by Lesley Grahame, Green Party Norwich South candidate.
Norwich is a fine, radical city, with a long history of voting progressively. That is one of the many reasons why we have 15 Greens on City Council, and 4 on the County Council.
A Greener Norwich would have a viable, sustainable local economy, as a centre of excellence in climate friendly research, technology, training, building, transport and manufacture. Local marketing would enable the city to support local agriculture,strengthening the links between city, university and the surrounding rural communities. Practical measures to reduce emissions would include street by street insulation, along with other forms of readily available, proven and still developing renewable energy, solar panels on every roof, pedestrian, cycling and public transport so people would have far less need to drive.
A Greener Norwich would have a Green MP to start reversing the privatisation and decline of universal public services. Tuition fees would be abolished. The NHS would be completely free at the point of delivery. Both would be paid for by fair and progressive taxation, effectively enforced. Today’s consumerist, globalised yet individualist way of life, is environmentally devastating, and has led to spiralling inequality. The CEOs of the top 100 companies have enjoyed a 480% pay rise since 1998, while many more people sleep in doorways, casualties of unemployment, ill-health and debt, often through factors beyond their control. More equality would benefit everyone, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket have shown so conclusively in ‘The Spirit Level’.
Our National Health Service was founded because people saw the need and created the money, at a time when we were spent out after the war. Crisis called and we rose to the challenge. We can and must do so again. We would introduce a National Climate service, along the lines proposed by the Million Climate Jobs campaign. Their Trade Union Group estimates that a million people working for 20 years could cut our carbon emissions by 95%. This would cost £66bn, of which £47bn would be recouped through employing people, and providing energy and transport, leaving £19bn to be found. This compares with £25bn annually in uncollected tax; £100bn in tax evasion; or £100bn to replace Trident, all conservative estimates.
Practical measures to reduce emissions would include street by street insulation, along with other forms of readily available, proven and still developing renewable energy, solar panels on every roof, pedestrian, cycling and public transport so people would have far less need to drive.
Successive governments have undermined communities and disempowered individuals, through many acts of imposition and austerity. These range from benefit sanctions, bedroom tax and NHS marketisation at national level, to over-prescriptive allotment rules, attempted skateboarding bans and a council that claims to listen – but only sometimes.
The Norwich vision I’d work towards would be a more democratic Norwich – it would be a place where politics is something you do, rather than something done to you. Change is welcomed when it is chosen and owned by the people most affected by it, so empowerment and real participatory democracy are key. Involving people in the budgetary process through participatory budgeting is an example of good practice in engaging people. This has been used to excellent effect in Latin America, and was popular in Norwich during its brief introduction, but was one of the first things to be cut. Green Party councillors have had some success in getting more people involved in council decisions, by using the consultation processes to their full, as well as asking questions at council meetings, starting petitions and getting their voices heard on many of the issues cited above.
The Norwich vision I’d work towards would be a more democratic Norwich – it would be a place where politics is something you do, rather than something done to you.
Many people are desperate for a change from the four Westminster brands of austerity (for most) offered by the bigger parties. Our shared earth cannot wait until after the deficit is paid off, before we stop accelerating climate change and losing species. Therefore the question isn’t ‘Can we afford to create a fair and sustainable city that can survive the economic and environmental shocks coming our way’, but ‘HOW can we best do it?’ We can’t afford not to.
In advocating for safer, Greener and more cohesive communities, we are safeguarding our children’s future, as well as their present well-being.
A Greener Norwich would actively build community at every opportunity, for example in planning new homes with places to meet and greet, in supporting community centres of all kinds, and encouraging people to use the green spaces around them. Safer roads, with less traffic and lower speed limits, and good pedestrian/cycle routes along with stronger communities and ‘walking busses’ would encourage walking and socialising, and at the same time reduce obesity, isolation and school-run traffic, creating safer roads – a virtuous circle. In advocating for safer, Greener and more cohesive communities, we are safeguarding our children’s future, as well as their present well-being.
To make these bottom-up changes possible, people need to learn early the habits of participation in their communities. Every child deserves a small enough class to allow them to connect with their teachers, and an education that prepares them for living, not testing. If there is any place for the market, it is in the (healthy) tuck-shop, not the classroom, and in children learning to make, grow and exchange things of value. Voting at 16 would bring politics into the classroom in a good way, and help develop thoughtful children into responsible adults.
Norwich is not an island (even if sea levels rise more than we expect) and so the differences that Green City Council would make locally are set in a context of national and international factors that we can influence but not control. We will use our influence as example of good practice that others will want to follow. This is not about re-arranging the deckchairs; it’s about redirecting the ship, away from spiralling inequality and devastating climate change, towards a vibrant, liveable city, in a safer, fairer world, for everyone.
Lesley Grahame is currently a Green Party councillor for Thorpe Hamlet Ward on Norwich City Council. She was first elected in 2009, and re-elected in 2014. Lesley currently works as a Community Nurse and is a member of Unison and has for many years been involved in peace and social justice campaigns. Lesley is standing for the constituency of Norwich South.