Green Party Deputy Leader Adrian Ramsay – full speech to conference
This is the full text of Adrian Ramsay’s speech to the Green Party Spring Conference in Cardiff today.
Bore da I chi gyd, a croeso I’r cynhadledd.
Good morning to you all, and welcome to the conference.
Let me start by thanking the conference organisers for all their work in helping to make this conference such a success.
It’s great to be back in Cardiff for the second time this year and it’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces – not just from Wales, but from all parts of England as well as friends from Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It’s wonderful to see so many new faces too – a happy reminder that the Green Party is growing fast and welcoming new members every week. But, we’re meeting at a time of enormous importance for our country; a time of great uncertainty and fear; a time when the voices of compassion and justice must speak out for the most vulnerable in our society.
When we last met, in the autumn, the Coalition’s knife hadn’t yet sunk in far. I’m sure you’ll agree that people across the UK are now feeling the pain. Up and down the country we’re seeing vital care services for the elderly cut; youth services slashed; support for carers and services for disabled people hacked apart; vital services in council after council butchered by frenzied Coalition ministers.
This is not some careful cosmetic operation. Not some nip and tuck around the edges. These cuts are chopping whole limbs of our public services which millions of people depend upon.
In my own county of Norfolk, the Conservative-run County Council is axing its entire Youth Service – and Suffolk, Buckinghamshire and Manchester have the same plans in store.
These services help vulnerable young people in need; they provide them specialist advice and support; they boost their skills and confidence; they help young people to find work or further education; and they help them to fulfil their potential in life. By reducing crime, unemployment and teenage pregnancies, these services save much more money than they cost. It makes no sense to cut them. And with so many cuts to Youth Services, it’s little wonder that young people feel under attack.
This is the message behind these callous cuts: vulnerable young people being told that society doesn’t care any more about their troubles; that they’re on their own; their youth centres, places of refuge closed down, the doors of opportunity slammed in their faces.
Of course it’s not just the most vulnerable young people whose future prospects are being curtailed. In the past few months I’ve given talks at universities across the country; I’ve spoken to many students who are struggling to make ends meet and worried about their future.
With rising tuition fees, threats to post-16 transport subsidies, the loss of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, the disappearance of graduate jobs, and ever-rising youth unemployment, almost every young person in the country will be affected by these cuts.
Young people deserve better than that. They are the future of our society – and we can build stronger communities by supporting them all.
It’s not just young people who are feeling the pain. People of all ages will be affected by huge cuts to social services, with the elderly and disabled hit hardest by cuts to care and welfare budgets.
Take Kirklees in Yorkshire. The council there is cutting day care services by two-thirds, affecting thousands of older people, disabled people, and people with learning difficulties. Our Green Councillors in Kirklees have campaigned hard against these cuts, but the other parties won’t listen.
Across the country, local authorities are cutting care budgets, shutting day centres, and closing care homes. They’re removing support for people with learning difficulties, mental health issues and physical needs.
These cuts are morally wrong and they’re also financially short-sighted. Many of these services save more money than they cost by preventing people’s health from getting worse. The loss of these care services will place great strain on the NHS and unpaid carers who are already struggling to cope.
The Green Party says protect care services. We would provide more support to carers and ensure that vulnerable people in our society are treated with dignity because it’s morally and financially the right thing to do.
PUBLIC SECTOR JOBS
Of course people’s livelihoods are also being destroyed as a result of these cuts. Thousands of public sector workers who have dedicated their lives to public service have already lost their jobs, and another 150,000 more job losses are expected this year. Here in Cardiff, 350 council jobs are set to be axed and almost every council has a similar story to tell.
The Tory-LibDem Government is creating mass unemployment. But why? For what great cause are social care, youth services, and fire services being sacrificed? For what purpose are hundreds of thousands of people losing their livelihoods?
David Cameron says that severe cuts have to be made to get the economy back on track. But destroying jobs and services will not help our economy.
As Greens, we know that the Government should be investing in a new economy of the future – in the same way that the post-war Government, facing an even bigger debt challenge, invested in jobs, the welfare state and the NHS after 1945. Cuts are not the answer.
What we should be doing now is investing in lasting jobs in the industries we need for the future; we should be investing in renewable energy, public transport and home insulation; and we should be investing in and safeguarding our public services because they are the bedrock of a civilised society.
But this is not the vision of the Conservative-LibDem Coalition. If they have a vision at all, it’s a cut-throat future of every man or woman for themselves.
Do you remember the pre-election slogans? The Tories said: ‘Vote for change’ – and they’ve certainly delivered on that promise, but it’s change for the worse. As for the LibDems, they said: ‘Change That Works For You. Building A Fairer Britain’. Change that works for who? A fairer Britain? We know by now that what the LibDems say is not the same as what they do.
If these changes were fair they would target the financiers who wrought misery on our economy, not target children, the elderly and disabled; if these changes were fair they would cut bonuses for bankers, not respite care for unpaid carers; if these changes were fair they would shut down corporate tax avoidance not care services!
The Conservatives say they want to cut waste – but the real waste is the billions of pounds lost through tax dodging that big companies like Vodafone drain from our economy every year.
Far from building a fairer Britain, the LibDems and Tories are bringing in policy after policy, cut after cut, that widen inequalities in our society, that make poor people even poorer, that make the super-rich even richer, and that sweep away the safety net for millions of vulnerable people.
Unlike the LibDems, or the Labour Government that came before, the Green Party stands up for social justice. We’ve not forgotten the pledge that we made to voters. And we’ve not forgotten our principles. We still think that fair is worth fighting for. We’ll be out there in the community, at local rallies, in council chambers, in Parliament and assemblies – we haven’t forgotten what we’re about, we will keep standing up for justice and fairness.
GREENS STANDING UP FOR SERVICES
Against the onslaught of cuts, Greens across the country are doing all we can to defend crucial frontline services.
In Norfolk, the County Council proposed huge cuts to care services. Green Councillor Stephen Little launched a petition to protect these services and, thanks to a strong community campaign, the council has now back-tracked on the most damaging plans.
In York, Councillor Andy D’Agorne has been fighting proposed budget cuts to York’s Children’s Centres, Careers Advice, Education and Youth Services.
In Lewisham, Darren Johnson presented an alternative budget that would have saved children’s centres and school improvement teams by cutting pay for top-earning council staff and using energy efficiency measures.
On Oxfordshire County Council, Greens tabled an amendment that would have saved libraries, care services, youth and children’s services
and a major recycling centre. But the other parties pushed the cuts through.
In the Scottish Parliament, Green MSPs fought against 400 million pounds of cuts to public services, including housing, education and energy efficiency but Greens were the only party to vote against the budget initially proposed.
As Greens we are the only credible political party standing up for public services, fighting the onslaught of cuts, and putting people first.
THE GREENEST GOVERNMENT EVER
As Greens we are thinking about future generations too. Just as that means protecting public services it also means looking after the planet and its ecosystems.
From polar bears struggling against extinction from climate change to the house sparrows that have disappeared from our back yards – nature is under threat. Every day species are vanishing from our gardens, from our forests and farmlands, from our seas and rivers, and some are disappearing altogether from our planet. We are in the midst of a mass extinction of species on a scale not known since the dinosaurs. Governments everywhere are turning a blind eye to this global biodiversity crisis.
Conference, there is no other political party that will stand up for wildlife and fight to protect the natural world.
It’s not just wild animals that need our help. Conditions in many farms are still barbaric. Thank goodness that the plan for a mega dairy in Lincolnshire with 6000 cows has been withdrawn – a victory for campaigners. This US-style industrial farm would have taken British agriculture even further in the wrong direction: bad for animal welfare, bad for the environment and bad for consumers.
None of the old three parties will stand up against cruelty and oppose intensive factory farming and vivisection. The Green Party opposes cruelty wherever we see it.
I’m proud that Green MEPs have worked hard to improve welfare standards for animals in laboratories and farms across Europe. Jean and Keith – keep up the good work!
Sadly all three of the old parties have showed us time and again that they cannot be trusted on green issues.
Like those that came before them, the LibDems have joined the Tories in their great eco swindle. David Cameron promised us the ‘greenest Government ever’ but he’s given us the ‘meanest Government ever’. Who’d have thought that a Coalition Government whose combined logo is a little yellow bird nesting in a tree, could come up with a plan to sell off the country’s public forests?
The campaign against the forest sell-off was incredibly inspiring. Over 400,000 people signing an online petition. Grassroots campaigners forcing the Government to back down. Its success reminds us that it’s always worth fighting for what we believe in.
SHETLAND OIL DRILLING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
So, if public pressure can make the Government U-turn on its ludicrous forest sell off, is our environment safe? I don’t think so.
The Conservatives and LibDems have enthusiastically embraced BP’s plans for deep-sea oil drilling in Scotland. Yes, that’s the same BP responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and they’re now planning the same deep-sea drilling in UK waters. The consequences of a similar oil spill on the Shetland coast would be catastrophic for Britain. The impacts on wildlife, local jobs and coastal communities are unthinkable. Even if there was no risk of a spill from BP’s latest venture, drilling deeper and deeper for every last drop of oil is still taking us far in the wrong direction.
I wouldn’t be the first person to say that we need to move Beyond Petroleum, but at least the Green Party really means it.
We recognise the reality of peak oil and climate change, and we know that we can address these issues whilst creating a healthier and happier society. We also know that we can’t rely on the other three parties to take us in the right direction.
Labour had thirteen years at the helm, but failed to take action. The Lib Dems and Tories are champing at the bit for more oil drilling and coal-fired power stations. Not one of the big three parties is serious about tackling our addiction to fossil fuels.
As Greens we have a clear message for the Government. We can build resilient communities with local jobs, clean energy, local food production and good public transport. These communities will be greener and they’ll also be healthier and stronger.
We need more Greens elected at every level of Government to put forward the solutions to these global challenges.
Even one elected Green can make real difference and when they make that breakthrough they inspire others to follow their path.
Green Councillor Andy Cooper has inspired many fellow Greens with the success of the free insulation scheme and solar initiatives in Kirklees. Now Green Councillors in many parts of the country are making real progress in getting councils to adopt insulation schemes, energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Here in Cardiff, Greens are pressing the council to tackle the city’s carbon footprint with a free insulation scheme in the poorest areas, renewable energy on council buildings, and improvements to public transport.
In Lancaster, Green Councillors have secured funding for solar panels, double glazing and energy efficient boilers for the town hall, as well as solar panels on the city’s sports centre.
In my home county of Norfolk, Green Councillors have persuaded the County Council to set up an Energy Services Company that will install solar panels on council buildings across Norfolk. This will lower carbon emissions and create jobs locally. But the scheme has another important benefit – it will help reduce the impact of government cuts on council services. Lower energy bills, combined with income from energy sold back to the grid, means the council will be able to save some services that would otherwise be cut. It’s the kind of creative thinking that Green Councillors bring to their authorities.
Across the country Green Councillors are making a genuine difference.
We’re standing up against the callous cuts and showing that there are alternatives; that there are ways to save vital services, create many more jobs, and take positive steps towards low carbon economies. We are making progress, but we need to do much, much more, and to achieve more, we need to get more Greens elected.
On 5th of May, less than 10 weeks away, we will have that opportunity. Here in Wales, we need every Green Party supporter to unite behind the campaign to make a breakthrough onto the Welsh Assembly. We know there will be a tough fight ahead, but every new voter we win over in this campaign takes us a step closer to electing Jake Griffiths as the first Green Welsh Assembly Member.
We know that our colleagues in Scotland will be campaigning hard to win more MSPs. Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie have been real champions of justice in the Scottish Parliament.
With Robin Harper retiring from Parliament this year after twelve years service, let’s send him our best wishes and hope his retirement present will be many more Greens in the Scottish Parliament. For myself, and other Greens in England, now is the crucial time when we must be gearing up for the council elections on the same day.
Make no mistake, it will be one of our toughest years in local elections for a long time. People have short memories and Labour is already on the rise, its spin-machine masking their real costly legacy: disastrous PFI schemes, tuition fees, ID cards and the Iraq war.
We must rise to the challenge and show that Greens – not Labour has-beens or LibDem wanabees – are the real voice of social justice. To get that message out we must start now. We cannot wait until April to start our local election campaigns. We must get out on the doorsteps now. We must show voters that we care about them all year round, not just in the few weeks before an election. While we rise to the challenge of a Labour resurgence, we must also reach out to new supporters. All those people who voted for the Lib Dems and feel betrayed by them – where will they turn?
We have a real opportunity to reach out to those people and show them what the Green Party stands for. We must show them that the Green Party is the real party of progress, justice and fairness.
It will take hard work to hammer home that message. Compared to our rivals, our voice in the media is still a whisper. That means we must reach people in the most direct and effective way – on their doorstep.
Let’s go out there and meet them, knock on their doors, listen to their concerns and show them that we care about their issues. Let’s give every voter we can the chance to vote for a better future – that means fielding as many Green candidates as we can.
Combined with that let’s plan carefully and use our resources effectively. We know that we will only win more council seats by targeting those wards where we can win. Let’s concentrate our efforts and not spread ourselves too thinly.
The Green Party has been winning council seats for 25 years. We know how to do it and we know it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the concentrated efforts of people like you – people who commit their time, energy and talents to winning over communities and working for them all year round.
I know at times it feels like the Goliaths we face always win, but Conference – look at how far we’ve come. Over 12000 members, over 100 councillors and elected Greens in the Scottish Parliament, European Parliament, and the London assembly. Last year we made a major breakthrough into Westminster and Caroline’s work in Parliament has raised our party’s profile to an unprecedented level. Without the collective efforts of hundreds of Green activists, we would not be where we are today.
Conference, our country faces many challenges, as do we as a party. But we have much to give us hope. Our membership is growing, our support is swelling, here in Wales and across the country, more and more people are joining us in our fight for the future. With them our strength grows and with them more Greens will be elected and working together, we can build a better, fairer world.