November’s full Council meeting showed how far the green movement has come in facing up to the environmental challenges facing us.
Our important motion on divestment from fossil fuel was not the only environmental issue on the agenda, as all parties had something to say to promote a better environment. There were also motions against fracking from both Labour and LibDems, and a motion on flood prevention from Labour. UKIP had two motions promoting good public transport by bus, rail and tram and recognising the negative impact of CO2 emissions on the environment and health.
Green stuff is in the mainstream.
It is also fair to say there were traces of the calls for greater respect between the parties, a feature of Aodan Marken’s work in the council chamber. This is a real change from the atmosphere of constant hectoring and bullying that passed for debate in the council chamber over many years. It was not all harmony but there was at least some degree of consensus.
Before the meeting, the front of the Town Hall was filled with a lively demo in support of Kashmiri self-determination, and an active Green Party stall. Inside, the council meeting had petitioners call on the council to do something about the abuse of human rights in Kashmir. As the Council leader pointed out, Sheffield City Council can have sympathy but can hardly interfere in a dispute between Indian and Pakistani governments. I spoke on human rights, reflecting on their fundamental importance and that we lead by example at home in challenging abuses of power.
Unfortunately, this debate meant that our prime motion on divestment wasn’t called for debate until 5.30. Rob Murphy spoke to our prime motion – a call on the council to show leadership on fossil fuel divestment and to divest from any such investments currently held.
Alison Teal spoke a beautifully moving speech about growing up in the shadow of the pit in Royston, Barnsley and taking her coals to Newcastle, Australia. That was what made her become a climate change activist. This was Alison’s maiden speech and she was deservedly congratulated by all other parties.
Labour’s written amendment, submitted the previous day, was that it committed to “identify any necessary actions around divesting in fossil fuel companies over a reasonable period of time.” However by the following day, the Labour group made a further commitment – which has now been formally incorporated into the council resolution – that it “Confirms that the council does not and will not invest in fossil fuels.”
So apparently it turned out the council had this policy all along but no-one knew. Whatever, it is a welcome step forward for Sheffield City Council to be able to say this publicly now.
We supported (naturally) the Labour and LibDem motions against fracking and the result was the council declaring that fracking will not be permitted on its land. Just to keep up at least some tradition of petty politics, Labour absurdly refused to acknowledge that the Greens also called on Government to ban fracking.
The motion on flood prevention was passed, however, with a minor amendment from the Greens to thank everyone who had taken the trouble to respond to the recent consultation.
And towards the end of a day of drama, Magid’s motion to support Sheffield Theatres’ initiative to increase diversity was supported by all councillors.