Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A New Green Leader

On Tuesday evening I was up in Buckhurst Hill for a public meeting hosted by Epping Greens. Their speaker for the evening was Natalie Bennett, the recently elected leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, and her talk was entitled A green economy: rebuilding local farming, manufacturing and services. She is probably the only UK Political Party leader who can shear a sheep.

Here’s what she had to say:

The United Kingdom is the 6th wealthiest country in the world and yet poverty is increasing rapidly. 10% of households cannot pay their basic bills, food banks are springing up all over the place, people are having to choose between heating and eating and teachers are buying dinners for their pupils. There is something wrong here and that something is "austerity". Even the International Monetary Fund are now saying so. It’s taken them a while to catch on but at least they are getting there, unlike our government who will be issuing their autumn confession statement tomorrow (now today).

Back in the 2010 General Election the Green Party had a fully costed, no cuts manifesto. The investigative journos at Channel 4 smelt a rat and a story. They decended on Party Headquarters to go through the books and guess what? It all added up, it was sound – no story – no television programme. That should tell you something about the sort of political TV programmes that get made and broadcast.

But to say there were no cuts is not strictly true, they were just different cuts borne out of a different set of priorities. There were no cuts to essential services and plans to ensure Multi-Nationals pay an appropraite amount of tax (now very much in the news, people do catch on eventually). There were cuts to Trident, the Afghan war, and road building. This also included scrapping University tuition fees on account that it is completely wrong to saddle young people with a debt of £50k just when they are starting out to make a life for themselves. Educated people are a public good, if they earn lots of money they pay lots of tax, if they work in the voluntary sector they bring social good.

The Greens want to create a different sort of society – one that doesn’t use the resources of 3 planets when we’ve only got one. It is a bold plan to restructure the economy into a green economy. It is about bringing manufacturing back to the UK, worthwhile jobs and localism (she recounts a talk she gave to young Conservatives who were all nodding at this suggestion). The fact is that the so-called global economy is already creaking under the pressure of fuel prices which are forecast to double from this present high in the next 10 years. She tells a story of carrots being grown in Scotland, being sent to Cornwall to be washed (why do you need to wash carrots?) and then back to Scotland to be sold. Now that is food miles. Whilst we need to grow food and make the things we need locally that doesn’t mean we can do everything. We can’t grow coffee beans here and there is the perennial argument about New Zealand Lamb. But we should do what we can and not with giant monocultures across the countryside. And talking of resources she points to landfill sites in Belgium that are currently being mined for the resources thrown away and buried since the 1950s. (Ed: something that a friend of mine, who is now a volunteer at Forest Farm Peace Garden, predicted 25 years ago – watch out Fairlop Waters?).

And our government is completely missing energy conservation in it’s recently published energy bill. Insulation cuts bills and demand and it is being done successfully in places where there are Green councillors like in Kirklees with Andrew Cooper. The government’s half hearted Green Deal is practically useless and they are lukwarm on renewables. Wind farms and Solar Farms can look very different to local people depending on how they operate. If they are owned by a Multi-National and the profits from the generated electricty just disappear into a corporate bank account they can look unattractive. But if they are owned by the local community and the profits are used in the local community to provide extra school places, community centres etc they can look very different.

On transport well, let’s renationalise the railways (those young tories were nodding again). The fact is that the fragmented nature of privatisation introduces a cost of co-ordination of somewhere near £1billion. But who pays asks someone? It won’t cost a penny she says. You just let the contracts run out and it all reverts to the state – simples.

On the National Health service she says we had the most efficient and fairest system in the world until the Labour Party’s sad record on the Private Finance Initiative and we are now moving rapidly towards a USA type system where profit is extracted.

She rounds of with a line that the green message resonates with lots of small “g” greens in places like RSPB, FoE, Greenpeace, Transition groups and Agenda 21. She says the Green Party is the political wing of the small “g” movement, we just have to get them to vote for us ...

The leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are welcome to a space here to respond. We understand that the Leader of the Labour Party will be speaking locally on 15th December but I am already booked for that evening. If anybody is there and would like to take notes please let me know.


  1. Re-nationalise the railways? Yes, ánd while we're at it,the energy companies too. Take the requirement to pay shareholders out of the equation, along with the ability to negotiate excessive salaries and severance packages which are often the reward for failure. I don't think the NHS could functiuon without outsourcing some of its activities, but we could give it a try.