On 15th October Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, visited Durham University to speak with the local branch of the party and students.
In Elvet Riverside, Mrs Bennett delivered her two part speech firstly talking about “intergenerational justice” and secondly about the world of work.
With almost half of the audience students, Bennett aptly started on the topic of education. She called for schools to eradicate the “exam-orientated” style of teaching and return to prioritising life skills in addition to equipping pupils with the ability to pass exams.
She furthermore rejected the idea of free schools and academies and advocated the return of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
As for university, she reiterated, the Green Party view that young people should not have to leave higher education with average debts of £60,000.
Bennett then moved to the economy, in particular the unfairness of youth unemployment and unpaid internships, emphasising on several occasions the necessity to “restructure the economy.”
She claimed that the globalised neo-liberal economy does not work. Quoting a recent Fabian Society survey, she highlighted that 67% of people believed our economic model was wrong and needed “radical change.”
Proposals were also levied for more ‘localised economies’, where money would go not to multinational corporations (MNCs) in tax havens, but instead remaining in the local area benefitting the local people; a “circular economy.”
When promoting a “sustainable future and fairer society” Bennett said that the Green Party were in favour of reducing the standard working week to 35hrs. This would mean people had more time in their life and would apparently therefore lead a more eco-friendly existence. But an essential part of this policy is that everyone earns a decent and liveable salary, hence the Green support for a living wage.
During the Q & A session, Natalie Bennett was asked to outline some concrete economic policies that the Green Party wished to introduce. The aforementioned living wage was paramount, closely followed by her intention to ensure all MNCs and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of taxes.
Renationalising the railways is also high on their economic agenda, with former Green Party leader and MP Caroline Lucas’ introduction of a Private Members’ Bill on the subject earlier this year.
Following this came one of the more intriguing policies of the night: the so-called “damages tax” that would replace VAT. The damages tax would levy a cost on products to cover the cost of their social and environmental impact, such as the fossil fuels used to transport materials and any child exploitation used in the product’s production.
Using the example of a £5 Primark t-shirt, Bennett argued the environmental cost of shipping the material and the exploitation of workers made the real value of the t-shirt considerably more. Later, she defended the tax after accusations that it may have negative effects on those who rely on cheap clothing, saying it encouraged better quality locally made clothes that would last longer and be both economically and environmentally sustainable.
The damages tax matched with a living wage would raise levels of prosperity greatly, according to Bennett. The main point she put across was “an economy working for the people, not people working for the economy.”
In an interview with Bennett I asked her, as a prominent feminist, what she thought of the Durham Union Society debate on the banning of the song ‘Blurred Lines’ in the DSU. Though she had never heard of the song, she believed the only way it should be decided is through democratic avenues.
Her aim for the Green Party is to triple the number of Green MEPs in 2014 and ensure the re-election of Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion in 2015.
Finally, after comments she made about Lord Howell’s “desolate” description of the North East, I asked for her own opinion of our region. She responded: “beautiful”.
Photograph: Green Party