Greens call for “solidarity pact” as a response to coronavirus crisis

UK Green Party leaders Sian Berry, Anthony Slaughter, Clare Bailey

In the past two weeks, the crisis surrounding coronavirus has rapidly escalated. The government has been issuing regular advice for the public and introduced stringent public health measures.

Prominent Green politicians are among those who have called for more radical action from the government, as well as for measures to protect people from facing substantial adverse impacts.

Leading figures from across the UK’s Green Parties this week issued a call for a “solidarity pact” to alleviate the worst effects of the virus. Among other things, this called on the government to provide:

  • Funding for free deliveries of food and essentials for people over the age of 64, and people with disabilities.
  • Funding for families with children receiving free school meals to cover the cost of replacement meals should schools be closed.
  • A holiday from council tax for each household affected by the coronavirus, with compensation to councils for the lost revenue
  • A suspension of no-fault evictions or the eviction of anyone affected by the coronavirus crisis and a freeze on rental payments for those affected (with compensation for landlords for the lost rent).
  • An end to all benefit sanctions for at least the length of the crisis.
  • A ban on the cut-off of electricity, gas and water supplies to residential properties and small businesses during the crisis
  • Funding for special provision to assist homeless people off the streets, with facilities provided for any homeless person needing to self-isolate and/or suffering from illness

Speaking on the call for the Solidarity Pact, Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Sian Berry said:

The coronavirus threat is a time for national solidarity. There is great fear and anxiety about the pandemic. Individual security – the confidence that you won’t be made homeless, lose your utilities, or go hungry – will provide a crucial bedrock.

Green Party in Northern Ireland leader Clare Bailey echoed Berry’s comments. She also called for specific measures to be introduced for the north of Ireland, such as close cooperation between the UK government and that of the Republic of Ireland:

The situation of Northern Ireland is different to the rest of the United Kingdom. We need to work in tight cooperation with the Irish government with an all-island approach. That means Westminster has to provide the funds we need, but also be flexible in understanding our approach is different to the rest of the UK.

And Wales Green Party leader Anthony Slaughter argued for direct support for small businesses. He said:

Meaningful input from Wales into Westminster decision making is crucial. We also need strong support for small independent businesses. Without that, we risk emerging from this crisis with our communities hollowed out and our economy even more concentrated in the hands of the few.

Greens condemn Rishi Sunak’s budget ‘failure’

Rishi Sunak

Wednesday saw the Rishi Sunak announce the government’s first budget since the 2019 General Election. Along with a series of investments designed to respond to the coronavirus crisis, Sunak made numerous claims to be investing heavily in public services, as well as in measures to mitigate climate change.

However, his claims and the budget as a whole have faced heavy criticism, not least from Greens.

Green MP Caroline Lucas was one of those to hit out at Sunak’s budget. Lucas was particularly critical of the environmental impact of the budget. She said:

This budget should have marked a decisive end to all government support for high carbon infrastructure and environmentally destructive projects, and kick started the green economic transition we need.  It should have launched an entirely new economic approach, which prioritises human well-being and the health of the natural world, on which our economy and society ultimately depend.  It has failed.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie was equally critical of the budget’s environmental credentials. But he also hit out at the lack of measures to support workers and tenants through the coronavirus crisis. Harvie said:

This is a dangerous budget from a UK Government which puts deregulated economic growth over people and planet.

Much more should have been done to protect those with insecure pay and rent from coronavirus disruption, and there were no serious proposals to tackle the climate emergency.

Splashing £27bn on major road expansions and maintaining the £11bn-a-year freeze on fuel duty that has driven up transport emissions, this is a government unable to break its addiction to roadbuilding or its devotion to lobbyists.

And Green London Assembly member Caroline Russell called the budget a “missed opportunity”, describing it as “business as usual”. In an article for Green World, she wrote:

This budget was a massive missed opportunity. The Chancellor should be looking at a clean air, health boosting, carbon reducing legacy. But what we have is business as usual which won’t help us reach our 2030 carbon goals and won’t even begin to cut congestion, road danger or air pollution.

UK Green Parties cancel conferences

As a result of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, public events across the country are being cancelled. Among those to face the cut this week were the Spring conferences of both the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party of England and Wales.

In a statement, Green MSP Ross Greer – who is also co-chair of the Scottish Green Party executive – said:

Due to the ongoing coronavirus situation the Scottish Greens Executive Committee has today taken the decision to cancel our upcoming conference. The health and wellbeing of our members and the public is our primary concern and it is with that in mind that we have taken this decision.

A similar statement was issued by Green Party of England Wales Executive Members. It read:

The Green Party has taken the decision to cancel its Spring Conference which was due to take place in Brighton on the weekend 20-22 March.

As a democratic party, conference plays an important role in determining policy and the overall direction of the party, as well as providing a space for training and discussion for members.

However it would not be responsible to continue with our plans given the ongoing situation.

In lieu of conference, plans are already underway to provide members with access to fringe sessions and interaction opportunities online throughout the course of the weekend.

Sian Berry describes Green Party not yet having signed the IHRA anti-semitism definition as “frustrating”

Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Sian Berry this week expressed frustration at the fact that the Green Party of England and Wales hasn’t adopted the controversial IHRA working definition of anti-semitism.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, Berry made the comments at an event organised by JW3. The Jewish Chronicle also reported Berry as describing the IHRA definition as helpful in identifying and tackling prejudice:

gives some clarity on ways you can oppose Israeli Government particular policies and clarity on how not to behave in that situation. It gives you clarity on what is prejudice and where the line is.

She also described allegations that the IHRA definition has implications for free speech as “unfounded”.

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism is highly contentious. In 2018, over 40 Jewish organisations heavily criticised it – describing it as:

to be easily adopted or considered by western governments to intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former.

Similar criticisms have been made by the UK human rights organisation liberty, in a motion passed at its conference in 2018.

And the author of the definition himself – Kenneth Stern – has described certain applications of the definition as an “attack on academic freedom and free speech”.

Berry was also reported by the Jewish Chronicle as being critical of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on the state of Israel. She stated that she felt the movement could be “a vector for antisemitism and prejudice against Israel”. The BDS movement was launched by over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations in 2005 – and seeks: to end Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestinian and Arab land, the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and for Palestinian citizens to be given legal equality within Israel.

Despite Berry’s comments, the Green Party of England and Wales officially supports the BDS movement.

Amelia Womack and Sian Berry join Guardian letter supporting trans rights

Amelia Womack
Image credit: Creative Commons: Krystyna Haywood

On March 4, the Green Party of England and Wales’ Deputy and Co-Leaders – Amelia Womack and Sian Berry reaffirmed their support for trans rights. They signed an open letter alongside over 100 other feminists which criticised a transphobic article written by Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore. The letter read:

Both trans people and cisgender women are discriminated against because of their gender. This is why both groups experience harassment in the street, sexual violence, domestic abuse and poverty at much higher rates than cisgender men. Trans people experience more difficulties accessing healthcare, higher rates of suicide and more frequent mental health issues, and are more likely to be victims of hate crimes.

The open letter was also signed by Universities and Colleges Union General Secretary Jo Grady, Labour MPs Nadia Whittome and Zarah Sultana, and the director of the CLASS think tank Faiza Shaheen.

Young Greens re-launch 30 under 30 scheme

Young Greens 30 under 30 relaunch

The renowned Young Greens of England and Wales training scheme – 30 under 30 – was relaunched last week. It kicked off with a three day training event bringing together 30 activists from across the UK for in depth training on movement building, election campaigning and Green policy.

Young Greens co-chair Rosie Rawle told Bright Green she was “thrilled” about the training’s relaunch and claimed the Young Greens were “transforming” organising within the Green Party:

We’re absolutely thrilled to have relaunched the renowned 30 under 30 training scheme. Over a three day weekend, we trained a group of thirty talented and inspiring Young Green activists who will go on to do incredible things within the Green Party and in their communities.

We’re proud to be transforming the way that campaigning and organising is done in the Green Party, and 30 under 30 is a huge part of that.

Ellie Chowns becomes cabinet member on Herefordshire Council

Former Green MEP Ellie Chowns has moved into a new significant political role. On March 6, she became cabinet member for environment, economy and skills on Herefordshire Council. In doing so, she enters the ruling coalition in Herefordshire currently between the Green Party and a range of independents.

Chowns described herself as “delighted” to be taking on the role:

Caroline Lucas part of group of 49 MPs that ensure halal and kosher food is served in House of Commons

Caroline Lucas
Image credit: Creative Commons: GPEW

The House of Commons this week confirmed it will now serve halal and kosher food. The news came after a group of 49 MPs, including Green MP Caroline Lucas signed a joint letter to the Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle requesting the change.

The letter was led by Labour MPs Charlotte Nichols and Zarah Sultana. Shadow cabinet members John McDonnell, Diane Abbot, and Richard Burgon were also among the signatories, as was SNP MP Mhairi Black.

The provision of halal and kosher food is being made on a three month trial basis.