Sun setting on World Bank support for fossil fuels

Headline-grabbing announcement of the day is definitely that “The World Bank Group will no longer finance upstream oil and gas, after 2019”.

While many will see the 2 year delay as a disappointment, the fact that the organisation is putting its weight firmly behind a move away from fossil fuels is a welcome one.

The huge amount of support that the industry relies on, not least from national governments, is only part of the story though. Luckily, there is plenty more to the World Bank’s One Planet announcement. You can see the full text here.

As well as moving away from oil & gas the Bank is taking positive action to support climate action, and says it is on track to shift 28% of its lending in that direction by 2020. It is also looking at its own activities and will start to monitor and report on greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy.

We can’t get too excited. Earlier in the year the World Bank worked with the United Nations, and oil and gas industry representatives on environmental and social issues, to produce a report on ‘Oil and Gas Industry Efforts on achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals’. It’s an interesting guide to how the industry might reform its activities and behaviours. As a necessary evil in the short term, it’s an industry that is in huge need of reform.

While some might promote the report as a sign of how they are mending their ways, we only have to look at the lobbying of Trump in the US to see how the fossil fuel dollar is used by the industry to avoid regulation and reform.

We need to maintain pressure to ensure that the fossil fuel lobby’s arguments on the economic benefits of oil & gas don’t provide a smokescreen to cover up the damage they are doing and the huge threat that they pose to us all.

The World Bank announcement is a welcome one, another sign that the tide is turning in favour of a cleaner future, but the fight is not over.

– Andy Bentley


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Ken Kimber: Make Votes Matter

Is your vote wasted?

This question seems increasingly urgent, following the most undemocratic General Election in British history.

In 2015, the Conservatives won 37% of the votes but ended up with 52% of the seats in parliament and absolute power. 24% of votes cast were for UKIP, the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party. However, these parties now have only 10 MPs between them – just 1.5%. Each party’s representation in parliament does not match the share of votes they received. Parliament does not accurately represent the wide range of views and perspectives in British society. Our votes are not equal.

Last month, Swindon Area Green Party hosted a public meeting on this subject. It was attended not only by Swindon Greens, but by people from other political parties as well. Klina Jordan, from the cross-party campaigning group Make Votes Matter spoke on the campaign to introduce Proportional Representation to the House of Commons by developing a grassroots movement across the country, and building an alliance of pro-reform parties at a leadership level. Andy Bentley, Green Party Candidate for North Swindon, put the Green Party case for PR and talked about different voting systems. There followed a lively, and wide-ranging discussion from the audience.

Of course, the Green Party stands to benefit from electoral reform, but Proportional Representation would mean every vote would count equally and everyone would have an equal voice. Proportional Representation would mean that your vote matters.

Earlier this month I attended the Make Votes Matter Congress in London, attended by campaigners from across the country. The meeting was also addressed by Peter Tatchell on creative and effective ways of protesting.

After this meeting, I was inspired to set up a Make Votes Matter group in Swindon, open to people from all political parties, and to those with no political affiliations, who are committed to campaigning for a more equal and representative electoral system. Our first meeting will be on Monday 27th February at The Pilgrim Centre at 7.30pm. If you are interested in being part of this group, please get in touch with me.

The momentum for Proportional Representation is building. The time is now!

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Parishing – the end of local democracy?

“While Brexiteers had a referendum but no plan it appears that SBC are intent on carrying out their plan with no referendum, and in the face of overwhelming opposition.”

The following is a personal view, my submission to the Council’s so called “Community Governance Review”. The Council’s proposals run rough-shod over any idea of local democracy. Ironically one of their claims is that it will *increase* local democracy, though they refuse to let us vote on it. – Andy Bentley.

I share the view of the vast majority of people in Swindon in opposing the Council’s proposals to forcibly introduce parishes into non-parished areas of Swindon.

The imposition of parishes will be divisive, artificially segregating the people of Swindon against their will. Poorer communities will be disadvantaged while more affluent areas are more able to save threatened services. Council leaders have shown contempt for due process and for the people of Swindon.

My Preferences

As this is about money and Council finance a referendum should be held on raising Council Tax to meet the expected shortfall. Such a referendum should provide the people of Swindon with adequate facts on the costs and consequences to allow an informed decision to be made.

The choice of whether to become a parish should be a democratic decision by those that are to be affected. As a resident of Pinehurst I ought to have the right to decide, along with my neighbours, whether to become a “local” parish or become part of a larger one, or indeed NOT to.

If, and only if, the Council are determined to impose a parish on me (and I do NOT want them to) it ought to be a single parish encompassing all of the non-parished area. This would achieve the Council’s intended objective – to wash their hands of cuts and tax rises – while allowing some of the benefits of economies of scale enjoyed by a larger operation.

Should a Parish Council be imposed on me, it must NOT be made up of appointees of the Council. PC members MUST be elected to the post by the constituents within the Parish.

The Council has no mandate

I object to the imposition of parish councils without the agreement of the people that are affected.

Those making the proposals, which constitute a significant change to the way in which we are taxed and governed, have no political mandate and have refused to seek one.

No mandate was sought for these proposals during this year’s elections for Ward Councillors and calls for a referendum have been flatly rejected. While a referendum is not explicitly demanded by the laws governing the CGR there is nothing that prevents one from being held.

There is no appetite for the creation of additional parishes among the electorate. If there were then the mechanisms are in place by which requests could be made. No such requests have been forthcoming.

The case has not been made

The proposals that have been presented lack the level of detail that would allow a reasonable decision to be made.

The services to be provided by the PCs have not been defined. The actual costs of providing such services have not been identified. Accurate estimates of the precepts required by the proposed parishes have not been provided.

As a resident of the proposed North Central parish I have not been provided with the necessary details of the services currently provided to that area by the Council, their respective costs or the likely impact of the Parish precept on the residents.

Even the suggested names indicate the artificial nature of the proposed parishes. I identify as a resident of Swindon, one large community. I attend events and activities across the length and breadth of the non-parished areas.

The so-called “pilot” offered as evidence of the success of devolving StreetSmart services is deeply flawed on several counts. It is a poor comparison and provides no basis on which the success or otherwise of the new parishes might be predicted.

The areas included in the pilot do not represent the same type of area as would be created under the current proposals. No benchmarking appears to have been carried out against which any objective improvement in services might be judged. The Task Group Report is subjective and insubstantial and only two PCs provided a response, no attempt appears to have been made to elicit the responses of residents.

The proposals are undemocratic

The refusal of the Council to hold a referendum is bad enough.

This is compounded by the way in which the councils will be initially constituted. The Council intends to appoint Ward councillors and co-opted individuals as PCs in the first instance, before democratic elections are held. This flies in one of the supposed benefits of local accountability as Ward Councillors were NOT elected to fulfil this role and appointees will have NO mandate whatsoever.

The idea that PCs provide local accountability is questionable in any case, since so many parish council members are co-opted rather than elected.

The result appears to be predetermined

The consultation process to date has been woefully inadequate and heavily biased. The leaders of the Council have failed to consider alternative courses of action, or to present such alternatives to residents.

The Council has failed to adequately consider responses received at each stage of the review. Public opinion during each stage has overwhelmingly against the forced imposition of parishes, yet that remains the only option being considered.

Presentations to the Council by those in charge of the review have been partial, subjective and unsupported by appropriate evidence.

Although Council officers have been careful to claim that no decision has been made it seems clear from the actions of the Council leaders that a predetermined decision (that parishes be imposed) has been arrived at outside of the formal setting of the Council chambers, and that all that will happen as a result of the “consultation” exercise will be some minor changes such as the tweaking of parish boundaries.

I understand that the Council has already made budgetary provisions that assume the introduction of parishes. If true, this gives the lie to claims that no decision has been made.

While Brexiteers had a referendum but no plan it appears that SBC are intent on carrying out their plan with no referendum, and in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The review itself is not fit for purpose.

The review appears to have been staged to allow Council leaders to implement a predetermined strategy, providing a fig-leaf of respectability to them washing their hands of tax rises and cuts to services.

The leaflet sent to households failed to reach many. As unaddressed mail it was delivered with (and often inside) other “junk” mail. Many houses (including mine) did not receive the leaflet at all. As this would be the only medium by which many households would receive information about the proposals this constitutes a significant flaw in the review. The Council has not taken adequate measures to ensure that people have been made aware of the review or of their proposals.

The meetings held to inform the public of the proposals have been inadequate. I was able to attend one near me and have heard reports of others. The time set aside for these meetings was already short and frequently cut even shorter, with weak excuses used to end them early. In some cases, the appropriate people were not present to answer questions, with those left holding the bag having to make excuses when the required information was not available. The meetings were poorly managed, with little or no structure and little or no attempt to present a coherent overview of the proposals.

No serious attempt has been made to consider alternatives to the current proposals and the Council has failed to provide the information that would enable an informed decision to be taken on those that have been presented and what has been presented has been partial.

I would expect that a strong case could be made for a legal challenge should the Council press ahead with its plans to forcibly impose parishes on the un-parished areas.

The way in which the review has been conducted will further erode public confidence in the council leadership and their ability to govern fairly, honestly and in the interests of their electorate.

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Greens call for public interest to be put first in Lydiard decision

Swindon Area Green Party has called on Swindon Borough Council to put public interest before profit when making their decision on which bid will be successful in running Lydiard Park.

Swindon Greens have expressed their support for a community-led rather than commercial bid to ensure that the Park is run for the benefit of the residents of Swindon and not principally for the benefit of those seeking to make a quick profit.

The Party also welcomed councillors from across the political spectrum working together to ensure a fair bidding process.

Two community-led bids have been received to run the site: one from senior staff at the Park and one from the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust. Swindon Borough Council also have the option of maintaining ownership of the site and implementing the business model of one or several of the bids.

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Library cuts desperately sad, say Greens

Swindon Area Green Party members have reacted with dismay to Swindon Borough Council’s plan to stop funding 11 libraries across the borough within the next year. The plans would leave just four of Swindon’s 15 libraries open unless other providers step in.

“Parish Councils and community groups had been waiting to hear what options they would be offered, and now it’s clear they have none,” said Swindon Greens spokesperson and Wroughton resident Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn. “Volunteers and community groups are already stretched to capacity, but if they don’t find a way to keep a service going, thousands of families will no longer have a library within walking distance.”

“It’s short-sighted and will be hugely damaging to communities and to the social and educational environment of our children,” said Talis. “Besides encouraging literacy and a love of the arts, and being a hub for community information and identity, libraries offer essential internet facilities to jobseekers and benefit applicants. It’s ludicrous to suppose that four libraries will be able to meet the needs of the whole of Swindon.

“People here are angry and saddened by this news. It’s not as if there is an infinite bucket of volunteer time to call on.”

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Hands-on and muddy at the local Carnival

Carnival returned to the village of Wroughton this Summer after a couple of years’ rest, and the Wroughton Greens had a stall at the corner of the field near the trees – a very nice spot!

I wanted to try something potentially more engaging than a table full of leaflets, so I used an idea I’d seen at the Eden Project, and set up a stall making Wildflower Seedbombs instead. This involved assembling compost, wildflower seeds (several dear friends helped me out with these), water, chilli powder (magic ingredient to keep the bugs from eating the seeds prior to germination), and a bucket of clay soil from my garden.

The chilli powder tip-off was from Kathryn at Incredible Edible, and was just the thing to pique the curiosity of youngsters and adults alike as I made batch after batch of chilli-flavoured mud, and invited passers-by to add the seeds or get muddy and shape the seedbombs. I was delighted at the response, as a large number of children wanted to get muddy, and they and their parents heard about biodiversity and gardening for wildlife while seedbombs were made. A large number of adults without children were very happy to take seedbombs home with them, and I used up several of the leftover ‘Greener In’ campaign stickers to fasten the paper around the seedbombs for taking away – upcycling or reusing of some kind, anyway!

Soap and water and another tub, a nailbrush and a towel and hand sanitiser were on hand, so nobody had to go away muddy.

Most of all, it was a very congenial way to interact with many Wroughton neighbours and have friendly introductory chats with many folk I hadn’t met before too. It was certainly easier talking to people about the Green Party and what I was doing there, for having something to *do* as well as hand out information fliers. Gardeners and families and teenagers and folk who I know support and are active in other parties came by to chat and went away with a seedbomb or two.

Very many thanks to Tilly and Kate and Simon for their time and help; in the end we all rather enjoyed the whole thing. I have plans for next time which involve liaising with caterers and reducing waste, though the Carnival committee had mostly recruited caterers who had already rejected single-use plastic for their businesses – there is so much green-minded thinking out there to tap into and connect to!

Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn
Ward Team Leader & Prospective Borough Candidate, Wroughton
5th July 2016

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Why I’ll be supporting the Junior Doctors’ strike action

A personal commentary on the strike action being taken by junior doctors today, by Swindon Area Green Party spokesperson Andy Bentley.

I’ll be supporting the junior doctors today as they escalate their industrial action and go on strike: After a long battle I don’t think that the government will negotiate in good faith unless they do.

Doctors at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital will be joining their colleagues across the country in coming out to protest. It’s been 40 years since the last time, it’s serious not just for junior doctors but for the future of the NHS too.

While Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his supporters in the press would like you to think it’s all about the money, and have been quick with their smears (checkout the reaction on Twitter #smearthedocs), there are some important changes in the contracts that are potentially far more damaging.

Mr Hunt has been accused of gambling with patients’ lives as he attempts to push through radical reforms to doctors’ contracts. “Jeremy’s Punt” focusses on changes in working hours, patterns and conditions for junior doctors while weakening the monitoring system that protects the number of hours junior doctors can work.

Doctors fear that safeguards to prevent hospitals from forcing them to work dangerously long hours, which have been in place for over 15 years, face a drastic alteration that could put the public’s lives in danger.

Changes to the definition of ‘office hours’ weekday and weekend working, such that a doctor could work up to 2 o’clock in the morning and not be classified as being on a night shift (with the associated breaks and rest periods before being back on duty that would entail) should ring alarm bells. Junior doctors are right to be worried that the new contract will lead to increasingly unsafe working patterns without adequate rest and recovery.

While the most recent study revealed that fatigue could see a significant increase of medical error, the Department Of Health has confirmed that there has been no assessment of patient safety under the new contract, showing that Hunt’s actions are a gamble.

I don’t believe that the Health Secretary has negotiated in good faith. Instead he has embarked on a campaign of misinformation and brinkmanship to try and force the doctors to capitulate.

You can join the doctors in their protest, or just visit to show they have your support. They will be at the entrance to the Great Western Hospital in Swindon (or at another hospital near you) from 08:00 to 12:00.

I believe that in taking this action the junior doctors are standing up on behalf of all of us in defence of the NHS that we value so highly. I wish them luck, and give them my thanks, as should we all.

Andy Bentley

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Andy Bentley – Home Sweet Home

I don’t think I’d looked at the Green Party since I was at university until a few years ago. In the days before the internet, information on them would have been a lot more difficult to find so even then I probably barely scratched the surface. It was easy to write them off as a single issue group.

Even then I was put off of party politics by the way the two big, legacy parties went about things. Tow the party line, orders from on high, policy by decree, and any idea that came from the opposition benches immediately criticised no matter how close it might have been to their own point of view just because it came from “them”.

When I stood for election as External Affairs Office at Coventry Polytechnic it was on a non-party-political platform; “Here I am, this is what *I* think, vote for me (or not) because you think I’ll do a good job, because you agree with I have to say, not because of the colour of my (figurative) rosette”. We had no party machine behind us, no party-affiliated student society members to spread the word.

We delivered our leaflets, knocked on doors and made our speeches. And we walked it.

As we canvassed, the point that we made over and over again was that policies should come from the bottom up, and representatives should not be told what to do or say from their “bosses” in central office. That message had resonated and the surge of support we received swept us into office.

Now some 25+ years later I find myself in the Green Party, and I think I’ve finally found a party I can call my own, where no-one tells me what to say or do, where policy rises up from the masses rather by decree from on high.

I saw policy being made at our Spring conference this year. Policies written by Party members like me, debated by people like me, voted on by *me*. I saw opposing sides of an argument being put forward and getting applauded. People clapped even if they disagreed with the points being made, because they recognised that it is important for us all to have the chance to contribute to the debate, and that we can all learn from each other.

I’m sure somewhere there are people outraged by some of the decisions made. I say “sure”, I mean there must be, right? Just because I’ve yet to meet one, that’s how politics is, right? It couldn’t possibly be that people can listen to each other, come to a collective decision, then respect that decision even if they don’t agree with it? OK, maybe I’m not so sure. Maybe this really is grass roots politics as it should be, real by-the-people for-the-people stuff.

I occasionally write to my MP or one of the other Parties’ candidates asking their opinion on a particular issue. I always, without fail, get a cut and paste reply from their Party central office telling me what their Party policy is. This makes me both sad and angry. In any Party of more than one person the chance that they all agree on every single issue is astronomical, absolutely impossible. And yet here they are towing the party line, impotent drones being fed what to say by their masters in Westminster. I spoke to one of the local parliamentary candidates after a recent hustings about his views on fracking. He opposes it, but when I’d written to him he gave me the standard copy and paste of Party policy in support of it. When I asked him why he said “because that’s the Party policy”.

In stark contract was the answer I heard at a Green Party training event earlier this year where one of the senior people within the party was asked what we should say if we were questioned about a policy that we disagreed with. According to the guy from the Green Party: “Tell them what the Party Policy is, then tell them what you believe”.

And that is why I think the system works. I agree with 99% of Green Party policy. According to every “vote on policies” style comparison web site I am a Green voter, yet I’m sure that if I looked hard enough I could find something that I disagreed with. The difference in the Green Party is that I’m allowed to say so. I don’t have to apply some fake veneer, avoid the question or simple lie about my views.

It only took me 30 years since University, but I’ve finally found a home.

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Andy Bentley – Grow the Politics You Want

I’ve spent 30+ years voting tactically and never had a government I wanted. Instead I’ve seen the old political parties gradually shift further and further to the right. I’ve seen the Labour Party introduce detention without trial, start to break up and privatise our public services with PFI deals and Academies, and take us into an illegal war that destabilised the Middle East. I’ve seen the Liberals abandon their promise to students and instead support a Tory government as it further fragmented and privatised schools and hospitals and punished the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.

A few years ago I started to be bloody-minded about my voting. To hell with what other people were voting for, I was going to start voting for what *I* wanted.

I used to see the Liberals as the third party who would break the mould of British politics. Then of course they did, but not in the way that I thought. Instead of standing by their principles they sold out for a few crumbs of power from the cabinet table while Osborne & Cameron embarked on their campaign of demonising the working poor and breaking up public services.

People tell me that if I want to oppose the Tories I should vote Labour, if I vote for another party I’ll be “letting in the Tories”. The problem with that is… I don’t want Labour either. Let’s be clear, Labour are not as bad as the Tories, nor are the LibDems. But they’ve all bought into the fake austerity agenda promoted by the Tories, with Labour ready to lurch further to the right following their leadership election.

In a moment of lucidity I managed to sum up my new way of thinking in a Facebook response to someone wondering whether they should vote tactically in the recent election:

“I’ll be 50 this year. I’ve voted tactically for most of the last 30+ years. It never got me a Government I wanted. The best it got me was one that wasn’t quite as bad as the other lot. What a waste. I don’t like roses. I’ve spend 30+ years watering roses and hoping they’d turn into something else. They didn’t. As elections loom the flowers bloom and they start to look nice for a bit, but the petals soon peel away and I’m left with some bare, ugly thing covered in thorns. I should have planted something else 30 years ago, and spent my time nurturing that. Put your efforts into the Green Party. Water it, feed it, look after it, help it to grow. VOTE for it. If you vote Green this time you might not get the result you want. If you DON’T vote green you never will. There are other people out there waiting to follow your lead.”

Hundreds of thousands of people did just that. Due to the nature of First Past the Post it meant no more MPs but it improved our position in many seats, gave us more councillors and a foothold in a more councils. Next time we do a bit more weeding and the green shoots grow a bit taller. There will be others who didn’t vote for us this time but who will follow the lead of those that did next time. We saw another boost to our membership numbers after the result was announced and more new members turning up to our meetings.

If you want to grow something you plant a seed and nurture it: there’s no good watering a rose and hoping one day it’ll turn into a lily. If you want lilies, plant lilies. If only I’d been a more active gardener for the past 30 years there might not be so many weeds and there might be a damn sight more lilies.

You can follow Andy via his Facebook Page:

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Swindon Green Party Membership booming in wake of election result

#GREENSURGE 2 sees 10% jump in membership in just 4 days

The so-called “green surge” last year saw Swindon’s Green Party membership quadruple, mirroring the explosion in membership for the party as a whole across the country. Nationally they became a larger party than both the LibDems and UKIP back in January.

This surge allowed them to field a full list of candidates in the Local elections, more than ever before. Their campaign team, brought together for the first time this year, has also been busier than ever before and is promising to build on the skills picked up in the recent election to propel the group to greater success next year.

Since the election result on the 8th of May there has been another new influx of new members. After Green Party leader Natalie Bennett promised on Saturday to “…continue the ‘Green surge’, build it and make it bigger”, UK-wide membership of the Green Party has now hit 75,000.

The Swindon group has seen membership increase by over 10% in just FOUR days (figure correct as of 11th May and still rising).

These new members have a variety of reasons for joining. Some are longtime supporters of the Party who have been prompted to action by the appalling failure of the first past the post system to fairly reflect their views in Parliament, with only 1 MP representing more than a million people who voted for the Green Party. Others have been attracted by the policies put forward in the Party manifesto, and by the performance of the candidates during the election campaign. Many consider the Green Party to be the only real resistance to the Tory government, with the Labour Party looking like it will lurch even further to the right in the coming weeks.

The views below are from just a fraction those signing up since the results of the election were announced:

“I agreed with every policy on the recent Green publicity leaflet I received. The Labour party seems to strive to be all things to all people in order to be elected, though I did vote Labour in the recent election mainly because of our antiquated and undemocratic electoral system. I am slightly amused by all this talk by some politicians of the need for modernisation which always excludes electoral reform. My reasons for joining are that I support the policies and I also want to press for electoral reform.”
– John, Eastcott

“I was very impressed with Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn’s contribution at the hustings at the Wyvern Theatre. For once there was someone speaking for the benefit of all rather than the benefit of the few. The more I see of low wages, privatisation (i.e. run for profit, the bottom line being most important, not the people it serves) of what we hold so dear such as schools and the NHS and the stigmatising of the poor – not to mention the shameful and shortsighted lack of funding for green/renewable energy – the more I realise it is time to stand up for this and future generations and say “This is not a game to be won, like chess – it’s our lives! ” The Green Party manifesto was the only one that was down to earth and genuinely served the people.”
– Melanie, Abbey Meads

“As a mother I have high concerns that the recently elected government are going to wreck the environment for us and our children.”
– Flora, Gorse Hill

“Hearing the Greens policies over the election period convinced me they are the only party offering a real alternative to austerity. Then after getting over a million votes and only one seat in the House of Commons, I decided to do something to help promote their ideas and to campaign for a proportional voting system to have those ideas represented fairly.”
– Neil, Dorcan

“I’ve supported the Green Party since I was old enough to really understand politics, but decided to make my support official after Thursday’s election. By the next General Election (the first in which I’ll be old enough to vote) I want there to be a realistic chance of a Green government and therefore a fairer Britain.”
– Ella, Stratton

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