Death Penalty, Thomas Cook & Honeybees

The clock is ticking (albeit an hour earlier than last week) and the stress is showing in UK politics. The bigger picture globally and the requirement for action on climate chaos is so much more than Brexit, and I fear that today’s news of a general election will not bring us closer to a democratic way forward for action on what matters. Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, earlier last week, issues on the plenary agenda for MEPs included Uganda’s threat to impose the death penalty on homosexuals; the demise of Thomas Cook and the need to protect workers’ rights; the protection of honeybees; and addressing clamp-downs on the right to protest.

Uganda

On Thursday, the European Parliament strongly condemned the recent developments in Uganda concerning the rights of LGBTI people. The Parliament adopted a strongly-worded resolution that followed on the Ugandan government’s announcement to introduce a bill that would impose the death penalty on homosexuals in the country. The resolution:

“…stresses that discrimination against LGBTI people undermines the most basic of human rights principles and sexual orientation and gender identity are matters that fall within the scope of an individual’s right to privacy, as guaranteed by international law and national constitutions.

“We reject the use of the death penalty under any circumstances, including any legislation that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality and call on the EU and its Member States to further engage the Government of Uganda to reconsider its position on the death penalty.

“EU institutions will continue to support civil society organisations that work with the defence and promotion of human rights in Uganda, and the EU will pressure the Ugandan government to decriminalise homosexuality.

Known as the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, it was nullified five years ago on a technicality and Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said on 10 October, it planned to resurrect it later this year. African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.

Since the announcement on reintroducing the bill, the Ugandan government has experienced a global backlash. Following condemnations by many international donors, the government has since backtracked. On 14 October, a spokesperson for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni denied plans by the government “to introduce a law like that”.

Thomas Cook

An oral question by an MEP prompted a debate into the liquidation of the Thomas Cook Group in the plenary. My colleague Catherine Rowett MEP spoke in the debate, which then proceeded to a vote on a ‘Joint Motion of Resolution’ on Thursday, covering the key issues from the EU perspective. The Thomas Cook fiasco has put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, of which 9000 are located in the UK, 2,500 in Spain, and more than 1000 in Greece. The fate of these jobs is still uncertain, but it’s likely to have considerable knock-on effects, not only on the tourism industry and on the transport sector, but on the economy as a whole.

Tourism employs an estimated 12.3 million workers and provides at least 5% of all jobs (more than 27 million workers when considering its links to other sectors) and Europe is the number one destination in the world.

The resolution notes that the crisis borne out of the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook Group is not an isolated event and may well happen again in the future. It included calls, therefore, on the Commission to evaluate the feasibility of adopting specific actions and/or measures to prevent situations of this kind from happening again in order to further boost consumer protection and passenger rights.

The Greens also proposed and voted on an amendment which pointed out how unnecessary the recent chaos was and how easily Thomas Cook could have catered for this; the need for provisions on worker protection; calling on the European Commission to study causes and future remedies (also to enforce the provisions of  the package travel directive) and to consider state aid only as a very last resort. Importantly, the Greens reiterated the importance of establishing an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism.

Egypt Protests

Discontent, fear and the abuse of power are behind uprisings that it seems are everywhere; from Chile to London, Hong Kong to Egypt and many more. Uprisings against oppression and for the environment; just individuals screaming out for their rights, the safety of their families and the future. This week, the EU Parliament condemned the crackdown on protests in Egypt and adopted a resolution strongly condemning the Egyptian government’s recent crackdown on peaceful protesters and the ongoing restrictions on fundamental rights in the country. We called for:

“…an end to all acts of violence, incitement, hate speech, harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances and censorship.”

As well as for an “independent and transparent investigation into all human rights violations and for those responsible to be held to account.” The resolution also demands the immediate release of all human rights defenders detained or sentenced during the recent protests.

Debrief with Michel Barnier

I attended two meetings with Michel Barnier as he explained his role in the recent negotiations to bring about Johnson’s Brexit deal. In short, it is clear that the EU have to work with the Prime Minister of the UK regardless of his shrinking mandate. My gut feeling about all of this is we shouldn’t underestimate what horrors lie ahead for the UK as corporate interests step in (those who rub their hands in glee at the prospect of lower regulations and standards) if we step out of Europe.

Meanwhile this week

Good

As a block, the European Parliament has the power and influence and to stand up ‘for the little guy’ – in this case – the honeybee, and our work this week was vital. The EP voted positively on a Green/EFA resolution to ensure there will be no relaxation of regulations on pesticide use so that honeybees can be protected.

Bad

Manipulation, disorder, disorganisation in the UK Parliament that continues to drain and exhaust MPs, staff and resources. Right now, I am very sorry to see that other parties who were previously supporting a People’s Vote, now veering towards calling for a General Election. Disappointing indeed. Nearly all political commentators and politicians in their hearts – know that a General Election will not serve to find a clear way forward nor heal divisions.

Where hope lies

This week I am launching my report: The Green New Deal for the North West – and we have had a brilliant take-up of places from a range of agencies and strategic players, so much so that we weren’t able to publicise more widely. However, with an extension in my role as MEP in sight, I will be able to continue to communicate our ideas of how a radical transformation of how we do business, and a decarbonisation of the economy can address the climate emergency, create meaningful jobs and bring about a better quality of life for all.

Onwards

 

We’re Hiring!

We’re hiring! Due to the extension of the UK remaining in the EU up to the 31 January 2020, we have a vacancy for an Accredited Parliamentary Assistant (APA) to work alongside Gina Dowding MEP, based in Brussels.

You can download the full job description and application details here – Brussels-based Communication and Parliamentary Assistant 28.10.19

The closing date for applications is Monday 4 November 08.00hrs, but applications will be treated on a rolling basis. 

Interviews are being held on the week commencing Monday 4 November 2019.

 

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

 

 

Tackling Racism, Research and Rudeness

The contrasts between the Parliaments of the UK and the EU have never been starker than this week. I watched from Brussels as our UK MPs returned at last to the House of Commons only to end up embroiled in ugly scenes of disrespect and outright misogyny. It feels like we’re in dangerous territory and the situation is failing to improve despite the Supreme Court ruling making it clear that PM Johnson acted unlawfully.

In Brussels this week, the scenes playing out for me were warm, professional and with clear purpose; from the Shared Future Hearing attended by MEPs from many parties from the Republic, Northern Island and Britain, to the inspirational launch of work on anti-racism and diversity in the European Parliament and the huge exhibition and consultation days on research and innovation.

Back home and along with Cumbrian architects, sustainability experts and representatives from other political parties, I joined a panel discussion and Q&A following the film screening of the film The Age of Stupid in Keswick; and then to the fabulous Make it Matter Craft Fair in Cockermouth. I write this as I prepare to speak at the rally in Manchester (during the Conservative Party Conference) calling to ‘Defend Democracy and Reject Brexit’.

Shared Future Hearing

I attended this first cross-party hearing on Brexit in the European Parliament on the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. With a keynote speech from former Irish Taoiseach, John Bruton, we watched a direct message from Tony Blair, had powerful accounts from community groups (both ‘sides’) and young people who had come from Northern Ireland and were reminded of just how hard-won and valued the Good Friday Agreement is.

Organised by Alliance Party MEP Naomi Long, the #BrexitHearingEU warned how devastating a Brexit could be on the peace process. All agreed that no hard border on the island of Ireland could be tolerable and that no realistic suggestions have been made to avoid it. It seems to many that this is a circle that just cannot be squared.

A highlight for me was hearing from Ellie Crawford of the Northern Ireland Student Climate Network and Doire Finn, co-founder of ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ who are determined to ensure that young people across Northern Ireland have their voices heard and gain a People’s Vote.

Anti-racism and diversity at EU Parliament #ARW19

Fantastic energy and commitment to anti-racism and diversity action at #ARW19 this week. It was uplifting to see our own Magid Magid MEP co-chairing and launch this new formally recognised cross-party ‘intergroup’ within the Parliament to address racism and increase diversity, with support from The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a network of member organisations across Europe aiming to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia.

Afterwards, I connected with Laurie and Kim from The Runnymede Trust, the UK’s largest race equality organisation, which has produced some extremely helpful briefings. One particularly welcome is about how we challenge current discussion around race and class. In short, they advocate a public conversation about politics and inequality which builds solidarity across ordinary people to address the urgent issues facing society today.

What we’re up against is that ordinary people from all backgrounds, from the rural towns of northern England to the tower blocks of London, have been divided and pitched against one another. Too often, people are pitched along the lines of Brexiteers/Remainers, deserving/undeserving, British/foreigner, white/migrant/BAME. So I’m pleased to have met these wonderful women. As well as Zlachar from Apna Haq. Short video clips coming soon.

Research & Innovation

Mid-week, I attended a couple of sessions in the European Commission’s research and innovation days – tentatively reassuring to hear loud and clear commitment within the Industry and Digital cluster to the Horizon Europe (research funding) objectives to research the circular economy innovation and climate-related activities. Europe is ahead again in terms of understanding the importance of the circular economy whereby industrial processes must use and produce materials that are inherently recycled and recyclable.

This was a massive event in a Brussels exhibition centre, and I was disappointed not to have had time to visit more stalls or sessions (the future generations of sustainable batteries nor to experience Sea Bubbles – the zero-emission boat on the canal outside). I am ever-more excited to be the Greens/EFA representative on these themes of EU work.

Formal business

Among other formal business, I also attended the Transport and Tourism Committee Meeting. All of the European Parliament’s committees are preparing for ‘hearings’ with the new Commissioners-designate (the new ‘college of Commissioners’ in-waiting). One Commissioner from each member state is proposed by the new President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Each committee can give its consent to, or recommend rejection of the proposed commissioner for their specialist area. The Greens/EFA use this opportunity to test the understanding and real commitment of each Commissioner-designate to the values and climate targets the EU has set.

Supreme Court ruling

The UK Supreme Court ruling confirming that PM Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament was unlawful, was a relief to hear. It had seemed obvious to most that the PM’s motivation was not for the good of the country, but to fulfil his own political agenda.

You can watch my short statement on this momentous ruling hereIn the press, I joined many in calling for Mr Johnson’s immediate resignation, and for Parliament to be reconvened straight away so that it could “begin to chart a sensible path through this national crisis”. Seeing Parliament return though was only briefly uplifting as the atmosphere and behaviour of some MPs were hostile and unprofessional. It was clear Johnson always wanted to make his mark on history – in reality, he has left an unpleasant stain on democracy. I just hope it will fade in time.

Meanwhile this week

Good

I was delighted to be in Cumbria for 24-hours (a treat to be in the rural landscape, even if briefly!) and enjoyed discussions with the crowd who came to the see the decade-old but must-see The Age of Stupid film. Highlighting inaction on climate as nothing less than stupidity, another ten years have passed when we could have been working on developing solutions. So good that organisations such as Cumbrian Action on Sustainability‘s Green Build Festival have been developing and showcasing solutions for energy-efficient and zero-carbon homes. In Cockermouth, the Taste Cumbria fair was busy selling locally made, delicious and healthy foods. Just as it should be.

Bad

The way the House of Commons has looked this week has been ugly and painful to watch. The European Parliament is a pleasure to work in: a respectful, professional and fair workplace with resources, processes and behaviours that go a long way to improving outcomes. My heart goes out to those elected to be in the House of Commons who simply want to represent their electorate and do the job of an MP – rather than facing a barrage of booing and rudeness that only succeeds in further hindering any hope of good-purpose shining through.

Where hope lies:

Reading about the potential for Britain to enjoy 400 billion more flowers if road verges were cut later and less often! Wildlife charities have drawn up guidelines drawn along with highways authorities and contractors that show how this will provide grassland habitat the size of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh combined. Stunning what the little changes can do!

Onwards

 

 

 

 

Success, Failure & Determination

Quite a week that started and ended so brilliantly, with a group of young climate campaigners from the North West visiting the EU Parliament and coming home to the UK, inspired and energised to be the voice the environment urgently needs. In between were the darker times, as along with fellow MEPs, I signed a joint letter on the truly awful situation in Kashmir and discovered more about the antics of 25,000 corporate lobbyists in Europe.

“The young people striking opened doors for me that had not opened in 10 years of climate action here in Parliament.” – Molly Walsh, Friends of the Earth Europe speaking with our visiting group of young climate campaigners.

The Visit

Taking 17 young climate campaigners to the European Parliament was everything I hoped it would be and much more. Fellow MEPs and European Parliament staff took the time to explore with them the way the Parliament here works and although a demanding schedule, it was very much worth it. Treated with the respect they deserved, our group were inspiring to watch and asked questions that would have given Dimbleby reason to applaud!

This visit to the European Parliament in Brussels is the first of two I have planned and if we stay in the European Union, I’d like to do many more. The opportunity to visit a place of politics in this way is rare and valuable, making it available to people from diverse backgrounds will benefit all involved – including those in Parliament who so attentively answer the questions and explain the processes.

The following snippets from just some of our participants make clear why I am so delighted with the outcome of this visit and eager for the next. We will have the full range of feedback uploaded on to the website next week:

Paris Hayes, 18, Bolton

“To be told by MEPs from across Europe that climate strikes have had an impact is nothing short of inspiring and provides hope to climate justice campaigners of any age. Knowing that collaboratively in Europe there is people trying to tackle the looming climate catastrophe signals to us that our future is looking brighter. As we know, environmental issues do not remain within the man-made borders of countries and by working together we can deliver better and stronger environmental protections such as clean air directives.”

Amy Woods, 21, Crosby, Liverpool

“I feel very privileged to have been apart of this trip to the European Parliament in Brussels, alongside so many amazing young activists from across the North West. Our time in Brussels allowed us to gain a greater understanding into the intricacies of the European Parliament. We were also able to have meetings with several green MEPs, who answered many of our questions surrounding the climate crisis – it was great finding out first hand how much our activism has influenced conversation at the European Parliament. In the evening, we got the opportunity to meet with a group of young climate activists from Belgium, where we exchanged ideas about future climate strikes.

“The only downside to the trip has been how sad we all felt at the prospect that other young people from the North West may not be able to have such an experience in the near future.”

Juliette Chandler, 18, Morecambe

“I feel incredibly grateful to all the Green Party staff and MEPs who facilitated our visit to Brussels. It was so inspiring to see people from so many countries collaborating and learn about their work regarding climate change, as well as what they are hoping to achieve in the future.

“The most interesting part for me was talking to MEPs about their experiences, as well as watching part of a meeting of Greens- European Free Alliance. The visit has shown me the impact that our strikes and protests are having and inspired me to continue to campaign harder to prevent climate change.”

Clare Pearson, 22, Knowsley

“The opportunity to visit the European Parliament has been absolutely incredible and inspiring! I think we’re all returning to the UK with extra drive and passion to keep campaigning for our climate and spread the word that the EU is listening.

Meeting the other climate activists from the North West and from Brussels was a great way to exchange ideas and build a network of contacts for future collaboration. We left Brussels already planning on starting up a North West youth climate group.”

Rosie Mills, 18, Lancaster

“I have never felt so incredibly impressed, but at the same time sad, as I have whilst visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. The building itself – the massive scale, the intense security, the modern architecture – and the people inside. I felt as if I was walking into a place of cooperation and compromise, which is so foreign to British politics but so incredibly needed. As a linguist myself, I was in awe at the fantastic translation services and 24 official languages.

“As a climate activist, it was amazing to hear from some of the Green/EFA MEPs how they thought the school strikes for climate were helping to bring climate change to the top of the European agenda.”

Miette Deady, 20, Chorley

“Thank you so much for the incredible opportunity to visit the EU Parliament! It was bittersweet to get the opportunity to visit the European Parliament amidst the current Brexit situation, seeing exactly how amazing what we will be missing out on is, should we leave the EU. Especially with parties like The Greens who support the youth strike movement and environmental activism being on the rise in the EU Parliament.

“Overall the trip has been very empowering, and has instilled more hope and motivation in us to keep protesting and to use what power we have as young people to put pressure on our government for system change that will benefit the environment.”

Kayleigh Crawford, 19, Manchester

“My involvement with the school strike movement began in February and grew from there. The first strike I went to was my first ever protest, and I have been to countless others since. Yet in all the months I’ve spent organising and campaigning for climate justice, I’ve never really felt a part of the bigger picture. Visiting the European Parliament with other climate activists from the North West of England has thoroughly changed my outlook and relationship to my activism.

“I made local connections to other campaigners in my area, but also had the opportunity to contextualise our efforts in an international setting. This combination of local and global was amazing and insanely enlightening.

“The visit was inspiring and gave me amazing opportunities which I hope will carry me forwards with my activism and campaigning. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and all it has given me and I can’t wait to get back to campaigning!”

Grace McMeekin, 20, Clitheroe, Lancashire

“I particularly enjoyed the Q&A session with German Green MEPs, Michael Bloss and Damien Boeselager who were able to explain the goals and objectives of the European Greens in tackling the climate crisis.

“Equally inspiring was talking to Green MEPs from the UK, Gina Dowding, Alexandra Philips, Ellie Chowns, Magid Magid and Scott Ainslie who have proved that anyone can make a difference by putting themselves forward and standing in elections.

“I was in awe of the wonderful institution that is the European Parliament and saddened by the thought that we may soon not be a part of it. I could not have been more reassured that all of our nations are stronger when we stand together and collaborate for a more positive future for everyone.

“Yet I will come away with hope after meeting a group of incredibly inspiring young people who are completely dedicated to fighting for the future of all life on earth.”

Isobel Deady, 16, Chorley

“I found the trip really informative, and it was great to see how the European Parliament works, that even people of completely opposing political opinion must find some common ground and compromise. Also through talking to youth activists in Belgium, we gained new ideas of how to get more young people involved in the fight for our futures.

The trip also made us realise how much power we hold as young people, People’s votes and strikes/marches have helped hugely in bringing the issue to the front of people’s minds and so making it a priority in the parliament. From the trip we gained the motivation to make our voice louder and fiercer, and really push for fast, effective action against climate change.”

Lily Mills, 17, Lancaster

“Chatting and hanging out with young activists from Brussels was really fun, it was interesting to hear about how they do things differently to us, it gave me a great feeling about how incredibly wide this movement really us. Many more of them turn out to strikes, it seems easier for young people in Belgium to strike than it does for us in England. We need to enable people my age to express their views on climate and other important issues so that our ideas and priorities influence the major changes that are necessary.”

Millie Prosser, 27, Lancaster

“Brussels was an inspiring political experience where over half of the MEP’s we spoke to, all part of the Greens/European Federation Alliance group, were also activists. The message from them was clear: that our efforts protesting with recent youth climate strikes give them political leverage to forward the climate agenda. We were informed that the recent EU elections were named the climate elections and that the climate change issue has shot up the agenda in the European Parliament.”

Corporate Europe Observatory

I had a very interesting talk and tour by the Corporate Europe Observatory in Brussels this week. They focus on watching the lobbyists who work here in Brussels and there’s a lot of them – more than 25,000! The aim of lobbyists is essentially to undermine the regulations and legislation the European Parliament puts forward and it’s deeply concerning that if they don’t get away with it in Europe with Parliamentarians, they go back to national governments and put pressure on them! This is so important in terms of democracy and giving power back to the people; this is something I really want to explore more in the coming months.

Kashmir

When in Manchester a couple of weeks ago (March for Change), I gave an impromptu speech at the rally for Kashmir there. Like many, I am astounded at the assault on human rights and the plight of the people of Kashmir. This week in Brussels, the Green MEPs have written a letter to Dominic Raab, on the tensions in Kashmir and the UK government’s obligation to be a strong voice in demanding a human rights abuse allegation investigation, as requested by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This is an issue that we just can’t let slip from the news.

Back in the North West

Lovely to get back to the region and thank you for the warm welcome to the Liverpool Green Party – it was great to meet up with fellow Greens for a local party meeting and catch up with the important campaigns here. Although I couldn’t get to Manchester this time, I did send my thoughts to those attending the Great Pension Robbery rally there. An important event for all women who are suffering the massive injustice of not receiving pensions.

 

I sent the following:

“I am really sorry that I cannot be with you in person today. This is an important rally for the women who were born in the 1950s and so unfairly lost out on their pensions through the 1995 and 2011 Pensions Act. The dilemma of our current political situation is that so many issues are not being addressed. But I feel passionately about the injustice and hardship you are experiencing through this legislation.

I pledge to be a voice for you at a time when this current government is not listening to your plight; a government that does not have the time or inclination to listen to the reality of your experience. Just last week, Chancellor Sajid Javid published his spending review and has not mentioned this important issue at all.

Pension poverty overall, is on the rise again. Austerity politics and our failing welfare state disadvantage the most vulnerable and poorest in our society. Why do women have to bear the brunt of this?

  • By 2020, 86% of the burden of austerity will have fallen disproportionately on women.
  • For women, there is a 40% gender pension gap.
  • British basic pensions are in any case particularly low and fewer women than men have a private pension.
  • It is often humiliating to ask for income – or means-tested additional benefits.

Although Job Seekers Allowance and Universal Credit applications have generally fallen over the past years, there has been an increase of about 115% amongst women who are over 60 and a shocking increase of 413% of those women who are claiming Job Seekers Allowance.

It is often claimed that pensioners prosper, and the young suffer.

  • Poverty amongst pensioners with below-average income rose from 13% in 2011-12 to 16% in 2017-18. This year, one in six pensioners lives in poverty
  • The proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty has the largest increase in among western European countries. It went from less than % in the 80s to around 5% this year.
  • With a lack of affordable housing and rent hikes, pensioners who are renting are affected disproportionally.

It is not those pensioners that make it hard for young people to get a decent paying job, that threaten the climate or fail to build council homes.

This is all bad enough.

But you have been hit particularly hard.

  • In most cases, you were not informed within any reasonable time frame or not at all about the pension age changes that affected you, robbing you of the ability to make alternative plans. You may even have accepted early retirement or redundancy, not knowing how it would impact you.
  • You now have to secure unstable work in an employment climate that discriminate against older, especially female people.
  • You may have to seek that work although you are caring for your elderly or ill parents or you may be ill yourself.
  • You may have to rely on your partners or family to survive until you are eligible for your pension or on other quickly dwindling resources. You may even have lost your property.
  • And often your retirement plans with your loved ones have to be postponed or abandoned.

With this, you have been robbed of more than money, you are being robbed of your health and mental wellbeing. Your plight is a loss for society. Instead of being with your family and grandchildren, following your passions or contributing with your wealth of experience to the third sector, you are forced to struggle.

It does not have to be like this.

It is not a question of the adjustment of the pension age to that of men – that is wrong. But the issue is, that the rise in women’s pension age has been too rapid and that it has happened without sufficient notice. That must be addressed.

Many other European countries are re-thinking their approach and even re-considering lowering the pension age. The UK is implementing the most severe changes and should follow rational thinking as seen with our European neighbours.

Caroline Lucas, our Green MP, co-signed with 187 MPs, an Early Day Motion this year, to fight for the 3.8 million women who are affected.

This October, our Autumn conference will decide on supporting all involved campaign groups and ask the government to step in and stop women of your generation having to live in unjustified hardship.

The Green Party supports the idea of Universal Basic Income, which would:

  • end poverty
  • discourage low wages
  • support unpaid care workers and
  • eliminate the stigma of having to apply for welfare benefits

Should that policy come to pass, I will suggest that the women born in the 50s are the first to receive it.

You, women and men, are all here because you are asking for justice in this matter. I am with you in spirit today and all the way in our ongoing fight.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

For the moment, Scottish courts have found PM Johnson’s suspending of Parliament to be illegal. The key question now is about whether he actually lied to the Queen. The ruling has been challenged and will be in the Supreme Court next week where it will be for them to decide this; while the public look on in absolute astonishment that this is what our politics has become.

Bad:

There is still a complete lack of clarity about even a timescale for democratic events that are unfolding and any opportunity for normal processes to proceed, has been hijacked and thwarted.

Where hope lies:

The youth of today!! I witnessed the energy, lack of cynicism, willingness to learn and challenges of our group and it raises my expectations for the future – as it will be in their hands. This Friday, the Climate Strikes will take place across the world – with students and workers walking out of schools and businesses and taking to the streets to demand action on climate; there WILL be an action near you so please try to make it. A member of my team noted the changing tide:

“My daughter wrote a letter about the Climate Strike earlier this year, to her headteacher who didn’t even reply. This term however, the teachers have got together and are helping the children create a climate focus group in school, and want my daughter to lead it. They’ve started already. They are also approving climate strikes as authorised absences. They’re also teaching fracking in geography. Big improvements.”

*On Friday I will be at the #ClimateStrike in Lancaster, please do come or attend a strike where you are. You can enter your postcode and find one through this link.

Onwards.

 

 

 

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