11 May 2015
Jeremy Irons says 'Gird your Loins, Mobilise, Be Naughty'
A lively discussion followed the celebrity screening of Jeremy Irons' documentary "Trashed" at the Vue cinema in Stroud last week. The film focuses on how we deal with waste in our culture, the extent to which this pollutes both locally and globally, and why landfill and incineration do not solve the problem but compound it.
Locally based barrister and earth lawyer Polly Higgins (top left in the picture) hosted a highly interactive Q&A session with Jeremy Irons, internationally acclaimed actor and star of the film, and Sue Oppenheimer (in the stripy top in the picture), who for the last few years has headed up the local campaign against the proposed Javelin Park incinerator (see more at GlosVAIN).
Among the issues highlighted were the failure of democracy which is clearly shown by the ability of one government minister (Eric Pickles) to overturn a lengthy local democratic planning process which had culminated in the incinerator's unanimous planning refusal in 2013.
Jeremy Irons was sympathetic to how exhausting it has been working in the face of the extraordinary lack of transparency around the Javelin Park contract, and urged the audience to "re-gird your loins... look for the cracks... and embarrass people" . When following rules and procedures does not give room to acknowledge the real dangers, it is up to all of us, as Polly Higgins emphasized, to "shine a light on the duty of care" that those in public office have, "a duty to first, do no harm".
Stroud MP candidates and Gloucestershire County Councillors were all sent personal letters and emails offering free tickets to the screening on the grounds that it would usefully inform their duty to the public interest. However, while it was encouraging that the MP candidates all attended or sent proxies (with the exception of Neil Carmichael), only 3 County Councillors took up this offer (Sarah Lunnon, Steve Lydon, Brian Oosthuysen). 5 more politely declined (Colin Guyton, Paul Hodgkinson, Paul McMahon, David Prince, Suzanne Williams) on grounds of previous knowledge of the film or prior engagement. But a shocking 45 councillors did not even respond, including the Councillor in whose ward the incinerator is planned (Tony Blackburn) and the Leader of the Council (Mark Hawthorne).
While some Councillors are personally opposed to the Javelin Park project, it is an astonishingly poor show of interest in such a major local issue in the run-up to a general election, when a 30-second phone call or a 1-line email could easily have been made.
As Councillor Steve Lydon (Labour) said - "This is not over yet." Green Councillor and MP candidate Sarah Lunnon (just behind Jeremy in the picture) highlighted the very real possibilities for dealing far better with our recycling in such a way as to make incineration completely redundant and inappropriate (even were it safe, which the film made clear is very far from the case).
Jojo Mehta of Toxin Free Network (far left in the picture), organising the event, said: "The evening was both entertaining and deadly serious. In particular it was heartening to have discussion on re-framing the issue in a way that actually gives the people a voice. Ultimately, no matter what is decided in the corridors of power, the social licence rests with us, with the people. Please go to www.toxinfreecommunity.org to see how we can all have a say in what affects us and our families and communities."
She and Lizzie Fletcher of 38 Degrees Stroud would like to thank all those who made the evening possible, from Sue, Lynsey and all the Vue cinema staff to local chef and cafe proprietor Nic Allan who served an exquisite supper to Jeremy and guests at Star Anise (see pic), to Amy Perry whose Tetbury antique shop provided the lovely retro 50s chairs for the discussion, and of course to Polly Higgins for hosting, to the brave Sue Oppenheimer who joined the panel at the last minute on the personal invitation of Jeremy Irons, and to Jeremy himself. "I'm an actor, not an activist", he said. "I'm just a trumpet. It's all of you who can take this forward. Gird your loins, mobilise... be naughty!" Now there's an invitation.