Saturday, 18 December 2010

Why the 'big three' parties are all wrong on the cuts biting in Brighton right here, right now

Why cuts are the wrong cure from False Economy on Vimeo.

Here's a great video from the great campaign group False Economy.

It uses that old campaigning trick - getting diasabled people and children to tug a few heartstrings - but it does so in a way that illuminates, rather than clouds, the logic behind the message: that cutting public services is neither morally right nor likely to be effective.

The list of economic experts who have reached this conclusion is almost getting too long to list (makes a change from the time before the crash, which hardly any of the so-called experts saw coming!) - my favourite starting points are Herman Daly, Joseph Stiglitz and former Bank of England Monetary Policy committee member David Blanchflower. Most of the economic thinking undelying their position comes from John Maynard Keynes. Anyway, there are loads of really good links on False Economy's website if you want to dive into the economics behind what they are saying.

We are already seeing the implications of the cuts bite here in Brighton.

Bright Start Nursery is under threat of closure, 16-18 year-olds in their city are set to lose their Education Maintenance Allowance, University fees are set to treble, over 1,000 police officers and staff are for the chop, police stations are reducing their 'opening hours', homeslessness and unemployment, especially among the city's younger people, is rising, train fares are set to rise at mnore than double the rate of inflation, spending on social care for the most elderly is to be slashed in the name of 'personalisastion', NHS services are being farmed out to private firms who can deliver them more cheaply by employing fewer nurses... and all this is happening here in Brighton.

I could go on, but I won't, for now: I think my point is clear. This isn't about abstract thought, this is about poeple's lives, here and now. And it's a bloody disgrace.

What saddens me most is that all the 'big three' political parties agree. Yes, there are some arguments between  Labour and the Tories about the speed and the depth of the cuts programme, but they all agree that the cuts are necessary, and with the basic principle that 'we are all in this together' - that recipients of public services (mainly the poorest) and public sector employees (mainly women) must bear the brunt of the problems caused mainly by the banking sector - and Labour's failure to properly regulate it in the first place.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Brighton Council action on reducing carbon emissions is pitiful

Regular readers of this 'blog will know that, depsite being a Green Party councillor, I don't often muse on traditionally environmental topics.

But, given the cold weather that seems to have brought most of the country to a stanstill (for the fourth tine in a year!) I don't feel I can hold off from talking about Brighton Council's shameful record on climate change any longer.

Of course most of us imagine the symptoms of global warming to be increased desertification, rising sea levels, water shortages and so on, but scientific consenses these days seems to point to the increased incidence of extreme weather events and general meterological unpredictablity too. And that's exactly what we're seeing at the moment.

Of course, climate change isn't anyone's fault acting alone. But big employers and public service providers can make a real difference to the carbon dioxide emissions which are prety universally thought to be driving the climate chaos.

That's why the council together with its public secor parners (like the police, the fire and rescue service, the soon-to-be-disbanded primary care trust and so on) adopted the target of reducing CO2 emissions across the city by some 12%.

Figures reported to the city's Local Stratic Partnership a couple of weeks ago though show the progress has been pitiful - CO2 reductions are only about half that, at about six per cent - and most of those are due to recession meaning there's less stuff being made, bought and sold.

Could it just be that the council doesn't take its duty to reduce CO2 emissions seriously?

New Brighton Sainsbury's will be a disaster for local traders: I predict a wave of direct action

So it's official: Sainbury's wants to open its 10th supermarket in the city on the old Job Centre site in St James's Street.

The store revealed its plan - to open a Sainbury Local on the site in Spring 2011, in a letter to me as ward councillor (in which the firm has asked for my support - fat chance!) - and it has been reported in today's Argus.

If it opens, the new supermarket will be the fourth in just a few shorth metres of St James's Street - and the sixth in a stretch running from Rock Gardens to the Clock Tower (about a ten-minute walk).

Let's be clear - a new Sainsbury's will be a disaster for the area and the wider environment: both for residents and local businesses.

It will reduce choice (after all, most of the supermarkets sell pretty much the same range of goods, mostly branded and trucked in in fleets of lorries), suck profits away from the town, undercut local businesses, drive local business rents up, and make the street look a little more like everywhere else in the coutry - reducing at a stroke the reasons why any visitor would want to come here.

Local residents - at least most of those at last week's St James's Area Local Action Team Meeting - are fiercely opposed to the coming of the retail giant.

Judging from the popular dissent at the opening, without planning permission, of a new Starbucks a little further up the road in 2008, and the increasing politicisation of people living in the area as a result of Government cuts in just about everything, I predict a wave of direct action against the store.

We can all start by boycotting their new outlet just a few metres away in North Street.

I think it's about time, we, and Brighton Council, started resisiting the onward march of Clone Town Britain: a good place is the excellent Re-imagining the High Street report by the New Economics Foundation.

Of course, the 'Londonization' (as the French call it) of Brighton is only to be expected, given the appalling Retail Study adopted when Labour ran the city, and the toothless way in which the Tories have tried to protect local businesses and communities too.

But just because resistance to the corporate onsluaght hasn't been as successful as we'd have like so far, it's no reason to stop trying.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Multinational support for community campaigns doesn't buy them carte blanche to act with impunity

A thought-provoking letter in last Friday's Brighton Argus challenged me over my public involvement in the campaign to stop Starbucks opening a store in St James's Street and my condemmnation of the attitude of giant US bank American Express, which dominates much of the Edward Stret area, to its neighbours.

The author argued that, as the firms had donated more than £10,000 between them to the area's Christmas lights over the last two years, I should rethink my condemnation of them.

Of course it is good that both Starbucks and AMEX have made contributions to the St James’s Street area Christmas Lights.

I hope the display encourages residents and visitors to the city to visit the area and support local businesses – who have had a tough couple of years – in the run-up to Christmas.

But let’s be clear: both firms decided to donate some money to the lights only in the face of PR disasters, and compared to their bottom lines, the amounts donated in attempt to buy the goodwill of the community are pretty derisory.

Last year Starbucks was trying to tackle its public image as a ‘bulldozer’ which opened without planning permission and ignored public concerns – and local democratic opinion.

Having ‘bought’ the goodwill of some members of the community for a mere £3,000, it has declined to make any contribution at all this year.

As for American Express: it is an important local employer, but the construction of its new HQ in Carlton Hill is making residents’ lives a misery, and it is steadfastly refusing to compensate them.

I would have preferred to see the firm’s largess directed at its neighbours who are suffering daily road closures and traffic chaos, noise, dust, structural damage to their homes – and a complete loss of business for those who work from home.

The community campaign against Starbuck was about preserving the street for local business and residents.

So, no, whilst I am glad the firms concerned have helped the area fund its much-needed Christmas Lights, I haven't changed my view.

And while I'm delighted that our comunity campaign against Starbucks prompted them to give £3,000 to the fund, I'd much rather they hadn't opened here in the first place.

On a recent trip to London I came across this image of a good-old fashioned bit of 'subvertising' on a so-called 'Boris bike' which I though summed up the issue quite neatly really: sponsoring something for the community (be it Christmas Lights or a public bike-hire scheme) really doesn't give big business the right to act with impunity in other areas - whether it's opening a cafe without planing permission, refusing to compensate your neighbours for years of disturbance, or supporting the arms insdustry.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The streets of Brighton today: police everywhere, justice nowhere?

Today I walked from Kemptown across Brighton to the BBC Sussex studio to take part in a live Politics Show debate about cuts to the police, and proposals to farm out some of the police's responsibilities to charities and other organisations in a bid to save cash.

The irony was remarkable: on the way there I passed at least 20 officers, and saw a gaggle of parked-up vans, doing very little. I think they were there in case there was a repeat of yesterday's protests against tax dodgers.

The phrase: 'police everywhere, justice nowhere' springs to mind.

The cost of the whole operation (given overtime bills and so one) probably topped six figures: certainly enough money to stave off a few of the 1,000+ job losses envisaged at Sussex Police. I wonder how many of the officers involved asked their superior officers whether the level of policing could end up costing them their own jobs?

Yesterday's protests targeted Top Shop to draw attention to the group's owner Tory advisor Sir Philip Green, who, by channelling some of his vast profits through his Monaco-resident wife's accounts, is able to avoid paying UK tax on much of his fortune - and therefore avoid contributing to the police bill in the first place. And the very same police who might end up losing their jobs want to prevent any disruption to his ability to go on doing so! The mind boggles.

I think if the police spend more time and money catching tax dodgers and a little less protecting the rights of the Sir Philip Greens of this world to sell stuff and enhance their personal fortunes it'd be better for all of us - not least the police themselves whose jobs are under threat.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Clone town Brighton - the latest chapter

Regular readers of this blog will know that this is a line I have used before, but the simple fact is it keeps being true!

Clone Town Britain took another step closer to kooky Kemptown this week with the eventual closure of the Taj shop on St James's Street  - and rumours that Sainsinsbury will move onto thew site.

If they do, St James's Street will boast one Sainsbury, one Morrisons, one Tesco and one (currently being extended) Co-op all in the space of about 200 metres.

That'd be absolutely terrible for the street - and the wider community. Consumers would have less choice (they all sell pretty much the same range of branded goods as each other), local businesses would suffer (not only from the inevitable rent rises but also the ability of multi-national superstores, with deep pockets, to undercut them until they go bust), visitors to the the city would have no reason to visit the area, and it would look just like every other shopping street in the country.

But it's hardly a surprise. The last Government (that's right, when Labour where in charge) oversaw the biggest increase in chain store domination of the British High Street in history, presiding over a system of tax breaks and hidden subsidies (remember, Sainsbury's largest shareholder, David Sainsbury, was a Labour peer!) for the retail giants. And when Labour ran Brighton Council they adopted the bizarre retail study claiming we needed supermarkets as big as NINE Churchill Squares around Brighton and Hove.

Remember  the campaign to prevent Starbucks replacing the local firm 'Sussex Stationers' a little further up the street? It was Government intervention that overturned the locally determined (democratically) planning rules that would have prevented the new store.

And as for the current Tory council! Well, don't get me started, really. They have refused steadfastly to implement their own licensing rules which are supposed to stop new off licences and supermarkets with off-license sections opening up in the area (the so-called 'Cumulative Impact area in which there is supposed to be a presumption against granting any new license application). They are cutting cash for community development work, and have even undermined the city's Business Improvement District scheme.They don't spend as much time, money or effort promoting businesses in the area as they do elsewhere in the city (just look at the fiasco over the fact that Christmas lights have to be funded by American Express and Starbucks in a desperate bid to buy some good publicity!) - they're happy to promote car-based out-of-town shopping centres and ever more supermarkets on 'empty' sites (like the community garden in Lewes Road) - indeed their primary line of defence against Clone Town Britain seems to be a few faintly xenophobic sounding 'Be Local, Buy Local' stickers.

Meanwhile the Chief Constable of Sussex Police Martin Richards and Tory East Sussex County Council leader want to close police stations and house coppers in supermarkets in an increasingly desperate bid to save cash in thee face of Government cuts. The mind boggles.

It's no wonder the retail giants are winning, really, and local people, independent traders, and the 'feel' of our communities are losing. Roll on the May election.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow laughing matter: abandoned buses, shopping centres and even roads

So it's snowed. Lots for the South coast. And chaos has ensued. Brighton Council gritters have broken down, so have a few buses (picture right) and shoppers have abandoned the pre-Christmas consumer-fest for a day or two.

In many ways it's a campaigner's dream: reclaiming the streets for pedestrians  is easy when there are few vehicles out, and fighting rampant consumerism by persuading people to stop shopping is a cakewalk when it snows too (check out Churchill Square this morning - and only a fortnight before Christmas. The tills were hardly ringing!).

Seriously though the weather is causing real hardship to many. Heating systems in some communal housing blocks have endured problems, some shops have run out of staples (after just one day), commuters and travellers have been stranded, schools have closed, and as for the city's street homeless population - well it hardly bears thinking about. Oh and the switch-on of the Christmas Lights in St James's Street has had to be cancelled too.

Anyone suffering hardship should try and contact me by leaving a comment below - I'll help however I can. The council (God don't you just love the Tories) seems to have largely abandoned the idea of providing much help itself (although it has placed a large grit pile at the junction of Queen's Park Road and Elm Grove, and been gritting and ploughing major roads) and is instead encouraging a 'big society' response - asking for volunteers to help with gritting, sweeping up snow and driving key workers around. It's not like the snow hasn't been forecast for days (weeks even?) after all...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

In Italy's student-led protests, it's culture itself that's resisting the cuts

Students, schoolchildren and sympathisers took to the streets again yesterday: in Brighton and around the country.

Many were 'kettled' by police in freezing temperatures: Green Party member of the Metropolitan Police Authority Jenny Jones is planning to call for a review of the tactic - and the Met's whole approach to policing demonstrations - at the next authority meeting in London.

Anyone from Brighton who travelled up for any of the London demos, and has anything to say about the way the police there handled things, do let me know and I'll pass their accounts on to Jenny.

There have been fewer complaints about the policing here in Brighton - most comments I have received have been poking fun rather than expressing concern: that said there was some 'kettling', and even a report or two of young people being tasered - so do let me know and I'll make sure all complaints are properly examined.

Education cuts have sparked student demonstrations in Italy too - as this photo shows students wearing crash helmets (and presumably enjoying slightly warmer temperatures than we're seeing in the UK at the moment) were perhaps better prepared for any police violence they may have encountered.

But for me the really interesting thing about this photo was that it shows the protesters were carrying shields adorned with the names of book: Melville's Moby Dick, Plato's Republic and even the Wu-Ming Foundation's 'Q' were among the titles chosen.

By putting literature in the front line, the students and their sympathisers made the excellent point that it's not just the people - it's culture itself - that is under attack from education cuts.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

More protest in Brighton as children, students, teachers and sympathisers take to the streets

Well yet again protest has come to Brighton as popular dissatisfaction with the Government's completely unnecessary cuts programme spills onto the streets.

This time the focus was on education cuts: specifically the trebling of university fees, the withdrawal of the grants designed to help the poorest 16-19 year olds get to school and college for further education - and the withdrawal of funding for adult education. As part of a rash of demonstration and civil disobedience sweeping the country, as many as a thousand students, school pupils (some, reportedly, as young as 11) and sympathisers marched and, inevitably, some engaged in a little spot of good old-fashioned civil disobedience: Brighton Town hall was briefly occupied, and an occupation of some Brighton University buildings appears to be ongoing, more than 24 hours later.

I thought this photo told a story worth telling: a sole Labour Party sympathiser getting the mood all wrong: most of the placards and chants on display were focussed on the issues at stake (one of my favourites had to be: 'Tories put the N in cuts') while this chap rather missed the message, imploring students to just 'Vote Labour' as though that'd make a blind bit of difference! Remember, it was Labour that introduced tuition fees in the first place - and that Labour remain committed to making deep public spending cuts too.

For the record: the Green Party would abolish student tuition fees absolutely. Higher Education students would pay neither £9,000 a year, nor £3,000 a year, but nothing at all. They would be paid from the general exchequer, funded by increasing the higher rate of tax paid by the highest earners and closing the tax avoidance and evasion loopholes currently enjoyed by the likes of George Osbourne, Rupert Murdoch and Lewis Hamilton.

Anyway, enough of that party political nonsense: here's a video that made me laugh out loud, pilfered from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts website. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Time for American Express to pay compensation to neighbours of new HQ building works

Can you imagine one of your neighbours deciding to demolish their house and build a brand new one a few metres away - and to take five or six  years doing year doing so - closing roads along the way, and generating noise, dust and disruption which keeps you up at night, kills your home working business stone dead, rattles the ground with pile drivers until bricks and tiles fall off your house, and then refuses to pay you any compensation for the misery you're suffering?

Well that's what's happened to Carlton Hill residents living in the shadow of the Brighton-based European American Express HQ.

The firm has made a few concessions to residents - washing their cars and windows, for example, but few (except perhaps AmEx's US bosses) believe the firm is at all interested in the local community in which is HQ sits.

As ward councillors we raised our objections early on in the process (of course they didn't prevail), and have been able to broker regular, open, meetings between residents and AmEx managers.

It could all be about to kick off a little. It seems some residents have been unable to sell their homes as a result of the ongoing work, and something of a house value blight has descended on the so-called 'Edward Street Quarter'. Affected householders are preparing to sue the American bank accordingly: it could end up costing the firm a generation of community goodwill and a few hundred thousand pounds if it ends up with residential community clubbing forces to take an American bank to court.

Meanwhile, the firm has donated a few thousand pounds to the fund to pay for Christmas lights in nearby St James's Street - the area's bad-PR slush fund (last year it was Starbucks who tried to use a small donation to the fund to buy its way out of the bad publicity generated by opening without planning permission in the area).

Of course the jobs AmEx provides to the area are welcome - but surely shouldn't give the firm a carte blanche to be a bad neighbour.

The principal beneficiaries of the firm's presence in Brighton are, after all, the bank's shareholders. That's the way the banking market works. remember, it's a bank, not a hospital or a school!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Standing up for local media - and jobs - in face of US onslaught

Today and tomorrow journalists at The Argus are striking over plans by the papers' US owners to sack sub-editors and move the paper's production to Southampton.

I've just got back from a wintry morning standing alongside them outside the paper's Hollingbury HQ: I was delighted to see a really good turnout, of local politicians (here's a few, pictured: myself with fellow Green Councillor Pete West, Hollingdean and Stanmer election candidate Luke Walter and Ben Parsons, local NUJ rep).

Overturning the plan really matters, for three main reasons.

Firstly, decent local jobs must be protected, now more than ever. For a company (US-based Gannett in this case) to seek to cut costs by sacking staff might just be acceptable if that's the only way it can keep the business alive, and therefore protect other jobs - but there can be no excuse for it when it's simnply about increasing profits.

Secondly, to protect the quality of our city's journalism. I don't always see eye-to-eye with the Argus, but it plays an essential role in reporting what happens in our city, especially by the council and police authority members elected in all of our names.

It's essential in a functioning democracy that this oversight is provided by the media, and replacing skilled journalists who boast local knowledge with overworked, underpaid and remote replacements will make this function of the paper weaker then ever.

And thirdly, there is a really important principal at stake: the local media must be controled locally. An effective local paper must be part of the community it serves.

The Government should introduce strict new laws governing media control to ensure this: no UK local media should be owned by foreign or multinational companies at all. Otherwise their freedom - and therefore all of our freedom - is ultimately at stake.

Imagine (you wouldn't be far from the truth) if all local papers wree owened by foreign companies who viewed their role not  as keeping the community informed but turning a profit for their shareholders.

This whole saga shows that we need tough new laws preventing foriegn ownership of local media, not rules that allow the Argus to be run by the same company that owns USA Today.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Boost for local bloggers as US-based Argus owners abandon Brighton

The US media corporation Gannett, which owns the Argus, has sparked an all-out media war here in Brighton - a war it can't possibly win.

In the face of dwindling circulation (down from over 100,000 in its heyday to about 25,000 today, I'm told), and falling advetising revenues, it has decided to cut costs by sacking sub-editors and moving production of the paper to Southampton.

The move seems destined to further reduce the local flavour of the paper (to think, The Argus was once Brighton's newspaper 'of record'!) - and force anyone looking for real local news to look elsewhere.

They won't find it on the radio - with the exception of Radio Reverb, which carries little news - there's nothing on the airways which makes any real attempt to serve the city's community.

Neither the so-called BBC Sussex (so-called because it shares most of its programming with the equally so-called BBC Surrey based in Guildford) nor the pap music stations Heart FM or Juice FM even pretend to tell us everything that's going on in the city.

And they won't find it on TV either: Meridian sometimes fits a Brighton story in its few minutes of local coverage,, and the BBC has the contempt to split Brighton and Hove between its South and South-East news services, neither of which tells us anything much about Brighton.

Living in the BBC South area, I learn more about the goings on in Oxford, and even Bourrnemouth - than I do Brighton!

So where do they find it?

On the Internet, it seems. A growing number of local news services and blogs have sprung up in recent years trying to plug the gap: four of the biggest are (in no particular order): News From Brighton, Brighton and Hove News, Brighton and Hove Free Press and the Brighton Politics Blogger. Of course, there's this 'blog too, for occoasional comment.

I can't speak for the others I've named, but I can happily report that readers of this 'blog have been steadily increasing since it was first launched in 2008 and now peak at over 1,000 a week.

Of course some of those readers are just other councillors looking for something to complain about,  but even so - if they are reading my 'blog then I presume they are not hatching plans to undermine public service delivery or sell off the city's council housing stock or anything!

So, it seems the (old) King is dead - suicide by US managers looks to be the verdict: long live the (new) King!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Will Brighton follow San Francisco's lead and ban McDonald's 'Happy Meals'?

Last week San Francisco took a bold step in the defence of children's health: the city banned the practise of giving away plastic toys with junk food.

The move is a bold response to the growing problem of child obesity - and worries that today's children may be the first generation ever to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

Latest figures show that  a staggering 15% of US children are overweight or obese - about the same as the number of ten year-olds here in Brighton, according to a recent report by the city's Director of Public Health, Dr Tom Scanlon.

I've today asked Brighton Council's cabinet member for Children's Services Vanessa Brown to consider introducing the same scheme here in Brighton.

I hope she is supportive - but I'm not holding my breath: the Tories have hardly got a great record when it comes to pitting corporate interests against public health.

What's worse: breaking a few windows or undermining social mobility?

On Wednesday about 50,000 people - several hundred of them from Brighton - marched through central London in protest at the Government's cuts in further and higher education spending that will see university fees treble, free adult education abandoned, and cash allowances to enable the poorest teenagers to stay at school - the Education Maintainance Allowance - scrapped.

By some accounts it was the biggest demonstration since the now famous 'Stop the War' march of 2003.

Of course the media have concentrated on condemning the actions of a breakaway group who occupied the Millbank HQ of the Tory party, breaking windows and setting off flares and bonfires.

But I think we all need to ask ourselves the question: what's worse - breaking a few windows or undermining the very idea of social mobility in our education system?

Let's be clear: the Government's plans will do exactly that.

The average university student will leave college with around £40,000 of debt: placing higher education out of reach of most poorer families.

Coupled with the decision to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance, and the end of state-funded vocational training for adults, few are optimistic that these measures won't see the divide between rich and poor widen even further, and even more quickly than it did under Labour.

The prevailing wisdom, of coursem, is that any group seeking to change public policy should confine themselves to two routes to trying to do so: engagement with the political process, and well-behaved, orderly demonstrations.

I agree, in theory. But in practise, we have to remember that neither of these has worked at all, and that people are angry.

Many voted for the Lib-Dems in the mistaken belief that  they could be trusted when they said they'd oppose any rise in tuition fees.

Labour, lest we forget, introduced tuition fees in the first place (as just one of the measures they took that saw the gap between rich and poor widen so much during the 13 years that they held the riens of power).

And as for the Tories: well even today, Simon Kirby, our local Tory MP, has told the media of his enthusiasm for higher student fees.

So much for the democratic process.

And as for orderly protest? Well, I was one of the hundreds of thousands who marched through central London in protest at plans to invade Iraq without a UN mandate. Fat lot of good that did - we're still counting the bodies.

Indeed you could argue that the last time protet really changed public policy here in the UK was when Lady Gaga - I mean Thatcher - abandoned the Poll Tax after rioting hit the streets of London.

Of course I'm not saying violent protest is the answer - I'm a confirmed democrat, obviously (I'd hardly be a councillor if I wasn't) - just that we should get things in perspective.

And, to my mind, breaking a few windows in anger is far less serious than either lying about policy to win votes - or introducing a set of education policies that are bound to undermine social mobility.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Brighton Council's latest attack on council tenants' human rights

We've seen the budget deficit used as cover for an attack on benefits and the public sector over recent months, but Brighton Council has given us a new twist this week: using fraud as a cover for an ID-card scheme to make up for the national scheme ditched earlier this year.

On Monday members of the Housing Management Consultative Committee will discuss a plan that could require council tenants to carry ID cards to gain access to their own homes.

What next, one wag asked me today, compulsory bar-code branding for all living in social housing?

A national ID card scheme was a terrible idea. A local one, compulsory only for those living in social housing, is even worse.

This latest attack on basic human rights should be resisted at every turn.

When Labour ran this city they hatched a plan to privatise the city's entire housing stock: luckily tenants resisted and the idea was dropped after a hideously expensive PR campaign trying to persuade them to do exactly the opposite.

Now the Tories want all tenants to carry ID cards. I hope they resist just as strongly and effectively.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Green councillor cleared on all counts in free speech case

UPDATE: Green councillor Jason Kitcat has today been cleared of all complaints made against him - and all sanctions imposed - in a case that has cost the taxpayer thousands.

All the details of the case are in my latest - and earlier posts.

It was bound to happen, really. Before today's hearing I took delight in mentioning the case to all and sundry - I couldn't find a single person who thought pursuing this case was either just or a good use of public funds. In fact, most people thought the case itself brought the council into disrepute. All the hoo-ha has definitely increased viewing of the original clip in question.

So now only one question remains: how much public money was wasted on such things as barristers and hotel rooms, not to mention hours of officer time, on the whole charade?

Oh and I should declare an interest: I myself am subject to another standards board complaint - as a member of the Sussex Police Authority rather than Brighton and Hove City Council - a my 6th in two-and-a-half years.

I have been told it vaguely relates to something I've said on this 'blog regarding EDO protests in Brighton - but in a Kafka-esque twist I'm not allowed to know either the detailed nature of the complaint - or who made it - until after a committee has examined it. Natural justice at work? You decide!

Tories in disarray after Pickles' throws his weight behind Green councillor in free speech row

Today sees the latest installment in the saga of Brighton Council vs Green Councillor Jason Kitcat: his appeal against suspension for posting a video clip of a council meting on YouTube will be heard at the Hilton Metropole Hotel.

The swanky seafront venue will play host to the hearing - with the tab picked up by you, the taxpayer - even though I haven't been able to find a single person who thinks either the original complaint, the conclusion of the council's standards hearing, or the logic of suspending a democratically-elected councillor in a politically-hung council on the say-so of members of other parties was either just, sensible, democratic, or a good use of council officers' time or public money (and remember, were talking thousands here).

Jason was found to be in breach of the code of conduct after posting a clip from an official council meeting webcast onto YouTube.

Following an official complaint lodged by a Tory councillor (Ted Kemble), he was found to be in breach of the council's code of conduct by a Labour Councillor (Jeane Lepper) who admitted during the hearing that she hadn't actually seen the clip in question, and a Lib-Dem councillor (David Watkins) who appeared to some to be asleep during the hearing.

He was suspended from the council for six months but appealed against the ruling: hence the case that will be heard today, which the Standards Board for England has organised.

The council, and the Standards Board, are seeking to uphold the original ruling, despite the costs to the public purse of pursuing the case.

But Jason won over an unlikely ally last week in the shape of Tory Minister Eric Pickles.

Speaking in the House of Commons, of all places, he said: "I say to Councillor Kitcat: YouTube if you want to!"

The Hove Tories must be hopping mad.

With Pickles' weight behind him, how can Jason fail to have all the charges dropped.

I'll let you know the outcome when I can.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The 'Shock Doctrine' in action? Tory plan to use cuts as fig leaf to hand control of Sussex police stations to Tesco

Like most public sector organisations, Sussex Police is in the throes of a cash crisis. Latest estimates, based on last week's Government Comprehensive Spending Review, suggest that it faces a shortfall of over £50million pounds over the next four years (that's on top of the millions lopped of its budget by the previous Labour Government), and the Chief Constable has warned that over 1,000 jobs (around a qauarter of the workfiorce) could be lost as a result.

Of course this is hardly a surprise : for months now senior officers and members of Sussex Police Authority have been working out how on earth they'll manage to keep crime (and, crucially, the fear of crime) falling, and keep safe neighbourhoods, in the face of all this.

And last Thursday, a meeting of Sussex Police Authority considered a round-up of their efforts.

Dubbed 'Serving Sussex 2015', the force has proposed a veritable smorgasbord of measures to cut costs. Some of them are just common sesnse - and perhaps should have been done years ago: making better use of technology, for example, and using police cars a little more efficiently.

Some of the ideas sound good in principle, but raise as many questions as they answer: offering officers more unpaid leave, for example. Sounds great in theory, but I really can't see how senior officers will be able to manage their staff rotas without recourse to paying officers overtime, something else that bosses hope to cut to save cash.

But some of them really fill me with dread: top of the list a review of the way police stations are run. Obviously there's little point in maintaining a front desk at a police station hardly anyone uses, and as long as there is proper public consultation on what's going on, it may well make sense to close some police stations and offer shared front desk facilities with, say, councils. Perhaps Hove Police station could close, for example, and the police could make themselves available at Hove Town Hall a few minutes walk away. It certainly can't hurt to ask people what they think, anyway.

But East Sussex Council leader Peter Jones suggested during Thursday's meeting that police stations could in future be offered at supermarket check-outs: looking out over the Tesco superstore that dominates the Lewes retail scene, the front-runner to be Tory candidate to run Sussex Police after the introduction of US-style sheriffs in 2012 said he hoped the chain could play host to Sussex Police front desk services soon in the future.

In the Argus, a spokesman for the firm seemed to positively salivate at the idea: after all, they offer pharmacy services, post office counters, opticians - so why not the police stations that would mean another public service would be offered under their roof rather than on the high street - after all, every little helps when it comes to a plan for retail domination.

To be honest, I can hardly think of a worse idea. Tesco has shown itself, time and time again, to have little or no regard for either the law of the land (especially when it comes to serving alcohol to children) - or the commnuities it supposedly serves.

Hardly attributes likely to help Sussex Police deliver effective neighbourhood policing.

But I don't see much evidence that delivering effective policing has got anything to do with this one: it's about achieving two things, as far as I can tell: cutting costs and shifting control of the public sector into private hands, regardless of whether doing so will actually work.

And this latest round of Government cuts is providing the perfect opportunity for proposing the idea: it's the classic 'shock doctrine' approach: enact controversial policy after the naysayers have been metaphorically kicked in the nuts.

No wonder people are so angry that almost 1,000 of them marched through the streets of Brighton in protest yesterday (pictured). If Sussex Police wants to avoid that anger being directed towards its review of police stations it had better drop this scheme. People might be able to cope with Hove or Hollingbury Police Stations moving, but not if they re-open in Tesco supermarkets.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Is it time for electronic voting in the House of Commons?

Brighton MP and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has certainly made a splash since her historic victory in the Genral Election back in May - diving into constituency casework, parliamentary business - and trying to fulfil her pledge to be the conscience of parliament with gusto.

But her latest campaign is hardly one I'd have expected before her election: to introduce electronic voting to the House of Commons.

In a recent BBC interview, she lamented the fact that a dozen or so votes in the Mother of Parliaments can take more than an hour and a half - hardly a good use of MPs' time, she argues.

It makes a lot of sense. I hope the other party leaders, and the Speaker of the House, who (weirdly) is the MP who traditionally gives the thumbs up (or not, as the case may be) to parliamentary reform, agree with her.

I suspect they won't though. When it comes down to it, they quite like these quaint traditions taking up so much time: it gives their party members less time to make mischief by putting their constituents' interests above their party leaders' interests (Peter Mandelson's 'this must be supressed' approach would be harder to sustain if MPs' had more freedom to get things done or, God forbid, speak their mind more often).

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Tory cuts in Brighton bound to hit those who can least afford it hardest

I am really worried about the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review on Wednesday.

Not just because the scale of the cuts in Government spending it will herald will be devastating, but because they are almost bound to hit those who can least afford it hardest, causing enormous divisions - and real hardship - in society.

The cuts in Government spending (which, better economists than I have dubbed counter-productive and set to plunge the UK economy back into a unemployment-led recession a la 1980s) will mean benefits are cut and public services dwindle. Meanwhile thousands of public sector workers will be forced to join the unemployment queues.

Already, the richest in society, who use fewer public services, are entitled to fewest benefits, and are much less likely to work in the public sector - are let off the hook.

As equality campaign group Fawcett has argued, cuts in the public sector will hit women hardest - and proposed cuts like the abolition of the Children's Commissioner, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and other quangos charged with look after the rights of the vulnerable will mean they will be joined by children, ethnic and sexual minoroties too.

Early announcements of where the axe will fall at Brighton Council suggest it is children who will bear the brunt locally - much of the details about the cuts the local Tories are already making to children's services in the city will be discussed at a full meeting of the council this Thursday.

But not so, it seems, Sussex Police.

At a recent meeting of the Sussex Police Authority Resources Scrutiny Committee, and under Green Party questioning, Deputy Chief Constable Giles York agreed that the force will be shedding jobs (1,050 is the latest estimate) 'equally'.

During a discussion about how the force was unlikely to meet locally-set targets for improving the numbers on women employed by Sussex Police, Mr York pledge that all cuts would be 'equalities impact assessed' to ensure neither women, ethnic minoroty, or LGBT staff unfairly bore the brunt of the cuts.

With recruitment at a near-standstill, and widespread unemployment almost bound to lead to an increase in crime on our streets, it’s more important than ever that we build public confidence in the police.
I am delighted the force has agreed to assess the impact of the coming job losses on women and minority groups, not just because the law may require it and because it’s the right thing to do, but because doing so will likely result in better policing and safer neighbourhoods and communities too.

Now the trick will be to hold Sussex Police to Mr York's committment.

PS There's a special prize for readers who correctly identify the morphed cut-miesters in the picture above: answers on a postcard please...

Friday, 15 October 2010

£200,000 cost of policing peace protest: an outrageous waste of money in face of Tory cuts

Blink and you might have missed it, but on Wednesday, it seems there was something of a peace protest in Brighton. According to The Argus, some 250 police, from across the region, were waiting for about 200 protesters.

There were around 20 arrests - mainly of people not doing what they were told - but everyone had been released without charge by this morning.

The whole policing operation, it has been reported, cost about £200,000 - an outrageous waste of time and money in the face of massive Government cuts, and in the face of warnings that over 1,000 jobs are for the chop.

The decision to spend so much money was one taken by the police themselves. But, as ever, it's the protesters who are singled out for blame, for not telling the police of their plans in advance.
This logic is not only naive and a little simplistic, it's vastly counterproductive.

If the police want to reduce costs for future demonstrations, they must take the lead in building trust with the protest movement. Blaming it for the cost of police operations does exactly the opposite.

The reality is peace protesters come in all shapes and sizes - from Christian grannies to balaclava-clad teens: there simply isn't an single individual or even group of people who has the authority or knowledge to tell the police what everyone's going to do.

Even if there was such a group to negotiate with they probably wouldn't do so anyway, yet: there simply isn't the trust there. For too long many peace protesters have viewed the police as likely to arrest them without warning, hold them accountable for the actions of others, and act as a private security outfit for the arms industry.

If we want to reduce costs in future, the police simply must concebntrate on rebuilding trust with the peace movment.

Here's two things they could do right away:

(i) Investigate whether crimes are being, or have been, committed at the factory itself: do the weapons components made there have the correct export licenses? Is enough done to ensure they don't end up in the wrong hands, and aren't ultimately used to commit unlawful violence, or against civilians?

(ii) Stop blaming the protesters! The cost of policing protests and demonstration is a necessary cost of living in a democracy, and if it's costing too much we must decide, as a society, whether to restrict our democtatic rights to take non-violent direct action, or whether to make the police to spend less money on them.

I agree with many of the commentators who have opined that £200,000 is too much money to spend on policing a peace protest. But I blame the police for deciding to spend it in the first place, not those who feel so strongly about the role a Brighton factory seems to be playing in conflict and war that they are prepared to take to the streets.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

'Parliament is Curtailing Democracy', warns Lucas

As the nights draw in and autumn tightens its grip, I'm drawn to thinking about Guy Fawkes' infamous plot to blow up the House of Commons.

He didn't pull if off, alas, so we're stuck with good old fashioned British Demorcacy - the big choice between elected dictators we indulge in once every four or five years.

Of course, our imperfect democracy remains the only one we've got so, while we  must never stop trying to overthrow and reform it, we have to work within it if we want to get anything done. That's why I'm a councillor not a cherry-bomb thrower.

But I've never been able to completely relinquish my hidden anarchist: especially when I read an MP suggesting that parliament itselt is 'curtainling democracy'.

This place is essentially curtailing democracy,’ Green Party leader Caroline Lucas tells the New Internationalist this month, referring to the House of Commons which looms just out of sight of her office.

‘Once you get here, the processes almost beggar belief, with a chamber that can’t even seat every MP, archaic voting procedures and a Speaker who can decide which amendments get discussed and which don’t.’

New 'tardis' comes to St James's Street - a fig leaf for cuts or a great plan?

A new Brighton Council inititative will see a Doctor Who-style police box taking up residence in a car park below St James's House in a bid to deter drug-taking, and provide a local point of contact for people unable to make the journey to Brighton's Main Police station at the end of the road.

It sounds great - and I hope it does what is expected of it: serves to cut both crime and the fear of crime as well as embedding the police in the community.

But the cynic in me doubts that it will have that effect for long - such initiatives usually merely push criminal activity elsewhere rather than actually preventing it, and the new initiative comes just as Sussex Police is planning on shedding 1,050 jobs and reviewing the way it delivers neighbourhood policing.

It reminds me of those schemes where cardboard cut-out coppers were stood by the side of motorways to deter speeding: a great idea, but no substitute for a real human police presence. I suspect total crime levels will be unaffected, and the new 'tardis' will be devoid of PCSOs and officers soon.

I hope I'm wrong, of course, but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Tory plans to abolish grants for poorer pupils will knock life-chances, and social mobility for all

What with all the fuss about Tory plans to abandon the idea of universal Child Benefit, a far more worrying change to the way the Government administers benefits to under-19s could be around the corner: the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMAs).

EMAs, which are worth up to £30 a week, are means-tested benefits payable to 16-19 year olds to help them meet the costs of staying in education - and they work.

The evidence seems to show that EMAs increase participation in further education by about six per cent a year. By definition, those six per cent of learners are the least-well-off in society, and often the most vulnerable in other ways too. In some cases dropping out of education or training will mean dropping out of the formal economy altogether and be devastating for their longer-term life chances and the whole idea of social mobility.

EMAs are restricted to low-income households, and predominantly taken up by those with low achievement levels at school, those from ethnic minorities and those from single-parent families, so are a vital tool for increasing social mobility. EMA is also conditional on the young person turning up to college (or school) so if they don’t turn up, they don’t get their EMA.

And yet the Government looks set to abolish them entirely, at the behest of 'free-market ideology' - and the bidding of a number of right-wing think-tanks and pressure groups, including the Policy Exchange, the Institute of Directors and the Tax Payers Alliance.

More EMA recipients find themselves in Further Education (about 69%) than any other type of school or college: so cutting them is likely to lead to more drop-outs and course closures in the vocational and training sector than any other.

Here in Brighton and Hove, for example, more than half of all 16-19-year-old students at City College are in receipt of EMA: 47 per cent of all students in the age range receiving the maximum £30 per week award.

The impact on EMAs' withdrawal could be enormous for the college and anyone in our city concerned at the range of non-academic training routes available locally.

The net result will be, of course, more children from poorer backgrounds dropping out of education and employment entirely. Fewer vocational courses being offered to anyone at all, and lower social mobility - er, exactly the vision of a Tory society, I suppose.

Coming ahead of massive cuts to the Further Education budget, the careers and benefit services provided by Connexions, the closure of nurseries like Bright Start - and the downgrading of teachers' pensions announced last week - it seems like Tory Brighton is becoming a pretty nasty place to grow up, one way and another.

Help St James's Street get some Christmas Lights this year

At a meeting of the St James's Area Action Group last week, it was revelead that the group needs to raise about £6,000 to pay for Christmas Lights in the area this year - £3,000 for new 'tree lights' and £3,000 to make good the shonky infrasructure from lastr year.

Of course the big multiples have shied away from putting their hands in their deep corporate profits: even Starbucks, who found £3,000 last year in a desperate bid to stave off the bad publicity it attracted by opening a branch on the street without planing permission, have backed away this year: the PR job's done, after all.

So, it's left up to local businesses and the community to do it. So, hat's off to the new Poison Ivy bar for hosting a fundraiser. Let's hope it's a busy one and it raises all the cash required for a cracking Christmas in Kemp Town.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sussex Police to save cash - and the environment - by getting officers out of their cars and into communities

It seeems  Sussex Police are going to be driving their vans and cars around a little less in coming years.

On Thursday Sussex Police Authority's Resources Scrutiny Committee will consider a proposal to stop replacing police cars - and reduce the total size of the fleet by several hundred vehicles - and its journeys by about 1.5 million miles a year.

This review of the way Sussex Police uses its fleet of vehicles is welcome – and long overdue.

It will save over £2m - cash that can be used to protect jobs in the face of enormous Government cuts, massively reduce the police's fuel bills and exhaust fumes, which will both improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and force officers to get out of their cars and into communities a little more.

It's a classic win-win-win, good for policing, good for the environment, and good for saving jobs in the face of Government police cuts.

Some might worry that with fewer cars the police will be less able to respond quickly to crime - but I think that logic needs to be turned on its head: if fewer cars mean there's more money for saving officers and PCSO jobs from cuts, and they're spending more time out of their cars and in the communities they patrol, there should be less crime in the first place.

Friday, 1 October 2010

10:10 Campaign pulls film warning of looming climate change deaths

This video made me laugh - so I thought it'd only be fair to share it here.

It was made for the 10:10 campaign  - which aims to get individuals and organisations to cut their climate change-fuelling carbon emissions by ten per cent this year - by slushy millionaire campaigning comedian Richard Curtis.

He's had his moments (Blackadder, for example) but generally, Curtis has had a wonderful knack for producing  the worst of British soggy, soppy comedies - shows like the Vicar of Dibley, films like Notting Hill - and got very rich on the back of them.

That background makes this punchy little number even more effective, I reckon: it seeks (well, sought) to do one thing: attract some attention to the campaign, which, as 2010 enters October, is running out of time to sign up new supporters.

So it contains a few gory images to boost the shock factor - it even features England striker Peter Crouch and a chance to see former Spurs superhero David Ginola blown to pieces.

But just a few hours after putting it online, the 10:10 campaign withdrew it, citing complaints about the video being in bad taste.

Well, the cynic in me would say the whole saga seems a little contrived to me, and I imagine taking it down was always part of the plan to stir up some controversy in the hope of boosting the film's reach.

But good on 'em: climate change is already killing hundreds of thousands of people a year, and its set to get a lot worse.

I'm glad I've been able to play my part in getting Sussex Police to sign up to the 10:10 campaign and agree to cut its emissions by ten per cent, and that, collectively, Green Party councillors have been able to get Brighton and Hove City Council to do the same.

And I'm equally glad I've got a 'blog to post this film too, and that doing so helps it 'go viral' in some small way, which I'm sure is what thy are trying to do by taking the film down and pretending that anyone was genuinely offended by it.

Whatever happens to this film, our efforts to tackle runaway climate change just better 'go viral'.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Supermarket sweep - the onward march of 'Clone Town' Brighton

The onward march of 'Clone Town Britain' took a step forward this week when Morrisons in St James's Street lodged a formal application to sell alcohol from 6am until 11pm, seven days a week.

According to coverage in The Argus, the chair of the local residents' group - the St James's Street LAT - is 'relaxed' about the application, but let's be clear: I'm not.

Along with my fellow Green Party councillors for the ward I've lodged an objection to the plans. Although the big-business-friendly Licensing Act 2003 only allows objections to be raised on the grounds of protecting children from harm, public safety or an increased threat of crime, disorder or noise nuisance, I think the dangers posed by increased availability of cheap supermarket booze round-the-clock reach far more widely.

Of course, Morrisons sits right in the heart of Brighton's so-called 'Cumulative Impact Area' and therefore, given residents' concerns about crime, noise nuisance and disorder, as well as children’s health, the hours extension really shouldn't be allowed, but it's the impact on smaller, local businesses, that really worries me.

Just last week it was reported that the locally-owned Tin Drum pub up the road was closing to make way for an extension of the supermarket next door.

Where will all this end? If Morrisons is granted its extension then Tesco will surely ask for the same thing – and probably be granted that too.

If we are relaxed about this sort of thing we’ll see most pubs closed, and most alcohol sold cheaply, round-the-clock, by supermarket chains: communities like ours will be left to pick up the pieces while our streets lose their distinctive ‘feel’, and the profits, instead of finding their way back into local pockets, are whisked away to shareholders and investors far away in the world’s financial centres.

The sooner the licensing laws are changed to allow local pubs and clubs to protect themselves from this 'supermarket sweep', and councillors to recognise that protecting public health should be a reasonable consideration when looking at new booze permits, the better.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Tory Brighton Council celebrates Democracy Day - but turns back on real democracy

I've just got back from taking part in an event at Brighton's Jubilee Library to mark the city's Democracy Day: present were eight councillors and, when I had to leg it to collect boys from school, a sum total of two members of the public.

I chatted to one of them - she was an active member of a lobby group (Friends of the Earth) and already knew several councillors, at least by name. Hardly the target audience - you could argue she was already pretty engaged with local democracy!

But people care a lot about the issues that the council makes decisions about - and, believe me, many residents do get in touch with their councillors about them to try and influence local democracy at work.

So the real question is: why did so few residents want to talk to councillors at today's event? Maybe it was the timing (middle of the day), or the weather (drizzly), or maybe the location (back room, top floor).

More likely city residents, aware that the Tory-run council here doesn't care much for their views (just last week we saw Geoffrey Theobald - cabinet member for the environment - ignore a consultation that showed a majority of residents in Canning Street and Queen's Park Rise wanted to see residents' parking schemes extended to cover their roads)  just have as little respect for local democracy as it seems to have for them.

We Greens believe in opening up decision-making to neighbourhoods, through participatory-budgeting and taking a much more transparent approach to the way choices are taken (for starters bothering to listen to the results of consultations) - if we get our way I hope we'll see more people taking part in future events like today's.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Elections are like Christmas - they don't come around that often and people start gettting obsessed with them months before they actually happen

Well it's less than 100 days to go until Christmas - and already the cards are on sale, the official parties are being planned - but it's even longer (about eight months) until the local elections here in Brighton and Hove, and already the preparatons are under way.

The local institution that is the Brighton Politics Blogger has already started to call results in some seats -  Goldsmid, Central Hove, East Brighton, Brunswick and Adelaide, though he hasn't got round to Queen's Park yet (my favourite is the post predicting gains for the Green and the end of the Lib-Dems).

I guess after the debacle that saw May's General Election result called more slowly than ever before (after count-room reports of mising ballot boxes and more tears and thumb-twiddling in the Brighton Centre than staff have seen since the Dixie-land banjo-fest came to town) the city's election supremo John Barradell will already be making his preparations.

Other senior council staff have privately confessed to me that work is now pretty much on hold: in the face of disappearing partner agencies, public spending cuts and politicians' focus turning to next May don't hold your breath for any new council work until June 2011 at the earliest.

The parties all seem to be busy electing their candidates - and there appears to be general jubilation at the news that Tom French, the student Labour activist who presided over the increase in the St Peter's and North Laine Green Party vote following councillor Keith Taylor's elevation to the European Parliament, has been chosen to stand here in Queen's Park.

Labour whip Warren Morgan was quick to celebrate his selection in a twitter comment to followers (he's blocked me for some reason so I only learned about it second-hand) : the Green Party activists among local residents and beyond seem pleased with the choice too.

In any event I'll be keeping my feet firmly on the policy ground, at least until the campaign 'proper' starts. I'll report any titbits of gossip here when I hear it, but my focus until April will be continuing to do what I've been doing since May 2007, representing the residents of Queen's Park as best I can, ensuring they get the best possible local services despite the best efforts of the Tories on the council, and two Governments, to undermine them.

The latest bunfight, of course, will be about the coming cuts. Sussex Police have already announced they'll be shedding more than 1,000 jobs - and the council will surely follow.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Questioning reality is far more dangerous than sex or swearing

Last night I enjoyed a good old-fashioned Saturday night out with Charlie, my partner and the love of my life.

We went to see the film Inception, before enjoying a cocktail or two in the company of two thirty-somethings from London dressed as Smurfs for the night at the wonderful Brighton Rocks bar near St James's Street.

The film was fantastic, just the sort of dark, philosophical thriller - with just the right balance of humour and high-adrenaline action - that every Hollywood blockbuster should boast.

But it was only classified as a 12A - meaning even quite little children (and there were a few there) could go alomng if they were accompnied by adults.

I'm not really sure that the British Board of Film Classificatton, who come up with these ratings, should have a role in telling us what we can and can't watch, but they've clearly got a job in helping paremts decide what's approprioate for their kids to see.

And I just can't understand their logic really: some films get 18 ratings that are completely harlemss while others, like this one, are deemed acceptable for kids when they deal with issues, in a pretty scary way, that get right to the heart of the meaning of everyday experience.

I can't see how fucking on screen, swearing or even poking fun at religion or others' beliefs does much harm - but questioning the very nature of reality is about as scary as it gets. I certainly wouldn't recommend this film to kids or anyone with a shaky or vulnerable grip on reality.

Perhaps it's time the BBFC stopped being so prurient, and starte bein a little more philosophical in the way they make decisions.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Labour Party council candidates step down in Queen’s Park

Usually, the bit at council or community meetings where last time’s minutes get signed off is over in a flash.

But on Wednesday, a meeting of the St James’s Area Local Action Team spent more than half an hour discussing the last meetings minutes – with a bitter row centred on whether they reflected residents’ concerns about the after-Pride street party or not.

One disgruntled resident said: “I’ve had a look through these minutes and, frankly, I don’t recognize the meeting I was at.

“It’s no wonder so many residents don’t come to these meetings when their views aren’t even recorded, let alone acted upon.”

I almost found myself feeling sorry for Chris Cooke, who has been selected by the Labour Party to stand against us Green Councillors in next May’s local election – when the talk afterwards turned to a vote of no confidence in him as chair.

But then I remembered that he used to be a member of the Green Party – and, it is rumoured, the local Tories – so he’s clearly a man who likes local politics but isn’t really sure what he believes in.

And then I heard that the other two Labour candidates for the ward have resigned, finding Chris difficult to work with.

And is if that wasn’t’ enough, I heard he wants to see smoking banned on the outdoor areas of the pier (for the record: I think the existing smoking ban goes quite far enough, and people should certainly be free to smoke outdoors if they so choose).

Chris undoubtedly joins a lot of community groups, but has a bit of a tendency to upset people and, often, walk away: I can only say if it’s true his personality means he’s unpopular with residents and is driving other Labour candidates away I’m glad he decided to leave the Green Party.

Anyway I do wish him well in next year’s election – I hope he manages a good fourth place behind the three Greens who already serve the ward so well (I would say that wouldn’t I!)

Monday, 16 August 2010

Panama: the latest frontline in the fight against climate change?

Panama could soon be as famous for becoming the latest frontline in the fight against climate change as it is for its canal.

It has emerged (thanks to the excellent and vital work of NGO Minority Rights Group International) that half the 32,000-strong Kuna people are to abandon their now-uninhabitable central American homes in the wake of rising sea levels and increasingly frequent flooding and extreme weather.

The fiercely independent indigenous group is reportedly spending about £5m clearing forests for a new settlement: costs that really should be being met by the international community.

In the short term, relocation in the face of worsening climate change must be facilitated by an internationally-binding funding formula that ensures costs are met by those high-emission countries that are most to blame: principally the US, EU nations, and Australia.

Not only would this be fair, it would create a financial incentive that would focus the efforts of those richer nations with the capacity to fund emissions reductions programmes on actually doing so, perhaps using the globally just principle of 'Contraction and Convergence'.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Green Ad everyone's talking about - but big media is trying to stop you seeing

Blink and you might have missed it in the UK media - but there's an election going on in Australia right now - and the Greens are doing fairly well.

Looking at this clip - it's fairly easy to see why: combining the big environmental message (we need to put climate change at the heart of our decision-making) with a social issue (we believe in making dental health free), a liberal 'flag' issue (we support gay marriage), and a foreign relations issue (we would put people and rights at the heart of our immigration and asylum policies) the Australian Greens are portraying themselves as the left-leaning all-rounders of the election - just as we were able to do in the run-up to Caroline Lucas's election as England's first Green MP.

Naturally, the Greens wanted to show this clip again and again - using it as an election ad: but ABC - the 'big media' corporation that owns the rights to the clip, has refused permission for it to be re-shown. I guess the idea of the Greens doing well in elections is always going to ruffle a few feathers in the world of 'big media'.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

I agree with Sarah (Palin, that is). No, really.

Well, you heard it here first.

After years of thinking she's one of the scariest, most stupid and dangerous Conservatives ever to have walked the earth (she makes the Brighton Tories look like cute little puppies), finally, California's upcoming referendum on the legalisation of cannabis has provided the issue over which I agree with Sarah Palin.

Yes, thousands were prepared to say 'I agree with Nick' before it became clear quite how far he was willing to sell out liberal principles for a top job, and most are regretting it now, just a few short weeks later.

Similarly I'm sure it won't be long before I'm lamenting ever having said, and publically too, 'I agree with Sarah'. But, for the moment, and on this issue at least, I do.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

As Pride comes to town, The Love Police say 'Everything is OK!'

As Brighton celebrates with Pride (a carnival that used to be about demanding sexual freedom and human rights but now - thanks to the participation of American Express and, I kid you not, a Nandos Chicken - seems to be more about shopping), here's a montage of street theatre by a group calling itself The Love Police.

It made me smile, but contains a serious message./ I thought it was well worth eight minutes of my life, and I hope, if you do too, you enjoy it and find it inspiring.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Focus turns on Brighton Tories in YouTube row

Last month I reported on how Green Party councillor Jason Kitcat had been suspended for six months - for trying to make Brighton council a little more transparent by posting clips of some of its meetings on video search site YouTube.

He was given 28 days to appeal against the bizarre-seeming ruling and has now launched just such an appeal: his suspension has been suspended while the Tribunals Service for Local Government Standards in England makes up its mind.

In my earlier report of the incident I mused that perhaps the Tories' enthusiasm for pursuing this particularly nonsensical complaint was simple political gerrymandering: Cllr Kitcat's suspension would change the delicate balance of council politics in the Tories' favour and give them back their majority in most meetings.

But a few weeks on, I wonder if in fact the Tories concerned - Mary Mears, Ted Kemble and Brian Oxley - were actually engaged in trying to boost transparency with an elaborate double-bluff: the media coverage of the original incident has boosted viewings of the clip in question about five-fold.

OK maybe not. To be honest I imagine they were motivated more by the simple fact that shortening clips from webcasts of counci meetings - and posting them on YouTube - is simply beyond their technical abilities, and if they couldn't manage it, they didn't want anyone else doing it either.

Who knows what motivated the original complaint, or how the Tories' complaint, and motivation, will be judged at the Tribunal (scheduled to take place on October 18th - I'll keep you posted).

But in the words of Cllr Kitcat himself:

"The Conservative councillors' pursuit of their complaint against me shows poor judgement. The public have the right to know what is happening in the council meetings they pay for: for the Tories to use a code of conduct complaint to try and block openness and transparency is extraordinarily disappointing."

Some might argue it brings the council into disrepute all by itself.

Tory government serious about boosting tax revenues and making communities safer? Time to legalise weed?

California could make legal history this autumn when citizens vote on  a referendum on ending the prohibition of marijuana and taxing and regulating it, just as the state does with alcohol and nicotine.

I hope Proposition 19 gets the majority support it needs to make the US state one of the first developed economies in the world to recognise that legalisation would boost tax revenues - and make communities safer by removing the criminal underworld from the supply chain.

We keep hearing how our new Tory Government wants to achieve the same ends: boosting tax revenues, cutting spending on policing and improving community safety all at the same time. Well if it's serious, isn't it time we considered doing exactly the same thing here?

The more I thinnk about this one, and talk to others about it, the more perplexing it all seems that it hasn't been done years ago.

Of course smoking weed has its down side, just as alcohol and nicotine do, but most of its negative impacts would be eliminated by better regulation - and taking criminal gangs out of the picture.

The only reason I can think of for not doing so is that many of the legislators at the top of the decision-making tree are benefiting enormously from keeping things exactly the way they are. Can that really be so?

And while you're pondering that one, here's a fantastic cartoon contrasting a world in which cannabis is legal with one (the one we live in) where it isn't.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Privatising the police in Brighton?

I've just had a remarkable call from local rag the Argus suggesting that one idea identified by senior officers for overcoming the massive cuts faced by Sussex Police might be to get local businesses to sponsor PCSOs and even police officers directly.

Seriously: it has been mooted that companies with spare cash, and even wealthy individuals, could pay for police officers to patrol outside their businesses.

I can hardly think of a worse idea if I try, really: the police officer concerned would hardly be likely to arrest their sponsor for crinimal behaviour now, and those of us without the cash to buy our own privatised police would just have to wait our turn for a response if we became the victim of a crime.

It wouldn't just be raising the spectre of privatising the police - it would be doing it, wholesale.

Decisions would be taken by sponsors, for the benefit of themselves, their employees and their customers, rather than for those in their neighbourhood, let alone society at large. (Sound familiar - isn't this the principle behind academy schools?)

The richest would, effectiveley, buy immmunity from future police investigation - and their own private police force all at once.

I hope it never comes to this - but, actually, the idea of replacing comprehensive schools with privately-owned academies has support of Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem MPs and councillors. We Greens opposed that, and we'll oppose privatising the police too.

But if we remain a lone voice you can expect to see more police in wealthy neighbourhoods, and less in areas suffering deprivation, sooner than you think.