Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ramsgate Live Exports: Damages & Legal Costs Set to Rise

Thanet District Council (TDC) faces further damages and legal bills for unlawfully suspending live farm animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate. The six-week suspension was imposed by TDC in September 2012 after 47 sheep, judged to be unfit to travel, had to be destroyed at the port.  The suspension was challenged by the exporters  at the High Court in October 2012. The judge, Mr Justice Birrs, ruled that TDC had unlawfully breached European Union free trade rules and ordered the council  to pay damages to the exporters.

Last month anti-live exports campaigner and former Green Party TDC Councillor, Ian Driver, used the Audit Act 1998 to force TDC to reveal that it had paid out £2.3 million in  damages to the exporters plus  £300,000 in legal bills.
Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Driver, it now appears that damages and legal costs  for suspending live exports are set to rise even further.  Replying to Driver’s FOI Thanet Council has revealed that an  additional £90,000 in legal fees  was paid out  in 2013-14,  bringing total legal costs to date to  £400,000. TDC also admitted that “there are ongoing legal matters” with the exporters but refused to provide Driver with further information because “the council's financial position would be jeopardised if the details of any current proceedings were to be released into the public domain”.
Said Driver “I’m astounded by the latest revelations. It seems likely that that the final bill for unlawfully suspending live exports from Ramsgate could be approaching £4 million. That’s £67 per household”. He added “these damages are nothing less than the payment of blood money to people engaged in what I believe to be a brutal and cruel trade. In fact several of the people engaged in live exports from Ramsgate have criminal convictions for serious breaches of  animal welfare laws. I have recently had discussions with Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, and we are looking at beginning a campaign in the European Parliament to amend free trade rules to take account of  animal welfare issues. This would prevent animal transporters   from being able to claim damages if a port or harbour was to suspend or  ban them for breaching animal welfare regulations”.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Live Exports & The Green Party.

For almost 5 years I’ve  been campaigning to stop the barbaric export of live farm animals from the Port of Ramsgate. In that time hundreds of thousands of sheep have arrived at Ramsgate after long journeys from as far away as  Scotland and  Wales, to be  loaded onto a ramshackle  ex-Red Army tank transporter, the Joline,  for a 4 to 6 hour crossing of the English Channel to Calais. From Calais the animals face further long journeys across France and into Holland, Italy or Spain and sometimes into countries outside of the EU. During these long journeys the animals are forced to endure horribly cramped conditions, temperature extremes,  and limited access to food and water. They spend most of the journey standing in urine and excrement and at the end of it, a grisly ritual slaughter awaits most of them. Whatever way you look at it, the live export of farm animals from Ramsgate is medievally cruel and barbaric. In our so called modern world industrial scale cruelty on a scale such as this should not be allowed.

But allowed it is! Section 33 of the 168 year old Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 requires that every “harbour, dock, and pier shall be open to all persons for the shipping and unshipping of goods”. Similarly, the treaties governing  the operation of the European Union prohibit the imposition of any “restrictions on the import and export of goods” between member states. Despite living in modern times,  animals are still regarded as “goods” which means, according to UK and EU laws, that its permissible for their owners to transport theses poor souls thousands of miles  across the UK and EU in appalling conditions in pursuance of free trade. And massive amounts of taxpayers money and unimaginably huge resources have been ploughed, by the British State, into ensuring that Ramsgate Port, the only port in the UK where live exports for slaughter take place, remains open for  animal abusers to ply their filthy, but lawful, trade.


It must have cost the Kent Constabulary at least £2million to
police the  94 live animal export shipments which have passed through Ramsgate Port since 2011. Dover Harbour Board Police are likely to have spent close to a million pounds managing the 40 or so shipments which have passed through their jurisdiction since 2011. This doesn't include the costs associated with planning police operations, or of the logistics, transport and intelligence gathering carried out by police.  Next we have legal costs. I reckon a further £2 million has been spent on preparing the ever growing number of court cases involving campaigners, exporters and Thanet Council. Then there’s the cost to the port owners for additional security when shipments take place and the cost to the Government’s Animal and Plant Agency who supervise and check every shipment of live farm animals at the point of loading the transporters and embarkation onto the ferry  at Ramsgate or Dover.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few weeks ago I successfully forced Thanet Council to reveal that it had paid the live animal exporters a staggering £2.3million in compensation for suspending their cruel trade following the death of 47 sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. The decision to suspend the exports was, in my opinion, courageous and morally justified. And in a court case at Dover Magistrates in February 2014, Thomas Lomas and his company, Channel Exports Ltd, were  fined £5,000, ordered to pay £14,000 costs for committing animal welfare offences which led to the destruction of the sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. Lomas was also handed down a 6 month suspended gaol sentence for animal welfare offences. However, the High Court saw things differently.

Despite clear evidence of animal welfare abuse leading up to the death of the 47 sheep, Mr Justice Birrs declared at a damages hearing brought by the exporters in December 2012,  that Thanet Council’s suspension of live exports “was an unjustifiable breach of Article  35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” which requires that “Quantitative restrictions on exports, and all measures having equivalent effect, shall be prohibited”. So we have the bizarre situation whereby the exporters are  found guilty of breaching  animal welfare rules,  yet at the same time being compensated to the tune of the £2.3million for being prevented from carrying out their cruel trade!. But setting aside this perverse legal illogicality, the important point is that that at least £7million of UK taxpayers money and huge state resources, have been poured into actively supporting a group of a dozen or so men, some of whom are convicted animal welfare criminals, from plying a horrendously abusive and cruel from the port of Ramsgate. This can’t be right or fair.

Thankfully over the past  5 years there has been great support for the campaign to stop live animal exports from Ramsgate. We have received the backing of the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming who have helped to publicise the issue. Thousands of people from Thanet and across the country have become involved with our campaign. They have joined marches, attended rallies and public meetings, signed petitions and took part in peaceful direct actions against the cruel trade. Some of the campaigners, including myself, have been taken court for standing up against the barbarity. Some of the campaigners, including myself, have been subject to years of police surveillance and have been added to the so-called domestic extremism database. But despite the incredible efforts and the determination of campaigners, the evil trade continues and animals are still suffering. So I think it’s time to look at changing tactics  and developing a more successful, hard hitting campaign which will attract more support for  our cause.

Instead of the set piece confrontations with the police and exporters every time there is a shipment we need to look at new more imaginative actions which are not  linked to shipments but which attract regional and national headlines and win more public support. That doesn’t mean we stop protesting whenever there is a shipment. On the contrary we need many more people at port  gate demos. But we also need be taking other actions away from the port and not linked to the shipment timetable to  raise our issues, to win over  more support and have a greater  influence. This could include taking imaginative well-thought out actions across the UK . It may mean  gate-crashing high profile farming and meat/ sheep related events and causing an upset. It could also include taking actions in the  EU  as well! After all its EU rules which cause this cruelty.  Either way the time has come to broaden out our campaign and turn it to a force to be reckoned with just as the anti-fracking movement has done with its campaign of peaceful direct action.

Also we need to be using the political system a lot more. The laws we are fighting are made by politicians. We need to put pressure on politicians to force them to review and change these laws  so that the cruel and barbaric exports of live farm animals for slaughter can be stopped. One of the reasons why I joined the Green Party a couple of years ago was precisely because they oppose animal cruelty and I’m pleased to say that the Party has supported our campaign. Green MEP Keith Taylor has visited Ramsgate and  spoke at public meetings alongside the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming. Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett  joined our march and spoke at our rally in November 2014. During the General election the Green Party published its Animal Manifesto which committed the party to ending live animal exports.  But I think we as campaigners can be doing much, much more on the political front to pressure our MPs and MEPs to make live animal exports a much  higher priority and to begin the process of legislative change.

I have already made contact with the 3 UK Green MEPs, Keith Taylor, Jean Lambert and Molly Scott Cato and am hoping to be able to  persuade them to set up and lead a campaign in the European Parliament to amend the EU treaties and regulations so as to allow opt outs from free trade arrangements on the grounds of animal welfare. They already have, through the Animal Manifesto, a commitment to ending live exports. But I would like to see Keith, Jean and Molly doing a lot more to end this  brutal trade  and what better way than being the leaders of a long overdue  EU Parliamentary revolt on animal welfare.

I'm sure that there are  many  Green MEPs from other EU member states and many  non-Green MEPs in the EU parliament who will work Keith, Molly and Jean,  to build a force for animal welfare  change within the EU. In fact there is a powerful EU Parliamentary Inter-Group on Animal Welfare, of which Green MEP Keith Taylor is a member. This group has recently discussed the export of live farm animals  to countries outside of the EU. I have already suggest to Keith that it might be a good idea for him to suggest that the group should have a special meeting on live exports between EU member  states, especially the UK where a sea crossing is involved. Campaigners from Ramsgate, the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming should be invited to present evidence at such a meeting.  I will also be contacting Caroline Lucas MP  to discuss the possibility of amending the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 and developing support for an end to this cruel trade within the UK  Parliament. I am sure that Caroline should have no problem convincing  Jeremy Corbyn and the newly progressive forces of the  Labour Party to work with the Greens in a joint campaign to end live exports. I will also be trying  to secure a meeting with the Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett to discuss how the Party can raise the profile of the campaign against live exports  from Ramsgate amongst its 65,000 members.

I recognise that politicians and political parties have many conflicting priorities  such as campaigning against austerity, campaigning to protect our environment, defending  human rights and supporting  asylum seekers etc. But the welfare of animals, with whom we share our planet, should not be continually pushed to one side, or seen as less important.
I sincerely hope that by discussing and reviewing our campaigning tactics and making greater use of political processes we can end once and for all a cruel and barbaric trade which has blighted Ramsgate and the UK for too long. Ban live exports.

 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Calls to Close Ramsgate Port as Losses Reach £2.7million.

Former Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, has called for the closure of the Port of Ramsgate  as figures provided to him by Thanet Council reveal that in the two and a half  years since the collapse of TransEuropa Ferries the port has run up operating losses of £2.7 million (1).

Said Driver “Its time to face the facts the port of  Ramsgate is finished. Competition from Dover Harbour, which is undergoing a mulit-million-pound  expansion programme,  and the massive ultra-modern London Gateway freight terminal on the Thames Estuary means that the there’s no possibility of Ramsgate becoming a commercially sustainable port. This is why, despite its best efforts, Thanet Council has been unable to attract any serious and credible industry players to operate ferry or freight services after TransEuropa went bust”.
“In my opinion Thanet Council should close the port as quickly as possible  and begin a review of its future uses. I have long favoured transforming the port into a modern state of the art 21st century marina and sea sports complex which would complement and enhance the Royal Harbour. A modern marina would attract tens of  thousands of new visitors from the UK, Europe and across the world who will spend their  money in the town’s shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. This would be a major shot in the arm for Ramsgate which will create hundreds of jobs and lots of new business opportunities. The closure of the port would also put an end to the cruel and barbaric export live farm animals from the town”.

In addition to the £2.7 million operating losses   £2.6 million was recently paid out in legal fees and compensation to animal transporters following Thanet Councils unlawful suspension of their trade in 2012 and in 2014  £3.4miilion in port charges were lost as  a result of a secret payment deferral agreement with TransEuropa Ferries.
Said Driver “Ramsgate Port’s operating losses, unpaid debts and compensation payouts over the past 2.5 years total up to an  eye-watering  £8.4 million! That’s £140 for every household in Thanet. Frittering away tax payers money on the incompetent management of a port without a future does not make sense. Its time to close the port cut the public’s losses and think again about new uses for this important seafront facility.

Breaking News
In response to a Freedom of Information request from Ian Driver Thanet Council has revealed that the 69 second promotional film about the port of Ramsgate which was unveiled last week and which can be see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9Zfpmb5_98
cost the Council £2,975 or £43 per second. Said Driver surely the Council should have been producing promotional videos immediately after the collapse of TransEuropa Ferries, rather than waiting 2.5  years until losses, unpaid debts and compensation had racked up to £8.4 million.

 
Here's a short video made by AbeMedia  about the Port earlier this year 

Ends

For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766 e-mail ianddriver@yahoo.co.uk

(1)   Spread sheet of  operating losses for 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 attached. To this e-mail. Spreadsheet  is based  upon data released by Thanet Council to Ian Driver during this period

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Thanet's Benefit Sanction Tsunami

Former Thanet Green Party Councillor Ian Driver accuses  Ramsgate and Margate benefit office bosses  of  “unleashing  a sanctions tsunami” against Job Seekers Allowance claimants.  According to the latest Government figures, during the 2.5 year period, October 2012 –  March  2015, 6,342 JSA claimants from Thanet were sanctioned;  an average of 49 sanctions per week. This figure is much higher than  any other district in the Kent County Council (KCC) area and accounts for 21% of all benefits sanctions decisions in the KCC boundaries (2).

Said Driver “even allowing for Thanet’s higher than average unemployment, the number of sanctions are massively disproportionate when compared to other KCC areas . I can only assume that this is because Jobcentre bosses in Thanet are more inclined to apply sanctions than their colleagues  elsewhere in Kent. I suspect they are operating unofficial sanctions targets and  putting pressure on frontline staff  to sanction first and ask questions later. Either way the statistics for Thanet suggest that something very unusual and unfair is happening. The victims of this approach are most likely to be vulnerable and disabled people especially those with mental health problems and learning disabilities”.

Such is the level of concern about benefits sanctioning that the Government’s own advisers, the independent Social Security Advisory Committee, recently recommended that the Department of Work of Pensions (DWP) should  review the santioning process (3). Earlier this year the DWP Select Committee launched an investigation into benefits sanctioning which heard evidence from several influential campaign groups and charities about the impact of sanctions. The Public and Commercial Services Union presented the committee with evidence from serving and former Jobcentre staff which identified a widespread regime of  unfair and discriminatory sanctioning and extensive bullying of front line to refer claimants for sanctioning for minor issues (4). 

Said Driver “there is no doubt in my mind that some of the most vulnerable people in Thanet are being abused and forced into the most severe hardship and poverty  by the insensitive and hard-line approach  of senior Job Centre bosses. This must be stopped. I also think that the Government should  be forced to reveal how many people have died following the sanctioning of their benefits just like the recent figures related to deaths following  work capability assessments”.

Ends for more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766 e-mail ianddriver@yahoo.co.uk

Notes

  1. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/27/thousands-died-after-fit-for-work-assessment-dwp-figures
  2. Number of sanctions per benefits office and per Kent County Council District set out below. Figures extracted  from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/jobseekers-allowance-and-employment-and-support-allowance-sanctions-decisions-made-to-march-2015
 JSA sanctions 0ctober 2012 – March 2015

District
Sanctions
Ashford
1,842
Canterbury
2,768
Dover
2,475
Dartford
3,018
Gravesham
2,579
Maidstone
2,731
Shepway
3,449
Swale
3,312
Thanet
6,342
Tonbridge & Malling
984
Tunbridge
1,190
total
30,690


  1. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/26/benefit-sanctions-review-urged-amid-concern-over-regimes-effectiveness
  2.  http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/resources/rethinksanctions/
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/24/independent-review-benefit-sanctions-urgently-needed-say-mps

 

 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Weaponize My Airport

Politics is a strange thing. Case in point. Last night I found myself in the public gallery at a meeting of Thanet Council’s Planning Committee  with a group of Save Manston Airport Campaigners . Now I’m well known as someone who doesn’t support the saving of Manston Airport and for my opposition to the use of a compulsory purchase order to protect the site for aviation purposes. So why was I rubbing shoulders and exchanging banter with people with whom I would normally be disagreeing?  The answer is a shared interest in military  drones!

Last night the Planning Committee was discussing an application from a company called Instro Precision, a subsidiary of arms manufacturer, Elbit Systems. The company was seeking  permission to build a factory on the former Manston airport site to produce advanced “target acquisition” technologies  to be installed in military drones and other weapons systems. The company is already operating at the Pysons Road Industrial Estate just outside Broadstairs and the East Kent Campaign Against the Arms Trade have occupied the roof of their  Broadstairs factory twice this year (well done you guys!). The move to the former Manston airport site is part of  what is  rumoured to be a  major expansion by Instro Precision.

Save Manston Airport campaigners are worried that granting planning permission for a large factory at the former airport would undermine their efforts to secure  a return of aviation to this site. I must admit to being impressed by the arguments that they used to back to up their case. Even the UKIP councillors, who now control Thanet Council and who are derided by lefties such as myself as being incapable of running  a council, had a strong intellectual command of the issues involved and put over their case in a reasoned and convincing way.

At East Kent Campaign Against Arms Trade Occupation of Instro's  Broadstiars Site.
My objections to the factory were different. Military drones have been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent men women and children across the world. There is strong evidence to suggest that military drones have been used to commission war crimes. And there is no doubt that the use of drones is one of the causes  of the current refugee crisis. Morally I oppose the production and use of military drones and I will take peaceful direct action to disrupt and prevent the development of what I believe to be  a Manston Murder Manufactory on my doorstep.

At the meeting the planning officer said that in his opinion the proposed factory complied with all the relevant planning policies and that the application should be approved. Members of  the Planning Committee took the unusual step of voting against the officer recommendation. There then followed a hasty conflab of politicians, planners and legal advisers who sought to find a way  out of the difficult predicament. In the end it was agreed to defer a decision on the plan pending  more specialist technical advice being brought back to  a future meeting of the planning committee. This means that Instro Precision’s can now appeal to the Planning Inspectorate about TDCs failure to determine their application in a timely manner. The appeal will mean that a civil servant will decide the planning application and will almost certainly agree to the factory being built. Such an appeal will be very costly to the council and its tax payers.

My take on the decision is that because of their election promises to save the airport UKIP and the Tories has little option but to defer the planning application. They desperately need  to  protect their credibility and   play for time with the forthcoming compulsory purchase decision which I am convinced will be a resounding no! But that’s for another post on my blog at another time.

Finally, I  must say that I am seriously fucked off with the new owners of the former Manston Airport site. When launching their vision for the site, earlier this year, they played on the sustainability   and environmental credentials of their plans. At a meeting with the owner’s representatives they tried to convince me that their  development would be ground breaking and a model of best environmental practice. I was very enthused by what I was told. But facilitating the location of  a factory which will produce technologies which will inevitably be  used in the subjugation, terrorising  and ultimately perhaps the murder of innocent people is not my idea of a sustainable, environmentally friendly and green development. Sorry Stone Park, or whatever you are called,  I’m not buying it. You are the landlords of this massive site. You say who and what is allowed on your site. If you are seriously considering including the Instro Precision factory as part of you industrial and residential development on the former airport site you have lost my support.  Thanet desperately needs new jobs and inward investment to provide a future for our children and the former Manston Airport site is absolutely critical to the regeneration of Thanet. But there are many, much more ethical, options open to the site owners than weaponizing the airport site.  Please think again

 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Thanet Council: Alleged Mismanagement Costs £12million & Health of Staff

When I worked as council gardener in London during the 1980s the dangers of long-term exposure to vibrating machinery such as hedge trimmers, lawn mowers, chain saws etc was just being  recognised as a cause of an industrial injury known as white finger. These days its called hand-arm vibration syndrome or HAVs for short. Basically it’s a condition which affects the nerves, blood vessels and muscles in the hand or arm  as a result of the excessive use of vibrating tools and equipment. The symptoms range from numbness in the fingers, throbbing sensations and pain in the hand and fingers, loss of strength and the ability to grip. In serious cases it’s sometimes necessary to amputate fingers. In all cases HAVs has a serious impact upon a person’s ability to do their job properly.

There are many ways to avoid getting HAVs especially  arranging  working patterns to reduce excessive exposure to  vibrating equipment,  or using modern equipment, much of which has  been re-designed to dampen vibration levels. In 2005 the Health and Safety Executive issued The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations which set out exposure limits and provided employers with advice about how to safely manage vibrating equipment and protect the health of staff. I understand that in the decade since these regulations were introduced the number of HAVs cases in the workplace have been steadily declining. But not at Thanet District Council.

Earlier this year the Isle of Thanet Gazette reported that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was investigating  TDC following complaints that some staff may have contracted  HAVs. I spoke  to a senior council officer shortly before the May elections who confirmed the accuracy of the Thanet Gazette article. He also said to me that he believed that the resignation of another senior council officer early in 2015 may possibly have been  linked to the HSE  investigation into the HAVs cases. It has since been reported to me  by another  council insider that the number of suspected cases of HAVs is into  double figures which, if true, raises some serious questions about Health and Safety practices at TDC.

Although I am speculating, reports that HAVs cases are in double figures at TDC suggest to me that there has been a long term institutional neglect of health and safety management at  the council  because HAVs doesn’t simply happen overnight it’s a condition which generally develops following prolonged and excessive exposure to vibrating equipment over a number of years. If this is true  then it’s also a possibility that health and safety  management records may have been falsified to give the impression that the Council had been following HSE Regulations when it might not have been. In this regard it’s interesting to note that  last year and early this year reviews of the Council’s Corporate Risk Register which include an evaluation of  risks in  the services where HAVs appears to have been identified, suggested that everything was fine when clearly it probably wasn't.

Canterbury Crown Court 
So apart from the worrying possibility that TDC may have breached its duty of care towards its staff, where does this leave the council? I think the answer is likely to be "up to its neck in shit" and having to pay out £millions. First up it’s likely that TDC will face several compensation claims and associated legal bills for allegedly damaging the health of its staff. I doubt that these costs will be covered by the Council’s insurance policy as it would appear, from what I have been told,  that  health and safety procedures and regulations  might not have been  followed. It’s hard to say what the total  might be because compensation will vary from  case to case, but I reckon as a bare minimum you are talking about £2 million – perhaps a lot more. Because don’t forget that the HAVs cases and the apparent lack of safety management took place over a long period of time, so there might be many ex-council staff who have contracted this awful condition who will also have right to compensation too. So it’s entirely possible that once this issue is fully investigated and once everyone involved has been contacted there could possibly be  20, 30 or maybe even more serving or ex-TDC staff who have contracted  HAVs  related conditions which may have been preventable had the council followed the rules.

Second what will the HSE do?  Again this is pure speculation, but the HSE Enforcement Protocol says  that it will prosecute employers where serious harm has been caused to staff; where employers have recklessly disregarded health and safety procedures;  where the standard of managing health and safety is found to be well below what is required by health and safety law and giving rise to significant risk. Clearly the alleged actions of Thanet Council meet all of the HSE’s prosecution criteria so my guess is that sometime next year TDC may find itself in the dock for major breaches of health and safety rules and for allegedly fucking up the health of 20-30 serving or ex-employees.

For crimes as serious as these its likely that such a case would  be heard by the Crown Court who under current sentencing guidelines would be able to impose an unlimited fine on an offender. Interestingly, if an HSE  investigation identifies  individual culpability for breach of safety rules or harm to staff or the public  the person (s) identified as being  responsible can also be prosecuted by the courts and may even be sent to prison. Once again it’s impossible to second guess what penalties a court might impose on TDC for its alleged failing. However if what has been reported in the press and told to me in confidence is true then this is an extremely serious criminal matter and I can’t see TDC getting much change from £2million when any potential legal bills, fines and costs are taken into account.

So if my speculation proves to be correct then TDC may well have to pay out, sometime next year,  up to  £4million in compensation,  fines and legal costs for allegedly  causing serious harm to its staff and breaching safety rules. Add this to the reported £2.2 million overspend on Dreamland, the £2.6 million compensation to the live animal exporters and the £3.4 losses from the secret Transeuropa Ferries debt deferral deal and you have the astronomic figure of £12.2 million , or  £202 per household, which some people might say has been wasted as a consequence of serial political and managerial maladministration at TDC.

This incredible  situation suggests to me that  the management of TDC is well fucked-up and that the authority needs to have its governance procedures thoroughly reviewed and overhauled, especially the role of  elected councillors. I have said it on many occasions before and will say it again TDC is, in my opinion, one of the worst run local councils in the country and needs sorting out big time. And although I am angry that this alleged mismanagement might have cost £12.2 million over 4 years, I'm also furious that some of the Council's staff might have had their health screwed up as well!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Green Party's Shameful Silence on Trade Union Bill


UPDATE. Sometime after 3pm on 14 September a statement was published on the national GP website press feed that the party opposes the Trade Union Bill. I welcome this statement. But the fact remains that  this action was only taken AFTER  the  publication of an article on my blog. Had I not published this article I believe that the GP would not have put out a statement on its national website about the TU Bill yesterday. I recognise that the GP has made its opposition to the TU Bill clear in various forums and through press releases to the media. However,  as a member of a national political party with almost 70,000 members I expect my party to have used  its  press feed on its national website to repeat and make clear it opposition to the Bill, especially bearing in mind that yesterday was the day on which the TU Bill was debated by the TUC and Parliament. Publishing a statement sometime after 3pm on it national website on a day when the civil liberties of millions of workers was to be discussed by Parliament and the TUC is not acceptable. This was a serious omission which sends out a misleading message about the GPs strong commitment to workers’ rights

Original article

Today both the TUC and Parliament will be discussing the Government’s Trade Union Bill. This is a Bill which contravenes several  International Labour Organisation conventions which have already been ratified by the UK. This is a Bill  which  will place restrictions on trade union abilities to organise in the workplace and to engage politically. This is a Bill which will restrict  the right of trade unions to bargain collectively and the right to take industrial action. So draconian is this Bill that comments made by trade union officials  on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube about industrial disputes will be regulated and policed  by the state. This Bill is nothing less than a fundamental attack on the civil rights of millions of trade unionists  which makes Thatcher’s anti-union legislation of the 1980s look positively tame. This is a Bill which all progressive political organisations should be opposing including supporting and engaging in peaceful direct action and civil disobedience if it becomes law. 

 
Green Party National Website 2pm 14 September.
I would have expected my party - the Green Party, which prides itself on being a champion of democracy and civil rights, to have had a lot to say about this incredibly important issue. But sadly no! I have checked the party’s national website and our news releases have not said single a  word about the Trade Union Bill in the past two months! Worse still on the day that the Trades Union Congress meets in Green MP Caroline Lucas's Brighton constituency to discuss the Bill; on the day that  Parliament debates this fundamentally anti-democratic measure; and on a day when the news media is alive with this subject,   my party has shamefully failed to make any official comment.

Following Jeremy Corbyn's magnificent victory as Labour Leader on Saturday many Greens have been questioning the role and future of our party.  I for one will not be joining a Green flight to Labour, but if we are to retain credibility as fighters for, and defenders of, democratic freedoms, particularly when the Labour Left is resurgent we cannot afford to make such shameful mistakes as this.

 
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Corbyn, Greens & Refugees

Yesterday was eventful. First there was the fantastic news of Jeremey Corbyn’s overwhelming victory. With a massive turnout of 76% and securing 59.5% of the vote, Corbyn  trounced the unprincipled, self-seeking, careerists who make up Labour’s  establishment elite.  But where does that put the Green Party? Some people are now arguing that this remarkable and unexpected victory  means that there is no longer a need for the  Green Party and that we should all join Jeremy, and the thousands of people he has inspired, inside the Labour Party.

As attractive as that proposition may sound and as much I believe that greens and socialists will ultimately be united, I think that  Green flight to Labour is premature. Because, despite their promises to respect the election result and support their new leader, the Labour establishment will do all they can to  undermine, discredit, de-stabilise and ultimately overthrow Corbyn. Make no mistake this self-interested class of professional politicians will use every trick in the book to retain its salaries, expenses, power and prestige in the corridors of Westminster and our county and local councils. So anyone thinking of quitting the Greens for  Labour will not be signing up to a red/green nirvana, but rather an organisation embroiled in a bloody, demoralising,  civil war which will  have very little to do with environmental policy or  fighting poverty and injustice.

Until this battle for the future direction of the Labour Party is resolved I would urge Green party members to hold back and wait and see what happens. Should Corbyn and his supporters decisively vanquish the pernicious Tory-lite, austerity-supporters who have held sway in Labour for a generation or more, then yes there would  be justification for us affiliate with  or join Labour. But if, as I think more likely, the reactionary elements  defeat Corbyn, then the Green Party and the Labour left should be discussing the development of a new left-of-centre political grouping.

In the meantime, the Green Party still has a critically important role to play in promoting the growth and influence  of progressive political ideas based on a  more egalitarian and democratic world. But  this doesn't  mean we ignore Labour and pretend Corbyn doesn’t exist . On the contrary, Greens must  strive to develop more  formal and informal ways of working with Labour’s progressive forces, because one day soon we will be working  as one to drive forward a new politics based on equality, internationalism and hope,  instead of the politics of  hatred and greed which still, but hopefully not for much longer, corrupt the Labour Party  

Talking of hate, on the same day that Corbyn was elected Labour Leader and the day on which tens of thousands of people marched in London in support of refugees I joined a demo in Dover to oppose a far right march against refugees. Seldom  have I witnessed so much aggression and hatred  against migrants and refugees and seldom I have been at a demonstration which was as tense, edgy and scary. This experience has re-enforced my determination to welcome refugees to our county and to speak out in their support. The truth is that the growth in refugee numbers and  migrants is a  direct result of the economic exploitation  of poor counties by the rich and the  warmongering  policies of our own and most other western governments. And lets not forget that the environment damaging practices pursued by avaricious, wealth seeking,  multi-national corporations are also responsible for  mass migration as climate change begins to cause famine and the breakdown of society. It’s the west which has caused this crisis not the refugees and migrants and its time for a more humane and co-operative solution rather than the narrow minded hatred, intolerance and racism. This is an issue which perhaps  the Greens and a resurgent Labour left can work together on.