Friday, February 5, 2016

What Bedminster's people want

I've been spending a lot of time surveying in the Bedminster area, along with Will Quick and others. This will be ongoing for several weeks or more yet and may well involve a number of different survey types. We want to know what matters most to people locally.

We are asking those surveyed to give their view on: the level of importance of a range of issues; to raise any local issues not mentioned on our form; to describe any particular local problems for us to take up. 

The numbers surveyed now run into many hundreds and as they rise we will start to analyse and report on what we find. Its been very pleasing to see how many people are happy to give us feedback. Also very pleasing is the level of positive reaction and support when we say we are from the local Green Party and that we are their councillor candidates. This has reinforced what the figures from past elections tell us: that Green support in Bedminster is rising fast and that we can win the May 2016 election there. 

The thinking behind our campaign approach is that to become a fairer, healthier, more sustainable city we need: 
  • Inclusive, informed, genuine public participation in community life.
  • Open, involving, accountable, ethical attitudes and policies
Contact me via with your views. More detail on priorities for the city here.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Accurate analysis of the Bedminster election results

Copy of a letter to the Bristol Post:  Ian Onions assessment (Post, 29  Dec 2015) of what the May 2016 election results are likely to be in Bristol is inaccurate. It does not accord with the facts from the 2015 elections and is not consistent with Bristol's recent electoral trends. 

Take Bedminster ward for example. Ian Onions describes it as a safe Labour seat and predicts that two Labour councillors will be elected. Yet in 2015 Labour achieved just under 34% of the vote and the Greens achieved just over 30% - a very close second place.  A swing to the Greens of under 2% is needed to win - therefore Bedminster is not a safe Labour seat and as the main challengers the Greens could win one or two of the seats.  The Green result last year was not a flash in the pan but part of a consistent upward trend. In 2010 we achieved approx 10%, in 2011 it was 15%. By 2014 the vote had grown to 22% and our position changed from 4th to 2nd. In 2015 we went closer still with 30%. In addition Greens have won in the neighbouring wards of Southville and Windmill Hill.

Furthermore the article states that the new Central ward will also return two Labour councillors. There is a ward name change, from Cabot, plus some slight boundary change, but Ian's assertion is again not founded in the electoral facts. Cabot was Liberal for many years and then Green Councillor Group Leader Ani Stafford-Townsend won with 38.5%, with Labour significantly behind behind on 22%.

Nowhere does Ian's assessment describe the doubling in the number of Green councillors from 7 to 14 last year. Nowhere does his assessment describe the very large surge in membership of the Green Party during 2015. Nowhere does it say that increasing Green electoral success has been a clear and consistent trend.  It's all to play for in the May 2016 mayoral and council elections in fact and Bristol's Greens are determined to continue the strong growth trend of recent years and make a difference for more and more people.


Glenn Vowles and Will Quick

Green Party Candidates for Bedminster

See the Bristol local election results data here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Five pictures that speak many words

Just one moment from my 30+ yrs as a Green campaigner in Bristol, here (in 1989) on the need for clean, healthy air. Due to the persistent failure of those who have run central and local government we still have major traffic congestion, air pollution and consequently serious public health problems just over 26 yrs later. 
Climate change worse case scenario for the UK. Very alarming indeed. Flooding is hitting many in the UK increasingly hard and more often though. Those (blue, yellow and red politicians) who signed up to the Green concept of sustainable development as long ago as the 1980's have not implemented it.
Green economics - the key to achieving a sustainable society - is about investing, building & rebuilding anew, not cutting. Creating a fair, sustainable, circular economy meets our needs, sustains prosperity and safeguards resources and our environment.
My key party political focus in 2016 is being a candidate for the Green target seat of Bedminster and doing my bit as part of the Bristol Green Party management and election support groups. In May 2015 this (above) was the Green result there. Greens are now the main challengers to Labour and can win in May 2016 with a swing of just a few percent.

Green words that sum up what I stand for.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The nature and importance of community

A slightly edited version of this blog post was submitted as a statement from me to yesterdays meeting of Bristol City Council.

As a Green I'm for the common good. The idea of community is key to this, where people living close together interact and are mutually involved in local events and developments. This is a very important antidote to isolation and alienation, especially though not exclusively in cities. Community should be viewed as a necessity of everyday life, stemming from the sharing of qualities that come from rich diversity.

In every election I have contested I have advocated for strong, informed, involved, empowered, lively and resilient local communities with all the facilities and services to meet their needs. I am doing so again in my campaign to win in Bedminster this May. I'm provided with an excellent example to follow by all those involved in community action to save Faithspace, including the Green Councillors for Southville, Charlie Bolton and Steve Clarke who have:    

*Supported the campaign, which includes those in several political parties and those in no particular party, to save the Faithspace building for continued community use.

*Traced and described the history of the former Methodist church on Stackpool Road which the Methodists now intend to sell.

*Described the high strength of the Southville and Bedminster community and the key benefits this brings in people mutually supporting each other in the attempt to meet needs that exist and that arise from change (such as the shortage of nursery places).

*Indicated the importance, if the concept of community is to be applied in practice, of the availability of suitable physical spaces.

*Attained some the support from the mayor - and are seeking more.

*Appealed to the Methodists to really engage with the community and all its representatives.

John Wesley, who inspired Methodism, urged people to 'give all you can', so I hope that is what Methodists and everyone will do on working out the future of Faithspace.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bristol and Bedminster campaigning

Eleanor Vowles (Windmill Hill Candidate), Green Leader
Natalie Bennett, Will Quick and Glenn Vowles
(Bedminster Candidates)
Great to meet with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett this past week when she visited Bristol again with a packed schedule, including Faithspace, the Malcolm X Centre and City to Sea amongst other things. We had time for a mini-meeting just after her arrival at Temple Meads and talked through some current local issues and the Bristol Greens 2016 local and mayoral election campaign and our ambition to continue increasing the number of Green councillors (currently 14, up from 6 in 2014 and 1 in 2006).

Natalie Bennett is a warm, friendly, personable leader. Her energy and commitment, going up and down the UK and appearing in/on the media as much as they will allow it (see Will Quick's petition on this here) is an encouragement and inspiration. Its one of the reasons why Green Party membership has grown so rapidly in recent years, not least in Bristol, and produced candidates like Will Quick in Bedminster and Eleanor Vowles in Windmill Hill.

Prince St Bridge surveying
The campaign to get two councillors elected in Bedminster is one key feature of Bristol Greens plans. Last weekend I was out on North St with Southville councillors and 2016 candidates Steve Clarke and Charlie Bolton collecting signatures on the Save Faithspace petition. This weekend I was at Prince Street bridge with Greens from Bedminster, Southville and the new Central ward surveying peoples views on whether the bridge should become pedestrians and cyclists only or should go back to the way it was, with cars going across too. 

Prince St Bridge surveying
With Bristol City Council now sending out regular May 2016 local, mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner election information and updates local Green Party Coordinators and Convenors (such as myself in Bristol South) have: organised the delivery of a Green newspaper to many thousands of households; are looking at campaigning schedules; are discussing text and images for 'we called today' cards; planning further collection of local views and priorities via surveys; and are encouraging as many members as possible to get actively involved.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Six [political] things you might not know about me

I've just been selected as one of the Green candidates for the target seat of Bedminster (along with my fellow Green Will Quick). Its a target for us because we were very, very close to winning last year (the pie chart from May 2015 shows we are clearly Labour's main challengers and are only a few percent from victory). 

This is very exciting for me as a long-time Green with a well developed view on Bristol neighbourhood priorities, a clear vision for the city - and a lot of experience to offer. 

Here are six things you might not know about me which tell you something about me and my political story:   

1. To my knowledge I was the very first member of the Green Party in the Bristol South constituency (I was probably the first member south of the river too) in 1981 when I was 19 yrs old. Membership and support in Bristol South, where I was born, brought up and still live, is now several hundred times greater - and the city now has 14 councillors (rapidly up from 1 in 2006; and 6 in 2014) . Brilliant!

2. When I was training to become a science teacher in 1985/6 at the University of Bristol, Don Foster, then the councillor for Cabot ward on Avon County Council and leader of the SDP-Liberal Alliance council group, was one of my tutors (a very good one, with a great sense of humour). Whatever happened to him!?  [Lib-Dem MP for Bath who retired in 2015, was Lib-Dem Chief Whip - and Comptroller of the Household, an ancient position in the English Royal Household which apparently includes acting as an usher at Royal Garden Parties!]      

3. I’ve been a local election candidate many times and in a number of wards over a 30+ yr period. I was the Greens general election candidate for Bristol South in 1987 when Dawn Primarolo was controversially selected by Labour (who de-selected sitting Labour MP Michael Cocks). Whatever happened to her!? [Minister of State in several roles; was Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons; now Dame Dawn…retired as an MP in 2015 and is now in the House of Lords].

4. Talking of people who’ve achieved, but little that's politically radical…In the late 1980’s/early 1990s I spoke for the Greens at public meetings where a certain George Ferguson represented the Liberals and John Bercow represented the Conservatives (and was then a very strong Thatcherite). Whatever happened to them!? [First Elected Mayor of Bristol, seeking re-election in May 2016; and Speaker of the House of Commons respectively]

5. Whilst a science teacher at Pen Park School in Southmead during the 1990s one of my classes was visited (unplanned!) by then Conservative Secretary of State for Education John Patten MP. He watched me from the back of my lab teaching Big Bang Theory, the expanding universe and red shift, including a highly technical demonstration :) involving popping balloons filled with dried peas. Whatever happened to him!? [He was made a life peer with a seat in the House of Lords, Baron Patten]

6. I’m most proud of sharing a platform in 2000 (speaking against the UK adopting the Euro) with truly radical political achiever Caroline Lucas, early in her career as an MEP. [Caroline was an MEP for over ten years and became the Greens first leader and its first MP in 2010 (re-elected in 2015)]

Having contested many local elections from 1983 onwards in the south and east of Bristol, as well as contesting general elections in Bristol South in 1987 and 2001 and Bristol East in 2010, I've been a glutton for electoral punishment :) Being the Green candidate for the target seat of Bedminster in May 2016 however both Will Quick and I have a very good chance of winning  - please vote for me and for Will if you live in the ward!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Leading the city

How should cities like Bristol be led? At present Bristol has an elected Mayor. This system is not likely to change in the short term. The government is keen on Mayors and Bristol has elections in May 2016 where the first ever elected Mayor, George Ferguson, will try to win a second term. Inevitably leadership style and qualities will be part of the debate.

We will have one individual whose job is to be the directly elected leader of Bristol, representing its citizens’ interests, leading the city council and all its services (turnover about £1billion a year). At least one advantage of the current system is ‘They know who I am and they know who to blame’ as George Ferguson himself said on the Daily Politics recently.

On the basis of the rise, in recent years, in both councillor numbers and party membership, Marvin Rees for Labour and Tony Dyer for the Greens are the top two candidates that might replace George Ferguson. It will be interesting to see if either of them say that a new law should be passed and a Bristol referendum held on whether to retain the Mayoral system (Bristol voted 53% for, 47% against on a very low turnout of just 24% in the May 2012 referendum and the turnout in the first Mayoral election in Nov 2012 was just under 28%; more here).

Given the focus on electing one person the leadership style of that person, professed and actual, is a key factor. Leadership is about having and communicating a vision, providing direction, delegating, coaching, ensuring implementation of plans and motivating people. It depends on the philosophy, personality and experience of the leader.

Different situations call for different leadership styles, consider: an emergency; a highly motivated and aligned team with a high and common level of expertise (the Mayor’s Cabinet?). Style adopted needs to be appropriate to the situation and to effectively achieve objectives and balance interests. Leaders that can adapt to suit different contexts have a distinct advantage in terms of achieving success.  

Leadership styles feature: engagement; authoritarian; participative and democratic; free-rein (or laissez-faire); narcissistic; toxic; task-oriented; and relationship oriented elements in different combinations in different individuals and contexts.

Engagement involves both leaders and those working with and for them in understanding the existing conditions, whether its government cuts, city traffic congestion, health and income inequalities, housing availability, tenants rights…and how they can collectively assist in addressing them. It means reaching out to the public, councillors, officers and others to better understand their concerns and interests and openly and honestly to provide a solid foundation for improvements. This collective approach, perhaps exemplified (?) up to a point by Mayor Ferguson’s ‘rainbow cabinet’ made up of councillors of a range of political colours, is akin to democratic or participative styles of leadership which involve sharing decision-making abilities, promoting common interests and practicing social equality.

This approach can sometimes delay decisions and a broad consensus may not always be achieved. Sometimes the consensus achieved may be rather fuzzy, vague or lowest common denominator in nature. So, under certain circumstances someone has to decide and then be held to account – Mayor Ferguson would say it was taking ‘tough’ decisions. If you have a Mayoral system then the whole point is that someone can be clearly identified as where the buck stops and responsibility cannot or should not be passed elsewhere.

The authoritarian (or autocratic) style is where decision-making is centralised and leader focused. The Mayoral system naturally leans in this direction and Bristol’s current Mayor has been accused by some of not listening to and involving people enough, certainly over issues such as residents parking schemes, selling the council’s freehold ownership of Avonmouth and Portbury docks, sacking his cabinet member Mark Bradshaw…(more here). Next years elections will test what Bristol people generally think about this.

In the extreme the authoritarian style does not entertain any suggestions or initiatives from those he or she regards as subordinates. Being authoritarian is one way of trying to strongly motivate people and it can permit quick, firm decision-making. It appeals to some people. It may be necessary in urgent situations. It does not appeal to me however and it’s sustainability is doubtful as it does not engender fairness, loyalty, ownership of decisions and using all skills available.

I don’t favour authoritarianism as a general rule but I do want clear, fair leadership, so free-rein or laissez-faire approaches don’t appeal to me either. With this style there may be a leadership position but it does not provide leadership, leaving the system, such as it is, to fend for itself with little or no guidance or rules. Those that could be working with and for the leader and team decide their own policies and methods. They might, given the lack of direction or encouragement be self-motivated to be creative and innovative. They might be the complete opposite. Different people or teams may take different, conflicting, confusing, incoherent approaches – not good for genuinely solving problems.

Authoritarian and free-rein leadership styles are particularly prone becoming narcissistic, where the priority is the leader themselves - at the expense of their people/team/problem-solving. Negative characteristics such as: arrogance, dominance and a range of hostility levels, are a feature here. Mayor Ferguson has been and will be accused, rightly or wrongly, of at least some these (one of the factors in a Mayoral system is that the person elected is likely to promote themselves a lot, as in much of politics, not least in the attempt to be re-elected). This is a pretty common leadership style, driven by self-absorption, ego, power and desire for admiration.

There is always the risk of leadership being or becoming toxic. This is when having responsibility over a group of people or an organization goes badly wrong (more likely if the style of leadership is consistently authoritarian or free rein or narcissistic or perhaps lurching between these three, not an uncommon occurrence). Abuses of the leader–follower relationship occur and the group or organization – or the city - are left in a worse condition than when he/she began to lead. The 2016 Mayoral election enables voters to give their verdict on the Mayors policies, leadership and its outcomes since 2012 (as well as being about policies and leadership for the future, compared with the other candidates).

We need leaders/leadership able to employ a number of styles depending on the context, whilst generally adopting an engaging, participative, democratic approach. This is the way to be focussed on both the tasks and the relationships at hand when leading. This means balancing: focus on the jobs to be done and relevant interactions amongst people; producing solutions, meeting goals, deadlines and target outcomes, whilst staying active on peoples’ general wellbeing and satisfaction; emphasising the value of good communication, trust, confidence and appreciation for efforts. That’s my take on good leadership for Bristol.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Green Arena for a Green Capital

Focus on the Bristol Arena and related issues, such as transport plans, has become much sharper as the pre-planning application consultation approaches (mid Sept 2015).  We need a Green Arena that fits with the aspirations Bristol has as EU Green Capital 2015 (please sign and share the e-petition on this here). To achieve a Green Arena the principles below should be applied:

There should be a pro-active, fully inclusive approach towards informing and genuinely involving the public, especially in the vicinity of the development, at all stages. This should include the overall development, plans, adapted plans, construction and ongoing feedback after construction and into the operation of the Arena and associated features.

A broad range of development performance measures should be adopted, social, economic and environmental, and these should be regularly assessed, published and subject to public scrutiny. Performance measures such as: the proportion of Arena and associated development users not travelling there by car; the quality of the air in and around the Arena site as indicated by on-site monitoring stations; the proportion of resources used that were obtained from local sources; number of local people employed and the fairness of their pay.

The development should maximise the availability of a diverse mix of facilities and services, integrated well and using local people, local businesses and resources.

The ability to walk and cycle to, from and around the Arena area and key routes to and from it should be the top priority and should be maximised. Use of integrated public transport systems to access the area should also be a high priority. Essential car users such as disable people and the emergency services also need a high priority. There should be minimum provision for cars, except for essential users, as more cars would add to an already congested and polluted city.

Green, open spaces should be integrated into the development in an optimised way and specially designed to benefit biodiversity, human health, efficiency and the reduction of noise, light and air pollution – as well as enhancing the overall quality of the experience of using the Arena area.

The Arena and all associated developments should conform to the highest possible social and environmental standards in all respects, using innovative low carbon and low waste designs and systems, energy saving and local renewable energy generation technologies.

A total, ecosystem style, joined up approach to managing people and resources should be adopted by the Arena and associated developments, based on a sustainability charter drawn up through cooperation with Bristol’s public as co-authors. There should be an annual report facilitating ongoing public input into site sustainability.

The Arena and associated developments should commit to being partners in enabling the provision, purchase and consumption of fresh, healthy, local foods on and around the site.

Further information on the Arena here:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The business of going green in BS4

Bristol South needs sustainable development and has for years been neglected compared to other parts of Bristol. It was most welcome therefore to see investment projects such as Filwood Green Business Park open for business this May. What the city and country needs is very many more developments like this and even better ones - boosting local economies, creating jobs and going green. Sadly we still have a cuts focussed government, not an investment, rebuilding, sustainable development focussed one as yesterday's Budget clearly shows.

What is sustainable (or green) business though? And why is it so important? Business is about commercial organisations buying and selling. Sustainable (or green) business means the whole commercial organisation and everything it does is socially and ecologically responsible. This has been expanded on and explained in a number of ways (see here).

Descriptions offered are not always complete and objective due to vested interests however, so if you hear a business, or an individual for that matter, talking up their sustainability or green credentials test what they say. Check that they are including and explaining where they stand on these six criteria:  efficiency replacing waste; renewability and not resource squandering; living within environmental limits instead of pollution; socio-economic goals geared to wellbeing for all not more and more money for a few; this generation and those to come, the world over, getting their dues; and local community empowerment.

Truly sustainable (green) businesses should be able to demonstrate that they are: meeting local workforce needs; offering satisfying fairly paid work; using local goods and services; supporting learning and explaining sustainability; reducing inequalities and meeting basic needs; offering car free access for all; preventing poor health; reducing pollution and climate change; using energy, water and materials efficiently; protecting plants and wildlife; working healthily and safely; supporting local distinctiveness; partners in enabling peoples physical, psychological and social development; partners in involving people in decision making.

Filwood Green Business Park measures up well against a range of these criteria. Its design meets the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) Outstanding standard. It was Highly Commended at the BREEAM Awards last year, as the highest scoring industrial building in the South of England. The process used for planning the park was recognised by the Royal Town Planning Institute as an example of Planning Excellence in their 2013 Awards and ideas from local people, such as a green roof, were incorporated. Complete sustainability performance will emerge over time as the business park goes into operation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Green space protection in Bristol

Green spaces are one of Bristol’s most valued features; one of the most obvious ways you can argue it is, in a relative sense, green. Bristol City Council Council should do all it can to maximise the protection of this finite asset, especially so given the city’s European Green Capital status. It should not permit the proposed development adjacent to Eastville Park Lake (pictured) on land that has multiple protective designations (details here; planning application 15/01870/F) if the designations are to mean something.

National planning policy has the stated aim of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development. Building over the land pictured would damage the environment and is certainly not a sustainable development.

Many have experienced the disappearance of areas they and their friends and family once roamed around and played in. In an urban area open, green spaces are vital to sustainability and thus our health and the quality of our lives:

·         offering relief from the all too common congestion and other negative effects of development
·         providing ways of connecting with and appreciating the natural world – vital to wellbeing and to encouraging respect for nature
·         giving people a feeling of space
·         providing leisure, tourism, recreational, entertainment, sporting opportunities
·         helping to attact and keep businesses and help them to attract and retain the staff they need.

The above is not an exhaustive list.

Green spaces are vital to sustainability in that they provide key ecological and environmental function benefits:

·         storm water drainage and thus flood protection, as the land soaks up, temporarily stores and then gradually releases rain
·         taking carbon dioxide (and other pollutants) from the air and thus helping to fight climate change and local air pollution
·         provision of wildlife habitat and food supply, aiding biodiversity
·         buffering people from noise pollution
·         providing naturally cooler areas, thus countering the urban heat island effect

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Land is of course needed if we are to build a sustainable society and so not all types of green space development under all circumstances should be opposed. The council should selectively support and advocate the development of land if it clearly contributes to building the quality of life and sustainability of our neighbourhoods, communities and society by, for example:

·         making use of brownfield sites (research by UWE shows room to build 30,000 houses on Bristol brownfield sites)
·         promoting walking and cycling over motorised travel
·         providing local energy generation,
·         enhancing local food production
·         enabling waste avoidance, reuse, recycling, composting
·         boosting local skills development and small-scale local green manufacturing

This list is also not an exhaustive one.

Please support this e-petition here about prioritising the development of brownfield sites and protecting green spaces.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

All progressive MEPs should oppose TTIP

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West of England is doing excellent work opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. I wrote to Molly (and all the MEPs representing the South West) expressing concerns about the increase in corporate power and the difficulties TTIP would create for governments wanting to regulate markets for economic, social and environmental benefit. I voiced concerns in particular about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a specially created legal mechanism allowing investors to bring cases directly against countries hosting investments, without the intervention of the government(s) of the investor’s country of origin. I received a very prompt and detailed reply from her. [Almost simultaneously had a reply from the Conservatives Ashley Fox MEP, who strongly supports TTIP, shortly followed by Conservative MEP Julie Girling – as yet no reply from Labour MEP Clare Moody or UKIP MEP Julia Reid.*] Here’s the content of the Green reply, which lays out the crucial issues and indicates a very clear position opposing TTIP:
Greens agree that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism is a threat to democratic decision-making. Corporations should not have the right to challenge democratic decisions taken in the public interest, which serve to safeguard our health, environment, social and labour standards, and much more. Corporations should not benefit from a parallel and private legal system.

As the Parliament has developed its position on TTIP, the Greens have put forward amendments arguing against ISDS in every committee. We have rejected ISDS in the strictest language, as well as arguing that our high standards in labour rights, environment, food safety and animal welfare are not negotiable. Last Wednesday the INTA (trade) committee voted on the TTIP report, which sets out the Parliament's opinion on this trade deal. The trade committee was the final committee to have its say, before all MEPs vote on this report at the plenary session in June.

Unfortunately the Socialists & Democrats group in the Parliament (S&D, where Labour MEPs sit) compromised on their earlier opposition to ISDS. Whilst publically they claim to argue against ISDS, they finally accepted a far weaker 'compromise' amendment, joining forces with the conservative EPP Group, in a move which removed any criticism of ISDS from the report. It even removed any mention of ISDS by name.

We were also disappointed by S&D members' refusal to support our crucial amendments protecting EU-wide environmental standards, which were deemed "out of scope" of this report, and were therefore not even voted on. Disappointingly, they also failed to deliver cast-iron protections for public services, in failing to take a full and coherent "positive list" approach to service liberalisation. We need to ensure that MEPs clearly reject a "service liberalisation by default" approach.

The Green members of the trade committee were shocked by the absence of a clear defence of democratic decision-making in the final report, and, because it did not explicitly oppose ISDS or prioritise the public interest, we voted against it.

Soon we will face the same battle again when the report is voted on in plenary session on the 10th June. This vote expresses the final opinion of the Parliament on the TTIP negotiations. Again, we will table amendments fighting ISDS and upholding high standards for health, environment and society.

You can count on the Green Group to vote against ISDS and to defend public services. But if we are to have a chance for a majority, we need other progressive MEPs - including those in the S&D group - to do the same. So if you wish to take any further action, I would urge you to join us in encouraging other MEPs to support our stronger amendments, rather than joining the right-wing compromise. S&D can and should take a principled and explicit stance – do not give the Commission leeway to undermine democratic decision-making and negotiate away our strong European standards. W.e need all MEPs to vote according to wishes of citizens, not corporations.

We would ask you to please email your MEPs to remind them of your opposition to TTIP. In particular, please email your Labour MEPs*, stressing to them the risks TTIP poses for the NHS; that environmental standards are indeed relevant and should not be compromised; and that ISDS is undemocratic and should be named and shamed as such. You can find out who your MEPs are, and email them directly, using the WriteToThem website:

[Done this but no reply received either from Labour or UKIP*]

Greens in the European Parliament will continue to fight against TTIP and its dangers. For more information, please see the TTIP:Beware What Lies Beneath blog.

These short films summarise the Greens concerns about TTIP:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Making city buildings energy efficient

What is energy efficiency and why is it important? What social, behavioural and technical ways of improving it in buildings are available?

Efficiency is one of the pillars of sustainability. It means cutting waste of energy and materials. It’s about being thrifty, getting more output squeezed from every input of energy, material, effort, money, time...It means doing the same or doing more, using less.

Why have energy efficient buildings? It’s always going to be more cost-effective to save energy and be efficient than it is to generate it. Not only does it cut household bills, make public organisations money go further and increase the profitability of businesses by reducing their outgoings - it also cuts pollution rapidly, is a very good job creator, increases comfort, cuts noise levels, and can be done using materials often thrown away.

Climate changing gas emissions have, on average and over decades, fallen in the UK (some of the direct emissions at least) but still have a very long way to go to be on target and in accord with the scientific advice and the UK Climate Change Act 2008 (requiring at least an 80% cut from 1990 levels by 2050). Department of Energy and Climate Change figures clearly show that the rate of decline in emissions is slow.

Buildings use a lot of energy and 37% of UK greenhouse gas emissions comes from them (see the Committee on Climate Change on this). A large chunk of city and town eco and carbon footprint comes from buildings. Energy used in buildings largely derives from fossil fuels, which are finite, non-renewable and climate change causing.

One way to define cities is that they are built environments with large numbers of people living and working in them. A higher population leads to more buildings, which means more energy use. Buildings old and new need attention.

So, what are the factors affecting building energy sustainability? Energy use and efficiency; energy type and source; and individual and group behaviour, including management practices, are the key ones.

Some energy efficiency methods that can be used are: insulation; efficient lighting eg LED; high efficiency glass; more reuse and recycling; water saving devices and systems.

Greener energy sources include: various on-site renewable energy sources eg photovoltaic panels; ground-source heat pumps; designed-in wind turbines; combined heat and power (CHP); combined cooling, heating and power systems (CCHP).

Energy efficiency and sustainability can be improved through behaviour change alone, though the most effective approach is to coherently combine efficiency methods, greener energy sources and behaviour change. Being aware and using energy efficiently; switching off when not in use; developing high efficiency habits, like having sufficient heat and wearing warm clothes; managing energy well and to an agreed policy are important.

See the great work being done in Bristol on energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy sustainability here and here.

Improving an organisation’s behaviour with respect to energy efficiency and sustainability requires accounting for external and internal forces.  External forces such as: technology; markets; social change; political factors; legal factors. Internal forces like: personnel changes; poor organisation; workforce composition; workforce motivations; need to avoid inflexibility and/or inertia.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Reflection on the election

The media became very excited very early on at the prospect of a general election and the parties began their campaigns many months before anything official. I doubt that the public relished the spin and very vague promises we get, especially from conventional political parties. The media often focussed on the [limited accuracy] polls and the [wrongly predicted]hung parliament much more than they did on political principles and policies and so didn’t serve the public well. Most political parties focussed a lot on what they thought the polls were showing too, instead of just getting on with real debate, so they did not serve the public well either.

 All elections are important, not least in 2015, with the prospect of yet more austerity, a changing relationship between the nations making up the UK and an uncertain relationship between the UK and EU all having huge implications. There are questions that need to be addressed about current electoral law and electoral processes. Is fair and broad debate facilitated? Does media coverage and access serve the public need and interest? Is the electoral system the most democratic? Have we got the law on party funding right?

The process of an election is important as well as the outcome and it should be treated as such. Yet the media persistently talk of elections as merely a kind of horse race – frequently talking about the betting odds. This does not help us have full, fair and proper debate.

The elections I’ve contested have become more dull and uninspiring over the decades, with the exception of certain candidates and areas of the country. It’s no wonder that a wide and representative range of people aren’t encouraged to get involved. Debates, present and future agendas and learning processes are very important – not everyone fights every general election seat to win this time around, some may not fight to win at all. Isn’t it about time we thought over longer timespans and in a broader, more inspiring way about elections?

narrowness of the debate in conventional politics is part of the problem. There is a large measure of agreement between the usual Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems. They are all consumer capitalists and all have plans to cut vital services!! Debate between them centred on tax and spending differences of only a small percentage of national wealth. All the conventional parties make claims to be radical, all claim to be committed to sustainable development – but none of them said much about this key idea and none of them have taken action to make any fundamental changes in the direction of a sustainable society. Yet issues of reconciling our economy and society with the environment, raised by Greens for decades now, are very much more serious and urgent.

Agreement between the conventional parties could be taken to mean that things are pretty much ok or are in hand – but just look around you!! There are many fundamental problems, for future generations and in other parts of the globe in particular. Thus Greens like me contest elections, win or lose, to: offer voters a radical option; demonstrate that to genuinely solve problems the interconnections and interrelationships between economic, social, political and environmental factors must be addressed; raise the really big issues like the gap between rich and poor here and globally, caring for the elderly, climate change and our energy-hungry lifestyles, global justice, democracy and the EU, how we can live our lives now so that future generations can also lead decent lives with real choices.