Media Archive

2018

 

Asylum and immigration

As regards asylum and immigration systems, the Green Party don't make specific reference to how policies in these areas could benefit Britain. After all, we are an internationalist party who believe that everyone is of equal worth. Why would we want to deliberately deprive developing countries of their skilled workers to the benefit of Britain, particularly when in the same breath we constantly lecture the poorer nations on earth about how they remain in poverty due to their lack of a growing middle class?

Nevertheless, the latest report by the government's Migration and Advisory Committee (MAC) has shown how European workers have contributed £2300 per annum more to the UK than the average Briton, so immigration is already having a substantial positive benefit. The MAC have recommended ending the cap of 20,700 per annum on skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area. In turn and as a result of Brexit, preferential treatment of low-skilled workers coming from EU countries would be ended, causing a severe detrimental impact on industries such as hospitality and the food manufacturing sector. It is very likely, however, that Michael Gove will somehow make an exception to agriculture, given its current reliance on poorly paid workers from the EU.

Staying in the EU would therefore be a good start in protecting the academically proven economic and social benefits to Britain of immigration. With regard to asylum seekers, whether Brexit happens or not Britain remains a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and we must never lose sight of that. The Windrush scandal should be enough to remind us of what is at stake here.

Phil Levy

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 1/11/2018

Child poverty

Official poverty figures are based on the number of families receiving either out-of-work benefits or tax credits, whose income is less than 60% of the national median. But the clearest definition of poverty comes from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation: it is when a person’s resources are well below their minimum needs, including food, clothing, household bills, transport, and social participation.

Between 2008 and 2014, the cost of essentials increased three times faster than average wages. Child poverty is now projected to rise sharply over the next four years. It increases the risk of poor educational achievement, unemployment and low pay in adulthood.

It seems incredible to think that there is any childhood poverty in a town as affluent as Sevenoaks, but the fact that house prices and the cost of living are high means that some families here struggle to pay their bills.

Many of the factors contributing to this problem relate to national issues, and so national policies are required to tackle it. One area of concern is the full roll-out of Universal Credit, which takes place in Sevenoaks next month. It is already causing increased hardship to many families because of cuts in the welfare budget and the complexity of claiming the new benefit.

A government minister has now admitted that UC makes some claimants worse off, and Conservative MPs are among those asking the Chancellor to fund it properly.

A better alternative might be a universal basic income, which the Green Party favour.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 25/10/2018

Public transport

You can probably guess what a representative of the Green Party is going to say in response to this question. But I hope that our views on public transport are shared across the political spectrum.

Here in Sevenoaks, most of us are familiar with the problems caused by near-universal car ownership. Congestion at peak times is unavoidable. The motorways – especially the M25 – are often a nightmare. And the pollutants in the air we breathe are a serious threat to our health.

We need, then, to reduce our dependence on the car, and upgrading public transport is one way of doing so.

For many commuters, a well-organised and cohesive railway network is essential. As we have seen in recent months, there is definitely room for improvement in this respect.

The real challenges, though, are more local. They concern shorter journeys taken by car – to the shops and the supermarkets, for example, or the school run. To ease congestion and clean up the air, drivers need realistic alternatives.

Buses are the most popular form of public transport, but services have been suffering from fragmentation and austerity. Local and national government should now be investing in them, and making them part of an integrated system.

We could also tackle our transport problems by encouraging people to leave their cars at home, and walk or cycle instead.

The Sevenoaks Bicycle Users’ Group have highlighted some of the many benefits of this approach: not just cleaner air, fewer greenhouse-gas emissions and safer streets, but better health and fitness too.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 18/10/2018

Housing development

Housing development in our area has been getting a lot of attention recently. Despite the objections of many residents, thousands of homes are scheduled to be built in and around Sevenoaks over the next few years.

Affordability and the impact on the Green Belt may be the most discussed issues, but there are also far-reaching implications for the local health services that will now be required. The authorities do not seem to be taking possible problems fully into account.

Of course, our greater need for housing stems from a growing population. More people should mean that there are more medical students, and therefore no shortage of GPs as towns and villages expand.

Unfortunately, this is not how the system is working at the moment. According to the head of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the service is ‘haemorrhaging’ staff, and thousands of foreign doctors will have to be fast-tracked to plug the gaps.

Two years ago, the government promised to train five thousand more GPs by 2020. Since then, however, the workforce has actually shrunk. As a result, waiting times for patients are at an all-time high.

Austerity, Brexit and an ageing population have together created a perfect storm for the NHS. The pressure family doctors find themselves under has encouraged many of them to go part-time or retire early. Their absence then puts the system under even greater strain.

The GP crisis we are facing today is not the fault of medical professionals or house-builders. It is the product of years of cuts and poor planning by central government.

If ministers give the go-ahead to thousands of new homes, here and across the country, they must invest in the essential services that run alongside them.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 11/10/2018

The most important political issue

There are quite a few contenders for this title. For many people it would surely go to the division in American politics, with the mid-term Congressional elections only a month and a half away. Can President Trump be restrained by the Democrats, or will he continue to undermine the status quo, both internationally and at home?

Then again, perhaps the most important political problem at the moment is the relationship between Russia and the west. After a period of reduced tension in the 1990s, it looks like the Cold War could be back.

As far as this country is concerned, however, one issue dominates all others: Brexit. The government can focus on little else; the two largest parties are split into warring factions over it.

Whatever agreement the Prime Minister can salvage in Brussels, she is unlikely to get it through the House of Commons. We might well be forced to hold another referendum to break the deadlock.

Brexit has enormous implications not only for Britain but also for our friends and neighbours in continental Europe. We have to get this right, and that is why the Green Party are in favour of a national vote on the terms of any deal we may be offered.

Failure to reach some kind of agreement with the EU would be catastrophic. This is not just the opinion of a small number of disgruntled pro-Europeans, but the considered view of people working in industry, farming, aviation and law enforcement, among others.

Of course, Brexit is hogging the headlines at the moment. It is a vital issue. But we should never lose sight of the longer-term problems we face, here and abroad. And the most important of these – after the hottest summer ever recorded in this country – is still climate breakdown.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 4/10/2018

Mental health

Reportedly, 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. The accuracy of this and other mental health statistics is debatable: medical professionals may not agree on what 1-in-4 actually means, tests may be funded by pharmaceutical companies, and miscalibrated screenings supposedly scoop up healthy people who become anxious. Statistics should be approached with caution.

There is clearly a real problem, however, and there is good evidence that tackling some mental health issues early reduces subsequent problems while saving money for the economy. The Prime Minister has insisted that “tackling the injustice of mental illness” is a priority for her. On the surface this is working: spending is up both as a share of the NHS budget and in absolute terms.

That said, we still face serious shortages and long delays for those seeking help.

Throwing more money at a failing system without addressing the reasons for failure may be a mistake. Perhaps the real issue is ‘wise’ expenditure. Services are being mismanaged and funding spent on ineffective treatments (e.g. only six counselling sessions). More creative solutions may be needed: focusing on care rather than medication, or reducing over-diagnosis by exploring underlying causes.

For the well-being of our citizens and communities, the model for mental health care must change.

I call for supporting evidence-based care and treatment models, for funds to be protected and spent as intended, the expansion of social care, and support for schools to build children’s emotional wellbeing.

As a final note, tackling stress can go a long way towards improving mental health. Worries about money or security can make it harder for people to cope, and increasing suicide and self-harm numbers indicate a trend. Local authorities have an important role, exploring stress-reduction policies such as housing support or childcare.

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p18, 27/9/2018

Antisocial behaviour

The Sevenoaks area is lucky when it comes to antisocial behaviour. Many other parts of the country have far more problems with vandalism, graffiti and so on.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that there are no issues to address here. We cannot insulate ourselves completely from broader social trends and political developments.

One way to approach these problems, wherever they occur, is by strengthening law enforcement. Under the terms of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the police are authorised to disperse groups of two or more people who have gathered in any public place, for instance.

They can prevent certain activities (such as skateboarding) being carried out in a particular area, and prohibit alcohol consumption in public places.

Whatever their powers on paper, though, the police can take effective action against antisocial behaviour only if they have proper support from the government. And in this respect the latest report from the National Audit Office makes for uncomfortable reading.

It says that funding for the police has fallen 19% since the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took over in 2010, with 45,000 job losses. Fifteen per cent of crimes resulted in a charge or summons in 2015; today that figure has fallen to just 9%.

Our ability to enforce the law is being compromised, then. But so too are possible ways to prevent antisocial behaviour in the first place.

Youth clubs are a good example. Where they exist, they can provide young people with structured social activity that keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.

Since 2010, however, more than six hundred of these centres have closed in Britain. Council funding for youth services has been cut in half.

This is a false economy on a national scale. The responsibility lies not with local authorities but (as so often) with central government.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 20/9/2018

Vaccination

The spread of preventable diseases is a growing problem, as a recent report in the Chronicle made clear. It said that more than forty-one thousand people across Europe were infected with measles in the first six months of this year, with thirty-seven people dying as a result.

The head of immunisation at Public Health England is quoted as saying that the majority of cases here were in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine when they were children.  She urged everyone to make sure they were up to date with it, especially when travelling abroad.

How can this be happening in 2018? Since its introduction in the 1970s, the MMR has hugely reduced the incidence of measles in particular, saving thousands of lives.

The answer might be found in the spread of false ideas about the effects of this vaccine. Although soon discredited, these were given a lot of publicity at the time, and led some parents to reject immunisation for their children.

Twenty years on, we have the internet to keep those falsehoods alive. No wonder there have been calls for vaccinations to be made mandatory, as they are in France, for example.

To avoid this outcome, we need to ensure that everyone involved has the best possible understanding of why this kind of immunisation is important. These diseases can be prevented with parents’ help, but informed consent is surely better than compulsion.

The eradication of polio forty years ago demonstrated how effective a well-designed immunisation campaign could be. Today the same approach should be used for the MMR and the other vaccines recommended by medical authorities.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 13/9/2018

Drug addiction

Addiction can take a variety of forms. There are alcoholics, smokers, compulsive gamblers. Many of us are hooked on the internet, in some sense. And, of course, there are people who are addicted to illegal drugs.

The debate is about how we treat addicts, of whatever kind. Are they all criminals, to be punished by imprisonment – or only some of them? Given their mental state, how responsible are they for their actions?

In practice we treat these people very differently according to the nature of their addiction. Tobacco and alcohol, for example, do far more damage than illegal drugs, but they are regarded as a public-health issue rather than a matter for the police.

Government agencies will generally support smokers and problem drinkers in their attempts to break free of addiction. They will not try to arrest them.

As the question suggests, this is an approach that could be extended to users of drugs such as heroin. It has certainly succeeded in reducing harm in other countries, such as Portugal and Switzerland.

In the 1990s an experiment in northern England demonstrated the benefits of medical supervision for addicts and the wider community. The criminals who pushed and profited from the drugs disappeared. Burglary and other acquisitive crime fell dramatically. And fewer people were poisoned or died from overdoses.

Helping addicts to recover would not mean a free-for-all in the drugs market. The Green Party want the unauthorised production, importation and marketing of substances controlled since the 1970s to remain unlawful.

Fines, confiscation of assets and prison sentences should continue to be imposed for serious drug-trafficking offences.

It is the treatment of individual addicts that needs to change. The government have hinted that they want to move in this direction, but now they have to act, using evidence rather than dogma.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 6/9/2018

Gaming and gambling

Online gaming is a recent focus of the news, ranging from by-lines in shock stories (earlier this month a man who stole a plane expressed confidence in his flying on the basis that he'd ‘played some video games’), to debate on explicit gambling practices emerging within games. These practices include loot boxes, in-game purchases, and giving the first taste for free.

For the uninitiated, ‘loot boxes’ are where players buy items, often with real money, with no guarantee of what they’ll get. This is similar to weaponised behavioural psychology in gambling (think fruit machines) creating expectations that continued ‘betting’ will eventually reverse losses.

Perhaps the lines between gaming and gambling are blurring. Systems like the loot box are geared towards exploiting and profiting from addiction.

Although online gaming is becoming more prevalent, this question isn’t new. An established body of research exists in which video games have been associated with potentially problematic gambling behaviours (e.g. a 1996 study by McGill University, Montreal).

On the other side of the coin, more recent studies suggest `contemporary video games are not, in themselves, associated with increased potential for problematic gambling’ and that other factors are at play.

Should the government step in?

There is progress on the policy front, with Parliament debating changes to gambling laws to include loot boxes that target children. Other European countries (Netherlands and Belgium) have recently declared loot boxes to be gambling and therefore, to protect players, illegal.

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions.

No doubt gaming addiction itself exists; but perhaps a broader question is whether this is problematic. As I can testify, married to someone who has been an habitual ‘gamer’ since childhood, gaming can teach a multitude of critical thinking skills.

As to whether online gaming will lead to gambling - the jury is still out.

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 30/8/2018

Environmental concerns

The politicians are supposed to be on holiday now, but arguments about Brexit are still with us. A certain ex-Foreign Secretary is trying to attract our attention. And President Trump has not gone away or stopped tweeting.

Yet something has changed this summer. At first it was just pleasant weather: sunshine, heat, not a cloud in the sky. Three days, four days, a week or more, and the novelty began to wear off. Sleep was difficult, the farmers worried, and hosepipe bans were introduced.

This was not like 1976, when a long heatwave affected northern Europe but nowhere else. In the last couple of months forty-degree temperatures have been killing people in Spain, Japan and many other countries. There have been huge fires all round the world – in Greece, Sweden, California. It may be winter in the southern hemisphere, but Australians are in the grip of a terrible drought.

As one commentator put it, 2018 has been the year when global-warming scepticism died. It is now impossible to ignore the way the climate is breaking down as a result of human activity. Even newspapers that previously dismissed or downplayed the threat have come round to this scientific view.

The greatest danger we face comes from runaway warming. If the permafrost starts to thaw, for example, it releases methane – a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The planet will then get hotter still.

It is not too late to solve this problem, but we do need to take urgent action. We must replace dirty energy supplies with renewables as quickly as possible, clean up our industries, and protect our forests.

Brexit, Trump and other political concerns may grab the headlines. They pale into insignificance compared with the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 23/8/2018

Another referendum

There is much talk at the moment about a ‘second’ European referendum. If it went ahead it would of course be the third. The first was in June 1975, when the country voted two to one in favour of staying in.

At some point that decisive verdict began to be ignored. As early as 1983, for example, Labour were promising to pull Britain out of Europe if they won the general election. And by the 2000s UKIP and the Conservatives could propose another referendum as though it was a completely novel idea.

David Cameron had famously complained about his party ‘banging on’ about Europe, but in 2015 he decided to commit his government to an in/out vote that would end his own career.

The truth is that the referendum was called not in the national interest but as a way to heal Tory divisions and fend off the threat of UKIP. It certainly achieved the second of these objectives, but – as we have seen in recent months – it was enormously damaging to the Conservative party as well as to the country as a whole.

The Prime Minister now finds herself in an impossible position. She lacks a clear Commons majority and will struggle to get her preferred version of Brexit through Parliament, even if the remaining EU states agree to it. A no-deal outcome, on the other hand, is widely regarded as suicidal.

In this situation another (‘second’) referendum may be the only way to break the deadlock. It could differ from 2016 by giving the electorate three options: to stay in the EU, to leave on the terms negotiated by the government, or to leave without a deal of any kind.

Some people, here in Sevenoaks and elsewhere, would be certain to oppose another vote. But we may have no alternative.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 16/8/2018

Social housing

The Green Party starts from the premise that affordable accommodation is a basic human right, and it is from this standpoint that the answer to this question should be considered.

Sevenoaks District Council have recognised in their local consultation plan that more social housing is required, but it is difficult to detect a groundswell of opinion in the region that would allow this to happen to any substantial effect. Are local councillors really willing to take on vested interests that will always raise objections and put obstacles in the way of social housing provision?

Local politicians need to start pushing against policies that continually incentivise rising house prices (such as Right to Buy) and instead advocate measures that will reverse this process, such as a Land Value Tax and stricter rent controls.

We also need to recognise that housing policy needs to run alongside action that secures decently paid employment, so that councils have a long-term source of rental income – instead of the present situation whereby private landlords are effectively being subsidised by the taxpayer via housing benefit.

For far too long people on benefits have been demonised by the media as work-shy scroungers whilst these subsidies to the better off have been wilfully ignored. Volunteers at food banks have witnessed for themselves the psychological impact this has had on people.

So let us turn our fine words into positive action as we implement our local housing plan for 2015 to 2035.

Phil Levy

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 9/8/2018

Local economy

In recent years a lot of attention has been paid to this issue. The British high street is threatened by online shopping, and with it local services such as cafes and restaurants.

A thriving local economy is good for everyone. People’s needs can be met close at hand, without long, expensive and environmentally damaging journeys. Commuting can be minimised. And the young may not need to leave the area in search of work.

Local Councils, having knowledge of their potential, are uniquely placed to lead change.

As the UK becomes an increasingly digital-led economy, providing computing skills in schools and adult education is vital in allowing local businesses to compete nationally. Skill funding, such as in recent ‘City Deals’, aligns with Green Party policies in empowering employers and councils to influence and maximise employment.

Investment in transport to ensure efficient working of the economy is most effective at a local council level. National institutions lack local knowledge needed to provide innovative and sustainable transit. Who isn’t for reduced energy consumption and smoother commutes?

The Green Party strongly believes in promoting economic management at the local level. Simple incentives — funding advice, business meets, workspaces — can help strengthen local businesses. Partnering with local colleges can ensure skills meet local social, economic and environmental needs.

Good town planning shouldn’t be overlooked, and shaping communities to reflect local priorities can prevent 'brain-drain'. Commitment from planning departments can define the difference between flailing high streets and vibrant micro-economies.

On the broader stage, the government should consider greater freedom to authorities to stimulate growth, ranging from permitting greater discretion to charge for services, to autonomy in asset management to boost housebuilding.

In accordance with Green Party objectives of bringing decision making to the most appropriate level, and promoting community self-reliance, revival of the local economy is fundamental.

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 2/8/2018

Cannabis legalisation

Cannabis was banned in Britain in the 1970s because it was mainly being smoked for recreational purposes. Lawmakers were concerned about the impact on users’ mental and physical health.

In practice, the ban has also prevented people benefiting from the drug’s reported medicinal properties, such as pain relief.

Unfortunately, prohibition has failed. Nearly fifty years on from the Misuse of Drugs Act, cannabis is still widely available here and around the world.

It seems to have become more potent, and therefore more damaging to the brain, while criminals have profited from a flourishing black market.

As a result, a growing number of states have decided to legalise the drug, most recently Canada. One minister there described prohibition as an ‘abject failure’.

The police, he said, had been spending between two and three billion dollars a year trying to enforce the law, but Canadian teenagers were among the heaviest users in the western world.

The new policy will regulate and tax the consumption of cannabis, and bar its sale to under-18s. It is an approach that has worked reasonably well for another drug – alcohol – for decades.

As a first step, the Green Party here would decriminalise small-scale possession of cannabis for personal use. We would then set up a Royal Commission with a view to establishing a fully legalised, regulated and controlled trade.

Successive governments have based their drug policies not on evidence or scientific advice but on political calculation. Conservatives want to show how tough they are; Labour are afraid of appearing soft.

As that Canadian minister put it, ‘we simply have to do better’.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 26/7/2018

Brexit implications

This is a very difficult question to answer, because at the moment nobody knows what form Brexit will take.

The government have finally put forward their proposals for Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, but they have come in for a lot of criticism, including from members of the Prime Minister’s own party. Once the plan has been discussed in Brussels it is likely to change in ways that Brexit supporters will find even less palatable.

It is hard, then, for local councils to prepare for March 2019 and beyond. They need to consider a range of different scenarios.

The worst of these for people in Kent would be a no-deal Brexit. There would have to be new customs arrangements at the ports, for instance, that could delay goods traffic and lead to long queues.

The County Council may have made plans to address this and other issues, but (as reported in the Chronicle) they are refusing freedom of requests about them. Let us hope that they are very busy behind the scenes.

The government have recognised that a deal of some kind would be preferable to none at all. But they continue to insist that they could walk away from the negotiations if they think the EU are being unreasonable.

For local councils – and everyone else – the best outcome must be a settlement with our European neighbours that would allow us to trade freely with them, as at present.

A host of Brexit-related problems would still need to be solved, however.

Many businesses rely upon workers from other EU countries, for example. How easy is it going to be to recruit and retain them when we leave?

We should not be blaming councils for their failure to prepare for Brexit. We should be blaming the government.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 19/7/2018

Litter

On the whole, litter does not seem to be a major problem in Sevenoaks. Most people here are aware of how pleasant it is to live in a tidy town.

But when litter does appear it can be damaging to the environment as well as unsightly or dangerous.

A great deal of it is plastic packaging, for example, which is used once and then thrown away. It contributes to a worldwide problem that has been much in the news recently.

Every year millions of tonnes of plastic end up in our seas and oceans, where it can take centuries to break down, damaging marine life and getting into our food chain.

To their credit, supermarkets and others are now starting to minimise their use of this convenient but almost indestructible material. It cannot happen too soon.

At a local level, providing more opportunities for recycling would be a positive development. Litter bins should have clearly labelled sections for paper products, glass, plastics and so on.

Anything that does end up on the street needs to be picked up as quickly as possible, before it starts a trend.

More broadly, we should be thinking about how much rubbish we are all creating in the first place. Our present consumption of the world’s resources is huge and ultimately unsustainable. Vast amounts are wasted.

The Green Party’s approach to the problem can be summarised in three words: reduce, reuse, recycle. Cutting back on packaging is a step in the right direction, but a lot more needs to be done if we are to keep the environment safe and healthy.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 12/7/2018

Political engagement

It took our ancestors many years of struggle to make Britain a democracy. True, our head of state is still unelected, as are members of the House of Lords. The voting system could be a lot fairer. But we should be glad to be living in a country where the government can be changed so easily and so regularly.

It is disappointing, then, that turnout in national and (especially) local elections is sometimes not as high as it could be. The right to vote is a precious gift that millions of people around the world would be delighted to receive. How can more of us here be encouraged to use it?

The most important thing is that voting should be seen to make a difference. The electorate in a so-called safe seat may not bother to turn out, even if they feel strongly about the issues.

In Sevenoaks, for example, the Conservatives have long been the dominant party. With a system based on proportional representation, however, more residents would have a chance of making their voices heard, both locally and nationally.

In the 2016 referendum turnout across the country was significantly higher than usual. People knew that everyone’s vote had the same value, wherever they lived.

The wider democratic context also needs to be taken into account. Inheritance, patronage and religious office should no longer determine membership of our second legislative chamber.

Voters might be happier if the political parties offered them clear, honest and distinctive choices at election time. Jostling to occupy the ‘middle ground’ narrows our options and stifles debate.

After all, it is open, well-informed debate that keeps a democracy healthy. Seeing themselves as active citizens – rather than passive subjects – would certainly encourage more people to participate in the electoral process.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 5/7/2018

Voting age

The Green Party believe that lowering the voting age to 16 would strengthen our democratic system.

This year we have rightly been celebrating the Act of Parliament that gave women the vote a century ago – the culmination of a long and hard-fought campaign.

But one important aspect of the reform is rarely mentioned. The Act applied only to women over 30, at a time when men could vote at 21. MPs argued that there was a difference in maturity between the sexes.

When in 1969 the voting age in Britain was lowered, from 21 to 18, there was again concern that young people would be unable to make wise political choices.

Today it is taken for granted that both women and men have the right to vote at 18. It has become the norm across the western world.

We need to bear this historical background in mind when we discuss lowering the age to 16. Opponents of change tend to say that the new voters would be immature and easily led.

The argument in favour is a simple one. If sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds can marry, pay direct taxes and even risk their lives by joining the army, they should have a say in political decisions about these and other matters.

This extension of the franchise would help to increase young people’s engagement with current affairs, so that they can contribute to political debate alongside older voters. In general, the broader the electorate the more democratic the system is.

Austria, Malta and Scotland have already achieved positive results by lowering their voting age to 16. It is a reform we should be embracing too.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 28/6/2018

The railways

This may be one of the few Talking Points on which all the contributing parties agree. Yes, our local rail network could definitely be improved.

At the time of writing, hundreds of trains are being cancelled and thousands of passengers seriously inconvenienced right across the country. People in the north of England have suffered the most, but there have also been major problems in our area.

Our Conservative MP has demanded an appropriate response to the crisis from the relevant ministers. According to a report in the Chronicle, Sir Michael Fallon spoke of his ‘raw anger’ at the way the introduction of a new timetable had been handled.

The smooth running of the railways is of course extremely important to all of us here in Sevenoaks. When things go wrong they have an impact both on individuals and on the wider economy.

To work well, the network has to be joined up – not just physically, but at the national level. The Green Party would therefore take the entire system into public ownership.

A single integrated service would benefit from economies of scale and have greater purchasing power than the ragbag of operators we have at the moment. All profits would go back into the network rather than to private shareholders.

There would be management continuity instead of the disruption caused when franchises are lost or replaced. And we would not need to persuade one rail company to make up for the failings of another, as happened recently.

Many countries (such as France and Germany) already understand this. They run very efficient publicly-owned rail networks.

There is a growing consensus that we should now follow their example.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 21/6/2018

Local councillors

Sometimes there are few if any links between a community and their elected representatives.

I am sure we have all heard of local political parties that have had a non-resident parliamentary candidate imposed upon them by national headquarters, for example.

Or the local party themselves might choose a young rising star to represent them. Some very prominent Labour MPs, for instance, began their careers at Westminster after being selected for safe seats in the north of England, despite their own southern background.

Local councillors, on the other hand, are almost always long-term members of the communities they are elected by. They represent a smaller area than MPs and tend to have more detailed knowledge of it.

Because they live in the district they may be personally affected by the success or failure of the policies they promote. And residents can contact them relatively quickly if they need to.

So far so good. There are many excellent councillors up and down the country, of every political persuasion. Like MPs, they are trusted to be genuine representatives of their voters, rather than mere delegates.

As the question implies, however, there are limits to local democracy. At the moment councils are simply not allowed to pursue policies central government disapproves of.

That prohibition applies particularly to finance. Yet, without the flexibility to raise funds as they see fit, councillors are hamstrung when they try to improve public services.

It is an issue we have touched upon before. Whenever possible, local problems should have local solutions, democratically arrived at. Only then can we say that councillors are fully representing their communities.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 14/6/2018

Grammar schools

State schools in England are facing their worst financial crisis since at least the 1980s. The overall budget may still be growing, but it is failing to keep pace with student numbers.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, between 2015 and 2022 there will have been a 7% real-terms reduction in spending per pupil. Headteachers across the country have been forced to make drastic and damaging cuts.

Even Conservative MPs have begun to complain about the shortage of funds their local schools are having to deal with.

And in a crisis of this magnitude, what do we hear from the government? That they are giving fifty million pounds not to the thousands of struggling primaries and comprehensives, but to a hundred and sixty grammar schools.

It is difficult to understand the Prime Minister’s obsession with selective education. Her Conservative predecessor said (correctly) that parents did not want their children ‘divided into sheep and goats’ at the age of eleven. In the 1970s Margaret Thatcher did more than any other Education Secretary to end selection where it still existed.

Mrs May knows that she does not have the numbers in Parliament to reintroduce the eleven-plus in every part of the country, and this announcement is her attempt to keep an outdated system alive.

Grammar schools do not increase social mobility. If anything, they reduce it, by boosting the advantages their overwhelmingly middle-class pupils already enjoy. Poorer children are notable by their absence, as shown by the well-below-average numbers entitled to free school meals.

Nor is there an academic upside to this. The results achieved in Kent’s eleven-plus system, for example, have been consistently worse than those in similar non-selective areas.

It is time that the government recognised that every school – selective or not – deserves their full support.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 7/6/2018

Local elections

Yes, I think people are bound to be influenced by national politics when casting their votes in council elections. After all, candidates usually have the same party label whether they are campaigning at a parliamentary or a local level.

There is nothing wrong with this sort of electoral behaviour. We should always be able to use the ballot box to let MPs know how we feel about them in mid-term.

After eight years of Conservative-led government we might have expected the opposition to make dramatic gains this May. In fact, their success was limited. In some areas they actually lost support.

One national issue that clearly had an impact was Brexit. The Conservatives seem to have been the main beneficiaries of UKIP’s collapse, while Labour’s ambivalence on the subject won them few friends.

The Green Party did well across the country, winning a record number of council seats.

Of course, local elections should be mainly concerned with local issues, and in some areas that continues to be the case. In many others, however, changing your councillors will no longer have much impact on the provision of public services, for example.

Increasingly it is central government that calls the shots, by limiting councils’ spending and revenue-raising powers.

The Green Party would like to see local authorities given greater freedom to make their own decisions, without constant interference by Westminster. We believe in the principle of subsidiarity: nothing should be done centrally if it can be done equally well, or better, locally.

At the moment many people are reluctant to vote in council elections that make no difference to their lives. Our approach would give them real influence again, and encourage them to participate in the local democratic process.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 31/5/2018

Green Belt

The clue is in the name. If you want to preserve and safeguard the green belt, you need to support the Green Party. No one is more committed to a healthy environment than we are.

A new report has highlighted the importance of green spaces to our mental and physical well-being. According to the charity Fields in Trust, they save the NHS at least a hundred and eleven million pounds a year.

Increasingly, however, the green belt is under threat.

Yes, there is a housing shortage, locally as well as nationally. The population is continuing to grow, prices have risen, and young people in particular are struggling to afford their own homes. But there are different ways of responding to this increased demand.

One very damaging approach is to allow landowners and developers to make large sums of money by building upmarket houses in desirable locations, and almost nothing else. They can ride roughshod over the green belt by referring to the ‘exceptional circumstances’ the government’s planning guidance permits.

An alternative (and far better) approach is to focus on building genuinely affordable homes for local people. Brownfield sites should be used, and whenever possible they should be close to public transport, to minimise congestion and air pollution.

Recycling land in this way makes the most of our limited space. On average, brownfield sites are developed six months quicker than greenfield ones. And as towns change, new opportunities emerge.

The green belt is an essential resource for urban areas across the country. Its existence here undoubtedly makes Sevenoaks a more attractive place to live and work, and we need to protect it.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 24/5/2018

Council tax rises

Taxation is not a burden, as some other parties describe it, but an essential attribute of a civilised society. It pays for a wide range of public services, from education, health and care in old age, through to roads, the police and the military.

Local taxes are an important part of this system. The issue is not that we are paying too much, as the question implies, but that generally we need to spend more. When we drive, walk or cycle on our potholed streets, for example, can we be satisfied with the level of public investment?

The reality is that, once again, this is a national issue. From 2010 onwards, the Coalition government drastically reduced the subsidy given to local authorities, and limited their ability to raise council tax to make up the difference. This is projected to continue until at least 2020.

Even Conservative-controlled councils have now objected to the ongoing cuts. They know that this year’s rises will do little or nothing to offset the damage already inflicted.

As a first step towards better services, then, central government must abandon its failed austerity policies. But we might also take this opportunity to consider how we should raise money locally in future.

The council tax dates back to the early 1990s, and is still levied on the basis of the valuations made at that time. Properties in the top bands often pay little more than those in the lowest ones.

Instead, the Green Party favours a fair and progressive land-value tax, which would raise about the same amount as the council tax and uniform business rate combined.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 17/5/2018

Safer streets

The greatest danger on our streets here in Sevenoaks comes not from muggers or other criminals but from speed. In 2016, for example, sixty-seven people were killed or seriously injured by collisions on local roads.

Vehicles travelling at thirty miles an hour are significantly more lethal than those that stick to twenty. More and more towns, both in this country and abroad, have therefore lowered their speed limits, and we ought to consider doing the same.

A change of this kind has to be introduced carefully. Traffic-calming measures need to be brought in alongside the limit, and road users should be given a little time to get accustomed to the new situation.

Lower speeds would make both motorists and pedestrians safer. Cycling and walking would become more attractive options for many people. And the most vulnerable groups – children and the elderly – would be the biggest winners.

The school run might also be affected in a positive way by a twenty-mile-an-hour limit.

Back in the 1970s, 80% of British seven- and eight-year-olds went to school on their own. Now that is almost unthinkable.

Parents routinely ferry their children in at the beginning of the day and pick them up again in the afternoon, with all the congestion, danger and exhaust fumes that this entails. It costs our economy tens of billions of pounds a year.

A safer, quieter, low-speed Sevenoaks, especially one with well-supported public transport, could transform this situation for the better.

Many people associate the phrase ‘safer streets’ with crime and its prevention. In this town, however, we need to focus on traffic.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 10/5/2018

Pressure on health services

On the face of it, there is a clear and logical answer to this question. Better technology can only do so much. If local health services come under greater pressure, we will need more doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

The existing NHS workforce cannot be expected to put in longer hours than they do at the moment. Everyone is already doing a tremendous job, despite inadequate funding and pay freezes.

The shortage of nurses is a particular concern. The government’s scrapping of training bursaries has led to a sharp fall in applications, while record numbers are leaving the profession.

Recruiting staff from overseas is also becoming more difficult as Britain leaves the European Union. A new immigration policy is not yet in place, but it is unlikely to permit free movement in its present form.

In this situation retaining people is just as important as recruitment. We must ensure that our health professionals are treated well and rewarded fairly. The recent dispute about junior doctors’ conditions of service was a fine demonstration of what governments should always avoid.

As so often here in Talking Point, this question comes down to our spending priorities.

Investing in local (and national) health services is a highly efficient use of public funds, not least because a well looked-after population are happier and more productive.

The NHS should be supported with fair and progressive taxation. And we must do all we can to end the postcode lottery that leaves some health authorities much worse off than others.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 3/5/2018

Air pollution

Last month a large cross-party group of MPs called air pollution a ‘national health emergency’.  It shortens the lives of 40,000 British people every year, according to official statistics, with nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from diesel engines being the main culprits.

This is a problem we have to tackle nationally as well as locally, because the pollution does not respect town or district boundaries. The closeness of Sevenoaks to London and the M25, for example, forces us to take a broader view.

Unsurprisingly, the Greens are the only political party who put this issue at the top of their agenda. Instead of taking effective action, the Conservative government – like its predecessors – does all it can to maintain the lethal status quo. When taken to court, ministers have seen their proposed solutions repeatedly declared inadequate.

Just monitoring air quality is not enough. Building more roads will make things worse, not better. We need to move as quickly as possible to cleaner forms of transport.

The first step should be to bring forward the 2040 deadline by which sales of diesel and petrol cars are to be banned. Other countries have set dates around 2030.

Alternative ways of getting from A to B should also be encouraged and facilitated. These would include public transport, cycling and walking.

According to MPs, the car industry itself needs to contribute to a clean-air fund, under the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Here in Sevenoaks there are about sixty adult deaths a year attributable to poor air quality, but it is actually children who suffer the worst long-term effects.

For their sake, as well as our own, there must now be meaningful action.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 26/4/2018

Ageing population

Thanks to medical advances and better public health, the British are getting older. Here in Sevenoaks, for example, about twenty-one per cent of the population are aged 65 or over, up from seventeen per cent in 1996.

This rise is projected to continue for the foreseeable future and will inevitably have an impact on our local services. We must start making plans now.

The Green Party is completely committed to the National Health Service and to high-quality social care. These should always be in public ownership and free at the point of delivery.

Looking after growing numbers of elderly people will of course be expensive. We therefore need to have an honest conversation about how we can raise the necessary funds.

One approach might be to shift public spending from other areas. I am sure we could all think of government projects that we would like to see cut back or totally abandoned, with the money diverted to (say) the NHS.

Alternatively, we could try to raise more revenue by changing the tax system in a fair and progressive way. At the moment there is too much of a focus on personal income, rather than on accumulated wealth. Something like a land-value tax would help to address this problem.

These issues are often discussed in negative terms, as though an ageing population was simply a burden on the rest of us. In fact, older people have a great deal to contribute to society.

Many organisations, such as food banks and charity shops, rely upon retired volunteers, while grandparents are often responsible for part-time childcare, for instance.

Everyone deserves security and dignity in later life. We all aspire to be old one day – or we should, when we consider the alternative.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 19/4/2018

Schools

The assumption behind this question seems to be that achieving good results and maintaining students’ well-being are incompatible aims. We are invited to believe that pupils must suffer in order to be successful.

This is an unacceptable idea, and a long way from the truth.

State schools in England are in crisis, partly because of funding issues, but also because they are in a system dominated by Ofsted inspections and league tables. Their students are the most examined in the western world.

The outcome is a record level of stress for staff and pupils alike. Clinical depression is widespread, particularly among teenage girls, and we are experiencing a national teacher shortage.

Successive governments over the last thirty years have made the situation worse, not better. Conservative, Labour and Coalition ministers have all encouraged payment by results, teaching to the test, and penalising whichever schools are at the bottom of the league tables. Local accountability has been steadily eroded.

It is time for a change. We should be learning from education systems that manage to combine excellent academic outcomes with a high level of student welfare.

Finland, for example, has no league tables or Ofsted inspections. Teachers are well qualified and enjoy a great deal of professional autonomy. They decide when and how a pupil’s progress is assessed.

There is no eleven-plus anxiety or unfairness, because Finnish secondary schools are all comprehensive. They achieve outstanding academic results in a country recently declared the happiest in the world.

Education is about more than exams, of course. Every student should be able to achieve their personal best in schools that are supportive, properly funded, and pleasant places in which to teach and learn.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 12/4/2018

Fly-tipping

Fly-tipping seems to be a growing problem, not just here in Sevenoaks but across the country. It is rural areas that are most affected – and that would include large parts of our region.

Offenders are difficult to catch, because they usually choose to dump rubbish in quiet country lanes and other isolated places. Cameras may be used to gather evidence, but so far the prosecution rate is low. Despite the establishment of a specialist team, only one person has been successfully taken to court for fly-tipping in Sevenoaks since 2016.

Householders certainly need to be careful when disposing of large items such as white goods. As the council have pointed out, these should be removed by licensed carriers, and not simply by those offering the lowest price.

More generally, the country has a waste-disposal crisis, with a growing shortage of landfill sites, for example.

In the medium to long term, we need to think about ways to limit the amount of rubbish we are generating. Fly-tipping could be seen as a symptom of our throwaway society, with its rapidly changing fashions and built-in obsolescence.

The Green Party favours the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. We would all benefit from a reduction in the sheer quantity of goods we buy. With raw materials increasingly hard to find, our present level of consumption is unsustainable in the long run.

Then we need to consider the sort of products we do want. How durable are they? Can they be repaired if necessary, or reused in some way? And, at the end of their lives, can they be recycled?

Laws against fly-tipping must be strictly enforced. But we should also bear this larger waste-disposal issue in mind.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 5/4/2018

Young people

Concern has often been expressed about young people’s lack of interest in politics. On the face of it, this is reasonable: they are significantly less likely to vote than their elders, for instance. It does seem that more needs to be done to encourage their participation.

On the other hand, I am sure we have all met young people who are enthusiastically committed to political causes. The Green Party is not unique in having a dedicated youth section, although it does give its members leadership roles at an earlier age than most. Their energy and idealism are highly valued.

Often it is campaigning on single issues that attracts young people. They are more likely to be passionate about climate breakdown, for example, than about the mechanics of parliamentary representation. Their concerns must therefore influence our approach.

A good education can provide a framework for informed political activity. Subjects such as history and geography are useful here, but perhaps more important is the development of critical thinking across the curriculum. In Scotland, lowering the voting age to 16 has led to students’ greater involvement in politics, and a similar step should now be taken south of the border.

Participatory activities such as drama should be encouraged whenever possible, because they allow the young to work out their own solutions to political problems, without interference from their elders. The general approach has to be bottom-up rather than top-down.

The short answer to this question, then, is ‘Yes’. Young people represent the future, and it is vital that they have a role in shaping it through their active citizenship.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 29/3/2018

Potholes

Potholes in our roads are a menace to drivers, cyclists and even pedestrians. They damage vehicles and can cause accidents. And in recent years they seem to have proliferated, both here in Sevenoaks and across the country.

Some of our most stubborn potholes could be better described as craters. They are filled in and disappear for a while, but always seem to return, which suggests that a more far-reaching repair job is needed.

It is certainly true that severe weather makes things worse. Water gets into cracks in the road and freezes, widening the gaps. Heavy traffic adds to the damage. We have all seen the results in the last couple of weeks.

But the pothole problem existed before we had this winter’s ice and snow. Since about 2010 local authorities have been struggling to meet the costs of road repairs. The government’s austerity policy has prevented them from raising the necessary funds.

This is a false economy that simply shifts the burden onto private motorists and businesses. Even Conservative MPs have now begun to question the whole idea of continuous cuts in public spending. We need to invest in our transport system in a sustainable way.

The Green Party would like to see more people walking, cycling or using public transport, and fewer journeys by car. This would have a range of benefits, including quieter and safer streets, cleaner air, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, better personal fitness, and opportunities for more local services.

It would also, of course, mean less damage to our roads, and easier journeys for everyone.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 22/3/2018

Homelessness

This is a shocking question to address, whatever your political views. How can homelessness in twenty-first century Britain be rising rather than falling?

The situation has steadily worsened over the last eight years or so. In Kent – even in wealthy Sevenoaks – the numbers sleeping rough have risen, in some cases dramatically.

According to the charity Crisis, there are about 8,000 people sleeping on British streets, with another 8,000 who spend the night in toilets, cars or public transport. If those who are sofa-surfing or living in squats or hostels are included, the true total could be as high as 144,000.

The bottom line here is that governments of all persuasions – Conservative, Labour, Coalition – have failed to build enough homes for a growing population. Council houses, for example, were sold off but not replaced. ‘Affordable’ homes are anything but for most first-time buyers.

Urgent action is now required. The Green Party would aim to end rough sleeping within one parliamentary term.

Local authorities should be given a duty to provide sufficient social rented and co-operative housing to meet local needs, including those of single people and childless couples. The government must allow them to raise money for what would be a major building programme.

Support should be given to organisations that would bring empty property back into use. Counselling and other support services for the homeless also need to be overhauled.

For some people home ownership will never be an option, and they require help too. The private rented sector should be regulated more tightly, as it is in many other European countries.

The recent spell of freezing weather was uncomfortable for many of us. For those sleeping on our streets, however, it could be something much worse.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p22, 15/3/2018

Newspapers

British newspapers have come in for a lot of criticism in recent years. Privacy has been one issue, not only for celebrities but also for ordinary people in the public eye. Headlines and stories that reflect an owner’s political preferences may also be controversial.

The biggest challenge to traditional newspapers, however, comes from the internet. More and more readers are getting their news from (‘free’) digital platforms, which means fewer copies sold. This in turn has led to steady falls in advertising revenue. The result has been the closure of many local titles in particular.

Unfortunately, we cannot assume that internet news sources are always going to be reliable. They may not carry out the same fact-checking that the papers do, and are not usually regulated by organisations such as IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation). False reports or rumours started online can be extremely damaging and dangerous, but they are not easy to stop.

Yes, high-quality journalism is a force for good. It is essential for a healthy democracy, and we should all be supporting it whenever we can. Investigative reporting, without fear or favour, is especially important.

As people become aware of the limitations of the internet, I hope that traditional sources of news, both local and national, will regain their popularity. They might cost slightly more, but I believe they are worth it. Long may newspapers like this one survive and prosper.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 8/3/2018

Crime

First the good news. According to the latest official figures, the crime rate in Sevenoaks in 2017 was below the average for Kent as a whole. The bad news is that it was higher than the rate in similar areas such as Lichfield or Tewkesbury. And in line with the country as a whole, there were more reported offences than there had been in 2016.

Should we be worried about a Sevenoaks crime wave? Probably not. We need to be very cautious about drawing conclusions from a single year’s figures, which may in any case reflect changes in the way offences have been recorded. Since the 1990s the overall trend, both here and overseas, has been downward. No one is quite sure why this is happening, and a variety of explanations have been put forward.

What is certain is that people generally overestimate the prevalence of crime, and how they personally might be affected by it. In 2010, for example, about fifteen per cent of Britons thought they were very likely to be burgled that year, while a similar number feared violent crime. The actual figures were nearer two and three per cent respectively.

The media may bear some responsibility for this distorted view. Emotive language and images can draw in an audience for stories about crime, and encourage the belief that things are getting worse rather than better.

In the long run, there is a simple way for governments to reduce both crime and people’s fear of it. International comparative studies show that the best approach is to minimise inequality.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 1/3/2018

Cyberbullying

Fifteen years ago, there was no cyberbullying to speak of. Like so many other aspects of our lives, it is a recent product of the internet, and of social media in particular. Now it has become the focus of widespread concern. Do we need a change in the law to deal with it, as some people have suggested?

There are two major problems with this approach. The first is one of definition. One person’s idea of bullying may be someone else’s harmless banter, or vigorous debate. Restricting or censoring what people say online may be a threat to free speech.

The second problem has to do with enforcement. The cyberbullies often take advantage of internet anonymity, and cannot easily be identified. They are also helped by the fact that social media are generally controlled by foreign companies which claim to be platforms rather than publishers. It is therefore difficult to pin down who is legally responsible for the appearance of defamatory or bullying comments on these sites. Governments will always struggle to control an internet that does not respect national boundaries.

If new laws are unlikely to be effective, what can be done instead? Perhaps we need a cultural change that would deprive the cyberbullies of the attention they obviously crave (for whatever reason). At the moment many people are spending hours each day online, looking at and responding to social media. This is particularly the case for the under-20s, who are arguably the group most at risk of cyberbullying. Education has an important role to play in raising awareness of the issue, and school-based initiatives that encourage pupils to switch off their phones and tablets (such as the one reported in the Chronicle on February 8th) may be the way forward.

Who knows – perhaps their elders will soon see the wisdom of this approach themselves.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p19, 22/2/2018

2017

 

Air Pollution

Recent correspondence on the subject of air pollution has highlighted a problem we should all be concerned about.

More than 28,000 British people die from air pollution every year, according to government statistics, with nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from diesel engines being the main culprits. Here in Sevenoaks there are about sixty deaths a year that are attributable to poor air quality.

Those are adult deaths, but children suffer the worst effects. Schools sited on or near main roads (such as the A25) put our young people’s health at serious risk.

Most of the political parties pay lip service to this problem, but it’s no surprise that it’s only the Greens who put it at the top of their agenda.

Just monitoring air quality is not enough. We need to move as quickly as possible to cleaner forms of transport.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 30/3/2017

PDF Version

 

2016

Grammar School Annexe

Your front page report (September 15) about the planned grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks will ring alarm bells for many parents and teachers. Theresa May’s proposed change in the law to allow such a move is unlikely to get through the Commons and Lords, not least because of opposition from her own party, but it would be a huge backward step if it did. As her predecessor in No 10 made clear, dividing children into sheep and goats at the age of ten or eleven is not a policy that should be embraced by a modern Conservative party. As far back as the 1970s Margaret Thatcher responded to parents’ concerns about the eleven-plus by doing more to end it than any other Education Secretary.

All the evidence shows that grammar schools are not in the business of helping poorer students succeed. To quote Amelie Boleyn, ‘these schools are full of middle-class children, many of whom benefited from private tuition in the run-up to the test. They are not a vehicle for social mobility. And in selective areas - Kent, for example - outcomes for most students are significantly worse than in comprehensive ones’.

Instead of looking back to a system that labelled most young people as failures, perhaps our elected representatives should turn their attention to countries such as Finland. The comprehensive schools there get the best results in the world.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p10, 29/9/2016 

PDF version

 

2015

TTIP – Action Required

The deadline for signing the European Citizens' Initiative to stop TTIP negotiations is October 6th. 3 million signatures are needed and they're nearly there. 

So far over 2.8 million European citizens answered this call for mobilisation against the EU-US free trade agreement TTIP and the EU-Canada agreement CETA, which on both sides of the Atlantic put commercial interests of large corporations above the rights of citizens.   

Can you do three things today: -  

1) Please sign the ECI now: - https://stop-ttip.org 

2) Forward this email to people you know and add a personal message asking them to sign the ECI 

3) If you are on Facebook and Twitter, ask your friends to sign the ECI! Simply add share buttons or hyperlink via the petition to your Facebook and Twitter account
 

Since its inception only eleven months ago, Society and Grassroots movements have acheived important milestones and both public and political perception on TTIP and CETA changed. Decision-makers are on the 'defensive' as polls show that public opposition steadily increasing. This is also reflected by the ECI which reached the minimum amount of signatures (called "country quorum") required for a successful European Citizens' Initiative in a total of 19 Member States. 

Stop TTIP's list of supporters has grown into over 500 groups ranging from NGOs, political parties, unions and initiatives from literally all around Europe. Public pressure works, so let's keep it on! 

Source: 01/10/2015

No New Runways

Thanks to all those who helped promote last's Saturday's No New Runways event. The next event in this campaign is the Zac Goldsmith rally in Trafalgar Square on October 10th, where a Green Bloc will be attending. We're hoping there'll be a good turnout of South East Greens to put across our No New Runways message (in contrast to Zac Goldsmith's narrow anti-Heathrow  position). Sian Berry, the Greens' London Mayoral candidate is speaking at the event. So please do all you can to help mobilise people to come along and help hold up our giant banner. Attendees can RSVP here.

Source: 17/09/2015

Fracking in Kent

KCC’s 'Proposed modifications to the Kent Minerals and Waste Local Plan (MWLP) 2013-30'. state that subject to certain conditions, planning permission will be granted for proposals associated with the exploration, appraisal and development of oil, gas and unconventional hydrocarbons.  

Burying in such an obscurely-worded document a proposal which effectively means the default position for Kent is to permit controversial activities such as fracking is not consultation in any meaningful sense of the word.  

Please sign the 38 degrees petition "Fracking: KCC must consult the people of Kent" to raise awareness locally of what is being done in our name. 

Source: 16/09/2015

Landslide victory for Defence Secretary

The Conservatives' Michael Fallon won a landslide victory in Sevenoaks, trouncing all opposition. 

With a turnout of 69.99%, equating to 50,362 ballots, Mr Fallon won 28,531 votes, resulting in a majority of 19,561. 

He also returns to his position as Defence Secretary. 

...Ukip's Steve Lindsey was runner-up with 8,970 votes, closely followed by Chris Clarke for Labour with 6,448 votes. 

Alan Bullion, for the Liberal Democrats, polled 3,937, while Amelie Boleyn for the Green Party was on 2,238. 

Mr Fallon has held the seat since 1999 and betrayed no sign of tension while the ballots were being counted. 

Source: Kent Messenger, 15/05/2015

Victorious Johnson 'honoured' to carry on serving his town 

...In Sevenoaks, the Tories also held the seat after Michael Fallon was re-elected with 28,531 votes. 

Ukip's Steve Lindsay was second with 8,970 votes followed by Labour's Christopher Clark (6,448), Lib Dem's Alan Bullion (3,937) and the Green's Amelie Boleyn (2,238). 

The turnout was 71%.

Source: Kent Messenger, 14/05/2015 

Election results by ward

Source: Sevenoaks District Council, 07/05/2015

"All children should have access to equal ability schools"

Statement by Amélie Boleyn.

Source: Sevenaoks Chronicle, 06/05/2015

Election question time debate 

Held at Sevenoaks school with debates about education, the NHS, Trident and the deficit.

Source: 27/04/2015

Which one of these would gain your vote to be MP..?

Amelie Boleyn - GREEN 

What is your family situation? Do you have children? 

As a non-conformist, I live alone with my young son, outside of any nuclear family stereotype. 

Where did you go to school? And if you have children, did you send them to state or private schools? 

I went to a state-funded secondary school in Surrey, progressing to my BA as a mature student at the University of Westminster and University of Provence. My son has recently started secondary school at our nearest state-funded comprehensive, across the border in Surrey, after attending local primary schools in Kent and in Aix-en-Provence. 

Who is your hero? 

My heroine is Queen Boudica, the warrior queen - A true example of female fortitude and leadership who lost her life fighting for the good of her people. 

What would your "death row" final meal be from Sevenoaks? 

Aptly-coined "Amelie's Fire", I make garlic and ginger to die for..... 

And what's one thing people don't know about you? Same as above. 

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, 16/04/2015 

A Statement of Clarification regarding Sevenoaks Grammar School Annex

Recently, there has been some discussion as to a proposed grammar school to be built in Sevenoaks. The parliamentary candidates for all parties have given their opinion on this matter, and Amelie Boleyn was no exception. 

There has been some question regarding Amelie's response to the proposal, in particular her letter to the Sevenoaks Chronicle of 9th April, which many have seen as her backing the proposed grammar school annex in Sevenoaks. However, in keeping with the Green party policies on the matter, Amelie is not in favour.  Previously Amelie had considered that the annex proposals would be adjoined to the existing Trinity School which, she felt, given the overall lack of state school provision in the district, would be better than none at all. 

However, to clarify, Amelie believes that the proposed grammar school annex could increase class inequality with regard to education in the district. She is also aware of the lack of quality state funded schooling in Sevenoaks, under local authority control, which means many pupils are travelling outside of the area in search of school places.  Therefore, Amelie is in favour of more state funded school provision where students of all abilities are taught in a more socially comprehensive setting. 

In a quote shown in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in February, Amelie said that she welcomes proposals to increase secondary school capacity but does not want to focus on options that lead to social exclusion.  Amelie is a strong believer in equal access to schooling, regardless of background or wealth, in a socially comprehensive and inclusive setting, so of course would be opposed to a grammar school annex in Sevenoaks.  Further, Amelie feels strongly that the grammar school selection system discriminates against children from lower income backgrounds many of whom do not have access to books and private tuition - especially in an accelerating climate of the Coalition's policies towards austerity hitting the poorest in society; thus whilst the concept of state funded grammar schooling appears to increase social mobility, in reality it is socially divisive. We would also add that children should not have their entire future determined by a single exam at the age of 11. 

Amelie thanks the Green supporters who have reached out to discuss this matter with her in recent days and hopes to continue working with everyone to improve the state of schooling in Sevenoaks.

Source: 15/04/2015 

Privatisation of the NHS

https://youtu.be/CsZojBhuy2Y

Source: 13/04/2015

Sevenoaks Greens offer Landmark  Slate for May 7th.

The Sevenoaks branch of the Green Party are proud to announce a landmark slate of 26 District Council candidates ready for the election on May 7th. This is a first for Sevenoaks  Green Party which was previously a much smaller faction of West Kent Greens. Being represented in all wards will mean that voters now have a real alternative to UKIP and the Conservatives, who have previously dominated the area. This mirrors the rapidly growing support for the Green Party and 'Green surge' across the UK and shows the party as a progressive force.

 

More than ever, this election  offers a real opportunity for change for the people of Sevenoaks. The candidates will be appearing throughout their wards in the lead up to the election, hoping to work with the people of their respective areas and allowing the voters' voices to be heard.  

A quote from Amélie Boleyn, the Greens parliamentary candidate for Sevenoaks, on the matter: 

“We are so proud, that down to sheer determination, we have grown from a fledgling extension of the wider West Kent Green Party over a year ago, to a  place where we are now considered seen as a genuine alternative to business as usual politics here in Sevenoaks, and people are seeking an alternative to the perennial land lock of Conservative rule.  We are now seen as a representation of progressive, more democratic politics and, for the first time, the people of Sevenoaks will be able to vote Green in every ward, rather than abstaining or just voting for 

Source: 10/04/2015 

I'll vote Green if you do. 

If people vote for the policies they believe in, The Green Party will win big at the 2015 General Election.

Source: 25/02/2015

Parliamentary candidate Amélie Boleyn comes out in support of Natalie Bennet on LBC

A must listen.

Source: 24/02/2015

Sevenoaks grammar proves divisive issue for town's General Election candidates

Amélie Boleyn says Sevenoaks is able to boast a selection of independent schools, but feels the children of lower income families are sometimes being excluded from the educational opportunities afforded to their wealthier counterparts.

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, 05/02/2015  

 

2014

General Election 2015

16 NOVEMBER 2014: General Election 2015 - Meet the candidates vying for your votes in Sevenoaks:Includes an interview with Amélie Boleyn.

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, 16/11/2014  

 

2013

Railways

Green Party conference debate regards green policy to bring the railways back into public ownership. Caroline Lucas introduces the debate and we also hear from Ellie Harrison from the Bring Back British Rail campaigning organisation.

Source: Green Party conference, 16/09/2013)

As regards asylum and immigration systems, the Green Party don't make specific reference to how policies in these areas could benefit Britain. After all, we are an internationalist party who believe that everyone is of equal worth. Why would we want to deliberately deprive developing countries of their skilled workers to the benefit of Britain, particularly when in the same breath we constantly lecture the poorer nations on earth about how they remain in poverty due to their lack of a growing middle class?

Nevertheless, the latest report by the government's Migration and Advisory Committee (MAC) has shown how European workers have contributed £2300 per annum more to the UK than the average Briton, so immigration is already having a substantial positive benefit. The MAC have recommended ending the cap of 20,700 per annum on skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area. In turn and as a result of Brexit, preferential treatment of low-skilled workers coming from EU countries would be ended, causing a severe detrimental impact on industries such as hospitality and the food manufacturing sector. It is very likely, however, that Michael Gove will somehow make an exception to agriculture, given its current reliance on poorly paid workers from the EU.

Staying in the EU would therefore be a good start in protecting the academically proven economic and social benefits to Britain of immigration. With regard to asylum seekers, whether Brexit happens or not Britain remains a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and we must never lose sight of that. The Windrush scandal should be enough to remind us of what is at stake here.