Olivia Hanks

Inter|national section writer

Livvy began her writing career aged five with a story about a magic fruit bowl. Since turning her hand to journalism, she has covered a diverse range of subjects including motorbikes, Green politics and fish. A sporadic poet and lapsed translator, she is part of the editorial team at Gatehouse Press and also works in local government.

Articles:

(17.03.17) – One Way to Restore Faith in Politics? Make MPs Take Their Job Seriously.

The news that George Osborne is the new editor of the London Evening Standard was met with widespread disbelief in Westminster. Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the former chancellor was “taking multitasking to an extreme level – what a joke”.

There are so many angles from which to object to this appointment that it’s hard to know where to start. Firstly, the brazen conflict of interest has already led to speculation about whether Osborne will be forced to step down as an MP. A prominent MP becoming editor of a major newspaper is a serious threat to UK democracy (we seem to be averaging about one a day now), and is sure to diminish our reputation around the world.

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(11.02.17) – Squalor, Overcrowding, Evictions – The Tories Have No Answers on the Housing Crisis

“Walk down your local high street today and there’s one sight you’re almost certain to see. Young people, faces pressed against the estate agent’s window, trying and failing to find a home they can afford.” Sajid Javid’s words, in his speech launching the government’s latest white paper on housing, were rather unfortunate. The sight we’ve all been seeing on high streets this winter is the clusters of sleeping bags in doorways, the faces those of people failed so badly by society that they no longer have anywhere to live at all. This lack of understanding of what the housing crisis really is – not just thwarted aspirations of ownership, but squalor, overcrowding, evictions – sets the tone for this misfiring, misleading, self-contradicting paper.

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(27.01.17) – Article 50 and the Mystery of the Disappearing Opposition

The debate over Article 50 has brought out sharp divisions in British politics, with Tulip Siddiq’s departure from the Labour front bench potentially the first of several resignations. Jeremy Corbyn’s confirmation that he will impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to back the triggering of Article 50 has caused discontent within his party and outside it, for its message to the government is: do what you like – we won’t make a fuss.

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(13.01.17) – Our Democracy Requires We Make 2017 the Year of the Expert

2016 was not a good year for experts. Michael Gove (that straight-talking man of the people) declared that the British public had “had enough” of them. On the face of it, it seems he was right: in voting to leave the European Union, 17.4 million people defied the advice of specialists in every field from finance to ecology to social cohesion. A few months later, in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition of oneupmanship, the United States voted to be led by a man whose approach to policy is to say things at random and see which gets the biggest cheer.

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(16.12.16) – From Flooding to Healthcare, Why Are We so Bad at Prevention?

Certain things are inescapable at this time of year. Overeating. Musical jumpers. Footage of the prime minister in wellies, assuring a street that’s under three feet of water that the government will do everything possible by way of assistance.

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(02.12.16) – Sustainable Growth: The Myth and the Paradox

The graph that emerged recently showing the unprecedented fall in global sea ice coverage was a chilling sight for many. Not, though, for Labour MEP David Martin, author of a European Committee on International Trade document celebrating climate change as creating new opportunities for the economic development of the Arctic”.

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(21.10.16) – Painting Pictures Of The Future – Adrian Ramsay On Zero Carbon Britain

The green movement is a tough place to be right now. With the Conservative government announcing another environmentally disastrous policy just about every week, from Hinkley to Heathrow via fracking in Lancashire, cuts to renewables and planning deregulation, activists could be forgiven for feeling a bit despondent. But Adrian Ramsay, CEO of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), is philosophical when I ask if morale has been hit by this wave of irresponsible policy-making.

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(07.10.16) – We Need More Than Talk If We’re To Take On The Tories

“I will never campaign on anything with the Tories! Not Europe, not anything!” Marina Prentoulis’s passionate declaration summed up why we were all there, as did the title of the panel discussion: ‘Taking the Fight to the Tories’.

The event, organised jointly by UEA Greens and Momentum UEA, brought Greens, Labour and the People’s Assembly together to discuss how the left might co-operate to get the Tories out of power.

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(09.09.16) – Boards, Bores, and the Erosion of Local Democracy

I had the dubious privilege of being in the public gallery for the first meeting of the re-established Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) earlier this week. This board, made up of councillors from Norwich, South Norfolk and Broadland, is tasked with developing a strategic document, the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP), which will dictate where housing, roads and other infrastructure will be built in the area over the next 20 years.

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(26.08.16) – Social Equality, Not Social Mobility

Theresa May’s indication earlier this month that she will reintroduce selective schooling has reignited the debate on ‘social mobility’. Tory backbenchers believe the secondary modern system (or the grammar school system, as they insist on calling it) was good for social mobility, but various reports support the opposite view, that selective schooling entrenches inequality. Of the tiny percentage of children from working class backgrounds who attended the old grammar schools, two-thirds did not manage to achieve three O-levels.

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(12.08.16) – Can We Change the World by Growing Vegetables?

Our grandparents might have been rather nonplussed to hear growing your own food described as a radical act, but in a society that views people chiefly as consumers, any step towards self-sufficiency is pretty subversive.

In France, where citizens generally attach more importance to food and its origins than in the UK, the last few years have seen an explosion in the number of small-scale organic food producers: in 2015, an average of 200 new organic farms sprang up every month.

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(15.07.16) 5 Ways We Can Really Take Back Control After Brexit

When a vote to ‘take back control’ has given us a new Prime Minister elected by no one – not even by her own party, let alone the country – it’s tempting to give up on it all in despair and just run around collecting imaginary monsters instead. Those, at least, we can control.

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(01.07.16) – ‘Devolution’ and the Triumph of Tory Doublespeak

“Let local people decide!” urged George Osborne in his budget speech last summer, as he announced details of his plans for English devolution. What an excellent idea, as, on the face of it, almost everyone across the political spectrum agreed. Unfortunately, local people did not ask for devolution, had no say in deciding its form or content, were kept entirely in the dark about negotiations, and, in the case of East Anglia, are now to be ‘consulted’ on a deal of whose existence they are probably unaware and which, the Treasury has confirmed, there will be no opportunity to amend.

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(18.06.16) – Referendums: The Lowest Form of Democracy

It’s a view that has been voiced more and more often in recent weeks, as the EU referendum campaign descends ever further into hyberbole and hysteria: we don’t want this referendum. We didn’t ask for it. For the sake of appeasing a few Tory backbenchers who were putting pressure on the prime minister, the British public has been forced into a decision we are not properly equipped to make.

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(03.06.16) – Has Caroline Lucas Killed the Green Leadership Election?

The Green Party has come a long way in the last few years. When Natalie Bennett took over from Caroline Lucas as leader in 2012, the party had 13,000 members and won just over a quarter of a million votes in the 2010 general election. In 2015, that rose to more than one million votes, while membership shot up to 60,000. The party is now embarking on its first leadership election under these drastically changed conditions. With Bennett announcing last month that she would not be re-standing for the leadership, the stage was set for an exciting contest for the votes of this vastly increased electorate, with many hoping for a debate on the direction of the party and anticipating the emergence of new voices.

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(20.05.16) – Air Pollution is a Social Justice Issue

The news that Boris Johnson buried a report on air pollution around schools while mayor of London does not exactly come as a surprise. Johnson’s record on air quality was atrocious – despite widespread concern over the issue throughout his eight years as mayor, virtually nothing has been done to alleviate what the World Health Organisation has called a public health crisis. The Campaign for Clean Air in London and the Environmental Audit Committee have been highly critical of Johnson for his inaction. And although London is the worst offender, many UK cities are in breach of EU laws on pollution, with little sign that the problem is being taken sufficiently seriously. Castle Meadow in Norwich has recorded nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels above EU legal limits every year since 2007 – a situation which Bert Bremner, the Labour city councillor with responsibility for environmental issues, described in a BBC Look East interview (interview starts at 4:31) earlier this year as “not dangerous […] the reality is what you feel when you’re there”. This, replicated across the UK, is the attitude that has led to inertia on this issue for so long – the ‘my grandma smoked 80 a day and she lived to 102’ school of argument.

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(07.05.16) – Why Another Europe is Possible: Interview with Marina Prentoulis

With just over six weeks to go until the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, the Remain campaign has two considerable problems. Firstly, the EU is so flawed, so bloated and undemocratic, in the eyes of virtually everyone, that it is very difficult even for those who will be voting Remain to get truly excited about it. Secondly, at the head of the campaign is David Cameron, a man so universally disliked by people of all political persuasions that it is a miracle he continues to cling to power.

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(23.04.16) – RBS is Cutting Fossil Fuel Investments. Does it Matter Why?

The news that Royal Bank of Scotland has cut its investment in fossil fuels by 70% is only the latest in a string of decisions by high-profile investors to pull back from oil and coal. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has divested from companies that derive more than 30% of their sales from coal; and, last month, the Rockefeller Family Fund announced that it would no longer invest in fossil fuels.

The fact that both Norway and the Rockefeller family derive their wealth from oil has not been lost on commentators. Whether or not you consider it hypocritical to invest ‘dirty’ wealth in ‘clean’ projects (if so, what should be done with it instead?), the low price of oil and coal has offered a perfect PR opportunity with no financial sacrifice.

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(08.04.16) – Five Reasons Why Travel Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

Do you keep thinking you should travel more, but find yourself doing other things instead? If so, the internet would like you to believe you are a bad person. Hyper-motivational Instagram culture has led to a panoply of blogs enumerating the reasons Why Everyone Should Travel and Why Travel Makes You A Better Person. International travel, once the privilege of the very few, has passed straight through the stage of being considered a right: cyberspace now deems it a responsibility.

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(25.03.16) – The Morality of Tax

I’m writing this because I’m unhappy about small businesses not paying tax.

Yes, you read that right.

We all know about the coffee chains and technology giants that are siphoning off society’s wealth and making no contribution; I’m talking about the small, local businesses that are the real lifeblood of every town’s economy.

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(18.03.16) – Robots Won’t Build Our Future – We Have To Do It Ourselves

The Labour Party’s deputy leader Tom Watson wrote in The Guardian last week about the challenges posed to society by automation. Rapid developments in artificial intelligence over the last few years have brought this issue to prominence once again, and spawned a proliferation of articles saying, effectively, “We know we said this in the 60s, but this time we mean it — robots are going to take over the world!

The fact that fears of mass unemployment caused by machines proved largely unfounded in the 19th century and again 50 years ago doesn’t mean that we should ignore this issue. Far from it — it presents us with an opportunity to rethink our entire approach to work.