Speech to Green Party Autumn Conference 2020
I never meant to become a politician. That wasn’t in my game plan.
I first joined the Green Party, perhaps like many of you, because I saw the urgency of the environmental crisis we were facing, and that this wasn’t being prioritised by any of the other parties. Then a few years ago, a local Green Party councillor knocked on our door. One thing led to another, I got more involved in the local party, and soon I was persuaded to stand as a target candidate. I was elected last year as part of the Green Wave that saw us more than double our number of councillors.
When I was first asked to stand, I didn’t know much about local politics. Despite growing up in a household where politics was discussed around the dinner table, I had no real idea what a local councillor did. To go from there, to here, in the space of two years – it’s been a steep learning curve.
What I want to share with you today is why I’ve become passionate about local politics, and why I think it is at the heart of what we do as a party.
As local councillors, we have the opportunity to do lots of things. We can bring residents’ concerns to meetings, and make sure their voices are considered. We can scrutinise decision making and hold the establishment to account. We can challenge unfair systems that aren’t working and we can make sure that our priorities of environmental and social justice stay at the top of the agenda.
But what first made me fall in love with local politics was the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of local people.
I remember my first piece of casework as a freshly elected councillor. An elderly resident called me to tell me that the council’s bushes were overhanging her driveway, and making it dangerous for her carers to get in and out. In previous years, her husband had always cut these bushes, but he’d recently lost his sight and was unable to do it. They’d tried to contact the council for months, but nothing had happened. Two emails later, and the bushes were cut and the problem solved.
It seems like such a small thing. After all, it’s not saving the world or eliminating poverty. But it made a big difference to that couple. The woman told me that “this is the first time in my life I’ve contacted a politician and they’ve actually done something useful”.
We can all see that trust in politics and politicians is at an all time low. That’s hardly surprising, looking at what’s going on in the world and what we see on the news. So when residents tell me “you’re the first politician I’ve met who seems to really care”, or “you’ve restored my faith in politics a little bit”, that matters.
We talk in the Green Party about doing politics differently; and this is our opportunity to show people what different looks like. We can be the human face of our local councils. We have the power to cut through the bureaucracy, to stand up for the people we represent, and to win over hearts and minds one at a time.
As Greens, we believe in the power of local decision making and local democracy. We know that to tackle the challenge of the climate emergency, and the issues of equality, fairness and social justice that are so important to us, we have to bring people together to create solutions.
None of us can do this alone. We each represent only a small corner of the country; but together we can do amazing things.
Today the Green Party has 354 councillors on 123 district, county, borough and city councils, as well as many more town and parish councillors. We form part of the ruling administration on 18 of those councils, most recently taking over the running of Brighton and Hove City Council in July this year.
The AGC is here to support all our councillors – whether they are lone Greens, or part of an opposition group, or in administration. Every Green group faces its own unique challenges and political landscape. Through the AGC we come together to share ideas, resources and inspiration, and to use our collective voice to lobby for change.
We’re also here to shout about the great work that Green councillors are doing. Both to you as members, and to the wider world. I want everyone to know that there are hundreds of elected Greens who are out there already delivering on our priorities and our values, supporting their communities and showing people what politics can be.
To give you just a few examples.
- It was a Green Councillor in Bristol, Carla Denyer, who proposed the first Climate Emergency motion in the UK. Since then, 69% of councils in the UK have followed.
- But we know that good intentions aren’t enough – which is why we have been pushing for councils to adopt carbon management strategies, as Herefordshire council has done, thanks to Ellie Chowns, who is the cabinet member for the environment.
- Work commissioned by Lewes district council, where the Greens share power, has developed a plan to put the whole district on course for zero emissions. Our councillor Matthew Bird is leading on this.
- In Norwich, our councillors in opposition have been pushing the council to use Municipal Investment Bonds to raise money for sustainable energy investments.
- In Peterborough, one of our sole Green Councillors Nicola Day won a motion to create a food strategy to address the causes of food inequality, and has been working with active travel campaigners to improve cycle infrastructure.
- In Solihull, we have been campaigning for more socially rented housing, and have pushed the council to provide support to social care workers who are struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Our Green councillors in administration in Brighton and Hove have recently secured funding for their bid to provide housing and additional support to homeless people to help them find permanent accommodation.
At this point, I’m going to give a shout out to our brilliant Climate Change support officer, Julian Dean, who will be running a Fringe on Councils and Climate change later – so do go along to that to find out more.
If you’re feeling inspired and want to get involved, there are lots of ways to do that. Perhaps the easiest to help campaign for your local target candidate. That can involve anything from stuffing envelopes and delivering leaflets to knocking on doors or helping to design newsletters.
Or you might be thinking about becoming a councillor yourself, and putting yourself forwards as a prospective target candidate. This can seem daunting, but the AGC along with your local and regional parties can address any questions or concerns you might have and talk you through what’s involved step by step. We need candidates from all different backgrounds and walks of life – so if you don’t think you’re the kind of person who would fit in as a councillor, that’s even more reason why we’d like to support you to stand. Or if you can’t commit to that, there are other opportunities to help with the background work, for example in drafting motions or consultation responses. The AGC can tell you more.
Together we can make a difference, and we can build the foundations for success at a national level. We must be a party that represents every class, every colour and every community; a party that combines a bold vision of a better future with a clear understanding of what works; and a party that knows how to win elections, not to take power for its own sake, but to deliver the change our country desperately needs.
We will make this happen by engaging with our local communities, by earning their trust, and by proving that better is possible when Greens are elected.