The Green Party opens the political party conference season with pledges to raise the minimum wage and a celebration of an increased number of young members
The Party conference season commenced last week, with the Green Party opening at Aston University in Birmingham. The event, which took place between the 5th to the 8th of September, outlined a list of pledges, with the claim that the party can deliver ‘real change for the common good’, offering a break from the ‘tired business-as-usual politics’.
In her keynote speech Natalie Bennett, recently re-elected leader of the Green Party, called for a raise in the minimum wage (currently £6.31) to the living wage (outside London: £7.65; inside London: £8.80) with immediate effect. She also claimed to see this raise in line with inflation, resulting in a basic minimum wage of £10 an hour before the 2020, a move that has the potential to be particularly useful to university students in part time employment.
In addition to this, the Green Party pledged to put an end to ‘zero-hour’ contracts that are currently in use in the UK (creating an ‘on-call’ arrangement between the employee and employer). This would guarantee stability in employment, relevant to students who can rely on the consistent income through guaranteed work.
The party support a properly funded, higher education system, reintroducing student grants to meet living costs in the short term, with the aim to abolish tuition fees. They stress that higher education should be available to people of all ages and backgrounds, offering a wide range of practical, vocational and academic courses. The party’s manifesto outlines their policy for schemes to be put in place to ensure funding for less wealthy students, educating every student ‘to the highest level of which they are capable’.
In Amelia Womack’s (Deputy Leader) debut speech, she asserted that it is only the Green party who offer a real future for young people, the only party which offers an alternative to ‘the prospect of a lifetime of low paid, low skilled, insecure employment while saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of debt for doing nothing more than seeking a decent education’. She stated that it is the ‘young people who are central to any vision of the future’, yet it is the young people who are not only overlooked, but ‘bear the worst of austerity Britain’.
It may be as a result of this, that the Green Party has seen a 70% increase in Young Green Membership since the start of the year, with the party aiming to increase youth empowerment, engagement and interest.
Green Party leaders also called for the renationalisation of the railways (claiming this is more economical, ecological and promote integration), calling the system back into public ownership. They also called for all three major political parties, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour, to stop the privatisation of the NHS (preventing essential services to be driven by ‘corporate greed’), and have pledged to stop this from occurring if the Green Party take a substantial amount of seats in the general election (taking place next year).
The former leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, who is also the only sitting Green Party MP, stated at the conference that with the increasing success of the Green Party, who polled 1.2 million voters during the European Parliament elections in May, they have an increased chance of becoming a strong voice within Parliament after the next general election.
This is the penultimate conference before the general election next year, with the final conference scheduled for Spring 2015. It ended with much optimism from leading Green Party figures, who have selected up to 20 key seats to fight the general election next year, but have pledged to stand candidates in at least 75% of constituencies. Bennett described the Greens as ‘the party of real change’.