Natalie Bennett: We would not prop up a Tory government

Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth caught up with Natalie Bennett yesterday in the appropriately named 'Ozone Cafe' to talk about the television leader's debate and more.

Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth caught up with Natalie Bennett yesterday in the appropriately named ‘Ozone Cafe’ to talk about the television leader’s debate and more

The Green Party has just petitioned the BBC to be included in next year’s General Election leaders’ debates. The petition attracted some 260,000 signatures.

The TV debates were originally based on the traditional three-party format; and yet the three parties are leaking increasing numbers of votes to insurgency parties like UKIP, the Greens and the SNP. According to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, excluding her from the debates would mean the views of “a huge number of people are not represented”.

Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth caught up with Natalie Bennett yesterday in the appropriately named ‘Ozone Cafe’ to talk about the television leader’s debate and more.

JB: Why should you take part in the television leaders’ debates?

NB: I think [we should take part based on] the strength of support we have around the country. Green Party membership is up 80 per cent since 1 January. But also the fact that we’re very clearly part of the political spectrum; and there will be a huge range of British political views that aren’t represented if we’re not there. Whether its things like renationalising the railways; whether it’s in favour of a publically owned and publically run NHS or that the profit motive has no place in healthcare; or the things we’re saying about education and zero tuition fees. All of those views represent a huge number of British people. And as I keep saying to the broadcasters, it’s the only way they’re going to get any gender balance.

Joining the Greens as a career choice

JB: What makes the Greens different from the ‘Westminster elite’?

NB: If you want to be a career politician then joining the Green Party is a very bad way to do it. People join the Greens because they are passionate about issues and really care about dealing with our social, environmental and economic crisis. That’s why people join the Green Party. People can get elected, as we’ve demonstrated, but you have to work damn hard to get elected.

On the three ‘business as usual’ parties

JB: Why do you think there is such disillusionment with the so-called ‘political class’?

NB: We have three business as usual parties basically offering to tinker a little bit with the system – a clearly failing system where a million people went to food banks last year and more than 20 per cent of workers are on less than the living wage. So it’s not surprising that people are angry and fed up. And then of course they hear quite a lot from UKIP which is offering the politics of fear – blaming people, whether its immigrants or the EU more generally, for everyone’s problems and wanting to go back to some fake golden age of the 1950s. So people are looking around for alternatives to that.

On propping up the Tories

JB: Would you rule out any arrangement with a minority Tory government?

NB: We would not prop up a Tory government.

JB: How about Labour?

NB: The circumstances of the time are impossible to predict. Our first inclination would be a confidence and supply arrangement rather than a coalition. So that means we don’t get ministerial cars but do we get to keep our consciences.

The UKIP of the left

JB: Do you view the Greens as a UKIP of the left?

NB: Depends what you mean by that. I think we occupy a larger political space than UKIP.

What Labour did badly

JB: What do you think was the biggest mistake made by the last Labour government? (And you’re not allowed to say the Iraq War)

NB: Failing to maintain or improve the level of the minimum wage. They basically provided tax credits and benefits that were actually subsidies for corporate profits. Also failing to crack down and make corporates pay their taxes. Letting the corporates get away with low wages and inadequate taxes.

JB: And what did they do well?

NB: They did put money into the NHS. Not enough and not well spent in PFI, but they did at least pick up on the massive underinvestment in the NHS.

Why working class kids get working class jobs

JB: What can government do to improve social mobility in Britain?

NB: We need to start at the bottom and change the people who are involved in politics. Politics should be something that everybody does. Politics should be something you do, not something that’s done to you. And we give people the opportunities to change their own societies and that means restoring real power to local government. It also means removing some of the privileges. So we’d like to remove the charity status of fee-paying schools. They’re not charities. Let’s take that away and give them the same tax treatment as a business and that would start to balance things up in the long run.

JB: What about more broadly, outside of politics?

NB: To make sure that everyone has a decent life we have to make sure everyone starts off with a decent life. The bedroom tax is one example where if you have a child from a poor background the bedroom tax has forced them to share with other siblings – a 10-year-old trying to do homework in a bedroom with a three-year-old for example. Basically ensuring that everyone has access to the resources for a decent quality of life, which means a minimum wage or a living wage.

Standing up to Putin

JB: Russia is threatening to cut off European gas this winter. Doesn’t that mean it’s time to frack?

NB: First of all it’s worth saying that just 1 per cent of Britain’s gas comes from Russia. There is an issue for continental Europe certainly, but in Britain it’s not a big issue. There are three separate arguments against fracking. The first is very simply climate change. We need to stop using fossil fuels and fracking is a distraction. Secondly, fracking will have serious local environmental impacts. But also the idea that there is cheap gas from fracking is an absolute myth. In America gas was cheap because it’s an isolated market. We’re part of the global market and gas is going to get more expensive, so what we need to do is energy conservation and community-owned renewables.

Neither Washington nor Moscow, but nuclear disarmament

JB: Which do you think is a bigger threat to European security, NATO or Russia?

NB: That’s an interesting question (Long pause) I think they both are. I mean Putin’s Russia is a deeply disturbing, human rights abusing, invading its neighbours state. So you would have to immediately say that. But we have in NATO a framework which dates back to the Cold War and which helps to replicate Cold War structure and Cold War ideas. And if we want a safer Europe and a safer world let’s get rid of nuclear weapons. Let’s start with Britain’s nuclear weapons. If you want to take one step towards a safer world that’s a very simple and very cheap option of doing it.

On the anti-ISIS airstrikes

JB: In light of the relatively successful airstrikes on ISIS in Kobane, which the Greens opposed, isn’t it time to admit that sometimes military intervention is justified?

NB: I’m prepared to admit that the Green Party isn’t pacifist; we would never say absolutely totally never. But I think the thing about the intervention against ISIS is that this is a mess that we created, there’s no doubt about that. And that was created by previous military interventions. In its murder of the hostages, ISIS was clearly trying to incite the West. That was very clearly what ISIS wanted us to do. And I think the first question you have to ask is, if you are doing what your opponent wants you to do, you’ve got to ask some pretty big questions about why you are doing it.

JB: But the US-led airstrikes have had a discernible effect in pushing back ISIS.

NB: I think we have to look at the long-term, and to find a long-term solution to the massive conflicts that we’ve helped to create in that region. And we should be making every humanitarian effort and every diplomatic effort to put pressure on the region to say ‘we acknowledge that we did a lot to create this, but it’s now your problem; you need to find a way forward’. Because we know what happens when you repress something like ISIS is that something bad or worse pops up somewhere else. We’ve been through this cycle so many times. We’re not a pacifist party…but we need to do it under UN auspices; under an international framework.

A new generation of nuclear power stations?

JB: Are the Green Party still opposed to any new nuclear power stations?

NB: Very much so. The thing about nuclear is that there are lots of arguments about waste and safety. And people are very entrenched in those. But I’m actually willing to park those on the side and still make the argument that if you look at Hinckley C, the last two plants like that that have been built took on average 17 years to bring online. Nuclear is just way too slow for climate change but also for supply reasons.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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