We all know that climate scientists are saying that global warming is causing significant climate change and that this will have severe impacts upon the UK. We also know that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense, and this was dramatically illustrated by the ‘wettest winter ever’ that we had in 2013/14. We also know that the melting of the ice caps is leading to a rise in sea level which threatens the viability of coastal town and cities around the world, including the UK. But up until now the predictions for sea level rise have been worrying but apparently safely beyond the time horizon of most of us living today; the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a sea level rise of about 1 metre by 2100. Difficult, but not impossible to cope with, given enough money and political will for adaptation measures like improved sea defences.
But that has probably all changed now: a new paper by a group of climate scientists, the most famous of which is James Hansen, was published last week which predicted that sea level rise may become exponential and increase by as much as 3 metres within the next 50 years. If true, that is a game-changer, a potential death-knell for many towns and cities around the world, including Eastbourne. A large part of Eastbourne and its surrounding countryside is at, or just above sea-level, and was always going to face a challenge adapting to a 1 metre sea-level rise, but now it is facing the truly enormous, possibly insurmountable, challenge of a 3 metre sea-level rise within the next 50 years! That is a real existential challenge for Eastbourne, a real call to arms for the urgent action that is needed not only to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions as quickly as possible but also to implement the adaptation measures that will be needed to protect the lives, homes, and businesses of Eastbourne residents. Adaptation planning has to start now and proceed in all seriousness, not only at local government level but across the whole local community. There is no time to waste, as 50 years is not long at all when it comes to defending an entire town from the power of nature unleashed on this scale! And bear in mind that long before the 50 years is up Eastbourne will be feeling the effects of the rapid sea level rise through more frequent and more intense storm surges that will be much bigger than 3 metres! The Pevensey Bay sea defences very nearly got over-topped in the storms of last winter!
- an Eastbourne Flood Forum should be established urgently, along the lines of the successful Coastal Futures Group set up in the Ouse Valley, bringing together all community and business representatives and statutory bodies, to look at adaptation options and flood protection measures.
- there should be an immediate ban on all new building projects in Eastbourne anywhere below 1 metre above sea level, and building anywhere up to the 3 metre mark should only be allowed if the very best flood protection measures can be demonstrated.
- there should be urgent discussions undertaken with the Environment Agency and other relevant government departments to look at what help can be provided to Eastbourne in developing the most robust flood protection measures possible, and how vital transport infrastructure, like the south coast railway, can be better protected. That help must include a significant increase in the funding available for improving flood defences and whatever additional flood protection measures may be needed.
- Eastbourne should form alliances with other coastal towns in the UK and around the world to share information and advice on how sea level rise and its impacts can be adapted to.
- Eastbourne should start thinking the unthinkable and start looking at which areas of the town are just too difficult to defend in the long term, planning now for the gradual evacuation/reconfiguration of those areas.
These are just some initial ideas and no doubt the above list can be extended or altered as discussion about the urgency of flood protection for Eastbourne gets underway. But a meaningful conversation that leads to meaningful action we must have, and we must have it now!
Of course, the paper by Hansen et al has only just come out, and the peer-review process on it has only just begun, with the predictions of the paper possibly turning out to be not quite as valid as the paper’s authors claim. But the paper is based on the latest real world observations and data, much of it available only after the IPCC published its latest report. Most of that data indicates a speed of ice melt that is far larger and far more rapid than even the most pessimistic predictions of the IPCC indicated. Already the first peer-review of the paper praises its thoroughness and the depths of its insights. So the probability is that the climate science will be more on the side of Hansen and his colleagues than it will be against. And anyway, the 3 metre sea levels rise prediction is a serious prediction by serious climate scientists based upon a thorough review of all the available evidence. So it should be taken as a serous possibility and acted upon seriously by all those concerned about the future of Eastbourne. We knew we were all in a climate emergency, but now we know that Eastbourne is about to go into the intensive care unit of the climate A&E!
One of the few positive aspects of the Coalition government between 2010 and 2015 was its apparent commitment to community energy, and its first ever official community energy strategy promised a future in which there would be genuine government support for a community energy revolution that would radically change the energy market in this country. This helped to galvanise people across the country, myself included, to volunteer many hours of their spare time to develop community energy projects in their local community in the idealistic hope that those communities would start to get a fair share of the financial and economic benefits of the burgeoning renewable energy sector. I and my colleagues poured our energies and enthusiasm into setting up a new co-operative, Eastbourne Community Energy, and we trained ourselves up assiduously through the peer-mentoring course run by Community Energy South, a course financed by a grant from the Cabinet Office. We even got as far as developing plans for a solar PV project with a local sports club.
Then the shutters started to come down. The local council, Eastbourne Borough Council, who we had to negotiate with, became not just unhelpful but downright obstructionist. Then the government started moving the goalposts several times, redefining the legal frameworks and tax regimes within which community energy co-ops could operate, making life a lot harder as far as developing renewable generation projects was concerned. Now, with the latest savage roll-back of support by government for renewable energies of all types, community energy co-ops now face the virtual extinguishing of any hope for many of their renewable energy generation projects, as George Monbiot points out. I despair, for now, of any progress in getting community renewable energy projects off the ground in the Eastbourne area, which saddens me enormously as I firmly believe that Eastbourne could benefit enormously from the stimulus to the local economy and the boost to energy security that community energy could bring.
This is the not the end for Eastbourne Community Energy, though, as I and my colleagues will regroup and pursue a different community energy strategy, one that will deliver new services to our local communities despite, not because of, the lack of support from both local and central government. Community energy is too important to be sacrificed to the ideological whims of politicians who are ignorant about renewable energies and their potential for supporting a sustainable energy future and a more prosperous local economy. But, in my opinion, community energy will have to develop, in the Eastbourne area at least, by casting a very sceptical eye on what politicians say, both locally and nationally, as their fine words are often not to be trusted, and projects will have to be developed very much on the basis primarily of grass-roots support and using forms of finance that bypass the normal channels of grant funding or loans from traditional banking sources, channels which have been compromised too often by political interference and institutional indifference to community concerns.
Being a social entrepreneur has always been a tough path to tread, but I feel I’ve had a harsh lesson in how tough it can be. But now that I know a bit more about who can be trusted and who can’t, that path is at least a little bit clearer, and it’ll involve developing a really close relationship with local communities and relying on the traditional co-operative virtues of self-reliance and self-help. The clean energy revolution can’t be stopped anyway, and the struggle to make the benefits of it shared more equitably with everybody, not just the privileged few who can afford to invest in it, goes on.
I’m very happy to have my good friend, Helen Burton, as my guest blogger today, reporting on her fascinating first year attempting to live more ethically. I think you’ll find her report fascinating. Her report has already appeared in the Eastbourne Herald, where she is a regular columnist, but it is re-posted here with her kind permission.
Over a year ago I decided to try to live more ethically and began to research what that meant and what changes I would need to make to my lifestyle in order to live as ethically as possible. What a year it’s been!
I took a break from writing my column on leading an ethical lifestyle in order to stand as a Wealden District councillor. As I learnt more about ethical issues I became more interested in politics as the two subjects are so intertwined. I went from believing that all the parties were the same to joining my party of choice and standing in the election! I am now much more aware of the big issues of our time and have become quite a campaigner on many subjects close to my heart. I have also become a Pevensey parish councillor to try to help my local community.
I founded Incredible Edible Pevensey and Westham and I am working on setting up a ‘Real Junk Food Project’ in Eastbourne too. I have met some wonderful people over the last year who care about people and the planet as much as I do and I have learnt a lot from them. After ten years as a committed singleton I have even started dating again having met someone who shares my interest in community and social justice. It’s amazing what can happen when you start to get involved in your locality!
In trying to eat more ethically I have made changes to my diet which mean I am also healthier than before. I now drive an electric car and have saved a lot of money in doing so. I swapped my bank account to an ethical bank and gained a £100 ‘reward’ in the process as well as £25 going to my choice of charity. Soon I’ll be changing my electricity supplier to one that supplies ‘green’ energy sourced from renewables. Insurance policies have been switched to more ethical companies and whenever I purchase anything now I look for the most ethical choice. I put a lot more thought into how I spend my money and where it goes. I try to remember “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want”. (Anna Lappe)
Things aren’t perfect, it’s a work in progress and I’m no paragon of virtue, but I am doing my best to make the right choices and whatever I do I am more mindful of the effect each of us as individuals can have on the world.
Every week in my column I will be addressing another ethical issue and sharing my own efforts to live an ethical lifestyle. From ethical purchases to adventures with chickens and beekeeping, as I explore what it means to live ethically I will share my dilemmas with you and give you something to think about as you make your own choices.
I’m very pleased to welcome Carol Mills as a guest to this blog with this piece of hers below about the London Anti-Austerity March that took place on 20th June 2015. I was enormously proud to be on the march myself, alongside Carol and quite a few other people from Eastbourne. As a result of that march moves have begun to start an Eastbourne branch of The People’s Assembly, and Carol has been instrumental in those moves, showing great initiative and determination to get such a worthy enterprise off the ground. So here’s Carol to explain things more:
Eastbourne presence at the London Anti-Austerity March 20th June 2015
by Carol Mills
Last Saturday local Eastbourne groups united together in order to have a presence at the London Anti-Austerity March. Local groups included members from: Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth, 38 degrees Eastbourne, Transition Town Eastbourne, The Eastbourne Labour Party, Eastbourne Green Party and Eastbourne Community Energy. The march was organised by The People’s Assembly which was formed in 2013. The People’s Assembly is a non-party political, broad united national campaign against austerity, cuts and privatisation in our workplaces, community and welfare services. It provides a national forum for anti-austerity views.
The march started with a rally in the City of London, the financial capital of the world, outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange. The march snaked its way through the centre of London setting off from the City on to Fleet Street, passed the Royal Courts of Justice and onward passed Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall, passed Downing Street and finishing up in Parliament Square. The organisers estimated over 250,000 people attended. There was a full programme of speakers including Natalie Bennett (Green Party Leader), Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Party Leadership Candidate), Journalist Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP), Martin McGuiness (Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland); Len McCluskey (General Secretary of Unite) and celebrities Charlotte Church, Russell Brand, Juliet Hesmondhalgh (Hayley Cropper off Coronation Street) and many more.
This was a peaceful march with the police stating there were no arrests. The day saw a collaboration of people from across the nation, travelling from all parts of the country and from Scotland, Ireland and wales. They represented a broad array of diverse groups including:- Housing activists E15 mums; NHS campaigners; the CND; Stop the War Coalition; Unionist and public sector workers eg Unite, Unison, CWU, PCS & the NUT; various political parties; disabled groups eg Disabled Peoples Against the Cuts; youth groups eg Youth Fight For Jobs; lawyers and many more. There were young people, families, older people, Black, White and Asian and people from many religions.
The people spoke with one voice. The marchers called out vibrantly with drumming, whistles, saxophones and chants voicing their rejection of the cuts and austerity measures. Owen Jones spoke out against corporate tax avoiders; Caroline Lucus said ‘austerity isn’t working, it is dividing our country, it is punishing the poor’. Charlotte Church branded austerity as ‘unethical, unfair and unnecessary’. Jeremy Corbyn gave a rousing speech, ‘it’s possible to have a different world’ ‘1 million people in Britain use food banks regularly and we are the 4th richest country in the world. Is that necessary? Is that right?’ The social media was buzzing with messages and images from the march.
One of the organisers, John Rees from the People’s Assembly against the Cuts, urged people to start local action groups and join in with future national actions. ‘It’s only a beginning; we can’t win with only one demonstration’. Owen Jones said the march was a ‘launch pad’ for people to organise in their communities and stand for a ‘politics of hope’. Meanwhile, back home, there are many people affected by austerity living here in Eastbourne. There are people relying on food banks. There are homeless people. There are people affected by the bedroom tax. There are people affected by cuts to the services they rely on. There are people needing to choose between either eating or being cold in the winter. There are unemployed people. There are people working on zero contract hours or working fulltime on a minimum wage who need to claim benefits in order to make ends meet. There are young adults still living with their parents as they cannot afford the rents. So, are there people in Eastbourne who would like to see an end to austerity? Are there people in Eastbourne who would like to see a local People’s Assembly?
We will shortly be sending out formal invitations to all interested organisations and individuals.
What a week! The mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 17th June by the Climate Change Coalition saw more than 9,000 people engaged in conversations with their MPs about what’s urgently needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Several members of Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth were there to lobby Eastbourne MP, Caroline Ansell, which is fantastic testimony to the strength and vitality of the environmental movement in the Eastbourne area.
The very next day we had the public launch of the encyclical Laudato Si by Pope Francis, a very well researched, comprehensive, and inspiring call for the whole world to act upon human-induced climate change and the poverty that is deepened by the impacts climate change brings in its wake. In his encyclical, Pope Francis used the life of St Francis of Assisi to highlight the interdependency of caring for nature and caring for others.
Which is why today’s End Austerity Now march organised by the People’s Assembly followed on so naturally from all the climate campaigning going on this week. For policies based on austerity not only hurt the poor hardest, but also weaken efforts to deal effectively with climate change, again affecting the poorest hardest. For example, the spending cuts introduced in 2010 immediately reduced the budgets for maintaining and improving the UK flood defences, leading to the present situation where such budgets are now £500 million less per year than what is needed to keep up with the pace of climate change and prevent flooding risks from increasing. That should concern everybody in Eastbourne, which is very much in the front line of climate change given that sea level is rising fast as the world’s ice sheets melt, and most of the town is at, or very near, sea level. Indeed, some of the most vulnerable parts of the town happen to be where the poorest live!
I was proud to be part of the London anti-austerity march today, and it felt very empowering to be amongst such a large crowd that understands just how damaging austerity economics is for both people and planet. My feet hurt right now after so much walking and standing, but my spirit is reinvigorated for the struggle ahead to restore both nature and the common good of our public realm.
On Wednesday, 17th June, the biggest ever mass lobby of Parliament by climate campaigners took place, organised by the Climate Change Coalition. It was a huge success, with over 9,000 people petitioning hundreds of MPs about the actions needed to avert catastrophic climate change. I was sorry to be unable to attend that mass lobby, but I did talk about climate change as much as I could during the recent 2015 general election campaign, and here is an edited version of a speech I gave during Waterweek at Hertsmonceux Castle in March 2015:
We’ve all heard about the story of King Canute and his attempt to stop the waves. Actually he didn’t really intend to stop the waves. The first written account of the Canute episode was in Historia Anglorum (The History of the English People), written by Henry of Huntingdon, who lived within 60 years of the death of Canute (1035 AD), and according to this account, the king had himself and his throne carried down to the shore, where he ordered the incoming waves not to break upon his land.
When his orders were ignored, he pronounced: “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless and there is no King worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven and earth and sea obey eternal laws,” (Historia Anglorum, ed D.E.Greenway).
This story is probably a clever piece of political propaganda by King Canute or his supporters, designed to emphasise the religious piety and humility of Canute himself through this symbolic demonstration of how even a king cannot overcome God and his natural laws. The story is a legend, and there is no historical evidence for it actually happening, but it is indicative of King Canute’s wish to be seen as a pious king, humble enough to accept that there are things beyond his control, principally nature. If the sea is rising and the tide is coming in, then ultimately not even a King can stop this force of nature.
But now the seas are rising far faster than in King Canute’s time, and the tides and storm surges are becoming remorselessly higher and stronger. All the governments of the world within the United Nations recognise this and the science behind the global warming that is driving the rising seas is available in the many Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. There is now a consensus that unless drastic action to reduce carbon emissions is taken soon, then the chances of even adapting effectively to the rising seas will be swept away by the sheer pace and scale of runaway climate change. But the trouble with the IPCC reports is that it takes so long to produce one that the science in the report is out of date by the time it’s published! The latest report, which took 7 years to compile, says that sea level will rise by at least 1 metre by 2100, which sounds bad, but not disastrous and 2100 seems reassuringly far off. Yet the latest science is showing that positive feedback loops are kicking in and accelerating the pace of sea level rise to a level predicted in the most pessimistic scenario of the IPCC, which shows that sea level could be 2 metres higher by 2100, double the 1 metre increase that the government is assuming! To put that in context, most of the Pevensey Levels, and Eastbourne itself, is less than 1 metre above sea level. And this rise in sea level takes no account of the fact that storm surges are several metres higher than whatever the average sea level is! Furthermore, the Sussex coast is slipping into the sea by several millimetres every year, increasing the impact of sea level rise. Yet a trawl through the various flood risk planning documents of our local authorities show a profound lack of awareness of the acceleration in the pace of climate change and sea level rise, and a consequent insouciance about how effective current planning is. For example, one document about the South Foreland to Beachy Head Strategic Management Plan says, in effect, that sea level rise will be just over 1 metre by 2115, and that therefore the plan “with respect to tidal flooding is to ‘hold the line’ for the next 100 years. Consequently no reduction in the design standard of tidal defences protecting Eastbourne should occur as a result of climate change as the defences are planned to be maintained to prevent flood risk increasing with the effect of climate change”. Even assuming enough money will be pledged to maintain the existing flood defences (a big political ask!), it’s breathtakingly over-optimistic of the planners to assume that just tweaking the existing sea defences will be enough to cope with such a rapid and ever increasing pace of sea level rise!
The Canute story is said to have taken place on Thornbury Island in the Thames. That island is where Westminster now stands, a richly ironic twist given that Westminster is now having to ‘hold the line’ with regards to both its own political legitimacy and the crumbling architecture of the Houses of Parliament itself! The Palace of Westminster only survives because of London’s embankments and flood defences, which themselves only survive and get improved through the easy access to power and finance that London, the wealthiest part of the UK, provides. The political importance of Westminster, as well as London as a whole, guarantees that London will always receive the best possible flood defences, and if the Thames Barrier becomes increasingly ineffective in protecting London, as will happen within the next few decades, then a new, improved Thames Barrier will be created. Already plans are on the drawing board for creating such a barrier. But the onrush of new data on sea-level rise indicates that even a new Thames barrier will be increasingly less effective even before it is finally built. This creates a nightmare in planning and flood risk management. Anyway, London will get the very best flood defences money can buy, because London is where the big money is.
But what about elsewhere? What about Eastbourne? Again, the lucrative seafront of Eastbourne will probably get the very best of local flood defences, but what about the areas around Eastbourne? What about the Pevensey Levels and the towns and villages around the Levels? There simply will not be the political will and the financial resources to defend every area, to ‘hold the line’ in every place where hold the line is the declared strategy, especially given the government’s present miserly spending on flood defences (the Committee on Climate Change, the government’s own official advisors, report that spending on flood defences is £500 million per year less than what it should be to maintain and improve the country’s flood defences in line with the rising risks from climate change). What then? How does one begin to make the political choices about priorities, about what to defend and where to beat a managed retreat? Given the pace of sea level rise, that kind of debate should start now, as indeed it has in London. But it has not started here in Eastbourne, even though it has started next door in the Ouse Valley between Lewes, Newhaven and Seaford! Why?
It is a political decision to even start having a debate and political leadership has to be exercised to initiate such a debate. The EU showed that leadership by giving funds for the Environment Agency’s Coastal Communities 2150 Project; yes, there are some benefits to being in the European Union! There is now a lively, at times sparky, debate in the lower Ouse Valley area, and there is an ongoing engagement with local communities and local political representatives to begin to deal with the realities of sea level rise and the implications of that for how people can live and work in a physically changing valley. There is therefore a real hope that such a debate will lead to truly informed, evidence-based decisions in a timely fashion that will allow the residents of the valley to decide exactly where to hold the line and where to beat a managed retreat, as well as how to not only adapt to climate change but also to enhance the local environment.
And here’s the thing; it turns out that although climate change is the biggest challenge ever to human flourishing, the things that need to happen to meet that challenge are exactly the sort of things which help create a safer, cleaner, healthier, stronger communal future for all! For example, planting more trees to aid water retention, prevent flooding, and increasing the locking in of carbon into soils; the creation of local wildlife and wetland areas around towns and villages to store flood water; the redesign of houses and factories to be more resilient to flooding incidents; the installation of renewable energy systems to create power and heat, together with energy saving and energy efficiency measures, to reduce carbon emissions and fuel bills at the same time; the creation of safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure to help reduce air pollution from road traffic and encourage people back to a healthier lifestyle; and so on. A zero-carbon society is both possible and better than the society we have now. All that is needed is the political will. Just as our parents and grandparents generated the collective will to win the Second World War and save the free world from fascist tyranny and in the process created the post-war New Jerusalem of a welfare state and NHS for the immeasurable benefit of us all, so we can follow their example and come together in our communities to help build the climate-resilient world of tomorrow that will increase everybody’s well-being.
So Eastbourne, which is every bit as much in the front line of climate change as Seaford and Newhaven needs the kind of political leadership that led to the Coastal Communities 2015 initiative next door in the lower Ouse valley. So far it is not forthcoming. I once attended a local community environment panel meeting and asked if Eastbourne had a climate adaptation plan. Amused, wry grins erupted around the table, especially on the faces of the councillors and council officials present, and the answer I got was: this is it! The panel, which has no budget and no legislative or executive power of its own, no premises of its own, no staff of its own, and which only meets a few times a year, mainly attended by volunteer community representatives and very poorly attended by the statutory agencies invited to come along, is expected to be the ‘climate adaptation plan’! Of course, to be fair to local councils, the government scrapped the legal requirement for them to develop such plans, slashed the number of people at DEFRA working on climate adaptation to less than 20 for the whole country, while massive cuts to local council grant funding by central government has meant that developing such plans are the least of council worries when faced with the savage cuts in public services they have to make anyway! Thus does the political process undermine the readiness of Eastbourne and other places to prepare for the reality of climate change. Political choices are being made now that will have dramatic impacts in years to come, especially when flooding incidents occur.
But whatever the extent of skilful local adaptation to climate change that is achieved, we will still be in the Canute-like situation of having to accept that whatever decisions we make, nature will always have the final word, and that climate change will always defeat our adaptation measures if we are not humble enough to accept the signals nature is giving us. And the biggest signal nature is sending us is that if we do not drastically reduce carbon emissions right now and reduce them fast enough to keep the global warming to under 2 degrees centigrade, the pace of climate change will eventually overtake whatever adaptation measures we take, no matter how fast we adapt and no matter how much money and energy we expend on that adaptation. Which is why the climate talks in Paris this December are so important. For time is not on our side. Whatever debate we have about mitigating climate change is taking place against the backdrop of increasingly intense and frequent climate change impacts, such as the wettest winter ever that we experienced in the winter of 2013/14, a winter which very nearly saw the overtopping of the Pevensey Bay sea defences. That was a close call then, and there will be very few close calls left before the inevitable storm surges sweep away our military mind-set of ‘holding the line’ wherever we feel we should.
During my work as a volunteer environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth, and my brief time as a parliamentary candidate for the Green Party locally during the 2015 general election, I frequently had to confront denial about the very existence of human-induced climate change, as well as confronting the lack of awareness about the fierce urgency of dealing with climate change now rather than later. Fortunately, most people do understand that climate change has to be dealt with, but it’s important to emphasise the politics of hope, not fear. Whatever the grave risks of climate change, there are huge opportunities that arise from meeting the challenge of climate change. The rising seas have to be met by us, the people, rising to that challenge. And because climate change changes everything, that means we have the chance to make everything change for the better and create a fairer, healthier, more equal, and more just society in the process. But it requires everybody to get on board, show political leadership in ways of their own choosing, and work together for the safe climate future that is the most important common good of all. We cannot just leave the challenge to our elected political representatives alone. We, all of us, are the people we’ve been waiting for to save us all, both present and future generations, from the risings seas!
Another General Election is over and the hoary rituals of Parliament begin all over again, complete with pink ribbons for tying swords to coat hangers and having a pinch of snuff from the doorkeeper at the entrance to the House of Commons. For full details of just how stuffy, bizarre and out-dated some of the Parliamentary rituals are, just read Caroline Lucas’s new book Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change.
More seriously, the most out-dated aspect of Parliament is the first-past-the-post voting system, which has delivered a parliamentary majority for the Tory party on just 37% of actual votes cast and about 25% of the total electorate. That’s just not fair and undermines both the credibility and legitimacy of Parliament itself. The Green Party got well over a million votes, roughly quadrupling its total from 2010, yet it remains marooned on just one MP, the incomparable and highly respected Caroline Lucas. The need for voting reform has now become acute and is likely to be a running sore throughout the new Parliament, especially if the Tories implement in full the austerity cuts planned for the next 3 years.
As for my part in the General Election, my role as the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Eastbourne & Willingdon was simply to put the Green Party on the map given that the party had no candidate for this constituency in 2010. I’m proud to have achieved that, gaining nearly 3% of the vote and establishing a bedrock of support the Green Party can build upon for greater success in the next General Election. Given that Eastbourne is now an even more marginal seat than it was before the election, with the winning candidate now only having a majority of less than 800 votes, the next election will be a hard fought one, and all the candidates then will have to take note of the fact that the level of the Green vote could be decisive in getting over the finishing line to victory. That guarantees that green issues will now feature significantly in the local political landscape over the next 5 years, and already I’ve been heartened by the messages I’ve received from local politicians since the election, signalling renewed intentions to act on green issues over the next few months. As for me personally, the election campaign was intense but immensely rewarding and very enjoyable. Despite our political differences, all the candidates got on quite well with each other on a personal level, and the hustings were very cordial affairs.
But the election proved to me in a very dramatic way how crucial newspapers are in forming people’s views about how to vote. A massive amount of money was put into political advertising of various kinds during the campaign by various candidates, but what was possibly decisive in swinging the election here in Eastbourne was the 4 page ‘wraparound’ advert by the Tories on the last edition of the Eastbourne Herald just before polling day, cleverly designed to look like a front page ‘editorial’ by the Herald itself. You had to look hard to realise that it was just an advert. Moreover, the advert itself screamed the politics of fear, especially the fear of the country running out of money (therefore justifying more austerity) and the fear of Scots having too much influence in Westminster (therefore justifying voting against against everybody except the Tories, who promise to impose austerity upon the Scots as well as us English). Money, especially the big money of big corporations and banks, clearly still swings elections, and the use of fear as a tool of negative campaigning rather than the use of hope and a positive vision as a way of motivating voters is still, it seems, a hallowed part of electoral campaigning. I have already submitted a statement to the Electoral Commission about the infamous Eastbourne Herald wraparound, and judging by the feedback I have received from many Eastbourne voters, it is clear that the Herald will lose readers as a result of its electoral advertising policy. The Herald is, I understand, carrying out a review of that policy, which is a clear signal that it realises that its commitment to objective journalism and its credibility as a politically independent newspaper has been undermined.
As for the next five years, things don’t go quiet on the campaigning front. The Green Party is part of a broad grassroots movement for progressive change, and I’ll be an active part of exciting developments in Eastbourne that involve many of the issues that Greens are passionate about, such as developing community renewable energy projects, and setting up food growing projects such as community orchards. The transition to the zero-carbon society we need to deal with climate change is proceeding apace, without waiting for the Westminster elite. For example, the clean energy revolution is sweeping the world, and an alternative financial world is evolving from the grassroots to fund that transition, a world in which community shares, peer to peer lending, community banks, credit unions, and crowdfunding platforms are undercutting the need for accessing the dysfunctional and untrustworthy financial institutions of the “too big to fail” banks and the City of London. I’m a passionate supporter of credit unions, and we’re very fortunate in having the East Sussex Credit Union now operating in Eastbourne, which is even offering loans to small businesses. I have recently opened an account with the East Sussex Credit Union and I would heartily recommend you doing the same if you’re an East Sussex resident, especially if you’re looking for a much fairer and much more affordable alternative to pay day lenders!
My first ever foray into politics has made me feel more empowered as a citizen and able to have more of a say, no matter how small, in this flawed democracy of ours. Telling truth to power and providing another choice for my fellow citizens at the ballot box has been both an exhilarating and enriching experience and I’m deeply grateful to the fantastic support I’ve received from my colleagues in the Eastbourne Green Party in my parliamentary campaign. It’s been a team effort from the very beginning, and it’s as part of a team that I go forwards into the challenging political future for the next few years, fighting for a fairer, more sustainable society.