Brexit, Brexit & Brexit (again)

More focus this week on this failed and failing venture that sees our politics and our international relationships in such disarray, and the people of our country divided, uncertain and under pressure. The notion of Brexit alone, never mind its implementation, is costing vast sums of money, time and energy that would be better spent on the urgent things that matter more.

I could list reams of issues from the NHS, to the very survival of our species in a climate catastrophe. In this never-ending loop of political turmoil, it seems that almost everything this week had a ‘taint ‘of Brexit’ about it. I went from signing a ‘Brussels Declaration‘, to calls for a People’s Vote UK in Parliament Square, to Wilmslow for a well-attended debate on the climate emergency…all while arranging travel plans for young climate campaigners this coming week and young women from the NW next month to come to the European Parliament. Everything feels urgent as the horizon keeps changing and these opportunities could disappear.

Brussels Declaration

In Brussels, a Cross Party Group of UK Members of the European Parliament got together to sign a Declaration; committing ourselves to work together in the face of Brexit and calling on our EU colleagues to support us. 

MEPs from Green, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Alliance (Northern Island), Plaid Cymru and Scottish National Party signed Brussels Declaration stating:

We, the undersigned UK Members of the European Parliament, representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, declare as follows:

The proroguing, or shutting down the UK Parliament in order to limit scrutiny of the implications of a potential no deal Brexit is completely unacceptable. Limiting the opportunity for MPs to debate, vote and crucially, to legislate, cannot be the response to a referendum in which Leave campaigned for the UK Parliament to “take back control”.

In the continuation of the spirit that UK MEPs have worked in since the 2016 Referendum we commit ourselves to continue to work across party lines and declare that it is vital that MPs do likewise.

We were all elected just four months ago with clear mandates. We are working together. We call upon our European friends and colleagues to assist domestic efforts in keeping the door open to us. Brussels declaration

Trip to EU Parliament for aspiring young women leaders

Monday 9 September 2019, I’ll be with our 15 young climate campaigners en-route to the European Parliament, where they’ll find out more about the climate work we do, meet with other MEPs and spend time with other young climate campaigners from Brussels. And in just a few weeks time (wonder what the political view will look like then!) my amazing team and I are arranging a trip for young women in the NW to visit the European Parliament to meet and hear from other ‘young’ women who have an interest in community building about ways to develop community leadership skills. These wonderful opportunities are EU sponsored and serve to unite us, find shared solutions and create networks and links that can fuel change. I dread to think of the UK without these warm, welcoming connections with our European family.


Rallies in London

On my way home mid-week I stopped off in London to stand with others in Parliament Square to join a rally with ‘pop up’ speeches by a range of prominent MPs including our wonderful Caroline Lucas. All spoke passionately for No Deal to be taken off the table, and a People’s Vote to help re-clarify what exactly the people want. Caroline, however, made the most important point about the need for root and branch reform of our democracy, a call for proportional representation and a written constitution.

At the DSEI Stop The Arms Fair protest with my colleagues.


On Friday last week, I was back in London to join three of my fellow UK MEPs and protesters outside the Arms Fair (the DSEI). Scott Ainslie, Green MEP for London, highlighted the shame that London hosts the worlds largest arms fair; Ellie Chowns MEP for the West Midlands called out the illegality of the UK’s sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia that are now proven to be used to target civilians in Yemen; Catherine Rowett Green MEP for East England and I both highlighted the intractable links between climate change and war. Apart from the tragic human cost of war, waging war is by definition the most environmentally damaging activity that any government could undertake. However, this leads to a vicious spiral of destruction: not only does climate change result from war, it causes further conflict.

Rarely mentioned by the media, the conflict in Syria was preceded by the worst drought on record between 2007 and 2010. Climate-related extremes causing drought and water shortages, failing crops and resource shortages give rise to the desperation of populations that create the conditions for armed insurgencies. We were all honoured to speak to the protesters as they sat in the road trying to cause delay and prevent the delivery of the world’s deadliest weapons to be on show next week.

You can watch my speech here.


Responsibility for Horizon Europe (funding for research and innovation)

As UK MEPs, we have divided up the allocation of places in the various committees within the European Parliament. These committees are spaces where MEPs really get to grips with European legislation. I have previously said that I was delighted to be given a place on the ITRE Committee responsible for Industry, Research and Energy. Of course, there are lots of threads of work addressed by each committee and this week I was delighted to learn that the Green EFA group has allocated me a role in developing the Horizon Europe programme on its behalf. I am now officially ‘Shadow Rapporteur’ (sorry for the Euro-English!); in effect, that means along with our Green group specialist advisors, I will work in a cross-party subgroup on that specific theme. 

Horizon Europe replaces the previous Horizon 2020 fun. It has been massively increased to around £120 billion and in April this year, the Green group got a commitment passed that in this new programme, 35% of the fund must be spent on climate-related research. At a meeting of the committee I raised the question to the commissioner on how important it is that mechanisms are in place to ensure that this binding agreement actually gets implemented.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

It’s hard to find the good but I think it’s important to celebrate this week the fact that there are MPs who have sacrificed their careers for the good of the country and to work cross-party in what seems, at least from outside Parliament, a constructive way to prevent our Prime Minister from trashing our democratic norms completely.

Bad:

There is still no certainty at all on what the next few weeks will hold. It is becoming clearer that a general election is likely to be called within the next few months but exactly how – we may know by next weekend. Personally, I totally agree with the Green Party’s stance that the Brexit question should be resolved before a general election by a People’s Vote. However. it’s important to have reservations when reflecting how the previous referendum campaign was conducted in the uncharted territory of Facebook, internet campaigning, dark money, and exploiting the absence of elections-regulation. With Dominic Cummings the unelected advisor to our Prime Minister and one of the key protagonists of illegal activities including illegal elections’ spending. I do recommend again for anyone who has access to Netflix to watch ‘The Great Hack’.

Where hope lies:

With the young. This week’s trip with young people from the NW to the European Parliament will I know, be as beneficial for us as it will be for them. There is clarity and wisdom in the messages sent by young climate activists that is refreshing in the world of politics and it’s important that we listen and act with the urgency they demand. With the upcoming (worldwide) Youth Strike 4 Climate on 20 September 2019, and the amazing work of Greta Thunberg in igniting and uniting youth – there IS every reason for positivity.

 

Onwards

 

 

On Trains, On Football and On Air

This week 

Another busy but enjoyable week of combining opportunities to get about the North West region, meeting up with staff and attending events; from Blackpool to Liverpool, Manchester and Preston. 

A particular highlight was catching up with so many Green Party members at Tuesday’s public meeting in Manchester on ‘No to Climate Change, Yes to Europe: How to Stop Brexit’. All but one of the 10 Manchester boroughs were represented. Brilliantly organised and chaired by Astrid Johnson in Manchester.

Later in the week, I arranged to go with Laurence, who is working with me on producing a report on a Green New Deal for the North West, to meet the new Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.

I also had an enjoyable, friendly interview with Mick Coyle of Radio City Talk in Liverpool, and was wowed by the stunning views of the Mersey at the public viewing gallery from right outside their studios! 

This week I’m having a break before travelling to Palestine and Israel for a full programme of events. More on that here.

Radio City Talk Liverpool

Kashmir

I’m really concerned about events in Kashmir after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, leaving the region and its residents “virtually cut off from the rest of the world” and upended a decades-old arrangement of the region, contested between the two nuclear nations of India and Pakistan. 

I’m hearing from constituents around our region about the issue, and it should be of concern to all of us. This, of course, being one more legacy of British colonialism whose disastrous impact still lingers. We need the UK government to advocate for an ethical foreign policy that builds capacity for conflict resolution. The defence of human rights in Kashmir, including freedom of the press and of assembly, should be the starting point of any definitive peace talk.

Although the next Strasbourg plenary isn’t until September, I will be looking to see how we can use the European Parliamentary urgency resolutions process. This is used to address human rights abuses and seek, along with my fellow Green MEPs in the UK, to find a cross-party agreement for a condemnation statement of what is happening in Kashmir by fellow European parliamentarians.

More here.

Football

I had a really interesting and very productive meeting with Andy Walsh, the National Game Development Officer of the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA). Who would have thought that Football could be so interesting without even watching a game?! The FSA represents over 600,000 football enthusiasts in England and Wales and is the leading advocate for supporter ownership, better fan engagement, cheaper ticket prices, the choice to stand at the match, protecting fan rights, good governance, diversity and all types of supporter empowerment.

Five of the 20 premier league football clubs are in the North West, and three in the Championship which means not only is football a part of so many people’s lives in this country, it has a significant impact on the economy in this region. 

I was glad to discuss football with someone so well-informed. From ideas and questions about improving sustainability in football, encompassing everything from easy public transport to and from stadiums, the kits and their shelf-life – right to the environmental management of the clubs and their services, including single-use plastic, pitch surfaces, paying the living wage and reduced inequality in staff pay. And then, of course, there is the really big issue of ownership models to reflect the interests of football supporters and club sponsorship. 

So much could be done. This was only the start of a conversation and we agreed that this would be a very important project. It’s something I would love to lead on as an MEP with fellow MEPs across Europe. 

Meanwhile this week

 

Good:

I was glad to see that Caroline Lucas’s proposal for a Government of National Unity was then followed up by a serious proposal at last by Jeremy Corbyn. The situation with Brexit remains as unclear and as worrying as ever and it’s going to take quite some negotiating to get us anywhere near unity. The potential alternative of a crash out no-deal Brexit demands we treat this with urgency and put the people of the UK ahead of Party red-lines. 

Bad:

Fracking started again near Blackpool and the community who have stood against it for so long, are both fearful and determined. I visited the site on Monday for the 2nd Anniversary of ‘Green Mondays’ – just days before the drills started up.

Despite the company’s protestations that they could not frack successfully within current regulations and limits on seismic activity, Cuadrilla ploughed on and caused 12 seismic events in the first day-and-a-half. One of the safety measures they’re challenging is the ‘Traffic Light System’ (TLS) that sets the limit on how strong a seismic event can be before shutting down and doing safety checks. Earlier this year, Claire Perry MP said:

“It would be a very foolish politician who would do things that would be considered to be relaxing regulatory standards when we are trying to reassure people about safety.” 

This week, however, just in time for renewed fracking, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published an updated statement that indicated they may indeed now re-assess when they have more data.

 

Where Hope Lies:

Today, people are coming from across the country to Manchester to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre. The event organised by unions reminds us:

“Two hundred years ago, about 60,000 people assembled, including a high proportion of women and children, in St Peter’s Field in Manchester. What followed was a brutal dispersal, by armed cavalry, with 18 people killed and over 500 injured. People had marched from all around, many miles, to peacefully demonstrate, amidst widespread hunger and deprivation, for the right to vote.

“That working people, by securing a voice over their fate, might be heard and might share justly in the wealth they toiled to create in the workshop of the world…this event, known as the Peterloo Massacre, has come to symbolise the centuries of unremitting political struggle that moved working people from abject poverty and squalor, and back-breaking labour, to the rights we now enjoy today.

“It inspired the rise of the Chartists and modern trade unionism and helped transform our history. Yet these struggles are never over, they must be fought again and again. After a decade of pay stagnation, growing poverty and austerity, it is more important than ever that we use the rights that others had to fight and die for to improve the lot of all work.”

I can’t make it but am delighted that Trafford Green Councillor, Geraldine Coggins, will be reading out my speech and I will share that next week

Onwards

 

Dictators, Democracy & Division

More shocking headlines and news this week on just how the rules of our democracy can be distorted and manipulated to play some immoral power-game that will impact every one of us; the Conservative government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson are willing to write our views out of history and use procedures in ways never intended, to achieve a what would be a disastrous crash out of the European Union.

A no-deal Brexit means safeguards will be lost and we will be vulnerable to the powerful influence of huge global business and bigger trading ‘partners’. How on earth we are ever going to deal with the key issue of our time – the climate emergency – if we are focused on division rather than unity?

We are all at risk from this international threat to our environment and it’s a situation that requires co-operation if we have any hope of averting the worst that could come.

About that ‘No-Deal Brexit’

  • The unavoidable reality: A no-deal Brexit won’t be a clean break: this nightmare will go on forever
  • The unpleasant truth: crashing out is now very possible
  • The urgency: it’s time to save our democracy

The idea of a ‘government of national unity’ is creeping gradually up the list of possible solutions for how to get out of the crisis. And it is gaining more traction even since the article below was written.

In the Guardian this week, Jonathan Freedland makes clear:

“The myths of a no-deal Brexit are about to collide with reality. Those myths are many, and they flourish on both sides of the great divide. For remainers, the greatest is that no deal could never happen. They look at the polls that show far more Britons oppose a crash-out from the EU than support it – 50% to 38%, according to Ipsos Mori – and they can’t quite believe that any government would defy the public will on so grave a matter.

“Still, the greatest myths lie on the other side. One is the fond hope that Britons will weather the disruption of a no-deal Brexit as stoically as they withstood the blitz. The sight of British holidaymakers driven to tears over flight delays this week, with its echo of that time Britons called 999 to complain about KFC running out of chicken, should disabuse us of that particular daydream.

“…after a no-deal Brexit, we’d be back where we started. The last three years would come to seem like an argument between a husband and wife that’s raged in the kitchen. After 31 October, as my colleague Rafael Behr likes to put it, it’d be the same argument – except now the husband would be standing on the street, the front door slammed in his face, shouting his demands through the letterbox.”

All-Women Cabinet?

And today, Caroline Lucas has made a bold proposal. An all-women cabinet of unity to deal with the crisis. Well done, Caroline. As always, clear, insightful and bold. It’s about options.

An upcoming visit to Palestine & Israel

My new roles in the European Parliament include being a member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and member of the delegation for relations with Israel as well as Palestine. For this reason, I was delighted to be able to take up an invitation to join a cross-party delegation visit to Israel and Palestine from 26th-30th August, organised by three sponsoring organisations: Danish, Norwegian and Swedish church groups.

During the visit, I’ll meet with representatives from both Israeli and Palestinian officials and NGOs, as well as a representative of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Program Leader of the World Bank.

I’m particularly keen to explore the potential role of the European Union and its institutions in helping to find a way in which Palestinians, as well as the Israeli people, can be guaranteed their freedoms: to live without threat, to work, attend school, and move about their daily lives in safety, alongside each other.

I also have a personal interest in the region, which started when, as an 18-year-old, I spent some time on a kibbutz in the Negev desert; an amazing experience in itself through which I met wonderful and interesting people. It was not until quite a few years later that I learned of the wider implications of the Israeli nation-state, as it has developed.

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner and conducts trade under an Association Agreement, which in effect means there is a close diplomatic relationship. I believe that the fundamental premise of the European Union as a peace project means that states must uphold international law and abide by conventions on human rights, which are clearly being broken by Israel in the current situation.

IPCC Report – farming/agriculture

This week saw the release of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which calls for radical changes to methods of food production and consumption. I’ll pass over to Molly Scott Cato Green MEP who sits on the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and is the agricultural spokesperson for the Greens. She refers to the South-West, where she represents. I think that there are comparable messages for us here in the North-West with our hill farming in the National Park, as well as our larger dairy and beef farms. It is clear to me that we must work with our farmers as stewards of the land to redesign policies and interventions that expand on this crucial role.

“The report acknowledges that if we are to prevent climate breakdown we must adapt land use so that agriculture becomes part of the solution rather than the problem. But we must go further and find ways of recapturing some of the emissions already in the atmosphere. The land has an extraordinary capacity to absorb and hold carbon if farmed in a climate-friendly way, and the South-West, with its largely rural economy, can lead the way.

“The IPCC recognises that intensive agriculture is resulting in high emissions and soil damage. It is also widely acknowledged that organic farming methods can restore soil health and turn land into a valuable carbon sink. The South-West is already a leader in successful small-scale and organic farming so is well placed to lead a climate-friendly farming revolution. The region also has areas that could be converted to agro-forestry, be rewilded with extensive tree cover and where peatlands could be restored.

“The IPCC report is also clear on the need to reduce meat and dairy consumption. Some land can and should be converted to the growing of protein crops but as the South-West is a leading livestock and dairy region, we need to ensure that these sectors focus on high-quality meat and dairy products and farming methods that protect soils and ensure the highest standards of animal welfare.”

Meanwhile this week…

Good

The good news is that we have got the power to stop a no-deal Brexit. Across the country, there are groups applying pressure and good politicians doing the same in parliament. On Tuesday 13 August, I’ll be in Manchester with ‘Yes to Europe’ to discuss what can be done, what’s being done and how every one of us can help. I’ll be at the Friends’ Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, M2 5NS Manchester, between 7pm-9pm.

Bad

As Cuadrilla UK prepare the extract shale gas from Lancashire again (last time they caused 57 seismic events), news comes of more safety concerns that haven’t been addressed; yet the Environment Agency and Oil & Gas Authority have given permission to begin fracking anyway. Tomorrow, I’ll be back at the roadside to stand with residents on the second anniversary of ‘Green Mondays’. The site is between Blackpool and Kirkham on the A583 near PR4 3PE. I’ll be there from 11am – 1pm. Please do read up on why the recent approval by regulators is so wrong.

Where hope lies

Co-operation, alliances, allegiances and *whatever it takes to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen. But any unity must be clearly defined to ensure it is on this issue and that it is temporary; that the people will decide the Government once we have safely navigated the current treacherous storms of disunity and chaos brought about by Brexit and this Conservative government. We live in rare times and this is a unique situation calling for what feels like unnatural responses.

*To move forward we must agree that Proportional Representation is a vital ingredient and so too is an agreement on immediate climate action.

Onwards

 

ps: I wish I could attend an event next Sunday that is so close to my heart, sadly I’m not available. Councillor Geraldine Coggins though will be speaking for the Greens at the bi-centenary commemoration of the ‘Peterloo Massacre’. The rally will see unions, groups, organisations, campaigns, parties and individuals setting off from 10 different start-points at noon, to converge on Albert Square for 1pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PM, Pride & Priorities

No one can have got through this week with much of a sense of joy or optimism; the newly appointed Prime Minister and his Cabinet peppered with lobbyists and apologists have seen to that. Thankfully by the week’s end, I’d been lifted by news from Brussels that the European Investment Bank has proposed cutting support for energy infrastructure projects (fossil fuels). And then there was the glorious colour and solidarity on the streets of Liverpool at ‘Pride in Liverpool’ to refresh and renew for the week ahead.

Brussels

I took time to pause this week when I recorded a 50-second video of my priorities to go along with the 750 other MEPs who represent the 500 million people in Europe. Just outside the European Parliament in Brussels is the ‘Parlamentarium’, a visitor centre (a little like a planetarium or an aquarium but about the activities of the Parliament) and it has an interactive wall, with details about MEPs. From local councillor to being part of a European-wide visitor attraction in a matter of weeks is quite a strange feeling.

Also this week in Brussels, there was definitely a feeling of winding down: the parliament doesn’t exactly close, but there are no formal meetings during the next month and obviously many staff have their holidays.

I attended formal meetings of the Transport and Tourism committee. The committee is not yet dealing with any legislative business but instead is really in a kind of end-of-term-report period. There are what’s easiest to describe as ‘hearings’ taking place. I witnessed one with the outgoing Commissioners, and one looking forwards with the representatives of the new European Council. For the next six months Finland takes that role in the European Council, with Romania just finishing.

Yes it’s confusing for newcomers. I guess in a Union of 28 countries it’s bound to be but there’s certainly lots of chance to challenge!

Along with a number of MEPs (and not just from the Green MEPs group) we emphasised the need in transport for all interventions now to look to reduce emissions; and to look towards the earliest implementation of a kerosene tax on aviation industry. The latter is essential for reducing flights. Let’s not forget that 70% of all flights are made by just 15% of the population!

I am so pleased that I have been able to appoint a good team of staff. One of our first jobs is to get a website up and running for updates and easy contact. Until the site is live, please do find and share updates on one of these channels:

Twitter

Facebook

LinkedIn

I made a big commitment this week; to attend a cross-party delegation to Palestine and Israel. More on that soon.

 

Back in the North West – Love is Love

Fantastic, well organised and thoroughly enjoyed event – Pride in Liverpool; albeit a bit damp! There was rightly a party atmosphere and it was great to meet LGBT+ staff from the British Veterinary Association, the Home Office and organisers.

Although the focus was clearly on solidarity and celebration, PRIDE is a necessary protest still and there is awareness that with the changes in government and potential for Brexit, there comes a serious risk of losing hard won rights and freedoms for our LGBT+ communities.

When the European court of human rights ruled that gay men and lesbians could not be dismissed simply because of their sexual orientation, Ian Duncan Smith announced that once returned to power, if the Ministry of Defence wanted to retain the ban; a Conservative government would re-introduce it. Full article here.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

Always good to think that some news has sent a shiver down the spine of the fossil fuel industry. This week the EU’s lending arm (European Investment Bank) drafted plans which propose cutting support for energy infrastructure projects which rely on oil, gas or coal by barring companies from applying for loans beyond the end of 2020.

From the media report:

“The EIB said its focus on long-term investments means that it must align with the Paris Agreement which aims to cap global heating at 1.5C above 1990 levels by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“This transition will be profound. Solidarity is required to ensure that potentially vulnerable groups or regions are supported,” the EIB report said.

“The lender said it will set up an energy transitions fund to support projects which help EU member states to transition to a cleaner economy.”

Full article here.

Bad:

Leading with typical bluster and bustle, Johnson has hit the ground out of step with reality and leading the country to a cliff edge clearly sign-posted ‘No Deal Brexit’. The new Leader of the Conservative Party and UK Prime Minister has shown outright contempt for the EU laws that protect us as consumers and workers, and his reckless threat to leave the EU without any arrangements in place, just demonstrates how irresponsible he is prepared to be.

It’s known that Johnson has a poor record on climate change (one of the most serious threats facing humanity) with his predisposition for fracking and having previously voted against setting a target for UK decarbonisation.

*I chatted with Scott Ainslie MEP in European Parliament about the former London Mayor becoming the new Prime Minister and how that might look: “Like a bad idea gone nationwide.”

Full video here

Where hope lies:

Hard to find this week but our Green MP Caroline Lucas always quick off the mark pointed out from Westminster: “…new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet is the most right wing in years but Parliament is sovereign, he has no majority and we will fight his ‘No Deal Brexit’.”

If you’re not a member of the Green Party of England and Wales – please join and show where you stand on the environment and getting a say on our place in the EU.

Onwards 💚

 

Firsts, Perks & Purpose

A week with pause to reflect on my time so far in the European Parliament; how it treats MEPs, why it treats us this way and the tools and systems at our disposal – some flawed, some vital.

There have been lots of firsts for me these past few weeks. It’s the first time that I have been elected as a Green to a level of Government higher than local council level. It’s the first time that I have travelled five separate times beyond the borders of Britain in seven weeks; thank goodness for the ease and speed of the Eurostar. It’s the first time I have had a budget to appoint staff to help with my duties as an elected representative; a huge relief to have researchers, administrative support and media help.

Last week’s first was an invitation to give an after dinner speech. This was to the Cumbria and North Lancashire ‘Forward in Europe’ group in Kendal. This group sprung from The European Movement, which has been in existence since 1947, founded after the end of the second world war and centred on fostering peace and cooperation with our European neighbours and partners. Never has there been a greater need for such an organisation. But since the 2016 referendum and before cross-party groups, grass-roots groups like theirs have sprung up all over the country. Ironically, the UK is now probably the most pro-EU country in Europe, with the greatest number of grass-roots groups striving to Remain.

I can’t begin to express my personal and professional excitement and joy at another first: being with so many senior elected representatives from the Green Party in one room. My first day in Brussels involved a meeting of the Green group of over 60 committed, competent, capable and experienced Green MEPs from all over Europe. One of my initial conversations was with Ville Niinistö, a new Finnish Green MEP, who until recently was Government Minister for the Environment in Finland.

In the UK we have Caroline Lucas who as an MP has set the bar high for what can be achieved through parliamentary and campaigning dedication. But due to fairer voting systems in nearly all other European countries, people are used to having Green representation in their national parliaments and indeed in Government.

During preparation for that after dinner speech, I had cause to reflect again about my first impressions of the European Parliament, and some of my first actions as an MEP:

The European Parliament building is modern; maybe some would describe it as post modern. It has masses of space huge ceilings, plenty of light, and a somewhat complicated architectural design internally making it quite difficult to get around. It took a couple of visits until I understood that there is no way to get from one end of the building to the other on all of the floors; there are 12 or more. It’s counter-intuitive to go up to come down but the best place to start is always the third floor!

There is huge a welcome given to MEPs; offices and allowances, assistance and services. This compares interestingly with the experience of Caroline Lucas as she has noted in various books that the welcome for a new MP in Westminster is a dreary office-cum-cupboard if you’re lucky, in a long dark corridor in the bowels of Westminster. Very little is provided: maybe a stack of of old letter-headed papers but above all, the pink ribbon for which MPs can hang their sword.

There is no doubt that MEPs however are treated as VIPs. This was a shock to the system for me, and although it’s something I’m adapting to because it’s the reality and I’m getting on with the work, the trappings and treatment do not sit easy. But as an elected representative of millions of people it’s important to take the role seriously and perform the duties assiduously. The perks, like an in-house medical service, are often more about ensuring MEPs time is used as as effectively as possible.

In Europe, there’s a sense of looking outward. The European Parliament expects and welcomes its activities to be scrutinised. There are media and recording facilities for all to use; the Vox Box corners that MEPs can book in order to film and publicise their activities, are where you will have seen some of my impromptu interviews with other MEPs. The tools available to us are excellent and it’s good to be able to reveal and hopefully demystify the work that goes on here. Last week the film makers said probably less than half MEPs are using the facility.

Much has been said about the cost of the European Parliament and there is definitely scope for efficiencies to be made. Like many other European countries where MPs are paid well, respected and provided with access to resources that enable greater efficiency, the European Parliament similarly offers a good working environment. The awareness of the stark disparity between optimal working conditions and typical ones, is uncomfortable but brings to light another issue that needs addressing.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

Another interesting and ultimately satisfying process in the European Parliament worth highlighting: the commitment to gender equality enshrined already in some parts of the institutions. My first ‘constitutive’ meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, (that’s the first meeting whose business is only to appoint the Chair and the four Vice Chairs) was suspended when it became apparent that the political groups nominating people to specific roles (based across the board on proportional representation relative to size of the groups) had all nominated men to those five positions. After the election of the Chair and the first Vice Chair, the meeting was abandoned and those three groups now have to come up with at least one female nominee between them. The commitment to gender equality only goes so far that one of the five posts has to be a woman/man but still it’s there. I’m pleased to report that at the first constitutive meeting of the Transport Committee no such suspension was required. This is the committee for which the Greens get to nominate the chair and Karima Delli, Green MEP from Northern France is in the chair. She will be working with four Vice Chairs from other groups…all men.

Bad:

Despite the Government’s declaration of a Climate Emergency, they’ve done nothing to halt the progress of yet another fossil fuel source, shale gas. The Environment Agency this week put the health, well-being and future of a Lancashire community, in the hands of fracking firm Cuadrilla when they approved a second round of fracking near Blackpool. Operations had been stalled since October following 57 seismic events. This is the site I took direct action at, along with so many others since the protests started on 5th January 2017. Please do visit and lend support to those at Preston New Road if you can.

Where hope lies:

With climate emergencies declared this week in Burnley as well as Manchester, the message IS getting through; now for the hard work and scrutiny as we hold the Councils and Government to this commitment. It’s about getting started now; reinstating good public transport and halting the building of energy-inefficient homes. Green Party Councillor in Burnley, Andy Fewings who proposed the motion said: “This is not about paying lip service to protecting the environment. We need to see meaningful change in the council’s policies including supplementary planning guidance as lots of housing is not fit for purpose which is exacerbating fuel poverty.”

Onwards 💚

 

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