Last night, Bite the Ballot aired their first of five interviews with the UK party leaders in the run up to the next general election. In a bid to inspire more young people to vote, the questions posed are those tweeted by young people, ensuring that the concerns of the young are posed to the leaders directly and on the spot. First up was Natalie Bennett of the Green Party of England and Wales, a party which “stands for a society in which we see real change.” For Bennett, there was only one kind of change on her mind: revolution.
In keeping with the motivation behind the Bite the Ballot movement, Bennett expressed her support for a “peaceful political revolution.” Bennett argued that our politics has “failed” and that “people have been voting tactically for a long time.” The prescribed medicine was for the disillusioned masses to flex their political muscles; “look on the websites, look at the parties, go along to a public meeting if you can. Work out who of your local candidates is the person you most want to vote for, and simply vote for them.” A strong message to the young audience, from a party which often benefits from high public support for their policies, but low support at elections due to fears of a ‘wasted vote.’
Predictably, the Leader of the Green Party was asked “in a nutshell” what her party’s environmental policy is. Bennett did offer up some environmental policies rooted in ecology and traditional environmentalism. These included tackling the “plastic soup” that makes up our oceans, and also protecting the remaining 50% of our global wildlife; the other half wiped out by deforestation and other harmful practices. More domestically, fracking was denoted as a grave and potentially fatal error by Bennett, who insisted that “we have to leave at least two-thirds of our known fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.”
But, more impressively, Bennett displayed how sustainability and humanism runs through all the policies that the Green Party has to offer, giving any political revolution a substantial backbone. For example, when questioned about jobs and work, Bennett did not just offer a promise of more jobs but better jobs. She set out plans to implement a living wage (including for students exploited in unpaid internships); but, more radically, to begin to rein in free-market economics, referring to Caroline Lucas’ Private Member’s Bill designed to produce reports on international corporations, limiting their ability to dodge taxes and exploit workers.
Further, the government’s “utterly failed” policy on outsourcing of public services was criticised too; “it’s expensive, it cuts workers’ pay and conditions and it really leaves us with a problem.” Bennett outlined a policy set traditionally seen as ‘anti-business’ in favour of a more localised, sustainable alternative.
Moreover, the Green Party Leader took a similar line when questioned on education. She acknowledged the Nick Clegg-sized Bogey Man of student-voter concerns, expressing her wish to make education free for all. Bennett also attacked coalition policy, saying that there is “no evidence at all that academies and free schools have improved standards.”
But, with much greater insight, Bennett explained that education “shouldn’t just be measured in economic terms” – a comparison that places a university education on a pedestal above apprenticeships and other further education. Bennett elaborated, saying, “a more educated populous is better both in terms of the workforce but also generally in terms of people’s participation in democracy [and] participation in communities.”
When questioned on the NHS, Bennett recognised the need for more money and infrastructural spending in the NHS (achieved through wealth redistribution). Crucially, however, she stressed the importance of living our lives in a way that takes the strain off the NHS. Bennett explained that we are a “deeply unhealthy society” and that the solution to this is a change in our attitude towards our lives.
For example, cycling and walking must become more wholly integrated into our systems of transportation, particularly in city areas. Drug use must “be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue,” thereby dealing with it effectively, rather than just hiding it behind bars. Finally, the “Energy Bill Revolution” would not only see carbon taxes transformed into energy efficiency measures for homes, but would also lift 9/10 out of fuel poverty, thereby increasing their health dramatically.
Alongside these individual policies, the aforementioned change in our views towards education and work are an essential part of Natalie Bennett’s view of a healthier society, making health and well-being encompass our jobs, classrooms and homes as well as just the hospital wards on which we may find ourselves.
So, in this first interview, Natalie Bennett showed both overtly and discretely the ingredients for change. On the surface, it was demonstrated through new policies and initiatives unique to the Green Party, giving us political substance on which to base our vote. But, more subtly, Bennett delivered us from the very thing that hinders our activity in voting: the idea that there is no alternative.