Election Special #2   Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Politics with Baroness Natalie Bennett of the Green Party

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In this second election special, we talk to Natalie Bennett (or Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle if we’re going to be formal – but she said we didn’t need to be) – one of two Green Party members in the House of Lords. Natalie is author of the Book ‘Change Everything: How we can rethink, repair and rebuild society’ – one of the essential books of our time that outlines in detail how we can create the total systemic change we need.

Natalie will be back in the autumn to discuss this in more detail, but in the meantime, we had a broad, deep conversation on the UK election – where it’s going, where it could go and how each of us can help move a progressive, radical, thoughtful, compassionate, useful, climate-and-meta-crisis-aware agenda so that an incoming government will listen to us. As she says, ‘The Tories are Toast’, but there’s still a lot we can do to elect as many Green MPs as possible.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create the future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And my guest for this second election special is Natalie Bennett, or Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle for really formal occasions, one of two Green Party members of the UK’s House of Lords. She was the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2012 to 2016, when she led the party to the best ever election results with more votes than in any previous general election added together. She is also the author of the book Change Everything; How We Can Rethink, Repair and Rebuild Society, and we’re going to have a full podcast with Natalie later on in the year to discuss the ideas in her book. When we scheduled that, I thought it was going to be ahead of an autumn election. And then life happened. And so Natalie very kindly agreed to take time out of an incredibly hectic schedule to talk to us about what could happen, what we would like to happen, and what we can make happen. So people of the podcast, please welcome Natalie Bennett of the Green Party.

Manda: Natalie, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. How are you and where are you this exciting election morning?

Natalie: Well, thank you very much for inviting me along. I’m actually in my office in the House of Lords. That’s after I’ve come from a morning talking to sixth formers with the ‘learn with the Lords’ program, which is continuing despite the fact that Rishi Sunak woke up one morning and decided to call an election and sort of threw everyone associated with politics lives into chaos.

Manda: I want to know more about that program, but just before we get there, so I’m really glad that it was a shock to you as it was to us. Have you got any personal idea or insight or little whispers on the grapevine of why he woke up one morning and decided to stand in the rain and call an election?

Natalie: I think the evidence is a couple of things. One, that various economic statistics came out that indicated that things were not going to get better, interest rates were not going to go down in the autumn. So things were not going to look better for the Tories. And the urgency was also due to some constitutional winkles. He had to call it then, or otherwise it would have been after some of the private schools were already on holidays, and we couldn’t have that now, could we, with a Tory prime minister? So, it was those two factors, I think, that came together.

Manda: Right. Oh, good. It’s good to know their priorities. I’m kind of glad it’s not December, because when Boris called it in December, you know that he has never been out canvassing in the rain in his life. I wore out two sets of wellies canvassing at the last general election because it was so dark and so wet and so grim on the doorsteps. Even if everybody had been going to vote the way I wanted them to vote, which none of them were in the West Midlands where I live, it was just damp and cold and horrible. So at least it’s a summer election, we all get to go and tramp the streets in relatively dry sunshine.

Natalie: Yes, I think on a health and safety assessment it’s a good thing. I fought a November by election in Camden once, on the Camden Council, and I did slip over just backwards totally flipped onto my back on someone’s icy path. Luckily I had a sack full of leaflets on my back, so I just landed like a turtle. I didn’t do myself any harm at all, but still not a good idea.

Manda: Still horrible. Okay, so the election is what it is and we’re a couple of weeks in. We’ve basically got four weeks from the time of recording, a little bit less by the time this goes out. All of the polls currently are giving Keir Starmer’s pseudo Tories an extraordinary level of they’re going to have the biggest majority that Labour has ever seen. It seems to me, talking to people, that I haven’t met a single human being who thinks Labour are actually any good, they just really don’t want the Tories back. Which is going to make life interesting, I would think. So what I’d like is where do you see this going at the moment and how could we influence it?

Natalie: Okay, well, where it’s going at the moment is really there is absolutely no doubt the Tories are toast. And my personal prediction would be that the Tories will end up with less than 100 seats, which of course means de facto, because of the nature of our system, that means that the labour is going to have a ginormous majority. And I think you’re absolutely right that I meet very, very few, no, like you I can’t think of a single person who I’ve met who’s not a Labour candidate, who’s gone yes, I’m enthusiastic about Sir Keir Starmers Labour Party or what they’re standing for or not standing for. So I think there’s that. That’s what’s going to happen. I think one of the mistakes that people are making is going on past history and saying, well, a huge Labour majority means there’s going to be ten years of a stable Labour government. That is not going to happen. I will absolutely guarantee that. We are now in the age of shocks, as my book talks about. Stability is not suddenly going to break out in British politics. When I was first elected as leader of the Green Party in 2012, I said the future of politics doesn’t look like the past.

Natalie: I couldn’t have predicted what happened since then. The Brexit referendum wasn’t even seriously on the agenda then. The idea that the Tories would have three prime ministers in a couple of months would have just sounded sounded off the wall. So just because this happens doesn’t mean we’re then going to be stuck for a long period of a do nothing dull government. I think things will change very fast after that. And one of the things I’d say, and perhaps I would say that, wouldn’t I? But the more people who vote green on the 4th of July in this election, that’s one of the things that you can do. Because Labour is going to have that large majority, but the more votes the Greens get, that means our next generation of green MPs in parliament get more short money, they get more media attention. But it also helps set us up for the next election. And people may have seen the graph of how the number of green councillors has risen exponentially over the last few years. We’re looking to do the same thing in terms of members of Parliament. So you’re building the foundations of a green future by voting green on the 4th of July.

Manda: Okay. Thank you. And yes, you would say that, wouldn’t you? But then I will be voting, well let’s see actually, but likely. I have a question on that. But before we get to that, tell us what short money is and why it matters.

Natalie: Sure. Short money is actually allocated to the work of parliamentarians from parties in parliament. So over the past few years it’s paid for staff, for Caroline and some support for us in the House of Lords as well. So this means that you can do parliamentary work. So the more staff you have, obviously the more capacity you have in the office, the more you’re able to question the government, table amendments, propose private members bills, all those kind of things. Interrelate with NGOs and charities and hear their words and bring them to the MP. So obviously the staff of an MP are really important. So every vote gives us more short money that will help support the work of the Greens in Parliament.

Manda: Okay. So it’s proportional to the number, the actual number of votes count. It’s a form of proportionality, which otherwise just doesn’t exist in the existing system.

Natalie: Exactly right. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Manda: Okay. All righty. Last time we did an election special a couple of weeks ago, we spoke to Neal Lawson of Compass, who has set up a tactical voting website, where you can find a constituency. So in our adjacent constituency Ellie Chown is the Green Party candidate, and it looks like she has a reasonable chance of deposing a sitting Tory. Honestly, the Tories in north Herefordshire up until now, you could have put a corpse there with a blue rosette on and it would still have won because everybody’s reflex was to vote Tory. And Ellie looks like she stands a really good chance. We’re in south Shropshire, where aeons ago there was one Parliament with a Lib Dem MP, and then the sitting Tory turned up and has got over 50% of the vote ever since. But he’s standing down. They’ve parachuted in somebody that, as far as I can tell, everybody hates. And so there will be the reflex people who will still vote Tory, but Labour is claiming they stand a good chance. But one of the other, not Tory parties, stands a reasonable chance, but it doesn’t look like the Greens. They are currently polling about 3%. So my feeling was do a vote swap with somebody who wants to vote, say Lib Dem. And I can’t vote Labour. There are no circumstances under which I can put my cross in a Keir Starmer box. I could vote Lib Dem, which then might get over the line here and they could vote green in our adjacent constituency and might get Ellie over the line. It seems to me that that’s a very targeted thing, and I’m not aware of that happening before. Is it something that’s worthwhile, or would you rather we just all put our votes in a green box and it makes it 3% plus a little bit?

Natalie: Well, this has happened before. I mean, it was happening in 2015 and I think it was certainly at least vestigial, the internet wasn’t at the same level, but in 2010. And the problem with the whole argument about tactical voting is that people have been trying to do this and talking about this for a very long time. And it is used particularly by the Labour Party to say, oh, you’ve got to vote tactically, you’ve got to vote Labour to keep the Tories out. Even in places where that is astonishingly, utterly untrue. 2015 I stood against Sir Keir Starmer in Hobart and Saint Pancras, and I had people on the street telling me, well, you know, sorry, I really wanted to vote for you, but I had to vote for Sir Keir to keep the Tories out in a hopelessly totally Tory safe seat. So I think the problem is, running this line of tactical voting, it really confuses people. I mean, in Sheffield after 2017, I was talking to my hairdresser. And that was when we had the Progressive Alliance, and my hairdresser said to me, oh you Greens, you said vote Labour, didn’t you? And so the message doesn’t get through clearly, doesn’t get through in a very targeted kind of way when you’re talking about tactical voting.

Natalie: I’d rather talk about strategic voting, which is vote for what you want, to head in the direction that you want to go in. There’s the short money, which is the money that goes to people in Parliament to support our our parliamentary work as Greens for the next generation of green MPs. There’s the media coverage, which the total vote makes a difference in terms of what level of media coverage you get. Now, for you specifically in your particular circumstances where you’re going into great detail, I’m not going to say don’t do it at this moment in that particular circumstance, when you know exactly what you’re doing. But I’m not keen to promote the idea of tactical voting because it will be used as a weapon. Think about voting strategically. We’re talking about this election now. Who knows when the next election will be? As Greens, we might we will be targeting at least 30, maybe 50 seats. We need to find where those seats are. We need to build the vote up. We’ve got council elections coming next year. So all the things that you do to express your desire to have green representatives, it has all kinds of impacts beyond the simple who wins the seat this time.

Manda: Right. Okay. That makes that makes a huge amount of sense. And with any luck, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the South Devon primaries, but they held an open primary of progressive, the Non-tory people down in Totnes. They’ve got the person who was voted by the people who turned up, and then everybody is piling in behind that person. The other two are not stepping down, but they’re stepping back. And that seems to me again, very strategic, if it unseats an otherwise secure looking Tory.

Manda: Let’s move on from that. It seems to me that we’re very close to a bunch of tipping points. I don’t know that we’ve got another election to go before we hit really quite dramatic biophysical limits. And that we urgently need, this is one of the slogans from the book, but it’s there because I believe it; we need to bring power to those with wisdom and wisdom to those with power. And that most green candidates seem to me very wise. We just need to find ways to empower you and them. In an ideal world, let’s just do a little bit of hypotheticals; where Starmer is pressured enough from the progressive side of the spectrum and enough maybe good independents, Andrew Feinstein maybe gets in against Keir Starmer, wouldn’t that be hilarious? You don’t think it’s going to happen? Oh God, I would so be happy. But maybe Corbyn gets in. Maybe Faiza Shaheen gets in. Maybe a few other really charismatic and good independents get in, enough to make Starmer pay attention. What policies would you like to see, that would encourage radical, sane governance in this country.

Natalie: Gosh, there’s so much that’s not. I’ve just received my writ of summons for the next parliament, expressed in medieval language. And I was talking to the students this morning about how essentially Westminster, there’s been no significant reforms within Westminster since women got the vote and that was 100 years ago. I mean, obviously proportional representation, a parliament elected to reflect the views of the people is one of them. I think another on the governance side, one of the really crucial things is people don’t realise how incredibly centralised and concentrated power and resources are in Westminster. And how little power there is in local communities. It’s something that, since the horrors of the Tory levelling up policy, which has basically even further centred power on Westminster, because it decides who got the money and councils have to spend lots of money bidding, according to the criteria set out by Tory ministers. So I’m afraid there is nothing in Sir Keir or indeed the Labour Party dna that suggests they have any… their instincts are all centralist. But nonetheless we’re thinking positively now.

Manda: We’re imagining.

Natalie: So you bring in a modern, functional, democratic constitution where power and resources are taken away from Westminster and spread out into the regions. In terms of governance, that’s what I’d focus on. What I’d also focus on is the obvious environmental policies, the energy policies, things like home insulation, renewables, energy conservation, active transport, all of those things are quite obvious and they’re things to which Labour will at least pay lip service.

Natalie: What is entirely lacking is the idea of system change within our society, within our economy. I’m going to pull a little advert out here. I’ve got a book out called Change Everything, and one of the things it talks about is social innovation. And that means things like an education system that’s transformed so it prepares people for life, not just for exams and paid work. It talks about a universal basic income. I’ve been hearing really good reports about the trial in Wales, where they’ve been giving it to some care leaders and hearing really good reports on that. A four day working week is standard with no loss of pay. And if you think about that as an environmental issue, on one level obviously if people go to work one day less, they do less travel, they need fewer clothes, there’s all sorts of positives. But what it also does is actually free up people to do politics. And if you want me to say in one word, what do we need to tackle the climate emergency, is we need democracy.

Natalie: I mean, I was recently in Ipswich, a place with lots of disadvantage. The locals will tell you there’s lots of local problems; economically run down town centre, etc. So many great things happening in terms of community gardens, community kitchens, great little cafes, all kinds of things that are happening, but far too many people don’t have enough time and energy to get involved, to get engaged or even just to visit. And so I believe in human resources, human capability. And one of the things we’ve got to do is, the largest parties at the moment keep talking about, oh, we’ve got to create jobs, we’ve got to create jobs. Well, actually, what we’ve got is a real shortage of human resources. And we’re short 100,000 carers, 50,000 nurses, HGV drivers, people to work in shops. Everywhere you look there’s people wanted adverts. We need to turn this around and think about everyone has to have the chance to decide for themselves how to use their time, energy and talents, and use them well to tackle the issues that we face. So that’s the transformation. That’s the green government. I’m afraid I don’t think we can make Sir Keir and his team anything like that, but we can push them as hard as we can.

Manda: Brilliant, brilliant. Yes, yes. Sometime you and I will have a discussion about UBI because I did the master’s in regenerative economics at Schumacher a few years ago and spent a lot of time looking at UBI, and I would say just briefly, that it’s great when you have it in small geographic locations. Or Ireland gives their creatives a UBI. Which stops the rent hikes. And I’m using rent in the Marxist sense of everything that gains income not through the product of labour. Because as soon as you give everybody, let’s say a thousand units of currency, and the rents in general go up by 99 units of currency, all you’ve done is flood public money into private hands at the fastest rate ever seen in humanity. You’ve got to somehow make sure that food, power, water, energy, heating, fossil fuels don’t soar while your UBI happens. No?

Natalie: I’m afraid, well, this is probably not the time to have this full debate, but that doesn’t add up. Because actually, what you’re doing with the UBI and the kind of model that will be in the Green Party manifesto, I haven’t seen the figure for this year yet, but the last time we ran it in the manifesto, it’s basically people who earned more than about £23,000 to £24,000 a year were not ending up any financially better off. So it’s a case that people who earn enough money to live on decently, you take it back in tax. So it lifts most people who have zero income now and then it lifts on a sliding scale up to somewhere around, it’s probably a little bit higher than that now, but somewhere around a reasonable level. People do not actually have any more income, what they have is the security of knowing that you’re never going to be left not being able to put food on the table, keep a roof over your head; not going to be left with nothing as so many people are now.

Manda: Okay, that’s brilliant. And that’s all the conversation we need is that there is a system. And then we could potentially somehow remove the payday lenders from the picture, and life would be much better for an awful lot of people. Oh, gosh, Natalie, there’s so many things we could talk about, but we’re limited on time. You mentioned PR. Very, very briefly, do you have a concept of what variety of PR you think would work best? Or is that something to be decided by constitutional convention as and when?

Natalie: I believe very much in the idea of a people’s constitutional convention. I think one of the things that really hasn’t been around before in an election that’s really gained ground, is the idea of deliberative democracy, people’s assemblies, constitutional assemblies. You know, obviously Ireland did it with the abortion rights and equal marriage. France had a really good climate assembly, for example, that recommended that all flights be banned, whether the train took less than 4.5 hours. And then the politicians got nobbled and they only went for 2.5 hours. But nonetheless, that kind of approach is very much there in the forefront and we need to be pushing that. I’m very reluctant. You know, I have views, the Green Party has views on systems. But I was scarred by, it feels like a long time ago now but the 2011 AV referendum, the alternative vote referendum. The alternative vote is not a proportional system. The alternative vote very often produces less proportional results, as it does in the Australian lower house, for example. And I stood on a lot of doorsteps,  weaving from side to side, uncomfortably going, well, AV is not very good, but it’s a little bit better than PR, and than first past the post. And it’s not PR, but you know, you should vote for it.

Manda: No, no, it was horrible wasn’t it. It felt a bit having exactly those same conversations that we were nobbled before we started. The whole system, it was designed not to get past.

Natalie: But what the other side was saying was, oh, you know, it’s all complicated and difficult and your poor heads, you’ll never understand this. I mean, that was one of their main lines of argument. So one of the things we need to do is say that proportional representation is really simple for you as a voter. You don’t have to, as we were just talking about, you know, the possibility of vote swaps, etc. you don’t have to calculate how everyone else in your constituency is going to vote.

Manda: No you just vote for who you want.

Natalie: And you get them.

Manda: It’s grand. Yes. And the thing is Wales and Scotland, they already have PR for their various assemblies and governments. It works. And I don’t really like party list systems, because I don’t like party apparatchiks. But it’s not rocket science and nobody’s fallen over not understanding it yet. So yeah. I can’t see it happening. A probably final question, although there are so many more, I would abolish the House of Lords and replace it by a rolling Citizens Assembly.

Natalie: I would definitely abolish the House of Lords. I told the Yorkshire Post when I came into the House that I was aiming to abolish my own job as soon as possible. And indeed, the first thing that I did after my maiden speech was I trotted up to the Bill office, holding my House of Lords Elections and other reforms Bill, which I actually inherited from Jenny Jones. I can’t personally take any credit for it. Well, I would say we should have an elected House of Lords. What I’d like to see is what you might call the Third chamber, which is for big constitutional or big social issues, to form a people’s assembly to debate the really big issues. Because the reasons why I don’t think necessarily sortition and random selection for the House of Lords; I mean, we do things like debate a statutory instrument controlling the regulation of breweries, or the management of herbicide use on certain crops or something. There’s a lot of technical, not very exciting, not very cool stuff that we’re doing, that job of scrutiny, that job of detail. And, you know, it’s not the sort of thing that gets much attention. But I don’t think it’s particularly well sorted to a random selection of people, much as I totally believe in a random selection of people deliberating on the big issues. So if you think about, you know, Brexit would have been the obvious one. How about you have a People’s Assembly to talk about Brexit? Rather than just having a yes or no referendum. So I believe in the model, I just think you probably need to fit it in in a slightly different way.

Manda: Okay. If you can do it in a minute and a half, can you explain to me why an elected House of Lords would not end up with something similar to the Senate in the US? Where basically the headbangers are dominating to the point where the average person’s input to anything to do with democracy is zero. America has the best democracy money can buy. We are not far off having that, and I would have thought that an elected House of Lords would simply channel huge amounts of money into making sure that the system got the people elected that it wanted. How would we stop that?

Natalie: Well, you’ve just hit on something to which I have an extremely simple solution, to which I actually put down an amendment in the elections bill. Which is to say that nobody should be able to donate to any political party or individual candidate or whatever, more than £1,000 in a year. Getting the big money out of politics is not actually difficult or complicated. And most of continental Europe just look at what we have, let alone what the Americans have, and are just astonished because they have extremely tight limits on what individuals can donate. So the big money is very easy to solve, it’s not a technical problem at all. And in terms of not ending up with big beasts who hang around forever, the private member’s bill that I put forward that was Jenny Jones’ originally, that said that people could be elected to the House of Lords for  one 10 year term. So you had elections every five years and you turned them over 50/50. And they couldn’t be re-elected, they couldn’t go down to the Commons. So you couldn’t use it to start off a political career. It would be something where you gave ten years of your life as a service to the country. And I think, I would have an open list system rather than a closed list system, but you could have a list system and encourage particularly our current crossbenchers, our non-party people, to stand a list of crossbenchers.

Natalie: And if you look at, say, the Australian system, which is a little bit like this for the Senate, which is a PR election to the upper house, and many people vote differently for the upper house, to they do for the lower house. And that’s because they’re consciously voting for the people we want, not necessarily to run the country, but we want to scrutinise the people who are running the country. So, for example, the Australian Greens have for a very long time done well in the Senate. Again with the AV system, they had to really struggle to break through, but people wanted Greens bringing green perspectives into the Senate, scrutinising what the government was doing in the lower house. So I think you would find people would very quickly, you know, you can put some institutional limits to stop it turning into the American Senate. But people would actually also choose to vote. If, let’s say, child poverty becomes a big thing, maybe they’d really vote strongly for people who are focussed on child poverty. And that kind of thing enables people to have that kind of check. It actually gives people more control.

Manda: Brilliant. I have so many more things I want to ask you. Okay. One last one, very briefly. It seems to me that we have a slavish media that has been acting as stenographers for the Tories and in the last two weeks has become stenographers for Labour. Have you got democratic ideas of how we could revolutionise our media system so that it’s not controlling the narrative?

Natalie: Uh, two things. First of all, I mean, I was speaking in the house when we were debating the media bill. We have an incredibly oligarchic concentration of the ownership of media. And so breaking up media ownership and preventing that from being the case is one thing. But on the other side of this, actually technology is helping us here and the way the world is changing. If you find a person under 30 who says they read a newspaper, that’s a very unusual person. So people are getting their media from all kinds of different places. And there’s a lot of negative focus on social media, but there’s also a lot of innovative, exciting new things coming up in fairly traditional type media. Say like Tortoise media, for example, that does quite serious deep reporting and serious consideration. There’s the Mill Media, which is now in four northern cities. Or actually, sorry, three northern cities and Birmingham, and is now advancing into London. Good local media funded entirely by people basically paying a fiver a month and doing good deep, serious journalism.

Natalie: So there is actually different models of media around developing, but also social media. My favourite example of this is people may recall the Sheffield tree controversy, when the Labour Council was cutting down a huge number of street trees through private contractors. It was a whole privatisation scandal. But what I love about this is not only did we find the demonstration, my favourite hashtag: #campaigning works; Sheffield Council now has a genuinely world leading brilliant Tree Street tree policy. But there was a street tree group formed in New Delhi in India as a result, inspired by seeing on social media what happened in Sheffield. So we focus a lot on the negative aspects of social media, but it also means there’s a possibility to spread and magnify ideas. And, you know, some 16 year old who just gets really fed up with the state of politics and the lack of climate action, produces the video that just catches the zeitgeist at the moment, they can get far more reach than a BBC.

Manda: Yeah, I wrote about it in the book. Brilliant. And so before we came on, we were talking about one other obvious thing is cutting the voting age to 16, allowing people who are 16 to vote. And Labour have said they’re going to think about that. I suspect they’re going to ‘think about it’ and then decide they don’t want to do it, because I’m not sure there are many 16 to 18 year olds that would be voting for the establishment. Other than that; so PR, reducing the voting age to 16, creating a different form of upper house, have you got any other fast fixes that would change our governance system? Oh, and people’s assemblies around the country and deliberative democracy. Anything else?

Natalie: Oh gosh. Well, that’s a pretty good set of recipes to start off with. But I think what I would say is we need to get around the idea that politics is what everyone does, not have done to them. And that’s one of the great advantages of the four day working week, is it might give people a bit more time to get engaged in politics. And by doing politics, I mean everything from organising a litter pick on your street upwards to starting a national campaign to change something. All of those things. We need to restore the idea that politics can change things. Northumbria University did a study a few about 18 months ago now, on universal basic income. And they got ordinary members of the public who were not at all political and explained universal basic income to them and said, what do you think? And almost overwhelmingly they said, yeah, it sounds like a great idea, but it’s never going to happen because politics doesn’t change anything. And so if there’s one thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to re-empower people to feel like, yes, I can act and make a difference. You know, the Brexit referendum, the slogan that won it was ‘take back control’. And I wrote a piece even before the vote happened, saying people were absolutely right to want to take back control and they weren’t in control of their own lives and their own communities. Problem was, it wasn’t Brussels that was the problem, it was Westminster. But giving people the sense that politics can change things, that’s the key thing we have to do.

Manda: Right. Yes. I was on Talk Radio the other day for the book, and I was expanding pretty much what you said, actually. I hadn’t realised how closely my political ideas aligned with Green Party, but I am aware now. And the interviewer went, yeah, but that’s not practical, is it? And my response and my response now is how much time do you think we have got, before we hit the biophysical limits beyond which there is no point in doing anything? And I think that’s a very short time frame. So actually it has to be practical now. We have to make it practical now. And that means, exactly as you said, giving people that sense of agency and being and belonging, so that they understand that they can do stuff. I spoke to a lady in a bookshop yesterday, she she bookshop and let’s say was pretty adamant that nothing could change. Nothing was ever going to change and actually nothing needed to change. And I called in our local tiny, tiny independent supermarket on the way home and the lass on the till looked to be in her 20s, and I said if there was a party that was actually really going to address climate change, or at least even acknowledge that it was a problem and begin to address it, would you be interested? And she said, everybody in my age group would want that. The problem is my mum and her mum, I gather is in her 60s, doesn’t even think it’s a problem. But the young people know. And so all they need to know is that there is an option and that it can work. And this idea that we’ve been sold that there is no alternative is not true. So you’re there and you’re telling us that. We have to stop. Is there anything else that you would like to say to people listening other than go out and vote green? Because of all the reasons that we’ve just talked about.

Natalie: Well, I would say go out and vote green because we need real hope and real change. And the idea that things can’t change is a product of the last 20 or 30 years. The last real change in British politics was the election of Margaret Thatcher. Blair was the child of Thatcher,  Cameron was the child of Blair. That’s about 40 years. The current system has clearly broken down and it’s failed. And I’ll finish with a thought experiment. Imagine we created a wonderful society in which everyone who wanted it had a secure, well-paying job. Everyone had a secure home of an appropriate size that was nice and comfortable and well fitted out. We had great levels of physical and mental health. I don’t think we talk enough about the problems of health in our society. Imagine we had that society. And then the the scientists came out and said, oh, sorry, folks, we’re going to have to change everything because we’ve got a climate emergency. Now, that would be really politically difficult. But where we are now is not working for people or planet, and where we are now is profoundly unstable. So there is going to be change. It’s up to all of us. History is not pre-written, it’s made by the actions of people. So it’s up to all of us to act in ways to create what that new, what the society is going to look like for the next 40 years.

Manda: Brilliant, brilliant. And what you just described actually might be wholly compatible with regenerating a biosphere that we are otherwise destroying. Fantastic.

Natalie: There are enough resources on this planet for everyone to have a decent life, for us to look after climate and nature, if we share those resources out fairly. And one of the things we have to do is stop what still the mainstream of politics is saying, well, we have to have growth. But you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet.

Manda: No, no. And I don’t think they get it. I don’t think they understand how money works. That’s a whole other conversation. Let’s have that next time we meet because we are going to meet again. But in the meantime, I have to let you go, because you’re a busy woman and you’ve got other things to be doing. I so hope that we get as many possible green MPs as we can at the election. Thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast.

Natalie: Well, thank you for inviting me and I’ve had a lovely time.

Manda: And there we go. That’s it for our second election special. All thanks to Natalie for being so articulate, for getting it, for really understanding what we need is total systemic change and for having a route to getting there. One of the Green Party slogans for this election in the UK is ‘clean air, clean water, clean politics’, which strikes me as a pretty good balance. So if you’re out there in the UK and you’re listening to this, please do something to push this election in a direction that we would actually want. If you have never canvassed out on the streets before and there is anybody near you that you could support, it’s not as scary as it seems and it is really worthwhile. You get to talk to actual people, to find out what matters to them, to exchange ideas, and perhaps to move the vote in the way that you want. And if you don’t want to go out in the street, there’s phone banking, or you can just give money to the parties that matter to you. The Green Party membership is soaring by about 200 a day at the moment. And yes, I have been an activist for the Lib Dems, the Labour Party, the SNP when I was in Scotland and the Greens.

Manda: At the moment, if you’re in one of the devolved nations, look very hard at whoever is working for nationalism in your area. We’ll be talking to Indra Adnan and Pat Kane from Scotland later on. But if you’re in England, then the Green Party is a really, really good option. So get out there. Do what you can to change the outcome of this election. I don’t know how long we have left, but we have broken six of the nine planetary boundaries and we are about to hit the seventh, which is ocean acidification. There’s a lot going on out there that isn’t good. We can make things better. So let’s do what we can.

Manda: We’ll see you later in the week with the Standard podcast. In the meantime, thanks to Caro C for the music at the Head and Foot. Alan Lowells of Airtight Studios for the production. Anne Thomas for the transcripts. Faith Tilleray for doubling her workload in making everything get out into the world. And, as ever, to you for listening. If you know of anybody else who cares about where we are heading as a species, as a culture, as a nation, please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you later in the week. Thank you and goodbye.

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