Monday, 30 April 2012

The end of free speech on the Internet?

The eyes of anyone concerned about protecting our right to use the Internet privately have been on the Government's latest plan to allow spooks access - without a warrant - to all our emails and web browsing history in the name of security.

But we ought to be watching what lawmakers are up to on the other side of the pond too.

The US came a step closer to legitimising corporate snooping on all Internet activity in the name of stamping out cyber-crime (a pretty meaningless term) last week when the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Bill – CISPA – passed through the House of Representatives.

Next, it needs to pass a vote of the US Senate – and then it will pass to US President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

CISPA would, if it becomes law, allow the Government to tell any company of any perceived threat to their legitimate business activities from any on-line activity – and since Cyber-Crime is so loosely defined that could include any alleged copyright infringement – and, worse, allow any company to share such information – even down to the contents of emails – with any other, and with any branch of the US Government.

Basically, it would mean the end of free speech on the Internet – and due to the international nature of the Internet, the threat applies to all of us, whether we live in the US or not.

No wonder it has attracted the condemnation of human rights organisations – like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation – and ‘hacktivist’ groups like Anonymous.

Internet-based social change organisation (with 14m members!) is campaigning against CISPA, as is US Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul – and US president Barack Obama has threated to veto the bill if it passes the US Senate.

But that isn’t the end of CISPA by any means.

Last year Presidenrt Obama threatened to veto another piece of legislation, the National Defence Authorization Act: but when push came to shove he caved in to corporate interests and signed it into law anyway.

Exactly the same thing could happen with CISPA – the corporate world is, after all, in favour of CISPA, with high-profile supporters including Microsoft, facebook and IBM.

Of course some could argue that the real threat to free speech on the INternet is the punishment meted out by the court of public opinion when people do or say careless things on the INternet - but that's another issue for another day!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The onward march of land enclosure in Brighton and Hove

While the Green Party has clear philosophical principles, the wider 'green movement' means many different things to different people - but for me it is primarily about working towards a sustainable environment, a fairer and more equal society, and the promotion of the public at the expense of the private: of society rather than the individual.

By that I mean, of course, resisting privatisation of public services, and celebrating anti-capitalist approaches to the distrubution of goods and services (that's why I love open source software - do check out this great video of Stephen 'Freedom' Fry explaining why he does too) - but also promoting the idea of common ownership of public space and resisting land enclosures wherever possible.

The history of inequality is the world can be told in various ways: one way is through the history of land enclosures, the process by which land that once belonged to everyone is seized, usually legally, by a private owner, who then either charges 'commoners' a rent to do something they had previously done for free, or, even worse, prevents them from doing it at all.

Much of this enclosure of public space in England happened in the Middle Ages - today the process is mainly going on in desert and forest areas in the developing world and the impact is mainly being felt by tribal peoples who are losing their homes and lands to the process.

But it hasn't completely finished here in England. Just last week, for example, I was astonished to see that the area of concrete by the beach near Brighton's West Pier was fenced off - enclosed, effectively. What had previously been a piece of freely accessible public land - used mainly by skateboarders, walkers and (and here I declare an interest) runners enjoying a spell of free, sunshine-drenched exercise - is now a circuit for people to ride rented 'Segways' - for a tenner a pop.

Now I'm all for innovative ways of having fun, and getting about - and for new entrepreneurs to make a few bob long the way - but, personally, I don't think this should ever happen at the expense of free access to public land.

It's not as if no-one ever used it! The piece of land in question was always busy - both times I've walked (or run) past the site since it has been enclosed no-one has been using it at all.

And that, I'm afraid, is the real tragedy: that once a site has become enclosed, usually everyone loses an amenity - and it doesn't always even benefit the person or company that has done the enclosing.

With stresses on household budgets, increasing personal debt levels, rising unemployment and this week's news that the UK economy has gone back into recession, I think the time has come to accept some of capitalism's failings as a means of managing land use, and to work in exactly the opposite direction: to see what abandoned, privately-owned spaces and buildings can be brought back into free, commonly-owned, use for all of us.

That's why we I support the right of squatters to use empty buildings - especially when they are doing things like providing free vegetables for those who just can't afford to buy them - and why I think we need to stop enclosing any more public space.

New 'leadership team' for Brighton and Hove City Council announced

The group of Green Party councillors in Brighton and Hove has announced its new leadership team for the 2012/13 municipal year.

Last week a unanimous vote by Brighton and Hove City Council agreed to move to a more democratic system of decision-making that will see the current cabinet system replaced with a series of seven 'policy' and two 'regulatory' committees.

From a personal perspective, the post I currently hold, Cabinet Member for Communities, Equalities and Public Protection, will be abolished. If the Greens' choices are ratified, as expected, at the city's annual council meeting on May 17th, I will instead by named chair of the city's Licensing Committee. Current chair Lizzie Deane willl serve as deputy chair. I will probably remain responsible for community resilience policy, deputising for the leader of the council, Jason Kitcat - though this arrangement isn't yet finalised - and I will take a seat on the new Housing Committee.

The other regulatory committee, which deals with planning, will be chaired by Christopher Hawtree. His deputy will be Christina Summers.

As for the 'policy' committees, there will be seven:

The overarching Policy and Resources Committee, will be chaired by new council leader Jason Kitcat. He will be deputised by Leo Littman.

Adult Care and Health will be chaired by Rob Jarrett, who will be deputised by Mike Jones.

The Children and Young people Committee will be chaired by Sue Shanks; her deputy will be Ruth Buckley.

The Economic Development and Culture Committee will be chaired by Geoffrey Bowden. His deputy will be Phelim MacCafferty.

The Transport brief will be held by Ian Davey, who will be deputised by Matt Follett. Housing Committee will be chaired by Liz Wakefield, deputised by Stephanie Powell, and the Environment and Sustainability Committee will be chaired by Pete West; his deputy will be Ollie Sykes.

Good luck to them all - I'm sure a team like this will do the city proud!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Is it time for Brighton, the liberal, tolerant, tourist capital of Europe, to legalise the cannabis cafe?

Well it finally seems all over for the Dutch 'coffee shop'. A judge has ruled that a proposed ban on non-Dutch tourists smoking cannabis in coffee shops is not discriminatory against foreigners - so the ban will come into effect across the country by the end of the year.

Some coffee shop owners in Amsterdam are already warning that the ban will cost them up to 90% of their takings - and could force them to close their doors for good.

It means that the third of tourists visiting Amsterdam to smoke cannabis legally will almost certainly stay away - and tourist numbers visiting the city will fall dramatically. Other attractions, as well as bars, restaurants and hotels, will see reduced visitor numbers as a result.

It's not just the tourist industry that will be affected - the move will also mean that Dutch residents wishing to buy cannabis will be forced to buy their 'weed' from less regulated suppliers, leading to a likely upsurge in hard drug use.

That in turn is likely to lead to increased health and policing costs for everyone - and taxes will have to rise foot the bill.

These arguments have been hashed (sorry) about both in the law courts and, perhaps more importantly, the 'courts' of public opinion.

The mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan is opposed to the law, which is the brainchild of the national Conservative-led Government. Some have even suggested it's part of a bigger political plot designed to bankrupt Amsterdam and force residents to vote Conservative to 'save the city'.

That seems a little far-fetched to me, but it does create a great opportunity for a tourist city like Brighton and Hove to replace Amsterdam as the liberal tourist's destination of choice: think of all the millions our shops and hotels would make if all those tourists being turned away from Amsterdam by the Dutch Tories came here to spend their holiday cash instead!

Of course, in Brighton and Hove, we know only too well the damage that the current drug policy of complete criminalisation of drug use is causing rather than seeing it as a health issue. Recently Caroline Lucas MP and the city’s top cop, Graham Bartlett called for decriminalisation of drug use and for good reasons. We frequently have the unwelcome title of the drug death capital of England with the highest drug death rate per capita of any city. Most of these deaths are from abuse of hard addictive drugs such as heroin.  Interestingly, pioneering trials of giving heroin addicts injectable heroin rather than methadone are already taking place in Brighton and Hove: they are already reducing deaths and other negative health impacts from heroin use in the city.

Perhaps it's time to extend this sort of lateral thinking to the use of soft drugs too? Cannabis use can be harmful, but all analysis shows that it's much less likely to harm you than, say, driving a car, or crossing a road. The effects, like those from taking any drug, vary from personal to person - but most ill-effects are as a result of the tobacco it's usually consumed with.

NHS analysis has showed that there has never been  single death caused by the ill-effects of smoking cannabis alone - compared to thousands on our roads.

While there are cases of less serious ill health caused by cannabis these are best dealt with, professionals say, by bringing the use of cannabis 'into the open'.

So what about it? Brighton, the liberal, tolerant, tourist capital of Europe?

I think these questions are worth asking - and urgently: for the sake of our tourist industry and the health and wellbeing of those living in and visiting our city. Nonetheless I expect to be misunderstood so I predict the following headline soon: Green Councilllor calls for Brighton to be the Pot Capital of Europe'.

20 mph speed limits for Brighton and Hove

Friday's Argus reports that the Green council plans to introduce a maximum speed limit of 20 mph in all residential areas of the city.

This is accurate - but hardly news! The local election manifesto, published before the last local election and setting out the Greens' programme for the city should we be elected, was quite clear that we would follow the lead of Portsmouth, Leicester and other cities by introducing the 20 mph limit.

Perhaps accurate AND timely is too much to expect from any media organisation.


There are loads of reasons why a 20 mph speed limit is a good idea: it will (ironically) speed up traffic flows, by reducing the need for so many stops and starts, it will improve safety (there will be fewer accidents, and those that still occur will be far less likely to be fatal), it will improve air quality (already at dangerously poor levels in many areas of the city - and this, in turn, is likely to save money in fines payable if EU safety limits are breached), and it will reduce the constant noise of traffic many of us endure almost 24 hours a day. I'll stop there - you get the point.

But what seems remarkable to me is that most people who are against the idea seem to be concentrating on two completely different arguments: whether such a limit would be enforceable, and whether it would be popular.

Whether or not it seems popular in advance is surely irrelevant. The Green Party has a clear electoral mandate to introduce the limits, and, if voters don't like the impact of Green policies they will, I imagine, vote for someone else next time. Personally, I don't see that happening though: most people I have spoken to are delighted at the proposal. Indeed, our 20 mph speed limit policy was one of the most popular with voters I canvassed ahead of last year's elections.

And as for its enforceability - well that's all about police priorities. Of course the police COULD enforce the limit, everywhere, if it wanted. It would mean diverting resources away from their efforts to tackle other crimes of course (they could, for example, stop wasting cash pursuing users and suppliers of soft drugs) - but that's a matter for them. Picking and choosing which laws of the land to enforce is happening all the time - that's why we're only now seeing the first prosecution in Sussex for a breach of the Hunting Act - eight years after it entered the statute books, and despite countless reported breaches.

If it really was impossible to enforce a 20 mph speed limit, why have them at all? And they already exist in many areas.

I look forward to their implenentation: it will make our city a safer, cleaner, quieter, place for everyone.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The increasing bitterness of former Brighton council leader Mary Mears

Sometimes I think the Brighton Tories really can't stand the reality that they've lost control of the council - and that the Greens' attitude is  far more representative of the city's mood and feel than theirs.

Yesterday's meeting of the city council was a case in point.

During a discussion of whether to give teenagers leaving local council care priority when allocating council housing, former Tory council leader Mary Mears she said that no Green Party member except council leader Bill Randall had any knowledge at all about housing policy - a barbed insult directed at all Green councillors with an interest in housing, but particularly Cabinet Member for housing Liz Wakefield.

This was typical. As a member of the council's Housing Management Consultative Committee I've spent most of the last year watching Mary become increasingly bitchy towards Liz.

Personally, I think it has little to do with housing, but is really about the bitterness she feels as a result of rejection when, last May, her administration was thrown out on its ear by the city's electorate.

But perhaps worse for her, the infighting within the Tory group that followed saw her ousted as local leader, to be replaced by Geoffrey Theobald - and her right-hand-woman Maria Caulfield (and Tory housing spokesperson, let's remember) lost her seat.

Not only had the voters had enough of Mary's Tories, they had had enough of her chum and housing spokesperson - and even the local Tories had had enough of her. No wonder she's bitter.

But throwing insults around the council chamber is hardly going to help. If it did she'd probably have got over it by now, judging from her performances over the last 11 months.

I really think she should apologise to Liz - not just for yesterday's outburst but for all her slights over the last year - accept democracy in action, and move on.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Brighton Green councillor asks: is it time to ban voting?

Yesterday's Brighton Argus asked a slightly chilling and provocative but completely practical question: 'Is it time to ban protests?'

It made the point that most participants are merely acting out their favoured hobbies (be they marching, baiting the police, or whatever), that hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent by the police dealing with the marches, they disrupt the local economy and that they don't change anything anyway.

Well I think if we go down this road we should go one further: ban voting.

Most participants are just serial politicians (who have never done a decent days work in their lives) - whatever their chosen party - acting out their favoured hobbies: talking about themselves, and how they've got all the answers, wearing rosettes, delivering pointless leaflets and sitting outside polling stations with clipboards feeling self-important.

They cost a packet too. More than protests. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent by the police and other agencies to make sure they pass off peacefully and properly.

Anyone, like me, who has had to take time off to look after children whose schools are closed on election days will know that they cause massive disruption to the economy.

And finally, they don't change anything anyway. Whoever wins, it's just another set of politicians in charge. The Greens, admittedly, are doing things differently - but you've only got to open a local rag in Brighton to see how quickly they are trashing the city with their mad ideas.

So yes, we should ban protests, but we must ban voting at the same time.

They don't tolerate either in North Korea - and that's why Pyongyang is thriving while Brighton is such a crappy place to live.

Remember kids: Christianity is stupid. Communism is good. Shop as usual, and avoid panic buying.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Twitter hashtags and the latest Leveson revelations

Today I did something I rarely have time to do: listened to the Radio Four PM programme - and it raised two issues but didn't link them: the latest revelations about the unacceptable links between politicians and the media from the Leveson Enquiry, and the political influence of the use of 'hashtags' on twitter.

It seems to me the issues are intimately linked: they are really about the same thing, who (or what) has influence on our politicians, and the policies they champion, whether that has a negative impact on British democracy, does it matter, and is there anything we can do about it.

I'll explain why, and try to answer the questions I've raised in turn.

Basically, it emerged that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt acted as a 'cheerleader' for News International and James Murdoch. Just when he was being asked to judge, impartially, over Murdoch's bid to buy a controlling stake in Sky TV, it has emerged he was being far from impartial.

This is almost as scary as anything that's come out of Leveson: the idea that media moguls are close to top political figures and that this means that objective decisions aren't being made, even when the politicians concerned are acting in a quasi-judicial way.

Opposition politicians have called for Jeremy Hunt's resignation over the matter - but at the time of writing he's hanging on. I think they are right, but I can't imagine it'll make a lot of difference: Hunt's case is just symptomatic of the 'too close' relationship between politicians and the media.

The brief discussion about twitter examined the way that tweeps (as twitter users are known) use 'hashtags' (basically headlines preceded by a # symbol) to summarise or amuse the contents of their tweets (messages). It made the point that the Government's spin machine was thrown into a tizz by the emergence of the hashtags #pastytax and #grannytax before the budget speech was even over, and that the hashtags ended up influencing the way the media, the politicians themselves, and all the rest of us, ended up talking about the budget.

Famously, twitter only allows messages that are no longer than 140 characters - usually about 20 words tops - and hashtags are usually much shorter: rarely more than ten characters, and usually just one, often made-up but emotive, word long.

As I can testify, this calls for a certain rigour to any commentary on matters political - but the popularity of the platform has changed the way we talk about politics accordingly. It's also (usually) pretty immediate - and this speed and new style of political messaging has thrown the main political parties' spinners into, well, a spin.

But what we heard today was quite unsettling: that politicians are getting into the habit of asking themselves 'what will this look like on twitter?' when considering any policy decision at all - just as Blair and brown always feared the way a policy would look on the front page of the Murdoch-owned Sun or news of the World.

Politicians thinking about the communications implications of their decisions and announcements is nothing new, of course, (indeed it is perhaps a vital part of our democratic discourse since it is they, not the unelected civil servants, who must ultimately answer to the electorate) but the order is crucial: it's one thing to 'spin' the way a policy or sentiment is reported, quite another to let the fear of an amusing but damaging twitter hashtag influence that policy in the first place - and that's exactly what, the BBC implied today, is happening now.

So, in one case we're looking at the media exerting undue influence on politicians, and in another we're looking at the way a particular technology is being used exerting the influence. Neither of these influencing factors have necessarily got anything to do with either the best cause of action, or voters' desires.

It follows, of course, that both of these trends are undermining  good governance - and democracy itself.

We should resist this, as far as we can, by criticising politicians who 'let the comms tail wag the policy dog', and by working hard to expose the nature of relationships (whether they are characterised by inappropriate cosyness, bullying or even bribery) between the media and our elected representatives.

That's not to say we should run shy of using new technology - or the media.

As an elected politician at the local level, I think it's  incumbent on me to use twitter, and any other means of communications with residents, including (as long as it continues to exist anyway) traditional media like The Argus, to converse with residents about what are the best policies to pursue, and what I'm up to on voters' behalf.

That's just about being #accountable and doing #techdemocracy properly.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

I'm proud to be a Brightonian

Well I'm back, as I've finally got my computer working again - with a little help from my friends and the Ubuntu 'community' (I bet if I used Microsoft or Apple software to run this bastard computer it would actually have cost me money - don't you just love alternatives to capitalism in action!)

Last Sunday saw the 'March for England' come to our seaside town. In a nutshell, some 100 fascists were outnumbered about ten to one by anti-fascist counterdemonstrators. They couldn't really have the march they planned, as a result, and most of the visiting fascists were forced to spend a while in holding pens down on Valley Gardens before being marched up to the station and escorted onto trains back to Crawley and London.

The whole affair made my proud to be a Brightonian. The police, depsite earlier warnings on this site and elsewhere, did use the inhuman tactic of kettling - but since they only seem to have used it on the fascist marchers I haven't heard any complaints: although there were a few negative rumblings about the way the police behaved towards counter-demonstrators (see this video clip for an example) most people I've spoken to seemed pleased that the police did act in an even-handed way, and didn't come across as being on the fascists' 'side' - something that has ceratinly been alleged in previous years and would have been an absolute disaster given recent reports of racism in the police in London, Northern Ireland and elsewhere (but, thankfully, not in Sussex).

As Brighton and Hove City Council's Cabinet Member with responsibility for community safety, I'll be discussing all the issues I'm aware of with the police - and seeing if any lessons can be learned for our city. If you are aware of any incidents you'd like me to pick up, do leave comments below and I'll do so of course.

There has been much debate since Sunday - at least among Green Party supporters - about whether the enormous counter-demonstration, which ensured the event became front-page news locally and regionally, and even attracted some national coverage - was effectively giving the 'oxygen of publicity' to the fascists.

I see the argument - the first time the March for England came there was almost no resistance, and they were left, bemused, to have their picnic at Valley Gardens before sloping off home again, relatively unnoticed.

But I take the opposite view.

Fascist ideals are so invidious, attacking not just individual groups but our whole sense of community, that I think it's important that they DO receive the 'oxygen of publicity' - and are therefore subject to the scrutiny under which these sort of ideas (and their cheerleaders) almost always collapse. And it's vital that such scrutiny takes place in the context of a clear majority message that fascism won't be tolerated here in Brighton.

The numbers on the streets on Sunday made that point really well, and that's one reason why I'm really proud to be a Brightonian.

They also seems to have thrown the fascist movement into some disarray: it has been reported today that the English Defence League is to merge with the British Freedom Party, with a new set of (lovely) policies, including a ban on new mosque developments, leaving the EU, banning the Burqa and Niqab, promoting what they claim are Christian values, and halting ALL unskilled immigration. Nice.

Fascist-watchers are already predicting the move will mean the end of the British National Party as the far-right field just isn't big enough for all of them. Good!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Embed 2012 - the next 'viral' campaign video? I think not!

The Kony 2012 video has been watched by millions worldwide: and although it has attracted a fair deal of (quite justified) criticism, it has raised the profile of child soldiers in central Africa - and the duty on us all to try and put a stop to their use.

Of perhaps most interest though is the way the video went 'viral' on the Internet, and the way a short film being directly distributed, for free, can help raise the profile of a campaign and generate mass interest, commentary and even action.

Imagine how difficult that would be if embedding video clips on websites - particularly blogs and other sites using free Content Management Systems (CMSs) like Blogger and Wordpress - was prohibited.

But that is exactly the likely outcome of moves to make CMS providers legally responsible for the embedding of any copyrighted video clips onto any websites without permission. Since it is (almost) impossible for a CMS to tell whether the copyright-owner WANTS the clip to be distributed for free (as in the Kony 2012 video), or doesn't, it'll be easier just to remove the ability to embed ANY CLIP AT ALL from websites using free CMSs.

This clip, produced by the team at Russia Today's excellent Alyona Show, explores some of the issues in perhaps the ultimate ironic take on Kony 2012 - I imagine far fewer people will be inspired to share a video clip about copyight protection on the Intrnet than one about child soldiers in Uganda.

I really can't see 'Embed 2012' becoming the next video clip to go viral on the Internet - but I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Supporting Brighton shops on Record Store Day 2012

Regular readers of this 'blog may have noticed a few a days of radio silence - it's not because there's nothing going on, or because I've had nothing to say, but because I've suffered a good old fashioned technological meltdown.

Last year I thought it would be a great plan to build my own computer - and not let any Microsoft products anywhere near it. It was easy - and cheap - but now my Ubuntu 11.10 operating system has stopped working and I haven't had time to sort it out, alas. So I'm back to a crappy laptop running Windows - and I've been a little quiet in the blogosphere.

But I couldn't keep quiet for long in the face of another innovative idea to support local independent busineses in the face of onslaught from the multinational media corporations that control so much of our lives.

So I had to share the news that Brighton-based Resident Records has just won a poll to find the best independent record shop in the UK, for the second year running. The poll was conducted by the people behind Record Store Day, a UK-wide event taking place today - April 21st - to try to persuade music-lovers to shun the big multiples in favour of their local independent counterparts.

Record Store Day is a brilliant campaign: trying to raise awareness of the expertise and added-value that local stores can provide. Sure, HMV staff can probably tell you all about forthcoming releases on the major labels - but try having a meaningful chat about  the history of guitarists that have ever worked with, say, Captain Beefheart - or ask about up and coming local bands - and you'll probably be disappointed.

All of us want to see our shopping streets retain their quirky charm. No-one wants to see Brighton become just another outpost of Clone-town Britain - and sometimes that means not just campaigning against the big chains, but talking up the offer from local stores.

I'll be celebrating Record Shop Day with a visit to Resident Records in the North Laine and Rounder in The Lanes. I might even buy a record or two - I'll definitely have a chat about music. I hope you'll join me, by visiting your local independent record store, wherever you are!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Kettling by the police - and why it could cause real problems at next week's Brighton March for England

Next Sunday will see fascists from around the country come to Brighton for the 'March for England' - although the slightly scary English defence League aren't officially taking part, many of their members and supporters will be doing so.

Last week, wearing my hat as Brighton Council Cabinet Member for Communities, I went to see the police to make clear that we are a zero-tolerance city for hate crime, and that anything which is, or looks like, racism or homophobia, should lead to a prompt arrest.

The police said they would indeed take action against any such hate speech (or gestures), but stressed they would take an even hand when it comes to dealing with any crimes apparently conducted by anti-fascist counter-protesters too.


The police have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest, and to prevent any lawful political march (and, since we live in a free democracy, it is quite lawful for fascists to make their political point by marching, as long as it doesn't stray into hate crime) descending into criminality.

As a council, we too think everyone should be free to peacefully protest, as long as doing so presents neither a threat to public safety or the threat of serious disruption to residents, visitors of businesses going about their normal business.

There will always be some disruption of course - the test is whether that disruption is serious.

Next Sunday's march will be a difficult test for both the council and the police - it is really rare to have to manage two sets of protesters at the same time, especially when a few members of each group are intent on disrupting the actions of the other.

I wish the police well - and really hope we do see some arrests if any of the marchers are guilty of bringing any unacceptable racist or homophobic bile to the streets of Brighton and Hove.

After last year's march (pictured) there was a perception (rightly or wrongly) that the police were ill-prepared and took the side of the nationalists. I hope we don't see a repeat of that perception - and I have been assured by the police that we won't.

But even if the police are able to act in an even-handed way, they will lose all credibility if they resort to any sort of kettling at Victoria Gardens as they did last year - especially if innocent bystanders are caught up in it: again, this is reported as having happened last year.

'Kettling' - the practise of keeping protesters captive in a public space, sometimes for hours at a time - is immoral, probably unlawful (as it represents a police mass arrest without charge - although this hasn't been properly tested in court), and has been condemned by human rights activists, lawyers and politicians.

I expect the police not to resort to any such tactics this year - whatever happens. If someone is reasonably suspected of committing a crime, they should be arrested, charged and detained. If they aren't, they shouldn't be held against their will. Simple.

If they get this wrong, they will have missed an opportunity to right some of the perceived wrongs from last year. I wish them luck.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Why I'm looking forward to Brighton's marathon tomorrow

I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's Brighton Marathon.

Not because I'll be repeating my feat of running it in 2010 (evidence left!) - I was glad to raise more than £600 for the Brighton Unemployed Families Centre, and I'm proud of the physical achievement too, but I'm not surprised the first recorded marathon runner (Pheidippides) dropped dead after completing his run and, for me at least, once in a lifetime is enough.

No, I'm looking forward to it mainly because the city has something of a swagger when it hosts major events, people will be smiling (whatever the weather) - and, of course, as many worthy charities will raise a few bob. Many runners will achieve something they've always wanted to too: there'll be a few life-changing experiences in the air.

Of course many of the city's roads will be closed, and there'll be far fewer cars and buses around. That will make it harder for some to get around, and some local businesses will suffer sever disruption and loss of custom. Many more will see a boost in trade, as thousands of supporters and runners head to the city. Such are the swings and roundabouts of living or doing business in a great city of international importance like Brighton and Hove.

Operating in a regional centre is great for business. But it does sometimes mean that business gets disrupted by the events that go with being such a city. I'm sure that, on balance, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages though, whether the event is a popular one like Brighton Marathon or the Pride parade or a less popular one like the next week's March for England or an international squatters' event.

I thought it quite telling that yesterday The Argus contacted me to say that  the March for England, and the presence of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators, are making some traders worried for their takings - but there was no mention at all of the certain disruption tomorrow's marathon will cause.

Of course some businesses (mainly the pubs serving lager to the fascists) will benefit greatly from next weekend's march: but I hope most, whose takings will likely be down, will see this as part of the price they must pay to live and trade in a regional centre in a functioning democracy and join those of us who will be trying lawfully to persuade the fascists to take their march elsewhere next year.

Friday, 13 April 2012

A message for Argus journalists and Tory MPs

I don't expect this post to get much traffic - so I'll keep it short: but I hope it is read by two sets of people I know read my humble 'blog, at least from time to time!

Increasingly, the once-great paper of record for our city, and a few Tory MPs, have turned to this 'blog in the hope of finding out the opinion of the Green Party of Brighton and Hove, or of Brighton and Hove City Council, on matters of the day.

Wednesday's Argus provides a case in point: it carried an article about a potentially-inflammatory meeting about Travellers being held tonight.

Personally, I hope everyone there behaves with decorum. I met police earlier this week to discuss their response to the meeting, and have been assured that officers will be present - and if anyone crosses the line of criminality it will be dealt with.

But that's not the point: Tory MP Mike Weatherley seemed to think my views were in some way shared by others. His quotes talked of the views of "Green councillors..." (ie more than one). Now my views may or may not be shared by other Green councillors - but my 'blog certainly said no such thing.

Now I know we keep hearing that literacy standards are falling, but I'm sure Mike can read - and you certainly can't be a newspaper reporter without basic literacy skills - so I can only assume that the disclaimer on this 'blog is being deliberately ignored to make mischief.

I clearly state (eyes right!):

I am a member of both Brighton and Hove City Council and Sussex Police Authority, the Green Party's Home Affairs speaker.

But the views represented here are, unless directly attributed, entirely my own - and not those of either authority, The Green Party, or the Green Group of councillors.

Honestly, the idea that somehow I speak for any other Green Party councillors than myself is very flattering but it's completely wrong. So please stop it! If you want to hear the views of the Green Party of Brighton and Hove, visit the party's website. If you're a journalist, call the party's press officer, don't just lazily quote from this 'blog! If you must (I realise sometimes news is hard to come by) then read and recall the disclaimer: I'm proud of my views, but they are just that: my own views!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Greens select European election candidates for 2014: perhaps signalling yet anoher by-election in Brighton and Hove

Keith Taylor MEP (pictured) will be the Green Party's main candidate for the European Parliamentary election in 2014, it has been announced today.

After a hard-fought battle for nomination the former Brighton councillor was chosen to top the 'party list' and therefore face re-election to the Brussels institution.

Two other local councillors, Alex Phillips and
Jason Kitcat, have been selected to represent the party - and the region - in Europe, should the Greens win enough votes.

Alex will be elected if the party secures enough votes to return two MEPs. It is usual in such circumstances for a councillor to resign from the council to take up the parliamentary post - thus triggering a by-election at Brighton and Hove City Council.

It's impossible to predict exactly how many votes that will take, as the rather obscure D'Hondt system will be used - but she is likely to be elected if the Greens notch up about 13% of the votes, only a few more than the party managed in 2009.

Perennial eco-socialist campaigner Derek Wall is third on the list, and Brighton council leader-elect Jason Kitcat a strong fourth.

The thing about elections though is that you never really know what's going to happen - if you stand you have to be prepared to win, and serve the local community if you do so. (Something George Galloway will need to get to grips with in the coming years.)

Fifth is Miriam Kennet - academic and director of the Green Economics Institute.

Anyway, the whole Green Party list of ten candidates (the maximum that could be returned) is as follows:

1 Keith Taylor
2 Alexandra Phillips
3 Derek Wall
4 Jason Kitcat
5 Miriam Kennet
6 Beatrix Campbell
7 Jonathan Essex
8 Beverley Golden
9 Jonathan Kent
10 Andrea Claire Smith

Good luck to all of them!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

'Greens cannot continue to put saving the planet ahead of local business, tourism and jobs'

Sometimes I worry that the best way for people to engage in party politics to make their world a better place is by joining or supporting a party that's actually likely to win an election - and shape its policies 'from the inside'.

There are few places (admittedly, an ever-growing number) outside Brighton and Hove where the Green Party has a realistic prospect of election at any level anytime soon.

I know many Greens in London, for example, who are thinking hard about the logic of the scare tactics suggesting they vote Labour in the forthcoming mayoral elections, fearing that a Green vote will be more likely to return Boris Johnson than Jenny Jones to City Hall.

Obviously they believe that Labour is a party whose policies are unlikely to deliver the change they want to see, but that it will do lot more good - or less harm - than the Conservative Party, the only credible alternative.

I've always thought this a fairly defeatist, and short-termist attitude: parties don't win power at their first election and changing our world is a bit of a long game. After all, it was 27 years between the election of the first Labour Party MP and the party's first foray into government - and they'd never have done it if all their supporters voted for the then much more credible Liberals in horror at yet another Tory victory.

But I say 'fairly', and I'm always sympathetic to those who hold that view.

Every once in a while though, a figure in the Labour Party says something so silly that I remember why I left the party in the first place (something I had to do when the party abandoned Clause 4 of its constitution, and effectively, the principle of socialism), something that redoubles my commitment to the Greens - and makes me more convinced than ever that if I were I Londoner I'd be voting for Jenny.

This time, it was the turn of local Labour deputy leader Warren Morgan (pictured).

Commenting on an Argus story about parking charges here in Brighton, he said:

... Greens cannot continue to put saving the planet ahead of local business, tourism and jobs...

Really? So Warren, a hard-working councillor who (usually) commands my utmost respect, would put the interests of tourists, businesses and jobs above that of 'saving the planet'?

Talk about re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic!

Suddenly, supporting the Labour Party seems a little more short-termist than before. He sums up neatly one of the biggest problems of politics that rewards policies for the next 100 days over policies for the next 100 years.

Isn't the best support we can give local businesses, tourists and jobs to adopt policies that mean they are likely to exist into the long-term?

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Liberal Democrats' collapse in Brighton and Hove - another example of our seaside town setting the trend?

In 2005, when I was selected as a Green Party council candidate here in Brighton, there were three Lib-Dems on the city council - and, propping up a minority Labour Party administration, they held (some) real power here at a local level.

In 2007, when I was elected, three were reduced to two - the Greens, meanwhile, won 12 seats, up from six. By the time of the next election, there had been a few by-elections and defections and the tally stood at 13 Greens and just one Lib-Dem.

In 2011, 23 Greens were elected - and no Lib-Dems at all.

Of course, the two facts aren't entirely unrelated: the Green Party is, of course, not only about environmentalism (though it certainly is about that!)

No, it's also about liberalism and democracy, and anyone turned off by the tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee politics of the Tory and Labour parties, both of whom have amply demonstrated time and time again that they don't care much for either liberalism or democracy, will naturally be drawn to other parties. The key factor in deciding which one will often be credibility, and in much of the country the Lib-Dems offered a far more credible alternative to the bigger two parties than the Greens.

Crucially, here in Brighton and Hove that situation was reversed: and the city has elected the first Green Party council in the country. The thing is, that has just been seen by many political commentators as an anomoly, unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.

But the repeated betrayals of the Lib-Dems in the coalition (it all started with their voting to triple tuition fees despite a clear pre-election pledge to do the exact opposite and it hasn't really stopped since) have opened up such divisions in the party that they seem to be braced to start letting the Greens into town halls - at their expense - in this may's local elections.

Though we don't have any here, May 3rd sees 1,000s of council seats up and the down the country up for grabs, and according to my dispatches from election barricades around the land, the Lib-Dems are giving up even before the campaign in many places.

Take Maidstone, for example. Four years ago, the Lid-Dems controlled the council. Now they are standing just 11 candidates in the 18 wards up for grabs: the Greens are standing 12.

In Oxford, I'm told, the Lid-Dems have been twisting the arms of dormant members, ex-councillors and current members who had planned on retiring to ensure they can stand a 'full slate' of 24. The Greens, by contrast, have had to turn credible candidates away, and at least one Lib-Dem candidate has promised to vote Green in the ward in which they live!

In Nuneaton, the Greens are standing six candidates; the Lib-Dems none at all.

I could go on.

Brighton and Hove has played a key role in the development of so many trends: non-conformist churches, sea swimming, mods fighting rockers, cinema - again, I could go on.

Of course it won't happen on May 3rd - and we're not likely to see a repeat of the Brighton and Hove result anywhere else (except maybe Norwich) any time soon, but I wonder if, one day, the replacement of the Lib-Dems by the Greens as the third party of local government in the UK be the next trend to come out of our city?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Happy Easter Brighton!

It's Easter - in case you had missed it: the time of year when spring is springing and the tills are ringing to the tune of chocolate sales like there's no tomorrow. All good, I guess.

But it's also the time when our thoughts turn to the story of the death of Jesus - or a time of year celebrated by all major religions throughout history, whatever your bag really.

Every year I remember this clip and give it a quick watch: it makes me laugh every time. (In case the 'Lincoln Logs' reference is too old-school, or American, for you, here's an explanation).

One of the things I love most about Brighton is the cheeky way religion co-exists with non-conformity and modernity. Just yesterday, for example, I was riding the Volks Railway to the Marina marvelling at he fact that some kind of Jesus-oriented Easter event was taking place just yards away from the liberal mecca of our town's nudist beach in Madeira Drive.

Today I'll be celebrating Easter by heading down to Western Road to see the wonderful Easter Bonnet Parade in aid of the Sussex Beacon. There's nothing like watching a gang of drag queens taking over a shopping street to tell the story of the death and resurrection of the son of God, I reckon.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Is it time to question the relationship between our local media and the advertising industry?

The Leveson Inquiry, which has kept many of us entertained, saddened and shocked in pretty equal measures for months - has been taking a pretty wide look at the role of the media, particularly the print media, and the ability of the Press Complaints Commission to regulate it when things go wrong.

It has been quite focussed on News International - and the scandal of illegal 'phone hacking by some of its reporters in search of salacious stories about celebrities and even victims of crime - but it has been shining a spotlight on the whole business of media ethics, corruption in the police, and the relationships between politicians and the media.

It's exposed the sometimes cosy links between the media and spin doctors working for the Labour and Tory parties - and the fact that some journalists themselves have been perhaps the biggest 'spinners' of all, and the ways in which meetings and cosy chats behind closed doors has often shaped the way  newspapers have reported the news.

In extreme cases, journalists have been given closer access to politicians in exchange for favourable reporting, and the opposite has been true too: journalists have, on occasion, threatened spin doctors with negative coverage to get their own way.

Chilling stuff: but hardly a surprise. I'm sure all this happens all the time, even at a local level.

But one thing that has escaped the Leveson spotlight is the very business model of the local print media. (The broadcast media is quite different - and I'll examine that in a later post)

Up and down the country, local papers make most of their money by selling not news, but advertising space. Yes, the cover price helps, but it doesn't even begin to cover the costs of printing and distributing a newspaper. The real money comes from selling a potential audience to advertisers, both locally, and to big agencies - sometimes internationally - who then sell-on the space to agencies employed by big-ticket clients like  car manufacturers and supermarkets.

That's why there are so many free newspapers cropping up all the time - we've got loads of them here in Brighton alone. That's why local newspapers are so coy about admitting exactly how many copies they distribute, and are so keen to include on-line readers, who pay nothing for the privilege, in their totals.

And that's why you'll rarely - if ever - find a newspaper that employs as many journalists as it does advertising sales staff.

Fine - you might think - that's the way the economy works.

It's just the free market at work: regardless of whether you think advertising is, essentially, pollution of our mental environment, or if adverts fuel  consumption-based lifestyles which in turn lead to massive household debt and environmental degradation.

But I think it's worse than that: a free media is an essential part of a functioning democracy, even at a local level - and if newspapers are dependent on advertisers for their very survival they can hardly be said to be free.

If a regular advertiser does something illegal, say, or just embarrassing, a local newspaper is very unlikely to report it: that wouldn't exactly be good business sense!

I've seen this cosy relationship between advertisers and the media at first hand myself.

Nearly two decades ago I worked as Editor of a group of London local papers owned by Newsquest, the US-owned publisher that also owns our very own local Argus.

One edition covered Enfield, and when I dared allow a reporter to quote an environmentalist group celebrating the closure of a local car factory on the grounds that 'there will be a few less cars', my boss, the regional Managing Editor gave me a proper dressing down, telling me that the local Chamber of Commerce was upset by the coverage, and that in order to preserve 'his' newspapers' relationship with 'his' advertisers, I should promise never to mention - let alone quote from - the group again! Suffice it to say, I didn't stay in that job for too long!

So if the Leveson Inquiry is really going to get to the bottom of the so-called 'cosy relationships' that affect the news we read - and the very ability of the media to do its job and contribute to stronger, better-informed, more democratic communities - I hope it will consider the way 'local' newspapers work with advertisers, and perhaps even the very way their business model works.

Friday, 6 April 2012

London Green Party's latest political broadcast

I've just seen this: I think it's great, but of course some will argue that this is why we don't let children vote in the first place!

Local democracy in this country is a bit of a scandal: derisory turnouts on an electoral register that doesn't include all sorts of people - and Government proposals to change the way electoral registers are collated will only make things worse.

Whatever you think about the Green Party - or this advert - I hope all lovers of democracy will resist the Government's plans as far as possible.

And, while we are at it, do ask your MP if they'll support the votes@16 campaign to give 16 and 17 year olds a voice too!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The police must step in to make sure Brighton Traveller meeting doesn't stray into hate speech

After months of consultation with residents and hours of officer time Brighton and Hove City Council last month approved plans to build a new permanent traveller site in the city - alongside the temporary facility at Horsdean.

This is a step forward in terms of allowing members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities who can demonstrate a local connection to our city to live here - without giving up their traditional caravan-dwelling lifestyle.

It will only have 16 pitches (almost certainly not enough) but seems likely to have a major impact in terms of dealing with the many inequalities faced by the GRT communities: basically, they do less well at school, are likely to die much younger, disproportionately to be the victims of crime and domestic violence, and so on - a really good summary of these issues was published early this week by, of all people, the Government. A permanent site will undoubtedly help reverse some of these outcomes, at least for those families lucky enough to get a pitch.

But judging by the words of some local politicians, you'd think  the council had just authorised a nuclear power station on their doorstep!

Of course there are always tensions between Brighton's settled and GRT communities: but to my mind the new site will lessen these.

That's why I'm so disappointed that some politicians seem to be exacerbating them.

Take Hove's Tory MP Mike Weatherley, for example.

Next week he will hold a public meeting at the site (despite the fact that it isn't even in his Hove constituency!), not to try and dampen down and address any concerns, but, as far as I can see, to stoke them up.

His website proclaims:

Any resident who has concerns about the Green Party’s soft stance on the illegal invasion of our parks by travellers is encouraged to attend.
Residents have quite frankly had enough of travellers infringing the law at their expense.

Well, we'll see what happens, of course.

Residents have got an absolute right to freely discuss any matters of concern to them - especially when it concerns public policy - and politicians have an absolute right to facilitate those discussions by hosting public meetings and so on.

But such discussions must remain lawful - and politicians must be quick to stamp on any hate speech, racist mutterings or incitement to violence.

And when politicians are themselves guilty of that themselves, the police must take swift, decisive action.

Otherwise, we'll see a familiar pattern play itself out: tolerated hate speech turning into actual, physical violence: whether that takes the form of a 'torched' caravan, or an escalation in the bullying of GRT children attending our schools, or anything else.

I'm sure no-one, least of all any of our city's politicians, would want to see that.

I hope police will attend the meeting with enough numbers - and resolve - to send out a very clear signal: that they will not tolerate any form of hate speech in our city, whether it's directed at GRT communities or anyone else, and that they will make arrests if that's appropriate response.

Direct action in the arts - new sound installation takes a pop at Tate gallery's corporate sponsors

Direct Action comes in many shapes and sizes - basically anything that tries to change the world we live in by means other then voting for politicians to do it for us - can be defined as direct action.

There are peaceful actions and violent ones, clever ones and stupid ones, ones that attract just individuals, and some that involve millions.

But they are all attempts to increase our involvement in the decision-making processes that shape our everyday environment.

And that, in itself, is a pretty good thing to my mind. Having seen, at close quarters, the fact that less than a third of city residents voted in last year's council elections, we have to find new ways to make people involved in policy delivery and decisions: voting (alone) clearly isn't the answer.

That's why this council administration is so keen on delivering neighbourhood councils with devolved budgets (ie real money to spend): to try and deepen our local democracy by getting more people involved - even if it's only for a few on-line minutes here and there: the traditional meeting in the dusty community centre just doesn't work for many people any more.

And that's why I'm so pleased that Brighton Police are committed to facilitating peaceful protest - another form of (often unplanned) direct action. We saw that commitment in action on Saturday, when a march of the Squatters Network of Brighton was abandoned by police when it became clear that everyone's intent was entirely peaceful.

And that's why I'm always on the look out for any planned direct action in Brighton or beyond, better to understand the nature of 21st Century democracy, and better to encourage peaceful activism and dialogue between activists, the council and the police.

All of which brings me on to one of the cleverist bits of direct action I've come across in a while: last week the 'Tate a Tate' audio tour went live.

Anyone wishing to can download, for free of course, alternative audio tours of the Tate's two London Galleries - and the boat ride connecting them - exploring the role of corporate sponsorship in current exhibitions.

They can then listen to them on their 'phone - or an mp3 player or other portable audio device - while they're perusing the galleries.

The 'audio tours' focus on BP, and the oil multi-national's role in trashing the Tar Sands, destroying the Gulf of Mexico, and, ultimately, fuelling the increasing climate chaos that seems likely to engulf us all eventually.

But, and this is the point really, they are new art themselves, and the entire project is itself an inspiring artistic take on the role of sponsorship in the arts.

And it makes for a great - and almost free -  family fun day out!

(It's not the first time BP's relationship with the Tate Gallery has come under the artistic spotlight - do check out the Rev Billy clip above!)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Taking on world leaders - with laughter!

This morning I received the latest 'tactical briefing' from the Adbusters' Media Foundation.

Every few weeks the good folk who began calls for Occupy Wall Street send details of their latest campaigns and events.

I've been a bit of a convert to the Adbusters' way of thinking for years now - basically that we need to protect our mental environment from take-over by the consumer culture which lies at the root of so many of our social ills - but lately the movement has been gathering some momentum. The 'Occupy' movement - and its central claim that the world should be ordered so as to best deliver for the 99% - not the 1%  -  has inspired - and drawn in - thousands of activists into similar actions around the world. Of course, we had our own 'Occupy Brighton' encampment for a while.

And you never know which of their global calls for action will catch the imagination next.

So when Adbusters talks - I listen: and their latest great idea is for a 'laughriot' on May18, to mark the G8 leaders' meeting at Camp David (Obama's country pile).

The idea basically, is that on May 18 we all celebrate our shared humanity, and mark the absurdity of the G8 leaders' summit (or, more precisely, that such a gathering can be a force for good in our everyday lives), by, simply, stopping what we are doing and laughing.

We can do it as part of a flashmob, in our workplace or schools, or even on our own.

Adbusters themselves, in its characteristically self-important tone, think the 'laughriot'

... could be a delicious defining moment - the day when the people of the world have a good laugh together and, from that point on, start thinking differently about how the world should be governed.
They're having a laugh aren't they?

CISPA, the latest US attack on Internet freedom

Well just as a media spotlight is forcing the Government to backtrack on its latest threat to our freedom to communicate on the Internet, another threat comes along. This time, it comes from the US, and it's CISPA - the 'Cyber Intelligence Sharing to Protect Act'.

Basically, the Act, which is working its way through the US legislative process as we speak, would allow ISPs to monitor the content of all text messages and emails, share their content with other ISPs and the US security services, and even tamper with or refuse to deliver messages for any (deliberately loosely defined) 'cyber security' purpose.

No matter that nobody really knows what that means.

No matter that that will surely include any messages relating to the transfer of any copyrighted file - or the mere mention of hacking.

No matter that the US just doesn't have any jurisdiction over the Internet.

Basically, if CISPA becomes law in the US, we'll all have to get used to the fact that all of our messages, however we choose to send them, are public property, and gone are the days when we can communicate freely amongst ourselves without the US Government and the corporation listening in to every word we say.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Giving up our freedom in the name of fear

The world news on the BBC or CNN is so awful these days I've taken to lately to get a different perspective on world events: and this week the station has devoted hours to new US legislation that allows journalists to be imprisoned without trial if they report about terrorists' motives with anything approaching neutrality rather than condemnation.

This year's National Defense Authorization Act - or NDAA - is already the subject of a lawsuit by civil liberties activists like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Chris Hedges, and is already 'silencing' some US journalists, it has been reported.

Scary stuff. But, hey, that's America right?

No sooner had I forgotten all about the NDAA, I saw a BBC report into new plans for GCHQ to be empowered to monitor all emails, website visits and text messages sent in the UK, for the vague purpose of 'the fight against crime and terrorism'.

Of course, the security services can ALREADY access all these things if they are looking: the main difference is that the new proposal is for a general poke about in everyone's business, all the time.

Spy chiefs and Government officials are being quick to deny any plans for a general data trawl: but their main argument looks to me to be about how impractical the idea is rather than any moral or human rights-based reasoning.

Well, what's impratical today is often common-place within a year or two, so their words are no consolation to me.

Of course we need to ensure the police and security services can keep us safe from those who would blow us up - but we need to get all this in perspective. Is giving up our privacy from the Government a price worth paying?

With the price of a stamp going up to 50p a pop, and a recent report showing that 98% of families with children living in Brighton council homes have on-line access, more and more of our most personal communications take place on-line.

Admittedly there's been more 'mainstream' resistance in the UK this weekend than US politicians have seen over the NDAA - but if it dies down we'll have yet another piece of draconian legislation limiting our internet freedom.

I'm reminded of the speech V makes in V for Vendetta, in which he lays some blame for the Orwellian dystopia in which he lives on a population that had willingly given up its human rights in the name of fear and security.

Here's a clip. I don't pretend to own the copyright. If anyone who does wishes me to take it down, just get in touch and I will. As I've said before, I've no wish to go to prison or have my life destroyed or anything for violating intellectual property laws.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A new news source for Brighton and Hove? The Brighton Pasty!

Well whatever you think about pasties - and whether or not it's right to bring their taxation in line with  other foodstuffs: it seems something rather exciting could come of the way The Argus has covered the yarn over the last few days: a new news source for Brighton and Hove.

I don't think they are very advanced yet with their plans but I chatted yesterday with some web-designers and programmers who were so incensed at The Argus dredging up a councillor's tweet to come up with a front-page story on a slow news day that conversation soon turned to bringing forward plans for a  new on-line news source for the city - now preliminarily titled 'The Brighton Pasty'.

The idea seems to be to present a slightly more pro-Green - and anti-big business - outlook on the city's news and to concentrate on the stories our local 'mainstream media' - regional radio and TV as well as various local rags somehow making their 19th Century business model still work in 2012 - miss entirely.

They promise that on-line The Brighton Pasty will never report a story based only a twitter message - and hope the venture attracts a few Argus readers and advertisers.

I don't know if The Brighton Pasty will ever be more than the subject of an amusing conversation over a Sunday evening pint of Hophead, but it does raise a serious point: creative, local tech-savvy professionals believe 'old' newspaper media seems, increasingly, to be out of touch.

If I published a print newspaper right now I'd be concerned by that.

Either way, I'll keep dredging the Internet (as long as the Government lets us do so freely) in the search for stories of interest to us here in Brighton and I look forward to adding The Brighton Pasty to my search list!

Revolutionary vegetable distribution in Brighton

For more than a fortnight now a group of community-minded squatters have been distributing free fresh vegetables to the good folk of Brighton from a shop in St James's Street (pictured).

Basically, they have moved into an empty shop (pictured left), from which they give away (rather than sell) vegetables (as many locally-grown as possible) bought wholesale with any donations.

They say the model is working: that many people can't really afford to donate much but that the occasional spark of generosity - like the punter who took an apple and donated a tenner to the project - keep the model alive.

Everyone seems to like what they're doing: during a visit yesterday I was told it was about four things:  making sure everyone had access to cheap, healthy food, fighting to preserve Brighton from the onward march of clone-town Britain and takeover by the supermarkets, to develop and enhance the local community, and to promote squatting and anti-capitalist economic models. All without a profit in sight.

They're all worthy aims: and I really wish them well.

But one group of people who don't wish them well at all are the Tory and Lib-Dem MPs, egged on by Hove MP Mike Weatherley, who have supported emergency plans to criminalise squatting.

To criminalise it? I think that while there are empty buildings owned by long-term absentee landlords and buildings sitting empty awaiting stalled development schemes, it should actively be encouraged, in order to  bring those buildings back into use and develop alternative models of providing not just housing, but things like fresh vegetables too...

Anyway, after visiting the shop, I took a quick walk to march with the Squatters Network of Brighton to protest against the new law.

We marched along the seafront to Hove Peace statue and back along Western Road. About 200 people marched along the road, blocking the traffic, and all was very peaceful. The police even decided to abandon the march entirely, after about an hour, presumably satisfied of the  intent of all present.

I hope the march, which was very visible, both to holiday-makers and residents of the city, drew attention to the terrible social consequences of the new law - and how they are likely to affect homelessness, and new models of getting good food into the kitchens of local people - in our city.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Green Councillor in Four Letter Pasty Rant!

Well I seem to have caused a bit of a stir (again, I'm afraid) by straying into the the knee-high mud of sending late-night tweets about pasties.

I woke up yesterday to an email offering warm words about 'the Argus story'. When I ventured outside a little later, Brighton seemed to be swarming with billboards (pictured left) proclaiming details of my misdemeanour for all to see.

I duly visited the Jubilee Library to read the screed  in question (of course I don't buy it if I can help it) but gave up after half an hour of waiting, so had to endure about 15 people talking about the article before I even knew what it said!

It took a chat over a pint with some Green Party people from around the region later before someone produced a copy: the 'story' appeared to be simply that I had offended Labour leader Gill Mitchell and the CEO of a pasty business by asking on twitter: 'Honestly, who gives a fuck about pasties?'

Of course it was meant as a humorous way of expressing disappointment that so much media coverage of last week's disastrous budget was about pasties and baked goods: less on the tax cuts for millionaires, increases in tax on pensioners, support for fossil fuels and so on.

I'm glad that I got a chance to express exactly that point (well, sort of....) in the story:

It was a joke that was responding to the news because it's not the only thing going on in the world. The point I was trying to make was that the debate about pasties is distracting from the larger issues.

Clearly I sympathise with any business that is suffering from the appallingly unfair budget...

I can't imagine how slow a news day in Brighton it must have seemed to the Argus bosses in Southampton - or what it means for the once-great evening paper that it is left scrubbing for front-page stories on twitter and the increasing dominance of on-line news services like the ever-improving Brighton and Hove News site - but the powers that be decided my comments were the most important news that day.

I thought the story was ok actually, quite fair. But it was all topped off when former Prime Minister John Prescott, presumably on his way to the football -  was photographed in a white coat, outside Greggs in North Street, waving t'Argus - and my photo (pictured right) around, claiming it evidenced the fact that Greens don't care about jobs!

Of course that's opportunistic - and nonsense. One thing I'm proud of than anything is the work of the Green council in improving wages for low-paid staff, like those who work in Greggs - and our support for job-creating schemes in the city like the Brighton Hospital project and major developments at the Preston Barracks and Circus Street sites.

But what a lovely irony, that we were all paying too much attention to changes in VAT rules on baked goods, laughing at all the Labour and Tory politicians quick to eat and buy pasties and sausage rolls when we are war, when we face a crisis of unemployment, widening inequality, when thousands are dying for democracy in Syria, when we are re-entering recession but refusing to even discuss the failure of the underlying economic strategy, and so on.

And then a Labour politician makes the point beautifully by popping in to hang in with our local pasties (never mind that Greggs, as a national enterprise with near-monopolistic power in the pasty trade, poses an even larger threat to local pasty dealers) here in Brighton! And he's talking about the Green Party when he does so!

But there we go. Of course I'm sorry if my original comment causes anyone any offence, but I'm not sorry I was able to drag criticism of the budget and the media to the front page of the local rag.