Bank Holiday weekend I spent at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival; some goof folk, some good politics. Fell into conversation with the man on the next pitch from near High Wycombe – he had visited Leeds to look at our recycling system. Impressed that I was involved in setting it up when a Labour councillor, talked about the sorting at the Material Recycling Facility, the rest of the system, the public meetings when wheelie bins were introduced.

I knew that questions had been asked about my time as a Labour councillor, and realised  that I had said little. I do not find it easy to talk about myself, I have been impressed by the ease with which claims are made by others so have settled down to set out some things.

I was elected to Leeds City Council for the old Whinmoor ward in 1990 – an election affected by the Poll Tax issue – with a majority as I recall of about four and a half thousand. Leeds has big wards, at the time the biggest had over 26 000 electors, mine was only about 15 000. I was re-elected in 1994 and 1998, and did not stand again in 2002 – I could no longer defend Labour policy.

Leeds also had a Labour group sympathetic to what would now be called ‘green’ issues, and with these I quickly became associated.

Here are the first things that popped into my head – but in twelve years as a councillor there were more, not only on the wider stage but in the daily work in the ward.

  • I persuaded the Labour Group to oppose having an incinerator, and not to allow Leeds waste to go for incineration – a decision that survived my leaving the council for a while. As Chair of West Yorkshire Waste Management I even managed to shut the old Huddersfield incinerator for a while.
  • A Purchasing & Energy panel was established with me as the first chair: for three consecutive years savings on the energy budget meant that the council tax could be held steady; we introduced a Green Purchasing policy, used as a model by the government; we smuggled in a policy that in the refurbishment of any council property it had to use less energy than before.
  • While councillor responsible for the Peace & Emergency Planning Unit we set up a liaison group to ‘monitor’ the US spy station at Menwith Hill, provided funding for ‘Nukewatch’ and other groups including Children of Chernobyl, were involved in establishing Mayors for Peace, and provided significant support for Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA’s).
  • I was chair of UK NFLA’s for four years, speaking at the Hague Peace Conference, in Goteborg at a meting on nuclear power, in Salzburg about establishing a European NFLA, as well as on a speaking tour of Japan; we established the links with Ireland that established joint working on nuclear issues, and our arguments were the ones used in refusing the NIREX application for deep disposal of nuclear waste; in Wales we helped oppose the application for disposal of nuclear waste in the old MoD site at Trecwn
  • My ward had 14 tower blocks, and after a fire in the lobby of one, and reading about tower block fires elsewhere (the concern was over the space between wall and cladding acting as a flue – rather than with inflammable cladding) I set up a Fire safety in tower blocks working group that led to fire safety checks on all the tower blocks in the city, with hundreds of thousands spent on improvements.

It has to be recognised that I was able to do much of this as a member of the ruling group on the council, and with the advantage of the old committee system, but it was in general a positive contribution.

Again something posted on a different blog – a poem and a little comment on it, and another little post from nearly four years ago on yet another blog.

I am at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival – a trip planned long before there was a whiff of a leadership election, so am involved in other things while my mind revolves various thoughts. The political anger is there ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’ sung by the FOS Brothers, and the direct statement of support for those crossing the channel, for the refugees from Afghanistan from Show of Hands. Cathartic too, in particular the strength of the sisters supporting one another in the folk ballet ‘Sisters of Elva Hill’

The language of the poem is highly gendered, but then women did not have the vote and relatively few politicians were supporting it, not Gladstone, or even a radical like John Bright.

I am not sure I would list the same virtues – vision and serenity perhaps first from this list.

William Watson 1858 – 1935

Although brought up and buried in Liverpool, William Watson was born in Burley in Wharfedale, just along the road from me, and thus has the good fortune to be a Yorkshireman. A pencil note in the front of my copy records that he died in Ambleside.

Although I can find a critical biography listed which I may look for, if only because of a vague interest in the nineteenth century reformers, there is little about him on line. He became established as a poet in the second half of the nineteenth century and the style of the time fell out of fashion during his lifetime, although his was never quite as dreadful as in the poetry of Swinburne.

He was twice close to selection as Poet Laureate, on the first occasion passed over for Alfred Austin (widely regarded as the worst ever) and on the second by Robert Bridges. He was given a Civil List pension, and eventually knighted so was held in some public regard.

Part of the reason suggested for his not becoming laureate it is suggested is that his political opinions were held to be unacceptable. I have not been able to explore these. Although on board during the First World War, he opposed the Boer War, and his opinions were one assumes quite progressive.

In another poem in this volume ‘To a Friend Uniting Antiquarian tastes with Progressive Politics’ (p.62) he writes:

“…….and I count him wise,

Who loves so well Man’s noble memories

He needs must love Man’s nobler hopes yet more”

Alongside this is a light hearted piece on a friends dog and cat ‘A Study of Contrasts’ (p.54).

The obvious reason for this choice is the disjuncture between ‘The Ideal Popular Leader’ and our current ‘populist’ leader, and his model in the United States. A leader who seems to have no energy for the task, conscious more of opinion – and the opinion of his class more than any other – than of guiding principle, and when compared with the list of virtues Watson cites: “virtue, wisdom, courage, power/ The ampler vision, the serener will/ And the fixed mind,” would grasp only the latter shouting “Get ..it Done”.

On December 3rd 2017, I had contrasted Trump with the virtues listed as ideal in an American President. The language is no less gendered than that of William Watson, but the listing is broader: trust, unity, sense of responsibility, sense of humour, openness as well as the qualities we would now unite as ’emotional intelligence’, as well as integrity and intelligence.

“Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, stood three times to be presidential candidate and served as Vice President under Gerald Ford

In ‘Unity, Freedom and Peace’ he wrote:

“The President must possess a wide range of abilities: to lead, to persuade, to inspire trust, to attract men of talent, to unite. These abilities must reflect a wide range of characteristics: courage, vision, integrity, intelligence, sense of responsibility, sense of history, sense of humour, warmth, openness, personality, tenacity, energy, determination, drive, perspicacity, idealism, thirst for information, penchant for fact, presence of conscience, comprehension of people and enjoyment of life..””

The Ideal Popular Leader

William Watson (before 1895)

He is one who counts no public toil so hard

As idly glittering pleasures; one controlled

By no mob’s haste, nor swayed by gods of gold;

Prizing, not courting, all just men’s regard;

With none but Manhood’s ancient Order starred,

Nor crowned with titles less august and old

Than human greatness; large-brained, limpid-souled;

Whom dreams can hurry not, nor doubts retard;

Born, nurtured of the People; living still

The People’s life; and though their noblest flower,

In nought removed above them, save alone

In loftier virtue, wisdom, courage, power,

The ampler vision, the serener will,

And the fixed mind, to no light dallyings prone.

From William Watson ‘Odes and Other Poems’, John Lane (3rd edn) 1895 p.68

It is a little over 18 months since my last occasional post to what was really a set of essays/ little writings for myself. I have read over them, barely one a year for nine years, but they do contain a lot that reflects my activities, my views, my observations.

Now is as good a time as any to go public with it, and I daresay to add to it.

Standing with Tina for Co-Leader of the GP is something that once asked, I felt I had to do, thinking I had the experience and knowledge that could make a difference to the party at this time and that supported the campaigning experience of Tina.

The Green Party is in danger of being consumed by issues that are important, but which are not part of our core undertaking. Time is too short for us to be distracted by anything else.

So Martin is back.

On Saturday, shortly after arriving at the CND Peace and Craft Fair in Shipley I fell into a discussion with a young Labour Party member who appeared incensed that the Green Party were standing anywhere, and who eventually said rather aggressively that if the Tories won the election it would all be the fault of the Greens.
His core argument appeared to be that the reality was that Labour was the stronger party with more members, and MP’s. He somewhat derisively pointed to us having only one MP, and seemed to think it irrelevant that the MP represented 1.1 million people who voted in 2015 and over half a million of voters in 2017.
If the Tories win this election it will be because of an electoral system that regards the votes of 70% of those voting as irrelevant.
If we had had proportional representation since 1945 there would have been no Conservative governments in that period – the popular vote is left of centre.
The Labour Party would rather have the Conservatives in power some of the time than give up the chance of having its little episodes of complete power.
The refusal of the Labour Party to introduce PR for UK elections is responsible for Thatcherism, the neo-Liberalism of Cameron, the Brexit referendum. Labour did, under devolution, allow PR in the elections to the devolved governments, and the effectiveness and value of that has been seen in elections where the proportions of those elected reflect the proportions voting for the different parties.
If the Tories win this election it will be the fault of the Labour Party and no-one else. They could have changed the system and they did not.

We have another election, and it will go the way of earlier elections in one significant way – the result will not reflect the wishes of the people.

Those who want to leave the European Union fear that their vote may be divided between the Conservative Party and the policy-lite Brexit party; those who want to stay in fret that the remain vote will be divided between Labour and Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens – it is assumed that the SNP will sweep the board in Scotland, that Northern Ireland will split on sectarian lines – part of the legacy of 1921 – and that Sinn Fein will not take the seats that would boost remain.

And yet the parties will not drop their antagonism for a ‘greater good’, each wedded to a ‘majority’ under First Past the Post. The Liberal Democrats will say that they will do it, but once in power who knows – no-one experienced in British politics would trust a Lib Dem.

And so the result will not reflect the wishes of the people. A government with a ‘majority’ will form, but it will only reflect a ‘minority’ of those voting, and it will claim a ‘mandate from the people’, to do or to undo whatever it wants.

And so we go into an election.

Some people will regard it as just a vote on leaving the EU, or remaining in the EU. Yet the issue of most concern to electors is the climate, most say this will guide their choice. If it did the Green Party would be sweeping to power, but it won’t, because there will be promises from the other parties that will be forgotten, or not be affordable, or just too unpopular to allow re-election. And we will wander blindly along, until it is too late, and we will say, ‘Ah well, it is too late, it was nice while it lasted’, or more likely build walls that trap the poor in poor countries (the rich will have their visas), hoping that things will stay OK on our side of the wall, looking over our shoulders at the people building a wall behind us ‘just in case’.

I do not want to sound despairing, things might change – but is there time to change the people, or must we reap what we have sown.

 

There is no argument but that the inept negotiation around ‘Brexit’ has shifted the perception towards an even greater perception of buffoonery in English political life than the original decision itself.

In their book ‘Yorkshire Cottage’ (1942)  Pontefract and Hartley describe a visit to Norway in 1938. Not the Arthur Norway who had published ‘Highways and By ways in Yorkshire’ in 1899. A pre-oil wealth Norway of farmers and fishers.

Chamberlain had just been to Munich and the Norwegians perception was that the English were not taking the matter seriously enough, On page 47:

“It was a shock to our pride to discover personally how much Munich had lowered our national prestige. England decadent, England blind, were constantly recurring themes. the people liked the English, but almost against their will admired the German efficiency .. England had refused to see what was coming, and she would fall to the status of a secondary nation; in fact had already fallen”

Chamberlain waved a piece of paper, May a ream – either way it is waving good by to a little more of the anyway pretentious political status of the nation.

 

Just before the second world war Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley bought a tumbledown cottage in the village of Askrigg and began to recover it. With the intervention of the wat it took years. As writer and artist publishing popular books on Yorkshire they wrote it up in ‘Yorkshire Cottage’ (J M Dent & Son, 1942).

On page 66 they talk about connecting to electricity:

“Electricity was introduced here about forty years ago .. It was made in a corn mill whose water wheel supplied the power.. it is now a mire ambitious undertaking, with a plant further up the gill, it still draws its power from the beck and a waterfall”

And lower down the page

“There is .. a satisfactory feeling about the way in which the natural elements of the countryside have been used to ease the life of the people .. the power of water .. is utilized for the good of the community”

Again we have an advertisement for local, small scale energy production for rural communities.

In her 1913 short story ‘Beewise’ Gilman anticipates her novel ‘Herland’ published two years later, in imagining a community in which women are at the centre of life and government. Men are allowed, but are not absent as in ‘Herland’.

The short stories are concerned with the fulfilment of the lives of women (and men) that is limited by the expectations and activities of the family and expected attitudes, and the importance of seizing the moment.

In some of this she anticipates Betty Friedan.

My interest in the tale however was heightened by her description of the energy supply of the community:

“The first cash outlay .. was to build a reservoir .. which furnished .. a steady stream of power. The powerhouse in the canyon was supplemented by wind-mills on the heights and a tide-mill on the beach, and among them they furnished light heat and power – clean economical electric energy. Later they set up a solar engine which furnished additional force”

(‘The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writings’ Virago (2009) p.192)

It is not that the sources of energy are identified and brought together to generate clean energy, and maintain clean air, (and the importance of clean air runs through the stories) but that they are seen as the appropriate energy source for locally generated community energy. It is the island of Samso anticipated.

The sources are not themselves unexpected. I went to school by train through the deserted station at ‘Tide Mills’ where in the late 19th and early 20th century the incoming tide was trapped in a large reservoir and released through the water wheels, not being used to turn a turbine. When I got to school there were textbooks appearing with pictures of La Rance tidal power station, opened in northern France in 1961, but I have not found evidence for its use in generating electricity before this – although there is certain to be discussion of theory earlier than this.

The first application of the wind to energy generation was in 1891 in Denmark, and the first American factory producing wind turbines opened in the USA in 1927. It was technological novelty at the time.

Armstrong had built his hydro-electric station at Cragside in 1878. The first HEP plant had been constructed in the USA in 1881, and by 1889 there were 200 in operation. A novel power source but better known that the others.

While the first photovoltaic solar array had been unveiled in 1884 in New York, because of a fear of imminent ‘peak coal’, the technology was not taken up widely.

Altogether a prescient imagining, and one that is coming to reality for small communities such as those on the island of Samso in Denmark, but which could be a model for community energy in other rural areas – North Yorkshire perhaps; and within urban areas – a challenge to all energy giants..

I have not seen reference to the nineteenth century Rochdale radical John Bright in the debate on Scottish independence.

In January 1843 after taking the Anti-Corn Law League message to Scotland he said:

“the intelligence of the people in Scotland is superior to the intelligence of the people in England .. if they were separate from England they might have a government wholly popular and intelligent, to a degree which I believe does not exist in any other country on the face of the earth .. However, I believe they will be disposed to press us on, and make us become more and more intelligent; and we may receive benefit from our contact with them, even though, for some ages to come, our connexion with them may be productive of evil to themselves”

This quoted on pp.84-85 of the 1913 The Life of John Bright’ by G M Trevelyan

The Conservative Party is in complete disarray; the Labour Party, while strengthening, still has deep divisions; the Liberal Democrat rump, the SNP and Plaid have talented individual members. Sinn Fein if they took their seats could offer a new perspective, Jim Shannon at least from the DUP you would not expect to be comfortable supporting the Tories.

The time has perhaps come for a government of national unity, drawing on the principled, the progressive, the most free thinking across the political parties.

A government that should be headed by the most respected of current parliamentarians – Caroline Lucas. Perhaps an imaginative, convention busting, exercise of the Royal Prerogative is needed to stop our slide into decline and deprivation.