I’m campaigning on four key issues here in North Herefordshire. I believe we need to:
- Reverse the devastating Conservative cuts to local services;
- Rethink how we treat the environment;
- Remodel our economy so that it works for everyone;
- Reform our broken political system.
1: Reverse cuts to local services
Our local services have been cut back to the bone over the past 7 years. Herefordshire Council’s budget has been slashed by more than a third (£70 million over the past 6 years), with more cuts to come. This has had terrible impacts on vital local services such as libraries and road maintenance, and on voluntary sector organisations such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Hereford Carers Support. And what’s worse is – our own MPs have consistently and repeatedly voted for this over the past 7 years.
We’ve also seen big cuts to school budgets. My own sons’ school in Ledbury is losing £600 per pupil over the next few years. Fully 99% of schools are facing per-pupil funding cuts. This is absolute madness! We should be investing in our children before anything else.
These cuts have been driven by the discredited ideology of austerity. What that really means is: tax cuts for the wealthy, and cuts to public services for everyone else. We are all the poorer as a result.
Public services are an investment in making life better for all of us. Tax should not be seen as a burden – it’s simply how we pay collectively for things that we all want but can’t buy individually, like safe streets and healthy communities.
2: Rethink how we treat the environment
We’re lucky here in Herefordshire to live in such beautiful surroundings. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think everything’s fine on the environmental front. The warning signs are all around us. 2016 was the hottest year on record, as was 2015, and 2014. In fact, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century, and our planet hasn’t been this hot for 115,000 years. The Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2040. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that this warming is due to human activities. Time is running out for us to change course. We have to wean ourselves entirely off fossil fuels and move to a 100% renewable, zero carbon economy.
Biodiversity is also under threat. 60% of British species are on the decline, and 15% are threatened with extinction. Sadly, farming is the main cause – so this issue is particularly relevant in Herefordshire. Greens are calling urgently for an Environmental Protection Act – not least because many of our current environmental protections derive from European law and, as the Environmental Audit Committee said recently, there is a very grave danger that Brexit will be an excuse for watering them down or removing them altogether.
3: Remodel our economy so that it works for everyone
The economy should serve society, not the other way round. Everyone should have the right to a decent job with decent pay, and a decent warm house to live in. But we’re a long way from this. The median wage is lower today than 10 years ago, and 6.2 million UK jobs (about a quarter) pay less than the Living Wage. Meanwhile the wealth of the richest 1000 people in the UK increased by 14% last year, and the richest 1% own more than 20 times the wealth of the poorest 20%. Greens would change the tax and benefits system to reverse these damaging trends, because greater equality is better for everyone.
Wages are low in Herefordshire, but house prices are relatively high, so we have a real problem with affordability of housing – we’re the second-worst in the West Midlands. We also have one of the highest rates of fuel poverty too. Greens would ensure that all homes are properly insulated, and make sure that all new homes are built to the highest environmental standards – creating thousands of new Green jobs.
4: Reform our broken political system
Currently, a small minority of voters in a few dozen marginal seats determine what sort of government we get. It’s a recipe for complete complacency in so-called ‘safe seats’ like North Herefordshire, and so it’s not surprising that many people here feel disillusioned with politics. We need a political system where everyone’s vote counts, and where MPs work full time for their constituents – unlike Bill Wiggin, who spends one day a week managing hedge funds in tax havens. We need and deserve independent voices in Westminster, standing up for their home areas and holding the government to account.
North Herefordshire is the 46th safest Tory seat in the country. It’s a place where the Conservatives, to be honest, take the electorate for granted. It is not a key marginal, so it simply doesn’t make sense to vote tactically here. Instead this is a place where voters can and should vote for what they believe in. Greens are the fastest-growing party locally: we have more council seats than Labour and the Lib Dems put together, and we doubled our vote in 2015. Every Green vote counts – it strengthens our message and demonstrates the depth of public support for the things that really matter: strong public services, care for the environment, an economy that works for everyone, and a political system in which everyone’s voice is heard.