Caroline Lucas: We are up against a rotten, dysfunctional system

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The Independent Online

What is immediately clear to anyone joining the Green Party conference in Hove this weekend is that this is a party with its sights set firmly on the future. As much of the talk inevitably focuses on the Green bid for Westminster, the buzz is almost tangible.

At our spring conference in Blackpool the shockwaves of the financial crisis were rippling from the boardroom into the living room, and political commentators were predicting bad times ahead for the Greens. "No one votes Green in a recession," we were told. "When people are worried about their jobs, things like the environment, social justice and political reform are mere luxuries," they said.

Yet more than a million British people clearly do care, since they voted Green in the European elections in June. And more than 1,000 of them joined the party during the six-week run-up to those elections.

So party members here at conference are feeling understandably buoyant. In the June elections, not only did we increase our share of the vote by more than any other party – up by 44 per cent – but in two regions we also pushed Labour into fifth place.

Here in Brighton Pavilion, the campaign to win one of our first seats in Westminster is gathering real momentum. In the European elections, Brighton Greens picked up almost 6,000 more votes than the Tories, and more than double the number of votes gained by Labour. Just a few weeks later, Alex Phillips achieved a stunning victory in a council by-election in adjoining Hove, winning the seat resoundingly from the Conservatives.

All this despite being up against a rotten and dysfunctional political system, one which allows a Government with 36 per cent of the vote to hold 100 per cent of the power, and effectively disenfranchises all but the handful of people who happen to live in the marginal seats.

When I speak to activists, the overwhelming impression that I take away is that Greens are passionate about fairness. So, this weekend, we have been asking these questions:

Is it fair that British workers should lose their jobs because of the Government's failure to promote and protect the green industries and renewable energy projects that could provide millions of skilled green jobs while also addressing climate change?

Is it fair that our public services should now suffer deep cuts in the wake of trillion-pound bank bailouts?

Is it fair that one in five children in Britain today is living in poverty? The categorical answer from the Green Party is no.

In eight months' time, we'll be fighting the most critical general election for a generation – and we intend to make the issues of social and environmental justice central to our campaign.

Greens are full of enthusiasm about reaching out to voters and showing people that we are the only party to hold true to our values. Alongside grassroots movements such as those mobilising ahead of the vital Copenhagen climate summit, the Greens form part of a vibrant and forward-thinking movement with energy and fresh political ideas – with our sights set firmly on electoral success.

The values that underpin Green politics – fairness, respect, sustainability – are the values that we need now to forge a new politics and a new economics from the old paradigms that have served the people so poorly. If conference delegates take away one message, let it be this: fairness is worth fighting for.

Caroline Lucas MEP is the leader of the Green Party