Lord Diary: Natalie Bennett
Former Green Party leader, and now member of the House of Lords, Natalie Bennett | Alamy
Baroness Bennett on a "dizzy" week of finance reform, feminist foreign policy, the smacking ban, and forest bathing
As a Green, I believe in systems thinking, but this week in the House of Lords I did need silos, as the focus swung dizzily between the national and international, from inside homes to the City. The contrast was stark between the rich, deep debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, involving scores of peers and fed by voluminous inputs from civil society, and the scarcely populated Whips’ lists, dominated by peers speaking for the interests of businesses, in the financial bills.
The contrast was why I’m going to keep pushing for a UK equivalent of the EU’s Finance Watch. We need something closer to what the lawyers call “equality of arms” in the scrutiny of financial laws and regulations.
That was one of my big amendments on the Financial Services Bill committee debate. The other called for regular reports on the benefits and costs of the financial sector. It was inspired by work on the “finance curse” from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. The minister’s use of a PriceWaterhouseCoopers figure as a basis for his arguments only helped drive home the need for independent assessment. It’s great when an argument falls into shape.
My focus the next day moved outwards, to foreign policy. With the Biden administration explicitly identifying its international policy as feminist, and the Elysée doing likewise, I focused on what a UK version would look like. It means ending what the late philosophy professor, Karen Warren, termed the “logic of domination”. I can’t remember which New Books Network podcast pointed me to that, but I do find its output a wonderful source of inspiration.
By Friday, we were back to internal politics with the budget debate. I majored on the continuing hold of the tired old trope of the national budget being like a household’s. I wondered if the word “tosh” was considered parliamentary but decided to use it anyway.
It was back close to home on the Monday with the Domestic Abuse Bill. Picking up a campaign going back 20 years, I had tabled a call to give children the same protection from assault that adults enjoy – what’s known as a “smacking ban”. With Scotland and Wales already there, I didn’t think this bill could be allowed to pass without at least raising the issue.
The heat was high in the debate – and the opposition seems to have moved little in two decades – but the campaign will be stepped up from here, and I told campaign veteran Lady Walmsley that I’m confident she won’t have to keep going on the issue for another two decades.
But the next day the focus was back to the global with the National Security and Investment Bill as I moved an amendment on the crucial place of climate and ecology in national security.
No agreement of course – the government sticking firmly to its belief in framework bills, presumably to try to avoid the risk of being held to legal account – but lots of green talk from all sides of the House and offers to work together.
I rounded out a frantic week with the warming luxury of the UK Committee of the International Council of Museums, talking about their contribution as thought leaders to tackling the climate emergency with the wonderful Mary Robinson, the former Irish president.
It wasn’t all work. There was “forest bathing” with a lovely walk on Sunday, as well as making a giant pot of comfort food – a red vegetable curry inspired by my time living in Bangkok – to fuel the coming week, as I fed my historical passion with a podcast on the Russian conquest of Central Asia.
But I was left reflecting about how remote working makes such a frantic pace possible: the work “commute” now involves five steps to the second bedroom, one flight of stairs to the coffee; social interaction a quick flurry of WhatsApps. There are going to need to be some big adjustments to whatever the new normal looks like, when it arrives.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Park is a Green Party peer