I recently had the pleasure of talking to the good folk at The Big Green Politics Podcast. If you are in the small group of people who don’t feel that you hear me voice my opinions enough then you can listen again below.
Category Archives: Politics
This article was published on Bristol24/7.
Picture this. An energy company to challenge the big six. A company that puts its profits back into Bristol rather than the back pocket of its shareholders. A company that sees the city’s most vulnerable as those it most needs to help, not an opportunity to exploit for marginal profits. A company set up and is wholly owned by the council but is given an arm’s length structure to be able to operate commercially. An energy company that makes international headlines by working locally to turn local sewage into gas to then heat thousands of local homes.
This is a vision for Bristol that won plaudits internationally. Bristol was seen as a leader in creative thinking and potential answers to the impossible austerity question posed by successive governments: could a council raise crucial revenue through private council-owned companies while at the same time tackling the core issues like poverty and climate change?
This is a question that today I fear we may never know the answer to. When you have an idea that is this ambitious, this trailblazing, this bold, you need to throw your whole weight behind it. You need unequivocal political support. You need political leadership.
Today we heard the devastatingly sad news that Bristol Energy will no longer supply the city council – its whole owner – which is switching to a British Gas, one of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies. The current Labour administration who made this decision will tell us that they are “obliged to competitively tender our utility contracts” and this is of course, partially, true.
But as Eleanor Combley, the leader of the Green Councillors said today, “Just a few months ago Full Council voted through an updated policy on social value, committing to promote our local economy and environmental sustainability in the Council’s procurement rules”. Despite this, the Council have now chosen one of the Big Six over their own company to supply their energy.
Combley hits the metaphorical nail on the head when she says, “value for money isn’t just about choosing what is cheapest”.
I have no doubt that in the regimented form filling nature of council procurement British Gas ticked more boxes. But this move is the antithesis to the bold alternative vision outlined at the start of this article. It is a regressive move that will see Bristol tax payer’s money going not to the city but to the shareholders in British Gas. It will see our money going to a company that thrives on charging more to the poorest rather than one whose core aim is to support them.
This in and of itself is worrying. But when framed in the context of the choppy seas of cuts to local councils it becomes deeply worrying. What vision does this administration have for steering us as a city through these devastating cuts? Millions are being stripped from council front-line services in short-term budget-balancing moves but the lack of long-term action coming from the Mayor’s Office is deafening. Bristol wants to know if this administration is bold enough in their remaining 2 years to think big and deliver on projects to take forward the anti-austerity vision that it supposedly stands for.
Today’s news that the Council isn’t standing by its own energy company strongly suggests this administration isn’t.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
If you, the wonderful reader of Hynd’s Blog, have a spare 30 seconds I would urge you to support an issue close to my heart. Click here to sign the Amnesty International petition calling for the release or trial of Shaker Aamer, the one remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay.
The petition simply calls for Obama and Cameron to:
- Secure the release of Shaker Aamer and return him to the UK without delay, if he is not to be charged and brought to fair trial
- Give Shaker Aamer immediate and regular access to independent medical assessments and care
- Immediately investigate all allegations that Shaker Aamer has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that anyone found responsible is brought to justice
I, alongside 12,860 people have already signed this petition. Please join us. Then please do also encourage friends and family to do the same.
Together we can raise a voice loud enough that will force the authorities to listen.
In a small quirky twist of British politics the Green Party today announced that their Deputy Leader, Amelia Womack, will be standing at the General Election in Camberwell and Peckham against Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman.
Womack, who previously unsuccessfully stood to become a MEP and local cllr, was elected Deputy Leader last September. She holds a BSc in Environmental Biology and an MSc in Environmental Technology.
Harman was elected MP for Camberwell and Peckham in 2010 with a huge 59.2% of the vote. The Greens stood the high profile London AM Jenny Jones in 2010 and received just 2.9% of the vote.
Although unlikely to win, or even stop Harriet Harman from being returned to parliament, Womack might well preside over a significant increase in the Green vote in the constituency as large amounts of the 22.4% of Lib Dem votes will be up for grabs.
The challenge for Labour will be to pick up enough of the former Lib Dem votes to stop a significant rise in the Green support that might place them as an awkward and credible threat for future elections.
Ed Miliband has every reason to be looking glum as despite seeing Labour leading in the polls he has hit an all time low in personal ratings and his party has dropped support throughout 2014.
To support their latest polling, YouGov have produced this neat little chart that tracks voting intention over the last three months.
Some in the Labour Party have got all excited that, despite those embarrassing glitches in December, this poll shows them ahead of Conservatives. The Green Party are also delighted that, once again, this poll shows them ahead of the Lib Dems.
The problem for the Labour Party though is illustrated in this other YouGov chart which looks further back at voting intentions across 2014.
Here we can see the long-term trend of Labour support dropping throughout 2014.
What is equally interesting is how this drop in support for Labour correlates with Miliband hitting an all time low with his popularity ratings. Is Labour’s drop in the polls a reflection of Miliband’s all time unpopularity, or vice-versa? A chicken and egg question.
And so the question remains – where are these Labour supporters from the early coalition years going? And thus we move onto the relative growth of the Greens.
YouGov paints a nice picture of Green Party support consistently growing through 2014 which resulted in YouGov proclaiming ‘Greens ahead of Lib Dems in longer trend‘ in an article in December 2014.
While Greens are only picking up about about 4% of the 2010 Labour vote two additional points have to be made:
1) Labour dropping another 4% from their 2010 low point to the Greens is significant.
2) Labour, in the last year, have continued to drop in popularity when, while in opposition, they should be riding high on anti-government sentiment – they are not.
Before Green readers get too excited though it is worth pointing out that this growth in support is unlikely to result in any additional seats. In Norwich South (feasibly the Green’s second target) a Lord Ashcroft poll showed them doing well but considerably behind Labour.
As with many seats, the battle to pick up former Lib Dem voters between the Greens and Labour may well prove crucial.
The General Election in 2015 will bring more of the same in terms of overall outcome but it might, just might, also go down in history as the start of the breakdown of two party politics.
David Drew, the former MP for Stroud and Labour Party candidate for 2015, is still odds on favourite to win back the Stroud marginal seat according to new odds tweeted by Ladbrokes.
This shows no real significant change since February last year when Hynd’s Blog reported that Ladbrooks had Drew at 4/9 to win back his old seat.
If you were interested in an outside bet though, Ladbrokes are now giving odds for the Green Party at 50/1.
This is not a radical cry for the removal of political parties from our decision making mechanism. Far from it. This is merely a cry to those tiny number of people on the insides of national and local parties. Please, for the love of Hynd’s Blog, take off those ridiculous rosettes.
They are a symbol of one of the strongest held perceptions in politics and that is that politicians cannot be trusted. If you want to be listened to – start by taking off your rosettes.
For a long-time now I have encouraged any candidate of any political party to take off their rosette. This normally occurs when they are about to go infringing on people’s personal space and time by ‘door knocking’.
I do this not because their particular flavour of political party might be unpopular than but because politics per se is.
Or, to be more accurate, politicians are.
By wearing a rosette politicians shoot themselves in the foot on the first step they hope to take on their journey of democratic representation.
At the crux of my argument is the assertion that if you want a constituent to talk to you, let alone trust or vote for you, then you need to give yourself a fighting chance in the first few seconds on the doorstep. This is unlikely to happen if you were a badge that basically says, ‘Watch out, I’m a politician.’
As much as you might honestly believe that you are different to all the others, or your party is not like those overs, most people don’t share these subtleties. They see you – a politician – as untrustworthy.
New polling from IPSOS-Mori out today highlights how deeply rooted this mistrust of politicians is. Just 16% of respondents said they would trust a politician to tell the truth. This is an opinion as old as IPSOS-Mori’s polling.
In other words, even if you got a constituent to listen to you, about 84% of constituents wouldn’t trust what you have to say. This is more than bankers…a profession not known at the moment for their commitment to honesty.
This might seem like a trivial point but it is one of the pebbles on the starting line of democracy that is tripping up genuine interaction and engagement.
It’s axiomatic that the removal of the rosette is only the first step to rebuilding trust. The long road ahead in our efforts to resuscitate democracy involves strange concepts like keeping promises and working hard to represent constituents needs.
But that is for tomorrow. Today, still with 4 months left until the election, I beg and implore candidates and sitting MPs, MEPs and Cllrs alike – get rid of those ridiculous rosette.
The polling puts the Green Party ten points ahead of Labour (38 to Labour’s 28%).
Both parties see the Brighton Pavilion seat as their number one target for the South East of England.
Significantly the polling finds the Green Party picking up a huge 44% of 2010 Lib Dem voters. Labour in contrast picks up just 21% (with the Lib Dems picking up just 13%). This is opposite of the national picture which sees Labour picking up roughly double the Green Party of former Lib Dem voters.
Equally, the polling suggests Labour have been unable to plug the hole that saw so many former Labour voters turn to the Green Party in Brighton. The polling found that 27% of 2010 Labour voters were planning on backing the Greens. This is compared to about 4% nationally suggesting that either the Greens/Labour are doing something locally that is swaying voters and/or that Labour voters do switch to the Greens when they think the Greens have a chance of winning.
Labour however, to their credit, do appear to be matching the Greens in their campaigning efforts with about 1 in 4 of those polled saying that had heard from Greens and/or Labour in recent weeks.
It will be a bitterly battled fight but at the moment it looks like the Greens are on course to return their only MP, Caroline Lucas.
Read more on the marginal polling here.
The Green Party are, for the first time, consistently ahead of the Liberal Democrats in YouGov polling.
The Green Party have in the past been level pegging or just beating the Liberal Democrats. But as I wrote before, it would be disingenuous to suggest that ‘Greens are ahead of the Lib Dems’ in the polls in general.
It is interesting to note that in these last three polls, the Green Party are picking up an average of 18% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010. In other words, just under one in five former Lib Dem voters are now planning on voting Green.
This will have a huge impact on Labour (who themselves are losing 4% of their 2010 vote to the Greens) who are relying on the exodus from the Lib Dems to bolster their stuttering performance in the polls.
It is important to note however that this is just one polling company – when we look at the average across different companies we can see the Lib Dems maintaining a lead of 2% over the Greens (see UK polling report).
That said, this is yet another milestone on a ‘Green surge’ that is increasingly becoming hard for the political establishment to ignore.