Monday 31 May 2010

Lucas Condemns Israeli Attacks on Free Gaza Flotilla

The Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas MP, has called on the Government to condemn the actions of the Israeli troops in firing on a ship carrying volunteers and medical supplies to Gaza, and to back an urgent inquiry into the incident.

In a strongly worded message to Foreign Secretary William Hague, she has demanded that he urgently contact the Israeli authorities to demand an end to the attacks, and that he ensure that Israel is held fully to acount for an illegal and unprovoked attack.

Speaking this morning, she said:

"I completely condemn this deadly attack on the humanitarian aid convoy. I am deeply shocked by the brutality of the assault, which has left a still unkown number of people dead and wounded. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

"This attack is a serious infringement of the principles of international law. The Green Party calls on the UK Government, and the EU, to apply pressure to lift the ongoing blockade of Gaza, which makes essential humanitarian aid for the population of Gaza virtually impossible to deliver. We also call for the quick establishment of an international inquiry to shed light on the circumstances of this attack."

London Greens are mobilising to join the demonstration outside Downing Street at 2pm today.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Education in Brent and Coalition Policies

The plethora of policy announcements on education from the Coalition in the last few days is confusing to say the least. With right-wing Tory, Michael Gove and left-wing Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather (MP for Brent Central) trying to work together despite clear ideological differences, we are likely to see more confusion and possible conflict in the future. At present Tory cuts and privatisation sit alongside the Lib Dem 'pupil premium' which aims to help youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Alperton High School, Cardinal Hinsley High School, Copland Community School and Queen's Park Community School are all likely to lose Building Schools for the Future Funding and there may also be a question mark over completion of work at the Crest Academies (previously the John Kelly schools). An extension into the primary phase of Capital City Academy may be reviewed. In addition several primary schools ear-marked for a rebuild or expansion may see their schemes put on the back burner.

The Coalition has announced that schools deemed 'outstanding' by Ofsted will be eligible to convert to academies gaining 10-12 percent additional funding at the expense of other schools, as well as more control over teachers' pay and conditions and an ability to divert from the National Curriculum. As if this is not incentive enough, all outstanding schools will be exempted from Ofsted inspections. 'Outstanding' schools in Brent include St Joseph's Infants, Wembley; Roe Green Infants, Kingsbury; Oakington Manor Primary, Wembley; and Convent of Jesus and Mary, JFS and Wembley High in the secondary sector.

When a similar move took place some years ago, with schools able to get grant maintained status with additional freedoms, it impacted on schools that maintained their community school status. At the time the then Willesden High School (now City Academy) and Wembley High School experienced difficulties caused by receiving a disproportionate number of special needs pupils and new arrivals to the country. Rather than reduce inequality such policies tend to increase it. Although outstanding schools can get academy status automatically, all schools will be encouraged to apply for it. As each academy will take additional funds from the main funding pool, non-academy schools will have reduced funding for staffing and resources. The academies will also have the freedom to offer additional pay incentives and thus cream off teaching staff from other schools. Heads and governing bodies will come under pressure to seek academy status to improve things for 'our children'.

The need to find a sponsor has now been removed and the policy turned on its head. Instead of offering a 'last chance' to schools deemed to be failing, academy status is now a reward for satisfying Ofsted. For the left the argument that academies are a form of privatisation has to be refined and attention shifted to democratic accountability. The so called 'Free Schools' however may be the new vehicle for introducing private profit into the state education system.

The Conservative policy on 'free schools', enabling parents, teacher groups and other associations to set up their own schools, is clearly one that will need additional funding and take funds away from mainstream schools and programmes such as Building Schools for the Future. The Coalition have said that existing buildings could be taken over and converted raising questions about the maintenance of teaching and play space standards as well as the accessibility rights of disabled students. If funds come from the government, that will reduce money available to other schools. At a time of public funding cuts this may well mean that the government will seek investment from the private sector - who will of course demand a decent rate of return.

When the possibility of central funding of schools was mooted a few years ago, the idea encountered opposition from the government. The current mixture of funding means that blame for cuts and under-funding can be shifted from central government to local authorities. Anti-cuts campaigners demonstrate at the local Town Hall rather than the Department for Education. Although the government has said it will 'protect' funding to schools, it will cut funding to local authorities. Demands from services such as social services, social care etc, will mean that some money will have to be diverted by the local authorities.  In addition centrally funded initiatives such as those for extended schools, 1:1 tuition for children falling behind and music tuition are also going to be cut. A Labour controlled Brent Council will have to implement Tory-Lib Dem cuts.

This is the question Sarah Teather will have to ask herself. The Coalition Agreement states that the government will introduce 'a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schoolos budget by reductions in spending elsewhere'. 'Elsewhere' could be other aspects of education spending. However no figures yet exist, despite the Lib Dem's promise of £2.5 billion, and no starting date has been fixed.

The Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education and the Alliance for Inclusive Education have both attacked plans to water down inclusion. Simone Aspis, of the AIE, and a Brent Green party candidate at the recent local elections told the Times Educational Supplement, "It's an absolute disgrace that a coalitiion that talks  about promoting fairness and equality wants to remove disabled children's rights to access mainstream schooling. This policy will turn the clocks back by 30 years, where disabled children will grow up living segregated lives."

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Cameron: London Speaks

The Impact of Cuts

The Lib Dems have accepted Conservative policy on public expenditure cuts as part of the coalition deal. This will immediately face the new Labour council with implementing deep cuts.  Lib Dems and Labour during the election pledged to protect schools and 'frontline' services. However, this is misleading. Implementing cuts in management and 'backroom' services always has an impact on frontline services.

Brent Council, under the Lib Dem-Conservative leadership, had already begun the process of making cuts ('effiiciency savings') as part of the restriction on Local Government expenditure. In Children and Families this has involved freezing vacancies, seeking redundancies and cutting ('harmonising') allowances. The latter involves ending the payment of Inner London Allowances to Brent staff and paying the lower Outer London Allowance instead.

The services provided by Children and Families at Chesterfield House include teacher recruitment, CRB checks for new staff, administering the supply teacher pool, managing special educational needs processes and provision, and asset management.  Cuts will mean that these services will become less efficient, less responsive and more liable to fail when under pressure.  The repercussions for something like CRB checks are obvious.

When such services deteriorate headteachers are likely to be attracted to private contractors. For example, the supply teacher pool administered by Brent Council is one of the few local authority pools remaining. Quality and child protection checks are effective, the staff sensitive to the needs of particular schools, and teachers properly paid with good conditions of service. If this service fails, headteachers will turn to private teacher supply agencies which are of variable quality and cream off a generous fee, costing schools more but paying their staff far less.

In this way public sector cuts lead to the growth of privatisation and a reduction in teachers' conditions of service. Facing an era of cuts headteachers will also be tempted to use private supply staff for filling long-term vacancies. Agency staff can be dispensed with at short notice and will not have recourse to trade union representation or contractural protection ('flexible labour force').

Reduced and less efficient support services coupled with the casualisation of labour will leave the system vulnerable. It will of course be the staff involved who will be personally blamed for any failures, rather than the cuts which created the conditions for failure.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Conservatives and Lib Dems slashed, BNP routed

A swathe of Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors lost their seats in the Council election.  The Liberal Democrats lost 10 seats and now have 17 councillors. Conservatives lost 9 seats and have only six councillors left, including Harsh Patel their General Election candidate in Brent North. Their seats are all in the north of the borough: Kenton, Northwick Park and Preston.

Labour with 21 gains now have 40 councillors and are firmly in the driving seat. There are no Democratic Conservative councillors following their last minute withdrawal. Atiq Malik, a former Democratic Conservative councillor, did not stand as a councillor as he was standing as an Independent parliamentary candidate in Brent North.

The council election also saw the defeat of Bertha Joseph, who having been both a Labour and a Conservative councillor, stood as an Independent in Kensal Green. She gained 450 votes, about 3% of the ward total.

The BNP candidate in Fryent had 163 votes, 169 behind the leading Green candidate, and about 1% of the total. The Jewish Chronicle had earlier reported:

A Jewish man who claims to have “no interest” in politics is standing as the BNP candidate in a local election. Richard Blackmore, from Kensal Rise, is standing for the Fryent ward in Brent, the first BNP candidate for the borough in 30 years.

Mr Blackmore, who is retired but would not state his age, described himself as of “Jewish extraction”.
His late mother’s maiden name was Gluckstein. He said he joined the BNP because he was “disgusted” with New Labour and the BNP was an “alternative”. 

He said: “I’m not that interested in politics. They asked me to stand. I couldn’t care less. It’s not a serious attempt. Lots of people go into the polling booth and don’t know what they are doing — and this is the same.” 

He said he did not realise that BNP members had denied the Holocaust in the past and said that he had “nothing whatsoever against Jewish tribes”.

Brent and Harrow Unite Against Fascism held a stall in Kingsbury Road and leafleted local streets opposing the BNP. I made Fryent a priority in my Brent North campaign after Barnhill ward where I also stood as a council candidate..  However confused the candidate, and dismissive of his supporters, it was important that the BNP be opposed. Let's have at least another 30 years without fascists on our ballot forms.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Caroline Lucas on Her Election Success


"Don't be Seduced by the Trappings of Power" Lucas to Clegg

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green Party has issued the following statement on the discussions taking place this weekend:

These are uncharted waters for all politicians. But this only makes it more important that Nick Clegg makes his decisions based on the clear steer given to him by voters.

In this election the British people have brought in a House of Commons in which a majority of MPs are from parties which support reform. A clear majority of people in the United Kingdom voted for reform of our political system. Therefore any arrangement between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives must include genuine and comprehensive reform of the political system. A commission, inquiry, or any other delaying tactic will not be acceptable. There should be a referendum before the end of the year which includes options for a genuinely proportional system not the self-serving system of AV which is even less proportional. The people should be asked what voting system they would prefer. That is proper democracy.

The first past the post system has created a situation where people cannot vote positively for the candidate or party whose policies they most agree with. Instead, they are forced to vote in fear, working out how to vote to keep out the party furthest away from them in policy and values. This leaves us a grotesque democratic deficit and a poor basis on which to govern.

The Liberal Democrats must not be seduced by the trappings of power. The people have voted for reform: Nick Clegg must not betray them.

Election Result: First Thoughts

Our votes were squeezed in the General Election with many voters indicating sympathy but feeling that they had to vote Labour or Lib Dem to keep out the Tories.  Nonetheless we had a solid core of support registering around 1.5% in the three parliamentary constituencies.  Barry Gardiner won Brent North with an increased vote, Sarah Teather just beat Dawn Butler in Brent Central and Glenda Jackson won Hampstead and Kilburn.

The Tories were swept aside in the Brent Council elections, reduced to only six seats but there were also many Lib Dem losses. The new council is Labour 40, Lib Dem 17 and Conservative 6. In several wards there is mixed party representation. Greens polled strongly in some wards giving us the foundation for further  advances.

Labour activists were taken aback by the scale of their victory and were at a loss to explain why they polled so strongly despite the national picture. Some pointed to the  impact of having a General Election  and local election on the same day and felt the General Election had pulled in voters who would not have bothered to vote in a local election, with many just following on their General Election with a vote for the same party in the locals. Some people elected as Labour councillors were frank about their shock as they hadn't expected win and had stood on that basis. Now they suddenly find their lives changed with new and time consuming responsibilities.

Robert Wharton, the Lib Dem lead on Children, Families and Schools, who was responsible for the ARK Academy, lost his seat.  However we will have to continue to battle on this front as it was the Labour Party whose votes, combined with those of the Lib Dems, enabled the Academy to go ahead in the face of Tory opposition. We will also continue to put forward the abolition of  SATs against opposition from the other parties. It is really disapppointing that, despite the NUT and NAHT boycott, 53 out 55 Brent primary schools are going ahead with the SATs next week. The SATs are narrowing the curriculum, reducing teaching to exam preparation, and undermining the joy of learning. Year 6 pupils have been keen supporters of our policy!

We will also have to work hard with other local environmental groups to pressure the new Council to act decisively and radically on climate change. Labour councillors failed to turn up to a public meeting on this issue and have not been at the forefront of demands for action.  We will also be looking to see the promised review of the Civic Centre proposal result in the scarpping of the project.

I would like to thank everyone who voted Green for their support. Please don't get down-hearted because we still have no elected councillors. We are a campaigning party, and as out last Newsletter showed we have achieved a lot without council representation. Any objective oberserver will recognise that a committed campaign can achieve more than a councillor who after an election disappears into obscurity.

We were congratulated by people from all parties at the count on Caroline Lucas's victory in Brighton Pavilion. It is great news but our policies are radical and she will be a incisive and passionate advocate of strategies that are sharply different from those of the 'old' parties. They will find her a formidable presence in the new House of Commons.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Elders should consider a Green vote

It is a pity that the Green Party were not invited to the Elders Voice election hustings. We have policies on pensions and carers that are well worth debate.
We want a Citizen's Pension that would be paid unconditionally to all pensioners in the UK at the rate of the official poverty line (currently £170pw for someone living alone and £300 for couples). It would be linked to average earnings. Pensions Credits, which are often not claimed because of the perceived stigma of means testing, would be abolished.
We are committed to a more generous Carer's Allowance, raising it to £80pw from the current £53.10 for a 35 hour week, and increased support to people who want to give care. We will address the issue of child carers under 16 who receive no financial support at all, often working long hours, experiencing emotional stress, and never having the chance to play.
We are very concerned at reductions in the services to people in sheltered housing and would oppose plans to switch to 'floating styles' of support rather  than residential. We are committed to the national health service and oppose public service cuts and privatisation.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Youth Go Green

An enthusiastic school student hailed me last night when I was leafleting:  'Hey you're Green. We just voted for you!' She went on to explain that Year 7 had held an election today at Wembley High School and that the Greens had topped the poll with 56 votes, 10 more than Labour.

Someone else told me that Year 6 children from a local primary had run into the school clutching the Green Party's Brent North postcard, excitedly telling their teacher the Greens were going to abolish SATs, and that they would be voting Green.  She gently told them that it might not happen in time for them to avoid the tests next week.  Perhaps their headteacher will take note and operate the NAHT/NUT boycott.

It's good to know the kids are with us!

What new station Barry?

Barry Gardiner was busy leafleting Wembley PARK station this morning with a leaflet praising the new station at Wembley CENTRAL, which was all down to him apparently.

He claims, 'The new station has rejuvenated the whole of Wembley High Road. New homes - new shops - new jobs. All thanks to the New Station' (and Barry of course).

The problem is that there is no new station at Wembely Central - all that has happened is the old frontage has been demolished and the booking office remains in a sort of allotment shed. Regular users of the staion will know about flooded floors, destination indicators that don't work, and the occasional platform entertainment from rats - not to mention lifts that are still to be installed. There is still no platform level connection between the Bakerloo/Overground platforms and the Southern service from East Croydon to Milton Keynes.

Work on the new station was dropped when the money ran out and there is an on-going row about whose fault it is.  Perhaps as Barry claims responsibility for the new station being built, he should now admit responsibility for the fact that it hasn't.

This does make you wonder how well Barry knows his local area.  Passengers receiving the leaflets seem to have made up their minds pretty quickly about what they thought of it - dumping the leaflet when they picked up their copy of Metro.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Ten Reasons to Vote Green on May 6th

If you  still haven’t made up your mind how to vote here are the Green Party’s top ten policies from our costed manifesto. The full version can be read online at 

1.       Stabilising the economy
Regulate the financial sector, permanently tax bankers’ bonuses and introduce the Robin Hood tax on international financial transactions, while reducing corporation tax for small firms.

2.       Creating jobs
Create one million jobs in areas such as local manufacturing and food production, public transport, renewable energy, home insulation and repairing and recycling goods. 

3.       Education
Abolish formalised SATs testing for 11 year olds and reduce the huge paperwork burden on teachers. Protect schools and universities from cuts and privatisation, and abolish university fees.

4.       Protecting public services

Protect public services from cuts and privatisation: keep the NHS public, protect Sure Start nurseries, re-open Post Offices, abolish charges for prescriptions and dentistry.

5.       Pensions and care for the elderly
Introduce free social care for the elderly as in Scotland and raise the basic state pension to £170 a week.

6.       Affordable housing
Take action to ensure that the million empty homes nationwide are brought back into use; introduce free home insulation for all homes within 5 years; and enable local councils to build new council housing again.

7.       Transport

Redirect transport funding towards public transport, regulate the buses and renationalise the railways to ensure we have affordable and reliable public transport in the future. Improve cycle routes and pedestrian safety measures.

8.       Youth facilities
Double spending on out of school services for young people to give them something to do and somewhere to go and introduce a national youth volunteering programme for the under 18s.

9.       Climate change and energy security
The UK should lead the world by example in tackling climate change: energy efficiency measures in buildings, reducing travel miles by providing services like Post Offices locally and localising the economy, investment in renewable energy rather than nuclear power.

10.   Democracy and Parliamentary reform
Replace the House of Lords with a fully elected second chamber; decentralise power to local councils and communities; restrict the lobbying power of big business over MPs; prevent MPs from holding directorships and consultancies that stop them being full-time MPs and may result in conflicts of interest.

Notes from North Brent

It is a strange old election.  Barry Gardiner is running a campaign that at first glance makes him look like an Independent candidate relying on a personality cult to get himself elected. This pamphlet bears no red colour and you have to search for the sole mention of the Labour Party embedded in the text. It is all about Gardiner's family life.

Children leaving Fryent Primary School who were upset when Barry's red balloons ran out were bemused to be offered large stickers of Barry's smiling face instead. One boy angrily demanded where he could find a blue balloon...

The Liberal Democrats are conspicuous by their absence - presumably they are all concentrating on Teather's campaign in Brent Central. Harsh Patel is saturating the constituency with a plethora of leaflets which are distributed by an army of teenagers.  This could be counterproductive as residents have started complaining about the junk coming through their letter boxes. It is noteworthy that this effort hasn't resulted in a forest of Tory posters.

It may be straws in the wind, or deliberate misinformation, but a senior Tory encountered whilst leafleting said that 'It was turning out better than I thought it would be', while a Labour Party member, charged with telephoning supporters said he had found it hard to motivate people.

Atik Maliq, erstwhile Conservative and Democratic Consertvative councillor, seems to be concentrating on getting his posters into shop windows, though a barbers in Preston Road has both Conservatives, Patel and Malik, in their window.  Malik faced a front page blast from the Willesden and Brent Times last week which reported an unspecified allegation against him and revived comments he made about Sharia law and the whipping of unmarried women who engaged in sexual activity. Any publicity is good publicity?

Meanwhile the demise of the Democratic Conservative Group remains a mystery. They were apparently set up to contest five wards and had collected all the requisite signatures. One version has it that their leader Robert Dunwell, deciding at the last minute that he could use his time and skills better elsewhere; the other that their nominations were deemed inadmissable because of the use of Conservative in the title and there was no time left to redo the nomination forms.

I was leafleting outside Kingsbury Green Primary School with the Independent candidate,  Jannen Vamadeva and witnessed a wonderful encounter. A mum came running up to collect her child and paused to look the tall, Obama-esque figure up and down. She took in his full glory and said, 'Gaawah! I'm goin' to vote for you anytime!' On the way out I tried to interest her in some policies even though I could not match Jannen's appearance.

Canvassing in Brent North reminds you that Wembley is built on hills and my calf muscles are developing well. Traversing the hills you can imagine what the countryside was like before Metroland was built but you also see how the original suburban concept has been vandalised. I lived on the Vally Farm estate (the area between Kingsbury Road and Fryent Way) as a child  and remember the treelined roads and front gardens full of scented flowers.  On the whole estate I could find only a handful of intact front gardens. Most had been turned into car parks without a blade of grass, flower or shrub in sight. The rowan trees that used to line Crundale Avenue have all gone.  On Barn Hill someone who had retained their garden told me that residents had been complaining about the cherry trees spilling their blossom on cars and wanted to rid of them!

Meanwhile I am finding a positive reception amongst many voters and the TV debates seem to have revived interest, albeit in personalities rather than policies. They seem to have turned every other person into a political pundit. One voter, who lives in a house called Camelot, claimed the media were ignoring the fact that governments were made in marginal constitiuencies rather than the percentage vote and predeicted a small Tory majority.

Discussions about 'wasted votes' are coming up regularly but I urge people to vote Green on the basis of their principles, because every party has to start somewhere, that local Green councillors could make an enormous impact, and to demonstrate after the General Election that a high Green vote emphasises the need for a proportional voting system.

We are a small party with no big business backers and need all the practical help we can get.  If you can volunteer in the last couple of days please get in  touch.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Greens Support Kilburn College

Last night's meeting about the closure of Kilburn College was crowded, angry and militant. Lecturers, students and local residents came together to denouce the closure plans and put forward ideas for active resistance. The main political party candidates for Hampstead and Kilburn spoke platitudes from the platform and soon disappeared.

Speaking from the floor, Peter Murry, an ex-lecturer at Kilburn and a council candidate for  the Brent Kilburn ward spoke passionately of this attack on local people who face challenges such as learning English and getting into employment. He outlined how further education could transform their lives and said that the removal of their access to education was a crime. He supported calls for non-violent direct action and remarked that such tactics were a proud Green Party tradition. He called for further education colleges to be brought back under local authority control.

Bea Campbell, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, spoke about how further education had improved her parents' life chances and suggested that another dimension to the campaign should be a legal route.  She urged the campaign to seek legal assistance to use the recent Equalities legislation to show that the community had not been properly consulted on the proposals, (now a statutory requirement).

Students from the ethnic minority communites spoke movingly of their attachment to their local college and the difference it had made and was making in their lives. There were accounts of the shock they had felt when the announcement was made and their feelings of being completed disregarded by the college governors.

A large number of people, including Green Party members, volunteered to be part of a delegation to the college governors, to try and persuade then to reverse their decision.