UK Politics

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett turns fire on Labour

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Media captionNatalie Bennett: "They [Labour] are failing to offer a real alternative"

The Green Party's new leader has used her first party conference speech to accuse Labour of "failing to offer a real alternative" to the coalition.

Natalie Bennett attacked Labour leader Ed Miliband for backing nuclear power and "unsustainable growth".

And she told activists that on a range of issues - from NHS reforms to low pay and the railways - the Greens are now the real opposition.

The Green Party is gathering in Bristol for the start of its autumn conference.

Caroline Lucas, the party's only MP, formally handed over the leadership to Ms Bennett, who was elected earlier this week.

The Brighton Pavilion MP praised her successor as someone "with all the passion, commitment and inspiration to lead our party forward".

'Living wage'

In her first major speech as leader, Miss Bennett made a clear pitch for disaffected Labour voters saying the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition "is just continuing on from where Labour left off".

"The privatisation of the NHS - the Labour Party started that. Academy schools, which have morphed into 'free' schools - Labour championed them.

"The deregulation of the financial industries - the belief that the market would always know best, that bankers were infallible geniuses who should be left to run free and wild - the Labour Party embraced that."

She accused Labour of driving down "real wages" and going against all of its traditions by being tough on immigrants and benefit recipients.

She also made overtures to Labour's main financial backers, saying "as Greens we need to ask the unions 'what can we do for you?'".

She said the Greens would fight for "genuine action to reduce carbon emissions"; a "living wage" instead of a minimum wage and "decent benefit levels that allow a decent life".

Road safety

And in a personal moment, she told the conference how she had lost her mother in a car accident 23 years ago, which was why she was determined the Green Party under her leadership would fight for greater road safety.

She hailed efforts by Green councillors to impose 20mph speed limits "everywhere that people live, work and shop".

Miss Bennett said her priority as leader would be to ensure Green candidates can win seats across England and Wales on councils, in the European Parliament and at Westminster.

The party currently has one MP, two MEPs and 134 councillors - but Miss Bennett said they should aim to be the "third party" across England and Wales, repeating their success at the London Assembly elections where they beat the Lib Dems into fourth place.

But she said none of this could be achieved without the party sharpening up its campaigning skills. The Greens had a "huge job" to do, she said, adding: "We have to be the opposition to this disastrous coalition government. We are the opposition.

"We can do it because we have the vision of a better, more equal, healthier Britain, and we know how to get there."

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