Friday, 16 June 2017

Roundly assessing the value of local services & facilities

There has been commendable campaigning once again in Knowle, by the local community and its councillors, to save the local swimming pool (Jubilee). This includes a petition with thousands of signatures, shortly to be debated by the council. Apparently the pool is safe for the next five years as a contract for that period has been negotiated (see here).
Taking a decision to close the pool on narrow, purely financial grounds would not be an acceptable approach. 

Locally available services and facilities like Jubilee Pool have a value to our community and wider society well beyond money.

If we are to become a...
  • low carbon city
  • a more equal city
  • a more resilient and liveable city
  • and a healthier city... 
...for instance we need to be roundly assessing the value of local facilities not only in financial terms but also in broader social and environmental terms terms.

We dont know what the total impact of the loss of Jubilee would be because we aren't assessing everything properly. Despite this there is a clear possibility that the pool could close in the future - this would not be a fair decision or a sustainable approach to the issue at all.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Reason why I'm voting Green (3): for the best policies

Successive governments, whether Labour, Con/Lib Dem Coalition or Conservative, have consistently failed to put in place the essentials needed to build a sustainable society. They've all spoken warm words about the concept of sustainable development - which came to prominence 30 yrs ago this year (see here). Despite their words they have essentially carried on with business as usual. 

The policies needed to build a sustainable society are amongst the most popular with the public when blind surveys are done (, as you can see from the size of the Green wedge in the image. Take the survey yourself and see which policies you favour. I want to see such policies implemented because they are: 

  • Policies to ensure a decent future for generations to come - not more and more wealth, for the few, for the short term, but an ongoing availability and decent supply of wealth, fairly shared.
  • Policies to ensure efficiency replaces wastefulness.
  • Policies to ensure careful, sensitive management of resources, so that they remain available. 
  • Polices to ensure that renewable resource use replaces squandering.
  • Policies for assessing progress through the health and wellbeing of people and their environment. 
  • Polices to ensure we live within environmental and social limits and set new social and economic goals.
  • Policies to build strong, resilient, informed and empowered local communities.
  • Policies to help make us all safer and more secure.
  • Policies which recognise that fairness is inseparable from sustainable development.
  • Policies which recognise that solving problems and taking opportunities requires joined up thinking.

These popular policies are what we need to achieve changes on the required scale and at the required pace, at all levels of society, in the face of entrenched vested interests. 

Those advocating them offer the leadership society needs and which successive Labour, Conservative, and Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Governments have failed to provide.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Reason why I'm voting Green (2): for a safe, secure, non-nuclear future

Many Conservative and Labour politicians say we would be 'defenceless' without nuclear weapons and have used phrases like 'keep our guard up' and 'insurance policy' about them. As if keeping the country secure with indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction like Trident is just the same as a boxing match. As if getting rid of our nuclear weapons would lead to us immediately being attacked (even though the hundreds of countries that have never had them are not being nuked!). It's surely a very strange principle indeed - if it's worth calling a principle - that peace can be maintained by arranging to 'defend' ourselves with weapons we could not possibly use without committing suicide? Is it possible we can continue into the future like this, with confidence that nuclear weapons will never again be used?? No, a nuclear armed world is not sustainable and its one of the main reasons why I joined the Greens 35 yrs ago and am still with them (more on Trident here). 

The thinking behind nuclear weapons strategy is mutually assured destruction, which appropriately shortens to MAD. It says large use (!) of nuclear weapons by opponents causes the complete destruction of both sides. Nuclear weapons are thus, so the thinking goes, a deterrentthreatened use of nuclear weapons by both sides stops both sides from actually using them. Neither side has a motive to start a conflict - but neither side has motive to disarm either, which leaves us stuck with spending billions updating the weaponry when we really need the money for many other things.

MAD is seriously flawed. It assumes all decision makers will always be rational and decide rationally to avoid mutual destruction. This assumes no rogue commanders, no extremists, no irrational fervour for Armageddon. It assumes all those in command will always care about the survival of their citizens - and no-one with the bunker mentality of Hitler. Perfectly rational action also requires complete and error-free information and interpretation - not something that is possible.

CND Demonstration Oct 22 1983, London
Mutually assured destruction is assumed but by no means can it be forever guaranteed. One side might gain the upper hand technologically, perhaps in the speed, stealth or scale of its ability to attack and/or its ability to defend itself via shelters or via anti-missile systems. It might therefore be tempted into striking first.

We cannot expect to go on forever with no errors or accidents in the equipment and procedures. If there was an error or an accident that resulted in the firing of nuclear weapons - or indeed if there was a deliberate launch - it cannot be guaranteed that we could establish who was responsible. 

So, given all these things, mutual destruction breaks down.

Spending on nuclear weapons is not focused on real threats to our security. Obtaining sufficient, clean, green energy supplies on our finite planet, global terrorism, organised crime including cyber crime, absolute poverty and virtually ungoverned countries in some parts of the globe, climate change and a number of other issues all clearly represent huge ongoing security threats - spending on new nuclear submarines not only tackles none of these but takes away money that could be invested in tackling them (see this issue explored here).

The tens, perhaps hundreds, of billions involved is enough to build hundreds of new schools or protect hundreds of million acres of rainforest or meet our UN's aid figure of 0.7% of GDP every year for around a decade thus fighting global poverty which adds to our insecurity as it goes un-tackled. Just think of what could be done to enhance state pensions or improve social care or improve aspects of the NHS with the billions to be spent on nuclear submarines armed with nuclear weapons.

The vast majority of countries around the world do not feel they have to spend billions on nuclear weapons to make them more secure - so why do we?

By not reducing nuclear weapons significantly, an aspiration of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed decades ago, we have sent out the message to countries who have since developed nuclear weapons, like India, Pakistan, North Korea and possibly others, that the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons is a necessary and acceptable part of being a secure state. There is a resulting higher risk from the wider availability of nuclear material, which could be obtained by terrorists.

Successive Conservative, Labour and Conservative/Liberal Coalition governments have failed to lead the world in nuclear disarmament. The destructive capacity they have decided to retain is equivalent hundreds of the nuclear bombs used twice by the USA on Japan in August 1945. It's the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this summer. The USA then demonstrated the capability and willingness to deploy nuclear weapons of mass destruction in a war situation, mass killing non-combatants on a scale and with a speed previously unmatched. We can kill on an even bigger scale now. There's 'progress' for you. UK Government's continue to regard the threat of mass destruction as acceptable and worth spending many billions on to update systems.

Hiroshima devastated by a nuclear bomb in 1945
Why on Earth is such a massive capacity to indiscriminately annihilate needed? How can any Government or Opposition who want a large nuclear arsenal, ever be considered Green if they favour 'defence' by threatening to destroy life on a mass scale?

We must look hard for non-violent solutions to conflict situations, which take into account the interests of all parties as well as future generations in order to achieve lasting settlements. What moral authority can we possibly have to lecture other countries, such as Iran, about not developing nuclear weapons when we refuse to begin the process of disarmament ourselves - and indeed are in the process of upgrading our own nuclear weapons arsenal?

The replacement of Trident is immoral and hugely costly. It is dangerous, counterproductive, and places Britain at even greater risk of attack. Plans to replace Trident, together with the threat of first use of nuclear weapons - made by both Labour and Conservative politicians during this 2017 general election - reduce our moral standing.

Greens unambiguously oppose the replacement of Trident and seek binding global agreements against all weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. They oppose nuclear power and any associated technologies that produce the material for nuclear weapons. 

Defence should mean self-defence and UN-led policing where need is established. We need to improve the military to promote human security, by focusing on defence not aggression and specialising in crisis prevention, emergency relief and conflict resolution. We should end all export subsidies and increase controls on UK arms sales, especially to Governments who violate human rights (see the 2017 Green manifesto here).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Reason why I'm voting Green (1): great, truly local candidate

My Green general election candidate in Bristol South, Tony Dyer, is a local man, with local roots, living locally, with local knowledge and awareness of what the area needs. See his Bristol Post profile here. He is getting my vote on June 8.

* He lives in the constituency he wants to represent, in Ashton, South Bristol. None of the other candidates for Bristol South live here.

* Born, raised and schooled in Hartcliffe, South Bristol, Tony Dyer is the son of a Bedminster-born postman/builder and a Knowle West housewife.

* He has strong and deep ties to the city through family, education and work and is very proud of his Bristol heritage which goes back a long way.

* Tony's family roots are amongst the Bedminster coal miners and Bristol dock workers and a grandfather who grew up in slum conditions in the Old Market area.

* As the Green's parliamentary candidate for Bristol South in the May 2015 General Election Tony fought an excellent campaign based on a detailed set of policies - the only ones which coherently bring together economic, social and environmental justice.

* He gained the Greens best ever result in Bristol South, beating the Lib Dems, gaining almost 6000 votes, a double figure percentage and a rise of nine points compared to the previous election.

* This played a good part in raising Bristol Green Party's electoral support locally, with growth in councillor numbers (which originated in Bristol South in Southville ward).

* Tony is now the Green Party national spokesperson for local government and works closely with the 11 strong group of Green city councillors on local government matters.

* He is the Regional Liaison Officer for Green MEP for the South West Molly Scott Cato.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The West Country needs a Green Metro Mayor

This Thursday I'll be giving my first preference vote to Darren Hall, the Green Candidate for West of England Metro Mayor. Darren has by far the best policies, centred on the right principles, some features of which I'd like to highlight below. He also has great local knowledge and broad experience, born, educated, living and working in the West Country - and with years of experience in both the public, private and voluntary sectors. Find out the details of what Darren stands for, along with campaign news here.

Darren's emphasis on the need to build a resilient economy is really important.  Building resilience gives economic systems greater ability to retain their stability and security when subject to pressures and sudden events - and their recovery powers when affected. High resilience systems tend to be self-supporting, self-reliant, self-organising and adaptable in the face of change. Building resilience means increasing diversity, variety, alternative mutual support systems and contingency plans, especially with respect to essential needs such as food, water, shelter, energy, health and education provision, communications.

I'm really pleased to see Darren stressing that prosperity is about more than just GDP.  Prosperity encompasses general flourishing, thriving, general wellbeing, happiness and health as well as the economic factors. For me prosperity is measured much more closely by the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) or the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) than it is by conventional measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Quite simply prosperity is a broader, fairer idea of progress and success than GDP indicates.

One of the biggest, if not the biggest issues in the Metro Mayor election is transport. The strength of Darren's approach here is its emphasis on integration and on running public transport driven primarily by the need for public serviceAn integrated approach to transport is needed to deal with complexity and sort out confusion and incoherence, increasing transport effectiveness and efficiency through joined up thinking.Some things we call public are not determined by what the public need and want. With public transport for example private companies own and determine rail and bus services, subject to regulation, with limited public involvement. The result is they are not run for people as a whole and are not done by and for the people - this needs to change. 

On housing Darren is rightly for neighbourhood plans, community-led developments and both higher ethical and higher efficiency standards in the sector. We need many more affordable, good quality homes built within strong, informed, involved, empowered, lively and resilient local communities with all the powers, resources, facilities and services to meet their needs.

I work in the higher education sector. The provision of a broad range of learning opportunities on a lifelong basis is crucial to both the sustainable society we need and to the personal development and quality of life of people. I've experienced the value of such opportunities first-hand for decades now but agree with Darren that we simply aren't investing anything like enough in educating, training and re-training people.

As one would expect the emphasis on clean, renewable energy, opposition to fracking, green farming and natural means of flood protection and mitigation from Darren is very strong and most welcome to me. For Greens our environment is not just our surroundings or the biophysical world but also humans and their social, economic and other systems. We are a part of the environment and are dependent on it. Our environment has multidimensional interrelationships and feedbacks. Human-centred definitions of our environment are flawed. We are always linked into our environment and we are wrong if we think we can be fully in control of it. We really need all those making crucial decisions in our society to recognise this.

You can track Darren Hall's campaigning on Twitter here

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

On expertise and experts

During the EU referendum debate PM David Cameron advocated that we all 'listen to the experts' (see here and here). Expert politician Mr Cameron and his expert colleague George Osborne thought they would win the referendum but got their politics wrong.

Experts, so called, can often be found - starkly differing in their views - on both sides of an issue. Both sides can't be right. Experts, so labelled, in certain fields (not least in economics, politics, ethics) often fail to deliver the goods that experts should ie expertise. 

Before the June 23 referendum on UK membership of the EU, many economic experts made very gloomy forecasts. These forecasts were wrong, as some of them have acknowledged (see here and here).

'Experts' built the unsinkable Titanic (which sank), the Hindenburg airship (which went up in flames), the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations (built in an earthquake prone zone and were hit by a tsunami caused by an earthquake) and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (which shook itself apart during a gale). 

The experts of the time, so their credentials indicated, said Darwin's thinking on evolution by natural selection was wrong. Experts of the time ignored or dismissed Wegener's theory of continental drift for many decades (Wegener not having the label of expert in the relevant branch of science). Now, evolution and continental drift are amongst the major scientific theories.
Plenty more examples are available. Lets retain a healthy scepticism about 'authorities' on complex areas of life, the experts. Lets always thoroughly test all claims to expertise - and be willing to listen to those whose expertise we may be able to verify but may not have the label expert. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Would a Savage Metro Mayor savage the green belt?

Would you support a West Country Metro Mayor candidate who wanted to see the removal of much of the green belt around Bristol and Bath? By 2050 merging the two cities into one? John Savage, independent candidate for the West of England Metro Mayor advocated this in 2010/11 in a book that is linked to on his campaign website.

“It will happen. We must make it happen" said Savage (Bristol Post, Dec 2010)

As Chairman of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Executive Chairman of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative, former board member of the Regional Development Agency and former Chairman of the South West Learning and Skills Council Dr Savage has a great deal of experience to offer. However unless his view has changed he is advocating development that takes no account of future generations and ignores what the environment provides. Building over green belt land permanently removes an area where agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure can prevail, preventing urban sprawl. Land would no longer be kept open.
The creation of this much larger west country continuous urban area (which would be an economic powerhouse, according to Savage) would mean getting rid of the green belt between Bristol and Bath, green-field expansion to envelope Bristol Airport and a population massively increased by perhaps 500,000, needing 300,000 jobs and 200,000 houses. This is development regardless of the consequences rather than sustainable development that meets needs and enhances genuine prosperity. 
John Savages motivation is not just economic it seems. In 2010 he said this in the Bristol Post
“...I am a religious man, and I certainly felt the Big Man upstairs had some sort of plan for me to make a significant difference somewhere."

Getting rid of or substantially shrinking the Bristol-Bath green belt would make a significant difference - but not for the better.

The link below went to the 2010 Bristol Post story about this until a few weeks ago. John Savage then launched his campaign to be Metro Mayor - and now the link only takes you to the main Bristol Post news page. Coincidence I guess. 
See my original blog posts about this issue in 2010 and 2011 here: