Friday, 26 December 2014

5 reasons we don't get the politicians we deserve



1. First past the post


Under First Past The Post (FPTP) voting takes place in single-member constituencies. Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing. - See more at: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/first-past-the-post/

People don't vote for who they want to win, but who the least bad candidate with the (maybe?) best chance of winning. Tactical voting gives politicians a false impression about what the electorate want, and is open to abuse by political parties speculating who has the best or worst chance of winning (rather than discussion on issues and policies).

There really are a lot of tried and tested fairer systems which we could be adopting.

2. The House of lords


One quick look down any statistics, analytics about the make up of the House of Lords should scare any democrat. 89 Members are hereditary (i.e. they get to influence our politics because their family always has, and yes, they are mainly Conservative), 26 are C of E Bishops (many more are retired bishops - how representative is this of faith in this country?).

At 11 June 2012 there were 775 peers able to sit on the House of Lords, and until 2005 the Conservatives always were the largest party group. By gender there is one woman to four men, and the median age was 69 years old in 2012. For more see - http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03900.pdf

Electoral reform has been talked about for 100 years - a number of attempts having failed, even though the vast majority of British people have consistently demanded it (recent Polls suggest 79%)

3. Gagging law/ Lobbying


To quote from the Guardian: There has been loud, stringent opposition from a huge number of charitable and campaigning organisations, from the British Legion to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, as well as the Electoral Commission and Citizens Advice Bureau. The UN rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, joined the foray, said: "Although sold as a way to level the electoral playing field, the bill actually does little more than shrink the space for citizens – particularly those engaged in civil society groups – to express their collective will. In doing so, it threatens to tarnish the United Kingdom's democracy...The lobbying industry is free to continue secretly cajoling politicians while charities and trade unions will be silenced. This is an attack on the rights of individuals to speak out and, most worryingly, it increasingly seems that was the point from the outset."

4. Public schools, masonic lodges, gentlemen's clubs


While Unions will be obliged (Gagging Law) to hand over records of membership (possibly in contravention of European convention on Human Rights), the workings and influence of masonic lodges, gentlemen's clubs and other 'old school' networks appears greater, while at the same time more opaque.

Grand Secretary Brown is looking to 2017, the tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England as, ' the natural culmination of the open public relations strategy we have embraced', he is also keen to keep some information withheld - 'Keeping a bit of mystery is good news. If people joining know absolutely everything, where would the excitement be?"

It is apparently possible to be a woman and a freemason (there are separate lodges for women), but all this is rather hard to test as my brief search suggests it is hard to find out if an individual belongs to a lodge. Likewise, it's hard to test the influence of lodges or other clubs, but I suspect Eton College and ex-Bullingdon Club members in Government (see Daily Mail Photo) is an indication of increases in influence more generally.

5. Politicians Lie


Well actually, they're under no obligation to tell the truth if they speak in Parliament, which is a rather curious anomaly:




So, what about voter apathy?  Well, in recent surveys it turns out non-voters 'share many of the same concerns', but are less likely to trust politicians to tell the truth, but not by a large margin.  'Voter Apathy' is very much with us, and so is the solution - a fairer, more transparent political system which properly holds our politicians to account.  So why aren't our politicians making the changes we deserve?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Keep Bankers away from Food Banks

Cuts hit across Birmingham.  Erik Pickle's man puts the boot in after Trojan hoax.  Restucture of the restructure, with additional cuts and consultation of the cuts of the cuts.  It's getting tough here in Birmingham, but at Christmas time it's important to reach out - think of those people worse off than we are.

Birmingham City Council is 'consulting the people' again about Birmingham Budget 2015.  We get to choose between spending money to maintain a half functioning Library Service, clear up the remnants of the Bin men, or skeleton adult care provision.  Parks, youth services, any profitable part the Council, heritage & arts are pretty much out of the picture already.

It's important to visit the survey, although it's increasingly hard to have 'positive ideas about the future of Birmingham City Council'.  At first I thought the best thing to do would be to campaign to raise council tax, but as @politicalhackuk helpfully makes clear with graph after graph, no amount of increased council tax, or other income can really deal with the root cause of our problems.

That's why I propose everyone working should send a pound a week (or whatever you can spare) directly to George Osborne to redistribute to his friends, colleagues and other bankers.  If nothing else, it will reduce the bureaucracy and hedging necessary for party funds normally raised from bankers and other investment specialists.

It works in America so why not here?  I've done the maths.  The Daily Mail suggests there is a record 30 million in work.  If we all contribute £1 a week, that's nearly half the wealth of the cabinet in a week!  A pound a week would be £1.5 billion a year, which while this wouldn't make a huge dent in the debt of £(insert any figure you like, depending on what your trying to prove) billions we owe (it could, however, pay for a knighthood - at present cost, it could collectively buy four Houses of Lords).

Newspapers highlight Russel Brand's bullying tactics when discussing bankers.  Is Russel Brand blaming poor bankers for the financial difficulties leading to the poverty we (and bankers all in it together) face in the investment sector?

If we aren't prepared to pay our bankers, how long will it be before bankers are taking handouts at food banks (and sell it on for huge profits)?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

So why are we here?

I was making willow stars with girls from Swanshurst Girls School at their 'Winter Celebration' event when a friend saw me, and asked, 'So why are you here?'

A fair question, as I have no children at the school.  I was at the event representing Swan Corner Community group, and over the past month or so, we (Swan Corner community Group) have been working with girls from the school, planting apple trees, dancing, gardening generally, and creating a fabulous Swan sculpture sitting on our roundabout.

Swan Corner Community Group was started nearly a year ago to address local issues, in particular the risk to lives and the number of accidents caused by cars.




As you can see from this map, we've had nine accidents with casualties reported in the past five years all around the roundabout (to see accidents near you, check out  http://www.crashmap.co.uk/ for a very useful map of info).

We've not had any fatalities outside Swanshurst yet, as happens annually on Kings Heath High Street, but there is no doubt it could happen.  A much harder question for Swan Corner Community Group is how can we make our local area safer?

We have regular meetings.  We were involved in 'Playing Out' on 6th August, encouraging children to play outdoors, worked with Swanshurst for a number of events, all developing closer community.  Again with Swanshurst School, we have made improvements, including our rather fabulous Swan sculpture, noticeboard and Apple trees - many were sceptical saying it would be vandalised and destroyed, but a year on, there's been no real damage - willow and apple trees continue to grow.  It's tough though, coming back to that key issue of safety, knowing there will be at least a couple of serious injuries every year we fail to make things better on the road.

We haven't made the roundabout safer, but the reason I was at the school, and the reason we will continue acting and campaigning to improve the area, is because it is our home and all our neighbours mean a lot to us.

Thanks everyone who has helped - it's been a good first year!

See here for more about Swan Corner Community Group 

Monday, 10 November 2014

My family's contribution to the Great War

IMAG5251.jpgI was proud of my family's contribution to the World War 1 exhibition at Kings Heath Primary school this weekend, as well as my family, on both sides of the trenches.  Here's what Jago wrote, and also a fabulous section translated from Heinrich Hoenen's book at bottom:

George (left), with Arthur (middle, Grandma’s Dad) & Minty












‘Great Great Uncle George was killed during the First world war. There was George, Minty, Arthur and Fred’
[George is in the photo below (left), with Arthur (middle, Grandma’s Dad) & Minty]
‘George was the eldest, loved by the younger children. My Dad, your great Grandad, said he was a lovely caring man, and they really missed him when he went to war.’

‘He was killed towards the end of the war when he was eighteen in October 1918, which was really sad. He went when he was really younger - probably about 17. He shouldn’t have gone so early but he did. He was killed in a battle, a small battle. The grave where he is buried is in the middle of a field in a farm in France and there are only a hundred graves there, and they were all the people who were killed there at the same time.’


My Great Great Grandfather Heinrich Hoenen fought for Germany and was a very brave horseman. He got the ‘Iron Cross’ for bravery rescuing injured soldiers when he wasn’t supposed to (My Grandmother has translated my great great grandfather’s story of how he got the Iron Cross)

home.JPG
At the end of the war he had to give up his house [see photo left] and most of his things were left in France because Metz was now part of France.


Photo below is of Heinrich Hoenen (with his Iron Cross tucked into his jacket) with my Great Grandfather behind him (far left).
heinrich.JPG







From Great-great-grandfather’s records, a booklet entitled ‘The Guiding Hand’ Chapter 25



(Heinrich Hoenen: Die treue Hand, Second Extended Edition):




On 1 September 1914 I received the order to accompany 10 waggon-loads of ammunition to the front line.  When checking the maps, I found them very poor and incomplete and, as we moved uphill through dense forest, the roads were in a terrible state due to heavy rainfall on the previous days, so that our waggons loaded with heavy ammunition at times sank right up to their shafts. My men had to work very hard to get  the waggons to their destination. The unloading of the ammunition was quickly done, and we were all looking forward to returning back to base.



At this moment the Artillery Captain took me to one side and said: ‘’Take your waggons down to the river Meuse and follow it to Dun. Take on board as many wounded soldiers as you can, and move on to the nearest field hospital at Damvillers.’’



I have to obey.



Down by the river the battle is raging – explosions and burning houses light up the night, shells whistle by and grenades detonate all around. Our horses are terrified and difficult to control, my men are frightened out of their wits and lose their self-control.


My heart is pounding in my chest, I too have a wife and children at home, my mouth is dry.  I pray not to lose my courage, and for God to look after my loved ones if I should be killed.  I feel strengthened by the prayer and am able to give clear orders, my men obey my commands.



The waggons approach one by one. I accompany the gunners to look for the wounded among the dead and dying. We lift the wounded onto the waggons as gently as we can and lay them on the straw. We give First Aid, bandaging wounds and injuries, and so it goes on, one waggon after the other, until they are all laden and can take no more, wishing there was more we could do.



However, we must get back to base with the ones we have on board, about 50 in all, so that they can be treated. One waggon after the other is leaving now and stopping on the road to Damvillers. Just as I mount my horse and give the order to leave, my horse suddenly collapses. A piece of shrapnel has hit it in the body, just missing my knee and taking off a corner of my uniform. I quickly unhitch the lead-horse from one of the waggons and swing myself onto it. We move off at a moderate speed so as not to shake up the poor people we are carrying. They cannot help but cry out in the dark as we get further away from this place of horror.  



Now we are on a safer road and in the east the day is dawning. It’s still a long way to Damvillers. I ride up to this waggon or that and try to give encouragement. In one of them lies a Major, who has a bullet stuck in his back. He asks me for a light so he can smoke a cigarette to dull the pain. A Lieutenant asks me to stop – he is not as badly wounded as his comrades beside him, and wants to walk to give them more room. He has had his hand shot off, and bravely walks behind the waggon.



Eventually we arrive in Damvillers and can deliver our charges to the field hospital. The wounded Major asks me for my name and unit and writes the answers in his notebook. I cannot imagine why he does that.  And now we must get on again. We have no time to lose and will have to load up the waggons with ammunition before we return to our unit. We have not eaten since lunchtime yesterday and my men are not happy. After loading up at the ammunition depot at Jametz we feed our horses and have some food from our own supplies.



But our problems are not behind us yet. When we get back to the camp where our unit had been the day before, we find them gone. After a lot of searching we finally meet up with them the next day, and I report to my Commander. Instead of the expected praise, I am reprimanded because I carried out an order that had not been part of our own regulations. I should have refused the order to take the wounded to the field hospital. Our job is not to transport the wounded, but to get ammunition to the battlefield. The medical units are responsible for the wounded. I remained calm, but I am quite sure that, in the same situation, I would have done exactly the same again.



Weeks went by, Christmas arrived. On Christmas Day, the General of the Artillery arrived with his Adjutants. Why was he here?



I am busy in the small village church where our quarters are, making preparations for the Christmas celebrations that afternoon. Suddenly I am called and have no idea why.


Outside the unit is drawn up on parade. I take my place. The Artillery General marches along slowly. Our Commander reports to him. The Adjutant hands a small package to the General whilst we are all extremely curious. Then the General slowly approaches and comes to a stop in front of me, raising his voice he says:



“In the name of His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, Commander of the 5th Army, the Iron Cross 2nd Class is awarded to the NCO Heinrich Hoenen for bravery in front of the enemy.” Whereupon he pins the medal onto my chest and shakes my hand. My comrades burst out into a loud cheer.



I leant later that a Major M. whom I had picked up from the battlefield along with other wounded on the night from the 1st to the 2nd September, had reported the event to High Command. I assume that it was the Major who had asked for my name and unit on that occasion.



The award was a great honour to me.  But I was not entirely happy as all those comrades who had helped me on that night would have deserved the same honour. Even today, when I am wearing the ribbon in my buttonhole, I wear it as a representative of all those who on that day risked their lives to save their fellow soldiers.





Heinrich Hoenen was orphaned at an early age and cared for by foster parents. The head of his new family was a master saddler, and so great-great-grandfather was taken on as an apprentice saddler.

Later he joined the Dragoons (soldiers on horseback) for his compulsory Military Service at the turn of the century. He was trained as a dispatch rider, probably because of his previous experience with horses, saddles and harnesses. At that time there were no cars or lorries, and all transport was horse-drawn, apart from trains. 

As a dispatch rider his job was to carry messages from Headquarters to the front line, for which he needed to be able to read maps.

Are we marginalising Green?

I presented at a workshop 'History and Climate Change' this weekend on 'Archivism, activism and Climate change' - more about the conference here, and collation of tweets, info here.  My presentation, which was on the lines of 'children and climate change' was placed at the very end, which was good, discussed along with presentations on 'feminist & queer histories and climate change', 'Disabled people and climate change'.

The discussion I found particularly interesting, although perhaps a little concerning.  The debate appears to have somewhat moved on from, 'is there climate change?' to 'how do we cope with changed climate'; my concerns were the 'difference' or more accurately 'differentiating' between the various factions within the broader Green movement, which weakens resolve to action.

I understand that 'alternative' communities, and people on the edges of society are often responsible for progressive thinking which leads to radical change.  But is there a danger that an ethical, progressive 'alternative' label is lionised, while the 'omnivorous consumer' mainstream is pilloried as unethical and selfish?  In a world of multiple identities, is it not possible to think 'Green' and still hold other identities, 'alternative' or not?

Looking back (as was at the workshop) to the Suffragette and Suffragist movements, it is hard to tell which approach was more effective, but change only happened when the principle of suffrage was accepted by 'the mainstream'.  Suffrage ceased to be an 'alternative' view of radicals, and became part of a shared ethics and world view.  Similar comparisons can be made with the battle to outlaw slavery, whic you could argue worked directly against the metaphorical 'omnivorous consumers' of the time.

I'm sure there are many other historical comparisons to make, which reiterate that it is neither helpful or accurate to consider the 'omnivorous consumer' as less ethical or progressive.  Indeed change can only happen when we, a collection of progressives, conservatives (small c), omnivorous or otherwise, work together.

It is only when a significant number of people, rather than clinging to their own 'selfish' agenda, work together, recognise and meet shared ambitions.  Then change, to meet our changed climate, can really be made.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Counting blessings

People dancing
The barn dance in the next room
In the room next to the Barn dance at Jess & Simon's 20th wedding anniversary I met Tony who had been a part of  'the livestyle movement' apparently pretty much since it started in 1972.  I wasn't familiar with the group, but something he said (which is also their strapline) got me interested:
'Live simply so all may simply live'
On their website I found Livestyle movement 'guidelines' , the first of which is:

'Recognise that there is a connection between the affluence of some and the poverty of others'
At first this may seem like common sense - afterall, we live in a finite world.  Yet it has been the basis of economic arguments throughout the 20th century, within 'microeconomics' and 'macroeconomics', and the relative value of 'value adding' to raw materials.  And that's before you get into politics.

The day after the barn dance I went to a book launch at Queens College.  On a wet night in a small classroom in the college John Hull was launching a book all about a 'prophetic church' - asking tough questions challenging Christians to 'act more, pray less'.  Looking around the room I recognised many of the faces.  I'm not a believer, but these were the faces of people I respected because of the social action they are involved in, locally, and through the wonderful local Kings Heath 'All Saints' social action group I go to far too rarely.

It made me think about Jess and Simon 'counting blessings' in their anniversary speech, looking to friends and family - 'the other people in their marriage'.  For me, confidence to act must come from the people immediately around me more than from any 'inner compass' I have trouble finding.  I only hope I can help others a fraction as much as I feel inspired by my inspiring friends.

Useful links



Friday, 19 September 2014

Generations meet in Kings Heath

Messy fun in Kings Heath
Saturday will be a special day (again) in Kings Heath, with the focus very much on play and sharing. The Residents Forum will be running an event called ‘Your generation My generation’ – at All Saints Centre (Main Hall) on Saturday 20 September 2014, 11am-1:30pm, follow by the AGM. Meanwhile in Kings Heath Park  Parks4Play host yet another wonderful Carnival of Play event.

Parks4Play on York Road couple of weeks ago
If you time it right, you could meet up for a chat with AGE UK, Hall Green Arts Forum, KH & M Playing Out GroupCircusMASH our own Councillor Lisa Trickett, Neighbourhood Watch, representatives from Sainsburys, Kings Heath Explorer Scouts and many others.

Then if you're feeling like you need a quick stretch in the park, pop down for a bungee run, assault course,  wrecking ball, spray painting,  low ropes,  musical mobiles, stocks and water slide, all courtesy of Parks4Play (1 to 4pm) and their funders, who have been working tirelessly to bring fun to Kings Heath all Summer.

See you there!








Sunday, 14 September 2014

Looking after your own

Scootering on Valentine Road
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Playing out 7th August 2014 - six streets closed, a series of events about 100 people on each street - over 1000 people taking part including more activities on the High street, all coordinated by a few volunteers who wanted to do something for their kids, their local community.

'Playing out' started in Bristol 2009, where one street was closed down and around 50 people came to play.  By the next year it was six streets.  The year after Bristol Council developed a 'Temporary Street Play Order', and now deals with over 300 requests a year for street closures for a range of residents events.

In Birmingham 'Playing out' started in 2013 with 3 streets.  This year was six, and with support from Birmingham City Council street closure fees are waived, and we are well on the way to having our own temporary street closure order for future events.

Laying the turf on Kings Heath High Street

Kings Heath has been undergoing a revolution in 'people power' over the last few years.  Kings Heath Square only opened in 2011, and is always not just packed and active, but hosts a range of activities for young and old - music, markets, dance, drama...  More recently that interest in community has spread to re-assessing and 'reclaiming' the streets.

Two weeks after 'Playing out' on 7th August,  'DIY Streets Kings Heath' closed parking lots down the High Street, and on the last sunny weekend of the summer holiday York Road, Kings Heath closed to traffic for a festival billed as 'the first festival for families'

Party Time at Kings Heath Festival
It's exciting to see the changes happening, in peoples attitudes, in planning and physically to the spaces around us.  Never before have I felt how much we can make a difference for the better to the people and places immediately around us.


Useful links:





Sunday, 20 July 2014

Labours social media masterclass

Like thousands of others I found out which baby number I was - 15,454,932 (roughly) born in the NHS, and posted on Facebook, alongside an add for the Labour party - a classic piece of 'What Google would do', and also what pretty much every 'top tips for social media' pages suggest.  Here's a few of the things it does:


  • Uses a story to relate to the issue
  • The story is personal and easy to understand
  • Format is easy access, share & copy and doesn't force you to a particular site
  • Clear concept, ties in with leadership messages
  • Doesn't answer anything for people - not afraid to let people to use as they want
  • Opens conversations on a sensitive topic - not shying away from tricky stuff 
  • Encourages positive media debate
  • Identifies key success of NHS being set up by Labour
  • Suggests Labour is open to listening - easy to add your own comment
  • Labour logo and key message spread not just by Labour hardcore, but taps into a 'silent majority' of NHS fans

Will Labour take a similar approach to capitalise on Tory education 'privatisation' own goal, and rescue their own reputation on education (at the moment Tories can say 'Academies' a Tony Blair idea)?

Or will the miserymongers be allowed to dominate, continuing a straw man campaign of fear and loathing (trojan horse!? what irony) appealing to Zenophobes, Islamophobes and conspiracy theorists to implement yet more ill-considered policies in education and beyond, while the children at schools across Birmingham and the UK suffer?

Useful links:

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Kings Heath to stage F1 racing following Govt announcement

Kings Heath to host Formula one following a Government change to law, giving local authorities the power to stage motor races.

Officials welcome the move:

"It'd be a proud moment for Kings Heath to join a growing network of small towns that will take advantage of David Cameron's initiative. We reckon this'll make loads of money.  And the locals might benefit too, in some ways."

Pavements and grass verges to be converted from their existing off-road parking purpose to accommodate wider roads

Valuable pavement and other land near roads are at present inadequate for off-road parking. Money generated from the motor racing will pay for much needed improvements, widening roads, removing unsightly trees and grass, and making parking of newer, bigger cars easier, as part of the F1 initiative.

Children's safety a top priority

"Children are at danger playing independently, and we believe their awareness of cars is woeful.  The sooner we can get them in safe cars or even behind the wheel in cars, the better.  Child safety is a top priority for us, and that's why we're planning to legalise under age motor racing in Kings Heath to run concurrently with the F1 racing.  If the kids are learning to drive really fast better, then that's got to be good for all of us."

The spokesman for KHF1 continued:

"About 60 people a year are killed on our [UK] pavements by motor vehicles.  Why can't we make pavements safer by removing pedestrians?"

Pedestrian menace to be dealt with once and for all

Highways officials confirmed David Cameron's law could see improvements to B and C class roads too:

"We'll do whatever we can to make all roads safer. Children and adults who choose to walk or play, can do so safely, well away from roads and streets."

A person we met in the pub was heard to say:

"Some greenies might point to fewer green spaces in our cities, children spending more time indoors, less time playing together, or moan about what people without cars would do, but the economic benefits far outweigh any of that community mumbo jumbo.  I just want to get on with my business without neighbours, children or anyone else getting in my way.  And watch a good motor race on the telly"


If you don't agree with any of the views expressed, you could support Playing Out, National Playday 6th August.


Useful links:

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Great War, football and Birmingham


On Christmas day 1914, German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment met with men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in no man’s land, for a game of football.

A  momumental event in football history - where two armies put down their guns to pop over for a quick game.  But the story of football during the war runs far deeper than this brief moment of humanity.

The Football Association chose not to cancel matches through 1914 and 1915, as had Cricket and other sports, and while clearly popular with the men of German and British Forces, it was also popular with the Munition workers - the lady 'Munitionettes', particularly in the North of England. I've had a quick dig around, and could only find this cutting for a game in Birmingham (St. Andrews) between two of the more well known teams from St. Helens and Stoke.

Football was already seen a means of keeping fit and raising morale.  While Lady's football was a little frowned upon (note demise of the English Ladies' Football Association after Great War)  football as a whole was encouraged.

Troops had time to spend playing football on the front - Presumably football was also played in and around the hospitals of Birmingham?

The 1st Southern General Hospital in Birmingham, based mainly in Selly Oak, was one of the many hospitals and convalescence care services based in and around Birmimgham - during the war over 130,000 military casualties were treated in Birmingham Hospitals.  A brutal reminder of those who did not recover remains in Lodge Hill Cemetery.

As a playday coordinator, I'm also interested in football on the streets too, played mainly by children in Birmingham.  What record is there of these games?  This year playday falls on 6th August - two days after the centenary commemorations for the beginning of the first world war - at Swan Corner we will be inviting inclusive teams of mixed gender, age, ability, to take part in what will be the start of Playing out street closures across Birmingham.

Please send me any information or links about football, Birmingham and the Great War - or contact me if you can join us for a quick game on National Playday.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Archiving the Arts

As part of Archiving the Arts networking afternoon today at Library of Birmingham I presented on 'Digital Archives: The Hall Green Arts Story'

It was a 14 minute presentation demonstrating digital archiving in action - please see below:



Great to be asked to present on digital archives, to see the other great presentations, and to meet so many archiving arts types, from London and the West Midlands.

To find out more see National Archives, Archiving the Arts

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Election fervor

Two weeks ago (last blog) I wasn't so sure who my MEPs were, so I found them and wrote to all 7 of them.  Well here are the responses I got, all 2 of them (also copy of the letter I wrote):

Dear [name],

As elections approach I have become aware how little I know about my MEPs.

I recently noticed you've represented me in Europe for [however many] years.  I know you have been working hard on my behalf.  I am interested to know what you think your biggest achievements have been in your time as an MEP, and any personal thoughts on your priorities during this time and the future.  I would like to share your response to other West Midland citizens via a blog.
Thanks, and looking forward to your response.
Yours Faithfully,
Marcus Belben

Dear mr. Belsen,
Thank you for your email. Rather than write a lengthy email can I refer you to our local website which gives details of West Midlands conservative MEPs activities  over recent times. The address is www.torymeps.com and gives details of our work both in the region and in Parliament.
Your sincerely,
Philip bradbourn MEP

Dear Marcus.Happy Easter.My proudest moment as an MEP so far would be bringing the Prime Minister to the dispatch box by a public petition, the first time ever in history. If you would be so kind to forward me your address I would like to forward you some info in the post?Best WishesNikki
--
Office of Nikki Sinclaire MEP
WE DEMAND A REFERENDUM MEP
Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands
www.yourmep.org
nikkimep@googlemail (Press)
Nikki Sinclaire 0121 359 5933Twitter: @NSinclaireMEP

Mail:
1st Floor, 123 New John Street, Birmingham, B6 4LD



No other responses, sadly, and I can't help understanding why people might agree with (of all people) Boris Johnson when he says MEPs are on a gigantic boondoggle .

The truth is, though that these elected representatives will face some very big decisions which will effect all of us, both in terms of the grander Eurozone and currency plans, to issues of particular local concern, like the safety of trucks on our roads - and, mostly bizarrely, the latest polls put UKIP with a huge 9% lead over other parties (with 36%!)

UKIP is the largest party of the EFD (European of Freedom and Democracy) grouping of parties in Europe (who incidently are the only MEP group voting against improvements to truck safety).  The grouping includes Lega Nord and other colourful right wing factions who do not want to be a part of Europe, although most of which (particularly UKIP) take an active role in the various committees and other decision-making bodies.

Please come to hustings (10th May, 11:00 to 2:00 at All Saints, High Street Kings Heath) for your European representatives, and don't forget local hustings.  Ours is: 

Local election hustings event 13 May 2014

The 2014 local elections will be held on Thursday 22 May. The hustings event, where you can meet the candidates, will take place at 7:30pm on Tuesday 13 May at the All Services Club, Church Road, Moseley.

Useful links

http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/election-2014-who-will-we-send-to-the-european-parliament/
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10791873/Theres-a-simple-solution-to-this-Euro-elections-sham.html
http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/euroelections2014
http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/8768


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Don't know your MEP?


Michael Cashman MEP discussing Gender Equality in Work
On 22nd May we'll be voting for our European Parliamentary Members and Birmingham Council members.

So who are our Euro Parliamentary Members and what have they done for us? There are 73 members from the UK, and I struggle to come up with more than one name. After a first brief search on net I fail to recognize any West Midland members, or what they stand for. You'll find them here:

http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your_meps/list-meps-by-region/west-midlands.html

From brief check, even from their own literature it is hard to find out what they've been doing, or indeed what they stand for (except for the ones that want out).  It'll come as no surprise they all seem to stand for more jobs in WM, more opportunities and support for more funding, regeneration, but I find it hard to split them.

Michael Cashman is the exception here, repeatedly standing up for Gender Equality and Human Rights across Europe and wider world (also see http://www.michael-cashman.eu)

I'm looking forward to meeting the European Parliamentary candidates and hear them speak in All Saints Church, Kings Heath on Saturday 10th May.  All seven parties will present their policies in the morning from 11.30 - 12.45 and will answer questions from 1.30 - 2.45.  Admission is free, all are welcome. A wide range of food will be available on sale in the cafĂ© and on the village square.

All Saints Church is located in the centre of Kings Heath, at the Junction of the A435, Alcester Road and the B4122, Vicarage Road, B14 7RA.

Failing that, you may find out a bit more at:

http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/what_can_i_vote_for/european_parliament.aspx

Or if you have useful information, please forward.

Friday, 24 January 2014

BETT Conference 2014

Crowds drawn to the Google stall for
Paganel's chromebook presentation 
As  a British Education and Training Technology (UK exhibition) virgin, I was not disappointed by the scope and size of this huge event in ExCel, London.  I have already written a storify story for University of Birmingham - here are some more personal thoughts:

Is it rose-tinted google glasses or is the void between Mac and others a little less?  From an elearning developer perspective, it's great to see more compatibility between more devices.  I know I'm a little green, but it's strange to me how able some businesses are to manipulate markets, by building in incompatibility to force us to buy more and more of their products.  I can see this might please retailers, bigger purchasers and all the others interested in us buying more things, but how is it responding to market needs?  The consumer doesn't get what they want, but keeps coming back to buy more.  Oh, hold on a bit, is that bad capitalism?
'Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society...Production is carried on for profit, not for use.'
Albert Einstein - Albert goes on to say
'Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career'.  

He's touching on far broader themes but to go back to when goods no longer meet their purpose - that's the danger at an Ed Tech show. New stuff is great - I love gadgets, but where are the learners?

It is understandable that Ed Tech suppliers and services are keen to appeal to teachers and educators directly, but if your primary purpose was to 'effective education', then you'd want to see the products being used by those learners first - measure the effectiveness with the intended market, unless your interests were slipping towards profit and not use.  The presentations in the main Arena and elsewhere were more properly 'evidenced', sometimes directly with the presence of young people, but where were the young people in the audiences, on the stalls, all around?

Lego with my favourite (and cheapest) gadget -
a camera on a wire thing (£30)
I took a photo of our group of Yr6 children playing with Lego and its software to make cartoons in storytelling - one of the stalls they were attracted to.  After 5 minutes, a man on the stall politely asked us to move off the computer so a 'real customer' could have a go.  I didn't challenge him, which looking back I should have, and possibly the children didn't even notice.  The new customer didn't show quite the same joy and curiosity in play the children did, but maybe he bought a school load of stuff.

Children take questions from the audience
It was pretty hectic at the event, and wouldn't have been half as much fun (or learning?) for me if I hadn't gone with Paganel School - Thanks again!

Paganel Primary School also did two fantastic presentations - one on Paganel Archives led by the children, and one led by Mr Philp on the virtues of chromebooks.  Mr. Philp also did something on Raising standards with Technology, but I didn't go to that one.  Below, film clips, links, more photos, thanks to Paganel Archives:


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Swan Corner Community Group

BCC Location of road injuries, 2010-2012.
Jago, my son, is the purple blob in the
middle of Brook Lane 
On Tuesday 28th Jan 2014, 7:30 to 9:30 Swan Corner Community Group will meet/ drop-in for the first time.  It feels like a significant step for me - being more involved in caring for my immediate local area, and taking more responsibility with our neighbours.

As with all groups, it was a particular issue which brought it about - planned road improvements.  But as we began talking to each other more issues were raised, and the more the need for a community group grew:

  • Planned road improvements and immediate effect on roads leading to the roundabout
  • Waste ground around the pub, anti-social behaviour and community planting plans
  • Parking for parents of Swanshurst causes problems at pick up and drop down
  • Increase in burglaries locally
  • Road accidents along our roads and the citywide 20mph plans
  • Larger 'Long Park Corridor' project 
  • Sustrans project improving access for cyclists and pedestrians
  • More street play for our children

Locally I've helped set up community groups before - Kings Heath Community Centre Garden Club, KHCC Stay & Play, and Hall Green Arts Forum, all of which were exciting and challenging.  With all those groups it was primarily about having some fun, either with kids and/or creative stuff, with people who wanted similar things.  Is Swan Corner different?  Is there enough shared to bring us together, or will our different interests and huge agenda be too much?

Looking forward to Tuesday 28th!