Thursday, April 24, 2008

Are you Low-Carbon yet?

I had the pleasure of being involved in a new initiative in my ward yesterday evening: Low-Carbon Headington. There is already one low-carbon community group up-and-running in Oxford. With its launch yesterday, Headington is the second, with another hot on its tail.

Sceptics might ask: can a groups like this do anything? It's too early to promise success from Low-Carbon Headington, but there are positive signs. There was a real buzz in the room. We had Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees, present to frighten us all with predictions of the catastrophes which might follow if we do nothing -- and, indeed, the disasters which will happen even if we do everything we must. Much of the work has to happen at an international level -- and demands real change from politicians, not just slogans (as, to be party-political for a moment, we're getting from the Tories right now). But I came away convinced that there are ideas in the community that can work with local action.

Part of the meeting was a 'post-it' session, where people jotted down their ideas and put them on a board. I had the job of trying to summarise them in 5 minutes -- an impossible task because there were so many, but here are a few of the themes which got repeated mention:

* local campaigns with shops and businesses -- in particular, encouraging an end to free plastic bags and persuading pubs not to have patio heaters
* 'greening Headington' -- especially, more trees in public and private spaces
* low-carbon transport -- car-clubs mentioned, as well as better cycling facilities -- plus Car-Free Headington Day, for which there are already plans
* pressure on government -- a call for carbon-rationing was particularly popular

There were many more ideas on the night -- and I expect there are many more out there among you. Do you have any suggestions we might add to the list and discuss at our next meeting at the Methodist Church Hall at 7:30pm on 2nd June?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What's the difference between Boris and Blears?

When the part-time MP known as Boris -- long before he became joke-candidate for London Mayor -- insulted the city of Liverpool, he made the long journey up to apologise. When Blairite Blears insults the council estates of Oxford, she stays at home and blames anyone but her tongue-tied self. Instead, laconic Mr Brown turns up for a cuppa at Andrew Smith's house.

Now, I wouldn't want it to be imagined that an unfavourable comparison of hazardous Hazel to Mr Johnson is some sort of praise for the latter. The point's that there's a way of responding when you've done wrong and Ms Blears' stubborn approach is not it. I doubt the clamours for a visit for her to give an apology in person will die down soon.

The presence of Mr Brown in Andrew Smith's living-room must be seen as endorsement of the present MP for Oxford East by the Prime Minister who was one of the architects of New Labour. I doubt that, though, impresses many people. After all, that endorsement works two ways: it means that Mr Brown can expect Mr Smith to be loyal on contentious issues. That he will, in other words, continue to represent New Labour to the people of Oxford rather than stand up for us in Parliament.

The same old story, then, as has been recently shown not just by Andrew Smith's two-faced approach to Post Office closures but also by his backing for hiking income tax for low earners up from 10%. His argument on income tax is apparently that evidence suggests this hike will only hit the young and single people. Oh, that's OK then.

Of course, there are problems with the 10% rate: LibDems have said for a long time that it would be better to bring more people out of income tax altogether, and that's patently sensible. But, if there is not going to be any really significant uplift in tax thresholds, having a lower rate was an acceptable second choice. But now even that concession to poor working people is going.

Clearly, it's not just Ms Blears who should make a personal apology. Messers Brown and Smith could have used their jamboree the other day to give a joint apology for letting down yet more people deserving of help. Another opportunity missed.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Oxford Elections: wither the Tories? Oh, yes.

The Tories know what it's like to be a minor party in cities like Oxford. Here, they haven't won a seat in this millennium and recently have only picked up hand-me-downs on the Council.

The Conservatives have polled very poorly in all by-elections since 2006. Going back to that year's main elections, when half the city's seats were last contested, they came behind the Greens. But, at least at that point they focussed their resources, fighting seats they thought they could win (like -- oh, dear -- my own Headington); this time, they are attempting the strategy of stretching themselves as thin as skin undergoing cosmetic surgery.

Bad choice, guys.

The electors know it's a sham, an attempt to fool the electorate into imagining the party which once called itself nasty -- probably because it was considered a brand-leader in xenophobia and homophobia -- has some chance in a tolerant city like Oxford. They don't.

The New Tories, who desperately try to be Blairite ten years after that went out of fashion, have written to all Oxford households encouraging them to 'go green'. That's even though the Conservatives locally are not in favour of the city's recycling revolution. But, at least, if Tory voters took their leader's advice, they would be voting for the third-placed party rather than the usual Conservative doldrums of fourth and final place.

It was a Tory Prime Minister who, on achieving that office, proclaimed: 'I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.' His latterday Oxford colleagues are still slithering at its foot.