Division, Dictators & Democracy

I’m just back from an intense and impactful visit to Palestine and Israel. I will, as I gather my thoughts, write a fuller picture on my blog, but suffice to say I come back with such a deep sense of the injustice endured by the Palestinian people, and sadly, a shared sense of frustration that there are limited opportunities on the horizon to a peace process which will offer relief, mitigation or an end to the oppression of Palestinians.

I was, meanwhile, aware of our own government’s determination on running a wrecking ball through democracy and the very limited time available for a calm, fair and measured response to current Brexit issues.

Closer to home here in Lancashire, one of our oldest football clubs has gone and another is under threat – big business finance has ruined the beautiful game!

And then there are the damaged homes, terrified residents and rumblings brought about by the most seismically active part of the UK these days: Blackpool, home to Cuadrilla’s fracking site.

 

Palestine

The incredibly well-organised delegation trip, arranged by Danish and Norwegian church groups, with a focus on the West Bank, succeeded in giving us a broad insight into the complex situation with regards to the occupied Palestinian territories, and the increasing hardship and oppression of the Palestinians living there.

Our small delegation was given brief but informative access to a range of organisations and perspectives. These ranged from international humanitarian agencies, like the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid; local non-governmental organisations and civil society movements, such as Breaking the Silence – an Israeli group of former soldiers who served in the West Bank;  Israeli government and political organisations – meetings with a politician from the newly-formed ‘centre-right’ Blue and White Party hoping to form a government after the forthcoming general elections on 17 September 2019, and separately, a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization; and most importantly, members of the communities directly affected by the Israeli occupation including urban Palestinian families facing forced eviction from homes in East Jerusalem, and the Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar.

What is now apparent to me: there is no clear or straightforward way to even map a peace process. However, separate to any long-term solution, we, the international community, cannot turn a blind eye to the illegal, dehumanising and worsening occupation of the West Bank, which in itself is destroying any progress being made.

My aims over the next couple of weeks are two-fold:

  1. to find a way to best present the information I gathered – both at meetings which I will hold within the region, and on the website.
  2. to further discuss with cross-party colleagues, and members of my own Green/EFA group in Europe, what scope there is within the EU institutions and particularly by the European Parliament for bringing pressure to bear for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Bolton & Bury

One of the oldest English Football League teams is no more. Bury Football Club and the loyal fans have endured an arduous few weeks as they faced eradication due to what is seen as complete mismanagement by their owner. League One Bury FC have now been expelled from the Football League – not due to the quality of the football or the results of their matches, but after a potential takeover collapsed.

Bolton Wanderers is also a team in difficulty.

Fans had tried to plead for a way to save the clubs but it seems the focus of the English Football League is less about the survival of teams and more about the ability to create profit. It’s been heartbreaking to watch loyal fans so let down.

A local football club is often the heart of a community – the place where a community comes together: it never was ‘just a game’.

In light of this, it seems timely that I had a meeting recently with Andy Walsh, the National Game Development Officer of the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA). 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.

As with so many sectors, radical, deep-rooted, systemic change is needed to return some power to the fans. Good on the FSA for the work they are doing on this.

Brexit & Prorogation

On Saturday I was proud to join a massive rally – and impromptu march – in Manchester with thousands of other people to demand democracy. Due to the weather, one apt slogan of the day: “Not singing in the rain, but singing to remain” was in force. However, the main mantra was Stop the Coup! And indeed for so many people, it does feel like there has been a sudden hijack of all of our democratic norms by our prime minister (and a tiny cabal around him led by the unelected Dominic Cummings). He is upending all the conventions that have held together our very British system of government which has survived without a constitution.

However, I fear that this has been much longer in the planning and is not a surprise move but a part of a much more strategic and dangerous plan to limit the scope of Parliament and hand far greater power to themselves as the executive.

Below are some excerpts of the draft of a letter I am signing from UK MEPs to European heads of government:

“Brexit cannot be seen as a process that only concerns the UK. Aside from the obvious and immediate consequences on our neighbouring countries of a disorderly Brexit, if the UK continues down its current path we are likely to become an extremely disruptive failed state on the European doorstep. We would implore you to work with us to prevent that from happening.

“More positively, it is clear that a process that began with an illegal referendum clearly demonstrates that there is no way that the UK can leave the EU democratically. The promises made in 2016 cannot be kept and, when British citizens see the reality of Brexit, they reject it. We are clear that without deceit, propaganda and illegal activity the referendum result would have been different in 2016. And we are confident that a majority of British citizens now support our continued EU membership, bolstered by the strongest pro-EU movement anywhere in the continent.

“We ask for your support for those of us who are fighting to save our democracy in the UK.”

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

Fylde Conservative MP Mark Menzies took eight years to do it, but after the earthquakes that terrified residents and damaged homes, he has at last called for a ban on fracking. He could, of course, have done the research and reached this decision long ago and saved the residents all this worry and cost but instead of standing up for the community that elected him, he has weakly supported his Party line and only (usually around election time) called gently for caution and safety. Still, at least he finally arrived and is now off the fence and in our shoes.

Bad:

The damage to homes after Cuadrilla fracked and caused a 2.9ML earthquake last week is still unfolding with residents finding it difficult to know who to contact and how best to proceed with getting repairs and claims processed; fears too of insurance price hikes and diminished house values. The aftermath of the quake also shook loose the ugly truth of Cuadrilla’s total disregard (virtual contempt) for the community with social media posts and press releases comparing the fracking-induced earthquakes as similar to dropping shopping bags or melons!

Where hope lies:

  1. Fracking has been suspended in Lancashire.
  2. People like Jill, who I met on Saturday in Manchester, who was ‘angry, articulate and about to get active’. It was her first time ever at a protest.
  3. The resilience of the Palestinian people.

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

 

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