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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

Jean Lambert MEP warns Party Conference that populism “puts our planet on the line”

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7 October 2018

Jean Lambert – Green MEP for London – this morning received a standing ovation at Green Party Conference following her warning that a “dangerous mix of big government, big money and bad science is putting the future of our planet on the line”.

In what may well be Ms Lambert’s final Conference speech, after nearly 20 years as London’s Green MEP, she reminded the Party how much is at stake in the next European Elections (23-26 May 2019), explaining: “Whether we are still within the EU or have committed this act of total political folly and left: we will be affected by the outcome, as will millions of others.”

As the UK prepares to lose its 73 seats in the European Parliament (of which 6 are within the Greens/EFA group), Ms Lambert encouraged the Party to support its Green colleagues in Europe in order to fight the “forces of narrow nationalism and right-wing populism” which threaten the cohesion of our societies and the very future of our planet.

She added: “I do not want to see more seats going to populist, right-wing, xenophobic parties that claim an ethno-superiority and that climate change is a hoax. I want more seats going to Greens who believe we can have a positive common future based on solidarity and respect for ourselves and the planet. I want our Party to play its role in helping that happen.”

Jean Lambert MEP’s full speech to the Green Party Conference, October 2018:

 

Jean Lambert MEP’s full speech to the Green Party Conference, October 2018:

 

This is possibly my last speech to a Green Party Conference.

I want to thank those who work for us, worked to get us elected, and the voters who put their trust in us.

My speech usually takes place just before a European Election, which will be held next year from 23rd to 26th May. I would have loved to hand over my speaking slot today to a probable successor after my 20 wonderful years in the European Parliament.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen, thanks to a referendum held to save the Tories from UKIP. It’s thanks to a totally incompetent Government, backed by a weak Parliament, and a campaign built on lies. For example, there’s no Brexit dividend for the NHS. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn please take note: the NHS is already paying a penalty in terms of staff lost, it faces a shortage of life-saving treatments because of the Government’s failure to sign-off on a patient-first approach, and now big pharma is sniffing around future trade deals.

As an outcome of that referendum result, Keith, Molly and I recently found ourselves voting on the proposals as to how to distribute the UK’s 73 seats in the European Parliament after we are due to leave on March 29th next year. It was one of the saddest votes I’ve ever taken part in.

This poses difficulties for the Greens/EFA Group, which will also lose 6 of its 52 members in the European Parliament – the 3 of us, plus Plaid and SNP.

It also poses challenges for The Green Party of England and Wales. We will need to do some serious thinking as to how we replace the political weight and profile we have had through being in the European Parliament.

The Green Party will want to support our Green colleagues in those next European Parliament elections. One way we could help is by engaging with the many EU27 citizens living in the UK, who will be able to vote in their former home countries next year. We can persuade them to vote Green.

The Party will also need to work on keeping and developing the strong links we have with Green parties across the EU and beyond. After all, we did help found the European Green Party. We will rely on the International Committee and the Association of Green Councillors, amongst others, to continue developing these strong international connections. We should remember that Andy Cooper will also have to step down from his role on the EU’s Committee of the Regions.

Greens are really needed now, when you look at what is happening within the EU and across the world.

As a truly international movement, we know that tackling many of today’s challenges requires co-operation and action across borders: climate change;
protecting our environment from waste and pollution; safeguarding the global commons; promoting and upholding human rights; tackling transnational corporations and international finance; promoting democracy, good governance and the rule-of-law; protecting those affected by war or natural disasters; fighting organised crime, including human trafficking; and closing the gaps between rich and poor, within and between different countries.

This does not mean Governments bear no individual responsibility. After all, if the UK Government wanted to make the world a safer place and find millions to invest in the NHS or in improving public health, unilateral nuclear disarmament would be a good place to start.

We have only to look at the Sustainable Development Goals, which are our national goals – whether in the EU or not – and ask how many of them will be met by unilateral action alone.

Yet Greens are under attack by forces of narrow nationalism and right-wing populism who consider that our views on inclusive, open societies threaten national culture and identity.

One of the clearest examples of this is taking place in Hungary right now, in the Hungarian Government’s 20 million euro press campaign against Guy Verhofstadt, George Soros and Judith Sargentini – the brilliant Dutch Green MEP who drafted the European Parliament’s critical report on the failure of the Hungarian Government under Viktor Orban to uphold key democratic rights and freedoms. The vast majority of the European Parliament voted in favour of this report, and taking meaningful action against Orban’s Government. It’s shameful that most Tory MEPs chose to support his repressive, autocratic regime.

What Orban and others like him fail to admit is that culture is not static, nor is it frozen in time and power relationships. As I reminded a Swedish Democrat recently (who now sits with the Tories in the European Parliament!) if culture didn’t change, no women – including her – would be sitting in any Parliament in Europe.

These right-wing populists tell us that migration contaminates national identity. They accuse the Greens of welcoming refugees. This is true, we’re proud of it. We should welcome people who need to flee oppression and violence. But we certainly don’t welcome the circumstances that force them to move. Greens passionately believe that we should be creating a world where no one is forced to leave their home.

Yes, we are pro-migration as a genuine choice: because we need to see people treated with dignity and on an equal basis. Free movement in the EU (and similar developments in other parts of the world) makes this an option and marks a real shift in the power relationship between migrants and the state. People choose to move, people choose their employer, people choose to change their employer, people choose to bring (or start) a family, and they don’t have to meet a salary threshold to do it. This is a reciprocal right. Millions from the UK exercise those rights elsewhere in the European Union because they choose to.

That’s not to say everything works perfectly – it’s certainly not helped by a Government who didn’t recognise early enough that free movement needs management, and who choose not to protect low-paid workers, who slash local authority resources and deliberately create a hostile environment that poisons people’s lives and our communities. We’re now seeing deliberate efforts to splinter our societies and split groups apart.

It’s a populist tactic. You try and split off those who are seen as different in some way – whether that’s migrants, homeless people, minorities in general – and attack the organisations that defend them. Then you politicise the organs of the state that should be impartial and stifle the independence of the press. It’s a checklist to bear in mind.

As Greens, we should also be concerned about those alt-right, populist movements who portray climate change as contested science and a conspiracy of the liberal elite – that’s us. Trump’s decisions to take the USA out of the Paris agreement, strangle the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency and let big fossil fools (sorry, fuels) rip been described as a potential crime against humanity (I will not start a chant of ‘lock him up’).

But Trump is not alone in looking after the interests of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries (we also have our problems in the EU). My Hungarian Green colleague Benedek Javor, has pointed out that: “We see a pattern of populist governments clearly opposing ambitious climate and energy regulations, which is in line with the primary Russian economic interest: exporting fossil fuel and nuclear technology.”

Sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it?

But this dangerous mix of big government, big money and bad science, is really putting the future of our planet on the line. Our populist colleagues cooperate across borders, and so must Greens in our work for the common good.

We can do this in a number of ways, some of which I’ve already mentioned: but we need to really use the information and expertise we have between us – not just in publicising our successes as the European Green Party’s excellent latest short film does, but in terms of our policies and how we express our ideas.

We need to win the arguments for renewables, energy and water conservation, and “green” towns and cities. We need to show that we care about decent jobs and “a just transition” in our workplaces, as advocated by the UN. We need to show that inclusive societies are the way forward, and that means cooperation not division. And we have to do this locally and internationally.

Because it’s not a choice, Prime Minister. We must act local, think global – and vice versa. As Greens, we see how these connect. I consider myself a citizen of the world – a citizen of everywhere.

So, I say again, the next European Parliament elections really matter. Whether we are still within the EU or have committed this act of total political folly and left: we will be affected by the outcome, as will millions of others.

I do not want to see more seats going to populist, right-wing, xenophobic parties that claim an ethno-superiority and that climate change is a hoax. I want more seats going to Greens who believe we can have a positive common future based on solidarity and respect for ourselves and the planet. I want our Party to play its role in helping that happen.

We have an old slogan worth re-using – Join together: Make a future.