Wednesday, 7 June 2017

No Surprises Living in Devizes (unedited)

Hello everyblobby, being it's the big day tomorrow and the last fortnight's worth of my humble column, with interviews from the our local Green and Labour candidates, have faced some pretty heavy editing, I thought it'd post the pieces as i originally wrote them; warts an all.

So, hope you enjoy them and, ermm...... happy voting! (is that really a thing?)

                       No Surprises Being Green in Devizes

For scarce local fruitcakes pondering amendment from the inflexible supercilious Conservative regime mightn’t be a bad thing, I concluded with an acerbic but obvious notion last week; the price we pay for amiability in this idyllic location is selfish Tory dominance; bittersweet irony with cherries on top.

The attitude if you don’t like it you know where the M4 is, fading with the emergent tenet Tories are kaput, and many media conditioned into assuming Corbyn is the kind of hippy you avoid at Glastonbury, let’s look at another alternative; got to try, or are there really no surprises living in Devizes?

What I find most irritating is that it’s crucial now to address our environment, but such issues are on the backburner in government and society, as if the world will wait for us before it meltdowns. So I’m honoured to have a chinwag with the Green Party Candidate for Devizes, Dr Emma Dawnay, to ask how they can increase awareness of the subject.

“At the moment most people tend to think of looking after the environment as something we tack on to other policies –promoting growth and the consumption of ever more things,” Emma says. “With these ideas if the economy is doing badly then environmental policy tends to drop off the bottom of the priorities list.”

“During my lifetime we’ve become, on average, about three times richer than we were, but are we any happier? It appears not much. Alternatively, it should be possible to work three times less and still be able to consume as much as we did in the 1960s – but this is clearly not possible for most. Would you be happier if you couldn’t buy so many things, but you could work less and have more free time to study, be with friends, spend time with the children or look after loved ones?”
Does that need an answer? I’m happy with a fidget spinner and bag of onion rings as long as it’s my day off. Emma continued, “What we need to do is to change the rules of the economic system. This is what Green Party policy is all about; cutting down on unsustainable consumption whilst increasing wellbeing.”

Emma explained a decisive socialist strategy in which everyone receives a universal basic income. “This has been shown to encourage young people to study, and enables people to choose to look after their families. It avoids poverty traps as no benefits are withdrawn if you start to work, so working always pays. This is quite a radical change, so we’d advocate a pilot study first.”

Radical experimentation aside and looking at near-term ideas, The Green Party aims to make environmental and financial benefits, such as home insulation. “We have the least well insulated homes in Western Europe, making our heating bills high,” Emma continued, “Pushing for national and local programmes to help people insulate their homes better to save on heating bills makes sense; there was a programme to do this, but cut by the Conservative government.”

Talking of Tories, who’ve thrown environmental issues in the unrecyclable trash, on the assumption the Greens are a single-issue party, I put to Emma surely a tactical vote in our constituency would be wiser.

“We are not a single issue party!” Emma assured, “we have policies across the board which will increase wellbeing and give people the financial motivation to live in a more sustainable manner. For me our economic policies, on tax, investment and the monetary system – are more important than rules on, for instance, plastic bags, as they will have a far wider impact. I’m a political economist, and it is the Green Party’s economic policies that convinced me to become Green.”

“Tactical voting won’t make any difference here. We know that the Conservatives will win; no other party is anywhere near. Why not vote with your heart and conscience? But do please vote! Fewer Conservative votes will send them a message, you might as well send the message you really believe in.”

Prove it then Emma, where do the Greens stand on the key issues; Brexit, the NHS and our failing school system?!

“Brexit,” Emma was keen to point out, “Theresa May is going for an “all or nothing” gamble with the EU, trying to get a special British-EU trade deal that has nothing to do with the single market or the European Court of Justice. The EU has clearly stated how they work, and such a deal is a non-starter. A hard Brexit will be a disaster. We need a fall-back position. The Green Party advocates giving everyone a vote to choose whether to adopt the final Brexit deal or to remain in the EU, to make sure we don’t end up on a path which is clearly not in the best interests of this country.”

“Cuts to public services: The Conservatives believe this is the only answer to poor public finances. It’s not – it’s a political choice. The government has the option of borrowing (at 1% for 10 years, i.e. very cheaply) or taxing higher earners and the wealthy more. The cuts the Conservatives are imposing are almost all a false economy: cutting primary healthcare puts up costs as people go to hospital more; cutting funding for schools means a less well trained workforce for the future; cutting funding for prisons means more re-offending and prison riots. We need to invest more in our public services!”

“NHS: We have a fantastic service but we pay less as a percentage of GDP than almost all other rich countries. It needs to be better funded – not privatised. In the USA there is much more private healthcare provision and they spend double the amount we do on healthcare per person (and they don’t live as long). This is not the way to go. The Green Party, Caroline Lucas, has tried to bring a NHS reinstatement bill (to reverse privatisation) – and she’ll keep on trying.”

I’m liking this; but how do we defend our Utopia, I had to ask. I mean, what do we need Trident for, if we're subject to nuclear attack we're pretty much dead anyway?

“We don’t believe Trident makes us safer and the huge amount of money could make so much difference to us if it was used elsewhere,” Emma told me. “I think possessing nuclear weapons makes it more likely that we’ll be sucked into world conflicts, which is a major worry with President Trump being somewhat erratic.”

Somewhat erratic being defined as stark raving lunatic in this instance, I might add.
Emma continued, “Instead of putting so much effort into outdated irrelevant technology, we need to make sure our service men and women are properly equipped for the type of conflicts encountered today, and that we need to develop a serious counter-cyber-attack capability for the future.”

Phew, this is like getting heavy dude, how’s about we bring it to a local level; local matters for a local column? I was interested to know how much of an issue pollution is in rural Wiltshire. Aside from congestion in our market towns due to infrastructure, what other areas would Emma look into locally?

“Air pollution is one issue – levels in Devizes and Marlborough are about World Health Organisation safe levels,” she informed. “Tackling this is partly about having better alternatives to driving fossil-fuel vehicles: better bus services and bringing rail links to Devizes and Marlborough, and by making cycling and walking preferable by having attractive and safe cycle ways and pedestrian routes. These are often likely to be implemented at the local council level, however national laws affect what councils can do, and how much money they have. The Green Party would re-nationalise railways.”

Seems to me there are plenty of small companies producing environmentally friendly/biodegradable alternatives, but are shadowed by pressure from the mainstream plastic and fuel industries. I wondered how the Greens would change this.

“There is a huge problem that large multinational companies have too much lobbying power and often can tilt the playing field to their advantage, through tax-loopholes and by pressing for regulation that benefits their products. The Green Party is trying to level the playing field to enable fair competition, and to implement and support policies to encourage the use of environmentally friendly products. This could be through increasing food and animal welfare minimum standards, better labelling, or having higher fossil-fuel taxes to make products that use less fossil-fuel in their manufacture more attractive.”

“I don’t believe we can just persuade the majority of people to change to greener lifestyles without changing the rules. Life is too complicated for most people to bother about working out if the beans they buy in the supermarket are environmentally friendly or not, and many people can’t afford the environmentally friendly option anyway.”

The socialist idealism of the party may be a hard pill to swallow for many, in the reality of capitalism, and one we could philosophise over  till the cows come home, but the Green’s baseline policies makes sense to me. I’d like to see these ideas having more clout in Parliament; I’d like these guys to at least be given a fair hearing. So I thank Emma for her time at this vital moment and long for the possibility of a coalition.

Corbyn though stated he’s uninterested in a coalition, but upon receiving a rather horrific and petty bias standard letter with my postal vote, from the crumple-faced Prime Minister herself, I quiver at their pulling power.

Our own Claire Perry litters our countryside with her campaign billboards. Wouldn’t it be nice if she announced, “tell you what guys, being this marketing onslaught is costly, and I’m going to win anyway, I’ve decided to donate the money I would have spent to the Opportunity Centre or Julia’s House,” but she doesn’t, she thinks we’d rather see her boat-race plastered over every view of our countryside in some Orwellian fashion. 

Now aside from why Mrs May felt she needed to frighten me with a picture of herself on the letterhead, as if I'd been living on the moon, she also seemed certain a coalition was possible. Would the Greens consider a coalition with Labour if it was on the table, my final question to Emma?
“The Green Party would work together with any party to get our policies adopted. We do not have a party whip: a Green politician can always vote as they believe best, which may make a formal coalition difficult.  Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have adopted many Green Party policies in their 2017 manifestos, so we would certainly support these policies going through parliament.”

Should you have any more questions for Emma, please feel free to contact her on email:, Twitter: @Emma4Devizes, or Facebook: Devizes Green Party.

No Surprises Living in Devizes

Labour of Love

 I write this week’s column on Friday aware news rapidly fluctuates, there’ll be a whole new batch of whoopla and judgements to digest by the time you read this. Least we can be sure; the Conservative Party will remain callous organisms, unreliable as Charles Ponzi at the My Little Pony Friendship Club AGM.

No apologies, this is not the Beeb. The chance of impartiality here equals the chance of Tories sticking to their manifesto; someone sang the truth in a song, incongruously forbidden from radio, akin to Johnny Rotten muttering truths about loyal Conservative Jimmy Saville.

So the right-wing scrap, Daily Mail complained the Beeb’s debate was “bias to the left;” hold on a nanosecond, if it swayed to the left could it have been because the Prime Minister was too chicken to turn up? She’d rather chant unbelievable soundbites from a protective podium, and spend her time praising London’s homophobic Jesus House Church.

They’d cry Thatcherism was too soft on the poor; they hailed the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games was “leftie,” because Danny Boyle depicted the NHS for what it truly is; the envy of the world.

For crying out loud, when will this barbaric folly cease? Surely even Conservatives will now acknowledge she’s made diabolical chaos of their campaign for the flash election she pushed, despite promising she wouldn’t? And with that in mind, how on Earth or any other celestial body can you possibly trust her to obtain us the “best deal for Britain” at the EU? I wouldn’t trust her with my fidget spinner on a bouncy castle.

It’s getting to the “fed-up” stage where I long to see social media return to Candy Crush requests and cat videos. Nauseating is the notion we’re wedged in the mucus of Tory central for our desire to reside somewhere aesthetically pleasing. Think alternative, and get it into your nostalgic cranium; this is not Thatcherism.

So here we go one last time; come on Rodders, you know it makes sense. Labour, is the alternative gathering pace elsewhere in the country like Lewis Hamilton at the driving school in Legoland; are we to shame ourselves again like a soiled baby and cry for convention?

If I slip a Whoopie cushion on our safe seat it’d only be pushed aside, so let’s hear from our fresh and mighty brave young man, Imtiyaz Shaikh who is surprisingly optimistic in his attempt to gain against the bigger kids in this game of musical chairs.

Has he been given a doomed constituency, is it best just to hold onto the few Labour supporters and cross his fingers, and toes? “The Labour Party in Devizes is better organised that you might think,” He tells me, “and is growing fast.”

“There are lots of unlikely Labour supporters out there who are beginning to get active across age groups.  Unfortunately there are still a lot of people who one would expect to vote Labour “the more hg\likely” who are quite frankly alienated from the whole process of democracy. This is partly our fault and we are trying to change it,” Imtiyaz explains. “Claire Perry acts as if she has a God given right to be our MP, and her wrath is frequently directed at those that oppose her, but no, we are not crossing our finger and toes, we are too busy campaigning.”

Asking the wealthiest to pay a bit more affects this constituency, they reside here. I asked Imtiyaz how Labour could change the ethos of that majority.

“Yes many people in the constituency are very well off,” he notes, “but there are pockets of rural poverty in this area which is unseen, or worse ignored.  Even in Marlborough the food bank delivers to families who are not just struggling, they are sinking. In some of the villages it is worse because of lack of transport links and rural isolation. I think the majority carry on believing that everything is good because it is good for them. Austerity measures introduced by this government hasn’t touched them, nearly all the cuts have been on the incomes of the poorest.  It will change because it has to. The charity of the churches and the voluntary sector can only go so far in plugging the gaps in welfare; the present level of inequality is just not sustainable.”

Corbyn seems adamant a coalition won’t happen; does Imtiyaz feel about a coalition might be fundamental in our constituency?

“A coalition is not the answer in this constituency.” He explains, “Although we have more in common with both the Greens and the Liberals than the Conservatives, a coalition of the progressive parties in this constituency would not be enough to topple the huge Conservative majority.”

“For the last few years in this constituency labour and the Greens have been working together on issues they agree on; Europe, the Environment and anti-poverty strategies. I haven’t been involved in this but I believe that at local level collaboration and co-operation is essential. At National level what is needed is a change in the voting system, so people can genuinely vote for the party of their choice. I am a Democrat and the first past the post system is not, in my opinion, the best way of running a representative democracy. If elected I would campaign for a change in the voting system and although this is not yet Labour policy I think people in the Labour Party agree with me.”

One hurdle is the insular population of Devizes, quick to point out Imtiyaz is based in Swindon; I’d wager they ponder how this reflects on his knowledge and dedication to Devizes. “Swindon is not a million miles away, Devizes is a huge constituency,” he tells me, “The problems faced by people in Devizes town are not so different from the problems faced by people in Swindon.”

“The difference is the rural areas in this constituency have no transport links and are isolated communities. Pensioners on low incomes and young people without transport in some of the villages are significantly worse off than those in the towns. I don’t pretend to know this area as well as the area I live in but if elected I would be a full time politician in this constituency, fighting  in the  interests of all the people in all parts of this constituency.”

Remember when I started this column last year; we kicked it off with an opinion poll of what past facilities we would welcome back? The hospital was only one under a train station. Think of the relevance of this now; does he think the NHS care centre is sufficient for our needs, or is the lack of health services here an unpleasant sign of Tory’s tenet to privatise it?

“The population of Devizes has gone up,” Imtiyaz begins, “The NHS Care centre in Devizes is too small to meet present demand. Across the county health services have been depleted.  Labour would ensure services meet local demand by investing in them.  One of the problems in our area is recruitment of staff. There are not enough Doctors and Nurses to fill current vacancies.  The Tory policy of getting rid of nurse bursaries at a time when there is a huge recruitment problem is simply crazy. Capping pay rises for nurses and other health professionals at 1% for six years is equally crazy. More and more nurses are leaving the profession because they simply can’t afford to feed their kids.”
You could say the only good thing to have come from this Tory administration is that the young have realised there’s better things to be voting on than “Britain’s Got Talent,” but right now, the NHS is surely the kingpin to persuading lifetime blue supporters to change.

“It takes 3 years to train a nurse and 7 years to train a doctor,” Imtiyaz continues, “If more EU citizens leave our NHS will completely collapse. What better way to achieve a private health care system, than under-investing in the NHS and making private health care the only option. With another Conservative Government people won’t just be having their houses confiscated when they die to pay off social care costs, any assets they have will be used to pay-off their health care costs too. This already happens in America, although to be fair in America this happens before you die.”

I admit I have nightmares where Dr Nick of the Simpsons comes to my bedside, but giving out Labour leaflets the other week I was faced with an averagely well off elderly chap who threw it back at me. He stated, “I in’t never voted fer ‘em be-fur, why should I’s start nare?” He has no hope of benefitting from thinking this way. What would Imtiyaz say to people like that?

“If every one really did vote in their self-interest we would have a Labour Government!” he points out amusingly, “I too have met people like him.  No party is perfect but I believe that Labour has the best policies for a UNITED kingdom.”

“The choice in this election is about what direction you want this country to go in; further erosion of our public services and a country where only the wealthy have access to decent health care, education and housing, or a country where everyone benefits from a Labour Party which will invest in these essential services for the benefit of everyone. For the many not the few is more than a political slogan, it encapsulates everything I believe in.”

So conclusion is nearing, the ref is checking his watch. You could entrust your vote to Claire, locally safe bet, but you know she crumbles on the train to London and despite her claims she kisses the feet of hierarchy. I’m certain we need the backbencher who isn’t afraid to take their ethos to Parliament.
I’ve been mightily impressed by Imtityaz’s response to my questions. I thank him and wish him all the best; next week we can return to a shorter column, whinging once again about favourite chip shops and so on. For now though, please don’t accept the media assault against Corbyn; it’s false.
I mean, can we be sure there’s only one Jeremy Corbyn? Seems like we have the real McCoy and another the media seems to report on, I asked Imtiyaz!

“We are just beginning to see Jeremy Corbyn uncut. In an election campaign coverage is more balanced and he can speak directly to audiences rather than having his message filtered and distorted by the media. What you see is what you get; a tough man with integrity, someone who genuinely believes what he says and someone who, against the odds WILL deliver.”

“Jeremy Corbyn is not a man who backs down at the slightest hint of attack. He will be attacked, he has been many times before, but he won’t run away from a fight with vested interests.  He will stand up and fight for what he believes in; a fairer more equal society.”

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