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 💚