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?”!