The Brexit election: 'Never has the world felt more on edge'
PUBLISHED: 11:18 01 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:20 01 May 2017
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With the splintering of the left could this be a big election of the Greens?
In the coming week’s politicians from all parties will be writing in these pages trying to persuade you to vote for them.
Their pitch will, no doubt, be pro-European and liberal – identifying the good readers of The New European as a target constituency which they need to win over to gain a few extra seats in the election.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want you to put an X next to the name of your local Green Party candidate, but I also want to be straight about what voting Green means at this election. No spin, just the facts.
Never in my memory has our world felt more on edge. More uncertain. Whether it’s the global climate crisis which is on the edge of spinning out of control, the rise of the far-right or the chaos in post-referendum Britain. Let’s be honest. It’s scary.
The cynics would have us believe that the challenges we face are insurmountable. There’s a dreadful sense that the best we can offer the next generation is some form of managed decline. A smaller country, with harder borders. An education system cut to the bone. An empty shell left where the welfare state used to be. People on the left in particular have been stuck in a permanent rearguard action against a resurgent populist right on the march. Public debate is so focussed on the here and now that planning a better future for our children and grandchildren has gone out of the window.
Britain is the 6th richest country in the world, yet five million children are projected to be in poverty by the end of this decade.
But it doesn’t have to be like this, and the Green Party has a plan for a bigger Britain.
For a start that means standing up to those who wish to divide us. For too long now politicians have been meek in response to anti-migrant rhetoric. We know not everyone will agree with us, but my party will go into this election proudly making a case for freedom of movement within Europe. My generation has benefited from being able to live, study and work across this continent – and it’s deeply shameful that the Government’s obsession with migration will limit opportunities for young people, despite three quarters of them voting to stay in the EU.
We also need a migration system which treats non-EU nationals with dignity. That’s why we’ll end indefinite detention – and scrap the grossly unfair income requirements for those wishing to marry someone from abroad. Defending migrants is a start, but it’s policy changes that will make all the difference.
When it comes to Europe the Green Party’s position is absolutely clear. We are fighting tooth and nail to maintain a close relationship with the EU and to give British people a real say on any future deal, via a ratification referendum. Voting Green means supporting membership of the single market, continued free movement and enhancing, not scrapping, the environmental and workplace protections the EU gives us.
It isn’t just Brexit which is putting young people under intense strain, so is student debt. Those going to University now face up to £50,000 debt hanging over them. Poorer students are no longer receiving grants – instead they’re forced into even deeper levels of debt than their richer peers. A generation which enjoyed free tuition is burdening young people with more private debt than ever – and experts at Mind are seeing the detrimental effects of such a burden on students’ mental health. It can’t go on like this – it’s time to scrap tuition fees and restore maintenance grants for poorer students. We’re not pretending that such a policy would be cheap, but we’re not shying away from how we’d pay for it either. Our manifesto will make clear that we believe in progressive taxation – where the biggest companies pay and those with the most pay the most.
What about the future of our NHS and welfare state? Five more years of Tory rule, built upon a generation of neglect and privatisation from the others parties, threatens to leave our public services in tatters. Already we have patients being treated in hospital corridors – and families forced to use foodbanks because the social security safety net is being shredded. This week the Green Party called for the NHS to be given an emergency kiss of life – to be funded in part by scrapping the most pointless piece of Government expenditure ever; Trident. And we’ll also be putting forward plans for bold changes to our welfare system with the aim of eradicating poverty in Britain, forever.
Environmental protection will, of course, be at the heart of the Green Party’s policies at this election. We’re proposing an Environmental Protection Act to safeguard the green laws which come from the EU, and to restore our precious green spaces. We’ll also be laying out plans to stop air pollution blighting our towns and cities – and putting forward bold proposals for a public transport revolution to give people genuine alternatives to driving.
As well as protecting our environment and building a modern economy, we also need to urgently repair our democracy. The Tories won a majority at the last election with the support of just 24% of those eligible to vote – and the Green Party won just one seat despite receiving over 1 million votes. We need a fair voting system, and we need it now. It’s this democratic deficit that first motivated me to begin pushing for progressive parties to work together to stand the best chance of beating the Tories. It’s clear that we need to hack the system in order to change it – and it’s been heartening to see a number of local Labour and Liberal Democrat groups defy their party leadership and set about working across party lines for the common good. With the system so stacked in their favour beating the Conservatives will always be a tall order, but it’s a near impossibility if progressives refuse to work together.
Britain is at a crossroads – and this election will dictate the very future of our country. My pledge to voters is that the Green Party will always stand up for what matters – and work across party lines for the common good. If you want a fair economy, a safe environment and oppose an extreme Tory brexit, you can rely on us to be fighting your corner.
• Caroline Lucas is the co-leader of the Green Party