Green issues to dominate Lib Dem agenda

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy today put the environment at the heart of his party's agenda in the run up to the next election.

He said politicians - himself included - had ignored the issue for too long and "ducked" questions on it.

Yet the environment was "the one issue which should concern us all," Mr Kennedy told the closing session of his party's spring conference in Plymouth.

He broke with tradition to become the first party leader to focus a keynote conference speech on a single issue, and urged Chancellor Gordon Brown to introduce a "green budget" on Tuesday.

Mr Kennedy said protecting the environment could provide jobs and promote "green growth" in the economy.

"Whatever your income, whatever your background, the one issue which should concern us all is the environment," Mr Kennedy told the 1,500 delegates.

"The greatest freedom we can hand on to future generations is a planet with a future. The environment is not something that you inherit from your parents, it is something that you preserve for your children.

Mr Kennedy went on: "We should recognise that pollution is the most pernicious tyranny of all and it affects the poor the most.

"Yet all too often, politicians shy away from that. Even we, Liberal Democrats, too many of us, certainly myself included have ducked some tough questions.

"We haven't talked about the environment nearly enough in the past few years."

Mr Kennedy, who arrived at the conference hall with his girlfriend Sarah Gurling, described protecting the environment as "the most fundamental liberation politics".

He said it was vital for his party to start persuading voters that the environment was "one of the biggest issues in politics".

He said global warming was happening "faster than we have ever imagined".

He said it was a real issue for the UK: "Nearly 10% of our best agricultural land is less than five metres above sea level. Around 40% of our manufacturing is on or near the coast. Twenty-six million people in this country live near the coastline.

"As sea levels rise so our economic fabric will sink. So what does the Government do? No. 10 is pathetic, absolutely pathetic."

He urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to "go the whole hog" and introduce a five year moratorium on commercial GM crops and urged Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to encourage an integrated transport system and promote walking with "safe routes to schools" for youngsters.

But Mr Kennedy warned: "Without a green culture Government will legislate in vain."

But he cited changing attitudes to recycling as an example of how a change in attitudes could be achieved.

As part of his party's raft of green policies he called for GPs to be allowed to issue prescriptions for home insulation, saying that fuel poverty hit the poorest and the oldest hardest simply because they could not afford to heat their homes.

He said issuing prescriptions would "Promote better health, save heating costs and lead to a better environment, a green policy to end fuel poverty in 15 years."

He stressed: "The environment is good for the economy. Green growth, in other words. Jobs insulating homes, jobs in conservation schemes, jobs through investing in public transport.

Green issues could bring: "More choice, not less. Positive gain, not pain".

Mr Kennedy said his party's "Green Budget" in contrast to the Government's "Brown Budget" would also include taxes on dumping waste to fund recycling, scrapping road tax for fuel efficient cars and a target of 20% of British energy from renewable sources by 2010.

Mr Kennedy said the environment could give his party "a different agenda, a distinctive identity," and pledged: "At the next election, I am determined that we will win more votes and more seats. That will give us more power to make a difference."

Earlier, the party's Treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor said the Rover crisis demonstrated the importance of Britain joining a single currency.

"Join the euro, save your job... Labour's cowardice has let the euro go by default. People are now losing their jobs as a result."

He repeated the main points of the party's "shadow budget" launched last Thursday calling for Mr Brown to scrap his planned 1p cut in the basic rate of income tax to invest in schools and the NHS instead and said most of Mr Brown's spending pledges to date had been "just funny money, from the funny money chancellor".