Steven Agnew to call it a day on politics

Steven Agnew
Image credit, Northern Ireland Assembly, Creative Commons

Former Green Party in Northern Ireland leader Steven Agnew this week announced that he will be leaving politics. Agnew will be standing down from his position as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for North Down in October – a seat he had held for eight years. He will now be heading up the Northern Ireland Renewable Energy Group.

Speaking on his decision to move away from politics, Agnew said:

I’m looking forward to new challenges ahead and I’ll leave Parliament Buildings with great memories and in the knowledge that I’ve made a positive difference.

The party will announce a new MLA for North Down in the coming weeks. I know that my successor will be a committed public servant and do everything possible to take on the political and environmental challenges ahead.

His successor has party leader Clare Bailey praised his record at Stormont:

Steven has served the people of North Down well over the past 8 years. When Steven was our sole MLA he delivered the Children’s Services Co-operation Act – his record speaks for itself and we wish him every success in the future.

More Green General Election candidates selected

With a General Election looming, local Green Parties are continuing to select candidates to fight it. And this week saw a flurry of people picked to wear the Green rosette if and when an election materialises.

In what is likely to be one of the Greens’ most fruitful seats, Sheffield councillor Alison Teal has been selected to fight Sheffield Central. The seat has been in the last two elections seen one of the highest Green votes in the country – at 15% in 2015, and 8% in 2017.

Teal came to prominence after being arrested while protesting Sheffield City Council’s tree felling policy. She went on to be the party’s second candidate on the 2019 European elections for the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

On becoming the Green candidate, Teal said:

I’m in politics because I care about people and the planet. Successive Labour and Tory governments have failed to act on climate change, which the Greens have been campaigning on since 1985.

We need more Green voices in Parliament to put the climate emergency at the heart of government decision-making.

Martin Blake has been chosen to fight South Holland and the Deepings. Blake was formerly a city councillor in Cambridge, and is based in the Lincolnshire town of Spalding.

The Greens’ best ever result in the South Holland and the Deepings is 3.2%.

According to Spalding Today, Blake said of his selection:

I’m honoured to be representing the Green Party in what feels as if it will be an election for the soul of this country. Nevertheless, our national concerns pale into insignificance compared to the global threat of climate change.

Elsewhere in East Anglia, Jeremy Caddick was this week selected as the Green candidate for Cambridge. Caddick is currently dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Once a Green hotspot, the party won over 7% of the vote in both the 2010 and 2015 General Elections.

After winning the Green nomination, Caddick said:

I joined the Greens because they are the only party that offers a clear and positive vision for the future – acting to address the climate emergency by moving urgently to build a fairer and more equal society. We say: no to climate chaos, yes to Europe and yes to system change.

In Bradford East the Greens have selected Andy Stanford, who was also the Green candidate in 2017.

Stanford received 0.6% of the vote in that time around, with the Green vote share falling from 2.1% in 2015.

Upon his selection, Stanford said:

The Green Party are the only party that have consistently been honest about the problems facing our country – we need to fix our broken political system and we need to fix the biggest crisis of our generation – the climate crisis.

We need to build a country that works for everyone – not just the likes of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and the rest of the Etonians in the Conservative Party.

Cheshire East Green Party has selected its first parliamentary candidate for Crewe and Nantwich since 2008. Te Ata Browne will fight the seat – one of the most marginal in the country – for the Greens.

In 2017 the Labour Party won the seat from the Tories by a margin of just 48 votes.

And in Kent, Green parliamentary candidate in 2010 and 2017 Stuart Jeffrey has been re-selected to fight Maidstone and The Weald. The seat is currently safely held by the Tories, with the Greens having never picked up more than 3% of the vote.

According to Kent Online, Jeffrey said:

I am delighted to have been selected to run for Parliament in Maidstone and the Weald. I have been thoroughly appalled by the actions of the Conservatives and Lib Dems over the past nine years and their complete lack of interest in the environmental crisis that is unfolding around us.

Natalie Bennett pledges to use her position in the House of Lords to fight for its abolition

Natalie Bennett
Creative Commons: Global Justice Now

This week, Green representation in the UK parliament rose by 50% as former Green Party of England and Wales leader Natalie Bennett was appointed to the House of Lords. The appointment came in Theresa May’s resignation honours list, and doubled the number of Greens in the upper chamber. Bennett will join current member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones.

Since news broke of the appointment, Bennett has made clear that she intends to use her seat in the Lords to seek its abolition. In an article for the Yorkshire Post, Bennett said its abolition is a “near-certainty”:

When I walk into the Lords for the first time, I’ll be there with the avowed intention, like my fellow Green peer Jenny Jones, of working as hard as I can to see it abolished. And I believe that is possible. Indeed a near-certainty. For the UK’s politics is clearly not working, our creaking system, with elements of the 18th, 19th and 20th-century accidentally accreted into an anachronistic muddle, has failed.

Magid Magid hits out at “shameful” EU President

Magid Magid on Newsnight
Image credit: BBC screengrab

The EU President Ursula von der Leyen courted controversy this week. The right wing President oversaw the creation of a new Vice Presidency post for “protecting the European way of life”, with responsibility for migration.

This racist framing of the position received widespread condemnation – including from Green Members of the European Parliament. Green MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Magid Magid described von der Leyen as “shameful”. In an article for the EU Observer, Magid wrote:

Rather than committing towards creating an inclusive, compassionate Europe centred around equality and humanity, von der Leyen has shown her shameful hand by establishing an office for “protecting our European way of life”, and enlisting the commissioner responsible to coordinate the application of inhumane immigration controls and heartlessness in our hard external borders.

The slogan rings not of pan-European solidarity or federalism – but is incorporated from the playbook of the extreme right.

He went on to describe von der Leyen as following an “ultra-right” agenda:

By adopting an undeniably ultra-right framework to compartmentalise the policy portfolios which comprise her platform, von der Leyen has rendered all previous pledges towards a progressive plan for Europe hollow.

Talk of “protecting Europe” from migrants is an undisguised attack on the ‘other’ – on ethnic minorities and people like myself who seek refuge, asylum and a better life.

It is a cold, calculated statement that the life of a child drowning in the Mediterranean, and the pregnant mother detained at a border, is a threat to the life of European citizens.

It is an unequivocal message to those who do not conform to von der Leyen’s narrow definition of what it means to be European that they do not belong.

Lorna Slater brands Westminster “un-reformable”

Lorna Slater

Scottish Green Party co-leader Lorna Slater this week slammed the UK’s democratic system, and branded Westminster “unreformable”. In a scathing article for the National, Slater criticised how ‘mythology’ surrounding Britain’s democracy inhibits democratic reform. She wrote:

From the vantage point of living in Scotland, in some ways one of the world’s “younger” democracies in that its proportional parliament was created in the late 20th century, it is easy to see how the mythology of “Britain” holds back desperately needed reform of Westminster.

British nationalists believe that they are “the fathers of democracy” and have “the mother of parliaments”, and while they believe in British exceptionalism they will do nothing to take steps to cure the country’s fundamental ills.

She went on to accuse the UK’s three main parties of prioritising obtaining power over strengthening democracy:

From the vantage point of a proud New Scot, it is my view that Westminster is fundamentally un-reformable. The Tories, Labour and the LibDems each choose power over fundamental reform.

Look at Boris Johnson’s attempts to stuff the Lords with Brexiteers to prevent scrutiny. Look at how New Labour’s promised reform of the upper chamber were watered down. And what has happened to Labour’s promised offer of real federalism? It has vanished.

Look at how quickly the Liberal Democrats abandoned the fundamental principle of meaningful electoral reform when they got a sniff of power-sharing with a right-wing traditionalist Conservative government. Look at how willing the party’s new leader Jo Swinson has said she will be to work with that party again.

Gina Dowding accuses Israel of “systematic humiliation of Palestinians”

With Israel in the throws of its legislative elections, politicians have been posturing on the dominant issues in Israeli politics. As part of this, Benjamin Netanyahu – the hard right incumbent prime minister – has pledged to annex the Jordan Valley – a substantial portion of the West Bank. Such an annexation would be a significant redrawing of Israel’s borders and is likely to spark a wave of Palestinian resistance and international outrage.

Among those to condemn Netanyahu this week was Green MEP for the North West Gina Dowding. She condemned what she described as Israel’s “systematic humiliation of Palestinians. The MEP said:

Israel’s decades-long illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories is a systematic humiliation of Palestinians in the West Bank. It has grown increasingly unbearable for Palestinians, as the number and size of illegal settlements created by Israel have expanded deep into the land within the borders of a future State of Palestine.

Netanyahu wants to think of himself as Prime Minister of a modern democracy, but he has no regard for international law. His plans for annexation should be sending a shiver down the spine of the international community.

She went on to accuse the both the United Nations and the European Union of failing to act to uphold international and defend the rights of Palestinians:

Both the United Nations and European Union have all been far too weak in responding to the occupation, Netanyahu’s blatant disregard for the future of a negotiated peace and the two-state solution.

His latest plans must be a wake-up call. Should Netanyahu’s dangerous vision of apartheid proceed, an urgent and serious international diplomatic response should follow.

Ross Greer slams Scottish Qualifications Agency over Saudi Arabia links

Green MSP Ross Greer this week lashed out at the Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) after it was revealed that the agency has provided support to the Saudi Arabian government, including its government. Greer said:

The SQA is a Scottish public body. It should be supporting our young people to reach their potential, not training a brutal, child-killing regime.

The exam authority started providing courses in Saudi Arabia after the bombing campaign in Yemen began. They, like everyone else, know exactly what crimes the regime is responsible for, yet they seem utterly uninterested in checking whether it is SQA training those responsible are receiving.

Last year a Saudi warplane bombed a school bus, killing 42 children. A public body responsible for the educational achievement of Scotland’s young people should have nothing to do with these atrocities, but the SQA has so far refused to conduct any human rights checks.

Exam bosses tell me they spread Scottish human rights values across the world. Those words ring hollow today, especially when other government agencies have reviewed their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The SQA must cut its ties with brutal, anti-democratic regimes and focus on making a positive contribution to Scotland & the world, not chasing a profit at any cost.”

Greer grilled the SQA over its links to the Saudi regime at an Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee meeting. You can watch an excerpt of Greer’s questions here: