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Ten Reasons We Shouldn't Bomb Syria

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 12/08/15

By Andy Wright - West Oxfordshire Green Party

The reasons I think bombing Syria is a huge mistake are as below:-

1.     They will kill women and children, Israel used the same technology in their latest ‘war’ with Palestine, they killed over 1,800 women and children out of a casualty number of around 2,000.

2.     Every person who is killed has friends and family around them. These people will be radicalised.

3.     Bombing destroys the infrastructure, schools, hospitals, houses, water systems, electric systems, etc, etc. Forcing people to live in quasi-building sites, like they do in Palestine.

4.     ISIS, or whatever they are called, recruit people because(IMHO) of the money and power the West have. Bombing just reinforces this view.

5.     There are better ways:-  Stop their Bank Accounts, stop them selling Oil, stop Arms getting to them, stop their propaganda. Why is this not happening?

6.     Bombing is VERY expensive; a single bomb can cost £800,000 – which is amazing to me. Most of these will be bombing sand. Why does our Government think it is better to spend money on a War rather than essential services?

7.     Will we be safer, declaring War usually results in some sort of backlash. If this kills my son, who will I blame?

8.     If we are at War with ISIS, then surely we will have to have ground forces in Syria at some stage? I can see no way this will not work, given the number of armies in Syria, all with different objectives.

 9.     Syria is a political mess, if we destroy ISIS Syria will still be at war, how can we stop this.

10.    We can’t stop people doing dreadful things in the name of their cause, however my view is the ‘fighting for peace is like f***ing for Virginity’. We should recognise the reasons why they have these views, sort out the valid reasons (in our opinion) however damaging to us and do something about it. We should argue against the other views

TTIP - Not Just a Trade Deal

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 09/19/15

September, 2015 - Stuart Macdonald


Negotiations between the US and the EU for a transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) have been going on since early 2013. They are scheduled to conclude at the end of 2015. Not heard of them? Not surprising. Talks have taken place in virtual secrecy and we are indebted to leaks for what little is known about them. Industry is more comfortable than government with 'commercial in confidence' arrangements, and TTIP is all about what suits industry. Some 93% of the European Commission's meetings with TTIP stakeholders has been with big business.


Being discussed is no less than the creation of the world's largest free-trade area. On the face of it, reducing trade barriers between the US and EU is not at all a bad idea. The problem is that tariffs are already tiny (less then 3% overall) and the barriers in TTIP's sights are non-tariff, largely regulations and standards. No doubt the removal of some of these would also be beneficial, but it would be a shame to lose others. And while hacking away at tariffs is a reasonably simple business, altering regulations and standards is much more complicated. Negotiations are complex because any change is likely to help some and damage others. Corporations are determined to be among those that are helped (perhaps whatever the damage to others), which may be why talks have been so secret.


Now, it is probable that large corporations are less concerned with the public interest than with their own. That is what is expected of them; it `is how capitalism works. We should not expect large corporations to be nice, but we do expect  government to prevent them  being too nasty.


But what if governments feel that there are huge benefits from industry having its head? Governments see economic growth as the reward offered by TTIP. The UK government estimates the annual benefit for the UK alone to be £10 billion, and £100 billion for the EU as a whole. This apparently works out at £400 a year per UK household, not that the average UK household will necessarily see any of it.


Benefits from TTIP are contingent on industry profiting from alterations to regulations and standards. The more industry-friendly the alterations, the more economic growth. And the costs? The UK government has not calculated the costs. Indeed, it has promised that there will be none, which is disingenuous: wherever there are benefits, there are also costs, though they are not necessarily paid by those who benefit. The main costs of TTIP are likely to be indirect costs to society at large arising from change in the balance between corporate power and government power.


There is likely to be less democratic control of corporations. The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arrangements of TTIP will allow corporations to take governments before tribunals for losses arising from government action. Corporations (just like individuals) can already sue governments for breaking the law, but not for damaging profits. While corporations may hold governments to account, there is to be no comparable system by which corporations can be held to account.


National governments will cede their democratic powers to tribunals of legal experts. In telecommunications and pharmaceuticals, the best legal talent has long been attracted, and rewarded, by big business. In addition, the UK government would probably find difficulties in protecting parts of the NHS, presumably the most profitable parts, from privatisation. Had ISDS been in force, BP, Exxon and the banks would never have been brought to book.

Regulations and standards that inconvenience industry and reduce corporate profits will be undermined, no matter how much they protect the public. Food safety, intellectual property and the environment would be at particular risk. Bureaucrats and corporate executives would take decisions in these matters rather than elected representatives.


TTIP is not simply  a case of US multinationals bullying the EU. There is an economic rationale behind TTIP which makes it acceptable, even attractive, to sectors of the EU community. Trade liberalisation is beneficial in that it allows more efficient use of resources in the production and distribution of goods and services. But benefits are unlikely to be spread equally: the rich and powerful can seize more than the poor and weak, and generally do - unless they are constrained by government.


Government reluctance to intervene in TTIP is excused by primitive, neo-liberal notions of wealth trickling down from the rich to the poor. Greed is good because the richer the rich, the more there is to trickle down to the rest. Thus, it is in the interests of us all that impediments to companies making profits be removed. This might hurt society in the short term, but society will benefit in the long run.


While chief executives of companies entwined in TTIP negotiations have generally not been forthcoming about what has been going on, governments have been forced by leaks and consequent public protests to say something, though usually not much. Governments  have issued assurances that they have the public interest at heart in their dealings with big business. Remarkably, they expect to be trusted, unaware that public trust in the ability and willingness of governments to reign in big business is exhausted.


Mark Wood - In Memoriam

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 03/04/14

Mark Wood (c) Oxford Mail

Mark Wood has died at the age of just 44. He was a member of the Green party and it is in this capacity that I knew him. Others in the West Oxfordshire Green party have shared their memories of Mark to supplement my own meager stock. I wish I had known Mark better.

Mark was a quiet, gentle soul, anxious to join in the activities of a local branch of a political party, but desperate not to intrude. He seemed so glad to be asked to help out with a stall or to deliver leaflets. During the last general election, when there was much to be done, he was especially happy to be involved. 

What attracted Mark to Green politics? He was hardly a Green in tooth and claw, and was far from strident in expressing his political beliefs. I think Mark wanted to join in something with which he felt comfortable. Not that this was in any way easy for him; he struggled gamely with public transport to reach events in Witney from his home in Bampton. 

The coroner reports that Mark starved to death. His benefits had been cut following a re-assessment and a decision that he had become fit for work. Coverage in the local and national press presents Mark’s death as a consequence of an evil system. It is, but Mark would not have seen it this way. Mark was not a political animal. He was not out to change the world: he wanted to be part of the world and giving what he could was his way of being part of the world. For him, the perpetual struggle to find the bus fare from Bampton to attend Green events in Witney was purely a matter of mathematics. It would never have crossed Mark’s mind that he should not have had to struggle. And this is perhaps the ultimate tragedy of Mark’s death: he would have accepted his reduced state as right and proper, as what he deserved. He deserved better. 

Stuart Macdonald
March 2014
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Cuts, cuts and more cuts

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/11/13

Yet another set of cuts is now planned to our beleaguered local services, just days after consultations were announced on reducing provisions to children, cuts to subsidised school buses and, well, basically about anything else you can think of that serves a public purpose.


This time the council is proposing reviewing the timetables (for this read cutting frequency) of a number of bus services in and around Witney, but also other rural areas of the County.  I can’t comment on services in other neighbourhoods, but our 18 and 19 routes are for many people a lifeline.  For the elderly, unemployed, disabled and youths living in Aston, Bampton and Clanfield buses are the one and only form of transport available to them to get them into the main business centres of Witney and Oxford.  


But now the council is proposing reducing these services from hourly to two-hourly.  If you opened the online consultation paper you would notice that the Council spends under £190,000 a year on subsidies for these two routes.  Arguably, a 50% frequency reduction would probably result in 40% savings or £80,000 at best -  an insignificant sum in the annual County transport budget of just over £53 million, but a cut with very severe repercussions for many people living in the villages in question.


The Green Party’s view is simple.  We can’t provide public services just based on crude profit and losses calculations.  All too often the real benefits of these services are not taken into account, like CO2 reduction, equality of opportunities, wellbeing and other important social indicators.  If we carried out a true cost benefit analysis we wouldn't even discuss funding the HS2 and would instead spend the equivalent money into local transport services (rail, buses, cycle routes and so on).  But there is more, a study by Better transport has even identified that for every £1 spent on buses the real positive impact to the economy varies from £3 to £5 - so it makes sense to spend money on buses.  The social impact of cutting rural bus services is huge, like increased isolation, reduced employment opportunities and even poorer health.  Effectively by ‘saving’ a few thousand pounds on rural public transport we might risk loading another area of public expenditure like the NHS or the DSS with a much greater bill, let alone any added environmental costs.


Even reducing frequencies is sheer madness.  Countless previous examples across the UK have demonstrate that when frequency is reduced fewer people use the services affected.  Perversely reduced usage results in higher per head subsidies, which in turn makes the routes in question more vulnerable to further cuts and eventually total withdrawal.


No, the solution isn’t to bluntly cut services, but to improve them.  For Aston, Bampton and Clanfield for example minor improvements to the routing and timetable could result in higher usage.  Speaking from personal experience, I never understood why the Bampton to Oxford service was planned to run along the A40 from Eynsham to Wolvercote. It doesn't pick up passengers and it inevitably gets stuck in the usual traffic jam on that stretch of the road. If it were routed via Botley it could even serve the railway station (Frideswide Square) and more people may even use it! In addition, buses in and out of Witney should be made to connect with other services, especially those into Oxford.  By intelligent rerouting and rescheduling more opportunities to travel to and from Oxford would be offered to the public, with no additional costs;  per head subsidies would actually lower through higher usage, as well as contributing to safer and less congested roads.  When it comes to transport imagination and innovation are the required remedies,  not cuts.


People are thoroughly fed up of the assault on local public services.  Voters in rural areas in particular feel under siege from many directions.  Rapacious developers are eyeing every inch of the countryside as it’s inherently cheaper for them to pour concrete over green fields than brown ones; local councils, under pressure from central government, have adopted a slash and burn approach to services.


The bitter medicine of cuts is not working.  When there will be nothing left to cut we will be faced with a disintegrated and derelict social landscape where despair will be prevalent, with the affluent few looking over the fences of their gated communities.  By then the bill for putting things right will be much higher than any of today’s proposed savings.  But our old political parties prefer to leave the task of clearing up the mess to future generations, merely paying lip service at election times to sustainability and real economic reforms.  The Green Party’s horizons are thankfully much wider, encompassing an integrated, equitable and thoroughly modern society that doesn't just work for the few, but for the common good.


Concreting over Bampton

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/09/13

The people of Bampton (population 2500 at the time of the 2001 census) are up in arms.  Two separate developers have recently submitted applications to build large housing developments on agricultural land in the outskirts of this village. If these plans were to be approved the population of Bampton would at a stroke increase by almost a third.  It would be like Witney getting 7000 extra inhabitants overnight, or Oxford another 50,000.  To make matters worse, the largest site is also prone to flooding. Well actually most of Bampton is, as those who have lived in the village all their lives can tell you. But no matter, the developers are determined to pour concrete on green fields – a recipe guaranteed to increase the risk of flooding. And in this they have the blessing  of our national politicians.

Needless to say, most of the local people are opposed to such large-scale developments.This has nothing to do with nimbyism; it is common sense. People want good housing with proper amenities, not just an opportunity for developers to make a quick buck.  These are key concerns that the local Green Party shares.

Everyone knows we have a housing crisis in England.  But you can’t resolve this by concreting over half of our countryside.  There are other alternatives that should be implemented first.  For example, releasing more brownfield sites and sorting out the incredible number of empty dwellings – over 6500 in Oxfordshire alone. Moreover, local councils must be allowed to reinvest rent money in new and affordable properties to let.  Above all we need to build houses where people need them most, close to their jobs and schools, avoiding the need for long commute.

Although there is a housing shortage even in isolated villages like Bampton, we can’t expect  there to be more than a token amount of affordable housing aimed at local people in these proposed developments.  The developers are licking their lips at the prospect of attracting wealthy buyers from outside the district. In their marketing literature they are making much of the theoretical closeness of the village to the national motorway network.  Anyone who has experienced rush-hour traffic on the Oxfordshire trunk roads will know just how realistic that is!

Strategic principles aside, there are very sound reasons for opposing these developments. They can be summarised in a single word: sustainability.  The local economy cannot possibly support several hundred new families. This means that virtually every new resident, unless retired, will be forced to commute daily.  Some of Bampton’s current residents already commute as far afield as Slough and Milton Keynes.  With increasing pressure on jobs more people will be commuting further afield, packing several hundred more daily car journeys on to small and ill- maintained unclassified roads. This in turn will damage the already weak transport infrastructure, pour tons of CO2 and other pollutants into the countryside and create misery all round.

Ironically, just at the time when these developments have been announced, the county council is considering a reduction in the already meagre rural public transport provision.  In Bampton an entire bus route may be scrapped. Don’t they know that building lots of new houses will mean more buses will be needed, not less?

Other concerns about the proposed developments include education, as the local school is already over capacity.  More parents will be obliged to drive their children to neighbouring villages and towns – creating further unnecessary car journeys, more emissions, more noise and even more accidents.  How an increased amount of refuse and effluents will be disposed of is another question that has not been answered.

What is most disturbing from an environmental perspective is the loss of good agricultural land.  Just when there is almost universal agreement that something should be done to reduce ‘food miles’ and make greater use of food produced locally, the council is proposing to allow more land to be taken out of production – for ever.

The Green Party has a clear housing manifesto.  This includes minimising the use of greenfield sites, favouring small self-build co-operatives instead of speculative developments like those now under consideration.  The coalition government has so far only paid lip service to the environment and to sustainability. Ministers have even even implied that it would be OK for developers to build on National Parks, provided they made up for it somewhere else.  This is an argument that reduces the countryside to a commodity. It becomes an asset from which just a few would benefit to the detriment of the many. Just like the government’s energy policy, for example.

It’s time to have a complete rethink about these issues.  A 21st-century Britain needs a new and more sustainable approach to housing, one that fosters equality of opportunities and creates long-term solutions.  We need to get rid of policies that have failed most of us and think about future generations.  What are we waiting for?


An unequal society is an unhappy one too

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 03/24/13

Would you like to live in a society which has the following?  

 

  • Greater Life expectancy
  • Greater Maths & literacy ability 
  • Lower Infant mortality
  • Fewer Homicides 
  • Less Imprisonment 
  • Fewer Teenage births  
  • Greater levels of Trust between people 
  • Less Obesity Less Mental illness (inc. drug and alcohol addiction Greater Social mobility

 

And what would you say if you knew that there is ONE SIMPLE FACTOR that determines the quality of life within a society - for everyone in that society, whether rich or poor?

On 20th March, at a Green Party sponsored public meeting in Witney, Maddy Power of the Equality Trust presented extremely compelling evidence that the quality of life is strongly related to the size of the gap between the richest and poorest within a country.


In rich countries, a smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier, and more successful population. Just look at the US, the UK, Portugal, and New Zealand in the top right of this graph, doing much worse than Japan, Sweden or Norway in the bottom left.

Crucially, this is true whether you are rich or poor.  Richer people are happier and healthier in more equal countries than are richer people in less equal societies!  Everyone is better off in a more equal society.  So, why don't we make the UK a more equal society?

If the UK were more equal, we would be better off as a population. For example, the evidence suggests that if we halved inequality here:

 

  • Murder rates could halve
  • Mental illness could reduce by two thirds
  • Obesity could halve
  • Imprisonment could reduce by 80%
  • Teen births could reduce by 80%
  • Levels of trust could increase by 85%

 

(source:  http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/research/why-more-equality)

Unfortunately the following graph shows that we are still heading in the wrong direction.

Inequality increased massively under Margaret Thatcher and has stayed high ever since.  And the latest coalition measures on tax relief on child care costs have been shown to be of benefit to 1,700,000 families in the richest 40% and only 160,000 families in the poorest 40%, so the equality gap may well be still increasing.

In an unequal society, everyone, including the rich suffers greater levels of stress, works longer hours and feels intense pressure to either maintain or raise their position in the highly competitive culture engendered by unequal societies.  This leads to unhappiness, ill-health, broken families and broken children - for everyone.

The modern mantra seems to be that we need more economic growth to improve our quality of life.  But that is simply not true.  As long as a society has enough wealth overall (and all developed countries do), then greater wealth does not result in greater quality of life.  What matters for quality of life is how equal or unequal a society is.

Tory, Tory/Lib Dem and Labour governments alike have done nothing to create a more equal society, despite their rhetoric.  In their efforts to protect the wealth of themselves and their supports these governments have made everyone's quality of life worse, including for themselves and their supporters….. and how dumb is that?

The guiding values of the Green Party are to create a sustainable and socially responsible society - and that would mean a more equal society.

 

A will to succeed

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/30/12

By Kate Griffin

"I was getting ready to congratulate the winner, when I found out it was me." When Will Duckworth was elected deputy leader of the Green Party in England & Wales, nobody was more surprised than the man himself. He came to Witney last night to talk about his first few weeks in the job and share his vision for a Green future.

The meeting was open to people of all political affiliations and none. Despite being a trade union activist, Will himself wasn't a supporter of any political party at all until 2008, when he read Manifesto for a Sustainable Society  and realised that finally, here were policies he could agree with.

Things moved quickly after that. After complaining to the Green Party about the lack of candidates in his area (Dudley), he was invited to stand for election himself. He ended up standing in the 2010 general election as well as in the council elections. In 2012, he was elected as Dudley's first ever Green Party councillor with a comfortable majority. Months later, he also stood as the national party's deputy leader and won.

Will shared his tips for election success with the Green Party members in the audience. As you might expect, there's no secret formula, just hard work and focus. From the first time he stood as a candidate in Dudley (in the ward of Netherton, Woodside and St Andrews), he set to working on behalf of local people as if he was already a councillor. Will and his supporters knocked on doors, listened to people's concerns and campaigned on local issues like road resurfacing.

The meeting, held at Witney's Henry Box School, ended on an inspiring note. The Green Party's famously grassroots approach means that any individual member can be part of its success, provided they have the desire to achieve it. Success doesn't come from the executive's top-down decisions; it comes from the members. As Will put it: "With the Green Party, there's no 'them and us'. It's all us."

Low turnout is a story in itself

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/16/12

by Kate Griffin

Standing outside a polling station all day in the cold is no fun. And it is even less fun when turnout is low. I should know. Back in January 2011, I stood as the Green Party candidate in a by-election for Witney Town Council, an election where everything seemed to conspire to discourage voters.

The election was triggered when Cllr Louise Chapman was thrown off the town council for failing to attend enough meetings. Chapman's Conservative colleagues felt that holding an election to replace her was a waste of money when the May elections were four months away, and they showed their disapproval by choosing not to put a candidate forward. That meant that Conservative voters in East Witney had no candidate to vote for.

Secondly, the district council felt that it was a waste of money to distribute polling cards, or to spend any of its budget on publicising the election. So it did not.

Thirdly, the Witney Gazette helpfully printed the date of the election as Friday 7th January rather than Thursday 6th!

Last but not least, it was a chilly, grey day in the first week of the New Year, a time where many people are feeling the post-Christmas comedown and wondering how to handle the first week back at work.

The turnout for that election? 12.66%. Interesting to see how it compares to local turnout in today's Police & Crime Commissioner election: 13.2%. That's right, the difference in turnout between my tiny by-election and the much-publicised PCC election was less than one percentage point.

The low turnout this time wasn't down to West Oxfordshire residents not knowing about the election. It was because people didn't want the election. The number of spoiled ballots in the West Oxfordshire poll tells a story too: 403 rejected ballots, making nearly 4% of the total. (In Oxford City it was even higher.)

Having elected Police & Crime Commissioners was supposed to be a move towards greater democracy. But the glaringly obvious point being missed is that we weren't asked if we wanted them. Today's low turnout and spoiled ballot papers send a message: if they had asked us, the answer would have been no. We would rather have spent the estimated 75 million on something more worthwhile.

Oxfordshire party at national conference

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 10/18/12

The 2012 Green Party Autumn Conference was attended by members from all over Oxfordshire, including West Oxfordshire, Oxford City and the Banbury; Cherwell area.

The conference, which took place in Bristol this autumn, is a chance for rank-and-file members to vote on the policies adopted by the national party. Members discussed the party's policy on disability and roundly condemned the current Government's attacks on disabled people. The updated Green Party disability policy now starts with an acknowledgement that disability is a social phenomenon. In other words, improving the lives of people with disabilities means challenging the systemic barriers that make life tough for them, rather than trying to fix the person themselves. Sounds obvious, but the concept has yet to gain mainstream acceptance. Putting this idea at the centre of Green Party disability policy represents a subtle but important shift. Many people with disabilities were consulted on the policy to make it as fit-for-purpose as possible.

Members voted on many other policy areas at the conference, including working hours, crime prevention, nuclear waste, copyright law and end-of-life care, to name just a few.

Witney gained a special mention during a fringe event about road campaigning, run by the charity Roads to Nowhere. Speaker Sian Berry praised the work of local campaigners who succeeded in defeating the Cogges Link Road. Witney Greens were among several groups who joined forces to fight the useless and expensive road.

The conference was also an opportunity for members to meet new leader Natalie Bennett and deputy Will Duckworth. Leader and deputy faced a grilling during a Q&A session which included serious questions about policy alongside more light-hearted questions such as "What is your favourite biscuit?"


West Oxfordshire welcomes new party leader

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 10/18/12

West Oxfordshire Green Party offers a warm welcome to Natalie Bennett, the party's newly elected leader. After a leadership contest which gained plenty of national media attention, Natalie was elected in September.

 

The leadership contest was triggered when former leader Caroline Lucas stepped down in order to make way for new talent and concentrate on her role as an MP. Caroline Lucas welcomed her successor at the party's recent Autumn Conference, saying: "Natalie Bennett has all the passion, the commitment and the inspiration needed to lead the party forward."

 

Natalie has already set out her plan of work for her first 100 days as leader and encourages party members to hold her to this. Her longer-term vision for the party includes spreading the word about our policies, explaining that a greener life is a better life: more time for family, less stress and more job security.

 

Many Green Party members had the chance to meet and chat to Natalie at the Autumn Conference, including Kate Griffin of the West Oxfordshire Greens (pictured).

 

As Greens in Witney and surrounding areas, we wish Natalie and her newly elected deputy Will Duckworth every success. We hope that she will build on the recent boost in membership and show that the Greens are the most credible alternative to the failed policies of the Conservatives.

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