County councillor work, Local politics, Uncategorized

The new Green group on Suffolk County Council – my first report

Robert, elfrede, Andrew 2

Me, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw and Andrew Stringer – the Green Group on Suffolk County Council

New County Council 

There are now 52 Tory Councillors out of the 75 total on Suffolk. Greens increased from two to three. We three Green County Councillors have teamed up with four LibDems and five Independents to form the LD, Green and Independent Group.  Here we are at Endeavour  House (county hall) – minus Richard Kemp
Guild Group, SCC
We are the second largest group after Tories because Labour have been reduced to just 11.  However, we have said we do not want the status of “official opposition” – which means our leader gets a bit less money, but we don’t have to come up with alternative budgets, etc.  
Our leader for the first year is LibDem David Wood, (on the far left) and Andrew Stringer is deputy. This is likely to change in the second year. We have appointed a spokesperson for women, the LibDem councillor Caroline Page. We are the first group on the county to do so, and she has received some press coverage for highlighting an underspend on carers. We are a big enough group so that at least one of us is on every committee.  Our two rules are:
1. We share all information from committees etc
2. No one tells anyone else in the group how to vote, except by persuasion.
We are the only group whose members all represent the people in the divison where they live. I have been appointed to the audit committee and the pension committee. 
 
Risky pension?
The pension committee is preparing to put the bulk of its £2.6bn in assets into a “pooled pot” with other local authorities across the East and South East as demanded by central Government.
This will reduce, but not remove, the ability of Suffolk County Council to invest sums in the local economy, which is something I am keen to see it do. Though it is early days I would also like to see the pension fund examine whether it is wise to remain so heavily invested in fossil fuel companies. This is because I agree with the Governor of the Bank England Mark Carney who has warned that government legislation to cut CO2 emissions could pose a substantial risk to the value of oil and gas assets.  The London Borough of Waltham Forest has already agreed to do this.
 
£400k for care beds for the dead
I have attended my first audit committee which heard that the council has inadvertently paid £400,000 to private care homes for beds for people who have died. This seems to have been a mixture of some care homes not telling the county when their patient dies while in other cases they told the county but no one in the county told the people making the payments Fortunately this was spotted by the head of internal audit and we are told better internal reporting measures introduced. The last time they checked the overpayments had reduced to just £40k. The county has recovered all the money it is owed. The county’s own care homes were all outsourced about four years ago to Care UK. I suspect that when this contract happened, county staff were not geared up to control payments.
 
More say for backbenchers and opposition
Before the election, my friend and the then Green group leader Mark Ereira and the then Ukip leader proposed a motion to introduce a committee system to the council and scrap the cabinet system. This was amended to something like “explore the options in a cross party working group”. The Conservative-dominated working group has decided that they want to have cabinet committees, which is a hybrid system that allows the Conservatives to control everything, but hear opposition voices from the committees. Labour and our group have pushed them successfully to have 12 members on each of these committees which means there will be two from our group, alongside two Labour and 8 Tory councillors on each committee. They can only advise and the 100% Tory cabinet will make the decisions still, but it’s better than before.
 
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Local politics, National Politics

Green Euro vote 2014 by police commissioner area

Green Euro vote by police commissioner area

Police area % Green vote Euro Green police commissioner vote % Region
Avon and Somerset 12.8 South West
Sussex 11.9 South East
Devon and Cornwall 11.5 South West
Gloucestershire 10.8 South West
Cambridgeshire 10.6 Eastern
Norfolk 10.4 Eastern
North Yorks 10 Yorks and Humber
Suffolk 9.7 Eastern
Thames Valley 9.3 South East
Dorset 9.2 South West
Wiltshire 9 South West
Hampshire 8.8 South East
Surrey 8.7 South East
Merseyside 7.9 North West
West Yorks 7.9 Yorks and Humber
Hertfordshire 7.9 Eastern
South Yorks 7.7 Yorks and Humber
Kent 7.3 South East
Cheshire 7.1 North West
Greater Manchester 7 North West
Cumbria 6.9 North West
Essex 6.8 Eastern
Bedfordshire 6.7 Eastern
Nottinghamshire 6.7 East Midlands
West Mercia 6.5 West Midlands
Lancashire 6.2 North West
Warwickshire 6.2 West Midlands
Humberside 6.1 Yorks and Humber
Leicestershire 6.1 East Midlands
Derbyshire 6 East Midlands
Northants 5.8 East Midlands
Durham 5.5 North East
Northumbria 5.5 North East
Dyfed-Pows 5.2 Wales
Lincolnshire 5 East Midlands
South Wales 4.9 Wales
West Midlands 4.8 West Midlands
Staffordshire 4.2 West Midlands
Cleveland 4.1 13 North East
Gwent 3.9 Wales
North Wales 3.7 Wales
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Local politics, National Politics, Nature, Politics

Now even the AA thinks Cameron has gone too far

NB This was written back in July, but it looks like I forgot to press the publish button, so it has been in draft form.

I have been holding off writing much lately, because the string of self-serving policies the Government has been announcing has just left me a bit dumbstruck.

But today Cameron and Osborne have driven even the AA, the motorists lobby group, to put its name to that of the National Trust, the RSPB, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trusts (including Suffolk) the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and various other groups in writing a letter to the David Cameron warning that they are weakening environmental policy in 10 areas which is likely to wreck our chances of meeting targets for cutting carbon and avoiding runaway climate change.

In its latest budget the government is removing the tax break on hybrid vehicles but keeping one just for electric vehicles. What this is likely to mean is that manufacturers will have no incentive to develop a new generation of hybrid vehicles – which were seen as the stepping stone towards fully electric ones.

“Since May, the government has ended subsidies for wind and solar power, increased taxes on renewable energy, axed plans for zero carbon homes, and closed its flagship energy efficiency scheme without a replacement. It also made a U-turn on banning fracking in Britain’s most important nature sites, and lifted a ban in some parts of the country on pesticides linked to bee declines.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, which represents 47 local wildlife groups across the UK, said: “This list of recent policy reversals is shocking, and shows disregard for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations, as well as for the environment we all depend on.”

“We would encourage you to resolve some of the contradictions that have emerged between the stated intentions of government and the actions of your ministers in its first period in office,” the groups said in the letter, which was also signed by Friends of the Earth, WWF, the Wildlife Trusts, and the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The ban on neo-nicotinoids, by the way, the pesticides linked to deaths of bees, applies to THIS part of the country, East Anglia.

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Local politics, National Politics, Out and about

Talk on Climate Change to East Bergholt School

Climate Change

Yesterday I gave a talk on climate change to year 10 geographers at East Bergholt High School.

Some at least took it in. Some probably didn’t but you can’t win them all.

Above is the Powerpoint presentation I used.

Before going, I picked up some useful tips from Sandy Irvine, a Green Party member from Newcastle who used to teach sixth formers.  We have compiled them into a written list for all members to use who want to give talks to schools. A great resource.

I did ask the pupils at the end if any of them thought climate change was not man made or was not a problem. No one put their hand up. I think young people are not really interested in engaging or arguing with the deniers and sceptics. They just want practical solutions. There’s quite a few of the deniers on Facebook and Twitter, including the UKIP candidate for South Suffolk, who, funnily  enough, lives in East Bergholt. I get the impression they are all (the deniers) desperate for a debate on it. So I shan’t give them one. The debate’s over, the rest of us are getting on with pressing for faster solutions.

Now – rail lines down motorways please!

Immediately after doing the talk, someone posted this great graphic from Bloomberg, explains why climate change is manmade in about 30 seconds. You’d need to be pretty narrow-minded to think  it was sunspots after this http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/

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Local politics, National Politics, Nature, Politics

Pope to issue edict saying climate change is a moral crisis

Pope-Francis

You read it here first! Pope Francis will on Thursday issue an edict on the moral necessity to take action on climate change.

This has been in the air for a while (and I see there is a Guardian piece on it today) but it was the first I knew about it. I heard about this morning at a talk and workshop at St Mary’s Church, Hadleigh, organised by the local benefice, and run by Colin Bell of something called the Faraday Institute. As far as I can tell Mr Bell and the Faraday Institute are working to turn the Church of England green.

The Pope has spent the past two years honing this edict, says Mr Bell, and the hope is that the Church of England and other protestant churches will follow him. If they don’t they risk being seen as more conservative than the Pope. He also showed us a rather good cartoon summarising the recent history of international climate talks  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B11kASPfYxY

And there was a great quote from one of Pope Francis’s scientific advisors: Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has said: “The challenge of climate change has become not only economic, political or social. It is also an issue of morals, religion, values such as justice and social inclusion, the obligation of solidarity with future generations and the moral obligation to care for the earth, namely creation, which is our habitat.”

The other good thing about this session in Hadleigh was that it might just lead to a Transition Hadleigh group, to try to make the town and the church greener and less dependent on fossil fuels and to get existing groups in the town working together.

Pleased to see our new Conservative MP James Cartlidge was there, although he did not stay very long. There are key decisions for world leaders coming up in Paris in December as part of the next round of climate agreements – known as COP21. There have been positive noises from the G7 about becoming fossil fuel free by end of the century and from China and President Obama on a bi-lateral deal to cut carbon emissions. So things are going in the right direction for once. I hope our MP will take on board the importance of these talks and press his superiors in Government to pledge big carbon cuts for Britain – both before 2020 to meet existing commitments and for tough new commitments after 2020.

If you feel the same please write to him, or try to go see him on Wednesday 17 June in Westminster at the Climate Change event.

Another thing it would be great to see would be Suffolk County Council, which has a well meaning initiative to be “the Greenest County”, getting its pension fund to sell its huge £15m stake in BP – one of its single largest investments. At least four fifths of the world’s declared oil reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid 2 degrees of global warming. BP’s business plan is extract and burn as much oil as possible. So why is Suffolk’s pension committee risking its members’ retirements by investing in a company intent on releasing more carbon than is compatible with the survival of human civilisation?

Next on my to do list – start a divestment campaign aimed at Suffolk County Council’s pension fund.

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Local politics, National Politics, Politics

South Suffolk Green result – was it worth it?

South suffolk candidates

Candidates for South Suffolk photographed while the winning Conservative was being congratulated

So here it is then, the result of the South Suffolk parliamentary election. Greens received a measly 4.3% of the vote. We didn’t even save our deposit. What was the point of it all? Should we Greens despair?

South Suffolk Constituency

Con 27,546 – 53%

Lab 10,001 – 19%

UKIP 7,900 – 17.3%

LibDem 4,049 – 7.8%

Green 2,069 – 4.3%

Well the other way to look at it is that here in South Suffolk we went from 0% five years ago – when we didn’t have a candidate – to 4.3% – a shade above the national average Green vote of 3.8%. Over two thousand people voted for a Green MP, who never had the chance before. One of those voters said to me on Facebook “No bloody hope around my neck of the woods but hay ho It is the first time in many elections that I smiled when I placed my cross.”

Meanwhile, as parliamentary candidate, I shared a platform with  the other candidates at hustings and local radio shows. I got to put forward the Green alternative view to infinite economic growth – the idea we have to rebuild the economy to make it sustainable so that we live within our ecological means, the idea that we can’t go on consuming resources as though they are infinite – in seven different hustings, including one that was televised across the Eastern region and including in two schools. I got to learn how to present our ideas in a reasonably pithy and forceful way. People got to hear them and think about them for the first time.

Here is a message from a supporter in the Brett Vale ward, where Colin Widdup fought so hard: “I think you have really raised the green profile amongst our children, both of mine will be voting next time, and it’s their future that is most at stake I think. So keep up the good work, thanks for standing and please don’t give up and keep talking to the kids!”

On the local level, I got a platform to make the case that road building – and specifically a Sudbury bypass – is not a long term answer – or any answer – to traffic congestion.

Seeds have been sown, in other words. Someone even emailed me asking me for more information about how an economy could be stable when it does not grow. People are thinking about things that they might not have done before. When change happens it can happen incredibly fast. Just as when a plant’s roots finally establish themselves and it suddenly shoots up.

In Bristol West, Green candidate Darren Hall turned a 3.8% Green vote in 2010 to a 29% vote and second place this time. Greens won seven more council seats in that city yesterday – bringing their total to 13. Bristol may have reached a crucial tipping point – a critical mass of Green support where people start believing that they can win. When people start believing that they can win, then, with hard work and persistence, they do.

Almost unremarked by local media, here in South Suffolk we had 43 Green candidates in the local elections for 43 seats – we were the only party here to achieve this. Journalists pay little attention to local elections – but that is where we start to build from. Nearly all those 43 people have never stood in an election before and many of them have never been a member of a political party before, having joined in the past few weeks and months.

Many came to the count and saw the excitement, camaraderie and buzz of an election in action. Several will be hooked and will not want to give up. People like John Burch, our candidate in Sudbury South and for Sudbury Town Council, who is waiting today to hear if he has won a seat on the town council.

I was several times asked by new members at the count “When are the next elections?”

The Conservatives were whooping and celebrating at the count last night. But many of their “new” councillors are elderly and retired. Spending their next four years in the council chamber nodding through Government imposed cuts and approving Government encouraged green field developments will not be a lot of fun for them, if they care at all about the reactions of their constituents. I congratulate the Conservatives and wish them luck. Their national party ran the best campaign, using the best simple but emotive language, and Conservative councillors have benefited from that. It was manipulative and I profoundly disagree with their “austerity is good for you” con trick, which has deluded Labour. Unfortunately, if fighting an election is a game, which it is, rather than a philosophical or moral debate, then the Conservatives deserved to win based purely on their superior tactics.    Labour’s message was tame and managerial by comparison: “a better plan for a better future”. As if all they can offer to do is, er, a bit better than last time.

The LibDem’s campaign was just as passionless but also mixed in some hypocrisy. They said:  “We’ll spend more than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour” but then added “We’re prepared to do a deal with  Labour or Conservative”.

As for the Green Party, it’s national campaign suffered from an inexperienced leader who had not had enough media training and has not experienced elected office, and who appeared to be doing virtually all the interviews and media appearances.  The “head office” messaging appeared to be based around urban issues and urban viewpoints, ignoring the fact that much of the Green Party’s traditional strength is in rural areas. But the general election campaign has thrown up major new talents within the Green Party across the country – who will, I hope, be nurtured and encouraged as national spokespeople and future leaders and MPs.

Meanwhile, the Green Party has put down real roots in South Suffolk, in Suffolk Coastal, in Ipswich, in West Suffolk (where there has also never been a candidate before) and all over the country, in other places where there has never been a candidate before. All of those candidates will have accumulated invaluable expertise, and I am confident some pretty strong saplings will be shooting up in the next few years, in South Suffolk and around the country.

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Local politics, Politics, South Cosford

Results of the Babergh Council election

Babergh count at Trinity Park

Party          May 2014       May 2015

Con               330           684

Green (me)    346           646

Labour            72            72

UKIP               219         not contesting

Turnout            55%          78%

I increased my vote in the South Cosford ward of Babergh Council from 346 in the by-election last year (when I won by 16 votes) to 646. Sadly this was not enough, the Conservative collected 684 votes. Labour got 72 – the  same amount – and presumably the same people – as last time. So I have lost my seat in South Cosford. The lone Green presence on Babergh is no more. Thank you to all who helped in the crucial run up with leaflets, with door knocking, with manning the polling stations and at the count. And to all those in the ward who put their party loyalty aside to vote for me. Many longstanding LibDem, independents and a Labour councillor in Babergh have lost or nearly their seats, mirroring the national swing to Conservatives.

I have been touched by the warmth of people’s condolencies, including people who ordinarily are supporters or members of rival political parties.  Someone in my – now former – ward said to me “you will be missed already”. Now I need a break from electoral politics for a while – luckily I’ve been handed one! The past four years have been nearly continuous attempts to win elections – 2011 – Babergh Council – lost by six votes, 2013 Suffolk County Council, lost by  10%, 2014 Babergh council by-election, won by six votes, 2015 Babergh council elections – lost by 38 votes. It’s all meant year round leafleting and door knocking and yet I only held office for one year.

One year in office is not long enough to ensure your re-election as a representative of a minority party, a party with virtually zero TV coverage, and such coverage as there is being patronising and negative.

However, I hope that I was able to inject some fresh thinking and ideas into Babergh Council in my short time.

Below is a link to some of the results, still awaiting Sudbury South.

http://www.eadt.co.uk/…/election_2015_conservatives_become_…

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