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 We are entering the final stages of a general election campaign which looks like cementing our out-of-date two party system in place for at least another five years.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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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National Politics, Politics, Uncategorized

Let’s have two leaders

(and no more than one from London)

So who will be the leader of the Green Party now Natalie is going?

The question ought to be: “Who will be the leaders?”

There are 11 Green Parties in western Europe and many more around the rest of the world that regularly elect two leaders – a man and a woman.  They have made it part of their constitution. And it works.

The New Zealand Green Party, for example, the world’s oldest, and currently the third largest political party in that country, elects a female and male leader. They are James Shaw

and New Zealand green leadersMetiria Turei  (pictured above).  As you can see, Metiria is Maori, James is white.

The Swedish Party has always elected male and female co-presidents.  The picture below shows current leaders Asa Romson and Gustav Fridolin. In Sweden, when Greens  first began winning seats and coming into the national media eye, the TV outlets did not know who to invite on to their shows. The Greens insisted on having both. Eventually other parties, annoyed at the extra publicity  the Greens seemed to receive from this, Swedens Green co-leaders

began looking at copying the model, according to Per Gahrton, former Swedish Green MP.

The Green Party of England and Wales used to have two co-speakers. It did not work very well because the mistake we made was to constantly tell the media and the public that they were NOT leaders. This pronouncement, in a highly centralised state like Britain, made it sound as though we had no serious desire to govern or take public office.  So I was one of the majority of members who voted in favour of a move to “leaders” not a co-speaker.  But the ability to have two co-leaders, a male and female, was rightly retained in the constitution. Having two co-leaders is very different from having two speakers who are expressly not leaders.

Having two leaders addresses one of the long-standing problems many Green Party members have with the traditional party leader model.  How can a political party proclaiming decentralisation, decisions by consensus and by as local a level as possible, allow one person to reflect the values of their organisation across the  whole country? The centralised media in the UK obsesses with the personal quirks of the party leaders, for example Natalie’s dress sense, her clipped Australian tones, and so on. Any slip by a single leader can be represented by the establishment as “typical of the bumbling amateur Green Party”. Yet these have nothing to do with the policies or goals of a decentralised party like the Greens. Having two leaders, a man and a woman, reminds people that no one person is an embodiment of this political movement.

Also having two leaders allows them to share the burden of leadership: the constant 24-hour demand for your presence, the inevitable criticism of every slip and the pressures of public performing.  Two people can share their time, giving them crucial space for a “normal” private life.

Perhaps most importantly having two co-leaders not only allows the genders to be mixed: it allows the ethnicity, the social background, the  leadership style, the geographical imperatives of each to be mixed, ensuring better representation of the members and the country’s problems as a whole

Why not have a co-leader from London and one from the  sticks? One from a city and one from the country?  One from a Labour area, one from a Conservative. One black, one white. One with a business background, one from the public sector. And so on.

I welcome this. I see there is talk of Jonathan Bartley  and Jennifer Nadel jointly standing. Both are good media performers and both would be an asset.  But both are London based, just as Natalie, the two deputies and much of the Green Party staff and Executive are. This has been one of the problems that the party has suffered under for the past few years: a constant London-centric messaging based around a “housing crisis” and a refrain about having no limits to immigration, when one of the core values of the Green Party is that, unlike all other traditional political parties, it recognises that there are limits to growth.  This is coupled with an absence of discussion or mention of the issues facing people in the countryside, even though many  Green Party policies tackle them head on. These include such things as green field housing development for profit not people’s need,  bulldozing of habitat for new roads, the collapse of the economies of small towns, the collapse of rural public transport, the effective subsidy of intensive, pesticide ridden farming, and the undermining of local democracy and communities.

So I would like to see each sophisticated metropolitan candidate seek to pair up with a regional/country cousin to give both constituencies a voice.

And, London hopefuls, if you want some out of town names to bandy with, how about, off the top of my head and with no idea whether these people are seeking office:  Andrew Cooper, Jillian Creasy, Theo Simon, Vix Lowthian?    Let the mixing and matching begin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Books: Reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated

books

I couldn’t help feeling a little pleased on hearing the news. Waterstones is ending sales of Kindle from its stores, after they have dwindled to virtually nothing. Meanwhile sales of actual, real books have soared.

Why do I take personal satisfaction from this? It may have something to do with the fact of a long remembered conversation. Twenty years ago a colleague of mine on the niche trade magazine where I had the misfortune to work, announced proudly that he was leaving to work for an internet company to help them produce content. This was 1995, when the internet was in its infancy, so it was quite a brave thing for him to do, I suppose.

I think it was his smug faith in the new technology that got my back up. He said that in the future all writing would be online. I said, no people will always want to read from print on paper if they have the choice. He said with a fanatical little glint in his eye: “Very soon you will be able to get your own news on a handheld device, and you will be able to read a book on it. People won’t need paper.”

I left it there. I thought it would be a long time before the technology to allow people to read a book online would be ready. And even when it was, I seriously doubted that they would replace real book sales.

Well we were both right. The technology did come, but it took 12 years before the first Kindle was sold – in 2007. I suspect that was a little longer than my colleague expected. Now you can get everything you want to read personalised on one device – a tablet. But if you want a comfortable, long read of a book, you have to buy a specialist e-reader like Kindle. A tablet, I am told, strains the eyes after a while.

There is no doubt too, that e-books have carved a niche out of the market, they are convenient for certain people at certain times. But they do not seem to be supplanting books. The evidence seems to be that their sales have peaked. And sales of real, physical books have begun to grow, at least in the UK, this year.

There may be some quibbles about this from fans of online reading. The peak in sales of e-books like Kindle probably also has something to do with the fact that people are buying tablets instead, (though as I said, it is harder to read books on a tablet). There is also the fact that once people have a Kindle they don’t need to “upgrade” to another one.  So sales are bound to slow as time goes on.

But market share would go on steadily growing rather than declining if people really preferred reading from an electronic device than something with covers and turnable pages. The market share is thought to be more like one in five books than one in two. But we don’t exactly know what the figure is, mainly because Jeff Bezos of Amazon won’t tell anyone how many Kindle’s he’s selling. He is apparently frequently pictured in front of charts  showing booming sales of Kindle without any figures attached to them! jeff bezos kindle

And that, in itself, is telling.books

You’d probably have to really pressure Bezos to get him to admit it, but he must occasionally wake up in the night wondering why he ever launched Kindle. His main purpose, one suspects, is to consolidate his near monopoly on online book sales.

And here we come to the heart of what annoyed me about my colleague all those years ago as he leant against his desk in a converted workshop in Clerkenwell. It was the placing of technology above content. So what if you can read something on an electronic gizmo instead of a bit of paper? It is just, in some circumstances, a bit more convenient. Arguably it is less wasteful and environmentally destructive than using paper. Though even that is a grey area.

But who cares really about the delivery system? Unless you like showing off your gizmoes. Content is king. The delivery  method of a body of literature or news is not a matter of great importance except to people who want to make money out of it.

Content is king. There will always be a place for paper.

 

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