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Friday 28th February 2014 | 07:00
When it comes to the political landscape, the UK has moved a long way since 2010, in some respects. In others, there’s been little change at all.
In the last General Election, voters were very focused on the state of the economy, but generally less focused on the wisdom of our economic model. The general mood was that “yes, we always knew that ‘the end of boom and bust’ was a fallacy, so we’ve just had another bust”. The assumption was that we could more or less go back to the start of 2007 and steam on from there as before.
That kind of certainty no longer exists. There’s widespread, rightful, scepticism, about our ‘recovery’, built on consumer spending and booming house prices in the South East (what could possibly go wrong with that?). And, particularly since our sodden, miserable winter, more people have begun to think about the damage our obsession with economic growth at all costs is doing to our economy.
What’s the same? There’s still depression about the state of politics, a feeling that the two largest parties – with their attention increasingly focused on swing voters in swing seats and on what will play in tomorrow’s headlines – are increasingly divorced from reality.
The fact that this year’s election is European, and decided on proportional representation, means a rare chance in the political cycle for all of us to be sure our vote will be represented in the final parliament.
For the Green Party that’s an important opportunity. A national swing of 1.6% to us from 2009 would treble our number of representatives in the European Parliament. For the first time there would be Green MEPs representing the North West, Eastern, South West and Yorkshire and Humber regions, all joining the fourth largest group in Strasbourg.
And in the concurrent local elections, there’s a chance to further build on our current 144 principal authority councillors, to become the official opposition on Solihull council, and to strengthen our position in London.
Together, the elections represent an opportunity to massively increase the number of people who have both a local Green councillor and a local MEP, especially following the broadening of our support in last year’s county elections – which saw our first county councillors elected in Cornwall, Essex, Surrey, Kent, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
That puts us in a good place for 2015, which will be a historically unique election year for us – the first in which we are a Westminster parliamentary party. The primary focus will of course be the retention of Brighton Pavilion, won and so brilliantly occupied since by Caroline Lucas. And that’s in the face of a Labour spending splurge in the seat. Beyond that, we’ll be able to say to voters in seats up and down the country, from Norwich to Bristol, Liverpool to London: “Brighton and Hove did it – you can do it too.”
People are increasingly hearing our message – views that chime very closely with theirs and which are represented by no other party, whether it’s making the minimum wage a living wage, bringing the railways back into public hands, restoring a publicly run NHS, genuinely reforming our fraud-ridden, swollen, dangerous banking system, choosing wind farms over fracking or scrapping university tuition fees.
Above all, there’s a sense that we need to massively refashion our society so that we can deliver a decent standard of life for everyone while living within our environmental limits. That means warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes, incomes sufficient to ensure food banks can close down due to lack of demand, the return of manufacturing and food production back to the UK, and the rebuilding of strong local economies based on small business and cooperatives.
Every day I talk to people from a range of political backgrounds who are convinced that British politics is approaching a breaking point – a sudden change that’s going to mean the past is little use in predicting future direction. That change is necessary, and it needs to come soon.
Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party
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