There were times when I was growing up that I experienced sectarian abuse as part of a minority community. Coming from a mixed marriage in terms of religion, my upbringing led me to be anti-racist and anti-sectarian. In 2009 the prime reason I put myself forward as the lead European candidate for the Green Party in the North West was that I wanted to stop Nick Griffin from making it into the European Parliament. I was the right person to lead that campaign and we came very close to making it a success. That narrow loss is something we have to put right this year and remove him from a platform which he has used for prejudicial and oppressive statements.
I’m also someone who was brought up with socialist values, in a working class community. While by most definitions now I am “middle class” (university educated, working as a lecturer, living in a mortgaged property), it was not always that way. My mother once worked as a cinema attendant and my father was in the merchant navy. We lived in damp properties and didn’t live in a house with central heating until I was 7 years old. They worked hard and advanced their careers so that I could be where I am today, a debt that I can never repay to them, but that I must repay to the next generation and my own children. My understanding of social inequality in Britain is not just an academic one – I feel it - and I want to change it.
In the North West I have worked as a social worker and a lecturer in the more deprived communities in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. I’ve seen first hand the fruits of our economic system, which leaves so many in a hole so deep they feel they may never escape. The impact of the economic crisis that brewed for decades under previous governments, as “light touch” regulation and close relations with the city, were more important than a radical change in society. That is one reason why I left the Labour Party in 1998. Despite having a majority that could have transformed Britain, the timidity and the desire to stick to Tory economic plans (déjà vu?) convinced me that the Labour Party of Bevan was lost to history.
Alongside all of this, there has been an impending and growing threat from our warming planet. It was in 1989 as a student that I was first inspired to join the Green Party. At that time, CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere had just exceeded 350 ppm with a warning to all of us that we were causing unprecedented climatic changes. At that time the Greens were, to put it mildly, anarchic, directionless and politically ineffective. Many other people like me made the “pragmatic” choice to go to Labour. We bought into the promises in the 1990s that there would be significant action on climate change, but the record in government was simply not good enough.
If our ambition to keep the majority of this planet inhabitable is to be achieved, it is not enough to tinker at the edges of the problem. I’m yet to come across a single business that wants to sell less of its product, yet that is exactly what we need to do in our domestic energy supplies if we are serious about tackling climate change. Price freezes and saying companies are making too much profit might sound good (particularly in focus groups in marginal constituencies) but as we’ve seen from the coalition response of bringing Green measures into general taxation, it is not bringing anything different to the table. It still means that Labour supports a privatised energy market, where it is ok for companies to make profit at the expense of people and the climate.
It leaves the Green Party, of which my membership is most often something I am very proud but in which I’ll admit there are occasional disappointments, as the only credible and electable party offering a different political and economic vision.
On the liberal issues of freedom and personal liberty, we are the only party that has consistently stood for liberty. We are against repressive measures brought in under Terrorism legislation that have ended up being applied at demonstrations against non-violent protestors. We are also the only party speaking out against the provisions that mean that your personal medical data can now be sold onto researchers and third parties. The Liberal Democrats have sacrificed so much at the altar of coalition government, which has sadly included some of the liberal principles they once held dear.
In respect of democracy, Caroline Lucas proposed that the false choice of Alternative Vote versus First Past the Post be expanded out to include options including proportional representation. Liberal Democrat MPs filed through the lobbies to vote against this proposal. We want to extend the democracy enjoyed by local electors in Scotland to local elections in England too. We want a national parliament that elects its MPs on the basis of real support, not a Hobson’s choice of the least worst option. Disillusionment with politics is very high and the anger UKIP has tapped into is very real in a political system where too often your vote doesn’t count.
Privatisation has failed. The ideological reasons behind the privatisations of utilities it in the 1980s and 1990s has left us with a failed system. Train fares increase year on year above inflation, train operators make their profits and people who might otherwise use public transport are priced out. Energy bills have increased consistently, enabling the big 6 energy companies to make £3.6 billion in profit in the last financial year alone. Water companies make money from a resource that continues to fall, God-given, from the sky, when in many ways we could be harvesting our own supplies in every household. Our NHS has also been locked into costly PFI schemes and now clinical commissioning groups so it is no longer just patient health that matters, but how well each group is doing financially. Finally, the profit motive means we are locked into a system where economic growth is everything. Sell more. Make more money. Sod the consequences.
There are a lot of people with good values in Britain today. I want my children (and their children) to have a fairer and better society. We have a moral duty not just to the suffering experienced by people in the UK, but around the world. That requires a genuinely ethical foreign policy and we are the only party that says that Trident and nuclear deterrence should be scrapped. Our moral duty extends not just to our own species but to the world around us. It matters how our animals are treated and it is unacceptable for us to be a society that dines on factory food, while ignoring the suffering caused to intelligent mammals. Around the world, thousands of species are heading for extinction every year, marking a new mass extinction event that this time has one principal cause – actions that we control.
The potential for 4 degree Celsius rise in temperature may not be within my lifetime, but the consequences of our ongoing experiment with the climate have already arrived with increasing extreme weather. More flooding is predicted in the North West this weekend. Every generation has its battles to fight and needs politics with a vision about where to go from here. There will be those fighting on the activist frontline, at Balcombe and Barton Moss to oppose the insanity that is fracking, and again only the Greens are willing to stand up to developers and the existing fossil fuel lobby. There will be those campaigning to put pressure on the politicians that we do elect and there will be those of us fighting elections to try and influence the votes that set laws.
As most of you will know, I stood for the leadership of the Greens in 2012. Much of what is written above would have been articulated in my speech had I won the contest. While I regret not winning at that time, I’d reiterate here that I think Natalie Bennett is doing a strong job and has written a brilliant piece today in the Independent which you should read. I want to make clear that as an elected MEP my focus will be on being the best representative I can, not just for the voters that support us, but for everyone. This is why I support our new strapline (the title of this post) and make clear that I will not be standing for either leadership post in the Greens in any forthcoming internal elections.
This generation we will have to battle for policies that are for the Common Good, not for the profits of the very few. Our votes this year in Proportional Representation elections will matter a great deal in shaping the debate. If it is just about UKIP and their xenophobia, climate change denials, anti-European rhetoric, big business and pro-cuts agenda then we will have failed. If on the other hand, as some political pundits are suggesting, the Greens are part of the story of the European Elections and we beat the Liberal Democrats, we will be a voice in our own country and in Europe for a better society. I hope you share that vision.
To make a donation to the North West region campaign, please visit our Green Action website.