Tuesday, 17 September 2013

White Poppies - a different kind of remembrance

It’s that time of year again. As we approach Remembrance Day, 11th November, red poppies will become highly visible in our everyday lives. They are worn on lapels and stuck on the front of cars. What does the red poppy really mean?

Most people are aware of the inspiration of the poem ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow’ but how many of us know that the first red poppies were made by the women of Northern France at the instigation the US to raise funds for children who had suffered in the war? Only later were they adopted by the British Legion as a fund raising tool and over the years the red poppy has become ubiquitous in October/November every year.

There is now an unpleasant tendency to use the Poppy Appeal as a propaganda tool to glorify war. The British Legion does much good for services personnel and their families but is this role they should be taking on? 
‘The question lingers: if the dead are said to have 'sacrificed' their lives, then why weren't the living, who came out of the same danger, being suitably honoured and cared for by the state that sent them’

Instead of looking back at the past, wearing the white poppy is a symbol of wanting to prevent future wars. Our service men and women would not need intensive support services if we did not send them to fight unnecessary wars. White poppies are not intended as an insult to the fallen, many of whom were husbands, brothers or father of the women of the Cooperative Women’s Guild who first made them. It is intended as a reminder of the horrors of war and to insist that those in power should resist war and try to solve conflicts peacefully. So buy your white poppy and remember all the victims of war.

Monday, 16 September 2013

We will not be gagged

The current version of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Bill if it became law would stifle democratic debate and increase apathy with the political system.. 

‘In connection with’
The new test of ‘in connection with enhancing the standing of parties and/or candidates’ (clause 26(3) is much broader than the existing test of whether material can be ‘reasonably regarded as intended’ to be for election purposes.

For example, if an NGO or charity lists those election candidates who support a particular policy that activity could be caught by the Bill’ Such naming of supporters of a public policy is a common, and legitimate, campaigning tool currently used by organisations to promote their preferred policies. 

See the briefing by the Electoral Commission for examples of currently allowed campaign activity which would potentially be prohibited under the Bill:

‘Controlled expenditure’
‘Controlled expenditure’ which must be reported has been set at 2% (clause 27(3)) compared to 5% in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. No rationale or justification has been given for this discrepancy and it is puzzling that non-party political organisations should be subject to stricter regulations than political parties.

For the full text of the Bill see:

Staff costs
Third parties are required to declare staff costs within controlled expenditure. This is stricter than the regime for political parties under the PPERA, where the argument was accepted that it can be difficult to divide staff activity between election activity and non-election activity. Why should charities, NOGs and campaigning organisations be treated more harshly than political parties?

One year period
Expenses are capped for a whole year before an election. This is an unacceptable constraint on campaigning activity for non-party political organisations.  An election can be called with less than one year’s notice. Therefore applying these spending caps retrospectively strongly curtails activity for campaigning organisations. Past activity would have to be audited and accounted for before they could plan future expenditure which might be considered to be ‘in connection with’ electoral promotion.

Big business
The main reason for thsi Bill is a public perception that big business has far too much influence over the parliamentary process, partly because of the resources they have available for lobbying. This Bill will do nothing to stop that as business is expressly excluded from the provisions of the bill. 

Part 1 of the Bill only applies to professional consultants who lobby. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 explicitly exempts those carrying out a business or employees of a business where lobbying is not the main purpose of their business. For example, an employee of Glaxo Smith Klein can lobby an MP or a Minister with impunity on behalf of GSK and not be subject to the provisions of the Bill. To read the Schedules see:

This Bill should be rejected by Parliament or our democracy will suffer.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Can we trust the government to regulate fracking and keep us all safe?

The owner of the proposed fracking site at Balcombe has declared there is ‘little or no risk to [his] estate or the wider area' because it will be ‘carefully managed and properly regulated’. (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/20/balcombe-landlord-support-fracking-oil

Does he not realise that this government is ideologically opposed to regulations and wants to ‘cut red tape’?

Is he unaware that the government is currently making savage cuts to the budget of the Environment Agency which could lead to the loss of as many as 4,000 of its 11,000 staff?

This is in addition to a series of past cuts to staffing levels e.g. 15% reduction in Environment Agency staff in 2011. http://www.brownfieldbriefing.com/news/environment-agency-has-already-lost-15-its-staff

Where are the staff going to come from to check that regulations are being complied with under these circumstances?

We already know that fracking in Lancashire has faced minimal inspections with three government agencies (Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency, and the Health and Safety Executive) all passing the buck because nobody has overall regulatory oversight for fracking and none of them have the resources they need.

Why should it be any different in Balcombe, or indeed anywhere else in the country?

Monday, 19 August 2013

How we could avoid fly tipping and increase recycling rates.

The small town of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in Germany doesn’t have a problem with fly tipping. One of their waste managers says that their waste recycling scheme is so cheap and easy to use that they don’t need to pursue and fine fly tippers because there isn’t a problem.

Here Kent County Council complains that it is difficult to catch fly tippers and expensive to prosecute. Maybe we should do things the German way on this?

So how does Neustadt ensure that people recycle and don’t fly tip? For starters there is no payment at all for collection of recyclable waste. Bins for residual non recyclable waste are much smaller than here: standard wheelie bin in the UK 240l, standard bin in Neustadt 60l – and a 40l bin is available at a reduced waste collection fee. Collections are fortnightly but weekly collections are available – at twice the price.

Half a tonne of construction waste costs 270 Euros to leave at the waste site – but only 17 Euros if it is sorted, and the site is only a mile from the town. That’s cheap and convenient.

Recycling rate in the UK currently around 40%, target for 2020 50%. Recycling rate in Germany already 70%, target for 2020 100%.

Why can’t we do that? Because there is a lack of political will. Instead of encouraging recycling, the Minister for local government and communities has just handed out money to selected local authorities to reintroduce weekly bin collections – a measure which is guaranteed to reduce recycling rates.