Caroline Lucas in The Daily Express

You might think that with so many people on both Left and Right using the language of environmentalism the Green Party no longer has any function. Isn’t everybody green these days anyway? Can’t the main parties be left to look after the future of the planet.

Yet If the pollsters and the bookies are right, the Green Party is on course to win the Brighton Pavilion seat in the coming general election, and I could become a Westminster MP. I like to think I’d make a bigger difference than one more Conservative or Labour MP. Like the best amongst those, I would argue for policies that will bind British society into a closer, more cohesive community. I would also bring the positive policies that Greens in other countries’ parliaments have brought. And I would definitely fight for fairness.

We do get asked, haven’t the other parties stolen the Greens’ clothes? But the answer is No. It is true that the big three parties over the last 20 years have moved many of their policies in our direction. But notwithstanding all the rhetoric and the spin they have more often than not dragged their feet. For instance, while the German government with its Green Party energy minister was forging ahead with a programme for a million solar roofs – one of Germany’s greatest recent industrial achievements, which has helped cut people’s fuel bills and created huge numbers of jobs – Tony Blair was dithering with a programme for just 3,000 solar roofs, and the project was a flop because he failed to build in the incentives that the German government did. Messrs Brown and Cameron are now promising to do better, but they’re still years behind the Greens.

Labour has also managed to give green policies a bad name. Take recycling. In principle, recycling is an excellent idea all round. It cuts waste and it cuts pollution. It sustains several times as many jobs per tonne of waste as either burying rubbish or burning it, and it does so without the unpleasant environmental side-effects. Recycling in fact offers one of the keys to the re-industrialisation of Britain’s economy, to create a more balanced as well as more sustainable system. Above all you need to make it as easy as possible for everyone to recycle. But what has Labour done? It has failed to provide most places with workable and convenient recycling schemes. It has alienated countless people with petty authoritarianism and threats of fines (if they leave their bin open by half an inch).

Labour has given eco-taxes a bad name too. An eco-tax as the Green Party understands it is not a stealth tax. It’s not something intended to become a long-term source of revenue. It’s meant to be a tool for switching taxation from “goods to bads” – taxing pollution and waste of resources. And for the Greens, eco-taxation is meant to be part of an overall tax reform. The total Green Party tax package would, for instance, involve scrapping employers’ national insurance contributions, which are basically a tax on jobs. We would also scrap VAT, a complicated bureaucratic tax widely hated by business people. Even if a business ended up paying an equivalent amount of a simpler tax, it would be saved a lot of time-wasting paperwork.

A major reason for eco-taxes is climate change.  While there is  scepticism in some quarters there’s a near-consensus among scientists that burning fossil fuels causes the greenhouse effect which has has made the climate more unstable. A UN think-tank last year estimated that the consequences of this – more frequent and more severe storms, floods, droughts and so on – could be leading to 300,000 premature deaths worldwide every year, as well as annual economic damage of some $125 billion.

We Greens would say that if there’s doubt we should err on the side of caution, because the consequences of doing nothing would be too horrendous. But there’s another way of looking at this: even the severest climate-sceptic can see that policies for cutting CO2 emissions would bring a lot of benefits anyway.

Major cuts in emissions would require massive improvements in public transport, which would benefit everyone as the roads would be less clogged. And remember that a large proportion of Britain’s less well-off people absolutely depend on public transport, as do many older people even if they’re relatively wealthy. Also, with big improvements in public transport, making services fast, reliable and frequent, more motorists would have the option of leaving the car at home and having a more relaxing journey to work.

To cut emissions we also need to reduce the amount of energy we use in our homes. We can save huge amounts of energy here without sacrificing our lifestyle. We could have warmer, better insulated homes. We need to do this anyway because imported fossil fuels are getting more and more expensive. Saving energy, and switching to renewable electricity, will protect us against future price rises.

There’s another benefit to the Green Party’s low-carbon policies – job-creation. It happens that renewable energy sustains far more jobs per megawatt than either nuclear or coal. And the Green Party’s election manifesto will show how, for an investment of £4 billion a year for 15 years, every British home, school and hospital could have a major upgrade to slash its energy costs – and this would sustain 80,000 jobs for plumbers,  fitters, builders, technicians and engineers. And the great thing is that energy conservation pays for itself in the end. To make this big programme happen would of course take political will, because only the government is a big enough entity to make it happen.
Our annual conference begins today in London. The Green Party has had its share of false dawns but now we believe we’re breaking away from our popular image as a single-issue party. Like it or not, for the first time in British politics, the environment is at the top of everyone’s agenda. We were important in putting it there and our work is just beginning.


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