The Labour Party seems to be in disarray at the moment. Despite an unpopular government delivering painful austerity measures, Labour has seen its opinion poll lead being slashed. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is being criticised by his own veteran MPs on one hand, and is not seen by the public as prime minister material on the other. Labour is struggling to get over its message and with its recent acceptance that it must match the government’s spending plans if it is elected, you begin to wonder what is the point of the party at all. It is at best centrist, some might say centre-right, so anyone who wishes to vote for a party that is on the left of British politics can forget about Labour.

I was once a member of the Labour Party, and I joined the Green Party primarily for two reasons. Firstly I feel that unless we address the climate crisis any other issues will be irrelevant because within the next century (maybe sooner) we will have an uninhabitable planet for humankind. The Green Party is the only party that properly addresses that. Secondly I believe that social justice has to be part of the change we need to address the environmental crisis that we face. I once felt that Labour stood for social justice but with its steady move to the right it no longer realistically represents the most vulnerable people in society, nor the class it was created for.

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and Andy

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett with Andy at an event in Leeds

The current incarnation of the Labour Party is a shambolic disgrace, and the Green Party is the only real alternative for those people who wish to vote for social justice. Although it irritates and worries some of the Green Party veterans, that is the reason many Green Party members who joined in recent years are ex-Labour.

Now despite the turmoil Labour currently faces, due to our country’s electoral system, media, political funding etcetera, it will always be a massive task to enlighten people to the fact there is a tangible alternative to Labour if you want something different from the same old same old. The difficulty Labour faces at this moment in time maybe seen as an opportunity for the Green Party, but to be doing things right we should be hammering away at them all the time. That is why I wrote and moved the Leeds Green Party Strategy document which attempted to strengthen all the areas we need to in order to mount a stronger and more sustained challenge – increase party funds, increase membership, increase activists, raise the party profile, improve our media communications etc. all things that will help us get our message across to more people, and help us target more wards. We need more people to spread the word in order to attract more people to the party. We don’t yet have enough activists. That is a problem, and one we must address. People have busy lives and we have to be grateful for whatever contribution they make. The key is better organisation of what resources we have, and utilising them in the best way possible. The trouble is that organisation is not seen as very exciting.

One of my dreams would be that at all the wards in Leeds (but at the very least all the solid Labour wards) received one of our leaflets which highlights our key national policies with a Leeds slant, and the hard work of our councillors in Farnley & Wortley. This would mean that many more people would (a) know we exist (b) know something of what we stand for, and (c) might see us as worth a try given they have been badly let down by Labour. But it is but a dream. Just targeting predominately Labour wards with such a leaflet would run to over £4,000, not to mention trying to find the people to deliver it. One leaflet will not make a huge impact, it takes constant leafleting work and regular canvassing to turn a ward into a viable target, but it would make people more aware of us and maybe bring in some new members.

There must be a mixed approach. Campaigning on national issues is important to ensure people learn what we stand for. We also need to do some “bread and butter” local issues that affect people on a daily basis, and show that electing Green councillors makes a difference and unlike Labour we never take our constituents’ votes for granted.

The large income disparities which characterise our society are a sign of significant social and economic injustice. The Green Party believes that working people should be paid a decent, living wage and, like every other citizen, be entitled to a sufficient level of economic security to meet their needs. Every worker, like every citizen, should have the right to fair income security, whether working, unemployed, in retirement or in sickness. Everyone should be paid the same for work of equal value, regardless of age. To these ends the Green Party proposes a Citizens’ Income payable to every citizen as a basic right, funded by an ecological and genuinely progressive taxation system, which will also mean that the need to test “availability for work” is no longer required.

The Citizens’ Income policy sets the Greens apart from other political parties. Successive governments’ oppressive use of coercion and privatisation of public services, which diminish the bargaining power of ordinary citizens, makes implementing the Citizens’ Income policy more urgent, yet it is also a potentially great electoral opportunity. The introduction of the Citizens’ Income will provide all citizens with a level of economic security. Once the public has grasped that means testing is a form of taxation, there is no reason why the coaltion governments Workfare plans shouldn’t be another “Poll Tax moment”.

The Citizens’ Income will be sufficient to cover an individual’s basic needs, which will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits. It is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to each individual as a right of citizenship. It will not be subject to means testing and there will be no requirement to be either working or actively seeking work. The Citizens’ Income will eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work. The Citizens’ Income scheme will thus enable the welfare state to develop towards a welfare community, engaging people in personally satisfying and socially useful work.

Clive Lord - an expert on the Citizens' Income

Clive Lord – an expert on the Citizens’ Income

When the Citizens’ Income is introduced it is intended that nobody will be in a position that they will receive less through the scheme than they were entitled to under the previous benefits system. Children will be entitled to a reduced amount which will be payable to a parent or legal guardian. Disabled people or people with special needs, and single parents will receive a supplement. Initially, the housing benefit system will remain in place alongside the Citizens’ Income and will be extended to cover contributions towards mortgage repayments. This will subsequently be reviewed to establish how housing benefit could be incorporated into the Citizen’s Income, taking into account the differences in housing costs between different parts of the country and different types of housing.

One of the experts behind the Citizens’ Income is Clive Lord, a founding member of “People” party 40 years ago which went on to eventually become the Green Party of England & Wales. Clive is still a member and now living in Leeds. His blog discusses the subject extensively. More information about Green Party economic policy can be found here

Very close to where I live is a piece of waste ground that is proving rather attractive to two supermarket giants. Nextdoor to the wasteground is the old Netto store which was recently changed into a Asda outlet. Not satisfied with this Asda have put in a planning application to build a larger store on the aforementioned waste ground. So too have Tesco. If the Beeston Community Forum regulars are anything to go by the idea of either of these companies building a store is very appealing to the majority of residents. The thought of new jobs in the area, and cheap food have wooed them towards supporting the development. I don’t share that view and here’s why…

In the UK, the grocery market is increasingly controlled by a few very large food processors and retailers, making large profits. Their success is partly based on trading practices that are having serious consequences for suppliers, farmers and workers worldwide, local shops and the environment. The introduction of a supermarket can ruin the local character of an area.

The dominance of large food processors and supermarkets:
(a) results in closure of small, local retailers and a net loss of jobs;
(b) encourages unnecessary transportation of food;
(c) makes farmers increasingly reliant on one or two large customers for their livelihood;
(d) forces down ‘farm gate’ prices through an unacceptable level of control over the prices paid to producers;
(e) often results in unfair contractual terms with farmers and rejection of food that fails to meet size, shape or cosmetic criteria;
(f) prioritises ‘shelf life’ and favours mass-produced food of low nutritional value;
(g) favours larger farms and industrialised farming practices;
(h) can reduce resilience to ‘shocks’ in the supply chain, since food processors and supermarkets are less flexible than consumers to changes in supply.

Multinational agribusiness companies increasingly control global supply chains, commodity markets and the supply of seeds and other agricultural resources, including land. This tends to disadvantage poorer countries and threatens the independence and livelihoods of farmers globally.

That’s why I think the Green Party has the best approach to protecting local businesses and communities, and has a more rational and farsighted view about the negative effects supermarkets bring to a location that people forget in the rush for “cheap” food and new jobs. The Green Party policies around this subject are:

We will use competition legislation and other legislation to reduce the power of large food processors and retailers, strongly discourage mergers and prevent monopolies from emerging.

A legally binding supermarket Code of Practice will be introduced to ensure that all farmers and suppliers, in the UK and elsewhere, are treated fairly, and that the grocery market also operates in the interests of small retailers and consumers. A fully independent supermarket Ombudsman will be introduced to monitor the compliance with and effectiveness of this code.

Planning policies will be introduced to favour local shops and protect the high street. When dealing with a planning application for a new supermarket, local authorities will be required to take into consideration the full extent to which the supermarket would affect local shops, employment, transport links and the amount of local produce being sold in the area. Caps on retail floor space may be imposed and smaller retailers supported with lower business rates.

New rules will be introduced to protect workers’ rights and the environment in both this country and overseas. It will be the responsibility of supermarkets and food processors to ensure that their suppliers meet these rules.

The Green Party will introduce new corporate accountability legislation making companies, including supermarkets and food producers, accountable for their impacts on communities and the environment.


As a local resident I’d like to see neither Asda nor Tesco be successful in their application in Beeston. Asda in particular are part of the Walmart family who have poor reputation in America(1) and were one of the firms partaking in the appalling practice of “Dead Peasant Insurance”(2), taking out life insurance on their staff without their knowledge and profiting from unexpected early deaths. More issues with Tesco and other large supermarkets can be found at the Tescopoly(3) website.

I’d personally like to see the land used for local businesses, preferably manufacturing ones that can help bring skilled decent jobs to the area, and get us making things again locally rather than having to import goods. There is growing market for green technologies and we should be promoting those. As someone who has worked in a supermarket myself in the past, I know such employment is rarely fulfilling and rewarding, and will lead to a net loss of jobs as other local businesses fold. Given that traffic congestion is a regular complaint at the Beeston Community Forum, I don’t see how opening a supermarket on Old Land is going to help that in any way at all, quite the opposite. Leading to more pollution, more accidents, and greater congestion.

Ultiately it comes down to the old environmental slogan – Think global, act local. If local communities are not prepared to fight back against the corporations whether it be with campaigns or with their wallets, then we will end up with characterless clone towns reliant on the whim of the multinationals for our livelihood. Given that globalisation sees work going wherever it is cheapest, or it drives down wages so companies remain “competitive”, I question the quality of work that these stores will provide long term. Furthermore if the supermarkets’ quest to deliver cheaper food continues unabated then farmers will go out of business, supplies will fall, and prices will go up. The cost of transportation from further afield will increase as will the environmental damage. Better to have realistic prices that are sustainable for the long term rather than “cheap” prices that destroy businesses, jobs, and ultimately will rise anyway. I fear in 20 years time we may all regret Asda or Tesco building a supermarket on Old Lane when the rest of Beeston is like a ghost town. We should support local businesses of people who live in the area before these large firms who typically do not put as much back. Seventy per cent of the money spent at local businesses stays local, whereas 30% of money spent at large national / international companies ends up back in the local economy.

Notes
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Walmart
(2) http://deadpeasantinsurance.com/
(3) http://www.tescopoly.org/

Last sight of Jacksonville, the airport window mural It is hard to believe but it was one year ago today that I last set foot on American soil. One of the last things I saw of Jacksonville was the graphic on the airport window shown here and so it seemed a suitable header for this post. I had been over in the USA again to break up the seven months of separation that Tina and I faced before she arrived in the UK, to take over evidence for her visa application, and to help its completion. This final visit was bitter-sweet. It was wonderful to see Tina, the boys, cats and her family again, and good to know that while still a few months away, the next time we saw each other would be over here ready to start a life together. Yet it was sad to say goodbye to an area that had provided great friendships, and had been a happy home for six months in 2009. There was the uncertainty of when I might see Jacksonville Beach again.

The “Shack”, as we called the apartment on 10th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach, looked a forlorn shadow of its former self, many of Tina’s possessions now packed away ready to travel back with me. During this final visit I took a lot of video footage of that place and made it into a short film, a record of what was our first home together. It was a poignant moment when I set off for the airport from it for the last time. There are times when I miss it, times when I have a flashback, and I hear the breeze through the window blinds, the swish of palms trees swaying outside, and the comforting creak of the front door as it closed behind you. Having the ocean so close was something we never tired of or took for granted, and I certainly benefited from the warm climate and near guaranteed several hours of sunshine throughout the year. In the last few months I have taken up cycling to work. While the weather and environs bear no resemblance to Jacksonville Beach whatsoever, and I don’t envisage ever travelling to work in shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, I pull up at the bike locker at my workplace and it reminds me so often of locking my bike in the rack behind the Shack having just done a grocery run. I’m transported back there.

Another important thing that six months in the Shack gave me was friendship. Living in that apartment block and having the communal garden at the front introduced me to many great people who shared the residence and became part of my life there. Life is good for Joey and Agent FangI miss them all but the two main characters of the piece were Joey and Michael, and I confess that I haven’t kept in touch as much as I’d have liked or should have done. That’s something I need to work on, and can only apologise for. Joey’s occasional emails are no substitute for the amusing notes under the door and the banter that followed, while Michael’s thoughtfulness and generosity were matched by his fine company up the Ritz bar as we supped $2 beers. I hope one day they might visit here so I can return the hospitality.

But overall I’m not sure I could have taken to life in the USA. Their concept of society is far more individualistic than here, and other than the weather and close proximity to the beach, Tina and I felt we would have a better quality of life in the UK. It was for that reason that on 15th July 2010 Tina and two of her boys arrived at Manchester Airport complete with nine suitcases and the important Fiancee Visa. Hadley and Molly cats had arrived in the UK a couple of weeks before, enduring a transatlantic trip and a near four hour drive from Heathrow. Initially frazzled by this ordeal, by the time Tina and the boys arrived the cats were settling in and seemed happy with their new home. The boys were soon settling in too and making friends in the back streets. We made some day trips to the Lake District, Wales and the east coast, and eventually got them into local schools.

The main event of 2010 though was of course at 4pm on Wednesday 8th September when Tina and I married at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, and had an exceptional reception at the Queens Hotel. I have to say that going drinking the night before with the Best Man, Maid of Honour, and Tina’s nephew Joey was not ideal preparation for the big day. I felt decidedly unwell until around 2pm, and was still writing my speech at midday. The Happy Couple - photo by S Finney Putting on the suit was an epic struggle, and the journey to Temple Newsam was a tad fraught, arriving about 15 minutes before kick off, and only a few minutes before the bride! Still it left little time for nerves, the service went perfectly, and we had such a glorious location for our photographs. We were joined too by wonderful guests; family and friends, including Tina’s Mum, Dad, Step-Dad, eldest son, nephew and best friend Paula. All who attended contributed to an amazing day, one I shall never forget. But there was no rest for the newly married couple as the following day we hired a mini-bus to take the American contingent to my parents’ house to see the area I was raised (cut short by a huge tail backs on the M6), then the next day we took a tour of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. We squeezed in a trip on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and an afternoon in Howarth before the last of the American party left these shores, and I returned to work the next day completely knackered and in need of another holiday! (Alas my next decent holiday actually came almost six months later).

It’s been a year of other firsts. First family Christmas all together in Leeds. The first time the boys have seen snow. The first Valentine’s Day Tina and have actually spent together. Thankfully another stressful application form and visit to the UK Border Agency in Sheffield ended well, Tina and the boys being granted an “extended leave to remain” residency permit, allowing them another two years in the UK, and permission for Tina to work.

Away from the personal life things have got busy in my political life. Discussions started in October about forming a city wide Leeds Green Party. As someone who had the trust of both Farnley & Wortley and Headingley Green parties I was asked to be Acting Chairperson while these meetings took place. After some deliberation over the new party’s constitution, we eventually held the Inaugural Meeting of the Leeds Green Party on 24th February 2011. I had the honour of being elected to the position Coordinator & Chairperson, a member of the Executive Committee. It’s currently all hands to the pump as local elections approach, aiming to retain one the Green councillors, and add some more if possible. Once the elections are over I am looking forward to helping the Leeds Green Party progress, get involved with campaigning, and recruiting new members to the cause. Caroline Lucas Green Party Leader and IA couple of days before the Inaugural Meeting I attended a photo opportunity arranged by Cllr Ann Blackburn with Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, as she passed through Leeds on her way to an event in Huddersfield. I was the “photographer”, but had the unexpected privilege of travelling to Huddersfield with Caroline, which included an opportunity to speak to her alone for quite a while before the train arrived. From watching TV appearances I suspected that Caroline would be approachable and without “airs and graces”, but you never know whether a party leader is gong to have a bit of an ego or attitude. I am happy to say Caroline was as friendly and genuinely interested in people as she comes across in the media, and it was a memorable and enjoyable few minutes with her discussing the situation in Leeds and the formation of the new party. I wouldn’t expect Messrs Cameron or Miliband to travel without an entourage, or to engage so comfortably with a complete stranger. The speech she delivered in Huddersfield was also a passionate and articulate piece of reasoning, and seemed to be supported by the majority of the attendees. All in all a day I won’t forget in a hurry, particularly as it was so unexpected. Now it’s back to the bread and butter, the graft of leafleting in Farnley & Wortley ward.

Family, work, and Green Party commitments make time very precious these days. Writing a blog has been pushed down the order of priorities. I don’t expect that I will be able to post with the regularity of past, or as much as I’d like, but I intend to get back into blogging. It is something I enjoy, and I hope others do too. Watch this space for any future noteworthy events and commentaries on life.

Life has got a lot more involved and busier since my last blog. Time seems to be precious and the blogging has been duly relegated towards the bottom of the priorities. I intend to do a “catch up” piece soon, but one recent event was so momentous I felt it time to get back on the keys and capture the experience.

Defend Public ServicesYesterday I travelled to London and joined thousands of others (estimates range between 250,000 and 500,000, but I favour something towards the top end) on the March for the Alternative. This was a demonstration and rally against the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s cuts to public services, and their refusal to consider other fairer alternatives to reducing the budget deficit. My day started at 5am as I hauled my unwilling body out of bed, and I managed to get a bus into Leeds to make the coach rendez-vous point in time. Settled on the back seat with Dave, Daljit and Stewie, we set off to the capital at 6:45am.

The decision to park the coaches at Wembley and have people travel in by the Underground had been controversial at UNISON branch meetings. However it went smoothly and turned out to be a good idea, particularly as London Transport told us to pay at the destination station, and did not enforce it there either! (Plus it gave us chance to see the new Wembley Stadium). So we were at Waterloo station around 11:30am, and soon crossing the Waterloo Bridge with many other protesters. That was where we had first glimpse of the magnitude of the event. Victoria Embankment was rammed solid with people for as far as the eye could see. A truly stunning sight.

Victoria EmbankmentTaking photos from Waterloo Bridge led to my first separation of the day. The lads went off in front, but some how I ended up overtaking them as we tried to make our way along the Strand way to the access to the Embankment. The first feeder street was blocked off by stewards, and the next was packed solid but I eventually made my way down it. The swapping of text messages allowed the other three lads to catch up at the bottom of Arundel Street, where the confused crowd was slowly heading towards the main body of the demonstration. The reunion was short lived however, as just as we got on the Embankment I spotted a Yorkshire CND banner, snapped a photo of it, briefly spoke to one of the bearers who I knew, and turned to find my companions gone. There was no way of spotting them in such a sea of people, and the next time I would see them was on the backseat of the coach, late and delaying our departure!

It is impossible to do justice to the scenes I witnessed. I’ve never been in such a huge mass of people before. The mood was upbeat, almost celebratory, a loud blend of chants, whistles, drums, and various performing bands. One moment it would be the brass of the RMT Union, the next the wail of bagpipes. The crowd was colourful too, Trade Unions wearing their colours, individuals in fancy dress, banners and placards of all hues. I was there in my capacity of UNISON Steward but I was also supporting the Green Party and CND, fleece replete with badges, UNISON flag in one hand, Coalition of Resistance placard in the other. Westminster Green PartyThe hunt for a Green Party placard proved fruitless, leaving me kicking myself for not being organised enough to make and bring my own. However there were a large number of Green Party banners and placards present, including the beautiful Westminster Green Party creation.

The march to Hyde Park took much longer than expected and I think the organisers planned. I did spend much of my time photographing and filming events, but even so progress was slow anyway. There was a jam in Whitehall approaching Nelson’s Column, but I was surprised how few had gathered outside Downing Street when I reached it. However if the Prime Minister was home he would have known we were there, treated to sustained and loud booing. The lads texted me to say that they had reached Hyde Park and the rally was drawing to a close so they were heading for a pint. I was determined to reach the park at least, so battled on, by this time hungry and feet aching. En route I passed Fortnum & Mason, and the Ritz Hotel, which later were making the headlines due to an occupation, and an Anarchist attack. The latter was looking worse for wear, paint splashes up the frontage, while two confused guests peered down from their window at the baying crowd below.

I made Hyde Park about 3:45pm, missing the major speakers by some while. Probably just as well as I doubt I’d have been impressed by what Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband had to say. It seemed rank hypocrisy for him to be speaking at a rally about the alternatives to cuts when his party was advocating cutting too, merely changing the speed and severity of these measures. There had been a campaign #WhyisntCarolinespeaking on Twitter, and many Green Party members had contacted the TUC to ask why Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas was not on the platform. The Green Party’s manifesto and policies contain the alternatives that the March was calling for, where Labour’s do not. These requests had been turned down, no surprise that the Trade Union movement wanted to give Miliband chance to garner support. The simple fact is that Caroline Lucas would have wiped the floor with him, and could legitimately claim that she was offering an alternative, the sort that the three main parties could never do while a neo-liberal economic political consensus exists.

After walking past the stage, and over to Speaker’s Corner, I sat on the grass for a much needed sarnie and drink. A check of the map showed that Bond Street Underground station wasn’t too far away, and easiest for the Jubilee line back to Wembley Park. Green Party ProtestersBemused shoppers in Oxford Street took photos of the stragglers heading away from the rally, still chanting and waving their banners. Thankfully the queue at Bond Street tube station wasn’t too long, and I was away down the escalators. I bumped into one of my colleagues, Barry, on the platform, and remarkably there was two Councillors from Leeds in the carriage, one from my own ward. I’d really had enough of standing up by this point, but the train was full and there was little hope of a seat until Wembley. One last walk along Wembley Way, and we were back at the coaches. A flurry of text messages hurried Dave, Daljit, and Stewie on their way, holed up in Carnaby Street for a beer or two, with them finally arriving huffing and puffing following a last gasp dash. The coach left at 5:45pm, late but not drastically, and sailed effortlessly out of the car park and away from Wembley toward the motorway. A short break later we were back in Leeds at 9:40pm, and I got home around 10:20pm, some 17 hours after getting up. Exhausted, aching all over, but exhilarated. When’s the next march?!

Some more photos here.

It’s a while since my last blog post. This is because since returning from the USA I have been busy with a combination of working around the house making improvements, and getting involved with local politics. Weeks of leafleting where happiness was a loose letterbox and a few nights of canvassing finally culminated in the events of 6th and 7th May.

I had three main roles in the elections:

1. To help the attempt to get Cllr Andy Parnham re-elected in the Leeds City Council Farnley & Wortley ward.

2. As Cllr David Blackburn’s Election Agent, I was helping the bid to get him his best result in the Leeds West parliamentary constituency in the General Election. His previous best was 7.5% and the first target was 5% which would mean his £500 deposit would be returned.

3. One of the key helpers in my best mate Dave Procter’s bid to get as many votes as possible in the Leeds Central parliamentary constituency. He was standing on a Independent Green Left ticket. Independents always struggle, the system is skewed against them and retaining his deposit was the main target but getting past 200 votes would have been a huge achievement.

Aims 1 & 2 were interrelated as the Farnley & Wortley ward is one of the 4 that make up Leeds West constituency. Many of the leaflets we delivered had a message from both Andy and David.

Election day, Thurs 6th May:
I was up at 6:15am and down at the car hire centre to collect a car at 7am. I drove home, went out to vote myself, had leisurely breakfast pouring over the Guardian’s election coverage, and went to get a haircut in case I was going to be seen on the national media! ;-) I picked David Blackburn up at 10am and we went round to the campaign HQ, aka a Green Party member’s terraced house. David Blackburn Green Party PPC Leeds WestFirst duty was to collect an elderly couple and give them a lift to their polling station so they could vote. The rest of the day was spent driving around 32 of the 38 polling stations to see how many people had turned up to vote in hourly increments. We kept bumping into the Labour candidate (and eventual winner) Rachel Reeves who was accompanied by outgoing MP John Battle. We seemed to be the only parties doing this. The dash around the polling stations was punctuated by a short break to wolf down a chip butty and to slurp a cup of tea. Then it was back on the road.

Later in the evening we took to the streets again, David bellowing “Vote Blackburn and Parnham your Green Party candidates. Vote Green Party today” on a loudhailer out of the window. It was cold in the car as a result! My next sustenance came about 8pm when a cheese and tomato sandwich didn’t touch the sides. I also bought a packet of Hobnobs to keep me going, and in the interests of health, a banana and apple. At 10pm when the polling stations closed we went off to David’s local pub, he had a couple of pints for Dutch courage and I stuck to orange and passion fruit juice as I was driving. We also had a couple of games of pool with his chums. At 11pm we set off to the John Charles Centre where they were holding the count. We were on the indoor bowling “green”, and the other counts were on the indoor athletics track.

The first duty was to verify the local election ballot boxes. The voting slips were counted to make sure the numbers matched the figures collected by the Presiding Officer in the polling stations. The votes were then resealed in the ballot boxes ready to be counted at 10am on Friday morning. As the votes were validated the parties’ “tellers” (volunteers permitted inside with an official pass) are allowed to witness the process and at the same time attempt to note down the mark from the individual slips. This is to give some early indication of the way things might be going for your candidate. It didn’t look good for Andy Parnham.

Then came the main event. The General Election ballot boxes were brought to the tables. First the numbers are verified, with voting slips being batched into 50s. Then these are separated out into different piles based on candidate. Finally these piles are sorted between the counting staff and counted. No wonder this process took until about 4:30am. Like before our tellers, myself included, tried to get an idea of how David Blackburn had done. David Blackburn V for victory!When I wasn’t doing that I was wandering around getting intoxicated by the atmosphere. It was a mad frenetic affair with people rushing about, on mobiles, laptops, all with party rosettes. I also met up with Dave Procter to see how his vote was going. Not brilliant but we were laughing about it, doubting he’d make three figures. In the other large room was the stage and media camp. All the major players, BBC, ITV, Sky were there with cameras ready to capture any upsets. I spoke to the BBC’s Michael Crick several times about what was happening in Brighton where Green Party leader Caroline Lucas had a good chance of becoming the first Green MP. For a well known reporter Crick was very pleasant, no airs or graces, and talked to me in a friendly way and showed genuine interest when I might have expected an aloof distance. I think he was as excited by events as I was. I also saw Ed Balls the unpopular Labour Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families who many thought might lose his safe seat to the Conservatives. I was stood about 5 feet from him when he was suddenly swooped on by the media, questioning and cameras flashing. I was in the way of some of the shots but had nowhere to duck out of it! I was also acknowledged by Fabian Hamilton (Labour MP) who remembered me from when I looked after his pc when he was a councillor. There was Hilary Benn, another government minister, and I also spoke to Andrew Carter the Conservative Leader of Leeds City Council. I was exhausted but loving every minute. Rumours broke that Caroline had indeed taken Brighton Pavilion, but these were unconfirmed. Rumours then broke that Ed Balls had lost to the Conservatives. There was an electric atmosphere. Feeling a bit faint I forced down an over priced and unimpressive cheese sandwich from the canteen, washed down by a much needed coffee.

Eventually about 4:45am the first result was in. It was ours, Leeds West. David Blackburn took to the stage with the rest of the candidates and the Lord Mayor Judith Elliot read out the result. As expected Labour’s Rachel Reeves won easily. David polled 1832 votes (4.7%) which was not enough to get back his £500 deposit. So that was a disappointment. David and the entourage went home but I hung around to see the rest of the results. Ed Balls hung on by 1101 votes, a slashing of his majority, and he gave a bombastic speech which the Conservative supporters tried to shout down with cries of “Off! Off! Off!” I had a ringside view right behind the cameras on the front row. It was soon Dave Procter’s turn. Hilary Benn was returned easily as expected but Dave got a very creditable 409 votes and gave a short but passionate speech. I stayed until the bitter end to hear all of the results and left the centre about 5:45am. It was on the way home in the car that I heard live on the radio that Caroline had won and become the UK’s first Green MP. I was screaming “yes” and punching the air in the car, lord knows what the car in front must have thought.

A very knackered Election Agent at 5:45amI had to have the hire car back at 7am, but luckily I caught a bus soon after and was home for 7:25am. A bit of breakfast and one last look at the results service on the BBC and I went to bed, 25 hours after I’d got up! I managed about 3 hours sleep before I woke up again. I’d booked the morning off but was expected in work in the afternoon. I rang up and asked for it off on flexi which was thankfully granted. I’d have been neither use nor ornament if I’d gone in.

The Aftermath:
Despite an impressive 2563 votes, Andy Parnham did lose his seat, coming second to Labour and squeezed by a much larger turn out due to the local elections being on the same day as the General Election. Ironically the local Labour group increased their seats to 48 meaning the previous Cons / Lib Dems / Morley Borough Independents coalition no longer has a majority, which could lead to a potential Labour-Green administration in Leeds. Nationally the Green Party were squeezed by a high turn out and voters choosing the three main parties. Our key target seats of Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford saw an increase in the vote but were not taken. Caroline’s result was the high point of the day.

Despite the mainly disappointing results nationally and locally I loved every frenetic, tiring minute of election day. I’m probably in the minority when I say I’d love to it all again sooner rather than later!

It has been some considerable time since I added an update to this blog. Back in September 2009 in fact, then still still a couple of months away from ending my Florida adventure. Maybe with a hint of appropriate consistency I am once again sat at the table in the Jacksonville Beach apartment, this time just for a brief two weeks holiday, the very place where the last blog entry took shape.

A great deal has occurred since that last blog post. The arrival of my parents in Florida in July provided a lot of potential material to post, photos to edit, and yet limited the available time to carry out such tasks. I fell behind with the entries and apart from a couple of retrospective postings, lost the drive needed to catch up and continue a regular offering. Furthermore a restructure at work turned my attention to submitting a job application, preparing for a video conference interview via Skype, and the days in the local Beaches Library were dedicated to retaining my own job rather than the observations of Florida life. Once the interview was complete Tina and I then spent ten days in Italy, attending her brother’s wedding in Siena. Those ten days provided more items to write about but little free time, the most notable event was proposing to Tina in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Rome on 23rd October. She accepted by the way!

Leaving Tina and Florida in mid November and returning to the cold, bleak Leeds streets, and a workplace where staff morale was the lowest I have ever encountered, was as hard as it was painful. I had obtained a position in the restructure, a promotion in fact, but no joy could be taken from it when colleagues and friends were unsuccessful and in danger of losing their jobs. Most shocking was the tragic news that during the six months I was away two colleagues took their own lives. The mood at work was sombre at best, sometimes mutinous, motivation absent, and the feeling towards management close to outright fury. This atmosphere, the cold weather, and the returning to an empty house every night left my mood very dark, and the last thing on my mind was writing a blog.

But there are positives. Tina and I have, with her ex-husband’s co-operation and support (in fact he suggested it), decided to live in the UK. Tina came over for Christmas which was a happy time, and we looked for wedding venues, settling on Temple Newsam House in Leeds. We now are embroiled with the frustrating and complex task of sorting out the application for settlement in the UK for Tina and two of her boys, so they can be over in time for a September wedding. Having been used to having Tina, her boys, and the cats around for six months, not to mention being in a location where mid November still allowed cycling after dark in t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, it was remarkably hard to go back to Britain to the solitary life. Furthermore the need to save money has necessitated a frugal life of simple pastimes, staying home reading, watching TV, or browsing the internet. I have so far failed to see a Stoke City match at the Britannia this season, my football fix obtained from a few trips to the now defunct Farsley Celtic FC.

One distraction I have embraced enthusiastically is a greater involvement with the Green Party as the General and local Council Elections loom. I helped during the unsuccessful campaign in the Leeds ward of Hyde Park & Woodhouse byelection in February, and have been leafleting around the Farnley & Wortley ward with the aim of getting Cllr Andy Parnham re-elected and helping Cllr David Blackburn’s Parliamentary campaign for the Leeds West Constituency. Leafleting has a rather soothing and stress-busting effect. When striding up an unknown driveway, one’s concentration is locked on folding the leaflet correctly, the potential awkward letterbox that makes insertion a chore, and the possibility of some slavering beast waiting on the other side to remove any straying fingers. All worries of the day at work, or the months ahead are gone, the mind is cleared and focused on the simple task of getting the paper through the slot without incident, and the exercise is also good for body and soul. While this blog as suffered, I have been busy updating the Farnley & Wortley Green Party website and have also assisted with the Headingley Green Party’s new site too. I have also agreed to be David Blackburn’s election agent during the General Election campaign.

While this latest holiday in Jacksonville Beach affords me the time to restart blogging, I must give credit to another source of inspiration. A contractor called David has been working in our office since my return to Leeds. Stoke born and bred, a similar age to myself, and a great fan of Stoke City during my favourite era – the Lou Macari Years in the early 1990s – so no wonder we have stuck up a rapport and shared plenty of laughs. David discovered my blog by accident, and has apparently been working his way through past entries. It was his compliments about the stories and enjoyment of them that gave me the impetus to write something new. Sometimes the thought of “what’s the point” flits across one’s mind, but if other people do appreciate the efforts made, it is flattering and galvanises the resolve to continue. I find writing fulfilling, people seem to enjoy reading my observations, and if I can provoke thought and positive action from just one person then the whole exercise is worthwhile. So thanks David, and we must keep in touch when you move to your next contract.

In the meantime I think I should make the most of the sunshine and head outside. Who knows what things are going on out there that are just asking to be written about!

Last night I attended a local Green Party monthly meeting. These are open to all, not just party members, and they take the form of a brief presentation followed by a discussion. The topic yesterday was “Civil Liberties”. Martin who delivered the talk took Naomi Wolfe’s “Ten steps to Fascism” as his central theme for the discussion, and very thought provoking it was too. Wolfe argues that Fascist and totalitarian regimes almost have a shopping list of ten things they must achieve if constitutional freedoms are to be snuffed out by the would-be dictators. She draws parallels with the Bush administration but it doesn’t take much of a leap to see how a similar picture is developing in the UK. But then again as Matt Johnson opined on The The’s excellent “Infected” LP, we are the 51st state of the USA.

Read Wolfe’s full article but the 10 steps to Fascism are;

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens’ groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Update
Almost right on cue, a day after writing this the BBC report on the worrying increase of surveillance in Britain today. See here: warning over a “surveillance state”..

Determined to be more than an armchair supporter, a week ago today I started to deliver leaflets for the Green Party. Tonight was my fourth outing, not too far away from the library in Armley. The first street I had to do was a dimly lit back alley, and dispatching the first couple of leaflets easily I had a little difficulty with the next letterbox. At first I couldn’t get the folded paper to go in, so folding it again to increase its thickness I tried again. Second time of asking it went in, unfortunately my fingers slipped through to the other side with it where they were met by the mouth of some unidentified beast.

Given the power of the grip I had to wrestle my hand from I assume it was a dog, but it made no noise to give away its identity. What was certain was my fingers were bleeding quite badly and I was dripping on the pile of leaflets until I fashioned a homemade bandage from my hankerchief. I clearly could not go on. My fellow leafleteers advised that I go to hospital for a tetanus jab, something that did not fill me with delight as I hate needles, and I’m sure the last tetanus jab I had was administered to one’s fleshy derriere. But I duly complied and set off to the Accident Unit at LGI.

It was busy in the reception waiting room as usually is the case. Amongst others there were a collection of gammy legs, kenched backs, and some dazed youth with a substantial bandage around his head. I expected a long wait, my ailment neither life-threatening nor particularly painful. But I was pleasantly surprised. The National Health Service might get some stick but it does a marvellous job in difficult circumstances and with stretched resouces. Indeed I was out before one hour had passed, assessed, cleaned, bandaged up, and armed with a box of antibiotics because I’d been bitten by an “unknown quantity”. “Might have even been human”, advised the Sister. Thankfully I escaped the tetanus injection because apparently the new guidelines state that the inoculations received in childhood will last a lifetime. Whether these are the guidelines of the British Medical Association or NHS accountants I’m not sure. But I’m not complaining, indeed I have only high praise for the care I received. I shall just have to develop a new technique next time I’m delivering for the cause.

While Stoke City were battling against the odds and gaining an unlikely draw away at Liverpool last Saturday, I joined several thousand others in Manchester to engage in another mammoth task – the struggle for peace in our time. Stop the War Coalition Media coverage of the Stop the War Coalition demonstration was sparse to say the least, the official StopWar.org.uk site and BBC Manchester being the only sources I could find. Depending which one you believe between 2,500 and 5,000 people took to the streets of Manchester to march past the Labour Party Conference to protest highlight the movement’s opposition to the Government’s strong support of George Bush’s aggressive foreign policy. Conference protest

The march was organised by the Stop the War Coalition and CND and called for all troops to come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and for an end to a foreign policy that risks spreading war. It has been a while since my last political march, but inspired by a meeting in Leeds last week, my friend Dave and I decided we had to attend and support the cause. The weather was wonderfully kind to us, a rare sunny and warm day, and the mood was upbeat even if the start was delayed due to the late arrival of a few coaches. We grabbed some placards, chatted with a few of the 57 different varieties of leftist groups including one of my colleagues who was a surprise encounter, and made our way to the back of the long snake of people.

The demonstration brought together trade unionists, students, pensioners, Muslim activists and peace campaigners of all sorts. Andy the activistIt was led off by Rose Gentle and other members of Military Families Against the War. As it approached the conference centre the demonstration apparently stopped to hand in a letter of protest to the Prime Minister, although we were so far behind we never saw that take place.

There was also a two minutes silence held to respect the hundreds of thousands who have been killed as a result of the government’s foreign policy. Then the protest marched right up to the conference centre fence chanting ‘Troops out now’ and various other slogans belted out by a rather loud socialist group behind Dave and I. Dave gives his views at conferenceSadly my “Bush, Brown end this farce… shove your Trident up your arse” chant didn’t catch on, clearly not serious enough. ;-) It was a noisy affair outside the conference and one would hope loud enough for every delegate inside to to hear. There was a strong police presence but thankfully the demonstration was well behaved, passionate but peaceful and no strong-arm tactics were required by the Manchester Constabulary. However it didn’t stop the unnecessary filming and photographing of the crowd by the police, and a large number wearing the uniform of the modern riot police stormtrooper.

The march ended with a rally at Castlefield Event Arena. Dave and I stayed long enough to hear speeches by Rose Gentle, Lindsey German (Stop the War convenyor), Kate Hudson (CND National Chair), Seumas Milne (Guardian newspaper columnist), Peter Cranie (Manchester Green Party) and veteran politician Tony Benn. Tony Benn interviewed They all spoke of the need to continue and expand this campaign and continue to strive for peace. The rally gave all the speakers enthusiastic applause.

We drifted away, Dave to head back to Leeds, myself to the Lake District, and word came through by text that Stoke were holding Liverpool at halftime. Remarkably they went on to keep a clean sheet and take a draw from the game. The road towards peace will also be a struggle in the face of formidable opponents. But as long as there is belief, passion, and people prepared to take action there is hope. People are the true agents of social change. History is punctuated with struggle, movements that have changed the world for the better. I’d like to think we played a small part on Saturday.

More photos