Sunday, 28 July 2013

NATALIE BENNETT AT KENT GREEN PARTY GENERAL MEETING - 22.06.13


            Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, had a busy day on 22nd June this year. In the morning she attended the inaugural meeting of the People’s Assembly in Central Westminster Hall along with 4,000 other people and Caroline Lucas, our Green MP. She then rushed down to Wye to come and speak to Kent Green Party members and answer their questions. Here is a summary of what she said at that meeting.
Natalie began with the observation that the current economic system is broken. We can’t just tinker with it − it needs radical change. What’s more, we can’t keep going the way we’re going with regard to the environment. The abundance of Nature is disappearing at an alarming rate − just think how many bees, hedgehogs, moths, or butterflies you’ve seen lately, or rather haven’t seen. The danger milestone of 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere has been passed, the plastic and chemical pollution of our seas is getting out of hand, and overfishing has led to seriously depleted fish stocks.

The heedless exploitation of the environment and of people go hand in hand, as can be seen in the lifecycle of a cheap t-shirt. Such goods are no longer manufactured in this country; we focus on finance, arms and pharmaceutical companies and import the other things we need. This model is blatantly not working any more.

Take what happens when a new out-of-town supermarket is set to open up in your area. We are told this is good for job creation but this fails to take account of the impact on jobs in local shops from greengrocers to signwriters. They are all likely to close for lack of business. This is counterproductive as we need strong local economies with money circulating in the town, not going out of the district and into offshore accounts. In contrast, towns which have introduced a local currency to promote shopping locally have all prospered.

It is also important to look at the kind of jobs which are being created. Many offer the very basic minimum wage or even a zero-hours contract. This kind of contract is becoming more and more common in more and more occupations and professions, from care and nursing to accounting and teaching. Employees with this kind of contract must be available for work every day but will not be told until 6am on the day whether they have any work. They may have no money at the end of a week to pay the rent, or may have had to work a 40-hour week.

Natalie moved on to the situation in agriculture. We now import 93% of our fruit from outside the country and also have the fastest rate of food inflation in the EU. It is vital that we bring food production back. Half a million people in the UK are dependent on food banks. They have not come to this situation lightly. Contrary to common perceptions, it actually takes people a long time to resort to a food bank; they are desperate when they do.

So our current model is broken economically, socially and environmentally. The three main political parties are still treading on each other’s toes on the same old ground, talking about economic growth and trying to attract floating voters with optimistic visions of the future.  Yet people are now becoming aware of the true situation. The Green Party is the only one representing the idea of changing the system, but we are part of a big movement which includes Occupy, trade unions, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, and a number of other groupings. We must lead down new paths.

Natalie went on to enumerate some of our policies:

1.        The minimum wage should become a living wage
2.        Renationalise the railways - Caroline Lucas is introducing a Private Member’s Bill to this effect

3.        Keep Royal Mail public - we support the CWU on this
4.        20pmh speed limits in built-up areas
5.        Councils should pass motions to have no evictions on the basis of the bedroom tax (like Brighton & Hove)

6.        Declare one-planet cities (Brighton & Hove is the first in the world) − the WWF one-planet living idea is based on green policies (see http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/conservation/one_planet_living/about_opl/principles/ for more on this)

7.        Make cooperative farming viable − create small market gardens with a variety of jobs rather than back-breaking monotonous work like fruit-picking on a huge farm. The community farm in Wye is a good example. We should encourage vegetable growing in schools and open days for green business advertised in Job Centres. This must go hand in hand with affordable housing in the countryside, where rents and house prices tend to be too high for locals to pay. We need to fight the government on “big is better” in farming.

8.        Bring bus companies under one publicly owned company in order to reduce prices and give councils control. At present eg Arriva makes 60% profit on tickets. Buses must be the cheapest, simplest, most reliable means of transport in an area

9.        We should factor the costs of the car culture into the costs to society eg NHS costs of illness from air pollution, obesity from lack of exercise, etc

Pat Marsh, Branch Secretary.