Magazine article Soundings

Green Shoots? Interview with Natalie Bennett

Magazine article Soundings

Green Shoots? Interview with Natalie Bennett

Article excerpt

Jo Green Party policies on the whole seem to be left-wing and anti-neoliberal: arguing for re-nationalising the railways, the social redistribution of wealth and a citizens' living wage, and arguing against economic growth as the best indicator of social progress. How are you going to let more people know about this, and how do you see the Greens operating in relation to a traditional 'left' terrain?

Natalie There's a huge political space in Britain for a progressive left-wing party that plans, for example, to re-nationalise the railways, make the minimum wage a living wage, build more affordable council housing, rein in the banks and rebuild Britain's manufacturing industries and food production. These are policies the Green Party has supported throughout its history. However there's currently so much significant political space available to us because the Labour Party has moved so far to the right. The Green Party now has a huge responsibility to make sure we communicate those policies effectively, and that process is happening. I see more and more Labour Party voters joining the Green Party when they see us in their area, and when they see that we are serious political contenders. People seem to have been waiting for us and are delighted we're here. So communication is essential: we have the policies, we've just got to get out there and make sure people know about them. To spread the word, we need growth, and the party is growing. We have core centres of influence and support in Brighton, Norwich, Lancaster and Oxford, and we need to expand from those centres and become a truly national party. Ultimately we want to be visible on all the national stages, and our next practical step in achieving this will be the county council elections in 2013, where we think we can significantly increase the number of Green Party councillors. Then in 2014 we think we can triple the number of Green Party MEPs, increasing the number to six (seven including Scotland). That will mean many more people voting Green at council and European level, so that by 2015 voting Green in a Westminster election will not look like a protest vote: it will just be taking advantage of the options available. It will be a case of voting Green and actually getting Green.

Jo What are you going to do to help the Green Party move beyond its traditional, safe, white, middle-class constituencies?

Natalie We are already demonstrating in certain areas - the West Midlands, for example - that we have moved beyond that demographic. In Solihull, we've gone up from zero to six councillors in two years - and Solihull is nothing like Brighton or Lancaster. We have also recently got our first councillor in Dudley, Will Duckworth, now deputy Green Party leader. We are focusing on issues like the living wage and speaking up for people with disabilities and their need for decent benefits. We want to insulate people's homes and make sure they can afford to pay their fuel bills. We're also aiming to secure Britain's food supply, and reduce the huge price hikes from so much imported food. All these are policies that should appeal in poorer areas. And in the last by-election in Highgate in Camden, for the first time we won the council estate part of the ward. In the past, I think the Green Party has sounded a bit technocratic. That's something we need to avoid now. I always try to talk in a way that is immediately comprehensible. And yes, the Green Party is relatively white, just like every other political party. That's definitely a problem. We have a new ethnic minorities network in the party working to try to improve this situation. The Green Party does not produce career politicians in the same way other parties do - if you want to be a career politician, you don't come to the Green Party! Instead, it produces committed people who really want to make a difference. So when those people get elected, they really do try to institute change. Voters are recognising this. …

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