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Petitioning in Brighton

Well, yesterday was an exciting and tiring day! I had to present a petition signed by 3,700 people about getting major public events in Brighton and Hove to go Single-Use Plastic (SUP) free by 2020. Watch my speech here, I’m on at 1’12:26 or read it here (via Twitter). We did put forward some ambitious targets but at the same time, these actions are completely mainstream – big events like Paddle Round the Pier are taking huge strides towards removing SUP and we think a city like Brighton should be a beacon of environmental well-being. It’s really not unusual to have branded reusable cups at other festivals, for example, yet millions of water bottles and other things can be seen all over Brighton’s streets and beach after big events in the City. We were on BBC Radio Sussex Breakfast show too and although the BBC had collected vox pops and had people texting in for 2 hours, they couldn’t find anyone who disagreed with the petition!

What was fascinating was going into the Council Chamber at BHCC and just seeing how the representatives of our city work and operate. How their thoughts and beliefs tally with their actions. And I have to say, I am actually very sad to have to tell you that Labour was the most disappointing thing I’ve witnessed in a long, long time. I am gutted to say this because I fully believe that we need a caring and generous state, I totally and absolutely and fundamentally believe in a society which looks after its weakest. I have many, many issues with the extrinsic values of conservatism. But I have to say, in the BHCC Chamber last night, I saw Labour, in their entirety, vote repeatedly against things which shocked me. First, they voted to ignore a petition of over 5,500 Brighton residents to stop circus companies bringing animals to their shows in Brighton. Even though Zippo’s circus have decided not to bring animals this summer, thus proving the point succinctly that animals are not required for a successful show, Labour decided to hide behind some complicated thing about land use. This was despite the Labour Councillor who seemed to have the choice whether to accept the Green Party amendment (basically a statement which turns a petition into an actual action point for the Council) standing up and saying something along the lines of “I would dearly love to vote for this, I’ve been veggie for 30 years, I don’t wear leather, I’d love to never see another horse with a feather on its head”. So, please, Brighton Labour Councillors, can you explain the gap between what you believe and what you do? Guess what, they also ALL voted AGAINST making big, public, outdoor events in Brighton & Hove single-use plastic free too – the petition I’d brought.

I understand that people who are generally left-leaning look at the National picture and hope that Labour would be able to stop austerity and bring back some humanity to the country. But. I would really, seriously urge all Brighton Labour voters to just take a moment to come along to the Council, or read up some minutes, or just ask your Councillor WHY they voted against everyone else in the Chamber to avoid having to stop so much plastic waste hitting our streets and to stop circuses bringing animals to their Brighton shows.  

The Conservatives did vote with the Greens and I was really pleased to see that: thank you! However, there was one very unpleasant moment in the response of the Conservatives to the Climate Change amendment (watch here at 45:52). The chap stood up and basically went on and on about how great (“outperforming on targets”) the current Conservative government was. He said they were amazing, that emissions were going down overwhelmingly within limits. It was bizarre and deeply uncomfortable. It’s as if he’d forgotten that the current government is basically stopping subsidies to renewable energy, putting tax-freezes on petrol for the Xth year running, being sued by Europe over the appalling and illegal air quality in this country. He quoted George Monbiot as saying that Michael Gove was the first environmental minister who was saying everything he wanted to hear. If anyone else has access to George Monbiot, perhaps they could ask him to clarify that, just in case it was a misquote? It was a very strange way of showing off, instead of the utter humility that surely we should all feel in the face of climate change? I mean, can you think of a bigger, more humbling problem that we face? We have completely failed our children and future generations: there is nothing to be proud of, except if we can now genuinely make strides to dismantle the fossil fuel industry and divest from it completely.

Extinction Rebellion were amazing: bold and brave and I’m very proud that again, it was The Green Party who brought forward proposed actions on their petition and argument. I was really pleased to be able to quote the incredible @gretathunberg in the Chamber. As she said, the climate change issue really is “simple enough for even a small child to understand”. I really hope Brighton Council can take real, meaningful action and that perhaps Labour can see the error of their ways and start voting to represent their constituents. Personally, I’m well chuffed to be in the Green Party. They were respectful, humble, avoided nastiness and were the only party who basically brought powerful and important change last night. They listened to all of the petitions and said “yes, we should and could do something about that – let’s try to!”. If the Green Party weren’t there then none of those petitions would have had any success. They would have just been brought and filed somewhere. Amendments turn a petition into action and it is starting to feel to me that maybe the Green Party is the only party who might be able to not only speak truth TO power but perhaps even speak truth IN power. Let’s see! 

Brighton Local Elections are on 2nd May. GET INFORMED AND PLEASE REMEMBER TO VOTE!! The local council is what runs your city, not Caroline Lucas. But remember – if we had a Green Council, then Caroline Lucas would have a direct through-line to be able to work WITH the local council AND the powers that be in Parliament. So, if you’d like to see CL have more influence in Brighton, you know what to do!