‘Making our green voice heard’: deputy leader addresses autumn conference

“Let’s take our offer to people’s doorsteps; let’s stand with people in fighting for what matters to them, and let’s make our Green voice heard."

Amelia Womack addressing the 2021 autumn conference
Green World

Deputy Leader Amelia Womack addressed the Green Party of England and Wales Autumn Conference 2021 earlier today, reflecting on Birmingham’s history of political action, solidarity, and dissent; reminding listeners of what can be achieved by acting together.

Calling back to the formation of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830, she said: “[The union] became a blueprint for political unions in other manufacturing towns, and in the wake of its establishment, over a hundred others were formed across the country. Just two years after the union’s first meeting, following a spring of protest and unrest during which over 200,000 people gathered here in Birmingham alone, the Reform Act of 1832 was passed – the first major step towards achieving votes for all. 

“140 years later, in 1972, another display of solidarity here in Birmingham won a huge victory for workers’ rights. On 9 January, a national miner’s strike began against austerity pay – but no one thought the miners could possibly win the dispute. 

“But in February, workers from across Birmingham joined a picket line at a fuel storage depot to prevent fuel being transported to the power stations and industries that depended on it. Over 15,000 workers joined the action, and the depot was forced to close its gates. This was the turning point of the strike, and within weeks the government had been defeated. 

“These stories remind me that changing the course of history is down to us. Even when we are disenfranchised, ignored, and oppressed by those in power – if we act together, the power to make change is in our hands and we can win.”

The potential of collective will, Womack said, was clear throughout the Covid-19 pandemic: “The ‘Everyone In’ scheme went a long way to housing rough sleepers in emergency accommodation, showing that when the political will is there, it is possible to get people off the streets. 

“At the peak of the furlough scheme, the government was paying 80 per cent of the wages of nearly nine million workers. Just imagine what would be possible if this sense of urgency and necessity were applied to fighting climate chaos, fixing the housing crisis, or ending the epidemic of poverty that blights the UK.”

She noted, however, that the Government is currently dashing this potential, ‘doubling down on its age-old divide and rule tactic’. She continued: “They blame the most marginalised in society. They support fans booing footballers who take the knee. They whip up moral panic over LGBTIQA+ rights. And they show endless, unrelenting, hostility towards refugees – whether in the media or on the floor of parliament. 

“It’s easy to feel hopeless in the face of such reckless and cruel attacks from those in power. I often do. But the pandemic showed us something else, too: the power of our communities, the strength of the bonds that connect us.”

Touching on the policing bill, Womack outlined the situation that marginalised communities are currently facing, and urged listeners to stand with them: “The policing bill currently going through parliament is one of the most serious threats to human rights and civil liberties in recent history. The sweeping new powers in this bill would lead to the harassment of young people, especially black and working-class people, and would put vulnerable young women at risk of violence. 

“If passed, the bill would also entrench discrimination against gypsy, Roma and traveller (GRT) communities even further. This group have had their rights systematically stripped away for decades, and this new bill would effectively criminalise their way of life.”

She continued: “It’s down to all of us to stand with a community that has been pushed to the margins, and whose very existence is under threat. We must continue to fight the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill all the way – in the House of Lords and in the Commons – and on the streets.

“Because this government knows that protest works, and that’s why this bill would clamp down so hard on our right to do it. It’s a scary reminder that our democratic rights are never guaranteed – they have been hard-won and we must fight hard to keep them.” 

Womack also considered the landscape currently faced by women in the UK, thrown into stark clarity in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard, a 33 year-old woman murdered by a serving police officer. Denouncing the police force’s approach, Womack said: “And yet, in response to the outpouring of grief and fear from women across the country, the calls for us to just be able to walk home safely at night, we have simply been offered more police. 

“More bobbies on the beat. Undercover cops in bars and clubs. Officers only detaining women when in pairs and advice to flag down buses if you feel unsafe. But women – and in particular, working-class women, women of colour, trans women and sex workers – women know that more police aren’t the way to keep us safe.” 

Continuing, she emphasised how investing in communities will bring true safety: “Years of austerity have stripped our towns, villages and cities’ social infrastructure to the bone. Youth centres closed. Domestic violence services cut. People trapped in abusive and dangerous situations because they can’t afford to leave. 

“The only answer the establishment has for us is more police and more powers for the police. But we know that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail – and violence at the hands of the police has been destroying lives for decades. 

“It’s time to go back to the start and rebuild our communities, with the knowledge that we – our friends and neighbours, our teachers and our nurses –  are what keep each other safe. We need more funding for youth services, more places for people to come together, and a welfare state that gives people the power to make their own choices.”

Womack condemned the Government’s attitude to the climate, pointing out the disparity between its protection of the economy and its protection of the environment. She said: “From this government, we’ve got airport expansion when we need a frequent flier levy. Millions set aside for road building when that should be spent on public transport. Potential new coal mines when renewable energy is the priority. It’s clear that this country’s leaders are simply not interested in making the kind of change we need to prevent climate catastrophe and transition to a greener, fairer economy.”

She continued, affirming how the Green Party can fill the vacuum of power left by the Government: “Across the country, our people, are showing that when the Government can’t be trusted to take action on the things that matter, we can. In towns and cities, from the countryside to the coast, Greens are working as part of their communities to make a real difference to people’s lives. 

“And sometimes that’s not easy. We have 44 Councillors who are the sole Green on their council including Emily Durrant – our Green Councillor in Wales who has won the hearts and minds of her community. For now – these individuals are holding the fort, demonstrating what can be achieved with just one Green in the room.

“Now we stand at a pivotal moment for our party. People across the country are crying out for the kind of politics we offer: one that takes the climate and ecological crisis seriously, one that listens, and one that puts power back in people’s hands. So let’s take our offer to people’s doorsteps; let’s stand with people in fighting for what matters to them, and let’s make our Green voice heard."