National Politics, Uncategorized, World politics

The way to get a fairer voting system is to vote Green not Labour

andrew weaver john horgan BC

In British Columbia, Canada, Green leader Andrew Weaver agrees a deal with NDP’s John Horgan to end unfair first-past-the-post voting and bring in a proportional system

Hey ho. We are entering the final stages of a general election campaign which looks like cementing our out-of-date two party system in place for at least another five years.

Labour have failed to put a proportional voting system into its manifesto. Despite calls from many in his party, Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his script that he does not need it to win, nor does he want it – oh and he can win the Green’s only seat in Brighton. So Labour are asking for your vote on the basis of maintaining the unfair voting system which has given us a majority of “safe seats”, expenses scandals, indifference to voters and all the rest of it.

Social media is full of idealistic people saying they wish Greens and Labour would work together. Well that will only happen if people vote Green rather than Labour in this general election.

Across the pond in Canada, Greens in the Canadian province of British Columbia have just agreed a deal with the New Democratic Party (the Canadian equivalent of Labour) which will overturn the winner-takes-all voting system in that province and bring in proportional representation. It will also restrict private and union donations to political parties.

The Greens were able to do this because the New Democratic Party (NDP)  needed the three newly elected Green MPs to form a majority Government. In the British Columbia elections last month, the Liberal Party which had ruled the province for 16 years lost seats to bring their total down to 43. The NDP won 41 seats. The Greens tripled their representation from one to three MPs.

A party can not form a government just because it has more seats than any other party.  It can only form a Government if it has more seats than all the other parties combined. If it does not it must seek a deal with some other party to give it a majority. So both the NDP and the Liberals knew they had to do a deal with the Greens. In the end the Greens went with the NDP because they promised to fight against a massive proposed oil pipeline  and to scrap first-past-the-post voting and introduce proportional representation.

Both parties have hailed this as an example of the sort of non partisan co-operation that voters want and are urging Canada’s central Government to follow suit.

Over here in the UK it just so happens that some pollsters are now predicting that there could be a hung parliament in Britain after this election, with Conservatives winning more seats than the other parties but unable to form a Government, because their seats will not outnumber the total of other parties’ such as Labour, SNP and Greens.

We heard this before the 2015 election and it did not happen and it seems unlikely again this time but it does make the point that Greens are needed in parliament.

If Greens double their number of MPs from one (Caroline Lucas) to two – with a win against Labour in Bristol West, then the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever leads Labour after June 8th, to end Labour’s official resistance to a fairer voting system would be intensified.

The SNP also support proportional representation, but they are not standing in England, and UKIP too support it but are unlikely to win any seats anywhere, including their former seat of Clacton (where the popular Douglas Carswell is standing down).

So if you want Greens and Labour to cooperate it is no good voting Labour in seats that are either safe Conservative or safe Labour.

The Green Party has tried to seek a pre-election deal with Labour. Labour has refused and has refused to put a fairer voting system in its manifesto.  If voters want the two parties to work together, they need to pressure Labour, not the Greens. They need to send a message to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn by voting Green in safe Labour and Tory seats. A larger Green vote will be noticed, a larger Labour one will not in seats that they either can’t win or are sure to.

And then there is Bristol West. Here the Green Party came a close second to Labour last time (LibDems and Conservative were in 3rd and 4th place). Many left-Green supporters think they must vote Labour in Bristol West to ensure that Labour have as many seats as possible so that they can form a Government.

But this is to misunderstand the way Governments are formed.  A Green win in Bristol West will serve to cut the Tory majority just as well as a Labour win. And it will have the added advantage of putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to make a fairer, proportional voting system  Labour policy.

So if you want a fairer voting system, and you want to get rid of the Conservative government, vote Green, not Labour.

 

Standard
National Politics

Corbyn, the accidental leader, is finished

corbyn-straight-talking

In my last blog on Jeremy Corbyn I suggested that his halo had cracked because he was not entirely honest about his thoughts on Brexit.

Because he did not believe in remaining in the EU himself, he failed to support Remain wholeheartededly. His USP (unique selling proposition) had been that he was a man who stood by his principles. He failed to do that. Bang goes the sole reason for his popularity.

Four months on, he is now openly supporting Brexit, but not, he says,  because he believes in it, but because the people have told him to. His comments on Blair’s speech about the dangers of a right wing Brexit are telling:

“Well, it’s not helpful. I would ask those to think about this – the referendum gave a result, gave a very clear decision on this, and we have to respect that decision, that’s why we didn’t block article 50. But we are going to be part of all this campaigning, all these negotiations about the kind of relationship we have in Europe in the future.. The referendum happened, let’s respect the result. Democracy happened, respect the result.”

This does not sound like a conviction politician. It sounds like someone trotting out an ill-prepared line. Blair made some valid criticisms of the extreme right wing Brexit that we are likely to be landed with, one that would see the feeding of the NHS to American private health providers, and the undermining of employment and environmental protections. Where is Jeremy’s criticism of the extreme right wing Brexit that we are likely to get?

Since the referendum (or even before it), Jeremy could have come clean about wanting to leave EU. He could have unveiled his vision for Brexit if he thinks it is a good idea. But either he doesn’t have a vision, or he is not sure whether it is a good idea or not. So why support it? One is forced to the conclusion that he is afraid of his heartland voters.

This is a man in a muddle. He is finished. The truth is, he was always an accidental leader, as this piece in Business Insider explains.

Along with Diane Abbott and John McDonnell he is a member of Labour’s “Socialist Campaign Group”. This band always try to have a candidate for Labour leadership elections to represent the few remaining die hard socialist MPs. But all had received derisory votes when they had stood before. In June 2015 when the  Campaign Group MPs got into their huddle, they decided it was Corbyn’s turn to have his name put forward. The Guardian asked Corbyn, why you?  “Well, Diane [Abbott] and John [McDonnell] have done it before, so it was my turn,” he replied. He said he was running only reluctantly “All of us felt the leadership contest was not a good idea – there should have been a policy debate first. There wasn’t, so we decided somebody should put their hat in the ring in order to promote that debate. And, unfortunately, it’s my hat in the ring.”

He never expected to win the leadership battle and in a revealing interview with John Snow he refused to say that he wanted to be primeminister. The rumours are that at one stage he wanted to resign but John McDonnell persuaded him it was his duty to remain. But his apparent honesty and apparent loyalty to the package of values labelled socialism fuelled the hopes of thousands. I was not one of those people. To me socialism is a tarnished ideology and tacking on Greenery to it was never going to be an answer to the calamity of overconsumption by the wealthy western world. State ownership doesn’t deal with the need for healthy, decentralised local economies and communities, nor the need to protect future generations. The natural world can’t support our current rate of consumption. Yes we need some redistribution. But just divvying out the spoils is not going to protect future generations. It’s about cutting our economic cloth to fit the environmental reality.

But even I would admit that there could have been an opportunity nonetheless to tweak the national narrative.  Corbyn, had he the personality, could have risen to the occasion, used the platform he was unexpectedly gifted to lever in some new ideas into the national consciousness. A people’s quantative easing, a funding of the transition to sustainable energy, a basic income for all. All Green Party ideas that John McDonnell has toyed with, ineffectually.

But Jeremy’s brain was stuck in old Labour ways – full employment, listening to sector pleading from unions, even when the unions are trying to prop up a harmful industry.

Confronted with a Welsh mining community his instinct was to promise to look at reopening coal mines. Faced with losing a byelection in nuclear powered Copeland, he abandoned his opposition to nuclear power, promising the workers a shining new nuke station. Back in June 2015, trying to appeal to Green voters, he promised “no to new nuclear“. Asked for a fairer voting system and a deal with other parties trying to remove the Conservatives, he ruled it out. The Labour Party comes before fairness, it seems. He has not risen above his party to lead the people, he has sunk into it.

He is a Labour tribalist first and foremost. Only the blindest of socialist heroworshippers can still think that he will lead Labour to a victory in 2020.   The only question remains now whether he is loyal enough to his party to quit as leader before he ensures his party one of the worst election defeats in its history.

Standard
apple juice, Nature, Out and about, Uncategorized

Ashmead Kernel – the apple that took 280 years to be recognised

ashmead-kernel

Ashmead Kernels on the kichen table

“What an apple, what suavity of aroma. Its initial Madeira-like melPhilip Morton Shand, author and grandfather of Camilla Parker Bowles.lowness of flavour overlies a deeper honeyed nuttiness, crisply sweet not sugar sweet, but the succulence of a well devilled marrow bone. Surely no apple of greater distinction or more perfect balance can ever have been raised anywhere on earth.” Art critic and pomologist Philip Morton Shand (right), BBC Radio 1944.

“Outright winner was Ashmead’s Kernel, so good we almost eliminated it from the competition as it was not fair on the others.  This is an intensely aromatic apple, with a pleasing balance of sweetness and acidity.  Crisp and juicy.  It is a late season apple that stores very well.” Gloucester Apple Trust – tasting notes 2005.

“Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again…” Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie

This autumn ten of the 25 apple trees I planted six years ago have finally borne worthwhile fruit.  I had to look up my planting notes to work out which ones they were. Five of the trees were Ashmead Kernel. They were absolutely laden with very large almost khaki-coloured fruit. Some of the branches were bent down almost to the ground with the weight. Closer up you can see the colour is green underneath but overladen by the furry “russet” coat, which is a sort of light brown in colour.

I picked them all. Most have been pressed into apple juice – which is particularly flavoursome – and are now in the freezer in plastic bottles. But I still have a tray in the cellar because they are meant to keep into February. They are both acid and sweet at the same time, as the tasting quotes above show. The four pictured above I’ve just brought up from the cellar. The boys gobble them up very fast.

They are called Ashmead after the Gloucester worthy who first grew them in his garden in what is now Clarence Street, Gloucester in about 1700. Sadly the original tree was destroyed when a new road was built through the garden in the nineteenth century. The site of his garden is now taken up by this unlovely Primark outlet. primark-gloucester

Luckily, a local nurseryman name of Wheeler propagated the apple for sale in about 1766 and it became locally successful ie in West Gloucestershire. It is seen now as one of the finest products of Gloucestershire, so could quite likely have contributed to Laurie Lee’s drink of golden fire, quoted above from his novel Cider With Rosie.

Despite Morton Shand’s wartime fervour for its taste,  according to some info I found from a community orchard outside Bristol, it did not come to national notice until the 1960s when it showed well in blind testing conducted by East Malling Research Station. It finally gained acceptance when, in 1981, it was awarded a First Class Certificate by the Royal Horticultural Society – after nearly 300 years.

If you surf the web, rather pleasingly, there are quite a few American bloggers talking about how much they like it, but how difficult it is to grow, including one poor chap who only managed to find a couple of apples in a very special supermarket when they were past their best in December. He had to nibble the top and bottom bits (near the poles) to get the “acid drop” taste, which had seeped away during storage nearer the apple’s equator.

I knew none of this when I bought the saplings from a nursery six years ago. I chose the trees based on what was available (the nursery had run out of many  of its varieties and generally takes bookings a year ahead) that fruited late and kept well and were reasonably disease free. So I’m feeling quite smug about my choice.

A few of my Ashmead Kernel apples have got a  mild case of “bitter pit” which is thought to be brought about by lack of nutrients but with my apples it is not severe enough to affect the flavour.

The whole idea of planting late fruiting varieties was to have enough apples to keep in the cellar and last us through winter, so we’ll see how they last.

They are there in the musty gloom alongside about seven trays full of Claygate Pearmain, the other five of my planted trees that did really well this year.

Here are some of the Claygate Pearmains.

claygate-pearmain

The sun-kissed Claygate, fruit of a glorious Suffolk autumn

Like the Ashmeads, they are covered in russet but they have a rosier tint on the side where the sun reached them, this segues first into orange, then yellow and then green as you travel around the apple’s equator. But the whole skin is suffused with greeny freckles.

The flesh is softer in the Claygate and it does not have Ashmead’s sharpness, but they’re still nice.

Claygates also have a back story. They were discovered in a hedge in the village of Claygate, in Surrey by Claygate resident John Braddick in 1821.

The Claygate trees have this year been even more prolific than the Ashmead. But strangely, one of the five trees produced a mass of smaller apples and hardly any full sized ones. I tried to thin out the baby apples in mid summer but that tree may either have been more attractive to bees for some reason and so set more fruit or it may have been one that I missed.

Here are some tasting notes on Claygates from the Orange Pippin website

“After a month in cold storage, the tropical fruit flavour develops into one of the most deliciously complex apples I’ve ever tasted. I would rank this in my top five desert varieties. A shame it is not widely grown in USA.”

“A very superior apple. Flavour is incredibly complex if picked when ripe and stored for a week or two. There are definite pineapple notes on offer. So far, this is the best apple I have ever tasted.”

It’s such a joy and privilege to be keeping alive these historic discoveries. And they are discoveries. Each of the hundreds of English apple varieties represent a little fortutious accident of nature, not deliberate breeding. Apples can not be “bred” like many domestic plants and animals. The pips do not grow true – they do not grow up into the same variety of apple they came from. The blossom on the tree is fertilised by pollen from another variety. The tree produces a predictable apple variety, but no one can predict what genes the seed inside the apple contains.

Often people’s carefully planted and long-tended pip grows into a tree that does not even produce apples.  Johnny Appleseed, despite his name, and what I was told at school, did not go around America scattering pips. He planted nurseries, with the aim of selling trees, not orchards for selling apples.

So it is up to nature to produce new varieties. When an apple arrives that happens to be tasty to us humans, it is our role to discover it, whether it is in a hedge, like Claygate Pearmain, or in someone’s garden. And then we have to propagate that plant, from cuttings, not from pips.

As you saw, Ashmead’s Gloucester garden is now a store selling cut-price imported  clothing and it is unlikely that any of the commuters living in Claygate would have the time or inclination to scan their local hedgerows for new varieties of apples today.  So we can only keep on propagating the discoveries of our vigilant ancestors.

Standard
National Politics, Uncategorized

How Corbyn has cracked his halo

jeremy corbyn

The thing Jeremy Corbyn had going for him, as far as the general population is concerned, was his integrity, his refusal to compromise, his refusal to schmooze and simper and smarm. His apparent ability to stand up for what he believed in, regardless of what was deemed establishment opinion, rightly earned him the respect of people from all walks of life and political views.  He did manage to crack the establishment consensus that austerity is the only solution. Conservative strategists like Lynton Crosby saw that in his character and in their souls feared it. There is no one in the Conservative party who could win in the integrity stakes against Corbyn.

But during the EU referendum campaign Corbyn failed to be true to that. He adopted a tactic of laying low and appeared half-hearted in his support for Remain. So he was absent from many of the big Remain rallies and media appearances. The few speeches he did give sounded passionless and flat.  Opinion polls show that many of the people who voted Labour in the last general election (about a third of them) were intending to vote Leave. Another big chunk, lacking guidance from anyone they trusted, are likely to be a part of the 28% who stayed at home and sat on their hands. If Corbyn had been as active as Cameron in standing up for EU membership maybe those people would have been emboldened to go and out and vote and the ballot would have gone the other way.  That is one reason why not just Blairite MPs but strong, left wing Remain campaigners have turned against him

He also got principles confused with reality. I too was initially ambiguous about which way to vote in the referendum. But as I saw how the leaders of the Leave campaign were deliberately manipulating people into blaming immigrants for many of the country’s problems I realised I couldn’t afford to sit on the fence. Much though I disliked a lot of what the EU stood for, I realised voting Leave would embolden and legitimise racists, without achieving much change for the good, and without even reducing immigration by a significant amount (assuming that was the desired outcome for many people). Corbyn must have seen this but he perhaps loved his left-wing principles more than the reality and he wasn’t going to bend. So Corbyn not only betrayed the Remain side by being half-hearted, he also helped embolden racists.

But if he believed in Leave then why should he have loyalty to Remain? The Labour Party forced him into that box, as did probably the majority of the new young members who voted for him.  So the deeper betrayal was to his own persona. His image of integrity has been tarnished because he is seen to have been untrue to himself. If he wanted to Leave he should have come out and said so.  If he decided that Remain was the right thing to do, however reluctant he was, he should have come out and said so properly. He should have described publicly his own battle with the issue. Instead he bowed to pressure to support the Remain side, even when he did not really believe it. THAT is the key error.  That is just what St Jeremy was not supposed to do, speak for something he doesn’t believe in. The halo has slipped badly. If he wants to get his image back, he needs to acknowledge the mistake he made in the referendum campaign. Come clean, admit his true position on Europe and apologise for not being clear about it before. Unless he does that he will never repair the deep crack to his reputation.  But I am not sure he has the personality to admit he is wrong. The very inflexibility in him that has won him support is about to destroy him.

Standard
Nature

How nature programmes get things out of proportion

 

Michaela – stronger than a stoat

 

I have a lot of time for Chris Packham and BBC’s Spring Watch. But the other day his co-presenter Michaela Strachan repeated the age old nature programme gimmick of scaling up small animals “feats of strength” to human size and then being amazed.

“Wow,” said Michaela, “That stoat carried the rabbit all the way back to its kits, and the rabbit weighs more than it does.  We’ve worked it out astoat with rabbitnd it’s as if I carried a red deer stag by my teeth.”

Weight lifters sometimes go in for that kind of mistaken mathematics as well, with smaller bodybuilders or weight lifters often claiming that “pound for pound” they are stronger than their bigger rivals and that therefore they have better muscles.

When gymnasts have to lift their own bodies on the parallel bars, it is always harder for a big person to do it than a small one. This is not because the small person has done more exercise.

The mistake here is to assume body weight is proportionate to strength. Body weight is not proportional to strength. What determines the strength of a muscle is its cross sectional area, not its weight or volume. A thicker muscle can exert a bigger force, a longer, thinner one with the same volume would be weaker.  Never mind the size, feel the thickness!  Your strength is proportionate to the cross sectional area of your muscles.

Thankfully, as you grow, the cross sectional area of your muscle increases, as does its length and overall volume. But here’s the key to it all: your muscle volume and weight increases at a faster rate than your muscle cross section does.

So if you are a tall person trying to lift yourself up on the parallel bars, you will find it harder than you did when you were smaller, because your weight has increased by more than your muscle cross section.

Heavyweight boxer Mohammed Ali was 1.91m high and in his prime weighed in at 107kg while Amir Khan, a light welterweight, weighs just 63kg and his height is 1.65m

Amir: Feel my cross section

So Ali is roughly 1.16 times taller than Khan but 1.7 times heavier.

mohammed ali

Ali – it’s all about the cross section

Every inch increase in the length of our muscles is cubed when it comes to the volume of the muscle but only squared when it comes to cross sectional area.

So Ali’s muscle cross section will be larger than Khan’s but nowhere near 1.7 times larger.

Obviously Ali is stronger than Khan and Michaela is stronger than the stoat. “Pound for pound” Khan is stronger than Ali and the stoat is stronger than Michaela Strachan. But that’s not a fair way to look at it. Cross section for cross section they are all roughly the same strength because all four of them are very fit.

So how could Michaela really take on the stoat in a fair challenge? The stoat has a cross sectional area of about 12 sq cm.  You can probably fit around 40 stoat waists into Michaela’s waist. The stoat carried a rabbit weighing a kilogramme. So, to match the stoat, Michaela should carry something weighing 40kg. This is about the weight of a large family dog, like a German shepherd. It’s roughly what British soldiers carried on their backs when they yomped across the Falkland Islands.  Not easy, but certainly more achievable than a male stag.

I’m sure she’d do it to feed her kits.

 

 

 

 

Standard
National Politics, Politics, World politics

Let’s tackle Europe’s flaws

EU parliament

European Parliament – the good bit, more democratic than Westminster

 

I have been wrestling with how I am going to vote in the Euro referendum.  I feel the Green Party of England and Wales rather rushed into supporting the “in” camp. It was decided by a single “emergency” motion at the conference in Bournemouth – well before Cameron had come up with his half-baked deal with Europe and a referendum date.

To me this was not the way the Green Party should have done this. An online ballot of all members would have been more suitable. It may well have reached the same outcome, but at least more people would have had a say.

But regardless of this conference “decision”, the Green Party is sensible enough not to force its members to speak with one voice and to tolerate those – like Jenny Jones and Rupert Read – who go against the party line on this.

So where do I stand? In or out, or neither?

The arguments from all three sides have been singularly uncompelling and unsatisfying because they never delve properly into analysing what is wrong with the EU and what can be done to fix it. The Innies say Europe has given us loads of environmental and social goodies without saying what it’s flaws are, while the Outties linger on its fundamental flaws but then usually assert that it can not be reformed, because of its fundamental nature, without really adducing any evidence.

So if we are to vote one way or t’other we must first examine the flaws and then see if it is true that they are unfixable.  So what are the failings of Europe, as far as Greens are concerned?

Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s most prominent “out” campaigner,  argued back in July 2015 that there was something “rotten at the heart of Europe”. She is right to an extent. She points to the EU parliament’s approval of TTIP and the EU’s treatment of Greece as evidence that the institution has neo-liberal corporatism at its heart. She says that “Green and progressive voters will lack any leverage so long as we tolerate a bad EU for fear of something even worse.”

Rupert Read (who intends to #VoteNeither and spoil his ballot paper) uses the example of the agricultural policy of the EU, which he rightly says has industrialised and marketised farming in Eastern Europe at the expense of the environment.

But to call the EU “bad” is like calling a barrel of apples bad because half of them are rotten. To me that means the rest are still good and can be saved. Greens across Europe have to keep pointing to the rot and pushing to remove it.  And both Jenny and Rupert are wrong if they say there is no realistic prospect that the EU can be reformed for the good.

The story of the EU is one that is rarely told properly by either side, pro or anti. Though it is true that the earliest 1951 version of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, had as one of its goals cementing peace between France and Germany, and it surely succeeded within a decade in this aim, it’s aim was to do this via trade and to boost production, consumption and economic growth.  It was a trading bloc designed to compete with the might of the US.

As such, it was profoundly un-Green. “Maximise production!” could be said to be its battle cry.  But something happened in 1979 that began to subtly alter that agenda. What was originally meant to be a mere add-on talking shop thrown a few bones by the founding Council  – “the Consultative Assembly” – became a directly elected parliament. This put the democratic cat amongst the bureaucratic pigeons.   Ever since, the history of the EU has been one of the parliament using its democratic mandate to gain more and more powers over the bureaucrats of the European Commission – who see their role as bolstering trade and competitiveness of Europe against other nations – and the often self-serving national politicians of the European Council.

This process is still by no means complete but it would appear to be inescapable. The creation of a fairly elected body in the heart of a cosy bureaucratic trading group has unleashed a “democracy virus” within the EU that is irreversible. The MEPs are largely elected for the presumed ideals of the political parties they represent. The  ideals of at least 50 of them (the Green bloc) include turning the EU into a supporter of sustainability and ending its constant chasing of economic growth.   Ever closer integration is not in the manifesto of many of these parties. Nor is taking more powers from sovereign nations.

The European parliament (though not perhaps the EU as a whole) can now be truthfully said to be more democratic than Westminster with its outdated first-past-the-post electoral system.

But the European Parliament is still the only accountable and responsive head of the three-headed beast that is the EU. The other two heads – the European Commission and the European Council – are appointed. Council members are appointed by the individual Governments of the nations, while the Commission President is appointed by the Council.

From its earliest days, though it was given no powers to do so, the pesky European Parliament began to draft proposals to reform the functioning of the EU.  From the 1980s it began holding votes on proposed Commission Presidents, even though it had no formal power to appoint or veto them.

In 1999 the parliament forced the resignation of an entire set of Commissioners – led by President Jacques Santer – after it threatened a vote of censure following allegations of fraud and mismanagement.

Every time there is a new European treaty, Parliament has been able to use its democratic mandate to negotiate itself more powers over the Commission. It is now legally able to do what it had been doing using its moral authority alone – veto the appointment of Commission presidents. It has been granted equal rights to amend legislation as the Council of Ministers, and it can also approve or reject EU budgets.

There is still much to be done to improve accountability in the EU.

The parliament is keen to end its ridiculously wasteful trip between Strasbourg and Brussels but the decision about where parliament sits is still the gift of the Council of Ministers, not the parliament itself. It is also still unable to hire and fire individual Commissioners (though it can and does veto them) and unable to call them to account before its committees. Worse still, parliament can still not initiate legislation. That is still done by the appointed Commission.

However, back in 2010, in tough negotiations with newly appointed EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, a small group of parliamentarians, including the German Green MEP Rebecca Harms,  got very close.

Rebecca Harms

Rebecca Harms Green MEP helped squeeze extra power from Commission to elected parliament

barroso

Manuel Barroso, Commission president, forced to concede

Barroso, fearing that the parliament would not approve his line-up of Commissioners, said that parliament already had a de facto right to initiate legislation. This was because, Barroso said, the Commission usually responded favourably to any “request” for new legislation from the Parliament. This amounted to a promise to do the right thing.

A final hurdle: crucially, parliament is still unable to appoint the Central Bank President, but Greens have been pushing for it to do so.

This shows why it would be wrong to blame the EU as a whole for forcing austerity onto the Greek people.  The “Troika” that wielded the knife was made up of the unelected European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank (whose president, the former Goldman Sachs executive Mario Draghi, was appointed by the European Council).  If the European Parliament had been allowed to vote on Greece, it would have been more likely to force the banks to take more of a haircut and the Greek people less of one.

It is true that the EU parliament voted in favour of TTIP, the EU-US trade deal, in June last year. But subsequently, as a result of a wave of public opposition including 2.3 million signatures on a petition against it, in July the EU Parliament voted in favour of TTIP but only on the condition that a controversial part of it the Americans wanted was removed. This objection meant that America’s goal of sealing the deal by the end of the year was thwarted and there is now more time to apply public pressure on MEPs to reject the deal completely. Because the parliament is elected by proportional representation, few have “safe seats” and the MEPs are more likely to respond to pressure than Westminster MPs. The secrecy of talks, on which Americans are insisting, is also being undermined by public pressure, leaks and the opposition of many MEPs. British Conservatives have said they want to sign a trade deal with the US whether we are in or out of Europe. So leaving will not save us from a US trade deal in which the electorate will have zero input.

As for Rupert Read’s argument about the EU commoditising and marketising farming in Eastern Europe, he is probably right. But the instrument that the EU used was the Common Agricultural Policy. The CAP is a creature of the EU Commission. It was dreamt up by the Commission almost at the same time as the EEC was founded. It is only since 2013 – long after EU accession for most countries – that the parliament has been allowed to have a vote on reforms to the CAP. To change the CAP we must continue to push for the European parliament to have powers to initiate legislation and reforms to it. The CAP must be reformed so that it no longer subsidises wealthy landowners and environmental destruction but instead supports a transition to sustainable farming methods. Subsidies for sustainable farming have grown over the years but are still a drop in the ocean. The pressure to change the wasteful CAP however, is already intense.  Allowing the democratically elected parliament to change it could make that pressure irresistable.

The shame is that need for a more democratic Europe is being lost in the arguments about whether or not to be in it.

For Greens, the EU must be seen as a work in progress, not for greater integration or greater trade, but for greater sustainability, deeper democracy and tougher controls on the transnationally rich and powerful.  If we leave it, we will not be able to start again.  There is no other organisation in town. The EU is it, undemocratic warts and all.

I support Rupert’s right to spoil his ballot paper and explain the reasons why, I also support Jenny’s right to vote leave and explain her reasons. I will be voting remain because I believe Europe can be fixed and used to get what we Greens want.

Standard
Out and about, Uncategorized

Zen and the art of mower maintenance

I have a good relationship with my lawnmower repair man. I have never met him and  he has never once asked me to bring the mower to him or come out to repair it.

What he does is give me free moral support for my own efforts. He saves his time and I save my money.

To be frank I am not very good with combustion engines. Just as some people go to pieces at the mention of maths, I tend to lose the will to live when the mower packs up.

It is not a logical response. It is an emotional one. There is an overwhelming feeling of entering a strange land where parts covered in grease and compacted dried grass do unknowable things in complicated ways and have impenetrable names.

And then you look at the manual (only available online) and all it tells you is not to ride it on a slope.  In manual world, people’s mowers don’t pack up. Or if they do, they telephone the manufacturer who instantly whizzes out the right part – complete with a team of mechanics in spotless uniformed overalls – labelled “Mountfield” to install it. Or they give you a complete new mower.

In the real world, the mower is an expensive bit of kit, badly designed and assembled, that will pack up for a host of generally fairly simple reasons – but there is no one in the shop where you bought it, or at the manufacturer, to tell you how to fix it.

Also things happen to the mower that seem designed to sap your mental energy. For example – the latest mower fault was a broken belt. Now, warning, here comes the mechanical part – ride-on mowers have two belts – one that drives the wheels and the other that drives the blades. The one that broke for me was the blade belt.

I got on the phone to Simon, my official mower repair man, to ask his answer machine how easy is it to replace the blade belt. “Pretty easy,” was his voicemail reply. “If you look underneath you should be able to see how it fits on.”

Well, eventually, I did. With the help of my father – moral support again – and a great deal of logical thinking, we got the new belt on correctly. It did need more advice from Simon and the loosening of one pulley – but we did it.

Back to mowing the lawn – neglected now for so long that dandelion flowers had turned to dandelion clocks and the buttercups were growing into shrubs.  A couple of hours mowing and the ride-on suddenly refused to ride. The engine was going but the mower was not moving.  Heart in mouth I clambered off to lie flat on the grass and inspect the dark mass of pulleys and cogs underneath. Sure enough, the drive belt had now broken.

It is genuinely hard to believe that the mower isn’t doing this deliberately as some kind of emotional wind-up.

So what to do? Reader, I slept on it.

Long ago I read a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Much of it was guff, but one bit really stuck in my mind. That was the bit that said that if you are trying to repair something mechanical and it is getting you down then stop. Take a break, think about something else, have a cup of tea. Once the anger and frustration are no longer there, your mind is left free to actually think of a solution. But also to build up the moral courage to tackle the job.

So I left it a couple of days. I got onto Youtube, where generally there is an American farmer drawling into a smartphone held by his wife/daughter while he shows you how to replace a belt on his ride-on mower.  The mower restarts and they wife “yeehaars!” him as he drives off into the dust. But there wasn’t. No one on the internet it seems knows has to repair a Mountfield 1430 ride on.

And then I phoned the voicemail of Simon my repair man.  “Is this as easy to do as the blade belt?” I asked. Ominously my answer machine received no reply for a day. I slept on it again. And during the sleepless hours in early morning, my brain somehow resolved that I was being silly. That it would be relatively easy to do. They MUST have made the mower so that the drive belt can be replaced. It would just be a case of unscrewing what needed to be unscrewed to get at the pulleys around which the belt travelled and then loosening whatever pulley needed loosening to get the belt on.  And then putting it all back together again.

That’s what my early morning brain told me. And it was right. I stuck to it all of the next day. Unscrewing bits of metal and plastic in inaccessible places, all with different size bolts, all needing different spanners. Until I reached the nirvana of the six pulleys that held the drive belt.

I put the new belt back on. Screwed all the little gizmos back in to their places. Reconnected the battery….Except I couldn’t reconnect the battery because I had lost the tiny nut that holds the wire onto the negative pole. Next day a trip to the hardware store, back again, insert the nut, turn the ignition. Bingo! The engine started. Into gear, kazam! The mower moved forward. Connect the blades – Whump! The blades turned around.

I have fixed the mower. I reported back to Simon the repair man. “Well done,” he said. “You’ll have to come and help me with some jobs.” Now that’s an accolade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard