Friday 1 May 2015

Canvassing in Islington today #greendoorstep

Just a very quick post to say - what a fabulous day out canvassing in sunny Islington today!  Here I am pictured with our wonderful Green councillor, and Parliamentary Candidate, Caroline Russell (@highburyonfoot)…

It's the first time I've been out canvassing this election and it was really striking how the tide seems to have turned towards the Greens.  This is due in no small part to all Caroline's excellent hard work as a councillor, and I'm sure we've been helped by (at last) getting some decent coverage in the leader debates.

Sure, we still met people who were planning to vote Labour - always have, always will, but even they were strikingly friendly and positive towards the Greens.  Many were apologetic about the fact they were planning to vote Labour.

And we met so many people who were undecided between Labour and the Greens, or who had decided to vote Green having voted Labour all their lives.

One man told me he stopped voting Labour and started voting Green when the "son of Thatcher" came into office.  He meant, of course, Tony Blair.

But many were much more recent converts.  One man who was planning to vote Green for the first time said "for me, Ed Miliband lost it in the TV debate last night with his attitude to the SNP".  Over and over again, voters told us they couldn't believe a Labour leader would rather have David Cameron in number 10, wreaking more destruction on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, than do a deal with the SNP.

And we met so many people who were voting Green with huge enthusiasm.  Everywhere we went there were Green Party posters up (see pics below) - sometimes in the upstairs windows where teenage kids were voting Green even though their parents were sticking with one of the 'grey' parties.

The tide is really turning.  People are coming to the Greens as a fresh, positive alternative.  The peaceful political revolution starts here!

This lady was going out so she stuck the Green Party poster on the *outside* of her front door!

We gave this voter a poster and she propped it up in the window straight away.

This voter went one better and had *four* posters up in her window including Caroline's election leaflet.

Why it is not OK to use kids as free political advertising! #stickergate

Photo credit - Emily Thornberry via Twitter

This week the Islington Labour party were yet again waiting at the school gates of primary schools armed with 'vote Labour' balloons and stickers aimed at children as young as 4 years old.  They have form for this and it isn't the first time someone has suggested that this form of campaigning exploits children.

When we challenged Emily Thornberry about this she suggested it was just a bit of fun.  So, are we Greens just spoiling the party atmosphere, or is there a serious point here? 

Indoctrination of primary school age kids is prohibited by law (section 406 of the Education Act 1996). This includes promoting a particular political party to them. That is for broadly the same reasons that a lot of people would like to limit or prohibit advertising to young kids. They are not sophisticated enough to understand what's being pushed at them and how; and they don't know what other options they have.

The position for secondary school kids is different - there, you can have mock elections etc and provided this is done in a balanced way it is not only permissible but desirable. Of course it would still be absolutely impermissible, unbalanced and plain wrong to push just one political party to kids in a secondary school.

To me these considerations all apply with equal force at the school gates.

The simple fact of the matter is that if the Tories, UKIP or even the Green Party were down at a school with armfuls of blue, purple or green balloons many people would be absolutely up in arms.  Yet some of my Labour supporting friends have been relaxed about pushing Labour party stickers and balloons at primary school kids.

So, why is the Labour party different?

In my view the problem here is that Labour feels entitled to the votes of people in Islington. A lot of people here do vote Labour, sometimes over 50% of those voting in Islington North (but still way under 50% of the whole population including non-voters!)  

In Emily's constituency of Islington South the figures are rather less impressive - just over 40% of those voting chose Labour, with just over 60% turnout, which means a measly 27% of Thornberry's Islington South constituents voted Labour.

But there is a still a sense of entitlement, of saying 'these are our voters, of course they want our badges/balloons'. I believe that sense of entitlement is wrong and damaging. It also makes it very difficult for people to dissent or disagree, even just to the extent of making their child the only one without a balloon or a sticker.

Thornberry has sought to defend her actions by saying that children and parents had a choice about whether to take a sticker or balloon.  But local parents are telling us every single kid walking out of school that day had a Labour party sticker on his/her uniform.  I don't accept there was any real choice here.  Anyone who has ever collected a kid from primary school knows that would be about the last possible time and place you would want to have a detailed political conversation (or any serious conversation) with an adult. We also all know that kids will see stickers and balloons and will want to have one and that the path of least resistance is often to allow that.  

So, what can we do about this and what needs to change?

I would like to see all political parties in Islington and elsewhere stay away from primary school gates and concentrate on having canvassing conversations with adults at an appropriate time and in an appropriate place.

I actually think that older primary school children are completely ready to learn about politics and I would like to see hustings organised aimed at this age bracket (say 9-12 year olds) with their parents, as well as hustings aimed at teenagers aged 13-17, so that children can start to learn and get informed about the policies of *all* the parties.  Surely that's the right way to go about civic engagement for primary school children, Emily?

Monday 26 May 2014

Proportional representation for Islington!

As local authorities in Islington and other metropolitan boroughs ponder how to ensure effective democracy with no, or minimal, political opposition - is it time to bring in proportional representation for local government?
For example, in Islington we have 48 local councillors. On yesterday's results with PR this would translate into a small Labour majority: Lab 27, Green 9, Lib Dem 7, Tory 5.
What we actually got is what someone has described as 'the North Korea of London': Labour 47, Green 1, others zero.
Surely a change would be beneficial for everyone but particularly for local democracy, not to mention voter participation?

Monday 28 October 2013

Council mustn't shirk it's public health responsibilities on air pollution

Highbury Greens are delighted to see that Richard Watts, the new Council Leader, recognises the harmful effects of air pollution on Islington residents’ health but was worried by his claim at the recent Air Pollution meeting that "Islington can not go any further on its own".  He was certainly right to say that the Mayor of London should do more to remove diesel vehicles from our roads, but there are plenty of actions that Islington Council can and should take, and his new administration should not shirk its own responsibilities.

A number of possible actions were outlined at the self same meeting by Public Health expert, Lucy Saunders of the Greater London Assembly, who described physical inactivity and air pollution as two of the top things the council could address to deliver the best health outcomes for residents on a range of issues from cancer, lung and heart diseases to obesity.  Summing up her workshop, she described  Islington's streets as "our biggest public health asset" and listed the following actions suggested by residents to increase physical activity levels by encouraging walking and cycling for local trips:

  • managing the borough's roads for the movement of people and not just traffic
  • reducing on-street parking year on year
  • running a "streets for people" health-check on all council policies 

The negative health impact from pollution and traffic danger is worse for those with underlying health conditions and people with low incomes, who often live on the most polluted roads. I'm glad Islington Labour have at last woken up to the health implications of air pollution and look forward to seeing action on this basic issue of fairness.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

All the fun of the fair comes at a price

So what do you think about events on Highbury Fields?  The Islington Tribune recently featured residents concerned about extensive damage to the Fields caused by compaction of the soil by heavy lorries, leaving deep cracks in the ground. I could see what people were concerned about.  It would be easy to twist an ankle if you stepped awkwardly on one of these cracks, which could clearly be dangerous to people running and playing on the grass.  

Highbury Fields is Islington's largest open space and is valued and enjoyed daily by residents across Islington.  Is it ok to close off large sections of the Fields for paid for events like funfairs which appear to cause long term damage to the park?  Fairs are enjoyed by many but limit the space available for children and adults to play and relax for free without pressure to spend money.

Whenever the council has consulted on events on Highbury Fields there's been a strong vote in favour of community activities like the Gillespie Festival rather than commercial events with huge lorries.

This weekend a funfair is due to arrive.  A funfair is an easy option, will presumably make money for the council, and almost by definition will be fun for some, but a cost of £10 for ten tokens, with some rides charging more than one token, will price many families out of the enjoyment. If Highbury Fields is "a resource for all those in the borough with no access to green space", as Cllr Richard Greening says in the Tribune 6 Sept, then perhaps the council could look into more affordable and inclusive options for next year?

Example of the deep cracks opening in the grass showing compaction damage.

Monday 22 April 2013

Highbury needs more people-friendly streets not this Council "innovation"

Update 25th April letter of the week in the Islington Gazette.  Not online so content below.

The controversy surrounding the Drayton Park width restriction layout exposes  Islington Council's muddled thinking about managing our roads  and an apparent lack of any consideration for the safety and convenience of residents (Controversial Holloway road layout branded illegal – leaving Islington Council facing £1million payout. Gazette 18th April).

The Council's continued insistence that the layout was put in at "residents’ request" for safer roads is baffling.  There was no prior discussion with residents of the proposed measure either at the Highbury West ward partnership meetings or with the representatives of pedestrians and cyclists.  The council initially described the width restriction design as "innovative" and insisted "it would bed in" and "people would get used to it".

Ernestas Jegorovas, caroline Russell & Charlie Kiss at the Drayton Park width restriction.

Drayton Park is a wide sweeping and increasingly residential road.  A massive opportunity has been missed to upgrade the public realm, reclaim road space for residents and manage  the very real danger  presented by large lorries using residential roads with a lorry ban enforced by a camera rather than the current width restriction that makes cars swerve dangerously from one side of the road to the other, flipping over with alarming regularity.

The council need to decide if they want a speed control measure or a way of preventing large lorries from cutting through residential streets or both.  The current design does neither effectively and has been to the detriment of the amenity and safety of residents. It is hard to conclude other than that the Council wanted a revenue stream from confused motorists rather than a better designed street. Lorry bans can be enforced without width restrictions by erecting a camera to monitor lorry movements, fining any lorry drivers who ignore the ban.  Speed can be controlled by redesigning streets to feel like places for people rather than highways dedicated primarily to fast moving vehicles.

Islington has the least public green space in London, our streets should be valued as precious public space and every opportunity taken to widen the pavements to deter speeding and make space for planting trees, transforming the roads into a more pleasant place to walk and cycle for the 65% of residents who have no access to a car or van.  This has been a shocking and avoidable waste of council resources.  Highbury needs more people-friendly streets and less of this wasteful "innovation".

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Solidarity with the PCS Union Strikers!

I'm just back from the picket line at Euston Tower, joining representatives of the PCS Union and Unison on their budget day #M20 strike to protest against Government attacks on civil servants' pay, pensions and working conditions.

The strikers' demands are simple:  fair pay for all civil servants now, and no privatisation of key public services.

I was a civil servant myself for some years, as were others in my family.  People don't become civil servants to get rich - they do so because they want to serve the public and play a part in providing key public services.  Civil servants do hard work for less money than the private sector - 5 to 10% less pay for the same jobs, in fact.

The last government, under Blair and Brown, sought to undermine public servants at every turn.  They suggested that the private sector was in some way superior to the public sector.  That's an insidious, damaging and wrongheaded idea that, together with Ed Miliband's failure to support the strikers, does continuing damage to the public sector.

Now public sector pay and pensions, and working conditions, are under attack from the Con-Dem coalition.

At the PCS Euston picket line, 20 March 2013
We in the Green Party are clear: the private sector - acting for profit, lining the pockets of directors and shareholders - can never match up to the public sector, acting for the common good and in the public interest, when it comes to the delivery of key public services like running the NHS or providing welfare benefits advice to vulnerable people.

So today we say:  shame on this Government.  Shame on Ed Miliband for failing to support public sector workers.  We stand with the strikers in standing up to the Government and demanding an end to its failed austerity measures which threaten to send us into a triple-dip recession.  As the PCS Union has pointed out, a rise in civil service pay this year to keep pace with inflation could be more than paid for by serious action against wealthy tax dodgers.  

Good luck and solidarity to all the strikers today.  We hope that the Government - and the Labour party -are listening.