Saturday, 9 May 2015

On the campaign for electoral reform: "I didn't vote for these cuts".

"Two very different ideas are usually confounded under the name democracy. The pure idea of democracy, according to its definition, is the government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented. Democracy as commonly conceived and hitherto practised is the government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people, exclusively represented. The former is synonymous with the equality of all citizens; the latter, strangely confounded with it, is a government of privilege, in favour of the numerical majority, who alone possess practically any voice in the State. This is the inevitable consequence of the manner in which the votes are now taken, to the complete disfranchisement of minorities." 
-John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861


The 2015 general election... I'm still struggling to find words that really convey how I'm feeling, having watched with increasing despondency as the results rolled in and the Conservative seats went up and up. None of the opinion polls from the past few months indicated that we were headed for a Conservative majority, and there is a definite mood of pure dread at what the election result will mean for vulnerable people who have already borne 5 years of devastating austerity measures. 

There are some messages of hope, however. Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, was re-elected with a massively increased majority. All over the UK, the Greens' share of the vote has surged upwards, with us coming second in more seats than ever before and sending a clear message to the establishment that people are not happy with the status quo and that the First Past the Post voting system needs to go. 

The Tories may have a majority this time, but it is a much smaller majority than the last government, with 331 seats compared to the 363 seats that made up the Coalition Government which formed after the 2010 election (306 Conservative, 57 Liberal Democrats). When you factor in the enormous increase in the presence of the SNP, who now have 56 MPs (up from their previous number of 6), a different picture of parliament emerges. There is now a much stronger - much needed - anti-austerity presence in parliament than ever before.

It is an indictment of our outdated voting system that we once again have a Prime Minister and a government controlled by a party whom two-thirds of voters didn't elect. If we include the number of people who didn't vote at all, the Conservative vote share drops to less than a quarter

More than 75% of registered UK voters didn't vote for a Conservative MP, and yet because of the First Past the Post system, 100% of people living in the UK will have to live under Conservative policies. 

Realising that little point has gone some way to restoring my faith in British people rather a lot, having spent a reasonable amount of the past couple of days wondering how on earth so many could vote for a party who have overseen such horrendous consequences of the austerity agenda, and an abject failure to have achieved their own goal of reducing national debt and eradicating the budget deficit in the process. 

On my way to the People's Assembly "No More Austerity" demo, June 2014
To briefly address those who may counter by saying that the call for electoral reform is because lefties are sore losers, I'd just like to point out that moving away from First Past the Post is something supported by a vast range of parties, and that the biggest gains would potentially be for UKIP - a far-right party! In actual fact, a move towards a more representative voting system would benefit everyone in the country. 

Whilst I may abhor UKIP's exploitation of xenophobia and discrimination against migrants to further their anti-EU agenda, the fact is that people vote for them. In fact, almost 4million people voted for them this Thursday, but the FPtP system yielded just one UKIP MP. Furthermore, because MPs are only permitted to respond to issues from people living in their own constituency, it is only the 19,642 people living in Clacton who voted for Douglas Carswell who will be directly represented in parliament. Likewise, while the Green Party secured over 1million votes, only the 22,871 who elected Caroline Lucas as MP for Brighton Pavilion will be able to contact her, while the remaining 1,134,742 Green voters in England and Wales are effectively left unrepresented. 

Photo from Another Angry Voice on Facebook


An electoral system which leaves 98% of voters with no representation in parliament for their preferred party is simply not fit for purpose, and people all over the UK are waking up to this fact. 

So how do we change things? Moving to a system of proportional representation (PR) would be one step, because it broadens the pool from which votes are counted so instead of electing one MP per constituency, seats in parliament would be drawn from a much larger pool and allocated according to shares of the overall vote. Depending on how this is organised, this would mean that votes in Brighton are counted alongside votes in Sunderland and that no voter is left unrepresented in the way they are now. 

If we pooled all the votes from the UK and allocated the 650 seats in Parliament using the D'Hondt method of PR (as is used in the European elections), the make-up of the House of Commons would look like this:

If we pool all the votes across the nation to allocate seats, how do we then decide which candidates actually take up those seats? Without constituency MPs (which isn't compatible with PR), how do we ensure that there is a strong link between voters, local government and their representatives in Westminster? There's a few different ways of doing this:
  • by country - group the votes together for Scotland, then England, then Wales and then Northern Ireland, and allocate seats accordingly
  • by region - as in the European elections - East Midlands, East of England, LondonNorth East EnglandNorth West EnglandSouth East EnglandSouth West EnglandWest MidlandsYorkshire andthe HumberScotlandWales, and Northern Ireland
  • by merging the current 650 constituencies into fewer but much larger constituencies
Each of these methods would require another step to decide which candidates takes up the seats won; the European elections use party lists, where the parties decide in advance a list of preference for the candidates, and seats are allocated in that order. This has many criticisms, not least that it should be down to the people to decide who their candidate is rather than being pre-selected by the party. Another Angry Voice author, Thomas Clark, has summed this up and suggested an alternative in his blog HERE.

When you change how MPs are elected, inevitably the local link to parliament is compromised. It is incredibly important for accountability and democracy that people feel that government is accessible, however, and so a move towards PR would have to go hand in hand with changes to how district, borough and town councils work. The most logical way to do this, would be to expand councils - have more councillors, devolve more power to councils and give them much more funding. Decisions should be made at the most local level possible, and that is something that the Coalition really undermined. 

My ideal electoral system would have fewer MPs, all elected by a form of PR; much more power and funding for local councils, with more councillors elected; reform of the role of MPs so they work more closely with councils to create a better flow between Westminster and local government; reform of how parliament operates, with the Prime Minister elected by MPs instead of automatically going to the leader of the party with most seats. 

If we can achieve this, and combine it with other steps such as capping donations to political parties, closer regulation of election spending, and establishing an independent regulatory body for press ethics, we could create a political system which is much fairer, more democratic, much more accessible - and actually represents the vast spectrum of political views across the nation.

All of this is possible. It's not a dream. Campaigning for proportional representation is one way that we can fight for the politics we deserve, but there are many other ways we can work together in the next 5 years against whatever nightmares the Conservatives plan to unleash. There will be demonstrations aplenty, community groups in need of volunteers, petitions to send to Westminster, social media to spread the word - and political parties you can join (*coff* join.greenparty.org.uk *coff*).

We've had a day to feel glum about the election outcome. Now it's time to dust ourselves off, prop one another up and get out there to fight. 

Remember, 75% of adults in the UK didn't vote Conservative.

Actually we'd probably have even more because nobody would have to vote tactically!







Saturday, 28 March 2015

My night of sleeping rough.

Bear with me if this post is a little rambly. I've not long come home from a night on a sponsored "sleep out" with fellow volunteers from the Winter Night Shelter MK - a homeless shelter in Milton Keynes that operates from December to March, offering overnight accomodation, food and company to homeless men and women in the city.

After the project closed for the year earlier this month, one of the team leaders arranged for some of us to spend a night sleeping rough, being sponsored by friends and family, in order to raise money for the shelter to run next winter, and also as an expression of solidarity with MK's rising homeless population.

(Incidentally, here is my sponsorship page if you'd like to send some pennies our way!)

Thirty volunteers from the project met by the Jaipur restaurant in Central Milton Keynes. The restaurant owner had kindly agreed to let us use a piece of land next door, and also to use the restaurant's toilets until they closed just after midnight! After a health and safety briefing, we settled down to lay out our mats/cardboard/groundsheets/deck chairs and get ready to face a night outdoors. Most were confident that we wouldn't be getting any sleep at all - and with a very jovial festival-like atmosphere in the air, we didn't really mind that thought. 















The Mayor of Milton Keynes, Derek Eastman, came along at 11pm to wish us well and take lots of photos, and the owner from Jaipur joined him to offer a donation of £300 to the fundraiser. Even more welcome than that was the several bags of poppadums that the staff then brought out for us! 


As it was nearing midnight when the restaurant staff and the Mayor left us to it, I decided to try and settle down for the night. I had prepared myself for intense cold, so was wearing 2 pairs of trousers, 2 pairs of socks, 3 tops, a coat, hat and 2 scarves. I was just about warm enough! I zipped myself into my sleeping bag, put my headphones in and turned the music up just loud enough to drown out the traffic and chatter. About 20 minutes later, it started raining! We had previously agreed that if the forecast rain did present itself, we would relocate to a nearby underpass* for the rest of the night, and so we did just that.



*if you don't live in Milton Keynes, an underpass probably means something totally different to you. I had no idea what one was when I moved here, but it's essentially a short subway that is used to traverse the multitude of main roads around MK rather than using pedestrian crossings. 














Making the switch from grass to concrete wasn't welcome, but blessedly the "military grade" (ooh-er) roll mat I had bought turned out to be a worthwhile investment and provided brilliant cushioning from the paving slabs - and I figured out how to use my rucksack as a pillow. Attempt #2 at sleeping proved more successful and although I was cold and uncomfortable, it wasn't too bad. 


Around 3am, I woke again (sleeping on the ground when you have arthritis in your hips is a very achey experience!) and realised that most of the volunteers were sleeping. I was at the very end of my group, and suddenly a feeling of insecurity came over me. I felt vulnerable and exposed. Safety hadn't really been an enormous concern while I was preparing for the event as I knew there would be a big group of us, and the police were very supportive. But actually being there, in the small hours of the morning, with most people asleep and utterly exposed to the world - that was frightening

I started thinking about how people who sleep like this because they have no choice must feel. That anxiety, that intense feeling of vulnerability and isolation - it floored me, and I knew that I would be up and on my way home at 6am, ready for a nice cup of tea and to probably write a blog post about my experience. People who are genuinely homeless have no such thing to look forward to. Everything is an uncertainty. Your safety for the immediate future, your next meal, how people will treat you when they see you, whether you will ever have a warm, stable home again. 




Through volunteering with the shelter I met at least 60 people who had been homeless for varying lengths of time. Their stories were incredible and very grounding - yet no two were the same, and very few involved instances of substance abuse, which is so often the stereotype attributed to homeless people. We were encouraged, as volunteers, to not invest too much emotion in what we were doing. Our purpose was to be there for the night, to provide company, food and somewhere warm and safe to sleep for the night - and so I tried not to dwell too much on what these men and women must have endured while sleeping on the streets. 

You can't participate in a sleep-out like I did last night without that changing. I had the tiniest taste of what it might feel like to be that exposed and vulnerable, and it frightened me. Now that I'm home, comfy and warm again with a huge cup of tea, I am angry. I am so angry that homelessness is on the rise all over the country. I am angry that we have endured a government that, for five years, has demonised the very people I and countless others have spent months volunteering to help. I am furious that the system, which already let too many people slip through the net, has been squeezed and cut to punitive levels, so much so that people are dying as a direct result of welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

At 5am today, the sun started to rise and we congratulated ourselves on having made it through the night, packed up our sleeping bags and mats and made our ways home. So far the sleep-out has raised £2500 towards helping the Winter Night Shelter operate again from December, and we hope to see more donations come in over the next few days. I hope that reading my rambling brain-fart account of last night might prompt you to send a few pounds our way and help the increasing number of people with nowhere to live in Milton Keynes. 






A few notes:


  • WNSMK opened in 2010 and has run every year since
  • It is staffed by a small group of coordinators, plus aroudn 350 volunteers
  • A different church in MK gives its space to the shelter each night of the week
  • This year, 58 of the 66 guests we've had have been moved on into long term accomodation
  • Since 2010, the WNSMK has helped more than 150 homeless people from MK into stable housing
  • Demand is increasing; since 2010 the YMCA has gone from turning away 30 people a month to 55. 



Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Home, Sweet Home.

Wow, I started writing this AGES ago, but after our housing policy made the news today, it seemed worth getting back to this!

Following on from my earlier post exploring why immigration is not to blame for the UK's woes, this piece will elaborate on the housing crisis, with which many of us will be personally familiar.

There are currently more than 610,000 empty homes in England alone. Estimates including Wales & Northern Ireland push this up to more like 835,000. Why are they empty? Most are privately owned as second homes and registered with the council (for council tax purposes) as empty. Some were intended to be rented out but have fallen into disrepair. Some are flats located within (above or behind) and owned by shops. There are even some which were intended to be part of new developments built by investors but were then abandoned before completion! In 2013, government data recorded 1.8million people on social housing waiting lists in England. 

Looking at these two pieces of information, should we not be more than a little irked that the government aren't doing MORE to turn these empty houses into functioning homes to alleviate the housing crisis?

Moreover, in the past 30 years 2.5million council houses have been sold through the Right to Buy scheme for up to 47% less than their market value. Now while the idea of enabling council tenants to secure ownership of their homes sounds like a great idea, bear in mind that this enormous amount of social housing has not been replenished by the government, and 2013 data shows that only 1.7million council properties remain.

This idea of owning your home being the norm was very much a Thatcher-era way of thinking, and that legacy has expanded to the extent now that houses are a commodity for investment, not just a home to live in. According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, "buy-to-let" mortgages accounted for almost 12% of mortgage lending in August 2014 alone. The Private Rental Sector (PRS) now accounts for some 13% of housing in the UK, with plenty of problems to go with it:
  • No security. Tenancies are frequently 6 - 12 months long, with no guarantee of renewal and a landlord's ability to end the contract with 2 months notice.
  • Uncapped letting agents' fees. The average fees for an agent are £350 every time you move house. 
  • Deposits with no guarantee you'll see the money again. Six weeks rent is the norm for a security deposit, intended as as a safeguard against any damage to the property. This is paid in advance of moving in and returned (if you're lucky!) after you move out. If you're moving from one rented property to another, you need to come up with the deposit AND first month's rent in advance before receiving your previous deposit refund.
  • Extortionate rent. Competition and government subsidies through housing benefit have allowed rents to soar. An "affordable" 4 bedroom flat in London now requires an annual salary of £100k. 
Homelessness from the private sector is on the increase, accounting for 11% of those acccepted as 'homeless' in 2009, as families find themselves with a terminated contract yet unable to either find or afford a new tenancy.

So what do we do? How do we fix this? The government's social housing budget is currently just £1.5bn, nowhere near enough to address the 1.8 million people long waiting list. We need a serious commitment to ending Right to Buy and building sufficient social housing homes.

Earlier this month, the Green Party announced a manifesto commitment to build 500,000 social housing homes over the course of the next parliament if elected to government, as well as ending the Right to Buy scheme and implementing additional policies such as rent caps for the private rental sector and ending "revenge evictions" for tenants. The full details will be released with the manifesto next month, but I wanted to take a closure look at the announcement to build half a million social homes.

First question - how in the devil do you intend to afford this? What will it cost?

Simple answer: 500,000 homes costing £60,000 each to build over five years = £30 billion over the course of the five year parliament. 

How to do this? Gradually, of course. We know the government's current social housing budget is an insufficient £1.5bn, so we increase this gradually each year until the annual social housing budget in 2020 reaches £9billion/pa.

Why do you have to do it slowly? Where does the money come from?


As with our other policies such as zero university tuition fees, reinstating EMA for college students, investing in the NHS, bringing the railways into public ownership - the money comes from overhauling the tax system. It takes time to bring that money into the public purse, so we stagger the spending accordingly.
  • The shortfall from tax avoidance and evasion is currently around the £100billion mark. We have already pledged our commitment to a Tax Dodging Bill that would clamp down on this and bring significant sums of money into the economy. Let's estimate, for now, that we could reliably set this figure at £25billion (a very conservative fraction of the actual amount that should be paid but isn't). 
  • A wealth tax of 1% on the assets of those with a personal wealth of over £3million pounds would bring in at least £22billion over the course of a five year parliament.
  • Scrapping Trident would save £100billion
  • Scrapping HS2 would save more than £40billion 
That's not even the full picture of changes we would implement, and already we've saved or generated an additional £187 BILLION for the UK economy. That £30billion cost of building half a million social homes doesn't look so scary now, does it?

Let's also remember the hidden costs of not having enough social housing: housing benefit makes up 14% of welfare spending at the moment, and as most of it is paid to working people on low wages living in private rented accomodation, that money disappears straight into the hands of private landlords. Additionally, homelessness is estimated to cost the government £1billion every year.

By building enough social homes for people on low incomes to live, we not only take a huge step towards redressing the coalition government's legacy of soaring inequality, but we also begin to create a more sustainable society. 

Building these homes is a very sensible move. It works financially and it works morally. 











Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Out with the old, in with the Green.

It's election season, yaaaaay! Ok, so maybe I'm in a minority of very excited people but this year is going to be like nothing we've seen before. We have an election being contested by TWO parties who've never before been considered big players, alongside the three usual suspects of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Now, I'm really not a fan of UKIP but I do have to concede that anything that shakes up our political landscape and gets people talking is very interesting indeed. 

If you've read my blog before, you've probably gathered that I'm a huge supporter of the Green Party - so much so that I'm a paid up member and candidate for the next election! I'm passionate about their policies and frankly relieved to see someone in British politics genuinely fighting for the wellbeing of ordinary and vulnerable people.

We've seriously raised our profile in the past year, with membership quadrupling in England and Wales (we hit 50,000 members yesterday!) and our polling figures taking us past the Lib Dems, into our highest ever consistent figures. Naturally, with that comes closer scrutiny of our policies and a reasonable amount of hysterical press coverage. That's fine. We know our policies are amazing and we're only too happy to be given the right of reply to defend them. Maybe we need to work on our media strategy a bit, but hey! we're not career politicians with armies of Malcolm Tucker spin doctors telling us how to make bad things sound good. We are a group of devoted, compassionate people who have compiled a set of policies that we have every faith in working for the common good. We don't need spin. 

Unlike the other parties, our policies are freely available on our website for anyone to read. We don't hide them away until we can find ways to dress them up. It's all there. In some ways, that's making life harder for us because many of our policies require a huge break away from how society is currently structed, and if you take them out of context, they look a bit... well... bananas. We could just take the policy site offline and, as the other parties do, only tell you what we stand for on our own terms, through cleverly constructed press releases and snappy soundbites, but we'd rather maintain a feature I'm personally very proud of - our transparency and honesty. 

So I spend a lot of time talking to people about politics and why they should want to vote for us. The main objections I hear are that "politicians are all the same" and "power corrupts, even if you get into government with the best of intentions. Just look at the Lib Dems!".

This is where I feel we need to make much more noise about a very specific area of policy regarding governmental and electoral reform. We talk about changing the face of British politics, but I don't think many people realise how much we mean that!
PA451 Central Government currently revolves around the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, with the role of Parliament greatly diminished. The most important reform needed to redress this imbalance is the move to proportional representation. This will help to bring an end to the traditional dominance of two political parties in Britain. The central Parliament (House of Commons), elected under the AMS system (see PA305), will be far more representative of the diversity of opinion within the UK. There will be far less chance of an overall Parliamentary majority for one party, and, even without further reform, the resulting necessity for coalition governments would make governments and Prime Ministers much more accountable to Parliament.

and
PA455 A First Minister would also be elected by the central Parliament as a whole, who would be responsible for chairing a committee, the Coordination Committee, of all the convenors of parliamentary committees. This body would be responsible for coordinating the work of the different committees, and for dealing with matters that affect them all, such as the allocation of public expenditure. The First Minister would act as Head of Government, in particular in dealings with other states. The central Parliament would also elect, as at present, an apolitical Speaker, who would act as Head of State (see PA600c).

and of course!
PA307 UK political parties will be funded by the State. Such political funding will be calculated and administered on a regional basis, and funds allocated in proportion to the number of votes cast in the region in the last round of proportional representation elections held across the entire region. Parties would need to exceed a threshold of 3% of the vote to become eligible for this funding.

I know, I know. Your brain has now melted and you just want to go and eat marshmallows. The meaning of all this is actually really simple - we make politics straightforward and actually properly democratic. No more lobbying and influence by large corporations, because political parties will be funded by the state, not from being bankrolled. No more embarrassingly cringe-worthy Prime Minister's Questions, because parliament will be a cooperative and representative body, that actually reflects what the people of Britain think and feel. No more feeling that your vote is wasted or that you have to tactically back the lesser of two evils - everyone's vote counts because everyone can vote for what they believe in. 

THAT is how a government should be formed. I think this also says a lot about Green Party credibility. We're not power-hungry. We're not after the ministerial cars and the prestige of getting to say "we're in charge". A Green government would actually redistribute that power so that no one political party holds a disproportionate amount of control. The Prime Minister would be replaced by someone democratically elected by the whole parliament, not just whoever happens to have been leading the party with the most votes at election time.

This is huge. And it's brilliant. It suits everyone, even people who don't share our love of renewable energy or hold the same views on reforming the justice system. Everybody gets represented this way. I said before that I don't like UKIP but that doesn't mean there's no room for a Eurosceptic party to represent the beliefs of British people who don't like being in the EU. Anything that keeps debate open, that keeps questioning and challenging the status quo is a good thing. We're a brilliantly diverse country, and that is as true of our political beliefs as it is anything. If we want to see that taken heed of in the way the country is run, we have to fight to change an archaic and corrupted system, and replace it with something we can be proud of.


If you want to read more of our policies, go to policy.greenparty.org.uk or wait for our manifesto to be published in March. OR find out who your local candidates are and email them and ask to meet up!


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Immigration is a good thing. So there.

It's a contentious topic and one fueled with misconceptions and outright lies from certain corners of the media and political sphere. The general public are worried, no doubt due to politicians using words like "under siege" to describe the changing population of the UK. UKIP would have us believe that Britain is set to become a distant memory, while Eastern European migrants take over and we all start speaking Polish or Romanian or Bulgarian, or some mangled mixture of all three - but crucially with no trace of Engerlish remaining.


I'm being hyperbolic, of course, and I don't mean to come across as flippant. When you do start to research the facts and figures behind UKIP's claims, you quickly realise how absurdly laughable they are.

What stops them being seen for the joke they are, sadly, is the tacit endorsement of their fallacious claims by the Labour and Conservative parties, who have responded to their rise in support NOT by deconstructing their rhetoric and promoting a more accurate picture to the electorate, but instead by competing in a race to the bottom on who can come out with the most hardline policy on immigration.

What IS the real picture of immigration then? What does the population of the UK truly look like at the moment? I talk to people a lot about this issue, and the same themes come up again and again. People believe that there are more and more non-UK born families across the country. People believe that British workers are being sidelined for employment in favour of lower-paid migrant workers. People believe that migrant families are prioritised for social housing and that the housing shortage is due to increased demand from non-UK born households. People really believe that the strain on the NHS is down to demand from "health tourism" and a higher than ever immigrant population. 

Where have all these beliefs come from? When I go out, for example, to collect my children from school, there's a definite mix of nationalities and ethnicity, but still an overwhelming majority of white British families. When I go out shopping, I see the same thing. Yes, there is diversity, but it's nothing like the "swamping" that some would have us believe. 

I've said before that this anti-immigration rhetoric forms part of a wider smokescreen designed to keep the electorate enraged about a total non-issue while the genuinely damaging problem - i.e. the carefully cultivated wealth inequality - goes unchallenged. While we waste time debating immigration issues, we are not talking about the economic crisis, or how the UK is in more debt now than before the coalition government took control; we are not talking about about how the European economy is MORE fragile now than in 2007; we are not asking where the £46billion taxpayers' bailout given to RBS has gone; we are not throwing every fibre of our being into protecting our NHS from privatisation, or even into understanding what privatisation means; we are not vilifying the government for the callous welfare reforms that have seen over 1million people turn to foodbanks, and incalculable numbers of disabled people die within weeks of having their lifeline benefits stopped

There are genuine problems with the UK at the moment; real issues that must be addressed. But immigration is nothing, nothing like the thumping great threat that UKIP, the Conservatives and the rest would have you believe.

Let's take a look at some numbers.


University College London, in collaboration with the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, last year published a paper titled "The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK". Their research uncovered some astonishing findings:
  • The net fiscal balance of overall immigration to the UK between 2001 and 2011 amounts to a positive net contribution of about £25 billion.
  • Recent immigrants are 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than UK-born citizens.
  • By sharing the cost of fixed public expenditures (such as defence), which account for 23% of total public expenditure, immigrants reduce the financial burden of these fixed public obligations for natives.
Is your mind blown? Mine isn't, because I had suspected for some time that immigration is not only positive for the UK, but actually necessary for our economic survival. "Now then", I hear you murmur, "if this is all true, why don't the government just admit it?". Well that is a very good question, and I wish I knew the definitive answer. You don't need to look very hard for evidence that the government are not only aware, but actively trying to conceal the real picture of immigration to the UK - earlier this year, they came under fire for blocking the publication of a report which would have blown open all their reasoning for tightening up EU migration!

"But there ARE more of them!!"

Yes. Yes there are more "of them" than there were last year, and the year before that. Specifically, net migration (that is, the total number of people coming into the UK minus the number of those leaving) for the year ending March 2014 was 243,000 compared to 175,000 in the previous 12 months.

"That's a huge jump! Bloody Farage is right!!"

Hold your horses! Never take numbers out of context. Let's look at the bigger picture...

Total immigration in the year up to December 2010 was 575,000, while in the year up to December 2012, it fell to 497,000. As emigration from the UK has hovered between 316,000 and 350,000 per year, a clearer picture starts to emerge. In terms of population percentage, the net migration figures are not fluctuating all that much - certainly not enough to justify the outrage meted out by the noisy right-wingers. 

Here's a little graph for you:

I didn't make this. I'm not THAT much of a spreadsheet whizz. This came from the Office for National Statistics, August 2014 report on migration.


It's right there in black and white (and green and blue and pink). The picture of immigration in and out of the UK over the last decade really hasn't changed all that much.

So back to these problems facing the UK today; the housing crisis, the strain on the NHS, low-paid jobs. I'm going to elaborate on each of these topics in subsequent posts, but let me just say that not one of these problems is caused by immigration.

Housing

The housing crisis in the UK is a mess. Briefly, between the government selling off 2.5million council houses through the Thatcherite "Right to Buy" scheme and not replenishing the stock with new builds, we now have 1.7million people on council house waiting lists across England alone with nowhere to put them. Alongside that, soaring house prices and mortgage rates have been exacerbated by the rise in houses being used as commodities for investment rather than homes, making it more difficult than ever for first time buyers to afford a home. Meanwhile the private rental sector has exploded, now accounting for more than 13% of housing across the UK but with soaring rent, no long term security for tenants and the ever-increasing instances of homelessness caused by tenants finding themselves at the end of one tenancy but unable to afford the myriad fees of another.

Without private rent caps, the immediate introduction of more social housing and a drastic overhaul of the definition of "affordable housing", the housing crisis will not get any better. Immigration has not caused this, the government's appalling mismanagement has. Capping or reducing immigration will not alleviate it. Only sensible, proactive intervention from the government will. 

NHS

The coalition government's attack on the NHS is scandalous. The model, very simply, works like this: slash the budgets --> services decline --> "outsourcing" is heralded as the knight in shining armour --> wham! We have sleepwalked into a privatised health care system.


Source: Another Angry Voice
Do you remember David Cameron's pledge to not expose the NHS to pointless restructing? I do. And yet the abysmal Health and Social Care Act (2012) has brought about the biggest top-down reorganisation of the NHS in living history, not to mention removing between £60-£80billion of funding from the now-abolished Primary Care Trusts and giving it instead to Clinical Commissioning Groups, who are a prime source of entry for private companies to gain health provider contracts. Crucially, this move was not in the Conservative or Liberal Democrats' manifesto, so the public never had the opportunity to vote against such massive changes to the functioning of the NHS.


I will blog in more detail about the true cause of the NHS crisis, but you can read more here for now: Twelve Things You Should Know About the Tories and the NHS

Once again, waiting time for GP appointments, hospital closures and downgrading, waiting lists for treatment - none of it has been caused by immigration. ALL of it has been caused by massive government budget cuts. Capping immigration will not relieve the situation; only reversing privatisation and investing back into our hospitals and health services can restore the NHS to its rightful state. Incidentally, did you know that 26% of NHS doctors are non-UK born? Our lives, quite literally, have depended on immigration.

Employment


And we roundly return to the "dey terk er jerbs!!" argument. Anecdotally, I've heard this a thousand times over. British workers are turned away while the jobs are given to migrant workers who will accept a lower wage.

Firstly, this is largely a myth. In the few instances where this has happened, why does the migrant worker shoulder the blame instead of the unscrupulous and exploitative employer? Why aren't we stamping our feet and demanding the immediate implementation of a Living Wage for all employees, regardless of their country of origin? 

Back to the myth-busting. There is a 52 page government-commissioned report from the Migration Advisory Committee which you can read for yourself here. Briefly, the report found that the impact on wages from the flow of migrant workers was minimal, and there was only a weak - but not causal - correlation between the two. It also identified that there are specific areas of the country where migrant communities are more concentrated and so the perception of the impact of immigration will obviously be skewed. 

Plainly, there is no evidence to support claims that migrant workers are harmful to British employment prospects. Where exploitation by employers occurs, this must be dealt with by enforcing existing legislation about pay and introducing a Living Wage for all workers in the UK. Immigration in and out of itself, has not driven down wages. Capping immigration will not result in a pay rise for UK-born workers. Only decisive action by the government to recognise the current massive pay gap and support employers to pay proper wages can relieve this.


Considering that this will rank amonst one of my more epic blog posts, I really only have scratched the surface of the massive and intricate topic of immigration. I haven't even begun to talk about asylum seekers, illegal immigration, or the actual practicalities of any kind of immigration cap, but if I try now my fingers will fall off, and if you have to read more of my opinions, I suspect your eyes will mutiny.

I hope that I have successfully unravelled some of the commonly held myths around immigration and at the very least prompted you to question some of the claims made by the likes of UKIP and the Conservatives. I leave you with this image from Another Angry Voice:





Further reading:

Office for National Statistics (including all Quarterly Migration Reports): International Migration
Keith Taylor MEP in The New Statesman: "I'm ashamed of our government's stance on immigration"
Crisis Policy Briefing: Housing - the Private Rented Sector
Migration Advisory Committee: Migrants in Low Skilled Work

Monday, 13 October 2014

Tories. Tories EVERYWHERE.


Irritated; annoyed; exasperated; vexed; irked; raging; maddened; incensed; splenetic. Just some of the words one could use to describe my current mood after reading that the Green Party will be omitted from the upcoming pre-election televised debates while Nigel Farage has been welcome with open arms. 

Pffffft.

With over 20,000 members in England & Wales alone - an increase of 45% this year! - three elected MEPs, a peer in the House of Lords, London Assembly member AND an elected MP, not to mention polling level with the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party are hardly marginal. Neither are we a single issue party focusing only on environmental issues, though securing media coverage for our social justice policies is no mean feat.

Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP are all different sides of the same coin. The same old establishment faces, totally disconnected from ordinary people and the reality of life in the UK today, with policies engineered to satisfy wealthy party donors. Tories in blue, Tories in red, Tories in yellow and Tories in purple. They might have different party names, but there's barely any distinguishing between them anymore. For the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to schedule debates between the four white male wealthy party leaders and to leave out the Green Party's female leader - the only mainstream voice of the left -  demonstrates precisely what an uphill battle we face if we want to relieve government of its corrupted self-serving infestation.

It's not just about telling people what our policies are. How can we expect the public to back something like the Citizen's Income without first unravelling all the myths about modern day poverty and the welfare state? How do we realistically expect them to trust us about our immigration policy while they're being force-fed a inflated figures and biased analysis of the current state of things? People are backing UKIP because they feel that is the party who reflect their needs, but those needs are based on the pervasive manipulation of the truth spread by right-wing governments and a sock-puppeted mainstream media. 

For the sake of democracy, we have to fight to have political parties represented fairly in the media - and I don't just mean the Green Party; I'm talking about the SNP and Plaid Cymru too. How much of UKIP's success can be attributed to the media love-in from the past year and the resulting self-fulfilling prophecy?

I would like to set a challenge for the British media; swap the Greens and UKIP round in your level of exposure. Spend the next 7 months talking about the Green Party as frequently and fervently as you have UKIP, and give the kippers the same flimsy coverage the Greens have had. Let's see what impact THAT makes on the election, eh? If media coverage hasn't influenced election outcomes, as you've insisted, you have nothing to lose and UKIP's "success" will continue unabated.

For the rest of us, there are numerous petitions floating round about the media and the Green Party. Sign as many of them as you can; let's keep up the pressure and demand some decent coverage.

BBC Complaints online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/

N.B. The initial publication of this post contained the phrase "limp-wristed", which I have now edited out. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused and will take greater care in future to avoid using such insensitive wording.



Friday, 3 October 2014

Big Brother is Watching You

"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself--anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face...; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime..." - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four


This week, my reactions to the news have been brought to you by the letters W, T, F. The period after the Conservative Party conference was never going to be anything other than stressful, as numerous plots to make our lives ever more miserable were gleefully unfurled while Iain Duncan Smith literally fist-pumped the air with joy:

From: Another Angry Voice

If there's a Tory I dislike even more than Iain Duncan Smith, however, it's Theresa May. They're all reprehensible, morally-bankrupt filth in my honest opinion, but May's unwavering assault on human rights legislation just cranks up my loathing another notch.  

A year ago, I read her pledge to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which came just a couple of weeks after the country was outraged at the detention of David Miranda under spurious interpretation of the Terrorism Act (2000). To be detained for nine hours, prohibited from accessing legal representation, compelled to answer all questions asked of you and having your personal effects confiscated - when you have done nothing wrong and given no indication of wrongdoing - surely constitutes a breach of human rights. Yet the incident was ruled lawful by the Home Office, and now the Tories want to bring in yet more legislation that systematically dismantles our basic expectations of human rights, under the banner of "fighting extremism and terrorism".

It sounds a noble cause. Nobody likes terrorists. Extremism, as we've seen with ISIS/ISIL and Al Qaeda, is very dangerous indeed. But we are fools if we believe that this is the extent of the Tories' interpretation of extremism.

Just three months ago, news broke that Green Party members, Jenny Jones (Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb) - and Councillor Ian Driver, had been added to a database of "domestic extremists" despite neither having a criminal record. Along with thousands of other political activists, their right to lawful protest had been reclassified as "extremism" and used to justify the storage of personal details and photographs on secret police databases around the country. 

One of my earliest blog series looked at Human Rights and Human Wrongs, in which I explored (at length!) the logic behind my view that we must always observe the basic human rights of everyone, even the most abhorrent criminals. You can read parts one, two and three here (get comfy first). Essentially, human rights are absolute and inalienable; one does not "earn" them, nor can one have them revoked. That philosophy is fundamental to protecting the human rights of me, you and every other ordinary nice person. The minute we start deconstructing the human rights of people deemed to be unworthy of them, we are on a very slippery slope which threatens anyone with a predilection to challenge the status-quo.

If Baroness Jenny Jones can be labelled a "domestic extremist" for her political activity, so can I and so can you. My husband jokes that if I'm not on some CIA watchlist by now, he'd be very surprised, but there may well be an element of truth in that. After all the definitions of extremism, and the legislation that criminalises them, are constructed by the people whose interests are best served by censoring dissent and preserving the social state which keeps them in government. 

We have also heard this week that Theresa May plans to implement "Extremist Disruption Orders", which will see people banned from speaking at public events, taking part in protests, having to submit to the police in advance any publication on the web, social media or in print, and having social media closely monitored. This is not limited to those preaching hate or radicalising young Muslims; David Cameron has said that this will look at "the full spectrum of extremism" and those who threaten to "overthrow democracy". I would be intrigued to hear more of Cameron's definition of democracy, given that he acts as Prime Minister in a country where two-thirds of voters voted for someone else. 

The past five years of Tory governance have seen inequality increase, child poverty go through the roof, untold numbers of suicides in the wake of callous benefit sanctions and ATOS "work capability" assessment, UK debt increase, NHS services privatised, social services cut, care homes closed - the list goes on and on and on. If you are anything other than wealthy in the UK right now, life is pretty scary and set to get much worse if the Tories are re-elected next May. I consider it my moral duty to devote time and energy into getting them out of government and fighting for a decent standard of life for everyone in the UK. Theresa May and David Cameron would probably call me a domestic extremist for that view and for my role in countless campaigns to overthrow the Tories, which puts people like me right in the firing line for all this anti-human rights rhetoric. 

Do not trust that this policy is simply about fighting terrorism in the form of violent aggressors. It is very much about enshrining the right of politicians to censor those who would speak out against their war on the poor.




Further reading and websites: