British citizens live as though not only one planet is expendable to them, but three. That is the verdict of Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who is determined that if her party has any chance of coming into power in May, they will deliver the “radical and humane change” that this country so desperately needs – as well as the purging of two, fundamental political philosophies – neo-Liberalism and neo-Thatcherism.
According to Bennett, it is these two philosophies that have made owning a home seem like an absolute luxury. When asked what she fundamentally believes in, the first thing she cites is “access to resources for a decent quality of life – that means without fear or worry or concern about food on the table and a roof over your head.” It may not be surprising, then, that the Green Party is seeing its much –referenced “surge” in ELL boroughs such as Hackney, where housing is a decidedly pressing issue.
Bennett, originally from Australia – where she now couldn’t imagine going “out of choice”- came to London in 1999 after contributing to various campaigns for women’s rights in Bangkok. She is an unflinching radical, openly writing about Marx and “what drives the super-rich” in her blog, Philobiblon. She has worked for the likes of the Independent and the Guardian, making her no stranger to the workings of the media – an entity that to her is dominated by a “handful of right-wing media tycoons who oppose everything the Green Party stands for.” It wouldn’t just be the “fraud-ridden and feckless” financial sector that her party would aim to tackle. “One of the things we think we desperately need to do for our democracy and economy is restrict media ownership so we get a greater variety of voices”, she says.
The Green Party, like their leader, undeniably has a polarising effect. Voters either love the Greens for their earthy, non-materialistic and unthreatening image, where the quality of one’s life is valued over the quantity of things they have managed to acquire; or despise them for attempting to take politics out of the world of logic and reason and into one of fantasy – and some say – real economic danger.
Bennett’s response doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, then, when bluntly asked if big business should be afraid of her. “Afraid is not usually a word I would use in terms of the Green Party but…yes. Big business has been allowed free reign; it’s been allowed to act like a parasite on the rest of society [by using cheap labour and not paying tax] and it’s been taking out more than its fair share. But I think it’s right to recognise that where they’re at now is unsustainable – if we continue down that road then we will end up with no one able to buy anything.”
The “radical change” that Bennett has in mind could be simplified as a mere scaling down. Big business should become small businesses; Government should be localised (“power needs to rest locally and only be referred upwards where it’s necessary”, she insists) and Britain needs a much smaller financial sector and no financial product should exist “unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the risks.” This reaction to Britain’s on-going financial crisis is garnering swathes of new supporters – membership is now at an all time high of 29,000, according to the leader. But not every disillusioned Briton is flocking to join the “peaceful revolution”- and her self-confessed “terrible” interview on LBC radio last month may add to voter suspicion that the party is one that nourishes ideals at the expense of policy.
In the unlikely case that the Greens do find themselves in some sort of power in May, “voices” will be at the core of their identity. Their proposal of a People’s Constitution Convention, whereby members of the public would be picked at random to draw up a new written constitution, something Britain has famously always lacked, was ridiculed when she presented it to Westminster Hour back in December. Bennett accepts that her ideas are radical. But she maintains that the status quo is simply not sustainable. “We cannot continue as we are”, she says. “There is no alternative but radical change.”