Region's economy has vocal champion as new era in Green Party begins

Posted: 7 Sep 2016

Conference season is nearly upon us but the Green Party, being the Greens, had theirs a few weeks early. Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly went along to Birmingham to witness them elect their new co-leaders.

SOME people love the feeling of power at the top so much that they can't bear to relinquish it – just see Nigel Farage's U-turn on his resignation last year as evidence of that.

Others take on the big jobs because theirs are the only shoulders with the chance of carrying the weight of its responsibility.

The likes of veteran Michael Howard, who helped stabilise the imploding Conservative Party in the lead-up to the 2005 General Election, is often regarded as such a figure.

Caroline Lucas, returning to the top position in the Green Party, albeit this time as part of a job share, can arguably be placed in the same bracket.

Ms Lucas, the Greens' only MP and previously the party's leader between 2008 and 2012, is one of the very few households names emanating from the Left-wing environmentalists.

More: Should the Green Party work with Labour to take on the Tories?

So when she announced she would be running on a joint-ticket for the leadership again, after Natalie Bennett (who led the Greens to their largest vote share in 2015) confirmed she was standing down, the result felt like a foregone conclusion.

In fact, the Brighton Pavilion MP and her running mate Jonathan Bartley picked up 86 per cent of the vote in a race that included five other candidates. Not one of the others picked up more than 5 per cent of the membership's support.

While there were some criticisms that Mr Bartley rode on Ms Lucas' coattails, and that in fact very little was known about the party's former work and pensions spokesman before the vote, many believed that a joint-leadership was the only answer to the party's lack of profile.

If activists do not get the opportunity to hold office and face the media attention that comes with it, how will they ever become well-known? – that was the question I heard from a number of conference delegates last weekend.

Ms Lucas' return, with someone at her side this time, is seen as a chance to push others into the limelight.

The frustrating thing for Mr Bartley in all this is likely to be that he is constantly in his co-leader's shadow.

As cameramen and their smartly dressed broadcasters chased down the leaders across the grounds of the impressive red-brick surrounds of Birmingham University, it was clear who their first choice interviewee was – Mr Bartley was merely a back-up.

Not that I was angling one way or another, but it was Ms Lucas who I caught up with to discuss how she perceived the Government's attitude towards the offshore wind sector – an industry vital to North East Lincolnshire's budding economy.

Only yesterday, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced that Triton Knoll offshore wind farm, located about 20 miles off the coast of Lincolnshire, had been granted planning consent – a move that indicates Business Secretary Greg Clark will continue to back offshore growth under Theresa May's premiership.

Ms Lucas, a Green Party member of 30 years, said she believed the Conservatives deserved praise for their recent show of support for the industry which was capable of helping a "de-industrialised" town like Grimsby to "rejuvenate".

"I think on offshore wind, thank goodness, the Tories are starting to grasp the opportunities that the renewable energy really provides," she said.

"They have come to it very late and of course we want to see them do more but I think it is exciting that they are starting to recognise the environmental benefits of doing that but also the benefit for jobs and the economy.

"We have always said that there is a false division between looking after the environment on one hand, and promoting a stable economy on the other.

"It is precisely through a 'green economy' that you can reach communities that have been left behind and perhaps suffered from de-industrialisation and rejuvenate their local economies, creating jobs for them and to be able to create green energy for the country.

"We have got some catching up to do, but if the Government is getting more serious about offshore wind, that can only be a good thing," said the 55-year-old.

While not wanting to be drawn into commenting on the specifics of the Able and Dong Energy deal collapse, Ms Lucas said if the Government had shown firmer backing in the first place, there might have been less of a mess created over the arrangements.

Dong, in which the Danish government own a major share, pulled out of a £450 million deal this summer with the owners of the North Killingholme site, despite having signed a Memorandum of Understanding promising to develop the South Bank location into its east coast "production hub".

"I can't comment on that because I don't know the circumstances," answered Ms Lucas.

"But I think what there should be is a consistent policy framework, that this Government has responsibility to put in place, so people know that there is a serious commitment by this Government to invest in renewables."

She continued: "The trouble is, we have had mixed messages and so, in terms of any private company making a decision on whether or not to invest in UK renewables, it is a really risky thing to do because, from day-to-day, Government policy changes.

"They have changed it around onshore wind, they have changed it around on solar and they've now said the Green Investment Bank will be privatised.

"All those things means this is a difficult place to do business, and so again, while I don't know all the ins-and-outs about Able, I think if you had a Government with consistent policies, saying, 'Here is the green industrial strategy for, not just five years ahead but 15', there would be more confidence."

With a message as clear and as forthright as that on offshore wind and renewables, whether North East Lincolnshire's electorate vote Green or not, in the party's new leader, the region's economy has a vocal champion.

More of today's Grimsby news


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