Should we change our voting system?

Rachel Collinson from Newham Green Party says yes, we should.

Many broadcasters portrayed last week’s win for the Conservative Party as a decisive victory. However, the hidden truth is that David Cameron kept his place in Number 10 because of only 1,384 votes.

Yes, really. That’s all it took.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 20.44.26That number is the difference in votes in the 6 closest races for MP. For example, in constituencies like Gower, Conservative candidate Byron Davies beat Labour by 37 votes.

As if that weren’t bad enough, consider that it took 25,972 votes to elect one SNP candidate, whereas it took nearly four million votes to elect a UKIP MP.

This happens because we use a voting system called First Past the Post (FPTP) to elect MPs to Westminster. FPTP is only used by a handful of countries, most of them former British colonies and tiny islands. It only works properly when there are two parties to choose from.

We do, however, use another voting system in the UK – the Additional Member System. You will be using this system when you vote for candidates for the London General Assembly next year. It’s fairer and receives far fewer complaints than our current system. It delivers stable governments that represent a greater range of views held by the public.

Our democracy thrives on debate. If politicians hear a wide range of differing opinions before they vote on an issue, they will make better decisions. For example, without Green representatives in the London Assembly, we would not have had the successful Cycle Hire Scheme (wrongly known as Boris Bikes).

Our current system only benefits those who are already powerful. We urgently need a change in our voting system to restore faith in politics, and rebuild healthy democracy.

Do you believe votes should match seats?

Then sign this petition to show your support today.

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Want somebody to blame?

Rachel Collinson (prospective parliamentary candidate for West Ham) reflects on the 2015 General Election results.

I’ll give you somebody to blame.

As Labour begin the inevitable scapegoat search after a shock election defeat, I can’t help but join in.

I did, after all, once donate regularly to Labour. And, although I dislike the authoritarian, militaristic side to their more recent incarnations, they still have policies that I agree with. Getting rid of the bedroom tax, for one.

So I want to offer a perspective to my friends in Labour, as a friendly outsider, that may help in the licking of wounds and regrouping.

No beating about the (George) bush

OK; I’m going to dive straight in. Do you want somebody to blame?

balls

Blame Ed Balls.

I can almost sense you eyeing me skeptically here. He may be unable to recall the names of any business leaders who support Labour, and he needs to avoid Twitter when tired, but really? He’s human, isn’t he?

Yes, of course. But the problem is that Balls should not have been in charge of Labour’s economic strategy.

It’s the economy, cupid

So, the British people are in love with the idea that only the Conservatives can be trusted on the economy. The press play this tune, and the electorate dance along to it.

The worst of it is, Labour dance too.

Weirdly, it was left to Caroline Lucas (and other Greens, myself included) to defend their track record on the economy from 1997 to 2010.

You may disagree with their spending priorities (as I did) but the fact is, Labour had more years with a budget surplus than the previous Tory administration. One of the first things they did in power was to prevent Government from raising interest rates to bribe the voters before an election, causing damage to the economy. And they did exactly what a Conservative administration would have done during the financial crisis of 2008 – spend hundreds of billions of pounds to prop up our financial system.

I’m not saying that this is what we should have done, but it is certainly what George Osborne would have done.

Where it all went wrong

Labour decided not to turn the tables back on Osborne, by asking the obvious questions: –

“Would you have bailed out the banks, George?”

“And where would you have got the money from for that, George?”

Instead, they appeared meekly to accept the Tory criticisms that they mismanaged the economy. Why?

Ed Balls.

Balls is a monetarist. This means he believes – along with the Conservative Party – that the best way to grow the economy is to cut public spending. It’s called expansionary fiscal contraction, and just like it sounds, it is a contradiction in terms.

This mistake allowed Cameron and Co to pitch the battle on their own, familiar turf, and – gasp – they won.

What should Labour have done?

Labour should have done exactly what the SNP did. They should have shown that cutting public spending during a recession is like quitting your job so you can pay off your student loan.

They should have pointed to Germany and the US, economic powerhouses both, who did not adopt the deep cut strategy.

They should never have chosen Ed Balls.

What to do now?

The people of the UK – and even UK politicians – are garishly naïve about economics. Yes, even rank-and-file Tories.

Take, for example, a prospective parliamentary candidate speaking at a hustings, to whom I had to explain the difference between deficit and debt. Of course, for Conservatives, it’s convenient to be economically illiterate, because they will pursue an agenda of small government regardless.

But for the left, we need to be smart. We need to find simple frames to explain how the economy works, and what drives it.

For me, that will be a direct appeal to small business owners, farmers and freelancers. A recognition that they create most of our jobs. A recognition that they are the real wealth creators. A recognition that they are suffering terribly because of subsidies, tax reductions and a liberal approach to the rule-breaking of large corporations.

Small will be beautiful

Here’s one of the many things I love about the Green Party. Our pledges for small business:rachel

  • Abolishing employers’ National Insurance contributions, because they are, essentially, a tax on jobs
  • One rate of corporation tax for small businesses, a higher rate for large ones, as they benefit from economies of scale
  • An abolition of VAT on tourism businesses such as hotels and restaurants
  • Support for farmers through subsidies for healthy, fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables
  • To fight hard in the EU for reform of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies that have affected our smaller farming and fishing businesses so unfairly
  • Stronger penalties for late invoice payment
  • A commitment to net neutrality
  • An end to the unfair and discriminatory policy of chasing small businesses for unpaid tax while turning a blind eye to large corporations’ failure to pay
  • Mandating BT to bring super-fast broadband to everybody
  • An end to workfare schemes that essentially provide free labour to large corporations
  • An increase in small business rate relief.

To see how these policies work in practice, just take a look at Brighton. A booming economy, superfast broadband for Brighton businesses, thousands more visitors every year, and Caroline Lucas gaining the title of the FSB’s Small Business Champion.

We need to start shouting loud and clear about these smart policies. For these are what will drive Britain’s recovery.

Newham Greens surge on Election Day 2015

greendreamteam
The Newham Green Party dream team!

We’ve come such a long way in Newham.

Although many have woken up today being dismayed about the prospect of another 5 years of the Conservatives – the progressive SNP gains in Scotland, the re-election of Caroline Lucas and an approximate 400% increase in Green votes across the country (think of all that Short Money!) indicates the progressive left are growing force to to reckoned with!

To quote Rachel Collinson; “today is the start of the REAL campaign for a better Newham”

To quote Tamsin Omond; “this is the beginning of our fight. Progressive politics will win”

Firstly, thank you all.

To our Green Party members who have grown five-fold in the past year. To our supporters who have helped us through being active volunteering, words of encouragement, hugs and copious cups of tea along the way. And to everyone who voted Green yesterday – our gains echo the Green Surge across the voting electoral – and we are so very grateful for each and every one of them.

Stratford and New Town By-Election (14%)

result1Isabelle Anderson secured 1,170 votes: 14% of the voting electorate. Coming in 3rd, in a ward where Newham Greens had not previously been active in prior to 2015 is incredible. Congratulations Isabelle! You did us proud.

West Ham (5%)

Rachel Collinson secured 2,651 votes: 5% of the voting electorate. Coming in 4th, and ensuring we retain our deposit for the first time in Newham. In 2010 we got 1.4%, so this result is a whopping 5 fold increase in votes. Congratulations Rachel! This was her inspiring speech last night:

rachelresults

East Ham (2.5%)

Tamsin Omond secured 1,299 votes: coming in 4th with 2.5% of the voting electorate in East Ham. In 2010 we secured 1.2% of the vote, so we have doubled our votes. Watch Tamsin’s passionate speech after the declaration:

tamsin results

Election leaflet for West Ham

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 20.03.25 Rachel Collinson is standing as the Green Party candidate for West Ham. To find out more information, read an interview with Rachel here.

Rachel is always happy to talk with residents, either face to face, on Facebook or Twitter. Do get in touch if you have any questions!

Press here to download full PDF

“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”

Isabelle Anderson, Green Party candidate for Stratford and New Town ward, explains how the Green policies on crime would tackle the true causes of crime in Newham. For a safer Newham, vote Green on May 7th

Despite reported crime levels falling, residents do not feel safer
Despite reported crime levels falling, residents do not feel safer

Anyone remember this mantra, beloved of Tony Blair and his New Labour government which swept to power in 1997? Since that time, under both New Labour and a Con-Dem coalition, we have seen the introduction of a raft of new criminal justice measures. The UK is about to get its first supersize ‘Titan prison’ in Wrexham with space for more than 2000 inmates. Our civil liberties have been threatened by legislation under a series of ‘Terrorism Acts’, which introduced detention without charge and Control Orders that enable the government to hold individuals under effective ‘house arrest’ for indeterminate periods of time. And austerity too has had an impact; with cuts made to legal aid and the probation service privatised.

Then came 2010 and the introduction of a record number of new laws – 3,506 in total [1]. So shouldn’t we all feel much safer? Despite a year on year fall in crime since 1995, polls show that the majority of people still believe that the crime rate is rising [2]. This is borne out by my experience on the doorsteps, talking to residents around Stratford and New Town. Many cite crime as an important issue and express feelings of fear and isolation. Yesterday, the Newham Recorder reported that our borough has been ranked as one of the worst in London for 13 separate crimes, including violent crimes such as rape and grievous bodily harm [3]. While the rates of many crimes including burglary and theft have fallen in Newham, violent crimes have increased.

If previous governments have been so ‘tough’ on crime and its causes, why does this issue remain high on the agenda? The prison population in the UK is higher than ever before, with more people imprisoned than in any other European country. And yet, despite the tough punitive approach taken, crime remains a problem.

The Green Party takes a radically different approach to crime and justice. We believe that the principle causes of crime are poverty, lack of opportunity and poor community cohesion. Take the following statistics [4]:

  •  60% of offenders have no qualifications;
  • 48% have literacy skills below those expected of an 11 year old;
  • 67% were unemployed at the time of imprisonment;
  • 71% suffer from two or more mental disorders;
  • There is more crime in unequal societies.
Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 09.24.59
Nationally, Green policies on crime are more popular than other parties (source: vote for policies website)

By addressing inequality, redistributing wealth and improving quality of life, we can reduce crime and create a society in which we all feel safe. Green Party policy on crime places emphasis first and foremost on education, employment and security for all. We would shift the focus of the justice system away from punishment and make rehabilitation and reparation a priority. Reoffending rates are at a record high and more than half of criminals handed prison sentences of less than 12 months will reoffend [5]. This proves that prison and retributive sentencing does not work. Effective justice must involve community participation rather than being imposed from above. Restorative justice, that is community-based justice, can empower victims and improve social cohesion. Prison sentences would be reserved for the most serious crimes. In addition, the Green Party would:

  • Focus on crime prevention measures, including more community police, more local police stations, and increase resources for caretakers, attendants and railway station staff.
  • Abolish Police and Crime Commissioners, and return control of the police to local government.
  • Treat drug addiction as a health issue.
  • Restrict police use of random stop and search powers and end the disproportionate targeting of of BME communities.
  • Oppose the privatisation of policing and of the probation service.

To tackle the true causes of crime, for a safer Newham, vote Green on 7th May 2015.

Sources:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13569604
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2013/aug/01/crime-falling-people-dont-feel-safer
[3] http://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/news/newham_is_in_bottom_five_boroughs_for_13_crimes_1_4051947
[4] https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/manifesto/Green_Party_2015_General_Election_Manifesto_Searchable.pdf
[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-reoffending-and-improving-rehabilitation/supporting-pages/transforming-rehabilitation

Unfair consultation on Upton Centre future

uptonThe Newham Green Party have been actively supporting the campaign to save the Upton Centre.

The Upton Centre was closed unexpectedly and “for the foreseeable future” on Friday 19th December by Newham Council. Cabinet members agreed to launch a consultation with residents about the future of the centre. You can access and respond to the consultation questionnaire online here (closes Tuesday 26th May).

Caroline Tomes, Newham Green Party member, filled in the consultation questionnaire yesterday and was shocked and dismayed at the questions being asked. In response Caroline has emailed her councillors noting her concerns. She’s said:

Having attended a number of public meetings concerning the closure of the centre and heard about the poor communication from the council in this regard, I am very concerned for the future of the community groups who depend upon the Upton Centre and the wider community who also benefit from this community asset.
Yesterday I completed the consultation questionnaire. As a public health professional who has experience in questionnaire design and delivery, and lectured on this topic at various Universities, I was dismayed. The consultation is nothing short of appalling. It has many leading questions, is not explicit in its assumptions or costings, and most disappointing of all, it appears to suggest that LBN council is already favouring the option to demolish the site.

 

Newham Council appear to prefer tokenistic research rather than carefully planned engagement to find out what people actually want or think, and this supposed consultation further evidences this. For Caroline’s critique in full, read her storify here.

upton2
Newham residents campaigning to save the Upton Centre (source: Newham Recorder)

As with many community campaigns in Newham there appears to be a common underlying theme. The complacent Labour one-party state of elected officials, led by Mayor Robin Wales. Whatever the outcome of May 7th, Newham Green Party are committed to supporting and raising the profile of community campaigns for a better Newham.

When walking around Newham, we’ve heard people ask ‘what difference can one Green voice have?’

The answer is one heck of a difference!

A Green MP or Green Councillor for Newham would mean a strong voice of opposition, challenge and change.

That is worth voting for.