Conference 2019 round-up: Welsh nationalists’ emerald eye, while Co-operative Party and Green Party talk 'Green Deals'

Both the Green Party and Co-operative Party went big on their respective 'Green Deals' during autumn conference season this year - while the Welsh nationalists spoke out in favour of EU membership.

Green party autumn conference 2019 - 4-6 October 2019

Carbon tax to pay for New Green Deal

The Green Party held its autumn conference in Newport, Wales, earlier this month. The conference was notable for announcing the fifty thousandth member of the party. There were no big announcements on tax, with the party reiterating that a new carbon tax would pay for a New Green Deal. The carbon tax would reflect all emissions of greenhouse gases, not just CO2. It will have a progressive element to deter high individual emitters.

Increasing corporation tax

In his conference speech, Co-leader Jonathan Bartley spoke about increasing corporation tax to reverse cuts to local authority budgets, so that these local authorities become ‘engines of a Green New Deal’. Bartley said the Greens would end airport expansion and introduce a ‘progressive frequent flyer levy’ to end the ‘binge flying of the super-rich’. And he vowed to end petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Bartley said that when he was born 40 years ago, ‘we were given a dream. A vision of the future, where we would create unprecedented wealth’ but ‘instead of that vision we were promised, we work longer hours, the wealth is held by the super-rich while 14 million live in poverty and climate breakdown threatens our very existence. No wonder people are angry and want change.’ He also talked about a ‘new authoritarianism’ in the UK, pointing to ‘the scapegoating of disabled people. Of migrants. Of those on benefits.’

The Greens talked about a ten-year mobilisation to get to net zero emissions by 2030. The party set out a green vision for wholesale, urgent transformation - of agriculture, of transport, of industry, of energy, the very way we live and work. For too long, governments have pursued GDP in the mistaken belief that a rising tide floats all boats. But those without boats have been drowning, says the party, and that tide is set to drown us all.

A Climate Chancellor

Bartley said the party would put a Climate Chancellor into Downing Street, make the Treasury a Ministry of Transformation, and put carbon budgets at the top of the agenda. All spending and decision-making will be determined by the health of our natural world and the wellbeing of people, the party says. In his speech, Bartley promised a massive investment in green technology and decarbonizing the economy and creating millions of green jobs, under a Green Party government.

In her speech, Sian Berry, Green candidate for London mayor, called for a public Bank for London to help create the resilient local economy the UK needs, backing small business and green industries to grow, while helping Londoners bank ethically and save for the future. And she talked about rebalancing the UK’s economy, and spreading wealth to every corner of these islands.

In her conference speech, Deputy Leader Amelia Womack lambasted the current Conservative government for ‘planning tax cuts for the rich and big corporations’. She bemoaned: “The party of Government right now isn’t just a Rees-Mogg or Johnson joke - they are the cruellest, most vindictive ministers that have sat around the cabinet table in modern British History. This is why we now need local and national Green governments that will overhaul this broken economy.”

Co-operative Party autumn conference – 11-13 October 2019

Co-ops look at environmental tax

The Co-operative party say they left their autumn conference in Glasgow, ’full of exciting ideas, passion and ambition to build a fairer future’. This year's topics were community, place and power, and a Co-operative Green New Deal.

Delegates overwhelming backed a Co-operative Green New Deal, committing the party to an ‘ambitious’ zero carbon by 2030 target and putting co-operative solutions at the heart of its response to the climate crisis. The party complain in a report promoted at the event  that climate change and inequality are intertwined, both in cause and effect. The poorest have contributed least to its onward march – yet they already bear the brunt of its effect, and are most vulnerable to adverse impact from the policies designed to slow its progress, the party says.

The report accepts that jobs in heavy industry and manufacturing risk being lost as we transition to greener technologies. Taxes on goods are not progressive, meaning higher fuel duties can disproportionately hit the cost of living for lower income households. And in the Global South, climate change is causing desertification, drought, and increasingly extreme weather events. The party thinks decarbonisation promises many opportunities too. A transition requires innovation and new green industry to replace our high carbon status quo – complete with new, green skills and jobs.

The party spoke of using fiscal tools – a range of taxation and pricing measures which can potentially raise income and increase resource efficiency and fairness, while helping to meet environmental goals. This means carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes and/or natural resource pricing measures.

Criticisms of carbon taxes to date have included – that the rate of change is too marginal and that they risk disproportionately disadvantaging those least able to pay. On the flip side, taxes are preferred by economists as an efficient way to address the market failure that causes markets to ignore environmental costs, says the party. There is a role for carbon taxes, alongside the principle of ‘polluter pays’ and bearing in mind the importance of a just transition in their design, says the party. The concept of a carbon dividend – tax revenue returned to those communities most adversely impacted by climate change and the policies implemented to tackle it – helps to ensure communities feeling left behind by impacts of climate change have an opportunity to benefit.

Elsewhere at conference, the party says co-operative devolution is needed now more than ever. The party agreed to focus on solving environmental problems through growing local co-operative economies, increasing fiscal devolution and restoring a local democratic voice through co-operative media models and citizen assemblies

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard MSP committed to building a ‘Mondragon of the north’. (Mondragon is a federation of worker cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.) UNISON Assistant Secretary Christina McAnea emphasised the strong link between the trade union and co-operative movements. Keir Starmer noted that giving the people a final say on Brexit is good co-operative politics.

Plaid Cymru autumn conference 2019 - 4-5 October 2019

Welsh nationalists’ emerald eye

There will be a referendum on Welsh independence by 2030, party leader Adam Price said during the Plaid Cymru autumn conference. Plaid has four MPs, 10 Welsh assembly members and one MEP. The party has its highest membership for decades. Price claimed that within 18 months Plaid Cymru will form the first Welsh government in favour of independence.

Keeping Wales in the EU

The party leader claimed Wales could get £2 billion extra as an EU member in its own right as an independent nation. In his conference speech, he said Ireland was poorer than Wales when it got money from EU cohesion funds and ‘look at them now... 50 per cent bigger by population [than Wales] and 500 per cent richer in GDP’. He fears that a Boris Johnson ‘deal or no deal’ Brexit would do to Welsh manufacturing and agriculture what a Conservative government did to Welsh steelworks and mines. He said Plaid Cymru are against a no deal Brexit, saying a Boris Johnson-led Brexit spells ‘disaster capitalism’. He is committed to keeping Wales in the EU.

Price said an independent Wales could issue its own bonds, at a time when government bonds are popular with financial markets. He complained that Westminster limits Welsh Government borrowing as Margaret Thatcher used to rate cap councils – a situation making Wales a vassal nation.

Adam Price said: “If Westminster will not let us issue a bond it is time it paid its debts to us – I don’t mean charity – but the money we are owed for all the wealth that cascaded through ports like this one (Swansea)  with hardly a penny flowing back to Wales. We do not want anyone’s charity but reparation for a century of neglect.” He went to say the DUP was given £1 billion by the Government, while ‘Westminster owes us 20 times that for the wealth they stole’.

Wales is the fifth largest electricity exporter of electricity in the world but despite this there are factories in Wales with full order books that cannot expand because they cannot afford to connect to the electricity grid, he told the audience. He said: “We are a 21st century nation with 19th century problems’.

Infrastructure and investment

Imagine what Wales could do with a ‘sovereign Welsh fund’, Price asked the crowd at the theatre in Swansea, suggesting it could double the capital investment budget of the Welsh Government overnight.

He poked fun at the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, established in 2018, for having no staff, no terms of reference, no website – and that its state of the nation report will not be ready until 2022.

He criticised Welsh Labour for allowing Conservative austerity in Wales and for their small scale vision for Welsh infrastructure. He said ‘economic justice’ and ‘getting our waters back’ will be cornerstones of an independent Wales.

Price unveiled some of the policies his party would pitch at the next Welsh assembly elections, in 2021. The party says it will provide detailed costings alongside its manifesto. He pledged Plaid would introduce a payment of £35 a week for every child in every low-income family in Wales, as well as 40 hours a week of free childcare for all children over a year old. Its new cradle to the grave promise to the Welsh people will see the Welsh finally deliver a seamless National Health and Care Service, he said.

A Plaid Cymru government could ‘transform Wales from bottom of the pile to leader of the pack’, boosting digital and physical infrastructure, Price continued. He told the conference the party would increase infrastructure investment by two per cent of GDP by 2025. It was time, he said, for a ‘Crossrail for the valleys’ - a 50km rapid transit service from Treherbert to Pontypool.

Second homes and council tax

In a separate development, Plaid Cymru is urging the Welsh Government to act to close the loophole that allows second home owners to avoid paying tax. By registering their second property as a small business, second home-owners can currently avoid paying council tax and receive full business rate relief. A few days after the conference, Plaid Cymru’s Sian Gwenllian AM called this anomaly a ‘scandal’ and said that there was ‘something wrong with a situation’ whereby two thousand people are on the waiting list for social housing in Gwynedd whilst many owners of the county’s five thousand second homes can avoid paying council tax. Gwenllian said that the lost funding—a total of over £1.7 million per year—as well as the council house premium, could be an important contribution towards building more appropriate housing for local people in Gwynedd. The Assembly Member suggested the Welsh Government could close the loophole by adopting Section 66 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.

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