Greens in Swansea II

Sian Berry's account of this year's Green Spring conference continues

This morning’s Green Party conference vote went against the Severn barrage, and I voted against it as well in the end. It was pretty clear cut: along with the rest of the hall, I just wasn’t able to be convinced that such a huge, irrevocable change to the estuary should be made when tidal lagoons and turbines can provide alternatives that would generate just as much electricity with much less impact.

It was an interesting debate though, with several Greens arguing passionately in favour of the barrage plan, and we’re all pleased we took the time to consider the options properly before committing to one side or the other.

We also passed ‘emergency motions’ (these state our position on issues that have arisen since the full conference agenda was published) congratulating the Council tenants of Swansea for voting to keep their council housing under the control of the local authority – a campaign Swansea Greens were fully behind; opposing the downgrading of local hospital services in mid and west Wales; saying no to oil exploration in Cardigan Bay; and criticising the 2.5 percent pay increase (effectively a pay cut) given to NHS nurses and other key health workers - just the latest betrayal of the NHS and is founding principles.

Today’s big panel discussion was on localisation – the Green antidote to centralised incompetence, multinational monopolies and all the other failings of a globalised capitalist economy. Molly Scott-Cato, our Economics spokesperson, set out the opportunities pursuing a localised agenda gives us in challenging the organisation of the economy. She is a leading academic on the subject, and is developing the concept of ‘bioregionalism’, where your economy is based in an eco-system, within which you have responsibility for where resources come from and where waste ends up. Within this system, local is a principle that trumps others such as price and choice.

She has a positive vision of a convivial, shared economy that is shared by Carl Schlyter, a Green MEP from Sweden who is co-chair of the parliament’s committee on economic development and trade. In Brussels he sees first hand how everyone loses through globalisation as large, centralised contracts increase the power of transnational companies, and how even countries like China that were winning under this system a few years ago have now seen 15 million jobs disappear abroad in search of workers who will do even more for even less.

Carl told us that some of the brightest beacons of localisation he has identified are in the UK and US, with the Community Development Corporation movement in America growing fast, and Community Interest Companies taking off here. He also praised the work of the New Economics Foundation – home of the third speaker, David Boyle.

David pointed out that it is now 24 years since the Green Party ‘gave birth’ to NEF, and styled his speech a ‘belated mother’s day card’ – arrr.

He told us how, despite the work of NEF highlighting the problem of Clone Town Britain and the crisis faced by local shops, they are still coming up against old myths every day like, ‘supermarkets create jobs’ and ‘big contracts are more efficient’. He even heard recently of a council that has banned ‘untidy’ non-chain shops from its latest big shopping centre.

The NEF has done a lot to quantify the problem, and has devised the LM3 ‘local multiplier’ tool to measure local money flows. This has shown how locally owned shops and services recirculate money within the local economy, multiplying the wealth that investment can create. Their findings using the tool have included the shocking fact that the loss of a post office can cost the local area (roughly the size of a council ward) £300,000 a year, but have also demonstrated how best to spend regeneration funding – creating small contracts and encouraging local firms to apply can make the money go 400% further.

I am a great fan of NEF, and Peter put their mission very well when he said, “We can frustrate the monster with the right policies, but we need to do the right research to prove it.”

Tomorrow I’ll give my keynote speech and we’ll have a very controversial debate that could lead to my position being abolished altogether – watch this space.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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