Art, Extinction Rebellion & Brexit

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

Green Study Days 

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

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

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

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

Extinction Rebellion

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

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

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

Hydrogen 

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

 ‘art & Soul

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

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

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

Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile this week

Good

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

Bad

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

Where hope lies

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

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

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

Onward


 

Youth, Truth and Reason

Leading this week’s thoughts and therefore this summary, the global #ClimateStrike that took place on Friday. The scenes unfolding on the news as each location started their day, were quite breathtaking! Young, hopeful, enthusiastic faces filled the screens and the streets with determination and clear messages. I joined two of our North West strikes, in Preston and Lancaster and came away revitalised after a busy week that started in Strasbourg on Monday. Along with fellow MEPs, we took a vote on a Resolution prompted by the potential for a ‘no-deal Brexit’ and the prorogation of UK parliament. Later in the week, on the eve of the climate strikes, Green MEPs led the call for a fracking ban – I hope you got to see the video. I also attended the Lancashire County Council meeting to discuss pensions.

#ClimateStrike

It’s the power of the people that demands parliamentarians address climate issues that have been for far too long, ignored. Nothing has had more impact than the call from the young climate strikers that started with the inspirational Greta Thunberg just one year ago.

On Friday, as I joined two amazing events (Preston and Lancaster) I was so buoyed by the energy and determination I saw. The young particularly, speaking such clear, plain, truths to power; it made me wonder why it is such a surprise to hear such honesty? I think it was Greta who said that it’s because the young have no concern for ‘Power’s’ view of them, so they can speak with without thinking of the consequences to themselves, whereas adults speak with the concerns of reputation etc. Every young hand that took a microphone on Friday, broadcast what we as adults, and those in positions of power, absolutely needed to hear.

I spoke on the day about the significant role each of us had at the #ClimateStrike – in this truly global movement and that it’s actions like this that are going to make the climate transition to a zero-carbon economy happen. I also took the opportunity to thank those who showed the confidence to elect me as the first MEP for the Green Party in the North West – showing a willingness to say yes to change and to getting new ideas from the North West, into the EU Parliament. And it’s in the EU Parliament that I see how hard the Greens are fighting, for the vision we all want to see. The May 2019 elections were called the ‘climate elections’ as the Green surge exemplifies.

What we were saying on Friday to politicians – locally, nationally (when they’re open!) in the EU and internationally was that we want action, not words, system change, not climate change and those changes have to start now.

Our demands are simple:

  1.  No new fossil fuels (and the shale gas industry can pack up and get out of Lancashire right now!)
  2. An end to existing dirty fossil fuels. We need to power down from coal, oil and gas and power up renewables. We’ve got the technology and the answers, all we need is a level playing field. For every pound invested in renewables, we get cleaner energy as well as more jobs; this transition will solve other problems we currently face too.
  3. A just transition across all sectors from sustainable transport systems; energy efficiency new buildings retrofitting our old ones to achieve both environmental and social benefits (end to fuel poverty); changes to the way we use the land, how we grow our food; and a circular economy. Recycling and renewables will bring jobs, reduce harm to the planet and improve our lives – what’s not to love? In essence this the Green New Deal. It’s not complicated but what’s needed is political will.

Everyone who took part in Friday’s protest was on the right side of history – in fact, we were history!

Strasbourg

This week, the European Parliament moved to Strasbourg for the formal and high-pressure plenary sessions when the media attendance (and the marginal Brexit Party MEPs) are in full swing. There was an intense and serious atmosphere when we sat for the day’s business on Wednesday: the President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Junker and the chief negotiator Michel Barnier had been in attendance earlier. The subject: “The UK’s withdrawal from the EU”.

The session was informative and resulted in the EU Parliament passing a resolution which insists that any Brexit deal must include the Irish Backstop, or equivalent legally-binding guarantees. It also calls on our UK government to produce written proposals on a backstop alternative and makes clear the EU Parliament’s support for a Brexit extension in a wide range of circumstances, including avoiding no-deal, an election, a second referendum, ratifying the agreement or revoking article 50. The resolution passed by 544 to 126 MEPs; (NB it is not, however, the European Parliament that has the final say: it is the European Council i.e. the Heads of Government of the other 27 countries at heir meeting on October 17th).

Kashmir

The last day of plenary receives ‘urgency motions’ whereby the European Parliament calls for action on (or condemnation of) human rights abuses worldwide. More powerful than those are ‘plenary initiatives’ which warrant fuller debate and this time I spoke regarding the situation Kashmir; in which the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (comparable in layman’s terms to an EU’s Foreign Secretary). The call includes for the Indian government to reinstate civil rights, and to stop the lockdown. While there has been a long-running conflict in the region, the current clampdown on civic life by the Indian government further jeopardises any diplomatic process achieving peace. In the North West, we have many settled communities of Kashmiri heritage, desperately concerned about their loved ones.

Meeting the lobbyists

Along with Molly Scott Cato MEP, I met with two representatives from Make UK, champions of British manufacturers and manufacturing with almost 3 million employed in this sector in Britain. We talked about how a ‘no-deal’ would drastically hit this sector no matter how well businesses had prepared. Make UK made it clear that in any forthcoming general election Make UK will be arguing the case for remaining in the EU, one of the first times as an organisation they had not supported Conservative Party policy.

Make UK fall into the category of lobbyists. I have formally met with Tech UK and the Federation of Small Businesses. In the interest of transparency, I will be publishing a full list of anyone I meet!

The incoming EU Commissioners

A much stranger meeting was with a representative from the European External Action Service who asked to talk to me about the ‘commissioner-designate’ (that’s the person the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has nominated) who has been earmarked to take on the portfolio for ‘Neighbourhood and Enlargement’. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will, in any case,e be part of the hearings with the said Lazlo Trocsanyi from Hungary. As a group, the Greens plan the kind of questions they want to put to all the incoming commissioners during the next few weeks.

Pensions

At the meeting at Lancashire County Council for the Pensions Committee on Friday morning, I tried again to strengthen our call, as a Local Government Pension Fund, to exert our powers for better ethical investing (albeit this is not the language they want to hear). I asked for a report on how and what is needed for us (investors) to obtain more information about how much the companies we invest in are spending on lobbying. Current requirements of the FTSE companies to report amounts on lobbying are woefully lacking. This means that activities by companies who, despite PR the contrary, may be trying to resist regulation or higher standards are not transparent.

Meanwhile this week

Good

Chorley Council set a great example of how to work with the community together on the issue of our lifetimes, the climate emergency. Councillors and staff coming out to speak to young strikers, with respect and a genuine aim to include their voices in reaching for solutions.

Bad

Lancashire County Council refusing to send anyone downstairs to speak to climate strikers in their reception; instead, the police came and ushered staff out of back doors and behaved as if there was a terrorist threat – rather than Lancashire’s young people calling for help!

Where hope lies

Unsure if it will be where hope lies but the Supreme Court will rule later in the week on the use of prorogation by the PM – will be watching closely to see where this leaves the state of UK politics that currently teeters on the edge of mayhem.

Onwards

 

 

 

Speeches, Motions & Marching

From making my first speech in the European Parliament plenary on clean air on Wednesday, to trying to get a motion again through Lancashire County Council calling for maintaining the current seismic limits at the fracking site, and ending the week in London at the REMAIN rally…it’s been a roller-coaster of a week: from first-time-highs to deep disappointments and anger, to being re-energised by the power and determination of those fighting to remain part of Europe.

Starting in Strasbourg, I spoke in a plenary session on the need for action on clean air; it was as daunting as it sounds -the space is so huge- but good to do. In the North West, over 2000 deaths per year are attributable to air pollution. I stressed the need for a shift to a truly green travel system with support for sustainable urban mobility plans; investment in cycling infrastructure, walking-friendly streets and public transport.

“With attractive sustainable transport and polluting vehicles off our streets, we can improve quality of life and save the lives of citizens across all of Europe.”

I watched a lot of the other speeches too and am in awe of the breadth of interests and strength of commitment by all the Greens; especially fellow UK MEPs. People might have noticed empty seats on the film-clips, as you would in any Parliament where people come for their specific interests rather than all the debates.

A lot was shared and discussed this week about Ursula von der Leyen as she successfully sought election to the role of President of the EU Commission, but with a margin of 9 votes; the Greens voted against her. Molly Scott Cato MEP sums up best why we did:

“The prospect of the first woman president of the EU Commission is a reason to welcome the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen. We are also encouraged by her comments on Brexit, particularly her willingness to grant the UK a further extension and so prevent a disastrous crash out of the EU. However, we find ourselves unable to vote for her.

“The appointments process used to select her was a back-room deal cobbled together to appease the far right in countries of Central Europe where the rule of law is under threat and democratic standards at risk. And on a wide range of issues, from tax and trade to climate and protecting life in our countryside, there is clearly a gulf between her views and the Green agenda for change.

“Had she chosen to set some targets for radical change that millions of Green voters demand, we could see the EU transformed over the next 5 years. We would tackle inequality and poverty, defend people from corporate power, fix our broken tax system and properly address the climate emergency.”

I came back to continue the debate in Lancashire County Council about fracking; particularly Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool. I was left angered by the exchanges and the outcome. Drill or Drop reported:

“Conservative councillors in Lancashire have been accused of using a “wrecking amendment” for a second time to block support for their government’s policy on the rules on seismic activity induced by fracking.”

Conservatives councillors amended my motion, thus removing all reference to the traffic light system (that monitors seismic activity and forces a halt to fracking operations when seismicity goes above 0.5 on the local magnitude scale).

It’s very frustrating that local Tories are playing games with words: they have undermined an opportunity to strengthen the safety and protection for local people, and our calls for the fracking industry to be properly regulated when it comes to seismic limits.

The vote was 42 in favour of Conservative amendment, 34 against & one abstention.

I was atop a soapbox on Saturday and amongst an inspiring crowd as we took to the (London) streets to join the ‘March for Change’ alongside the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ contingent. I used the opportunity to call for people to visit the shale gas site near Blackpool and lend support to the residents who have been protesting there since 5th January 2017. I ended with:

I’ve got a message for the Tory no-dealers and fat cat fossil fuel industry:

This is our world

This is our Europe

This is our home

We will not be divided

We will work together

And together we will win climate and social justice

 

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

I went to the Electricity North West – Stakeholder Engagement Workshop and it proved very informative. Electricity North West (ENW) is the electricity distribution network operator for most of the North West. It owns and operates the network infrastructure (overhead lines, underground cables, substations etc) that transports electricity from the national grid to homes and businesses, and vice versa when energy is produced by domestic solar panels. And they’re vital to the low carbon transition. Unlike energy suppliers, network operators have an incentive to encourage consumers to use less energy (if we use less electricity, fewer infrastructure upgrades are needed!) and ENW plans to spend £63.5 million over the next four years to help businesses, customers and colleagues to decarbonise – check here for further information. It was good to hear their focus on protecting vulnerable customers from fuel poverty, which is a very real issue in the North West. In some wards, more than one in three households are in fuel poverty.

Bad:

Worrying news throughout the week as tensions are escalating in international waters with oil tankers being seized. The word COBRA sends shivers down my spine; this is the government’s alternate war cabinet when things get really serious. Such a shame it doesn’t meet regularly to deal with the climate emergency rather than focusing on the delivery of oil being transported around the world. The situation is deeply concerning but not unexpected after the ramped-up rhetoric and aggressive sanctions against Iran by the White House and the Trump withdrawal from Iran peace deal that was always going to have consequences.

Where hope lies:

An uplifting visit on Friday to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester and meeting with the Chair, Nasar Mahmood OBE and Chief Executive, Maqsood Ahmad OBE. The commitment and ambition of the staff and Trustees to providing open, welcoming facilities not only for the Muslim community, but for a whole range of diverse communities to work and learn together was inspiring. The venue itself is in a beautiful setting. There are two exhibition spaces: House of Wisdom, and Stories of Sacrifice, which is dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in World War One, provide such good information on the contribution Muslim communities have made to science, technology and culture. The conference space, which is being expanded, is open for all groups to hire, creating jobs and community cohesion. Gracious hosts, a warm welcome and a real highlight of the week.

Onwards 💚

 

Imperfections, Elections & Emergencies

Well, it’s certainly never dull or slow! An informative, somewhat disappointing but productive week that started with three days in Strasbourg and ended here in the North West with another Climate Emergency declaration on the cards, this time in Burnley (well done to Burnley Greens working cross-party to push this through). Back amongst friends and family and reflecting on this past week that has proved (if nothing else) that the fight for a genuine, representative democracy in the UK and in Europe, has quite a way to go.

Although we Greens believe that cross-border co-operation is more than just welcome, it’s essential if we’re to stand a chance of stopping the climate emergency, this isn’t to say the European Parliament is perfect. When we fight for Remain, we are also striving to Reform. This first week of the new European Parliament term in Strasbourg, the primary focus of the debate was about who gets the top jobs; it was somewhat confusing (and disappointingly narrow) even for those of us in the midst of it. I come away knowing that although the EU appointments system clearly remains more democratic than our UK system, it too is subject to manipulation, cronyism and vested interests.

Fellow Green Molly Scott Cato MEP summed up the current situation well and I share her perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

“We have always also been strong supporters of the Spitzenkandidat (the lead candidates) system, where each political family puts forward a candidate (during the European elections) who then engages in public debate to establish a profile so that we are not presented with unknown faces in leadership roles. None of these lead candidates has ended up in any of the top jobs, threatening a further distancing of European leadership from European citizens.

“There are many things about the European Union institutions that I am proud of. The way the top jobs are distributed in a stitch-up behind closed doors is not one of them. This time around it meant that the Parliament’s President became an after-thought in a game of four-dimensional chess where the good of the citizens of our continent was barely considered. This is not good enough.

“You may have seen some complaints by Brexiteers that they didn’t get to vote for these top jobs. This is either disinformation or ignorance since we elect our own Parliament President and have a veto over the Commission presidency. As Greens, we will not accept the nominations without a fight. Next week hearings will begin with Ursula von der Leyen who has already reached out for our support. Every MEP will get a chance to vote for or against her, unlike our own Prime Minister who is chosen only by one party. As for the head of the Central Bank, she will be scrutinised by the economics committee where I sit, unlike the governor of the Bank of England who is appointed behind closed doors by the chancellor. Here we see a familiar pattern with Brexit MEPs either not understanding, or spreading lies, or refusing to acknowledge how EU appointment systems are more democratic than those in our own system.”

This week The Green/EFA group will continue to wrestle with how best to re-shape the focus back onto climate action and our other key priority content we want to I’ll keep you posted.

Back home in the North West, I want to sincerely thank the volunteers, the Fairfield AssociationAldcliffe Road Triangle Summer Fair supporters, local residents and Green city councillor Dave Brookes for making a little corner of Lancaster, a hub for the community and adding to biodiversity.

And more thanks for the invitation to speak in Burnley ahead of the motion next week to declare a climate emergency. Good to see Green and Labour Councillors working co-operatively on this focused goal. Plenty of discussion, practical ideas and excellent food.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

There’s a few:

– It was totally possible to take a photo of all those standing for the European welcome anthem without even looking at the few at the back who rudely turned their backs. (Ha I genuinely didn’t notice!).

– Utilising an electronic voting panel made such sense; democracy made simple. Are you listening, Westminster?

– Translators we work with are darned impressive!

– I have an office now as well as a full team of staff.

– I realised that the plenary room in Strasbourg is the biggest meeting space I’ve ever been in where I’ve had a right to speak.

Bad:

Brexit MEPs; embarrassing, insulting to the electorate. rude and a huge waste of money.

Where hope lies:

“In order to defend Europe, we need to show the courage to change it for the better. As the only directly elected institution, the European Parliament has a key role in doing this leap forward,” says our co-president Ska Keller. For the next 5 years, we will fight hard for change and for the European Parliament to open for debates with citizens.

Onwards 💚

 

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