Earlier this year Left Foot Forward caught up with the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett.
Earlier this year Left Foot Forward caught up with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett to talk about her party’s prospects for the coming year as well as the relevance of green politics during a time of austerity
Left Foot Forward: We’ve seen UKIP do well, picking up disillusioned votes from the mainstream right; can the Green Party replicate this feat on the left?
Natalie Bennett: Well I think there’s an awful lot of disillusioned voters out there, whether they’re Lib Dems who thought they were voting for a freeze on tuition fees, or indeed Lib Dems who thought they were voting against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, to Labour people who just are really fed up with a Labour Party that isn’t prepared to stand up to the bankers, to stand up to the multinational companies. Neo-liberalism, the agenda pursued by Thatcher and then Blair and then Brown, is fundamentally wrong, and has to significantly change, and I don’t think we’ve seen any sign that the Labour Party is prepared to do that.
LFF: Do you find it harder to get a green message out there during times of austerity?
NB: No, I don’t think that’s true. When people were suffering from the shock of the economic crash, there was a kind of sense of, gosh, all we can focus on is the bank bailout and that sort of thing, but I think once things have moved on. People recognise that things like the energy bill revolution, which would take the money the government gets in carbon taxes, and use it to insulate homes, provide boilers, do all the energy efficiency measures you need, would lift nine out of ten people out of fuel poverty. Arguments like that sit very well in times of austerity.
LFF: The Green Party’s opposition to fracking is well known, but how will you mobilise the wider public against it?
NB: I think we can do a lot to inform people through using things like the European Parliament, using the Westminster Parliament, using local councils, so we’re very much supporting what’s actually a grassroots community campaign. I think I was down in Balcombe, and one of the things that fascinated me about Balcombe is it was actually one of the officials of the local Tory branch who was basically doing a huge amount to fund the Balcombe protest camp and turned out regularly in the car full of water bottles and food and everything, and that really demonstrates the community nature of the campaign.
LFF: Aside from climate change, what is the biggest problem or issue facing the UK?
NB: Well, I mean what we have to do make some sense of our relationship with Europe. More broadly, we have an economy that doesn’t work for people. We have one in ten workers working fewer hours than they’d like to, many of them are forced to be part-time when they’d like to be full-time, 20 per cent of workers on less than a Living Wage. We have somewhere between one and four million people on zero hours contracts. And none of those are jobs that you can actually build your life around. How do you sign a rental contract for 12 months if you don’t know from week to week what you’re income is going to be, and some weeks it might be zero on a zero hours contract?
LFF: What has the Green Party done locally in places like Brighton, where it has real power?
NB: I’m very proud of the fact that we made Brighton a Living Wage council, we have kept open all of the branch libraries and kept up the funding to the third sector, and we are the only council, I believe, in England, who have banned any evictions under the bedroom tax. Currently now, this is still a very hot raging issue, as many people will be aware, we’ve been proposing a 4.75 increase in council tax, which will be used to fund particularly social care for the elderly and disabled, and because of the way Eric Pickles has this set up we have to have a referendum on that, so this is the first time anywhere in the country that the referendum has been called for. We’re simply saying that austerity and the cuts have gone too far.
LFF: Lastly, why are you the leader of the Green Party?
NB: I’m partly the leader of the Green Party because when I see something that I think needs doing I can’t resist trying to do it. But I’m doing this because I think we absolutely have to change the way our society, our economy, our politics work. I don’t believe, cannot imagine that I’d be involved in any other party. The Green Party understands that we need to make that change, and has a set of policies, developed democratically, that offer a model of how we make that change.
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