Better is possible: co-leaders’ speech at GPEW Conference 2020

Live-streaming from the Everyman cinema in Broadgate, London, to Greens up and down the country through YouTube, Facebook and Zoom, co-leaders Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley recognised how the pandemic has challenged us to be brave in thinking ‘Better is possible’.

Jonathan Bartley and Sian Berry speaking at GPEW Conference 2020
Green World

The Green Party of England and Wales’s Extraordinary Autumn Conference 2020 has opened with a keynote address from co-leaders Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley, reflecting on how the unprecedented upheaval we have faced in 2020 has opened the door to real change for the better. 

Addressing delegates online, the recently re-elected party leaders renewed calls for a green recovery plan in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Berry said: “We have been saying for months that the Government needs to work with local authorities, communities and public health teams.

“Just imagine what we could do if we planned ahead for the emergencies to come. Not wait for them to hit, but build resilience securely through a Green New Deal. If we invested ahead of time to create the new jobs we need, in the new industries we need. 

 Building resilience, not only to weather this storm, but to have a stronger shelter from the next one too.”

At the heart of the plan to forge a new path is the proposal for a universal basic income. An initiative that has the potential to eradicate poverty. 

Bartley declared: “A universal basic income. We have proposed it for years. And it’s an idea whose time has come.

 A regular, unconditional payment made to everyone. We can make poverty impossible. We can abolish destitution and give everyone more life choices – the choices the privileged often take for granted – to study, change career, retrain, care for a loved one.”

 Sian Berry highlighted that we are ‘just part of the way through’ the pandemic, yet it has ‘already made us recognise like never before the truly deep connections between our people, society and our planet.’

This was reinforced by Berry later on, as she mentioned young climate activists who are also supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, recognising that  climate justice, economic justice and racial justice are indivisible, and that it is people of colour and the working class that suffer disproportionately in times of crisis, including climate breakdown and the pandemic. 

 Berry continued: “One of the most telling failures is the contracting out of test and trace.

 “Contracting out is what governments do when they have lost confidence in their own leadership; lost confidence in local communities. And we won’t get the virus under control without a test and trace system that works in every local area.”

 Turning to the task of delivering political change, success in the local elections last year is a foundation for making further gains. “For the Greens, 2019’s local elections were spectacular! This year’s elections were postponed,” said Berry. 

“As a party we could not be more ready for next year – 2021 – to fight more winning campaigns in Wales, in London and in councils across the country.”

“Greens know that something better than business-as-usual is possible and we’re arguing for a dramatic change of direction.”

Bartley and Berry drew on a number of historical events throughout, that act as the basis for believing in change,

These included the UN’s drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which told the world in clear terms how people should be treated – a vision that, according to the Green Party co-leaders, “won’t be complete until every person has enough; not just for their basic needs, but for a fulfilled life.”

Bartley also used the example of apartheid in South Africa, a crisis during which Black theologians used the Ancient Greek term “kairos” – a pivotal moment of change – to depict how they rose to action against political oppression. He described the current crisis as a “kairos” moment, and both co-leaders set it out as a “moment of truth”.

 Issues to be debated and voted on over the course of the conference were detailed as: 

  • Reparations to create global justice and put right the legacy of the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans, colonial exploitation, and our debt to the world for the pollution we have emitted.
  • Rewilding our country and giving every young person a meaningful education that will equip them to shape their rapidly changing world.
  • Bringing in new ideas for transport that respond directly to the coronavirus crisis and new economics to create resilience and build back better.

 Berry turned to a poignant note, referring to the late Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, whose views so often dissented from those held by other members of the Supreme Court. 

 She reflected: “A few years ago, the Green Party dissented in a big way. While all the other parties embraced the ideology of austerity, we stood firmly against it.

 “We said it would be worth it. That austerity was the plain wrong response to the economic crisis we faced. And we were proved right.

 “With a Green New Deal and a universal basic income, we can break free from the old thinking for good.”

The keynote ended with an invitation for everyone to join the Party mission to show ‘Better is possible’. 

You can view the livestream, with the keynote speech starting 20 minutes in, at this link