25 November 2013
Good morning everybody and welcome to the second day of conference. I hope Brighton is to your liking!
It’s just over a year since I was elected Deputy Leader of the Green Party and I wanted to begin by thanking everyone for supporting me in this role. I’m honoured to hold it and with your help, I will continue to work hard to make sure the Party moves forward, growing in support and getting the message out to the UK that there is an alternative to Tory viciousness, Lib Dem cowardice and Labour’s laziness in Opposition – and that the alternative is us.
To do so, we must occasionally look at ourselves, to remind ourselves who we are, what we stand for and why.
In the Green Party, we all begin from one single point: we cannot – we will not – do nothing. We will not sit by, like the Lib Dems and Labour, and watch as the seeds of our own environmental destruction are sown. We cannot, as the Tories are doing, deliberately sow those seeds ourselves, by blasting poisons into the ground in order to burn carbon-based materials (another great victory for the Greenest Government Ever!).
We cannot – we will not – sit by and watch as humans cause global temperatures to increase five degrees centigrade, as the ice caps melt, millions of acres of rainforest, farmland, hundreds of species of animal and plant are wiped out and the human race is decimated by flooding and freak weather events.
We cannot – we will not – lose the advances we have made as a species, in medicine, information and technology and we will not allow people to die simply because James Delingpole doesn’t like the way wind turbines look.
One thing is very clear: capitalism simply can’t deliver environmental protection. It's not designed to. It is a system to maximise profit, full stop. Capitalism has no means of registering a falling forest, or a species going extinct. All it knows or cares about is the bottom line.That’s not to say that no capitalists are concerned about the environment: many are. It’s just that they are part of a system which encourages selfishness and stops people working together to overcome their challenges.
And in a system where the only aim is to make as much money as possible, as fast as possible, what’s the point in planning for the future? Capitalism actively discourages the co-operation and long-term planning we need now more than ever.
But there’s more to it even than the climate catastrophe we face – and which capitalism will deliver. We are right to stand and defend the planet. But must also ask how we want a world fit for our children to be run. And I think we all agree that we want a planet in which people are kind, loving and caring. If we aim to save the world, we must make sure we deserve it.
The capitalist model, based as it is on competition rather than co-operation, on selfishness and inequality rather than on everyone benefitting from the efforts everyone puts in, is failing. It has failed.
It has failed us environmentally, socially and economically. Yes, a system defined by its attitude to capital has failed us economically. And there’s a very simple reason.
Kenneth Boulding, husband of Elise M Boulding and a renowned economist in his own right, said that: ‘Anyone who believes in infinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist.’
I’d suggest it’s possible to be both.
But the comment underlines the contradictions of an unregulated capitalist system. It relies on growth, but the more it grows, the fewer resources are available for continued growth. Ultimately, capitalism will eat itself - and us, too.Because the more it grows, by exploiting non-renewable resources and societal inequality, the closer we come to a crash and an outpouring of violent social disorder.
Global capitalism doesn't care: it really doesn't. It doesn't care about conditions in Chinese sweatshops, or oil spills, or poison leaching into water supplies. It only cares about the bottom line. And keeping things cheap: clothes, and electronic goods, and motor cars. And apparently we don't care either - or too many of us don't. Because we keep on buying this stuff. So the rich keep on getting richer, and the poor keep on getting poorer.
Is this the world we want for our children? Is it the world we want for ourselves? It’s not just that we can’t protect our environment – our lifeline, on which we rely completely for everything we are and do – we can’t even run an economy on it.
There is no escaping the fact that by any sensible analysis, Monetarism has failed.
In 1979, when Keynesianism was dropped as a failure by the Tory Party, it had been the generally accepted wisdom for 33 years. Those 33 years were characterised - in the US and the countries of western Europe - by rising living standards and reducing inequality.
Monetarism has now had 34 years in which to prove itself. It's a periodin which unemployment shot up from 990,000 to 3 million, before steadying at just over 2 million; we have lost ownership of public transport, which as a result is more expensive and less reliable than ever despite receiving more taxpayers’ money than at any point in history; we have a privatized national power system which receives massive public subsidy, and issues higher billsthan ever before; and we are now facing the steady creep of privatised healthcare and education.
And who has benefitted? Not those whom the system has robbed of their jobs, because the government keeps cutting social security. Not those whose full-time employment has been slashed to part-time, or zero-hours contracts, as they are earning less than ever before.
It’s not even those who work full-time, who the government claims to support, because the last five years are the first in more than a century in which wages in this country have actually fallen compared to the cost of living.
The government says it’s making work pay; but it’s making it pay less!
Monetarism has made people poorer, while stripping away the affordable transport, affordable power, and reliable water services that made life liveable. On top of all that, Monetarism, a system which prides itself on its hard-headed approach to the economy, has delivered the worst economic crash in eighty years!
Even now, the government is celebrating the fact that the economy is growing again. And it’s certainly true that the Office for National Statistics has reported growth of a minuscule 0.7 per cent in the last quarter.
But this growth is based on rising house prices. Which was the source of the last unsustainable boom! And the direct cause of the last crash, which has left millions of people poorer, without jobs or hope for the future!
The government seems to have forgotten that the system of ever-increasing house prices collapsed, just a few years ago, and it’s trying it again. It has returned to a belief in infinite growth in a finite system.
And we’re expected to applaud this? It’s the economics of the madhouse. Not only have the lunatics taken over the asylum, they’re selling it off brick by brick, not realising that when it’s gone, they’ll have nowhere left to go …
On the subject of housing, one of Monetarism’s worst legacies was its housing policy, Right to Buy.
Council housing had been a public service, enabling people to move around so they could work anywhere in the country, by providing a decent home for just as long as they needed it.
But Right to Buy forced Councils to sell off the homes they owned for less than the market values of those houses and prohibited them from replacing them!
The effects have been felt across the country. In Reading, for example, the council called a state of emergency because vital workers - litter collectors, street sweepers, teachers and nurses - could not afford to live there. We are ALL suffering due to the lack of decent, affordable, social housing.
And there’s another unforgivable result of the great housing sell-off: homelessness.
Under Right to Buy, two million houses were sold. How many families and individuals are now on the housing register – the list of people waiting for somewhere decent to sleep? Two million. The sixth richest nation in the world, and two million families – around five million people – haven’t got anywhere decent to live.
Even this government has been forced to notice this and has decided to ‘free up’ housing for people who need it - by fining people who already have houses, if they have more rooms than they can sleep in each night!
Like so many other elements of this government's welfare policy, there isn’t even any point. Even if it was fair to chase people from their homes, there are only enough one or two bedroomed homes available for four per cent of those the government is taking money from.
The choice for 96 per cent of the people judged to have ‘too many bedroom’ is be fined or become homeless!
Monetarism is an experiment. And it has failed. On every single criterion, it has failed. It has failed me, it has failed you, it has failed the vast majority of people in this country and around the world, and it is failing the environment on which we all rely.
'When the facts change, I change my mind,' Keynes said. If only our government - and other unimaginative, unintelligent governments all over the world - were as wise.
But Greens must do more than just complain. It’s too easy to complain. Anyone can sit on the sidelines and snipe at the failures of others. It’s ESPECIALLY easy to snipe at the Coalition.
What's much harder is proposing workable solutions, persuading people we have done the thinking on these matters, and winning them to our side.
So the question is, what alternative is there? What would WE do?
It’s a vital question, because in the next year we’re aiming to get our two MEPs Jean Lambert and Keith Taylor re-elected – and to build on our presence at the European Parliament: after that, we head into the 2015 General Election where we can – and MUST - return Caroline Lucas to Parliament and increase our presence in the House of Commons.
But the only way to do that is to get our message out there. To show people that there IS an alternative to repeated failure. And that WE are that alternative.
WE are the ONLY Party which will get rid of the Bedroom Tax, the ONLY Party which will renationalise the railways.
We are the only Party with a genuine alternative to the failed Monetarist experiment: a new system, for the benefit of everyone in the country AND the global environment, based on smaller scale local production, efficient, low- or no-carbon transport, energy efficiency and investment, green technology and energy creation, creating new jobs, the reduction of waste, and a real Living Wage which enables working people to live in comfort and security.
We are the ONLY Party which stands for the people of this country – for everyone, regardless of wealth or of race, and that’s because we are the ONLY Party which recognises the urgent need for environmental protection AND societal and economic restructuring.
If we want the earth to continue to provide us with a comfortable home environment, we must change the way our civilisation operates. If we want to create a civilisation based on justice and fairness to all, the first step is to encourage a respectful and nurturing attitude towards the one thing we all have in common: the earth.
We are the ONLY Party which knows that infinite economic growth is not only impossible – it’s unnecessary. We don’t need a permanently growing economy, just one which guarantees a decent standard of living for all. We don’t need to perform alchemy – to create a new ‘gold’ because the raw materials we have relied on so far are running out. We just need to restructure society so everyone benefits.
That restructure will not only mean everyone in society gains the rewards of society’s achievements – because people in this country succeed together – it will also deliver MORE money for the common good.
For example, a Financial Transaction Tax of just 0.05 per cent will deliver us £10bn per year. We have seen the EU’s lawyers have raised objections to such a tax, but their concerns were not with the tax itself, rather with the idea that only a small number of EU states would act together without the involvement of their fellow member-states: we can introduce the Robin Hood Tax alone, or with the whole of the EU. And we should.
We can also save vast sums of money in other places. One quick example? A replacement for Trident. Instead of spending on unnecessary means to kill people – a symbolic toy to help certain politicians feel important, but serving no real purpose in the modern world – we can save £83.5bn by simply not replacing it.
Gandhi said, 'The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed'. None of the other parties seems to recognise this very obvious truth. We do, and now we just need the chance to do something about it.
We are the ONLY Party with an alternative to the culture of greed, environmental and social destruction in which we now live. We are not a better, kinder neo-liberal Party, we are the better, fairer, kinder and smarter alternative TO the failed neo-liberal experiment.
We are the future - we are ALL the future, not just you, me and those of us in this room, but every man, woman and child across the country.
The Green Party is the alternative, You are the alternative, WE ARE THE ALTERNATIVE!