Photo courtesy Gary Learmonth, Red Pirana Photography
Some forty people arrived at Quedgeley Community Centre on Saturday morning to celebrate the launch of the Green Party’s six parliamentary candidates, standing in all constituencies across Gloucestershire.
Green County Cllr Sarah Lunnon welcomed Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the SW and Gibraltar, who gave the keynote speech. Speaking about the widespread disillusionment with politics, she told the audience that there isn’t a problem with democracy, but a problem with our current batch of politicians. There is no difference between the main Westminster parties, and UKIP is not offering genuine change. It is the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, who is doing something different and effective in Parliament, and the country needs more politicians of her ilk. The decision to exclude the Green Party from TV Leaders’ debates is because our policies are different and we don’t fit into the Right-Left spectrum. But this week, it’s Greens’ exclusion that has become the story, petitions are showing people reacting against this, and our work on the streets means people are starting to see the Green Party has genuine alternative policies to offer.
Introducing the parliamentary candidates, Molly pointed out that they all live in their constituencies and are standing to demonstrate their belief that the GP has the policies to turn things around for the people of this country.
A lively question and answer session followed. Question topics ranged from austerity and welfare benefits to flood prevention and the Green Party’s image. A question about whether the GP has a problem with economic credibility prompted a range of strong responses. Penny Burgess (Cotswold) pointed out that, at the last General Election, the Green Party’s manifesto was clearer and more fully costed than any other. Other parties put forward growth as the nirvana to aspire to but, in reality, growth is just a way to make more profit for the few people at the top of the financial heap, while those lower down lose out. James Greenwood (Forest) and Chris Jockel (Stroud) argued that a Green Government would put us in a different place, with new models of economics. Molly referred to a recent article in a national newspaper which referred to her as “The new Green Party MEP and avid beekeeper”. Molly has never thought of keeping bees, but has been a Professor of Economics and GP Economics spokesperson, yet the newspaper chose a traditional green stereotype to describe her, rather than her economics credentials. She was then asked if the GP policy for a £10 minimum wage by 2020 would increase unemployment. Molly’s answer was that we are currently subsidising low wages through our taxes, and the £10 minimum wage would be fiscally neutral or possibly increase income to the Exchequer. Jonathan Ingleby (Gloucester) pointed out that the UK is a wealthy country, it is distribution of income that’s the problem, and the GP has policies to correct that.
Asking about rising housing costs, a questioner commented that the country is currently paying out £24 billion in Housing Benefit. Chris Jockel was clear that it is not tenants who are enjoying the benefits of this money but private landlords. Jemma Clarke (Tewkesbury) said that the bedroom tax has forced many social housing tenants into private accommodation, increasing the cost of welfare whilst removing housing security for those people affected. The GP would introduce rent controls to stop profiteering from housing assets, whilst also scrapping the bedroom tax and the right to buy, which feeds the bankers’ desire to invest in assets rather than businesses, and helps to push up the price of housing.
On flooding, Jemma Clarke said that the Coalition Government had cut the budget for flood defences, even though they would return £8 to the Treasury for every £1 spent. There are high-tech solutions we should be utilising, and we need to pay for. Jonathan Ingleby argued for better farming practices, such as replacing hedging, and Chris Jockel identified forms of mitigation, such as holding water in the landscape, as features and for energy generation. James Greenwood said that we need to stop building on flood plains, highlighting a recent application in the Forest for a supermarket and housing in the flood plain which, if built, would increase the likelihood of flooding.
An interesting question about how to frame the GP’s vision to get it across to the public more effectively brought a consensus that we need to frame our arguments within our own context, not Left or Right, and being clear that we’re not just about the environment, we do understand economics and care about social problems. In fact, as Chris Jockel explained, Greens see the connections between all these aspects and have a systems approach to finding effective solutions. The question prompted a wider exchange about politics and how to get people engaged, particularly young people, and stop ‘politics’ being a dirty word. Adam Van Coevorden (Cheltenham) described how he is doing this, working within his own community, but also using social media to reach a wider audience. He added that the GP was the second most popular party with 18-24 year olds in a recent YouGov poll. Jonathan Ingleby confirmed that many young people are concerned about politics, particularly the environment and its future, citing a recent invitation to speak about Green politics at a secondary school in Gloucester. Penny commented on how the recent referendum campaign in Scotland had engaged and energised people (she was in Scotland during the campaign, having successfully completed a sponsored electric bike ride from Lands End to John o’Groats). She said the campaign had demonstrated that people will get engaged if the agenda is right and they know their vote will make a difference. Greens have to demonstrate that they have the right agenda.
This upbeat meeting ended with a vote of thanks to all the parliamentary candidates and a rousing round of applause.