In the second part of our conversation, Jonathan Bartley reveals the Greens' key manifesto message, and discusses the controversial TV debates.
Jonathan Bartley isn’t giving too much away when it comes to the Green Party’s manifesto, being released on Tuesday. But while the Lambeth councillor and Green co-leader avoids giving away the policies, he reveals to Left Foot Forward the key theme: “We’re making the links between tackling inequality and the climate crisis. The same system which is causing dire poverty and unequal exploitation of wealth is the same which is causing climate emergency.”
On the surface, it sounds similar to Labour’s aim this election – steering the debate away from Brexit and to other crucial policy areas. But it’s in the substance that things differ. Labour have announced £250bn in investment over 10 years for a so-called ‘green transformation fund’. The Greens’ new deal plans involve spending £500bn over five years – £100bn a year.
That’s not to say Brexit isn’t on the agenda. “Campaigning in the European Union is fundamental to protecting environmental rights and standards – and being able to work most effectively with our neighbours,” Bartley tells me. “We’re trying to make the link between remaining in EU and the climate emergency.”
But it’s true that the Green’s central argument – that the climate emergency is bigger than all issues, including Brexit – has now become common parlance.
Another strand of the party’s focus also lays out clear green water between the Greens and Labour. “That means not going ahead with Trident nuclear weapons, or domestic nuclear power,” the Green co-leader says.
Does that mean committing to scrapping existing nuclear power stations?
“The priority is no new nuclear. At Hinkley Point [in construction] we’d have an immediate review.” So would they decommission existing nuclear immediately? “We would phase out and decommission existing nuclear plants as soon as possible – it depends how rapidly you can get renewables to replace it,” Bartley says when pressed. But the long-term aim is the same: scrapping nuclear power.
It’s another policy signal which separates the party from Labour – which has often defended environmentally-damaging industries under the guise of protecting jobs. Another is airport expansion. Just last week Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was trying to justify regional airport expansion…to tackle climate change. Bartley calls it the ‘most absurd thing I’ve ever heard’.
Others union-influenced Labour policies include increased subsidy for North Sea oil, backing a new coal mine in Cumbria. “And what about new road building? We’re saying scrap all that,” Bartley tells LFF.
Despite low levels of Parliamentary representation, the Greens have been making an impact at the local level. Over half of councils have now declared a climate emergency – a movement which was started by a Green councillor.
But it’s a long way from taking over Westminster. Bartley seems – like many of us – slightly terrified about what might happen if there isn’t major political change this election. He points to the ‘rise of authoritarian nationalism, loss of civil liberties, populist nationalism’. “Boris Johnson is part of that.” While the Greens may face a squeeze this election, the co-leader is adamant: “To get the urgent change we need, it has to be unleashed from the bottom up.”
He returns (as in part 1 of this interview) to the issue of political reform: “There are ten to 12 million disabled people in this country – election after election they get screwed. It’s because their vote is dispersed.” Bartley has a disabled son and it is an issue close to his heart.
The ‘vote dispersal’ of various groups is why Greens are particularly disadvantaged under First Past the Post – climate change activists are not concentrated in a few seats. That means it’s taken street-based protest movements like Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers to ramp climate change up the political agenda.
Despite pressure on Labour to back radical democratic reform, he’s not hopeful: “I would bet a lot of money on it not happening.”
Instead the Greens will have to fight harder than ever – albeit bolstered by the Unite to Remain alliance – to be heard above the din. One way is the TV leaders’ debates. The Greens will feature in BBC, ITV and a separate Question Time debate, but there are several the party are – like the Lib Dems – excluded from.
Would the Greens join the Lib Dems in considering legal action to secure their place? Bartley says he ‘wouldn’t rule it out’ but it isn’t currently being considered.
With a co-leader system, deciding who does the debates will no doubt be slightly fraught at times. “We’re talking to one another about who does what – Sian [Berry, co-leader], me and Caroline [Lucas MP], between all different types of debates,” Bartley says. There’ve been ‘no final decisions’ yet.
All are solid media performers. But will they be able to ‘unleash’ the bottom up movement they need to break through? We’ll find out soon enough.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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