Pretty much what I said above… I gave a speech at a college in West Bromwich this week. It was about politics in general and the green party. I figured I’d blog it, as i worked quite hard on it by my standards.
Here it is:
Afternoon. My name’s Ben, and I’m the coordinator of Sandwell Green Party, and I’m here today with Rob, who is the chair of the West Midlands Green Party, and so is annoyingly more important, smarter and better looking than me. My job basically means I organise what we do locally, and do all the jobs nobody else wants to do. We’ll get onto this in the Q and A, if you’re interested, but doing a lot of work for the Green Party for no money has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I’ll be kicking off, talking about the scale of the problems we face, and some of the high level solutions to this, then Rob will take over and talk about some of the more detailed solutions we think might solve problems here.
And thank you for choosing to spend your lunchtime listening to us. I am just about young enough that I remember being at college, and I’m not sure I was quite as mature and diligent as you. Well… I’m certain I wasn’t, and I’m more than a little jealous of the better future you’ll have ahead of you for it.
Except… I’m not confident you’ll have a better future. You’re a generation who, if lucky enough to go to uni, will leave with an average £44,000 of debt. You may have to grow up never owning your own home. You’ll pay a small fortune for a sandwich – well, even more of a fortune, I’ve eaten in a Starbucks too – because intensive farming will have rendered our land unfarmable, and besides, we all voted to close our borders to anyone who might actually work on our farms anyway. And that’s before I even to get to the Greens specialist subject of climate change, and the devastation it will cause if we don’t address this LAST WEEK!
By the way, don’t worry – I’m not going to stay this gloomy for the full 40 minutes. But I kind of feel that we need to point out the huge challenges that face us. These challenges are here for a few reasons, which I would like to outline before we get to the less miserable bit. Because I’d like to say here that there are answers. There aren’t easy answers, unless you want to blame someone who doesn’t share your skin colour or religion, but there are answers, and that’s what inspires me to do what I do.
So, why are we in the mess we’re in?
The main answer I have is our system rewards short term thinking. All the problems above started, at the very least, before you were born. Some of them before I was. Some of the BEFORE EVEN YOUR TUTORS WERE BORN. Pollution started in the Industrial Revolution, in the 19th century. House prices started going stupid in the 1980’s. Free university ended in the late 1990’s – it did me over too!
Our system is such that it doesn’t pay for our MPs to think of the consequences of their policies. Our media sees a problem and wants it solved yesterday, and politicians agree to this, rarely, if ever, thinking of the long term consequences of acting too quickly.
And the causes of this go back even further. We haven’t seriously reformed our political system since the 17th century. And don’t get me wrong… it was brilliant then. But since then, pretty much every country, save for maybe North Korea has overtaken us. The House of Lords, which is completely unelected, is the second largest government chamber in the world, after Communist China.
Our antiquated first past the post system means that the Conservatives only need 35,000 votes to win a seat, Labour need 40,000, Lib Dems 300,000, and Greens over 1,000,000. And yet we have it better than UKIP, who got one seat for nearly 4m votes. Whatever your feelings about Mr Farage, that isn’t fair. Power is kept amongst a select few, making them unaccountable, and significantly more vulnerable to corruption.
To move this closer to our own doorstep – do any of you know the make up of our local council? Of 72 seats, 71 are held by Labour. Regardless of how you feel about them, they hold 97% of the seats, despite only getting 58% of the votes . This means the views of two out of every five people who vote in Sandwell don’t count, and nobody represents them.
And the combination of these two things means that politicians play only to win. We only elect one chamber, and that only once every five years. As a result, politicians will say pretty much anything to get in at election time – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, because by the time it breaks, there will have been another election, and a whole new bunch of short term promises to keep or break. Most other countries – even America, the land of the Trump, have two chambers, and staggered elections so that this isn’t completely changed every five years, and there is at least some long term thinking.
Even more countries across Europe have a much fairer form of democracy, normally a form of Proportional Representation. I know I’m talking to smart people here , but I’ll very quickly explain that PR awards seats based on vote share, so that all votes, or at least most votes count. If the Angry As Hell At Adults For Not Getting That We’re Old Enough To Set Our Own Rules, Now Stop Ruining My Life Mum Party gets 30% of the vote, they’ll get 30% of the say in Government. This means more people’s views get represented. It means smaller groups don’t get ignored. And that’s brilliant.
Better still, it makes it a lot more likely that every law gets properly challenged – when you create a fake majority, they can essentially pass any law they like, irrespective of how stupid it is. This is how we end up with poorly planned policies and pointless wars. By making larger parties rely on other parties to pass laws, they iron out the sort of short term thinking that has led to so many of our problems today. It’s of little surprise, to me at least, that Germany has one of the strongest economies (and best rent prices) in Europe, and also has a proportional system.
None of this has destroyed our country. Yet. We are still one of the world’s leading democracies. But we have fallen three places in the Global Democracy rankings in recent years. We’ve taken a huge risk in leaving the EU (I’m not discussing the rights and wrongs of this here. I only have 15 minutes) and our democracy will now have to stand alone. With the problems I have listed above, we will surely sink unless we take action now. And to do this, we will need practical LONG TERM solutions.
Finally, and I almost don’t want to say this – because it feels like I’m saying what you want to hear – but we believe that you should have the vote from 16. Any decision politicians make are going to affect you more than they’re going to affect me, and a lot more than they’ll affect you’re Nan, so why shouldn’t you have a say? Simply put, you can join the army, you can have a kid, you can get a job and pay tax. Surely you should have a say in what happens when you do those things?
I suppose the main thing all of this has in common, is that our system is built so that those who have power do everything they can to hold onto that power. This is the main problem anyone who wants change faces. But this is also where the solution lies.
Because we do actually live in a democracy. And that means that people have the final say. When I joined the Green Party, a bit over two years ago, I didn’t think I could change anything. I just thought I’d pay membership once a year, and hope that paid for someone else to do some work.
Then I went to a meeting, and everyone was nice. Then someone convinced me to leaflet. Then to run for election (I lost), then to manage our local elections, to help on campaigns for renter’s rights, refugees, clean energy…
I quickly realised that if you get up and just do a little work in your spare time (I do have an actual job outside this) you can actually make real change happen. I had the good luck to meet our previous leader, Natalie Bennett, and she said what is probably the most powerful thing that sums up why I’ve found this work so rewarding. She said that there is one big lie that lets things go wrong. And that is that politics is something that’s done to you. And this isn’t true. Politics is something YOU DO.
I’d go so far as to say it’s your job as a citizen to do it. A small group of well organised people getting out there and trying to change things, can change things. Almost every good change through history from the abolition of slavery to breaking Trump’s travel ban most likely started with a few people, in a room, saying… “Wow… this looks difficult… LET’S DO IT ANYWAY. (I know that’s how the Trump one happened, the activists behind it have given interviews).
So if you take one thing from my bit today, it’s that if you see an injustice, a problem, anything that irks you… you’re probably the right person to fix it. Politics isn’t for any one group of people, and you aren’t excluded from it. And if giving up my lunch break to chat to you today gets even one of you out there deciding to change things… Well… It’ll be worth the cost of that overpriced Starbucks sarnie.
Now, I will be the first person to say that you should never trust an adult who is sure they know the answers. However, I believe we have a strong set of possible solutions to the problems facing us today, in the policies that we in the Green Party fight over every conference. So I would like to hand over to Rob now, who will talk to you about these.