By Harry Ballmann
‘Politics should be something you do, not have done to you’ – Natalie Bennett
The Green Party of England and Wales are the exemplification of the issues with Britain’s First Past the Post voting system and problems associated with politics more generally. The party boasted an impressive 1.1million votes, but this was only enough to secure 1 parliamentary seat. The Scottish National Party however, whilst only receiving a similar number of votes (1.4 million) managed to secure 56 seats in total. Reform of the voting system remains a key manifesto for The Green Party, for obvious reasons. Yet, after an interview with Natalie Bennett, it became increasingly clear that their strong liberal values are being upheld by a conscious leader, who accepts there are many varying issues with politics, affecting the daily lives of many, regardless of who achieves a seat in Westminster.
Why do you believe a referendum on the EU is the right thing?
I trust in democracy and believe in voters – we wouldn’t have put referendum on the agenda but once it was there, it became important to clear the air and have the vote.
How important are referenda for British politics, and democracy in general; should we have more of them?
Consulting the people directly is important for critical long-term issues, but I wouldn’t rank this as the most important change we need. That’s electoral reform. We currently have a government that won the support of just 24% of eligible voters, safe seats leave many feeling disenfranchised and that their vote doesn’t count, and that’s even without starting on the unelected House of Lords.
For you, what would be the main implications of the UK leaving the EU?
The reduction in the possibilities for the lives of millions to live, study and work in other countries, the disruption to the lives of those already doing that and of families who live across national borders, the increased difficulty in tackling joint problems that we face from air and water pollution to protecting workers’ rights and food standards, the disruptive effects on the functioning of the Union at a time when the world is facing so many crises – economic, social and environmental.
In January 2015, you discussed about the need for EU reform. In your view, what do you believe should be the main areas for reform if we were to stay in the EU, and would they be achievable?
Finally turning down the proposed EU-US free trade deal known as TTIP, enhancing the power of the European Parliament to hold the Commission to account and initiate legislation, and (got to say) end the ridiculous sittings in Strasbourg.
A primary concern regarding leaving the EU is the UK losing its global influence as a state. Do you think this will be an issue for the UK, should the referendum be in favour of leaving?
I think we do need to rethink our place in the world, but that doesn’t relate to EU membership but rather our possession of the hideous weapons of mass destruction that are nuclear missiles, when getting rid of them could be a major boost to global efforts to ban them. And also to finally ending our disastrous policy of acting with the US in military adventures – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria – that has caused so much damage and so many deaths. We need to start to take a new place in the world as a champion of human rights and democracy, and a support for efforts to tackle hunger, disease and environmental destruction. Being within the EU helps that – if we choose to take that course.
Questions regarding the importance of politics and participation in younger age groups:
What would you say to encourage younger participants to engage with politics?
Politics should be something that you do, not have done to you. It’s in your own hands to change your world – the rules at school, the dangerous road design in your local community, the closure of a local youth group, ending university tuition fees. The world is changed by people getting together and doing politics. Voting and party politics are one aspect of that, but only part of it.
In what ways do you believe the dynamic of British politics would change if younger participants who did not vote, voted in the next general election? Would this be a positive thing?
Definitely – and it needs to happen. It would give our democracy more legitimacy, and would force all parties to at least think about the concerns of younger voters, whilst also thinking more long term about the impacts of their policies.
Is it possible in your view, to dispel the myth that all politicians are ‘bad’? Do you believe that this is a large issue surrounding the youth and politics?
Yes – and I don’t think many people do believe this. People are able to distinguish between politicians stating their honest beliefs and those playing to the gallery or following the focus groups. That we’ve had far too much of the last was a product of the last 30 years or so of neoliberal politics in which there’s been little difference between the philosophies of the parties in mainstream politics. But with the neo-Thatcherite beliefs that greed is good, inequality doesn’t matter and we can keep trashing the planet having clearly hit the buffers, there’s now space to debate what we do next, how we create a society that works for the common good within environmental limits.