Robbie's words, in collaboration with local creative agency, WordHound Ltd.
Firstly, let me begin by saying that I hope everyone is managing well under these incredibly challenging circumstances. This isn't an easy situation for any of us, yet as a nation, we're coming together – and we are helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 while simultaneously protecting our incredible NHS.
Since my last update, we’ve been kept very busy by the developing coronavirus situation. We have been working with individual volunteers, and the Barnstaple Coronavirus Support Network, to do what we can to support our neighbours who are currently self-isolating. The team has been providing assistance with the most pressing of needs, such as collecting prescriptions, shopping for food, and picking up other necessities. We've also been addressing some of the less obvious needs, like checking in with friendly phone calls to those isolating alone. I’d like to thank Sophie Brookes who set up the above Facebook group. It has become a fantastic resource for information – and for people to keep in contact, updating each other about the wait times at doctor’s surgeries, or showing which local businesses are open and offering safe ways to shop.
At the same time, I understand that numerous people in the area currently do not have a support network they can rely on, or access to these Facebook resources. That’s why I’ve been working with my Barnstaple Town Councillor hat on to deliver support and information postcards to every household. Together, we’re helping to make sure that nobody is left behind, and that nobody is alone during this uncertain time.
Focusing our efforts
We believe that this – helping people – is what we should be focusing on right now. At the same time, it’s important to address the mistakes this government has made responding to this virus, potentially costing thousands of lives. I want to look into, and deal swiftly with, the human failings which are obstructing us from achieving a state of safety and security.
The primary issue here is undoubtedly a financial one. Too many people were already in precarious positions prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, with personal resources drained by underemployment or unemployment. These people have been failed again and again. Years of austerity have eroded local and national government programmes which should have been in place to keep people afloat.
And at this time, even those in what was deemed to be secure employment have been affected. The slowdown in almost all forms of commerce, and the almost complete stopping of recreational activities, has created significant cash flow problems for huge numbers of businesses. Payment schemes to help employers pay for furloughed employees, and for the self-employed to pay themselves, have been far, far, too complex to deal with and administer, especially for the small businesses at which they're targeted. Even with an apparent understanding of the hoops needed to jump through in order just to apply for financial aid, many businesses are still being told they are ineligible for the help they desperately need.
Staff at our already overburdened council have been forced into overtime to handle applications, process paperwork, and calculate means-testing. This is a huge time sink, distracting them from their normal duties and adding to the stress people are already facing from having to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
UBI: Simpler, fairer, easier to implement
A simpler and fairer approach would have been to implement a Universal Basic Income; a flat-rate payment to every adult to cover basic needs during this frightening time. This would have reduced uncertainty for people facing furlough or redundancy. It would have given those ‘non-essential’ workers who felt unable to stay at home more freedom to make their own choices for the safety of themselves, their families, and their communities, by providing peace of mind that they were financially protected.
The cost of such a programme, while inevitably significant, would have been substantially offset by the ease of administration. The test could be as simple as ‘do you have a National Insurance number?’. No rushed websites, and no convoluted bureaucratic process. Just straightforward, basic support for our country.
Key workers, of course, would have received their standard wage on top of this, so their UBI payments would essentially be a well-deserved bonus for all their hard work and sacrifices during the pandemic.
Many of these workers have been considered ‘low-skilled’ for too long. But now we can see they are the ones keeping our society functioning.
North Devon coming together
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I will keep campaigning for UBI as the fairest way to support every citizen through difficulty. But now, I’d like to finish off with a bit of good news. The situation that we are all facing right now has certainly shown the power of the community working together, for the benefit of their fellow Devonians. I would like to highlight some North Devon locals and community groups who have been quick to offer support in any way they can:
I would like to extend my personal thanks to everyone in North Devon who is doing their part and making sacrifices to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Staying home, disrupting your routines, not seeing family – none of it is easy, yet we’re doing what we need to, to protect ourselves, and each other.
We have long known of the importance of reducing carbon emissions.
Longer, in fact, than the Green Party has existed. The Ecology Party,
the precursor to the current Green Party, was founded in 1975. It was
raising the alarm about the danger of polluting emissions long before
the current widespread awareness.
Over the years, new threats have been discovered, and we have campaigned
against those too. Of particular concern currently is the increasing
biodiversity crisis. A drastic decline in the number of species on the
planet is being caused by the ongoing effects of environmental damage,
pollution, and climate change.
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
released a report in which it laid out some stark news. We only have
until 2030 to implement changes in order to limit global temperature
rises to 1.5 degrees celsius. Even this change will have negative
effects on the environment, but they may be manageable.
A bigger rise than this, even just 2 degrees, could bring about feedback
loops from which we would be unable to escape. For example, increasing
temperatures cause more forest fires, releasing more CO2, causing
temperatures to increase further. In turn, this can prevent a type of
plant being unable to grow, meaning animals which graze on it starve,
and animals which hunt those starve, too.
Fortunately, the report has opened the eyes of people all over the
world. Local authorities, regional assemblies, national governments and
global organisations have declared their belief that we are facing a
In the UK, this transformation started with Carla Denyer, a Green Party
councillor in Bristol. In November 2018, she proposed a motion to
Bristol Council that they declare a Climate Emergency. This was the
first such motion in the UK, and only the fourth in the world. The
motion was passed unanimously, and helped start a flurry of declarations
from cities and municipalities globally. More than 800 followed in the
next year, including North Devon Council. The pace has not slowed, with
Barnstaple Town Council also issuing a declaration earlier this year.
Both of these councils have demonstrated commitment to their
declarations. Plans, developed by North Devon Climate Action Team and
Barnstaple Climate Emergency Working Group, are underway to get the
areas they represent to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. I am proud to
be able to say I'm a part of both of these groups.
For my part, I have been working with politicians of all persuasions,
including our Conservative MP, to start making these plans a reality.
Unfortunately, the Green Party is the only party interested in the
radical solutions needed to make real progress in fighting climate
change. Along with public movements like Fridays For Future and
Extinction Rebellion, we are leading the charge in raising awareness and
taking real action.
The role of central government
However, even if we manage to implement all of these plans, it will not
be enough to get North Devon to net-zero carbon emissions. We can’t do
it alone. Central government must provide funding, and must devolve
powers to local authorities, to enable us to enact policies on issues
like housing and transport. Without that help, we will barely be making
a dent in the issue.
To help raise awareness, North Devon Council recently organised a
Climate Action Week. Seven days of events and talks about things people
can do to help fight climate change, kicking off with a march through
Barnstaple Town Centre. This event has understandably been postponed
until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic, but rest assured,
I'll keep you posted when the time is right to reschedule it.
Now the dust has settled and we’ve all had some time to reflect, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the last General Election with you.
While it wasn’t the result we hoped for, The Green Party had some real success in the election, increasing its share of the total vote by over 68%, the largest increase of any party running. In North Devon, we did even better, increasing vote share by over 125%.
We heard fantastic feedback from you, the voters, telling us how you were switching to voting Green thanks to conversations with myself and my team. Knowing we are making a difference has inspired us, and I know I would definitely consider running again!
Unfortunately this gain in votes didn't win us any new seats, highlighting the most problematic issues with the current first-past-the-post system. Despite getting 2.7% of the popular vote, the Green Party only won 0.15% of the seats. Compare this to the Conservatives, who won 56.15% of the seats with only 43.6% of the popular vote. On average, the Green Party needed 22 times as many votes to get an MP into parliament as the Conservatives.
An upside in the polling results is that the number of people voting for the “lesser of two evils” has reduced. In North Devon, this manifested as a sharp reduction in votes for the Liberal Democrats, with people voting on issues, rather than tactically. This is a trend I hope to see increasing on a national level.
Obviously the headline issue for all of the main parties, and the majority of voters in this election, was Brexit. While we don't support leaving the EU, at least this result may break the political deadlock of the last 4 years. This means single-issue parties and their members, such as Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party, can be disbanded, reducing the level of noise in political discourse.
While Brexit may be a certainty, we are by no means finished talking about it and its consequences. While the Conservatives may have a mandate to deliver Brexit, they must not be allowed to use that to force a ‘hard’ Brexit. There must be no erosion of the human rights of EU nationals, or those in desperate need of our assistance overseas, such as child refugees.
This regained freedom also means there will be time and energy for the nation to put real effort into discussing issues beyond Brexit. The climate was higher up the agenda than it has ever been, and Channel 4’s Climate Debate showed that it is being taken seriously by the media, and by some of the political establishment. We need to keep the pressure on MPs and the government to ensure they deliver on the pre-election promises they made.
Finally, I’d like to thank my team in North Devon. I’ve never been more nervous than I was going into the campaign, and especially the hustings. Knowing I had the support of an amazing team gave me the strength I needed to go out there, and get one step closer to really making a difference.