Tag Archives: Natalie Bennett

Is the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett right that the US and UK have acted as the “world’s policeman”?

Is the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett right that the US and UK have acted as the “world’s policeman”?
by Ian Sinclair
17 April 2015

Speaking about the British military in yesterday’s BBC election debate Green Party leader Natalie Bennett argued:

“There are important roles for our military – in self-defence and an important role in UN peacekeeping instead of being the world’s policeman with America that we have been over recent decades”. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05r87pr/bbc-election-debate-2015 50:55 minutes in)

This framing of the US and UK role in the world is a common one, including those criticise US and UK foreign policy.

In response, here is David Traynier responding to the same claim made on the BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions on 30 August 2013:

“Theoretically the police enforces the law impartiality and with no reference to their own interests. By that definition neither the US or UK is a policeman. We interfere and we intervene but only when our own interests are at stake and only to serve our own interests. The idea we intervene in a humanitarian fashion isn’t borne out by any of the evidence.” (David Traynier on BBC Radio 4’s Any Answers, 31 August 2013)

Interview with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett

Interview with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 February 2015

It’s been an extraordinary rise. From 25,000 members at the start of December, in three months the Green Party of England and Wales has more than doubled its membership to around 53,500 today.

Speaking to me in a smart north London pub, the Australian-born leader Natalie Bennett argues the surge in support is down to people looking at the three main parties and thinking “Well, there’s really no answers there, we need something different, we need real change.” She notes that ex-Labour and Liberal Democrat voters have been joining, along with many young people and some former Tories concerned about fracking.

YouGov polling is now regularly placing the Greens above the Liberal Democrats. One recent Ipsos Mori poll even put them ahead of UKIP, making them the third most popular political party with nine percent of the vote.

“The debate about the debates gave us a little bit of oxygen, a little bit of air, a little bit of publicity”, Bennett, 49, says about the discussions revolving around the televised general election leader debates. Currently, she is set to represent the Greens in two of the three debates, with the final event a head to head between Labour’s Ed Miliband and Prime Minister David Cameron. She expects to take part in mock debates to prepare. “At the moment I’ve got a large number of people lining up to play their favourite hate figure”, she quips. Does the Green Party employ a stylist? “There are various people advising me on my wardrobe, inevitably”, she says, chuckling. “Presentation, sadly, is an important part of politics, so we’ve got to live with that.”

So what Green Party policies will she be highlighting in the debates and during the election campaign?

“There is a very obvious focus on making the minimum wage a living wage. We should have a £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020.” She also refers to “jobs you can build a life on – that means not zero-hour contracts, full time if you want full time.” The Green Party also has a broad “anti-privatisation agenda”, including opposing and seeking to reverse the privatisation of the NHS, and bringing the railways back into public ownership. She talks about promoting walking and cycling, local bus services and giving people viable alternatives to the car. “We’ve announced we’d like to take a significant proportion of the funds this government would like to spend on road building and put it in to cutting train and bus fares by 10 percent, helping encourage people on to more sustainable forms of transport.” This, she explains assuredly, “would also tackle air pollution issues, which would also tackle health issues.”

Bennett has good reason to be confident. The Vote For Policies website, which polls people on the policies of political parties without those being polled knowing the party connected to the policy, puts the Green Party ahead of everyone else. She also notes a YouGov survey in November revealed that 26 percent of people would vote Green if they had a chance of winning in their constituency in the May General Election, placing them in third place behind the Tories and Labour.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Their policy of a Citizen’s Income of £72 per week, paid to every adult regardless of income, has received quite a bit of criticism. Citing the Citizen’s Income Trust, a recent Guardian report noted that in its current form the policy would hit the poorest hardest. “It will be in the manifesto”, Bennett confirms. And it will be fully costed, though it is a long-term aspiration which would take longer than one parliament to implement. We don’t have time to explore the detail of the criticisms, though she argues “People really need a sense of security, and that’s one of the things Citizen’s Income can offer”.

The Greens have also come under fire from some feminist campaigners keen to outlaw the buying of sex – the Swedish model – for its position on prostitution. “The Green Party supports what is generally known at the New Zealand model – decriminalisation”, she replies. Though she acknowledges this is an issue that many well intentioned people have strong feelings about, she argues decriminalisation is “supported by sex workers and unions representing sex workers” and is the model which “can keep vulnerable women and men most safe.” Interestingly, Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP in parliament, supports the Swedish model. “The Green Party doesn’t whip”, Bennett explains. “We believe in grown up politics. We can cope with that.”

Aswell as holding Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion constituency, the Green Party has a number of other target seats in the upcoming General Election including Norwich South and Bristol West. Bennett herself is standing in Holborn and St Pancras in London. However, due to the UK’s creaking First Past The Post electoral system, there is a strong possibility the Green surge will not translate into any additional MPs. Unsurprisingly, this clearly frustrates Bennett. “One of the key things that I think is certain to come out of this election is the First Past The Post electoral system is going to be a certain loser”, she says. “I think there will be a strong push for electoral reform” because “quite a lot of people for who electoral reform has never crossed their lips are going to find their local MP has been elected with not much more than 25% of the vote.”

But while the Green Party may not gain anymore MPs, the Guardian recently crunched the polling data and predicted an increase in the Green vote could make a Tory win more likely. Bennett pushes for a wider analysis: “I think we have through generations in Britain been trained by the First Past The Post electoral system to vote for something that wasn’t what we really wanted, sometimes the thing we disliked the second most, to stop the thing we really hated getting in.

“That’s actually what has given us the kind of politics we have now. It means you have a Labour Party that is pretty hard to distinguish from the Tory Party – certainly in terms of policy if not necessarily always in rhetoric. If voters keen doing the same thing they are going to keep getting the same kind of politics.”

Her simple solution is to encourage voters to ditch tactical voting: “It’s possible to have a peaceful political revolution if voters decide to vote for what they believe in”.

I end by asking a few personal questions. What recent non-fiction books would she recommend to voters? James Meek’s critique of privatisation Private Island, Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth: Economics For A Finite Planet and the ground-breaking Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, are her answers. And the most ungreen thing she does? “I probably like a long shower, which is probably less than ideal.” A seasoned interviewee, she uses my frivolous question to make a serious point about Green Party politics: “What we want to see is structural change that makes the environmentally friendly thing to do the easiest and cheapest and simplest thing to do. So it’s not a case of telling individuals they should change their behaviour.”

“We need to change the whole way society works.”

Defending the Green Party from Richard Seymour’s Darth Vader shtick

Defending the Green Party from Richard Seymour’s Darth Vader shtick
by Ian Sinclair
29 December 2014

Since January 2014 The Green Party of England and Wales has more than doubled its membership to over 30,000 and is now regularly polling above the Liberal Democrats. The party received over one million votes in the 2014 European elections gaining three MEPs and beating the Liberal Democrats, and came third in the 2012 London mayoral elections behind the Tories and Labour.

For a party campaigning in a political landscape where political party membership is plummeting, with relatively little financial backing and media exposure, these are impressive results, I think many would agree. The kind of results that would suggest the overall Green Party strategy is working. The British writer Richard Seymour, who runs the Lenin’s Tomb blog, strongly disagrees. “The problem with the Green party is that it is too nice”, Seymour explained in a recent Guardian Comment is Free blog. “They don’t hate, and if left-wing politics in this country needs anything it is a dose of rigorous hatred.” Perhaps excited by the recently released trailer for the new Star Wars film, Seymour ends his blog paraphrasing Darth Vader: “If they genuinely want to get ahead, they need to discover their dark side.”

Initially, I thought Seymour’s piece wasn’t entirely serious. However, a quick look at his tweets in defence of the blog show he was, indeed, being serious. For example, he bafflingly explained to one challenger that “any real compassion and concern must logically entail a rigorous hatred.”

Before I get into the detail of Seymour’s blog I think it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves whether we want to encourage a politics based on “hate”? Call me naïve, but I presumed that all progressives, all Leftists, would think such a suggestion to be morally repugnant, practically dangerous and completely the opposite of what should be done.

To begin, it’s worth pointing out the inaccuracies in Seymour’s argument.

According to Seymour the Green Party is “not prepared to get their hands dirty, too committed to the niceties of parliamentary politics.” In reality Green representatives are often very active outside parliament. Caroline Lucas MP was arrested at a protest against fracking in August 2013. Jenny Jones, the Green Party peer in the House of Lords, was arrested at an Occupy protest in October 2014. This direct action follows a long tradition of Green politicians working both inside and outside of electoral politics to push for progressive change. For example, Derek Wall, a prominent member of the Green Party, is a strong supporter of direct action.

Seymour goes on to argue:

“It is excellent, but not enough, for the Greens to say they won’t scapegoat immigrants and other folk-devils. If immigrants aren’t to blame, then we need to know who is to blame. Left-populist movements in Europe that succeed tend to know who the enemy is, and name it. For Syriza it is the troika; for Podemos, it is la casta or the caste, their term for the parliamentary elites, businessmen, media elites and bankers who dominate Spanish society.”

Perhaps Seymour hasn’t been paying attention but recent media appearances suggest the Green Party is very clear about “who is to blame” for the crisis we find ourselves in:

  • ‘Stop attacks on welfare benefits and tackle bankers’ bonuses’ – Headline, Green Party website, February 2010
  • “This legacy was not a result of Government spending, it was the result of the banks very nearly crashing and going down and us having to rescue the banks. And that is why we have to look at dealing with the banks.” – Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, BBC Question Time, April 2013
  • “We have a chronic housing shortage, we have an NHS under strain, we have a culture of low pay. But the fault of that lies with the government not with migrants.” – Caroline Lucas MP, BBC Question Time, May 2014
  • “Well I think there’s an awful lot of disillusioned voters out there, whether they’re Lib Dems who thought they were voting for a freeze on tuition fees, or indeed Lib Dems who thought they were voting against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, to Labour people who just are really fed up with a Labour Party that isn’t prepared to stand up to the bankers, to stand up to the multinational companies.” – Natalie Bennett, Left Foot Forward, May 2014
  • He’s [George Osborne] made the disabled, the ill, the disadvantaged and the young pay for the errors and fraud of the bankers for which they bear no responsibility at all.” – Natalie Bennett, Huffington Post, 3 December 2014

Seymour also argues the Greens have achieved a rise in popularity “while maintaining some unfashionable stances”, citing – without any evidence – “local bigotry against Travellers” in Brighton and national public opinion on immigration. In reality, as I’ve argued elsewhere, many of the Green Party’s major policy positions have majority support among the general public. This is confirmed by the website Vote For Policies, which shows the Green Party’s policies are the most popular out of all the parties when people choose blindly without knowing the political party they are connected to. These hopeful results are supported by the recent YouGov/Times poll which found that 26% of voters would vote Green if they “had a chance of winning” – making the Green Party the third most popular party under these conditions.

What these two polls suggest is that two of the key problems the Green Party has are the media landscape and the electoral system we have in the UK – both of which Seymour fails to mention, let alone grapple with.

On the electoral system, it’s widely understood – and made plain by the YouGov/Times poll – that the UK’s first past the post general voting system tends to disadvantage smaller parties. In contrast, Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s Syriza have become popular in nations where general elections are held under forms of proportional representation. Turning to the media, The Guardian’s Zoe Williams has noted, the Green Party tend to receive very little media coverage – especially compared to UKIP. This defacto media blackout was recently taken to a mind-boggling extreme when the BBC Daily Politics programme showed viewers a poll that excluded the Green Party even though they polled more than the Liberal Democrats, who were included in the poll.

Finally, there is a third problem for the Greens that is rarely discussed – again not mentioned by Seymour: the Left itself seems to have a blind spot for the party, as I discussed here. For example, I am not aware of any mention of the Green Party in Seymour’s impressive new book Against Austerity: How We Can Fix the Crisis They Made, even though they are the only party of the five largest nationwide parties who are opposed to austerity.

Of course, no one knows whether the Green surge will continue. And if it does no doubt a number of factors will have caused it. But what we can say is the evidence above suggests Greens would do well to take Seymour’s diagnosis, prognosis and prescription with a large dose of salt.

The joined up policies of the Green Party

The joined up policies of the Green Party
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
1 November 2014

With two recent national polls on voting intentions showing the Green Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, it can only be a matter of time before the latter disappear into the oblivion of the “Other parties” category.

These results can only strengthen the Greens’s call to be included in the 2015 televised general election debates, which, if successful, will give the Greens the opportunity to reach millions of voters. And presuming party leader Natalie Bennett does her job what viewers should hear about is the party’s holistic policies that have countless positive, and sometimes surprising, knock-on effects on the rest of society.

Take the Green Party’s manifesto commitment of making 35-hours the standard full-time work week in the UK. Most obviously, as the UK has some of the longest full-time working hours in Europe, this would reduce the amount of hours people spend in paid work. Who could possibly object to this? More seriously, there are many more important spin-offs as well. Ill health and stress from overwork would likely reduce. The New Economics Foundation argues moving towards a shorter working week “would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume.” This, in turn, would give people an opportunity to focus on friends and family, voluntary work, pastimes and other non-paid activities. From a feminist perspective, less hours at work would make it more likely domestic labour and childcare could be more evenly balanced between women and men. A move away from earning to consume would also help to address the climate chaos that is already engulfing the global. “A number of studies have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change”, noted a 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another key Green Party concern is to reduce private car use and increase funding for public transport. First, this would lead to a reduction in exhaust pollution that contributes to thousands of deaths a year. Fewer cars would also mean less traffic noise, which can have a negative effect on stress and sleep quality. Fewer cars on the road means a safer road environment which would lead to more people cycling and walking. And more people cycling and walking means more people will be getting more exercise. And people who take regular exercise are less likely to be overweight and depressed. And less overweight and depressed people means a reduction in numerous associated health problems, which will mean less stress on the NHS.

And like the 35-hour week, a reduction in private car use helps to address the Green Party’s core concern – climate change. And addressing climate change itself has many welcome spin offs – from consciously weaning the world off fossil fuels before they run out at a time and place not of our choosing to all the positive social impacts I mention above. Taking a global view, Naomi Klein argues in her incendiary new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate “Many of the changes that need to be made to dramatically cut emissions would also materially benefit the quality of life for the majority of people on the planet.”

In contrast to the Green Party’s joined-up thinking, arguably the headline policy for all the three main parties is austerity (the Greens are in favour of a Green New Deal). And using the same ‘dropping a pebble in a pond’ logic, we know this (highly ideological, counterproductive) belt-tightening has had, and will continue to have, a never-ending stream of negative consequences for wider society. Rather than being ‘all in this together’, austerity politics have led to increased levels of inequality, which Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett have shown has a deleterious effect on a whole range of issues from social mobility to mental health, drug use, obesity and trust of other people.

Austerity means more people living in poverty, more people visiting food banks, more depression and more suicides, as Dr David Stuckler explains in his 2013 book The Body Politic. More broadly, the political elite’s austerity obsession pushes society closer towards social breakdown, leading to both organised, overtly political resistance and more spontaneous, often criminal mass actions like 2011’s nationwide riots.

With the possibility of millions of voters being presented with these radically different political visions of the future, is it any wonder that much of the mainstream media and political elite are attempting to exclude the Green Party from the television election debates?