6 Oct 2015

New Cotswold Green Party

October 3rd 2015 saw the Founding Meeting of the Cotswold Green Party. Originally part of Stroud and District Green Party, the recent Green Surge saw membership numbers in the Cotswold District Council area soar to 115 - enough to form our own party and better represent the people and issues in the CDC area.

The elected officers come from Great Rissington, Cirencester, Fairford and Moreton-in-Marsh and so have good coverage of the large district and awareness of local issues.

After the offical business it was great to have Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West, give an inspiring talk on the EU - its drawbacks, but also its positive side of countries with different cultures and outlooks working together. A former Professor of Economics at Roehampton University, Molly is a member of the influential Economic & Monetary Affairs and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees in the European Parliament.

Molly also pointed out that with the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote in the South West, the Green Party is the main opposition to the divisive policies of the Conservative Government.

Watch This Space.

27 Sep 2015

The Refugee Crisis; the Stroud Coffee House Discussion

The dark, drizzly September evening didn’t put off around 100 supporters gathering in Stroud to answer a crucial question; what can we do about the refugee crisis?

On Wednesday 23rd September people from Stroud crammed in to the Imperial Hotel for a discussion organised by Amnesty International mid-counties and Stroud District Green Party, to answer that important question;

·         What is already being done in Gloucestershire?
·         What are the needs?
·         What can we do here in Stroud?
·         How can we change the rhetoric from ‘keep out’ to ‘welcome’?
·          What should we be demanding of our MP and the government?

Imperial Hotel, Stroud, crammed with supporters

How have we ended up with so many people seeking safety?

The evening kicked off with a lively and interesting discussion from Judith Large, Honorary Fellow at the Centre for Conflict Analysis Resolution, University of Kent, about how we have come to the current situation in which half of the Syrian population has become displaced. The desperate situation began with what was initially a popular uprising in Syria but soon spun in to an international issue because of a dictator who refused to budge from power; President Bashar al-Assad.

One of the most heard about results of the conflict in Syria are the significant advances and abuses carried out by the so called ‘Islamic State’ or ISIS. Since 2013 ISIS have made strong advances in Syria and Iraq and none of us strangers to the news of the various atrocities that they have inflicted.

From the outset the US have supported the Syrian rebels opposing President Assad, initially with food and supplies but then moving on to training and arming them. From 2014 a US-led coalition, of which the UK is a part, has been carrying out airstrikes against ISIS.

Between the brutality of the Assad regime, the barbarity of ISIS and the bombardment by the US-led coalition, Syrian civilians, regular folk like you and me, have become terrified for their lives. More than four million people have packed up and left in fear for their safety.

The question Judith Large left for those gathered in Stroud to wonder was; is the use of force really the answer to a problem caused by a use of force?

Climate change

An interesting point raised from the floor was the impact of climate change on the current refugee crisis.

The worst drought to strike the country in modern times had gripped Syria in the years leading up to uprising in 2011. Researchers were able to draw one of the strongest links yet between climate change and human conflict;

They cited studies that showed that the extreme dryness, combined with other factors, including misguided agricultural and water-use policies of the Syrian government, caused crop failures that led to the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas. This in turn added to social stresses that eventually resulted in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

Our government is taking an embarrassingly inadequate approach to the refugee crisis in general, as I will go on to explain, but this adds yet another dynamic to that woeful response. The Conservatives have taken a full scale assault against the climate at an extraordinary pace, killing off many of the existing green policies in the UK.

Stroud MP, Neil Carmichael has demonstrated a real ignorance for the environment during his time in office, voting against many measures and in support of fracking; as covered in this blog previously.

Action in Gloucestershire and Stroud

The swell of action from the people of Stroud has been astounding. An article in the Guardian on 5th September described how locals had offered to open up their homes to refugees. Stroud District Green Party played their part by writing an open letter calling for Stroud to take it’s fair share of refugees. The Stroud News and Journal reported how District councillors, John Marjoram and Martin Whiteside, County Councillor Sarah Lunnon, Stroud Town Mayor Kevin Cranston and Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato had used the letter to indicate that Stroud could take just 10 refugees to have a fair share of the 40,000 refugees which the EU will need to resettle over the next 2 years.

Some of the most impressive action locally has come from the facebook groups as Jeannie Etherton passionately explained to all of us assembled in Stroud on Wednesday. These groups have been very far from being ‘just a talking shop’ and have in fact been the main mechanism for local people to combine and coordinate their stunning efforts.

There are two main facebook groups that Jeannie discussed, the first being Stroud2Calais – Refugee Support which started as a group to get donations to ‘the Jungle’ in Calais but has moved to more widely supporting refugees entering Europe. They have now raised £2607 in one week to go to a fundraiser purchasing tents for refugees.

Jeannie explained how this group has joined up with the other incredible group Stroud Supporting Calais Refugees. Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the kindly people of Stroud this group have collected an unimaginable amount of donations in to two large shipping containers to take to Calais; the collection has now ended because they simply cannot take any more donations.

Collecting the donations for these groups and raising the funds has taken an enormous amount of work and energy by local people volunteering their time and working tirelessly.

It is so terribly important that we do all that we can. Not only are the conditions in Calais ‘appalling’, as described by the charity Doctors of the World, but to make matters worse there have been reports that the French authorities have recently moved in with bulldozers and tear gas against the camp.

Judith Large 

Next to speak at the Coffee Discussion was Adele Owen from Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers or GARAS. Adele explained that GARAS work with people seeking asylum in Gloucestershire and how recently their work has been thrown in to the forefront of the public’s consciousness because of the current crisis.

The government have proposed that they will take the embarrassingly low amount of just 20,000 refugees over 5 years and Adele explained how this represents only 0.2% of those people who have left Syria. However refugees are still coming from many other countries, including Afghanistan (the setting for a previous military intervention from the West that you might remember).

Furthermore the plan from David Cameron is to help only those refugees still in Syria and not any of the people currently on the move or already in the awful conditions in Calais. This plan is very ill thought out and will not, as Cameron has argued, encourage people to keep away from the EU.

In the discussion it was noted how the government, some media and other sources appear to deliberately blur the language used when referring to the current situation by interchangeably using the words ‘immigrant’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’. The discussion raised how Neil Carmichael MP has seemed intent on muddying the waters in this way whilst towing the government line that they are doing enough and will not do any more to help.

GARAS are now working with Gloucester City Council and the County Council to arrange the all important programme of response to the current situation. It is crucial to have structures in place with health, social services and education to ensure that the people who come out of the crisis to our county get the best support that we can give.

Not a single seat left.

What next?

Once refugees start arriving in Gloucestershire, and hopefully Stroud, Adele Owens said that the current groundswell of support will be crucial in assisting individuals and families to settle. Help will be needed to prepare and kit out houses with basics such as TV’s and simple home comforts. There will be a continued need for donations and for donations of appropriate food.

People settling afresh here will need locals to help them get familiar with the area, to help with learning English and support with accessing local amenities and services.
We need to keep the movement going. We need to keep our hearts open.
Adele’s message was that we are all human first.

Local Amnesty International members explained that it was crucial for as many people as possible to continue to put pressure on the government to take adequate action, particularly by writing to your MP. You can write to Neil Carmichael, MP for Stroud District, by writing to;

           Neil Carmichael MP
House of Commons

You can also contact him through his website http://www.neilcarmichael.co.uk/contact

It would also be very good if you could send copies of letters/emails that you send to the local press to help raise the profile of the crisis locally.

Talk to your neighbour

In my opinion one of the simplest and yet boldest suggestions made at the evening event in Stroud was made by a woman standing near me in the throng of the discussion. It is my regret that I did not have the chance to get her name, so if you know her, or you are her, please let me know if she would like to be credited properly.

This woman passionately explained that one of the most important things that we can all do is to speak to our neighbours. We can challenge attitudes that we meet that might be misguided or else discriminatory. There is a lot of misinformation out there, as with blurring of the terms of ‘immigrant’ and ‘asylum seeker’ for a political purpose. There is a lot of hate out there with certain groups looking to capitalise on people’s fears of immigration.

We can counteract this by putting an alternative message out there, by painting the picture of what is really happening and by cutting through the myths and confusion; that we can afford, in every sense of the word, to do more.

Talk to your neighbour. With compassion and with love, show everyone you can that the most important thing to do in light of the current crisis is to open your heart.


I note that I have not really credited people directly and have probably unfairly skimmed over individuals and groups who have done awesome work locally. I apologise for this but suffer from the limitations of writing inbetween the normal hustle and bustle of life; which for me includes a very energetic 15 month old! Please post about anyone you think has been important in the comments and include any links that are relevant

25 Sep 2015

Green Party joy as Green MEP to speak at Founding Meeting of new Cotswold Green Party

Members of the newly-formed Cotswold Green Party will welcome Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West of England to their Founding Meeting at Ashcroft Church, Ashcroft Rd, Cirencester on 3rd October. She will be speaking on “The EU: its positive role and how to make it better” at 12:00 and members of the public are welcome to join the meeting then. A former Professor of Economics at Roehampton University, Molly is a member of the influential Economic & Monetary Affairs and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees in the European Parliament.

Andrew Maclean, from Great Rissington, chairman-designate of the new local Green Party said “We are very pleased to be welcoming Molly to our district, almost as pleased as we are to be celebrating the formation of the new Green Party for the Cotswolds. Our membership in the District has grown ten-fold over the last year and we look forward to bringing a distinctive, much-needed Green voice to political life in the area.”

The group will be holding monthly business meetings on Tuesday evenings in Northleach and special meetings in other towns throughout the District at other times.

Further info: Fran Johnson : tel 0792 121 1412

Websites Molly Scott Cato ; Green Party of England & Wales

24 Sep 2015

The financial cost of Oldbury and Wylfa’s Nuclear Power Stations

In the latest STAND newsletter there was the excellent article below making a compelling and detailed case for why the Advanced Boiling Water (ABW) reactors proposed for Oldbury and Wylfa are completely unaffordable. The article written by Dr David Toke, Reader in Energy Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations in the University of Aberdeen is reprinted with permission from STAND.

Before the article I just wanted to also publicise their film night on 29th September in Lydney - STAND are fortunate to have secured a visit to the Forest of the award winning documentary film maker Pradeep Indulkar. He will be there in person to show and talk about his two new films.

See more at: http://www.standagainstoldbury.org/

The financial cost of Oldbury and Wylfa’s Nuclear Power Stations by David Toke

"The ABW design has, let us say, a chequered history in terms of reliability. None of the four operational plants can so far, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) database, boast a capacity factor of more than 73 per cent, and two of them have capacity factors less than 45 per cent  - some wind power plant have capacity factors around this level, and they are supposed to be that way! A capacity factor is the amount a plant generates compared to the amount that would be generated if it was operating at full power all of the time. Nuclear power plans are costed on the basis that they will achieve capacity factors of 80-90 per cent. With a capacity factor of 45 per cent (plausible outcome based on experience) any nuclear power project comes out needing twice the power price to be an economic proposition!

"These ABWRs do not seem to be very cheap to build either. Currently three are under construction (according to 'wikipedia'); two in Japan, and one in China. The plant being built in China has been under construction since 1997, admittedly delayed by political controversy at times, but still an eye-wateringly long period. The reactor cost seems high even though interest charges will not, I guess, have been factored in, which will be a real killer for any nuclear project that has to be financed through the UK's proposed low carbon mechanism. So far no ABWR projects are being built in the west, with the reactor for one project initially planned in South Texas being cancelled last year. The costs had spiralled to a reported $14 billion for 1358 MW (wikipedia), a cost that compares broadly speaking, MW for MW, with the costs quoted for building Hinkley C.

"It is strange but I have not seen any of this reality about high reported construction costs, experience of delay, and uninspiring capacity factors appear in the press coverage so far. But these facts, as opposed to the press release fantasy, mean that discussions of what 'strike' price the UK Government might offer to achieve standard commercial rates of return seem irrelevant. The figures just go off the chart. Only government underwriting with a very blank cheque seems likely to ensure that these projects go ahead........and somehow getting the project passed EU state-aid rules, which is another perhaps not-so-minor issue.

"Again the question arises, why not instead invest in renewables and energy efficiency which have much more certain outcomes and cheaper costs?

Click read more to see the rest of this article

18 Sep 2015

Write your own news

This week has once again demonstrated how much of an agenda there is in the media. Only a matter of days in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the press has stepped up the misinformation that it was forking out during the leadership campaign. This was identified by another article on this blog on 16th September.

We need to make a change in how we consume the news and current affairs and we need to write our own news.

Another Angry Voice - click image for link to article

What’s good about this week’s spin?

In some ways I think the spin this week has been useful because normally the slant of the right wing media is hard to identify. Thomas G Clark has dedicated a whole section of his phenomenal blog ‘Another Angry Voice’ to Political Myth Busting. AAV digs directly at the myths that are pedalled out by the right wing media. There are lies in there that many of us just take for granted as true which are skillfully dissected, for example;

·         The “maxed out national credit card” fallacy; through which we have all been made to think, incorrectly, of the national economy like a household budget
·         The spending cuts vs tax increases false dichotomy; in which we are told that the only two options available are to either have cuts in spending or rises in taxes
·         The unpatriotic left fallacy; as it says, it is something we have seen directed at Corbyn and his new Shadow Chancellor this week

So this week it has been refreshing if only in the sense that the spin and propaganda has been so obvious. Even Tory supporters, maybe even Mr Cameron himself, must have cringed at the anti-Corbyn video that the Tory press office put out at the beginning of the week. This video, if you didn’t catch it before it was taken down for copyright infringement, heavily edited to be made grainy, black and white with eerie music, stated that the new Labour leader was a threat to national security and had referred to Osama Bin Laden’s death as a tragedy.

Only it is not quite what he said.

I agree completely with Corbyn, and I think most people would ; that Bin Laden’s death actually was a tragedy. I remember TV footage of Americans celebrating in the street because Bin Laden had been assassinated and felt very uneasy. Cheering in the street about anyone’s death can’t be right. Although we might feel that revenge is sweet and certainly many of us wanted Bin Laden to pay for what he had done; should you have a death sentence without a trial? Dispense with public accountability? This is why we have established the systems we have in society; it is part of why we are proud to be British. You can’t just kill people; you can’t do to someone the act that you have condemned them for.

It is glaringly obvious that the media is swamped by right-wing bias. We have begun to ask “hang on a minute, whilst I look at this grainy horror spin-off rubbish, what am I missing?”

Well whilst we were listening to the various reports about how Corbyn had “snubbed the Queen” by not singing the national anthem, we were not paying attention as the government voted through £4.4bn in cuts to tax credits; a loss of around £1,300 to the poorest, working families even after any other measures like an increase in minimum wage.

What a kick to working people in Britain. Hang on! Didn’t the Tories say that Labour were now a threat to working people? That’s weird.

Write your own news!

It has been clear for some time that we need to find alternative sources of news, or at the very least, multiple sources of the news. But also, we need to create and participate in our own news.

This blog is not about supporting Jeremy Corbyn, but I wanted to use his treatment this week, which is the same that Green Party suffers often when it is thrown in to the media’s eye, to highlight the point. Also, Corbyn’s success highlights the importance of social media which Corbyn’s campaign team used to their enormous advantage creating an alternative narrative to the one put out by the mainstream press of the “radical left wing rebel”. For Corbyn’s team, social media and online campaigns got out the message that they wanted to get out. This is much like the success we saw with the #GreenSurge .

So take to facebook, litter your friends newsfeeds with things you care about, ‘hashtag’ the crap out of everything you hold dear on twitter, comment on and challenge ridiculous propaganda posts, write a blog, step out on a protest march, attend a Calais refugee coffee morning, change someone’s mind over the water cooler at work, read different newspapers.

What follows is not non-bias news or blog; it is simply what I would call an alternative to the mainstream narrative. But given that none of the following are bankrolled by billionaires who also happen to be mates with the Tory Prime Minister, they certainly feel more authentic. Try some of these and please suggest your own in the comments section;

Stroud Against the Cuts http://stroudagainstcuts.co.uk/
Molly Scott Cato MEP http://mollymep.org.uk/
Community R4C (alternative to the incinerator at Javelin Park, Gloucestershire) http://communityr4c.com/

16 Sep 2015

Verbal Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn

The last blog I wrote was entitled 'The Power of Words' and Jeremy Corbyn is definitely feeling the full force of a verbal attack from the right wing tories & their press and tory-lite Labour MPs as he is an anti-establishment figure.

Even before he has had the chance to do anything he is being lambasted from all sides.  Half way through his shadow cabinet appointments, he was slated for not giving women the top jobs although by the end of all the appointments there were 16 women in his shadow cabinet - a record.

The Tories have started saying that Corbyn represents a threat to this country:
our national security, our economic security and your family's security. They seem to think (unfortunately correctly) that by saying things like this enough times it will become 'the truth' and people will believe them.

For some reason I am on the Tory emailing list and I am being exhorted to donate to the Tory party now to help combat the threat that Corbyn poses - I can quickly donate £20, £50, £100 or another amount, presumably not so quickly. Why would donating to the Tory party help the UK?  Surely donating would just enrich Tory coffers so that they can afford more despicable advertising. In the email they attribute quotes to Corbyn and give references, but when you click on the screen it takes you to the Tory Party donation page so that it is not easy to check the context of the quotes to find out their real meaning.

Today in the press and elsewhere, Corbyn is being vilified for not singing the national anthem.  But he believes in the abolition of the monarchy and stands by what he believes.  He is not a fair weather politician like Cameron who changes position to keep in with whatever is flavour of the month. Corbyn was at the Battle of Britain Memorial Service to show his respect for all those who gave their lives for their country.

As a balance to the first image, here is a picture circulating on FaceBook:
Let us give Corbyn time before judging his leadership of the Labour Party.

5 Sep 2015

Goodbye Āloka, our teacher; what Buddhism can teach us about the world we have

Goodbye Āloka, our teacher; what Buddhism can teach us about the world we have

I have not been able to write much recently. I have been caught in the busy trappings of life; working, renovating a kitchen and spending time with my family over the summer. So it seemed apt to me to take some time to stop and reflect on the death of a very important person and Buddhist teacher; Āloka David Smith.

Āloka David Smith 1946 - 2015

Āloka David Smith attained awareness in 1981 and went on to found  and lead the Dharmamind Buddhist group. It is through a Dharmamind group in Nailsworth, Stroud, that I came in to contact with Āloka and his teaching; I feel that I owe him a great debt for his teachings. Āloka’s teaching focused on practicing Buddhism ‘in the body’ and reintegrating the body and mind. Āloka advocated a practice that was simple, yet so difficult, in it’s method of ‘just sitting in open awareness’ (with no breathing techniques etc in meditation) and achieving a connection with your true awareness, or Buddha nature, through a process called ‘silent illumination’.

Although I am an atheist, I would also describe myself as a Buddhist and Buddhism is very important in shaping my thoughts about how we should approach the world and how/why to ‘be green’.

I could get in to a long complex debate about how you can be a ‘Buddhist Atheist’ but this isn’t really the space to do that. It is simpler for me to say that most importantly Buddhism is about ‘being in the here and now’ and it does not matter if there is a god or not. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. In this context though, what really matters is that you spend your time in the present moment wherever you can. I see Buddhism as being very practical and worldly, whilst at the same time giving a greater sense of interconnectivity with all living things. This interconnectivity, the combination of all things, far outweighs our own significance… some sort of essence that in order to encapsulate it in a word, you might call it ‘God’!

A very brief  and very simple breakdown of Buddhism

Buddhism has been about for over 2,600 years and has since its inception purportedly delivered thousands of individuals in to state of peace and wellbeing. The story goes that Siddhartha Gautama, once a wealthy prince, found that he was always unhappy and unsatisfied no matter what he did. Siddhartha Gautama, giving up his unsatisfying worldly riches, went forth to try all manner of different religions and methods to overcome his dissatisfaction.

Eventually Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment whilst sat meditating under a Bodhi tree and became ‘a Buddha’. Notice he became ‘a Buddha’ not ‘the Buddha’. There are many ‘Buddha’s’ and the term means ‘someone who is perfectly enlightened’ or ‘at peace’ could be another way of saying it. The Buddha then, is not a god, he is more like a symbol of what is possible; a reminder to be ‘in the moment’ and to follow the example set in the story.

 More recently the same ideas have become incredibly popular, but without the Buddhist trappings, in the form of ‘Mindfulness’. To be mindful is to be in the present moment and it’s most basic level if you are ‘in the present moment’ you can’t be worrying about the future or the past. For this reason, practicing Mindfulness is seen as a great way of improving mental health by combating the causes of depression and anxiety for example.

 A central part of the teachings of Buddhism and the skill of mindfulness is the practice of meditation. Meditation essentially means being in the moment and often people will try to firm up this skill by ‘sitting’ in meditation and focusing on the present moment; normally by focusing on breathing or by saying some kind of prayer (mantra) in their heads. The latest research in neuroscience is now demonstrating the importance of meditation for mental wellbeing.

Celebrating the life of Āloka David Smith

                                                “All momentum lost,
                                                I’ve run aground,
                                                I’ve come to rest,
                                                At last I have come home

A few weeks ago on 13th August 2015 I travelled with my good friend Rob up to Birmingham to attend the funeral of Āloka David Smith. In 2012 Rob and I had arrived late to the ‘Dharmamind’ Buddhist group which Āloka founded in 2007, but the group struck a chord with the both of us at a time when I think we were both looking for answers.  At that time, when we were beginning to hear Āloka’s teachings for the first time, it didn’t seem to matter that we had come to the group 5 years after it’s founding; Āloka wasn’t going anywhere we thought.

Death is an important teacher in Buddhism; it reminds us of impermanence. Impermanence, Āloka explained in his teachings, is an impersonal law and if we could fully embrace the truth of this law we would see that all things are in a constant state of change. It is because we fail to understand what impermanence is that we grasp at things, experiences, people, possessions, money. If we faced the truth that these things go in to change we wouldn’t grasp at them and as a result we wouldn’t experience ‘suffering’ (dukkha, to use the Buddhist term).

Understanding ‘suffering’ brings us to the most basic formulation of the teachings of Buddha; ‘The Four Noble Truths’

  1. 1.       All life is suffering, a struggle in which we cannot find happiness
  2. 2.       The cause of suffering is craving or attachment. (To put it another way; it is failing to see that all things are impermanent)
  3. 3.       The cessation of suffering comes with the cessation of craving and grasping
  4. 4.       There is a way out of suffering, a path that every individual can take responsibility for.

The path, as Buddhists would see it, is the path that the Buddha took. But really if Buddha isn’t your thing I would think you could simplify it by saying ‘be nice to all people and all things and the way to do that starts with spending time in the present moment’.

It was this path that Āloka was so skilled at teaching. Not just because of the incredible personal journey he had taken, not simply because he was a very skilled meditator, not just because he was very wise and thoughtful. But because Āloka was normal! He could be grumpy and particular, he could have a joke and be a lot of fun and he could convey a simple and profound teaching by using normal every day words.

Āloka died on 31st July 2015, on the blue moon, on a day known in South East Asia as ‘Guru Purnima’ or ‘Teachers Day’. On the Dharmamind facebook page, his group (Sangha) and friends, left this message;

                                    “Dear Facebook Sangha,
Yesterday (July 31st) at 17.25 our teacher, Aloka David Smith, passed away. I expected that when it came time to send this message, that I would be full of sadness. But the manner of his passing was so gentle we almost didn't notice it had happened. A slow quieting of breath over a ten minute period, then no more movement. It was a teaching for us all about how to enter stillness. So it did not feel sad.
There is no doubt he was in full awareness of what was happening to him. In this regard he got his final wish - to die in full awareness following 40 years of practice, and to fearlessly be present to the dying process. Even death was time for practice for Aloka, and this was his final teaching to us, and one of the most powerful. Aloka - "light". Please bear him in mind in your meditations and pujas over the coming days.”

‘Even death was time to practice for Āloka’. This should not be taken as something strict and severe. On the contrary, in Buddhism to be in awareness, fully committed to the practice, is to be in peace and not suffering. 

How frequently do you come to the end of the day and struggle to remember how it has passed? How often do you find yourself bored, trying to distract yourself in some form or another, maybe through reading (or writing!) or watching TV? How difficult do you find it to be still, to be alone with yourself? Even for only a few minutes? Try it now.

How much time do you spend truly living? Truly alive and in the moment? Awake to all that is happening?

Āloka’s funeral was a celebration of his life and teachings. Āloka had written a letter which was read out so that he could address us all from beyond the grave. He had planned his funeral and the readings that would be given. Having embraced death fully aware of what he was facing, Āloka committed himself to making it a continuation of his teachings and making it an important lesson to us all.

If we want to be able to face death as Āloka did we need to live in the ‘here and now’. We need to have full commitment to being alive and having compassion. It is not easy to achieve and Āloka demonstrated again and again that it requires full engagement in the face of frequent ‘failure’. But so long as you are committed and trying, you cannot fail.

When I think of all the things that are happening in the world at the moment I only wish that I could have brought some of our world leaders along to Āloka’s funeral. If I could have sat them beside me and asked them to think about what is truly important in life. To consider how we are all so interconnected. We do not live in isolation. That we will all die, that all things go in to change, and that life is transient.

If we could get some of our world leaders to consider these teachings would we have massive consumption of finite natural resources that damages the planet? If presidents and prime ministers considered these things would they worry about amassing wealth and power for themselves? Would a little boy have washed up on the beach?

When you realise the true nature of awareness, the true experience of life, the concern for all of the other trappings fall away and you become committed to all other life; realising that we are all one.
In his book ‘The World We Have; A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology’ The beautiful Zen master Thich Nhat Hann wrote;

It’s wonderful to realise that we are all in a family, we are all children of the Earth. We should take care of each other and we should take care of our environment, and this is possible with the practice of being together as a large family. A positive change in individual awareness will bring about a positive change in the collective awareness. Protecting the planet must be given the first priority. I hope you will take the time to sit down with each other, have tea with your friends and your family, and discuss these things. [ ] Then make your decision and act to save our beautiful planet. Changing your way of living will bring you a lot of joy right away and, with your first mindful breath, healing will begin

Goodbye Āloka David Smith. Thank you for your commitment, your example. Thank you for the Dharma.

Sentient beings are as limitless as the whole of space.
                May they each effortlessly realise the nature of their mind
                And may every single being in all the six realms,
                Attain all together the Ground of Primordial Perfection.
                By the merit I have gathered from all acts of virtue done in the this way,
                May all the sufferings  of every being disappear.


You can visit the Dharmamind website, where you can purchase books by Āloka David Smith and find out about the regular meetings around the UK and the monthly day retreat in Birmingham http://dharmamind.net/

3 Sep 2015

The Power of Words

When is a refugee a migrant inviting the scorn of the tabloid press?

When is someone out of work through no fault of their own a benefit scrounger?

When is a downright lie unacceptable but OK as an announcement from a government minister?

The Age of 1984 is truly upon us.

At long last some of the press is starting to call those fleeing the horrors of Syria and other war-torn countries refugees although David Cameron is still refusing to show them compassion. Councils across the country are coming together to say they want to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Today a picture of a young Syrian boy who drowned has been trending on social media and the public seem to be waking up to the humanitarian disaster on our doorstep.

But other economic migrants are still slated in the tabloids for wanting to better their circumstances, criticised for showing the aspiration that the tories value so highly.

Yet with climate change there will be mass migration as people are forced to move from areas which will no longer support agriculture or are disappearing below rising sea levels. We need to plan for this now.

Stroud Green Party had a really productive meeting about immigration recently and produced a useful document giving the Green Party's view on the subject. 

24 Aug 2015

TTIP - the nightmare being secretly negogiated

There have already been a few blogs on this site about TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).  The Establishment Media, however, remain relatively quiet on the issue as do the politicians, officials and business people negotiating on the issue.

The War On Want definition is a good one:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA. As officials from both sides acknowledge, the main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. 
Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

Trade agreements are hard to get your head around and see how they could impact on you.  It is therefore good to have a few concrete examples.

According to sumofus.org the agreement would mean 'Europe would increase US fossil fuel imports - resulting in more fracking in the US, an increased reliance on fossil fuels in the EU and more climate emissions across the board.'

TTIP would allow fossil fuel companies to sue governments for trying to tackle climate change. Similar rules in other trade deals have allowed Swedish energy company Vattenfall to sue Germany for phasing out nuclear power and replacing it with renewables. In a secret court, the company is demanding a whopping 4.7 billion Euros in compensation.

I have just signed a 38 Degrees petition against TTIP with a view to helping bees. TTIP is great news for Syngenta and the big pesticide companies. But awful news for our bees and the vegetables, flowers and hedgerows they pollinate. At the moment the EU has banned bee-killing pesticides, but under TTIP the pesticide companies could sue Europe for banning their environmentally deadly products.

The EU has already made worrying concessions to the US to facilitate the TTIP deal by dropping plans to regulate hormone-damaging chemicals linked to cancer and male infertility.

Our Green MEP, Molly Scott Cato and other Green MEP's are fighting hard against TTIP.  Molly supported the Day of Action against TTIP on 22nd August.

If the above does not get you angry see this article in the Independent suitably entitled-
'If you're not already terrified about the potential human cost of TTIP, these examples will do it.'

18 Aug 2015

The Milk Conundrum

Milk is featuring a lot in the press at the moment as hard-pressed small dairy farmers battle large supermarkets who have not been paying them even the cost of producing milk, let alone enabling them to make money to live on.

I have sympathy with small dairy farmers and would hate to see them all sell up leaving only large dairy herds in inhumane crowded factory farms with zero-grazing.

The problems with milk production, however, go beyond small farmers versus the supermarkets.

  • Animal Welfare: These days dairy cows are forced to produce much more milk than they would naturally and in the end their hips and hind legs breakdown because of all the extra weight they carry and they are killed for their meat and byproducts. The heart-breaking separation of mother and calf also needs to be taken into account.
  • Health: There is also the tremendous use of antibiotics to tackle the mastitis these cows are prone to which would increase if small farmers go out of business and larger herds crammed together indoors become the norm. This week there is much in the press lambasting GPs about subscribing too many anti-biotics as the bacterial resistance to them is increasing. There is also over-use in animal husbandry.
  • Climate Change: Cows produce enormous amounts of methane - a climate-warming gas and if there were fewer it would help reduce the threat of irrevocable climate change. There are currently 250 million cows worldwide.
  • Trade: A glut of milk world-wide is contributing to the problem and the Russian boycotting of our product. But should milk and cheese, of which we import a lot, really be traded between countries? The Green Party believes that eating local produce locally is the best way for a sustainable environment, keeping food miles to the minimum.  The produce would also be fresher and taste better.
  • Alternatives: There are alternatives to milk that are produced from soya, coconut, almonds and other crops. If less dairy milk was drunk then much pastureland would be freed up for other crops which feed people more efficiently.  Of course you do need to make sure that soya etc is farmed sustainably and not from areas which were previously rainforest as in South America and that pesticides are not over-used.
Here is Molly Scott Cato's (Green MEP for the South West) view of the problem.

I am a vegetarian not a vegan. I normally use soya milk, but do buy the odd pint of milk and eat cheese. I like to see cows in fields as part of the British landscape.

My solution: I would like to see small organic dairy farms who sell their produce locally for a fair price. Milk would be drunk alongside alternatives.  I think this solution would also benefit badgers as the incidence of TB would decrease and they would no longer be targetted as scapegoat by this government contrary to all the evidence.

More information on dairy cows from Compassion in World Farming. 

14 Aug 2015

Folk music keeps the art of Protest Songs alive

I love folk festivals.  We have just been to 2 in quick succession - The Village Pump in Westbury, Wiltshire and Wickham in Hampshire. We had an amazing time and it was great to be surrounded by like-minded people, by which I mean music-loving, real ale drinking socialists.

It was refreshing to hear lots of caring songs about the environment and social justice. In just one weekend we heard the aging, but still campaigning Roy Bailey sing a song of Welcome to migrants trying to escape horrendous conditions in their home countries. A band called 71 Chain sang the Sea Shepherd song (approved by the charity) about saving whales and the oceans from our predation. Billy Bragg, a huge supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, got roars of encouragement for his comments for social justice.

Tom Robinson received tremendous applause for his rendition of 'Glad to be Gay'. He also railed against the legal aid changes which the government has snuck in. Also, did you know that if you want to plead guilty you have to pay £150 for court costs, if pleading innocent you need to pay up to £1200 regardless of income if convicted.  This has implications for protestors. See this article for more details.

It was a great experience to be able to sing along enthusiatically to Show of Hands' song about bankers - the chorus, 'your arrogance, your ignorance, and greed'.

The real ale was from local Hampshire breweries Bowman Ales, Itchen Valley and the Dancing Man Brewery. For £1 you got a pint mug for the duration of the festival (you could swap it for a clean one whenever you liked). Supplied by www.green-goblet.com - refill not landfill being their slogan!

10 Aug 2015

The great distractions; Corbyn, the Left or Right debate and the anti-capitalist question

Corbynmania has struck the country and it has certainly pierced hard in to the conscious of all groups on the political left. The prospect of having a leader of the Labour Party with apparently true socialist ideals is very interesting and exciting.

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour leader makes a striding and refreshing change to mainstream politics. With his anti-austerity focus, calls for nuclear disarmament and commentary on peace, among other things, Corbyn seems almost so good he could be Green Party!

From what I can see, the excitement around Corbyn has sown confusion in to the ranks of the Green Party and other non-right wing parties. After years of it being abundantly clear that Labour are no longer left wing, socialist or a party for working people there appears to be a chance to restore the Labour Party to what it once was.

In a previous piece I wrote about ‘progressives must work together’ and this is something I still believe to be true. I think all parties and political groups that want to see real change in the very limited democratic system that we have need to find common ground and make a true opposition to the awful Tory government. I would much rather see Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party than any of the other candidates and would be far happier with Corbyn as Prime Minister than Cameron.
But I for one will not be rushing out joining Labour and paying £3 in the hope that I can help Corbyn to victory.

As good as Corbyn may seem now, he is not green; Corbyn is not a member of the Green Party. Instead Corbyn has remained glued to party that has been increasingly centre-right and playing catch-up with the Tories. Labour, like the Tories, have a very poor record when it comes to the environment. This I believe is precisely because the Labour Party are not green; they are not informed from an ecological perspective.

I don’t want to discourage anyone who feels galvanised by the Corbyn sensation and it is a great thing that the prevalent discourse that the ‘country is apathetic towards politics’ is being challenged. Of course it has been challenged for a long time by a lot of quarters but in our very limited democracy the media is only really interested in a couple of players.

So if you feel inspired by Corbyn to take any kind of political action get out there and do it! And damn well good for you.

Left wing, right wing and anti-capitalism

There have been other debates floating around within in green circles that I would like to take a quit look at. The first of those is the debate about whether or not the Green Party is ‘left wing’.

To be ‘green’ is to put the environment first. As well as being a practical political option, the concept of being ‘green’ also means to share in a philosophy.

While the Labour Party have been drifting up the political stream, so that they are sailing very comfortably just behind the Conservative Party, there are questions among greens about whether we can take up Labour’s space in the race. Unfortunately, everyone participating in that particular race is heading in the same direction. It is an end goal where the environment will never be the first consideration; a destination in which the environment will only be considered if it does not distract from the endless march of business and industry.

This is simply not an option that can coincide with a green philosophy.

The domination of the ‘left wing vs right wing’ in political commentary has created a false dichotomy. That there is only left or right to choose from. It would be silly to say that greens do not share common ground with the left and that they would not often be allies with the left over the right.

For a long time I believed  that I was left wing and anti-capitalist. Nothing on the right has ever attracted me. I searched for an answer from the examples of left wing societies that we have seen come in to being but found for me that there was no answer there. Communist and socialist regimes that we have seen have been tyrannical, oppressive, dictatorial, grey and unrelentingly industrial.

Both left and right as we know them have been contained within ‘industrialism’; it’s devouring of resources and it’s constant expansion and growth.  As Jonathon Poritt explained in his book ‘Seeing Green’ “industrialism and sustainability are mutually exclusive”. Simply you cannot be involved in the constant expansion of industry and be sustainable at the same time. Porritt explained;

“Socialisation of the means of production makes little difference; what are vices under capitalism do not become virtues under communism. A filthy smokestack is still a filthy smoke stack whether or not it is owned by the state or by a private corporation”

This would lead many greens to say that ‘capitalism’ is the problem. That capitalism and the consumer culture are driving this swallowing up of finite resources. That capitalist societies will never put the needs o the environment first. Capitalism is the problem and so we should be anti-capitalist.

But I think this is too simplistic.

What does ‘capitalism’ mean?

an economic, political, and social system in which property,business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organisations and people”

Cambridge Dictionary

The above definition does not include what most anti-capitalists despise about the capitalism that we have. I think for most anti-capitalists our capitalism would actually be defined like this;

Capitalism (as we know it) ; an economic, political, and social system in which property,business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organisations and people, where profits are put first at the expense of society, it’s people and without recognition of the undeniable truth that all wealth is ultimately drawn from the finite resources of the planet.

Perhaps the elite that are responsible for the Cambridge Dictionary have their own reason for not carrying my extended definition of capitalism, but either way it is not in there.

But if you think about it we all know that capitalism can fit the Cambridge definition and does not have to fall in to my extended definition; we can think about our own local situation and consider the Stroud famer’s market. Here is capitalism in full swing as local organisations and people benefit from directing the greatest possible profits for their wares from our pockets. We love our Stroud farmer’s market; the smells, the interesting items, the warm characters. What a pleasure.

The important thing here is that, to my knowledge, the local businesses that operate from the Stroud farmer’s market are not generating their profits at anyone else’s, or the environment’s, expense.

We can be green

We need to put to one side the discussions of being anti-capitalist, left wing or right wing; we can be altogether different. We can be green. To be green is to put the environment first because there is no other option; all other things that might be important to you depend on this planet we call home.

There is another incredibly important reason to put down the argument of left vs right and anti-capitalism; because most people don’t care. Greens have had a difficult time reaching out to the type of people who live on the council estate where I grew up. All of this academic debate about ideology ultimately gets nowhere when you are facing the practicalities of everyday living on the breadline. This is where the ideology of the right dangerously dominates with ease because the lies are well spread if not actually made material; the wealth of the richest will trickle down, we need a strong economy, watch out for those migrants they are taking your job, that sick person isn’t working as hard as you are, we need to free up trade (and step on your rights)…

We greens need talk of the real things that greens strive for in power and how our policies make a real difference to people’s lives.

  • ·         Creating a fair economy; ending austerity, restoring the public sector, paying a real living wage, a Robin Hood tax on banks and increasing the minimum wage to £10ph by 2020
  • ·         A public NHS; Fighting  for a publicly funded, publicly provided health service free at the point of use. Ending the creeping privatisation of the NHS and repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Making mental health a much higher priority with resources to match this
  • ·         Affordable energy and a safe climate; Taking urgent action on climate change and working with other countries to hold the increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees. Banning fracking, phase out coal power stations and say no to new nuclear. Investing in a public programme of renewable generation, flood defences and building insulation.
  • ·         Free education; Scrapping university tuition fees, reversing cuts and investing in further education. Promote a comprehensive system of local schools offering mixed ability teaching staffed by qualified teachers. Bring Academies and Free Schools into the Local Authority system.
  • ·         Decent homes; Abolishing the cruel and unfair bedroom tax. Provide 500,000 social rented homes by 2020 and bring empty homes back into use to ensure everyone has access to an affordable place to live. Cap rent, introduce longer tenancies and licence landlords to provide greater protection for renters.

·         Better transport; Returning the railways to public hands, saving money and improving services. Introduce an immediate cut in fares of 10% to give passengers a much-needed financial break. Promote walking and cycling to help reduce pollution and improve people’s health.

Taken from the Green Party England and Wales 2015 mini manifesto

Not left. Not right. Just busy being green and ignoring these great distractions.