Category: Blog

Following my previous blog post about the Young Greens and lots of discussion with friends and fellow party members, I want to set out clearly why ecology defines my philosophical basis rather than social and environmental justice.

To avoid misunderstandings from the outset, I think social and environmental justice are important, but they don’t define my political philosophy.

The new philosophical basis of the Green Party says:

A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism…. The Green Party is a party of social and environmental justice, which supports a radical transformation of society for the benefit of all, and for the planet as a whole.

This sounds great! What could be wrong with that? I hope I might persuade you why I don’t think it is quite right, or at least encourage more thought and debate about political philosophy and the precise meaning of different terms.

A couple of years ago I included a chart of house building in a blog post arguing that young people shouldn’t necessarily support the removal of planning controls. The chart covered the period from 1955 to 2010, and showed that: The only time  that the UK has seen house building match demand, and kept housing affordable, was when councils built in huge volumes from the 1950s to 1970s. If you think price bubbles are all about supply, explain the continued volatility of house prices through the 1950s, 60s and 70s. People who want to see a massive expansion in house building can have their spirits dampened in other ways. Christopher Buckle from Savills wrote an interesting blog post suggesting that, on that house building data from the 1950s to the present day, a major boom looks very unlikely. He wrote: If private sector housing delivery grew by 7.5% every year until…

My article on what I perceive to be a shift away from deep ecology towards shallow ecology certainly provoked lots of debate, which I supposed was my intention. In this post I want to follow up by correcting an error I made, expressing regret about one or two things, and making an observation about open debate in the internet age. Correcting errors I was under the impression that the motion to change the philosophical basis was driven forward, and largely voted through, by newer members of the party, in particular people active in the organisation Young Greens. I described it as “their scalp”, and said it “came about in part through the emergence of something of a ‘bloc’ of Young Greens”. I should point out that Josiah Mortimer, who proposed the motion, has himself described it as “Young Green-led”, and there were tweets such as this one from York Young Greens…

I joked a couple of days ago that I should set-up a Young Greens for the Environment grouping in the Green Party. I wasn’t being facetious, because I think there is a lack of environmentalism (or perhaps even a current of anti-environment thought) within the Young Greens (the organisation, distinct from the many Greens who are under 30). By all reports, Young Greens were out in force at this weekend’s party conference, along with older members who have joined in recent years in search of a left-of-Labour party with realistic electoral prospects. Their scalp was a change to the party’s philosophical basis, removing clauses like this: Life on Earth is under immense pressure. It is human activity, more than anything else, which is threatening the well-being of the environment on which we depend. Conventional politics has failed us because its values are fundamentally flawed. And replacing them with clauses like…

OpenEcoMaps, eco-living maps using OpenStreetMap data, is now working again. Hooray! I decided to sit down and work out why the OpenLayers interface wasn’t working and it turned out to be quite simple to fix. You can now browse around maps of low carbon energy generators in London, veggie restaurants in Edinburgh, allotments in Exeter, recycling facilities in Glasgow and more! The data is updated every hour, direct from OpenStreetMap, and is available on maps and downloadable/reusable KML and GeoJSON files. The code is also in Github, so you could set-up your own version for another country if you like. There are still some of the layers that aren’t working because the underlying data isn’t being extracted from OpenStreetMap properly. But I’m very glad that, after well over six months with it completely broken, the web site basically works again!

For almost a year now, my pet project OpenEcoMaps has been broken. The vagaries of unreliable XAPI servers meant the system couldn’t download OpenStreetMap data to create all the KML files, and (I think) some changes to OpenLayers meant the web maps also stopped working. It has taken me a long time to work up the energy to fix these. Today I can happily say one half of the system is now working again, and the underlying code is much improved. OpenEcoMaps KML files, and now GeoJSON files, are being created again. Hooray! I switched from XAPI to the Overpass API; grabbed JSON which enabled me to write a more powerful function to turn this into usable objects (for example building a complete Python object for an allotment merging data from relevant nodes, ways and relations); wrote a new library to create GeoJSON files; refactored everything else to fit with…

Ben Goldacre’s interesting programme on evidence-based policy making went out yesterday evening. Like so much of his work, I found myself alternately agreeing vigorously and disagreeing in exasperation. The trouble is not what he does say, but what he doesn’t. His central argument is a familiar one. In medicine, scientists determine what works using randomised controlled trials. Give one set of patients a pill, give another set a placebo, and see what difference the pill makes. Do this lots of times, trying to control for confounding variables (like the participants’ lifestyles) and if possible make it “double blind” by ensuring neither the participants nor the researchers conducting the test know which group anyone is in. This method gives us a high degree of certainty that some pills work while others don’t, or do so less well. It is far superior to simply acting on a hunch, monitoring a particular outcome…

Darren Johnson has issued a report arguing that building new homes can’t solve London’s housing crisis alone. He suggests the Mayor should consider other solutions including smart regulations for the private rented sector, taxing land values and setting up land auctions. But there are two policies you won’t see in his list. Two policies that Greens often bring up in discussions about housing. I wanted to take some time this evening to explain why I think we should talk about them a little less, and in a very different light. Before I launch in, I would heartily recommend this blog entry by Liz Emerson as an overview of the sources of our housing crisis, to give an idea of why we need to act. The Green Party’s policy platform is chock-full of good ideas to rectify this, but when it comes to building new homes I think Greens sometimes find themselves on…

The OpenStreetMap GB project aims to measure and improve the quality of OSM data in Great Britain, cleaning it up to get rid of silly little data errors, and to make this cleaned up version available in formats that local and central government types are used to. I have been exploring whether I could use the Web Features Service as an easier source for landuse data (see my previous blogs on making a map of London’s green spaces and analysing Southwark’s landuse, which both required a somewhat complicated process to get the data set). In the process I’ve found it’s actually a great way to identify gaps and problems in our data. Browse around the map on the OpenStreetMap homepage and you might think we have an impressive coverage of residential landuse, playing fields and parks. But probe around with the WFS and you can spot all sorts of missing…

Green Party MEPs have led campaigns in a number of areas I care about, including climate change, digital rights and employment rights. Jeam Lambert has led the charge on behalf of London since 1999, but I feel it is time to give a new person a crack of the whip. I believe that person should be Caroline Allen. I am writing this in a purely personal capacity, unconnected to my elected roles in my local party and the London Fed. When looking through the candidates’ materials, I was looking for a few qualities: 1. Strong understanding of complex policy to ensure they really can engage with and influence technical debates at the European level – Caroline has impressed me with her policy work for the national party, particularly in navigating through choppy waters around the science of GM and animal welfare to ensure we have a credible line, meaning we…