Speech to Green Party Spring Conference 2013

Here is the text of the speech I delivered to party conference this morning:

Good morning conference.

I’m happy to report to you that your Green councillors in Brighton & Hove are working hard to keep delivering Green policies for the city.

As I speak a city-wide 20mph limit is being rolled out for a healthier, safer city while wonderful new cycling and walking infrastructure is being installed to improve some of our major routes and most difficult junctions.

We are building new affordable homes and we have ended council tax discounts for second homes.

Our City Plan for the next 20 years has been passed, embedding Green thinking in the heart of every planning application the city will see for decades.

The city council is working to annual carbon budgets and is on course to lead the world’s first One Planet City.

We continue to lead the most open, participative and inclusive council we can. This leadership, with our neighbouring councils, has just won us a City Deal for the Greater Brighton region which will bring new devolved powers and investment opportunities.

This is all in the face of a coalition government that is hostile to our values in so many ways. We reject government austerity measures which are harming local communities.

Take their so-called ‘welfare reforms’ for example: So much time and energy has been wasted on countless cuts just to appease Daily Mail journalists who think this is where public funds are being wasted – on benefits.

But that isn’t the truth. The shameful truth is we have the outrage of government cutting benefits to those least able to afford whilst spending billions on new submarines, aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons we do not need.

The government’s benefit cap policy is a cynical, populist move which will mostly hit large families, many with members struggling in low-paid work.

Meanwhile Liam Byrne MP has confirmed that Labour too would have a benefit cap and would keep cutting the benefits bill. Other Labour MPs confirm cuts to local government too. We have all three mainstream parties committed to backing rich over the poor.

Despite the occasional glimmer, Labour does little other than remix Conservative policies in the same toxic vat as the one Blair, Clegg and Cameron tried. It’s a travesty that this country lurches from one government to another on the basis that they’re not quite as bad as whoever is in power… until they are.

We cannot let them get away with this.

So we need to speak out and ask “What kind of society do we want to live in?”

The Tory vision of people going hungry and cold in our country, with shameful levels of child poverty and families turfed out of their homes? One where wealth is transferred from the poorest to the richest?

Or a progressive vision where nobody is left behind, where those with greatest need receive the most help, and where inequality is challenged.

This conference we remember that 40 years ago Europe’s first Green Party was started by our colleagues in this country. A party with a clear vision for the future. One that believes and does localism.

The only party serious about real localism, so we should shout about it.

We are the only party with a coherent vision on welfare and sustainable local government.

A reversal of the privatisation of the NHS, and an end to the scandals it’s already brought to communities like Lewisham

True local taxation and powers to help protect local services from mad national austerity measures.

We must speak out, and give people the hope of a genuine alternative.

I’m passionate about local government. Municipal pride and creativity are Green values that we need to rekindle in town halls across the country. Councils need to be more self-confident, bold and demand greater local freedoms.

But we must always remember councils will exist in contexts beyond our immediate control. While national government remains able to re-write the rulebook and take away resources at a whim, it will always be difficult

Being in administration of a council, as in Brighton & Hove, is like taking the captaincy of a ship. We cannot control the waters ahead, whether they be stormy or calm. But we must complete the journey, safely transporting all aboard, whether battered by storms or baked by the sun. We will not founder. Guided by our Green principles and by pulling together as a party, we will continue forward, delivering progress for residents in Brighton and Hove and showing the real change a Green-led council can achieve.

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