Category: Blog

Being a Green, I’m not following Labour’s hustings for their Mayor of London candidate too closely. But being a realistic left-of-centre Green, I’m hoping that either Ken or Oona get elected into City Hall in 2012. Oona King hasn’t impressed me much so far. Her candidacy seems very light on detail, her policy pronouncements full of nice language but no specifics. As Martin Hoscik writes, Ken Livingstone is simply rehearsing his 2008 manifesto, with a few innovations (such as borrowing affordable housing money on the bond market) that are basically unfolding behind the scenes in City Hall already. But on the BBC Politics Show on Sunday, King did get one impressive point in. Livingstone is basically gearing up for a re-run of the 1980s, when he battled with Thatcher from the GLC. He wants to fight, fight, fight every cut (transcript here). But as King pointed out, once the Mayor…

According to my profile, today marks my fifth anniversary of OpenStreetMapping. When my friend Robert introduced me to this useless web site I wasn’t too excited. It only really showed about half of the British motorway network if you waited long enough for the very basic map to load, and editing, well, that took a lot of patience. But curiosity and Rob’s enthusiasm got me hooked, and in August 2008 I organised my first mapping party. Here is a blast from the past showing us adding in the first coverage of Reading, England: What followed were five years interspersed with many pleasant hours mapping parts of Reading and the surrounding countryside, St Albans, Criccieth, south east London, Hackbridge, Shrewsbury, Dumfries & Galloway and countless little excursions for walks. As a keen cyclist, I particularly enjoyed entering some of the first London data to create a really useful web map for…

The self-appointed TaxPayers’ Alliance have published a shoddy demolition of The Spirit Level, which kicks off by claiming that “the best way of getting rich is by satisfying or anticipating the wants of other people”. Apparently they are ignorant of advertising (shaping and creating the wants of other people), which is projected to reach £531bn globally by next year. That’s roughly the same amount that the UK Government brings home in tax revenue. Or to take a specific example, research from 2008 suggested that American drugs companies spend roughly twice as much on advertising as they do on research – getting rich by promoting cash-cow drugs instead of researching much-needed medicines. Apparently they missed the collapse of the global financial system in the past few years, which was triggered by companies getting rich through risky trading practices far distanced from the wants of people outside the financial services sector. Those…

Following past discussions with staff at Southwark Council and the Greater London Authority, I helped organise a technical  workshop in City Hall this weekend. We brought some key OpenStreetMap geeks together with some keen potential early adopters from the GLA, Southwark and Brent to talk open maps and hack on data & tools. Harry Wood will post a useful rundown of some of the stuff people hacked on over the two days. The only practical thing I did was to work with Rob Scott (OSM) and Scott Day (Southwark Council) to try and extract buildings from the open Ordnance Survey maps so we could merge them into OpenStreetMap without having to manually trace every single one (yawn). For the nerds, I’ve written up our initial results on the wiki. Talking with Scott, it was clear that Southwark probably have a lot of data we could benefit from, and that they…

February feels a distant memory. Back then, the Conservative Party released a report called Labour’s Two Nations, attacking Labour’s 13 year record on inequality. Britain had become (they suggested) a society of low taxation on the rich and high marginal rates on the poor; under Labour, risky personal lending inflating a housing fantasy replaced prudent saving and improving housing affordability. So do the Conservatives now care deeply about inequality? Darren Johnson put the London Assembly Conservatives to the test this week, proposing that the Mayor of London implement Cameron’s policy of a maximum 20:1 pay ratio in the Greater London Authority group. Here’s the response of the Conservatives: In case you’re fooled into thinking that Darren and the Greens are ignoring the low paid, read Darren’s arguments in The Guardian. If we’re all in this together, shouldn’t government bodies ensure that the lowest paid receive a living wage whilst preventing…

Jenny Jones has produced a new report and this accompanying video, explaining why the Government and Mayor of London’s approach to affordable housing is fundamentally broken. It’s something that a growing number of people know, whether you’ve been priced out or you know someone who has by decades of massive house price rises. It is most severe in London and fancy rural communities, but is a growing problem across the country. I’m pretty proud of the work Jenny and I did on it!

The chart below shows a breakdown of where my monthly gross income goes. I’m earning in the region of £30k/year, above the London average but not exactly an enormous sum. One of my favourite adages is that British people want Scandinavian public services with American tax levels.  Raising taxes to tackle the deficit is treated as something approaching political suicide. But do we pay all that much in tax? Put aside the fact that at 36% of the UK’s GDP, the current tax level is lower than under Margaret Thatcher (when it dipped to 40%) and much lower than the Swedish level of around 50%. How does tax affect me? Well my income tax and council tax, which pay for all the basic public services, the roads, waste collection, public transport investment, welfare for people in harder circumstances and much more account for less than my rent, which pays for…

This chart shows the 2010 local election results for The Lane, the ward I ran for. After a year of really hard work I doubled the top Green vote to 1,265, but as you can see an incredible surge in votes for Labour stole the show. To get an idea of how much of a difference having the national and local elections on the same day had in London, look at the black lines. I’ve drawn those into to show, roughly, where the votes were in the 2006 local elections. The increased turnout was massive, and it almost all went to Labour/Lib Dem/Conservative candidates. Across Southwark their vote increased between 50-300% whilst the Green vote was up much, much less; we just got left behind. In The Lane, the Lib Dems didn’t even campaign. Their candidates didn’t attend the hustings, they only really put out general election leaflets in the…

A new BNP presence mobilised local anti-fascists in Bermondsey recently by delivering a spiteful leaflet warning that immigration might lead Bermondsey to “end up like Peckham and Camberwell”. A picture showed a west African shop front. Having surveyed nearly a thousand households in Peckham in the past six months, I can see the power of this appeal because the character of Peckham town centre was by far the most frequently raised issue. But how to respond to the BNP whipping up racial explanations? Southwark Green Party have recently published our action plan for Peckham, detailing 17 ways that we could improve the town centre. I hope that this positive and practical response to peoples varied and valid concerns, very few of which seemed motivated by racist or xenophobic views, is exactly the kind of thing that can help counter the BNP. Like it or not, a lot of people are…

After a week speaking at a digital rights demonstration, a free map meeting, a 600-strong Critical Mass and lots of electioneering capping off days at the office it was quite a relief to complete the weekend with a spade, wheelbarrow and several tonnes of soil. Growing Southwark, who I first came across last September, have been running a community food growing project on the Cossall Estate in Peckham. I planted my broad beans at the event in February – here’s a pic of me with my pots – but this time the work was much more heavy going. Residents, Growing Southwark volunteers and a team from Veoila with 2 master carpenters worked together from Thursday-Sunday to erect a 18×1.5×0.6 meter raised bed. When I got there on Sunday they were filling them up with 16 tonnes of organic soil and soil improver. After a couple of hours lugging large quantities of soil around…