of sinister attacks some are willing to make against the Mayor. I have little doubt that some of those attacking him would happily do this through personally attacking his staff. It is the opposite of the old adage playing the ball not the player.

It has already got to a stage where not saying something online leads to quite unpleasant personal attacks.

In an effort to not fuel these trolls I realise that I have moved beyond the cautious and into the utterly mundane. With the odd exception, I have not written anything of any particular interest in the last few months.

For someone who is surrounded by inspiration, innovation and interest and who is driven by intrigue into it all, this realisation profoundly saddens me.

I cannot see this situation changing and so part of my decision to end Hynd’s Blog is based on a desire not to see it limp on for the coming months.

Looking back though, Hynd’s Blog is something that I remain profoundly proud of. It has dipped in an out of the top 100 influential UK political blogs, it been visited by hundreds of thousands of people and most of all, it has, on the rarest of occasions, succeeded in convincing people to change their minds on a given subject.

I am proud beyond words of what Hynd’s Blog has grown to be and I hope that at some point, it will have a future.

With all this in mind all is left to say is a huge thank you to you for coming along for the ride – it has been a blast!

Steve

PS – I plan to cross-post anything I publish elsewhere so stay signed up if you want to be notified of when I post these occasional articles!

10 Comments

Filed under Blogging, end of Hynd's Blog, Hynd's Blog

Elections 2015 – a mug’s game

Campaigns are brewing in the lead up to the General Election 2015. Have a look at these two mugs produced by the Labour Party and the Green Party respectively:

controls on immigration

In the age of easy photo editing I checked the best I could to make sure this wasn’t a spoof. Apparently it isn’t.

This is what politics in the UK is reduced to – a mug’s game!

 

Update – some asked how I knew this wasn’t a spoof. I don’t know for sure but they both seem to have the product up on their websites (you can purchase either mug from here (Labour) or here (Green)) and I even asked a sitting (Lib Dem) MP (see here).

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Lib Dems go top of my arbitrary Bristol West election league table

I moved into a flat in the constituency of Bristol West at the start of February – 3 months before the General Election.

It is, on first glance, a safe Lib Dem seat. Bristol West has a well respected and liked local MP (Stephen Williams) who is defending a majority of over 11,000 (48% of the vote – up from 39% in 2005).

But these are turbulent political times. The Lib Dems have nose-dived in the national polls hitting lows of 6% (averaging over a range of polls over the last few months 7% – just 1% ahead of the Greens), and significantly the Greens who are on a relative ‘Green surge’ have picked Bristol West as their second target seat (after Brighton Pavilion) meaning some money and, more importantly, time is being spent in the area.

With this in mind it is worth remembering it is Labour who came second in 2010 with 28% of the vote. And with about a third of 2010 national Lib Dem voters saying they are planning to vote Labour, compared to around 15% who say they plan to vote Green, Bristol West has become a genuinely open and interesting three way race.

Despite this, Lord Ashcroft (who is the one doing the most comprehensive polling of marginal seats) has deemed it to be safe enough to not yet be looked at in his surveys – a real shame in my mind.

So, with a distinct lack of any real data to judge life by I thought I would do a bit of citizen journalism and start recording the amount of contact, either face to face OR through literature, I get from the local parties.

One month in these is how things stand…

Party Leaflets My door knocked Spotted in the constituency Arbitrary points
Lib Dems 3 0 0 3
Greens 0 0 2 2
Labour 0 0 0 0
Conservative 0 0 0 0
UKIP 0 0 0 0

The Lib Dems are flying high in my Bristol West election league table. 3 leaflets in a month – each a different format (one traditional ‘focus’ newsletter, one red themed local newspaper, and then a green themed glossy election leaflet) – is a high ratio, it will be interesting to see if they maintain such a pace.

If the traditional electioneering adage of it all being about the literature turns out to be true, then Stephen Williams is well placed to being returned as MP for Bristol West.

As, I would add, is the neighbouring Conservative MP, Charlotte Leslie, who has put out this magazine style piece of literature that is a master class in election leaflet writing.

Charlotte Leslie

But, that said, we know it is not just about the literature. Although no one has yet knocked on my door (when I have been in) I have seen the Greens out and about twice already and have yet to spot any other party door-knocking and speaking to residents (although I am sure they will be doing it somewhere in the constituency).

The importance of door-knocking cannot be under-estimated. Lib Dem campaign strategist Mark Pack quotes Labour’s Cllr Rodwell in his book ‘101 ways to win an election’ on the importance door-knocking played in winning back seats in Barking from the BNP where they estimate they knocked on some 160,000 doors in the campaign.

Their success reflected their hard work! Meeting candidates and having that face-to face interaction is undoubtedly important to the electorate.

Now, before people get their knickers in a twist, I understand that this is not methodologically sound. I understand that local campaigners might well be out and I might just not spot them. All this is, is an interesting observation of the goings on in and around the constituency in which I live in the lead up to a very tight election.

Less than two months to go!

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Prove your sexuality – the impossible ask of asylum seekers in the UK

pg-16-apata
Today’s Independent reported on the case of Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian in the UK who is claiming asylum on the grounds of her sexuality. It reports:

‘The Home Secretary’s barrister, Andrew Bird, argued that Ms Apata was “not part of the social group known as lesbians” but had “indulged in same-sex activity”. He continued: “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race.”’

2015 in case you are wondering.

Yep, it is 2015 and we still have a government department putting on record statements like this.

As if this wasn’t enough Mr Brid is quoted referencing her well documented mental health issues (including post-traumatic stress and an attempted suicide) as saying:

if she is suicidal and depressed she is making a jolly good show of it’.

By jolly good god.

This was so ludicrously absurd that I had to double check that this wasn’t a liberal baiting spoof! As far as I can tell it isn’t. These are the actual words of a man paid to represent the Home Office.

Mr Bird’s argument is based on a legal idea that goes something like this…just because an asylum seeker self-identifies as a lesbian, and indeed sleeps with other women, she is not actually a lesbian.

Want to know the logic? Read on…

In short, Mr Bird’s argument is based on the idea that because she has not always self-identified as a lesbian, she has, by ‘coming out’, shown her sexuality is changeable. Which conveniently fits her into some mad legal category which is outside of the ‘particular social group’ definition in the Refugee Convention.

Ever feel like law sits outside of common sense?

Well don’t be so quick to judge. A counter argument sitting much more closely within the humanitarian bounds of sanity was presented in this case (and many before). Our blogging friends over at the Justice Gap summarizes it well:

‘What Mr Bird’s case fails to take into account… is the stream of case law which shows that the real test is whether a characteristic is in the control of the individual to change (and so ‘mutable’) or whether it is a part of themselves that they cannot at this time be expected or able to change (and so ‘immutable’). So for example a child seeking asylum cannot force themselves to be older so they are not at risk on return and likewise a lesbian asylum seeker cannot simply choose to change their sexuality. This is notwithstanding that a child will eventually grow up and that there may have been a time in her past where a lesbian woman had not identified herself as a lesbian.’

The stakes in this game of pedantic legal back and forth are high however. Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Nigeria (thanks to recent laws) and there has been a spike in violence against gay people within the country (related to international pressure?).

There are very real human consequences to this decision.

The judge is yet to make a final call – Hynd’s Blog waits with a virtual weight in its stomach for the verdict.

1 Comment

Filed under Human rights, sexuality

Life in Bristol: Monbiot, puppets and singer-song writers

Monbiot

One of the amazing things about living in Bristol is the diversity and range of (what I affectionately refer to as) ‘extra-curricular activity for grown ups’. In other words, stuff to do outside of work time.

In the last couple of weeks I have been to Bristol Hippodrome to watch ‘War Horse’ (One sentence review – really really impressive, just not as impressive people make it to be), to The Exchange to listen to American singer-song writer, Tim Barry (One sentence review – full angst, emotion and lyrical word play scooped up into an impressive live performance in a cool venue), and to the University of Bristol to listen to George Monbiot give a free public lecture as part of the ‘Festival of Ideas’ on ‘What a Green Government Could do if it Really Tried’ (One sentence review – a challenging, entertaining talk delivered with no notes that, although it rarely touched on the title of the talk, provided plenty of food for thought).

This diversity of stuff to do is part of what makes Bristol such a cool place to live. Whatever your budget, there is, on any given night, something amazing to do.

Anyway – if you are unlucky enough to be not living in Bristol then never fear! As the Festival of Ideas have been good enough to upload the Monbiot talk I thought it would be nice to share a little bit of this Bristol love and post it here…

Hope you enjoy listening to it – let me know what you think (can we bring elephants to Bristol???).

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bristol

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

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

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

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

Fine – let’s move on.

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

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

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

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

I’m still not sure.

3 Comments

Filed under Media, Politics

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

It – was – really – painful.

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

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

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

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

Remember this?

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

Only time will tell.

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

2 Comments

Filed under Media, Politics

Bristol City Council commits to go fossil fuel free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Comments

Filed under Bristol, Climate Change, Politics, Religion

Why the recent silence on Hynd’s Blog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I say other than sorry?

Oh yes – the plan ahead…

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

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

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

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

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

I am as passionate as ever….just busy!

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

3 Comments

Filed under Bristol, Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Comments

Filed under Media, Politics

Anti-tobacco campaign publishes anti-Semitic cartoon

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

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

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

Yesterday it published this overtly anti-Semitic cartoon:

A screenshot taken from the 'tobaccoKills' Facebook page

A screenshot taken from the ‘tobaccoKills’ Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

1 Comment

Filed under Health, Media, Uganda

The time is now for young people to revolutionize British politics

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

YouGov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics