Does the new leader of the UK Green Party have what it takes to put them on the map in time for the next general election?
The can-do attitude of the Green Party’s new leader is inspiring and infectious. Her policies cover a greater span of issues than the stereotypes of the environmentally focused party and her genuine, honest enthusiasm is refreshing in this current age of politics. But these are testing times for any politician, in any party, from any background. Voter apathy and disillusionment, challenging finances and a dwindling environmental and economic situation are but a few of the obstacles faced by Australian-born Natalie Bennett as she takes on the mammoth task of leading the UKs Green Party.
In a friendly, tone and thick Australian accent, Ms Bennett recalls her first experience of politics. She says: “For me, it was when, at the age of 5 I was told I wasn’t allowed to have a bicycle because it wasn’t ladylike.” The self-declared feminist has spent much of her career campaigning on women’s issues, internationally and in the UK. For five years she volunteered on the National Commission for women’s affairs in Bangkok. She has also worked for the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) consulting on Women and Children’s issues. It was her role within the UN that encouraged her to do the masters degree in Mass Communication that could be the key-point of her victory in leadership.
The former journalist has worked for a number of publications including The Independent, The Times, The Guardian and the Bangkok Post. Perhaps it is this extensive journalism experience that helped her beat the three other candidates for a leadership role that will require extensive media confidence. Her campaign work within the green-party has often led to her being described as their ‘media-figurehead’ and as the vote for smaller political parties is increasing, now is an important time to have a leader who can successfully communicate the political ideas of their party on a mass scale. One Green party member who voted for the new leader was Councillor Gus Hoyt from Bristol who said: “I believe she will champion our policy far and wide and advance Green results in the European, council and general elections.”
Bennett says her first degree in agricultural science that she gained in Australia, gave her the scientific background that led to her involvement in green politics. She says: “In 2006 I looked at the state of the planet and thought ‘this really isn’t very good’ and we need to do something about it so I joined the party on the 1st January and it took over my life. There is so much we need to do, not just environmentally but also with the state of our economy and the state of our society. With the current levels of inequality, we are quickly heading back towards 19th Century levels of inequality and I want to do something about that too.”
Her enthusiasm for social policies could be the winning ticket for success at the next general election and the Green party’s working-class ideas are aimed to secure the votes of let down Lib-Dem or Labour supporters. She says: “Lets say if we had a Green Government, there’s lots of things we’d like to do environmentally but the first thing we’d like to do is make minimum wage a livable wage. If you work for 40 hours a week you should have enough money to live a decent life. It’s really, truly obscene that you can work 40 hours and basically be unable to put food on the table. We need to not have the disastrous, economically illiterate cuts that we’re seeing now. What we need to have is investment in the future. We need investment in homes, investment in jobs, investment in energy conservation, renewable energy and public transport.”
When asked how she planned to succeed the achievements of former leader Caroline Lucas, Ms Bennett said her flexibility was the key. She says: “I think the difference is that Caroline, as an MP has a lot of things to do in Parliament and is unable to operate outside it. She isn’t as free to move around the Country as I am. Because I’m not an MP I’m not tied to Westminster in the same way that Caroline is so we are able to compliment each other: she is there in Parliament speaking for the Green Party and I’m wandering around the countryside promoting our ideas.
But when she’s not ‘wandering around the countryside, what is she doing? “I live with my partner Jim and I don’t really have a social life. When normal people might be having their social life I’m on the train back from Portsmouth or London or something like that. I don’t have any children either. That wasn’t consciously a career decision but I think that’s also where some of my feminism comes from. At a very young age I looked at my mother’s life and the life of friends, these women were was basically classic housewives. They were in part time employment – admin and secretarial work and I thought ‘that’s not what I want’.”
The inspiring optimism of a woman who has dedicated her life to issues concerning equality, rights and environment gives the Green party an excellent chance to properly contend the main three political parties at the next general election. Policies that concern environment and economy equally will also work favorably for her party. Ms Bennett has a clear agenda on what her party intends to do and is rousing excitement within the party with her can-do, will-do attitude. Her final words to me as she’s rushed off to another interview are telling of her future as leader. “There’s so much to do, and so little time.”