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.

Photo: Reuters
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Murder by numbers: the legacy of the Grenfell Tower fire

It is difficult to refute the reality of suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned.

How do we measure human malice? Sometimes it’s all too easy. This summer, British cities are struggling through the aftermath of successive terrorist attacks and hate crimes. The Manchester bombing. The Westminster Bridge murders. The London Bridge atrocity. The attack on people outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and on other mosques. The unidentified young men who are still at large in the capital after spraying acid in the faces of passers-by, mutilating them.

In Britain, we are commendably resilient about these things. Returning to London after some time away, I found my spirits lifted by an issue of the London Evening Standard magazine that celebrated the ordinary people who stepped in to help after these atrocities. The paramedics who worked through the night. The Romanian chef who offered shelter in his bakery. The football fan who took on the London Bridge terrorists, screaming, “Fuck you, I’m Millwall!” The student housing co-ordinator who rushed to organise board for the victims of the inferno at the Grenfell Tower and their families.

Wait. Hold on a second. One of these things is not like the others. The Grenfell Tower disaster, in which at least 80 people died, was not a terrorist or malicious attack. It was the result of years of callous council decisions and underinvestment in social housing. On 14 June, entire families burned alive in their homes partly because, it is alleged, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would not pay the extra £5,000 or so for fire-resistant cladding. Nor could it find the cash, despite a budget surplus, to instal proper sprinkler systems on the rotting interior of the building.

Kensington and Chelsea is a Tory borough that, in cash terms, cares very little for poorer citizens who are unlikely to vote the right way. In 2014, while the Grenfell Tower residents were refused basic maintenance, the council handed out £100 rebates to its top-rate taxpayers, boasting of its record of “consistently delivering greater efficiencies while improving services”. Some of those efficiencies had names, and parents, and children.

This is a different sort of depravity altogether. It’s depravity with plausible deniability, right up until the point at which deniability goes up in flames. Borrowing from Friedrich Engels, John McDonnell described the Grenfell Tower disaster as “social murder”. The shadow chancellor and sometime Jack Russell of the parliamentary left has never been known for his delicate phrasing.

Naturally, the Tory press queued up to condemn McDonnell – not because he was wrong but because he was indiscreet. “There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder,” he said, “where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences… and as a result of that people have suffered.”

It is difficult to refute the reality of that suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned from the towering tombstone that now blights the west London skyline.” As the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Market austerity is no less brutal for being bloodless, calculating, an ideology of measuring human worth in pennies and making cuts that only indirectly slice into skin and bone. Redistributing large sums of money from the poor to the rich is not simply an abstract moral infraction: it kills. It shortens lives and blights millions more. Usually, it does so in a monstrously phlegmatic manner: the pensioners who die early of preventable diseases, the teenagers who drop out of education, the disabled people left to suffer the symptoms of physical and mental illness with nobody to care for them, the thousands who have died on the waiting lists for state benefits that they are perfectly entitled to, the parents whose pride disintegrates as they watch their children go to school hungry.

We are not encouraged to measure the human cost of austerity in this way, even though there are many people in back offices making exactly these sorts of calculations. This year, when researchers from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine claimed that “relentless cuts” to the health service could explain as many as 30,000 “excess deaths” in England and Wales in 2015, the government denounced this as “a triumph of personal bias over research”, which, however you slice it, is a callous prep school debater’s response to the reality of 30,000 fresh graves.

There is a species of evil in which an individual allows the dark and yammering corners of his mind to direct him to put a blade in a bystander’s belly, or a bomb in a bustling crowd of teenage girls. That sort of monstrosity is as easy to identify as it is mercifully rare, though frighteningly less rare than it was in less febrile times. But there is another sort of evil that seldom makes the headlines. This comes about when someone sits down with a calculator and works out how much it will cost to protect and nurture human life, deducts that from the cost of a tax rebate for local landowners or a nice night at the opera, then comes up with a figure. It’s an ordinary sort of evil, and it has become routine and automated in the austerity years. It is a sort of evil, in the words of Terry Pratchett, that “begins when you begin to treat people as things”. 

The Grenfell Tower disaster was the hellish evidence of the consequences of fiscal ruthlessness that nobody could look away from. Claims that it could not have been predicted were shot down by the victims. The residents’ association wrote on its campaign website after years of begging the council to improve living conditions: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”

That catastrophic event has happened, and the ordinary British response to tragedy – brave, mannered dignity – is inappropriate. When the Grenfell inquiry launches next month, it is incumbent on every citizen to call for answers and to call this kind of travesty by its name: murder by numbers.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder