EU: Time for change

“The Leave voters of our region are expressing their exasperation at the system that has failed them over the years.” Catherine Rowett, new Green MEP for Eastern England, looks ahead to what Greens can achieve in the European Parliament and how a positive EU can bring Leave and Remain voters back together.

Catherine Rowett hero
Catherine Rowett hero
Catherine Rowett

I am totally wowed by the opportunities that the Greens have seized at the European elections, and also by the fact that instead of scrabbling to grasp the seventh seat in the East of England region by our finger-nails, we sailed into the fourth seat, coming in as the third largest vote share, ahead of Labour, Conservatives, Change UK and UKIP.

This achievement in a region that was predominantly leave-voting in 2016 was spectacular, and the fact that the Brexit Party ended up with no more seats and barely any more share of the vote than UKIP had before, while virtually all the movable votes from Conservative and Labour went to us and the Liberal Democrats, shows that there is no general will for the kind of disruption that Brexit would inflict.

Even more encouraging was the joyous discovery of local hotspots where Green voters outnumbered any other party and we topped the polls. My home town of Norwich – which is, of course, home town to all three of the top three candidates on our Eastern Region list – was outstanding for this. If people who have now discovered that to vote Green is to get Green in this region were to continue in that way, we’d be winning seats even under first past the post. Perhaps the decline of the two big incompetent parties will enable us to have fairer elections for Westminster, and rid ourselves of the blight of tactical voting in seats that are not marginal.

Whereas other Remain parties are smug in their confidence that such voters had nothing sensible to say, I am determined to hear and to discuss the distress that has been caused to the communities of East Anglia over the past decades. 

It was a great thing that we were given this chance to elect MEPs to serve for the UK in Brussels. It is great that we have more than doubled the number of Greens that we send from the UK, and great that we shall now constitute one tenth of the new enlarged Green/EFA group in the European Parliament. There is much that needs to be changed and work that needs to be done urgently if we are to get actions in place in time before climate chaos breaks out. We need to get to work on banning subsidies for fossil fuels, ending the use of pesticides that are damaging the insect population, oversee changes to more humane farming methods that restore and maintain soil quality and deliver good food, and to set up systems for receiving and resettling refugees.

But there are many injustices that have led to the big problems of our day. Injustices, such as massive wealth inequality, which allow some to destroy the ecosystem while others are on the receiving end of the destruction, and injustices that lead to war and famine (the drivers of migration) due to the effects of climate change, drought and poverty. These are issues that must be addressed internationally and the EU has power to effect some changes globally by building in requirements relating to workers rights, animal welfare and environmental standards when it negotiates its international trade deals. There is much work to do, and we shall be there to see that action is taken, and that there are no empty words.

It is also fair to say that the Leave voters of our region are expressing their exasperation at the system that has failed them over the years. Whereas other Remain parties are smug in their confidence that such voters had nothing sensible to say, I am determined to hear and to discuss the distress that has been caused to the communities of East Anglia over the past decades.

Like the Leave voters, I do not think that economic measures of success accurately capture the truth of whether a country is doing well or whether its citizens feel that their country is doing them proud. It’s a mistake to think that this is just because the wealth is not properly distributed, as though if we could get rid of the gross inequality, lift everyone out of poverty, tax the rich properly and stop taxing the poor improperly, or if we could ensure that a fair share of the prosperity were distributed to the regions to build infrastructure and facilities, people would be happy. The mistake is to think that throwing money at people, or building leisure centres and sports halls, will make people better off.

What the Leavers are right about is that the thing we love, and feel we have lost, is something intangible, something that brings us together in shared projects of which we can be proud, raising children with values that are not merely those of consumer culture. The EU project can be seen as one of those things: as a place in which we bring people together to create a mutually supportive community right across Europe, where people can study, learn, work and collaborate, pursuing a vision of a good society and a ‘never again’ attitude towards hatred, racism and prejudice. I see part of my role as being inviting those who feel they have lost their country into sharing that vision, and seeing how the hatred fomented by the extreme right is destroying the country we once had.

I stood for election because I did not recognise the country that we have started to become. We need to work on questions about what deserves to be loved, and how important it is to be people of judgement and to distinguish between good and evil.

Recommended