Constitutional Reform: “Democracy for Everyone”

1463119_583405441732546_2094308750_nIn the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum the Green Party is backing calls that a People’s Constitutional Convention agree radical changes to the governance of the UK.

Soon after the Scottish Government has negotiated additional powers with the UK Government, a People’s Constitutional Convention should be commissioned, before the General Election, to map out a new settlement for the rest of the United Kingdom as soon as practicable.

In the wake of the Scottish referendum, which saw the highest turnout at a UK election (85%) since 1951, the Green Party is backing calls for a People’s Constitutional Convention to be established to consider radical changes to the entire governance of the UK. We need to put power back in the hands of the people.

Creating Policy

The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW or Greens), invites experts to draft policies: then asks Conference to amend them: then votes to adopt them. The policies are binding on Members and are visible to all at http://www.policy.greenparty.org.uk This is a lengthy but deeply intelligent and democratic process.

We are rewarded for our effort by leading, for the last 4 years, the “vote for policies” with a current electorate of over 400,000 – http://www.voteforpolicies.org.uk

We are not rewarded with media coverage and we are penalised by having to find a deposit of £500 to exercise our democratic right to stand, intelligently, in Westminster elections – a double penalty for a party mainly funded by its members.

It is worth reviewing the relevant history:

1. Long ago, a Scot created the Bank of England that is actually the Bank of UK.

2. Years ago, Greens adopted a series of policies about public administration, including the need for a radical written constitution. The constitution, according to Greens and recently Labour, must be created by a Peoples Constitutional Convention.

3. A few weeks ago, East Midlands Greens put forward a Motion to speed up the drafting of a constitution.

4. A few days ago, on an 85% turnout, 1.6 million Scots voted Yes to Independence. 2 million voted No, because of an (exaggerated) fear of the unknown: and because of a vague, last minute, cobbled together “Vow”, that there would be unspecified delegation to Scots.

5. A day later it became clear that the Vow was at best wishful thinking:-

• Tories’ PR consultant, currently our PM, found he couldn’t carry out the Vow, in face of pressure from his far right and UKIP. So he linked devolution to the Scots, with the removal of Scots MPs’ votes in the UK parliament. That wasn’t in the Vow.
• Libdems seemed to completely lose sight of their earlier commitment to the EU rules on subsidiarity – yet another abandonment of principle.
• Labour is horribly confused as usual between Scots and English MPs

Two days later, on 20th September, Greens published a position paper on constitutional issues called “Democracy for everyone” – see policy briefing

The paper might seem a bit sudden to the electorate at large, but in fact every word is based on our well drafted policies for public administration (PA 001 to PA 918).

Readers can as ever read the policies and position paper for themselves.

Guiding Principle
The guiding principle should be that power flows upwards from the people rather than downwards from an over-centralised state. The Green Party will press for the Convention for a new settlement that includes:

Greater powers for local and regional government
Local government exists in a permanent state of crisis, with neither the resources nor the powers to effect the comprehensive change local people want. Councils should have enhanced powers and spending to tackle the housing crisis, generate renewable energy, deliver strong public services and promote local businesses. Where there is public demand for regional government we will support referendums to establish it.

Electoral reform
Proportional representation should be introduced at all levels of Government – from Local Councils to the lower and upper houses of the UK Parliament. In most of the UK the composition of governing bodies does not reflect the will of the people.

‘Total’ recall for all elected politicians
The UK Government’s current Bill to allow constituents to ‘recall’ their MP part-way through their term of office does not go far enough. In the current bill only MPs who are convicted of a criminal offence and jailed: or MPs who have been suspended by their peers, will be subject to a recall process. In contrast the Green Party backs ‘total’ recall where the power rests solely with constituents. The Green’s MP, Caroline Lucas, has worked with MPs from all political parties to produce a ‘total’ recall Bill under which a by-election would be triggered if 20% of constituents sign a recall petition.

Local referendums and citizen’s initiatives
If the public don’t like a Government decision they should be able to force them to reverse it. And if the Government is dragging its feet on implementing a popular measure the public should be able to give it a push. The Green Party backs the right of citizens to introduce their own referendums or initiatives if they secure a sufficient number of petition signatures.

Replacing the House of Lords with a fully-elected Upper House
Britain’s Upper House is perhaps the most glaring example of the neo-feudal state in practice. No other country that calls itself a democracy retains an unelected branch of parliament stacked full of retired MPs, party donors and a smattering of hereditary peers. The Green Party believes it should be abolished and replaced by a directly-elected second chamber.

The extension of the right to vote to all 16 year olds
16 year olds were entrusted to help decide the future of their nation in the Scottish Referendum. They repaid that trust. The Green Party has long-argued that the age of majority should be reduced to 16 for the rest of the UK with accompanying full citizenship rights and responsibilities.

A written constitution
All of these changes need to be included in a new written constitution setting out our rights and Government’s responsibilities.

All of these are existing Green Party policies.  The new settlement should be subject to a referendum.

So where from here?

Greens will seek the resources to speed up the drafting of a new Constitution. We will ask other parties to consider our ideas in a Peoples Constitutional Convention. We will meanwhile support the Yes movement in Scotland, in its insistence that the vow be consummated.

1463119_583405441732546_2094308750_nReaders, please comment

We need an early vigorous debate. We might have to act before our next Conference, if we are to maximise our impact on the 2015 elections.

John Youatt, Jean Macdonald, Mike Shipley for Derbyshire Green Party

See also an article on the East Midlands Green Party website see http://www.eastmidlands.greenparty.org.uk

Green Energy Policy is Practical, Realistic and Popular

600px-Community_turbine_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1234697Far from being wishful thinking, Green Policy is realistic, rooted in evidence and developed to solve real problems that people face. Green Policy does not set out to secure further advantage for powerful elites.

Consider energy, Government policy is unsustainable, protecting the interests of the big energy and fossil fuel companies. As a result of this policy we have spiralling energy costs with one in five households suffering energy poverty. We are seeing the ‘big 6’ making massive profits, and we are reliant on imported fossil fuels that are accelerating global warming. Their policy is to frack the very foundations of these islands to squeeze out the last drops of oil, gas and private profit, making us more reliant on polluting, climate threatening expensive fuels. This is the policy that ConDem and Labour call ‘realistic’.

Greens think differently. For us, access to affordable energy is an essential part of well-being. We will be introducing a new energy policy at the Autumn Conference in Aston. The cornerstone of our policy is to cut waste and make a rapid switch to renewable energy. Our aim is to deliver the energy that people need at a price that they can afford.

An important part of the drive to affordable energy is to foster community owned generating systems, designed to tap into renewable energy sources to meet local needs. Unrealistic? No not at all, this is happening right here in Derbyshire. 4Winds Energy Cooperative has been awarded planning permission by Chesterfield Council to build a wind turbine at Duckmanton. Most of the necessary investment has been raised locally, through a modestly priced share offer, enabling people to invest in their local energy infrastructure, keeping money in the local economy. This is the model of investment used in Germany where the growth of renewable energy has been much more rapid than here, through a much greater level of local engagement minimising opposition.

Central Government has failed to encourage the growth of renewable energy, in marked contrast to its support for fracking and nuclear power. Powerful pro-fossil interests have manipulated policy and also public opinion. The popular press have maintained a ridiculous campaign of opposition to both wind and solar power, leading to planning applications for renewable schemes being refused.

This has happened too often in Derbyshire. This summer Derbyshire Green Party became involved in an appeal against a refusal by Derbyshire Dales District Council for a modest wind turbine on a farm near to Ashbourne. Considering the application DGP looked at the wider context as well as the specific site, as we believe planning decisions must. We pointed out that the Government has a legally binding obligation to reduce carbon emissions and to do this, renewable schemes have to be encouraged. We said that Climate Change, driven by carbon emissions is a real and present danger, recognised by the Ministry of Defence that warns of Catastrophic Climate Shock in its 5th Strategic Trends report. We pointed out that this turbine would help to cut the farm’s reliance on imported diesel and cut its carbon footprint. Surplus electricity would to sold to the grid to help the financial viability of the farm at a time when incomes are under great pressure. We recognised that harvesting energy from wind and sun is a legitimate part of a farm business helping to maintain this vital sector in the rural economy.

We also challenged the claim that there is deep public hostility to renewable energy. An IPSOS-MORI poll in 2012 found that two thirds of people thought the impact of turbines on the landscape ‘acceptable’. A study carried out by Sheffield University for Sustainable Youlgrave found that over 60% of residents would not oppose reasonable turbines in view from their homes. The latest public survey by the Department of Energy and Climate Change found that 70% of the public support onshore wind, compared to 29% supporting fracking.

Despite all the propaganda from the fossil fuel interests, the public is supportive of renewable energy. What they do object to is huge developments by remote companies being dumped on their doorstep. This is why, in our energy policy, we say that local Councils need to have the power and resources to develop local energy plans, designed to match local needs with generation and to address energy efficiency. Councils need the resources to ensure that all homes, including the ‘hard to treat’ properties so often found in rural areas, are brought up to modern standards of energy efficiency. This is an investment in the housing stock that will lower energy demand. It will leave householders with more money in their pockets to spend in the local economy, it will cut the nations fuel import bill so helping the balance of payments. This is practical realistic policy.

Mike Shipley

Nuclear Legacy – When will they ever learn?

ButterflyI have just read a report that the Fukushima leak is much worse than we were led to believe.  The Japan News / October 3, 2013 reported that the former Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizume, said that Japan should abandon nuclear power.    In his speech in Nagoya he said “I’m calling for zero nuclear power … The 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered a nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, should be taken as an opportunity to build a resource-recycling society without nuclear power”

Since the reactor cores melted down in 2011, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has been struggling to deal with the consequences.   In August this year, the Japanese nuclear energy watchdog raised the incident level from one to three on the international scale after Tepco admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site.

According to the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23779561) Dr Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has examined the waterButterflys around Fukushima and is quoted as saying:   “Once it gets into the ground water, like a river flowing to the sea, you can’t really stop a ground water flow”.  

It won’t happen here – You might think that what happened in Japan can’t happen in the UK.  But according to an article in the Guardian, as many as 12 of Britain’s 19 civil nuclear sites are at risk of flooding and coastal erosion because of climate change.  Nine of the sites have been assessed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as being vulnerable now, while others are in danger from rising sea levels and storms in the future.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/mar/07/uk-nuclear-risk-flooding

The sites include all of the eight proposed for new nuclear power stations around the coast, as well as numerous radioactive waste stores, operating reactors and defunct nuclear facilities.  According to David Crichton, a flood specialist and honorary professor at the hazard research centre at University College London, sea level rise, especially in the south-east of England, will mean some of these sites will be under water within 100 years.

Radioactive waste, especially “high-level waste” is one of the biggest problems the nuclear industry faces.  No man-made container can survive the tens of thousands of years it will take for high-level waste to decay to safe levels.  No country has yet implemented a long-term solution to this problem, although Finland and the US have plans to build repositories deep underground in areas identified for their geological stability. This solution is one of those under consideration in the UK. 

ButterflyThe Government’s proposal to build more nuclear power stations is leaving a dangerous legacy for future generations.  It is inevitable that radioactive waste will leak into ground water at some point over the thousands of years that it will take the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.  And to top it all, the Government also wants to add fracking to its bag of risks!

Green Party policy is against building new nuclear power stations and in favour of investing in sustainable renewable energy.  Some people complain about wind farms and solar panels being a blot on the countryside.  Personally, I would much rather live with a wind or solar farm on my doorstep than an unseen risk of radioactive or polluted water under my house, or even worse, like the residents of Fukushima and Chernobyl, to have to leave my house and all my possessions behind in a radioactive wasteland.  If in 50 years time a better/cheaper way of creating sustainable energy is found then it would be easy to take down the wind pylons and take out the solar panels.  There would be no lasting damage to the countryside.   The same cannot be said for nuclear power plants or fracking sites. There would still be a lasting risk and an ongoing need to contain the unseen for thousands of years.

I was inspired to write the following poem when I read about the mutations in butterflies caused by exposure to radioactive material released into the environment from the Fukushima disaster.

Butterfly’s Wings

Blue butterfly’s mutated wings
Fukushima’s legacy sings
Sea levels rise on Britain’s shores
Posing threats to nuclear cores
Nature’s powers of erosion and flood
Hammer the nuclear ark’s hot crud
 
Sanctum’s sought for a deadly stash
Cathedral for a cryptic cache
Miles of aisles in underground tomb
An epoch-lasting toxic womb
To trap a nuclear god obscene
Behind bare hermetic chancel screen
 
One slight fault in this granite vault
Leeching life-blood is hard to halt
Slowly seeping, creeping unseen
Seeking subterranean streamButterfly
Filtering up through strata’s blue veins
Earth-changing ripple of a butterfly’s wings

© Jean Macdonald

Helen Caldicott, a long standing opponent of Nuclear power, has a very interesting site on this subject:   http://nuclearfreeplanet.org/categories/fukushima.html