10 September 2014
CONFERENCE, welcome to Birmingham.
We meet in exciting times. Over 1.2 million people voted Green in the European elections – meaning we not only held our seats in London and the South East, but also won a new seat in the South West. Huge congratulations to our newest MEP, Molly Scott Cato.
Congratulations are due closer to home as well. Here in the West Midlands, the Greens have achieved some brilliant successes, with 25 Green councillors sitting on 10 councils in the region, and where we now form the official opposition in Solihull.
With approaching record party membership, and an increasing number of polls showing us neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats, we have everything to play for.
Conference, it is a huge pleasure and privilege, as always, to have an opportunity to say a few words.
And such a contrast to my duties speaking in Parliament.
It’s not just the audience that's different. Though I’m assuming George Osborne isn’t here today…is he?
After four years at Westminster, people often come up to me now and ask whether I've got used to it...
Used to it? The weird and wonderful traditions that make it a cross between Hogwarts and a Gilbert and Sullivan Comic Opera?
The barracking and routine dishonesty?
The way the lobbyists for the energy companies and arms companies swan around, knowing they’ve practically bought the place?
I can reassure you, Conference, that, no, I have not got used to it.
But I do know one thing. Being there matters.
So what I want to speak about today, very briefly and very specifically, is the importance of keeping our seat in Parliament.
Because it is the Green Party which is the true opposition at Westminster.
Greens as true opposition
Conference, I want to take you back to election night 2010.
A night that I, for one, will never forget.
A night that was the culmination of what had been the closest election for a generation, in the midst of the worst recession since the war, and after people's faith in politics had been trampled into the mud of the expenses scandal.
Not the best time to come to people and ask them to take a risk, and put their trust in a new kind of politics.
But we asked people to do just that.
And in a drafty conference hall in Brighton, at around 6 o'clock in the morning, on 7 May 2010, we got their answer - and it was one that gave hope to communities up and down the country.
Conference, it was an amazing achievement.
Not just a moment when one MP out of 650 is elected.
But where a whole political party takes, for the first time, its rightful place in our parliament.
And it was the result of so much work, by so many people, over so many years - many of you are in this room this morning.
And I thank you again for the extraordinary contribution you made.
Thank you for helping us to make history.
But Conference, I'm here to say that amazing achievement is not enough by itself.
I'm here to say - we have to do it again.
To demonstrate that our result in Brighton in 2010 wasn't a one-off.
And that we can retain that seat in Brighton Pavilion, and in the future we can build on it, winning more seats right across the country - in Norwich South, Bristol West, Manchester, Oxford and beyond.
And the urgency has never been greater.
First, there’s UKIP. They are knocking on the door of Parliament.
Imagine if they are in the next Parliament and we are not?
What a terrible message that would send out about the direction in which this country is going?
UKIP’s reactionary mix of meanness and xenophobia is pulling British politics to the Right.
We need to be there, giving the decent, generous, radical, progressive alternative.
But there’s more at stake than that.
With a government in the middle of an unprecedented attack on the country's most vulnerable people, with Cameron's very own ideological assault on the Welfare State, and at a time when the richest 1000 people have more wealth than the poorest 40%, we need Green voices in Parliament more than ever.
With the days of husky-hugging long over, with a Government that talks openly of getting rid of "green crap", offering tax breaks for fracking, boasting of getting 'every last drop of oil' from the North Sea, even as climate change accelerates, the promotion of Green alternatives has never been more pressing.
With a foreign policy riddled with hypocrisy and double-standards, as Cameron falls over himself to sell arms to the very countries through which funds are channelled to fund extremism, the need for a Green approach based on consistency - and yes, I'm not ashamed to say it, on an ethical core - is more necessary than ever.
And conference, the case I want to make this morning, might sound audacious - but the evidence is there to show it is true.
The real opposition to this Government's swingeing, myopic, counterproductive and downright dangerous agenda is not coming from the Labour Party - it's coming from the Green Party.
Not in numbers of MPs.
But in our ideas. And in the courage of our convictions.
Take austerity. Labour has not only consistently failed to challenge the illiterate economics of George Osborne's slash and burn approach to public spending, but Ed Balls has signed up to the same spending limits as the Government itself.
Spending £100bn on Trident? Labour will "discuss" it.
Fracking? Labour won't oppose it - they'll just regulate it - ever so slightly more.
When it comes to nuclear power, which voices are saying that nuclear is uneconomic, unsafe and unnecessary, and promoting cleaner, greener energy alternatives?
When it comes to challenging the unaccountability of free schools and academies, the asset-stripping of the NHS, the vilification of those on welfare as 'scroungers' and 'frauds', where is the fight back?
Conference, on all these vital issues, it is the Green Party which is the true opposition in Parliament.
Secret courts as part of Justice and Security Bill? - Labour refused to oppose.
On the appallingly illiberal Immigration Bill, they abstained
They supported Workfare sanctions, even though it's retrospective legislation.
And just a few months ago, having criticized the fact that the Data Retention Bill was being railroaded through the House in just 24 hours, a Bill that would allow blanket surveillance of telecommunications data - they went ahead and voted for it anyway.
Conference, even on the issue of bringing the railways back into public ownership - a hugely popular policy with the public, and one that makes clear economic and environmental sense - Labour has flunked it.
They're not proposing re-nationalisation, but instead a tortuous system whereby a public company will be allowed to bid against the private companies, a proposal which completely fails to tackle the fragmentation and costly bureaucracy that is at the heart of the problems of rail privatisation.
I'm pleased to be able to tell you, Conference, that my Private Members Bill to bring rail back into public ownership is due its second reading next month.
When it comes to standing shoulder to shoulder with those who need support, with the unions in opposition to austerity, with the students protesting against tuition fees, you look around for Ed and he's - somewhere else.
Conference, I was proud to march with the students to protest against the huge government betrayal over tuition fees. And then to make an urgent Point of Order in the Chamber to raise real concerns about the police kettling policy, leaving young people shivering in the cold for hours on end.
Let me quote what Ed said about it to the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme:
"I said I was going to go and talk to them at some point. I was tempted to go out and talk to them."
Asked why he had not, he explained: "I think I was doing something else at the time, actually."
Conference, there you have it.
From calling for an end to all arms sales to Israel, to championing the Robin Hood Tax; from campaigning for rent controls and more affordable housing to standing up for a genuinely public national health service; it's the Greens who are taking the fight to Government.
And let’s take the NHS, because Labour put themselves at the heart of the campaign to protect our health service against the Coalition’s plans.
They said all the right things.
But Conference, saying and doing are very different things.
And when you look at what Labour have done it makes no sense to trust them to protect the NHS.
Labour have been complicit in imposing privatisation and market principles on our NHS.
They may have agreed to reinstate the Government’s legal duty to provide, but we know they won’t abolish competition or the purchaser-provider split.
Conference we need to restore the NHS in England. Re-establish public accountability and reverse more than two decades of policies which have been intent upon privatising NHS services and funding, ultimately to its demise.
Only the Greens can be trusted to stand up for that in Parliament and only the Greens are honest when it comes to keeping the NHS public.
So I am backing a new NHS Bill, developed by NHS campaigners, which would rebuild our health service from the bottom up, and would undo the damage done by successive governments. Putting the public back at the heart of our health service.
On the NHS, as on so much else, the truth is, Labour just don’t have what it takes to form a real opposition. To take on the Establishment.
The Tories have David Cameron and George Osborne. Whatever you might think of their policies or their values, they are professionals to thing fingertips. And they’re working hard for their clients – the bankers, the big landowners, the multinationals.
And Labour have Ed.
And it’s because we offer a better alternative, that Labour is spending its time trying to kick us off the pitch.
Ed Miliband has us in the top 20 hit list of targets seats.
Not Cameron. Not Osborne. No, he wants to spend the extra cash on fighting us.
So we have two fights on our hands. One against the Conservatives and their Lib Dem accomplices.
And one against Labour.
Things are also very different to 2010 – the fight to form the next Government will be even closer.
We can do it again but it will be even harder this time. And we can only do it with your help.
One other thing is different this time.
Then, we were chasing a dream.
Now, we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders.
But we also know what a huge difference we can achieve.
In 2010, I said that it showed that in politics, if you trust the people, you can stick to your principles and still get elected.
In 2015, together, we’re going to do the same.