Thursday, July 24, 2014

And now for something completely different – Area Forums

In the wake of the abolition of Area Committees here in sunny Redbridge the MP for Ilford North, Lee Scott (pictured right), has decided not to wait for the new Redbridge council administration to put their “Local Forums” in place and has published his plans to hold his own “Area Forums” for the Ilford North Parliamentary constituency.

There will be two “Areas” based on the old Area 3 & 4 Committees with the wards to the west tagged on. So we have Bridge, Fairlop, Fullwell and Hainault wards in one Area and Aldborough, Barkingside, Clayhall and Roding in the other Area.

Lee said:
“In the initial period, running to the end of this council year, the aim is to hold two meetings for each of the forums. Two local venues at each geographic end of the constituency would be selected.

These new Forums are a replacement for the abandoned Area Committees. We must do all that we can to encourage wide spread local involvement. Community groups, as well as individuals, would be able to make formal representations, give suggestions or ask questions. Each Forum would also be open to the local press.

The plan would be that each of the forums will be sponsored and have their own (modest) budgets that they could use to provide some support to local events and to cover any running costs”.
So we, at least in Ilford North, appear to be getting two lots of Forums. These above will be less than once a month; discounting August there are 8 months left of the municipal year and we can expect 4 meetings, so one every two months on average. And because these forums are confined to Ilford North the locations of the meetings are much more likely to be reasonably accessible to most of the residents. However, like the council proposals there are some vital logistics still to sort out, not least dates, times and venues for those of us who lead busy lives and like to plan our calendar some way ahead.

Then there is the format of the meetings, who attends and who gets to be Chair. There will be no formal requirement for any elected Redbridge Councillor to attend, although one could reasonably expect a 3-line whip on those who happen to be Conservatives. What the Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors make of this remains to be seen – may we live in interesting times.

Here’s Nat King Cole, "There may be trouble ahead ....."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Counting Butterflies and Moths

A request from Steve.

As I took part in the first national survey of the UK butterfly population (1993-2003), which ended up supplying the largest amount of raw data ever collected, I've been asked to encourage people to take part in a count for this year by Butterfly Conservation. Such data has been unique and successful in gauging things like climate impact, whereas before this, only sparse local data was available with an inconsistent method and only really useful for illustrating natural population crashes and demonstrating habitat loss or interference.

So, between now and Sunday 10th August it would be great if you would take part in this citizen science project. All you have to do is spend a 15 minute period on as many different days as you like (one is okay!) in a static location, recording how many of each different types you see. Then enter your result on the dedicated website which has all the information you need including a common species identification chart. There is also a free smartphone application to download. A nil return is still valuable!

Go to www.bigbutterflycount.org

I have an Observer's Book of British Butterflies from 1938 which includes about 120 species, nearly half of which have gone extinct in the UK in my meagre lifetime. That is the real impact of Climate Change and us living in an age of mass extinction. We need to know what's out there. Please take part in this.

Love Steve

A Quiet Word

A very timely book review from our good friend Roger Backhouse.

A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain
by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell
Bodley Head . £20 2014

One of David Cameron’s now forgotten warnings was to predict a future scandal concerning lobbyists. As this book shows, his warning was correct but lobbying, largely concealed from public view, goes on to shape policies to our detriment.
The authors describe a shadowy world of well connected lobbyists, many former politicians, with equally shadowy clients including pharmaceutical firms, sugar producers, oil companies, Google, and brutal governments often represented by Tony Blair. They influence civil servants, Ministers and the media in ways that deny democracy, cost us dear and promote policies bad for our health or our planet.
Lobbyists tactics include fake “consultations”, setting up supposedly grassroots organisations, creating allegedly neutral think tanks and research bodies or the wonderfully named “astroturfing” creating the impression of genuine public opinion.
A favourite tactic is spreading doubts about scientific discovery. For years tobacco lobbyists denied any proven link between smoking and lung cancer. How many died as a result of their pressure on governments? Oil companies now do the same about global warming and sugar producers fight plans to reduce sugar intake.
Many politicians - in all three major parties - have links to lobbying companies. They form a close knit group with lobbyists, a denial of true democracy.
It isn’t only rancid old lefties who should be concerned. As the authors point out lobbying works to enhance the power of established companies and maintain monopoly power. In effect it denies the working of a truly free market - which does not stop at least one supposedly “free market” think tank engaging in some fierce lobbying of its own.
Overall a deeply scary picture and Government measures did not make lobbying more open whatever David Cameron claimed. But read this book and at least you’ll recognise lobbying at work. It is highly recommended.
Roger Backhouse
----ooo0ooo----

It is timely because last Sunday an ex-Cabinet Minister wrote in the Telegraph about how proud he is to have used his term in office to stand up to the green lobby whom he calls the “Green Blob”. None other than Owen Paterson MP, a climate change denialist who thinks there is a global conspiracy contrived by 97% of the world’s scientists to create an imaginary environmental crisis which has been exposed by a small plucky band of billionaires (himself included) and oil companies. He has similarly stood up to those who have pointed out that the badger cull didn’t work and the scientific evidence that predicted it wouldn’t work, preferring instead to listen to the financial interests of big Agriculture and those wealthy people who enjoy shooting wild animals. He points out that the “Green Blob” is intent on destroying the economy of our countryside but refuses to hold his breath while counting his money.
So that’s all right then. We can all relax in the knowledge that we are being protected from the evils of lobbying and look forward to Fracking in our back gardens, the employment opportunities that new technology will provide to decontaminate our water supplies and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which of course is being negotiated transparently and impartially reported in the establishment press so we all know what’s going on and the Multi-National Corporations have had no influence at all on the proposals therein that will allow them to sue our Government if it passes laws that protect the vulnerable but inhibit their ability to increase profits.
And as you would expect, among the leading opponents of TTIP are those named and shamed by Mr Paterson for "profiting handsomely" at the expense of the countryside - the not-for-profit Greenpeace and the only mainstream UK political party who do not accept corporate donations.

Further Reading:
Greenpeace reply to Owen Paterson (The lie and no apology)
New Environment Agency chairman has fracking links

Other Reviews:
Mark Leftly - The Independent