Author: Julie Ward

Julie Ward was a Labour MEP for NW England from July 2014 to January 31st 2020. She was Vice Chair of the Culture and Education Committee and a member of the Committees for Women's Rights and Gender Equality, Regional Development, and Economic and Monetary Affairs. She co-founded a parliamentary intergroup on Child Rights and was Co-President of the Anti-racism and Diversity Intergroup. She served on the delegation for relations with Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo and was a member of the EU- African, Caribbean & Pacific Joint Parliamentary Assembly. Prior to being elected Julie worked in the arts and cultural sector as founder-director of Durham-based Jack Drum Arts.

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Turn out your lights for Earth Hour tonight

Julie Ward

For one hour on 27 March millions of people across the globe will turn off their lights and unplug their TVs. Whole streets and cities will go dark and people will look out of their windows and see the stars. It will be a moment of reflection at a pivotal point in history when many of us have been confined to our homes for a year as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world from its likely roots as a zoonotic disease jumping species in the wet markets of Wuhan.

Earth Hour first started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. It was an initiative of the World Wildlife Fund designed to draw attention to the growing environmental disaster and accompanying species loss. 14 years later this symbolic action is observed in more than 180 countries. Mass action by millions of people can be a powerful catalyst for change and Earth Hour has succeeded in raising awareness of the climate emergency, forcing some governments to take notice and take action.

This year’s Earth Hour takes place in the year when the UK government will host the delayed Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, which will focus attention on our record as a country, which is highly questionable with a new government supported coal-mine planned for Cumbria and lacklustre progress of the much vaunted Green Homes Grant scheme. Meanwhile the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is making painfully slow progress since being tabled in September 2020.

Writing in the Oxford Political Review, Harvey Phythian pinpointed the policy problem in the Conservatives’ own 2019 election manifesto where the party proclaimed, “we believe that free markets, innovation and prosperity can protect the planet”. Basically, it’s a business as usual approach which is minimally responsive to the effects of climate change rather than being vigorously pro-active in taking preventative measures, hence a tree planting programme is given headline status when what we desperately need is strong and binding legislation to stop polluters in the first place. Meanwhile, the EU is making progress on a wide range of policies to proactively tackle climate change.

Boris Johnson’s own record on the issue is depressing. As a tawdry media columnist during his period in office as the Mayor of London he pooh-poohed the warnings of climate experts and accepted donations from wealthy climate-change deniers. His voting record in parliament clearly demonstrates his lack of support for strong legislative measures to protect the environment, and he has just taken delivery of a second gas-guzzling jet to whisk him off to meetings with his Russian oligarch friends in places like Tuscany whilst the rest of us will be fined £5,000 for daring to attempt a cheap cycling holiday in France this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. And let’s not forget his refusal to participate in a leaders’ debate on climate change in the 2019 election campaign prompting the programme producers to replace him and his Brexit mate Nigel Farage with melting blocks of ice.

All the more reason then to do your bit and turn off the lights between 8.30-9.30pm on Saturday 27 March and join a global action that recognises the connectedness of all life on earth. Reducing consumption is just one of a raft of actions that can contribute to achieving carbon net zero whilst reducing your domestic energy bills. The Centre for Sustainable Energy has a handy guideT to energy consumption of household items. Not filling the kettle and doing less ironing are on my list of actions.

“Take back the tap” on World Water Day

Julie Ward

Across the world 1 in 3 people live without safe drinking water, and it is estimated that by 2025 half of the global population will be living in areas where water is scarce. In many of the world’s poorest countries girls aren’t going to school because they have to fetch and carry water for their families. As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world the mantra of “wash your hands” was meaningless in places where clean water is still in scarce supply.

Nuclear power: at what cost?

Julie Ward

On 11 March 2011 a huge earthquake off the coast of Japan cased a Tsunami that caused devastation to the north east coast of the main island. The nuclear power plant at Fukushima was inundated causing a power failure and a meltdown of three reactor units, resulting in radioactive leaks into the atmosphere and the […]

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#No to Hassockfield

Julie Ward

The hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March is #ChooseToChallenge. This hashtag is also behind the rallying cry of a new campaign #NoToHassockfield which has been established in response to the announcement by the Home Office of the creation of an Immigration Detention and Removal Centre on the site of the notorious […]

Covid memorial day

Julie Ward

It is incumbent upon us, the people, to take a lead in honouring the victims of the pandemic. The campaign suggests simple actions on 5 March such as putting a candle or picture in your window, walking to a hill top, sitting on a beach, or just closing your eyes and thinking about those we have lost.

Changing the system

Julie Ward

What we can do as citizens is to ensure there is a viable planet for our grandchildren to inherit. “Eat less meat… educate yourself… hold your parents to account… follow the money… Your money is either buying a hotter or a cooler climate,” said Eno.

Making sense of what’s happening in Myanmar

Julie Ward

The support of the military appears to be the key to everything in Myanmar, for it is a military coup that has now catapulted the country back into the headlines with the announcement of a year-long state of emergency following recent elections which had returned Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s NLD (National League for Democracy) party to power after they received more than 80% of the vote. Moreover, she and other NLD members have been placed under house arrest, a move which has angered much of the population who have begun to protest by banging pots and pans and wearing black ribbons.

“Never again”

Julie Ward

The narrative that someone else is to blame for our woes sadly continues to this day with politicians increasingly pandering to nativist calls to pull up the drawbridge and look after our own. “Britain First”, “Go home” and “Make America Great Again” are redolent of the calls that preceded pogroms.

“Democracy is precious, democracy is fragile”: the inauguration of the 46th President

Julie Ward

Biden might be the 46th President of the United States but it’s the women and girls of America who are taking a lead in so many ways, from Kamala Harris as the first black woman and Asian American to hold the office of Vice President to Jill Biden’s commitment to continue her work as a teacher and working mum whilst also officiating as First Lady, this administration looks and feels like never before.

Umbrellas and democracy: #FreeHK53

Julie Ward

During the first week of January more than 53 Hong Kongers were arrested on suspicion of breaking this law, mostly as a result of their political actions in 2019 when they organised and stood in primaries ahead of a planned election in order to go to the polls with a slate of pro-democracy candidates. Amongst those detained were journalists and trade unionists.

Riots in the USA: whatever happened to democracy?

Julie Ward

This is no Hollywood blockbuster. This is real life in the richest country in the world where the outgoing president has been using his last vestiges of power to auction off indigenous lands and vast tracts of the Arctic to fossil fuel companies, to stuff the courts and other institutions with Christian fundamentalists opposed to women’s rights, and to execute prisoners on Death Row who might have expected clemency from the Biden administration.

Reading habits: books for the holiday season

Julie Ward

A book to read:
Poems from a Runaway, A True Story by Ben Westwood – An autobiographical anthology that charts Ben’s life as a serial runaway, evading the care system and the law, sleeping rough in London before finding salvation in music and poetry, and eventually reuniting with his family. I had the privilege of meeting Ben when he was a keynote speaker at a conference in the European Parliament organised with Missing Children Europe and the Child Rights Intergroup (which I co-founded). You can find out more about Ben and buy his book here

Human rights must be championed

Julie Ward

In February 2018 I received news that 34 year old Teodora del Carmen Vásquez’ was to be freed after serving 11 years of a 30 year sentence for aggravated murder following the birth of a stillborn baby. Teodora was one of 17 El Salvadoran women whose cases were at the centre of a campaign initiated […]

International day for disabled people: the need for an inclusive approach

Julie Ward

In 1984 I found myself running an arts and disability agency for the north of England, and encountered the tail-end of the mass segregation programme that had resulted in millions of people with mild to severe physical and mental disabilities being locked away in large institutions, forced to do menial work for pocket money and with little say about any aspect of their lives. The arts activities that my organisation ran often opened up deep emotional scars from years of abandonment, disregard and abuse. Paintings, poems and performances were littered with powerful symbols of imprisonment and freedom.

The pandemic of violence and what to do about it

Julie Ward

So what can we do to stem the tide of gender-based violence apart from the usual petitions and letters to MPs? We need a system change across society starting with sex and relationship education so teachers and school governors should work together to implement age appropriate lessons. We need to increase women’s visibility across all sectors at the highest level, which means empowering girls to study STEM subjects and encouraging women to stand for election at every opportunity; it is heartening that we already have women police and crime commissioners in the region with more women standing in the forthcoming elections.

‘Good Trouble’ for the international day of the child

Julie Ward

Children growing up in post-pandemic, recession-hit Brexit Britain will have many challenges as they face a shrinking job market, mounting debts and a future cut off from their European peers, denied the right to travel, work, live and fall in love across a union of what was 28 different countries.

Observing elections: a tool for democracy

Julie Ward

I was observing the USA elections as part of an international virtual civil society mission under the auspices of Democracy Volunteers. We observed in pairs, applying the ‘four eyes’ principle, attending online events and monitoring media reports. My partner and I were assigned New York State where Covid-19 has been rife since the outset and continued to dominate the headlines throughout the election period. I also undertook some additional media monitoring of the Chicago Tribune, reading on one occasion a concerning report of voter intimidation by a ‘Proud Boys’ flyer campaign near a polling station.

Know your rights

Julie Ward

The attack on our rights can be seen in a global context whereby a plethora of rights are under attack from right wing illiberal governments. However, that this should be happening in 21st century Britain is a shock for many who always thought the UK was less prone to the populist agenda of ‘taking back control’ regardless of the self-harm that might be inflicted and the freedoms and progress that might be undermined.

Nuclear proliferation is still an issue even when Covid-19 has demonstrated that the real threat to our societies is not an imminent nuclear attack

Julie Ward

On October 24th the tiny Central American state, Honduras, became the 50th country to ratify a new international treaty banning nuclear weapons. This means that the measure will come into force 90 days later, which takes us to January 22nd, two days after the official inauguration of the next President of the USA. The Honduran ratification […]

Je suis Samuel

Julie Ward

the ‘Go Home’ message belongs to the Conservative government. It was the thrust of a Home Office campaign instituted as part of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ which saw the command emblazoned across vans parked in prominent places. State-sponsored xenophobia and ‘othering’ has historical precedence and it doesn’t end well.

¡No pasarán!

Julie Ward

Justice for Pavlos I visited Athens several times in the summer of 2019 as part of Greek Solidarity missions. On one occasion I was introduced to Magda Fyssas, the mother of the murdered left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas, otherwise known as Killah P (loosely translated as killer of the past). Magda was tired. Ever since her […]

Another protest is possible and very necessary

Julie Ward

Fight For The Future has amassed an impressive list of speakers who have now embarked on a virtual tour of the UK, focusing on national and regional issues, whilst also aiming to mobilise ongoing resistance to the unfolding tragedy of Brexit. The tour arrives in Yorkshire and the North East on Saturday October 10th.

Education and the thought police

Julie Ward

To prohibit learning about anti-capitalism is like trying to teach the history of the Civil War without mentioning Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads.

Speaking truth to power : why solidarity between generations matters

Julie Ward

Every major crisis has profound consequences for the next generation. The financial crisis resulted in mass youth unemployment, Tory austerity devastated the youth service, Sure Start centres and child and adolescent mental health services, whilst hiking up university fees and creating mass unsustainable student debt.

Peace is fragile and needs your help

Julie Ward

So in the midst of this maelstrom of testosterone-fuelled theatrics what can the genuine peace loving individual do to help avoid Armageddon? Firstly, mark the day in your diary this year and every year. Don’t let the UK forget its historic foundational role so spread the word and tell all your friends.

A Creative UK in a Creative Europe

Julie Ward

The UK government has chosen not to renew or continue its relationship with the Creative Europe programme after the end of the calendar year. This is a move that is viewed as a retrograde step on both sides of the channel and doesn’t fit with the government’s own narrative about a close relationship with our nearest neighbours nor its tub-thumping global Britain rhetoric.

Climate Activism via Letters To Power

Julie Ward

Years ago (in the last century) I attended a conference at Lancaster University on arts and the environment where I met ‘artivists’ from Platform, a London-based collective of artists, educators and researchers who were undertaking extraordinary projects such as ‘Unravelling the Carbon Web’, which partly consisted of Platform members walking around all BP establishments including […]