Natalie Bennett was in ‘pool and we got an exclusive interview
She wants to try a Fat Frog and legalise weed
Green Bean Bennett was in the city on Wednesday, giving an open talk to for the Greens on creating a zero-growth sustainable economy.
Before her speech, we managed to bag an exclusive interview and asked all the important things.
How would the Greens aim to reduce the deficit if not through austerity, or do you not see the deficit necessarily as a bad thing?
I think we have to deal with the deficit and the debt eventually. However what we actually need to do is invest in the future, build infrastructure, create good jobs – so then people are able to pay taxes to pay it back.
There’s nothing innately terrible about borrowing. If you take the example of allowing councils to borrow to build council homes (particularly at the moment with interest rates so low), they can borrow over 20 or 25 years, and the rent will pay back that borrowing.
If you get rid of Right To Buy, and we want to, then you’ve actually got an asset for the community in perpetuity, and that borrowing is something that everyone hopes to do. Many people hope to do in their life in terms of their mortgage. It’s taking on a massive debt, but it’s investing in the future.
Do you see the growing more radical Labour left as a threat to the Green’s membership?
Absolutely not. I mean, what is a real sign is that politics is coming in our direction. In the general election we were very much on our own – the only major national party saying we should renationalise the railways, and it was relatively easy for journalists to say “Oh it’s you radical Greens over there in the extreme”. Although actually, I think if you look at the fact that the majority of Tory voters believe in renationalising the railways, by definition that’s not a radical policy at all – if the majority of Tory voters support it.
But because we were on our own and the only people saying it, it was hard. But now it’s better. Another thing that’s happening more and more, particularly with young people, but people of all ages are getting enthused and engaged in politics. They can see there are different things on offer, and that’s hugely exciting in terms of the energy that’s in politics. It’s growing almost by the day. You can feel it growing.
The Green Party has the largest proportion of the young members and voters of any party. Why do you think the Greens are so popular with the young people?
Well there are some obvious things – we fight for zero university tuition fees, we believe education is a public good, and I think our education policy – the way in which we say you need an education for life, not having schools which are exam factories that shove people through exam after exam – those things are all very popular.
But I think its actually that people get we have a model of hope for the future. We’re not saying “go back” to anything, we’re saying let’s build something new and different. I’d say there’s two key elements of philosophy. One: we have to live within our environmental limits (and actually that’s not politics, that’s physics.), Secondly: we’re saying everybody should have enough to live without fear, without worry, and meet their needs.
I think young people have grown up seeing their parents’ generations, many people living with uncertainty, living with fear, and seeing older brothers and sisters do all the right things. Get a 2:1 degree and a masters, massive amounts of debt – and then end up with a 12 hour week contract in Costa.
I see it particularly among 13 to 15-year-olds – they’re far more political than any other generation of 13 to 15-year-olds I’ve seen. I think they can just see it’s really obvious that in the world they’re living in, lots of things have gone wrong. The Greens are giving hopeful solutions to that.
Do you think you will be in charge by the 2020 elections?
The Green Party leaders are elected for a two year term, I’ve recently been elected about a year ago, happily unopposed for my second term. After next May’s elections, I’ll think about what happens after that. If they say a week is a long term in politics, you know, seven months or whatever is an age.
How would you respond to critics saying your stance on homeopathy and against GM crops is anti-science?
Some people are perhaps quoting from a very ancient Green Party policy. We don’t have a stance on homeopathy – what we say is that all of our medical treatments that are funded by the NHS should be based on evidence, and be the best treatment available under the evidence.
In terms of GM crops, my first degree is Agricultural Science so I’ve got a real background and interest in this area. GM technology is the technology of industrial agriculture. That’s the nature of agriculture: extreme lack of bio-diversity, giant fields of identical crops – this is not the kind of agriculture we need for the future and that’s what GM technology is geared towards. What we need is bio-diverse, very varied crops adapted to the local micro-climates, local small areas – not the kind of technology that GM produces.
What is your attitude to the war on drugs, and is there any legislation you would change such as legalising cannabis?
To put it very simply, the war on drugs has clearly failed – that’s so blindingly obvious that it almost feels silly saying it these days. What we need is an evidence based drugs policy – that means it’s very clear we need to decriminalise marijuana.
The current situation is actually giving many, particularly young people and people from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds, criminal records that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Yet oddly enough you never hear of many members of the Bullingdon Club being arrested.
So, you know, decriminalisation is a starting point, and then we’d look to see what the best next step is. This is a really fast moving area round the world, lots of countries are experimenting with exactly different approaches, but the key thing is we need to treat the misuse of drugs as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.
Because of the urgency in the fight against climate change, big businesses need to be in on it. Does the Green Party accept funding from large corporations at the risk of looking hypocritical, or do you only accept funding from “ethical” businesses?
We have very strict criteria in terms of who we accept funding from. I think obviously it’s good if big businesses, do the right thing on environmental grounds, but I think we have to be realistic about it.
A good example is the big campaign about food waste at the moment. The campaigners, I applaud them for trying to force supermarkets to waste less food. What we have to acknowledge is the large supermarket model is inherently built on waste, and you might be able to reduce it, but you’re not going to be able to cut it down.
We need a different kind of food distribution model and a different kind of retail model. I would say in the future we need strong local economies, small businesses and cooperatives, and big businesses to have far more limited roles in the world and economy than they do now.
It really is worth saying that big businesses have become so dominant because we have created the rules, legislation and playing field that’s allowed them. If you make big businesses pay their taxes, treat their workers properly and prevent or pay for their environmental damage, then small businesses can compete with big ones more easily.
With regards to your talk, how can the UK realistically achieve a zero-growth economy without the rest of the international community?
I think what we need to focus on is the need for real change, and what we actually have to do is live within our environmental limits. The UK’s a place to be starting, and eventually we have to do it at a global level, and we have to make sure that everybody gets enough for a decent standard of life without fear or worry – and those two things are perfectly achievable.
A reading I recommend for anyone who’s interested in this issue is “Prosperity Without Growth” by Tim Jackson. He demonstrates that you simply cannot separate GDP growth from greenhouse gas emissions.
But actually, GDP hasn’t delivered us a workable society now. People are totally unrealistic if they say we can continue just as we are. What we need to do is do something different, and [a zero growth economy] is a very different kind of economy in which we think about “how do we get a more prosperous life”, not “how do we build GDP”. When you think about the fact that if you cut down a forest – GDP goes up (because it counts the monetary value of the timber) but it makes no account of the fact that you’ve lost the forest.
Do you support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel?
What do you think about the university’s investment and research links with the arms trade?
I think the Green Party has long been involved in campaigns for divestment from the arms trade. It’s profoundly betraying what’s supposed to be the philosophical basis of the universities, to be investing and supporting the arms trade. And of course now, we very strongly support the fossil fuel divestment campaign and indeed I haven’t heard the result yet. However I heard that Liverpool Green Party was today putting a motion to Council about that issue.
[We checked, the motion was unanimously passed.]
What are your views on education reforms for GCSE and A Level which will take effect in 2017, and aim to have a heavier academic assessment, and what would be your main principle for education reform?
Our main principle in education reform is to stop making schools and colleges exam factories that shove pupils through exam after exam. I can say this personally because I was actually very good at exams and I know they only test how well you do in exams. They’re no test of learning and force teachers into an incredibly narrow forced curriculum.
What we need is education for life – that means sex and relationship education, it means education about cooking and growing food, about personal finance, and a personal favourite of mine – first aid. Many of us at some point in our life will find ourselves in a situation where first aid is the most important thing you could possibly ever have learnt at school. Education that really prepares you for a healthy, prosperous, successful life – and that’s not what we’ve got now, the changes will only take us further away from that, if that’s even possible.
Would you be willing to work with Labour on certain policies, such as scrapping Trident?
We’re always happy to work with people who agree with us, even if they’re people who we only agree with on one or two issues. What comes to mind is electoral reform – we have a government at the moment that has the support of 24 per cent of eligible voters. We’ve been working with civil society campaigns like Electoral Reform Society, and we will work with whoever is working with those civil society campaigns.
In terms of Labour, however, I’d make the point that it does take two to form a partnership. It is rather sad that when Jeremy Corbyn arrived in Brighton, one of the first things he said was “I want to win back all three Brighton seats”, which of course covers the Green MP Caroline Lucas’ Brighton Pavillion.
And now, for the serious stuff. Have you ever heard of or read The Tab?
I have, I’ve been interviewed by it several times.
Do you like green beans?
Yes I do, actually.
Are you excited for Christmas?
Not really, to be honest.
How are you celebrating Diwali?
I probably will end up in a ceremony somewhere, although I haven’t quite caught up with where yet.
Do you only eat the green Skittles and Smarties?
No, cause food waste is bad.
Who would win on I’m a Celeb between all the party leaders?
I think Leanne Wood might because she’s probably the nicest.
Have you ever tried a Fat Frog at The Raz?
No, someone will have to invite me!