Open-cast update/cards with the secret police/solar
5th April 2012
Lots of feedback urging me NOT to abbreviate my emails, they
like in-depth discussion, but also a few saying yes, do get on
with it, man! With 10% of the constituency reading it, there's
bound to be a range of preferences. What I'll try is starting
with short items for those of you with less time and/or patience,
and then a more substantial discussion for those who like such
By the way, if you know others who you think would like to be
included on the mailing list, please forward this to them and/or
let me know. By the next election, I'd like to have say 15% of
the constituency on the list.
This one will include the Soviet secret police anecdote and then
a substantial (long) environment discussion, but first an important
1. Is the open-cast mining application coming? – hardening
Jane Burd, who I worked with in the last campaign against open-cast
development near Cossall and Trowell, has spotted a "scoping"
application by British Coal. She writes: "Scoping is gathering
information for the Environmental Impact Assessment and includes
wildlife, geology, hydrology and all so on. If they are planning
to write an EIA then this is the first step to putting in a planning
application to extract coal." The application is here:
So it's clearly on the drawing board. If people interested in
mobilising again on this issue would like to contact me, I'll
put you in touch with each other. If anyone would like to coordinate
the effort, please let me know. This should be a non-partisan
thing and I'll be pleased to work with anyone on it.
Briefly to recap in what I'll try to make a balanced way, for
those not previously familiar with the issue: open-cast coal involves
stripping off coal fairly near the surface across a largish area
(as opposed to deep coal, which involves going down more than
across and is hence more expensive and dangerous but more limited
in area). Consequently, it will thoroughly mess up a landscape
for a decade or so and drive out much of the wildlife.
When they've taken all the economically viable coal, they will
do their best to restore the landscape (a typical condition is
that they deposit money to do this in advance, so the company
can't go bust and leave the mess) and this can eventually look
quite nice (see Moorgreen for a good example), but of course one's
had a nasty decade of noise, dust, traffic and despoliation, and
the original ecoculture may be hard or impossible to restore.
It produces a few local jobs but not many – it's mostly
automated and run by specialists who come into the area and push
off when it's finished. Obviously it does make some money for
the company and any local economic activity is good, other things
In an ideal case, the site will be horrible anyway, in which
case the eventual cleanup will leave it looking much better. But
this, of course, isn't the case at Shortwood Farm (near the Trowell
M1 service station), so I and (in my experience) most local people
oppose the idea. A further factor is that having messed up one
area the temptation is to apply to move on to the next adjoining
one, on the basis that the view is spoiled anyway.
2. Cards with the secret police
My mum's family was Russian. They were pretty established in
pre-revolutionary Russia – they included landowners, bankers,
various professionals and a minor prince (whose son is my uncle,
now living in peaceful obscurity in Penzance and voting UKIP).
However, they intensely disliked the erratic, oppressive and corrupt
Tsarist government and some of them got involved with the Mensheviks,
the (relatively) moderate social democrats who rose to power in
the first revolution in 1917, when Russia was still at war with
Germany in World War 1. Led by Kerensky, a charismatic intellectual
not rooted in peasant and industrial worker circles (think Tony
Benn), they were keen to introduce a Western-style left-wing democracy,
and continue to fight Germany. My great-grandfather was his legal
They were rapidly outmanoeuvred by the Bolsheviks under Lenin.
They basically (I'm simplifying a very complex political drama)
said that there wasn't time for all this democracy and human rights
stuff, what people needed was peace and enough to eat. That struck
a chord and the better-organised Bolsheviks soon took power in
a second revolution, ended the war with Germany and consolidated
their grip. Kerensky went into exile in Britain (I remember meeting
his widow a few times as a child).
My family were dubious about this development, but they did agree
that the country needed radical change, so they decided to stay
on and help to make the new era a success. Move on a few years,
though, and the climate darkened, with random arrests of suspected
dissidents becoming commonplace. Late one night, the secret police
came calling on my grandfather, Leo: he was wanted for interrogation.
Leo wasn't very political – he was a defence lawyer in
criminal cases. But the key thing about him (I remember him from
my childhood) was that he was a relentlessly boisterous lover
of life and people in general. "Come in!" he said affably
to the policemen. "When is this interrogation then?"
"It is at 8 tomorrow morning, comrade. We must detain you
in the meantime."
"That's nine hours away! What a waste of time! Sit down
and have a drink. Do you play cards?"
They did indeed play cards. And for the rest of the night, they
swigged vodka, drank tea from the bubbling samovar and played.
In the morning, they staggered off to the interrogation centre,
all half-cut. "He'sh a good fellow," one of them muttered
to the bemused interrogator. "Go eashy on him, eh?"
And after half an hour of perfunctory questions, he was sent home.
Why didn't they arrest his father, the genuinely political one?
Why did they let any of them go? Because in those days the whole
country was still chaotic, and the systematic terror imposed by
Stalin was still years away. By 1922, though, the family could
see the writing on the wall, and most of them emigrated, mostly
But what's nice about the story is that my granddad wasn't cunningly
manipulating the policemen. He really did think that the best
way to spend a night was to drink vodka and play cards, and he
just assumed that the secret policemen would feel the same way.
The fact that it made them like him was an incidental by-product.
When he came home, he made light of the whole thing to his anxious
family: "They were pleasant fellows! No problem!" (I
like to think I've inherited a little bit of his cheerful buoyancy
– it's a key to enjoying life.)
Anecdote next time: my accidental porn movie and an early expenses
3. The environment – yesterday's issue, or tomorrow's?
One of the things that happens in difficult economic times is
that the environment takes a back seat in the political debate.
If you're well off and contentedly piling up savings and taking
nice holidays, it seems natural to worry about the climate and
conservation of rare species. If your job is at risk and you're
worried you might lose your home, or you're disabled and the government
has just cut your support, the future of the great crested newt
seems a frivolous distraction.
As always, politicians react to voter mood, so you don't hear
much from the parties about the environment at the moment. It's
easy to be cynical about this slavish tracking of the opinion
polls, but we do want politicians to pay attention to their voters'
concerns, so it's unreasonable to complain if they do exactly
that. However, it's also part of politicians' job to draw attention
to issues that they think voters might be underrating. It's unfashionable
to like Tony Blair, but one thing I always admired about him is
that he was never afraid to take on people who disagreed with
him and try to get them to have another think.
The thing about the environment is that any policy relating to
it needs to be sustained. Some people believe that it's all nonsense
and the planet will be just fine without any special effort. That's
a coherent view, if in my opinion a mistaken one. But what you
can't sensibly believe is that it makes sense to make an effort
on the environment for a few years and then drop it. That's a
waste of time and money.
Take solar energy. This isn't the ideal country for it, but it's
better than you might think, since photo-voltaic cells don't require
sunshine to gather energy, just brightness. Accordingly, a few
years ago we introduced "feed-in tariffs" for solar
energy, effectively subsidising people to fit solar panels on
their roofs, reduce their energy usage and even earn money by
selling surplus energy back into the grid. The objectives are:
(a) Making Britain less dependent on imports of oil and gas from
places like Algeria and Russia
(b) Making you personally less dependent on central energy supply
(c) Reducing Britain's carbon emissions and pollution
(d) Saving Britain imports in the long term.
Subsidies cost money, and as the Daily Mail periodically "reveals"
with horror, 10-20% of your current electricity bill is going
on green subsidies like this. We could scrap them and rely on
that nice Algerian Government to send us gas forever, but would
that be wise?
However, if you want people to invest in anything – solar
panels, fish finger factories, night clubs, whatever – you
need to offer them a reasonably stable environment. And what's
happened is that people who invest in solar panels are being stuffed:
the tariff they get for producing solar energy is being whittled
away a few years after it was introduced. The Government tried
to stuff them retrospectively, but that's been rejected by the
Supreme Court (see http://tinyurl.com/solarchange ), so it's now
only new investors who are losing out. This, though, means that
people who produce solar panels have a less healthy market, and
it risks future investment in one of the new competitive world
industries that we say we're so keen on.
Now I'm conscious that I'm irritating some of you by going on
about this when the world is in economic difficulty, but let me
annoy you further by being unfashionably pro-European. This is
really an area where EU cooperation makes sense – indeed
not just the EU. Before I was voted out in 2010, I was involved
in supporting the European Supergrid project. The idea here is
an electricity network covering the whole continent and North
Africa, on the basis that we have different weather at different
times. If winds in Britain are low, reducing wind energy output,
they're probably high in Italy or Poland, and vice versa. If the
sky is heavily overcast in Denmark, it's probably bright in Spain.
The effect is to make us all less dependent on local weather
and to smooth out supply across Europe, which means that we actually
need to invest less in generating capacity. Obviously we have
to invest more in the grid to make it work, but that's largely
a one-off and can be done gradually (like extending a motorway
network). You can read a good summary here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_super_grid
. The whole thing is still at the drawing board stage, but if
I do get back in 2015 it's one of the issues I want to resume
By-elections, Fair Trade and NET meetings
4th March 2012
By-election campaigning is now in full swing. The candidates
in the Toton borough council by-election are:
Jane Marshall (Lab), Barbara Carr (LibDem), Khaled Halimah (Con),
Keith Marriott (UKIP).
I've known Jane for a long time – she's one of the most
active local members, and comes from a family with a long tradition
in Broxtowe Labour. She is particularly committed to protecting
public services in the current climate of cuts.
Barbara was previously a Beeston North councillor, but stood
down there last year. She is traditionally critical of Labour,
like her husband Steve, who remains a councillor but left the
LibDem group because he opposed the Lab-Lib coalition.
I've not met Khaled yet, but Keith is a veteran UKIP campaigner.
I hope you'll support Labour's campaign, and if you'd like to
help with the leafleting, canvassing or final push on election
day March 15, please contact Jane on firstname.lastname@example.org
or tweet her on @jazi68.
The candidates is the Toton and Chilwell by-election are John
Doddy (Con), Lee Waters (UKIP), David Watts (LibDem), so we have
the novelty in this traditionally Tory area of the LibDems having
a clear run to challenge them. John is a long-standing Conservative
activist and local GP: he helped launch Anna Soubry's 2010 campaign.
David Watts is the former borough council leader and part of the
Lab-Lib coalition on the council. He stood for Parliament against
me in the last two elections and is clearly the most experienced
of the three in council issues, though I've not yet met Lee.
2. Local events
FAIR TRADE: Tuesday 6 March, 6pm for 6.30 until 8.30, Beeston
Town Hall, Foster Avenue, Beeston
Moses Renee, a Fairtrade banana producer from St Lucia in the
Windward Isles, is coming to Beeston to talk about his experiences
of Fairtrade and the benefits it has for his community. Fairtrade
Beeston is delighted to be able to invite you to hear Moses talk
about his experiences and answer your questions. You will also
be able to visit stalls and sample a range of delicious Fairtrade
products, and find out more about Fairtrade and how people in
Beeston can get involved. Most of us try to buy Fairtrade products,
but have only a general idea of what the benefits are for producers,
so the organisers hope to give new insights for consumers and
encourage the Fairtrade boom even further. The event is free.
To help them with planning, if possible please reserve a place
by emailing email@example.com
Also on March 6, NET will be holding an information evening about
progress on the tram and what is likely to be happening next at
Eskdale Junior School, Eskdale Drive, from 5.30pm to 8.00pm on
March 6th. People are welcome to drop in at any point during these
hours, so you can go to both events for a varied evening!
New acting council leader/Rylands controversy/Toton
9th February 2012
1. New acting council leader
Broxtowe's council leader, Milan Radulovic, has stepped aside
for the time being to concentrate on defending the alleged fraud
case, due to come to court next month. Pat Lally has been elected
as his deputy and is expected to lead the council until the issue
2. Rylands controversy
A nasty controversy has broken out over a small Hindu temple
site in Rylands. There are two levels to this. At one level there
are perfectly legitimate concerns about parking: the normal attendance
is expected to be limited, but people want contingency arrangements
to avoid congestion, especially during a festival event planned
in 2013. The temple organisers, who are local businesspeople,
have said they're happy to instruct attendees only to use designated
car parking and for the festival to have no local parking at all
and bring in participants by bus.
Parking is always difficult in the Rylands so it's reasonable
to raise these concerns and any others (e.g. noise): everyone
involved seems keen to plans sensibly and avoid any problems.
As one step in the preparation they organised a public meeting
with local councillors to listen and respond to objections, and
this unfortunately turned nasty, with a local Methodist preacher
being shouted down, organisers being told to "get back to
your own country", and disruption to the point that the police
were called. The windows in the temple building have now been
smashed twice by hooligans and it appears that some non-local
extremists are taking an interest: it's been eagerly reported
on a BNP blog.
I'm keen to separate the two issues. Parking and noise concerns
are absolutely normal about any community facility and they need
to be properly addressed. However, if it was, say, a scouts centre
or a Catholic church, I doubt if people would start shouting insults
and abuse and smashing windows, and it's obviously upsetting for
the organisers (who have lived in the borough for a long time)
to feel that some people are determined to make them unwelcome.
That's something we should try to remedy. Matt of the Beestonia
blog (http://beestonia.wordpress.com/) has suggested this:
"Here's what to do - it'll take five minutes. Send the Temple
a `Welcome to Beeston' card. Grab a card, tell them that you have
no problem with them being here, and beat the nazis with simple
goodwill. Go on, do it now. You're bound to have a card knocking
about somewhere that will be fine, pen a greeting, bang it in
an envelope and address it to
The Sri Thurkkai Amman Temple, West Crescent, Beeston Rylands
Drop it in a postbox and know that in a small but significant
way that you have pushed a bit of hate out of the world."
Seems like a very good idea to me.
My strictly unofficial understanding is that a way forward has
been found and Wilkinsons will be back after a break, but that
it could take a year or more before the reopening. I'll continue
to report anything I hear.
4. County council reprimanded by Government
In a very unusual development, the Conservative County Council
has been reprimanded by the Government for excessive cuts, proving
that even they draw the line somewhere. The Conservative Minister
commenting, Oliver Letwin, responded to the Nottingham City Labour
MP Lilian Greenwood: "The hon. Lady is absolutely right that
my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and
Local Government has written in extremely uncompromising and tough
terms to the county council in question, reminding it that there
is statutory guidance, and that the proportion by which the voluntary
and community sector is cut should be the same as the proportion
by which the council's own budgets are cut. I am delighted to
pay tribute, unusually, to the hon. Lady's own council, which,
despite coming from a different political party from mine, has
actually followed that rule, cutting both by roughly similar proportions.
(Hansard 08/02/12 Col 289)"
5. Housing development proposals
The developers seeking to build on green space in Toton offered
to brief me even though I'm opposed to the proposal, so took an
hour to hear what they had to say. They will be holding a public
exhibition at the Japanese Water Gardens on Tuesday 21st February
2pm – 8pm.
One twist to the issue that I'd not realized before is that the
Localism Act put through by the Government recently pushes responsibility
for housing down to borough level. This positive-sounding change
is problematic, because it means that it's no longer possible
for Broxtowe to argue that we don't have the space for 6000+ new
homes and they should be located in, say, the open spaces of Rushcliffe:
Broxtowe now has to accept all the housing (or prove that it isn't
needed, in the teeth of the Government's preferred demographic
projections). If Broxtowe proposes a smaller number and it's rejected,
they will then be unable to prevent development anywhere in the
borough. The awkward consequence of this is that the council may
be forced into an unpalatable choice: Toton (already opposed by
a unanimous full council vote), Field Farm (also unsuitable and
highly controversial) and some higher-density developments building
in Beeston (the least bad option in my view, but many disagree).
That said, I still think the site is unsuitable, but if you live
in the area, have a look at the exhibition and see what you think.
I've alerted the local TEPS group and they are encouraging concerned
residents to attend. As always, I'll keep you posted.
Discuss 40 years in politics with David Blunkett/Economic
23rd January 2012
Following the very positive response to my unorthodox comments
last time on the EU, this one is going to grasp the thorny nettles
of the economy and the political dilemmas which get in the way
of intelligent discussion. But first an invitation and a reminder:
1. Discussion with David Blunkett
[The meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Thursday 2nd February
at Inham Nook Methodist Church in Pearson Avenue, Chilwell, Nottingham.]
I'd like to invite you to an evening discussion with David Blunkett.
He's going to be focusing on Labour's alternative to the current
government, but also reflecting on his life in politics over the
last 40 years. I'll be chairing the meeting and contributing my
own comments. In addition, there will be ample opportunity to
ask questions about anything you like. David is stimulating and
frank and has always been committed to the issues of making British
life better (rather than merely winning elections. Ironically,
although he's blind, I found he was almost the only Minister to
add personal notes to official civil service-drafted replies,
often drawing on his own experience in the tough Sheffield environment
where he grew up.
The meeting has a dual function: it's also a fund-raiser. In
the run-up to the last General Election, we were outspent by the
Conservatives in Broxtowe by a 3-1 margin. While there are limits
to how much electoral success money can buy (the swing from Labour
in Broxtowe was once again one of the lowest in England, even
though we did just lose the seat), it's obviously unsatisfactory
if one side can send out much more campaign literature than the
other. I'd like to invite you to contribute £5 (or £2
if you're not currently employed) on the evening – more
if you can afford it! – to help redress the balance and
level the playing field next time. If you can't attend but would
like to contribute, you can find a donation button on our website
2. Field Farm feedback – still worth commenting
Although the official deadline for the consultation has just
been reached, I know from experience that late feedback is considered
until the planning committee actually meets. So if you'd like
to respond and haven't yet, please see tinyurl.com/fieldfarm .
3. Politics and the economy
Given that Ed Balls has said that we can't promise to reverse
the Government's spending cuts, many people – notably some
union leaders – have been asking whether Labour actually
has a distinct economic strategy? Does Labour's policy amount
to doing much the same, just a bit less harshly?
This misunderstands what Balls said (essentially that we can't
credibly promise now what we can do in 2015 when the economy may
be very different from now), but there are some genuine dilemmas
that I'd like to explore.
First, briefly, about debt and deficits. As I've written before,
the widespread belief that we have or had an unusually high debt
level is simply wrong. In 2007, just before the banking crisis,
the key debt:GDP ratio was lower than in 1997, when Labour first
took over. It remains lower than most countries – it is,
for example, better than Germany's. That's why we are not yet
under severe market pressure. We do, however, have a deficit problem
(debt is what you owe; deficit is the annual increase in what
you owe) – our deficit is higher than most countries, because
the size of Britain's financial sector meant that a bigger banking
bailout was needed than in, say, Germany. If that isn't addressed,
we *will* eventually have a debt problem.
The dilemma is that we also have a recession, and recessions
reduce tax revenue and increase unemployment payments, making
deficits worse. If the deficit is tackled by severe cuts, as the
Government is doing, the recession deepens and we risk ending
up making the deficit worse – which is what happened in
the 1930s. That's the reason that it now looks very unlikely that
the Government will reach its target of eliminating the deficit
in this Parliament. There is an entirely separate argument about
each individual cut, but the economics of cuts during recessions
are generally that they're unhelpful and simply reduce everyone's
standard of living without solving the problem.
On the other hand, we can't just indefinitely run a deficit and
hope for the best. So the challenge facing every government is
to find the `sweet spot' (or `less sour spot' might be a better
description) of a level of cuts or tax rises that reduce the deficit
without depressing the economy.
Whether that actually exists is really not clear: every government
is groping for it. But plainly some cuts and tax rises hurt the
economy more than others – from the purely economic viewpoint,
the abolition of the regional Business Link advisory service network
for small business is probably a lot worse than, say, reducing
the coastguard service. Cuts that affect poorer people have a
more severe impact on the economy because people on low-incomes
normally spend what they get (feeding back into then economy),
whereas someone who is already wealthy may spend the same whether
their current income rises or falls.
In responding to this, Labour has two difficulties. One is that
most people have bought the "Labour left us in unmanageable
debt" narrative, so by disagreeing we look as though we're
in denial – yet we can't really apologise for something
that didn't happen. That issue, however, is historical, and by
2015 many people will have lost interest in arguing about who
did what when. More seriously, because we believe that the Coalition's
programme will actually shrink the economy, anything we promise
in today's terms may be unrealistic by 2015. Really we'd like
to fast-forward to 2014, by which time we'd have a concrete situation
to talk about.
Hence the complex message –
(a) we don't agree with the scale of the cuts, and believe they
will shrink the real economy.
(b) We don't agree with many of the specific cuts, such as reductions
to policing, the damage being done to the disabled and low paid,
and the squeeze on the NHS, though we accept a public sector wage
freeze if it's a genuine alternative to mass redundancies.
(c) We genuinely can't predict what we'll be able to promise
to reverse in three years' time: we expect to reverse the most
damaging cuts, but promoting a recovery will need to be the first
It's awkward, but it's better to be honest, and if we want to
win in 2015 we simply have to be frank about the economy. It's
difficult, but worth discussing - I hope that many of you will
come to the meeting and tell us what you think!
Incidentally, a Beeston resident has put up a petition which
some of you might want to consider supporting: he argues that
there should be a review of the German economic model (with more
emphasis on manufacturing, intervention and employer-union partnership)
to see what we can learn in Britain. To read the text and consider
signing, see http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/27047
4. Local news
Community activist Richard Macrae is trying to get Neighbourhood
Watch alerts to more people in Staplefoird North – if you
email him on firstname.lastname@example.org he'll add you to the
group to get updates.