The Green take on what parliament’s focus should be following its opening this week.
by Caroline Lucas
Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech should be a chance for the government to set out how it will use the next five years to deliver long term meaningful social, economic and environmental progress in Britain. Yet it seems increasingly likely that we’re set to witness instead another missed opportunity for the change in direction this country so desperately needs.
The most worrying omission from the government’s pre-Queen’s Speech announcements is any substantial action on climate change. If David Cameron is to be taken seriously as a world leader on the most pressing issue of modern times, then he must be far bolder in implementing policies which allow us to do what the science requires: leave the vast majority of our existing reserves of oil, coal and gas in the ground and unburned.
Tackling the climate crisis is not only a way out of the economic difficulties we face, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity to invest in an economy fit for the 21st century. If we were to invest in an ambitious energy conservation programme, for example, we’d both work towards ending the scandal of cold homes and save the Exchequer money. A radical insulation programme would return £1.27 in tax revenue for every £1 invested by government and create over 100,000 jobs in the UK. It is a tragedy that ministers are so obsessed with a deficit reduction plan – one that’s failing even on its own terms – that they are turning their backs on such common sense practical action.
This obsession is also what’s driving the threat of billions of pounds of further welfare cuts, in addition to those that are already underway. One in five families, for example, say that they have already had to cut back on food as a result of the below inflation rises in child benefit and child tax credits that have hit 7.7m children. Behind the rhetoric about saving taxpayers’ money is the cruel reality of 7,800 children in my constituency being worse off because of these changes.
Beyond these grim facts, and the missed opportunity of inaction over climate change, is a truth that the Tories don’t want to admit: their plans fail future generations.
A Green parliamentary programme, on the other hand, will seek to propose positive alternatives which have at their heart one core principle: that we must invest now to build a resilient redistributive economy for the future.
That’s why, as well as promoting ambitious action on climate, in my first year back in parliament I’ll be re-tabling my bill to reinstate a fully public NHS by reversing 25 years of marketisation. You only have to look across the Atlantic to see the vast costs associated with private healthcare – yet a government which claims to be the vanguard of financial responsibility will continue to allow the pricey inefficiencies of privatisation infect our healthcare system. It’s time to put an end this costly experiment.
The NHS isn’t the only public service to fall victim to the politics of private interests. The railway system, run for profit and at the expense of passengers who are struggling to afford fares, is in desperate need of an overhaul.
It’s vital that we bring our railways into public ownership. Doing so could save the Treasury £1bn per year – and allow us to invest in a greener, more affordable, alternative to further road building. We know that the majority of the public are in favour of this, and I shall be seeking support from MPs across the political spectrum in re-tabling a Private Member’s Bill to bring our railways to be brought back into public hands as private franchises expire.
There are plenty of credible alternatives to the business as usual to which we are all too often treated – all making sound economic sense. While it’s not looking like many will make it into the Queen’s Speech, they will make it into my Green parliamentary programme which sets out practical measures to secure a decent future for generations to come by creating a fairer, more sustainable Britain.
Published in the New Statesman 26 May, 2015