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From Brighton to Brussels, green politics has come of age

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 17:15

By Keith Taylor, Member of the European Parliament

For many of those who followed the UK’s general election in May 2010, the historic election of Green Party leader Caroline Lucas to Westminster was the most positive and uplifting story to emerge from a political event otherwise tainted by extraordinary distrust and negativity. The fact that the party secured its first MP in the face of a non- representative electoral system, which has long prevented smaller parties from breaking through to the uninspired centre ground of British politics, is testament to the tireless work of our politicians and supporters – and shows just how far Green politics has come.

It’s taken many years, but concerns about environmental degradation and the effects of climate change have finally begun to permeate policy-making at the highest levels. We now have a far greater understanding of how the way we live impacts on the planet and its people. The crucial links between the environment and social justice, between sustainability and equality, have become increasingly visible. As these messages have gained greater traction, the Green Party has seen a consistent rise in support and membership. We now have 126 councillors in 43 local authorities across Britain, one MP, two MEPs and two London Assembly members. In Brussels, Westminster, City Hall and on councils up and down the country, the Green voice is being heard loud and clear.

Caroline Lucas’s landmark victory marks the end of her eleven-year term as the South East region’s Member of the European Parliament. In the EP system of proportional representation, the parliamentary regulations state that a Brussels post left vacant mid-term is offered to the next in line on the outgoing member’s party list for that region, without the need for a by-election. So as number two on the regional list for the South East – agreed by the Greens at the last European election – the opportunity to serve in Europe falls to me.

I’ll be working to make a positive difference, promoting sustainability and strong local communities, and fighting for fairness and equality for the people of the South East.

In Brighton, I campaigned alongside fellow Greens and activists for much-needed improvements in the local transport network, for more affordable bus and train fares, and for a revolution in green tourism to make Sussex and the South East a key destination for sustainable living. As a new member of the parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN), I’ll work on a range of issues surrounding public transport at EU level, sustainable planning and regeneration, and the future of green tourism, thereby bringing some of my local knowledge and on-the-ground experience to EU policy-making.

On the Committee on International Trade (INTA), I’ll be able to focus on ‘fair trade’ and the need to create a more equitable development framework for poorer countries. Measures to boost localised economies and usher in a fairer system of global finance will be a high priority. I’ll resist further efforts to increase trade liberalisation and will demand far greater regulations on the banking sector to ensure that those who indulge in irresponsible trading and reckless gambling are properly held to account.

As a full member of the Parliamentary delegation to Afghanistan, and a substitute member of the Iran and Palestine delegations, I will work alongside other Green MEPs to encourage the EU to take a genuinely responsible position on human rights abuses and disproportionate foreign policy endeavours.

On an international level, there are hugely important challenges ahead. For start, we must renew the momentum towards a global deal on climate change. We must protect our natural world from exploitation whilst also ensuring energy security for future generations. We must maintain a functioning state apparatus and fight for equality at a time of misguided government austerity. As an MEP, I understand the need to promote good governance at the European level, to render the EU institutions genuinely transparent and accountable, and to curb the power corporate lobby over our legislature.

I travel to Brussels to take up my new post with the same intentions with which I entered Brighton & Hove Council as a rookie councillor eleven years ago. I want to make a positive contribution to enhance people’s lives, to bring citizens closer to their elected representatives, and to challenge the assumption that society cannot change for the better. Green politics is about doing things differently; it’s about recognising that social and environmental justice are two sides of the same coin-that happy and sustainable communities are more important than endless economic growth; that we must live on the planet as if we mean to stay; and that there is still a place for passion and idealism in our politics.