Friday, 30 April 2010

Vote Green and pay more tax?

“So” – asked Mark Denten, interviewing me for BBC’s Politics Show – “your manifesto says you would increase taxes to create a ‘fairer’ society. Are you telling people ‘Vote Green – and you’ll end up paying more tax’?”

Well – you can find out my response at the time when the show is broadcast on Sunday, but as they say ‘repartee is what you think of on the bus back home’ – so this is perhaps what I should have said:

“The Green Party manifesto addresses the recession, jobs, threats to public services, climate change and peak oil. We are trying to move towards a fairer, more equal, greener, lower carbon society. Our spending plans – centred on the Green New Deal – focus on this; where we propose cuts – they cut schemes and projects that do not contribute to these aims.
We are told that any government will need to introduce taxes equivalent to 6p on income tax – but while the other parties are taking an ad hoc, vote-garnering approach – but we propose to use the tax system constructively towards creating that greener, more equal society.

“So – yes, we will increase taxes – as would every other party – but we will be rehabilitating progressive taxation and Green taxes. The rich and those generating environmental damage will bear the brunt.
Our taxes to reduce inequality include:
• 50% income tax on earners over £100k
• abolish the upper limit on National Insurance contributions (and raise the lower limit)
• increase Corporation Tax to 30%, but reduce it to 20% for small firms
• base inheritance tax on the wealth of the recipient rather than the value of the estate
and – crack down on tax havens, tax evasion and tax avoidance”

That’s what I should have said – but then Mark asked two other questions, and I knew I only had 45 sec total time, so I think what I actually said was OK.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Friday Market blues...

Off topic for the General Election

– but I have to write something about the Morpeth Chamber of Trade’s intransigence over the proposed Morpeth Friday Market, as reported in this week’s Morpeth Herald:

Chamber of Trade representatives have been to every meeting of the Morpeth Markets Partnership since last September and have been fully informed about the trials for the Friday Market. They were fully consulted about the second trial and agreed to help distribute the council’s survey to their members themselves. And they have known from the beginning that the Council was looking for organisational responses which were not to be restricted to the survey form.

And representatives of the Chamber of Trade were present at the Markets Partnership meeting where the survey results and feedback were discussed in detail. And those reps agreed to report back to their members and produce an organisational response as quickly as possible.

Yet – three months after the second trial began, they still have not submitted a formal organisational response. Now as far as I am concerned, no reply and the coverage in the Morpeth Herald constitutes an adequate response – but I believe that the county council officer actually responsible for making the decision has been told by his political masters not to make a decision until a response from the Chamber of Trade has been received.

So the Friday Market is stymied….

Monday, 26 April 2010

Might as well be hung for a sheep….

A hung parliament or a coalition Government? The very terms are as emotive as describing transport funding as investment or subsidy. And, yes – maybe there is a difference between a third party with say 50-60 seats which supports a minority administration, and one with say 120-150 seats which actually takes seats in a coalition cabinet.

But, despite media claims that this is all new constitutional ground, coalition-building is a well-practiced skill in local government. Councillors from different parties negotiate a published common programme, share Cabinet seats and committee chairs and then work together.
As a councillor on Castle Morpeth BC, I was involved in a ‘traffic light’ (red – yellow - green?) coalition, then an all-party alliance and finally the so-called ‘unholy alliance’ – a Lab-Con led coalition. And they worked, the work programme was reviewed annually and CMBC pulled itself out of a big, dark, financial hole.
(It is unfortunate that the members of Northumberland CC have not been able to work together in a similar way. An all-party coalition was really the only hope for that ill-fated monstrosity.)

But ill-judged negative campaigning and a lack of trust between parties is a huge barrier to coalition-building. It too a full year of negotiation to build the CMBC all-party alliance and just one ill-tempered election campaign to destroy it.

And that is the other side of the proportional representation coin: it is very rare under PR to get an outright majority, political parties campaign on ‘shopping list’ manifestoes with one eye on likely political partners. Across Europe, mature PR systems tend to have one or two ‘natural parties of government’ in alliance with different smaller parties which colour but do not dominate the policies of the coalition government. And we are beginning to see that sort of approach in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly.

Curiously, the LibDems – as fierce proponents of PR – do not seem to have grasped the need to modify their campaigning approach to take into account the need for coalition-building. They’ve blown it in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly – and arguably on the Northumberland shire unitary. We can only hope they’ve learned lessons for the next parliament, though the signs are not promising.

On the other hand, the Greens have always done well as junior coalition partners, in Germany, France and Italy. And in the Scottish Parliament and the Greater London Assembly, their constructive opposition has enabled several Green policies to be implemented. And this is how the two-three Green MPs we can expect in the new parliament will behave – and a strong Green national vote will give them that extra clout.

So (political slogan bit) – don’t settle for ‘least worst’ - vote for what you believe in – vote Green!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Piece for SENRUG

Although I didn't get an invite to the SENRUG hustings - I have been asked to supply a piece for their 'elections newsletter' - along with the Red, Yellow and Blue candidates. This is what I've sent them - note it was written before the Yellows made their policy announcement about funding the railways. I think it just points up my last paragraph about parties 'stealing' our policies, though as usual they don't have the nerve to do it properly....

We need major investment in public transport – and in rail even more than buses – to encourage people to switch from using cars. Apart from the carbon emissions argument, good quality rail travel is healthier, less stressful and more sociable than car travel. The Green Party proposes to reallocate the £30bn earmarked for road building over the next 10 years to investment in public transport, which incidentally will create considerably more jobs. At the very least, transport budgets ringfenced by mode makes no sense if you are trying to develop an integrated transport network.

Locally, this re-allocation of investment would allow:
• opening of the ABT line to passengers including links to Morpeth and Woodhorn
• opening up of the Leemside line
• and various other loops to increase the capacity of the ECML

Increased capacity would enable improvements both in local and long distances services, and in also intermediate services such as direct links to Durham and Hexham. I am also keen to see a new semifast service between Newcastle and Edinburgh stopping at all the principal stations. There would also be investment in rolling stock to make best use of the capacity of the existing network.

We also need considerably increased capacity if there is to be any significant shift of road freight back to rail. Again, rail freight and railhead freight depots will create more local jobs than road freight does.

Public transport overall needs to be more coherent, with simpler, more transparent – and integrated – fares. It may be that the only way to do this effectively is to follow Green Party policy to re-regulate bus services and return the railways, both track and operations, to public ownership. At any rate, successive governments’ use of fare increases to manage demand must end.

I realise that I am rather unlikely to be elected as MP for Wansbeck, but the other parties have been stealing policies from the Greens since we were first formed. A strong Green vote would encourage them to steal these policies too.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Banks and Credit Unions

At the Northumberland Credit Union AGM in February, a Board recommendation that no dividend should be paid was accepted unanimously. This wasn't because the credit union was struggling - in fact it is thriving with both total savings and total loans at an all-time high. No - the Board decided simply that because the credit union is still dependent on grant-funding (a little under £6k a year) - it was inappropriate to pay out.

It makes a nice contrasts with those banks which accepted Government handouts and subsidies - and then felt it was OK to pay bonuses to their staff.

The Green Party has endorsed the 'Robin Hood' tax campaign - taxing bank transactions at 25p per £10,000 to provide a ringfenced revenue stream. However - we woukd like to bring in much stronger policies. We want to separate high street banking from merchant banking, and from currency and commodity speculation - and we want a 'Tobin' tax which also taxes banking transactions, but designed deliberately to discourage financial speculation. Like all real Green taxes - it is intended to change behaviour more than raise revenue.