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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.