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Seeing our son singing this utopian song on stage at his primary school tonight in his leavers’ show was so uplifting – the optimism of youth is such a counter balance to the grim anger at my union meeting yesterday evening for instance. Shed a few tears tonight, especially as the focus of their show was a “lifetime achievement oscar” for their lovely headteacher who’s retiring this summer… Really wonderful to hear the genuine appreciation for someone who has given lifelong public service, something this government is determined not to value (unless you’re a volunteer of course).

Going back to the song, I’m just so moved that my son is a dreamer too – of another world being possible

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Busy setting up new Woodcraft Folk Group, with a meeting at the wonderful Green Fleece Cafe at Bill Quay Farm on Saturday – join us there at 1.30 if you’re interested in helping set up a new group in the Gateshead/South Tyneside Area.

If you haven’t come across the Woodcraft Folk before, it’s

A movement for children and young people, open to everyone from birth to adult. We offer a place where children will grow in confidence, learn about the world and start to understand how to value our planet and each other.

What I love is the Woodcraft’s passionate belief in equality and cooperation, that by encouraging children and young people to think, while having loads of fun, they will help build a peaceful, more just world.

Children and young people are welcome to this meeting too and we’ll have more activities for them – whatever the weather.

Meanwhile, a Green from Gateshead, David Byrne, will be speaking at a public meeting organised by Tyne and Wear Left Unity next Thursday 14th July, 7-9pm at St John’s Church Hall, Grainger Street, Newcastle – near Central Station. His talk will be on the political implications of ecological crisis. With world climate on the brink, greenhouse gas emissions increasing by record amount to highest carbon output in history,despite economic recession, the likelihood of controlling global warming and climate change is rapidly disappearing. Our children and grandchildren will not be able to live on this planet as we do now. Is this the beginning of the end? Certainly it’s time for us to change how we live right now.

On a more cheerful note, here’s a couple of photos from the Green Festival we had at Bill Quay Farm Saturday before last – wish I had more of the music and the kid’s activities, but the camera packed up….

Well actually the Flying Picket Cycle Cafe, which was out and about in York yesterday supporting the strike and got reported by the BBC. Greens were involved, with Green Councillor Andy D’Agorne in the photo on the BBC website, shown below. York Stop the Cuts organised this mass pedal through the city, visiting picket lines. The cycle group towed a trolley containing tea and coffee, aiming to visit a number of official picket lines at government offices, colleges and schools.

Brilliant!

Green Councillor Andy D'Agorne

 

As was Billy Bragg on pensions, and Greece, tonight on Any Questions and great that he fiercely criticised Ed Miliband for his condemnation of the strike. Miliband’s soundbite from his speech to the Local Government Association, that “The Labour Party I lead will always be the party of the mums and dads who know the value of a day’s education” had me incandescent with rage. As it did the teachers at the school I work at, on return to work today – people working at the chalkface, putting heart and soul into our children’s future and, in a school like ours in a deprived area, helping pick up the pieces of lives devastated by the damage this unjust, grossly unequal society inflicts.

Mind you Mark Serwotka demolishing Tory minister Francis Maude on the Today programme had been a great way to start the day, definitely worth listening to the clip. Extremely refreshing to hear someone cut right through the devious dishonesty….

Jellyfish shut down Torness Nuclear Power Station south of Edinburgh and one commenter on the Guardian article, Bluecloud, argues that jellyfish swarms are rapidly increasing due to overfishing and climate change. A BBC article says that although water temperatures along the east coast of Scotland have been relatively normal, it is thought that higher than average temperatures elsewhere in the North Sea may be a factor.

So nuclear power stations will be more and more likely to fall victim to the consequences of a heating planet, and of course continuing catastrophic overfishing.

Which brings me onto the State of our Oceans report, that we are “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history” – ecosystem collapse is happening. You can download the full report here. We desperately need to protect our blue planet.

And then there’s our green lungs, the forests. The government’s panel to decide the future of our forests is now up and running and will be taking answers to their questions till end of July. So 38 degrees have a link to the panel’s questions. As they say, “a flood of messages will show the panel that the public wants our forests protected, not sold off to private companies”. They will collect all our answers together and hand them over to the panel as “a huge, people-powered message – protect our forests!”

This is crucial because “the panel answers to Caroline Spelman, the same minister who cooked up the plans to sell the forests in the first place. So although the panel could come up with sensible plans for our woodlands future, they could be under pressure to rubber-stamp more sell-offs.”

We need another urgent campaign about this to prevent the Government going for another sell-off.

We had our own small and beautiful Green Festival at Bill Quay Farm yesterday, with rain, but no mud! Excellent talks on beekeeping, forest gardening and permaculture, plus wide ranging political discussion following a talk on green economics and Latin American eco-socialist activism, especially indigenous peoples’, by Derek Wall. Lots of Greens from Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland (plus some from Newcastle and North Tyneside) came, plus lots of local families enjoying the wonderful music, stalls and food – Pam and the cafe workers surpassed themselves, with Gateshead Floddies (a bit like rosti) and fabulous cakes and puddings – Newcastle pudding (lemon bread & butter), Northern tart – coconut, apricot etc… all delicious.

Our wildlife gardening activities were very popular – ladybird sanctuaries and bumblebee hotels – that reminds me Phil Wilson posted about flowers to grow to help bumblebees. We were also planting seeds – herbs, sunflowers and pumpkins – in fibre pots which children and grown ups could take home with them. We talked to everyone about the possibility of setting up a Woodcraft Folk group round here – as the nearest ones are in Newcastle or Ryton. We will meet again in the cafe at Bill Quay farm on Saturday 9th July at 1.30 to talk about getting a group going.

Really great to network with all the people who came, the people working at the farm and the people who brought their fabulous stalls – the free produce from the Gateshead Community Agriculture project, gorgeous homemade cakes and jams from Coach House Kitchen, textiles from the Bill Quay textile workshop, recycled jewellery from Joanne Dale, Riverford Organic Veg, the Vegetarian Society and beer-making by my other half, including offering free samples….

Just going to finish off a lovely weekend, after gardening in the sunshine today, by listening to last night’s radio 4 programme about Fritz Schumacher, who wrote the landmark book Small is Beautiful – a life changer for me when I read it as a student. Not sure about the focus of Jonathon Porritt’s programme though – the legacy of this radical book for Cameron’s Big Society… I trust that Porritt, who has criticised the claims of this government to be the greenest ever, will point out the contradiction between the heart of Schumacher’s vision of economics as if people and ecology matter, and the rampant big business capitalism continuing to be pursued by this government at any cost.

As well as the uncollected tax, there is another huge source of public money that has been allowed to remain out of the equation when it comes to the deficit and therefore the cuts: the profit made on Private Finance Initiatives. File on Four tonight investigated this scandalous situation that well over £200 bn of taxpayers money has been committed to the companies managing these project and however bad the contracts were much of the money has gone overseas and huge profits are being made by selling and reselling them in a secretive secondary market – with none of the proceeds returning to the taxpayer.

A linked article on the BBC News exposes how little the Treasury knows about these excessive profits, let alone tries to claim a share in them.

As George Monbiot pointed out “PFI was a Tory invention, but became a Labour doctrine”. His piece on Comment is Free is entitled “The bill for PFI contracts is an outrage. Let us refuse to pay this odious debt

And they keep saying “there’s no money left” …. That should be on Liam Byrne‘s tombstone.

Chilling short story tonight on Radio 4 set in the future of what’s left of flooded Belgium due to global warming, The Fortress of Bruges. I was strongly reminded of the powerful news headline montage at the end of the Age of Stupid film, as well as of course the outpost of archives that Pete Postlethwaite’s character survives in.

Luckily there had been a couple of uplifting programmes earlier in the day: The Food Programme was looking at the National Trust’s shift to focusing on growing food sustainably and selling it in their shops and cafes; making allotments available and enabling community supported agriculture to get going too.

And after that, Gardeners Question Time was from Transition Town Number One, Totnes in Devon, with a visit to a garden share scheme.

Closer to home, we are very excited about our own Transition Town mini Green Festival at Bill Quay Community Farm, on Saturday 25th June, 11 – 4 pm. Talks on bee-keeping and forest gardening (excellent Food Programme on that a while back, and you can still listen again), and on international Green activism, plus live music, wildlife gardening and planting seeds to take away to grow your own food.

Lots of stalls with info, crafts and local foods too.  See you there!

Yes, dammit! Eric Pickles, Minister for destroying local government, sneaked into South Shields today in utmost secrecy, invited by BT for the “topping out ceremony” – laying the highest stone on the hideous new BT building on our riverside. He was supposed to come back in April when it became public knowledge immediately, for instance being announced at a joint trade union meeting at the town hall about the assault on staff’s redundancy rights etc. But he took fright when it was clear how strong protest would be. And we suspected he would either not come at all or do it pretty much in secret like this.

But BT and the Council’s Chief Exec, Martin Swales, who came across from Tory North Tyneside, would of course want Pickles to come to give his blessing to their deal on privatising a large section of the council. All those promised new jobs….. It was sheer hype at the time back in 2008, and the guarantee rings very hollow now. And yet of course Swales and, it seems, the Labour Council leadership are wedded to the idea of yet more privatisation. As a regional Unison officer said at our local government branch meeting last summer, the shocking thing is that unlike back in Thatcher’s day the unions and the Labour council leadership were united in trying to resist the Tory onslaught, that is not the case now. It seems sometimes the reverse is the case, with a Labour leadership appointing a Chief Exec determined to increase privatisation, and rolling over and letting it happen, or even welcoming it with open arms – doing the Tories work for them….

The BBC Politics Show did get to know about Pickles’ visit and have interviewed him and opponents, including a Unison regional spokesperson, and this should be shown on Sunday’s programme.

The only news item I have found about his visit is about him mildly disagreeing with the council over its legal action against Twitter to reveal info about the blogger Mr Monkey. We Greens have written to the Gazette to complain in the strongest terms about this appalling waste of precious money when they are imposing savage cuts on services for children, young people, elderly people, people with disabilities – the list goes on and on – imposing much higher charges eg on use of library computers, and massive job cuts creating even higher unemployment. One of these letters has been published so far. Pickles should have taken a much stronger position against the council’s waste of what could be way more than the £75k figure admitted so far – money that could be spent on something much more positive – like green jobs.

Caroline Lucas won the argument hands down on the Decision Time programme tonight discussing her bill on tax evasion getting not only the former head of the Inland Revenue and a former special adviser in the Treasury to agree with her, but even getting Digby Jones, former Trade Minister and director of CBI, to concede that this will come (though he thinks it is a bad idea unless coupled with very low, flat tax rates – which is not what we Greens think!).

The Tax and Financial Transparency bill is on the agenda for debate in Parliament this Friday and is the latest step in the Greens campaigning on tax justice. The Bill could enable up to £16 billion of lost tax to be recovered by forcing companies to be more transparent in their accounting. It is supported by the PCS union who agree with us in arguing that the Government must increase its investment in tax collection and bring in proper regulation, so that companies are not allowed to simply disappear without paying the taxes they owe.

The Bill is urgently needed since Tax Research UK revealed that about 500,000 companies “disappeared” from the UK’s Register of Companies in the year to March 2010, with billions being lost to the Exchequer as a result.

Caroline talked of the work to build a wide coalition on this issue, with MPs from other parties, with campaigning NGOs, and also the energetic peaceful street protests of UK Uncut. Several Greens were at the recent UK Uncut Emergency Operation in Newcastle, and were delighted to be joined by Billy Bragg, who was on tour and showed up unannounced to join the protest.

There will be the opportunity to plan more campaigning on this at the next North East regional Green Party members meeting which is at Bill Quay Farm on Saturday 25th June, immediately following the Green Festival. Our guest speaker will be a leading Green Party campaigner, Derek Wall, an ecosocialist activist and a former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. More info soon on the regional website.

We are also aiming to work more closely with PCS union activists in the region and other NGOs, including the Tax Justice Network.

Exhausted but inspired by the demo. Great to go with my husband and son, union comrades and friends. Lots of Greens there from right across the country, though didn’t manage to join the “Big Green Bloc” which was aiming to form up – partly because the march really was massive, though perhaps not quite the scale of the Anti Iraq War demo, still think it was more like half a million than a quarter.

Trying to join the march in the first place was a challenge, as we had to walk a long way along the Strand before we were allowed by the police to head down to the river to join the march forming up and it wasn’t even the back. And it was so tightly packed with lots of people just itching to get going, that it was impossible to move forward (or backward) to find the Green bloc.

However once we did set off there was some fantastic music – a samba band in particular helped us cope with the frustration of the slow, stop-start of the first hour along the river. Along with an anti-war, anti-cuts tank blasting out “Stand Up For Your Rights”, “Police and Thieves” etc

We got a clearer look at this wonderful piece of street art in Hyde Park later:

An extraordinary range of placards, flags and banners, ranging from the anarchists, through SWP (liked their slogan “Fight like an Egyptian” (the Bangles “Walk like an Egyptian kept running round my head all afternoon) – though I don’t agree with fighting (being a pacifist)…, Coalition of Resistance road sign style “No Cuts” circles,
traditional (and beautiful) union banners, and lots of home made, some funny (eg Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he promised he wouldn’t), some angry “One banker’s bonus = one teacher’s salary for 200 years”, some touching – kids holding sweetly painted education activist network placards…

There was a huge cheer from both us down on the embankment marching and those up on London Bridge as we walked past with the excellent CND banner draped from the bridge: Cut Trident Not Jobs, Education, Health

Lots of green messages, and not just on Green Party placards, for example PCS ones with “Invest in renewable energy”

And lots on tax justice – and although I don’t agree with all the direct action that took place, I do fully support the anti-tax dodger protests organised by UK Uncut and would have joined them if my 11 year old son had not wanted to come – have read some concerning reports of police behaviour, for instance by Green activist Adam Ramsay.

We got to Trafalgar Square about 3, just as things were kicking off elsewhere – with police vans hurtling around, sirens blaring – and saw that the people set on occupying the square had already got up on the statues with placards etc.

Had to have an ice-cream and tea break, then carried on to Hyde Park, arriving just in time for the last couple of speakers – with the very last being the PCS member who had walked all the way from Cardiff to join the march. Earlier we had seen a banner announcing the Jarrow March this autumn – would love to do some of that…

You can see my son was not happy with all the waiting around at the start, but overall he said he thought it was worth going, as did my husband. And our son approved of the humour of the placard Michael White reported:

A small girl’s placard proclaimed: “When the situation is as dire as this I don’t mind my parents using me as a political pawn.” On the reverse side it added: “They told me there’d be biscuits.”

We had an adventure getting home though, as the trains were disrupted by signal failure north of York, so we ended up getting on to the previous train to ours (already full) and standing, or sharing seats offered by kind comrades who’d also been to the march. Had a great conversation with the 3 guys in the buffet car, all RMT workers – one was a Green supporter and had voted for me in the Euro elections, and another was a PCS member in his other job (just working on the trains at the weekend) and had met Caroline Lucas at the PCS conference in Brighton last year and thought she was great. We were so tired though by the time we were approaching York that we called some friends there and luckily they were at home, so we went to stay with them. Just couldn’t face the possibility of having to wait around for replacement buses, then getting the metro home. Wonderful to get to our friends and chew over the day over a beer!