Caroline Lucas at Green Party conference – September 27 2015
In 10 weeks’ time, the world’s leaders will gather in Paris for the next round of international climate talks.
We’re at a crossroads: climate change is accelerating, the daily lives of millions are already being devastated by the consequences, and time is running out.
And we are under no illusions. For more than 20 years, governments have been meeting at global conferences to talk endlessly about the crisis, yet greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise.
For those of us who remember Copenhagen and Kyoto, Lima and Nairobi, it’s easy to be cynical. World leaders jet in. They fail to do a deal – then either pretend they’ve saved the world, or break down in bitter recriminations.
What will be different this time? Well, it being Paris, I’m sure the champagne will be properly chilled and the canapés second to none. But the fear is that once again our leaders will put their own, short-term political interests above those of their citizens.
Once again, the main winners will be the corporations and their lobbyists. The stakes are high and the obstacles even higher.
We know that global corporations and governments will not easily give up the profits they reap through the extraction of coal, gas and oil reserves. The brilliant 350.org tell us that just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of recorded greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Genuine responses to climate change threaten corporate power and wealth, threaten free market ideology, threaten the structures and subsidies that support and underwrite them. But resistance is fertile. And Paris is as much a beginning as it is an end.
Because in 10 weeks’ time, Paris will also be home to the world’s largest non-violent direct action civil disobedience. It will be home to a mass mobilisation from global movements that aim to leave political leaders no other choice than to change everything.
Conference, the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. It ended because we had a vision of something we thought was better.
And so in and after Paris, we will be articulating a vision of a fairer, more compassionate world, where energy is in people’s hands, not the hands of corporations, and powered by the sun, the wind and the waves. And sending a message, loud and clear, as we do from our own conference here today, that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
That the era of fossil fuels must end.
That change also requires a transformation in the way we do politics.
The future we want for our children is not going to be created through the politics of the past. When everything has changed so much, and the threats we face as a society and a planet are so deep and complex, we need a new kind of political life.
From Obama’s first election, to the Arab Spring, from Spain to Greece, from Scotland to the Green surge, and now Corbynism – politics is increasingly defined by waves of energy that swell up – seemingly from nowhere – and coalesce around people, parties and decisions.
These waves are not, sadly, the monopoly of those who believe in a better world. The future can also be more brutish and authoritarian, if we let it.
But by being open to doing politics differently, we can ensure the future is about change made by and for people, in places and ways that make sense for them.
Of course, we need an effective state to intervene on many issues such as the regulation of global financial markets. But more than anything, the politics of the future must be about the creation of platforms, spaces and spheres in which people can collectively change the world – from workplace democracy and self-management, to civic engagement and generating our own community renewable energy.
But these efforts will be fatally undermined if the neoliberal deregulating zeal of the Tories remains the dominant force in British politics.
Slashing public services; stamping out trade union rights; and environmental vandalism on an epic scale – ripping up energy efficiency measures, privatising the Green Investment Bank, and taking a wrecking ball to what was once our thriving solar industry.
Conference, we say enough. We are working for something better.
And Conference, being in a position to actually deliver that vision of something better is what, I believe, makes it so imperative that we see a realignment of progressive votes to maximise electoral impact.
Finding and cooperating with others with whom we share a belief in a much more equal, democratic and sustainable world.
Of course we will have differences. But we also know that no one individual, no one party, has a monopoly on wisdom. Cancelling out each other's votes is bad enough, but fighting in essentially the same terrain for the same issues and fundamentally the same belief set is madness, when it simply lets the Tories in.
We share a commitment to a much more equal, democratic and sustainable world. It is beholden on us to find a way to make the desirable feasible. In a world as complex and rich as ours, we need an equally complex and rich political response. To create a different mood, culture and sentiment to our national politics – one where we see that our differences can become a source, not of division, but of strength.
Conference, the truth is, we need a progressive Labour Party – if that's what Jeremy Corbyn transforms it to be – to do well. Because, like you and me, it’s part of the movement for change.
Progressives are spread about the political battlefield – often more intent on fighting each other – and not the real enemy. But things are changing fast. Old tribal loyalties, that are blind to the good in others, are dying away. We can – we must – respond to that change.
And conference, I’m about to say something a bit controversial!
Who has been one of the most effective advocates of human rights in Parliament? Conservative MP David Davies. Who has pushed the case tirelessly for a reformed voting system? UKIP MP Douglas Carswell.
If we can make common cause, on a case by case basis, even with those with whom we most profoundly disagree on most issues, then why not with those with whom we have so much in common, in other progressive parties?
There is here a simple truth. We are stronger when we work together.
We know this in our own lives, as families, communities, amongst our friends and in our workplaces. This is one of the inspiring principles of the co-operative movement, of the trade union movement.
And I believe it should guide us as a political movement – strong and self-confident in ourselves, but also ready to reach out to work with others. With 1.1 million votes we Greens have a vital place in shaping that future, and a distinctive responsibility to the politics of people and the environment, over the politics of individualism and greed.
We don’t have forever to get this right, and I don’t say it will be easy. But Conference, if we’re serious about the urgency of our task, I believe we have no other option.
As in politics, so in Europe. The same underlying principle that we are stronger when we work together.
That doesn’t mean closing our eyes to what is wrong with the European Union. Too much power is in the hands of the elites. Too little democracy and accountability. Ordinary people feeling closed out from its decisions.
But the same can be said about our own British Parliament. Concentration of power, corruption, remoteness.
Our response to that is not to say, ‘let’s do without Parliament’. It’s to say we must reform it.
The same can be said of the United Nations. But would the world be better off if there were no international institutions to try – yes, failing much of the time, but still trying – to solve the world’s problems?
From the climate crisis to the refugee crisis, from air pollution to workers rights, consumer protection to hazardous waste, we face so many challenges that can only be tackled at a European level.
We need institutions where we can meet as Europeans and try and resolve these issues. And as with the realignment of progressive politics, we have a duty to engage, and to recognise that much for which the EU is criticised is the responsibility of the individual member states.
Greece is, in the main part, suffering because of the intransigence of free-market national governments.
TTIP – the deeply damaging Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - is simply an extension of the free-market logic that pervades all trade relationships negotiated by right-wing governments like our own, and others across Europe.
The way we can free Europe from the forces of globalisation and elitism is not by walking away, but by fighting at the ballot box at general elections in every member state.
As Greens we are committed to the principle of EU existence, to working internationally on the shared issues we face, and to making Europe better from within.
If we want the kind of future we believe is possible, then we need to harness the amazing energy, passion and skills that can be found throughout our party.
Our members have always been the life-blood of our organisation. Democracy, participation and giving people a voice is at the very core of our identity.
And at a time when other political parties are looking to us, to try and rediscover radical ideas such as a party conference that is there to make policy, not look good on TV, it seems right to take some ideas from them in return.
One of these is how we can best nurture our talent, including bringing on the next generation of Green MPs: potential leaders and opinion formers who have the judgement, commitment and a propensity for the incredible hard work that it takes to get elected under our first past the post system.
We will be asking an awful lot from them in the years to come. We must do everything we can for them in return.
That’s why, today, I am proud to announce the launch of Generation Green – a new programme to nurture talent within our party.
It will start by giving five of our election candidates the kinds of training and preparation that their rivals in the other political parties have always accessed. It’s part of a vision to make our party stronger from the grassroots up; to amplify the voices setting out why we are distinct. Leading by example. The party of the future.
Which brings me on to Sian Berry: one such talent, and whom I am delighted to introduce as the Green candidate in next year’s London Mayoral elections.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sian and I know she will bring conviction, intellect and professionalism to the campaign. On everything from housing and transport - both vital issues across the capital – to making sure the UK’s economy is no longer in thrall to the city’s financial sector, Sian will be a fearless and dedicated voice for Londoners and for Green ideas.
In the 2009 Mayoral race, with Jenny Jones at the helm, we won a record share of the vote and became London’s third party, reflecting her long and remarkable service as a London assembly member.
In 2016, we are aiming even higher.