Friday, 16 March 2012

Why being a Green Party councillor can make an enormous difference

Sometimes, as a local councillor, I feel a little despondent about the difference you can actually make.

So many good, clever people, think being a Green Party councillor is pointless, at best, and legitimises an undemocratic, expensive and harmful way of organising our lives, at worst.

To paraphrase the extraordinary Ulrike Meinhof of the Red Army Faction: 'Who wants to be an elected Green? I don't!'

And when it comes to many of the big problems our society faces - war, climate chaos, racism, poverty, violence, cruely to animals, wage slavery and rapacious economic growth, and so on - sometimes they do seem right.

As a local councillor in Queen's Park, for example, it's been impossible to make American Express compensate neighbours for the misery, ill-health and hardship caused by the construction of their new HQ in Carlton Hill. It's proved impossible to stop the advance of clone town Britain into Kemptown: despite huge community and council opposition, there was nothing we could do to stop a new Sainsburys Local or even Starbucks opening on St James's Street. The ward remains one of the most deprived in the country, despite five years of working to strengthen community groups, trying to make countless Government schemes a success, and so on. It's proved impossible to solve the parking chaos that blights residents lives in some areas of the ward (the problem, at root, is that there are more cars than people here now, and there's nothing we can do about that). The list goes on.

Of course, we have managed to achieve lots of smaller victories: tress and flowers have been planted, bike racks have been put up, new play equipment has been installed in both Tarner and Queen's Parks, community engagement has increased, lifts in high-rise housing blocks have been replaced, energy-efficient  buildings have been built, refuse collection and recycling services have improved, the police are committed to attending regular neighbourhood meetings, and are more visible on our streets. We've been able to advocate successfully for countless residents on matters ranging from housing standards to parking issue to noisy neighbours - and everything in between. And so on.

I stress here that neither of these lists are meant to be exhaustive: merely illustrative. I hope you get the point.

But yesterday a meeting of Brighton and Hove Council's cabinet reminded me why it's all worthwhile.

We adopted a range of policies and plans that will make an enormous difference to life in the city.

For example, a £400,000 plan to promote community banking to break the stranglehold of loan sharks and high-interest doorstep lender on the estimated 1,500 households in the city with no access to a traditioal bank account. A real strike against poverty.

We adopted a new Traveller Strategy, based around balancing the needs of the Travelling and the 'settled' population, and recognising the needs of both communities, and approved the comnstruction of a new Traveller site at Horsdean. A real strike against racism.

We adopted a new Equality and Inclusion strategy that will make Brighton and Hove a best-practise council. It means we will carry out proper, dialogue-based, Equality Impact Assessments on everything the cuncil does. If any decision looks like it will penalise any particular group, we will seek to mitigate that as part of the decision. It means we will go further than the law requires us to do. A real strike for equality.

Of course, that's only a snapshot: but I came home yesterday feeling like I had done a really good day's work. And that's why being a Green Party councillor does make an enormous difference.

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