As each day passes, and ministers line up to announce the next short-sighted government policies, it’s easy to feel glum about the coming five years. The crises we’re facing in this country, from child poverty to climate change, look set to worsen under a government driven so resolutely by an obsession with austerity economics.
As the Green Party’s sole representative in the House of Commons, I’ll be doing all I can to provide the genuinely alternative voice that’s so desperately needed.
The greatest threat we face from this government is their reluctance to do what’s needed to tackle climate change. We know that credible solutions exist that could wean us off fossil fuels. 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.
And it’s not only on climate change that Greens must provide a real alternative. The Labour leadership challengers, with the notable exception of Jeremy Corbyn, are refusing to make a stand against the cuts to public services that are driving people to desperation. 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 7.7 million children – and it’s increasingly down to us Greens to fight against any further cuts that could plunge even more young people into poverty.
But in the face of such a grim prognosis, there is hope.
It’s been easier than I’d imagined to work cross-party with like-minded backbenchers in order to get things done. Behind the party machines are some Labour MPs who are prepared to stand up for a truly public NHS, some Lib Dems who will work to defend our civil liberties and, of course, the SNP and Plaid with whom I already regularly work in Westminster. In my view, it’s more important than ever that progressive MPs join together on the issues where we can agree.
To that end, I’ll be doing all I can to build alliances in the new Parliament. In re-tabling an NHS Reinstatement Bill, I am calling out for all those MPs who believe in public healthcare to stand up and be counted by supporting the legislation. When I lay down early day motions on votes at 16 for the EU referendum or on ridding our world of nuclear weapons, I expect MPs to cross party lines and stand up for the principles at stake.
The Tories have a majority, but it’s only a slim one. If progressives work together on key issues, we stand a real chance of defeating the government in crucial votes.
But a new progressive politics must also extend far beyond Westminster. That means putting social movements as well as civil society at its heart – and I believe it also means having a frank discussion about the potential for some electoral pacts in first-past-the-post elections. The next five years will be hard enough, but the prospect of perpetual Tory governments reigning over us as candidates’ votes are split doesn’t bear thinking about.