Now is an exciting time to be in the Green Party. With excellent results in last month's local elections, a growing membership, and frequently out-polling the Liberal Democrats as the UK's third party, it's never felt so good to be Green! As well as becoming a new councillor in Lancaster, joining the ranks of the 445 Green councillors across England and Wales, I have been appointed the party's spokesperson for Culture, Sport and Digital Inclusion.
The country faces many challenges as we emerge from lockdown and begin to recover from the pandemic. The Government's lack of preparedness – and over a decade of austerity – has contributed to the UK having one of the worst outcomes in terms of public health and economic damage. (Compounded by a disastrous Brexit deal, and incompetent leadership by a cast of clowns and charlatans.)
Throughout the past 11 years, the Green Party has provided the only consistent opposition to the wrong-headed ideological belief in austerity as the only way out of a crisis. Despite having spent years lecturing us on how there's no magic money tree, the pandemic has forced the Government to
realise it does – in fact – print money, and that it is capable of amazing things, like the furlough scheme and the rescue packages provided to many sectors including our vital arts industry.
While we can praise the Conservatives for some of the support packages they have put together, it is all too obvious that many people have slipped through the net, and been left to fend for themselves. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden patted himself on the back for the support he claimed to have provided to Cornwall's spectacular Minack Theatre, which was visited by First Lady Jill Biden during the G7 Summit. But the theatre was quick to put him right, pointing out that in fact they were not eligible to apply for the Culture Recovery Fund in question, and had only managed to survive the pandemic thanks to their own cash reserves. Dowden hastily deleted his tweet, making no form of apology. Many other arts institutions have been less fortunate than the Minack. London's iconic cabaret venue the Café de Paris – which survived the Second World War – closed its shutters permanently in December last year.
Despite its failings, the Culture Recovery Fund shows a glimpse of what proper support for our arts institutions can look like. However it also highlights the need to properly fund our local authorities. Prior to the swingeing cuts of the past decade, councils were far more resilient and able to directly support their arts venues and club-level sports organisations.
The Government's Sports Recovery Package seems to have been altogether more successful at providing the broad support the sector needs. Many of us will be enjoying the football, tennis and rugby this summer. No doubt we want to support the future Heather Watsons, Gareth Bales and Maro Itojes. However many clubs are effectively on life-support, and the phasing out of the furlough scheme could be a fatal blow to them if further relief packages aren't provided.
The third part of my remit is digital inclusion, and this is an area that needs work both within the Government, and within our party itself. The burning issue here, highlighted by the pandemic, is digital poverty. In a world where everything from school classes to funerals are carried out online, it is obvious that those without access to decent devices and internet connections suffer disproportionately.
North of the border, the Scottish Greens and SNP are working on legislation to provide support to those who need it. £5 million was pledged in the SNP's manifesto to tackle digital poverty. But with an estimated two million UK households currently without an internet connection, a much greater sum ought to be pledged by the UK Government.
Private sector-led organisations such as FutureDotNow are working hard on these issues – including through their DevicesDotNow campaign – but this issue urgently needs a grander solution from the central government.
Finally, we as Greens should be horrified by the Government's recently revealed intention to privatise Channel 4. The UK is a genuine world leader when it comes to public service broadcasting, and the politically motivated Tory assault on our publicly owned media is stomach-churning. I will do everything I can to challenge this brazen attempt to curtail our free press.
There are many more issues I hope to address in my new role as the Green Party's spokesperson for Culture, Sport and Digital Inclusion. If you would like to support my efforts, or get in touch with me for any reason, please email me at: email@example.com.