Wednesday, 21 June 2017

We have to move beyond ‘them and us’ and recognize there is just ‘us’.

There was something tragically inevitable about waking up on Monday morning to hear there had been another ‘terrorist incident’ in London. This time the victims were worshippers leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park after evening prayers mown down by a van driven by Cardiff born Darren Osborne, different community; the misery and mayhem is the same.

The authorities were right to describe his actions as a terrorist attack instead of speculating about his mental state or falling back on describing him as a ‘loner’. Unfortunately that he was able to commit the crime at all shows how the already flawed PREVENT program ignores white extremism.

This is due to a number of factors coming together to make a combination of miscalculations with toxic consequences.

For years, experts have warned about the steady rise of right wing extremism, particularly in white working class communities that feel themselves to have been marginalized. The myopic focus of PREVENT on Islamic radicalization and its clumsy attempts to address the problem, most of which seem to have created more trouble than they solved, has pushed everything else to the sidelines.

Meanwhile in communities that feel they have been forgotten the insidious voice of extremism with its reassuring, though false, explanation that for every problem there’s a scapegoat has been quietly gaining ground.

Supporting Brexit does not automatically equate to endorsing right wing politics, let alone extremism, but how the leave campaign was run legitimized many of the tactics extremists use. It portrayed an image of plucky Britain being kept down by an expansionist EU, never mind the fact that we have gained more from Europe than it took form us, fear won the day.

The rhetoric that ‘they’ are out to get ‘us’, to turn our green and pleasant land into a client state of some larger empire can and is easily expropriated by extremists with an axe to grind and a desire for power without responsibility. There is a tragic irony that the concerns of the likes of Darren Osborne and the people they have been brainwashed into thinking are ‘other’ and therefore dangerous, lack of jobs and housing a gnawing feeling that they have no control over how and how fast the world around them is changing, are marked by their similarity.

The finger of blame must also point to what might be called the ‘metropolitan elite’, be they nominally on the left or right politically. They are profoundly uncomfortable with anyone from outside the, metaphorically, gated community they inhabit.

If they think about right wing extremists at all, they do so in terms of shaven headed stereotypes with tattooed knuckles and single figure reading ages. People like that might talk about fighting in the streets, but they lack the organizational ability to take action. It is a viewpoint similar in its complacency to that their great grandparents might have held regarding whether or not those funny little Japanese soldiers could capture Singapore; we all know how that ended.

The truth is that it is astonishingly easy to be an effective terrorist. All you really need is a van, some simplistic ideas about who is to blame for your misfortunes and a feeling that nothing you can do will ever put them right.

The one positive that can be drawn from the attacks in Manchester, London and elsewhere is that when the worst happened it brought out the best in ordinary Britons. Presented with a need to help others people filled whole warehouses with food and clothing donated for fire victims in a matter of hours, taxi drivers switched off their meters to take frightened teenagers home when a concert ended in bloodshed.

That sends a powerful message to the people, whatever cause they pretend to do so in the name of, who want to attain power by fostering division. As the late Jo Cox, herself a victim of extremism put it there is more that unites us than keeps us apart.

Whatever horrors we face, and there are likely to be more on the way however much money we spend on security, if we want to be safe we have to understand there is no ‘them and us’; there’s just us.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Security tops the agenda as voters meet the candidates in Stoke South.

“Stoke has always been Labour,” I’m sitting in the back row of Fenton’s Temple Street Methodist church as it starts to fill up ahead of the Stoke South election hustings. The man speaking to me is middle aged and makes his assertion with an innocence that is at once genuine and incongruous.

There are four candidates contesting the seat, Jack Brereton (Conservative), Rob Flello (Labour), Ian Wilkes (Liberal Democrat) and Jan Zablocki (Green Party). Rob Flello is the sitting MP and judging by the crowd he’s going to have home advantage tonight.

Almost everyone seems to know everyone else, most are middle aged or older, there are a few younger people, possibly Labour students from nearby Keele University and one man with a fussily trimmed beard wearing a t-shirt with Corbyn written on it in the style of an old fashioned Coca-Cola advert. I’m not sure he gets the irony implicit in the least spun politician in recent British political history having his name turned into a nifty piece of branding.

A broadly ‘old Labour’ crowd then, salt of the earth for sure, but inclined maybe to accepting the familiar because it does what they expect it to, a reasonable approach if experience has taught you that change is seldom kind, but it can and dose stifle originality.

In their opening statements the four candidates lay out their ‘vision’ for the next four years.

Jack Brereton trades on his record as a local councilor, particularly in bringing jobs to a city that has lost many of its traditional industries. He also takes a dig at Labour over the costly Smithfield development in the city centre, old news by now and rather a cheap shot. His vocal style is dull and he favours piling up the facts to turning on the passion tap, anyone playing b******t bingo would have been disappointed because the used the phrase ‘strong and stable’ in almost his first sentence.

Rob Flello, also plays on his track record, in parliament this time highlighting his work to defend Trentham High School from closure and in improving the city’s roads. He says that he is a campaigner who ‘never gives in’ and praises Jeremy Corbyn’s little red book as being ‘brilliant’. This gets him a round of applause from a home crowd who have, it seems, forgotten that his loyalty to the leadership hasn’t always been so clear, some might say there’s a touch of expediency about it now.

“How do you follow that”, says Lib Dem Ian Wilkes when the applause dies down. Not all that well it seems. Wilkes is the only candidate to admit he hasn’t got a chance of winning, but however slender his chances he makes a sensible point about the need to regenerate all six towns.

Jan Zablocki also recognizes the uphill task his party faces in shifting votes away from Labour, but says he represents ‘change’ and that that is something badly needed in local and national politics. He speaks of the Green’s opposition to the privatization by stealth of the NHS, cuts to school budgets and the need to talk openly about the direction our society is taking. This wins him some applause that is genuine rather than merely polite.

Given the events of the weekend just gone security issues are the main feature of questions from the floor. All four candidates give variations on the theme that terrorism can never be allowed to win, all well and good. It is when we get down to specifics that things get interesting.

Brereton promises more spooks for MI5 and MI6 to tackle terrorism, useful no doubt but what about the extra police on the streets needed to make the public feel safe. Labour and the Lib Dems back spending more on community policing, as do the Greens. Asked about how we tackle homegrown terrorism Jan Zablocki calls for the government’s flawed Prevent program to be replaced with something that builds community cohesion and that addresses the social divisions driving radicalization.

Asked about arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes Brereton talks about the need to preserve jobs in the arms industry, seemingly at any cost, losing the crows at a stroke. He then finds a way to jam the other foot into his mouth too by attacking Jeremy’s Corbyn’s, allegedly friendly approach to terrorists in general, letting Flello get the biggest round of applause of the night by countering with the claim that he’s ‘a man of peace.’ Quite so, but not always one who picks his friends wisely.

Asked about the benefits system both Flello and Zablocki spoke with real passion about the work they had done to help people unfairly hit by sanctions as, respectively, an MP and a lifelong trade’s unionist. Brereton mumbled something rehearsed about more people being in work and the need to improve skills, before being taken to task by a heckler for not answering the question.

Judging the evening as a whole Rob Flello played well to a friendly crowd, speaking at times with real passion about helping local people. Jan Zablocki also spoke with real passion and making a connection with the audience that may not win him the seat but certainly raised the profile of his party. Ian Wilkes came across as a nice enough chap, I wouldn’t necessarily want him as my MP, but if I sat next to him on the bus I wouldn’t move or get off at the next stop however far away from home I was, and there aren’t many politicians about whom you can say that. Jack Brereton had a shocker of an evening, his contributions producing either awkward silences of howls of derision. In the space of a couple of hours he went from party golden boy to disappointing also ran; politics can be cruel like that.

My friend from the start of the meeting was right, Stoke South has always been Labour, they might have to count rather than weigh the votes these days, but on tonight’s showing that is still true. With the Greens making a strong showing and Labour, for all the sham loyalty of the parliamentary party to a surprisingly popular Jeremy Corbyn, still riven by divisions that might not always the case.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The public must challenge prospective MPs over their view on the hunting ban.

Tonight, like many people across the country as the general election enters its final furlong, I will be attending a local hustings. Unlike most I am in the position of also having over the past few weeks taken part as a candidate in similar events.

Sadly on no occasion was I asked about one of the most important issues, the promise made by Prime Minister Theresa May to hold a free vote on the repeal of the ban on fox hunting.

Since the introduction of the Hunting Act (2004) it has saved the lives of 10000 animals, had the act been properly enforced the figure since would be closer to 2.8 million. Sadly since the act came into force in 2005 there have been only 378 convictions, out of these just 24 were of people associated with official hunts, most of the others were for offences such as poaching.

Even more worrying the police have shown a marked reluctance to investigate possible hunting related offences, something they have been criticized for by animal rights charities including the League Against Cruel Sports on a number of occasions.

The Tories have form when it comes to trying to overturn the hunting ban, it was included as a promise in their 2010 and 2015 manifestos, only having to enter into coalition with the Liberal Democrats and winning with a small majority respectively stayed their hands.

In 2015 then Prime Minister David Cameron was reported by the Daily Mail as saying he believed in people having the ‘freedom to hunt’ and that the ban had ‘done nothing for animal welfare.’ Hardly the sort of sentiments you’d associate with someone who hugs huskies and had a windmill on the roof of his London home.

The current incumbent of Downing Street hasn’t been backward in coming forward about her support for hunting either, in a speech given in Leeds and reported by the Daily Telegraph she said she had ‘always been in favour of fox hunting’.

Figures produced by the League Against Cruel Sports show that repealing the ban on fox hunting isn’t a populist vote winner, 84% of the people polled said they opposed fox hunting and would support candidates who felt the same way.

So why have the Tories decided that repealing the ban is a priority? Two reasons spring to mind.

The first is overwhelming arrogance, they believe that the concerns, founded on fact and compassion about the place of such a barbaric practice in a modern society to be irrelevant. Secondly they are making a naked play for the support of an establishment that still holds a disproportionate amount of power and wealth.

If asked the question I can state clearly that if elected I would vote against any attempt to repeal the ban on fox hunting and will support any lawful campaign to keep it in place.

The reason why was expressed in a quote from a spokesperson for the RSPCA, also used by the Daily Telegraph in the article where Mrs. May spoke of her support for hunting. He said ‘repealing the hunting act would not only mean a return to cruelty but it would fly in the face of the opinion of the majority of the general public.’

As a candidate I respect the opinions of the voting public on this important issue and expect others who seek election to do likewise.

Adam Colclough is the Green Party candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central

Monday, 29 May 2017

The environment matters more than ever at this election, something only one party fully recognizes.

The 2017 general election campaign is now in its final stages and yet one of the most important issues has yet to make it into the foreground; the environment.

If no action is taken to preserve exiting environmental legislation after Brexit, let alone improve it, we could face some dire consequences. These include 200,000 premature deaths linked to air pollution and the loss of 18,300 hectares of green space by the next time the country goes to the polls in 2022.

Environmental charity Friends of the Earth scored all four main parties for their manifesto commitments on the environment.

The results, as published on their website, show the Liberal Democrats in second place with Labour also scoring highly in some areas, although they are criticized for their lack of a coherent policy on tackling waste.

The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, came fourth with just eleven points, Labour and the Lib Dems scored twenty seven and twenty eight respectively. They attract particular criticism for their support for fracking and the ‘undemocratic’ way central government has used its powers to over-rule local communities opposed to fracking by ‘rigging’ the planning system.

The Green Party manifesto came first with thirty points and was praised for containing ‘impressive and comprehensive’ policies to protect environmental legislation and tackle air pollution. This confirms their position as the only mainstream party to speak consistently about the need to treat environmental policy as a priority issue.

Friends of the Earth have also published their own election manifesto and have asked candidates from all parties who support their aims to endorse the following positions:

• Ensuring the UK keeps and improves on existing environmental legislation post Brexit
• That urgent action be taken to meet targets on climate change and renewable energy
• Ending illegal air pollution and phasing out diesel vehicles by 2025
• Banning pesticides that harm bees

As a Green Party member and parliamentary candidate I endorse the four policies put forward by Friends of the Earth. They are a more than achievable starting point in the long term turning around of the supertanker of human damage to the planet.

This isn’t a manifesto for tree hugging, back to the land, knit your own muesli utopian daydreaming, it is a call for practical common sense to take precedence over short term greed. We cannot go on as we are, pumping poison into the air, using ever more damaging methods to extract fossil fuels and clinging to the notion that being trapped inside a car is a ‘freedom’ worth defending without it ending in disaster, probably sooner rather than later.

We need to see protecting the environment not as an irksome responsibility to be carried out with long faces and wearing, hand woven of course, hair shirts. Instead it should be seen as a once in our existence opportunity to take a new and fairer direction for which our children and grandchildren will thank us.

I am happy to endorse the position taken by my own party, Friends of the Earth and any other group that operates ethically on climate change, air pollution, renewable energy and keeping the ban on hunting foxes. Not just at this election, but afterwards and until significant change has been achieved.

If we act now we could do something remarkable, this could be the point at which we stop fighting nature and start working with it, making in the process a fairer society and a more sustainable economy.

Adam Colclough is the Green Party candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central

Friday, 19 May 2017

Mental illness is the elephant in the room we all have to talk about if we are to be a healthy society.

Green Party candidate for the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency Adam Colclough today announced his support for the five -point plan for improving the nation’s mental health put forward by the Mental Health Foundation.

A survey commissioned by the charity found that only 13% of Britons feel themselves to have good mental health, a situation chief executive Jenny Edwards CBE described as ‘really concerning’.

During Mental Health week earlier this month the Mental Health Foundation put forward a plan encouraging individuals and government to value mental and physical health equally.

The plan contains five elements:
• The setting up a National Thriving Mental Health Programme to spread public understanding about how to develop good mental health
• A Royal Commission to develop good practice and identify problem areas
• An annual report to track progress and identify areas requiring attention
• Support for people to improve their mental health
• Fair funding for mental health research.

Mr. Colclough said: ‘Mental illness and the impact it has on the lives of people living with it and their families is the elephant in the room we all have to talk about if we are to be a healthy society.’

He added that as a volunteer for two local mental health charities that he had ‘seen at first hand the challenges people face accessing adequate services’.

Improving mental health services features prominently in the Green Party manifesto for the 2017 general election. In a message to members deputy party leader Amelia Womack said:
We live in a society, which feels custom built to wreck people’s mental health, and it’s a crisis caused by the savage policies of the Tory party – debt piled onto the young, people living only one pay cheque from homelessness, and hundreds of thousands of us forced into the indignity of using food banks.

Adding that the party would, ‘tackle the root causes of mental health by shaping a different society. We’ll create a caring and confident country which improves mental health, rather than harms it.’

Included in the manifesto are policies to introduce empathy lessons in schools, improve access to psychological therapies and to give mental health parity of esteem with physical health.

Adam Colclough said: ‘ As a long-time activist for better mental health services I am proud that the party I represent has taken the lead in this important issue, doing so is entirely in keeping with our mission to work for the common good.’

Thursday, 18 May 2017

This election has to be about the people who have been forgotten.

“What else have I got?”

It is a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’m in Stoke town centre canvassing outside a cafe that offers coffee in chipped mugs and chips with everything when the young man approaches me.

He’s in his twenties with the tired look of someone older who has been beaten down by life. His sister sits a little way off on some benches used by street drinkers; they are both holding cans of Polish lager.

The young man describes his day to me; he gets up, walks to the shop to buy a can for a pound then sits on the bench.

“Then I go to bed, get up and do the whole thing again”, he says.

He tells me that he has worked, but none of the jobs have ever lasted or been something he wanted to do. Asked what sort of work he would like to do he says, “What can I do?”

The inference is that in his experience every avenue leads to a dead end, so at some stage he stopped trying.

He tells me that he voted for Ukip in the February by-election, but probably won't vote at all this time.

He has about him the watchful bravado of someone who has grown up on the blind side of society. Like so many of his generation, he feels that for him the door marked opportunity has warped tight shut.

Once these were the people the Labour Party used to speak for, it's hard to imagine them even being on the radar of the three slickly metropolitan careerists holding the city's seats today, though they take their votes for granted.

To the Tories they represent a problem, an undisciplined rump to be harried by benefits sanctions and accused of not trying hard enough.

In person, despite the can he holds whilst talking to me, the young man is far from the threatening stereotype presented in the tabloids. Both he and his sister talk about how they play the guitar, asked if he's ever thought about trying to get gigs around local pubs he says no. Confidence and a sense of agency is one of the many things missing from his life.

This election has to be about how we change the lives of the people who have been forgotten. The old neo-liberal scramble for endless growth isn't working; too many people are being left behind.

We need a new approach to welfare, using a universal basic income to free people from poverty and allow them to fulfill their potential. To share wealth and opportunity fairly across the country, instead of concentrating it in a few favored locations. A shift of power away from the centre to give individuals and communities a real say in deciding their future.

What direction the country takes after June 8th, whether we have a hard Brexit benefiting the few, or a fairer future based on lifting everyone up together will answer the question the young man asked me.

“What if I’m still doing this in ten years’ time?”
Adam Colclough is the Green Party candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central

Friday, 5 May 2017

Take action to improve mental health services in North Staffordshire.

Mental illness is something 1 in four people in the UK will experience over the course of a single year, yet it is a subject that is seldom spoken about.

The most common conditions people report struggling with are generalized anxiety disorder, post- traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Although the number of people living with mental health issues has not changed dramatically in recent years problems like unemployment, debt and family breakdown can make it harder for people to cope.

Currently 1 in 8 adults with a mental health condition are receiving treatment, accessing services can be a difficult, confusing and stressful experience in its own right.

North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has, through its Patient’s Congress set up a citizen’s jury to look into access to adult mental health services in the area it serves.

The jury will produce a written report in the autumn and this will be used to improve local services. As part of their evidence gathering they have produced an online survey, a link to which is included below.

By setting up this initiative the CCG has taken a huge step towards bringing mental health out of the shadow of irrational stigma and provided an opportunity for service users, carers and family members to have a meaningful say on service delivery.