27 November 2019
Chris Rigby, the Green Party's General Election candidate in Christchurch, attended a hustings session at Twynham School on Tuesday 26th November, organised by Christchurch churches, the first of two General Election hustings events in the constituency.
The other three candidates also attended: Christopher Chope (Conservative), Andrew Dunne (Labour), and Mike Cox (Lib Dem). After an initial speech from each candidate, questions were taken from the audience one at a time.
Here you can watch YouTube videos or read transcripts covering most of Chris's contributions.
In his opening speech, Chris said that "politics lately has become broken", stressed the urgency of tackling the climate crisis with a Green New Deal, and argued that "something has gone dramatically wrong" when the NHS is "brought to its knees" and nurses are going to food banks.
"Thank you, and thank you very much to the Reverend for chairing this, the churches for putting it on and organising, and the school for hosting. And mostly, to all of you for attending. Events like this are truly important, and a really rare opportunity for everyone to be able to engage locally with politics. And something which I believe is missing in our democracy.
"And that's not all that's missing. Politics lately has become broken. There's name-calling, mud-slinging, sexism - rather than finding compromise and common ground.
"Once the model of a modern democracy, Westminster is now a representation of the deep divisions which have been ground into society through the last ten years of Conservative government.
"This election is so important. We're facing a global crisis, with climate breakdown apparent across the world. The issue is the single most important problem we have to tackle, as regardless of any policies on other matters, the truth remains: there can be no politics on a dead planet.
"We've got to end austerity cuts, we've seen our NHS brought to its knees, our emergency services budgets have been slashed, and schools shamefully underfunded. There's a housing crisis, rents and house prices are outweighing the average worker's wages. And we've seen a rapid increase in homelessness and food bank use.
"When we live in the fifth richest economy in the world, and we have nurses who have to use food banks to feed their families, something has gone dramatically wrong. We're going to change this. Not just by bolting on policies to an already broken system, but reforming the system and creating a new kind of politics.
"We're going to start investing in our Green New Deal to achieve £100bn a year to reach zero carbon by 2030. We're going to spend at least £6bn extra a year on the NHS. We're going to create a sustainable economy for the future. Putting in a Future Generations Bill, requiring decisions to consider the needs of the future generations.
"Thank you for listening, and I really look forward to answering your questions."
Responding to the first audience question on Brexit, Chris emphasised the need for democratic confirmation that the actual Brexit deal agreed has majority consent. He declared himself a Remainer, on the basis that "we need to reach out to our friends in Europe" on climate change.
"I think a lot of people know the Green Party's position on this, because we're quite unique in that our position hasn't actually changed since the original referendum. What we have said and we've always said is regardless of the original referendum result, we always want to go back to have a People's Vote. And a People's Vote with three options on the ballot. Those options being leave with a deal, leave with no deal, or remain in the EU.
"Now, we're in a position where a deal has been negotiated. I don't know the ins and outs of that deal, I don't think anyone does. And I believe we have a right to know, and a right to be able to vote on whether we agree to those terms or not. So my position and the position of the Green Party is: we will go back to the people, with those three options, and have it on a proportional vote as well, not just whoever gets the most votes.
"My personal position on it is, I would campaign to remain in the EU. I believe that the biggest issue facing us is climate change, is environmental damage, and we need to work together with our neighbours. We don't need to build walls between ourselves, we need to reach out to our friends in Europe, we need to reach out beyond that, and we all need to work together to tackle an issue which is facing the entire world. And we can only do that looking outwards, not inwards."
Tracy in the audience asked: "Hi, I manage Christchurch Foodbank Plus, and we encounter families daily, especially during school holidays, who are living below the poverty line. We are also encountering increasing numbers of homeless and vulnerably housed people in Christchurch. The effect of the five-week wait for Universal Credit is proving devastating for a lot of the families I meet. How will you and your parties take action to deal with these issues, and will you come and visit Christchurch Food Bank Plus if you are elected?"
Chris replied that reliance on food banks can't be right, and the Green policy to introduce a Universal Basic Income would tackle the phenomenon:
"Tracy, the work you do, I'm with [the Lib Dem candidate] that you shouldn't have to do it, but thank you for doing so. I heard a statistic the other day which frightens me. And that is that 1 in 50 households has had to rely on food banks, which can't be right, not when we are the fifth richest country. And we need to find a way to stop it.
"What the Green Party are going to do, we could look like as I was saying earlier at bolting on policies to what we've already got, we don't need to do that. We need to completely rip up the book and start again. What we want to implement is Universal Basic Income, which means every citizen, regardless of their employment status, will get money every month. It'll be at a rate of £78 a week, I think, if I remember correctly, for all adults. What that means is that all other welfare would be eliminated. There'd be no Jobseekers, no working tax credits. This would be for every single person, there'd be no shame in it. People wouldn't feel shame about having to claim or need to get this help. It wouldn't even be help, it would be there for everyone, regardless.
"What this would also do - it's a massive problem, people who are working, the working poor. And this would mean that people who are working 37 hours a week job would actually see their income increase by 10-15%. And that would hopefully start to alleviate the need to rely on food banks, and everyone would feel equal in society." [APPLAUSE]
Asked about climate action by an audience member, Chris spoke further to the Green Party's Green New Deal proposal and its capacity to generate a "green jobs revolution" in this country.
"The policy which we'd put in place would be putting in place our Green New Deal. And what that would involve is investing £100 billion per year until 2030, to tackle climate change.
"This is the issue. Nothing goes any further than climate change. If we don't tackle this, we are going to have massive problems. And like you said, the NHS is going to be struggling... it's struggling now, it's going to be struggling even more in 10 years' time if we don't start to hit targets. And the targets aren't what we've got in place. 2050 isn't good enough, 2040 isn't good enough, 2030 is the limit which we need to go to, and that is what we are aiming for. And when I say aiming for, we want to hit it, if we're investing in this.
"It seems a huge amount of money. However in 2008, we bailed out the banks when they failed. The climate is failing, and we need to bail out the climate. We need to tackle this full on, quickly, and as well as doing that, we can also increase the economy and create a green economy.
"We can create a green jobs revolution in this country, we can be global leaders. We had the Industrial Revolution, and since then manufacturing has dropped, we've pushed it further and further back. We can begin to manufacture, we can begin to use all these trades which we used to have, and become global leaders in green energy production, in energy saving and in low carbon. We can be taking the lead in this. Great Britain was a global leader at one point, and we can be again, so let's get on the front foot and let's do it now."
Responding to an audience question about Government cuts to green subsidies, Chris branded "an absolute disgrace" the Conservative Government policy of "maximum extraction" of fossil fuels, and advocated pushing forward with renewables instead.
"The Government has in place at the moment something which they call Maximum Extraction. That means they are going after every single bit of fossil fuels which are beneath our shores and our land. And it is an absolute disgrace when we're in this Climate Emergency.
"Not only are they doing this, they have blocked planning for onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of electricity generation which we have. At the same time, they're funding new nuclear, with strike prices of £90, £100, £120 per megawatt hour coming out - the most expensive form of energy which we can have.
It is completely out of order in this situation, and it is not even looking after energy security - energy security we can have through renewables in this country. It is easy. We have got offshore wind, we could have been global leaders in that, but it was made difficult to do. We could be investing more in wave and tidal power, but we have problems with the Crown Estate, because they won't give planning permission to embed things in the seabed.
We need to push forward with renewables, and at the moment, everything that can be done to block it, is being done. And as the Green Party, we are going to invest in it, we're going to get rid of these restrictions, and we are going to create our own energy with our own jobs in this country, and have energy security through renewables, and have a zero-carbon economy.
Pauline in the audience asked: "There's a mental health crisis among our children and teenagers. CAMHS, the Children & Adolescent Mental Health Service, is so overwhelmed that thousands are unable to access help - even those who are self-harming and feeling suicidal. Teenage suicide rates are increasing. What do the parties you represent intend to do about this appalling situation?"
Chris answered that the "awful" delays in access to mental health services "can't go on" and pointed to the Green Party policy of treating mental health equally to physical health.
"Pauline, thank you, and it's a really simple answer to your question, and the situation is awful. And I know people who've experienced waits for adults and children, with getting access to mental health issues. And it can't go on with delays like that, even delays of a week can have severe consequences, never mind three, four, five, six, seven, eight weeks. The Green Party policy is simple. Mental health will be treated exactly the same as physical health. It will be included in our investment into the NHS. The £6 billion a year which we'd put into that would be equally funding physical and mental health as well.
"Mental health is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, and there's a variety of reasons for it. The society which we live in being one. And people are actually beginning to talk about it more and more. It used to be something which people would be scared to speak up about, and people would suffer in silence. Now people have got an opportunity to reach out and try and get some help, and when that help's not there, it's becoming much much worse. So we would be investing in mental health, as part of the NHS, reinforcing those services, creating new services, and making sure that everyone gets the help they need and deserve."
Responding to two complementary questions about our education system, Chris spoke of his personal experience of not thriving in education until after he took an apprenticeship. He condemned "exam factory schools" and argued instead for broader educational focus aiming at producing "rounded individuals".
I was pretty hopeless in school... when I was there [laughs], and I didn't do that well academically. So I understand that we need to support children who maybe don't feel as though they are academic, when in a lot of cases it's not right.
I didn't learn to enjoy learning until I was doing an apprenticeship. And I went to a college where I was in a small class, and I was educated in a way that they understood me, and knew what I needed. I went on past that - in my twenties I ended up going to university and getting a first-class degree. Anyone can do it. What we need to do is remove the barriers. So schools need to stop being exam factories. [APPLAUSE]
What is actually necessary? Is it the basic English, Maths, History, Geography, and then we need to put in the additional subjects as well. We need rounded individuals who understand everything. We'd also look at starting to educate children about the greater world as well, bringing in education about the environment, climate change, about the outdoors, about different things which they can go on to do in life - that everything is not just "you must pass this exam, you've got to go here, you've got to go there" - school, college, university, job. There's a much bigger world out there for everyone.
Part of our policy would be to get rid of Ofsted. We don't need a central board telling people how things are done. [LOUD APPLAUSE AND CHEERS] Academies need to go, education needs to come from the local authority. [APPLAUSE] We need to bring back into all state schools, there needs to be music and the arts brought in, so people can get involved in that. We need to ensure that children are getting at least half a day outdoor sports, and things like that. Because sports, exercise actually increases your ability to understand and be educated more. It makes school fun.
So let's stop with what schools have become - training people to try and get exams, to get a job, to do this. let's make sure everyone gets to realise their own abilities. [WHOOPS AND APPLAUSE]
Asked about debt to GDP ratio, Chris noted how much debt has risen per head under the Conservatives, but stressed that large-scale investment in a green transformation of our economy is still necessary. Yet recognising the desirability of bringing debt down, Chris suggested scrapping some big-ticket items including Trident, HS2 and roadbuilding.
"It's all well and good saying like, we're at about 85% of GDP for the national debt, but what does that actually mean? So in 2010, when the Coalition Government was in charge, we were in £1 trillion of debt, which is a huge, huge number - I don't know how many zeros that is. So what that worked out at, or I worked it out at, was just over £15,500 per person in the UK, we're in that much debt.
"Coming to 2019, that's going up to just over £28,000 per person of debt, and that's every single person, not just working people, not just adults, that is everyone alive in this country. So these are the kind of figures we're talking about. However, both [the Labour and Lib Dem candidates] have said they want it to be less, and obviously I'd love to see it being less as well, but we have got a crisis which we're facing as well, and we do need to invest money in it.
"So what I'm going to do is tell you how we can make some savings, by getting rid of some things which we do spend a lot of money on. We can get rid of Trident for a start [APPLAUSE] which is about £2.2 billion. We can get rid of the roadbuilding programme, HS2 [APPLAUSE] which is going to be about another £8.5 billion, and getting rid of the Help to Buy programme and replacing it with somnething much better can save another £2.3 billion. There are huge ways we can start saving money to reduce the national debt, as well as investing as well."
Asked how the party manifesto could be afforded, Chris outlined the proposed Carbon Tax "on the people who are digging for fossil fuels, mining fossil fuels", and acknowledged that high incomes, wealth and large landholdings would be taxed more, while ordinary people would have their taxes simplified.
"So when we get down to it, a lot of the income which the Government gets comes from tax. And it's [about] what we're taxing and what we're giving subsidies to. And at the moment, we're taxing the wrong people and we're giving subsidies to the wrong people. [APPLAUSE] So I'd start by changing that.
"We'd introduce the Carbon Tax. And that's not going to be a Carbon Tax that's going to be hitting the pockets of most people. That's going to be on the people who are digging for fossil fuels, mining fossil fuels. So we're going to start pricing them out of the market, so we can get onto renewables investment. That is where we're starting.
"We're going to do some simplification of taxes, because they confuse me. And I think they confuse a lot of people, and no one knows exactly what they're being taxed, or when they're being taxed, or anything like that. So we would be combining a lot of taxes, like Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, into one simple income tax - so everyone knows exactly what they're paying.
"We would be increasing taxes on the Income Tax at the very top end of this. There's going to be wealth taxes, and we'll also be putting in land taxes as well, for people who hold a huge amount of land - which is very few people in this country.
"What we want to do is introduce something, it's the Green Quality of Life Guarantee. Yes it's going to cost money, but everyone's quality of life is going to be improved."
Asked by a member of the audience who works in the NHS how we can address the negative cycle of poor working conditions leading to staff leaving, Chris put the question into a broader context about the quality-of-life issues that so many people are facing. Chris asked, "What is causing people to be aggressive, what is causing stress?" and spoke about the Green Party's proposed four-day working week as part of a Green Quality of Life Guarantee. We pick up his answer partway through:
"What is causing people to be aggressive, what is causing stress, why are you stressed, why are other people stressed, why are people frustrated? And it comes down to the way in which society is moving at the moment. Like I said at the start, things are becoming toxic and it's been coming from Westminster down. You see it all the time everywhere. One of our policies is to free up time for people. A lot of people are feeling under pressure and very very stressed out, and not having enough time to spend with their families, because you're doing overtime, not having enough time to do your chores that you need to do, the simple things.
"We've got a policy where we want to look at bringing in a four-day working week, which has actually shown in places where it's happened to increase productivity, and not just that as well, it increases jobs because you can have more people doing the same job to cover the 7-day period, which would free up more time for all the doctors and nurses, as well as individuals as well, to actually be able to go to doctor's appointments, to not miss appointments because they feel like they need to be in work. So people suggest, oh maybe we should charge for them because people wouldn't miss them. Maybe if they didn't have to be in work and be sanctioned for that, or miss a benefits claim and be sanctioned for that, they'd be able to get to their appointments.
"It's a fairer society for everyone, and a more respectful society for everyone."
Responding to an audience question on behalf of an older person frightened they will have to sell their home to pay for their social care, Chris said that it's "not right" that people face that situation. People who've paid into their state pension should have their needs provided for by the state - which the Green policy of Universal Basic Income aims to achieve.
"People are being forced to sell their house to pay for social care. That's not right. People should be, when they have a house, they should be entitled to it and to live in it as long as they need.
"And there should also be health and social care within the community - changing the NHS to be more community focused, to have more places based within the community, and to invest in it.
"Older members of the public who are coming up for retirement, who are retired, you know, you've paid your taxes, you're entitled to your state pension. And you deserve the money that you've paid into it, to be able to fund your retirement, and your housing, and it should be affordable for you.
"Talking about the Universal Basic Income which we want to roll out, we actually want to start that with women who were born in the 1950s, who have had their state pension age increased [APPLAUSE], and they are going to stop that, because they've not had time to prepare for it. So when we get the opportunity, that's where we'd start the rollout with those people, and it would be at £178 per week, which is more than what the current state pension is for everyone now."
Asked about traffic problems locally and nationally, Chris focused squarely on public transport as the solution, with community ownership of rail and buses plus proper investment in cycleways and walking routes.
"So, do you know what building more roads does? Building more roads makes more traffic. That's it, that is all it does, as well as increasing pollution. We don't want that, again, we want to get people out of their cars. We need a good, robust public transport system.
"The buses need to be nationalised and to come under the local authorities, to serve the communities which they're in, to make sure that... like, here in Christchurch, getting out to Burton, it's terrible. [APPLAUSE] There's buses hardly ever happening, you know? You can't have people at the back end of nowhere and not feel connected to their communities.
"Rail again needs to be nationalised, not run by central government. It needs to be run with cooperatives of local authorities working together, to make sure there are connections between those local authorities, that can all interlink. We're going to reopen the old stations, which have been closed and are not doing anything.
"We've got plans to invest in cycleways and better walking routes, and better infrastructure for everyone so they can leave their cars at home and get out and enjoy this country."
Addressing finally why Christchurch residents should vote Green in this election, Chris stressed that it's a climate election, and pointed to his proven track record of fulfilling his promise to get Climate & Ecological Emergency declared by Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole (BCP) Council two months after his election as a councillor. He added that a Green vote is a vote for cross-party working and a fairer voting system.
"This is a climate election. This is what this election is. I'm not really a politician, but I've been elected to Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole Council. I've done that by promising that I would get a Climate & Ecological Emergency declared. I've done that in two months. [APPLAUSE]
"So here's what I can promise to you. I don't just talk about things, I act. I get things done. I might not know the ins and outs of how things work, but I will learn and I will find out and I will make sure that I stand up for Christchurch, for residents, and what we all want in Westminster.
"We work together in the Council in the Unity Alliance, and that's really important. We work cross-party. We also want to bring in Proportional Representation voting. Get rid of this First Past The Post, [so] you don't get to pick who comes first and that's it. We get to have everyone's views represented in Westminster. We work across party, and we work to make sure that we get things done, not just bicker and fight.
"So that's why you should vote Green on the 12th."
Some of these extracts were taken from the public domain live stream of the event provided by Christchurch Baptist Church, which you can watch in full on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CBCDorset/videos/283920029162209