The Green Party
Why did you get involved in politics?
My mum was interested in the Ecology Party and the Green movement in the Sixties and Seventies, so I grew up with that kind of consciousness.
I had an enquiring mind and used to read broadsheet newspapers, so it kind of came naturally to want to change the world for the better. My first foray into politics was with youth CND. I can’t remember whether it actually was the Ecology Party or the Green Party by the time I joined, but I got involved in Liverpool where I grew up.
What connection do you have with Bristol East?
I tend to visit this area with the family fairly regularly for shopping. Sometimes we eat out here. We don’t actually live here, admittedly, but we do feel that we are part of Bristol and this is part of Bristol, so it is kind of part of our lives. We do get our Indian vegetables from Bristol Sweetmart; my wife is quite a renowned chef of Indian food. We’re vegetarian – this is the place to go. We live in Shirehampton, on the outskirts of Bristol.
What do you think are the biggest problems in Bristol East, and how would you address them?
I am somewhat reliant on my colleagues in the Green Party who I’ve spoken to about this [because] I don’t live here. There is a lack of green space, and a loss of green space, and I think that’s something that has to be protected in such a densely populated area as Bristol East. You do get acres and acres of terraced houses, which can be quite a convivial way to live – I live in one myself – but you do need the parks and the green spaces to punctuate this kind of area. It’s no good for these kind of areas to be sold off and disappear, and that kind of space to be eroded.
Then obviously big issues – drugs, prostitution, and crime. The Green Party has quite a liberal policy on drugs. Green Party policy on drugs is to decriminalise their use, and yet at the same time provide a lot of education about how it is very much not a good idea to overuse such drugs and be reliant upon them.
We feel that it is somewhat hypocritical of the establishment to divide drugs between those which are legal and socially acceptable and those which are illegal and less socially acceptable, where in fact nicotine [and] alcohol cause a great many deaths and a great many social problems. As do all drugs if misused.
Prostitution: we have a similar kind of policy of liberalisation – providing some kind of framework for sex workers to operate in a way that doesn’t cause the kind of nuisance, which some residents obviously find difficult to cope with.
Another big problem in this area, as with the whole of Bristol is traffic and transport. Part of the area is divided by the M32 motorway, and the inner ring road as well, it’s all quite heavily roaded and that has quite a negative impact on people. There’s the air pollution, the noise, the disturbance of the mind caused by so much traffic.
That would be addressed by our general policies on transport, whereby we wish to encourage more public transport, and indeed less travelling about unnecessarily through promotion of local economies.
Four more Post Offices are set to close in Bristol East – what impact do you think this will have on community services?
Clearly closure of Post Offices has a very negative impact on community services. The Post Office, along with other services such as libraries, is a focus of the community. It is a very shortsighted view of current government, and the previous one, which treats a public utility like the Post Office in the same way as a profit making company. It’s a natural monopoly and it is a community service.
It’s shortsighted in the extreme to look at it in terms of profit and loss, where in fact it’s something that the community needs. It’s not just delivering letters and paying pensions, it is very important in many ways; from providing a noticeboard for the community, all kinds of things.
It is possible – if there is dynamic commercial management – that the Post Office can find new commercial roles, and indeed be operated in a completely commercial fashion. A lot of people thought when BT was privatised that [it] was a terrible idea, a natural monopoly, or so we thought. As it has turned out I think it has shown some foresight of the Conservative government of the time that with advances in technology it turned out that that was a very good thing.
BT has been broken up and privatised; put in a capitalist, commercial situation, and a lot of good things have come out of that, especially the vibrant competition in telecoms that we now see. It is possible that that kind of thing could happen to some degree with Post Offices.
But I don’t think its clear what those directions are, and I don’t think that its safe to make people travel longer distances away from their local Post Office that has closed when there is nothing clear as an alternative.
If you give corporations and companies greater and greater power, which is what is happening in the world today, that’s what ends up happening, and that how you get completely idiotic decisions being made on a grand scale; everything is reduced to pounds and pence, dollars and euros.
What do you think of the state’s increased involvement in the personal lives of its citizens?
I think it’s a mixed bag really. Take ASBOs for example. In principal they are a necessary evil, if they are used to contain and control people who are making other people’s lives a misery. Yet we see in their execution that they are sometimes being used in completely nonsensical ways.
A woman is being banned from going near bridges and high places. She doesn’t need an ASBO, she needs help; she is suicidal. Another woman, a sex worker, is being banned from carrying condoms on her person…
They can be imprisoned when they are not actually committing a criminal activity that warrants imprisonment. So like a great many of these criminal laws over the past decade, they appear to be perfectly reasonable when they are discussed in parliament, and yet they are so broad that they are encroaching on our personal freedom and inching towards what is a terrible police state.
Take the anti-harassment law, which was originally envisioned as a way to combat stalkers, a way to protect women.
It is now being used wholesale against the animal rights lobby, and not only in defence of individuals but of large corporations. This is something that is absolutely wrong.
ID cards – the Green Party has examined the legislation – our experts have looked at it and decided that it is not much of a deterrent against hardened terrorists, who have access to the ability to create this kind of ID card, and fight this kind of technology. It is just going to be a burden on the ordinary person; it is not going to be that much of a burden on the terrorist.
Smoking in public places: it’s probably a good idea to discourage people from smoking, and to create more smoke-free areas. But let’s not go mad about it. Let’s allow pubs to have a smoking room if they have the area to create one.
What effect do you think Britain’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’ has had on our standing in the world?
The so-called war on terror began on September 11th 2001 with the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the attack on the Pentagon. There are a great many unanswered [questions] about these attacks. I am by no means convinced that the September 11th attacks were committed by independent Islamic terrorists. Take the examples of Pearl Harbour, Project Northwood , and the Reichstag fire that began the terror of Nazi rule in Germany.
These were all false flag operations, which were designed, planned and carried out by an elite in order to promote their own purposes – whether that was to wage war, or to seize power in an apparent attempt to control terrorist forces. Most people of the world – according to surveys which I have read – see the US and George Bush as a greater threat to the world than Al-Qaeda or any other so-called rogue state. I think that by allying ourselves with Bush and the USA the British government has made a grave mistake, and lessened very greatly our standing in the world.
This war against Iraq has been simmering for a decade, and the only reason I can see for it is the depopulation of an oil-rich area. Similarly the war in Afghanistan appears to have had several other causes than the eradication of terrorism, including pipeline deals, and profits from heroin trade going into the US stock economy.
Education in Bristol is doing badly according to various sources, what’s your solution?
It seems to be a decline since there was better education in the past, so it seems to be a fairly logical remedy to return to traditional teaching methods, in which there is a lot more respect for teachers and authority.
Part of the problem of yob non-culture – and it is a reflection of the society that we live in – [is that] there is a need for greater self-discipline, and more of a spiritualization of society, as opposed to the materialistic ethos that is so prevalent. This is something that is at the heart of Green politics. It is not something that is greatly promoted at election time.
We don’t see the Earth as a thing to be exploited; we see the Earth as a living being, and we see all living beings – whether they be plants, animals, or humans – as persons if you like.
Then there is less of an exploitative mentality. There is a great deal of diversity within the Green party, and the Green movement, between spirituality and the answers to the problems of educational underachievement. We are not things; we are spiritual beings. We are all living things.
What would you like to see done about climate change on local and national levels, and do you support the Kyoto Protocol?
Climate change has been noted, discussed, analysed and researched since the early 80s, and its solutions are to reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. The Green movement has been around a lot longer than that. If you go back to the writings of Thoreau , for example, then he’s talking about green ideas in the wilds of America in the 18th century. People have lived in an ecologically sustainable way for millennia. It is not a new kind of philosophy.
The Green way of life, which is sustainable, low impact and local, is exactly the solution that we need to climate change. We have been right behind the Kyoto Protocol since its inception. The carbon-trading scheme is a good mechanism by which we can get somewhere.
However, the Kyoto Protocol in itself is not the final solution to anything. It is merely one step towards a saner world.
Each oil field in the world has a lifespan. It starts off producing small amounts of oil or gas, it comes up to a peak, and then after the peak the amount of fuel extracted from that field steadily decreases. It is more or less symmetrical. It is generally accepted that world oil extraction will peak between now and 2010, so whether we like it or not we are going to have to cope with reduced fossil fuel consumption.
The solutions and the philosophy of the Green party, which we have been promoted for so long, are doubly important; not only for reasons of climate change, but also in order to save us from the chaos of a totally oil-dependent society running into a brick wall.
With the pensions crisis and health provision at the forefront of many people’s minds, what future economic policies would help address people’s fears in these areas?
One of the problems is that we have completely disconnected benefits and tax systems. What the government gives with one hand it takes away with the other. So if somebody who is on benefit gets a low paying job, suddenly their free prescriptions stop, and they are asked for more money.
Because they are no longer on benefits, the housing benefit stops, and then all of a sudden they are paying tax; this is the poverty trap. Bad enough that it is a disincentive to work, that it causes resentment amongst the low to medium paid, [who] they see people who have no job or are on benefits earning the same or more than they are.
That’s bad enough, but on top of that there are the endless forms to be filled in, changes in circumstances from week to week and month to month, and it gets far worse for the self-employed, for whom unemployment cannot be so easily defined because they are going through a fallow period in their business.
The Green Party solution is that everybody gets a citizen’s income, whether they are working or not. Children would get a citizen’s income, which would rise from the time when they were a child. You go through life with a citizen’s income, you retire with a citizen’s income (which is set at another level – pension level – because you are not expected to do so much work) and then whatever you do earn on top of this citizens income is taxed.
Simple. One system: tax and benefits integrated, rather than these two systems fighting amongst each other.
There are papers available on the citizen’s income, and it’s costing and so on. It can all be tweaked; re-arrange tax bands. You can gain an enormous amount of money by working against tax evasion from the super-rich, although that really requires international cooperation from all countries because the super-rich tend to be super-mobile.
Considering the high-profile concerns about crime in East Bristol, how do you plan to address law and order?
Personally I am in favour of being quite hard on criminals. For instance, there was a woman being harassed by yobs; they broke her door down, they damaged her cars, they’re making noise outside her house. She called the police supposedly sixteen times and they never came. She shot an air pistol into the ground and she was imprisoned for it. There is something completely wrong with this culture of non-justice, where this kind of thing goes on.
And it relates to later questions of underachieving schools in Bristol and general non-culture. I don’t know if you can even call it a culture of yobbishness, it’s a non-culture. One of those things that the Green Party wishes to address in that way is by making society less materialistic – less driven by this desire to accumulate more and more material things.
One of the factors of crime is this insane desire to accumulate more and more endless economic growth within a limited system. It is impossible and it is mad.
Reducing the materialistic ethos of society – on a material level, a political level rather than a spiritual level, which is to a great degree outside the Green Party’s sphere of influence. This idea that a country’s success is measured by economic growth. There are some Asian countries that speak about Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product.
There are ways in which you can measure it – in terms of admissions to mental health treatment, debt problems, various ways – again it is returning to this idea that our lives should not be run by accountants, by simply counting money and material possessions.
Do you think political debate over Europe actually has any effect on East Bristol?
It has an effect on people within the whole of Europe; I wouldn’t say there is any particular great effect on Bristol East. It varies greatly [depending] on the part of Europe you are in; there are some areas of Europe that are deprived, or are seen as deprived and are the recipients of a lot of European grants.
The Green Party is ambivalent to Europe. We’re not anti-Europe, but on the other hand we believe in local economies [and] local democracy far more; there are things which you can’t so on a local level. On my previous job – working with a health, safety and environmental consultancy – there are European laws a processing plant has to obey.
They are passed in national parliaments all over Europe – chemical, gas [and] oil processing plants have to satisfy local environmental agency, or health and safety executive, and meet certain standards. This is the kind of legislation you need to apply on a greater than national level. As I was talking before about the super-rich and their ability to more rapidly from country to country and escape taxation, again that is something you need to do on a greater than national level. So the European Union does have a function.
We just don’t wish it to become the government of a country. You need to achieve the right kind of balance.
East Bristol has a large immigrant population; what are your thoughts on current immigration and asylum policy?
You say [East Bristol] has a large immigrant population; in many cases the population you are talking about is children of immigrants who have come over in the last century or so. My wife is actually an immigrant from Mauritius. The Green Party policy on immigration, which I whole-heartedly support, is that we need a world where free movement is permitted.
There is a lot made of globalisation, of free movement of products and services, and yet when it comes to free movement of people for some reason there is a problem Obviously if you opened up every border post and allowed anybody to go anywhere in the world, a lot of people would leave their god-forsaken hell and move to a richer country.
So that is not something you can implement overnight.
There is also another problem and that is carrying capacity. It is completely unrealistic to hold any view or debate on immigration without a couple of academic studies on the carrying capacity of various lands. That is to say “How many people could Britain or the UK support if there were no oil and no nuclear power?” We know oil has a limited lifetime; it is going to be all gone within the next hundred years. We know that even if you decided that nuclear power is okay, there is a limited amount of uranium in the ground to be mined.
There is a limited amount of fish in the oceans, and if you overfish the oceans there will be no fish. And there is a limited amount of arable land that you can farm. So how can you possibly hold a view on immigration without knowing what the carrying capacity of the country is?
Is there any one single policy you’d like to see carried out in the next five years?
I would like to see all buildings built to the highest environmental energy-saving standards. Not only in conservation of energy but [also] in micropower generation, water heating, space heating, small wind turbines, electrical photovoltaic panels, an enormous amount of insulation, and better grants to allow the retrofitting of such systems and insulation to existing buildings.
That needs to be made mandatory; otherwise builders will simply undercut each other in providing buildings to the lowest possible cost.
A lot of people are going to be put off voting Green because they don’t see the possibility of a Green government at the next elections, so people are going to vote tactically. The point I would like to make is you have had one [mainstream party], you have had the other, there isn’t that great a difference between them when all is said and done, and there isn’t really any point in voting tactically. Whatever you believe in; vote for it.