Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Co-operation and Cabinet

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Bristol's Labour Party could decide tonight not to accept places on the new Mayor's Cabinet or to advise the Mayor (see here) and impose a ban on all its members. I hope they dont [**see the series of updates below!]. Local govt co-operation between parties is eminently sensible – and it’s what people have voted for, so this should be recognised provided the new Cabinet is: committed to taking decisions openly and accountably; and its members are able, diplomatically, to speak their minds and not own every single Mayoral decision.

Each individual Councillor and Party needs to change mindset and both scrutinise, criticise and support as appropriate. Conscience first not party – that’s what they are supposed to be doing according to the code of conduct they sign up to in any case! This code includes ‘making decisions on merit’ and reaching ‘their own conclusions on the issues before them and act in accordance with those conclusions’.  Councillors have power through a vote on the council, through committee work and through lobbying the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Asst Mayors when in place. Hopefully some power will be properly and effectively devolved to local councillors and people in neighbourhoods soon too.

Labour were the party with councillors that got the most votes and in next May's local elections Labour are likely to make gains on the council - the Tory and Lib Dem vote has sunk and is unlikely to recover enough for them not to suffer councillor losses. I'm most in favour of people getting into the Cabinet on the basis of merit not party but having said that the Mayor should also take into account which parties the public are voting for.
[Update 22 November: According to The Post Bristol's Labour Party last night voted against taking up three Cabinet seats offered to them and so have have refused the opportunity to argue for their policies directly with the Mayor and others. Its still unclear to me whether they voted to ban all members from taking part.]

[Update 23 November: According to The Post Labour Councillors in Bristol have agreed to join the Mayor's Cabinet and have gone against the local party vote. Its a good sign that Labour Councillors have asserted themselves. Its Bristol's voters they have to be listening to and not just the local party and they seem to have done that. Which Councillors finally end up doing what is not yet finaliised though.]

[Update 26 November (!!!): According to Bristol 24-7 and ITV West and The Post Labour's South West regional organisation, probably with some central party influence, has prevented Bristol's Labour Councillors from joining the Mayor's Cabinet. This has caused Cllr Peter Hammond the Leader of Bristol's Labour Councillors to resign. It remains to be seen whether individuals choose to defy this intsruction.]

Monday, November 19, 2012

Temperate tax rise

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I heartily approve of most of the early decisions that have been made by newly sworn in Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson. The biggest of these is that council tax may have to rise by around 2% (as reported by BBC Points West here). This is moderate, sensible, reasonably progressive thinking - and it would mean that the impact of  imposed Coalition Govt cuts on vital local services would be a little less severe.

Freezing council tax as some other candidates committed themselves to would have meant even more severe impacts on public services. Committment to a freeze over a number of years also showed a lack of realism given the dire financial circumstances.

More information here and here and here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Woman winner!

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Fantastic! A victory for independence, impartiality and ability to represent the whole community.

Newly elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset Sue Mountstevens brings a perspective and approach to the role that we really need. Second time today I've voted for an election winner!

Congratulations and commiserations

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Many congratulations to George Ferguson and commiserations to the other candidates, especially to Marvin Rees. You have to work hard to become the first elected Mayor of Bristol - but the much harder work begins now. It's a new way to run Bristol with many uncertainties and it has to be made to work. I hope that people in all political parties will work well together and that George's cabinet has someone from each political party with councillors currently on the city council. I hope this is a victory for independent-minded thinking from political people inside and outside of parties. I hope that power is genuinely and effectively spread out into communities, with real opportunities to participate. I hope George's decent record on sustainable development becomes the norm for development in the city. I hope George takes full note of the very large number of votes given to parties (the Greens, Labour and the socialists) supporting the living wage and the fairness agenda and the good number of votes given to the only woman candidate, the Greens Daniella Radice (who was only one percentage point behind the Lib Dems). Feels good to have voted for someone who has won an election - after 30 yrs as a voter!

Very good, gracious speech from the new Mayor George Ferguson here and I agree particularly strongly when he said this,

"I want to use that mandate to go and ask the prime minister and the government in general for more powers for Bristol and for more resources. I think we deserve it.

"We have delivered what they wanted, now they have got to deliver what we want."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Voters: vote voluminously!!!

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Worrying signs - from postal vote numbers and numbers going to polling stations so far - that the voter turnout in the Bristol Mayoral and Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner elections could be very low indeed. People have been predicting a low turnout from the start due to the time of the year, very poor information availability, general lack of awareness and interest and the dwindling enthusiasm for politics - but its looking even worse at the moment. So, voters in Bristol - get out and vote in volume and prove that the predictions are wrong!

For Mayor of Bristol: I'm voting for Green Daniella Radice first preference because she has far and away the best policies and would bring a perspective and approach to the role of Mayor that we really need. My second preference vote goes to Bristol 1st George Ferguson because the second round of counting will be a contest between him and Labour's Marvin Rees. George has: excellent experience; a wide range of great achievements in the city already; very good national standing, respect and connections; independent-mindedness and openness to involving people of all parties in his cabinet; demonstrated through his work over decades that he gets and enacts sustainable development.

For Police and Crime Commisioner: I'm voting for independent candidate Sue Mounstevens as my first preference because of her experience as: a member of the current police authority; as a Bristol magistrate for 15 years; and as vice-chairwoman of the Independent Monitoring Board at Bristol prison. Her clear impartiality and ability to serve the people, not a political party or any one section of their electorate are very important indeed - as is the perspective and approach to the role she will bring. I wont be casting a second preference vote because all the other candidates are standing to represent political parties and I dont want a Commissioner who can be pressured by and who is answerable to a political party.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Men and Mayor

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Daniella Radice, the Green candidate  standing to become Mayor of Bristol, has produced the most comprehensive and detailed manifesto of policies of any of the candidates and has made a lot more sense than other candidates at the many hustings meetings held.  All the other candidates have been more vague, generalised, wishy-washy, incoherent and in some cases populist, where Daniella has offered real leadership. She is the only woman standing, which is a story in itself.

It’s important to discuss the fact that only one of the fifteen candidates for Mayor is a woman because: just 22% of MPs in the House of Commons and 20% of members of the House of Lords are women and women aren't in many positions of power and influence across society; 3 million women in the UK suffer rape, domestic violence, trafficking, forced marriage or other violence; 90% of local authorities do not have a rape crisis centre; of 109 High Court judges only 15 are women; women’s average net income per week in 2010 was £180 compared to £231 for men; 20% of people believe it is sometimes acceptable for a man to hit or slap his girlfriend; 36% believe a woman is partly responsible for being raped if she is drunk; 83% of experts cited in news stories are men; 19% is the proportion of women in news stories portrayed as victims, compared to 10% for men...Clearly our decision making would be better if women were present in positions of power and influence on a par with men.
We need to address the issue of disempowerment and the facts clearly illustrate why. Without strong and positive action it could take forever to achieve fair and balanced representation. We don’t get the best range of candidates for positions of power now because we have a system that on the whole continues to favour men and disempower women. We are wasting half the talent we have. The social system and within it the economic and political system is discriminatory, not always in the legal sense but certainly in the sense of culture/traditions. The right to fair and equal treatment that I'm arguing for is a human right that putting into action would benefit every person.

In broad terms I am saying that if there was no sex discrimination there would be many more women candidates for Mayor of Bristol. Some question this, saying there is no discrimination in the mayoral process itself: doubtless the rules would be illegal if they were directly discriminatory so no surprise there!! But the mayoral election does not take place in total isolation from the social, economic and political context – and we can’t yet say that there is nothing in our social system at all that deters and discourages women from coming forward as candidates (see list and link below). For instance: the costs involved in applying to become Bristol Mayor are a deterrent to many who might otherwise consider standing – however the high cost will discriminate more against women than men because women’s average income and other wealth levels are lower. Discriminatory social, economic and political context deters and discourages women. Some admit that discrimination exists but stick to the unsustainable, implausible position that it has no effect at all on women coming forward to stand in elections such as for Mayor!
In 2008 an Inter-Parliamentary Union reported said that these factors deter women from entering politics to at least a fair degree: Domestic responsibilities; Prevailing cultural attitudes regarding the roles of women in society; Lack of support from family; Lack of confidence; Lack of finances; Lack of support of political parties; Lack of experience in "representative functions": public speaking, constituency relations; Lack of support from the electorate; Lack of support from men; Lack of support from other women; Politics seen as "dirty" or corrupt; Lack of education. See

Take nursing and primary school teaching as examples in addition to being a Mayor. Stereotyping of male/female roles due to sexism results in men and women tending to be deterred and discouraged from coming forward for certain jobs, for example women for Mayor of Bristol - and elected and other positions of power generally - and men for nursing and primary school teaching. It’s not uncommon to find some arguing that not all jobs are equally appealing because of 'natural tendencies' ie women aren't coming forward to be Mayor because they are not 'naturally' suited to it – ‘men and women are different, in most ways’  as someone said to me recently. Different yes but different in most ways no – and of course there are differences between people of the same sex! Men and women have a huge amount in common - they are equally capable for example of being Mayor, though some suggest otherwise. Sexists argue that we have one woman candidate in fifteen for Mayor of Bristol because men and women 'want different things' and therefore women don’t want to be Mayor and its all down to inherent reasons with no effect from sex discrimination in our society at all. What a load of utter nonsense.
The sexists are assuming that what men and women do is what they want; is where their talents and abilities are; that they have no latent, suppressed capacity for anything else; that this wont/cant and does not need to change...and that its only what men and women inherently 'are' that affects what they do ie there is zero effect from the society, the economy and the political system that men and women live in.

My favoured party – the Greens - do not knowingly or deliberately (and certainly not blatantly) discriminate against women in its processes but  it does exist in a social, economic and political context which does discriminate and this does have effects. It is working continually to do better, has a women leader, Natalie Bennett...its ex-leader and its first MP, Caroline Lucas, is a woman...the Greens fielded a good number of women candidates at the last general election (a higher % than other parties I think) compared to the 20% of MPs that are women  but the Greens must do better as other political parties and society in general must!! 100% of Green MPs and 50% of Bristol’s Green Councillors are women by the way :) but the party can only choose from those who come forward not from its whole membership.  Even in the Greens fewer women come forward because the social context deters and discourages them. There is no inherent reason why they would not come forward.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bell's backing

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Former BBC war reporter and independent MP for Tatton 1997-2001, Martin Bell - the first independent MP for 50 years and now a UNICEF Ambassador - has backed George Ferguson's campaign to be the first elected Mayor of Bristol.
Martin said of George and his campaign: “I don’t rush around the country supporting everyone running as an independent, but every now and then I come out of hiding when I feel there is a candidate really worthy of support.
“I have experienced how political parties work in Government, and the sheer power of the whips, and the extent with which they persuade people to go along with the party rhetoric.

“I knew there must be a better way to run our politics than this.

“When I heard that Bristol had decided it wanted a mayor and discovered that George Ferguson was running as an independent, I thought he was the perfect candidate.

“I am not denigrating any of the other candidates but here is a man who will simply represent the people, not just a political party.

“I hope he gets elected as mayor on Friday - I believe he will.”

Spurious spin

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The recent survey of mayoral voting intentions showed Conservative Geoff Gollop in 3rd place not second and a very, very large number of undecided people. The Tories now have just 14 councillors across Bristol compared to 32 Lib Dem, 22 Labour and 2 Green. The Tory led Coalition Government is hardly popular at the moment...and yet it is said (here by Kerry McCarthy MP) that there is a real threat from the Tories!! The facts have shown right from the start of this campaign that in an all-Bristol election the Tories cannot win or get close to winning and that's one reason why the bookies have never rated them as having a realistic chance. Labour have an electoral interest in talking down the chances of Bristol 1sts George Ferguson the person who IS a real threat to them because of the breadth of his appeal and thus his ability to pick up lots of second preference votes in the second round of counting. Tribalism from Labour may well get them lots of first preference votes but restricts their ability to attract the second preferences needed.

Monday, November 12, 2012

City Candidates

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We need a Mayor who meets tests of competence, credibility and coherence. Labour's Marvin Rees does not currently meet these tests: he's not sufficiently experienced or qualified; and keeps putting out firm committments that he clearly has not got proper coherent plans or costings for - this story about the Comonwealth Games being a case in point. There are plenty of other examples. He's been pulled away from being a more open and candid candidate by the tribal nature of Bristol's party politics and if he becomes Mayor his term will be clouded by it. It's likely to be Rees (Lab) vs Ferguson (Bristol 1st) in the second round of counting and Ferguson is far and away the most competent, credible, coherent, experienced and qualified person.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama's oratory

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Loved Obama's re-election speech and am really pleased that he won (and very relieved that Mitt Romney didn't!). My favourite part is this, from about nineteen minutes in, as he is coming towards the end...

'...I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states...' 

Tony for tribalism?

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Now that we are to have a Mayor I agree with actor Tony Robinson’s description of who/what is required, with its emphasis on personality, vision, skills, focus and understanding. He said,

‘...It needs one person with personality and vision to be able to push through the kind of things we have seen fall by the wayside time and time intensely complex job to be the elected mayor which needs someone with a high level of skills...they will be hacking through the jungle with a machete rather than walking a well-worn path – that means they will need an enormous amount of focus and understanding ...’ (more here)
Where he is completely wrong is in thinking that a tribal party political person - such as his favoured candidate Labour’s Marvin Rees or for that matter the Conservative or Lib Dem candidate - is suitable to do the job. So, “Baldrick, you wouldn't see a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord, singing "Subtle plans are here again!" (Blackadder, '88)

For me what Tony says is a great arguement for open, inclusive, more independent-minded candidates for Mayor, such as the Greens Daniella Radice (currently running ahead of the Lib Dems in fourth place on first preferences and first place on second preferences, see here) and Bristol1st George Ferguson (currently in second place on first preferences but who can win by gathering sufficient second preferences).

Reality vs Rogers

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Bristol Lib Dem mayoral election spin (some might say lying) says 'Dr Jon Rogers is quickly emerging as the only serious challenger to Labour' in their latest leaflet, rather deceptively presented in a newspaper style entitled 'City News: Community News for Bristolians'. The spin goes on, saying 'Dr Rogers odds to be Mayor have rocketed reaching a high of 3/1 and second favourite to Labour'. It says that the Conservatives are out of the race and refers to a 'Jon Rogers surge..' describing how many Conservative voters are turning to the Lib Dems. It says the independent vote is split and many voters may turn away from Bristol 1st's  George Ferguson.

The reality is completely opposite to the spin, as the latest survey of voter intentions shows. Jon Rogers is still saying (here'any of the next 4 candidates could still overtake him [Rees] on a combination of first and second preferences' but the Lib Dem is not even in third place let alone second place on first preference votes! There are many undecided but even so this report says 'Labour's Marvin Rees...clear favourite, with 21 per cent. But this is nowhere near the 50 per cent required to prevent the election race going to a second round.The second and third favourites on first choice votes were George Ferguson (Bristol 1st) with nine per cent and Geoff Gollop (Conservative) with seven per cent'. The Greens Daniella Radice is in joint fourth and may be set to beat the Lib Dems in the way that Green Jenny Jones did in the last London mayoral elections.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Negligent Nadine

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Following MP Nadine Dorries shining example, boosting the reputation of MPs and the political system: Dear Open University [my employer] I’ll be taking up to a month off work and so won’t be doing my lecturing and research supervision role for a while. You will continue to pay me as usual [I wish!] even though I won’t be doing the work I'm paid for and will be earning extra money during my month off. Cheers!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Misleading mulling

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We have an erroneous way of thinking about land and using figures relating to it. This erroneous thinking is used to 'justify' unsustainable building over green spaces, the green belt, parks and playing fields, allotments, farmland...In Bristol, despite the fact that our eco footprint is several times the land area available, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories on the council all orginally backed a policy of flogging off our green spaces. This was despite widespread public opposition across the whole city. The Lib Dem council adminstration are still incentivising flogging local green spaces now and several Mayoral candidates have plans that will cut city green spaces and green belt land. We need a Mayor who will listen to public opinion, genuinely involve people in decision making and not bow down to any party political line.

On the Daily Politics a while back Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas (who you'd think should know better) attempted to justify the liberalisation of planning laws by saying that only 10% of land in England is developed. A New Statesman leader said this back in March this year:  

‘Only 10 per cent of England (and 6 per cent of Britain) is developed... The UK is 60 million acres in size, of which 41 million are designated "agricultural" land, 15 million are "natural wast­age" (forests, rivers, mountains and so on) and owned by institutions such as the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Defence, and four million are the "urban plot", the densely congested land on which most of the 62 million people of these islands live...’

In terms of whether to build on green land or not crude land area is not really the way to consider this issue. Look at these figures: average biologically productive area per person globally was approx 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita in 2006. Average ecological footprint in the UK is 5.45 global hectares per capita (gha) (see This means that not only have we used up all the available biologically productive land in the UK we are actually drawing greatly on large amounts of land from abroad as well as allowing carbon levels to build up in the atmosphere because there is insufficient productive land and water to absorb it fast enough. Our 5.45 gha/person ecological footprint is three times greater than the average productive land per person available worldwide.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Efficiency elide

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Debates on UK energy policy focus almost exclusively on energy generation/production and often neglect even to mention energy saving and energy efficiency. It’s always going to be cheaper to save energy and be efficient than it is to generate it - not only does it cut household bills and increase the profitability of businesses by reducing their outgoings, it also cuts pollution rapidly, is a very good job creator, can increase comfort, cut noise levels, and can sometimes be done using materials normally thrown away...So whilst we are so wasteful of energy why consider building large numbers of new power stations of any kind? Why is our primary focus not on creating a lower energy, energy thrifty culture? Basic, already existing technologies can be used but the challenge is to combine these with thrifty attitudes and behaviours.

The energy generation debate at present often zooms in on nuclear and wind. Nuclear power is low carbon emission in operation but we’ve had it since the 1950s and it has done nothing to stop climate change. The UK currently has nuclear 16 reactors in operation at 9 different sites - and it’s had more in the past. We've come to rely on fossil fuels and population has increased as has our level and intensity of consumption but expanding nuclear power for decades - and expanding power generation by all methods - has been part of unsustainable plans for industrial and economic expansion. This attitude still prevails. Until we change from unsustainable economic expansion to properly and fully applying sustainable development - including an energy policy with energy saving and efficiency as its primary focus - then we won’t tackle economic, social and environmental problems such as climate change.
The scale at which we waste energy is vast, so the scope for energy saving is huge. For example the Energy Saving Trust said that UK households waste £1.3 billion by just leaving TVs and other electronic devices switched on...  . In hard economic times and with energy prices rising you'd think people would be more careful with their consumption but apparently they aren't, so we’ve made little progress towards a energy thrifty culture. Research in 2006 found the UK was top of the European energy waster league.

Part of the problems is the fact that my local paper can’t even write a balanced and correct piece about nuclear power, let alone cover energy issues in the round as it should do. People are often ill-informed as a result.  Here's my case against nuclear power: .Here's  a  post arguing for energy efficiency, combined heat and power and decentralised energy:  Some thoughts on local renewable energy developments here: