By Luke Andrews
Local Green Party activist and previous candidate for Neville’s Cross in the County Council elections Sarah Thin talks to Palatinate on why students should vote Green.
Sarah is a final year Law student who has been involved with The Greens for several years.
She’s been a vocal member of numerous campaigns, including organising the march against unfair University pay for Vice Chancellor’s Day in February, and stood for election to the Nevilles Cross Council, where she gained 724 votes. Over a Starbucks Americano, she explained to me why her party is the best party for students.
The Green Party has seen a swell in its Durham support base recently, receiving more votes than ever in the local council elections. However, it was still unable to gain a seat on the Council. The Greens are appealing to Durham students by offering to scrap tuition fees, put pressure on Durham University, and be an effective alternative to Labour.
Pressure on Durham University
The Greens have been vocal critics of the University’s ‘Estates Management Plan’. The University is proposing to expand its student population by 5,000 by 2020. Sarah has campaigned strongly on this issue and on the likely impact of the expansion for students.
“The University has planned for huge increases in student numbers but has failed to put sufficient thought into where these students are going to live, the impact on infrastructure and on transport. University planners consistently compare Durham in numerical terms to other Universities like Oxford and Cambridge without taking into account the significant differences in size and demographic. I think it’s a very misguided move.”
“Durham is a great University, and we should be looking to build on that – focus on quality, not quantity, on the standard of education and student experience, not just profit.”
When asked what the Greens intend to do on the local level to prevent the expansion, Sarah said:
“Unfortunately many of the decisions regarding the expansion have already been made, similarly with the planning permissions granted for new student accommodation across the city. Our focus now has to be on minimising the negative impact on students and permanent residents by holding both the Council and the University to account and putting pressure on both to work to develop affordable accommodation and invest in the necessary infrastructure.”
In this election, The Greens are offering to scrap all student fees and current student debt.
“This is based on the belief that education is both a right and a public good,” Sarah stated. “Young people should be entitled to a University education if that is what they want, and a highly educated, debt-free generation of graduates is highly beneficial to the whole of society, not just individuals.”
“University may not be for everyone, and so we also need to invest in internships and other such routes – but simply reserving a University education for those that can afford it is not the answer. Everyone should be able to make a free choice as to what kind of education they pursue.”
When asked how the Green Party would pay for such a policy, Sarah said:
“To borrow Caroline Lucas’ phrase, the Green Party believes that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the burden for those who are less able to. In that vein, we would envision a Robin Hood tax on high-level financial transactions, an inheritance tax based on the wealth of the recipient, a wealth tax on the top 1% of earners, a reinstatement of the higher rate of corporation tax, and a crackdown on tax-dodging amongst other policies. On top of this, we must remember that the policy we currently have is also very expensive – a huge amount of student debt is never repaid, and debt and money-related stress have been linked to many issues (whether mental health, crime or other issues) that also end up costing the State money. As I said, education is a public good and a better educated populous is good for the economy – it simply makes sense.”
An alternative to Labour?
This Green Policy, as indeed many others, share a remarkable similarity with Corbyn’s Labour manifesto. When I put this to Sarah, she admitted that she is often asked whether she is tempted to switch to Labour now that Corbyn has been elected leader and their policies are much more left-leaning.
“Although I think there are many points of agreement, to me there are also clear differences,” she stated. “The Green Party presents a creative, compassionate, forward-looking vision that views social justice, economic justice and climate justice as interlinked and indivisible. We need radical change towards a fair and sustainable society that works for everyone, and the looming environmental crises as well as the suffering that vulnerable people experience every day mean that we are running out of time.”
Photograph: Luke Andrews