Thursday, 30 July 2015

Turning the Living Wage into a cheap con trick isn't making work pay.

George Osborne sold it to the country as a budget for working people, less than a month later it is turning out to be nothing of the sort.

This week it was revealed that the Living Wage, announced with a flourish in the budget as a replacement for the minimum wage along with a promise that it would rise to £9 an hour by 2020, will not apply to apprentices aged over twenty five.

A policy that left the Labour Party gasping on the bank like a fish out of water has been exposed, fittingly by Louise Haigh, perhaps the only Labour MP not busy with the undignified squabble over the party leadership as a cheap and cynical con trick.

All of a sudden the penny drops with a crash louder than a drain cover falling from the top floor of a skyscraper, no wonder the Tories have been so keen to push apprenticeships, its got nothing to do with raising the national skills base; and everything to do with creating jobs on the cheap.

How very typically Tory, like so many of the current government's policies it is strongly reminiscent of the cynicism and sly cruelty of the Thatcher years. It is not inconceivable for someone who was exploited as a teenager on a YTS scheme in the eighties to now be being exploited all over again as an apprentice; what goes around comes around and socks you in the jaw.

It is certainly a shocking betrayal of people who, as the phrase Boy George and his chums like to trot out goes, are 'doing the right thing'. An opposition that was doing its job would be tearing lumps off the Conservatives over this issue; what a shame the Labour Party, the admirably Ms Haigh aside, is too busy trying to make sure anyone but Jeremy Corbyn becomes their next leader.

Lord Sewell, before this week a man who wasn't even a household name in his own household resigned first from his post as Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords and then from the upper house altogether.

His downfall was brought about by the Sun publishing video footage of him taking drugs in the company of ladies of (ahem) dubious virtue, looking in the process like the Fat Controller going off the rails.

Lords Speaker Baroness D'Souza described his conduct as 'shocking and unacceptable' and said the Lords would 'continue to uphold standards in public life and will not tolerate departure from these standards.'

Exit Lord Sewell, pursued by a bear made out of angry tabloid editorials.

The not so noble lord was also caught on camera making disobliging comments about several senior politicians including David Cameron, that probably did more to get him into bad books than his narcotic misbehaviour; politics will forgive just about anything apart from the pricking of its practitioners egos.

It is cruel perhaps to gloat too much at the fate of Lord Sewell, behind every public meltdown is a private tragedy, but haven't we all secretly been waiting for something like this to happen?

To paraphrase the famous Peter Cook sketch after weeks of noisy Tory triumphalism and the endless turgid squabbling over the Labour leadership this is just the sort of pointless scandal we need to raise the whole moral tone of politics.

I had promised myself that I wouldn't write another word about the race to win the Labour leadership, but as Wilde would have it I can resist everything apart from temptation, this week it has provided shed loads.

The latest comic turn in this epic battle between three bald women and a trot over a comb is the possibility that the vote may be corrupted by people who want to damage the party signing up as supporters to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

This has caused Labour M Ps Graham Stringer and John Mann to call for the vote to be postponed and for the man of the hour to tell the BBC he only wants the support of people who are 'genuine Labour supporters.'

There is some grounds for this former member of the party to say 'I told you so' over all this, back in the day the party hierarchy was mad keen on dropping members with their silly ideas about having a long term relationship with the party giving them a say in its policies in favour of lots of tame supporters. These could be bussed in to pack meetings or vote how they were told to and ignored the rest of the time; big mistake.

It is wrong if the system is being manipulated by people with malicious intentions, but entirely the own fault of the New Labour types who are squealing now about them doing so. The chickens have come home to roost and are now doing what chickens do best all over their cynical manoeuvring.

Lose weight or lose your benefits is the latest message from a government that like to make hard lives that little bit harder just because they don't care.

It is the latest wheeze for victimising, I mean motivation; no I don't I mean victimizing people with addiction problems who refuse to engage with support services. Most of them won't of course, giving them a splendid opportunity to cut said services.

The consequences will be more crime, more pressure on the NHS and probably more needless deaths; but when did this witless government ever think about the consequences of its actions?

If we are going to dock the money of people who live off the state because they are spending too much of it on booze and burgers why only look at the poor? There are quite a few portly M Ps and the commons bars are seldom short of custom, never mind weighing in the votes lets start weighing the politicians before we give them their expenses.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Britain's kids are stressed out and its all our fault.

According to a poll conducted by management support services service The Key Britain's school leaders are more concerned over pupils' mental health than any other issue.

Two thirds of the 1180 headteachers questioned said it was their top concern with domestic violence (58%) and cyber-bullying (55%) also scoring highly.

Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders told the BBC said there had 'certainly been an increase in the number of pupils who are displaying different types of mental health problems.' These, he added, often arose as a result of 'difficult home backgrounds or a form of abuse or issues such as ADHD.'

As local authority budgets continue to be squeezed schools are finding it difficult to get support for students with mental health problems and are employing their own counsellors, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy estimates that between 64 and 80 of schools have taken this option, they are also drawing heavily on resources from the voluntary sector.

The Department of Health told the BBC this week that it had increased the NHS mental health budget over the past two years, a survey carried out by charity Young Minds found that most councils in England had frozen or cut their spending on mental health services for young people over the same period.

There is something rotten in the state of childhood in modern Britain and it says nothing good about the sort of country we are becoming. Our young people are being slowly poisoned by a toxic stew of false expectations and mixed messages being fed to them by adults who should know better.

We drive them through the hoops of an education system so obsessed with measuring results actual learning is often pushed off the agenda entirely and then tell them their grades are worthless because the exams have been made too easy. Deluge them with advertising and messages that only physical perfection is acceptable; then throw up out hands in horror when they turn out to be shallow and image obsessed with no aspirations beyond owning the latest i-phone.

Just to sour things even further thanks to five years of austerity the poorest of our young people have has heaped upon them the long term physical and mental health problems attendant on not being properly fed or clothed during their formative years.

How we treat our young people it a guide to the general health of society; in which case ours is seriously sick. Like the parents in Larkin's poem we have visited upon our children all the faults of an adult world that is painfully ill at ease with itself, with a few more added on for good measure.

The solution to the problem is obvious, for a start the budget for mental health services needs to be ring-fenced so that NHS trusts and local authorities can't loot it when funds elsewhere are low. We also need to talk openly and honestly about mental health problems as something anyone can experience, there has been some progress in this area during recent years but there is still a long way to go.

We need to let kids be kids, testing in schools should be rigorous; but there is no need for it to be relentless. Education should be about more than just producing exam results for middle aged politician to argue about.

Children and adults alike would be healthier and probably happier if we turned down the volume on the jabbering of the advertising industry, shopped a little less and socialised a lot more. Far from opening the shops for longer on Sundays we should be thinking about closing them altogether, if you can't be bothered to buy a thing on the other six days of the week you probably don't really want it.

Sadly none of this will happen, at least not in the next five years anyway. The Tories are wedded to an education policy so out of touch and backward looking you'd be forgiven for thinking Mr Chips had been disinterred and give a job as a special adviser. As for Labour, they're so consumed with the need to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming party they have lost contact with reality.

The good news is that after five years of the resulting nonsense the electorate, always far more sensible than the politicians who presume to lead them, will be so heartily sick of business as usual they might be disposed to take a chance on something different.

You'd hope so anyway, not least since the alternative is, as Philip Larkin, the Wordsworth of suburban angst, put it generation hands misery on to generation so that it 'deepens like a coastal shelf,' our young people deserve better than that.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Walking to school could help to defuse the childhood obesity 'time-bomb'.

Almost a third of children in the UK leaving primary school are either obese or overweight, creating, says charity Living Streets, a 'public health time-bomb.'

Their solution is to encourage families to build exercise into their daily routine through making it easier for children to walk or cycle to school.

Living Streets is a national charity that has been campaigning in the interests of pedestrians since 1929. They support a number of initiatives to encourage children to be more active including 'Walk Once A Week' and the national 'Walk to School Week.'

Living Streets has welcomed a target set by the government to get 55% of children in the UK walking to school over the next decade and announcing a cycling and walking investment strategy.

The charity has though expressed concern that a lack of funding may mean these good intentions aren't turned into practical improvements.

North Staffs Green Party shares these concerns and has announced its support for the Living Streets campaign to get more children walking to school.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said 'We support fully the aims of Living Streets in working to improve conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and everyone who uses our public spaces and will be taking action to promote their campaign.'

This action will include writing to Transport Minister Robert Goodwill asking him to ensure sufficient funding is made available for the government to meet its target for getting more children walking to school and implement its cycling and walking strategy. The party will also be writing to Stoke-on-Trent City Council to urge them to support the call for funding to get children walking to school to be protected.

As part of its health policies the Green Party encourages people to adopt healthy lifestyles and believes some aspects of society need to be adapted to make this easier. This includes focussing on preventing illness as well as making sure the NHS is properly funded, improving the design of our towns and cities to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle; building more outdoor activities into the school day to improve students learning and well-being and improving public transport.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said 'We all want to do something about the rising levels of childhood obesity and making it easier ans safer for kids to walk to school is an ideal way of doing so.'

He added that ' At its heart the Green Party is all about working for the common good, this is just the sort of issue that allows us to put that principle into practice. We will work with any organisation, community group or other party that shares our values and wants to take positive action to improve the health and well-being of our young people.'

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

North staffs Greens back Crisis 'No-One Turned Away' campaign.

North Staffs Green Party has today announced its support for homelessness charity Crisis's 'No-One Turned Away' campaign.

The campaign aims to ensure that single homeless people have access to the same level of support given to families in the same situation.

A freedom of information request made by North Staffs Green party earlier this month revealed that Stoke-on-Trent City Council received 17 'presentations' from people who are or are at risk of becoming homeless each week in June this year, of these just 5 were give places in accommodation. Regionally figures produced by the Office of National Statistics using data from the 2011 census shows that there are 18,500 homeless people in the West Midlands with 497 of these living in Stoke-on-Trent.

These official figures are, or course, the tip of a much larger iceberg with many homeless people 'sofa surfing' through informal accommodation provided by friends and relatives.

The Crisis campaign calls for the existing regulations governing how local authorities support homeless people to be enforced by regular inspections, better data collection on levels of homelessness and for councils to be given adequate funding to work with homeless people.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said: ' Our support for the Crisis campaign is in no way a criticism of the way the council supports homeless people, we recognise they are working within very tight financial constraints.'

He added that the government had 'created a huge rise in the number of homeless people though its changes to the benefits system and cuts to public services, they have a responsibility to address the problem they have created.'

The Green Party put forward in its election manifesto a number of policies that would address homelessness and wider housing related problems, these include;

Introducing a 'right to rent' where local authorities would step in to support people who are struggling to pay their housing costs, taking action to bring the thousands of empty properties across the country back into use; building 500,000 environmentally friendly social rented homes and devolving Housing Benefit to councils so they can tailor the support they give to local need.

The Green Party also supports homeless people who are single or part of a childless couple being given the same rights to support currently granted to families.

Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said: 'Having a secure and suitable place to live is a basic human right, shamefully that is a right denied to too many people in this country.'

The party had, he said, written to Homelessness Minister Marcus Jones calling on 'the government of which he is part to meet their responsibilities in this area.'

Monday, 13 July 2015

If they don't oppose welfare cuts for working families just what is the point of the Labour Party?

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics programme yesterday acting leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman said the party would not oppose the government's benefit cap of £20,000 for people living outside London and the reduction in Child Tax Credits.

She said the temptation to oppose everything in the budget delivered by George Osborne last week was a luxury Labour could not afford because the party was not trusted by the public on economic issues.

She said 'we are not going to do blanket opposition because we've heard all around the country that whilst people have got concerns, particularly about the standard of living for low income families in work, they don't want blanket opposition to what the government is proposing in welfare.'

Three out of the four candidates running in the party leadership election have said they would oppose the government's benefit changes.

Andy Burnham said 'you don't allow a change that is going to take money off people in work who are trying to do the right thing.'

Yvette Cooper said cutting child tax credits would affect people's incentive to work and that party could be 'credible and also say we are going to oppose the things the Tories are doing that are going to hit people's incentive to work.'

Jeremy Corbyn said he would oppose a budget he described as 'brutal and anti-young and anti-the poorest in Britain.'

Only Liz Kendall said the acting leader had been 'absolutely right' in the stance she had taken, adding that if Labour continued with 'the same arguments we have used for the past five years' another election defeat would be certain.

Within hours Harriet Harman had amended her position to say she was articulating an 'attitude' not a policy, but the damage had already been done and the impression had been confirmed that Labour is a party without a leader and, it seems, a rudder.

The principle behind the benefits cap is that no-one should be better off on benefits than in work, in principle that sounds fair; in practice it doesn't work so well.

The roll out of the Universal Credit means that housing benefits and those for caring for children and vulnerable adults will be taken into account, leaving many families dramatically out of pocket. A situation, according to analysis published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies last week, the rise in the minimum wage announced in the budget will do little to improve.

The first budget delivered by a majority Conservative government since 1996 took away more than it gave to those families, to quote the cliché of the moment, who are trying to do the right thing; despite the rhetoric work still doesn't pay for too many people.

The Labour Party should be instinctively opposed to the ideological opposition to driving the budget and the past five years of 'austerity', the rare occasions when the party has managed to connect with the electorate have come when it has spoke out on the challenges faced by working families.

High levels of personal debt, an insecure economic position and the ever rising real cost of living mean that more of the middle class demographic New Labour courted so determinedly are being dragged into a nightmare world of struggling to get by.

The party needs to take a firm line on benefits, the dismantling of public services and the rising fear that too many people are being left to struggle at the times in their lives when they are most vulnerable.

If it can't do so and despite the denials of the prospective leaders in waiting there is little sign that the party has the stomach for a fight on benefits changes, then more and more people will continue to ask just what is the point of the Labour Party?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Do they know George Osborne has taken away their Child Tax Credits?

Hanley on a grey Wednesday afternoon that seems more like November than July. I'm standing outside the Potteries Centre with a small group of protesters holding placards and the unseasonably grim weather seems fitting for the day George Osborne became the first Conservative chancellor to deliver a budget for almost twenty years.

It was a budget that saw him hand out a number of sweeties including a promised rise in the minimum wage, renamed a 'living wage' to steal Labour's economic clothes, to £9 by 2020, along with a large spoonful of bitter medicine in the shape of further benefits cuts.

This is the budget that capped benefits payments at a maximum of £20,000 a year for families living outside London and £26,000 for those in the capital, far less than it sounds in real terms. The chancellor also announced drastic cuts to Child Tax Credits and the removal of Child Benefit for a third child.

George gave and George took away, as one of the protesters put it, what dose he expect people to do with their inconvenient third child, send it back to the shop? Within a day the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) had said that even with the rise in the minimum wage the budget would leave many families significantly out of pocket.

On the day of the protest things don't get off to a good start, there is a minor squabble with the delegation from the Socialist Party that sees their stall removed from the proximity of ours, leaving them free to sit apart in politically pure solitude being ignored by everyone else. In the wider scheme of things it isn't even a storm in a teacup, but it is hard to see how a movement that seeks to fight austerity can do so effectively if its members are distracted by fighting amongst themselves.

I walk around the good natured if not overly large crowd milling around the People's Assembly stall. As I do so Dave Muller, a young man wearing a Green Party badge says the budget and the rise in the minimum wage is a 'joke' since it does little to close the gap between the highest and lowest earners. Another young Green says he finds it 'baffling' that the Tories spent the election saying raising the minimum wage would be economically disastrous and yet were now touting it as one of their flagship policies.

Someone starts to bang on a saucepan with a wooden spoon setting up the percussive beat of dissent that by the end of the afternoon will have turned into something like a samba. A woman standing smoking a roll-up at the edge of the protest points at some shoppers rushing past Boots laden with bags and says loudly 'Do they know that George Osborne has taken away their Child Tax Credits?' The shoppers do that very British thing of pretending that nothing it happening, but walking a bit faster anyway.

A man in a wheelchair tells me that his partner is seriously ill with cancer but has still been classed as fit for work by the DWP, adding that 'if you saw that on Monty Python you'd laugh.' In real life nobody's laughing; but a lot of people are suffering, since 2010 government austerity policies and the stress of coping with an overly adversarial benefits system has been implicated in thousands of deaths.

As he takes a leaflet a man leaning on a stick talks about the dole being constantly 'on his back' even though he's doing all he can to find work, the pressure they're being put under is, he says, 'killing people.'

Taking to a megaphone Jason Hill of the People's Assembly Against Austerity says they are here to 'protest against cuts for which there is no need at all', he goes on to say that the fight against austerity is an 'ideological' one. It is indeed, one that puts an understanding of the welfare state as the Labour Party of 1945 saw it and 1980's style free market economics; a fight for the sort of future many people say they want and the one they fear they might get.

Quite where the Labour Party of 2015 any beyond stands in this fight isn't clear, they spent the five years up to the election failing to convince the public they had anything coherent to say about the economy or austerity. One minute they were fighting the corner of families struggling with the cost of living and the next amidst a frenzy of back peddling they were promising to adhere to Tory spending plans.

There are a couple of young Labour supporters present, one holds a sketch pad with 'THIS IS A CLASS WAR!' written on it in black marker pen, the other wears a 'Jeremy4leader' t-shirt and is ostentatiously holding a copy of Labour Left review. Its a nice idea to think that the Labour Party might elect Jeremy Corbyn as its next leader and return to something recognisably like socialist values, but it won't happen.

If there were the slightest risk of his even coming close to wining someone, somehow, would throw a spanner into the works or find a skeleton in his closet. Don't believe me? Read 'A Very British Coup', it's a book that will change your mind.

On the day the protest made its point with good humour, that awkward spat with the socialists aside, and the public seemed to engage. At least the ones who took leaflets or stopped to talk did, unfortunately more people rushed past oblivious.

That, as much as their give-aways and political manoeuvring is what David Cameron and his wily chancellor are relying on. Our political system is based on most of the people being indifferent most of the time, one day soon though if the IFS is right they might just find that George Osborne has taken with one hand benefits that help them keep their heads above water and given with the other a rise in the minimum wage that sounds impressive but still leaves them significantly out of pocket.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The private profit motive has no place in the ownership of much loved green spaces.

North Staffs Green Party has given its support to a petition opposing the possible sale of publicly owned green spaces by Staffordshire County Council.

These could include country parks, picnic sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty, some of which are important to wildlife conservation.

The options on which the county council is consulting include disposing of the sites on the open market, renting the land out for industrial development and a private sector partnership.

The petition, hosted by the campaign group 38 Degrees says that 'each of these sites are hugely valued green spaces,' going on to say they are 'treasured by the local population' as well as visitors from further afield.

It goes on to say ' the loss of these areas of natural beauty would be felt by many and would be irreversible; meaning once these sites are lost from public ownership they may never be returned.'

The petition calls on Staffordshire County Council to 'commit to preserving our natural heritage for the common good' and to 'reject the notion that a private profit motive should play any part in owning much loved green spaces.'

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said 'supporting petitions campaigns like this goes to the very heart of what the Green Party stands for; protecting our fragile environment for future generations.'

He added that ' we will work with any group that campaigns constructively to protect landscapes that have given pleasure to local people for generations and that play a vital part in preserving threatened wildlife.'

Monday, 6 July 2015

The first Tory budget for eighteen years could be an assault on welfare and vulnerable people.

On Wednesday Chancellor George Osborne will deliver the first budget prepared by a majority Conservative government for eighteen years.

As part of this budget the government will be announcing a further £12billion in cuts to welfare, with some of the most vulnerable people in society being hit hardest.

£5 billion of those cuts will come from changes to Child Tax Credits, a move that the Resolution Foundation says will place the heaviest burden on the shoulders of the poorest 30% of households.

It is also thought the budget will contain measures to remove Housing Benefit from people under the age of 21 and to make Employment and Support Allowance means-tested.

The budget is also likely to see a reiteration of the election pledge the Conservatives made to end subsidies for onshore wind farms, cutting support for renewable energy at a time when the need for it has never been greater.

As part of his budge the Chancellor will also announce a further cap on the amount people can claim in benefits, which will fall from £26,000 to £23,000 for people living in London and £20,000 for people outside the capital.

This could have a serious impact on single parent families in particular and along with the other benefits cuts and the harsh regime of sanctions imposed on claimants could contribute to a further rise in people experiencing physical and mental health problems and possibly even drive some claimants to suicide.

Fiona Weir, Chief Executive on single parents charity Gingerbread said about the proposed benefits cap:

“Despite government claims that the cap helps people into work, most people affected so far haven’t been able to do so. It can be extremely difficult for single parents with very young children to find a job they can balance with caring for their child, not to mention the money needed to pay nursery fees.'

Speaking about the likely impact of benefits sanctions against single parents who are unable to attend interviews at the Job Centre or take up offers of work because they can't afford childcare Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society said:

'“This is a blunt instrument trying to solve a complex problem. The policy may be targeted at workless adults, but in reality children are seven times more likely than adults to lose out. We estimate that 140,000 children, compared to 60,000 adults, will pay the price as parents have less to spend on food, clothing and rent,"

In a national press statement on the budget a Green Party spokesperson said:

'The Green Party wants to create a Britain that cares. We would invest in our social security system so that everyone's basic needs can be met. We would provide training and support to help people find the job that works for them. We would restore the link between benefits and prices so that benefits rise at the same pace as prices and those needing support aren't plunged into further financial difficulties.'

This budget and those that have preceded it, the spokesperson said had:

'provided an incredible opportunity: to learn the lessons that led to the crash and to reform our economy so that it delivers security, stability, and a decent standard of living for all. Those opportunities have been missed by a government that persists on the same path that led to the crisis despite warnings from campaigns, charities, and financial institutions about the impact that is having on the people of Britain and the future stability of our economy. We need to fashion a new economic system - one that puts the interests of the public first. We would end austerity, implement a Wealth and Robin Hood Tax, and make the minimum wage a Living Wage to create an economy that can support us all.'

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said there was:

'No doubt that the most disadvantaged people will be be hit hardest by the measures contained this budget and will face even greater challenges as a result.'

This, he said, was 'totally unacceptable', adding that the Green Party had:

'Fought the last election on a manifesto pledging to strengthen public services and to make the benefits system fairer and more supportive.'

Locally the party would, he said:

'Go on fighting the damaging and divisive austerity policies instituted by the government,' adding that they may have been 'sold to the electorate as a necessary measure to balance the nation's books; they are in fact an ideologically driven assault on the welfare state upon which we all depend. You only have to look around you to see the harm that has been done as a result.'

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Voters in Stoke can play their part in making a historic change to proportional representation for local elections.

Ahead of this week's full council meeting Green Party members have sent an open letter to Stoke-on-Trent City Council calling for a change from the first past the post system to proportional representation for local elections.

The letter calls for the council 'to bring forward legislation allowing for PR to be used for the 2019 council elections in order to demonstrate the advantages of this system to the electorate,' and goes on to say 'we further request that a local referendum be held to allow voters to decide whether or not to adopt PR permanently.'

The letter states that the democratic system is ' broken and fails to accurately reflect the wishes of the electorate', drawing attention to the fact that , 'At the recent general election seven million people cast their votes for parties that only received ten seats in parliament.'

At the 2015 general election Labour retained all three parliamentary seats in Stoke-on-Trent with a reduced share of the vote, many voters feel this result does not reflect their true intentions since they gave their support to smaller parties. This is due to the failure of the first past the post system to recognise and respond effectively a slate involving candidates from more than two parties.

Relying on this system results in too many 'wasted votes', adversely impacts on smaller parties the support for which is often thinly spread although still numerous; causes large numbers of voters to be disenfranchised because their votes are not taken into account and helps to perpetuate a combative form of politics that is a demonstrable driver of voter disengagement.

The Green Party supports proportional representation with the 'Additional Member System' being used at parliamentary elections and campaigned on this issue at the general election saying in its manifesto 'Only the 200,000 votes in marginal seats really counted in the last election – that’s less than 0.5% of those eligible to vote. We would make everyone’s vote count.'

The party also advocates a number of other measures for modernising the political system to make it more open and responsive. These include, allowing 16 year olds to vote, reforming the House of Lords and aspiring to create a parliament with an equal membership of male and female MPs by 2025. The party would also introduce referendums on local government decisions if requested by 20% of the electorate and give voters the right to recall their MP.

These policies are, leader Natalie Bennett writes in the introduction to the manifesto part of 'a bold plan to create a more equal, more democratic society while doing our part to heal the planet, which has been severely damaged by the effects of an unstable, unsustainable economy.'

Adam Colclough, Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party said ' voters in Stoke and other cities around the country deserve an electoral system that is modern and responsive to the intentions they express at the ballot box. PR has been used in elections in Scotland and have been a major driver of re-engaging the public with politics, it would be hugely beneficial for our democracy were that to happen here too.'

He added that 'Stoke is a city that has been at the cutting edge of change before, this is one of the places where the Industrial Revolution began, it is fitting that the process of change that gives politics back to the most important people; the voters, began here too.'

The letter will be distributed to the leaders of the coalition controlling Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the local Labour group, the local media and the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government.