How green would a Corbyn government be?

Despite Momentum, the organisation set up to support and promote Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, claiming to want to “Put people and planet before profit and narrow corporate interests”, I found little evidence of his green credentials being displayed during his leadership campaign.

During his Question Time debate with Owen Smith on the BBC the only reference he made to the environment was during comments he made regarding his wish to scrap Trident. Now, I fully support his position on this, and I certainly agree that ‘the environment’ would also be a victim should nuclear weapons be deployed, but this is not the only threat to the planet’s health! Any politician who deserves to be taken seriously must acknowledge and make a priority the fact that there are limits to what resources we can take from the planet and that there are fast approaching limits to what waste we can deposit in its atmosphere, oceans, and ground. And such a politician must acknowledge that our current global economic system, our headlong pursuit of world-wide economic growth, is only accelerating the arrival of those limits. But not a hint of this.

His later Sky News debate with Owen Smith was no better. There was a great amount of discussion regarding our exit from the EU, and he did mention (almost in passing) the resulting loss of environmental and consumer protection regulations. But that was it! No elaboration. No further comments. In sixty minutes of passionate debate during which he appeared to list all the problems and issues he thought important, and all his key policy areas, no mention of climate change or the limits our relationship with the planet will impose on our economic growth. Even during his closing remarks when he made clear his opposition to the current government and their policies, there was no reference to their pursuit of continuous economic growth and their belief in the power of ‘free market’ to solve all our problems.

I’m sorry, but I find it very hard to believe that if he really believes that both people and the planet should be placed before profit he could not have said so during two hours of high profile debate.

Why local LibDem supporters should move over to the Greens

I have a lot of time for our local LibDems. Before the Green Party became active in the Bridport area they carried the green flag. They are some of the most environmentally minded and active people I know, and have been responsible for a great deal of local consciousness raising. I even suspect that many would have voted Green, or stood as Green councillors, if they had thought that there was a chance of local electoral success. However, having just listened to their leader’s keynote speech at their annual conference, I strongly urge these supporters and members to move over to the Green Party.

In many respects, Tim Farron’s speech was very good. He is an excellent public speaker, and spoke with a great deal of passion, honesty and humour. And it would be difficult to criticise anything he said on the refugee crisis, the crisis in our NHS, or the crisis within our education system. But, and this is a huge but, not only did he only refer to our environmental crisis in passing, his positioning of the LibDems as the party of the free market would mean that any green credentials that may be lurking in their policy cupboard would be wiped out in an instant. Moreover, such a position will make our environmental crisis worse, exponentially so.

I know that such a speech cannot refer to all policy areas or areas of concern. But I would like to think that such a rallying call to the troops would refer to those issues considered important. He made reference to ‘green issues’ only three times, and then only in passing. Early on, in explaining why he was committed to the EU, he included “to fight climate change” in a list of reasons. Later, in describing his long term vision for the country, he included ‘green’ in his list of adjectives. And finally, when he asked what questions would be asked of the current Conservative government in twenty years’ time, he included ‘why had it allowed our green industry to be trashed?’ No reference as to why it had allowed our carbon emissions to continue rising and contribute to the world refugee crisis through people fleeing rising sea levels and severe weather patterns as well as war and poverty.

But worse, far worse than this omission, was his positive support for the ideology of the free market. His comment that the “Conservative’s have lost the right to call itself the party of business, it has lost the right to call itself the party of the free market” received huge applause from the conference floor. He nailed this with the comment that “we are the free market, free trade, pro-business party now.” Oh dear, doesn’t he realise that such support for the free market will undermine any attempt to curb the rise in carbon emissions? That no matter how hard we campaign at the local level, no matter to what level we raise awareness of the issues, and no matter how green we try and make our individual lives in Transition Towns up and down the country, such a policy will make all such efforts a drop in a very rapidly rising ocean?

With the greatest of respect, therefore, could I seriously urge like minded supporters and members of the local LibDems to join the local Greens in campaigning against such open support for the free market, to push environmental issues further up the national agenda, whilst continuing to fight for social equalities and freedoms.

Consultation on Unitary Authorities and the possible deferment of County Council elections

There is much talk about the creation of a unitary authority (or to be more precise, two unitary authorities) for Dorset. I am not against this. In many ways I can see the advantages, especially if bureaucracy is reduced and the residents of Dorset better understand who is responsible for what. My concern is with the supposed consultation – with the appearance of the public being consulted as to what they think about the changes, and especially about the move to defer the County Council elections due next May.

The consultation ‘road show’ arrived in Bridport on Wednesday 31st August – before notice of the roadshow appeared in the local press. Town councillors were only informed the day before. I did go manage to go along though, but discovered very little information other than the outline options Dorset’s councils want us to choose between. When I asked for details about how this will work in detail and at the local level, about what will be the role of Town and Parish Councils, I was told that this was only an outline proposal, and that the details will be added later. The trouble is that, according to their own timeline, there are only three months between the end of the consultation period and the date they plan to submit their business case to Government. The devil, they say, is in the detail. Is three months sufficient time to add the detail? If the detail is being worked on now, what does this presuppose about the consultation?

Of even more concern is the attempt to defer the County Council elections due to take place in May. The minutes of the meeting of the full Council for 21st July (Item 67) record that “Officers clarified that there may be insufficient information for a submission to be made to the Government to request a deferment of the elections planned in May 2017, by the time of the next meeting of the County Council on 10 November 2016. It would be for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and a submission would be required by 30 November 2016.”

Despite this, the Council resolved (point 6) “That the County Council do not wish the elections to take place in 2017, as the Council wishes to pursue Local Government reform, subject to the results of the public consultation.”

I take this to mean that if the Council applies to the DCLG for a deferment of the May elections they need to do so before 30th November. However, if they do this they will be applying before the leaders of the nine councils meet to consider the responses to the public consultation (scheduled for December) and before Dorset’s councils agree on a final approach and submit a business case to the Government (scheduled for January). Making such an application strongly suggests that they have already decided on their response to the public consultation and have already agreed on the approach they want to submit to the Government.

Moreover, if the elections due for 4th May do not take place they will be cancelled before the regulations approving the councils’ business case are laid before / debated by Parliament, let alone approved. If this happens it strongly suggests that the Government has already made its decision! In other words, if the elections are deferred the only obvious explanation is that the public consultation is a complete sham, that the councils’ and the Government have already decided what will happen, and that the views of the public are irrelevant!

 

Grammar schools & academic selection

I absolutely support the need for schools to stretch our brightest young people, but not just those that show academic potential. Schools should become aware of the talents of all their students, and whether these skills be academic or technical, whether they be in the arts or in sport, they should all be stretched – they should all be encouraged and supported to develop those skills to the greatest degree possible. But I absolutely oppose our young people being selected at one or more key points in their education then having their education separated from others who do not pass the selection test. We all want to be successful. We all want to be seen to be successful. But do we we want to be told that we don’t make the grade at such an early age? Do we have any idea of the damage this does to self esteem? Do we have any idea of how much talent could be wasted?

Let me be honest. I’m prejudiced about this. I took the 11+ exam and failed. I went to a local secondary modern school. The only thing I received that came close to careers guidance was the suggestion to join the Army. When I said that I didn’t want to do this I was told “that I had better work for a bank then”. In sport, if you didn’t show promise at football in the winter or at cricket in the summer you were largely ignored – left to do ‘cross-country’ round the fields whilst the teachers concentrated on the teams. But in hindsight, what makes me most angry was that the complete absence of any mention of the option of going to university. Children from secondary modern schools just did not go to university. Why? Was it because they were academically incapable? Was I academically incapable?

Well, the short answer is no. Thankfully, for a brief period at the start of the ‘New Labour’ government there was an education policy of Life-Long Learning. This pearl buried in their muck made it easy for mature students to go to university. So when I left the Fire Service I did what I had always wanted to do – study. And after gaining my first degree I trained and became a qualified careers adviser, and at the same time studied philosophy as a part-time post-graduate student – eventually gaining a PhD. So, I think I had the ability. My only regret, and this is a massive regret, is that I didn’t do it sooner. I would have loved to have taught philosophy, but gaining a full-time academic post as a ‘mature’ person is not easy. And I can assure you that I’ve tried.

Who’s to blame for my frustrated academic career? Was it my fault for not passing the 11+? Was it my parents’ fault for not encouraging me? It wasn’t, they genuinely did their best. Was it my primary school for not preparing for this exam? My only memory of this was one day being led into the hall and being told, without any explanation, that we had to take a test. Well, perhaps. But even if they had prepared students for this exam, two questions linger in my thoughts.

First, what if my own personal intellectual development did not coincide with this fixed testing point?  What if I only developed both the ability and the desire to study seriously at a later age? I’m fairly sure that young people do not develop at a uniform rate. So what happens if your personal development is out of synch with the system? Second, what if my talents (talents that have long since had their green shoots overgrown by weeds) had been in areas not high-lighted by this test? I assume that there must be a benefit to being selected to attend a grammar school. Your academic green shoot are placed in a greenhouse where they are watered, fed the best nutrients, and kept free of weeds and frosts – all those irritating things that prevent growth. But does this automatically mean we value the plants grown by this method more highly than those left out in the cold? And, at the risk of pushing this metaphor beyond limits that are decent, how do those excluded plants feel? What are their life chances? They are surely not the same, otherwise what’s the point of spending all that time in the greenhouse?

But this is not just the view of someone who regrets lost opportunity. A report just published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes that whilst grammar schools “stretch the brightest pupils” those not selected are likely to do “worse than they would have done in a comprehensive system”, and that selection “seems likely to come at the cost of increasing inequality.”

So, rather than allowing the expansion of grammar schools, existing grammar schools (along with academies and free schools) should be integrated into the comprehensive system –  a comprehensive system of local schools that teach all the local young people regardless of ability. All our young people should be taught by qualified teachers – teachers who are trained and given the resources to become aware of and nurture talent as and when it appears. And all the parents of our young people should be encouraged to become involved in their education and their schools – schools that should be at the heart of our local communities.

And finally, when we have done all this, how about leaving the education system alone for a good while and allow the teachers to get on with their job and resolve problems, together with parents, from the ground up? How about forgetting about constant top-down re-organisation?