Caroline Lucas sets out her plan for the parliament ahead. Photo: Getty
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The Queen’s Speech: To fix our economy and protect our planet we must invest for the future

The Green take on what parliament's focus should be following its opening this week.

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.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.