25th May 2017

The launch of party manifestos across the UK reminds us that this election is being held against the backdrop of the suspended Stormont talks. If the mainstream parties continue to play political games, instead of putting people first and forming a functioning Executive, sooner or later direct rule will be imposed upon us. That means being subject to whatever whims the Westminster government chooses. The Conservative manifesto makes it clear that the rollout of fracking across the country is a priority for them, riding roughshod over local opinion and democratic decision-making. Their muddle over social care shows that they have no real concern about the needs of ordinary people. And their continued, reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit sacrifices all of our futures.

Our own Green Party in Northern Ireland manifesto will be launched today, providing a positive alternative to both Westminster indifference and Stormont stagnation. We are putting you first, with practical proposals to give you a voice on Brexit and our future in Europe, to meet your healthcare needs, to give your children the great education they deserve and to protect our precious landscape and wildlife. I am delighted to be one of our candidates, along with our leader Steven Agnew, who will be visiting Enniskillen next week.

Now, more than ever, we need to look beyond the old divisions. The Green Party, with its sister parties across the UK and Europe, is ideally placed to speak for the people of Fermanagh and Tyrone. My role model as an MP would be the Green’s Caroline Lucas, who has tirelessly called the government to account, bravely stood up against fracking, against public service cuts and for the interests of real people and the environment in which they live.

9th February 2017

Letter in today’s Impartial Reporter:

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15th January 2017

This is a post originally published nearly two years ago, on 28th January 2015.  What has changed?  The good news is that our Deputy Leader, Clare Bailey, is now Clare Bailey MLA, having made joyful history in South Belfast.

What else?  Yes, we have a woman Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street, following the breach of David Cameron’s promise to stay on whatever the referendum result.  And one of the dominant parties in Northern Ireland is, for the time being at least, led by a woman.  Sadly for the rest of us, in both of these cases,  their primary role model seems to be Margaret Thatcher, the archetypal drawbridge ‘feminist’.  Being a woman leader, for both Theresa May and Arlene Foster, apparently means trying to be more antagonistic, more arrogant and more intransigent than their male rivals.  That is desperately sad, for all of us.

Genuine feminist leadership looks different.  Genuine feminist leadership seeks respect, rather than fear, co-operation rather than naked power and empathy rather than prejudice.  Genuine feminist leadership looks to empower all, especially those who are ignored, denigrated and insulted by traditional authority; the poor, the homeless, the LGBTQ community, and women denied the simple right to be trusted about their own reproductive health.   It asks, and answers, the hard questions, and looks to the long term and the interests which we all share.

As we approach our own, seemingly now inevitable election, and the inauguration of America’s chillingly misogynist new president, I look to Clare, to Caroline Lucas, and to the strong Green women working across the world.  And, despite everything, I still have hope.

 

One of the striking points about the recent election debates debate was the gender of the party leaders. All four of the BBC’s original invitees were, as we know only too well, men: Dave, Ed, Nick ‘n’ Nigel. For the mess they got themselves in, see my 15th January post. The three parties who were, following strong public feeling, eventually included, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, are all led by women. Finally, the traditional Northern Ireland parties who are now grumbling, and in some cases threatening legal action, without any notable public support, all have leaders who are … yes, you guessed it, men again.

 

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GPNI Deputy Leader Clare Bailey with Tanya

It’s not conclusive, but it is interesting. From a quick trot around the records (so please correct me if I’m wrong), it appears that, apart from two Margarets*, none of the mainstream parties in either England or Northern Ireland has ever had a woman leader. Meanwhile, the UK has never had a woman Chancellor of the Exchequer or Foreign Secretary. The place for women in the Cabinet, it appears, is firmly in the Home.

*Thatcher, who could at best be called a drawbridge feminist, pulling the portcullis down sharply behind her, and Ritchie, who led the SDLP for twenty-one months before being shown a cliff and invited to jump.

In the Green Party, we’re trying to change this. We recognise that limiting women’s ambitions and roles is damaging for us all; for the women who could be great leaders, for the men who would benefit from working alongside them, for the electorate who need genuine representatives and for the next generation; our daughters and grand-daughters who will build upon our legacy. There are many barriers to women’s involvement in politics: expectations, assumptions, judgements and many practical difficulties. But, working together and with our male colleagues, we are beginning to overcome them. The Green Party in Northern Ireland in November launched our Changing the Conversation equality strategy, and elected Clare Bailey, Westminster candidate for South Belfast, as our Deputy Leader. We’re serious about supporting the talented and dedicated women in our Party; women like Jenny Muir, our Chair, and Georgia Grainger, Chair of the Young Greens in Northern Ireland. And I know from personal experience how much that kind of encouragement (and it is, literally, that, the imparting of courage) means.

So, if you’re looking to use your vote to bring about a genuinely progressive, equal and creative society, cherchez les femmes. Not the isolated, token females, awkwardly crammed into the middle of a sea of suits, trying to sound more macho than the men, or the over-groomed fragrant ladies, wives and daughters of the male power-brokers, but the real women, the ones who come in all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities and sexualities, the ones who know about life, the ones who laugh with their friends, and sometimes cry as well. The ones a bit like you.

 

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21st July 2016

My letter in today’s Impartial Reporter:

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(not sure what happened to the final ‘y’, but I don’t mind belonging to the Green Part.)

3rd May 2016

small2Ever since our manifesto launch, I’ve been planning to write a blog post summarising some of the key policies which it contains.  I still haven’t found time, but fortunately (and coincidentally) Aidan has done it for me, in this excellent article on the Bright Green website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, here’s a message from Green MP Caroline Lucas….

2nd December 2015

1202Caroline Lucas’s speech in the Commons debate today on military action in Syria:

“I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). Although I do not agree with the position he put forward, I think he put it very clearly and passionately, for which I thank him. I thank the armed forces for the work they do.

I share the horror and revulsion at recent atrocities in Paris, Beirut, Syria itself and elsewhere. yet I have still to hear convincing evidence to suggest that UK bombing of ISIS targets in Syria is likely to increase our security in Britain or help to bring about a lasting peace in the region. On the contrary, the evidence appears to suggest that it would make matters worse. I want to highlight that in the few minutes available.

If we are interested in evidence, a good place to start might be to examine the effect of the US-led bombing campaign so far, explore whether it has been successful and see whether our contribution would make a real difference. From what I have seen, the sustained bombings to date have not done much to push Daesh into retreat. According to the latest figures from the US Department of Defence, US-led forces have flown some 57,000 sorties, while completing 8,300 airstrikes over a 17-month period, but they have relatively little to show for it. While the air war has so far killed an estimated 20,000 ISIS supporters, the number of fighters ISIS can still deploy—between 20,000 and 30,000—remains unchanged.

Moreover, there are very real dangers that airstrikes on Syria have become increasingly western-driven. All four of the middle eastern states previously involved—Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—have now withdrawn. That risks feeding the Daesh propaganda, in which it presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the crusader west. Although utterly pernicious and wrong, precisely that message is being reinforced by western bombings, with every indication that the attacks are an incredibly effective recruiting sergeant. According to US intelligence sources, last September, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined Daesh from 80 countries; a year later, the figure has risen to 30,000 recruits from 100 countries. I have had no reassurance that western military action would not simply drive more recruitment.

I have not heard any evidence to contradict the conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report about the military challenges. The report very clearly stated that its witnesses did not consider that extending air strikes into Syria

“would have anything other than a marginal effect.”

Indeed, as other Members have pointed out, far from the issue being a lack of allied aircraft above Syria, the real problem is actually a shortage of viable targets on the ground. The dangers are compounded by ISIS’s deeply cruel use of human shields, which makes targeting more difficult and will add to the civilian death toll.

There is much talk of focusing on Raqqa, but according to recent exiles, many in the ISIS leadership have gone to ground in places such as Mosul. They suggest that to get rid of ISIS in a city like Mosul, which has 1.5 million people and perhaps 150,000 ISIS terrorists, we would literally have to flatten the entire city.

Those of us who are sceptical about the use of air strikes are often accused of saying that we do not want anything to happen and that we want inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government can and should be playing a role in brokering peace and stability in the region. The Prime Minister could be redoubling his commendable efforts to find a diplomatic solution. The civil war is inextricably linked to the rise of ISIS in Syria, as the Foreign Affairs Committee report emphasised repeatedly. ISIS flourishes where chaos reigns, so renewed efforts are needed to end the Syrian civil war.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind):

Is the hon. Lady inviting the House to ignore completely UN Security Council resolution 2249?
Caroline Lucas:

That resolution calls on us to use “all means”. I want to make sure that we are using all of the means short of military action. [Interruption.] I do not believe that we are doing that and I do not believe that we should use military action unless there is evidence that it would make things better. There is laughter on the Government Benches at the idea that we might not want to take military action if there is no evidence that it will work.

One reason I do not want to use military action is that there are no ground forces. We have heard again and again that air strikes will not work without ground forces, yet when we ask where the ground forces will come from, it turns out that they are mythical—they are “bogus battalions”, as the Chair of the Defence Committee said.

Let us not suggest that those of us who do not think that there is an instant military answer are not just as committed to seeing an end to ISIS as those on the other side of the House who seem to think that there is a military answer. All of us are committed to getting rid of ISIS. Some of us are more committed than others to looking at the full range of measures in front of us and to looking at the evidence that suggests that bombing, to date, has not been successful.

I was talking about the other measures that I would like to see taken forward. I talked about the diplomatic efforts, building on the Vienna peace talks. The diplomatic effort must extend to Iraq, where the Abadi Government must be encouraged to reach out to the neglected Sunni minority, especially in those parts of the country where ISIS is recruiting.

Why are we not applying sanctions to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have turned a blind eye and allowed the flow of finance to ISIS and, potentially, other terrorist groups? Why are we still selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, when they are then used in a vicious and destabilising war in Yemen that has killed thousands and made millions homeless, and that is creating yet more chaos in which al-Qaeda can thrive? Why are we not putting pressure on Turkey over the oil sales and the transit of fighters across its border?

Why are we not doing more on refugees? We should have more refugees here in the UK—of course we should—but we should also put more pressure on our allies to put more resources into the refugee camps in the region. I appreciate that the Prime Minister has done a lot on that. This country has been good on that issue. Let us make sure that our allies do the same, because those refugee camps are becoming absolutely desperate. It is cold, there is more poverty and desperation, and we can be sure that ISIS will be recruiting in those refugee camps too.”

7th September

With two shocking news stories today, and another depressingly predictable, it’s difficult to know where to start.

David Cameron and the refugees.

He’s had a long weekend to decide what to do.  He’s seen refugee solidarity groups pop up like compassionate mushrooms right across the country.  He’s seen the people and representatives of Germany leading the way, welcoming refugees and being applauded across the world for it.  He knows that the one thing most human beings in the United Kingdom want him to do is to welcome our sisters and brothers fleeing the terrible conditions in Syria.  So what does he promise?  “Up to” (familiar advertising weasel words) “twenty thousand refugees over the rest of this Parliament”.  In case anyone has forgotten, that’s nearly five years.  As Caroline Lucas quickly calculated, it’s twelve people per day, and as Gerald Kaufman pointed out, in one such day,  Germany has admitted ten thousand.  And Cameron calls this “extraordinary compassion”.

David Cameron and the young man from Cardiff

For the first time (that we know of), the UK armed forces have used remote drones to kill a British national in a country with which we are not at war.  Reyaad Khan was twenty-one and from Cardiff.  We don’t know much more about him.  We are told that he was, on behalf of Islamic State, planning terrorist activities in Britain.  The truth of this might have been tested at trial, had he been arrested and prosecuted.  As it is, we are unlikely to know anything more, except that this is now an acceptable way for our government to act.  As for Khan’s two companions, one also British, killed along with him, as collateral damage, we are told that they too were Islamic State members, and therefore worthy of no regret.

I have no sympathy at all with Islamic State as an organisation.  Violence; murder, torture and rape, are not a legitimate way to advance any cause, whether nationalist or religious.  That is why, in seeking to defeat IS, we must be careful not to fall into the same tragic mistakes.  To call the extra-judicial killing of a fellow-citizen ‘self-defence’ is to set a serious and dangerous precedent.  We have seen this week, even in the Daily Mail, how frack-free protesters like Caroline Lucas herself, can be targeted, intentionally or otherwise, by the government’s ‘anti-terror’ policies  An Islamic State activist in Syria one day, a Friends of the Earth campaigner in France the next: it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility.

The DUP and meetingless government

It must have been tricky to know quite how to follow the Ulster Unionists’ resignation from the Northern Ireland Executive.  To do the same might have looked like agreement (Heaven forbid, except for an election pact); to do nothing to appear weak.  So they’ve come up with the ideal solution – stay in power, but refuse to talk to your fellow ministers (or to the rest of the island).  Most of us realised by the age of seven that ‘non-speaks’ was the least good way to resolve quarrels, but then most of us aren’t Executive Ministers.  They do have a special talking shed, anyway, Stormont House (again) where they’re going to chat all they like about the future of power-sharing, the ontological essence of the IRA and, quite possibly, who gets the last sandwich.  Just not about doing the day-to-day work that they’re paid for.  Meanwhile Sinn Fein, of course, has some very serious questions to face.  It’s a pity that this isn’t going to come up with any answers.

 

 

5th August

Owen Jones (another non-relation) has recently interviewed Caroline Lucas about the Green Party, the Westminster election, Labour and UKIP.

Early in the interview he asks her about the S-word, (Are you a socialist?) and she replies, with confidence, “Definitely.”

This is important.  The Green Parties of the UK are, and need to be seen as, firmly on the left.  In the past this perhaps didn’t matter as much; environmentalism itself was sufficiently challenging.  But now that the mainstream consensus has moved so far to the right, with the Labour Party abandoning socialism altogether and others trying (albeit without notable success) to hijack ecological issues, it is essential that we make our position clear.  Our communities don’t face separate and unconnected environmental, social and economic problems, but a web of destruction created by unrestrained market capitalism, an obsession with short-term profit, violent exploitation of both people and resources and the massive transfer of wealth and power from the poor to the rich.  In short, the neoliberal project, now so ubiquitious as to be largely invisible.

Even if Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader and succeeds in cajoling Labour out from its Blairite redoubt (and I am far from optimistic about the second part of this), there will still be plenty of room in the wasteland that used to be left-of-centre politics. The Scottish Nationalists set up camp there successfully for the election, but I remember its capitulation to Donald Trump too well to be sure that it is a permanent settlement. On this side of the Irish Sea it’s no better, with Sinn Fein talking a good game, as long as you ignore its internal authoritarianism, history, abstentionism and commitment to the multinational-pleasing agenda of the power-sharing Executive; the latter, of course, shared with the lacklustre SDLP.

The enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy, so astonishing to the media and Labour establishment, has confirmed something that I have believed for a long time; that people’s instincts and common sense are a lot more radical than we think.  These instincts are smothered by the conservative media and the political mainstream, but when citizens are given a little confidence and encouragement, they are more than capable of analysing what is going on.  I have seen this in the frack-free movement, in cross-community initiatives and canvassing on the doorsteps.  We should not be afraid to speak the truth about what has happened, what is happening and what will, depending on our actions now, happen in the future.  It is this, not husky-hugging photo-opportunities, which will win us long-term respect, agreement and a mandate for positive change.

Adam Ramsay (who was part of our panel at the GPNI conference earlier this year) has discussed this in the New Statesman in relation to the London mayoral elections, and I agree with his analysis.  The bogeyman here is Zac Goldsmith, who may be green, but is certainly not Green.  It may indeed be the case that he would appeal to the fluffier end of the environmental spectrum, the people who hope they can save both the polar bear and the value of their BP shares.  But this is a reason to speak out more, not less clearly about the real causation of environmental, as well as social and economic catastrophe.  As Adam says,

“A space has opened in British politics precisely because everyone has tried to appeal to the same Labour/Tory swing voters, and so alienated a huge portion of the public that they no longer vote. Greens will either step into that space, or remain marginal.”

In Northern Ireland the Green Party has long ago taken that step.  I hope that the London Greens will do the same.

 

 

 

9th April

Why your anti-fracking vote works better in Green

 

y1. The Greens are a European-wide party. It is only on a European basis that fracking can be eradicated permanently from the UK and Ireland. It’s no good expending energy on campaigning against one gas licence when another can be granted the next week. We need to ensure that we get robust environmental and health legislation that prevents fracking altogether, and that can only realistically be done at European level. The Green Party is working across Europe to do just that, with representatives at every level; on local councils, in national assemblies and in the European Parliament, a network of informed and passionate people committed to preventing fracking in our communities, and to outlawing it for good.

2. The Greens are consistently anti-fracking. Whether it is José Bové, the campaigning French farmer turned MEP, Caroline Lucas MP, who was arrested while protesting against fracking in Balcombe, Steven Agnew MLA who led the successful vote for a fracking moratorium in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ross Brown, the Northern Ireland European candidate and founding member of Belfast Not For Shale, or the many grassroots Green Party members who have been tirelessly active in local frack-free groups, the Green Party at every level is solidly opposed to fracking. Members of other parties may make high-sounding pronouncements at their conferences and cosy promises at local meetings, but back at Stormont or Westminster it’s business at usual, and that means making life as easy as possible for the fossil fuel industry. Only the Green Party, which accepts no corporate donations whatsoever, is able to speak with one voice, saying that fracking is unacceptable always and everywhere.

3. The Greens have the policies we need for a frack-free future. “How will you keep the lights on?” “What about jobs?” “Won’t we have to depend on the Russians?” You know them, the questions that always get raised when you say you don’t want fracking. But they need answers, and the Greens have those answers. The Green Party has spent years developing sensible, fair and workable policies on energy, the economy and all the areas of political action that affect our daily lives. These policies show how we can have secure and safe energy supplies and a sustainable economy without depending on damaging and scarce fossil fuels or on the boom and bust of greedy speculation. The Greens don’t just say no to fracking; they say yes to a bright and better future for the common good.

4. The Greens are committed to a shared and non-violent future. Fracking is an emotive issue, bringing out our deepest feelings about the place where we live, our homes, our health and our children’s future. It’s natural that people should feel angry and upset about it, whatever their views. But it’s also very dangerous. We live in a society which has been tragically torn apart, again and again, and with wounds that are only beginning to heal. Issues like fracking can all too easily be used to reopen sectarian divides or to justify the use of violence. The Green Party is free from the damaging divisions of the past, entirely cross-community and committed to non-violence. You can have confidence that in voting for a Green representative at any level, you will be choosing someone who will present the anti-fracking case peacefully, fairly and in a way that works towards a genuinely shared future.

5. The Greens are growing. In 2010 we saw the first Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, voted into the UK Parliament, a significant achievement in a first-past-the-post electoral system. Since then she has spoken fearlessly and effectively, often acting as the only real opposition, especially on subjects such as fracking, to the dismally similar policies of the Coalition and New Labour. The following year Steven Agnew became the second MLA to be elected as a Green Party candidate. Like Caroline, he has been the effective opposition to the Sinn Fein/DUP consensus and the voice of conscience on many issues, including fracking, in the Assembly. More Green Party groups are springing up across Northern Ireland, including in the potential fracking zone of Fermanagh, and more and more people are recognising that Green policies represent common sense and fairness in a world of intensifying climate change, bloated banks and the greedy and callous exploitation of both people and natural resources. A vote for the Green Party will not only be a powerful anti-fracking message, but also a step  towards a greener and better future for us all.

 

18th March

0318So, while most of us (as pictured) were celebrating the festival of Ireland’s cross-community saint yesterday, the grey men of unionism were plotting this year’s electoral pact.

The local effect for Fermanagh and South Tyrone is that the DUP is not going to run a candidate, instead encouraging its supporters to vote for the Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott.

The wider effect, here as in most constituencies of Northern Ireland, is a Hobson’s choice between Tory and Tory.

The Ulster Unionists have of course traditionally been allied with the Conservative party, albeit perhaps a less abrasive, more paternalistic old-school Toryism.  But this ‘pact’ is looking dangerously like the end for the UUP, and its absorption into the the DUP, whose corporate agenda marches even more closely to the beat of Cameron and Osborne.

As for Sinn Fein’s politicians, we know that they’ve learned all the right buzzwords – equality, progressive politics, anti-austerity.  But we also know that, by their own admission, these are a ‘Trojan Horse‘ to smuggle in their own agenda: an authoritarian republicanism that puts an obsession with ‘the border’ over the interests of people on either side of it.  While they talk about protecting the most vulnerable, they, along with the DUP are desperate to reduce corporation tax, a move which would do nothing but transfer wealth to the richest, while inflicting enormous damage on our real economy.  It is quite clear, from their excuses for not signing Steven’s Agnew’s petition about Tamboran’s fracking licence to their hokey-cokey dance on welfare reform, that their paramount priority in the North is retaining their cosy power-share with the DUP.  And meanwhile they don’t even take their seats in Westminster, to speak on the vital issues that face the UK as a whole and make common cause with those who really believe in an alternative to Tory brutality.

So, vote unionist and you get DUP/Tory; vote Sinn Fein and you get DUP/Tory.

Or you could try something different.  In the Assembly, Green Party in Northern Ireland leader Steven Agnew has been acknowledged as the real opposition to the Executive parties’ conservative consensus.  It was Steven who understood that, if you want to protect people from the worst excesses of benefit cuts, you amend the Bill to make it fairer before passing it, rather than inventing a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul magical money mountain to compensate people later.  As he knows, you can’t compensate anyone for the humiliation, pain and grief of undertaking the cruel corporately-adminstered work assessment tests that Steven’s dismissed amendments would have prevented.  It was Steven who led the Assembly campaign against fracking, brought in the Children’s Bill to make departments co-operate in children’s interests, and spearheaded campaigns for countless other issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland.

In Westminster, the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has played the same role, as the effective opposition to Tory cruelty and cronyism.  Whether on war, welfare, fracking or free speech, Caroline has taken up the baton so carelessly dropped by the Labour Party and has run her socks off with it.  Across the House of Commons, even her fiercest enemies acknowledge her hard work, effectiveness, meticulous research and entirely ethical, principled stance on every issue.  If only one Green MP can achieve so much, just imagine what  more of us could do…

This election is an opportunity for the voters of Northern Ireland to endorse the old sectarian politics represented by these pacts and abstentions, to accept the narrow focus of them-and-us battles and to resign themselves to another five years of Toryism, whatever official label it may have.  And remember, the cuts have scarcely yet started here.

Or you can use your vote to send a different message, to let the inclusive celebration of yesterday spill over into tomorrow, to put the real needs of real people before ancient quarrels.  You can use your vote to say that enough is enough, and you won’t be fooled or threatened into handing over yet more power and resources to the very rich and the parties that do their bidding.  You can use your vote to bring about a different sort of politics, and a better sort of future.  It’s up to you.