hpmouseThe walls are bare in her meagre office, the furniture is cheap and MEP Jean Lambert is right about what she calls the “supposedly comfortable chairs”, they aren’t comfortable at all.

“This is our second office,” she tells me unabashed, other than that she makes no apologies for her down-at-heel surroundings. A green poison bait box sits next to the skirting board on one wall. Yes, they have a rodent problem.  

But in this tiny room on the second floor of an office building on Borough High Street, Green MEP, Jean Lambert, is planning her campaign for the European Parliament elections in June. 

She looks harried, and it takes a moment for her concentration to settle on me, as though always needed elsewhere.  She has been an MEP since 1999, and a member of the UK Green Party since there were just 50 members in the whole of London, 31 years ago. 

“We’ve been the vanguard on so many issues,” she says. 

A woollen cardigan hangs off of her shoulders, comfortable and well-worn.  For a politician she seems refreshingly unconcerned about appearances.  Before becoming an MEP she worked as a French and an English teacher at a school in Walthamstow, East London, and she would be well cast on Grange Hill.

“The new member states still have politicians who haven’t taken the environmental agenda on board,” she says, as though discussing an unruly class,  “And Italy have a regressive government and don’t give a monkeys.” 

Then, as though exasperated by a particularly naughty schoolboy, she says, “I’d put Berlusconi well up there.” 

Balancing life commitments with parliamentary work is difficult and Jean acknowledges that as an MEP her family life has suffered.  “It’s difficult for almost anybody in some ways, but that’s also true for MPs.  My husband and I have to try hard to remember who it was we married.” 

A committed MEP’s workload can be considerable, especially when combined with party campaigning and establishing a constituency presence. 

“I think you need a willingness to take things as they come at you,” Jean says, “If you’re the kind of person who gets highly stressed under pressure or when things don’t go your way this is not the job for you.” 

I get the impression that she’s putting a brave face on it. She feels stress like anyone, I can see she’s feeling the burden of a heavy back-log even as we speak, perhaps she just has a higher tolerance than most. 

“I take it very seriously,” she says.  “Even if there’s something we don’t support, if we think it’s an important piece of legislation we will work hard to get it changed and to rewrite it so it’s the best that it can be.”

Being an MEP is not a glamorous job, struggling always for compromise, between parties, between nations, struggling to get the attention of a petulant national press.  Jean has spent much of the past seven years trying to change the public perception of the Green Party as a single issue party by developing a progressive human rights agenda.  She was named Justice and Human Rights MEP of the year in 2005, but her message has barely registered with the British media. 

She is a work horse, peculiarly suited to the grey job of legislation, primed by long-held ideals for the endless disputes of a collaborative parliament in a media vacuum. 

“One of the things I love about the European Parliament is you’re working beyond borders,” she says, “It’s why I want to be in Europe and not Westminster.” 

But Jean Lambert could be lost on the backbenches of Westminster, a lone green drowned out between larger parties.  She’s not very showy, she doesn’t seem to have the front or the self-interest. 

As Vice-President of the 43 member Greens/European Free Alliance in the parliament she is twice as influential as the majority of British politicians and she gets a fraction of the recognition. 

She’s a rare kind of politician, an efficient one whose efficiency doesn’t depend on who happens to be watching.

The decision by the European Parliament’s Bureau to put “all data” regarding attendance of MEPs in plenary and committee meetings was timed perfectly, coinciding with the closure of independent web resource How MEPs Work which fulfilled the same function until financial problems forced its closure.

Visiting the site returns the message “Project offline”.

The report, put forward by Italian MEP Marco Cappato of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, aims to make information on attendance available to the public through the Parliament’s website before the 2009 election.

Cappato’s report said that, “Accessing information relating to the EU institutions still remains an obstacle-strewn path for ordinary citizens, due to the lack of an effective citizen-oriented inter-institutional policy of transparency and communication.”

An article on Schuman Square suggests The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee may not not have passed the measure with such a majority had they read the fine print closely. 

 In addition to the attendance figures mentioned in the Euractiv article, Shuman Square reports that disclosure “Would include their participation in roll call votes,” and would be “Searchable by the MEP’s name, plenary, committee, delegation, vote, day or term.”

Reading the report I notice it also calls for information to be made available on MEPs allowances, spending and financial interests, and for National Parliaments and elected bodies to be invited to do the same “by establishing a Register of parliaments’ and parliamentarians’ activities”

This is an opportunity to throw some light on the inner workings of the EU, on the activities of MEPs and go some way towards encouraging transparency in member states. Cappato is right, there can be no real Democracy without transparency. If this measure makes it through the Plenary it can only improve the credibility of MEPs and the European Parliament, much as the excellent They Work for You has for MPs in Britain.

 The idea has its critics, Euractiv quoted Statewatch Editor Tony Bunyan’s response:  

“Under the Commission’s proposal, only the final document would be a “document”. All the draft proposal documents would not be ‘documents’, which means that all the changes, options, discussions would be secret and hidden from public view and scrutiny. The lifeblood of a democracy is the ability of parliaments, civil society and citizens to know what is being discussed and to make their views known before the final ‘document’ is set in stone.”

Mr. Bunyan is right to point out the shortcomings, but in practice the majority of voters will only dig so deep. A list of final votes should be fit for purpose in the run up to the June election, after which further transparency can be sought.  Cappato makes this aim clear in the report, which states, “The EU institutions should now take further steps towards greater transparency, openness and democracy by moving towards an “EU Freedom of Information Act”.  

The move was welcomed by London’s Green Party MEP Jean Lambert who said that generally attendance was a good sign of engagement.

“I’m willing to bet,” she said, “That when that info comes out there will be people who hardly ever set foot in the place.”

Discussing the usefulness of attendance figures in measuring an MEP’s engagement James Stevens posted the following on Jon Worth’s blog.

 “Plenary attendance is indeed a very crude measure of MEP effectiveness and in some cases probably more related to collecting daily allowances than anything else.”

1896oklahomanWhilst interning at The Oklahoman I received some sage, if tongue-in-cheek, advice from veteran Oklahoma City bombing reporter Nolan Clay

1) Always collect your paycheck
2) Take all the free food you can get unless you’re on a job, in which case accept nothing.
3) Check the archives, but don’t believe everything you read, some writers are inacurate.
4) Dress smart but always have a change of clothing in your car in case of emergencies (see blue jeans exceptions).
5) Be accurate, especially with names.
6) Never flip anyone off on the way to a meeting, you might be meeting them.
7) Keep your cool.

The five blue jeans exceptions (when it’s okay to dress casual):

1) When interviewing country music stars Brad Paisley or Garth Brooks.
2) When you pay into an office collection for the privilege.
3) When the University of Oklahoma football team are playing for the national championship.
4) When covering a farming event.
5) In the event of a tornado.

If you ever find yourself reporting in Oklahoma you’ll be way ahead of the curve.

Voters by county

Results by County Nov 4 2008

Christian Pastors across America broke Federal tax laws to endorse John McCain’s presidential bid, now that the results are in it’s clear that their congregations ignored them.

Barack Obama attracted 8 per cent more votes from regular church goers than John Kerry did in 2004, up to 43 per cent

There are blue churches as well as red, black as well as white. Michelle Obama’s appearance at the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, during which she made an appeal for votes on behalf of her husband, may also have been a violation of Federal tax laws, according to campaign group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Some Catholic bishops warned congregations that voting for pro-abortion Obama would be against their faith, yet there was a 9 point jump in Catholic support, up to 54 per cent.

Faced with the choice between an eternal conservative administration and eternal damnation they chose damnation. They may fear for their souls, but in the current economic climate they fear more for their jobs.

docWhen you watch a British documentary you expect cynicism, especially when it’s about a controversial American sub-culture, all the more so if there’s a religious link.  The recent Cutting Edge documentary ‘The Virgin Daughters’, about the American purity movement, actually manages to overcome its instincts and seem sympathetic.

The program is structured around families who attend an elaborate annual purity ball in Colorado Springs, where fathers pledge to be loving and honourable, and their daughters pledge their chastity until marriage.

 From the father’s perspective, if their daughter feel loved they won’t need to go looking for male affirmation outside the home.  The daughters just seem happy to be loved, all be it in a somewhat overbearing way.

These are well-meaning people trying to clear a pathway for their children through a morally turbulent world.  There is no damning by editor, there’s hardly even any sinister music, the whole experience was quite refreshing.

As bonkers as the idea of kissing your husband for the first time on your wedding day may seem to some, and as tightly controlled as these children are, I couldn’t help but be won-over by the big-hearted sincerity of these terribly earnest Americans.

The interviewees were given just enough rope to hang themselves, and to the frustration of Times critic Tim Teeman, none of them did:

“It was not as savage as it could have been, nor as insightful. It didn’t investigate, it observed almost without any perspective – as if the camera had no one holding it. A depressingly wasted hour.”

The Tent is an architectural statement of intent, a speck of peace within the swirling business of London’s financial district.

 

Made in Saudi Arabia it boasts Moroccan tiling, British stained glass, and rugs woven in places of conflict throughout the world. 

 

The Tent at St Ethelburga'sThe brainchild of Simon Keyes, Creative Director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Rehabilitation and Peace, the Tent was designed to facilitate inter-faith dialogue within one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. 

 

It has no religious adornment, instead designer Keith Critchlow drew on the universal languages of astronomy and “sacred geometry”.

 

Inter-faith co-ordinator Justine Huxley says: “The centre itself was founded by the Archbishop of London, who stood in the rubble after the building was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993, and decided that this 12th Century church should be rebuilt to house a place tasked with considering the link between religion and conflict.” 

 

Huxley says their basic currency is dialogue, and that they’ve had success in codifying how best to facilitate that dialogue: “We’ve learnt a lot about religious etiquette, participation, and creating an inclusive space.  But we’ve gone beyond finding out about each other now, and we’re learning to collaborate. 

 

“Of course there are areas of theology that are irreconcilable, a Christian will say, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ a Muslim will say, ‘One God’, but that doesn’t mean we can’t communicate with each other.  We want to create a space where people can disagree without violence.” 

 

Members of different faiths are encouraged to pray and meditate together at St Ethelburga’s.  Some fundamentalists consider shared devotion abhorrent.  Huxley says: “We haven’t got to the point yet where we are actively seeking people who are anti inter-faith, but by standing up for our own values we can open people’s minds.

 

“We have had evangelical Christians come here, and from the outset they were very hostile towards what we do.  But after spending time with us they suddenly got it, it was heart-warming, and they left changed.”

In case you’ve missed it Roy Greenslade and Jeff Jarvis have been debating whether journalists are to blame for not anticipating the technological changes threatening to close newspapers.

 

Jarvis took Greenslade to task for saying that journalists “cannot be held responsible for either the financial woes of the industry nor for the public turning its back on the ‘products’ that contain their work”.  A view broadly supported by City University’s Adrian Monck and Paul Farhi from the Washington Post.

 

Both agree that new media is bringing new opportunities to the industry at the expense of irrevocable changes.

 

The brass facts are that people continue to consume news, and that the internet is enabling them to consume more news, more efficiently, with more bells and whistles, than ever before.  I personally don’t see how this constitutes a threat to the journalist’s trade. 

 

News fulfils a basic need for information.  Newspapers have refined their product over hundreds of years in line with ferocious market forces.  The internet doesn’t threaten the creation of quality information or the commoditisation of that information, it is a medium which exists to order and present information.  The presentation of information is the building block of every webpage, the primary function of HTML, the internet’s DNA.

 

Print media is experiencing a seismic shift, newspapers are becoming untenable, whilst the online alternatives remain unproven and underdeveloped.  The resulting instability threatens journalists who have hitherto existed in illustrious print institutions, but it doesn’t threaten the wider role of journalism within society. 

 

Online news generation is stunted by the sheer volume of news circulated online by unprofitable print newspapers.  Their business models look increasingly archaic, but by the great generosity of their patrons they remain a lumbering barrier to entry for online ventures with potentially profitable business models.

 

The internet is changing the news business, but not the essential product, the written word.  A few papers will go bust and others will consolidate, but newspapers will survive.  Fresh information will retain its value, people will seek it out and companies will pay to advertise alongside it, whether by the pixel or by the inch.

 

For regular updates on the slow death of the newspapers try Newspaperdeathwatch.