19 January 2015

Children's Centres

Last week we put an amendment to a motion on the economy at full council. It asked the council to consider a 5% catch up council tax rise. There would have been extra money to spend. Some services could have been saved.

Liverpool Council Tax Rises under Labour

2014 1.99%
2013 1.8%
2012 Frozen (one off 2.5% central govt "bribe")
2011 Frozen

General inflation (annual)

2014 1.5%
2013 2.5%
2012 2.8%
2011 4.5%

In the last four years, Labour in Liverpool has overseen the erosion of our council tax base. Each year the Greens have proposed a rise to try and at least keep pace with inflation to mitigate the cuts. What we can say for certain is the administration done so, we could have saved more local services. However, I think it is accepted by the vast majority, that the power a council can wield is puny compared to the direction of national government. We could criticise Liverpool Labour for the cuts, while finding examples of waste locally, while completely ignoring the national situation. However, that approach is best left to the fast disappearing Liberal Democrats.

So the cause of these cuts is the austerity agenda of the Conservatives and their junior partners. Over four years, Liverpool has experienced the second largest cuts imposed on any council nationally in one of the most deprived cities in the UK. The cuts up until now can be laid at their door.

Yet last week, we had to witness four Liverpool MPs to march through the lobbies at the House of Commons to vote in favour of the extra £30 billion cuts that will result from George Osbourne's Austerity Charter. Why?

If Labour was offering something different after May, our council could hold onto the Children's Centres. The consultation will go on until June anyway, and a new government that saved money by scrapping HS2 and Trident, so we could avoid any further cuts to council budgets, would mean we could keep open these vital centres. That isn't what Labour is offering. Increasingly voters are waking up to that.

We've been lucky enough to make use of a number of the Children's Centres as our sons have grown. It looks like our daughter won't get that chance. For us as parents, the Centres have been a great support. For other parents they can be a lifeline. The closures hurt us and they hurt our city, but the biggest opposition party in this country isn't up to the job. It's no surprise that our more radical policies are enabling us to grow our support and membership, but we need to hope to elect sufficient Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs get elected to force Labour's hand. Cut Trident not Children's Centres. Tomorrow Parliament will debate that very issue.

12 January 2015

Liverpool Greens in 2015 – Part II

As I blogged earlier in a story that has now been covered by the Liverpool Echo, I’ve just been endorsed by Jake Morrison as the Green candidate for Liverpool Wavertree. I’m therefore going to revisit some key points I raised in my blog post last year when announcing my candidacy.

The Wild Card in Wavertree was Jake Morrison

If Jake had stood, I have no doubt he would have saved his deposit and potentially pushed his result into double figures. He would have had a good chance of finishing 2nd in the constituency depending on how much funding he had raised and how effective he was at mobilising unhappy Labour supporters. Luciana Berger is not loved in parts of the Labour party in Liverpool and while the majority of natural Labour supporters would back her, a significant minority would have supported Jake.

Labour Will be Disappointed with Less than 60% of the vote

The Electoral Calculus website has Liverpool Wavertree as Labour’s 14th safest seat. Luciana Berger should simply have to get her name on the ballot paper and regardless of the campaign, will continue to be the MP for Wavertree for life. The issue for Labour in Liverpool will be whether the Miliband Sun gaffe and a general sense of a party leadership rooted firmly in Westminster will depress the turnout of Labour supporters, or see them make a protest vote.

UKIP will believe they can finish 2nd

The electoral calculus puts them nearly at 15%, close the Liberal Democrats who once viewed this as a winnable seat. Just like Labour though, they are going to be hampered by a leader who is happy to endorse the Sun newspaper.

In fact the only party leader from the biggest five who hasn’t endorsed the Sun is Natalie Bennett. In Liverpool, that has been noted. UKIP will be aiming for double figures in their vote.

Liberal Democrats

Beyond a very, very unlikely hold of Church ward by Richard Kemp, there is little to suggest there will be any serious campaigning by the Lib Dems here. Their candidate is brand new and is a student. There vote will be residual. There may well be messages saying that it was "so close last time" and that "only the Lib Dems can beat Labour in Wavertree". Those messages are simply not credible. Their success will depend on their local results and they may hold onto some votes in Church if the Kemps run a good campaign. I'd estimate a result between 5 and 10% this time.

Green Prospects

In what was a supposed Lib Dem / Labour marginal in 2010 the Green vote was squeezed. We had no on the ground campaign in Wavertree. Neither of these things will be true this year. Jake Morrison's endorsement will help in Wavertree ward and beyond. Josie Mullen (a former Lib Dem councillor who resigned from that party when they went into coalition with the Tories) is campaigning for us in Childwall ward. We'll also ensure there is a freepost leaflet going to every home in the constituency (which didn't happen last time either). If that was it, we should expect to save our deposit and not much else.

The big change this time round is that we are less likely nationally to be the victim of a squeeze from the media. We are now punching our weight nationally and the public see us as one of five main parties now. I therefore think we can do better. Social media evens the playing field a bit more, but we'll obviously be dependent on what we can raise in terms of campaign finance, and also how effective our city wide campaign can be, given that Liverpool Riverside is where we are rightly focusing our resources.

Why Vote Green?

What can we offer to the constituency? How Luciana Berger behaves in Parliament may well be influenced by where the next electoral challenge is coming from. If it is UKIP who become the 2nd party here that may have an effect (as it has done already on some northern Labour MPs).

We are proposing that the continued adherence to anti-austerity policies nationally, meaning big cuts locally, must end. Ed Balls and the national Labour team seem to be set in that direction. There are many other policies that will also matter, but our big message must be that voting Green will be a clear vote to end the austerity nationally. The campaign is on.

11 January 2015

Independent Councillor Jake Morrison Backs the Greens in Liverpool Wavertree

I'd like to thank Jake Morrison for this endorsement of my candidacy on Twitter.

I welcome his endorsement - hopefully the first of many. He has been a hard working councillor in Wavertree and puts a tremendous amount into his community. You don’t have to look far to find examples like his meal at Christmas for people who would otherwise be alone, and support for local residents associations.

Politics in Britain is changing and people want politicians they can trust. Last week, Green Party membership in the UK overtook UKIP and we are on track to be bigger than the Liberal Democrats by the time of the General Election. It’s clear that our anti-austerity message is getting across to people who see Labour committing to the same council funding cuts as the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

7 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Je suis désolé. For the families of the journalists and cartoonists. For the people of Paris. For the people of France. I stand with you.

I worry for Muslims throughout Europe. Some may be subjected to idiotic "reprisals". I stand with you too.

I admire and support all those in the world who push for tolerance, peace and freedom of speech. I may not always agree with you. I may be offended by what you say but I stand firmly with you.

To those who warp religion for extremism, who seek to strike terror into our lives, I stand against you and will do always. There are many more of us than you, and your extremism will not rob us of our respect for one another.

To those who use these actions to further an agenda that sows division, distrust and division in our society. I will stand against you too, because you play into the hands of the extremists, you give them what they want and need. We stand against you. Your ignorance is no match for our hope, our love and our desire for a better future.

2 January 2015

Liverpool Greens in 2015 - Part 1

I have to confess that the second half of 2014 was, relatively speaking, a politically inactive time for me. We've been blessed with the birth of our baby daughter in November and I expect to be starting a new job next month. While I am not a target parliamentary candidate, I'm clearly going to be doing a lot more in the coming four months, but our progress in Liverpool isn't about me, it is about the future. The fundraising appeal is on the right of this blog, so if you feel inspired to support us, please click on the link.

Last year, we leapt from being the smallest group on the council to become the official opposition. We had brilliant results in both St Michaels and Greenbank wards, doubling our councillor total to 4. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats across the city saw them drop to just 3 councillors. They still have the experienced political operator Richard Kemp here in Church ward, but after failing to hold the seat in 2014, it's likely that he and the last Liberal Democrat councillor in Woolton, will be swept away in an increased General Election turnout.

We saw first hand the effects of increased General Election turnout in 2010. In local terms we were on track to take the third seat back then. Tom Crone had already been doing case work for years as part of the team, and the Liberal Democrats (defending their last seat in the ward) had parachuted in a last minute unknown candidate. Cleggmania then kicked in as a result of the Leader debates and gave a huge boost to the Liberal Democrats in postal votes. It was enough to enable them to hold the seat. After my loss to Nick Griffin in 2009, seeing Tom fail to gain that seat for us 2010 was the second most disappointing moment I've experienced. We won't let that happen again.

In 2015 we will see Liverpool's longest serving Green councillor step down. John Coyne joined us just before the 2006 Local Elections and will have served as a Green councillor for 9 years (he was a Lib Dem councillor for 4 years in a time when many Lib Dems had been elected due to their opposition to the Iraq war). He has been our group leader twice and was our Mayoral candidate in 2012. He has accelerated our development as a party significantly and has given tremendous service to the party locally, regionally and nationally. St Michael's ward will also have to select a replacement and there are two real contenders.

Anna Key has been selected to defend the seat. I know Anna personally through voluntary work. She is incredibly hard working, intelligent and capable. She is also rooted in the St Michael's community, living there with her family. She would make an excellent local councillor and would also make a bit of history as Liverpool's first Polish born councillor.

Labour have made an unusual selection. Steve Fitzsimmons has experience as a ward councillor for Woolton and lost his seat in 1998. Whenever I've come across Steve at election counts in the past, he has always been very polite and engaged in a bit of conversation.

Despite the smiling faces of some of our Liverpool Labour councillors in the photos, the tough task for Labour will be motivating activists to work for Steve in the run up to the election. He was a Conservative. To be fair, he said in 2011 that he was joining Labour because the coalition cuts were too deep. However, he is also on record as having been a "Thatcherite". Across the water there is the marginal seat of Wirral West for Parliament, being contested by Margaret Greenwood for Labour against Esther McVey. I was once a Labour activist in the run up to a General Election in 1997, and I know where I would have been focusing my efforts.

In Greenbank ward, where the awesome efforts of Lawrence Brown and his team won the seat in 2014, we are up against an incumbent Labour councillor in 2015, Laura Robertson-Collins. She won the seat from the widely respected and long serving Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Clein. He was swept away in the first post-coalition local election in Liverpool. Our candidate is David Morgan. He has been working hard alongside Lawrence since we won the seat and there is now a very real choice for voters in Greenbank at the local elections.

In the 2010 there were only two wards where the Liberal Democrats look to have outpolled Labour in the General Election - those were St Michaels and Greenbank. This seems to be evidence that there is no "natural" Labour majority in these wards even on an increased turnout. For those reasons, winning both St Michaels and Greenbank has to be the starting point for us in 2015. The Liberal Democrats likely to be reduced to just 1 seat on the council, Jake Morrison stepping down as an independent and even fortress Tuebrook under threat for Steve Radford's Liberals (I'm sure there is scope for lots of misleading "Liberal coalition" type literature that might swing it at a General Election).

Right now the council seems to be heading to a minimum of 81 Labour councillors out of 90. That isn't healthy for local democracy. If we can increase our council group even with the challenge of differential turnout, we can give Liverpool a real opposition voice. There are other possible Green gains that I'll speak about, but the next blog in this series will be all about Liverpool Riverside and our challenge across the constituency.

15 December 2014

Raising Money for Liverpool Riverside

Right now, Liverpool Green Party are running an online crowdfunding appeal for our target constituency, Liverpool Riverside. We launched last week and nearly £900 has been raised by today, with a target of £3,000 which we need to reach early next year.

I was the candidate for the Green Party in 2005 for Liverpool Riverside. We spent £2,628 (see P264) and we held our deposit. I put a decent amount of money personally towards that total as our national freepost scheme was in jeopardy otherwise and despite very little "on the ground" activity, the addressed freepost that went out across the constituency meant that nearly every voter heard from us.

Between 2005 and 2010, we went from zero to two councillors, and in our target ward alone we were getting nearly as many votes as I gained across the whole constituency. We had far more "on the ground" local election activity than in 2005, with a full campaign in one ward and leafleting in others. Yet our vote dropped by 2% and we lost our deposit. Cleggmania (remember that?) played its part, but our reduced spend and the lack of an addressed freepost hurt our campaign. Our spending was only down a bit at £1,852 but the effect was significant.

In 2015 we come into the General Election as Liverpool's largest opposition party. In Riverside, our local election support was 27% compared to Labour's 53%. The Liberal Democrats have collapsed locally (they were in control of the council in 2010) to 3 councillors and will likely have just one left after May. We've now taken all three seats in St Michaels ward and a seat in neighbouring Greenbank. Our campaign team is active in all wards in the constituency. Even if we kept our spending on the General Election to a minimum, we would see considerable progress.

However, we actually want to win Riverside, in this election (or the next one) and that will need financial support. We've seen that it is not enough to just do the ground campaigning. If every voter is to hear from us, we need to raise the money to enable us to do that. So if you want an alternative to Labour in Liverpool, then the Greens need your backing, click on the campaign to the right and help us maximise our impact.

11 December 2014

If only this had been Ed Miliband's Speech

Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, gave a speech on the deficit, today. If you want to read the original, then go to this Labour site. If only the leader of Britain's largest opposition party could have given the following speech.

My speech today is about the deficit.

Its place in our priorities.

How a progressive government would deal with it.

And how we would do so consistent with our values.

Eight days ago in the Autumn Statement, it became clear what the Tory plan for the country is.

They promised to clear the deficit in this Parliament and they have failed.

Now they say they want to run a big surplus by the end of the next Parliament.

And their plan is to return spending on public services to a share last seen in the 1930s: a time before there was a National Health Service and when young people left school at 14.

There is only one 35 per cent strategy in British politics today: the Tory plan for cutting back the state to that share of national income.

They have been exposed by the Autumn Statement for who they really are.

Not compassionate Conservatives at all.

But extreme, ideological and committed to a dramatic shrinking of the state, whatever the consequences.

They are doing it not because they have to do it but because they want to do it.

That is not our programme.

That will never be our programme.

And I do not believe it is the programme the British people want.

But the British people do want to know our approach.

And today I want to set it out.

We start from the clear facts that the government, on behalf of all the people of Britain, underwrote and saved the private banking companies who caused the financial crash, believing that not to do so would have worse consequences for us all. This country needs a long-term plan to make the country work for the majority, but it has only been the privileged few at the top who have felt the benefits of the resumption of economic growth in Britain.

Now, some people have argued that who caused the deficit simply doesn’t matter when we are thinking about how to cut it.

They are wrong.

It matters.

Because unless those who most enjoyed the good times, whose reckless speculation and pursuit of profit above all other things, pay back their real dues, then it will be the people of this country and the cherished public services we have defended for three generations who will be sacrificed. This will harm us and our society. It will be harmful to our economic stability. It will be harmful to social cohesion.

And it is working people who will end up paying the price in the economic instability that is created.

Dealing with our debts is also necessary for funding our public services.

Higher debt interests payment squeeze out money for those services and for investment in the long-term potential of our country.

So there is no path to growth and prosperity for working people which does not tackle the deficit fairly and decisively.

But what we need is a radical approach, which deals with our debts, but does so in a way that does not punish the people of this country any further.

Today, I want to lay out the principles of a genuine and radical alternative.

Not a shadow Budget, but a sense of how a government that will not decide policy by focus group, will approach the key issue of our time.

This is the central contrast between our approach and the Conservatives’:

We will deal with our debts but we will never return to the 1930s or the 1990s and 2000s, when we were wrong to be relaxed about people becoming filthy rich.

We won’t take risks with our public finances but we won’t take risks either with our public services, our National Health Service.

Our tough and balanced approach will balance the books through an economy based on high wages and high skills, common sense spending reductions and fair choices on tax.

Their unbalanced approach of 1930s public spending and unfunded tax cuts will put at risk our National Health Service, undermine our economic future and threaten working families.

Today I want to lay out the five real policies which will show that my words are not merely rhetoric but show that we have principles and that we have learned from the mistakes and missed opportunities we had while we were a New Labour government.

Our first policy is that we will set out now credible and deliverable cuts to help deal with our debts while protecting public services.

This starts with an end to the Trident nuclear weapons system. We will defend services from real threats and we will defend our country from real threats. Our nuclear weapons are obsolete and act as no deterrent to the very real threat of terrorism that we face today from extremism.

We will also scrap the planned HS2 rail line. At a time when we can work online, at any time and in most places, the need to get from one British city to another faster than the 125mph our quickest trains currently manage matters only to elite business people. What most of us want are reliable buses and trains serving our local communities, not a white elephant of a project that will serve only those who will be able to afford what will be very expensive fares.

Removing these two items from public spending will be essential if we are to prevent debt interest payments mounting up.

The second policy is that a successful deficit reduction strategy depends upon reform of our economy.

That is the biggest lesson of the failures of this government and New Labour.

For some time, I have heard people claim that our economic argument around the cost of living crisis has been missing the main economic challenge, of tackling the deficit.

But the facts are now in: it turns out that tackling inequality is the key to tackling the deficit.

Last week, the Office of Budget Responsibility confirmed that income tax and national insurance receipts are £43 billion a year lower than forecast in 2010.

Sixty percent of the drop in tax receipts in the last year is because of weaker wage growth but we are also seeing the corrosive effect of tax avoidance. Where tax can't be avoided is if we are willing to tax wealth, not income, making it far harder for corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share to society.

Putting our young people back to work will improve tax revenues and cut the social security bill but we need to move beyond that to ensure that those who are most able to pay do so. Britain bears a great responsibility for a number of tax havens around the world. It is time to make the kind of tax evasion and avoidance that is routine in the corporate world becomes unacceptable to the British public.

We'll raise the minimum wage to £10, end the scandal of zero-hours contracts and ensure people have the right to fair pay, a value enshrined in United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And reforming the banks, requiring them to make an ongoing contribution that reflects the size of the problem they have left the people of Britain with, a public works programme to tackle and mitigate the effects of climate change that will provide job and training opportunities for those who have found it most difficult to find work with low skills. We'll rebalance our approach to businesses of tomorrow: with our focus on small and medium sized businesses, not the large multinationals that least need our help.

This is the modern agenda for both successful businesses and social justice.

And there is a lesson for Labour here.

The last Labour government increased spending year on year, but year on year inequality increased. We didn't get it right. We could have done more.

That option will not be available to us but an ongoing commitment to reduce inequality in our society, with a clear statement that we will, year on year, used the proceeds of progressively higher taxation on the very richest to fund the boost in spending power that a citizen's income would provide for the majority of us in a way that would benefit communities up and down the country.

Our third policy is that Britain needs common sense taxation, not a vastly overcomplicated system.

We can tax wealth in a way that redistributes it year on year from a minority who hold the most, to the majority who hold the least. We know that if wealth was spread fairly in Britain, every child, woman and man would hold a £135,000 share each. That is more than many families can even dream of.

Here we should take inspiration from what the radical 1945 Labour achieved and believe that another world is possible.

We will devolve unprecedented levels of spending from Whitehall to local and regional government over a whole range of areas, including transport, skills and back to work programmes.

Local government leaders rightly want control over these budgets.

They know those budgets will be smaller than what is spent at the moment.

But they know they will make better decisions because they are local decisions that suit local needs.

And just as we need to spend money better by giving power to local people, so too by breaking down the old bureaucracies.

Our fourth principle is that we should ensure that those with the power to influence others in our society will no longer be able to scapegoat, blame or attack the most vulnerable.

It was not immigrants who crashed our economy. It was not those claiming Disability Living Allowance. It was not those claiming unemployment benefit. This crash was caused by those with the most wealth, who were hellbent on amassing even more. Let's make sure we always remember who caused the problems.

Our fifth policy is that this party will only make promises we will keep.

The promises we make now will shape our society for the next century, not just the next five years. To tackle the problems of the 21st century, we need real radicalism. We promise not just a Tory-lite approach to austerity, but the alternative. We present it to you the British people so that country has a real choice at this election.