Media Archive



The local environment

Two reports in last week’s Chronicle should alarm anyone concerned about our environment.

The 75% drop in bus-pass applications can only mean that more parents will be driving their children to school next month. Congestion and air quality are bound to get worse as a result. And those most affected will be the pupils themselves, as pollutants are concentrated inside cars and SUVs.

We can hope that many young people will be able to walk or cycle instead. But a great deal depends on the policies of local and central government. They should be taking steps now to make active travel easier and safer.

As your other report makes clear, Kent County Council say the right things about environmental issues without following up in a systematic way. How can they justify spending billions on new roads when they are supposedly aiming for carbon neutrality?

All the evidence shows that we can’t build our way out of congestion. The proposed Thames crossing, for example, will simply generate more traffic, with increased noise and air pollution.

Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to zero by 2030 is a laudable objective. To achieve it, however, local authorities need coherent plans and a greater sense of urgency.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p12, 27/8/2020

Dominic Cummings

I was very disappointed to hear about our MP’s defence of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser (as reported in the Chronicle last week).

At the general election in December I stood against Laura Trott, and we disagreed about many issues. But like most people I desperately want the government to succeed in the battle against coronavirus. Dominic Cummings’ actions make that harder because he broke the rules he had helped to write, and thereby encouraged others to do the same.

Mrs Trott suggests that he ‘acted within the rules to safeguard his young child’. I wonder how his 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle (to ‘test his eyesight’) fits into that argument. To be frank, Mr Cummings is insulting our intelligence.

We are not talking here about the activities of a private individual, but about the second most powerful person in the country. He must be held to the highest possible standard, at a time when thousands of lives are at stake.

I hope Mrs Trott will reconsider her support for the PM’s adviser, and join many of her fellow-Conservatives in their condemnation of his behaviour.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p12, 4/6/2020

Sevenoaks High Street

Banning cars from Sevenoaks High Street (as suggested on the front page of last week’s Chronicle) has now become quite urgent.

Keeping a safe distance from other pedestrians was relatively straightforward in the early days of the lockdown, when you could step into the road without worrying about traffic. It’s getting more dangerous to do so because the government have loosened restrictions on movement. At the same time, we’re told to avoid public transport.

This is a recipe for gridlock, and for the kind of air pollution that makes us less resistant to infection.  Crowding on pavements to avoid cars would also put us at risk. Instead we should prioritise walking and cycling, and change our spending plans accordingly.

Open-air businesses such as cafes could thrive in the new environment.

Some of the world’s great cities (including London) are already taking these steps towards a safer, cleaner and healthier future. There’s no reason we can’t follow their example at a local level.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p12, 21/5/2020

Council tax priorities

In retrospect, 2019 looks like a different world: one in which people could worry about potholes or fly-tipping, how much council tax was going up, or even Brexit. In 2020, unfortunately, we have other priorities.

Today our life is dominated by the coronavirus outbreak. Whatever decisions councillors have made about spending over the next twelve months, changes will be needed.

There is of course a massive human cost to this terrible disease. But there is also an extremely damaging financial impact.

Some analysts are predicting that the economy could shrink by as much as fifteen per cent this year. Budgets set by both national and local government will need to be reconsidered in the light of falling tax revenues.

Public services are already struggling after a decade of cuts, and things will now get worse. Councils should be prioritising support for those most affected by the crisis: the poor, the newly unemployed, and local businesses crippled by the lockdown.

Let’s hope that important lessons can be learned from what we have been going through. It has demonstrated how dependent we are on each other, for example. A universal basic income (long advocated by the Green Party) has never seemed like such a good idea.

When the pandemic is over, perhaps we can tackle the climate crisis in a similar way. It too requires countries to work together, while taking difficult decisions that will benefit everybody in the long run. We can choose to have a greener, healthier and safer world.

As I write this, the streets outside are quiet and the air is clean. The only sound is of children playing in the sunshine. Despite its many drawbacks, our response to Covid-19 has given us a glimpse of a different way of life.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p12, 16/4/2020

Tackling coronavirus

I have taken this question primarily to mean what can we do locally over and above the measures and advice that are being issued at a national level that mitigate the impact of the coronavirus at all levels of society.

In my neighbourhood in Hextable there is I believe a fairly strong sense of community, and a local resident has pushed notes through letterboxes asking people if they need help with shopping and other tasks that are crucial to the continued wellbeing of those of us who are particularly vulnerable at this time.

In contrast to these acts of kindness, we should also call out those who we know are abusing this goodwill by stockpiling vital supplies of food and other essential items to the detriment of everyone else. Of course people need to be careful here, as the perpetrators of these selfish actions are also likely to react aggressively to criticism of their behaviour.

This crisis represents a likely transformation in the way society will need to operate at both a national and local level.

I am very supportive of the voluntary sector and am involved myself with Swanley Foodbank. But crucially, local voluntary groups of all types simply do not have access to large-scale resources (typically owned by huge corporations) of the size required to meet people's needs and aspirations. That would require political and economic transformation, as major problems regarding the present access to and distribution of resources cannot be ignored for much longer.

When the present crisis subsides we will still be left with the urgent need to tackle man-made climate change, but in the view of the Green Party the remedies to both crises require an emphatic rejection of individualism. That particular philosophy is dead in the water.

Phil Levy

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 9/4/2020

Young people's mental health

Surveys suggest that young people’s mental health is deteriorating, sometimes with tragic consequences. Schools might be able to do more if they were properly funded, and Ofsted inspections could place more emphasis on the issue beyond the existing Child Protection requirements. All teachers are currently trained to look out for signs of mental problems, record them and, if necessary, trigger action by the school or other agencies.

I’ve read the Government advice given to schools on emotional wellbeing and counselling and find it hard to fault: Counselling in schools: a blueprint for the future, and Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing: A whole school and college approach. I hope Ofsted extend their inspections to include this advice fully.

While schools will always be mindful of improvement opportunities, they should be only a part of society’s mental health defences, in my view. We could all train ourselves to look for signs of mental issues in our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other young people we may come into contact with. We could try to teach techniques to reduce anxiety, such as good breathing, exercise and positive self-talk. If we notice something odd, let’s have the difficult conversation with the child, parent, carer or other responsible person.

This means learning how to have those conversations without causing offence, and being willing to notify the right authorities if we judge it to be necessary. I wonder how many young lives have been ruined or lost through the traditions of British reserve?

The Samaritans website has advice on what to do if you’re worried about someone, and how to have a difficult conversation. Let us all resolve to read it and practise it.  If the whole community cares, we can all help schools be more effective carers as well.

Ian Head

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 2/4/2020

Knife crime

The victims, their families and friends should be at the forefront of our minds when considering what action society needs to take in tackling knife crime. The Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of offences increased from 346 to 873 (with Kent experiencing the fastest rise in knife crime in the entire country) between 2011 and 2018.

It therefore follows that if politicians are serious about addressing this deep-seated problem (violent teenage gangs have been around for over 200 years) then the root causes of knife crime need to be identified, and action taken to mitigate these causes as far as possible.

Research has been able to identify certain commonalities that young offenders have experienced, i.e. poverty, domestic abuse, lack of education, and expulsion from school. These factors repeat themselves time and time again when outbreaks of knife crime occur. Much as it may annoy some people, there is no valid racial or cultural explanation for this kind of crime. Such explanations followed by a call for tougher sentencing merely provide a get-out for the authorities and society in general. Sentences have steadily increased in recent years but the knife crime figures have risen in tandem. For example, the number of associated murders in Glasgow was 116 in 2018 and in London 180 in 2005.

More police officers on the beat would certainly help build confidence in our communities and encourage the provision of vital information. Legislation and careful licensing of drugs could also help eliminate the violence and turf wars instigated by the drug gangs. But there is an unspoken truth at play here. Some Conservatives might prefer crime to rise rather than prioritise actions that would significantly reduce poverty and inequality.

Phil Levy

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 26/3/2020

Accessible recycling

When most people think of recycling, it is the paper and bottle banks, the recycling tips and household waste bins or bags that come to mind, and all of these methods are reasonably accessible.

This is important because of the benefits of recycling. With proper implementation, it has the capacity to reduce the depletion of natural resources, and therefore minimise the already-devastating pollution of the environment. It also saves energy, cuts manufacturing costs and reduces greenhouse gases, which helps to combat global warming.

The results of a national consumer survey carried out in 2019 showed that eighty-seven percent said that individuals should take responsibility for recycling more in the UK. However the latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) show that, of the amount of household rubbish produced in 2018, only 44.7% was recycled. Since then this figure has fallen even further, which means the Government will almost certainly fail to reach its target of recycling half of household waste before the end of this year.

As there is public support to do more, there should be more publicity to promote recycling and draw attention to additional items that could be recycled through existing facilities. For example, some supermarkets are accepting water filter and empty printer cartridges as well as old batteries and low-energy light bulbs. Finally, individuals could also limit their reliance on single-use items so as to minimise the need to recycle.

In the longer term, of course, we need to pay attention to those other Rs – reduce, reuse and repair. Our present levels of consumption are simply unsustainable.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 19/3/2020

Policing the countryside

Few people would argue against the idea that we want a fair society where we feel safe and where we are protected by the rule of law.  The political challenge we face as a society is identifying and implementing effective allocation of limited resources. There are huge demands on them: health, education, law and order – to name just three.

Currently national politics seems to pander to simple answers that look good in tabloid-style communication without identifying which policies actually best achieve the objectives. As an example, the current focus on controlling immigration seems to be trying to answer the question “why are there so many poorly paid jobs?”. The policy discussion implies that the cause is too much supply, worsened by immigration, when in practice it is more likely to be driven by relatively weak rights for those on zero-hours contracts, and could be best fixed by stronger rights for all workers.

Similarly, the argument to support a higher police presence in our rural areas implies that having more police there would reduce crime. In fact rural crime is low, and the real problems tend to be in hotspots. Spreading police resources very thinly is not likely to be effective. In addition, Malcom Gladwell (in ‘Talking to Strangers’) provides strong evidence that focusing police presence in crime hotspots is the most effective policy for reducing crime.

My suspicion therefore is that it would be a very poor use of resources to have a higher police presence in areas such as our rural towns and villages. Most importantly, though, we should ensure this is not a political decision, but rather one where the police themselves are challenged to explain their decision-making based on evidence and effective policies.

Paul Cooper

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 12/3/2020

Free parking

Ultimately there’s no such thing as a free parking space: someone has to pay. The cost of land, pavement, street cleaning etc., comes directly out of tax. Each on-street parking space costs an estimated £1,350 to build and £300 to maintain annually. These charges need to be covered by someone, somewhere, somehow.

Tax money aside, I see five key consequences of making parking free.

Firstly, the cost means non-drivers pay for other people’s parking. Every time you take public transport or walk, you're getting ripped off. Additionally, free parking forces cruising for spots, adding to traffic and carbon emissions. As the University of Essex showed in 2019, council measures to incentivise late-night shopping through free evening parking directly impacted air quality. Thirdly, it’s bad land allocation. With 3-4 million non-residential spaces in the UK, parking is the single biggest city land use. From a carbon neutrality standpoint, the energy and materials associated with creating and maintaining parking infrastructure sometimes exceed the environmental costs of vehicles themselves. Finally, there’s evidence that subsidised parking increases demand and miles driven.

Shoup, the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, gives a simple recommendation. "Charge the right price for on-street parking," he says. Several American cities have recently begun experimenting with variable pricing (based on researched supply, demand and environmental factors). Studies have confirmed that this cuts cruising and congestion.

Planners should also use a fact-based approach to ensure town centres are accessible by as many people as possible — Why are people using car parks? Does the journey have to be made by car or can incentives encourage alternatives? — and then reduce parking demand through viable alternatives, including improved public transport and shared-space schemes to accommodate pedestrians and cars simultaneously.

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 5/3/2020

Sports and arts

When criticising our education system, the most important fact to consider is that state schools have had an 8% funding cut since 2010. So there has been no money available for innovation of the type that is needed for the rapid societal changes ongoing through the current industrial revolution.

Children entering secondary school now will still be working in 2080 and we have no idea what skills will be required even in 2030.

Changes we can see in the job market include a massive injection of money into arts and sport. Apple, Netflix, Amazon and others are commissioning content and covering sports with absolutely fabulous sums of money. "Don’t put your daughter on the stage" seems like bad advice today. And how many teachers have ever said to a pupil "you'd be a great social media star. Go for it!"?

We can see that a subject mix largely designed by the Victorians is not propelling the UK to the top of international productivity tables. We can also see that while girls have been outperforming boys in school qualifications, the gender pay gap is barely decreasing. Perhaps in addition to arts and sports, we should include social progression skills such as risk taking, assertiveness, teamwork and leadership that will help a young person take on difficult tasks, succeed and get promoted.

It is precisely these skills where private schools leave the state sector standing – and it needs the money to step up.

Having left the EU we need a workforce that is world class in more than the core Victorian curriculum. We must invest in innovation that produces leaders in arts, sports, business, technology, entrepreneurship, and knowledge management. Teachers know it's time for an overhaul and are keen to lead it. We must give them the support, the skills and the funds to do it.

Ian Head

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 27/2/2020

Youth centres and projects

I’m sure that we can all agree that we want to give our young people the best possible start in life. Schools have an essential role in this, but leisure activities are important too.

It’s occasionally suggested that the time the young are spending on their phones is at the expense of real social interaction. They would probably benefit from meeting their peer group face to face more often – at youth centres and projects, for example.

On the whole, our area is well supplied with these. A quick internet search will give you a long list, ranging from sports facilities and Guides to age-appropriate clubs and gig nights for under-18s.

Libraries deserve a special mention here. Their funding has been eroded by central government over the past ten years, but locally at least they continue to provide a valuable service to the community, including our young people.

Is all of this ‘enough’? Ideally there would be a wide range of youth centres and projects, so that no one felt left out. At the moment it looks as though that could be the case in our area, but it’s not certain.

Provision is limited, after all, by national and local funding. There are two aspects to this: the quality of the centres or projects themselves, and how long they might continue to operate.

The signs are not encouraging. The re-election of a Conservative government is likely to mean that austerity in some form will carry on, especially if money is wasted on projects such as the HS2 rail link. Brexit will have an impact too. Non-essential services are particularly vulnerable.

Ultimately our investment in young people’s welfare comes down to political decisions. That’s why the Green Party would support a lowering of the voting age to 16.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 20/2/2020

Emergency housing for the homeless

What a shocking question this is. How is it possible that we are discussing temporary accommodation for homeless people in the sixth-richest country in the world?

The government have been promising to give more money to local authorities to address the problem, but their track record is very poor. The situation here in Kent has significantly worsened since the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition took office in 2010.

There were then 720 families who had no permanent place to live. Now that number is 1,642, with at least one child in more than a thousand of them.

A decade ago, 68 people were sleeping rough in Kent. The latest estimate (in 2018) put the figure at 233.

This is not just a local problem, of course. Nationally there are at least 320,000 homeless people.

What is the solution? Well, it certainly isn’t ‘emergency housing’ in the winter. Everyone in this country should have a roof over their heads all year round.

We therefore need to embark on a major building programme. The new flats and houses will have to be affordable and meet the highest environmental standards.

The Green Party’s target would be the creation of 100,000 new council homes each year. Occupants should be given secure lifetime tenancies. If the private sector also made a contribution, we could eliminate homelessness entirely by 2024 at the latest.

Not having somewhere to live, even for a short time, can be devastating. There is an obvious impact on people’s physical health, but often their mental well-being suffers too.

Rough sleepers are the visible face of the homelessness problem, and we may react positively or negatively to them. We should never forget the families and individuals who can’t be seen so easily, though.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 13/2/2020

Adapting to climate change

Climate change will dramatically alter our lifestyles. The debate concerns the kind of alterations we should prepare for.

For example, if the ice-melt continues unabated, both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets will disappear, raising sea level by over 60 metres. Sevenoaks and Tonbridge would be above the new level, but much of Maidstone and London underwater. So adaptation might include preparing to defend your property from several million desperate homeless people. 

Total ice-melt may be 200 years away, but some respected ecologists such as Professor Jem Bendell (Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy) believe there is a real possibility of social collapse by the year 2030.

You may look at the reports of bushfires, extinctions, record-breaking hurricanes, warming seas, and the last decade being the hottest on record, and decide that your own adaptations should consider that possibility.

My view is that a 0.7 metre sea level rise is likely no later than 2090, and that society struggles but adapts.  0.7m will inundate the Thames valley, regularly flood large areas of Kent, and increase erosion. Readiness for this requires huge investment in infrastructure for water, sewage, gas, electricity, telecommunications, and food production, together with more water-resilient roads, trains and homes. We should consider our aid budgets for countries that are going to be hardest hit, or even disappear altogether.

Incidentally, we could also avoid cutting down trees and then complaining that the soil becomes unstable (Network Rail).

On a personal level, we should plan for more rainfall, more soil erosion, and more frequent floods. We need to avoid living in flood-prone areas and provide support for those already affected.

The best thing we could do, however, is to take drastic action to prevent a climate catastrophe. We are clearly not doing enough on either adaptation or avoidance.

Ian Head

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 6/2/2020

Local hospitals

Most people have seen pictures in the media of patients being kept waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors, or know of friends and neighbours on a waiting list for an appointment or operation, with the additional suffering that this causes. Unfortunately, these problems have become commonplace, particularly during the winter time, and are caused by lack of capacity in hospitals.

A Kings Fund report published in September 2019 showed that the national policy promoting care outside of hospital has caused a reduction in the number of hospital beds. But there is growing concern that this has gone too far, and despite their best efforts, hospitals do not now have enough beds to meet current health-care needs. The total number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past 30 years, from around 299,000 to 142,000, while the number of patients treated has increased significantly. The UK now has fewer hospital beds for its population than any other comparable health-care system.

Because of government-imposed austerity, increasing numbers of NHS Hospital Trusts are also facing financial deficits. In 2010/11, just 5 per cent of these providers overspent their annual budgets. By 2015/16, two-thirds of trusts (66 per cent) were in deficit as the slowdown in NHS funding took its toll. 

During the General Election, the Prime Minister promised to build 40 new hospitals and to increase NHS funding to provide more qualified staff. It will be important to hold him to this promise, as it will reverse the decline in bed numbers and be the most cost-effective way of easing pressure on hospitals in the long term. This expansion is needed, as research shows that initiatives to reduce demand for hospital care often struggle to succeed.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 30/1/2020

Council priorities

2020: a new year, but also a new decade. It’s a good time to take stock and consider what our local priorities should be.

Unfortunately the problems we face haven’t changed. Central government is still starving councils of the funds they need. The cuts to services that began in 2010 will continue, and will probably be made worse by Brexit.

In fact, leaving the EU might force local authorities here in the south-east to rethink all their plans. Not much will be different during the transition period, but Kent could be in the front line if we end up with tariffs or other trade barriers a year from now.

Meanwhile we still have potholes in our roads, poor air quality, excessive aircraft noise, and inadequate recycling. The housing crisis goes on, and the Green Belt remains under threat.

These issues are often linked and should be addressed together. Having a strong environmental policy would be a good start.

We need more charging points for electric vehicles, and more space on our roads for cyclists, pedestrians, and public transport. Lower speed limits could benefit everyone.

With our young people particularly in mind, we should be planning to build thousands of affordable zero-carbon homes across the country. At the same time we must look after our green spaces. For example, I’d like to see millions of trees being planted in the 2020s.

Locally or nationally, one issue now dominates the agenda: global warming. The Australian bushfires are a dramatic symptom of it, but here at home we had our hottest-ever day in 2019, and temperature records being set even in the winter months.

In this situation, our councillors should be declaring a climate emergency. Many local authorities have done so already, with their policies informed by the dangers we all face.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 23/1/2020



Tackling climate change locally

Many are now aware of the urgent scientific messages stating that action is required to address climate change. Government and business need to act internationally but local council and personal action is also key.

In the autumn, Kent County Council began consultation on its ‘Energy and Low Emissions Strategy’. It appeared to give reassurances that it would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 (twenty years later than Tunbridge Wells). Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough were being listened to…weren’t they?

Three months on, some councils have no clear directives on how they should react to the consultation findings. Tunbridge Wells Council’s Climate Emergency Action Panel have met only twice in their rebranded ‘advisory’ role. 

Net-zero carbon emissions targets need a quick response in many areas, including renewable energy and the protection of biodiversity. Most important is transport. It produces 41% of Kent’s emissions, and these are rising. 

Progress has been too slow. A strategy of ‘greening’ and increasing affordable bus and trains, along with encouraging and improving safety for bike and walking journeys, is needed. The ArrivaClick buses in Sittingbourne provide an app-based pick-up request service. Why can’t this come to your area? 

Car ownership in town and countryside will remain, so electric vehicles must be encouraged. The small success of nine charging points in Cranbrook, along with single-figure intentions to install car-park-based charging points in Southborough and Tunbridge Wells, are not sufficient. Sevenoaks’ and Tonbridge’s plans are similarly unambitious. 

An extensive visible local network near people’s homes is essential to kickstart uptake. Why not adopt the London model of chargers in lamp posts? 

There must be a move from tokenistic micro-projects to extensive deployments with realistic financial backing. This will only happen if the public repeatedly and loudly say they want it. 

David Mooney

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p13, 19/12/2019

Affordable childcare

Childcare places are available in our area, but for many the price makes them unaffordable. 

The Government misleadingly promotes its “30 hours of free childcare a week” policy, so why does this “affordable” service often cost more than parents’ rent or mortgage? Most families can have 1140 hours of state-funded childcare per year. That’s 22 hours a week (not 30) of basic child-minding, and it excludes essentials like meals, nappies, or sun cream. 

Childcare workers are required to be highly qualified, and qualifications are expensive. Cheap childcare means your children are looked after by fewer qualified staff, on low wages. 

Parents need this help so that they can work. Hopefully this will allow them to pay income tax, and their earnings will be spent on food, shelter, and local services. Childcare is a great investment in the economy. 

Right now, even relatively high earners find the costs mean that it isn’t sensible to work.  Even though society needs them to be economically active, and to pay taxes. 

Additionally, parents stretched to fund childcare are unlikely to invest in pensions – 35% of adults have no pension. So saving public money on childcare today means spending more when parents reach retirement age. Remember: since 2010, the national debt has risen 69% - from £1,080 billion to £1,821 billion.  It’s debt that must be paid by the children currently in nursery.  So let’s do them a favour and allow their parents to work and save. 

The best approach would be to provide pre-school education, funded in the same way for the under-fives as for older children. Let’s also make additional parental school funding subject to the same tax advantages as enjoyed by pensions.  They are both investments with a huge long-term return. 

Ian Head

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 12/12/2019

Ageing population issues

The Government has made a pre-election announcement to allow local authorities to increase bills by up to 6% over the next two years in the face of a spiralling demand to provide social care for elderly and disabled people. Although demand is increasing, it is the shortfall in funding over the last few years that has been the main problem for local authorities caring for an elderly population. This is why the local politicians in charge of vulnerable and older people’s services at Kent County Council have said that the extra money would not go far enough to resolve chronic problems of underfunding. In fact, although a small percentage of people are living beyond a hundred years of age, life expectancy is not increasing for the general population.

A recent Kings Fund Report shows that spending nationally by local authorities on adult social services was £700 million lower in real terms in the financial year 2017-18 than in 2010-11. This reduction has forced local authorities to restrict access to services except to those with the most complex and substantial care needs, while national means-test thresholds have not been raised in line with inflation. As a result, although more elderly and disabled people are approaching councils for support, fewer are now receiving it.

Longer-term funding pressures must be addressed urgently to prevent further deterioration. Many people do not understand what support is on offer, so clear choices should be provided and a simpler and fairer social care system should be introduced over time. Better co-ordination between community health and social services and reducing the historic division between means-tested social care and largely free-at-the-point-of-use NHS services would also be beneficial. To support closer working, setting up an integrated community care budget would be enormously helpful.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 5/12/2019 

Plastic-free events

At first glance this looks like a simple question. The answer must be Yes. There is much focus on the negative impact of plastic and the successful introduction of economic “nudges” such as the fee for plastic bags. Two points make discussing this question worthwhile. Firstly, minimising the environmental impact, and secondly, the substitution point: if not plastic then what?

The greatest environmental impacts of an event come from passenger travel to it, the energy used for the event itself, and the food consumed there. Lower down the scale but most visible is the packaging used at the event. Minimising the environmental impact from a large event should include reducing the energy consumed in travel by encouraging virtual participation and the use of public transport. Venues themselves can focus on reducing high-carbon energy use and introducing low-carbon catering products and food. Most visibly an event can support the hierarchy of sustainable consumption – reduce, reuse, recycle – by shunning single-use materials and replacing them with reusable ones. For instance, encouraging personal drinking bottles and providing water fountains.

If used wisely plastic need not have a higher environmental impact than obvious substitutes.  Paper or cotton materials often have a higher demand than plastic in terms of energy consumption. Consequently, what matters is how often they can be used or reused and how they are disposed of or recycled.

The worst outcome from a plastic-free event would be where it is pure marketing whitewash. Beyond taking some plastic-free, non-recyclable, non-reusable plates, we may continue to drive to the event individually, and overconsume high-carbon food in a high-energy-use venue.

The visible plastic-free aspect must be part of a fully developed environmental plan for the event. In these circumstances I would be all for it.

Paul Cooper

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 28/11/2019

Rail compensation

If anyone’s railway journey is delayed, they deserve compensation. For delays over 15 minutes, passengers can claim back 25% of their fare. Everyone should do this – it’s easy. Click on the link:

 The 2018 Which? survey of customer satisfaction put Southeastern as twenty-seventh worst out of 30 rail companies. And yet this is the same company that operates HS1, the high-speed rail service that runs between St Pancras, Canterbury, Ebbsfleet and Ashford.  Southeastern's own survey put HS1 customer satisfaction at 92% positive, with average delays of 5 seconds.  It is a new service with modern trains and infrastructure, which suggests to me that good quality services can be achieved if sufficient intelligent investment is made.

 Compensation is important, but more important is improving service quality and punctuality – especially given the low current satisfaction and forecast 3% annual growth in number of journeys made. To do this we must encourage the rail companies and Network Rail to invest more money and more rapidly, which requires some intelligent innovation in rail franchise rules.

 My suggestion would be that, to win a franchise, a bidder must commit to an aggressive investment schedule. Then for every point that’s missed in the “On Time” and performance measures (including comfort), the capital investment has to be increased by a specific percentage. Further, no dividend or executive bonus may be paid until the investment schedule has been met in full. In this way, we can align customer requirements for an improving service with legal business obligations to maximise shareholder returns.  Better services yield bigger profits.

 In the long run, though, the best solution for our railways is to take them back into public ownership. Privatisation is clearly an experiment that has failed.

Ian Head

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 14/11/2019

Air pollution near schools

Local air pollution is predominantly a consequence of road traffic. The level of pollution declines rapidly with distance from its source, the highest level being within 100 metres of a road. Most schools and their playgrounds will be within this space.

Schools will always have a background level but pupils are particularly affected when they are close to the road, which will be at the start and end of the day (the school run) and at breaks if the playground is close to a road. Children are especially vulnerable to auto-emission health impacts because they breathe more relative to their body weight compared to adults, are more physically active and are outdoors more often.

To reduce air pollution, we therefore need to reduce road traffic, particularly during the school run, and let it flow and not stop. Traffic is more efficient when driving steadily and least efficient when accelerating.

Consequently, the actions that can make a difference include introducing 20 mph limits and parking restrictions around schools to aid traffic flow and reduce traffic jams; taking children to school using public transport, walking buses or cycling to reduce traffic (which also increases general physical activity with other health benefits); sharing car journeys, turning off the engine when stationary or going electric; and providing school buses, with staggered start and finish times for schools to reduce congestion.

It remains predominantly our dependence on the convenience of the car that is the main contributor to local air pollution, but we can all make a difference with practical changes to our habits.

Paul Cooper

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 7/11/2019


There’s a surprising amount of debate surrounding this question, considering that research and examples consistently point towards pedestrianisation generating sales and jobs on high streets. 

 A recent government project involving numerous community workshops (the High Street Report) concluded that town centres can encourage use through becoming ‘experiences’, and creating new public spaces. Pedestrianisation, supported by improved access to public transport, checks both of these boxes.

 Pedestrianisation has been shown to increase retail turnover, improve shop occupancy rate and attract buyers. These economic benefits were proven long ago: a 1978 OECD report found that turnover increased in half of pedestrianised cities and remained the same in a quarter. Studies of pedestrianised streets in French and American cities showed a clear link, with more shoppers and sales increasing 10–20% per year, coupled with drastically reduced store vacancies. High occupancy also means more people required to run shops, hence more jobs. 

 Economics aside, encouraging walking helps tackle our health crisis. We can reclaim public spaces for welfare, communities and greening, reduce pollutants, and lessen unwanted noise. There are other clear social benefits such as encouraging interaction and a sense of community.

 Taking a further step back from the problem of declining high streets, car ownership is undeniably an issue, and pedestrianisation will help solve this. The number of vehicles owned in the UK has doubled since the 1970s, to 38 million. This creates issues with space (towns still have the same streets), pollution (vehicles emit harmful gases and dust like carbon monoxide and particulates), and health. Car ownership and the current layout of many towns are engineering walking out of our lives!

 Pedestrianisation is easy and fast to implement, and is a low-cost, high-benefit and sustainable solution to these contemporary issues.

 Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 31/10/2019

Fly-tipping issues

This year Kent introduced new charges for commercial waste disposal, bringing them into line with neighbouring authorities. Like all councils at the moment, they are grateful for another source of income.

But some people have suggested that there will be more fly-tipping in the county as a result. Farmers and rural businesses are particularly concerned.

At this stage, though, it may be too early to assess the impact of the change. Increased efforts to catch offenders might also complicate the picture.

The new rates are mainly focused on building materials, but fly-tipping often involves household waste of various kinds. And then it is part of a much larger problem.

Encouraged by advertising, we seek out the latest desirable products, and discard the old ones – often while they are still in good condition. In that sense, fly-tipping is a symptom of our throwaway society.

The best method of dealing with this is to reduce the amount we consume. Whenever possible we should repair or reuse the things we already own, and recycle the rest in an appropriate way.

Authorities at every level have a role to play here. The European Union, for example, has now introduced a so-called right to repair. From 2021, manufacturers will have to make appliances such as washing machines and fridges longer-lasting. They will also have to supply spare parts for them for up to ten years.

The government say that after Brexit they will match and even exceed these standards. Let us hope so.

Changing the rates for commercial waste disposal, then, doesn’t get to the heart of the problem. It might or might not discourage fly-tipping. The reality is that there is simply too much waste to dispose of, wherever it ends up.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 24/10/2019

Transport choices

The question suggests that we have to choose between road maintenance and the environment, but I don’t believe that’s true. We should be taking care of both.

The state of our roads is important not only for dirtier forms of transport, but also for cyclists and pedestrians. Potholes, for example, can cause serious injuries and damage, and these are now more frequent than they used to be.

Government policy is largely to blame for this. Nine years of underinvestment have taken their toll on our road network. The trend towards heavier vehicles – 4x4s or SUVs – has also been unhelpful.

There would certainly be less need for expensive repairs if more people walked, cycled or used public transport. There would be environmental advantages too, with better air quality and fewer greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as general health benefits.

A first step, then, might be to make the roads safer for non-drivers. Twenty-mile-an-hour speed limits are easy to introduce, and should be the norm in residential areas. Selective pedestrianisation – of high streets, for instance – could be part of the strategy.

Reserved space for cyclists, both on and off the roads, would make everyone’s life easier. At the moment this tends to be an afterthought for the planners, if they consider it at all.

More broadly, there needs to be a shift towards cheaper and cleaner public transport. Cars will of course continue to be useful, as long as they draw their power from renewable sources, but the bulk of future investment should be going into electric trains, buses and trams.

We also have to think carefully about the layout of our towns and cities. How can we minimise commuting? Are the shops close to where people live?

Maintaining roads is important. But having a comprehensive and sustainable transport strategy is absolutely essential.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 17/10/2019

Preventing antisocial behaviour

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

That doesn’t mean there are no issues to address here. We can’t insulate ourselves completely from wider social trends and political developments.

The question suggests two possible approaches to this problem. On the basis that prevention is better than cure, the first one should be preferable.

The difficulty for local authorities is that they cannot afford to do what’s needed. Their budgets have been cut by billions of pounds since the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took office in 2010.

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. In the last nine years, however, more than six hundred of these centres have closed in Britain. Council funding for youth services has been halved.

If local authorities are hamstrung, perhaps we should look to the police. Under the terms of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, for example, they are authorised to disperse public gatherings of two or more people. They can ban certain activities (such as skateboarding) in a particular area, and prohibit alcohol consumption in public places.

Whatever their powers on paper, though, the police can take effective action only if they have proper support from the government. In fact they have faced a series of cuts since 2010, with 45,000 job losses. Recent promises of increased funding are a tacit admission by ministers that their existing approach is wrong.

It is a story that can be repeated across the public sector – in schools, the NHS, social care. Austerity was a political choice, and it has failed.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 10/10/2019

Recycling incentives

Almost everyone now accepts that recycling is a good idea. It avoids waste, minimises the use of raw materials, and cuts greenhouse-gas emissions.

Residents are already able to recycle large quantities of paper, glass and other materials. The services on offer may vary across the country, but the situation is certainly better than it was a few years ago.

Councils should now increase the range of things that all householders can recycle, including food, for example. To be successful, this will have to be straightforward and free of charge.

I doubt whether further incentives would then be needed. Everyone would be benefiting from a healthier and more sustainable environment. And recent campaigns against single-use plastic have shown that the public can respond quickly when they are made aware of a problem.

Unfortunately, putting out the recycling bags each week is not going to be enough. Some local authorities may simply ship them to poorer countries on the other side of the world, to rot in toxic dumps.

Even if this doesn’t happen, there is a limit to how many times the materials can be recycled. That means the demand for new plastic (for instance) will continue, and perhaps grow.

The truth is that we have to keep other R words in mind: reduce, repair, reuse. Of these the most important is the first, because our present levels of consumption are unsustainable in the long term.

Fashion is one area where a new approach is needed. At the moment we are encouraged to get rid of our old clothes, cars and so on, however usable they might still be.

Solving our environmental problems, then, will not be easy. As individuals we can achieve very little. But we can make real progress if we work together.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 3/10/2019

Compulsory vaccination

This is a very topical question, as recently public health experts with responsibility for controlling infectious diseases have been alarmed by a steep rise in cases of measles and mumps. In England between April and June this year 301 cases of measles were recorded, an increase of 30%, and 2,028 cases of mumps, a rise of 50% compared with the same period in 2018. Both infections can cause serious illnesses, and in rare cases life-threatening conditions. Both can be prevented by MMR vaccines. MMR stands for Measles, Mumps and Rubella (German Measles), and in order for the population to be free of these diseases, over 95% of 5-year-olds need to be vaccinated. So why is this not happening and what are the Government doing about it?

Some outbreaks of these diseases are linked to visits abroad over the summer, as the problem is more serious in parts of continental Europe. There are a growing number of people who have doubts about the safety of the vaccinations because of fake news on social media. Getting a doctor’s appointment to ask relevant questions is also becoming more difficult.

The Government have recently been lobbied by senior GPs to make the MMR jab compulsory for children before they are allowed to start primary school. This would not be socially acceptable, however, and probably could not be legally enforced. The measures that might be taken should include asking GPs to promote ’catch-up’ vaccinations for children who have missed their MMR shots. The NHS should be asked to provide additional accurate information, possibly using special health advisors, and the Government should urge social media companies to stop misleading anti-vaccination messages. All of this will require additional funding from the Government, which should also be making sure that adequate supplies of vaccines are available after Brexit.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 26/9/2019

Gender-balanced boards

Gender diversity in the boardroom is not only crucial for a healthy society, but also makes business sense. It brings different perspectives to decision-making, improves company performance, and reflects the wider diversity of society. 

Workplace diversity is clearly lacking, however. One large global index found women hold 18% of directorships, and just 22% of seats in Fortune 500 companies. If, starting today, every new director were a woman, it would take 40 years to achieve boardroom gender equality. Read that again: 40 years!

The British government currently encourages a voluntary approach to improving this balance, but some countries in the European Union have compulsory quotas.

On the one hand, those quotas won’t solve the underlying reasons for failure and may not be sustainable. They won’t address vital changes to attitudes and operational infrastructure to support boardroom balance. They may even be counter-productive; mandatory quotas are demeaning, and may cause perceptions that women are promoted only because of their gender.

On the other hand, EU quotas are working. I’m frustrated with our slow progress and mandatory targets here could ‘set the wheels in motion’, as an interim measure to accelerate diversity.

On balance this is a tough question. Quotas may cause change, but I believe the key criterion for leadership should be merit. The government and business should focus on sustainable strategies to support female progression: coaching and networking, policy change (unbiased recruitment, improved work-life balance), training on discrimination and the benefits of inclusion, and ultimately monitoring. We can’t manage what we can’t measure!

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 19/9/2019

School holidays

The number of penalty notices issued to parents for unauthorised holidays rose significantly last year, to 223,000. This followed the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision to uphold a fine imposed by Isle of Wight local authority, after a long legal battle.

Previously, families might be allowed to take up to a fortnight’s holiday in term time, if their children had a good attendance record. But since 2013 headteachers have been told they can authorise absences only in ‘exceptional’ circumstances, such as funerals.

The problem for many parents is that travel companies charge considerably more in the school holidays than they do in term time. It’s understandable that people might want to take advantage of the lower prices. The companies themselves would blame the difference on commercial pressures, and I cannot see how it could be outlawed.

There needs to be discretion, then, in how and to what extent parents are penalised for term-time holidays. Absence in September, for example – when many courses are beginning – may be more serious than it would be in July, and might lead to a larger fine.

People’s financial circumstances could also be taken into account. This doesn’t have to be formal means-testing, which often gives rise to its own problems. It is worth remembering that the very poorest families will never go away on holiday, whatever the time of year.

There is no simple answer to this question, but the key point for policy-makers is that parents should always be encouraged to keep their children in school. Young minds are uniquely receptive to learning, and time lost cannot be made up.

A century and a half ago education was essentially the preserve of the rich. Today, however, we regard it as a basic human right, and we should never take its benefits for granted.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 25/7/2019


Local libraries remain a valuable and viable resource for their community as they have successfully kept pace with technological and social change - no mean feat.

Reserving, borrowing, renewing and returning books can all now be done online, which better suits today's fast-paced lifestyles. We can also download eBooks (including eAudios), eMagazines and eNewspapers. There are CDs, DVDs, and music and drama sets available for a reasonable fee.

In addition, today's libraries host a range of clubs and activities to suit all ages - baby singing groups, story time for young children, homework clubs for students, plus talk time and a range of both reading and book clubs for adults. Importantly, one can book time for computing assistance from an IT 'buddy', and there are 'digital dens' for 8 to 11 year olds to build on their skills. Time permitting, one can volunteer to run any of these groups and activities.

There are modest charges for late returns, damaged or lost items (free for the 5s and under), and printing and copying services. There is assistance for research, and there are aids and services such as hearing loops and large print books, in addition to home library delivery services to accommodate special needs.

The vast array of free services and small costs are unique in an otherwise expensive world. These enable us to both learn and socialise in a safe and friendly environment. With new technology, one could have predicted an end to public libraries but, on the contrary, they have undergone a revolution - not just keeping pace with the technological times but offering an enriched life for so many of us in the community. 

Stella Tickle

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 18/7/2019

Local infrastructure

Everyone now accepts we have a desperate housing shortage in England. Delivering the pledged million homes by 2020 will be complex, and good infrastructure is key to success. It creates areas people can (and want to) live in, while green space and community facilities support thriving neighbourhoods and overall wellbeing. Accessible transport minimises pollution and environmental impact. 

The way infrastructure is funded is also complex, involving government departments and private developers. The system lacks cohesion and isn’t working, causing our communities to suffer. 

The main funding mechanisms are developer contributions towards infrastructure costs, called a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), and the New Housing Infrastructure Fund which local authorities bid for. 

Not enough local authorities are actually collecting this funding (under 50% currently), and many who have collected millions aren’t spending it, e.g. Shropshire Council collected £6.3m but spent just £14k, reportedly accumulating funding for ‘big ticket’ items. 

These poor results are disappointing, but not particularly shocking. Obviously, it takes time to build up funds for infrastructure - but this is hard to explain to communities expecting improvements alongside development. 

Rather than waiting to see how much money is collected before deciding what to fund, authorities should have clear spending plans and priorities. Transparency will engage communities and improve budgeting. The process should be simplified to encourage more authorities to charge levies. 

Locations for development should be carefully considered, with a preference for brownfield land and areas which already have transport links, to help householders get around without relying on cars. 

Finally, we must hold local authorities to account. There’s valid concern that money collected in one part of an authority area may be spent on infrastructure miles away. We must keep asking ‘what are you going to spend on my area?’, and petition developers to do the same. 

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 11/7/2019

LGBT rights

Progress in the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is sometimes taken for granted. Male homosexuality, for example, was decriminalised more than fifty years ago, in 1967. Since then we have seen the introduction of civil partnerships, and (under a Conservative Prime Minister) of same-sex marriage. In many ways, being LGBT has been normalised and accepted in this country.

It is not all good news, however. According to recent reports, attacks on LGBT people have increased dramatically since 2012. Homophobic abuse has been facilitated by social media, and some politicians have publicly expressed anti-LGBT views.

Supporting equality, fairness and diversity has never been more important. And schools have a part to play in this.

The Equality Act of 2010 was a first step. Now the government have passed legislation to make relationships education compulsory in primary schools from September next year.

Unfortunately, they have failed to specify what has to be included in the curriculum. Instead it has been left up to individual headteachers, who have found themselves under pressure from some parents as a result. 

We are not talking here about sex education. Nor is the word ‘rights’ very helpful, because that is too abstract a term for most primary-age children. What it comes down to is recognising that, in 2019, there are many kinds of people and families, and they all deserve our respect.

This won’t be an issue for some pupils, as they will have had personal experience of LGBT households: friends, neighbours, or of course their own families – there are many possible examples. For others, it is vital they know that such households exist, and that they are socially acceptable.

Name-calling, bullying and violence directed against LGBT people are a scar on our society – one that we must eradicate.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 4/7/2019

MPs' pay rise

Anyone would support an inflation-correcting pay rise for someone doing a good job, as most MPs do.

But since the expenses scandal the public have been sceptical about MPs' pay, and perhaps the real question is "are we getting value for money from our MPs?" Alas, some of them are letting their hard-working colleagues down in that respect.

There are several who multiply their income several times by writing weekly columns for newspapers, or flying abroad to give well-rewarded speeches - can they really be dedicating enough time and energy to their constituents' needs?

Then there is the "revolving door" practice, where ministers leaving Parliament get senior jobs with companies in the sector they were responsible for. Defence ministers are well known for that; for example, Geoff Hoon, Labour Defence Minister during the Iraq invasion, became an international Director at AgustaWestland military helicopters. The Parliamentary committee that reviews such transfers has not refused any of the 4,000 applications made to it - and ex-Chancellor George Osborne didn't bother asking its permission when he took up six new jobs in finance and the media.

But the underlying cause for scepticism rests in our first-past-the-post electoral system, in which two out of three voters often don't get the MP or the Government they voted for, and then have to watch the confrontational layout of the House of Commons leading to deaf ears and yah-boo behaviour across the chamber.

As we saw in the recent EU elections, proportional representation gives an outcome that better reflects the national mood. In countries that use the system, and have circular Parliamentary layouts, MPs listen to one another, and produce better and more sustainable legislation, for the good of all voters.

That's what value for money looks like.

John Hurst

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 27/6/2019

Family doctors

The short answer to this question is ‘I hope not’. There are many obvious advantages to continuity of care in the NHS.

GPs are bound to do a better job if they already know the medical history of a patient. They might spot patterns and connections that a new doctor would miss. And treating every member of a family should make the process even more efficient.

In 2019, however, this is a reality for fewer and fewer people. GP surgery closures across the country reached an all-time high last year.

More than half a million patients were affected. Some now have to travel long distances to see a doctor, which is particularly difficult for the most vulnerable. Everyone has to get used to new arrangements and medical teams.

According to recent research, the number of GPs per 100,000 people has fallen from nearly 65 (in 2014) to 60. Doctors may be treating twice as many patients as they consider safe.

What is going wrong? GPs themselves have two concerns: under-resourcing and inadequate recruitment.

The first issue is a familiar one by now. Public-sector funding has been systematically cut ever since the Conservative-Lib Dem government took office in 2010.

Recruitment, though, is slightly more complex. The NHS has to treat an ageing population at a time when many of its staff are also retiring. Brexit and new immigration rules are making the task harder.

For GPs, it’s a vicious circle. A greater workload means more stress, which is an incentive to leave. The doctors who are left have to take up the slack, and that encourages them to go too.

Ministers pay lip service to the idea of a properly funded NHS – including the provision of ‘family’ GPs. We all need to see those fine words reflected in the government’s policies.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 20/6/2019

Social housing

This country is in the grip of a housing crisis. The population is growing, but supply has failed to keep up with demand. According to official figures, tens of thousands of people are homeless.

Even those lucky enough to have a roof over their head may face eviction by an unscrupulous landlord, or find that they can no longer pay the mortgage on a property they have bought. House prices in many areas continue to rise faster than wages, and are particularly high here in the south-east. As a result there has been a great deal of speculative investment, which makes the situation worse.

I hope we can all agree that affordable, secure and comfortable accommodation is a basic human right. And an obvious way for councils to meet that need is by building up their stock of social housing.

This would help to balance the market, by providing an alternative to private renting or expensive ownership. It would also be under the control of our elected representatives, who might then establish new and better standards of energy efficiency, for example.

Councils may of course be reluctant or unable to spend money this way. They have been in the front line of austerity since 2010. It’s therefore time for central government to support them in raising the necessary funds, whether by borrowing or taxation.

We should remember that the growing need for social housing is not an isolated issue. It is part of a larger picture in which (as a recent UN report suggested) there are far too many families living in poverty.

Change is required at a national level. One day soon, perhaps, the politicians at Westminster will focus less on Brexit and more on policies that actually help people.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 13/6/2019

Social media vigilantism

The social media companies have grown enormously in the last few years. Millions of people around the world have signed up with them, and hand over vast amounts of personal information every day.

As a result, the networks’ founders have become fabulously rich. They can afford to buy up potential rivals before their monopoly is threatened. And they pay little if any tax in the countries where they do business.

Their companies have been criticised for spreading fake news, hate speech and propaganda, giving away personal data without consent, and live-streaming atrocities. They are said to facilitate grooming and child abuse, self-harm and suicide. More generally, they seem to bring out the worst in their users: boasting, certainly, but also impulsive and aggressive behaviour, often under the cloak of anonymity.

To this long (but not exhaustive) list, we now have to add the vigilantism that is so easy to practise on social media. In some countries it has already had tragic consequences, as the accused are subjected to mob violence and even murder.

All of this is at odds with the values and principles of the Green Party. In my view we should have nothing to do with these forms of so-called surveillance capitalism.

Wherever it occurs, vigilantism is not a good idea. By definition it is an attempt to enforce the law without due process. Unsubstantiated and possibly malicious allegations can be made by people who have no legal training or authority. The accused, on the other hand, are deprived of their usual rights.

Of course we should report criminal activity – but to the police, not to online vigilantes. I hope that we can soon develop a more mature relationship with the internet, one in which we recognise its dangers as well as its benefits.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 6/6/2019

Antisocial behaviour

Sevenoaks Community Safety Partnership and Kent Police together deal with reported incidents of antisocial behaviour such as vandalism, rowdy neighbours, vagrancy and environmental damage (e.g. dumping rubbish or cars). Apparently ASBOs took too long to implement, and were replaced by Civil Injunctions and Criminal Behaviour Orders.

Some people – Scottish Conservatives, for example – have called for the doubling of on-the-spot fines for low-level offenders. There would be a higher-level £100 charge for serious offences, giving officers more flexibility to deal with minor ones such as vandalism and breach of the peace.

On the other hand, fast-tracking children (for example) into a legal process, whilst ignoring the causes behind their behaviour, is morally dubious and short-sighted. As Theresa May said recently at a knife-crime summit, 'We cannot simply arrest ourselves out of this problem'.

Similarly, the Vagrancy Act labels the homeless as criminals and doesn't address underlying social problems. The Home Office itself expressed concern in 2017 that orders were being used disproportionately to target buskers, rough sleepers and the most vulnerable. Poverty itself can become criminalised.

Quite apart from the moral aspect, targeting particular groups in this way can be counterproductive because it increases resentment, which then leads to more antisocial behaviour. Allocating funds to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness as well as alcoholism and mental ill-health in families may nip some of this behaviour in the bud. That would reduce pressure on police to deal with these problems on the streets.

Local authorities must have powers to deal with antisocial behaviour. But it is also important to continue to focus on its long-term causes, to get behind it, and attempt to reduce its incidence in the first place.  

'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' (Blair, 1993).

 Stella Tickle

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 30/5/2019

Healthier lifestyles

The short answer to this question is yes, and austerity has aggravated the problem. Many families with incomes below the national average do not enjoy a healthy lifestyle, for a variety of reasons.

Low income is often linked to unskilled work, with worse conditions than in white-collar jobs.  Many people can only afford sub-standard housing, where they are more at risk of respiratory infections. On average eating healthily is more expensive than junk food, which increases the risk of obesity. And often there is not enough spare income for leisure activities that would promote good health.

It is no wonder that average life expectancy is shorter in poorer areas of Kent and Sussex than it is in the rest of the UK.

To address this problem, a number of initiatives have been launched by health and local authorities (as well as voluntary agencies) to help people improve their health. These include park runs, walking football for the retired, nutrition courses, stop-smoking groups, disability aids, and outings that encourage participants to mix socially to reduce isolation and anxiety. Some GP practices have ‘Social Prescribers’, and in other areas ‘Care Navigators’ refer clients to an appropriate scheme.

What often happens, though, is that the people who need these schemes the most are the ones who use them the least. There is no single reason for this. The cost of transport or the sessional fees may deter some users, while others lack the necessary leisure time. Some will not decide to change their lifestyles until they have a big health shock. And social pressure to smoke and drink has a part to play.

The use of outreach marketing methods by agencies, together with greater awareness of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, could provide the best hope of dealing with this difficult issue.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 23/5/2019

Higher council tax

This will be the fourth consecutive year of above-inflation council tax rises. The average band D bill is set to increase by £75.60.

Householders might blame local authorities, but it isn’t as straightforward as that. Central government has been cutting the support given to councils ever since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took office in 2010. The rises are largely an attempt to offset those reductions and keep essential public services going.

Some residents will of course struggle to pay their bills at a time when wages have been stagnant and relief given to adults of working age has been drastically cut. Council tax arrears across England and Wales have grown from £691 million in 2012-13 to £944 million now.

The result has been a rising number of prosecutions, with more than three hundred people given custodial sentences. Here in Kent, for example, a woman was sent to a closed prison for 90 days for a debt of £2,700.

This is supposed to happen only when the person is able to pay but refuses to do so. In practice some of the poorest householders are penalised because they simply cannot afford their council tax bills.

Last year the Welsh government said that they (like Scotland and Northern Ireland) would no longer imprison people for not paying local taxes. England has yet to follow suit.

We should deal with this problem in the longer term by reforming the way we raise funds for our public services. At the moment the system is unfair and inefficient.

Owners of the largest properties certainly pay more council tax than people in the smallest, but the difference is not proportional. If the bills reflected actual values it would be possible to make them more affordable for those at the bottom end.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 16/5/2019

Exam support

Anxiety in education is a growing problem. Last week a survey of 8,600 school leaders and teachers reported a significant deterioration in pupils’ mental health over the past two years. There seems to be a lack of mental health support in schools (below half claimed pupils had access to school counsellors) and improving government funding here is critical.

Exam season is now in full flow and can be a time of particular stress. The right support, through managing anxiety, mentoring, and effective test-taking strategies, can make a real difference to how young people deal with it.

Students become anxious when they fear failure or are under pressure to do well. We need to help young people develop resilience, and research suggests parental exam support results not only in better grades but also (more importantly!) children who are better adjusted socially and emotionally. This may involve regular communication about revision, encouraging sufficient sleep, and maintaining perspective (gentle reminders that tests are just tests, and don’t define their worth).

We can empower students with simple strategies to reduce anxiety such as breathing exercises, positive self-talk, or exercise. Creating study schedules can be invaluable, with time for both revision and relaxation. Through mentoring and volunteering we can encourage critical thinking, as well as helping pupils to develop the technical knowledge needed to ace exams. This can be beneficial for both parties, and opportunities include volunteering at homework clubs, working with local libraries to host study groups, or developing research and reference skills.

We can also teach effective test-taking strategies: reading questions completely before answering them, skipping over the ones that students don’t know in order to manage time, reviewing answers, and even seated stretches to release tension. 

If you’re interested in supporting volunteering or mentoring, email

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 9/5/2019

Voting in local elections

Local elections are being held across the country this week. Here in Sevenoaks, for instance, people are voting for the district council. And they will be using a long-established electoral system to do so.

The results are unlikely to be fair or proportional, however, because they will not take account of the total number of votes a party has won. Instead it will be first-past-the-post in each ward.

This is the same system that is used in parliamentary elections, and it produces similar outcomes. The larger parties do better than they should, while the smaller ones are squeezed.

Right across our region, the Conservatives dominate local politics. That is particularly true in the area where I live. In 2015 they took 49 of the 54 seats on Sevenoaks District Council. The Lib-Dems won two, and Labour and UKIP had one each.

The Tories did get the most votes: 64%. But the result left other parties seriously underrepresented on the council.

The Green candidates, for example, won 9% of the vote in 2015. In a fair system they would have taken about 9% of the seats – but in practice they had none at all.

No wonder, then, that turnout in these elections is significantly lower than in other polls. People understandably feel that their voices may not be heard.

They might also question the usefulness of voting for a body that has less and less power to improve their lives. Central government has increasingly stripped councils of their ability to raise money and spend it as they see fit.

We need a better system not only for these local elections but also for national ones. People are too often forced to vote tactically, and support parties that would not be their first choice – and that cannot be good for democracy.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 2/5/2019

Election Q&A

1. What are the three most important issues facing the district?

  • Transport issues – congestion and parking problems. The Council have built multi-storey car parks that will encourage more road traffic and consequent air pollution. It should be easier to cycle, walk or use public transport
  • Providing enough affordable homes (without damaging the Green Belt)
  • Protecting the environment by extending recycling facilities and promoting reusable containers and wrappings in shops

2. If you are elected what is the first thing you will seek to change?

We want to see a 20-mph speed limit on residential side streets, particularly near schools. Studies in London have shown that this reduces air pollution from exhausts because of the smoother flow of traffic and cuts road casualties by up to 40%. Safer cycling and better public transport should also be part of a local traffic policy.

3. What is the biggest misconception about your party?

The biggest misconception about the Greens is that we are a single-issue party. Of course the environment is extremely important to us, but there are many other areas we are interested in too. We want to challenge discrimination such as the gender pay gap, improve working lives by protecting employees’ rights, and end austerity in order to reduce poverty and raise living standards. Animal welfare is also a priority for us.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p11, 25/4/2019

Social care

A loaded question. Is it ever enough, given the multiple demands of the individual upon the state?

This year 85 of the 151 English authorities that fund adult social care are charging a precept of up to 2% to help pay for it. That means they will have an additional £200 million to spend.

In practice, however, they would need £290 million just to cover the rise in the national minimum wage. And the government will not allow sixty-seven councils to raise any extra money for social care in 2019.

The answer to the question, then, is No. Demand for these services is growing, and funding has failed to keep up with it. The Green Party’s understanding of ‘social care’ is that every person, young or old, should be able to lead a fulfilled life, irrespective of age, gender or race, mental or physical ability.

For some of us, especially here in Sevenoaks, life feels comparatively sheltered and privileged. But the inequalities of the human condition can affect the most fortunate, and families can fail to function at every level of society. In the Green Party, we believe that a single budget, covering health and social services, would enable people to take a more individual and flexible approach to their working life, their retirement, and, importantly, caring for others.

We also recognise that, although the nuclear family is still thought of as the ideal model, many young people do not experience it, and some parents can’t, or won’t, give their children adequate care. This means that the extended family – plus the wider community, carers and educators, family centres and adopt-a-grandparent schemes – will all need to play a part. Who said it takes a village to bring up a child?

And it takes a whole community to bring about social change.

Lisbeth Johnson & Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 25/4/2019

Alcohol-related crime

Excessive drinking is a major cause of all kinds of health and family problems, and the link between drunkenness and crime is well established.  Nationally alcohol misuse contributes to 1.2 million incidents of violent crime a year, 40% of domestic violence cases, and 6% of all road casualties.

Men are twice as likely to be heavy drinkers as women and it is the younger male binge-drinkers who most often commit the crimes. Roughly 47% of inmates jailed for violent crimes were under the influence of alcohol at the time. And in Kent, alcohol-related road-traffic collision rates are significantly higher than the South-East average.

In 2014, Kent Public Health reported that around 68,000 people in the county were alcohol-dependent, and estimated that nearly 264,000 people (23% of the population over 18) were drinking at increasing and high-risk levels.

Because of concern at the scale of this problem the Directors of Public Health for Kent County Council and the Medway Council produced a report this year which recommends action in five areas: early help and intervention, prevention approaches, mental health promotion, health protection and referral to treatment. Unfortunately, while alcohol is so accessible and because of the cultural acceptance of even heavy drinking, this programme will be a long-term endeavour.

Meanwhile spending on the police has fallen by 18% since 2009/10. Police officer numbers for Kent went down from 3,682 in 2010 to 3,170 in 2018. Concurrently crime here went up by more than a third between March 2017 and March 2018 – the highest increase in the country.

It seems that staff in the health service and the police are aware of these problems and are doing what they can within their resources. It is cuts in government spending on these vital public services that are holding them back.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p14, 18/4/2019

Engagement in politics

Being engaged in politics is usually seen as a good thing. It strengthens our democracy if people are aware of the issues, and vote whenever they can. Some might even join a political party and campaign for what they believe in.

The 2016 referendum certainly encouraged this kind of engagement. Many on both sides felt passionately about our membership of the European Union, and campaigned vigorously for or against. Everyone’s vote was of equal value, regardless of where they lived. Unsurprisingly, turnout on the day was higher than in most general elections.

Nor did the debate end when the polling stations closed. Leaving the EU is far less straightforward than the Brexiters suggested three years ago. People have had to master a whole new vocabulary – backstop and customs union, single market and Article 50, meaningful votes and merely indicative ones.

The Greens have remained united on this issue, but the two biggest parties are split. Strange alliances have emerged as a result. I have sometimes found myself nodding in agreement with politicians whose views on almost every other topic I would profoundly disagree with.

There is a darker side to the ongoing Brexit debate, however. Referendums do not fit easily into our system of representative democracy, and Parliament is regularly criticised for failing to honour the 2016 vote. MPs have been subjected to abuse and intimidation (often through social media) on an unprecedented scale.

The problem is that there are several different ways of delivering Brexit, and it is members of Parliament who have to choose among them. Whichever one they opt for, many people will be unhappy with the outcome.

That is why the final deal – whatever it is – will need to be confirmed by a national vote. And yes, Remain should be on the ballot paper too.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 11/4/2019

Brexit divisions

These are difficult times. Just when we need to be united in tackling problems such as poverty, crumbling public services and – above all – the climate crisis, the country is tearing itself apart over Brexit.

Families, friends, political parties: everyone has been put under enormous strain by the 2016 referendum and its aftermath. Nor is there an end in sight. A withdrawal treaty is only the first step towards a new relationship with our European neighbours. The wrangling will continue for years to come.

The answer to the question, then, is Yes. Is it possible to heal these divisions? Not in the short term, perhaps. But I think there are a few points on which Leavers and Remainers might now agree.

One would surely be the staggering incompetence of the Conservative government. David Cameron promised an in-out referendum in the belief that it would never happen, and then assumed that the Brexiters would lose. He had to resign. His successor signed a deal with the EU that was repeatedly rejected by huge majorities in the Commons.

Throughout this painful process the Conservatives have put the interests of their party above those of the country. And they have failed even in this respect, as large numbers of Tory MPs have refused to endorse the government’s approach.

Another point of agreement between the two camps might be about the difficulty and complexity of leaving the European Union. Since 1973 Britain has developed its economy, security systems and so on as a full member, and of course will remain geographically close to the EU – our largest trading partner.

Brexit has therefore been compared to unscrambling eggs. It was sold to us three years ago as something easy and painless, but both sides of the argument can now see how wrong that idea was.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 4/4/2019

Recycling and waste services

Recycling, the process of converting and reusing the things we discard, avoids waste and reduces air and water pollution as well as the consumption of fresh raw materials and energy. It decreases the need for traditional rubbish disposal and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

Our local weekly kerbside collections take recycling sacks of paper, tins and certain plastics, black sacks of non-recyclable household waste plus a fortnightly collection for garden waste. We also have sites for recycling glass bottles/jars, cardboard boxes, etc.

Are our local services adequate? Two additions could be made:

Specific food waste kerbside collections are made weekly in areas such as Bedfordshire, Norwich and London. (Appropriate containers provided.) This includes anything you can't eat or compost at home. It can be recycled into fertiliser and can generate electricity to be fed back into the national grid. Government proposals aim to increase funding for these collections (as part of a larger plan to tackle waste), and all councils will then be obliged to provide them, though no date has been given for this.

Furthermore, some areas such as Oxford, Surrey and London offer separate kerbside collections for the recycling of clothes and home textiles.

More generally, I’m amazed at how much plastic food packaging is still not recyclable, though this is a national rather than a local issue.

Of course there are high capital costs in setting up a new recycling unit, possible health risks with harmful chemicals from the waste, and perhaps quality issues with the recycled material. The financial costs incurred lessen over time, however, and with increased use (as with economies of scale). In any case, shouldn't we prioritise the funding of recycling to enhance the quality of life for our children, grandchildren and future generations in this area?

Stella Tickle

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 28/3/2019

Emotional support in school

Recent reports have painted an alarming picture of the mental health challenges our young people are facing. Some have described the situation as an epidemic.

That may be an overstatement, but emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety are on the rise. In England, one in eight people aged under 19 now has a mental health problem.

Young women seem to be most at risk. There has been an almost doubling of hospital admissions for girls' self-harm since 1997.

What is going on? Several possible explanations have been put forward.

High-stakes testing in schools may be one factor, but it has been around for quite a few years. The same is true of illicit drugs or alcohol.

The internet, on the other hand, is relatively new. Using social media makes almost everyone unhappy, and the young are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure.

Whatever the cause, it is teachers who are on the front line of this problem. They have to offer their pupils emotional support at a time when youth services across the country are being cut.

I know from personal experience that the vast majority of teachers work extremely hard, and will do all they can to help their students. But at the moment the state school system in England is under intolerable strain.

Spending per pupil has gone down by 8% in real terms since the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition took office in 2010. This is the largest cut for at least thirty years. Schools have been forced to sack teachers, shrink the curriculum, and even close early to make ends meet. Begging letters have been sent to parents.

If we want our young people to thrive, we should be giving schools the resources they desperately need. Education is perhaps the greatest investment for the future that we can make.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p18, 21/3/2019

Mental health services

Long waiting times for NHS mental health appointments have been a national issue for years, and cause additional distress to people living with these problems. This has been particularly true for those waiting to access child and adolescent services.

There have been several mental health taskforce reports and government initiatives for both children and adults since the year 2000, setting out plans to improve wellbeing, but the essential problem has been one of funding. The services have suffered from years of underinvestment that have delayed new developments in therapy and reduced their ability to cope with demand. Waiting lists have lengthened as a result.

In January this year, however, the government published a long-term plan to make the NHS fit for the future that included an additional £2.3 billion a year for mental health care. The plan includes targets to help 380,000 more people get therapy for depression and anxiety by 2023/24, as well as providing community-based physical and mental care for 370,000 people with severe mental illness by 2023/24.

According to ministers, support for women around the time of childbirth and funding for children and young people’s mental health will be increased. This is particularly important as around 75% of mental health problems in adult life (excluding dementia) start by the age of 18.  Early help stops young people falling into crisis and avoids expensive longer-term treatment in adulthood.

The promise of additional investment suggests that improvements in mental health care may now be given priority. The question (as so often with this government) is how much progress will actually be made.

With Brexit absorbing everyone’s attention, and possibly depriving the Treasury of tax revenue, it may again be a matter of fine words without any real achievement. Let’s hope not.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p20, 14/3/2019

High Street footfall

It is often said these days that British high streets are under threat. Fewer people are visiting them, and many seem to prefer the internet to their local shops.

As a result, businesses are closing and jobs are being lost. Some high streets may be locked in a spiral of decline.

I believe that we can reverse this reduction in footfall, and that it is important we do so. Buying everything from huge American corporations while neglecting local retailers is neither desirable nor sustainable.

The picture is not an entirely gloomy one, and there are lessons to be learned from places that have bucked the trend.

Here in Kent, a visit to a large shopping centre such as Bluewater suggests one possible way forward. On a busy Saturday afternoon, families can wander through without worrying about traffic or air pollution.

There are plenty of shops, of course, but also restaurants, cinemas and other amenities. The site is compact and well maintained.

The biggest drawback to centres like this is their relative isolation. Most people can get to them only by driving there.

Perhaps the ideal model would combine the advantages of out-of-town shopping with the accessibility of traditional high streets. We should seriously consider pedestrianisation of some areas, for example. Car parks would still be available, but they could be friendlier to the environment, with bicycle racks and electric-vehicle charging points.

According to the analyst Philip Croft, an appropriate mix of services can be encouraged by differential business rates, with the most socially useful paying the least.

One great advantage many high streets have is the regular presence of markets selling local produce. These should always be supported – for good environmental as well as commercial reasons.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 7/3/2019

Fly-tipping penalties

Fly-tipping seems to be a growing problem, not just locally 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 tend to dump rubbish in country lanes and other isolated places. Despite the use of cameras and a specialist team, only two people have been successfully prosecuted for fly-tipping here in Sevenoaks since 2016.

One way of responding to this failure is to increase the penalties for those who are caught. Last month the government announced new fines of up to £400 for householders who failed to pass their waste to a licensed carrier for disposal.

It is too early to say how much of an impact this approach might have, but there are lessons to be learned from previous changes in policy.

Two hundred years ago the founder of modern Conservatism, Robert Peel, became Home Secretary, and set about reforming the criminal law. The system he inherited was simply not working.

A large number of crimes were punishable by death, for example, and Peel realised that this encouraged juries to acquit many of those guilty of trivial offences. Severe penalties for wrong-doing were therefore not a deterrent.

Instead, Peel and his successors concentrated on catching criminals as quickly as possible. Setting up the Metropolitan Police was a vital part of this approach, and it provided a model for other areas to copy.

Why is all this relevant to fly-tipping in 2019? Because it is still the likelihood of being caught that makes potential offenders think twice, rather than the severity of the punishment.

In the longer term, of course, the best way to solve our waste-disposal problem is to focus on the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 28/2/2019

Parking v. public transport

Sevenoaks is already close enough to the biggest car park in the UK, the M25. I say this to highlight a major problem in prioritising more car parks over better public transport, as greater car use will inevitably follow if we choose this path. The cost of motoring remains at or below its 1980 level compared with a 37% rise in bus, coach and rail fares, and within Sevenoaks district 85% of households own one or more cars.

This makes the most pressing problem we face – climate change – harder to solve, but the obsession with growth at any cost allows politicians to avoid difficult choices that they think will anger voters and powerful industries. Instead of structuring policy to meet rising demand, the Green Party would manage that demand in the public interest, as the longer we delay such an approach the worse things like air pollution and congestion will become.

That is why we would use evidence-based policy to support the better use of public transport. For example, reports have established the link between air pollution and childhood mental illness. The negative findings of one such report by Katie King from the Oxford Centre for Innovation were ignored by Boris Johnson as London Mayor on its release.

The problem for Sevenoaks Council (in conjunction with Kent County Council) is that, since the privatisation of public transport and years of austerity-imposed cuts, all they can consider is trying to establish partnerships with the various bus, rail and coach companies. They simply do not have sufficient leverage with these organisations to enable them to prioritise the public realm over private profit by creating a transport system that would encourage people to visit and enjoy the town of Sevenoaks in a sustainable way.

Phil Levy

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 21/2/2019

Adverse weather

The phrase ‘adverse weather conditions’ usually refers to the winter – to snow, ice, and so on. The big freeze in March last year was a good example.

But 2018 also saw adverse weather of a different kind. That summer was the hottest ever recorded in England.

The scientists tell us that we can expect this pattern to become the norm in the twenty-first century. The climate is getting more extreme as the atmosphere warms up.

Higher temperatures mean more evaporation from the oceans, and heavier rainfall as a result. Winds get stronger and more destructive.

Summers here are now becoming uncomfortably hot. Winters are generally milder than they used to be, with flooding an ever-present threat.

Is Sevenoaks able to cope with these conditions? Yes, for a while at least.

As one of the wealthiest areas in the country, we have the resources to deal with crises such as blizzards or heavy rain. The District Council can normally contract for services that remove fallen trees and debris, and some flood defences. The police would co-ordinate rescue operations and KCC provide the road-gritting salt bins.

In the not-too-distant future, however, we are in danger of being overwhelmed by changes in the Earth’s climate. Many other places are already struggling to cope.

This is acknowledged to some extent in Sevenoaks District Council’s Local Plan. It recommends that ‘Blue Green’ infrastructure should be incorporated into new developments to reduce the impact of global warming. These measures include landscaping, planting hedges and trees, living walls and roofs, and permeable pavements.

This is not a problem that can be solved at a local, or even national, level. We need to cooperate with governments around the world to reduce humanity’s impact on the environment. It is not an easy task, but it is an urgent one.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 14/2/2019

Council elections

There will be council elections in Sevenoaks on May 2nd this year. I hope that the turnout will be high, and that voters will be thinking seriously about what they are looking for in their representatives.

Personal qualities I would single out might include honesty, integrity, and of course wisdom. Some experience of the wider world – in business or education, for example – would also be desirable.

Once they are elected, councillors should be independent-minded, whichever party they belong to. They need to stand up for the interests of their local voters, even if this leads to the occasional rebellion.

Too often, councils that are dominated by a single political group are inflexible and dogmatic. Residents would prefer contentious issues to be judged on their merits.

It is important, then, that we elect as wide a range of representatives as possible. A one-party council is never a good thing.

In May, there will be Green candidates standing right across the district. They can offer voters a real choice – a distinctive approach to local problems.

Our priorities include the air we breathe, the homes we want to live in and the ways we get around. The needs of pedestrians and cyclists, for example, should receive as much attention as those of motorists. A 20-mph speed limit on some roads would be a start.

More houses and flats have to be built, but not in an expensive free-for-all that would damage our environment. In this and many similar ways, our young people deserve better.

If you have supported other parties in the past, these local elections are an opportunity to lend your vote to the Greens. You can think of it as a one-off, but who knows – it may become a habit.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 7/2/2019

Beyond Brexit

We are now approaching the third anniversary of the 2016 referendum, but many of the issues it gave rise to are still unresolved. Even if Parliament votes for a withdrawal agreement, there is a long way to go before a new trade deal with the European Union is finalised. Some commentators have suggested that Brexit problems will be with us for ten years or more.

In this situation it is not surprising that other political concerns have received less attention than they deserve. The Conservatives lack a majority in the Commons and are effectively paralysed.

For some time now, for example, there has been a shortage of GPs, and while a promise was made to train more this does not seem to have materialised. The result of this is that in West Kent, and Sevenoaks in particular, practices are experiencing an acute shortage of doctors, so that patients are often having to wait longer than a month for an appointment or to receive a repeat prescription on time. Several local practices have had to close their patient list either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Air pollution is another issue that needs to be addressed.  At local level, more attention should be paid to the effects of housing projects and increasing levels of traffic. With so many plans for development along the A25 either side of Sevenoaks there is a high risk that air quality will deteriorate below acceptable international standards, affecting the health of children at schools nearby.

The most pressing problem we face in 2019, however, is still global warming. Last year was among the four hottest ever recorded. We need to act, and we need to act quickly.

John Harris

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p17, 31/1/2019




Education priorities

The purpose of education as shaping moral, creative and productive members of society has perhaps been forgotten.

Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari cites the importance of teaching ‘the four Cs’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. This aligns with the Green Party view that education should place greater emphasis on life skills to create a more conscientious society. In today's climate of fast innovation the tools of business change frequently, and teaching technical skills does little except train expert test-takers.

The development of critical thinking should certainly be supported. Drama or debate workshops could help students to engage with learning and improve their speaking and listening skills. These are key to making us well-rounded, questioning, lateral-thinking people.

Communication and creativity should be nurtured too. Teaching children art and music (and continuing to fund these throughout education) develops many transferable skills including self-expression and emotional literacy, while giving students a sense of achievement and pride. Arts subjects have been shown to build empathy that is vital for socially conscious communities. In business, this helps create and maintain relationships. Proficiency in languages is also crucial for fostering a sense of global citizenship.

We must teach children to collaborate, and experience the democratic process. Involving students in the running of their own school community can help them develop strong social structures, as well as an understanding of politics.

Abigail Blumzon

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 13/12/2018


As a retired person I can testify to the vast number of older people living locally who have the health, motivation and skills to continue contributing to society in general.

Many retirees are already working voluntarily for charities, in education and the NHS. Age UK reported in 2013 that ‘two-fifths of older people are doing their bit for charities and their communities by engaging in voluntary work’. They reported further that a poll by the Royal Voluntary Service found that one in five – around 2.2 million people over 60 – help out with at least two charities.With an aging population, this work will be more in demand over time.

To make the best use of people’s skills post-retirement, however, we need a more systematic recruitment of this pool of talent. For example, on retirement there could be some contact made by a government agency which could inform retirees about possible roles and particular needs in their local area. They may be interested in using the same skills they used in their working life (such as accountancy, social work or tutoring), or they may want a complete change. If the person is willing and able then a position can be found. Of course, if help is needed by retirees themselves, this can be identified and put into place at that time.

I am not suggesting that pressure should be put on anyone to take up voluntary work. That would be immoral and, in any case, many retirees already work hard in caring roles for their own extended families, but there must be many who don’t. To make them more aware of opportunities which reflect the needs of their local community could be beneficial to both parties.

Stella Tickle

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 6/12/2018

Local produce

Buying from local producers – whether of food or anything else – is obviously a good idea. A short supply line has many advantages for everyone involved.

Transport costs are minimised, for instance, which keeps prices and pollution down. Food should be fresher and tastier if it has not had far to travel.

Checking the quality of the production chain is easier, too. Customers can ask stallholders about the provenance of what is being sold, and support high standards of animal welfare, pesticide use and so on.

As a result, farmers’ markets have become increasingly popular. In Kent alone there are more than forty, including the one here in Sevenoaks.

To their credit, some supermarkets are now joining the trend towards local buying and selling. For this to continue we may need to adjust our expectations when it comes to the products on the shelves.

To take one example: vegetables such as asparagus should ideally be consumed when they are in season in this country, and not flown halfway round the world the rest of the year.

Why stop at food, though? Surely we should be trying to maximise the local production and sale of as many things as possible.

The Green Party would like to see the creation of partnership bodies and democratically accountable community banks. These would help people to develop sustainable enterprises for their area.

Credit unions and skills-exchange schemes should also be encouraged. In the longer term, local currencies might be useful.

The short answer to the question, then, is Yes. But the benefits of this approach can be enjoyed right across our economy.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 29/11/2018

Immigration management

We are still waiting for the government to publish their new migration policy, but the general approach is becoming clear. It will focus on applicants’ skills rather than where they come from.

On the face of it, this makes sense. Skilled workers should make a greater contribution to the British economy than unskilled ones, and pay more tax as a result.

There is no guarantee that the policy would bring immigration down to the government’s hundred-thousand target, of course. If a large number of applicants met the official criteria, they would all have to be admitted.

We have to bear in mind the inconvenient truth that our economy needs many unskilled workers too. Some of them may be seasonal, but the agricultural sector here in Kent, for example, cannot do without them.

The long-term consequences of our migration policy should also be taken into account. How would developing countries cope with attempts by Britain to cream off their best-qualified people?

Closer to home, relations with our European neighbours might be more difficult under the government’s preferred model. At the moment citizens can live and work anywhere in the EU.

If Britain curtails this freedom after Brexit, we can expect the other twenty-seven nations to respond in kind. Applicants for jobs on the continent may be rejected out of hand, and those already in employment may be forced to leave.

It will be interesting to see what sort of migration policy emerges in the next few months. If ministers are sensible, it will not look very different from our existing one.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p15, 22/11/2018

Defence spending

This month we are commemorating the end of the First World War, exactly a century ago. It had been a titanic struggle between the great European empires, and Britain’s emerged victorious.

As a result, the map was redder than ever in the 1920s. Canada, Australia, India, huge areas of Africa and the Middle East – all of them belonged to the British. And the mighty Royal Navy ruled the seas between them.

By 1945, however – after another world war – the country was almost bankrupt, and about to start withdrawing from its imperial possessions. It was given a permanent seat on the new United Nations Security Council, but its glory days were over.

This historical background is important because it still has an impact on our policies today. The government continues to behave (and to spend) as though we were a great power like the United States or China.

Replacing Britain’s nuclear arsenal, for example, will cost taxpayers more than two hundred billion pounds. Perhaps the absolute size of the defence budget is less important than how the money is spent.

As a nation with limited resources, we need to think about our priorities very carefully. The Cold War is over, and European states have not fought each other for more than seventy years. Only five countries have larger defence budgets than we do.

Meanwhile, other departments are crying out for proper funding: the NHS, schools, roads, the police, clean energy, affordable housing, public transport, social care – it is a long list. If additional money becomes available, we should channel it into these areas.

Britain once had a vast empire to police and protect, but not any more. Our spending on defence should reflect how much the world has changed since 1918.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p18, 15/11/2018

Balancing work and family life

When I was growing up there was a lot of discussion about leisure time, and how it might be filled in the future when people had hardly any work to do. We were promised that this magical state would arrive ‘by the year 2000’, if not before.

Wages would not be cut, of course. It was assumed that the process that had already given the country an eight-hour working day, and weekends off, would continue.

How wrong we were. Today there is an urgent need to re-balance employment and family life.

What has changed to overturn those optimistic predictions? Part of the answer lies in our use of technology, which has blurred the division between work and leisure time. In 2018 people may be on call round the clock, thanks to smartphones, email and so on.

But there is another important change that has taken place. The balance of power has shifted in favour of employers.

In the twentieth century trade unions were strong enough to secure many of the benefits of economic growth for their members, including shorter working hours. Sympathetic governments enshrined some of these gains in law.

Things are very different now. Employment rights have been eroded and workers have been put under increasing pressure.

If they are wise, managers know that happy employees are more loyal and productive than unhappy ones.

When this is not the case, however, people need to act together to bring about change. By presenting a united front they can negotiate with their employers from a position of strength.

Paul Wharton

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle, p16, 8/11/2018

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


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


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


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 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 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


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


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


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


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



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

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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 

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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: - 

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

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

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  



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  




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)