Friday, 31 December 2010

Irish Water Supply Crisis (and thoughts arising!)

The weather hasn’t been great these past couple of weeks. Travel has been disrupted, on the roads, the railways and in the air. Northern Ireland has had significant problems with water supplies, with many people being without supply for several days. Urgent calls for blood donors went out to anticipate increased demand. Petrol stations ran out of fuel.

The priority amongst those who administer these facilities has been to get back to normal as soon as possible. The priority amongst everyone else seems to have been to find someone to blame, and to scapegoat them. The result of all this blame is to take the attention of the top managers and officials away from problem solving, in order to provide a public apology, a resignation or a decision not to take a bonus.

Heads must roll!

Small consideration is given to the fact that this level of snow and freezing temperatures at this time of the year is (or has been up until now) a freak occurrence. No manager, administrator or minister worth his salt is going to spend a fortune preparing for freak conditions, thereby risking the wrath of the budget keepers, the accountants and the voters. If those conditions can be shown, later, to fall outside the definition of ‘freak’, and nearer to the definition of ‘normal’, that is the time to spend the money.

What we have heard, and will hear again, is that well worn phrase, ‘Lessons will be learned.’ My question would be, ‘Which lessons?’

We can safely assume that in Northern Ireland, decades of troubled times, under all shades of Westminster government, has resulted in a considerable under-spend on water infrastructure. It’s pretty pointless then, to look for a token scapegoat.

The problems at our airports arise from the assumption that freak conditions are just that, and are unlikely to occur. To compare the situation at Heathrow with that at better equipped continental airports is invidious – they have always had more snow and lower temperatures than we have, and are more used to it; furthermore, they have not been without their weather related problems. Recent freak conditions in the US have caused similar disruptions, and they, too, are more used to severe winter conditions than we are.

The complaints regarding road travel seem to relate to a lack of communication, and the habit of distressed drivers of blocking the hard shoulder.

Much of our difficulties, and all our complaints, arise from an expectation that someone else should be looking after us. The workings of State and Big Business have contrived, over the years, to deprive us of the ability to fend for ourselves, to prepare for extreme conditions as a matter of course, and to ‘get on with it’ at times of stress.

The people in Ireland who are without water are certainly in a very difficult situation, and don’t need reminding of the circumstances in third world countries which require women and young children to walk 10 or 15 km a day to collect the water supply for the whole family, including the sick and elderly within their communities. The distressed road users, many of whom, despite the forecasts, set out on their journeys completely unprepared, won’t give a thought to the millions of people who aren’t able to afford a bicycle, never mind a car. The stranded Christmas holidaymakers feeling miserable in airport terminals are unlikely to work out what percentage of the world’s population have never left their village (or refugee camp), let alone their country.

No, I fear that the important lessons won’t be learned.

In this country we’re lucky – we are not generally short of water, as long as we are sensible. Irrigation of crops is not as prevalent as it is, for example, in North America: there, without irrigation, food production would decline to an unsustainable level, and yet constant irrigation degrades the soil, necessitating increased use of fossil-gas based fertilisers. At the same time, a growing city-based population is taking an increasing proportion of the available water supply: availability of clean water per capita is decreasing as water tables drop and replenishment can’t keep up with demand. Many parts of the world depend on grain exports from the US; and yet, as it takes 1000 tons of water to produce a ton of grain, there will come a time not too many years hence, when the US will no longer be able to export grain – and the irony is that a proportion of their crop will go to the production of bio fuel.

The most water-hungry grain crop is rice. In North Korea, where a majority of the population is undernourished, there is no longer sufficient fuel to power the irrigation systems upon which their staple crop, rice, depends. To make matters worse, in winter they can no longer heat their hospitals, let alone their homes. They don’t have fuel for their farm machinery, so farmers have to do the work manually – but being seriously undernourished, and living in cold accommodation, the labour is very much less than efficient, leading to increasing food shortage and malnutrition. Ultimately, complete societal breakdown is inevitable without huge help from outside.

In a large proportion of irrigated land in Northern China, the water tables are dropping by a meter a year – rivers and rainfall just can’t keep up with demand. In India, two thirds of the Punjab is losing its water tables at the rate of 20 centimetres a year.

Although there was some controversy over a misguided claim by the IPCC regarding how soon the Himalayan glaciers would disappear, that should not blind us to the established fact that these glaciers are receding at a significant rate (as they are in other parts of the world including Europe). Another fact is that a third of the world’s population is dependent on those glaciers for clean water. Already some of the world’s great rivers are reduced to a trickle, or dry up completely, when the demands of agriculture are at peak – and the periods when this happens are getting longer each year.

So what lessons should our politicians, managers and administrators be learning?

First, it is now clear that current agricultural practices are unsustainable (even without the threat of peak oil). This will become increasingly obvious as fossil-based fuel and fertiliser, and thence food, become more and more expensive. A partial solution to this is for agriculture to become more community based, and organic, with a loosening or abolition of the regulatory constraints which are placed on such things as community composting. This solution might involve some incentive to larger land-owners to allow some of their land to be put to community use (without charge). Small organic community based schemes have been shown elsewhere (Cuba for example) to be several times more productive than standard agricultural practice. As the size of a farmed area increases, the productivity per square meter reduces – so small community based units are the optimum for yield, as well as providing local employment, helping communities to enhance self reliance and resilience.

Second, all farming must become less dependent on oil and oil based products very quickly. Instead of cutting budgets on research, more funds should be provided to research and revitalise new farming methods. There are ways of growing crops which take up far less space than current systems, for example, and these should be investigated and perfected as quickly as possible. Lack of oil is not synonymous with ‘back to the stone age’. Properly researched modern organic methods have the ability to increase not only production, but more importantly, nutritional value.

Thirdly, the present rather tired efforts to enhance the value of ‘community’ should be doubled or trebled. This Government is making a few of the right noises in this direction but their actions are working against their sentiments. The more that a local community is stimulated, the more local work becomes available, the more money is generated locally. There was a time when light industry could be found in village high streets, whereas now it is shunted out to industrial ‘parks’, drawing people away from their communities, and engendering a mindset which embraces the long commute, the supermarket, the ‘dormitory town’ and the school with 1500 pupils which produces students who are outside their own communities right from the start.

Fourthly, politicians should be helping to educate the electorate to the fact that life cannot continue as it is. Our lifestyles are going to change whether we like it or not, but at present the Government is doing absolutely nothing to educate us for this. Major changes will occur and our leaders and most people in the ‘developed’ world are walking towards those changes with our eyes shut! The later we leave our preparations the harder it will be to live with those changes and the more chaotic and destructive will be the outcome.

The water crisis in Ireland leads me to wonder, with all the rigorous, so-called environmentally friendly building regulations, why new buildings are not required to capture rainwater for use, at least, in toilets and kitchen sinks. There is no reason why we should feel entitled to use good drinking water for anything other than drinking and cooking.

While we are whining at the Government because they aren’t keeping our roads clear or our trains running, some small island nations are already suffering deeply as a result of rising sea levels. Some African countries are suffering prolonged drought and loss of crops. Others devote their agricultural resources to producing crops for export instead of feeding themselves, mostly through the ‘good’ offices of the IMF and the WTO.

Unless real action is taken to change the way we live, we will soon be whining about failure of road, rail and air travel through lack of economically viable fuel supplies, and while our main sources of groceries (the supermarkets) only keep sufficient stocks to last less than a week without replenishment, we should certainly start to learn how to keep a sensibly stocked store cupboard. Globally we are heading towards shortage of oil, shortage of water and a spiralling global temperature.

The lesson which should be learned by the politicians is not when or how to apologise. It is that there are a number of potential crises up ahead. If these materialise and find us unprepared, it won’t be the odd minister who will have to resign! Meanwhile, those of us who can should incorporate our preparation for the future into our everyday lives, a bit at a time, until it becomes second nature.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Our Unsustainable Lives - an exercise in pessimism!

I have become increasingly frustrated by the approach most people take towards the major problems faced by our ‘civilisation’ in this increasingly hazardous modern world. We have an economic crisis which, we are told, is the daddy of them all. We have climate change, about which almost everyone is in denial at least to some degree (in other words, although many people accept it is happening, few understand or consider the true depth of the looming problem). And we have Peak Oil – a phrase which is much more used than understood – which could pose a similar level of threat to our survival as does climate change if it is not addressed.

A significant chunk of the population is in the same position as I am – the real crisis will not be likely to hit me where it hurts in my lifetime. Should I therefore not care? I talk to people all the time who believe that they are off the hook because they believe it won’t affect them personally. I have two replies to them. One is this: Don’t be too damn sure that you won’t live to see climate and fuel related crises – their warning signs are already there! The other is this: Think of our grandchildren (or do you really not care?)

I am increasingly annoyed by the pundits and politicians, who talk about the pros and cons of nuclear power, coal fired power stations, hydrogen fuel cells, bio-diesel, ethanol, whether the carbon footprint of a kiwi fruit in a UK supermarket can be justified, and whether or not to buy a hybrid car.

They are all missing the point, because they are all looking for a politically acceptable way of cutting services, taxing consumption, encouraging recycling by imposing a higher landfill tax, and a host of other bits of tinkering, all without either upsetting the few people who actually vote, or significantly changing anybody’s comfortable lifestyle.

Oh how I wish they would start telling us the truth!

The future of human life on this planet depends upon us learning to reduce drastically our greenhouse gas emissions, maintaining what is left of our ecosystem so that it continues to sequestrate CO2 (which is what has kept our atmosphere human-friendly over the millennia), and accepting that our current level of consumerism is not just self indulgent, it is suicidal, regardless of the source of the energy. The fact is that we as a race are consuming more energy than the sun (the source of all our energy) gives us on a day to day basis; and so we raid the bank (fossil fuel), and look what happens to banks when they lend unsustainably!

Consuming less does not mean just making sure that some phoney organisation has sanctioned our hardwood patio furniture as coming from some mythical sustainable source, it means we don’t buy hardwood furniture! It does not mean hesitating over whether the third TV should have a 21” or a 28” screen – it means not having a third TV. And it doesn’t mean buying runner beans, or worse by far, flowers, out of season from the other side of the world (and yes I do feel sorry for the Kenyans, but they must grow food for themselves, not us!)

We hear the phrase, ‘Think outside the box,’ often enough, usually when related to Frank Field, or Alan Sugar. But we, the ubiquitous middle class (for there is no other class these days) do not, ever, think outside the box.

Many of us, commendably, compost and recycle what we can. But if enough of us took a stand in saying, for instance, ‘I won’t buy this item, because the packaging will have to go to landfill’, the packaging tide might start to turn – but of course not enough of us will, because to find an alternative to the supermarket or Happy Shopper for our meat supply is often just too much trouble.

When I asked my brother about the fuel consumption of his new hybrid car, it turns out that it is higher than my diesel van! That isn’t his fault – Government propaganda has encouraged this illusory ‘green option’ for years.

We really need a leader (and it isn’t going to be any of the current crowd) who will say something like, ‘ I’m here for five years, no more and no less, and this is what we are going to do: Stop all new road construction, stop the purchase of a new Trident, cap all salaries to 10 times the minimum wage, make all public transport free and increase the service, renationalise the railways and buses of course, subsidise local shops through the tax system, cap the speed limit at 50 m.p.h. and enforce it, make people pay for doctor’s appointments but make prescriptions free, tax air fuel, phase out oil-based fertiliser, encourage people to grow food on open spaces such as road verges and roundabouts,’ and I could go on....!’

I can hear middle class voices saying, ‘But that’s just socialism, isn’t it?' Well, I suppose it almost is, although these are only supposed to be examples of ‘thinking outside the box’!

But face it, the capitalist system is precisely what fetched us up in this situation in the first place.

Economies can’t just go on growing – it isn’t possible.

I am the last person to recommend isolationism as a solution – I would not suggest we stop all trade with other countries, but anyone should be able to see the funny side of sending recycled plastic to China to be turned into cheap plastic toys, to be sent straight back – it’s madness! We should tax cheap plastic imports to the limit, and allow people in this country the opportunity to make cheap plastic toys from recycled plastic! Thus, more jobs are created – and if the cheap plastic toys don’t sell because they are too expensive, then we could find another use for the recycled plastic – which, because of Peak Oil, will soon become a resource in considerable demand!

Many of us are fond of suggesting that the ‘green’ movement is a bottom-up movement, and at the moment it is. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that that is enough to solve our problems: that is what we elect politicians to do.

Unfortunately, none of our politicians (except, dare I say, Caroline Lucas) have the vision to understand what is happening to our world.

So we should all find our own way to explain it to them!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Compulsory Water Metering

A letter was published in our local paper, the West Briton, this week, expressing horror at the thought of compulsory water metering. This was my reply!

"I was really interested to read the letter from Miss Trewin regarding water metering, particularly the paragraph in which she states that ‘Any kind of compulsory action undermines democracy and is an invasion of the peoples’ democratic rights’. After all, the basis of democracy is the law and its creation and enforcement!

To follow that line of thought through to its logical conclusion, I guess Miss Trewin resents the fact that electricity and gas supplies also have to be metered! Perhaps we should instead be subjected to an inflated standing electricity or gas charge based on house size and location as is the case with unmetered water! The infrastructure associated with water supply is significant, and expensive to maintain (as with electricity and gas), and I cannot think of a reason to treat water as a special case!

More seriously, I am a supporter of Green policies and principles, specifically the principle of conserving our resources where possible. Having used an unmetered supply of water for many years, I came to realise that a more fair and honest approach would be to have a meter installed, so that I paid for what I used. The value from my point of view would be that I would be able to monitor my own water use, and avoid wasting this precious resource. As it turned out, the meter has had the effect of reducing my water bill by more than 50%.

Miss Trewin naively believes that ‘it is logical people will only use the amount of water needed...’ – I have to say that her faith in the human race’s ability to behave in a logical way is different from mine! The fact is that if volume of water used is reflected in the water bill, people will be more careful with its use, as they are with electricity. Additionally, it would enable anyone to judge whether they are being charged fairly or not.

We in Cornwall have probably the highest water charges in the country, but that is mainly due to the burden of catering for the tourists who visit, whether through beach cleaning or sewage treatment. Whether that is fair or not is a question for politicians, and I don’t think it is at the top of their current ‘to-do’ list!

In this economically challenged world, I take the view that we should all pay a fair rate for all our services, and compulsory water metering would allow us to do that. Miss Trewin wonders who would benefit – I would suggest that in the end, the whole population would.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New!

What I remember of the political scene before the election was an all-pervading atmosphere of negativity. We had all the scandals associated with expense-fiddling, all the sniping, all the destructive criticism of any attempt by any politician to do anything positive. We used to get many personal and vindictive attacks on politicians just because they were of a different political hue. We appeared to have forgotten what democracy was all about. We appeared to have stopped respecting democratic principles.

Then we had the election. Times changed (thank Heaven!) and we found ourselves being governed by a coalition. It started to emerge that there could indeed be respect for opposing viewpoints, a respect of the right of people to disagree.

There have been a few dissenters – voters saying, ‘I voted LibDem to keep the Tories out, and now look what we’ve got!’

But those people missed the point. If everyone voted for what they wanted instead of against what they didn’t want, we would have a clearer picture of what the majority view is. I’m afraid I take the view that anyone who voted tactically deserved whatever they got!

If you wanted a Labour government, you should have voted Labour. And if you voted Labour and didn’t get a Labour government, it’s because Labour DIDN’T GET ENOUGH VOTES!

It is a bare fact that with the voting numbers stacked as they were, this coalition was the only form of government that was going to function in a stable way, and although I am not a supporter of either of the two governing parties, and although I believe that the policies of the Green Party are the ones which would work the best, I acknowledge that WE DIDN’T GET ENOUGH VOTES! We are, as yet, in a tiny minority.

So...yes...I support this coalition and wish it well.

Of course, we Greens believe that cuts to front-line services are unnecessary. But that only works if all the other Green policies are put in place. In isolation, to say that this government should not be making the proposed cuts is complete nonsense – they have to! In order to remain true to their election campaigns and their coalition agreement, they have to go down this road. Not our choice, but hey! You can’t win them all! For our Government to remain stable and get us out of the mess we are in, and to avoid further recession, and to maintain our current credit rating while the Euro teeters on the brink of going down the pan; and within the constraints that the majority of the country voted for by voting as they did, they have no option but to act in the way that they are.

In these circumstances, I really hope that the Labour opposition do as they promised, and provide a constructive opposition, and that all parties find a way of avoiding the old snarling, sniping, character-assassinating ways of the past, which drive the general voting public to distraction.

And this brings me on to David Laws.

It is unfortunate that probably the most competent manager of our finances in the government, more competent by far than either Osborne or Cable, has had to resign under the circumstances that he did.

I have never met David Laws. On TV he appeared pleasant, modest, self effacing, and highly competent. Colleagues on all sides of the house have paid him the compliment of confirming the view that he is a man of high integrity. His constituency is standing by him and want him to stay. The business of his rent, which has forced him to resign, has yet to be investigated and pronounced upon.

From the point of view of the National Good (and what other view should we be taking?) I would say that his departure is to be mourned.

From my own personal point of view, I feel some sympathy – after all, I confess that I have not always been a perfect human being!

What I do seriously criticise is the impulse from people who only read tabloid headlines, to point accusatory fingers, to rub hands in glee at another’s misfortune, to judge without knowing all the facts, to laugh cynically, without a thought being given to the damage it may do to the progress that the coalition has started to make along a path (not my chosen path) to economic recovery.

To those people, I say, ‘It’s time for you to grow up!’

Thursday, 27 May 2010


Earlier this year, I started taking one year old compost from my compost bin, to carpet the beds in my greenhouse ready for growing luscious, more or less organic tomatoes, courgettes, sweet peppers, chillies, and various veg seedlings. Imagine my surprise, when, amongst the rich brown well rotted compost I found a pristine white carrier bag, in mint condition apart from a little superficial dirt, carrying the following message, in dainty green print: “This bag is fully BIODEGRADABLE and 100% COMPOSTABLE”.

I don’t mind saying that I was miffed! I felt that I had been deceived – sold a pup – conned.

I dusted off the bag, photographed it, and started to search the internet for signs of its origin. And I found the website of a company that supplies this very bag. (To be fair, they are not the only supplier.)

My next stop was to Trading Standards – their office is not far away. They expressed their interest and promised to follow it up – and I’m sure they will, although who knows when?!

Then, still simmering with the resentment of the deceived, I emailed the Radio 4 programme ‘You and Yours’.

I also contacted my son who is knowledgeable about such things, and has useful contacts.

You have no idea how interesting and complicated this subject becomes! Apart from all the rules which define what temperature and under what circumstances various degradable plastic products should actually degrade, there is the question as to whether it is a good idea to produce degradable plastic containment at all.

Why would anyone prefer to use a bag which claims to be biodegradable? I suppose because they believe it is a more ‘environmentally friendly’ than the other kind.

This was a point for very brief discussion when the ‘You and Yours’ presenter interviewed me this morning.

So what would someone do with such a bag when it has outlived its usefulness? I guess that they would either put it in their compost bin, as I did, or put it in their household rubbish, probably to go to landfill, where it would safely degrade and feed the worms. Or perhaps they would put it into one of those bag recycling banks that some supermarkets have.

If a biodegradable bag finds its way into the bag recycling process, the fact that it is biodegradable is likely to adversely affect the quality of the recycled material.

If the same bag gets into a landfill site, it will degrade, and in the process, most of its bulk will convert to greenhouse gas, some of which may be captured, in a well-run site, but most of which will go to atmosphere.

The argument goes that a non biodegradable bag in landfill will do less damage to the atmosphere, because the carbon content is sequestered below ground for the foreseeable future, causing no damage to the atmosphere!

To summarise – we, the public, are only confused by this type of marketing, and we achieve no environmental benefit. The myths promoted by people jumping on the green-agenda bandwagon are simply a marketing tool in the same category as those used by double glazing salesmen to promote the benefits of their products.

But our dilemma is not resolved here!

If I am to believe my movie viewing, in America the supermarkets give out paper sacks to hold the groceries. Surely that is more environmentally friendly?

I just don’t know! I have just watched a Youtube trailer which shows huge old trees in ancient forest in Tasmania being blasted out of the ground to be converted to woodchips for conversion to pulp for paper, thus ‘liberating’ immense tonnages of carbon to add to our climate change problems. I believe that the process of making paper on a commercial scale is not an environmentally friendly business either, using as it does various chemicals, and no doubt copious amounts of power.

When we see someone’s beautifully oiled teak garden furniture, we may be inclined to wonder what kind of sustainable source produced the timber. But when we collect our mushrooms into a supermarket-supplied paper bag, do we wonder about the environmental impact of the paper?

The fact is that most of us don’t have a clue about what damage the goods we buy do to our planet.

There is a partial solution, at an individual level, and it is this. Wake up on a fine sunny spring morning, have a good stretch, and resolve to unburden yourselves from all that messy desire to buy, to own, to possess for the sake of it. Try not to buy anything unless you are happy with the way it will eventually be disposed of. Don’t believe the ‘authorities’ which claim that electrical goods are being safely recycled – it often isn’t happening!

If a manufacturer doesn’t know how his product can be safely disposed of – he shouldn’t be making it. If a shopper doesn’t know how his purchase can be safely disposed of at the end of its life, he shouldn’t be buying it.

Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle – aim for ZERO WASTE!!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Linguistic Irritation

There are some words, or groups of words, which stimulate in me a disproportionate feeling of annoyance, irritation, and even anger. Listening to the Today programme this morning (and it’s not over yet!) I’ve been having a field day. Union men saying ‘In-no-way-shape-or-form’, economic commentators talking about ‘Low Hanging Fruit’, and another perennial, ‘...going forward’, which presumably means some equivalent of ‘from this moment on’ – in other words a phrase only useful when distinguishing the futuristic from the historic.

But just now, for me, and of course speaking very personally – (other irritating verbiage is available) – the word BIG is a contender for the big prize!

It started with Big Brother – but in its context of a voyeuristic TV programme, that phrase obviously had some legitimacy, given to it by George Orwell. But it has spawned a number of illegitimate children.

When the word ‘big’ was associated with the lottery, it was no longer a comparative word – we don’t hear about a small lottery, because that would usually be called a raffle! Here the word ‘big’ was being used to create a spurious impression of largesse; to cause gullible punters to think that they have a reasonable chance of winning a huge sum of money (compared to their daily expectations). What they actually have is a completely UNreasonable chance of winning anything near to being a ‘big’ amount of money. Nothing wrong with a small flutter for fun, but as a cause of addiction, the Big Lottery has a lot to answer for.

This damned word is now being used in curious ways. That venerable guru of the superficial, Tim Smit, is promoting for the second year something called ‘the big lunch’. What he means, I guess, is a community exercise involving big numbers of people, rather than an occasion when people eat as much as their bellies will hold. (Many of our number seem to do that without Mr Smit’s help!) I can understand what he is trying to achieve – an enhanced sense of community; a sense of occasion when we may at last meet the person we have been living next door to for the last ten years – but this use of the word ‘big’ reduces the project to the level of a tatty game show, and is therefore likely to be a damp squib rather than an explosive event.

Then, in the lead up to the General Election, (the ‘big’ election?), David Cameron launched ‘The Big Society’, and even today, people are still asking each other what on earth he could have meant! When we are in the age of localism, decentralisation, community, expenditure reduction, discredited consumerism and anti-globalisation, this seems very like a somewhat desperate and inexperienced attempt at ‘soundbite-ism’ – now there’s a word to conjure with!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Pope is Coming to Town!

I don’t follow a religion – I guess I would be called an Atheist. As such, I presume I am a member of the largest ‘religious’ grouping in the country. As far as I can see there are less than a million practising Catholics in the UK.

Their leader, the Pope, is visiting the UK this year! This is obviously a very big deal for those million or so Catholics. I understand from the news that he will be holding open air masses for 400,000 people – nearly half the Country’s practising Catholics!

Probably like most people who have heard references to this visit on the airwaves, I sort of absorbed the information, but gave it no further thought other than how bad the traffic would be around those open-air masses!

But then I heard about the cost.


Who pays? Well, the Church is paying £7,000,000. They only have half that at the moment, so they will be passing the collection plate around, to try to raise the other half.

That’s OK then – it just means that £43,000,000 will be found by the British tax payer.

I thought we were short of money?

It must be because Vatican City is an important trading partner... or something.

I’m really sorry, but I just don’t get it!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Electoral Reform - my letter to the press

Electoral Reform is an idea which has supporters in all parties – yes, even the Conservative Party! Three out of four elections produce a result which has the party with the most votes failing to obtain a majority of seats, so it is not surprising that many voters, particularly those in minority parties, feel that they are never properly represented.

And yes, that does mean the BNP.

I am no fan of the BNP, but democracy is about winning the arguments in open debate, because that is preferable to rebellion and violence. If we are to extinguish the influence of the BNP, let’s get them into Parliament if people want to vote for them, so that we can expose them for what they are and defeat them in an open and honourable way. My guess is that if voters felt that their vote was actually going to count, so that tactical or protest voting was unnecessary, the BNP would not gain many seats, and wouldn't keep them for long.

The fear that PR would lead to ‘horse trading’ and confusion is unfounded. In fact lack of stability is more likely to arise under our present system. If a single party is sufficiently popular, it can still gain enough seats to have a majority government. If that doesn’t happen, it is because it has not won enough votes - pretty fair, I would have said! The negotiations that go to forming an alliance or coalition between more than one party are not likely to produce confusion, because it is usually pretty clear which parties would make impossible bed-fellows. The negotiations are simply the means to make a government which reflects the views of the majority. Our present (negotiated) coalition government reflects the views of the majority of voters, and is the first to do so in this country for a great many years.

I accept that the system used for European elections is not the best. I understand the desire to link a representative to a constituency (although I think that element is given more importance than it deserves). But the Electoral Reform Society has a dozen or so different PR systems on its website, and it is perfectly possible to have a system which maintains the link between a politician and his constituency. All of them give more weight to voters for smaller fringe parties than the Alternative Vote system (which is not PR). I believe that that is desirable, so that everybody can feel that their views are being considered and debated.

Conservative policy (before the election) was to keep ‘First Past the Post’, but with fewer MPs and larger constituencies – in other words a more distant representative with far more constituency work, but still with only 24 hours in the day!

The thrust of the Take Back Parliament Campaign is to persuade the Government to broaden the proposed referendum to include PR. Then, different types of PR can be debated, and if the referendum is properly conducted, the voters of this country can have their say, preferably after finding out the implications of the different PR systems.

So before anyone rushes to judgement, I would like to encourage them to do a bit of research into the different PR systems. They might find one they like! They will certainly find one which gives a fairer hearing to those of us who, like me, prefer the policies of a smaller party.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Spontaneous Thoughts

One thing leads to another! I was visiting my new friends Wo and Kate, in the lead up to our next demo for Taking Back Parliament. Wo asked me how I got involved in politics, and I had to think a minute. The truth is that I don’t really think of myself as being involved in ‘Politics’, but can’t deny that I am involved in ‘politics’. (Did you see what I did there?) We are all, like it or not, involved in politics, because politics is simply the way a community governs its life.

I explained that I had once been a member of the Liberal Party back in the day, but had left all that behind me – and then Climate Change turned up and I saw that as the major threat, to eclipse all other threats, to our planet and way of life. I told them that I had started blogging on the subject (although no longer), so Kate asked for the link to my blog.

At that point I had to admit that I hadn’t posted anything for a year, and having given my new friends the link I thought I should write something....well, anything really! Silence is not always golden!

Curiously two other very dear friends also told me that I should start blogging again. If you want to know about them, you need to follow my link to OzEarth – they have plenty to blog about!

As well as loving them dearly, I am also full of admiration for what they have done, what they are doing now and what they are planning for the future. They are an example of people who don’t just talk, they DO! That quote from Wes Jackson suits them perfectly: ‘If you’re working on something you can finish in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”

They are very talented people (follow my link to Chloe Wolsey Fine Art, for example). Chloe moved to Holland to be with Helen, who is working as a professional singer, and they bought a house in a not too wonderful part of Hilversum (restricted by finance) and proceeded to renovate the very dilapidated property from top to bottom. They are the greenest people I know, and are planning to move to Australia to set up a sustainable, self sufficient establishment, to show how sustainable living can be done, and to teach others.

My friends remind me of those plastic dolls you used to be able to get, weighted in the bottom, so that whenever you knock them over, they always come back upright with a smile on their faces!

Another thing about these friends is that they have the only dog in the world that I am actually fond of! (My grumpiness with regard to pets is well known!)

Of course the only way I get to see them these days is by taking the occasional trip to Holland which I plan to do again later this year. (Thank heaven for Skype!) When they move to Tasmania, it will be a little more complicated, but their project is so exciting that I really want to see it grow – so I shall definitely be finding a way to visit!

Meanwhile, life goes on – reading my last entry from a year ago, I realise how much has happened, how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same! I shall be interested, in a year’s time, to read this, and to do a little more soul-searching, and to wonder, “What have I done with the last twelve months?”!