Greens in Swansea II

Sian Berry's account of this year's Green Spring conference continues

This morning’s Green Party conference vote went against the Severn barrage, and I voted against it as well in the end. It was pretty clear cut: along with the rest of the hall, I just wasn’t able to be convinced that such a huge, irrevocable change to the estuary should be made when tidal lagoons and turbines can provide alternatives that would generate just as much electricity with much less impact.

It was an interesting debate though, with several Greens arguing passionately in favour of the barrage plan, and we’re all pleased we took the time to consider the options properly before committing to one side or the other.

We also passed ‘emergency motions’ (these state our position on issues that have arisen since the full conference agenda was published) congratulating the Council tenants of Swansea for voting to keep their council housing under the control of the local authority – a campaign Swansea Greens were fully behind; opposing the downgrading of local hospital services in mid and west Wales; saying no to oil exploration in Cardigan Bay; and criticising the 2.5 percent pay increase (effectively a pay cut) given to NHS nurses and other key health workers - just the latest betrayal of the NHS and is founding principles.

Today’s big panel discussion was on localisation – the Green antidote to centralised incompetence, multinational monopolies and all the other failings of a globalised capitalist economy. Molly Scott-Cato, our Economics spokesperson, set out the opportunities pursuing a localised agenda gives us in challenging the organisation of the economy. She is a leading academic on the subject, and is developing the concept of ‘bioregionalism’, where your economy is based in an eco-system, within which you have responsibility for where resources come from and where waste ends up. Within this system, local is a principle that trumps others such as price and choice.

She has a positive vision of a convivial, shared economy that is shared by Carl Schlyter, a Green MEP from Sweden who is co-chair of the parliament’s committee on economic development and trade. In Brussels he sees first hand how everyone loses through globalisation as large, centralised contracts increase the power of transnational companies, and how even countries like China that were winning under this system a few years ago have now seen 15 million jobs disappear abroad in search of workers who will do even more for even less.

Carl told us that some of the brightest beacons of localisation he has identified are in the UK and US, with the Community Development Corporation movement in America growing fast, and Community Interest Companies taking off here. He also praised the work of the New Economics Foundation – home of the third speaker, David Boyle.

David pointed out that it is now 24 years since the Green Party ‘gave birth’ to NEF, and styled his speech a ‘belated mother’s day card’ – arrr.

He told us how, despite the work of NEF highlighting the problem of Clone Town Britain and the crisis faced by local shops, they are still coming up against old myths every day like, ‘supermarkets create jobs’ and ‘big contracts are more efficient’. He even heard recently of a council that has banned ‘untidy’ non-chain shops from its latest big shopping centre.

The NEF has done a lot to quantify the problem, and has devised the LM3 ‘local multiplier’ tool to measure local money flows. This has shown how locally owned shops and services recirculate money within the local economy, multiplying the wealth that investment can create. Their findings using the tool have included the shocking fact that the loss of a post office can cost the local area (roughly the size of a council ward) £300,000 a year, but have also demonstrated how best to spend regeneration funding – creating small contracts and encouraging local firms to apply can make the money go 400% further.

I am a great fan of NEF, and Peter put their mission very well when he said, “We can frustrate the monster with the right policies, but we need to do the right research to prove it.”

Tomorrow I’ll give my keynote speech and we’ll have a very controversial debate that could lead to my position being abolished altogether – watch this space.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad