Monday, 10 April 2017

Brexit: we need to listen to the working classes

We seem to be heading for the worst of both worlds with Brexit and the Greens seem to buying into an aspirational liberal narrative that might feel fine in Islington but doesn't resonate in Thanet.

On the one hand the environmental laws and workplace rights that the EU has given us look likely to be junked, on the other, government want free trade to continue to ensure that our capitalist economy continues. This is the opposite of what I believe to be a green direction but there is one area that is particularly contentious: the free movement of people.

This free movement of people in the EU, the right to live and work anywhere in the EU is much loved by those who benefit from it (of course). Others don't see it that way.

At our spring conference there was a EU motion which included a commitment to free movement especially for the young (although I can't see why they were singled out). A speech against the motion was given by a plumber (I think) from Yorkshire about how wages in his sector were being depressed by immigration. His speech was delivered calmly and rationally and he spoke eloquently about the feelings of his colleagues - normal working class people.

The return speech distressed me. A shouty rant from an Islington Green belittling the feelings of those working class people that the plumber had spoken of. I was tempted to object to the speech but I wanted to listen through to hear the full argument (which wasn't convincing).

These working class people are those who turned out in droves to vote for Brexit. They state they have been forgotten by the political elite and they state they don't have a voice. We surely need to hear their voices even if we disagree with them.

Those working class people are in a different world to the aspirational liberals. Some of them are accessing food banks - over 1 million food parcels were given out last year in this the fifth richest country in the world. The second largest group to receive these were working people on low incomes.

While there is rhetoric in Remain circles that immigration doesn't affect wages, this isn't really true. While overall incomes might not be affected, the impact on specific groups has been demonstrated. Dustmann et all 2008 stated that if capital is freely available then " the economy will absorb the additional labour force simply by expansion" but "the larger concern of the low-skilled population is indeed justified by the evidence" and "wage competition and wage pressure at the low end of the wage distribution"

A study for the Bank of England by Nickell and Saleheen found that immigration "has a small negative impact on average British wages" and "once the occupational breakdown is incorporated into a regional analysis of immigration in Britain, the immigrant-native ratio has a significant, small, negative impact on average wages. Closer examination reveals that the biggest impact is in the semi/unskilled services sector."

We simply cannot ignore the voices of the working classes and of those on benefits. We wouldn't rule out the opinions of any other section of society would we? We pride ourselves in our inclusiveness, we give people inclusion cards to highlight problems during debates yet we seem to be happy to dismiss the feelings of a group of people who clearly feel left behind and ignored.

We have some quite vocal left liberal people in the party, people in that aspirational group who talk of progress and progressive alliances, people now referred to as 'New Affluent Workers'. They have beautiful ideas, great policies and superb ideals but there is a huge danger that we may forget the 'Traditional Working Classes' and the 'Precariat', those people who are happy to be who they are, who don't seek the next promotion or a bigger house, those people who want an honest job and who just want to have some fun with friends and family.


N.b. I've changed the town in the first paragraph. Originally it said Ilkley but I have been informed that this is a rich North Yorkshire town. I have replaced it with Thanet which I'm quite sure has a high working class element and certain a large Brexit vote.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Fant Farm is safe

A huge sign of relief and hearty congratulations to everyone who has campaigned against the development of Fant Farm (in Maidstone). The planning inspector has dismissed the appeal by the developers and this grade 1 agricultural land can continue to be a farm (or a few farms). Having been heavily involved with previous campaigns to stop developers on this great piece of land, I am really pleased that once again Fant Farm is safe.

The US is now the no.1 rogue climate state and the world’s largest threat

This recent piece in Science spelled out the enormous task the world faces to meet the Paris climate goals, i.e. what we need to do globally to stop runaway catastrophic climate change, and these tasks are in stark contrast to yesterday’s announcement by Trump that the US will increase its pollution and effectively screw the rest of the world.

The tasks have been neatly summarised here but in essence:

Global CO2 emissions have to halve every 10 years until 2050 where they need to be at net zero. They describe this as the ‘carbon law’ (similar to ‘Moore’s Law on computer power which doubles every 18 months).


  1. Emissions from agriculture and deforestation have to fall to zero by 2050.
  2. Carbon sequestration needs to take 5 gigatons of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year by 2050 (we currently emit 40 gt and the world’s trees and soil suck up about 2.5 gt each year).
  3. These tasks are huge and require global cooperation and mobilisation of decarbonisation on a scale similar to being on a war footing. 


Obviously it seems that very little is happening to achieve this but…

…just four days after this was published, Trump scrapped the US effort to reduce
carbon. The US is the second largest CO2 emitting country, emitting 17% of the world’s CO2) which effectively means that without their cooperation the battle to stop climate change is an order of magnitude harder.

To my reckoning, this makes the US the greatest threat to the planet. It makes the US a rogue state. The threat that the US now poses to the entire world is beyond measure and needs a concerted response from those nations who want a future.

It will be interesting to see what reaction the world has to Trump’s climate assault on the rest of the world. It will be interesting to see if any other nation even comments, let alone starts discussing what measures it will take against the US.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Unite for Europe with mum

So I had arranged to meet mum in London yesterday for an early mother's day treat. We were off to the National Portrait Gallery and a meal. She lives in Bristol so London is an easy place to meet. I met Greens on the train up who were going to the Unite for Europe march and having mentioned this to mum, plans were changed to take in the march.

Leaving Park Lane we marched with around a dozen Greens from Kent and there were at least 6 of us from Maidstone. I got interviewed by a couple of UCL students (I must stop jumping in front of a camera at every opportunity). Jon Bartley was there plus load of London Green friends including Caroline Russell.

While I dislike the free market aspect of the EU, the environmental and workplace protection is far better that the UK would have ever managed (this is the 'red tape' that those Brexiteers was removed, i.e. they want to screw people and planet). I'm also a fan of free movement around Europe whether it is allowing UK citizens to work and live in the EU or whether it is allowing other EU citizens to live and work here. We all benefit from these freedoms.

I am proud to be both British and a European and I don't think that just because of 52% of the country voting to leave after a bunch of lies being told in the run up to the referendum should be a mandate to end decades of close ties with Europe. Most countries want a far higher proportion before a constitutional change is made.

We now should have a further referendum on the terms of Brexit once they have been negotiated. People need to go into this with eyes open and the mandate should be clear before we leave - I think a 66% should be required for Brexit.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Electoral fraud in Kent

It has been an interesting week so far in Kent with the jailing of Steven Uncles at the weekend following his conviction of electoral fraud (he stood some fake candidates in the last county council elections). I am pleased that he got his come comeuppance - his treatment of elections was woeful (and fraudulent) and my previous complaint about him was dismissed by the police.

Also breaking news today that Craig McKinley MP for Thanet South has been interviewed by police into excess spending in the 2015 General Election is very welcome. While I hope and pray that Farage never makes it into Parliament, if the Tories are found to have undermined the democratic process in enough seats we may have an illegitimate government (what is happening with the other 28 cases?)

This would call into question the legitimacy of brexit and all of the awful thing that have happened since 2015. That will be something to exercise the lawyers for quite a while!



Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Maidstone council meeting - a question on air pollution

I pressed Maidstone Borough Council at this week’s Council meeting, highlighting that air pollution is currently responsible for around 130 deaths in the borough.  I asked what steps were being taken to address the pollution and how many additional deaths are likely with the planned housing increases around the periphery of Maidstone.

Shockingly, the council stated that they had not estimated the impact on deaths through air pollution as a result of the housing developments.

I have put out this statement: “I was pleased to learn that the council are at least talking about air pollution but really shocked to hear that they have not considered how much worse the air pollution will get with 20,000 new houses on the outskirts of the town.

“The majority of houses being built are larger properties at the edge of town and with Maidstone’s appalling public transport provision, most of these will have at least one car that will pollute the air that we breathe.

“While we completely recognise the housing crisis, we have repeated called for high density homes close to public transport links to be prioritised yet this has been ignored by the council and it is now clear that the death toll will continue to rise.”

Notes:

Initial question: “As air pollution is the second largest cause of preventable deaths and as it is responsible for around 130 deaths in this borough each year, can the council tell me what steps you are taking or are proposing to take to reduce the pollution”

Supplementary question:  “Can you tell me how much worse the air pollution will get with the 20,000 or so houses being built on the periphery of Maidstone, and therefore requiring cars, i.e. what will the annual death toll increase to?”

Calculations and evidence on 130 deaths is available here:  http://www.stuartjeffery.net/2015/12/air-pollution-kills-130-people-each.html

Monday, 20 February 2017

Air pollution secrecy at Maidstone Borough Council

Maidstone Greens have claimed that Maidstone Borough Council is hiding something after their refusal to provide documents relating to air pollution under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Greens requested the material after claims by the Lib Dems that they were meeting with council officers to tackle Maidstone air pollution.

Stuart Jeffery, Maidstone Green Party: “Air pollution is responsible for around 130 people deaths each year in Maidstone and air pollution here is as bad as in central London so why are the council trying to cover up work that they promised to do to tackle it?

“They seem content to increase the number of cars driving through the town from the large housing developments on the periphery yet when it comes to tackling the appalling air pollution they are clearly not interested.

“And this is a Lib Dem led council and they are supposed to value freedom and transparency. I have to really question what they have to hide.”

Ends.


Notes:
  • FOI response below
  • FOI was requested in response to claims that Lib Dems were arrange a meeting to discuss the issue.
  • The exemption they are claiming is only to prevent draft documents being release whereas I have requested completed papers that are known to exist.
  • An appeal has been lodged.

From MBC:
Some of the information is enclosed in the format you requested. The remaining information is exempt under Regulation 12(4)(d) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

Regulation 12(4)(d) has been applied as the request relates to material that is still in the course of completion, unfinished documents or incomplete data.  The materials held by the working group are incomplete as they have yet to report findings and outcomes to committee, at which point the information will become publically available.  Regulation 12 (4)(d)  acknowledges that public authorities should have the necessary space to think in private. To this end, public authorities are entitled to refuse access if the request concerns material in the course of completion or internal communications. Having considered the public interest, the Department’s decision is therefore to withhold the information.