31 December 2007

Predicting 2008

End-of-year prognostication is a mug's game. Only today, the prospect of a wildcard entry into the US Presidential race, North Korea missing a key nuclear deadline, and violent unrest in Kenya, shows how quickly things can change.

I especially hesitate to offer any environment-related predictions. Brown and Blair have stressed that the biggest challenge of our time is the transition to a low-carbon economy. Yet, we lag behind other countries in our efforts at CHP and decentralised energy. 50 other countries have a feed-in tariff, to encourage renewable energy takeup. Britain, as a first step in 2008, should try to catch-up to other countries (Germany on solar/wind, Denmark on decentralised energy), and then talk about global leadership.

30 December 2007

Supermarkets And Salt

A report from the PM's Strategy Unit has found that not eating enough fruit and vegetables is causing 42,200 premature deaths a year. The good news is that 44 per cent of schoolchildren in England now consume five portions daily, up from 27 per cent in 2004. This is down to the Jamie Oliver Effect and more free fresh fruit.

Buried at the end of the Guardian article is that 55 people a day are dying due to excessive salt consumption.

This is something that the government has wanted action on for eight years, but unless the government uses a big stick, it's down to supermarkets.

One of the arguments put forward by food manufacturers is that reduced-salt food will not taste as good. There are also commercial concerns a less salty diet will reduce the demand for drinks.
Commercial concerns shouldn't come first when 400 people are dying a week.

The National Consumer Council (in 2006) and Consensus Action On Salt And Health (2007) have outlined the dangers.

The government recommends that adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but average intake of salt is still at 9g a day.

14 million "ready meals" are eaten each year, and here are the top 3, according to CASH, for salt content:

- Asda Indian chicken tikka masala and pilau rice, 5g salt
- Waitrose chicken tikka masala and pilau rice, 3.63g salt
- Co-op chicken in Thai green curry sauce with oriental rice, 3.6g salt

29 December 2007

New Years Honours List

I'm always fascinated to wade through the full honours list.

The media cover things like Sir Michael Parkinson (his departure marks the end of the interview as part of a chat show), or, deservedly, Sir Ian McKellan being recognised for his equality work with Stonewall.

Locally, a police constable, "Barney" Barnes, made the front page of the Coventry Telegraph for news of his MBE.

Others (the chief executives of VSO and Cafedirect; Foreign Office staff who help British pilgrims on the hajj; people who work in the field of public health and female genital mutilation; or the chief executive of Punch Records) were also honoured.

The mainsteam media ignore, however, that gongs are repeatedly used to reward people in defence industry in Britain.

- CBEs were awarded to the chief executive of Cobham, to the managing director of the submarine division of BAE Systems, and to the head of Defence Export Services at the MOD

- OBEs were awarded to the chair of Northern Defence Industries, to the MD (Public Sector) of QinetiQ, to the MD of BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions, to a senior consultant of EADS, to the vice-chair of the committee in charge of media defence censorship, to people involved in the West of England Aerospace Forum, in SELEX Sensors and Airborne Systems, and Serco Defence Science and Technology.

- David Richmond, the Director General for Defence and Intelligence at the Foreign Office, even got a knighthood.

It takes the shine off one of the first moves by Gordon Brown in government, to shut DESO, the defence export service organisation.

Oh, and Tom Kelly, Blair's spokesperson who smeared Dr. David Kelly as a "Walter Mitty" fantasist, received the Order of Bath.

27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto - 1953-2007

Jason Burke, of the Observer, writes about the possible suspects in the gun/bomb suicide attack on Bhutto's entourage, in advance of a rally in Rawalpindi.

Musharraf has declared three days of official mourning. It's very unclear if elections, a month from now, can proceed if the security of political leadership can't be guaranteed. Of course, cancelling elections is just what Islamist terrorists in Pakistan want. The renewal of democracy in Pakistan would create political leadership for the army to follow.

Bhutto was:

the first female prime minister to lead a Muslim country in modern times ... presenting herself as a moderate, willing to stand up to the Islamist militants in the madrassas and to take on the pro-Taliban fighters in the lawless Afghan border areas instead of making truces ... As prime minister she [had] showed more interest in human rights and the position of women in a traditional society, and she never attacked non-governmental organisations as did Nawaz Sharif, her main rival. On religious matters she had a more modern outlook, although like her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she was also willing to pander to religious groups for short-term benefit.
James Forsyth points out that:

Musharraf now knows that the West has no palatable alternative to him—Nawaz Sharif is too Islamist for Washington and London’s comfort—and so will be less concerned about Western demands that this January’s Parliamentary elections go ahead.

Labour Revolt Over 42 Day Detention

A survey of Labour MPs, by ComRes on behalf of Liberty, shows that only 36% of Labour MPs support extending detention beyond the current 28-day limit.

A temporary extension during a national emergency attracted the support of barely half (51%) of Labour MPs.

Sir Ken Macdonald, the director of Public Prosecutions, reiterated his view that the 28-day limit was working well, and told Radio 4's "The World At One" that ministers wanted:

to pass laws based on a theoretical threat. "I think the basic point is whether you want to legislate on the basis of hypotheticals or whether you want to legislate on the basis of the evidence that we have acquired through practice ... It seems to me that if you are legislating in an area which is going to curtail civil liberties to a significant extent, it is better to proceed by way of the evidence and the evidence of experience."

26 December 2007

Clegg Wants More Private NHS Provision

If you want more public funds going into the private medical sector, voting Lib Dem is the way to go.

On health, [David Laws] revealed that the party was looking at plans to fund private treatment if the NHS kept patients waiting too long ... "If a hospital doesn't deliver the treatment within a reasonable period of time, say six months, the penalty they face is that the patient has the power to say 'I'm taking that money' and exit into the private sector, and the NHS will have an obligation to fund the whole private sector cost." ... Other plans include an expansion of the use of private treatment centres to perform minor surgery when NHS hospitals cannot cope ... Mr Laws, MP for Yeovil, said the Lib Dems would be more radical than the Tories.
The emphasis should be on expanding public sector capacity in the NHS. Then, you wouldn't have to subsidise private healthcare with general taxation. As David Hinchliffe, the Labour chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, said, back in 2000:

"I feel it is very wrong of the government to get into bed with the private sector which has, over the 50 years of the NHS, constantly attempted to undermine the concept of state health care. To me giving it comfort at a time when it is known that the public sector is struggling is not something I would expect a Labour government to do."
It's ominous that Clegg's team, within days of the leadership change, are signalling that they're going to out-Tory the Tories. In the same article linked above, they also talk about having children in care being funded to attend private boarding schools.

Green Business Parks In Coventry

If Coventry had acted first, this type of business park would have created 7500 jobs.

The London Development Agency and Livingstone's advisors have held talks with Ford officials to persuade the car giant to base its worldwide green car division at the Dagenham docks site near its diesel engine manufacturing plant. They hope that Ford will eventually produce hydrogen-powered cars there. Talks have begun with universities on basing their environmental technology departments at the business park. The site, which is largely owned by the London Development Agency, would host a plastic and electric product recycling centre and a major solar power assembly plant.
It's taking place on the site of a former car factory. East London is recreating its industrial base for the 21st century. It's something that Coventry should be trying to do, to be the centre of the "new" car industry for the next 100 years.

As Caroline Lucas, one of our two Green MEPs, has said, "a low-carbon future isn't a future of shivering around a candle in a cave."

Pursuing a Green industrial policy for Coventry would have us secure "first mover advantage" when it comes to this sort of business park.

23 December 2007

Recent Green Party News

Chris Hull, a Green Party county councillor in Norfolk, and a member of the Residents Against Unthank Tesco (RAUT) campaign group, is concerned at the democratic process around planning approval.

Robin Harper MSP, the Scottish Green Party co-convener, called for the Scottish Government to use its powers to block the approval of oil and gas exploration in the Moray Firth, which will threaten the habitat of dolphins.

Sian Berry, our candidate for mayor of London in 2008, warned against Harriet Harman's plans for a toatl prohibition on prostitution. Berry said Swedish police are finding men are less likely to come forward and report suspected abuse because they have been criminalised.

20 December 2007

Why Carry Or Use A Knife?

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has a revised report out, called "Knife Crime -- A Review of Evidence and Policy," first published as a briefing paper in August 2006.

It's key to understand why youth carry knives. Or why youth and adults take drugs. Or why people binge drink and binge drink. Or why men rape.

If we don't understand why, and we just lock people up for years and years, we won't cure the problem.

Insecurity and protection are key factors in knife carrying among young people. The 2004 YJB Youth Survey found that 2 per cent of the children in school surveyed and 10 per cent of excluded children had taken a weapon to school to defend [themselves]. More tellingly, the same survey found that children who have been the victim of a crime are more likely to carry a knife than those who have not been a victim.

Among excluded children, 62 per cent who had been a victim of a crime carried a knife compared with 51 per cent who had not been a victim.

More than eight in ten (85 per cent) of those who said they had carried a knife in the last 12 months said the main reason for doing so was for protection; 9 per cent said that it was in case they got into a fight; and 6 per cent mentioned another reason.

Other research has found that knife carrying among young people is also linked to whether they feel safe from crime and victimisation. A report commissioned by the Bridge House Trust, "Fear and Fashion," which sought the views of practitioners working with young people, concluded that fear of crime, experience – direct or otherwise – of victimisation and the desire for status in an unequal society are the chief motivations for carrying a knife.

The report also provided some explanation for the apparently high levels of knife carrying among excluded children and the spread of knife carrying among young people:

The possession of a knife or other weapon can also be a means of acquiring status. Children who experience failure at school or other kinds of social exclusion could be looking for status by carrying and brandishing a knife. Harriet Harman, [currently Deputy Leader of Labour], makes a link with race: "There is clearly a sense that this is an unequal society where you are blocked by the colour of your skin, and there is a feeling that you achieve status not by getting a degree or by qualifications but by having a knife."

Looking To 2008

Anatole Kaletsky, in the Times, predicts that the government's run of scandal, data losses and confrontation with its own backbenchers (90 day detention) will resume after the Christmas holidays: "When someone is this accident-prone, it is no accident."

The Independent looks at 10 forgotten humanitarian crises -- such as the Central African Republic, or the 500 000 people worldwide diagnosed last year with drug-resistant TB -- that will hopefully get more attention next year.

Finally, Hamish McRae, also in the Indie, tries his hand at predictions for 2008, while cautioning that, in last year's predictions, he:

cannot find a single reference, on an admittedly quick look at last year's crop of forecasts, to the possibility of a liquidity crisis. Nor was there much about the possibility of the oil price doubling or the dollar falling as sharply as it has done. There were references, including some on these pages, to the overvaluation of house prices worldwide, and some of us reckoned that the end of this economic cycle would in some way be associated with falling property prices. But I know I saw the explosive growth of the hedge funds as the major source of potential weakness in the financial system, rather than the antics of mainstream banks [...]

One of the most alarming features of the past year, alarming in particular for the emerging economies, has been the surge in the price of food, [partly due to] rising demand in China and elsewhere, including rising demand for meat. As living standards continue to rise throughout Asia such demand will probably carry on increasing. This is good news for the farmers of North America and Brazil, but it is adding to global inflation, and is particularly hard on poorer people in poorer countries. Rising food prices could bring serious disruption, social as well as economic, to the world next year.

19 December 2007

Carbon Neutral Schools In Coventry

The Coventry Telegraph reports that five secondary schools in Coventry (out of 30 in the West Midlands) will receive funding to reduce carbon emissions.

The schools are Finham Park, Ernesford Grange, President Kennedy, Tile Hill Wood, and the Swanswell Academy (which will replace Sidney Stringer).

They will be able to use the money to install low-power computers, energy-saving lighting, better insulation, solar panels and wind turbines to generate electricity, solar water heating systems and wood-burning boilers.

Meet Your Meat

"They are snapped into shackles by their fragile legs, and have their throats slit, often while they are still conscious. Many are scalded alive in the feather removal tanks"

"These hens are so crowded, that they are unable to spread one wing during their entire miserable lives … It takes an average of 34 hours in these conditions to produce just one egg. When egg production drops, producers often shock the bodies of the worn-out birds into another laying cycle, by withholding food for up to 14 days. Many die of starvation. Because their bones are so weak, and their bodies so worn down, up to 90% of hens have broken bones, or are haemorrhaging, by the time they make it to slaughter."

A "Fair Employment Commission"

Citizens Advice is calling for a "Fair Employment Commission" to be created:

Last year, Citizens Advice Bureaux across the UK dealt with more than half a million employment related queries.

60% of these involved the denial of statutory workplace rights such as the minimum wage, paid holiday and sick leave and pay. Some workers were also required to work excessively long hours or were denied proper rest breaks, the report said. Others were summarily dismissed for being pregnant. Other high risk groups include migrant workers and those who because of age, disability of lack of skills, would struggle to find another job.
In contrast, David Cameron's in favour of taking what worker protection we have away. Cameron wants to take Britain out of the EU's Social Chapter -- that would mean less protection against discrimination, the removal of legal protection for part-time workers, and the ending of the rights of women to extend maternity leave.

18 December 2007

Nick Clegg Wins Lib Dem Leadership

Nick Clegg has won the leadership, albeit barely, of the Lib Dems from Chris Huhne.

His biography reads as: educated at the fee-paying (this year, for boarders, £8,652 a term) Westminster school, a series of graduate degrees, then a FT journalist, then chief of staff to a European Commissioner, then a MEP, and now as the MP for Sheffield Hallam.

He's an insider, through and through.

At the start of the campaign, Jackie Ashley, of the Guardian, characterised Clegg this way:

"Clegg, unlike Huhne, looks and sounds like a Cameron-era Tory ... He's pretty and glossy, but very inexperienced and too rightwing for my taste. And aren't people saying we have enough young chaps in top jobs at Westminster who've done little outside politics just at the moment? ... Still, he's good on telly, he's energetic and has an air of authenticity and common sense about him. It's hard to believe the Lib Dems will pick anyone else."

During the campaign:

- Clegg opposed unilateral disarmanent, and he supported retaining the existing Trident system. So, another "grey" party leader who wants his finger on the nuclear button.

- Clegg wanted to "make it compulsory for airlines to put information detailing carbon emissions onto air tickets and onto web pages so that people can actually see the environmental impact before they purchase their flight." The obvious question is, will he only fly now, as leader, on airlines that do this?

Finally, a vote for Clegg or Huhne (such choice) is a vote for the Lib Dems to embrace the polices of their "Orange Book", a more free-market approach to policy orientation, from three years ago.

The Next National Election

The focus of the Green Party, in the next national election, will be to elect our first MP.

Here are five places in the country where it could happen.

- Brighton Pavillion -- Caroline Lucas -- Caroline Lucas is one of Britain's two Green MEPs. The Green Party received 22% of the vote in the 2005 election in this seat. The city council wards that make up Brighton Pavillion voted 30% for the Greens in the 2007 elections. So, if they vote the same way in the next election ...

- Norwich South -- Adrian Ramsey -- Ramsey has been a city councillor since 2003. He was re-elected in Nelson ward in 2007, receiving 62% of the vote. Similar to Brighton, if people vote the same way as in the 2007 city elections, the Greens will defeat Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary.

- Lewisham Deptford -- Darren Johnson -- Johnson was elected to the London Assembly in May 2000, was re-elected in 2004, and was the first Green to take a seat on Lewisham Council in May 2002. There are now six Green councillors in Lewisham Deptford. The Greens came a clear second to Labour in last year’s council elections, with the Liberal Democrats managing only two councillors, and the Tories winning no seats.

- Lancaster & Fleetwood -- Gina Dowding -- Dowding, until standing down in 2007, had been a councillor for 8 years in Lancaster, six of those in the council cabinet. The Greens hold 12 district council seats in the constituency, the same number as Labour, and one more than the Tories. After Dowding blew the whistle in 2002 on Lancaster City Council’s secret decision to grant rate relief to Heysham nuclear power station, she was re-elected with nearly 60% of the vote.

- Oxford East -- Peter Tatchell -- I'm tempted to have a drumroll and say, "and now, a man who needs no introduction." Tatchell's use of direct action to promote gay liberation and social justice is one of the most impressive in Britain. Oxford has 8 Green city councillors, and Oxford East has wards like St Mary's where Greens already receive 66 per cent of the vote.

Alcohol, Violence And Coventry

Coventry is in the midst of a near-epidemic of alcohol-related problems. That sounds overly dramatic, but read on.

Two different year-and-a-half stretches of crime was compared for a recent report to the licensing committee of Coventry City Council -- "from 1st October 2005 – 30th September 2006" and "1st October 2006 – 30th September 2007."

Coventry is divided into three police regions (South, North West and North East).

The significant increases were in offences involving alcohol "within a dwelling" in South (28.7%) and North West (13.9%).

The report concludes:

A large number of offences are occurring, if not between partners (domestic violence and abuse) then within groups who know each other and in situations which escalate into crime as a result of excessive alcohol intake.
The Guardian:

Binge drinking is fuelling an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections, as well as high rates of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

Linda Tucker, one of the main authors and a consultant nurse in sexual health and HIV: "The link between sexual risk and drinking too much alcohol is not the most original idea in the world, but we now have clear, scientific evidence of the relationship ... The government needs to reflect this link in their sexual health and alcohol strategy - which at present seems not to link alcohol and sexual risk behaviour. Politicians need to tackle the issue of cheap booze and to have properly funded early intervention and treatment programmes."
Coventry Telegraph:

A new report outlines the extent to which excessive consumption of booze is affecting local communities. It reveals that 340 people in Coventry claimed incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance in 2006 because of alcohol addiction - the second highest in the region.

The report, Alcohol in the West Midlands 2007, also shows that between 2003 and 2005/6 more than 2,129 children in the region were admitted to hospital for specific alcohol related conditions.

In 2006/7 there were 4,072 crimes in Coventry attributable to alcohol - 2,809 involved violence against a person and 62 of these were sexual offences.
It really does all come back to alcohol. We won't be able to address behind-closed-doors problems with domestic violence and domestic rape -- or city-centre disturbances on Friday and Saturday nights -- unless we look at why people are using alcohol the way they are. It's not about banning it, or raising the drinking age to 21. It's about why are people drinking themselves silly three and four times a week.

17 December 2007

Monday Media Round-Up

- Land Rover's plan for carbon off-setting of SUVs -- "It gives the wrong impression that we can still drive around as we are doing now and somewhere else in the world those bad driving habits will be offset."

- How old is the chicken in your supermarket sandwich?

- A half-metre rise in sea levels could displace 2 to 4 million Egyptians by 2050. Rising sesa levels would also contaminate the drinking water of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

- A very grim poll, from the point of view of Gordon Brown, on the issues of trust, being better than Blair, sleaze, and Afghanistan

16 December 2007

The Bali "Road Map" On Climate Change

10 000 delegates get together from more than 180 countries to hammer out an international agreement on what should follow the Kyoto protocol.

What happened?

1) Countries did not set in place any commitments.

2) A fund was agreed for poor countries, but no figure was mentioned.

3) The EU was blocked by the US, Canada and Japan over a committment to reduce emissions (below 1990 levels) by 25 to 40% by 2020.

4) There will be a 2008 meeting in Posnan (Poland) and at the end of 2009 (Copenhagen).

So, more meetings. Wheee.

In response to all these non-commitment climb-downs by the EU, the White House decides to make everything perfectly clear:

Negotiations must proceed on the view that the problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone ... The United States believes that any arrangement must also take into account the legitimate right of the major developing economies and indeed all countries to grow their economies, develop on a sustainable basis, and have access to secure energy sources.
As Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, has said:

It is like a red rag to a bull to suggest on the floor of the UN that developing countries should sign up to commitments similar to those held by the richer ones. The US has contributed far more CO2 emissions than any other country at the talks and its representatives knew that what it was proposing was completely unacceptable.

Hi-Tech Gadgets And Christmas

"If just one household in every 25 in the UK buys a new Digital Photo Frame, it will lead to a rise in annual CO2 emissions of 11,000 tonnes – the equivalent of over 14,000 air passenger journeys from London to New York."

14 December 2007

Climate Negotiations At Bali

When the media aren't covering "Canoe Man" or Fabio Capello, they occasionally go to a correspondant at the climate change negotiations at the Bali summit.

How many chats around the water-cooler have you had over the last week about the climate talks? What emerges from them will guide governments from now until 2025.

From the media coverage of negotiations at Kyoto, my perception was that Kyoto was watered down, and watered down, and then watered down some more, to try and get countries like Canada, the US and Australia on board. Even then, for the 10 years since Kyoto, we have countries like Japan, Spain and Italy breaking their commitments. Whatever agreement is reached, we need to hold our governments to account -- local, regional, national, and at the European level.

What a "Bali Treaty" needs is a kind of, that word again, Marshall Plan, to transfer zero-carbon technology to industrialising developing countries.

70% of the carbon surge over the next 25 years will originate in developing countries - most of it in India and China. From a climate change perspective, Asia has three critical ingredients that add up to crisis: high growth, large populations, and an energy system fuelled by large reserves of coal ... Developed country governments need to create economically enabling environments for developing countries to produce lower emissions without compromising poverty reduction goals.
David Shukman of BBC News popped away from the air-conditioned climate talks to talk with a local rice farmer:

We talked about how Mangku Candra is faring. The weather has become unpredictable, he told me. The rains arrive late and haven't delivered enough water in the past four years. Yields of rice on his small plot are down by about a quarter. For a subsistence farmer, this really matters. And it's a foretaste of what the UN climate panel said could happen in South-East Asia - changing patterns could threaten crops and the availability of food for millions of people.

Pamphlets In GP Surgery Waiting Rooms

"I'm shocked that some of these leaflets are being produced by companies and not the NHS," said a woman waiting to attend a family-planning clinic. "I work in advertising so I know the tricks of the industry, but even I didn't know waiting rooms were being used like this."

13 December 2007

Labour And Private Healthcare

Gordon Brown is having his twice-yearly grilling today by senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee. Some of the first few questions focused on "public sector reform" -- that's New Labour for selling off the public sector.

The BBC running commentary:

[Brown] said the role of the private sector was expanding, and would continue to expand, in areas such as health. Independent treatment centres will have diagnosed a million people by April of next year, Mr Brown added. A forum had been set up to encourage more private operators to come into the health sector.
This follows on from a Financial Times report yesterday:

Ministers have launched a charm offensive to persuade the private sector to bid to run over 250 new family doctor practices and health centres across England ... The move is part of the government’s drive to assure the private sector that there has been no change of policy over it having a bigger role in the provision of National Health Service care ... The government is investing £250m to help primary care trusts purchase the new practices and health centres, and ministers and officials have held a number of dinners with leading private providers arguing that, while the emphasis has shifted to primary care, big opportunities still remain.
It's amazing that people keep thinking that Labour is "socialist" or even "social democratic" when it keeps making decisions that Germans would call Christian Democrat. After 10 years of this kind of politics, we have a Britain where social mobility has remained static for 30 years, where "10 percent of people from the poorest fifth of households get a degree compared to 44 percent from the richest twenty percent of homes persists."

Red Pepper recently had a multi-article debate on the Left and Labour. As part of it, Mark Perryman said:

There must be some trade union leaders, Tony Woodley of Unite in particular, who have "Won't Get Fooled Again" playing on their ipods permanently, so convinced are they that Brown will be different from Blair. He treats them to Quentin Davies, Digby Jones, Margaret Thatcher on the steps of 10 Downing Street, an effective public sector wage freeze, a permanent revolution of privatisation and they still don't get it.

12 December 2007

25 Years After Greenham Common

Kate Hudson, of CND, writing in the New Statesman:

On 12th December 1982, I got up very early, and went by coach with other bleary-eyed women, from Islington to Greenham Common. Our intention was to surround the nine mile perimeter fence of the US air force base, where 96 US cruise missiles were to be delivered a year later.

Coventry City Council's Corporate Plan

The half year progress report (2007/2008) for the city council has been put on their website.

You can take a look at it here.

It will be tabled at the next city council cabinet meeting, on the 18th of December.

A number of issues jump out:

- page 20 (not enough empty properties coming back into use),
- page 27 (lower life expectancy year on year in "priority neighbourhoods" in Coventry), and,
- page 38 (only 134 affordable housing units built in the last six months).

Take a read through it. This is the nuts-and-bolts of what the council is doing well, and where it is significantly falling short. We have so much recent focus on big-fix megaprojects (Ikea, the Swanswell, Friargate), but some basics like housing and life expectancy are being neglected.

11 December 2007

Carbon And Christmas

Researchers in Manchester have calculated that a carbon footprint equivalent to 6,000 car journeys around the world will be produced by the UK's Christmas dinners. Half of the carbon emissions are down to the "food production and processing" of the "life cycle" of the turkey, as well as transporting cranberry sauce from North America.

Here are a few tips on how we can make this the first of many green Christmases in Coventry.

- When shopping, think about what Christmas presents will be useful, not leckie-hungry gadgets that will be abandoned after a few weeks. You could give someone membership to HDRA, the charity behind Garden Organic Ryton (free admission, a quarterly magazine, and reduced rates on courses). You could decide to buy only second-hand goods for gifts. Or only give gifts that you have made. Or decide that all your gifts will be homemade food. I recently bought a book on bread making, and I've enjoyed learning how to bake apricot spelt and olive spelt loaves.

- Instead of a few dozen Christmas cards, you could send e-cards to friends and family: http://www.foe.co.uk/cards/index.html.

- Christmas lights are incredibly inefficient -- a set of 200 bulbs use the same electricity in the average home as a television set. If every home in the country switched from traditional Christmas lights to energy efficient LED bulbs, it would be the same as taking 70 000 cars off the road.

- If you do buy cotton clothing for gifts (socks, socks and more socks!), please buy organic fair-trade cotton. Cotton producers use more than 10% of the world's pesticides and nearly 25% of the world's insecticides. Pesticides poison farm workers, contaminate ground and surface water, and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms. You can even go one better and buy organic hemp products. It takes 760 litres of water to "grow" each cotton T-shirt, and hemp needs far less water as a crop.

- For the main meal, cut down on "Christmas food-miles" by picking local and seasonal products. Such items could include English beer, root veg (roasted with honey and mustard and oil), cabbages, nuts, chutneys, local cheese, sprouts, and dried fruit.

- Finally, after the holiday, you can do two things. Recycle your wrapping paper (Britons use over 250 000 trees of wrapping paper each Christmas). Take advantage of the council’s service to shred/recycle your Christmas tree ... or, even better, buy a potted tree that you can keep in your backyard to enjoy next year as well.

We can’t keep looking at Christmas as an orgy of consumerism. Instead, we can get a sense of fulfilment, closer to the reason for the season, from looking at all aspects of our lives and helping to avoid drastic climate change.

Credit Problems At Christmas

Nearly 5 million people have still not paid off their store and credit card bills from a year ago, and the country has total credit debt of £65 billion. 2.3 million people in Britain take loans at excessively high interest rates, from door-to-door lenders, because, due to their credit history, it is the only way they can borrow money.

Now, we're told that it will even worse in January and February of 2008.

Martin Lewis, of moneysavingexpert.com, said: "Will credit card rates rise next year? Yes. People who then try to switch to another card company to avoid paying more face the possibility of being turned down."

Before things get too overwhelming, there is free advice that you can access:

You can get free advice from your Coventry's Citizens Advice Bureau.

You can also get advice from:

- the National Debtline, 0808 808 4000, http://www.nationaldebtline.co.uk/
- the Insolvency Helpline, 0800 074 6918, http://www.insolvencyhelpline.co.uk/

10 December 2007

Media On Thursday

- "Crossing Continents" -- Thurs 13 December, 11am -- "For decades, Central America has provided fertile territory for human traffickers. Bloody civil wars, the lowly status of women and girls, and the poverty that pushes thousands of migrants northward to the United States, have all played their part in this story."

- "Newsnight" -- Thurs 13 December, 1030pm -- a special edition of the programme, entitled "Boozenight," that looks at Britain's "love/hate" relationship with alcohol, 24-hour licensing, binge drinking, and the rise in alcohol-related illness.

Aftermath Of Climate Change March

The national climate change march went very well on Saturday. Despite rain for the first half of the march, over 6 000 people showed up. George Monbiot, Caroline Lucas (Green MEP), Chris Huhne (Lib Dem MP), and Phil Thornhill (National Coordinator, Campaign against Climate Change) were some of the speakers in front of the US embassy, on Grosvenor Square.

You can see 50 photos of the event here.

One key message from Caroline Lucas was that a meat-eater on a bicycle is more of a burden on the climate than a vegan in a SUV. On irrigated land, 1lb of vegetables uses 25 gallons of water, whilst 1lb of beef uses 5,214 gallons. Cows also "emit" methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide. We all need to be more vegetarian/vegan in our diets.

Why Focus On Bigger And Bigger Prisons?

A letter in the Guardian today:

The new building programme designed to increase prisons' capacity to 96,000 places will institutionalise Britain's shameful position as the prison capital of Europe. This greatly expanded prison system will absorb vast resources that are needed for offenders' rehabilitation, crime prevention and victim support ... The government's strategy should be based on jailing only those who are a serious danger to others. Additional resources would then be freed for community supervision of offenders, prisoners' resettlement, preventive work with young people and services for victims.
Paul Cavadino
Chief executive, Nacro

06 December 2007

National Climate Change March In London

It will be on the 8th December, this Saturday.

You can find a running schedule of what's happening where here, but the main assembly point is at 12pm at Millbank.

It's a coordinated demonstration around the world, to coincide with the climate change talks in Bali.

See you there!

Plastic Bag Ban For Coventry?

The city council might "ban" plastic bags from Coventry. It's a nice surprise. It's something I agree with. It's certainly do-able. It's ambitious.

As such, it's also perplexing, since other parts of their climate change strategy aren't as ambitious.

- the strategy doesn't address the planned long-term growth in emissions from Coventry Airport
- it does not have year-on-year targets to reduce our carbon emissions
- the changes that needs to occur are not "front loaded" -- we need to tackle the problem over the next 10 years, not the next 40 years, or we risk feedback effects
- the strategy retains the idea of incineration - the council has already ruled out ideas like pay-as-you-throw and congestion charging
- the strategy has an innovative idea -- "Eco-Streets" -- where people are encouraged to adopt sustainable modes of transport, housing and living. However, the strategy calls for two streets to begin with, and doesn't indicate how quickly this would be expanded. Considering there are 2000 streets in Coventry, shouldn't we aim for two eco-wards to begin with, rather than streets?

The council's proposal comes on the heels of the national Conservatives promising a "feed-in tariff" for renewable energy, if they come to power.

Such a tariff would be:

a duty on electricity companies to pay a guaranteed, long-term, premium price for electricity generated by renewable sources and exported to the National Grid.

Since enacting a feed-in tariff in 2000, Germany now generates 12 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources and has 240,000 people employed in the renewable energy sector.

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee of MPs recently called for a feed-in tariff to be introduced to encourage the take-up of microgeneration technologies as part of a "Citizens Agenda" on climate change. The Government's own energy regulator, Ofgem, has specifically asked the government to look at how a feed-in tariff could work in the UK context.
It's a great first step. But, there needs to be much more investment in the technology to produce renewable energy, both small scale and large scale, so that the feed-in tariff will work.

The more that the Conservatives outline such policies, both locally and nationally, the more that the Green Party needs to emphasise how their policies still fall short, and our "other" policies on the local economy, public ownership, social policy.

05 December 2007

Study War No More

"Study War No More: Military Involvement in UK Universities" is a joint project between Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The campaign website hosts full details of military involvement at 26 UK universities. You can download the Study War No More report, which exposes the ways in which the military sector is being pushed into UK universities.

Locally in Coventry, the University of Warwick's information can be found here.

Computer Use And Electricity

The IT sector in the UK has a similar carbon footprint to aviation. Same question as aviation expansion, really. Why do some sectors of the economy feel they have a free pass to continue ramping up their carbon emissions, forcing an even more drastic cut for everyone else. If we follow Monbiot's call for a complete decarbonisation of the world economy, how can you cut other sectors by 110%?

A medium-sized server has a similar carbon footprint to an SUV running at 15 MPG. 60% of Businesses are Lacking Support for Sustainable ICT Strategies. 86% of IT departments surveyed for the report do not know the carbon footprint of their computing. 1 000 PCs left on full time without energy saving use £70 000 of electricity a year. Less than 20% of IT depts see their energy bills, so have no idea of the levels of power they are consuming. Shockingly, each year, 125 million computers are taken out of circulation worldwide, with the majority of them ending up on landfill sites.

04 December 2007

Stop The War Meeting On Iran

Coventry Stop the War have organised a public meeting to hear the case against war on Iran.

The guest speakers will be Mehrnaz Shahabi (Campaign Iran) and Chris Nineham (Stop the War Coalition), and it will take place on Friday, the 7th December, at 7.30 pm, at Coffee Revolution, Coventry University Students Union, Priory Street (opposite cathedral steps).

For more information, you can contact Andy Pettit, the local chair of Stop the War, on 07732 030231.

A 100% Cut In Carbon Emissions

George Monbiot uses his column today to call for the complete decarbonisation of the world economy.


But, he lays out, convincingly, why negotiators at the climate summit in Bali must abandon these 65-67% by 2050 or 80% by 2050 targets, since the science is years out of date.

Such targets don't take into account feedback effects.

- We've known for two years that, as the permafrost in northern Canada and Siberia melts, methane will be released, augmenting climate change.
- Soil bacteria heat up, more CO2.
- At the North Pole, with more melting, sunlight will be absorbed, rather than reflected by white ice.
- Tropical forests die off, releasing more carbon.

Feedback accounts for 18% of global warming. Monbiot is saying we can't keep hoping for the best-case scenario. We have to plan for feedback effects kicking in, and build our efforts around them.
We must confront a challenge that is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

Honey As Cough Medicine

A US study has found that buckwheat honey is more effective than over-the-counter cough medicines.

Dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicines, had no significant impact on symptoms. DM can also have side-effects of severe involuntary muscle contractions and spasms.

Honey has been used in medicine for centuries:

All honey acts as a disinfectant, having strong anti-bacterial and antimycotic properties (the latter preventing the growth of moulds and fungi). It is a great healer of wounds, wonderful for a host of upper respiratory diseases including the common cold, beneficial for heart diseases (improvement of the cardiac muscles are helped by honey), also for gastric and intestinal diseases – generally improving the digestive system and assimilation of food. The liver and its filtering function is aided by honey, while the nervous system is indebted to the natural glucose and its other components. It is a general help to skin diseases, eye diseases and for post-operative care, combining nutrition and healing factors.

03 December 2007

Coventry And Climate Change In 2025

I'm fascinated by a series of articles in the media supplement of The Guardian today.

We have only had a full-blown Internet since 1995/1996, and sites like YouTube have only become huge in the last few years.

It makes forecasting the future very hard, especially when you realise that life expectancy could be 90+ years, for well-off folks in industrialised countries, over the next 100 years, and when China's projected oil demand in 2025 is more barrels of oil per day that the entire world consumes at present!

As such, I'm perplexed by the lack of short-term dates in the draft climate change strategy from Coventry City Council.

They have set a target of 67% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (using 2003 as a baseline), and an interim figure of 25-30% by 2025.

There are absolutely no benchmarks set for the interim period (i.e. 2008 until 2024). None. Nada. Zilch.

Will it be 1.5% per year? If so, why not say it?

If David Cameron wants to sign up to FOE's The Big Ask, why can't local Tories commit to yearly carbon audits and yearly targets for greenhouse gas reduction?

What happens if we get to 2010, and we have had a rise in greenhouse gases? Will there be any penalty imposed on the city council?

I think that the local Tories are just making life hard for themselves.

If they commit to year-on-year targets, they can focus the minds of all council employees and managers, and give the city targets to work towards, targets to fuel a sense of accomplishment.

If they don't, they're creating a political time-bomb for future Tories in Coventry, "We've only reduced emissions by 10% by 2020, our backs are against the wall, why'd didn't that damned Gary Ridley set year-on-year targets, now what are we going to do?"

Coventry City FC Into Administration?

Coventry City has £30m in debts. There are two options, only one of which is being considered:

- a private takeover of the club (being put together by Ray Ranson and Sisu Capital)

- the Green Bay Packers Option

The Green Bay Packers are a NFL American Football team. They are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.

Despite having one-third the population of Coventry (102,313 people as of the 2000 census), the Packers have 112 000 shareholders.

If 112 000 Sky Blues supporters stepped forward, it would be £270 each to wipe out the club's debts.

Such an ownership structure has not handcuffed the Packers from being successful. Indeed, they won the 1996 Super Bowl, attracted arguably the best quarterback in the last 15 years to play for them, and had five league titles between 1961 and 1967.

Women Asylum Seekers In Coventry

The Coventry Refugee Centre is starting a new support group for women refugees and asylum seekers. The launch will be this Wednesday, from 10am to 2pm. It will address childcare issues, health, language barriers, education and the isolation of women in Coventry. Children are welcome, and food will be served. For more information, email sarahm@covrefugee.org or phone 02476 527 111.

30 November 2007

Weekly Canvassing In Earlsdon

Myself and Bryn Tittle, our candidate in Cheylesmore in 2007, have begun twice-weekly canvassing in Earlsdon. We've begun on Winifred Avenue, a small stretch of Albany Road, and Newcombe Road. This Sunday, we'll be out towards Tile Hill Lane and Hendre Close (next to the A45).

To begin with, we're making people aware of Coventry City Council's draft climate change strategy, and that people have until the end of December to make their views known on it.

We're also asking if there are any local issues or concerns that we can take up, or find answers to, with the council. So far, residents have had questions about street lighting, flytipping, the conduct of landlords, street sweeping, and glass recycling drop-off points.

If you have any questions (issues to take up, questions about party policy), you can contact myself on 07906 316726, sgredding2003@yahoo.co.uk, or Bryn on 07878 741114, bryntittle@yahoo.co.uk.

Fix Or Fortress?

Naomi Klein, in The Nation:

According to Venture Business Research, in 2006 North American and European companies developing green technology and those focused on "homeland security" and weaponry were neck and neck in the contest for new investment: green tech received $3.5 billion, and so did the guns and garrisons sector. But this year garrisons have suddenly leapt ahead. The greens have received $4.2 billion, while the garrisons have nearly doubled their money, collecting $6 billion in new investment funds. And 2007 isn't over yet.

There are two distinct business models that can respond to our climate and energy crisis.

We can develop policies and technologies to get us off this disastrous course.

Or we can develop policies and technologies to protect us from those we have enraged through resource wars and displaced through climate change, while simultaneously shielding ourselves from the worst of both war and weather ...

In short, we can choose to fix, or we can choose to fortress. Environmental activists and scientists have been yelling for the fix. The homeland security sector, on the other hand, believes the future lies in fortresses.

Harriet Harman's Campaign Finances

Newsnight is waiting on answers to a series of allegations against Harriet Harman.

They centre on if she has taken out a number of loans to fund her deputy leadership campaign -- loans that were not declared to the Electoral Commission.

Harman has a fundraiser planned for 5th December in Leicester Square in London, £30 a head, five months after her campaign ended. Donations are being sent to her office in the House of Commons, a no-no, if her staffer is being paid from the public purse.

What is odd about Harman is that she and her husband have six-figure salaries. Couldn't they have avoided all of this by donating to her campaign directly?

29 November 2007

"Ecomerge" At Portland State University

Ecomerge is a blog created by students at Portland State University in the US. They've linked to a post that I wrote, highlighting how Vaxjo, a city in Sweden, is trying to become carbon-neutral.
It's a great example of how we can share information through the Internet.

Portland itself, whilst I've only passed through it on the train (in 1995, from San Francisco to Vancouver), fascinates me. Their city council had a recent task force on peak oil's impact on Portland. Local activism focuses on things like old growth forest preservation, and then awareness can be channelled into campaigns for sustainable wood for housing developments. Heck, even their local paper criticises mayoral candidates for not having a strong enough position on cycling.

"Youth Resources Centre" In Cheylesmore

On Tuesday, the Coventry Telegraph had a story on the Youth Resources Centre in Parkside, Cheylesmore.

The centre hires out "camping equipment, minibuses, cameras, disco equipment, public address systems, musical instruments and games at affordable prices." The city council, however, is reviewing the service, to make it more "cost effective" to run.

This is the problem with having a Conservative-controlled council.

You can't make the public sector cost effective, since it's not supposed to be cost effective!

One, there are certain societal goals (education, health care, and public transit for everyone so no one has to pay, no one starving, playing our part in ending global misery) that aren't profitable. The private sector won't do these tasks without generous public subsidy.

Two, there are certain functions of the state (suspending the liberty of the individual, empowering and educating youth) that shouldn't be subject to the profit motive. It's why the Green Party is against privately-run jails, or why we're in favour of comprehensive education and the end to top-up tuition.

The Youth Resources Centre is something that needs to be expanded. It's an invaluable investment in keeping youth engaged in art, outdoor activities, or music in Coventry. It's not just another budget line item where the council needs to save money.

Labour's Donations Scandal

A string of Labour party members (Baroness Jay, Hilary Benn, Peter Watt, and Jon Mendelsohn) have admitted to knowing about donations, or attempted donations, through third parties, by David Abrahams. Not declaring such donations to be coming through third parties is illegal.

None of these people reported Abrahams' actions to the police.

None of these people reported Abrahams' actions to the Electoral Commission.

It's all a bit like "Eastenders" -- no one ever seems to report illegal activity on "Eastenders," they just try to sort it out themselves, there's nuffink the police can do, and they really really regret it when they do report on someone and a loved one goes to jail.

Mendelsohn is the chief fundraiser for Gordon Brown, and he knew about Abrahams' actions for 2 1/2 months until the story broke. Shouldn't Brown insist on his resignation?

He might have to soon, as Guido Fawkes has heard that:
The Labour party's High Value Donors Unit has a piece of American software that could provide very handy evidence for the police investigating the illegal fund raising scandal. "Raiser's Edge" is supposed to record all contacts with donors including what events they have attended and what telephone calls have taken place. It will reveal some of the people who knew about Abrahams besides Peter Watt, Jon Mendelsohn and Baroness Jay.

28 November 2007

The NHS And Climate Change

BBC News:

Of the public buildings such as schools and hospitals built or refurbished over 2005-06, only 9% met government targets for environmental sustainability.

Sunand Prasad, President, Royal Institute of British Architects: "Sustainability has not been a priority in any recent hospital build."

Neil MacKay, the climate change tsar for the NHS in England: "Sometimes I get blank looks when I say to people: 'Why aren't you interested in the consequences of climate change and the use of energy?' People will say: 'Well, we do', but when you unpack it and explore it they are doing things - but they are not really getting to the heart of things in an innovative, lateral-thinking kind of way."

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

The annual "16 Days against Gender Violence" takes place between the International Day Against Violence Against Women on the 25th of November, and International Human Rights Day.

open democracy has a series of interesting articles around it, including a multi-voiced international blog, 5050, that will include discussion of security masculinities and the state, rape and impunity, healthy bodies, coercion and control, and women as trade.

David Cameron And Nuclear Power

First Gordon Brown, then David Cameron.

Same questions as yesterday about nuclear power, David.

27 November 2007

Gordon Brown And Nuclear Power

Gordon Brown, in his speech to the CBI earlier this week, said:

We must - and will - take the right long term decisions to invest now for the next generation of sustainable and secure energy supplies. We have said that new nuclear power stations potentially have a role to play in tackling climate change and improving energy security. And having concluded the full public consultation we will announce our final decision early in the New Year ... We must leave behind the old policies of yesterday and plan for new long-term policies which will serve us better tomorrow.
The reality is that Gordon Brown is the leader following a short-term way of thinking. The Ecologist, in its November issue (page 39), has a sidebar on nuclear power. It reveals some interesting facts.

- You need a certain purity of uranium ore to make nuclear power carbon neutral ... specifically, it has to be above 0.02%. Below this, "nuclear power uses more energy in the form of fossil fuel than it generates as electricity." So, how long will high quality uranium ore last us? Well, at our current rate of use, it will last us 42 years. But, if we really ramp up our global use of nuclear power (India is currently building 24 reactors, China 40, Russia 40, Japan 13), it'll last a much shorter time (perhaps 12 years).

- The UK, currently, has a stockpile of 100 000 tonnes of nuclear waste. Even without new plants, this will grow to 500 000 tonnes, and we will already have to pay £75 billion to clean up our nuclear waste.

Robert Kyriakides adds that:

Certainly, using nuclear energy is low carbon in the short term. But, when you add not just the carbon consequences of mining the uranium and processing it, and also the carbon consequences of building huge underground concrete storage bunkers for the waste and maintaining these for ten thousand years or so, you will find the low carbon alternative has morphed into a higher carbon one.
Two myths: one, that nuclear is carbon neutral (that's true only in the short term), and two, that you can have both nuclear and renewables. The renewables industry needs government pump-priming to seriously get off the ground. You can't keep massively subsidising the nuclear industry, whilst starving the renewables sector of funding.

Gordon Brown has to choose.

Where Is Labour's Money Coming From?

Nick Robinson, of BBC News, gets to the heart of why Labour accepted donations, through third parties, from David Abrahams. They simply didn't ask MPs from the North-East. Labour is desperate for donations, and they don't seem to be doing due diligence on where it's coming from.

Asked, "have you heard of Ray Ruddick?" they would have replied, "never heard of him - why, who is he?". Had the reply been anything like, "he's given us over £100k in the past few weeks and he lives on your patch - he says his address is Blakelaw..." the response would have been hysterical laughter. Blakelaw is, one angry Labour MP suggested to me, a well-known estate on which, "the only way anyone there would have that sort of money is if they were very lucky or they were drug dealers".

If the conversation had become more candid - for example, "actually the money's really coming from a bloke called David Abrahams," the reply would have been, "don't touch it with a bargepole". Mr Abrahams is - let's put it this way - a "controversial figure" who's used different names, different ages, been deselected as a parliamentary candidate and has been involved in rows about the planning system.
Harriet Harman has been drawn into this, by accepting £2000 from Abrahams, through Janet Kidd, for her deputy leadership campaign. Interestingly, a rival, Hilary Benn, turned down a similar donation for his campaign after he became aware that the donation had been channeled through a third party.

Gordon Brown has been in charge for the last four months, when £220 000 of Abrahams' money has come into the party:

Brown did, however, admit to reporters that he had met Abrahams, a wealthy property tycoon who was briefly a Labour parliamentary candidate, in the past but said he could not remember ever discussing the issue of donations.

"I am sure I may have met him but I have no recollection of any conversations about any of these issues," he said. "I had no knowledge until Saturday night, either of the donations or of the practice which had grown up where they were improperly declared to the Electoral Commission. No knowledge at all."

26 November 2007

Gordon Brown And Heathrow Expansion

Gordon Brown says to the CBI that there is a "clear business imperative" for increased capacity at Heathrow, and that Britain's prosperity "depends on it."

But a London Chamber of Commerce survey in 2006 revealed that:

78% of firms were against expansion at Heathrow and less than a sixth of firms would even consider leaving London if the airport did not expand ... Business journeys only account for 25% of all air trips using UK airports – a bit higher at Heathrow – and the proportion is expected to stay the same over the next 25 years. The expansion of Heathrow and the other airports is driven by leisure passengers.
What's more: "The economic costs of climate change will dwarf any profits business might make from a third runway" -- John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK.

You can't double the flights out of Heathrow and be serious about climate change. A third runway at Heathrow would put as much CO2 into the atmosphere as Kenya does each year.

If you have one sector (aviation) doubling its flights from Heathrow, and regional airports expanding-a-go-go across the country, that means to achieve a 65% or 80% cut by 2050, you need to have far more drastic cuts in every other section than aviation.

So, when Brown talks about Heathrow, what does he mean?

Labour And Political Donations

A year-and-a-half after the loans-for-honours scandal broke, I was amazed to listen to a 5 Live interview last night with David Abrahams.

He has given £222 000 to Labour in the six months since Gordon Brown became PM, but he gave the money to two intermediaries (a friend; his secretary), and they donated to Labour as if it was their own money. Donations made via third parties are illegal unless the person behind the donation is also declared or there is a "reasonable excuse." Abrahams' excuse seems to be that he didn't want any publicity. Well, that worked out well. The strange thing is that has been a member of Labour for 40 years, and is a former local councillor, so why the need for secrecy?

It's not just Abrahams who could have broken the law. It's whomever accepted his donation:

"The agent must ensure that, at the time when the donation is received by the party, the party is given all such details in respect of the donors as are required . . . to be given in respect of the donor of a recordable donation." It continues: "A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to comply . . ." Under schedule 20, such an offence is punishable by up to a year in prison or an unlimited fine or, if a case is heard in a magistrates court, six months in jail or a fine up to £5,000.
This is Gordon Brown's promise for a new type of Labour politics? Did Labour investigate where this money was coming from?

In contrast to "grey party" political donations buying influence, access and seats in the Lords, the Green Party has had five donations which were £10 000 or larger since the 1st quarter of 2001. The largest of these was a bequest from a will (the late David Gillet, £132 000, August 2006).

You can search here for all political donations to all parties, thanks to computer boffins at the Electoral Commission.

24 November 2007

The BNP In Coventry

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents (Monday 26 November, 830pm) will look at Germany's NDP, the far-right, which is "organizing local festivals, family outings and rock concerts. They run citizens' advice bureaus, women's groups and youth clubs ... energetic and ambitious new leaders proclaiming "revolutionary change" and getting onto local councils and into state parliaments."

With the BNP receiving 10% or more of the vote in Coventry's 2007 elections in 8 of our 18 wards (with their strongest wards being Binley and Willenhall, and Woodlands, with more than 15% of the vote), the programme might be worth a listen.

David Cameron And Solutions

Fix my boiler!

"I will," says David the plumber, "but not yet. First, I am going to set up a series of Boiler Review Groups. Some of these will be headed by really quite surprising people who have been harping on about boilers for years. They will look into the problem in depth, and then they will propose a series of solutions."

Developing Countries And Climate Change

The Guardian:

A group of countries (the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand) agreed in 2001 to pay $1.2bn (£600m) to help poor and vulnerable countries predict and plan for the effects of global warming, as well as fund flood defences, conservation and thousands of other projects.

But new figures show less than £90m of the promised money has been delivered. Britain has so far paid just £10m.

Andrew Pendleton, climate change policy analyst at Christian Aid, said: "This represents a broken promise on a massive scale and on quite a cynical scale as well. Promising funds for adaptation is exactly the kind of incentive the rich countries will offer at Bali to bring the developing world on board a new climate deal. This is the signal we are seeing on all fronts, that the developed countries are unwilling to fulfil their moral and legal commitments."

23 November 2007

A Few Things Here And There ...

The Spectator reports that the total number of students in grammar schools has risen by over 20% since Labour came to power (127 780 children in 1997 ... 150 750 in 2004 ... 156 800 in 2007). Research from the University of York has found that, of the 22,000 pupils entering grammar schools each year, just 2% receive free school meals - amounting to fewer than 500 children. I don't see how a 20% expansion squares with social democracy under Labour, let alone socialism.

Oxfam in partnering with Bangladeshi curry restaurants to put an extra £1 on each meal, to be donated to the relief effort for Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. 903,000 homes have been damaged and 273,000 completely destroyed. There is no sanitation or fresh water in many areas, meaning that there is a serious risk of numerous cholera outbreaks.

Sexually-transmitted infections were up 2.2% in 2006. 73,000 adults are now living with HIV in the UK. A third of the people in Britain with HIV don't know they have the virus. Here are some contact points for getting yourself tested in Coventry, for both STIs and HIV.

30 animal rights activists in Hampshire have received letters from the CPS inviting them to provide passwords that will decrypt material held on seized computers. This is the first time that such a law has been used in Britain.
An activist, who wished to remain anonymous, said that even if others disagreed with animal rights activists the use of the law had grave implications for personal privacy. "Even if they hate our guts, my personal view is that this is a matter where there's great issues of public interest that should be being talked about," they said.

Buy Nothing Day - 24th November

The first "Buy Nothing Day" was organised by the magazine Adbusters, in Vancouver in September 1992, based on an idea by artist Ted Dave, as a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption.

Since then, thousands of activists have held public events in over 65 nations, including the UK, as well as the US Canada, Israel, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Norway and India.

If everyone on Earth were to consume at the same rate as the UK, we would need three planets to live on.

What other political parties, the "grey" parties of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems, don't understand is that the very ideas of "economic success = growth" or that "more consumpton is good" is a problem.

Is Britain successful since we can go into a supermarket and choose between 15 kinds of toothpaste? Or 20 kinds of breakfast cereal?

Buying and consuming and buying and consuming is not the answer. We won't be able to make our society sustainable through endless growth.

"The economy of the future is based on relationships rather than possession." - John Perry Barlow

Lemar In Uganda

The Commonwealth heads of state are currently meeting in Uganda. In his role as a Christian Aid ambassador, Lemar (probably one of the only talents to emerge from these endless parades of reality TV Shows) made three films about Uganda's problems and solutions, on:

- climate change,
- HIV and Ugandan children, and on,
- conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army.

22 November 2007

Solar Power In Spain

"In five years, they hope to generate enough electricity for Seville and its 700 000 citizens."

Alistair Darling And Datagate: Day 3

From two missing CDs, we have a long-term problem, especially for young people affected:

Helen Lord, from Experian: "The children whose names, addresses and dates of birth have been lost are also at risk, especially those who are between 15 and 17 years old now. The fraudsters will wait until they turn 18 and start applying for loans, credit cards, mobile phone contracts and other credit products in their names. That could have a catastrophic effect on their ability to get on the housing ladder, rent a flat, obtain their first credit card, obtain a loan for their first car, even open a bank account."
Anatole Kaletsky, in the Times, points out that it's not really about "junior officals" but what ministers required from computer boffins at the Revenue and Customs.

A junior official at HMRC may have been directly culpable in the case of the missing discs, but true responsibility is clearly located farther up the hierarchy. The obvious problem lay in the way that HMRC computers were designed and managed, which would seem to pin the blame primarily on the computer boffins, many of them working for private consultants, rather than civil servants themselves.

Just as the FSA and the Bank of England were regulating Northern Rock within a system designed by Gordon Brown in 1998 to satisfy the criteria that he considered most important, computer consultants design systems to achieve objectives ultimately specified by ministers. The question therefore is how much importance ministers attached to security and how this was defined.
Gordon Brown has given the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, new authority to carry out “spot checks” on government departments. This is less than a month after the government told a House of Lords committee that "the current enforcement regime for data protection is fit for purpose." However, Thomas is demanding far wider powers:

A spokesman said: "We want powers to carry out full audit and inspection powers, not just in Government departments but in local government and private companies."

Mr Thomas also wants the power to mount criminal prosecutions when serious breaches of data protection laws occur. At present he can issue only an enforcement notice, which results in a prosecution if an organisation fails to comply. Most prosecutions take place in magistrates’ courts, where the maximum fine is £5,000, rather than in the Crown Court, where an unlimited fine can be imposed.

Mr Thomas said: "It is important that the law is changed to make security breaches of this magnitude a criminal offence. Making this a criminal offence would serve as a strong deterrent and would send a very strong signal that it is completely unacceptable to be cavalier with people’s personal information."
It's a significant demand.

Internet service providers, search engines, supermarkets and their clubcard points databases, and e-commerce companies are retaining an expanding mountain of data on all of us.

Tesco is selling access to [its] database to other big consumer groups, such as Sky, Orange and Gillette. "It contains details of every consumer in the UK at their home address across a range of demographic, socio-economic and lifestyle characteristics," says the marketing blurb of dunnhumby, the Tesco subsidiary in question. It has "added intelligent profiling and targeting" to its data through a software system called Zodiac. This profiling can rank your enthusiasm for promotions, your brand loyalty, whether you are a "creature of habit" and when you prefer to shop. As the blurb puts it: "The list is endless if you know what you are looking for."

28 Day Detention

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken MacDonald, as well as the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, have both come out against extending detention without charge past 28 days.

Sir Ken: "Our experience has been that 28 days has suited us quite nicely ... We have had very, very complex cases since this law was enacted and in only three have we had to go beyond the 14 days ... If, after 25 or 26 days you couldn't find a reasonable suspicion to justify a charging decision, it might be quite difficult for a prosecutor to persuade a court [to extend the detention without charge]."

For his part, Lord Goldsmith said that he would have resigned as Attorney General if the Commons had passed 90-day detention, and that Tony Blair had been "aware of my concerns."

Police Surgeries In Earlsdon

The next two police surgeries in Earlsdon (at Earlsdon Library) are Friday 23 November (from 7pm to 8pm) and Wednesday 28 November (from 11am to 12noon).

You can find out a bit more about their work at their Neighbourhood Policing webpage.

21 November 2007

Trauma Patients

BBC News:

More than half of trauma patients are not receiving good care. The National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death looked at the care given to 795 patients, many with head injuries from falls and crashes. It found medical staff in 200 hospitals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland often did not appreciate the severity and displayed little urgency.

NCEPOD said many of the problems identified in nearly 60% of patients treated across 200 hospitals were associated with staff being too inexperienced.

In particular, they found patients were not always given essential tests such as CT scans or assessed by hospital consultants, especially during the night.

"Our mortality rates are among the worst in the developed world, and yet trauma care remains a low priority for the government" -- Royal College of Surgeons spokesman

Alistair Darling And "Junior Officials"

So, the entire child benefit database was sent by a junior official from HMRC in Newcastle to the audit office in London through a courier, TNT, on 18 October.

If a junior official has access to 7.25 million bank accounts, how many junior officials are there? 100? 1000? How "junior" was the junior official? No one seems to want to say if the junior official in question has been fired.

If an ID card scheme goes ahead, how many "junior officials" will have access to all the information about everyone in the country?

The UK has the world's largest DNA database, with 4 million profiles. Anyone arrested for an imprisonable offence can have a sample taken without consent. It also holds samples taken from crime scenes by police. How many "junior officials" have access to that?

The NHS wants to create an "Electronic Patients Record System" with all records online in a database. How many "junior officials" will have access to that?


Who thought transporting such information physically was the best way to do it? We're told that a junior official was responsible — but why do junior officials have, or indeed need, access to the entire, downloaded database? And why did the junior official think that a courier was the best way to transport such a vast database of such valuable, personal information? Is data security at HMRC really so bad that sending physical CDs was considered more secure than electronic transmission? What risk assessment did they use to come to that conclusion? Is there even a risk-assessment procedure in place?
Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, was on Radio 4 this morning:

It's almost certain that they’ve broke the [data protection] legislation … Any aggregated system of collecting information must be proof against criminals, it must be proof against idiots, it must be proof against those who do not follow ordinary rules or procedure … You don’t assume security is ok, you take active steps to monitor what’s going on … We have to have the powers and resources to do our job properly. I haven’t got the power as the Information Commissioner to inspect the processing of any organisation without the consent of that organisation. I’ve told the government, and I’ve told Parliament, we need to have the power -- as our European counterparts have -- to inspect what’s actually going on inside organisations without their consent.

20 November 2007

Alistair Darling And Bank Details

My wife and I were watching "Watchdog" last night on BBC One. One of their stories was about the Inland Revenue losing a CD with confidential details for 15 500 people on it. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes.

Today, I'm in a local pub, and I'm having a pint, and I look up at Sky News on the telly.

It's one thing for Alistair Darling to lose millions of records.

It's another for Darling:

- to be in the midst of the Northern Rock crisis
- to lose millions of records, including bank details
- to lose millions of records, including bank details, when they were unencrypted files on discs sent by normal mail.

The HMRC has set up a Child Benefit Helpline on 0845 302 1444 for customers.

The chief advice, from listening to an interview on Radio 5 Live, seems to be to change your banking password immediately, especially if it's your child's name, your maiden name, i.e. something that could be in the lost records. The more drastic option would be to request a new bank account number.

BBC News:

A rather scarier scenario has been put forward by the technology analysts Gartner. They warn that if the information is in the hands of criminals, they could try to take over peoples' bank accounts to remove the money in them. "The data lost - bank account numbers, names and addresses - represents a gold mine for the thieves and is much more valuable to them than credit card numbers or taxpayer id numbers," said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan. "In fact, in the black market, bank account numbers sell for the highest price, or between $30 and $400 (£15 to £200), which is significantly more than the fifty cents to five dollars that criminals pay for credit cards," she said.

Heroin Shooting Galleries

The Independent reports today that trial schemes -- which enable heroin users to obtain drugs and inject them under supervision -- have dramatically cut crime rates and stopped addicts buying their supplies on the streets. A poll on BBC Online in November 2006 found that 50.8% of people were in favour of heroin being prescribed to addicts on the NHS (11450 surveyed).
Long-term heroin users are among the hardest addicts to treat. They lead chaotic lives, often robbing and stealing to fund their habits. According to official figures, 10 per cent of drug addicts commit 75 per cent of the acquisitive crimes in the Britain. But the number of offences committed by the heroin addicts taking part in the shooting gallery scheme fell from an average of 40 each per month before they were admitted to "about half a dozen a month" after six months of intensive therapy. Instead of buying street heroin every day, the 150 volunteers are now buying it only four or five times a month on average – while a third of them have completely stopped "scoring" the drug on the streets.

Professor Strang, head of the National Addiction Centre at the Maudsley Hospital: "This is genuinely exciting news. These are people with a juggernaut-sized heroin problem and I really didn't know whether we could turn it around. We have succeeded with people who looked as if their problem was unturnable, and we have done it in six months."
The Green Party is in favour of treating heroin addiction as a health issue, not as a crime problem. We also favour taking some drugs (specifically cannabis, speed, and E) out of the hands of criminal mafia.

Mafia compete against each other, making drug supplies more and more potent to keep their customers. Legalisation would break that cycle. If currently illegal drugs were legalised, they could be regulated in the same way other damaging substances -- tobacco and alcohol -- are. Users could also purchase from places where they would be sure drugs had not been tainted with other substances.

"Ultimately, we need a new paradigm for drug policy development, one based around health and wellbeing rather than macho posturing and knee-jerk, short-term responses to the failures of the current criminal justice-based policy."