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: