Taking a lead

The race is on to be the first ever leader of the Green Party. Here candidate Caroline Lucas MEP set

I've applied for a new job, and next weekend the selection panel will deliver its judgement. I'm standing to be elected as the first ever leader of the Green Party, and on 6 September the result of a ballot of every party member will be announced at our autumn conference.

It would definitely be the biggest challenge I've ever taken on - but it’s also a vital opportunity to take the Green Party into the heart of British political debate.

So what are we proposing that is so radically different, and so urgently needed? Let me outline just a few of the issues.

With the impact of the credit crunch biting deeper every day, re-regulating our financial system has to be a priority, and not in a timid or piecemeal way. Successive governments have listened only to those arguing in favour of greater profits for the financial industry.

Greens believe the banking system should be regulated for the benefit of the consumer - not for maximum profits – and would ensure that ideas like the Tobin tax on currency speculation are actually pushed forward, and implemented for social as well as economic benefit.

But we don’t only face a financial crisis. In fact, it’s a triple crunch of financial meltdown, an accelerating climate crisis, and soaring energy prices underpinned by an encroaching peak in oil production, all of which have their origins firmly rooted in the current model of globalisation.

That means that we need not only a structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, but also a massive and sustained programme to invest in energy conservation and renewable energies, coupled with effective demand management.

We need a “carbon army”, trained and ready to take up the huge job opportunities that will come from a switch to a zero carbon economy. That means skilled jobs for a massive switch to micro, small scale and more localised power generation, a huge expansion in public transport provision and investment in energy efficient technology.

There is another crucial reason why Britain needs Green leadership now. Voter turnout at all elections has been falling. Fewer than one in four people vote in many local elections. Most people simply can't see any difference between politicians from any of the three main Westminster parties. Minor divergences in economic management emerge from time to time, but the paradigm of privatisation, liberalisation and free market dominance has killed off many progressive policies.

A lack of respect for the British people on European issues, with the government of the day promising a referendum on a constitution, but no referendum on an edited version which passes through Parliament as a Treaty, undermines the social contract between voters and politicians. Angry, and faced with such lack of choice, where are increasing numbers of voters heading? We've seen that the Greens have continued to make progress, but so have the BNP. Our politics of hope are being pitted against their politics of hate and ignorance.

In next year's European Elections, the race for fourth place really does matter, as Raphael Behr's recent Observer article makes clear. The proportional system of elections means that only in the very largest regions, have more than four parties won seats. In regions with eight seats or less, no fifth placed party has ever been elected.

Most political commentators seem to expect UKIP's vote to collapse, as it did in the London Assembly Elections. During this Parliament they have lost three of their 12 MEPs through financial scandal or internal bickering.

No one expects a repeat of UKIP's Kilroy-Silk fuelled protest vote in 2009.

That means the onus is on the Greens to grow faster and ensure positive politics and the opportunity for real change leaves the BNP where they should remain – out in the political cold. To do that, we will need to beat them in every region where they pose a threat, including London, where the BNP won an Assembly seat this year, and the North West region, where Nick Griffin has installed himself as the BNP's lead candidate.

But the politics of hope relies on activists willing to help us get our positive message out to every disillusioned, demoralised and desperately unhappy voter in the next two years. We need inspiration from the bottom up as well.

We need many of the 200,000 members who once supported the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, but have drifted away disillusioned with a lack of delivery, to re-engage with politics. The Green Party wants to renew the hope and the belief that politics can and will make a difference to the lives of ordinary people, something central to the record of Green councillors up and down the country. A professional, and progressive team are ready to take the Greens to the heart of British politics, not just at a local level, but also at Westminster. In both the Brighton Pavilion and Norwich South constituencies, local support for the Greens is stronger than for any other party, and we believe there will be Green MPs elected in two years time.

We need a Green vision at the heart of British politics. We need activists willing to become leaders in their own communities. Leaders who deliver warmer homes for pensioners, lower fuel bills for young families and who deliver real jobs for communities dependent on low paid service industry work that is evaporating as the British economy grinds to a halt.
I have to wait until 6 September until I know whether I get the job, but if you are persuaded about what we are trying to do, what are you waiting for?

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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A third runway at Heathrow will disproportionately benefit the super rich

The mean income of leisure passengers at Heathrow in 2014 was £61,000.

The story goes that expanding Heathrow is a clear-cut policy decision, essential for international trade, jobs and growth. The disruption for those that live around the airport can be mitigated, but ultimately must be suffered for the greater good.

But almost every part of this story is misleading or false. Far from guaranteeing post-Brexit prosperity, a new runway will primarily benefit wealthy frequent flyers taking multiple holidays every year, with local residents and taxpayers picking up the tab.

Expanding Heathrow is not about boosting international trade. The UK is only marginally reliant on air freight to trade with the rest of the world. Total air freight traffic in the UK is actually lower now than it was in 1995, and most UK trade is with Europe, of which only 0.1 per cent goes by air. Internationally, as much as 90 per cent of trade in goods goes by ship because transporting by plane is far too expensive. And in any case our most successful exports are in services, which don’t require transportation. So the idea that UK plc simply cannot trade without an expansion at Heathrow is a gross exaggeration.

Any talk of wider economic benefits is also highly dubious. The Department for Transport’s forecasts show that the great majority of growth in flights will come from leisure passengers. Our tourism deficit is already gaping, with more money pouring out of the country from holidaymakers than comes in from foreign tourists. What’s worse is that this deficit worsens regional disparities since money gets sucked out of all parts of the country but foreign tourists mostly pour money back into London. As for jobs, government estimates suggest that investing in rail would create more employment.

As for the public purse, the aviation sector is undeniably bad for our Treasury. Flights are currently exempt from VAT and fuel duty – a tax subsidy worth as much as £10bn. If these exemptions were removed each return flight would be about £100 more expensive. This is a wasteful and regressive situation that not only forfeits badly needed public funds but also stimulates the demand for flights even further. Heathrow expansion itself will directly lead to significant new public sector costs, including the cost of upgrading Heathrow’s connecting infrastructure, increased pressure on the NHS from pollution-related disease, and the time and money that will have to be ploughed into a decade of legal battles.

So you have to wonder: where is this greater public good that local residents are asked to make such a sacrifice for?

And we must not forget the other sacrifice we’re making: commitment to our fair share of global climate change mitigation. Building more runways creates more flights, just as building more roads has been found to increase traffic. With no clean alternatives to flying, the only way to meet our climate targets is to do less of it.

The real reason for expanding Heathrow is to cater for the huge expected increase in leisure flying, which will come from a small and relatively rich part of the population. At present it’s estimated that 70 per cent of flights are taken by 15 per cent of the population; and 57 per cent of us took no flights abroad at all in 2013. The mean income of leisure passengers at Heathrow in 2014 was £61,000, which is nearly three times the UK median income.

This is in stark contrast to the communities that live directly around airports that are constantly subjected to dirty air and noise pollution. In the case of London City Airport, Newham – already one of London’s most deprived boroughs – suffers air and noise pollution in return for few local jobs, while its benefits are felt almost entirely by wealthy business travellers.

Something needs to change. At the New Economics Foundation we’re arguing for a frequent flyer levy that would give each person one tax-free return flight every year. After that it would introduce a charge that gets bigger with each extra flight, cracking down on those that use their wealth to abuse the system by taking many flights every year. This is based on a simple principle: those who fly more should pay more.

A frequent flyer levy would open up the benefits of air travel, reducing costs for those struggling to afford one family holiday a year, while allowing us to meet our climate targets and eliminate the need for any new runways. It would also generate millions for the public purse in an efficient and progressive way.

We have to take back control over an airports system that is riding roughshod over communities and our environment, with little perceivable benefit except for a small group of frequent flyers.

Stephen Devlin is a senior economist at the New Economics Foundation.