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Archive for March, 2010

By John Collins, Highgate Green Party member

Talking about candidates signing pledges, why is the Tory candidate for Holborn and St Pancras the only one who hasn’t signed the Equality Pledge? This is the pledge promoted by the Equality Trust set up by the authors of The Spirit Level mentioned here a few days ago.

I sent the following email to our Tory candidate George Lee on 9 March:

Dear Mr Lee,

As a voter in Holborn and St Pancras, I note that you are the only one of the four main candidates who have not signed the Equality Pledge (see link below with full list of all who have signed, in alphabetical order of constituency).
Does this mean that you and the Conservatives do not wish to narrow the gap between rich and poor?
Yours sincerely,
John Collins

He has not replied, nor does his name appear on the Equality Trust website.

The full text of the pledge signed by our Green Party candidate and others reads:

“Compelling new evidence presented by The Equality Trust shows that more equal societies – those with a narrower gap between rich and poor – are more cohesive, healthier, suffer fewer social problems and are more environmentally sustainable. In view of these findings I am committed to making the UK a more equal society as the most effective means of building a better society. I will therefore actively support the case for policies designed to narrow the gap between rich and poor; and engage with the debate on which measures should be implemented to achieve that aim.”

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As a parliamentary candidate, you receive many request to make pledges, endorse the stances, of voluntary and lobbying organisations.

Some excellent children’s/young people’s issues that I’ve heard about thus far that I’m happy to support:

* The National Union of Teachers and the Universities and College Union is calling for candidates to “stand up for education”, and I’ve signed on all six points.

I’m particularly taken by its schools pledge rejecting SATs. I think “teaching to the test” is causing enormous problems — and an awful lot of boredom. As someone who had a burning desire to learn in my early teens, which was gradually turned into an ability to do well in tests and exams by clever techniques without learning much at all, this strikes home to me.

* Action for Children is calling for support for early intervention to help children trapped in what they call as a cycle of deprivation. Happy to do so.

* The National Society for the Protection of Children is campaigning for child protection to be a top priority.

* I also back the Children’s Rights Alliance campaign to have UN Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporated into UK law. Particularly notable is the fact that the UK has the second worst infant mortality rate of the 24 wealthiest countries in the world – too many children are being denied the most basic right of all.

* I also support the British Youth Council election manifesto. Its focus on addressing poverty and provision of youth mental health services is particularly admirable, and its call for the ovting age to be lowered to 16 has long been Green Party policy.

* On related issues, both nationally and internationally, I also back the Save the Children UK Poverty Kills Childhood campaign. It’s call for a “Robin Hood tax” is particularly appealing as a small step towards global justice. And the Unicef Put It Right campaign, focusing on global issues of water and sanitation.

Around about a decade ago I was working in Thailand on child labour issues, and when I read about these campaigns they take my memories back to children I met then. Many of them, I hope, will have made it through the hazards of an impoverished childhood, but I am sure that some of them won’t have.

I’ve already signed up to the National Union of Students fees pledge.

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By John Collins, veteran Highgate Green Party member

In his new book, Camden: A Political History, available from tomorrow from The Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, and probably also other good local bookshops, former local Tory leader Piers Wauchope says the Greens were “such an unknown phenomenon” in 2006 that the main parties were “baffled by their appeal…especially in Highgate”.

Perhaps he was misled by his own otherwise excellent statistical appendix, where he strangely omits any reference (on p.367) to the Highgate ward Green Party candidate Ronnie Eyres, who polled 628 votes in 1994, well ahead of all three Lib Dems.

In fact the Greens were ahead of the Highgate Lib Dems in four of the five elections from 1990-2006, and, as Wauchope duly acknowledges, won their first two seats in 2006.

Editor’s note: CNJ editor Richard Osley has also been commenting on the coverage of the Greens, specifically of Sian Berry.

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A Camden New Journal reviewer last week rightly described The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone as “brilliant, profound and provocative”, and noted how the Labour Party reaction to its conclusions, that rising inequality is damaging to all, and throughout our society, has been non-existent.

But he was wrong to say that it is “unlikely to be found in any election leaflet” – the findings have strongly informed the Green Party general election manifesto, detailed in my recent letter to voters delivered throughout Holborn and St Pancras. These policies
include raising pensions to £170/week, raising the minimum wage to £8.17/hr and a 35-hour working week that would help to share the work around.

And co-author Kate Pickett addressed a packed session at the Green Party conference at Finchley last month, receiving a rapturous response.

As the reviewer so neatly put it, money “like muck, needs to be spread around”. The Green Party is the only party that both understands this, and is prepared to take action to achieve a new balance in society from which strong, healthy, sustainable green shoots can grow.

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I was talking on the doorstep in Somers Town today to a politically aware, articulate, passionate young law student.

He’s got views on lots of things. And he’s not on the electoral roll. Deliberately.

“Well I’d vote for the Green Party and think you’re great, but what’s the point?”

I explained how Caroline Lucas is the bookmakers’ favourite to win in Brighton Pavilion, and how we’re running strong races in Norwich and Brighton, as well as here in Holborn and St Pancras, and how much of a difference Green MP(s) would make to how voters look at us.

And I explained that we have three councillors in Highgate, and are seriously in the running in St Pancras and Somers Town.

He was, I think, persuaded to enrol and vote.

But there are many, many more similarly inclined non-voters there are out there, and you can’t possibly speak to all of them.

They’ve been thoroughly disillusioned by the voting system, and the only way trust can be restored is by fundamental reform: the introduction of proportional representation, so that every vote really counts.

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Walking down St Pancras Way this evening after finishing canvassing, it struck me just how dangerous this road is. As a cyclist the speeds chosen by many cars, and their propensity to swing from lane to lane on the curves is seriously disconcerting, but on foot the full dangers become evident.

While to drivers speeding through it might not be clear, this is very much a residential area, with large numbers of new flats lining the canal side of the road, and this evening with many pedestrians, most of whom I’d judge would be walking back to them.

There’s a lot of roadworks at the moment, and traffic weaving through it with scant regard for safety.

The consultation on the proposal to run the Number 46 bus down here has just closed, and judging from the responses I’ve heard from this area anyway, is likely to have won strong support. If it goes ahead, the bus route might help to slow the traffic and help drivers understand they aren’t going through an industrial estate. Alternatively it might just introduce another hazard – it will certainly need close watching.

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The latest round of UKCMRI exhibition has produced a new image of how the proposed lab would look, taken from the British Library looking up Ossulston Street:

UKCMRI

My first thought was that this is clearly a building that belongs on an industrial estate, not on top of a residential area. That was also my second thought…

I also took the chance to take another close study of the model – now adapted as promised to be more “see-through” at the point where the arms of the “Y” shape meet, a very small visual improvement, but no real reduction in the bulk of the building.

It is only too clear how much it will dominate the area. Seen below from the north…

UKCMRI

… and here from King’s Cross station.

UKCMRI

A local resident I was talking to later raised the interesting question about the effect on air quality of that great wall of glass facing St Pancras station, with all of the slow-moving taxis grinding their way along Midland Road.

He told me about a highly relevant upcoming meeting of the London Forum at 6pm for 6:30pm on Thursday 15th April at the Gallery, 75 Cowcross Street EC1, near to Farringdon station. The speaker will be Simon Birkett, Founder of the Campaign for Clean Air in London.

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