Caroline Lucas spring conference speech

20 March 2009

CONFERENCE SPEECH MARCH 2009


1.  INTRODUCTION

Thank you. Thank you everyone.  And a particular thanks to our hosts here in Blackpool and in the North-West for making us so welcome.

I’ve already had the chance to meet many talented and committed activists from this region.  

And to hear about some of the work and the successes that the Green Party has had here in Lancashire.

We’ve known and admired the way the Greens have broken through onto Lancaster City Council, almost doubling their number of seats to 12.
 
Now we see the benefits for local people.

Councillors who are prepared to back local businesses and to challenge short-sighted developments, like the Centros shopping centre.

Councillors who will fight for our environment, and against the road-building madness of the Heysham by-pass.

And councillors who fight to protect vital public services

These are the kind of Green councillors we are seeing all round the country.

Greens delivering for their communities.

Being honest about the challenges we face.

And making decisions - not on political calculation – or, for that matter, on Mediterranean yachts - but on the basis of what is right.

No wonder when people see the Greens in action, they want more.

And having more members joining us is the best vote of confidence that I can think of.

It’s the sign of a political party that is reaching out to people and convincing them that there is a way to succeed in politics without compromising your principles.

And so, as we prepare to launch our European Election campaign, it is the Green Party which offers the genuine alternative, both to the three grey Westminster parties, and to the growing threat from the BNP.

Here in the North West it is our lead candidate, Peter Cranie, who stands between Nick Griffin - and the policies of hate which he represents - and a seat in the European Parliament.
 
And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many more resolute and steadfast than Peter in his opposition to bigotry and racism, nor more committed to standing up for justice and equality.

 

2. NOW MORE THAN EVER

We, the Greens, stand for honesty with the electorate,

facing up to the hard choices

and making decisions based on justice and fairness for all, whoever they are and wherever they live on our planet.

Was there ever a time when these values were needed more than now?

When people lose faith in politics, we are all worse off.

Because they lose faith in the idea that we can make the world a better place.

That we can tackle challenges like climate change or world poverty.

That we can reduce the inequality in our society, the unfairness, the discrimination – and in doing so, tackle all manner of problems, from crime to mental illness.

There are people who peddle the line that during a recession, Green issues must take second place.

As if caring about whether the clothes we wear are produced by child labour is “just another fashion”, in this week and out the next.

As if the environment, or social justice, were a luxury that can be given up like that extra cappuccino on the way to work.

We know how bogus this line is.

We know that in hard times, we are needed all the more.

Ask the people of Sipson. Do they thinking that stopping their houses being demolished to make way for a new runway for Heathrow is a luxury?

Is campaigning to reduce the number of children killed on our streets by bringing in twenty mile an hour zones in residential areas, a “distraction” from the real business of politics?

Do agency workers, laid off without any rights or compensation, think that social justice is simply a middle class fad?

Let’s be clear, and I’ll say it again.

The Green Party is needed now  - more than ever.


3. RECESSION

Since we met in London last September, the recession has really hit home.

People are losing their jobs. Councils are cutting vital services.

Businesses are being pushed under through lack of credit.

We had the boom. Now we have the bust.

Are we surprised?  No.

For years, Greens have been warning against the cocktail of irresponsible policies that have fuelled this recession.

Take the banks.

We knew that mutual societies  - with roots in their local communities, serving their members, looking to the long term - provided an essential alternative to the High Street banks.

We said that allowing them to demutualise was wrong.

Not just because it stripped out the assets built up by successive generations of members.

But also because mutual building societies provided diversity and security within the financial system.

And what happened?

Halifax, Northern Rock and the rest turned their back on their heritage and began indulging in unsustainable financial adventures.

All an attempt to meet the insatiable demands of shareholders.

The result?

Huge losses. Loyal staff, made redundant.  And people struggling to pay their mortgages, made homeless.

 

It’s the same with globalisation.

 

We were the ones who warned that globalisation, and the turbo-driven capitalism that came with it, were not only a means for multinationals to exploit the people and resources of the developing world.

They were also a huge source of instability for the British economy.

We knew that when the recession came, its impact would be more severe.

Again, events have proved us right. The OECD is predicting that no other major economy will suffer more than the UK.

We warned about the irresponsible use of oil and other resources.

We knew that as oil became more scarce, its price would not only rise over time, but also become more volatile.

And so it proved. Oil rose to nearly $160 a barrel last year, helping to tip the world into recession.

Now we all know that pointing out to people that you were right is not a very popular activity.

And we can take no pleasure in what has happened.

We know what a recession means in terms of human misery.

But we will say this:

 

The Green Party understood the folly behind the conventional wisdom;

We warned against the consequences.

WE have never been afraid to tell it like it is – because WE don’t do afraid.

So will the politicians and bankers look to us to help come up with the solutions?

Well, I have something to report. Some of them are doing just that.


4. GREEN NEW DEAL

Take the Green New Deal.

For years, we have been pointing out the benefits to society that would come with a sustained investment in Green measures like renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The Green New Deal was born from this work.

A costed and practical programme to invest in measures that will reduce carbon emissions, save people money, and generate hundreds of thousands of new green jobs. 

Our research suggests that we could see:

· Almost 140,000 extra jobs from a programme of energy saving for every home in the country
· 200,000 extra jobs in wind energy by 2020, and another
· 200,000 extra jobs in agriculture, by increasing the supply of locally-produced food.

And about 50,000 of these jobs could come here to the North West – along with many more jobs in public transport, greener waste management, small-scale biogas production, and the installation and maintenance of solar panels on hundreds of thousands of roofs.

This year – a year late – perhaps a generation late, but let’s not quibble – Labour and the Conservatives have discovered some of these ideas for themselves.

But, tragically, at root, they still simply don’t get it.

Gordon Brown, for example, is planning a huge expansion of both nuclear power and coal.

Yet nuclear is a dirty, dangerous, costly distraction

And even if new carbon capture and storage technology were to prove both workable and economic, it won’t be zero-carbon, and it’ll simply divert investment away from renewables. 

And since nuclear and coal generate far fewer jobs than green energy, and decades later at best, make no mistake: neither of them has a useful role to play in tackling this challenge.

The bottom line is that Green policies on energy, on transport, on waste management and on agriculture will deliver more jobs per megawatt, more jobs per mile, per tonne and per acre.

Let’s be clear:

What’s on offer from this government is not a Green New Deal, but a Brown New Deal.

Take the banking sector as well.

The collapse of Lloyds TSB, Halifax Bank of Scotland and the rest has been a disaster.

The amount of taxpayers’ money needed to prop them up is terrifying.

And when you think what else could have been done with those hundreds of billions of pounds – in tackling climate change, in improving services or reducing inequality – it’s enough to make you weep.

But the extraordinary position of this government owning huge swathes of the banking sector brings an historic opportunity to put right the mistakes of the past.

The Green Party is looking ahead to what we should do when the present crisis eases.

Should we simply hand back the banks to the City to run?

Even with better regulation, this would risk a repeat of the credit crunch in years to come.

So instead we are proposing that the Government should use its position to restructure the UK banking sector.

We want to see new mutually-owned financial institutions that would be insulated from the volatility of the stock market.

We want to see more local and regional banks that would serve their local communities.

We are talking to the leaders of the business community about how we could make this happen.   

And we’re getting a very positive response, because more and more people recognise that we can’t go back to the way things were.

We’ve always had the ideas

Now we’re winning the battle for them.

 

5. WHO PAYS FOR THE RECESSION?

And perhaps the greatest fight here is over who will pick up the bill for the current mess.

The Labour Government have decided who they want to make pay for it.

Not the bankers. They’re walking away with knighthoods and pensions.

Not Gordon Brown. He can’t even bring himself to say sorry – let alone take responsibility and resign.

Not the rich. Inequality in this country is worse now that under Thatcher.

With the richest companies and individuals able to avoid taxes with impunity, that will only get worse.

No, Gordon Brown has decided the bill should come to us.

To ordinary people like you and me.

He wants us to pay through higher taxes, and cuts in education, health and policing.

Not this year, perhaps. But delaying the bill until after the election will not make it any less painful.

He wants us to pay by sacrificing our environment.

He wants to use the excuse of the recession to push through deeply damaging and short-sighted projects like Heathrow, and Kingsnorth.

What an extraordinary betrayal

And with leaders like Brown, it’s no surprise that this is being called the Age of Stupid.

 

6. CLIMATE CHANGE

We know that the changing climate is the greatest threat to humanity.

We’ve known this for a generation.

Now the evidence is all around us – in rising sea levels, melting glaciers, tropical storms, floods

And just 10 days ago, the terrifying forecasts from the latest science – that the Amazon Forest is dying back faster than predicted, and that sea level rise will be greater than expected.

The scale of the challenge is clear. But what is the response of our government?

They say it’s up to us. Play your part.  Do your bit.

No wonder people are confused.

The greatest threat this country faces.

Up there with international terrorism. The rise of Fascism in the 1930s.

And the Government is telling us to change our light bulbs and turn our washing down to 30 degrees.

Of course there is a role for individual action.

Of course we should all be taking every step we can to minimise the impact of climate change.

But it is for governments to take the lead.

That is why they are there. If we the people could sort it out for ourselves, we wouldn’t need government in the first place.

What if William Wilberforce had said – Yes, we know slavery is wrong but we have to think of the economy. So could you just cut down a bit? Own one slave instead of two?’

What if Emmeline Pankhurst had said – we want the vote for women, but we understand people don’t like having to change. So maybe our husbands could ask us what we think before they go out to vote?

When London and our other major cities were suffering from killer smog in the 1950s – did anyone say ‘could you just put a little less coal on your fire?’

Let us be clear.

This government has betrayed the people of Britain in the most fundamental way.

They have not only failed to protect us. They have lied to us.

They have pretended that they have the problem under control.

That a few low energy light-bulbs here, a bit of lagging on your loft there, and the problem will go away.

When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich and waved that scrap of paper promising peace in our time, at least he believed it.

What excuse do our current leaders have?

Labour have had nearly twelve years in power.

And they have done nothing

Because they have sold their souls to vested interests.


7. POLITICS

And so we come to the heart of it.

Climate change. International development. The economy. Social justice.

They all come down to one common factor.

Politics.

Because in the end, politics is no more and no less than how we decide things together.

How we face up to the difficult questions and try and find the right answers.

The answers that give the greatest benefit to the majority, without leaving anyone on the outside.

I believe that this Party, the Green Party, has a huge amount to contribute to politics in this country.

Not all the answers. Of course not.

But politics is the poorer because of the efforts of the other parties to exclude us.

If we had any doubts about the level of corruption in Parliament, they can hardly have survived the last few years.

We’ve seen BAA and the airlines buy their way into the corridors of power to get the result they wanted on Heathrow.

British Aerospace stand accused of bribery and corruption. But the Government decides that commercial interests in Saudi Arabia are more important than the rule of law.

And most recently comes the tawdry spectacle of four Labour peers caught being paid cash for arranging for Parliamentary questions to be asked and amendments to legislation to be tabled.

They didn’t deny what had happened. But they said they had done nothing wrong.

Well, perhaps they didn’t break the law. Perhaps they didn’t break any rules in Parliament – which simply shows how overdue we are for reform.

But how debased has our politics become when people can say that they have taken money to have amendments tabled to change our laws - and yet have ‘done nothing wrong.’

But let us not think that all politicians are the same.

We remember the work of Tim Beaumont – Lord Beaumont – in holding the government to account as the lone Green Peer in the House of Lords.

His death last year was a loss to us all.

And it’s no surprise that the Government has yet to appoint another Green peer who would carry on his work.

Peter Mandelson can be fast-tracked into the Lords.   (And you can imagine how much we miss him in Brussels)


But if it is someone who might champion the poor, or ask awkward questions, or show that you can be in politics, stick to your principles, and still make a difference, then of course they shut the door in our face.

But we are not giving up.  We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. 

And we’re in it for the long haul. 


THE YEAR AHEAD


First, we must remember that we can win. Slavery was abolished. Women won the vote. Fascism was defeated.

Second, we must remember that winning at all costs – winning by sacrificing our principles – would be no victory, but only a betrayal.

And third, we must never forget the responsibility we carry.

What happens in this country does matter to the rest of the world.

Whether it is the pollution we produce or the resources we consume; the scope for our armed forces to be a force for good or the cause of greater instability; for us to provide leadership on climate change or to undermine progress.

What we do nationally has an international impact.

And in this party, we believe something quite simple and something powerful.  That everyone in the world is of equal value

So I ask you to remember, in your work on councils up and down the country;

in campaigning in your communities; in working to see more Greens elected to the European parliament and to your local councils;

and in preparing the ground for our first MPs in parliament – remember who you are working for.

Not just the people of this country – but for everyone in this world.

For all those who are struggling to make their voices heard, and for future generations without a voice

The Green Party is that voice.

You are that voice

 






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