No compromise: new Green leaders Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley declare war on ‘vapid centrism’

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Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley, the new co-leaders of the Greens, say their party is at the forefront of the fight against the “vapid, old school centrist politics” that, they claim, the UK is growing tired of.

The vibrant duo take over at a time when increasingly sceptical voters must watch on as the increasingly shambolic Conservatives and Labour fight each other – and themselves.

Berry, the London Assembly member who replaced Caroline Lucas as co-leader alongside Bartley, says both are excited to be at the helm so when the “strong voice of opposition” is needed so desperately in the political climate. But is that all they are destined to be? And is a vote for them really worth your while?

i put these questions, and many more, to the both of them:

People’s Vote on Brexit: realistic or a waste of energy?

“It’s all to play for.”

Berry: I think it is essential that it does happen. It is a really serious effort to get people a final say on the Brexit deal or no deal and I think it’s really important that goes to the people [and] lets the young people who didn’t get a say in the referendum have that say. It’s a really active campaign. We are working now on getting the parties behind us. We don’t want the vote so we can win and get the referendum overturned. The point, is it is about democracy, and we are making progress… so it’s all to play for.

Are we not running out of time?

Sian: Well, Brexit is running out of time to put together a decent deal.

Jonathan: There is a chronology. We need to have the Parliamentary vote, that is important, and we need to know what the deal is. Really you can’t have a vote until you have got the deal on the table. But I call on Jeremy Corbyn to back the People’s Vote – the sticking point here is Corbyn. It is clear with the most recent Curtice poll – showing 59-41 now backing staying in the European Union – that the more people see what is going on the less they like it.


Green party co-leader Sian Berry (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Does Brexit pose a risk to the UK’s climate change goals?

Jonathan: We are extremely concerned because climate change does not stop at the border. You need to have that international cooperation […] there needs to be a new environment act and there needs to be a regulator.The government proposals don’t seem to have any teeth in terms of reporting on environmental standards and it is still very unclear who is going to enforce this stuff.

So how can climate change be brought into the headlines, to the forefront of the debate?

Sian: That is part of our new job! As with all campaigns, you have got the problem that climate change seems like too big a problem and we are all about making sure that people have constructive, inspiring things to do on big issues like that. It’s not just about setting targets at a national level – we need to think of solutions that are within people’s grasps.

And it’s about making sure that when we have climate emergencies or when the affects of climate change are genuinely affecting people in Britain, we use that opportunity to talk about it as loudly as possible.

Is there a disparity across the UK with people who are in engaged with your key issues? For example London-centric policies like the People’s Vote and air pollution.

Jonathan: I think more needs to be done on this. It is about making links and, for us, economic breakdown and climate breakdown are two sides of the same coin. Lord Ashcroft’s poll after the [Brexit] referendum made very very clear: 50 per cent of Leave voters thought capitalism wasn’t working for them. And to make those links with the unsustainable economic course that we are on…. we are the only party who are actually talking about that.


Co-leader of the Green Party, Jonathan Bartley (Getty Images)

But is voting Green not just a protest vote, or even a wasted vote?

“We will always be uncompromising in our support for refugees, for migrants, on the climate.”

Jonathan Bartley

Sian: It is always a good idea to vote for what you believe, but it is clear that in some elections we do better than others. A lot of them are to do with whether we have got proportional representation (PR). Here in London we have the right number of assembly members because it is a PR election. Those things do make a difference but we have shown that we can [also] win in first past the post elections around the country, we have more councillors than ever before now and we got those elected by working across the council wards in a way that is really effective, and really listens to people in a way that stands up for their values.

But we are seen as not the party that is going to have the majority but the party that is going to have a strongest voice of opposition, holding the council to account, preventing things like the one party state.

So are you willing to compromise on any of your Green issues to work with other parties?

Jonathan: No compromise. One of the things we are really concerned about is vapid centrism. The whole beginning of the century was dominated by this compromise and it enabled Ukip and the far right to shift the whole political agenda in the wrong direction because there hasn’t been that strong voice in the other direction. So we will always be uncompromising in our support for refugees, for migrants, on the climate.

Are you not doing a disservice to your voters to say you are not willing to compromise at all, even if it means you are in a more powerful position?

Jonathan: Of course we will work with people where there is common ground. The People’s Vote campaign is a prime example of that.

We led on fracking, we set the agenda and now other parties have come over to our position. So we have changed agendas and set agendas, but we want to be that counterweight to the toxicity of Ukip and that is very important to us.

Sian: People don’t want all their parties to be endlessly compromising. It is important that people fight with issues that matter with passion. We are the ones who are trusted to do that standing up for what we care about and not compromise, to be that voice in the room holding the other parties to account and when they are compromising to call them out on that, and that is a really important role in politics.

So for people who do like the sound of your policies – what about concerns as to how you would fund them all?

Jonathan: Our 2015 manifesto was fully costed. With the snap general election, it was harder to produce detailed costing, but obviously we could back every single one of them up. The big picture, as we were saying, is that no one is really talking about wealth distribution. That is a conversation we have to have – we need to redistribute the wealth. The economy had tripled in size since I was born – the population hasn’t tripled in size, the economy has. But instead of seeing this wealth shared out we still are on this treadmill of indiscriminate growth, lying to ourselves that if we just create enough wealth everything will be alright and all we are seeing is this growing inequality.

To name some examples: people say how do you fund four-day week? Well actually there is a company I visited in the UK that have a new policy and operate a four-and-a-half day week and pay for a five day week, but are actually realising their workers are more productive.

Sian: Also do not forget the policies we have that are there to stop wasting money on…

Turbines of the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm lay in the wake of a maintenance boat in the mouth of the River Mersey. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Turbines of the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm, River Mersey. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Jonathan: £56 billion on HS2 – that is almost half the entire budget of the NHS! Now imagine spending £500 million on 114 towns and cities in the UK – you could revolutionise local transport.

Sian: You could build an awful lot of wind turbines and add an enormous amount to our energy structure instead of building a nuclear weapon. The money is there, it’s just concentrated in the hands of the very wealthy and on these very huge projects that governments and ministers like to sign off and like cut the ribbon on, but actually we are talking about distributing that to the entire population. It actually does work out. I know that people don’t quite see how and they don’t feel like they deserve things like care at the and of their life but actually that is something they should have.

One specific topic that was brought up a couple of times among readers was terror. How would you deal with the threat of terror and terror attacks?

Sian: Here [in London] I work on the police and crime committee where we look at that issue all the time. We were discussing it in relation to Brexit and the enormous harm that would be done to our ability to investigate and get intelligence on people who might be plotting terrorism. We don’t have those links to Europe where there is far right extremism and to the other parts of the world – the Middle East – where there is Islamic terrorism. We would suffer in our anti-terrorism effort.

But also we look at the bigger picture – it is not all about policing and enforcement and protection, it’s about prevention as well. And we have been doing a lot of work around the Prevent strategy, which we genuinely don’t believe is working in it’s current form. We need to be building a stronger communities and not making people suspicious about each other. Supports from the community are incredibly important but the amount of distrust that can be sown in a programme like Prevent… we need to be rewriting it. We need to look at communities that feel alienated, people who feel cut out of society, isolated – all of that needs to be tackled in a much more holistic way where not so many people feel the need to blame the neighbour for the situation they are in.

How about those who have concerns about accusations of transphobia and the ongoing investigation?

[Former leadership hopeful Aimee Challenor has quit the Green Party and accused it of transphobia. She had already been suspended amid investigations into her father – a child sex offender – acting as an election agent.]

Jonathan: We can’t comment on an investigation that has been launched but it is really importation that that investigation gets to the bottom of the fact. There is a lot of speculation and rumours and we are absolutely dedicated to get to the bottom of the case and then we will make any necessary changes. But I want to reiterate that I absolutely condemn what happened and we were horrified when we heard and there are lessons to be learnt.

Onto a recent phenomenon – the plastic straw campaign. Is this a red herring diverting attention from the real issues?

Sian: It is not a red herring because that is something you shouldn’t be doing and it has been forgotten about. This is clearing up a problem we should have been aware of many years ago.

Jonathan: It has also reached a tipping point. While the government is making a big song and dance about this, at the same time it is pushing ahead with a whole new industry, fracking, which is going to fuel the plastics crisis. So a lot of this stuff is going to go into plastics.

Sian: Yes, it is not a red herring but it is hypocrisy to care about one thing and then ignore this enormous gap in your policy.

Plastic waste is increasingly turning up on beaches across the world
It is ‘hypocrisy’ to ban plastic but continue with fracking

And to finish on, what new clean tech investments should the UK be investing in?

Jonathan: The New Economic Foundation produced a great report and pointed out that, as an island, we should be making so much more of our offshore wind, wave and tidal. But the government is stopping the tidal lagoon in Swansea, which is an absolute travesty. We could generate over six times our annual electricity consumption just from offshore… but at the same time rejuvenate coastal communities desperately in need of investment. We could be leading the world in green tech, we could be exporting that energy around the world, investing in it. But the government is pulling the rug from under it.

Sian: Tidal power is the most reliable thing, it comes in every day and it is so low impact on things like wildlife and the idea that we are not even going to build the trial one in Swansea Bay is absolutely crazy.

Jonathan: Also there is an issue about transitioning the whole economy. We are very concerned about the arms export trade at the moment in Saudi Arabia and Yemen but there needs to be a transition without job losses from the commercial arms trade and there are some very very good reports over the last few years which shows how the tech used in commercial arms trade could be transferred and used in renewables – the government should be a ministry of transition.

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