Europe for the Common Good

GPEW Deputy Leader, Will Duckworth’s address to the Wales Green Party AGM yesterday:

Bore da Cymru

4 years at University in Bangor and that is as much Welsh as I can manage other than “Dai fish and chips yea” which works wonders for portion size.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you this morning and it’s great to see so many of you here.

I wanted to speak to you today about the Common Good. It’s a phrase we’ll all be hearing a lot more of in the months to come – particularly because we’re just over six months away from EU elections, and then in 2015 we have one of the most important General Elections in living memory: a chance to end the Coalition’s disastrous Austerity experiment once and for all!

But first, the European Elections. As we’re all aware, these elections offer us a great chance to triple the number of MEPs we send to Brussels and Strasbourg. Just a 1.6 per cent national vote swing means we’ll have six MEPs come June 2014. Nor should we stop there. We can do even more.

Earlier this week, a YouGov poll revealed that the British public are far to the Left of the Labour Party – let alone UKIP and the Coalition.

The poll found 80 per cent of people feel they are not benefitting from the so-called ‘economic recovery’ announced by the Coalition. Of course, this could be because the ‘recovery’, as it has been incorrectly labelled, actually amounts to the artificial inflation of house prices in a small area of the South East of England.

The same poll finds people who oppose private enterprise firms in the NHS outnumber those who want them there by 12 to one, that 67 per cent want Royal Mail in public ownership, 66 per cent want the railways delivered back to the people and 68 per cent demanding our energy companies be removed from the clutching fingers of profiteers in the private sector and run by the people, for the benefit of the people!

And who stands for all of these policies? Who has been arguing that these are exactly the measures which must make up part of a decent society, designed and delivered for the good of everyone – for the Common Good?

That’s right: The Green Party of England and Wales.

The fact of the current political climate is that the mood of the people is with the Green Party. That is fact.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because there’s a second fact. The mood of the people is with us. We represent the alternative to the lying, cheating and policy-making for the rich at the expense of the rest of us as practised by the Coalition and Labour. UKIP is not an alternative to that, it’s the same policies, with an irrational fear and hatred of the EU and migrants thrown in.

But the challenge facing us is that although you know this, and I know it, many potential voters – people who have previously supported other Parties and those, like Russell Brand, who feel they cannot support and Party at all – do not know it.

Our challenge, almost uniquely in the history of UK politics, is not in convincing people to agree with us. It’s in making sure voters KNOW that we and them share a common cause: a society designed for the benefit of all. A society designed for the Common Good.

By necessity, political catchphrases can’t explain everything a Party and a movement stands for. But the two words we are campaigning under DO sum up our message. And here’s how:

We need a climate for the common good:

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the fact that we are on the brink of runaway climate change. None of us in this room needs to be reminded what this means, with catastrophic impacts likely for all species – including human beings – across the globe.

Nor do we need reminding – as some members of the non-renewable power industry seem to – that although there ARE costs associated with switching to a renewables-powered economy, the costs of NOT doing so, in terms of hard cash and human lives, will be far, far higher.

There used to be a tradition, on the Right wing, that we have to speculate to accumulate – that by making an outlay of cash now, we can reap rewards both in terms of reduced risk and increased benefit to all, in the short, medium and long terms.

When, exactly, did the Tory Party drop this idea and replace it with ‘we do nothing unless it makes us rich immediately’? Because with that single change, they and their contemporaries all over the world are risking the end of global civilisation.

But what we, on the Left, and fighting for the environment, must remember, is that the report also showed us we can fix it if we decide to act now. That is, we can deliver a means of power generation which has no fuel costs, which is not endangered by wars in other states, and we can prevent the destruction of lives – human, plant and animal here and across the world.

Our children and grand children will not forgive us if we don’t start to tackle climate change and tackle it now.  

We must work within Europe to reduce our carbon emissions and we in the Green Party are pushing to tackle climate change on a European and world wide basis. 

We are looking to do this by refocusing our economy towards consuming less, while spending more free time with friends and family, enjoying the earth’s bounty rather than exploiting if for profit. We are looking to create a power generation system, economic system, and altered system of consumption, which is for the Common Good.

We need services for the common good:

Successive governments have sold off the family jewels. They have privatised gas and electricity distribution, our water, the railways and now even the Royal Mail and left them in the hands of profiteering corporations who are paying their bosses millions of pounds a year.

Thatcher’s Tories, and the Coalition’s ‘Monetarism: Mark Two – now with extra teeth and claws’ may be the leaders in the rush to privatise. But Labour did not bring the railways, power companies or water companies back into the ownership of the people, even in the face of ever-rising bills and ever-decreasing service levels.

Labour does not even support those policies now: Miliband may demand a ‘price freeze’ for fuel, but our system does not allow for one! To control power prices, and the ways in which power is generated, we need power generation to be owned by the people, and run for them, rather than owned by a small cartel of profit-hungry businesspeople interested only in further enriching themselves at our expense.

Meanwhile, under the Coalition, private companies are taking over more and more of our services and our Government is signing deals that commit millions if not billions to foreign corporations who will be able to sue us for loss of earnings if we try to change direction. 

But there is something we can do about it. The Green Party is the only political organisation in this country campaigning to bring public services back to the purpose for which they exist: to actually serve the public. For the Common Good.

And we will reform the EU to stop these corporate captures and ensure that these businesses and individuals are properly taxed. We’re the only people who will.

We need clean air for the common good:

I was surprised when I found out that air pollution actually kills more people than cancer;  about 5% of adults throughout Britain. 

And I was surprised because it’s so easy to create an alternative.

We could have town and city centres which are attractive for people to walk and cycle in with clean air and safe streets. 

We can save lives and produce a happier, healthier population if we tackle the pollution problem. 

We can – and will – start by ensuring the European regulations on air pollution are enforced, so that we in the UK stop breaching EU law and have air that we can safely breathe. The air we breathe is shared by us all. It belongs to us all. And the Green Party stands for ensuring we can all enjoy it. Once again, on this vital issue we stand not for corporate interests, or for the prejudices of a minority of climate-change deniers. We stand for the Common Good.

 

 

We need farming for the common good:

We are a nation of animal lovers, but we still allow the slaughter of new born male calves in dairy herds.

As a nation, we allow chickens to be reared in tiny wire pens. 

Successive governments have protected a system in which farmers are forced to cast aside care for their animals to save cash, because our supermarkets insist on buying only the cheapest milk and eggs they can get. 

These pressures are not just bad for animals.

They are forcing our farmers to poison the land we all share, and the water we all rely upon, with chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides in order to increase profits for big corporations. 

It doesn’t even stop there. In the relentless chasing of profit at all cost, our farmers – having given up so much, and bent so far to the will of supermarkets’ impossible demands – are being forced out of business.

Because of a system which demands impossibly cheap food, we are at risk of producing no food at all, because no-one can afford to farm any longer.

We will reform farming so that smaller farms can provide us with safe, healthy food – even if we have to eat a little less meat. 

We will implement changes across the EU, to ensure our farmers – now encouraged and helped to change the way they farm –  don’t lose out to less environmentally and animal friendlyfarming methods in nearby countries.

Again, this is a system in which we all benefit: farmers, because they can stay in business and not be forced into practices which make them feel unhappy, and consumers because they get enough to eat, healthy produce and a better standard of food.

Only the Green Party stands for farming for the good of everyone: for the Common Good.

 

We need education services for the common good:

Education should include: the fact that every single rich person currently making money in the UK has benefitted from free-at-the-point-of-use education. Either they WENT to a state school, or their staff did.

By creating Free Schools, we are creating competition which is not likely to RAISE standards for most children, but DECREASE them: if ONE school is able to ‘poach’ the ‘best’ teaching staff, take and make more money than other schools, whose LA loses money as a result of schools ‘dropping out’ it will still only be able to serve a small percentage of youngsters in its area. Therefore, ‘competition’, far from RAISING standards, actually makes standards WORSE for the majority of students.

A question often asked – a ‘common question’ about the ‘common good’ if you like, is ‘how can we afford this?

And the answer is simple. The money is there. The money has always been there. The only thing which is not there, to deliver a more equal society, one in which everyone benefits and the Common Good is placed ahead of greed as a central part of all our lives, is the system.

As an example: the international argument since 2008 has been one couched in terms of a shortage of cash. We are continually told that we ‘cannot afford’ services. That we ‘cannot afford’ for people to be paid a decent living wage. That, like a medieval doctor, we believe we must cut to make ourselves better.

 

It’s shaped the whole argument about economics and services: should we – must we – cut or borrow to encourage growth? Must we grow? The latter question is, in fact a vital point for consideration. But the argument itself is a red herring: the money has always been there to improve our power-generation methods, to provide services, to provide an education for our children and healthcare for our sick.

It was there pre-2008, and it’s still here now. It’s just that the system is structured to ensure ever-increasing amounts of money are dropped into the pockets of the already very wealthy, at the direct expense of the rest of us – and of society as a whole.

For example, since 2008, the wages of those paid most in the UK have actually increased by 30 per cent, on average. In the same period, the UK’s average wage has fallen – the first time this has happened in more than 100 years.

In 2012, the richest 100 people in the world received enough extra money – that is, received enough MORE than they had in 2011, to pay off the debt of every nation in the world combined, four times over.

The money is there. It has always been there. And that’s why when it comes down to it, we must restructure the economy.

Because it’s bad for us all if nations containing seven billion people in total are on the verge of bankruptcy, while just 100 people increase their wealth in one year by enough to pay off every nation’s debt four times over.

It’s bad for us all if we allow a power generation system which places immediate profit ahead of preventing global catastrophe.

In the Green Party, we’re not calling for the enforced seizing and redistribution of money. But there are measures we can and will introduce which will help everyone benefit.

For example, an EU-wide Transaction Tax – also known as a Robin Hood tax, would raise 57bn euros each year – a vast sum of money.

And that’s just the start. The money is there. But, like everything, the money is useless if it’s not used for something.

In a Europe in which the worst effects of the last global crash are still being felt , wil be felt until 2030– and hitting the poorest hardest – and in a world which is teetering on the brink of ecological collapse, we need action immediately.

And here in the UK, the Green Party is the only party which recognises this. We are the only party offering the alternative not only Russell Brand, but people across the country, are crying out for.

We are the only Party which IS that alternative, and which will deliver us from poverty and disaster to a situation of shared rewards and environmental safety.

And THAT’s what we mean by the Common Good. It’s a cause worth fighting for. It’s a cause the majority of people believe in and agree with.

Our job, from this moment, is to make sure people know they have a place they can turn to, to deliver the nation, the continent, and the world they want. And that that place is here: the Green Party of England and Wales, where we are fighting for the Common Good.   

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