30 March 2007


Henry Porter, in today's Observer, points out that:

the obsessions with antisocial behaviour and crime have been responsible for 53 law and order bills since 1997, the creation of 3,000 new criminal offences and a rise in the prison population to a record 80,299.
Elsewhere, we see that:

The last three years has seen a 26% increase in the numbers of children and young people criminalised and seven times as much is spent on youth custody as on prevention schemes. We lock up 23 children per 100,000 population, compared with six in France, two in Spain, 0.2 in Finland.
We have to question why we are locking up so many people, specifically, so many young people.

We should expand youth training projects, and work intensively and proactively with fewer young offenders. We need to bring ideas such as restorative justice into the heart of the criminal justice system.

29 March 2007

Rally To Save Postal Sorting Facility

There will be a rally to save the postal sorting centre on Bishop Street this Saturday.

I'll be doing what I've been doing the last week (running around getting signatures for candidates to run in the upcoming election), but if others want to attend, here is the info:

- assemble at Millennium Square for 10-1030am, then a march to Speaker's Corner opposite the Council House for 1115am

- some of the speakers will be Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, and the three Labour MPs for Coventry.

The Language of Politics

I wouldn't want Jeremy Paxman to dress up like Ali G to be down with the kids, but Charlie Brooker of the Guardian has a point:

One of the most terrifying lessons I have learned is that, by and large, grown-ups don't really know what they are doing. I'm 36, and if there is one thing I do know, it's that I still don't know that much. No one does. Everybody's winging it. Everything is improvised.

I don't understand the news. Not entirely. Let me explain: I watch and read the news, not obsessively, but probably often enough to be doing my bit as a concerned citizen. But I can't keep up with it. I follow it, but it's like trying to follow the plot of the most complicated and detailed soap opera ever made, one that was running for centuries before you started tuning in. Maybe the rest of you understand everything and I'm alone in my ignorance. But I doubt it. I think the vast majority of us are winging it, at least 18 chapters behind in the textbook and secretly praying no one else will notice.

If we all knew more, we would do more to lend a hand, instead of shrugging and hoping the news might some day go away or submerging ourselves in comforting trivia. Don't just tell us what is important. We might not have paid attention earlier. Toss us a bone. Tell us why.

CCTV, Supermarket Cards and Privacy

The Royal Academy of Engineering has come out with a report on privacy and technology.

It points out that if you have supermarket collecting vast amounts of information, through loyalty cards, and they're also selling life insurance services, "what will they be able to do in 20 years' time, knowing how many donuts we have bought? ...Complex databases [the proposed National Identity Register] can suffer from mechanical failure or software bugs."

The report also highlights that CCTV cameras can record digital images that could be stored forever. With increased processing power, you could "search back in time through vast amounts of digital data to find out where people were and what they were doing." The Royal Academy is calling for greater control over the proliferation of camera surveillance and for more research into how public spaces can be monitored while minimising the impact on privacy.

25 March 2007

Brighton Greens' Gay Manifesto

The Brighton and Hove Green Party has made 15 pledges to the city’s LGBT communities ahead of the May 2007 city council elections:

Two of them stand out:

- Build on the Green-led campaign against the 30% cuts to the HIV/Aids budget to ensure that the special needs and profile of Brighton and Hove are recognised by NHS budget commissioners.
- Provide head teachers with training on how to create safe and inclusive environments for LGBT staff and students.

Late last summer, inspired by this EDM (a straw poll amongst MPs), I wrote to the heads of King Henry VIII and Finham to urge them to have an anti-bullying policy, with specific content for homophobic bullying.

Sydney Blackout For Climate Change

Agence France Press reports that Sydney is planning a one-hour switch-off of lights in their central business district, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and in tens of thousands of suburban homes.

A thousand businesses have already signed up. They want the one-hour event to lead to a yearly cut in emissions by 5%.

"It's really about moving away from the despair that global warming seems to produce and starting thinking of what can we do about it. I think people have tried it before, but nobody has successfully done it and I don't think anyone has tried it it on the scale we are trying. If it's as successful as we hope, we hope to take it around the world and do this in every major city we can get to join us."

24 March 2007

Conservatives and "Pay Per Throw"

Great letter in the Independent today about a proposal for councils to have the power to charge households for waste pick-up in proportion to use (i.e. more bags per fortnight, more charge per household):

At the moment, the UK is the only country in Europe that doesn't give municipalities the power to charge households for waste management services in proportion to use. Where "pay per throw" is allowed, there is little hard evidence that it increases fly tipping and none that public health is harmed.

The response to the proposals by Caroline Spelman (shadow Local Government Secretary) is both populist and ignorant, pandering to the section of the population that still believes that it has an inalienable right to have as much rubbish as it chooses to leave out every week collected free of charge at the point of delivery. It leaves a significant dent in the Conservative Party's pretensions to be a party with green credentials.

The Rev Andrew Craig

Eco One Car At Warwick

Boffins at the University of Warwick have developed a race car (well, a 150 mph race car) made from hemp, potatoes and cashew nut shells.

"Almost everything on the car can be made out of biodegradable or recyclable materials. All the plastic components can be made from plants and, although the chassis has to be made from steel for strength, steel is a very recyclable material. We already have the shell, brake pads, fuel and tyres sorted. My aim is to end up with a race car that’s 95 per cent biodegradable or recyclable. If we can build a high-performance car that can virtually be grown from seed, just imagine what’s possible for the average family car."
The big hitch: they want to power the car with biofuels.

Consider this argument from George Monbiot:

The EU’s plans, like those of all the enthusiasts for bio-locomotion, depend on growing crops specifically for fuel. As soon as you examine the implications, you discover that the cure is as bad as the disease.

Road transport in the United Kingdom consumes 37.6 million tonnes of petroleum products a year. The most productive oil crop which can be grown in this country is rape. The average yield is between 3 and 3.5 tonnes per hectare. One tonne of rapeseed produces 415 kilos of biodiesel. So every hectare of arable land could provide 1.45 tonnes of transport fuel.

To run our cars and buses and lorries on biodiesel, in other words, would require 25.9m hectares. There are 5.7m in the United Kingdom. Switching to green fuels requires four and half times our arable area. Even the EU’s more modest target of 20% by 2020 would consume almost all our cropland.

If the same thing is to happen all over Europe, the impact on global food supply will be catastrophic: big enough to tip the global balance from net surplus to net deficit. If, as some environmentalists demand, it is to happen worldwide, then most of the arable surface of the planet will be deployed to produce food for cars, not people.

People who own cars have more money than people at risk of starvation. In a contest between their demand for fuel and poor people’s demand for food, the car-owners win every time.

23 March 2007

Supporting Local Pubs

The Guardian's G2 section has an interesting feature article today about a struggle to keep local beer in a pub in Lewes, in East Sussex.

Hundreds of regulars have been boycotting the 220-year-old pub since December 11, when Greene King, despite a petition signed by 1,200 locals, including Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, withdrew Lewesians' favourite tipple, Harveys Bitter, from sale. Harveys has been brewed a few hundred metres away, beside the River Ouse, by an independent family firm since 1790. But Greene King, as supplier as well as retailer, made more from every pint of IPA sold than Harveys. Get rid of Harveys, the thinking went, and the locals, after a bit of grumbling, would switch to IPA and GK would make more money. But it hasn't worked out that way.

According to the trade paper the Morning Advertiser, the pub has lost 90% of its business since the boycott, which was 100 days old on Wednesday, and now sells very few pints of anything.

Across Britain the traditional "community" local is under threat as never before. According to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), 56 pubs close in Britain every month, most of them urban locals.

Two students, Olga from the Czech Republic and Gloria from Spain, study the Friends' leaflets. "You mean, they won't let you drink the beer you want in your own local pub?" asks Gloria. "These people, they must be crazy."

Anti-Materialist Music

People go on about there not being music right now that reflects a protest spirit, but Willy Mason comes close:

I wanna see through all the lies of society
To the reality, happiness is at stake
I wanna hold up my head with dignity
Proud of a life where to give means more than to take
I wan't to live beyond the modern mentality

We can be richer than industry
As long as we know that there's things that we don't really need
We can speak louder than ignorance
Cause we speak in silence every time our eyes meet.

22 March 2007

The 2007 Budget

You can see the various chapters of the budget here.

I find it's always more illuminating to read the extended version, rather than what the BBC tells you the Budget was.

Chapter 7 is "Protecting the environment" whilst Chapter 4 is "Increasing employment opportunity for all."

As well, you have supporting documents, including, a consultation on tax incentives for brownfield land.

19 March 2007

Coventry FOE and Ecologist Position

Coventry Friends of the Earth has a current campaign to reinstate an ecology officer within Coventry city council, so that the city's green space and wildlife habitat is given proper consideration when planning building development.

They have an online petition on the issue here.

Upcoming Coventry Ward Forums

Whoberley - Wednesday 21st March
Venue: St Mary Magdalen Church, Hearsall Lane, Chapelfields, Coventry, CV5 8DT
Time: 7.00pm - 9.00pm

Upper Stoke - Thursday 22nd March
Venue: Lyng Hall School, Blackberry Lane, Coventry, CV2 3JS
Time: 6.00pm to 8.00pm

Lower Stoke - Thursday 22nd March 2007
Venue: Ravensdale Primary School, Ravensdale Road, Coventry CV2 5GQ
Time: 7.00pm - 9.00pm

Holbrook - Tuesday 27th March, 2007
Venue: The Lounge, The Unicorn Club, Holbrook Lane, Coventry, CV6 4DE
Time: 7.00pm to 9.00pm

18 March 2007

Small Business in Coventry

Small businesses and the self employed are under pressure as never before. Many self-employed people find themselves working desperately hard for little reward.

The Coventry Green Party is in favour of a vibrant local economy, with thriving independent shops.

Having shops and services within close reach for all isn't a luxury: it's a necessity.

- One tool to ensure this are community banks, local economic trading schemes (LETS), and microcredit projects, specifically tasked with supporting small enterprises. The Coventry West Credit Union are opening new offices in the city arcade this coming Friday morning. The Women's Business Development Agency in Coventry helps women take control of their lives by providing the specific support and advice they need to start and sustain their own business.

- Urban post offices are also key in supporting and sustaining local small business. The new economics foundation has found that for every £10 earned in income, the post office generates £16.20 for its local economy – including £6.20 in direct spending on local goods and services. Each post office saves small businesses in their direct vicinity in the region of £270,000 each year.

Cycling Projects in Coventry

Connect2 is a Sustrans project that is, amongst five others, bidding for funding as part of the Lottery's Living Landmarks contest.

Sustrans is bidding for £43 million to fund cycling schemes across the country. Sustrans is entertaining 100 proposals from around the country, which they will narrow down to 50, should they receive the Lottery money.

Coventry City Council has put forward a proposal for a £1 million off-road cycle route plan, as part of the 100 being considered by Sustrans.

It would link Wood End with the Ricoh Arena, the Arena retail park and Prologis Park to enable people to cycle to work safely.

It's a great idea. The Green Party is in favour of more on-road cycling (reducing driver speeds to make it safer for everyone to cycle), but I wouldn't say no to this.

Kevin Foster (Con-Cheylesmore) says the plan would "break barriers to people of all ages enjoying a more healthy and environmentally friendly means of transport" and it's about "helping people from some our most deprived communities to access a job."

If so, why isn't it a priority for the council as part of its direct spending?

Investment in low-emissions public transport in Coventry shouldn't rely on Sustrans spinning the wheel as part of a televised vote, and then maybe, picking our plan as part of their 50.

17 March 2007

Supermarkets and Plastic Bags

Sainsbury's likes to trumpet the fact that their new orange bags have recycled content in them, but ....

Despite pledging to reduce dependence on plastic bags, four of Britain's biggest supermarkets are failing to cut down significantly on the number used in home shopping, a Guardian test has revealed.

The same 24 items, ranging from fresh fruit and sliced bread to tinned fish and soap, were ordered online from Asda, Waitrose/Ocado, Sainsbury's, and Tesco. Sainsbury's was the most profligate with its plastic bags, using nine to deliver its grocery order, and averaging 2.7 items per bag. Next came Asda and Tesco with seven. Waitrose/Ocado used five bags, plus a cardboard wine carrier.
It's pretty easy to bring your own 7 bags to the supermarket, or use canvass bags.

In fact, if the food industry really was green, it would be oriented on a bulk-food model:

- no packaging for cereal, you'd bring your own container, and fill up with Shreddies
- no plastic bottles of packaging for washing liquid, bring your own bottle and fill it up
- bring your own bottle and unplug the spigot for Sainsbury's own brand wine

16 March 2007

The Cost of The Olympics

Suddenly, the budget for the Olympics has trebled to £9.3 billion.

The most outspoken criticism came from Derek Mapp, the chair of Sport England. He said the diversion of £55.9m of Sport England's income was "a cut too far and seriously endangers the creation of a sporting legacy from the 2012 games. The true loss, he said, would be £223m because almost £3 is levered in for every £1 invested.

He said that in the best case scenario 186,000 fewer people would be taking part in sport. "Grassroots sport has benefits of reducing obesity and crime and the government spends £8.2bn a year because we are an unfit nation. We are the biggest tool to make a change, yet we are being cut," Mr Mapp said.
Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, author of two books on the impact of the Olympics, says that an affordable housing legacy is unlikely to materialize, and that, in fact, conditions for homeless and inadequately housed people are exacerbated by hosting the Olympics.

Her paper notes several interrelated housing trends in many Olympic host cities, including: evictions of tenants in low-rent housing, particularly in “Olympic precincts”; a significant decrease in boarding-house stock; evictions resulting from gentrification and beautification of low-income areas; artificially inflated real- estate prices; unchanged or weakened tenant-protection laws; the criminalization of poverty and homelessness; temporary or permanent privatization of public spaces; and temporary suppression of human rights, particularly freedom of assembly.

14 March 2007

Retaining the Freedom of Information Act

"Information is power, and any government's attitude about sharing information with the people actually says a great deal about how it views power itself, and how it views the relationship between itself and the people who elected it." - Tony Blair, 1996

11 years later, the Department for Constitutional Affairs is saying that the FoIA, implementation of which is estimated to cost roughly £35m a year, has become too expensive. They want to place restrictions on the type of information (not too frivolous), the cost of collecting it (officials' reading time must be included in the charge) and the frequency of requests from any one individual or body.

It's the wrong thing for the government to do. Democracy has to be transparent and accountable, for both elected members and unelected officials, even if it costs a few bob.

The Times has a good list of 59 facts that have come to light (in only 2 years since the Act came into force) that we probably wouldn't have known about otherwise.

- The Government agreed a £1.5m bailout of one of the most troubled schools in its flagship city academies programme ten days before the 2005 general election
- Politicians are spending £2.2bn a year of taxpayers’ money on private management consultants
- Britain helped Israel to obtain its nuclear bomb 40 years ago, by selling it 20 tonnes of heavy water
- In 2004 the BBC paid £15.5m in staff bonuses when it was planning to cut more than 3,000 jobs
- Countries with poor human rights records and those on the front line in the War on Terror, including Iraq, were targeted by the Ministry of Defence as the most lucrative places for British arms companies to sell weapons
- Restaurants belonging to Britain's leading fast-food chains were branded “extremely poor” by health inspectors
- Cherie Blair became the first Prime Minister's spouse to be given a government car and driver for her personal use
- Plans to turn Britain into a “world leader” in internet gambling were drawn up by ministers

Trident Vote - 93 Labour MPs Rebel

93 Labour MPs rebelled against the government, voting for an amendment that called for a delay in renewing the Trident nuclear deterrant.

87 Labour MPs then rebelled again, voting directly against a motion to update Trident.

Green MEP Dr Caroline Lucas, a co-founder and Co-President of the European Parliament’s cross-party peace group, said:

“The Government’s support for Trident is yet another example of its failure to grasp the urgency of climate change. Imagine if its anticipated £76bn costs were invested in energy conservation and renewable energy generation – we might actually have a chance of cutting CO2 levels sufficiently to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Instead, we are left with an obscenely expensive white elephant that is likely to the world a more dangerous place – at best it is utterly irrelevant to the real security threats we face, chief among them climate change, and a missed opportunity to spend the cash on tackling them.”

Alice Miles, in the Times, also wrote a very good column today, entitled "Has no one got the guts to ditch Trident?"
The greatest nuclear threat we face is anyway not from a national leader but from stateless terror. Osama bin Laden has already tried to buy a nuclear bomb and I don’t suppose he has given up. Wouldn’t we be better off investing in the security of chaotic nuclear facilities around the world than buying more bomb power in Britain?

I would never, ever, ever want a British leader to fire a nuclear weapon. Ever. In any circumstances. Even if someone fired one at us. Even if a country fired more than one at us. I do not believe that responding with equal terror and carnage against other citizens, other families, would ever be the right thing to do.

Trident Vote Today

On Monday, one of our local members, Cathy Wattebot, was part of the Coventry Stop The War lobby to have Coventry Labour MPs say no to the renewal of Trident. She and others met with Geoffrey Robinson, Jim Cunningham and Bob Ainsworth. As Ainsworth is one of the deputy chief whips, Robinson and Cunningham were on-message.

The vote in Parliament on Trident is today. If enough Labour MPs rebel (one junior minister, and one parliamentary private secretary have already resigned over the issue), Labour will have to rely on the Tories to pass the measure.

On the eve of the vote, the Guardian reports that the government is secretly upgrading the capability of Trident.
Analysts said the device - called the Arming, Fusing and Firing (AF&F) system - would make the Trident system more effective because the weapons' power, impact and radioactive fallout could be changed depending on the target.

Joan Ruddock, a Labour MP and longtime opponent of nuclear weapons, said the discreet upgrading of the weapons system belied government claims.

"This is further evidence of enhancing the warfighting capability of Trident and gives the lie to the claim in the white paper that it is a matter of deterrence. Ministers want to maintain the myth that it is a matter of deterrence and they have no scenario to carry out warfighting."

Paul Ingram, senior analyst at BASIC (the British American Security Information Council), said: "The level and type of investment at Aldermaston of which this is a part indicates that Britain is looking to further upgrade its warheads for a variety of uses beyond simple deterrence."

12 March 2007

Network To Close US Overseas Bases

According to U.S. government figures, the U.S. military maintains some 737 bases in 130 countries. The United States is responsible for 95% of the world's foreign bases.

If it walks like an empire, and talks like an empire, it just may be an empire.

From 5th to 9th March, some 400 activists from 40 countries came together in Ecuador to form a network to fight against foreign military bases:
The delegation from Okinawa, Japan, has been trying to dismantle the U.S. bases for the past 50 years. One of their main complaints has been the violence against women. Suzuyo Takazato, the director of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, has compiled a chilling chronology of sexual abuse against Okinawan women by U.S. soldiers, including the rape of a nine-month old baby and a six-year-old girl.

Activists from Japan, Turkey, Italy and Germany said their countries had been used to facilitate the invasions and ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. delegates emphasized how the billions of dollars now being spent to maintain bases would be better invested in people’s needs for health, education and housing.

The new global network will help local groups share experiences, learn from one another, and provide support for the local efforts. It will conduct research, maintain a global website (no-bases.org), publish an e-newsletter, and convoke regular international meetings to assess progress.

Coventry Conservatives and the Environment

David Cameron, and local council leaders like Ken Taylor, try to portray an image of the Conservatives as being an environmental party.

In fact, when you look at Conservative support for Trident, for nuclear power, for road building, or when key figures like John Redwood who want to put "economic competitivenes" first, when we see an opposition or skepticsm towards congestion charging, and their support for incineration of waste, the Conservatives are anything but a party of the environment.

Locally, if the Conservatives were serious about the environment:

- all new development in Coventry would include energy equipment on-site to provide 20% of energy needs. Instead, the council is considering millions of square feet of development (the Swanswell, development along Corporation Street, the Friargate development at the train station) without the 20% rule being required in planning applications and master plans.

- they wouldn’t be in favour of selling 3.2 acres of nature land in Cheylesmore (on the Stonehouse Estate, Toll Bar End) for housing.

- we would have like York, a 50% reduction in the cost of parking permits for small and less-polluting cars, and we would challenge the fact that 25% of car journeys are 2 miles or less.

- Coventry, as a former centre of car industry, would be sponsoring a shift towards sustainable modes of transport, for example, Ken Taylor could call a summit of the leading filling stations in Coventry and encourage them to provide biodiesel pumps ... or electric recharge points.

- if the Conservatives nationally were serious about David Cameron’s idea of “carbon audit offices” – which would act as a watchdog for specific year-by-year requirements for carbon cuts – we would have a Tory-controlled council putting the idea into action.

- we would have more than one farmer’s market (the second Thursday of each month, on Spon Street) in the city.

David Cameron and Aviation Taxes

I might as well link to the Conservative party's website, so you can see the outlined consultation in full.

What Cameron is suggesting is threefold:

- charging fuel duty and/or VAT on domestic flights
- replacing air passenger duty with a per-flight tax based more closely on actual carbon emissions
- introducing a 'Green Air Miles Allowance' so that people who fly more frequently pay tax at a higher rate

David Wooding, in the Sun, puts some flesh on this.

All travellers would be limited to 2,000 “green air miles” a year — enough for a return trip to Spain. After the 2000 miles, there would be a £40 penalty every flight.

Cameron's proposal implies that, after the 2000 miles, people can fly as much as they want, so long as they keep paying.

Even if Cameron hikes the per-flight tax to £100 a flight, heavy fliers will only have to pay £1200 extra a year (14000 miles, 12 extra flights of 1000 miles each)

£1200 sounds like a lot to you and me, but the Civil Aviation Authority has found that the average income of UK leisure passengers travelling through Stansted Airport was £51 141 a year in 2005.

It shouldn't be about people flying as much as they want, so long as they can pay.

It should be about less airport capacity (and more green belt land preserved when 2nd runways aren't brought in) and people simply taking the train more.

11 March 2007

Organising All Candidates Meetings

Here is a link to a handy "how to" guide to organising all candidates meetings during a local election.

I've sent a letter suggesting the idea, along with a copy of this guide, to a few venues/organisations in our target ward in Coventry.

All candidates meetings are important. They allow candidates to be put on the spot by their neighbours, they show if candidates can think on their feet, they allow people to learn more about policies.

We didn't have any last year in Earlsdon, and I hope we have a few this year.

Building Towards the 2007 Local Elections

- We're sending out a mailing to households in three of the eight Earlsdon polling stations this week, the polling stations where we were not able to canvass during 2006, but where we hope to reach this year.

- I went for an interview on Touch FM on Friday afternoon, and their regional news editor said that a clip of the discussion would be part of the Monday morning newscasts, and if not then, for Monday afternoon. We'll see what happens with that.

- A fellow named David Hopkins got in touch with me late last week. He's part of a group called Action for Walsgrave, local residents who are objecting to access roads that will increase local traffic and pave the way for more housing development on flood plain land.

- Our final monthly meeting before the local elections is taking place this Tuesday, the 13th of March, at 730pm, at the Grapevine centre, Doe Bank Lane, Spon End. If you're interested in helping out with our campaign or want more information on Green politics in Coventry, drop by. Or, if you can't make it, you can always give me a call on 07906 316 726, or email me on sgredding2003@yahoo.co.uk.

08 March 2007

RSA Drug Commission Report

The Royal Society of Arts Commission on Illegal Drugs has issued its final report, "Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy."

The system, the commission's report says, is "crude, ineffective, riddled with anomalies and open to political manipulation."

Existing drugs education is often "inconsistent, irrelevant, disorganised" and "delivered by people without adequate training" and its main focus should shift from secondary to primary schools.

Current laws are "driven by moral panic" with large amounts of money wasted on "futile" efforts to stop supply rather than going after the criminal networks behind the drugs on British streets.

The commission is in favour of a much more flexible system than classes A, B, and C, i.e. differentiating between different strengths of cannabis.

The commision's website is here.

Later this morning, when they have it up, you can listen to the commission's chair, Anthony King of Essex University, interviewed on the Today programme (it is the interview just after Jack Straw, about 718-720am).

07 March 2007

New Head of MI5 - Jonathan Evans

MI5 has named Jonathan Evans to be its new head, replacing Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Like most MI5 staff, it's hard to find anything about him on the net. He's the current Deputy Director. He went to Bristol for university (classical studies). Evans began his career in MI5 in hunting spies and moles. In 1985, he moved to work in protective security, advising departmental security officers on the protection of classified information.

Evans then moved on to work in Northern Ireland as a senior intelligence official in the 1990s.

The Belfast Telegraph mentions that Evans could be called in a Belfast High Court hearing. The case is brought by former Army agent 'Kevin Fulton'. Evans may have been one of Fulton's handlers. Fulton is suing the NIO for compensation over what he claims is its failure to honour a contract to finance a new life in England after his cover as an agent was blown in 1994.

Evans, at some point, became the head of the anti-Al-Qaeda unit. So, it is rather interesting what happened just before the 7th July 2005 bombings.
A dozen Labour whips were addressed by Dame Eliza about the terrorist threat to the UK the day before the bombings ... Sources have told the Guardian that Dame Eliza told them that there was "no imminent threat to London or the country" from a terrorist attack. They also say she appeared rather detached from the detail of security operations that must have been taking place at the time. It was already known that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, a government body based at the headquarters of MI5, had reduced its assessment of the threat to Britain from level 2, or "severe-general" to level 3, or "substantial", six weeks before the July 7 bombings.
So, either he wasn't briefing her enough, or he was briefing her wrong.

Apart from what little we know of him, there are a number of things on the go for MI5:

- where are the chlorine trucks, and who has access to them?

- will MI5 keep spying on senior black and minority ethnic officers within the Metropolitan police?

- will MI5 keep visiting Guantanamo and just stand by during interrogation and torture?

- will MI5 keep pushing to be able to spy on MPs?

06 March 2007

Brown to Seek Green Party Nomination for 2008

No, not Gordon.

Former Black Panther Party leader, noted author, community and prison justice activist Elaine Brown announced this week that she intends to seek the Green Party’s nomination for a US presidential bid in 2008.

Strategically, she intends to target non-voters, specifically women under 30 and African Americans.

"Not only does the Green Party support reparations for slavery, but the party’s ten key values represent the values and interests of poor and working people. Only the Green Party offers clear positions on the needs of the people, in terms of a living wage, decent housing, food, education, and medical care. The Democrats and Republicans offer black and poor people nothing."

Coventry Beer Festival - 13th and 14th April

It will be the 13th and 14th of April at the rugby stadium at The Butts.

There will be over 85 beers on offer, including special beers from local breweries, plus cider and country wine.

Food miles apply to beer as well ... there are still a number of active breweries to support in Warwickshire, such as the Tunnel brewery in Ansley, in the north-west of the county.

As well, there are breweries in Leicestershire and Rutland , as well as north Oxfordshire favourites, like Old Hooky.

Why drink beer brought all the way from the US or Australia when it's so good here?

05 March 2007

Monbiot on Blair's Climate Change Legacy

Blair's true record on climate change:

I commissioned a team of environmental scientists at University College, London, to conduct a peer-reviewed audit of the government's planned greenhouse gas reductions. The results are staggering. Our audit reveals that the government's assessment of its own policies is wildly optimistic. Instead of a 29-31% cut by 2020, it is on course to deliver a reduction of between 12% and 17%. At this rate the UK will not meet its 2020 milestone until 2050.

The government expects that national transport emissions (not counting international flights) will rise by 4m tonnes between 1990 and 2020. Maslin's team discovered that the real increase will be between 7 and 13m tonnes.

In housing, the government has loudly proclaimed its intention to use better building regulations to make new houses more energy efficient - by 2016, it says, every new home in the country will be "zero carbon". But since the energy efficiency regulations were first introduced in 1985 there has not been a single prosecution for non-compliance. A study by the Building Research Establishment of new houses passed by the inspectors found that 43% of them did not meet satisfactory energy standards.

Next time Blair gives a heart-rending speech about his legacy to future generations, don't believe a word of it.

Attack on Iran Would Strengthen Hardliners

Frank Barnaby, a former nuclear weapons scientist, now a consultant for the Oxford Research Group, has said that an attack on Iran is likely to backfire and accelerate Tehran's development of a nuclear bomb.

Air strikes, reportedly being contemplated as an option by the White House, would strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners, unite the Iranian population behind a bomb, and would almost certainly trigger an underground crash programme to build a small number of warheads as quickly as possible ... Air strikes would be unlikely to destroy all the centrifuges Iran is using to enrich uranium. An attack could trigger a walkout by Iran from the non-proliferation treaty and the departure of UN inspectors. It could also lead to the departure of Russian experts at an Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr, leaving a potential source of plutonium unmonitored.

04 March 2007

Portillo on The Task Facing David Cameron

A column on the Tory "recovery" ... by Michael Portillo:

The Tories like to think they are now where Labour was in, say, 1995, knocking on the door of government. The parallel simply does not hold. Labour had come within a whisker of winning the previous election, whereas the Conservatives were smashed for the third time in 2005, with Labour achieving a majority over the Tories of 157. The mountain that Cameron needs to climb is huge.

A crucial issue is whether the opposition looks ready to take over ... Today’s Tory team lacks strength in depth. George Osborne is good but not yet weighty. David Davis is substantial, but is not part of Cameron’s project to transform the party. David Willetts and Oliver Letwin lack any sort of common touch. There is no Campbell or Mandelson. There is no Norman Tebbit either. The Conservatives have yet to find a person or a device to attract back the working-class voters who were an essential part of Thatcher’s winning coalition.

Cameron will always be viewed as a toff, even though he communicates well with every group of voters. Without an unforeseeable breakthrough, the Conservatives cannot be sure of retaking Essex or the cities in Yorkshire and Lancashire that stuck with Thatcher.

Labour's Record On Electric Cars

The Department for Transport, in their wisdom, has excluded electric cars from a list of the most environmentally friendly vehicles.

Going Green, the company which imports the G-Whiz electric car from India, also expressed dismay. 'If it looks like a car and it's used like a car, then it's a car,' said Keith Johnston, the company's managing director. 'This says much about the government's environmental motoring capability when the greenest "car" on the road, according to the government's own figures, is overlooked.'
After 9 1/2 years in power, Labour's Britain has fewer than 900 electric cars, and only 1 per cent of the 33m cars on our roads are not powered by petrol or diesel.

What we need is an infrastructure that enables people to easily recharge electric scooters and cars.

The entire electric vehicles debate is interesting for Coventry, not only with our history of being the centre of the car industry, but also for new initiatives, like Modec, an electric delivery van firm out by the A46.

03 March 2007

Cycling Guide In The Guardian

The Guardian has a very good collection of pro-cycling articles on its website today.

It includes:

- tips on how to buy a bicycle

- tips on how to deter bicycle thieves, and,

- Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow describing the danger to cyclists on London roads and how he feels urban cycling lanes should be a governmental priority

The government thinks that with the Lottery funding the admirable Sustrans National Cycle Network, they have done their bit for cycling. But in truth Sustrans is what it is, a mainly recreational, regenerative exercise that has made it possible for families and individuals to cycle safely across the British countryside. To a much lesser extent has Sustrans provided commuter routes, and only rarely any inner-city infrastructure. Some local authorities have scraped money from here and there to build small stretches of separated cycle way. But as a rule, the government has effectively given urban cycling no priority whatsoever in its thinking.

Nowhere is the war against the carbon footprint more important than in the inner city. In ignoring the need to build major cycle infrastructure, ministers are turning their backs on one of the more obvious solutions to both transport safety and global warming.

Coventry Labour MPs and Iran

This is a letter that I've sent to the Telegraph, as well as the Guardian, Independent and the Times:

"Coventry Labour MPs must urge the Prime Minister not to support a nuclear first-strike on Iran. If you think that’s alarmist, not only George Bush, but leading Democrats (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama) are saying that “all options are on the table” with Iran.

That’s code for tactical nuclear weapons (such as the B61-11) which bury themselves 20 feet deep, explode with half the tonnage of Hiroshima, and destroy underground facilities. Such an attack would lead to radioactive fallout and long-term contamination of ground water and aquifers.

It would lower the threshold for nuclear use. It would make the US, and any government that tries to excuse its actions, a pariah state. The director of the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency), Mohamed ElBaradei, says Iran is, at best, years away from having nuclear weapons. You don't work against the spread of nuclear weapons by threatening to use them."

The Merton Rule and Coventry

Coventry City Council has to respond by 9th March to two government consultations on climate change and planning.

It highlights a few interesting facts:

1) "In January 2006, the Council committed itself to ensuring that from January 2008 all new build would make provision for onsite renewable energy and recycling facilities."

2) Four months after the Council signed up to the Nottingham Declaration, an "internal officer group is currently developing a discussion paper to consider what further initiatives could be contemplated including the installation of on-site renewable energy systems for all new build on Council property."

This refers to the "Merton rule", named after the London council that required all new development to have at least 10% renewable energy provided on-site.

- Why hasn't Coventry required a 10% minimum already, especially when Merton was a Tory council?
- Why a 2-year phase-in?
- Why is an "internal officer group" only at a discussion paper stage 4 months after the Council signs up to the Nottingham Declaration?

My worry is that millions of square feet of development is going to be green-lighted (the Swanswell, the developments near the train station, the Belgrade's developments) without on-site renewable energy production being built into their planning approvals.

02 March 2007

Local and Fairtrade Food in Coventry

A good place to start is by searching Big Barn (a database of small food producers that you can search by postal code).

As well, the Warwickshire Farmer's Market take place on the second Thursday of every month in Medieval Spon Street with a large selection of fresh produce. Details: Tel 024 7622 7264.

Beyond that, here is a list that we included in our 2500-copy Autumn 2006 newsletter to homes in Earlsdon:

Alexander Wines (local beer, organic beer and organic cider), 112-114 Berkley Road South

Alma Delicatessen (fair trade coffee and chocolate), 50 Corporation Street

Cartridge World (refils for printer ink cartridges), 43 Earlsdon Street

the Co-Op (organic cotton toilet paper, 100% recycled kitchen roll, fair trade bananas and beer and honey
and wine and choc, cat litter made from recycled paper, Ecover products), various locations (Corporation Street, Earlsdon Street, Allesley, Willenhall)

Coventry Market – Sidwells, near the fish stalls, now sells organic fruit and veg

Down To Earth, http://www.downtoearthorganic.co.uk (wide variety of fruit, veg, canned goods, an organic box scheme, and refillable bottles of Ecover cleaning liquid and washing liquid), 96a Earlsdon Street

Drop In The Ocean (health food store in city centre), 17 City Arcade

Honeyfields Beefarm (heather honey, cut comb honey, chunk honey, honey mustard, honey marmalade), Coventry Road, Aldermans Green, CV2 1NT, 024 7649 0311

Kendall’s Delicatessen (speciality local free range meat and cheese, as well as fair trade olive oil from Palestine), 54 Earlsdon Street

01 March 2007

Gordon Brown and Migrant Volunteering

The government is cutting back on who is eligible for free ESOL provision, and overall, the LSC is cutting back on ESOL funding.

On top of this, Gordon Brown is now floating the idea that migrants should carry out mandatory community work that would "introduce them to the people they will be living alongside" -- Brown is also considering whether citizenship should be granted on a trial basis, to be revoked if people did not keep their part of the contract.

Habib Rahman, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: "Compulsory community service is usually imposed as a non-custodial penalty for a criminal offence. We are therefore extremely concerned that it is now being proposed as a condition of citizenship."

Talking About Nuclear War

An article by George Lakoff on the US website, Common Dreams, highlights how the media and the US government are getting people used to the idea of attacking Iran with nuclear weapons.

The Natanz facility -- where US attention is focused with regard to the Iranian nuclear programme -- is deep underground, so it's unclear that "bunker buster" bombs would be able to conclusively damage it.

Perhaps the "smallest" tactical nuclear weapon we have is the B61-11, which has a dial-a-yield feature: it can yield "only" 0.3 kilotons, but can be set to yield up to 170 kilotons. The power of the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons. That is, a "small" bomb can yield more than 10 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. The B61-11 dropped from 40,000 feet would dig a hole 20 feet deep and then explode, send shock waves downward, leave a huge crater, and spread radiation widely. The idea that it would explode underground and be harmless to those above ground is false — and, anyway, an underground release of radiation would threaten ground water and aquifers for a long time and over wide distance.

What we are seeing now is the conservative message machine preparing the country to accept the ideas of a nuclear war and nation destruction against Iran. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water – if the heat is turned up slowly the frog gets used to the heat and eventually boils to death – the American public is getting gradually acclimated to the idea of war with Iran.

- First, describe Iran as evil – part of the axis of evil. An inherently evil person will inevitably do evil things and can't be negotiated with. An entire evil nation is a threat to other nations.
Second, describe Iran's leader as a "Hitler" who is inherently "evil" and cannot be reasoned with. Refuse to negotiate with him.
- Then repeat the lie that Iran is on the verge of having nuclear weapons. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei says they are at best many years away.
- Call nuclear development "an existential threat" – a threat to our very existence.
- Then suggest a single "surgical" "attack" on Natanz and make it seem acceptable.
- Claim, without proof and without anyone even taking responsibility for the claim, that the Iranian government at its highest level is supplying deadly weapons to Shiite militias attacking our troops, while not mentioning the fact that Saudi Arabia is helping Sunni insurgents attacking our troops.
- Give "protecting our troops" as a reason for attacking Iran without getting new authorization from Congress.
- Never mention the words "preventive nuclear war" or "national destruction." When asked, say "All options are on the table."
- Intimidate Democratic presidential candidates into agreeing, without using the words, that nuclear war should be "on the table." This makes nuclear war and nation destruction bipartisan and even more acceptable.