Thursday, 1 December 2016

My thoughts on the Richmond Park by-election, progressive alliances and why the Green Party co-leaders have messed up

The Green Party have an image of being very nice and from the outside are seemingly united. Caroline Lucas is widely admired, so who would have thought there would be a relatively high-profile spat between Caroline and members of a local Green Party.

For those that don’t know, the Green Party, with a big splash of publicity decided to not put forward a candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in which Zac Goldsmith is standing as independent candidate. He resigned as a Tory MP due to his opposition to the government over Heathrow expansion. Covering this constituency are two local Green Parties. Richmond & Twickenham and Kingston. Both voted to stand aside to avoid splitting the anti-Goldsmith vote. He ran a racist mayoral campaign and had the backing of the local UKIP party as well. So if the right united in Richmond, why shouldn’t those on the centre-left and left? It makes sense. This is where the “progressive alliance” idea came in to play.

The “progressive alliance” idea has been promoted by the Green Party leadership and it is basically the idea that different parties on the left and centre-left of politics in this country come together to defeat the Tories. Whether that is campaigning on political issues together or to form an electoral pact where one party decides to stand down. The co-leaders of the Green Party had been very clear that decisions like this should be purely down to local parties and that they would not be forced by the leadership to take part in this.

How strange then that after Richmond & Twickenham Green Party voted to stand aside and Kingston were still quite keen on putting a candidate forward themselves, that Caroline wrote an article for the New Statesman expressing her disappointment that the local Greens were still keen on putting someone forward. Add this to the fact that Jonathan Bartley attended the Richmond and Twickenham Greens meeting and persuaded them to stand aside and you get an impression of top-down pressure. Now of course Caroline and Jonathan are allowed their opinions on this but it felt like they were really pushing their views on the local Green Parties. With a heavy heart, Kingston Green Party voted at their meeting to stand aside but were very clear that they were not openly endorsing anyone else but would like to see Goldsmith ousted.

So last weekend, a picture was released online of Caroline with the Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney. Some members of the Kingston Green Party expressed fury at this as they were not made aware that Caroline was going to endorse her. Yes an action weekend was planned to generally promote the Green Party in Richmond Park. More for the local elections and to explain to voters why they were standing aside for this election. Indeed as a member I got an email inviting me to this. It never said anything about us openly endorsing Sarah Olney so I can understand why some in the Kingston Green Party are angry about this.

Having debated with many people on this, I was told by another Green Party member that essentially standing aside against Goldsmith meant that the Green Party automatically would back the candidate most likely to beat him, which is Sarah Olney. Whereas Richmond and Twickenham Greens seemed quite happy with this, clearly some in Kingston Greens weren’t. A group of them even wrote an angry letter to the Guardian which made the front page of the online edition. Some have said with the by-election happening today, there was no point in causing a fuss about this and all it does is make the Green Party look divided. This group of Kingston Greens wanted to keep a low profile during this by-election and they never wanted to come out publicly against the leadership. However, I've been made aware that they felt they had no choice because Caroline Lucas never told them beforehand that she was going to back Sarah Olney.

Just to be clear, I’m not against the idea of progressive alliances and I want Goldsmith to lose today, but the way the co-leaders have handled this by-election is quite frankly very authoritarian and they bypassed one of the local parties in their decision to endorse another party’s candidate. If this idea is going to work and we are going to do this properly, then in future Caroline and Jonathan need to be in full contact with local parties that have to make decisions about electoral pacts and essentially allow them to take the lead on it. One of the things that I really like about being a Green Party member is that local Green Parties have always been given autonomy and the membership are the ones that lead and decide on policy. If Caroline and Jonathan think their personality and popularity in the party means they can get away with dictating to local parties what to do, then they are going to find a lot of people resistant to that, including me.

Whilst I’m not a member of either of the parties affected by this by-election, I just felt that as a member of the Green Party I couldn’t sit by and allow the co-leaders to ride roughshod over local democracy without voicing my opinion. This public disagreement between Caroline and some members of Kingston Green Party has genuinely divided opinion between different Green Party members across the country. However, I’m hoping the co-leaders take note of this and in future allow local parties to take the lead on a sensitive issue like a progressive alliance. If they don’t, it could lead to more unnecessary public disagreements and more division when we need to unite and fight the Tories more than ever.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

“I, Daniel Blake” reinvigorated my passion for social justice and my anger towards the UK’s welfare system. Here’s why.

 Last Saturday, I went to see a film called “I, Daniel Blake”. It focuses on a man who suffered a major heart attack and yet was still deemed fit to work by a “healthcare professional” from the company running Work Capability Assessments. He has to appeal to get his disability benefit whilst in the meantime claim Jobseeker’s Allowance and try to find work his doctor tells him he is not well enough to do. He befriends a single mother who gets her benefits stopped because she was slightly late to a job centre interview due to being lost in a city she didn’t know. She is then driven to get food from a foodbank. It is heart-breaking to see how desperate her and her family become and is sadly too common in a country in which the usage of foodbanks are steadily increasing.

During the majority of the Coalition government years many of us heard horror stories of how people being declared fit for work after their work capability assessment (WCA) subsequently died. We also saw how many people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance were being made to work for their benefits with the infamous “workfare” scheme. Many people campaigned against all of this and we made sure that people on the workfare scheme were then paid the minimum wage for their work. Furthermore the company ATOS who were in charge of the WCA lost their contract because of pressure from campaigners. However, instead of the government making sure doctors were at the forefront of assessing people’s fitness to work, the WCA contract was instead awarded to another private healthcare company, Maximus.

Since the Conservatives’ general election victory in 2015, there have been even worse things happening in the benefits system. ESA claimants had their benefits cut by £30 a week. Disabled people lost their Independent Living Fund which helped them function in everyday society. Some of that money was then given to local councils so they could administer the support. However this money was not ring-fenced so many people have now lost the support they previously got. The previous Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith even resigned supposedly because he felt the planned cuts to disability benefits were a step too far. Many of us doubted his sincerity in the reason for his resignation as he was a well-known advocate for leaving the EU. Subsequently he became one of the poster boys for the official leave campaign.

Given the Tories promise of a Referendum on the EU, the attention of the media and many of us became focused on the debate surrounding it. Given that were also local council elections, London, Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections at the same time, the cruelty of the benefits system sadly got side-lined. The closest we got to this issue in the national news since the 2015 general election was IDS’s resignation and Jeremy Corbyn pressuring the government to abandon their planned cuts to Working Tax Credits.   Not that there wasn’t anybody campaigning on this. Indeed, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have been doing vital work on this and in his researching on the film, Ken Loach has been travelling around the country in the last few years to see the devastating impact of benefit sanctions and austerity.

Just a personal take on this now. After I graduated from University, I claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance for two years on and off whilst only finding temporary work. However since the summer of 2013, I have luckily been in steady full-time employment. Whilst I was claiming JSA, I was subjected to the “workfare” scheme and was made to work in Tesco for four weeks with just my benefits and travel expenses paid. If I had refused to do this, they said it could have affected my benefit payments because I would be refusing an offer of employment despite the fact that this job was paying far less than the legal minimum wage. Tesco got free Labour and there was not a paid full-time job at the end of it. Going back to the film, it shows the main character being forced to do a CV workshop despite the fact he wasn’t fit to work yet. This particularly resonated with me as I was put on a couple of pointless courses that were genuinely of no benefit to me. Indeed in the CV writing course I went on, they used my CV as a template for others to do theirs. I did do further education courses whilst I was unemployed but these were ones I found myself. Every job I applied for on the government’s Universal Jobmatch website led to nothing. I eventually found a full-time job but only due to my friend recommending me at his workplace. My point being that for the most part, the Job Centre barely helps you. An investigation has shown that the Job Centre advisors actually have targets to meet in terms of sanctioning claimants.  Anyone of us could end up in a similar situation to Daniel Blake. Being made redundant, suffering major illness, being denied disability benefits and being forced to look for work despite the advice from your doctor.

Whilst “I, Daniel Blake” has stirred up my anger again towards the government’s disgusting treatment of our most vulnerable, it has also given me hope. Not only did the film shine a light on the degrading way benefit claimants are treated by the system, it showed that fellow citizens will help each other. Whether that is a neighbour, a Job Centre employee, a foodbank volunteer or indeed a stranger you meet in who is in a similar predicament.

I urge you and anyone you know to see the film if you haven’t and if it riles up a sense of anger and injustice, then good. Channel that anger in activism. If you know a friend that is being treatment awfully in the system, help them. If you see that a local foodbank needs volunteers or more food, do what you can to help. Even if you just share this blog or write to your MP or the Department of Work and Pensions, we can all play our part. Theresa May will continue her hollow rhetoric on creating a society “that works for everyone”. Don’t believe it for a second. The incredibly flawed Universal Credit system is being spread to more parts of the country and the Work Capability Assessments are continuing to play havoc and wreck people’s lives. The next four years at least are going to be grim for many of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.  A few years ago, Cameron talked about creating a “Big Society”. Well you know what, let’s create that. Let’s show the Tories that we will not continue to accept their appalling treatment of our fellow citizens and that they are not “ just National Insurance Numbers or Statistics” as Daniel Blake puts it. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Theresa's May speech. Empty progressive platitudes undermined by hypocrisy and far right policies.

So in Theresa's May first speech as Tory party leader and PM yesterday, she said that she wanted to tackle injustice and unfairness and make sure the country works for everyone and not just the privileged few. She stated quite dramatically that the vote to leave the EU was a "revolution" and that with stagnating wages and failing schools a lot of the working class felt the system wasn't working for them and thus voted against the system. She also stated that politicians haven’t listened to working class people and belittled their views on crime and immigration. She stated that some politicians felt the public’s view on crime was “illiberal”. There is quite a significant proportion of people in this country that want to bring back capital punishment. Should politicians give in to people’s demands to illiberal policies because it is popular? Just because something is popular, doesn’t mean it is right. Politicians are meant to persuade people of ideas and meant to become signpost’s to a vision of Britain that they believe is right, not become weathervane’s and blow whichever way public opinion is going. Of course people’s concerns should be taken into account but not at the expense of evidence-based policy making.

Going back to the idea she mentioned that people feel the system isn’t working for them, Theresa May is right. However, she has been at the heart of a government for six years that has been the cause of the system failing the working class. If she really cared about it that much, you would have thought she would have had a little word in Dave's ear when he was in charge. Of course she blamed stagnating wages on low skilled immigration coming in rather than the public sector pay freeze and lack of a genuine living wage for everyone. She even had the temerity to accuse the Labour Party of peddling the politics of hate and division and referred to them as the new "nasty party". Never mind Theresa that over the last few days you and your ministers have been openly spouting hate towards foreign workers and doctors and trying to blame them for our country's ills.

She also believes that she can prevent resentment and division and make sure that no one in this country lives in fear. This is undermined by far right policies such as making firms list foreign workers and "phasing out" foreign doctors by 2025. Also EU residents that are "cards" in our Brexit negotiations will be fearing their future now.

On education, she apparently wants a system where people's talents will take them as far as they can go. She said she wants to build on Michael Gove's education reforms. She says that still over a million pupils do not go to a good school. However, this has been caused by Michael Gove's education policies over the last six year. It is also clear that Gove's increase in rigorous testing and focus on "core subjects" has stifled creativity and undermined people fulfilling their potential and not allowing their talents to flourish as May so wishes to happen.

If she really wanted to create a system where everyone can achieve their potential, she'd look at the Finnish model and invest in a comprehensive education system where schools collaborate and share best practice, where there is a little homework, school hours are shorter and the teaching style is more interactive rather than standardised. Alas, none of this was mentioned and it seems that once again her empty platitudes will be undermined by the continuation of failed education policies over the last six years.

I was gobsmacked when she payed tribute to Jeremy Hunt as an “advocate for doctors and patients”. Rather than being an advocate for Doctors, he has forced an unpopular and damaging contract onto them. This shows how out of touch and arrogant May is on this issue. She also claimed that the Tories have been protecting the NHS and claimed that the biggest wave of privatisation happened under the last Labour government. However, it was the Tories in the 1980s who began an internal market in the NHS and it was Major’s government who started the PFI deals.

She will also apparently review workers’ rights policies and enhance them by seeking to get workers on the boards of companies. Fair enough, that is a good idea. However will she get rid of the pernicious Trade Union Act? What about employment tribunal fees and the long wait for unfair dismissal claims? I won’t hold my breath on those.

She also made vague promises on being an outward looking nation by ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement despite the fact her government got rid of the Climate Change department. She also promised to build “more affordable homes”. What types of homes will these be? Yet another empty platitude, just like the promise of going after tax dodgers despite the fact the Tories have been in power for six years and done sod all to do that. Her husband also works for a company that invests in tax dodgers such as Amazon so I doubt she’ll act on that promise.

At the heart of her speech was the promise of making us a fairer country and tackling injustice but this was doublespeak. On one hand she talks about fairness and the next, she gets a round of applause for having a go at "activist left wing human rights lawyers harassing armed forces". This was referring to the promise to take the military out of the convention of Human Rights. How is it fair that the military should be able to get away with human right’s abuses?

To sum up though, I will agree with her on one thing. A change needs to come. But the very idea that keeping the Tories in power who have undermined the things she said about fairness and injustice is laughable. However we won’t be laughing when we see the most vulnerable people still suffering for the next four years and the promis of a fairer Britain from May turns out to be empty and hollow.

Friday, 1 July 2016

My thoughts on the Corbyn Coup and why I think he now has to resign

So what a week it’s been. Britain has voted to leave the EU, Gove has stabbed Boris in the back to run for Tory leader and indeed Prime Minister, leading Boris to withdraw his leadership ambitions. Having used this referendum as a leadership bid, Boris has now crawled away when the going get’s tough and as Ewan McGregor eloquently put it, is a “spineless c***”

But the main story that has dominating the headlines is the coup organised against Jeremy Corbyn to get him to resign as leader. It all started with Hilary Benn telling him he and many others in the shadow cabinet didn’t have faith in Corbyn’s leadership and that there would be mass resignations if Corbyn didn’t stand down as leader. This led Corbyn to sack Hilary Benn leading to mass resignations and a vote of no confidence from the majority of MPs. Corbyn now only has the backing of 40 MPs and has barely been able to fill up the Shadow Cabinet with replacements thus leading us in effect to have no working main opposition. Corbyn however has stated that he has the backing of most of the membership and would not betray them by standing down. This had now led to an inevitable leadership election in which Angela Eagle had put herself forward to stand against him but is delaying it to give Corbyn more time to formally stand down. Although, it has recently emerged that she set her leader campaign website up two days before Hilary Benn launched the coup meaning that this was clearly all planned.

The way the Shadow Cabinet behaved after the EU vote is nothing short of disgraceful. At a time of national crisis, where we had just voted to leave the EU, the Labour Party needed to turn their fire onto the Conservative Government. With this government in disarray, with no Brexit plan and no leadership after Cameron resigned, there was an open goal for Labour to score. But shockingly they decided to turn against their own leader and have a series of mass resignations in order to force Corbyn to go thus making the news about them rather than the Tories. As Diane Abbott said, if they wanted to oust Corbyn, they should have launched a formal leadership bid in a discreet and private way, announcing an election after parliament broke for recess and not at a time of national crisis. Now I don’t know what happened between Hilary Benn and Corbyn in their meeting but what should have happened is that instead of threatening mass resignations, Benn should have said there would be a leadership election due to lack of faith in Corbyn as a leader. With Angela Eagle having already created her leader campaign website at this point, it is bizarre why they didn’t do this. They had someone lined up. But I think the reason they didn’t is because they were uncertain about whether they would get the membership support.

Before I go into why I believe Corbyn should go, I just want to say first that have a lot of respect for him. I think it was so refreshing last year to have a candidate for Labour leader that was a genuine alternative to the Conservatives. Whether that was on austerity, housing, healthcare or foreign policy, Corbyn really made himself stand up amongst the other candidates who continued to pander to the tory-lite policies of Ed Miliband and the Blair/Brown government thinking that was the only way to get elected despite it not working in 2015. It was the first time since I was able to vote that I genuinely considered supporting Labour. I even met the man last year after a protest against Sports Direct two days before he became leader. I can tell you he was one of the nicest and most genuine politicians I have met and when I asked him for a picture, he didn’t even hesitate. However I didn’t join the party as I wanted to see whether he would last given that he never had the support of the majority of Labour MPs. Unfortunately it seems as soon as he was elected, they were trying to find a way to get rid of him. 

So why do I think he should resign? Is it because I believe he is “unelectable”? Well no I don’t believe that. Interestingly though I did talk to Labour and former Corbyn supporters who thought he wasn’t pragmatic enough and too principled at a time of national crisis. Then they said they wished they had Tony Blair back because he was a pragmatic leader and would have the PLP behind him. That may be true but I think harking after new-labour at a time of austerity and a probable recession isn’t the answer. I believe Tony Blair would support austerity to have a so called “balanced” approach to things. But what we need at this time is an opposition calling on the government to invest in public services and in areas that will now lose EU funding and to reject the premise of austerity as it causes unnecessary hardship and actually increases the Government debt. This is what I believe Corbyn could have done. So to be honest I believe he should resign simply because he is unable to fill the Shadow Cabinet given most MPs don’t have confidence in him. At this time, we need a united opposition with a full cabinet behind their leader covering the various government roles. Even if the membership vote for him as leader again, the 170 odd MPs that have no confidence in his leadership aren’t going to suddenly change their mind. What we could end up having is MPs being re-selected and Labour across the country in their various local parties completely split on that. I believe this would then formally split the Labour Party like we had in the 1980s and when there could be a general election looming in the coming months, this simply isn’t an option that should be taken.

If there is a general election in a few months, I believe Labour will lose it anyway because of Corbyn and the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party infighting straight after the country is put into severe economic uncertainty. However what I believe could make a difference now is that Corbyn and the PLP come together to resolve their differences. Corbyn should then formally step down and should be allowed to put forward another candidate that has similar views to him but would unite the MPs. Personally I would choose Andy Burnham. They should then have their leadership election as quickly as possible, before the Tory leadership election is over.

Given that I am a Green Party member, why should the Labour Party potentially splitting concern me? Surely people will end up joining the Greens and we can then do better as a party. True the Labour infighting does benefit us in that sense, but given that we are still nationally quite low in the polls, we are not suddenly going to jump to lead the polls by the time a general election comes round. So we as a smaller party on the progressive side of politics need a united Labour Party that we can work with. We have already put a call out to the leaders of the Lib Dems, Labour and Plaid Cymru to form a progressive alliance for the upcoming general election given that no party is likely to get a majority. So I make this plea to Corbyn supporters and the Labour Party as a whole. Come together to resolve your differences, get Corbyn to resign but choose a leader that offers a genuine alternative to the Tories because we need a united opposition now more than ever.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Why us remainers shouldn’t be calling for a second referendum

“But Farage said he would call for a second referendum if remain won by 52%” cry some on the remain side. But does that make it right? No it doesn’t. Hand on heart and be honest, would you be really calling for a second referendum if remain had won by that margin? I know I wouldn’t. It may be a slim majority but it is technically a majority so the politicians have to listen to the people now and trigger article 50 and our exit from the EU. Interestingly though it is not a legally binding referendum and if parliament votes against it, we don’t leave the EU. Bear in mind the majority of MPs in parliament are in favour in staying, this is a distinct possibility. Although if parliament does this, you can imagine the backlash they’ll get and those MPs that voted against invoking article 50 would find it very hard to get re-elected. So it is unlikely to happen.

Is this a horrible result? Yes. Is the future uncertain and precarious? Yes. Does the idea of Boris Johnson being PM make my skin crawl? Absolutely. It is becoming increasingly clear that those on the leave side of the argument have no proper plan in place and have outright lied to the electorate on promises to do with the NHS for example. But what we remainers should be doing is pushing for the government to make sure we don’t get rid of things like the social chapter and environmental standards that we get from the EU. That will be very difficult. Even though there is very likely going to be a general election, I’m very worried whether the Tories will be ousted given that rather than take on the Tories, Labour seem to re-enacting an episode of Game of Thrones by brutally trying to get rid of their leader. It’s all a shambles at the moment in British politics but it is why we need people to remain calm and push for a progressive post Brexit Britain.  

To be honest, the only political leaders that have had any clarity are those pushing for remaining, Nicola Sturgeon and Tim Farron. Sturgeon has said to protect Scottish interests there needs to be a second independence referendum given that the majority of Scotland voted to remain. That makes sense. After all why would you accept leaving an organisation that the majority of your citizens voted to stay a part of? Although Tim Farron has said that in the next general election his party will have staying in the EU as a policy despite the referendum result. I’ve even seen some fellow Green Party members suggest that we make re-joining (through an eventual second referendum) as a manifesto pledge at the next election. Given that could be in a few months, I do worry about that pledge. It will make it look like we are ignoring the majority of the electorate in this country.

In hindsight I do think this referendum was a mistake. There was not a massive appetite to have one. It was only made so Cameron could stop Tory votes going to UKIP. It was also such a complicated issue that barely anyone, including me, fully understood how the EU works. I think what sums this all up is that a day after the referendum, the second most googled thing in Britain was “What is the EU?”  But that is all by-the-by. Even if it was a mistake, the referendum has happened and a slim majority of the electorate have spoken. We now need to live with that. Given that our friends, loved ones and neighbours are now facing torrents of abuse just from being EU citizens we need to help them and make sure we stop any more attacks and make sure that EU migrants are protected from potential deportation. I fear either not going through with Brexit or holding another referendum could further divide our country, cause more anger and resentment and make the situation a lot worse. I know a lot of people on the left of politics that did vote leave, So what I would like to see now is the progressives in politics on either side of the debate build bridges, unite and fight this government's austerity measures, which will sadly only get worse as a result of Brexit.

So stop going on about getting people to sign a petition for another referendum. We need to respect the wishes of a small majority of the electorate who wanted to leave a political union that felt distant to them. We on the remain side failed to put a really positive case for the EU forward. And this is where the EU itself has serious questions to answer as other nations themselves will start questioning their membership of the EU.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The debate surrounding the EU and why I’m voting remain.

So the EU debate. Hands up who cannot wait for it to be over and is sick of it some of the bullshit coming from both campaigns? (Shoots hand up drastically in the air). Well I’m afraid I’m going to be yet another mouthpiece trying to persuade you because this is such a huge decision that will effect all of us. So below I’m going to try and de-bunk some of the leave campaign’s claims and explain why I’m positively voting remain.

Firstly the “Leave” side say that we can get back our sovereignty and not let an undemocratic organisation make our laws. But just how undemocratic is the EU? Well the EU parliament elected by us can amend laws. The EU Commission which co proposes laws with the Council of Ministers (who are elected politicians from each country) is selected by the EU parliament and has a member for every country so no one country dominates the commission. Hope you are following this so far. So just be clear. Council of Ministers are elected politicians from every country. And the EU Commission is appointed by the democratic EU parliament. Compare that to the UK where we have a Parliament elected by us voting on laws that Ministers (elected MPs) come up with and we have an appointed House of Lords that can influence laws. Very similar to the EU. So rather than leave the EU to come up with laws only made in our vaguely democratic system, let’s improve the system in both the UK and EU so they are both more accountable and democratic. The EU does actually promote democracy because any country that wants to be a member has to be a democracy that gives it citizens’ rights and freedoms. Hence why Turkey will not become a member unless it changes its ways drastically regardless of what the leave side have said.

So that is the democracy argument de-bunked. What about our sovereignty? Surely each nation state should be free to make our own laws and regain complete control on any laws that have been made by the EU. Well there is an argument for that but I personally think some laws should be made internationally because that is the best way to make effective change. Climate Change, Air Pollution and Terrorism know no borders so it is good that we can have an international organisation that is partly elected by us coming up with laws to deal with those things. International workers’ rights legislation coming from the EU has raised standards everywhere in the EU (although not enough) and if we enhanced and improved it, it can stop forced migration. So if we have to pool some of our sovereignty as a nation state along with 27 other countries to help come up with legislation to benefit all of us, then that is something I’m quite comfortable with.

The leave side also say we can control immigration if we left the EU. Well considering most immigrants that come here every year, come from outside the EU it won’t make much of a difference to the numbers. (This is from the Office for National Statistics if you wish to look it up). Now the leave side have also said that whilst we should look to make trade deals elsewhere around the world, we can continue trading with the EU because it is in both their and our interests. Sure but if we want access to the single market from the EU, we have to accept freedom of movement as Norway and Switzerland do and how Canada will have to after they’ve signed up to the trade deal they have with the EU. Also if we wanted to amend freedom of movement then we have be a full member because having access to the single market but not the political union itself means we cannot influence any EU rules. The positive case for me though is that freedom of movement has meant that many British people have the opportunity to work and study abroad as well as EU citizens coming here. Ultimately different cultures mixing together makes our and other EU citizens lives more interesting and can create cohesion and understanding and a sense of unity and not division as it has done in London in particular.

The positive environmental case for the EU is also strong. We have laws meaning we have to have cleaner beaches because of the EU. We also have laws protecting our green spaces and making sure we have bio-diversity (i.e. the variety of plant and animal life in the world so that we can survive as a species ourselves). In regards to animals, the leave side have said “Fishing quotas” from the EU have limited the amount we can catch fish thus putting our fishing industry out of business. Well if we didn’t have these quotas, fish would run out quicker and thus that would in the long term put our fishing industry out of business. EU subsidies for “fish farms” means that we can selectively catch and breed fish and make that industry sustainable and protect the different species from going extinct. Bans on animals being used for cosmetic product testing has also come from the EU.

So to sum up. The EU is as democratic as our system but we can improve it. The good that comes from pooling sovereignty and making more effective decisions on animal rights, workers’ rights, protection of our environment and freedom of movement benefits all of us across the EU. So for the reasons above, please vote to remain in the EU on Thursday.

P.S.  Apologies if some of the things I’ve talked about are technical but I felt I need to really take apart the leave campaign’s arguments. If you would like to know more or debate this, please comment below or find me on Facebook or email me at

Monday, 1 February 2016

London's housing crisis is hitting Redbridge hard. The development on Britannia Music site is doing nothing to help.

This is my first blog of the new year and I hope you all had a good break over the festive period. In my last blog, I wrote about how the housing crisis is affecting the amount of homeless people there are living on the streets on Britain. As the Green Party candidate for Redbridge and Havering, I wish to express my frustration at a new housing development in Ilford. Just to give you a bit of background knowledge, property values in Ilford have risen by 5.71% in the last year, according to Zoopla, and by 24.53% in the past five years. Property industry giants Jones Lang LaSalle claim that of all the areas set to benefit from Crossrail, Ilford will lead the way in terms of price growth. Now, after securing a £25m loan from the Mayor of London's Housing Zones initiative, developers Durkan will be building 354 new homes on the Britannia Music site, which had been lying empty since 2007. Durkan's online advertisement trumpets: "stylish one, two and three bedroom apartments in a fantastic, well-connected location in the heart of Ilford, just 16 minutes by train to Liverpool Street station". This makes it abundantly clear that the developers' prime targets are not local residents at all, but city slickers, themselves priced out of central London.

I completely support the building of new homes in Ilford. However I am disappointed in the amount of genuinely affordable new homes that will be provided on the Britannia Music site. Out of those 354 homes only 93 will be classed as "affordable". That means that 74% of the homes on this site will not be affordable for Redbridge residents.  Further, given that a lot of the funding for this will come from City Hall, we know that the Mayor's definition of affordable is 80% of the market rate - which really isn't affordable at all for people on low and average incomes. According to the Centre for Cities Think Tank, a quarter of private renters in London claim Housing Benefit - therefore this development has the potential for making the benefit bill even higher. Sadly, most of the homes being built on this are for private rent. However our mayoral candidate Sian Berry has announced a policy whereby every private renter in London will automatically be part of a City Hall funded Renters Union that will provide advice and support including for the residents that will be living on this site. So under a Green administration at City Hall, we can really hold Durkan to account regarding the standards of these homes. 

I am disappointed though that the Labour-led Redbridge Council has completely backed this, given that their Housing Strategy document states that Redbridge is the most expensive Outer London Borough for Housing. As I said in my previous blog, If City Hall worked with Councils, Housing Associations and communities more and took a tougher stance on big developers, we could build more truly affordable homes for residents. This also shows why we need more Greens elected to City Hall and having more genuinely affordable homes built for residents in Redbridge and Havering will be one of my priorities if I am elected to the London Assembly.