Speaking to a well attended audience in Derby, Natalie Bennett catalogued the inadequacy of the Labour Party’s response to a range of political issues that are affecting people’s lives. Contrasting the reality of fuel poverty that is becoming a reality for a growing number of people with the huge profits being made by the big energy companies, she condemned Labours proposal for a two year price freeze as inadequate.
‘After two years, then what?’ she asked. ‘The Green Party proposes a national energy conservation programme funded by the Government. This will lead to permanently reduced energy bills and to lower carbon emissions. The insulation programme will create sustainable jobs, taking people out of fuel poverty and off benefit.’
‘Labour want to see the minimum wage enforced.’ She said. ‘We know that people cannot hope to manage on a minimum wage, that is why we want to see it raised to a Living Wage, that enables people to meet their necessary weekly costs. This policy is supported by 70% of people.
‘Labour have no commitment to re-nationalise the railways to ensure that investment goes where it is needed to build a system that meets demand. This is Green policy and it is supported by 75% of people.
‘‘Greens support a publicly funded NHS free at the point of delivery. Labour has made no commitment to reverse the coalition policy of sell-off of the NHS. ‘‘Labour is backing fracking, ignoring that we must leave half of all known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change.’
Natalie went on to criticise the economic strategy of the three big parties. There was she said no evidence of fundamental change in economic strategy from any of them. They were all supporting the creation of a low wage economy that was only possible with the availability of cheap fossil fuels. This she explained allowed cheap food and goods to be transported to this country, pricing local production out of the market. ‘This failed economic strategy has left half a million people in this country, the sixth richest in the world, dependent on food banks.’
She reminded the meeting about the causes of the economic crisis. ‘The bail out of the banks took huge amounts of public money. Yet the banks were bailed out with no guarantees that they would reform their activities, stop high risk investments and end the bonus culture. If the economic strategy proposed by the Green Party in 2010 had been implemented, we would now be seeing investment by the banks in sustainable projects that the country needs, creating long term employment to get and keep people in work and off benefit.’
‘We now need to ‘re-localise’ the economy.’ She said that this process had to be accompanied by the restoration of local political power that could rebalance the economy away from London and the south east. As evidence of this unbalanced economy she told the meeting that there were a million empty homes in the UK yet there was also a housing shortage. The power of big corporations was concentrating work in the areas that suit themselves having no regard to where people now live. As a result these economic hot spots drag people in but do not provide the facilities that workers need, hence a chronic shortage of affordable housing.
‘We need thought out regional development strategies that address both economic and social needs, backed with the necessary political power to deliver those strategies.’
‘With rising transport costs and rising wages in the developing world, we are now seeing a ‘re-shoring’ in production, with companies starting to bring production back to the UK. This offers great opportunities but we must have the economic and political structures in place to ensure that business properly pays its way.’ Natalie explained that with a clear political determination, big business could be made to address and pay for its impact on the environment and society. ‘Greens on Bristol Council have helped to bring in a supermarket levy that collects 8% of turnover to reflect the damaging consequences of supermarkets. This money is ploughed back in to local small business.’
Flanked by the five East Midland European candidates, Natalie concluded with a review of the Green Party’s electoral prospects. ‘We are now a Parliamentary Party. This has been very important in lifting our national profile. Latest opinion polls are placing the Greens on 12% and show a clear growth in support, by contrast the Liberal Democrats are now on 10% with their support fading. With our level of support we could have six MEPs, including one here in the East Midlands.’ Natalie said that recent events had shown that the public were turning away from the three main parliamentary parties and looking to the smaller parties to express a dissatisfaction with traditional politics. ‘We know that a growing number of people are coming to support Green policy. Our challenge is to get people to vote for what they believe in, because what they believe in is increasingly Green Party policy.’