8 September 2012
Will Duckworth Deputy Leader’s Speech – Saturday 8th September 2012
Thank you very much Adrian and thank you Conference.
It is an honour and a privilege to be elected as your deputy leader. Thank you.
It will also be an honour and a privilege to work alongside Natalie Bennett, our new leader.
I’d like to say a few thank yous. Firstly, to Bristol Green Party and everyone else who has helped to make us all feel so welcome here.
This is a great city for our Conference and I hope we come back again before too long.
I'd like to thank everyone in Dudley and West Midlands Green Party, as without your help I would not be here now.
I would like to say a massive personal thank you to everyone who supported me in the leadership election campaign, especially Romayne Phoenix, my running mate.
I’d like to say to my fellow candidates – thank you for putting so much of yourselves into the election.
It's been good-natured and wholly positive. It's been a fantastic discussion about our policies and direction. It has served, once again, to show that there is a tremendous wealth of talent in our Party. And every one of you has made a positive difference to the process.
If Romayne, Peter, Pippa, Richard, Caroline and Alex are here I would like to ask them to stand up, and I ask you, Conference, to join me in showing appreciation for their efforts with a warm and well deserved round of applause. Thank you.
As Deputy Leader, I promise to do my very best to run with the baton passed on to me by Adrian Ramsey. Adrian has done an outstanding job in the position for the last four years and he will be a hard act to follow. Thank you, Adrian.
I know that I speak for everyone in the Party when I wish him all the very best in his new role at the Centre for Alternative Technology, although I hope that before too long we will all be congratulating him on taking another post, as a Green Party MP.
Of course, I couldn’t possibly make this speech without thanking somebody who has done so much for the Party. In fact, I don’t think Caroline Lucas can be thanked enough for the incredible hard work and dedication that she has put in, especially over the last four years as our first ever Leader. Caroline – thank you!
For those of you who don’t know me too well, apart from being that bloke at the front desk who registers you in to Conference, here’s a little bit about me.
My working class family moved from Lancashire to the West Midlands, where I was born and raised. Educated in state schools, I managed to become the first person in my family to go to University.
I studied Science and maths at Bangor and then did teacher training. I taught maths for 30 years, including five in Yorkshire. I spent 20 years spent defending teacher’s rights as an NASUWT Union rep. I enjoyed my union work and it appears that I was good at it.
So good in fact that in 2006 the head teacher finally managed to sack me! I won my unfair dismissal case, but I didn’t get my job back.
I spent an unsuccessful year as a job seeker, then, in 2007 signed off to become a full-time house husband, supporting my busy wife. I grew as much of our own food as I could, baked bread and did the cooking. By the way, I may have to give up the allotment, well, for the next two years, anyway.
As you may know, I was unable to attend some of the hustings last month. There is a good reason for this. My wife Vicky works about 70 hours a week as a primary school teacher.
Vicky still finds time to support me in my local campaigning, so I think it is only fair that I support her, too. The only proper break she gets all year is when we go away together in the summer holidays and that’s very important to both of us.
As well as becoming a house husband in 2007 I decided it was time to get involved in local politics. After reading manifestos and policy documents from every single UK political Party I was amazed to find that the Green Party agrees with just about everything that I thought.
So, in 2008 I became a member, and, in 2009 I co-founded Dudley Green Party.
In 2010 I became Treasurer of the West Midlands Region. I’ll talk a bit more about what has happened there since shortly.
When I found out in early 2010 that the BBC Politics Show had chosen to follow the campaign battles in Stourbridge, part of our local group’s area, for the General Election I emailed the BBC and colleagues in Green Party saying that I hoped we would not be ignored. The BBC wrote back asking who our candidate was and colleagues in the Green Party suggested that I have a go at standing, so I stood.
Needless to say I didn’t win, but my enduring memory is of spending six hours in a canoe on Dudley’s canals, filming for an item that ended up never being shown, but rather being bumped because of accusations of a treating scandal – one of the candidates was supposed to have bought tea for seventy pensioners!
But it wasn’t all bad news. A further two hours of filming got us a whole 13 seconds of national TV coverage! Who says politics isn’t glamorous?!
In 2010 Dudley Green Party selected me as our first local election target candidate. As it happens I live in that ward and taught there for 20 years. It is called Netherton, Woodside and St Andrew’s and it’s a traditional, working class, and usually Labour ward.
According to government figures, it is one of the 10% most deprived wards in England. We have four, some might say crumbling, council housing estates. We are also in the top 10% for unemployment. As the locals might say ‘We ay posh round ‘ere’!
At the election in 2010 I got a total of 168 votes, but that didn’t put us off. At this time West Midlands Green Party was going through somewhat of a transformation. A strategy was drawn up with the aim of getting local parties across the region sharing resources and coordinating campaigns.
We started fund raising, promising to use the cash to build local parties and increase the number of councillors in the region. Very soon we were able to hire our Local Party Support Officer for one day a week. The region’s Rizograph printer started running off tens of thousands of ward newsletters. Members started travelling for miles to volunteer their help in target wards, knocking on doors and delivering those newsletters.
And with some of that fantastic support, we ploughed on. In 2011 that vote rose to 1068, moving us in to second place, but still 400 short of winning. So we worked even harder.
In 2012, less than three years after the Dudley group was founded, on a night where there was a massive swing to Labour – they gained 13 seats in our authority - I was elected as the Black Country’s first ever Green Party Councillor.
I put that success down to several things – communicating the Green Party message in a way that connected with residents, well organised support from the region and a team that was prepared to work hard – and they did!
Last month I was selected as the West Midlands lead candidate for the European elections in 2014. Then this week I became the Deputy Leader. And, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one year, I have just become a granddad for the first time!
But what sort of a society has that baby been born into? The ConDem’s disastrous economic policies continue to hit the least well-off the hardest and as the double dip recession bites – the double dip that our party predicted.
The Government's Housing Benefit and Universal Credit changes will be devastating.
Thanks to everyone who signed my Emergency Motion on Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, which I hope you, Conference, will pass later today. On Wednesday night I described the changes in my local Council meeting as an unwarranted, vicious and vindictive attack on the most vulnerable in our society.
And just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse the ConDem Government has just had its first reshuffle.
The new Conservative Chairman, well, until becoming a minister at the last election, he conducted his business using a completely different name! It’s true – when doing business Grant Shapps used to call himself Michael Green!
The new Environment Secretary wants to see all subsidies for renewable energy cut and shale gas exploitation ramped up!
And David Cameron has given the top health job to arguably the most discredited Minister in recent history, a man who is reported to have called for the NHS to be dismantled, saying it was 'no longer relevant'.
You couldn’t make it up!
Then we’ve got Nick Clegg – the man who appears to by vying to knock Gordon Bennett off the top spot for having his name synonymous with calamity. And the LibDems – working hard – to become the most successful doormats in living memory!
And then there’s Labour’s hilarious ‘hiding in a wardrobe’ policy. You may remember this particular strategy was first pioneered by Neil Kinnock around 1990, when the then Conservative government was up to its neck in sleaze and Labour had a considerable lead in the polls.
The strategy is very simple. It works like this – hide in a cupboard and say absolutely nothing. Ed Milibean – oops! Sorry! – Miliband – hasn’t got it quite right yet, because every now and then he pops out of the cupboard and when he opens his mouth all that comes out is the same stuff as the ConDems, only very, very slightly watered down.
Never mind the grey, it’s the 50 Shades of Blue that’s worrying me!
Oh and on the subject of sleaze – you know that cash for questions, well, I know how to buy influence in the Green Party: You pay your membership fee and then you get one vote – just like everyone else!!!
People are looking for an alternative to the business as usual parties. People need an alternative to the business as usual parties. And here is just one, shocking example why.
While knocking on doors last year, a council house resident told me that her storage radiators had stopped working six years previously. She had been promised that gas central heating would be installed within 6 months, as her’s was a priority case, due to the fact that she was looking after two very poorly young children.
Tragically, during those six months, one of the children died from her illnesses. Then, unbelievably, the Council told her that because she now only had one sick child to look after, she was no longer deemed a priority case and she would go to the back of the waiting list.
I said I would try to help her. It took six weeks of calls and emails, but eventually the Council agreed to install a new central heating system.
And I also have to share this unforgettable experience with you. On election day this May I got a call from an elderly gentleman asking for a lift to the polling station. Nothing unusual there.
But when we went to collect him it turned out he was very ill indeed. He could only move very slowly and was wheezing terribly. In fact he had oxygen tubes around his head and face and had to carry the gas bottle with him. All the time I was with him I kept on wondering whether he have left his home at all. But he was determined to go and vote.
For me. For us. For a better future. We are needed out there – now is the time – we must seize the day.
Now, I see my mandate from this deputy leadership election as being about helping to build our party internally. I want to see more regions working as one, supporting local parties in getting more councillors elected followed by MEPs and then more MPs so that we can help repair our broken democracy.
I know that I am not here because of my dynamic oratory skills or my speech writing expertise or even my sartorial elegance, but because the West Midlands has developed a successful electoral strategy that is transferable to your area.
We in the West Midlands we have gone from having just three councillors in three authorities to thirteen in 7 in just two years. Well, your region could be next! I will take particular pleasure in working with local and regional groups to replicate that success, build the membership and strengthen the Party at all levels. So if you want to see more Green Party Councillors in your area and region then please get in touch with Natalie and me. We look forward to hearing from you.
But the Green Party cannot live on Targeting to win alone! We must get involved in the campaigns that we care about. When others see our banners proudly carried on marches against cuts to services, pay and pensions. We must see more our members prominent in organisations like the Coalition Against the Cuts, the Transition movement and Trade Unions. Along with coordinated local and regional electioneering, campaigning has to be the second pillar in our overall strategy.
The next two years will be crucial for us, with important local elections in 2013 and a great opportunity to increase our number of MEPs the year after. But these are exceptional times. There are unique challenges for people across England and Wales and for our Party. We will only meet those challenges by working together. I know that we can and must succeed.
The Green Party is not just Caroline, it is not just Adrian, it is not just Natalie and it is certainly not just me. We are the Green Party. We, the members, make the choices. We, the members, make the policies. And we, the members, have to take them to the people.
As Gandhi said “You have to be the change you want to see”, so, Conference, I say “Ask not what your Party can do for you, but what you can do for your Party”.
You have elected me as your deputy leader. And I want to make this promise: I will be a passionate voice for the Green Party. I will do all I can to strive for ecological justice and social fairness. I will support Natalie as she takes on the immense responsibility of leading our party.
We will work together. We will build the Party. We will succeed. Thank you.
Have a great Conference!