20 February 2010
ADRIAN RAMSAY'S SPEECH TO GREEN PARTY SPRING CONFERENCE 2010, FINCHLEY
Thank you Jillian for that introduction. Good afternoon conference. I'm really enjoying being here in Finchley. It's been great catching up with so many of you ahead of the most crucial election that this party has ever faced. I know you are all working hard planning for the elections in your area like Green candidates up and down the country, where I've been visiting community centres, talking to people and discussing the issues that affect them.
Recently I visited the Sure Start nursery in Thorpe Hamlet in my constituency in Norwich South and I talked to parents about the crucial help and childcare provided to them. Among the babies I met was 8 month old Martha McGuire who lives nearby in Norwich. Talking to her mother and other mothers at the centre we discussed the future that those children will face growing up, in their education and later life. It's amazing to think that during the course of this speech 20 new babies will be born in the UK - one per minute. So let's think about the future they and Martha will face.
NHS & Maternity Services
In my and Martha's home city most of the babies are born at the Norfolk and Norwich - a PFI hospital that opened less than ten years ago, but where already a lack of beds has led to the maternity unit being closed on 22 occasions last year. Unlike you or I, where our birthplace was paid for by our parents or even their parents, Martha is going to be paying for the hospital she was born in long after she may have children of her own. Isn't that shocking? Labour has bought new NHS hospitals from the private sector and is mortgaging future generations to pay for them.
What's worse is that we know PFI hospitals cost more. The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital already costs £19 MILLION more every year than if it had been built by the NHS. That's £19 million extra being paid by Martha's parents and all the other local taxpayers. That's a deal so bad that if, as Greens recommend, we bought back the Hospital now we'd save Martha, her parents and their friends, hundreds of millions of pounds over Martha's lifetime. That's money which could instead be spent on staff or other public services, but which will otherwise go to private profit.
And the same is happening in PFI hospitals across the country. It's wrong that future generations are saddled with debt for private profit. Public investment should not be about private gain. Greens believe the NHS is not a market opportunity - it's a public service - and that's worth fighting for.
Sure Start Centres
But the future starts now and Martha has started going to her local Sure Start centre. Sure Start is a scheme that supports some of the most deprived families by providing educational and health services alongside free childcare. The Conservative-run County Council planned to close the centre, but a strong campaign by Green Councillors and local residents changed their minds.
Nationally, the Conservatives are still planning to slash as much as £200 million pounds from Sure Start, which would mean job losses and savage cuts to services affecting Martha and her mother.
This sort of scheme is vital to give every new child the best life chances she or he can have. But the Tories do not see the care of all children as their priority. So much for compassionate Conservatism.
It's wrong to rob the children who most need it of extra help and care. Greens say support Sure Start and give every child a fair chance - and that's worth fighting for.
And when Martha and her peers start school, what sort of education system will they face? Will it be one where children leave primary school without basic reading and writing skills? Will it be one where teachers are so wrapped up with paperwork for unnecessary testing of younger children that they don't have the time to inspire their pupils and ensure that each child gets the attention they need? As Greens we want primary school to be a time where every child achieves the basic skills they need, where we cultivate every child's natural curiosity about the world and inspire them to learn.
As Martha moves on to secondary school I hope that she will have as good an experience as I did. But can we be sure she will have access to a good local state comprehensive run by an inspiring head teacher, or will the schools have all been turned into academies run by managers reflecting the private agendas of their corporate funders?
When Labour first set up academies they allowed private sponsors to buy influence over a school.
For £2 million they could control the Board of Governors, curriculum, staff and pay, admissions policy, and the name of the school. Now Labour has ditched the price-tag and is giving that influence away for free. And all for what? A recent study by the London School of Economics has shown that academy schools make no measurable difference to achievement. Instead we are selling or abdicating our responsibility for the education of future generations and allowing agendas, such as creationism, that distort our children's education.
As a Green I want education free from corporate influence. I want every local school to be a good school. I want teachers who inspire future generations like my teachers inspired me - and that's worth fighting for.
When I met Martha she seemed bright and curious about the world and hopefully will enjoy school.
Perhaps she will want to go to university. But what a challenge that will be.
I was fortunate to go to a good local state school and to go on to my local university before top up fees had been introduced. When I was at UEA, I campaigned against students having to pay £3000 per year in top up fees- a policy pushed by then Education Secretary and current Norwich South MP Charles Clarke.
Over the past years, with the loss of various other supports like housing benefit, the total cost of a degree has sky-rocketed. It's a far cry from when Charles Clarke was president of the National Union of Students and attended Kings College Cambridge. In his day, students received grants and paid no fees. In the past, students might have left with a small overdraft. These days, a UEA student starts their graduate life carrying an average debt of £23,000 and yet Labour and the Conservatives are considering raising tuition fees further.
I wonder how much it will cost to get a degree by the time Martha is 18? I fear that instead of looking for the best course for her skills Martha will be worrying about the cost and worrying about whether she can afford to attend the university she wants. You know, it shouldn't be about whether you can afford it.
I believe Higher Education in Britain is something we should be proud of. Our universities are wonderful seats of knowledge and inspiration. They are essential if Martha and her generation are to face the challenges of the twenty-first century with confidence and creativity. Yet lecturers are losing their jobs, courses are being cut, tuition fees are spiraling, class sizes are becoming unmanageable, and essential university services are being axed. Higher education is facing £9 million of cuts. If these cuts go ahead, departments will shut and some universities will close. So much for investing in a knowledge economy.
The right to a free education shouldn't stop at sixteen, and the responsibility of government doesn't stop there either. As Greens we would find a better way to fund Higher Education that offers grants to students rather than ever-increasing debts. Education is a public service which should be free at the point of delivery - and the only fair way for students to contribute towards their education is through tax after they have graduated.
Everyone benefits from a society where people can achieve their best. Greens believe in a high quality education system available to all - and that's worth fighting for.
Jobs, a Living Wage, and a Fair Economy
But lifelong opportunities are not just about universities. In twenty or so years time, Martha may graduate with a degree but she may have chosen to pursue vocational training. So what opportunities will there be for her? Will there be apprenticeships or other programmes for young people leading to skilled jobs?
When I speak to people across the country, many have been affected by the decline of British manufacturing. Those who remember, speak with sadness of the loss of jobs for young people.
The job market is failing young people and in my county it's hitting hardest. Norfolk has the highest unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds of the whole country. It has the highest number of 18-24 year olds on Job-Seekers Allowance, and the highest number of job losses per head of population against any other county. This is the legacy of Tory and Labour governments. And this is what we need to address.
Those people on the dole, will they be helped under Labour? Today Labour launched their General Election slogan - ‘A Future Fair for All'. How can they be trusted to be fair when bankers are still getting bonuses, yet the recession is still putting thousands of other people out of work?
The people who gambled with our money, who built the house of credit cards that now has crashed, get bailed out, but everyone else picks up the bill. That doesn't sound like Fair for All. That sounds like a bankers' Free For All.
We believe in fighting for fairness - not crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Our proposals would create a million lasting jobs - not ones dependent on cheap fossil fuels or financial bubbles. We want skilled jobs in public services, renewable energy and low carbon industries. We would nurture small to medium enterprises to encourage domestic manufacturing and local agriculture.
And we wouldn't stop there. What about the people who do find jobs? Many of them still can't make ends meet. Across the country the Green Party has been leading the campaign for fair wages. As deputy leader I was proud to launch Birmingham Green Party's Living Wage campaign when I visited in October. Green Party members of the London Assembly pushed through a Living Wage for GLA workers, helping thousands of Londoners make ends meet. Green Councillors up and down the country are pressing their local councils to guarantee a living wage. In Oxford they've succeeded in passing a motion through the local council and secured a living wage for workers. In Sheffield, and my home council in Norwich, we're working hard to get this implemented.
Greens say let's build a real economy, a lasting economy, a fair economy - and that's worth fighting for.
Ok, so let's say Martha is lucky enough to find a fulfilling job. Will she be able to find a decent, safe and affordable home?
Across the country many young people can't find adequate rented accommodation or get their foot onto the property ladder. Greens are pressing for more affordable housing. Social housing is not a dirty word, it's essential for our growing population.
In Norwich, thanks to pressure from Green Councillors, every big new residential development must now include 40% affordable housing. There is also the shameful situation in many parts of the country of families waiting for homes while derelict houses stand empty. When I visited Lambeth recently I learnt about the campaign of Green Councillor Becca Thackray to improve the maintenance of local housing stock. The arms length housing organisation set up by Labour is unaccountable to residents and 1500 council homes lie empty while families wait for somewhere to live.
It's wrong that affordable housing isn't a priority. It's wrong that built houses are sitting empty while families wait. Greens believe that everybody deserves a safe, affordable home - and that's worth fighting for.
A Sustainable Future
In 2050, Martha will be 40, but whether she has crippling debt from her education, whether she has a secure and fulfilling job, whether her family has a stable home, we really can't predict. What we can be sure of, is that by then, she and the world of 2050 will be facing even greater challenges as a consequence of climate change.
Take rising sea levels as an example - by 2050 there will be flooding near Martha's home in Norfolk, and across the world, livelihoods, industries and island nations will be suffering. Climate change refugee numbers will have swelled from an estimated 300,000 to date, to an unimaginable torrent of human misery. Unless we start tackling the situation now there will be runaway climate change.
So why is the Government not acting? Before the Copenhagen Climate Conference I was at a public meeting addressed by Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He knows Ed Miliband well, and he is convinced that the Minister understands the scale of the problem and understands at least some of the solutions, but Professor Anderson says that the Government isn't acting because it thinks there are no votes in climate change.
Well that's wrong. At this election we can elect the first Green MPs. We can show there are votes for tackling climate change and for building a fairer world. Electing the first Green MPs will ensure that Parliament takes climate change and global issues seriously - and that's worth fighting for.
But what of Martha as she gets older? What support will she receive in her old age? What care can she expect?
Just this week we've heard that at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital one elderly lady was treated in a store-cupboard. Already we have a shortage of beds in many of our hospitals. So will health services be able to cope with an ageing population?
Not if the government continues down the route of privatisation. At the Norfolk and Norwich we know that PFI means that public money is going into the pockets of private companies rather than being invested into healthcare. The same is true across the country.
And what about social care for the elderly, what about pensioner poverty? In Lewisham, Green Councillors are opposing plans for an increase in charges to the elderly that will hit the poorest the most. Up and down the country, Greens are resisting cuts to day care centres and to home care. We are demanding urgent Government action for a fair pension. Greens are committed to exceeding the National Pensions Convention and paying a state pension of £170 per week.
It's wrong to cut the services that protect vulnerable people. It's wrong to leave pensioners choosing between buying food and heating their home. Greens say defend care provision and establish a fair state pension of £170 per week - and that's worth fighting for.
The General Election
On all these issues we need Green MPs in Parliament, fighting for a fairer future, challenging the complacency of the other parties, and bringing fresh ideas.
Electing the first Green MPs will be the biggest change we can make for this country at this General Election. We need Green MPs to oppose privatisation, to press for new jobs in green industries, and to fight for good local public services. We need Green MPs to bring Parliament into the twenty-first century - MPs who will remember they are there to serve the people and not to help themselves. We need Green MPs to take a constructive approach, to work with others for the benefit of the people and planet.
In the Scottish Parliament, the two Green MSPs are in an influential position in a hung Parliament. They have made an enormous impact by working with the other parties. There is increasing talk of a hung Parliament at Westminster after this election. Imagine the impact the first Green MPs could have in that situation - our ideas heard on the national stage for the first time with the other parties listening.
We know that we can make the breakthrough when the election comes. With just ten weeks until polling day, our campaigns in the target constituencies are gathering pace. There is increasing excitement at the prospect of the first Green MPs. On the streets of Brighton, Norwich and Lewisham we are talking to voters about the impact a Green MP would have for them.
People are looking for a fresh approach, and voters are excited by what we have to offer. In Norwich South and in Brighton Pavilion we are already ahead on local and European election votes. In Lewisham Deptford we are clearly the main challengers and eroding Labour's majority day by day.
In September, we will meet again at our next conference in Birmingham. With your help, you will be hearing about the impact new Green Councillors are having across the country.
With your help, I will be telling you about the change our first Green MPs are starting at Westminster. With your help, we will be at the heart of politics representing Martha and working to make hers a better life.