10 September 2011
Thank you conference and thank you Jillian for that warm welcome.
I'm delighted we're meeting here in Sheffield.
Did you know that Green Councillors have held seats in this city centre ward for seven years now?
Yesterday I was given a tour of the area and visited two schemes they're supporting to help sustainably strengthen the local economy.
Sheffield Renewables promotes the development of renewable energy and is run by and for local people.
And Regather is a co-op that gets local traders together, to exchange ideas and services and kick-start local projects.
These are exactly the kind of forward thinking local schemes that the Green Party wants to see everywhere - not just in Sheffield.
And our hard working Green Councillors are not resting with that - they are pressing the council to protect Sure Start centres, to invest more in renewable energy and bring in a city-wide "20's plenty" speed limit.
These are practical, positive measures which don't get political backing without Green Councillors.
It was clear from my tour yesterday that Councillors Rob Murphy and Jillian Creasy are held in high regard by local residents.
And it showed this year when the voters in this ward ignored Labour's vocal city-wide campaign, and chose Jillian to be their Councillor again. Well done Jillian - keep up the great work!
And of course there's another reason why it's significant that we're meeting in Sheffield.
This is the city where LibDem leader Nick Clegg has his Parliamentary seat.
Only 16 months ago before the General Election his popularity was at an all-time high.
Isn't it amazing how quickly the gloss came off?
How quickly the ‘I agree with Nick' t-shirts came off too.
As the LibDem leadership showed their true colours, and their coalition Government policies began to bite, the extent of their betrayal of voters became clear.
And while some LibDem MPs were selling their political souls, many more rank and file supporters were shocked by what LibDems actually did when given a taste of power.
In the last year we've seen former LibDem voters, members, activists and councillors realise that there is an alternative which won't sell out.
There is a progressive party of principle - we've seen them join the Green Party.
Nick - I think you'll find - they now agree with us.
Of course, it's no surprise that voters and activists are deserting the LibDems
and that Green candidates are beating LibDems in election after election across the country.
As soon as they settled for fancy job titles and a second class referendum they turned into little more than eager juniors fetching and carrying for their boarding school seniors.
Did they really believe the Tories when they promised no major changes to the NHS?
After Andrew Lansley had been plotting upheaval for years?
Do they really think they've achieved much with a fresh consultation and tweaks to the plans?
Make no mistake, the Tory-LibDem proposals threaten the founding principles of our National Health Service and they do this by shifting more responsibility and delivery of healthcare out of public hands.
The Secretary of State for Health would no longer have to guarantee health services are provided across the country -
he would only have to 'promote' universal coverage.
But what does 'promote' actually mean?
A government billboard saying ''Tesco dentists, coming here soon; every filling helps''.
The Government's plan is one where private companies provide services commissioned by GPs, paid for by taxpayers.
But the British Medical Association is clear: most GPs want to focus on treating patients not commissioning.
Most doctors aren't interested in an internal market competing for sickness contracts, they believe in the NHS as a co-operative of caring professionals, pulling together.
This spirit was eroded by successive Tory and Labour governments as hospitals became trusts bidding against one another.
Suddenly a clever way to make a hip operation cheaper became a commercial advantage to guard, not an innovation to share.
As private businesses get involved cooperation suffers.
Fundamentally, businesses care about profit not people, about wealth and not health.
They'll bid for the services that are easiest to run or squeeze money from - not expensive care which is hard to deliver.
What's left of the NHS will be starved of the money private companies cream off.
Why don't other parties ever learn that farming things out to the private sector doesn't save money but does compromise quality?
We saw it when Labour promoted PFI for hospitals and schools, the Green Party warned that this would compromise quality.
We said it would put us in debt to private companies for decades - and a recent report by the Treasury Select Committee agreed.
But a few MPs realising is not enough, we need them all to learn the lessons of past failures:
NHS privatisation is a bad deal for the patient and a bad deal for the taxpayer.
It does matter who delivers your care - not just what it costs.
We have a clear message for the Government:
We're proud of the NHS.
We still believe in healthcare free at the point of delivery. We still believe in healthcare based on clinical need, not ability to pay. We haven't stopped believing in healthcare to meet the needs of everyone, and we reject NHS privatisation.
With so many crucial public services being axed across the country, it's hard to foresee the extent of the devastation, but it's clear who will suffer most - the elderly, low-income families, carers, refugees, disabled people.
When David Cameron says we should ‘do more with less?' - does he really mean we should ‘do less for those with least'?
If we don't stand up for the vulnerable, society as a whole loses out.
Ignoring people's problems today only stores up greater problems for tomorrow.
Closing day centres for the elderly will increase hospital admission costs; ending HIV prevention schemes will increase chronic illness care costs;
axing employment services for young people will increase benefit costs.
In every case a short term financial gain means long term human, social and economic pain.
Young People and Jobs
Young people in particular are affected by these cuts.
The Government claims that these cuts are necessary for the future of our children - the future of whose children exactly?
All but the most privileged will see their future opportunities harmed by these cuts.
According to Save the Children, 1.6 million children in the UK are living in severe poverty.
The numbers of young people going into care are increasing and child protection referrals are rising dramatically.
What is the Government doing to support the most vulnerable children and families?
They have slashed the grants to local councils that paid for vital children's and youth services.
Across the country, counselling and support services that have helped thousands of troubled families are facing closure.
And it's not just the most vulnerable young people who are let down by these cuts.
Scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the trebling of university tuition fees makes it harder for millions of young people to access education.
With the three old parties constantly letting them down, is it any wonder that so many young people feel down about the future?
The Government is forcing them to fend for themselves in a world with dwindling job prospects, spiralling education costs, widening gap between rich and poor, and no support for young people in crisis.
Young people see the promise of a bright future snatched away by the very generation of politicians who benefited from free university education.
They find themselves being punished for the mistakes of greedy bankers and foolish politicians. It's shameful.
Young people would not have fared much better with Labour in power -
tuition fees were their idea and cuts were always part of their plan.
Labour had some vision for young people but long ago lost its way - a decade of power - their record of economic disarray, their political principles threadbare, their vision lost.
And that's why we continue to win support from former Labour activists who value our strong commitment to social justice and protecting public services - people like former Labour Councillor Liz Campbell who is now our first Green Councillor in Milton Keynes.
Welcome Liz, you are among friends who share your values.
You are in a party that has a vision for a better future.
We say the future of our country depends on young people
We say the future of our economy depends on young people
We say there is an alternative. We can and must invest in young people.
So what should the Government be doing to move forward?
Greens believe that the Government should focus on building a new kind of economy with skilled, lasting jobs.
We could create a million new jobs in the UK in areas such as public transport, renewable energy, home insulation, local agriculture and local manufacturing.
With so much work to be done, it makes sense for Government to invest in the future and invest in people.
And at a local level Green Councillors are showing what can be done.
Council after council is putting in place Green Party policies to strengthen their local economy.
In Brighton, Norfolk, Reading and here in Sheffield councils are following the Kirklees example and installing solar panels on council properties.
By doing this we reduce carbon emissions, create an income stream for the council and create new skilled local jobs.
By doing this we also take action to cut our addiction to oil.
Action that needs to be happening on a national level.
So why isn't the Government investing in these long-term solutions?
It's because the Conservatives and LibDems are dinosaurs still fixated on fossil fuels.
They plan to go ahead with deep-sea oil drilling off the west coast of Scotland, despite the lesson of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
So what alternatives does LibDem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne have planned?
Despite LibDem pre-election promises, Mr Huhne is pressing ahead with plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations.
This Uranium U-turn is supposedly OK because they're now promising there will be no Government subsidies.
But what about the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of hidden Government subsidies that are a vital to the plans?
So Mr Huhne, who is picking up the £70 billion tab to decommission the existing nuclear reactors?
And what's the bill going to be to clean up after your new ones?
Come to think of it, have you sorted out where you're putting the waste for the next, oh, 10,000 years?
And with the world's most advanced nuclear country, Japan, unable to guarantee the safety of its nuclear reactors, or even to clean up properly after a disaster, explain to us Mr Huhne why you're prioritising nuclear power over safer, cheaper, cleaner, renewable solutions?
And of course the LibDems aren't just unreliable on nuclear energy.
They've proven spineless on this country's Weapons of Mass Destruction.
They've joined in the shameless hypocrisy of lecturing others on nuclear proliferation while the Conservatives plan to waste an estimated £100 billion of public money feeding the cold war monster of Trident.
I recently attended the launch of a new film, Countdown to Zero.
The film shows just how recently and how frighteningly close we've come to nuclear war.
With 9 countries holding nuclear weapons and 40 capable of building them, we urgently need international commitment to the ‘Global Zero' programme to reduce and eliminate all nuclear weapons.
The consequences of a country or terrorist group using a nuclear weapon are too devastating to contemplate.
And the trillion dollars spent globally on nuclear weapons each decade is an obscenity when people are dying of malnutrition, disease and poverty that could be prevented with just a fraction of that money.
Our Government should follow the lead of South Africa and disarm our nuclear weapons and show by our actions that they have no place in our or any country.
But where we need moral leadership from this Government we too often see corporate interests winning out.
Take the latest damaging proposals to change the planning system, which threaten to bulldoze swathes of countryside.
Far from helping to revitalise town centres or sustain rural communities, they're just making it easier for developers to cash in on greenfield sites.
That's not a plan, that's another recipe for disaster. We agree with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust and the scores of other groups campaigning against these plans - we must protect the natural environment for generations to come.
We know that there's strong public support for our position on defending the countryside and green belt.
In July I visited Brixworth, near Northampton, where party members are backing a residents' campaign against a large greenfield development just outside the town.
In Hullbridge in Essex, party members strongly opposed Conservative plans to build on the green belt.
This commitment helped win our first seat on the district council in 2010 and, in June this year, Diane Hoy was elected as our second Green Councillor in a by-election.
Far from opening the gate to greenfield destruction, the Government should be taking steps to protect the natural environment and wildlife.
But the Government has a habit of disappointing us - they plan to press ahead with their badger cull despite an independent scientific review saying it will fail to control the spread of TB in cattle.
The evidence is that 80% of bovine TB is spread between cattle in over-crowded conditions.
Rather than wasting money on a cruel and ineffective cull the Government should focus on real solutions: restricting the transport of cattle and ending intensive farming of animals.
But this Government has a very weak record on protecting animals.
And now they are threatening to loosen the regulations on animal experiments in ways that would massively increase experimentation, allow experiments on great apes, and permit the infliction of severe and prolonged pain.
In a civilised society this approach cannot be right - especially when there are more reliable alternatives to animal experiments.
Whether it's on the NHS, social care, the economy, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, the environment or animal protection -
the LibDems are letting down the people who supported them.
With all the broken promises we've seen in recent years from Labour, the Conservatives and LibDems it's no wonder so many people are disillusioned with politics.
But many activists from other parties have realised that there is still a party that stands by its principles and makes a difference.
Up and down the country we're seeing examples of former activists and councillors switching their allegiance to the Green Party.
Take Alan Weeks in the New Forest - now our first Green County Councillor in Hampshire.
He joined the Green Party after the LibDems let him down on tuition fees, public services and renewable energy.
Or Councillor Howard Allen in Solihull.
He joined the Green Party because he could rely on us, not the LibDems, to campaign with him to protect green spaces and oppose a major supermarket development.
Or Alexis Rowell, who was the Sustainability Champion in Camden when he was a LibDem Councillor.
He left the LibDems following their nuclear u-turn and their poor record in government on the environment and social justice.
And in just a few days time we have an opportunity to get Alexis elected as a Green Councillor in a crucial and winnable by-election in Camden.
To Alan, Howard, Alexis and ex-LibDem members across the country we say: welcome to the Green Party.
You want to protect public services and the natural environment, you want to oppose nuclear power and restrain the power of big business,
you don't just value your principles but value sticking with them - well, you are in the right place - and we won't let you down.
In May's elections we gained seats from the LibDems in Bristol, Mid-Suffolk, Hove, Norwich, Stafford, St Albans and Totnes.
But we also made gains from the Conservatives and Labour.
And we held the vast majority of seats we were defending - in many cases against strong challenges from other parties.
I'd like to congratulate everyone who was elected this year - but let me highlight just some of those advances.
We won Green seats for the first time in St Albans, Stafford, West Norfolk and Bolsover.
We gained Council group status in Bristol, Reading, Reigate, South Hams and Solihull.
The Green and Independent Group on Mid Suffolk District Council became the official opposition.
Greens have Cabinet seats on Lancaster City Council and hold the balance of power in a number of other authorities.
And we're using these positions to good effect.
Take Bristol, where we have two councillors who hold the balance of power.
There our Green Councillors are playing a leading role in pressing for public transport improvements and have forced the LibDems to backtrack on a plan to sell off green spaces.
Look at Reading, where again, just two councillors hold the balance of power.
I visited them last month and was very impressed by the work they've done in just a hundred days.
They are doing everything they can to limit cuts to social services and have secured reinstatement of concessionary bus fares for people with disabilities and their carers.
Elected Greens make an impact even in small numbers.
But of course it's better when those small groups become big groups.
And this year our bigger council groups have been battling hard to hold or grow their strength. Norwich has grown to 15 councillors,
but I have heard a rumour that one local party did even better.
Yes, Brighton made history yet again,
swelling their ranks to 23 Green councillors and becoming the first Green-run council in the country.
After just four months in power our Green administration in Brighton is having a big impact.
Greens are bringing in a Living Wage for all council workers in Brighton.
They are working with local partners to create new apprenticeship opportunities.
And they are bringing in radical plans to upgrade pedestrian and cycle routes to promote road safety, good air quality and sustainable transport.
It's a hard time for local government but our Green Councillors across the country are making us proud.
That's why your work is so important.
That's why it's crucial that we get more Greens elected in more places.
We can show there are ways to limit the damage of government cuts, ways to protect services and put in place Green policies that improve quality of life and local economies.
For those of you with local elections in 2012, I know you will already be selecting candidates and planning campaigns.
It's crucial that you get out there into your target wards to campaign on local issues, visit residents and deliver newsletters.
We know that, with strong year-round campaigning, Greens make advances across the country, in rural and urban areas alike.
And it's not just local council elections next year.
We have the important election for Mayor of London and the vital fight for London Assembly seats.
In the eleven years that we've held Assembly seats, our Assembly Members have been a strong voice for social justice and environmental protection in our capital.
They've secured real improvements in road safety, cycling routes and home energy schemes.
And of course, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones were the first politicians to successfully argue for a Living Wage - a policy now spreading across the country as Green Councillors and others follow their example and help people on low incomes make ends meet.
This one example shows the national significance of the election in London in May.
In Jenny Jones we have a principled and distinctive candidate for Mayor of London - someone with a proud record of challenging the Metropolitan Police on a range of issues, from phone hacking to the unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson.
Jenny, Darren and all our candidates in London - you have our support.
But of course they need more than just moral support.
They need practical help from members across London and beyond to secure and increase the Green Party's influence at City Hall.
They need help delivering leaflets and campaigning across the capital from now through to May. In London you are probably already gearing up to help.
But if you are from outside London and don't have your own local elections in May, why not spend a couple of days in the capital assisting our campaign?
Go find the London Green Party stall during conference to offer your help.
And don't forget the Camden by-election this Thursday.
It's a ward where we already hold one seat. Winning a second would give us a group on Camden Council and boost our London Assembly campaign.
If you can visit between now and Thursday please offer your help to Camden - and if you are there on Wednesday I'll hopefully see you on the campaign trail.
Conference, as ever it's great to catch up with members from around the country.
I've met plenty of new members attending their first conference - in fact, our membership has risen by over a thousand since the last conference in February.
And of course I've spoken to lots of familiar faces too, it's inspiring to hear your stories, your successes and your determination to make a difference.
We are all working hard across the country to advance the Green cause, whether it's on by-election campaigns, community initiatives or local fights against the cuts. We know that society and the planet need us to fight for a better future.
Often these fights are tough and the odds are stacked against us but we know that, with determined skilled campaigning and by pulling together we can often win against the odds.
And it's not easy work. So let's thank everyone who has helped our cause over the last year - whether volunteers or staff, whether at local, regional or national level.
By working together we can continue to attract more people to our cause.
That's something we can all do - asking our friends, our family, our colleagues, people we meet on the doorstep - to join the party, to help us grow and expand our influence.
Friends, this is not an easy time to win local campaigns or influence local councils - but it's a time when our influence is greatly needed.
To support the vulnerable, to save the NHS, to create a fairer future, and to protect the natural environment - we need strong Green voices more than ever before in local communities and council chambers around the country.
And with your hard work, persuading more people to join us, we will build a bigger movement for change,
And we can, and we will, make a difference.