Category: <span>Blog</span>

Is Dominic Cummings anti-democratic? That’s the charge many level at him as he tells his tall tales of Westminster intrigue. But I think they miss the point. Cummings’ stories aren’t really about how our political leaders are elected, so much as how they are selected. It’s fun and scary to imagine Cummings and his dozen-or-so co-conspirators darkly manipulating British democracy. A uniquely malign and undemocratic influence on our body politic. Getting Boris Johnson – a person he believes is unfit for high office – into Number 10, pulling a con on the nation. But Johnson was elected as the leader of the Conservative Party (and become Prime Minister) after a ballot of 139,318 party members, from a shortlist of two whittled down by 313 Conservative MPs. Johnson was re-elected Prime Minister when 32 million voters turned out in December 2019 and elected a huge majority of Conservative MPs. He was…

In his classic 1918 lecture, Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber described politics as “a strong and slow boring of hard boards”. He was counselling students of Munich University on how to achieve change, speaking in the aftermath of the First World War, and with the rise of reactionary and venal politics across Europe and the United States. Faced with such perilous times, he continued: “Certainly, all historical experience confirms the truth that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a person must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now,…

I’m going to take a silver lining from the commotion that the small pilot Low Traffic Neighbourhood in Crystal Palace has caused – namely that a lot of people are now talking about traffic levels and air pollution. One of the two campaigners trying to remove the LTN measures has said their second aim, after removing those measures, is to improve local air quality. Assuming all the interest is genuine, I’ve written this blog to set out some facts about traffic and pollution and some options to try to address the longstanding problems blighting Crystal Palace. By the way, the pictures above were taken in 2014, when I last wrote about traffic in the area. Congestion and pollution is nothing new, here! Traffic in Crystal Palace Let’s zoom in from the national to the local, to understand this properly. Road traffic in Great Britain increased from 255 billion miles travelled…

This question is one I have been asking myself in recent weeks. How do I – as a white person who enjoys various kinds of privilege – respond to the challenges the Black Lives Matter posts? After weeks (or years) of listening and reading, I’m now going to try to write something that picks up some aspects that worry me, and some challenges I’ve set for myself.

Writing a garden diary each month gives me a rhythm and frame. But sometimes plants unfold and live in quite different timescales.

Gardening in the time of Coronavirus: watching changes in minute detail. As spring arrived the garden leapt into life, I cleared away last year’s dead growth, and moved to home working.

This month felt little more than a horticultural interregnum. A pause. As though the garden froze in January, awaiting a spring thaw in March.

In the mid noughties I lived for two stretches in St Albans, a commuter city nestled in the Hertfordshire green belt. The first time I lived and worked in the town centre, after leaving school. Some years later I lived there again, commuting into a job in London. It’s just 18 minutes from central London by train. Each year there are 7.5 million entries and exits through the station gates. It’s a fantastic place for commuters to live, if you can afford the exorbitant prices. It’s also a very easy place to live without a car if you are happy to walk and cycle about town. Yet nine in ten residents owns a car, half drive to work, and almost 7 in 10 trips are taken by car overall. Train journeys account for 7.5% of overall trips, just over a tenth the number made by car. The city is growing,…

Inspired by Rebecca Willis’ research, and some of the Extinction Rebellion actions I joined, I decided over Christmas to try to engage my local MP on the climate crisis. One of Willis’ findings was that, because MPs rarely hear from their constituents about the climate crisis, they don’t feel much pressure to prioritise it. So in the lull after Boxing Day I wrote to Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North. After he replied, I asked to meet him at his surgery to talk to him about this in person. What follows is my (long!) letter, what happened when I met with him, and some thoughts on what I might do next, with a plea for suggestions. My letter took me a while to write. I didn’t want to just rehearse the standard arguments, and I knew that he – in theory at least – acknowledges the issues. So I decided…