Co-Leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley made a barnstorming speech at the Cornwall Greens conference in Truro on Saturday, calling for an end to “the mantra of illusionary economic growth”. Mr Bartley also called for the cancellation of HS2, with the money saved to be spent on a local transport revolution in towns and cities around the country. The conference also saw Cornwall Greens launch their own ‘Green Vision for Cornwall’.
Speaking from the heart and without notes, Mr Bartley said:
“These are absolutely seismic, momentous times. We’ve seen a colossal movement over the last year, with the school strikes, with Greta Thunberg, with Extinction Rebellion pushing Green issues right up the agenda, pressing home the urgency of the climate emergency.
“This emergency demands that everything needs to change – every aspect of the way we live, the way we work. And Greens are the only ones being bold and radical enough to say what needs to happen.
“We’ve seen three times the amount of wealth created since I was born in 1971. But it’s come at a colossal environmental price tag. And instead of that wealth being shared out, what we’re seeing is rampant inequality – 1.4 million emergency food parcels given out by the Trussell Trust last year.
“The penny is starting to drop that it’s this same system that is causing the mental health epidemic, that is stressing us out, that is making us work longer hours. It’s the same system that is destroying our environment and that is selling us lies.
“We never ask that all-important question: Who is the economy for? But we need to be asking it, not just worshipping at the altar of endless, illusory growth. Every other party is worshipping at that altar, saying ‘If we just grow a bit more, if we just create a bit more wealth, everything will be sorted out.’ But you can’t solve the economic crisis and the environmental crisis with the same thinking that caused it. We have to have new thinking, we have to challenge those mantras around growth – and Greens are the only ones doing this.
Pointing out that HS2 was now forecast to cost £80 billion pounds to shave off 20 minutes between London and Birmingham, Mr Bartley said: “Don’t spend it on HS2. Spend sums of £500 million in 160 towns and cities around the country to create a local transport revolution which will enable people to get out of their cars, to make those journeys to school, to do the shop, or get to work on decent, affordable public transport. They can do it in the rest of Europe – why on earth can’t we do it here? ”
Mr Bartley also slammed the first-past-the-post voting system that he said had led us into the current crisis: “What you’re seeing at Westminster is a system that just cannot cope with important decisions – and not just over Brexit. Brexit is a symptom of a system that is on its knees. What we saw in the referendum of 2016 was a howl of rage, and we need to listen to that. It isn’t good enough just to say that we must remain in the EU – though I passionately believe we must. We also need to say that we have to transform our system.”
Mr Bartley pointed out that polling by Lord Ashcroft immediately after the referendum had found that 50% of people who voted Leave agreed with the statement that ‘Capitalism is a system that doesn’t work.’
“Why was there this howl of rage? Because we have an electoral system in this country that for years has only concentrated on voters in marginal seats. When you have a Tory government, they’re not going to bother about the Labour seats that aren’t ever going to change hands. When you have a Labour government, they aren’t going to bother about the Tory seats – they’re not going to spend the money there because they don’t need to care about the people there. It’s only those marginal seats that they have concentrated on, and for year after year people in other places around the country have been neglected. “
Congratulating Cornwall Greens on their best ever result at the euro elections in May, Mr Bartley said: “We are now polling better than we have ever done before. We doubled the number of Green councillors at the local elections. We’ve gone from three to seven MEPs. Here in Cornwall we beat both the Conservatives and Labour at the euro elections. I think it won’t be long before we see a major breakthrough at Westminster too – because boy do we deserve it, and boy is it needed right now.”
Also at the conference, Molly Scott Cato MEP, recently re-elected in May as Green MEP for the South West and Gibraltar, reported on major progress made by the now much bigger Green Group at the European Parliament. “We’ve succeeded in putting the climate emergency at the heart of EU policy-making for the coming period,” Molly said, “And we will be holding the Commission to account on this. All of the science is telling us that there is quite simply no time to waste.”
Outlining the idea of the Green New Deal that is capturing the imagination of policymakers around the world, Molly said that this embodied policies that the Green Party had been advocating for years. She described how it would involve government giving the same kind of massive financial support to new zero-carbon initiatives as had been done for the banks during the financial crisis, but for the benefit of the climate and ordinary people rather than to create yet more wealth for the richest in society.
Launching the ‘Green Vision for Cornwall’, Matt Valler of Cornwall Greens invited the audience to imagine how people’s lives could be transformed for the better if more of the money that is currently siphoned out of Cornwall were invested here in local food production, genuinely affordable zero-carbon housing and green public transport.
Matt congratulated Cornwall Council for its recent climate emergency declaration, saying: “Cornwall has the real potential to become a national, even a global leader in sustainability. Our local economy, currently one of the poorest in the EU, could be revitalised with Green investment. We could live healthier, more connected lives that restore dignity and harness Cornwall’s legacy of resilient innovation to navigate an uncertain future.”
Ending his inspirational presentation to huge applause from the audience, Matt said:
“We have thriving independent businesses, but they are threatened by the privileges shown to large corporations. Independent house-builders are outmanoeuvred by large developers. Independent high-street shops are pushed under by retail parks. Cornwall has the independent spirit to create an entirely new future, but we need the power to shape our own destiny.”
After a series of TEDx-style short talks on Green economic models with Tony Greenham of South West Mutual, Manda Brookman of social enterprise Permanently Brilliant, and Steffen Boehm, Professor of Organisation and Sustainability at Exeter University, the speakers joined a panel to take questions from the audience.
Concluding the day, Tom Scott of Cornwall Greens said: “Of course, there is no guarantee that any of the ideas we’ve heard here today will actually come to fruition, or do so in time for them to make a real difference to the way our climate future unfolds.
“For that to happen will take political will, and lots of very hard work by a lot of people. We want to make sure there is a Green in every room where crucial decisions are taken – at the European Parliament, at Westminster, and – just as importantly – here in Cornwall.”
Philippa Purchase, Co-co-ordinator of Cornwall Greens, said: “At the end of our conference today, a lot of people were inspired to step up and say they’d like to stand as Greens for Cornwall Council in 2021. We will be building on the great result at the euro elections not just in the upcoming general election but also to make sure that we have Greens at County Hall who can help turn our Green Vision into a reality in Cornwall.”
Images (photo credit: Simon Burt)
For more information, please contact:
Tom Scott (Cornwall Greens Media Officer)