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Sunday, 15 February 2015

Why Vote Green? Part 2 of Answering the Difficult Questions

Since the election campaign started I have been asked a whole range of difficult questions by people I know about Green Party policies. Following on from the first part of my interview with an imaginary difficult questioner ( ), here is a second helping:

Question 6: I heard that you Greens want to make it legal for people to join terrorist groups like IS and Al Qaeda. Is this right?

No it isn't. Fortunately Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has clarified this two weeks ago by stating:
"Obviously IS and Al-Qaeda are hideous terrorist organisations that advocate and support violence. If you are involved in them, support them in any way, then you are participating in inciting violence.That's a crime, rightly, and should be pursued to the full extent of the law."
Green Party policy states that people should not be punished for what they think. I think the vast majority of people would agree with this and would not want to live in  a country where Orwellian 'thought-crime' was an offence. However when it comes to belonging to terrorist groups such as IS whose entire ethos is about violence, jihad, and a contempt for basic civil liberties then we must draw the line. Obviously we can all list example after example of their human rights abuses from shooting girls for trying to go to school to beheading hostages and burning POWs alive. Add to that the very real threat that their sympathisers pose in Europe, including the UK, and it is obvious that it should be completely illegal for people to belong to such organisations. 

Question 7: What about the economy? You Greens would just drive away investment especially with all your talk about banning fracking and raising the minimum wage. Wouldn't you wreck the economy?

I'd like to challenge the assertion within your question. There is a false premise here that we would just drive away investment. The Green Party aims to initiate a £5 billion investment program in the green economy, meaning renewable energy, conservation work, home improvements and other projects. All would require construction workers, technology workers and entrepreneurs. However we do not accept that creating jobs in environmentally destructive projects is acceptable. Also we do not accept that the only way to create jobs is to drive down the pay and conditions of the workforce in a race to the bottom with other parties. We are clear that the green economy should not be one that is based on the further proliferation of zero hours contracts, a minimum wage below a living wage and illegal 'black economy' labour where even the minimum wage is not paid. Too often such practices are justified with the argument that without them the investment will go elsewhere. This is the politics of fear and the Green Party is quite clear about opposing it. We will invest in creating jobs in the green economy but not at the expense of creating a better society.

Question 8: What about immigration? You lot don't like talking about that do you? Don't you think that there are are too many ruddy foreigners in the country taking our jobs? Aren't we full up?

Firstly I'd like to challenge your view that we don't like talking about immigration. I'm more than happy to do so as it is one of the main issues which voters are concerned about. However it is an emotive subject and we all need to be careful about how we approach it and the language used. You ask if there are too many 'foreigners' in the country 'taking our jobs' and I think that there are may be some false assumptions here. Some people, I am not suggesting you, use the term 'foreigners' in an ethnic sense, yet if someone has lived in Britain long enough to get UK citizenship then they are not foreigners, regardless of ethnicity. Also if you are referring to new migrant workers then it is not the case that they are always 'taking our jobs' as you put it. Many come to the UK to fill labour shortages in jobs in which there aren't enough UK workers to fill them, in the NHS or care homes for example. Others are oversees students who we need to come here to help fund our Higher Education system. We need to have the flexibility to welcome these people. It is also the case that most migrants come here to work not to live off benefits.
However there are legitimate concerns about the effects of immigration that need to be addressed. I'm not one of those politicians who dismiss anyone who raises these concerns as a 'bigot' and I never will be. Immigration should not be used by employers as a means to drive down wages and working conditions. Opening up the unskilled labour market to increasing competition has been pushed by business people as a means to acquire cheap labour. In addition there is a large illegal economy in the uk where migrants, many from outside the EU, are trafficked, exploited and paid next to nothing. Think of the Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004 as an example. Therefore I would support the raising of the minimum wage for all workers, support every effort to ban employers from importing workers purely to undercut UK workers and support the cracking down on exploitation. Also we need more investment in training in order to get the unemployed back into work rather than just leaving them to sink.
You used the term 'full up' in your question. While there is no such thing as 'full up', there is a question here about population level, which is broader than just being about immigration. An increasing population means more demand on housing and other infrastructure, yet there has not been the investment in infrastructure to meet the rising demand. Also we cannot keep building housing over the countryside ad infinitum to accommodate a massively increasing population. UK governments need to get away from their obsession with economic growth and with trying to increase growth at a rate which necessitates increasing the population. Otherwise more and more of our countryside will disappear under concrete.  

Question 9: But we all know that this election is a two-horse race between Labour and the Tories. If I waste my vote on you I'll just be helping the Tories to get in surely?

Again I'd challenge the premise in your question. Several actually. Firstly I do not accept that a Green vote is a wasted vote. Even if I don't win the seat, every Green vote is a vote taken away from the other parties. And that makes them sit up and take notice. It is the only power that you have over the politicians. If you keep voting for the main two parties they will keep taking you for granted. There is absolutely no point whatsoever about complaining about the policies of these parties or moaning that 'they are all the same' or 'all in it for themselves' if you continue to dutifully vote for one of them out of fear of the other one. The more votes that they lose to the Green Party, the more that Green Party policies will start to influence theirs. You can see this effect happening with the rise of UKIP and Mr Cameron suddenly adopting the idea of an EU referendum in order to stop the hemorrhaging of the Tory vote.
The second premise that I would challenge is your view that voting Green would be 'helping the Tories get in'. As a Green Party candidate I am not seeking to win over just former Labour voters but former Lib Dems, angry at their party's performance in office, and former Conservative voters as well. Many Conservative voters are angry at their party's unwillingness to stop over development in the countryside and the watering down of planning regulations. 

Question 10: Well I'm a first time voter and I'm probably not going to vote for any of you. I don't know that much about politics and you're all a bunch of liars so why should I bother? None of you care about young people.

I think you are wrong and that you should bother. That said I get why you are angry given that, for example, the Lib Dem leadership clearly pledged to vote against raising tuition fees before the 2010 election and then ditched this pledge within days of that election. Younger voters were indeed deceived. However it is precisely because the 18-24 age group are the age group least likely to vote that politicians frame policy to protect older voters financially at your expense. The reason they put up tuition fees for your generation but did not go for the alternative of a graduate tax which my generation, who got our university education free, would have had to pay is that we vote in higher proportions to you. And the over 60s vote even more, which is why they kept their bus passes but young people under 25 face housing benefit cuts. Put simply, if you give up on politics then the politicians will give up on you.

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