Art, Extinction Rebellion & Brexit

For all that this week has been, there has at least been a focus on the environment despite the overwhelming, ongoing and seemingly never-ending wrangling over how much we’re willing to sacrifice for a Conservative Brexit deal. Extinction Rebellion has succeeded in getting the attention for the environment that it so urgently needs and although not all will agree with the tactics, it has been inspiring to see so many engaged. Brexit, however, seems to be turning now into a game of one-upmanship manoeuvres rather than a serious attempt to get what’s best for the country. It is clear that “getting Brexit done” actually means many years more of this. I had a brief pause to enjoy the better things of life in Burnley at ‘art & Soul, plus an invite to a very positive seminar at Lancaster University on the future of hydrogen in our energy mix – the North West so often delivers the highlights of my weeks!

Green Study Days 

The European Green group chose to come to London for our ‘study days’. In essence, it is a time-out to look at planning priorities of the group for the next five years’ mandate, for both the legislative process in the European Parliament but also in our campaign work to move our Green objectives up the agenda. 

The Greens’ heartwarming commitment to internal democracy was fully evident and manifested in the following guiding political objectives being adopted:

  • Fight climate change and protect biodiversity
  • Make our society fair and equal
  • Protect democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms
  • Make Europe an open and inclusive society
  • Put the digital revolution at the service of the people
  • Make the EU a change-maker in the world
  • Campaign for a feminist EU advancing gender equality and all forms of diversity

The decision to show solidarity with us newly-elected UK MEPs was so appreciated and London was abuzz with Extinction Rebellion activities.

Extinction Rebellion

Out first evening event for the study days in London held just metres from Trafalgar Square, hosted a rousing welcome speech from George Monbiot, the police decided to abruptly change tack, close all forms of XR protest and clear the Trafalgar Square of people and possessions.

Our own Ellie Chowns MEP was arrested while demanding to know under what powers this was happening, and in the following days co-leader Jonathan Bartley and George Monbiot, after speaking at a defiant ‘standing room only’ protest in Trafalgar Square – now not just about climate but about protecting the very right to protest – were themselves arrested. Our visiting Green MEPs from Europe were shocked by such a turn of events. What unusual times we live in.

There is always of course criticism about some of the tactics used in campaigns and protest and nothing will be perfectly acceptable to everyone: Extinction Rebellion HAVE succeeded in getting the climate on the news agenda and continue to be a group many are turning to in the absence of real action from governments. Across the world, XR (like the school strikes) has finally created an outlet for the frustration, anger and fear at the threat to our future. Raising awareness of the pollution, toxins, over-farming, plastics, the extinction of so many species and the suffering of those in areas already impacted by droughts and floods made worse by worsening climate change is vital if we’re to find solutions.

Hydrogen 

The Lancaster Hydrogen Hub workshop, exploring opportunities for developing a local hydrogen-based economy ties in well with my forthcoming report on what the Green New Deal would mean for the North West. I arrived to see the hydrogen-powered bicycle and off-road buggy in action. Among other developments, there were examples from Arcola in Liverpool about their hydrogen bus project and hydrogen for heavy transport, and Lancaster-based Nanosun presented information about hydrogen storage, distribution and dispensing. The key to hydrogen energy filling a future energy gap is that the process of producing it, electrolysis, itself uses renewable energy – and there is every potential for that to be the case. Really exciting stuff! 

 ‘art & Soul

A fantastic cultural, educational and uplifting event in Burnley organised so professionally by my North West staff, together with local professional artists and hosted at Burnley’s new flagship digital hub, the Landmark. ‘art & Soul brought Marc Francesch Camps, Director of ConArte Internacional, based in Girona, to share with us his experiences of the power of art to unite and empower communities and raise the profile of towns.

The discussions at the event showed positive answers on how the creation of new cultural experiences especially for children can redefine the town for visitors, investors and residents in all its communities; how art and culture could play a crucial role in the regeneration of Burnley; and how funding can be found if there is political will to do so.

Marc’s work on the unique ‘Planters’ (‘seedlings’) Project, an artist-led social cohesion project delivered with schools across the region of Girona in Spain, proved just how much can be achieved. We were treated to films of the wonderful performances of children’s orchestras who come from a wide range of socially and economically deprived areas. Local artist Jai Redman and producer Ian Brownbill explored how artists can play a leading role in generating economic and social capital, artist-led projects. The whole day was recorded so that we can share the highlights and the conclusions of this really inspiring workshop. 

Brexit

Johnson’s deal is considered worse than May’s by nearly all but the hard-right MPs, and has exposed his deliberate move towards isolating ourselves from Europe, diluting of regulations and standards, loss of rights and putting power in the hands of a Conservative Government. It risks the single market in terms of environment, social standards, tax avoidance, and creates risks of smuggling across the borders in Ireland. Some argue it will almost certainly lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

As Caroline Lucas argued yesterday in Parliament, if anybody is capable of looking ahead, it is clear that in this deal, no-deal has simply been delayed until the end of the transition period, by which time we will have no rights to call for extension and will be entirely in power of EU.

It is extraordinary that Parliament would support such a destructive deal merely because of ‘Brexit fatigue’ but that appeared to be the situation yesterday. 

Our Prime Minister is not going to let the bothersome rules of Parliament get in his way of what is clearly his desire for a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. We wait to see how the European Heads of Government react to his latest sent-but-not-signed letter and with I-don’t-mean-it-really note asking for an extension, and at home, whether Labour can pull their rebels in line.

It’s important to remember in this, the powerful elites who are counting on making millions from no-deal by betting against the UK economy in the hedge fund markets. 

Meanwhile this week

Good

75 Green MEPs in one place is always a delight and when that place is London, it’s a genuine honour. Choosing London this year for the annual gathering was done to make it clear that the Greens stand firmly together for a People’s Vote and a longing for the UK to remain close, and for the day that Brexit is not the subject that drowns out all else.

Bad

Almost everything to do with Johnson’s deal, but particularly Michael Gove, in an interview stating as if absolute fact: “A second referendum ain’t going to happen… there’s no way we’re having a second referendum…Parliament is not going to vote for a second referendum.” His words making clear he believes the power lies with him and this minority Conservative government, with Parliament having no say!  It seems that the way ahead is paved with endless stages of Brexit that will go on for many years. ‘Yes’ to the Johnson deal would actually mean the end only of the very first chapter of the beginning of “getting Brexit done” (said someone else on BBC yesterday). 

Where hope lies

Hope that the determination of the public, as witnessed by the estimated one million people in London for the Let Us Be Heard march yesterday, will convince MPs to move us positively forward from this mess of the Conservative government’s making AND ensure that we have secured the long-term best interests of the country. What we have in being part of Europe is by far the greatest opportunity to tackle together the big cross-border issues of climate breakdown, trafficking, crime, public health for our greater good.

As I write, I am less optimistic but still hopeful that the convincing arguments to move to a People’s Vote to solve the crisis will win out and if not, that then perhaps the more drastic need for a Government of National Unity.  

I have just booked my Eurostar ticket for going to Strasbourg for the plenary week tomorrow 

Onward


 

Hearings, Conference & Welcomes

Following a week’s break in my Long Reads due to a busy Green Party Conference and Greens/EFA in London conference, there’s a lot to catch up on and I hardly know where to start! My week in Brussels before the GP conference was improved immensely by having 18 young women from the North West visit the parliament. The Green Party Conference was action-packed and wonderfully hosted by the Welsh Greens in Newport and followed again by the hugely demanding but very satisfying exercise in EU democracy that is the ‘Hearings’. Meanwhile, Brexit talks continue, UK politics continues to unravel and Extinction Rebels take to the streets in days of action to get the environment to be the priority that really should matter most. Rochdale and Manchester though were the best opportunities this week to engage with communities about their feelings on the current climate – in every sense!

Hearings in Brussels

The process of democracy in the European Parliament is fascinating to be a part of and these past two weeks the #EPhearings2019 provided the chance to question incoming Commissioners before their positions are confirmed. My question to the Commissioner-in-waiting for Innovation and Youth, concerned gaining clarity on her commitment to ensuring EU research and innovation funding properly meets the 35% guaranteed for climate-related research and came during a mammoth hearing that was nearly three hours long!

In the absence of our Green working group coordinator, I represented him in the cross-party deliberations before a formal meeting the following day. In effect, there is a now a question hanging over Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s top team. As members of all 18 committees in the European Parliament have now completed the grilling of her nominees for the European Commission. The entire process ended with what was essentially a veto by the parliamentarians of three commissioners-designate, due to actual or potential conflict of interests or lack of suitability. This is the first time this has happened and how it is resolved remains to be seen in Strasbourg next week.

Green Party Conference Wales

During the conference, the Green Party committed to its member-driven updating of policy, including this time, our drugs policy. Broad support is gathering among police authorities for decriminalising the use of cannabis in order for the police to focus on much bigger drug-related issues such as the problem of county lines trafficking.

I personally attended two plenary sessions on agriculture food and farming policy. And it was great to see a member of the National Farmers Union warmly and good-humouredly agreeing with much of Green Party policy. At last! The Greens and farmers should be natural allies in taking policies forward that prioritise stewardship of the land. There is now common agreement that the ‘agri-business’ model designed around large-scale corporate businesses isn’t working for people nor planet and we need to move instead towards an agro-ecological model which supports smaller farmers, biodiversity and moves subsidies towards those public goods that benefit everyone.

On Saturday evening, I was honoured to co-host the Green Party Awards Ceremony giving recognition to our members for amazing achievements. People and local groups nominated to the final three from the North West included newly-elected Councillor Judy Filmore from Ulverston; Liverpool and Trafford Green Parties and our wonderful anti-fracking sisters in Lancashire, Julie and Tina, nominated as Green Heroes for their amazing anti-fracking work. I love this part of the conference, when we take time to celebrate all that we achieve as a Green Party given our limited resources and despite the first-past-the-post electoral system.

#NotLeavingQuietly

As light relief between meetings, my colleague Ellie Chowns MEP for the West Midlands had organised the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble to play in Brussels. This huge gathering of professional musicians created two hours of music attended by many staff and MEPs which turned into joyous sounds and dancing for staying in the EU. I don’t think the European Parliament has ever seen anything quite like it before!

Back in the NW

A packed Saturday started with a return visit to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester for a discussion on Faith and the Environment (inspired by a conversation I had back in July) with among others, founder Nassar Mahmood and Bishop David of Manchester. We recognise that all three Abrahamic faith traditions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam – accounting for nearly half of all the world’s populations – share the common values of reverence and respect of the natural world and the role of man and woman’s responsibility as stewards of it.

Good discussion among attendees followed for taking forward some joint actions in the locality, for example in tree protection, as well as further afield. We agreed to send a message from us all welcoming and thanking the peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion in London.

Then for a delightful meeting in Rochdale where I spoke on a panel which included local Vicar Mark Coleman, who had been arrested that week in London as part of the Extinction Rebellion actions and some very concerning thoughts from Sami Mir about the situation in Kashmir and the potentially horrendous implications of any further escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations Pakistan and India.

4th Largest Party in EU in London this week

Genuinely excited to welcome the European Greens/EFA in London this week – makes a change to bring the whole party here! All 75 MEPs agreed to come to show solidarity with British Greens and to celebrate the incredible efforts of environmental activists. Speakers at events included George Monbiot, Natalie Bennett, Green Party Member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones plus a video link to speak to Youth Climate Strikers.

Meanwhile this week

Good

The #GreenSurge in Europe continues to rise with the recent win in Austrian elections, this from Politico:

“The Green Party, which will return to parliament swinging with about 14% of the votes. The Social Democrats came second, but fell to a historic low of under 22 per cent of the votes. Still, Social Democrat leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner conceded that at least one goal was achieved, whether that was her party’s doing or otherwise: Another coalition between the ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ doesn’t look particularly likely. The latest mood in the wider European Peoples’ Party network, to which Kurz will soon return as a leading figure, is all about hugging green voters and courting Green parties, offering them a way into executive power at the national level. Green leader Werner Kogler has, of course, requested “signs of conversion.”

Bad

Rude, ineffective and detrimental to decent politics; during the plenary session, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party voted against stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation. The resolution also criticised Facebook, accusing the social media company of not following up on most of the parliament’s demands to prevent a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where at least 87 million people had their data harvested without permission for use in targeted advertising campaigns in the 2016 US presidential election. The Brexit MEPs cast their votes against a European Parliament resolution calling for an upgrade of the EU’s anti-propaganda unit East StratCom, as well as support for public service media. Thankfully their action made no impact and the text passed comfortably with the support of the largest political groups in the European parliament – the centre-right European People’s Party, Socialists, Liberals and Greens.

Where hope lies

Visit by Aspiring Young Women leaders of fabulous young women from all parts of the constituency to the European Parliament. My team had arranged for them to attend sessions on women in leadership and politics, and they were very inspired by the women leading them. Hearing personal stories and tips from Alice Bah Kuhne, one of our two Swedish Green MEPs and her personal story and again from our South East England Green MEP Alex Phillips, added to sessions with women in NGOs amongst others. Like the young climate strikers on the trip before, there is a passion, honesty and a genuine desire to work for a greater good. As one woman noted: “Even the seating arrangements in Europe promote better discussion via the ‘hemicycle’ rather than as oppositional benches face-to-face”.

Keep an eye on my website for updates on their stories (you can also sign up for the newsletter there).

Onwards

 

 

PUTTING THE ‘ART AND SOUL BACK INTO BURNLEY

14 October

For immediate release

PUTTING THE ‘ART AND SOUL BACK INTO BURNLEY

Thursday 17 October 0930-13.00hrs, will see the North West Green MEP, Gina Dowding, visit Burnley’s new flagship digital hub – The Landmark – to lead ‘art and Soul – an engaging seminar, highlighting the relevance of art in the town. This event is in conjunction with a project from Girona in Spain which has been selected as a twinning scheme to enhance community cohesion through arts in schools.

The event will be a showcase from local professional creatives, Jai Redman and Ian Brownbill, talking about the strong cultural heritage of Burnley and how art is a potential for revitalisation of the town. 

A section of the event will be delivered by the Spanish group, ConArte, to explore the “Planters” [1] project in Girona and the positive results the programme had in terms of achievement, wellbeing and community cohesion from facilitating art in schools.

Gina Dowding MEP said:

“The idea behind the seminar is to create a space for stakeholders to explore the important role art has to play in community cohesion, cultural regeneration and economic development, and that those things are inextricably linked. Our suggestion is that art and culture should become intrinsic to a community cohesion strategy: high-quality arts education within schools can help facilitate community cohesion and growth.”

The event has been created by Gina Dowding MEP and funded by the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor:

1.     The “Planters” project from ConArte International

 

Faith and the Environment

Saturday 12 October, Gina Dowding MEP will join a panel at The British Muslim Heritage Centre (BMHC) on a seminar talking about Faith and the Environment.

The panel will be the Bishop of Manchester, Dr Stuart Walker; Labour MP Afzal Khan; the Chairman, Nasar Mahmood OBE and Chief Executive Officer, Maqsood Ahmed OBE. Gina’s talk will centre on the Stewardship of our Natural World.

Please RSVP to the administrator, Mohammed, at administrator@bmhc.org.uk if you’d like to book a place

 

 

 

UK Green MEPs Welcome Extinction Rebellion Protests

Yesterday, Extinction Rebellion kicked off two weeks of global demonstrations, demanding world leaders act now to tackle climate breakdown. The UK’s Green MEPs have welcomed the protests in a joint statement: [1]

“Our planet is on the brink of a climate catastrophe. At this critical moment in history, it’s truly inspiring to see so many people take to the streets and demand our government acts now.

“Our Prime Minister wants to treat protestors like criminals, yet he’s happy to wine and dine with the bosses of the corporations destroying our environment.

“It’s clear which is the right side of history. We urge the UK Government to open its eyes, face facts, and act now to safeguard all of our futures.”

Gina Dowding, Green MEP for the North West said:

“The sheer number of people involved in the Extinction Rebellion protests is heartening and I wholly support their efforts. I hope to stand with Rebels next week during a conference trip to London, and show solidarity with their mission to make the climate emergency one that the UK government acts upon with urgency.

“In the North West, we have been battling the climate-wrecking fracking industry, as they have tried and failed to frack in Lancashire. The industry has been so very deceptive when it comes to promoting natural gas as a climate solution. It is not a ‘bridge fuel’ nor a time to use fracking as a transition – fracking is another fossil fuel extraction technique, responsible for increased global methane emissions.

“The time to move to renewable energy is now and the UK government must drop support for dirty fossil fuels and back renewable energy and a Green New Deal.”

ENDS

 

[1]. Signed by: Scott Ainslie (London), Ellie Chowns (West Midlands), Molly Scott Cato (South West England and Gibraltar), Gina Dowding (North West England), Magid Magid (Yorkshire and the Humber), Alexandra Phillips (South East England) and Catherine Rowett (East of England).

 

 

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