Candidates for Leader: Natalie Bennett

We asked the candidates for the post of leader the same set of questions (and quick fire questions). Here are Natalie Bennett’s responses:

 

  • Which three policies do you think the Party should prioritise over the next three years?

* The need to invest in our economy – not make false economies. We need to invest in energy conservation and renewable energy, in public services and public transport, and in building and refurbishing homes – because we need these things, but also we need to create jobs – for reasons of the economy, but also to ensure people can get on with their lives with a sense of security about the future.

* The need to relocalise farming, manufacturing, services – to improve and stabilise our communities and be ready for the low-carbon world that has to start soon. And to reduce the political influence of the financial industries and restructure them as tools for the “real” economy, rather than being gambling dens that threaten international stability.

* Our opposition to nuclear weapons – they are morally indefensible weapons of mass destruction. This also clearly differentiates us from the other parties – and voters agree with us!

 

  • Do you think that we have got the balance right between central vs local control/ownership of the Party, and if not how would you like to see structures (e.g., GPEx, GPRC, local party organising) within the Party change?

Yes and no. I’m proud of the way the party trusts local and regional parties to make their own decisions and decide their own direction (entirely in line with our philosophy of localism), but too often we interpret localism as leaving local parties to sink or swim, without the support that they need to take advantage of opportunities and overcome obstacles. We need to get better at supporting each other, thinking strategically across regions and the country as well as learning lessons from each other. There are some great success stories, from Solihull to Bristol, Oxford to York, but too often what they’ve achieved, and how they’ve achieved it, are little known outside the local region. The West Midlands has a great regional model, which I’ve talked about a lot, but I’m sure every party has some aspect of their work that we could learn from collectively.

The other worry I have is that not all party structures really see themselves as part of a national team. Every structure in the party should be either getting us more votes, making our elected reps more effective or helping build the party’s voice and influence. I’d like us to take a look at how we make the most out of our party structures, ensuring they’re focused on the job in hand and supporting them to help us build a bigger, happier party.

 

  • It is often said that there is a wealth of talent in the Green Party, but that we do not utilise it to its full potential. How would you make more of our elected representatives, spokespeople and other knowledgeable individuals within the party in order to get the Green message heard?

The spokesperson system we have now could work, but we’re not getting the most out of it right now – and it’s seriously lacking in transparency. There are a couple of motions going to autumn conference addressing this – I signed one of them – which if passed will help. I’d argue it needs to be tighter and more focused using those we’re helping to build their profile while using some of the more academic specialists as advisers for the party and our elected people.

I’m not convinced we get the most out of some of the strong-minded, high-profile individuals we have in the party. People like Peter Tatchell, Bea Campbell, Jonathon Porritt and Tony Juniper are potentially enormous assets but I think we’ve yet to find the right way of working with them to our mutual benefit. And we need to make sure we’re drawing on the knowledge and skills of experienced elected councillors from up and down the country. I’d like to hold regular “leaders’ breakfasts” (in the way Compass hosts the Progressive Alliance) to allow party members to hear from key thinkers and leaders and work through current key national political issues. (And these could be webcast/Skyped, so people around the country could take part.)

 

  • How would your Leadership differ from those of the other candidates for Leadership? Please describe what you think are the main differences between yourself and the other candidates in terms of a vision for the Party.

All the candidates have real strengths and are all going to continue making a real contribution to the party no matter what the result.

I would say one thing that is distinctive about my candidacy is that I’m looking to spend the next two years focused on getting other people – councillors and MEPs – elected, rather than on my personal electoral ambitions, although I do have those (London and Westminster) in the longer term. I believe that we can get a foothold on many new councils, grow existing council groups, and see at least six MEPs elected in 2014, if we operate strategically and effectively.

In terms of policy, I think it is vital that we focus on the better life that we can offer people – our vision of a radically different society. I am firmly anti-cuts, anti-austerity, but on its own that isn’t enough. It suggests that we, like the Labour Party, just want to go back to 2006, a time when more than a quarter of pensioners and children were living in poverty, and when we were chewing through the planet’s resources like we had three Earths, not just the one. We want to restructure our economy to grow food close to home, return manufacturing to the UK, provide jobs in public services and cooperatives, and decent homes for all – we have to make this clear.

This policy package can give everybody in Britain a better life – we have to ensure that we keep presenting a positive message of a better future.

 

Quickfire

  1. Are you a vegetarian? I describe myself as “mostly vegetarian”. Unfortunately I can’t eat gluten and eating out that can really restrict my options. We need to make vegetarian food more widely available – a range of dishes not just one on the menu as the norm!
  2. How many flights have you taken in the last 5 years? None.
  3. Which UK politician from outside the Green Party do you most admire? Alex Salmond, not for his policies (dreadful on roadbuilding and oil for example) but for the lessons we can learn from the SNP, who went from a fringe force in the Seventies to running Scotland today. The way they created a political space for themselves shows that we could do the same here. The same goes for the new leader of Plaid Cymru, who I’m probably closer to politically, Leanne Wood. There are real lessons to learn there.
  4. What issue first inspired you to join the Green Party? I’m a new year’s resolution Green. I joined on January 1 2006. Having an agricultural science degree, and looking at the science, I was seriously concerned about climate change, but also soil degradation and water supplies, and decided joining the party was the most constructive step I could take.
  5. Where do you shop? The People’s Supermarket, a local co-operative that tries to use small local suppliers and operates a near-zero-waste policy (ready meals are made on site from ingredients at risk of going to waste). I work on the till and stack shelves for at least four hours a month. I would continue to do this if elected leader. It’s fun, and a great way to meet and talk to a range of people.
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