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“The last big change in Westminster was women getting the vote,” Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party tells SCAN following her speech at Assembly For Change. “Things desperately need to be shaken up.” Bennett is calling for great change: to the voting system, to two party election races and to constitutions. Her views have been labelled as ‘radical’, yet throughout her keynote speech and Question Time panel at the conference, she receives more than a few rounds of applause. These views include “a working wage which is also the living wage,” improving local rail and bus connections, not using more resources than the planet can sustain and devolving powers so that “people who are most affected by decisions are the ones who get to decide.”
Bennett believes the desire for change is not just within her party, but throughout the country; not Russell Brand’s ‘revolutionary’ change, but of people creating a new politics with greater interaction. “If people ignore the training they’ve had of ‘it’s a two horse race, you’ve got to chose us otherwise you’ll get the worse alternative’. If people all collectively say (and I find more and more people are saying this) ‘we’re not going to do that anymore, we’re going to create a new politics with our votes, they can.” She cites Scotland — the Greens being the only party apart from the SNP to support independence — as nearly achieving this: “the people of Scotland got very excited, very engaged and I think there’s a real possibility we can do the same in the 2015 general election.”
Recent polls suggest many consider UKIP in regard to an alternative vote from the established order, but Bennett disregards them swiftly: “the difference between us and UKIP: we’re actually interested in, long term, seriously running things and changing the way society works. UKIP is a pure protest vote.” Bennett wants to establish a “people’s constitutional convention, to basically start again from scratch,” as she believes the archaic House of Lords, the first-past-the-post voting system and current Westminster apparatus are “too late to tinker with.” Bennett insists that “multinationals have to pay their way – pay their workers a living wage,” citing Amazon as an example of a company which gives their workers few rights and little pay. In her speech, Bennett proposes a 1 or 2 percent tax on the extremely wealthy, which would help, Bennett argues, to reduce the deficit and those at the bottom of society.
When the comparison of the Greens being watermelons is raised – Green on the outside, red in the centre – she smiles, at ease with the comparison. Policies such as taxes on the wealthy and re-nationalisation of the rail network reflects a streak of working-class red, but she stands firmly and proudly on Green. “Green political philosophy is the coming coherent political philosophy. Environmental justice and social justice are inextricably linked. A beautiful practical example of how these are linked is that we have some of the poorest quality housing in Western Europe here in the UK, so we desperately need energy efficiency measures: insulation for example. We [the Green Party] back the energy bill revolution: a plan to take the money the government gets in carbon taxes and use it in insulating every home that needs it. Collectively, it creates up to 200,000 jobs, lifts nine our of ten households out of fuel poverty and cuts carbon emissions.”
With one Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, Bennett hopes to join her next year in the Holborn & St. Pancras seat. “This is the most unpredictable election since the Second World War,” so she refuses to “put percentages or predict” her chances of securing the seat: “This is an election that is going to be based on local characters, policies and issues; there won’t be a case of one national swing across the country.”
With little media coverage in comparison to the other parties, however, is there much hope of Green success? “We have started to get more attention, membership is rising fast, but there are also huge opportunities to reach people one on one, in groups and through social media.” In terms of the party’s exclusion from televised debates, they are “in conversation with the broadcasters and also talking to the lawyers — we don’t want to go down that route, but we will if we have to.”
“We’re standing up for a society that works for the common good, not just for the few,” Bennett argues, “we’re saying we have to build, very fast, a society that delivers the resources for a decent quality of life, for everybody, within the environmental limits of one planet.”