Category Archives: Personal

I gave a speech

Pretty much what I said above… I gave a speech at a college in West Bromwich this week. It was about politics in general and the green party. I figured I’d blog it, as i worked quite hard on it by my standards.

Here it is:

Afternoon. My name’s Ben, and I’m the coordinator of Sandwell Green Party, and I’m here today with Rob, who is the chair of the West Midlands Green Party, and so is annoyingly more important, smarter and better looking than me. My job basically means I organise what we do locally, and do all the jobs nobody else wants to do. We’ll get onto this in the Q and A, if you’re interested, but doing a lot of work for the Green Party for no money has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I’ll be kicking off, talking about the scale of the problems we face, and some of the high level solutions to this, then Rob will take over and talk about some of the more detailed solutions we think might solve problems here.
And thank you for choosing to spend your lunchtime listening to us. I am just about young enough that I remember being at college, and I’m not sure I was quite as mature and diligent as you. Well… I’m certain I wasn’t, and I’m more than a little jealous of the better future you’ll have ahead of you for it.
Except… I’m not confident you’ll have a better future. You’re a generation who, if lucky enough to go to uni, will leave with an average £44,000 of debt. You may have to grow up never owning your own home. You’ll pay a small fortune for a sandwich – well, even more of a fortune, I’ve eaten in a Starbucks too – because intensive farming will have rendered our land unfarmable, and besides, we all voted to close our borders to anyone who might actually work on our farms anyway. And that’s before I even to get to the Greens specialist subject of climate change, and the devastation it will cause if we don’t address this LAST WEEK!
By the way, don’t worry – I’m not going to stay this gloomy for the full 40 minutes. But I kind of feel that we need to point out the huge challenges that face us. These challenges are here for a few reasons, which I would like to outline before we get to the less miserable bit. Because I’d like to say here that there are answers. There aren’t easy answers, unless you want to blame someone who doesn’t share your skin colour or religion, but there are answers, and that’s what inspires me to do what I do.
So, why are we in the mess we’re in?
The main answer I have is our system rewards short term thinking. All the problems above started, at the very least, before you were born. Some of them before I was. Some of the BEFORE EVEN YOUR TUTORS WERE BORN. Pollution started in the Industrial Revolution, in the 19th century. House prices started going stupid in the 1980’s. Free university ended in the late 1990’s – it did me over too!
Our system is such that it doesn’t pay for our MPs to think of the consequences of their policies. Our media sees a problem and wants it solved yesterday, and politicians agree to this, rarely, if ever, thinking of the long term consequences of acting too quickly.
And the causes of this go back even further. We haven’t seriously reformed our political system since the 17th century. And don’t get me wrong… it was brilliant then. But since then, pretty much every country, save for maybe North Korea has overtaken us. The House of Lords, which is completely unelected, is the second largest government chamber in the world, after Communist China.
Our antiquated first past the post system means that the Conservatives only need 35,000 votes to win a seat, Labour need 40,000, Lib Dems 300,000, and Greens over 1,000,000. And yet we have it better than UKIP, who got one seat for nearly 4m votes. Whatever your feelings about Mr Farage, that isn’t fair. Power is kept amongst a select few, making them unaccountable, and significantly more vulnerable to corruption.
To move this closer to our own doorstep – do any of you know the make up of our local council?  Of 72 seats, 71 are held by Labour. Regardless of how you feel about them, they hold 97% of the seats, despite only getting 58% of the votes . This means the views of two out of every five people who vote in Sandwell don’t count, and nobody represents them.
And the combination of these two things means that politicians play only to win. We only elect one chamber, and that only once every five years. As a result, politicians will say pretty much anything to get in at election time – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, because by the time it breaks, there will have been another election, and a whole new bunch of short term promises to keep or break. Most other countries – even America, the land of the Trump, have two chambers, and staggered elections so that this isn’t completely changed every five years, and there is at least some long term thinking.
Even more countries across Europe have a much fairer form of democracy, normally a form of Proportional Representation. I know I’m talking to smart people here , but I’ll very quickly explain that PR awards seats based on vote share, so that all votes, or at least most votes count. If the Angry As Hell At Adults For Not Getting That We’re Old Enough To Set Our Own Rules, Now Stop Ruining My Life Mum Party gets 30% of the vote, they’ll get 30% of the say in Government. This means more people’s views get represented. It means smaller groups don’t get ignored. And that’s brilliant.
Better still, it makes it a lot more likely that every law gets properly challenged – when you create a fake majority, they can essentially pass any law they like, irrespective of how stupid it is. This is how we end up with poorly planned policies and pointless wars. By making larger parties rely on other parties to pass laws, they iron out the sort of short term thinking that has led to so many of our problems today. It’s of little surprise, to me at least, that Germany has one of the strongest economies (and best rent prices) in Europe, and also has a proportional system.
None of this has destroyed our country. Yet. We are still one of the world’s leading democracies. But we have fallen three places in the Global Democracy rankings in recent years. We’ve taken a huge risk in leaving the EU (I’m not discussing the rights and wrongs of this here. I only have 15 minutes) and our democracy will now have to stand alone. With the problems I have listed above, we will surely sink unless we take action now. And to do this, we will need practical LONG TERM solutions.
Finally, and I almost don’t want to say this – because it feels like I’m saying what you want to hear – but we believe that you should have the vote from 16. Any decision politicians make are going to affect you more than they’re going to affect me, and a lot more than they’ll affect you’re Nan, so why shouldn’t you have a say? Simply put, you can join the army, you can have a kid, you can get a job and pay tax. Surely you should have a say in what happens when you do those things?
I suppose the main thing all of this has in common, is that our system is built so that those who have power do everything they can to hold onto that power. This is the main problem anyone who wants change faces. But this is also where the solution lies.
Because we do actually live in a democracy. And that means that people have the final say. When I joined the Green Party, a bit over two years ago, I didn’t think I could change anything. I just thought I’d pay membership once a year, and hope that paid for someone else to do some work.
Then I went to a meeting, and everyone was nice. Then someone convinced me to leaflet. Then to run for election (I lost), then to manage our local elections, to help on campaigns for renter’s rights, refugees, clean energy…
I quickly realised that if you get up and just do a little work in your spare time (I do have an actual job outside this) you can actually make real change happen. I had the good luck to meet our previous leader, Natalie Bennett, and she said what is probably the most powerful thing that sums up why I’ve found this work so rewarding. She said that there is one big lie that lets things go wrong. And that is that politics is something that’s done to you. And this isn’t true. Politics is something YOU DO.
I’d go so far as to say it’s your job as a citizen to do it. A small group of well organised people getting out there and trying to change things, can change things. Almost every good change through history from the abolition of slavery to breaking Trump’s travel ban most likely started with a few people, in a room, saying… “Wow… this looks difficult… LET’S DO IT ANYWAY. (I know that’s how the Trump one happened, the activists behind it have given interviews).
So if you take one thing from my bit today, it’s that if you see an injustice, a problem, anything that irks you… you’re probably the right person to fix it. Politics isn’t for any one group of people, and you aren’t excluded from it. And if giving up my lunch break to chat to you today gets even one of you out there deciding to change things… Well… It’ll be worth the cost of that overpriced Starbucks sarnie.
Now, I will be the first person to say that you should never trust an adult who is sure they know the answers. However, I believe we have a strong set of possible solutions to the problems facing us today, in the policies that we in the Green Party fight over every conference. So I would like to hand over to Rob now, who will talk to you about these.

First Birthday- Thank you!

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A little notification came up last night saying I’ve been blogging for a year! I didn’t intend to become a blogger, I appear to have fallen into it, but it has been fantastic so far. It’s rekindled a love with writing I hadn’t engaged with since my teens, and I don’t think I would be the cook I am today if it wasn’t for the fact I wanted to get a new dish out to you every Tuesday.

There are so many thanks to other bloggers who have supported me, or just blown me away with the amazing content they put out there, to the people kindly following me, or the 15,000 people who have turned up just to read my idiotic ramblings on food and music (and occasionally politics, Lego, technology and comics). You are all great people, and I will put a good word in the ear of your respective deities that you can have a free pass for your next sin. Doubly so if it involves mistreating a dead chicken.

So thank you all. I’ll keep writing it if you keep reading it.

A short but heartfelt political post

The Guardian posted this today.

Labour leadership election: 260 members of rival parties ask to vote

http://gu.com/p/4bb9k?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress

I would be less worried about the 150 out of 70,000 Green Party members who have signed up, and worry about that one chap who has lifted all of his policies from the Green Party manifesto who may well be leading the Labour party in a month!

If you fancy joining a party a that had morals and integrity before a humiliating,  Australia at Trent Bridge defeat, here’s a link…

https://my.greenparty.org.uk/civicrm/membership/joining

I Love Brum- a Saturday in Digbeth

Not done one of these for a while, but occasionally I happen upon stuff happening in my hometown, and think it’s worth checking out. This is one of those times.

Digbeth was a horror of an area when I first came up here about a decade ago. A bunch of abandoned factories and an Irish pub where you had a 50-50 chance of leaving without a puncture wound.

In recent years it’s become reminiscent of Shoreditch at the turn of the century, when it still had an edge, and affordable rents. My hope is that the Brummie sensibility will resist it going to the Shoreditch extreme of turning the place into a cultural mecca for arseholes, and keep it pretty good.

It’s currently best known for the Digbeth Dining Club, popular with that rare breed of British journalist who leaves the confines of the M25, ever.

Anyway, I headed down there to see an architectural installation a friend had told me about, a look at the past and futures of Birmingham, set inside a miniature recreation of the bullring, built out of reclaimed wood.

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Inside were hundreds of pictures of Birmingham through the years, suspended from the roof, so you had to navigate through the history of Birmingham, minding your face the whole time. It was very interesting, and a little zen, in the way the breeze and your movement ensured a different history for every visitor.

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It was called Urban Labyrinth and while it’s finished, there’s more here.

Wandering out, I then happened upon an urban garden. Called Edible Eastside, it really is a hidden gem. You can rent a bed to grow in from about £15 a month, it’s in a gorgeous location by the canal, and they have a small bar serving up local beer, and cocktails with fresh herbs from their gardens.

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In a continuation of serendipity guiding me, they had a bread making lesson going on, and when I asked, it turned out that it was the Warwick Bar Summer Fete in the area, with all sorts of stuff going on. I had a quick look and decided to head round to the floating market, taking place around the corner, on the canal itself.

On my way there, I happened across two people dipping giant teabags into the canal. It turns out they were part of an art collective, Cluster Bomb Collective, running a walking tour inspired by the history of the old Typhoo Tea factory. I worried that the canal may become over brewed, they advised me that unless I thought river rats made a reasonable sweetener, drinking from it might be ill advised!

Continue reading I Love Brum- a Saturday in Digbeth

Herbs

I’ve tried in previous years, and have always murdered the poor buggers, but this year I have managed to cultivate a small herb garden, with a little (huge amount) of help from my mum in law.

Only the sage and the basil have gone to the great horticulturalist in the sky, and I have both flat leaf and curly parsley, thyme, rosemary, chives and mint.

I have successfully robbed supermarkets of about £5 a week, and I couldn’t be prouder!

March

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April

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June

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I have no real secrets to offer, save for moving them to bigger pots as they grow, and outside once the weather becomes warmer, insofar as it ever gets warm over here. Oh, and cut off the woody bits on the rosemary or it starts dying.

Next year, I’ll save the sage too. Maybe try some Thai basil as nobody stocks the bloody stuff. As always, the lesson of my blog is that if I can do it, absolutely any shit for brains eejit can!

Why I am a Green

With apologies to my regular readers, who do not come here for the politics!

I miss the days when newspapers would outline who they are supporting and why, instead of screaming ad hominem abuse at the party they don’t, with little regard to the truth, or whether this might be the reason nobody buys their dead trees any more. As blogging, if you want it to be, represents a part of how people get their news in this day and age, here is my own editorial, on why I shall be voting the way I am, and why I believe you should too.

I will try to be positive about the other parties involved. I am running as a council candidate for the Green Party, and in doing so have met various other candidates in my area, all of whom have been thoroughly decent people, and all of whom believe that their party has the best ways to provide real change for their constituents. However, where I feel our systems and methods are broken, I make no apology for my cynicism and loathing.

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The 10:1 ratio

This is probably the one policy idea I like the most, but this has had very little airing, in spite of it being a real piece of common sense thinking.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “A rising tide lifts all ships”? Since the global economic crisis of 2008, has this felt even a tiny bit true? The very richest in our society have doubled their wealth since 2009, according to The Rich List in the Sunday Times this weekend (no link, because paywall), and now own the same wealth as the poorest 40% of the country. No other party appears to have a viable solution to this, but the Green Manifesto suggests regulating business pay, so that the highest paid member of any business can make only 10 times what their lowest paid member of staff makes. If you can afford to increase your own pay to £300,000 a year, your business must be doing well enough that the keyboard jockeys, cleaners and salespeople can be paid £30,000.

There is an argument that this would be anti-competitive, and would prevent us from hiring the best talent. However, this ‘talent’ of which we speak appears to be those executives that first created this mess, and again, it only spreads the success throughout the business, and encourages talent at all levels. When you look at the businesses that have remained successful over the past 7 years, businesses like John Le
wis stand out, where the staff have a genuine investment in the business, rather than an investment in their payslip.

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The End of the ‘Whip’ system and our broken parliamentary system

This is probably one of the most broken things in our political system, and because of our drab two-and-a-half party system, it appears almost unavoidable unless progressive parties with a real will to change the system come in, it will ever remain so.

Currently, parties appoint organisers, known as ‘whips’ to ensure that their motions pass in the House of Commons. Their job, by fair means or foul, is to ensure that members of their party ‘toe the party line’, and don’t rebel based on their own, or their constituents ethics. Indeed, it has long been accepted that an act of rebellion against your party can get you removed from a committee you care about, or have your private transgressions leaked to the press.

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Caroline Lucas, in her book, Honourable Friends?, writes at length about the ridiculousness of this system, and that MP’s are often shepherded through a vote without even knowing what they are voting for! Really, with a system like this, can we really view our parliament as a democracy at all, when nothing is discussed, and the opinions of the voters are worthless for all but five weeks every five years?

The Green Party believes in reforming this antiquated and undemocratic system, and in allowing it’s members to apply their own judgement, and the feelings of their constituents when voting. If a vote fails as a result, this means that the law needs more work, not that the party is weak.

The Party of the Poor

And by poor, I mean anybody outside of the top 2% of the UK’s richest. It amazes me that in this era of unprecedented austerity, you are 1800 times more likely to be prosecuted for £100 of benefit fraud than £100,000 of tax evasion by HMRC. That while cuts affecting the poor were passed night by night in Commons, that the champagne bill, subsidised by the taxpayer, rose to £35,000 from the previous year (do you even make that annually?). That it appears to be more acceptable to pass cuts that have led to disabled people dying, than it is to make 3% of our society pay tax on their inheritances?

The Green Party is the only party seeking to both raise taxes on the ultra rich, and close tax loopholes so that they can’t sneak out of paying them. They’re the only English party who are against austerity, as it is currently defined (“please eat less cake paupers, we important chaps at the top want more cake” works as a definition for me). They’re the only party that recognise that the majority of immigrants that come to our country raise taxes and work in the same proportion as any native citizen. They’re the only party speaking sense, in spite of a negative media, to try and apply common sense to solve emotive issues and remove vested interests.

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The Obvious One

We have real policies that won’t just mitigate climate change, that boring but very real threat, but that will boost our economy while doing so. I’ve seen the very real positive effects on employment that a wind farm near my hometown has caused, after the largest employer in the area decided to relocate thousands of jobs.

Combine the extra jobs with the very boring word in a common phrase, renewable energy. It’s renewable. We don’t use up wind, or light, or tides. They just keep on coming. Over time, the laws of economies of scale, and supply and demand mean that this could have a genuine effect on those utility bills that we all love to hate.

We also don’t have to source them from Russia or Saudi Arabia, where our reliance creates very wealthy people, who are buying up all of Central London, leaving it boring, and also, let’s be honest, funding terrorism, whether state sponsored or otherwise.

Unfortunately, this is neither interesting or exciting enough to win votes. It’s a long term plan that could just be the most important dull thing we manage as a society.

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So that’s it. They are the main reasons I feel I must vote Green, and be a member of this party. I hope that I have managed to convince you too. But even more than this, if you are planning to vote for a minority party this election, but are scared you’ll let in the party you don’t want, don’t. a greater worry is that by tactically voting for one of these, you will continue to give these parties legitimacy by not voting for what you want, which is the purpose of our democracy. You’re not wrong. The system is.

And if you happen to live in the Cradley Heath and Old Hill ward, you’ll make me really happy!

If you are interested, you can join, volunteer, or just hear more about the Green Party here

Kurt Vonnegut Kickstarter

I don’t know if this will have any effect at all, but here goes, anyway.

Kurt Vonnegut is one of the greatest writers who ever put ink to paper, but you probably knew that, as you’re looking at this. To me, at least, his writing speaks in something similar to the internal voice in my head, and makes me feel less weird because somebody else is too. Except his internal voices are funnier, cleverer and kinder than mine have ever been.

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Honestly. If you have never read Slaughterhouse 5 It should be essential reading, and once you’ve read that, I challenge you not to read Breakfast of Champions, Timequake and Cat’s Cradle, all of which are wonderful. You will want to read every

Anyway. The award winning filmmaker, Robert Weide filmed a lot of footage with Kurt Vonnegut, but at the time of his death (so it goes), it had never been completed. As this is somewhat of a niche project, it’s a little short on funding, he’s got a Kickstarter set up to raise the $250,000 needed to get this film out there.

At the time of writing, it needs $50,000 to cross the line, with a week or so to go. The rewards are great- at the low end you can get the film and lovely items from the Kurt Vonnegut museum, and if (unlike me) you’re pretty, pret-tay rich, you could even spend some time with Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator, Larry David, at his sold out Broadway show.

So in short, please chuck a few quid their way. If only because I’d love to see this. Po tee weet?

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ – Kurt Vonnegut

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A quick apology

Hi, how are you? I’m well. My apologies for the reduced posts and reposts over the last two weeks. I’ve been a little busy relearning basic html, and sprucing my back pages, so you can find all my recipes and everything from my ridiculous Now! Project a little more easily. I should be back and blogging in full effect next week, and I look forward to seeing you then!

Here are the fancy schmancy new pages, with tables and whatnot, for your enjoyment, and a picture of Lionel Richie as a Thundercat, as my peace offering to you.

Recipes

The Now Project

It's totally him you were looking for.
It’s totally him you were looking for.