I’m going to get out on the stump on Penge High Street, and I’m inviting other candidates to join me, after all but one of the open hustings for Lewisham West & Penge have been cancelled. Read More Open air hustings in Penge

Campaign groups like Generation Rent have been doing a great job of pushing renters up the political agenda. They’re in the Independent today with a story showing that renters will outnumber homeowners in 107 Parliamentary constituencies by 2021. But political parties will take figures like those with a pinch of salt. Private renters, in particular, are filtered out of the democratic process and so have much less clout than their sheer numbers might suggest. The first filter is that almost half of private renters aren’t even registered to vote. According to the 2012-2013 English Housing Survey, only 56% of private renting households are registered, compared to 78% of social renters and 87% of homeowners. This obviously means that political parties will be less interested in chasing their votes. The second filter is that they won’t then be canvassed on the doorstep. Parties will use the electoral register for this, because it makes…

Read More How private renters are filtered out of democracy

I’m supporting the Space4Cycling campaign in the Crystal Palace ward, where I’m standing for the Green Party. I often cycle up and down Anerley Hill on the way to work. It’s a steep bit of road, difficult for those of us who aren’t zipping up to Cadence every weekend on expensive road bikes. Cycling uphill without wavering a little is hard work, so providing some protected space at the expense of a little car parking makes perfect sense. Of course some people who currently park their cars there will lose out. But I want to see streets in Crystal Palace, London, the whole of the UK transformed to serve the needs of people on foot, bike and public transport, and this can only happen at the expense of cars because we have limited road space. The alternative is to leave almost 20,000 vehicles a day trundling along Anerley Hill, creating…

Read More Space4Cycling in Crystal Palace

One of the many abuses of the English language in mainstream political parlance is the denigration of ideology. Defending his government’s cuts to public spending, David Cameron wrote in 2011 that: This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country’s problems, not by ideology. More recently, Nick Clegg attacked Michael Gove’s education policies as ideological, reportedly saying: Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education In fact, Nick Clegg really appears to have it in for ideology because he attacks it all the time. He said a couple of weeks ago: I don’t take an ideological approach to public spending. But it isn’t just our dear leaders trying to avoid the whiff of ideology. You hear it all the time – the Government’s cuts are “ideological” (i.e. bad), the Green Party’s opposition to nuclear is “ideological” (i.e. invalid).…

Read More A defence of ideology

The population debate rumbles on. David Attenborough crashed back into the debate with a pretty crass set of remarks about not sending food aid to places struck by famine, earning lots of impassioned responses. The activist-comedian Robert Newman wrote an interesting piece pointing out that population growth is tailing off so claiming it really isn’t the issue, and so it continues, round and around. At the Green Party autumn conference, I attended an early morning panel discussion on population. We heard from a speaker from Population Matters, who argued that our impact on the rest of nature is a function of our population, our affluence (and inequality) and our technology. I explored this “IPAT” formula a bit in my previous blog entry. Then Sebastian Power made more or less the same case as Newman – that we suffer from (in his words) “rich white men” consuming too much, not too…

Read More What is the population question?

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…

Read More Ben Goldacre’s Bad Evidence

Similar to Gail Ramster, I went along to the Friday afternoon part of UK GovCamp 2012 without really knowing why. I suspect most people would say the same thing. You go because… well, you never know which useful people you might bump into, and what interesting things you might hear about. Plus a colleague Janet Hughes was going, and I’d cleared my desk of essential work for the week. Here are a few takeaway thoughts from my afternoon. 1. I barely knew anyone It’s years since I was a fish in a geeky pool, active in the free culture movement, the KDE community, software patent activism and other odds and sods. For the past five years or so I’ve moved onto land, or perhaps a coral reef, to be more involved with issues around the environment, housing and pay inequality. The past two or so have been working as a…

Read More Sitting around the data campfire

This is the first of perhaps two or three short essays inspired by Emer Coleman‘s masters dissertation on open data, written in a personal capacity and not as part of my job. In this post I want to look at what her proposed model of “iterative and adaptive open government” would mean for scrutiny of the Mayor of London. Her dissertation considers the difference between the New Public Management approach, characterised by public managers setting the goals and other public managers auditing their performance, and an emerging “Open Governance” approach using open data.

Read More Open scrutiny in the age of open data

At recent party conferences and meetings of the London Federation of Green Parties, it has struck me that many members lack any experience or understanding of how our elected politicians work with party policy. I was in the same boat until I started to work closely with our London Assembly members, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, so I thought I’d share my experiences from the other side of the valley.

The main misconception I want to address is that all policy advocated by elected politicians can, or should, be found in our written party policy. Another way of stating this myth is to say that the policies we debate and pass at conference provide the bulk of the detailed policy used by elected politicians.

Read More The cut and thrust: how Green Party policy really works

I’m not really a fan of Malcolm Gladwell and his cohort of star authors who spin one vaguely interesting idea into a entire “paradigm-smashing” book. But he is spot on when he dismisses Twitter as “more of the same… not the enemy of the status quo”. His vaguely interesting idea here is basically that really big changes come about when people with strong social ties are willing to stick it out in a nasty battle to win the day. Social networks with weak ties (e.g. just following each other on Twitter) will fall apart if they try to take on power to make a really big change because in the process they will probably have to suffer a loss of income, physical injury, etc. Twitter messaging won’t motivate them to stick out the hardship. But by pitting Twitter against a political movement as momentous as American Civil Rights in the…

Read More On ineffective venting: twitter and the cuts