Natalie Bennett Green Party Leader Interview

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natalie bennett green party

James Greenhalgh speaks to Green Party Leader and former Guardian Weekly editor
 about her ideas on legalising cannabis, feminism in Britain today and the living wage.

Most people know your party for advocating action against global warming and protecting the planet – what other policies do you have that might interest students?

We want to make the minimum wage a living wage, renationalise the railways and we have also got a zero tuition fees pledge. We believe that education is a public good and that if you get a university education and as a result get a higher paid job, then you pay back through your taxes. If you get a job that really helps the community but perhaps doesn’t pay very well, you shouldn’t have a great weight of debt over your shoulders. Our 2010 General Election Manifesto included this zero tuition fees pledge, and was fully costed and added up.

You have incredibly expensive policies – scrapping tuition fees, huge pension increases and free social care for the elderly. Surely these policies are wishful thinking in today’s economic climate and they cannot be implemented?

I believe they can- we have got a situation where multinational companies have failed to pay any tax over long periods of time, and that can be addressed. George Osborne has pulled down corporation tax rates paid by the large companies, so we have basically stopped collecting the taxes.

Are you not being soft on crime, specifically drugs? You say you want to decriminalise cannabis?

It’s a little more complicated than that, what we want to do is fundamentally regard drugs as a health issue, not a criminal issue. Evidence suggests that the war on drugs has absolutely failed and its costing vast sums of money every year – what we need to do is find a way forward that stops the huge societal and personal costs of drugs that the current system has created.

So you would decriminalise cannabis?

Yes, we would move towards that as soon as possible. We would have to look at how you would achieve that in terms of the best way forward.

The Conservative reinvention after Cameron became leader was defined by his commitments to green policies. What do you make of this Governments record on green issues?

The phrase ‘The Greenest Government ever’ is now beyond a sick joke – it’s an absolute disaster that this Government is failing to do things that are clearly in Britain’s economic and environmental interests. Industry is generally saying that the Government isn’t giving them the policies they need to invest in renewable energy. There are huge opportunities in the green industries that Cameron and his team are just throwing away.

Surely voting for smaller parties, such as the Green Party, is a wasted vote in Parliamentary elections? Shouldn’t people just vote tactically for Labour to boot the coalition out?

In 2015 there will be a lot more people who have elected local Greens already representing them. In 2010 Brighton elected our first ever Green MP, so now we can say to any electorate around the country if Brighton did this, you can do it too! We are heading into interesting political times of great change – who knows you could be voting Labour and keeping the Green out, but if the Green candidate represents your views, if you want to get what you want then at some point you have got to vote for it. I can understand why people do that in some specific cases, but the fact is the Labour Party doesn’t get the environment and is so close to the Tory party on many issue they are indistinguishable from them.

You’re a trustee of the Fawcett Society –is feminism still relevant?

Very much so; there’s still a huge disparity in pay between men and women, barely 20% of MPs are female and we are upto about 14% of women on FTSE100 boards. Women are suffering in terms of the cuts – between 70-80% of all cuts the Government is making are falling onto the shoulders of women, and Cameron’s so called ‘Big Society’ which is asking society to do more caring and community work is also going to fall overwhelmingly on women, so feminism is more pressing as a social cause than it’s been probably over the last couple of decades.

The turnout for the election which made you Green Party leader was only 25%. Doesn’t this impact on your legitimacy as leader?

The previous election had a turnout of 20%, and if you hold a postal ballot in Britain in August you have to expect lots of people will be away and won’t catch up with it until it’s too late, and for various constitutional reasons it’s hard for us to change.

I understand you say it’s a constitutional issue but surely the constitution is therefore broken? If people can criticise Ed Miliband for the supposed lack of support he achieved when he got much more than 25% support in his party, then surely 25% is not good enough?

I don’t think it’s really an issue, in terms of that it’s a sign of broadly satisfaction rather than dissatisfaction.

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