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In conversation with Natalie Bennett

In the 2015 General Election, Natalie Bennett led the Green Party of England and Wales to their highest-ever vote count, getting more votes than in all previous elections combined. After leading the party from 2012 to 2016, Bennett was appointed to the House of Lords in 2019 as part of Theresa May's Resignation Honours.

Before entering politics, her journalism career included stints at the Bangkok Post, the Telegraph, the Independent, The Times, and a five-year tenure as editor of the Guardian Weekly. Bennet also has an academic background in agricultural science, Asian Studies and mass communication. Bennett's work has led to the publication of her book Change Everything: How We Can Rethink, Repair and Rebuild Society, which will be released in April this year; it lays out a holistic, hopeful and practical vision for the future. 

In this conversation, Bennett tells us that Britain is ruled by a far-right government, that British politics is undemocratic, and that she has hope for a better form of politics on a sustainable planet. 

Before your political career, you trained in agricultural sciences and then became a journalist, first in Australia and then in Thailand. How has work in journalism and training at university informed your career in politics, and what transferable skills have you found particularly useful?


Agricultural science is actually really useful in terms of politics. There are actually very few people from a scientific background in politics, and that's a real problem. 


The House of Lords is known as the House of Experts, but you look at some of our scientific debates, and they're pretty thin. 


The reason why I did a science degree and then went into journalism was that I was interested in everything, and agricultural science was just pointing me in too narrow a direction. 


There are probably three things that you transfer across from journalism. One is you have probably covered just about every subject under the sun at some stage or another. I started in small Australian country newspapers, and that was everything from the Brownies making their promise and who won the Sponge baking competition at the local show upwards. In Bangkok, I worked for the Bangkok Post and was Chief International Sub-Editor. Those years included covering the Hong Kong handover, for example.  


I've also subsequently done an arts degree, a humanities degree, and a social science degree. So, I've got breadth; that's the first thing that journalism gives you. 


The second thing journalism does is it gives you the capacity to see the wood for the trees. What's the story here? What's the real issue? You've got this 600-page report; what really matters to people and people's lives here in this 600-page report?


And the third thing journalism gave me, considering we only have three greens across both Houses of Parliament, so we cover a lot of ground, is I'm pretty good at Google. So when there are things that I don't know, I'm pretty good at finding the information, the things that are the crunch points at this particular moment. 


It's the breadth, the ability to synthesize and see issues clearly, and the ability to find stuff very simply.



Why did you move towards politics from journalism, particularly into green politics and the Green Party? 


There are sort of two answers to that one. I would say the first politics I moved into was feminism at age five because I was told, "because you're a girl, you're not allowed to have a bicycle," and my five-year-old self went, "That's not fair!" Right through my school and university years, I kept being told not only was I not allowed to do something because I was female, I kept being told I shouldn't even want to do something because I was female. So, my first politics was feminism. 


That's how I came to go to Thailand with the Australian Volunteers Abroad, which is very much like the British Volunteer Service Overseas. I did two years at the National Commission on Women's Affairs. 


So, feminism was my first politics, but doing the agricultural science degree, I came to recognise that Australia was mining its soils, not farming them. I realised how utterly unsustainable our agriculture and our systems are. 


When you put those two things together, the concern with justice and with having a liveable planet that logically made me a Green. Going into party politics, I'd always thought that at about 20 years in, I'd get out of journalism. I've seen a lot of people over the years who, at about that 20-year mark, either got very cynical or very depressed because, particularly if you do international news, you see the same stories coming around again and again and again and the world often doesn't seem to be changing very much or going in the right direction.


When I was in Bangkok, I worked for the United Nations, and I thought I'd do United Nations, NGO, campaigning sector material, but I'd just stopped working nights at the Times. It was the 1st of January 2006, and I thought I should do something about the state of the world.


I sat down on the 1st of January to do something, and I thought about joining War on Want or Greenpeace, but where are decisions made? They're made in politics, the local council, parliament, and in those days, Brussels. So, I joined the Green Party.


There was no plan; I just got involved, and then six and a bit years later, I ended up as leader of the Green Party. So, you know life's like that.



Is the drive towards cynicism in journalism also true for people in political careers who see patterns reoccurring and the same problems arising? Or is there more hope in politics because you are making change instead of reporting on it? 


Well, you have to look at where you are in the political cycle. I'm 57 years old. I essentially can't really remember a political time pre-Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. We have had no real change in British politics since the election of Margaret Thatcher. We have had 40 years of neoliberalism, neo-Thatcherism, call it what you like. So, in that time, there hasn't been any real change in politics. 


We're making the same mistakes and heading in the same directions, and things are getting worse and worse. But having studied a bit of history and looking at where things are now, I can tell you political change doesn't happen gradually; political change happens in big jumps. 


Now is a tremendously exciting time to be involved in politics. My favourite case study for this is the Financial Times, which runs a story every week saying how terrible the privatisation of the water companies has been and how private equity is loading them down with debt. Isn't this a disaster? Then, not quite as often, but still quite often, the FT also runs a story about how the care companies and care homes are in a similar kind of mess. The intelligent end of our current system can see that it cannot continue.


The election of Thatcher was a massive change. Before that, if you look at what politics was from the end of the Second World War to Thatcher, we had a social democratic consensus. Even the Tory party believed in the state ownership of coal mines and, car factories, and, dare I say, railways. There was a belief in what was then called a family wage. Usually, then, it was a man who was expected to earn enough money to support a wife and a couple of kids.


A postman in London, say, would buy a nice two-up two-down terrace over his stable working life. That was normal politics; that was how things were. Then we get Thatcher and Reagan. They said greed is good, inequality doesn't matter, and we can keep trashing the planet - which is something that actually both of those periods share.


Now, the one thing that is certain is that things are not going to continue as they are. Where we are now is profoundly unstable economically, environmentally, educationally, and socially. So, we're going to see massive change, and this is the time we are going to create the next pattern. 


I think it will be either far-right or it will broadly be us. However, you define us: people who know that there are enough resources on this planet for everyone to have a decent life if we share them fairly.



Is this fundamentally a problem of neoliberalism, or is it a problem of capitalism? Is the Green Party a radical party? Is it a party of radical politics? 


We're a party of system change. The current system we have now is built on trashing the planet, treating the planet as a mine and a dumping ground. I sometimes invite audiences to run a thought experiment: just imagine that we had a wonderful society perhaps like, ignoring gender relations, how it felt in the late 60s. Stable, secure jobs paying well; everyone's got a warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat home. Back in those days, about 50% of people lived in council housing. So, we've got this stable, secure society where everything is going nicely enough, a healthy society, and then the scientists come out and go, "we've got this climate emergency; we're going to have to change everything." That would be really politically difficult. 


Where we are now, if you look at Britain as a particularly bad example of this, the mental and physical health of our society is going backwards. You look at that with measures of healthy lifespan, with measures of death rates, you know America is far worse than this. An astonishing statistic for the richest country in the world: 1 in 40 babies today won't make their 40th birthday in America. It's a profoundly unhealthy society, and it's not working. We're saying we need to change the foundations of this society. 


When we had a social democratic consensus, there was no sense of physical limits or limits to growth. Neoliberalism has just gone, "yeah! Growth, trickle-down economics, and the people down the bottom will get a few more crumbs as the pie gets bigger." 


So we're talking about a transformation of society because it will be transformed; it's not going to stay the way the way it is now.



Why does the shift seem to be gearing further toward the right instead of toward yourselves?


I was in a post-growth meeting in Brussels in December, and I think there was a lot of truth in a line someone gave then: "we've got better ideas than the right; they've got better slogans." 


We actually have a structural problem there in that it's quite easy to come up with a three-word slogan that says fix this, and it will solve all of your problems. Get Brexit Done comes to mind, and just look at how many issues that created. Not to mention hideous slogans blaming migrants and refugees for situations that are in our own society. 


There's a famous quote: there are lots of simple, easy solutions, and they're wrong. If you look at the state of our society now, it's a complex systemic mess. So it's more difficult to paint a picture. One thing I do when talking to creative people is say to them, tongue slightly in cheek, but I say stop making zombie movies and stop writing apocalypse novels. What we need is the great deal more imagination about hope. Inject hope. Say what society would look like in 30 or 40 years when we make it all pretty well work out. 


There have been quite a few political movies and overtly political books, but what I want is a Hollywood rom-com. Boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back again. A couple of big stars, all beautifully filmed, and in the background, it's 40 years' time, and everything's kind of worked out. We've got a three-day working week as standard, everyone's got a secure job, and you've got a chance to go and study and learn whenever you can. The air is clean, it's beautifully green, and there's lots of wildlife and flourishing plants everywhere. But that's not the point. It just happens to be the background. 


We've got a real job - we collectively, outside of politics - have got a real job to do in convincing people that change is possible and that we can build something good for the future. It's very hard to do that in a three-word slogan because we and the people with us know the world is not simple. We don't come up with simple prescriptions. This is why I think pictures and images and giving people a sense of what it feels like to live in a green future are really important. 



Are the Greens successfully communicating that kind of complexity right now?


We're getting there. My evidence for that is look at the number of green councillors elected over the last three or four years; it is literally exponential growth. Last May, compared to the previous four years of the same election cycle, we had seen that massive growth in the number of councillors. 


We're now, of course, coming into a general election. There's a huge amount of work and a level of preparation and organisation that I've never seen anything vaguely like from the Green Party before to elect the next generation of Green MPs. That's what the party is now focused on.


People forget, back in 2010, when Caroline Lucas was elected in Brighton Pavilion, that was an enormous leap for the party and an enormous effort, but I met journalists at that time who said you're never going to do it; new parties never get elected in British politics. We succeeded in 2010, and we've now got to make the next leap. 


The Labour Party went from their first MPs to the first Labour government in 20 years, so we've got about seven years to go! We're working on it very hard, and if you look at the number of councillors, I'm confident we're going to see that growth continuing into the one election we do know the time of, the May elections. 


Of course, you, as I occasionally say in the house, not very tactfully, there are no Liberal Democrat ministers on these islands. There are Green ministers on these islands, two Green ministers in Scotland who are doing a great job. That does rather provoke questions when we're in the House of Lords, and there's two greens and eighty-some Lib Dems, and the Lib Dems have a slot in every debate. 


(Photo: Europinion / left to right, Cyrus Larcombe-Moore, Natalie Bennett and Will Kingston-Cox / 11.1.2024 / Millbank, London)

Why is the Green Party particularly successful at that local level? 


As I speak to you today, I'm about to go into the House to debate the quality of democracy and public life in the UK. I will be majoring in the place of money in British politics. We get the politics that the few pay for. 


We've just seen a situation where the government, out of the blue without anyone really noticing, doubled the spending limits. The Conservative party is basically funded by the city of London, the hedge funds and the property developers. We don't have people like that funding us. I mean, we could win more seats than those four we're targeting, and things popping up out of the woodwork are possible – I would put a little bit of money into winning another seat as well as those four that we're explicitly focusing on - but if we had double the budget.


About three-quarters of the Green Party's funding comes from its own members. Politics is bought, and we don't offer people something they want to buy, people with large amounts of money. We're representing the disabled, the economically disadvantaged, the young, all the people who are underrepresented in politics but don't have a huge amount of money to throw in. But what, of course, people do have is time and energy.


That's essentially how we've won those local seats. We rely on people's power because we don't have vast amounts of money flying around, and at the moment, huge amounts of money have been buying our politics. But there's increasing, let's put it like this: public dissatisfaction, although I suspect a lot of the public would use stronger terminology. One of our problems is first past post-elections. 


Boris Johnson, you might remember him; what was it, three prime ministers back? It's hard to keep track. The Torys got 44% support from the people who voted in 2019, about 36% of registered voters, and they got 100% of the power. That's not a democracy. I've been saying this for many years now: the UK is not a democracy. 


The first time I said that I'd been going around for a couple of years as Green Party leader saying we have to reform our democracy with proportional representation, bring more power into local communities, etc. Then, one day, I was just at a public meeting and thought, actually, you cannot call this a democracy. The first time I went to say it, I thought I was going to get some real kickback. But there's something I've seen in hundreds of rooms since: people put their heads on one side, then they put their heads on the other side, and everyone starts nodding. When you think about it, you cannot classify the UK as a democracy, and that's one of the many things we have to fix. 


I've got a book coming out called Change Everything; democracy is one of the key things that we need to change so that we can fix our politics with the efforts and energy of everybody being involved. 



What was the catalyst that initiated you saying the UK is not a democracy?


Sadly, this is a product of doing two or three public meetings and events a week; I can no longer remember where I was. I just remember that moment, thinking no, I'm not going to say reform our democracy because it isn't one. 


One of the places where I thought about that was the Sefton Park Women's Institute, which I spoke at about four years ago. I thought that they might find this a bit confronting. But I said it anyway, and they put their head on one side, they put their head on the other side, and they nod. A very broad range of audiences have agreed with that. 



Going back to what you're saying about party funding, are you saying that green success hasn't translated nationally because of funding, or is it also to do public perhaps perceptions of the party? Traditionally, the Green Party is seen as unproven; does that play into how the Greens might perform in the next election? 


I talked about money, but I also referred to the first-past-the-post electoral. The number of votes that you need in a first-past-the-post system is enormous. Caroline Lucas only won Brighten Pavilion by something like twelve hundred to fourteen hundred votes in 2010, so it was extremely tight.


But it is changing. We, of course, got the first Green majority council in Mid Suffolk in May. There are 30-something councils around the country where there are Greens of some kind, frequently in rainbow coalition-type arrangements involving a number of parties. One of the people who are I'm confident will be joining us in the in the Houses after the next election is Ellie Chowns in North Herefordshire. She was the cabinet member for Environment and Economy, and if you think of Herefordshire County, it's traditionally long-term Tory. They used to count the Tory votes in the number of wheelbarrows. 


Ellie was also an MEP for the West Midlands in the last European Parliament. So, we've got someone there with a real track record. It is important that we've built people up with that kind of track record, although, of course, it's possible to do that in different ways. For example, Adrien Ramsey in Waveney Valley was CEO of the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. 


So, we've built up those records over time, and we've got people with those experiences. It's perhaps true in the past that we didn't have that foundation; we still had brilliant people who had all sorts of qualifications and skills, but people can look at this now and how well the Scots are doing. It's not like the current lot are doing much of a job.



Who in those rural communities is voting for the Green Party?


In short, everybody. In those kinds of places, for people who've never voted for the Tory, when it becomes obvious that we are the challengers, we get shifters from labour and Lib Dem voters. But, of course, you don't win without shifting a significant number of Tory voters. 


I was knocking on doors when we won a council by-election in Norfolk. The Waverly Valley is mainly in Suffolk, but there's a bit of it in Norfolk, and there was a county council by-election there in an area where, in the previous two years, we'd come fifth, and then we just put up a paper candidate. We went from fifth to first in a five-week campaign and won the seat. When I was door knocking there, what I found was that even before I knocked on their door, huge numbers of people had converted themselves because they were what's described in political terminology as the blue wall, people who voted Tory all their lives who were just so horrified by what the conservative party had become.


Of course, some of those just stay away from the polling station, but if you give them a solid option, and again, our county council candidate was the former MEP for the region, a university professor and a real quality candidate who's there to represent them. And a woman. One of the noticeable things about Green Party politics is that we're the only 100% female parliamentary party. We're offering something that looks, feels, and is different, professional, organised and has new ideas. People are literally jumping at it and all we've done is delivered a couple leaflets to them.



Are you comfortable in the House of Lords?


 I'll answer that in two ways. Being here and having the chance to challenge the government, hold it to account and put green ideas out absolutely. I came in on Theresa May's Resignation list, which now looks like an absolute model of professionalism, but I don't know why Theresa May offered the Greens a seat. It wasn't offered to me personally; it was offered to the Greens, and the Green Party democratically selected me, so we made it as democratic as was within our power. 


One of the influences on Theresa May is that there'd been a Lord Speakers Commission a few years before, which was a slightly curious subject of how to make the House of Lords more representative. The commission concluded that there should be more greens in the House based on our votes in past elections. 


We got 1.1 million votes in the 2015 election, which is more votes than we got in every general election previously added together, but that still only translated to one seat. So, I'm representing all of those voters. That's why I'm here. 


If you mean do I really enjoy trying to get my Dukes and my Marquises and my Viscounts and my Right Reverend Prelates and Right Reverend Primates and all the bowing and scraping stuff, am I comfortable with that? No, not at all. 


But as in many circumstances, when you are a Green, you have to decide when to follow the rules and when to break them. In practical politics, this is one of the great questions that you encounter on a daily basis. If you break every rule all the time, people get fed up with you, and you're just that person who's contrary for the sake. I have a general rule of thumb that I keep to the rules. I get my Right Reverend Prelates and Primates and try to get my Dukes right and all the rest of it, but I break the rules when I think it really matters. 


So, for example, there is a general protocol that you don't call votes you know you are going to lose. Still, in the policing bill before last, part four of that policing bill explicitly targets Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. I said all the way throughout that debate I was going to call the vote to throw out this section that explicitly targets Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.


I was trying to pressure the Labour Party to support me, but they whipped for abstention, but credit to them, eight Labour peers broke the Labour whip to vote with me, and the Lib Dems voted with me, so I got a decent vote on it. But, I broke the rules, and I thought it really mattered for many reasons, particularly to demonstrate to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people that there are people who think this is unacceptable.


So it's a case of not being comfortable with following lots of that silly minor medieval stuff and breaking the rules when it really matters.



Why do you think it particularly targeted Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities?


It's classic dog whistle racist right-wing politics. We now have a far-right government. This is my number one piece of evidence for that. It is, by any standards of the past, unacceptable behaviour to target a minority group in that manner. 


Look at the way in which they play politics with refugees, with child refugees, some of the most vulnerable people on this planet. We have a far-right government. 


The next probably year of the election campaign is going to be absolutely hideous, and it's going to do real scars to the body politic. It's going to do real damage to vulnerable people. What is horrifying about it is, yes that we can't do anything about what the conservative party is going to do, but what we see again and again, I'm afraid, from the largest opposition party is a preparedness to bow, to sway, not to challenge, to not stand up to it, to try and sidestep that kind of behaviour. That is utterly unacceptable. 


My first speech that got media attention was in 2013 at the Romanian Cultural Institute. I said that dog whistle politics and racist politics are doing real damage to our social fabric, and it's empowering the drunk guy in the pub and the angry woman on the bus to behave in racist ways. I don't think that Britain is any more racist than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago, but we've had so much racist debate and unchallenged racist debate in the public realm that people who would have thought something but not said it or not acted on it 20 years ago are acting on it, doing it now. That was the first time the media ever covered me as Green Party leader in a speech, and I'm quite proud of that. 


It shows how much it stood out as an unusual thing to say that the BBC covered that speech. No one else was saying it. 



You described the government as far-right; would you describe the Green Party as far-left as it's in opposition to that politics? 


I would describe it as Green. I get the question all of the time: are you a socialist? I would say that I am Green. I have a Green political philosophy. 


To mention the book Change Everything: How we can rethink, repair and rebuild society, rethink is really important. This is the Green political philosophy. That includes a huge amount about social justice in terms of human animals and also in terms of our relationship with the natural world. It includes our understanding of how we can and that we have to meet everybody's needs for a decent standard of life within the physical limits of this one fragile planet. That is Green politics. 


I say in the book I'm not quite sure whether to blame Hagel or Marx for the idea that there have to be two sides in politics. No argument only has two sides. What we're presenting is a different vision and a different kind of politics and there aren't only two sides.



Most people would describe the Green party as left-wing, maybe not a far-left party, but certainly a left-wing party. Is changing that language, calling it Green politics, about changing perceptions of the party and how people view the Green Party as an option away from the status quo, as opposed to the binary that we usually see in British politics? 


The word British there is really important because we don't have to have this kind of politics if you look at the politics of most of continental Europe. The only other country in Europe that has a first-past-the-post system is Belarus, enough said. 


So, this idea that there are two sides to politics comes from an outdated and undemocratic system. People in the rest of Europe don't think there are just two sides to politics, and you take one side. There are lots of different ways of doing things and approaching issues. 


It's quite well known that graph that puts you on the left-to-right economic and authoritarian-to-libertarian axes. But there are also other lines you can draw. A line you can draw in Green politics is say from the techno-optimist that goes, "oh we just keep ploughing on and we'll find some technology somewhere that will fix it", or the practical realist side that says we have exceeded six of our nine planetary boundaries as the Stockholm Institute set out in peer-reviewed research last year. Of course, the climate is the obvious one, people talk about that a lot now. They're starting to talk a lot more about the nature crisis and the collapse in biodiversity. I was at a debate last night in the House on that very subject. 


There are still those four other boundaries that essentially no one talks about except for us. The boundary I'm focusing a lot on is what's terribly named 'novel entities', which is the worst label ever but for shorthand: plastics, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides. We've turned our oceans into a plastic soup, which people are aware of and have noticed. 


I've got a quote in Open Democracy Today about PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals. They're now telling Dutch parents to make sure their children don't swallow any sea foam because they may be absorbing large amounts of PFAS. 


We've poisoned this planet.


If you did a hair test on yourself, you would find glyphosate; we're killing the bees with neonicotinoid pesticides. We need a system change. We are human animals. We are biological beings who need a healthy environment, which means we need a healthy world.



Is it too late? This year, average heating was 1.48 degrees; we're only 0.02 degrees off the agreed maximum that was talked about in Paris 2015.


Absolutely, it's not too late. A clear, simple answer to your question. 


Just on the technicals for a second: we are in an El Nino year, and that lifted the temperature this year. That's not, you know, a long-term, over-the-hump scenario; it will drop back, thankfully. It's never too late. There are great risks, particularly in terms of tipping points, and obviously, we're living through the sixth greatest extinction in terms of biodiversity. But every action we take will make things better in the future.


There's not some point where we just go, okay, all the billionaires are going to go into their bunkers in the depths of New Zealand somewhere, and all the rest of us are just going to, you know, to see them into an apocalypse novel. Every action can make things better. 


Again, at that Brussels meeting, someone said that the just transition, the Green transition, it's not that this costs too much or that we've got to sort the economy out first, we have the economic problems, we have a cost of living crisis because we've failed to make the Green transition. Had we gone for onshore wind in the last ten years, energy bills in the average household would be 200 quid a year less. If we give people warm, comfortable, insulated homes, their bills are less. So, all of these things are things we can do to make people's lives better and improve the planet. 


If we provide good public transport and good facilities for active transport, walking and cycling, that has enormous public health benefits. It has enormous benefits everywhere. All of these things are things that there are so many reasons to do. If you start to ask, why are we not doing them? What you come back to is entrenched political interests and the money issues that we started with.



How does Green politics face up to corporate power in a system where some might argue the market is more powerful than the state?


My answer is democracy. I do a lot of work in schools, colleges, and universities right up to the women's institute, which tends to be the other end of the age range, and to all of those audiences, I say politics needs to be what everyone does, not have done to them.


The first chapter of my book Change Everything is about universal basic income because it's central and a long-term Green policy. Northampton University did a really interesting study where they went to people on the street and explained Universalised Basic Income to them. They asked them what they thought, and their overwhelming answer was, "it's a great idea, but it's not going to happen because politics doesn't change anything." Our key thing is to show people that they can make a difference. 


When I say politics, organising a litter pick in your street is doing politics or a group of school kids deciding they're going to campaign to have less plastic in the canteen, that's doing politics. We need to encourage, support and give people the vehicles to get involved in politics at every level. If people feel empowered, it's a slogan I've said on many a demonstration: we are the many, they are the few. In a democratic society, we're not going to have a handful of giant corporations dominating each sector. 


This is where I was talking about the financial times being very unhappy about our water industry and our care home sector, and indeed, they've started to focus on how private equity is taking over child care. The financialisation of everything and the reduction of virtually every sector of our economy down to a big three, four or five companies, this is no longer any kind of capitalist competition. 


As we speak, the whole Fujitsu post office scandal is happening. Politico had a really nice list of all the contracts and all the things that Fujitsu has continued to do even since it's made such a mess of the Horizon computer system for the Post Office. How many companies are they going to be bidding for these contracts? Maybe three or four if you're lucky. It does often seem that they do share them around rather. I'm an old newspaper editor, so I will be careful about what I say at this point. 


We don't have a competitive capitalist system anymore; we have an oligarchy. One of the words I talk about a lot is resilience, and it's a profoundly unresilient system. 


I was talking about pharmaceuticals, and there are many issues about the environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals, but we now have huge problems with failure to supply both basic drugs that we desperately need. The system is not working anymore. Things will change, but we won't get to a healthy society by crashing the one we've got now. We have to build something different. Green politics is about building that and involving everybody.


Another green policy that, like universal basic income, has been getting considerably increasing amounts of attention is a four-day working week as standard with no loss of pay. Now we had nearly 100 companies' trial that last year and nearly all the trial companies are sticking with it. They've got improvements in productivity, staff health, well-being and in staff retention.


What you can also do if we have a four-day working week as standard, which the green party's long been standing for, is people have some time for themselves. 


When I say to audiences, "make politics what you do", and this evening, a group of people have come out after rushing the kid's dinner, rushed the kids into bed, scrambled out to this meeting, then sat down and think, what they've got to do to get kids ready for school tomorrow and this work problem they've got to face. If we give people more time in their lives, then they'll have the time to do politics. 


Rather than having a boss telling you how to spend your time, energy and talents or in the old soviet style system where the state tells you how to spend your time, energy and talents, each individual is deciding for themselves how to spend their time, energy and talents. That's what we need to do to tackle many of our pressing issues. 



Do you think our current political system is wedded to first-past-the-post because it benefits the status quo? 


It is definitely a turkey voting for Christmas problem or, rather, the chicken voting to keep turkey as the Christmas meal. 


Again, political change does not happen slowly and gradually it happens in big jumps. Suppose you look at our recently created political institutions, the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd, the London Assembly. They're all elected by PR because who today would create the first-past-post-system?


 I accidentally had a bit of a Twitter row with the very respected legal editor of the Financial Times because I wrote a letter saying we need a written constitution, and he didn't like the idea of a written constitution. I fully understand that a written constitution doesn't guarantee you get a democracy, no matter how perfect the constitution. But if you sat down and wrote our current constitution as it is now, it would obviously be wholly ridiculous. 


92 heredities are in the House of Lords because of who their father is, 26 bishops, and nearly everyone else there is a result of patronage. Sure, you know the few crossbenchers who were there because of their own achievements. A House of Commons, I mean, just look at the House of Commons, really. The heir to the throne, the Guardian, uncovered the Black Spider Letters, getting to see and comment on all the laws. You could not possibly write down our current constitution and say right, here it is isn't it great, let's stick with it. 


Where we are now is profoundly unstable, and it's going to change really quickly. It's not a case of gradually working our way up to this in 20 or 30 years; we're going to have to see change like that.



Are you worried about what that change could be?


As I said, I think we will go far-right or green. Of course, I'm worried about going far right. But as I talked about creating people not focusing on apocalyptic novels and zombie movies, I think it's also important in politics that we focus on the possibility that we can build something different.


I'm a great fan of, and I'm often promoting, the late great David Graeber, who, with David Wengrow, wrote a brilliant book called The Dawn of Humanity. We've had a huge number of archaeological discoveries, particularly in the last 20-odd years; human beings have been on this planet for 200,000-plus years, and we have lived many different ways. We have created amazing things when we look at archaeology, very strange things to our eyes, and different ways of living on the planet. One of our problems now is that we have probably the least diverse life the human species has ever had. 


Most of the planet has access to a mobile phone, uses electricity, and has the same ridiculous packets of ultra-processed food in their local shop. We can live in many different ways. We've narrowed it down to one way of living, one form of politics, and one economic system. The global contest is seen as between the authoritarians and probably the non-authoritarians but the economic system of China and Russia is essentially the same economic system as the rest of us, it's the same companies, it's all linked. One of the things we know from ecology is that diversity is healthy, and a lack of diversity is very unhealthy. 


That's of the green political philosophy. Molly Scott Kato, one of our former MEPs, wrote a book about bioregions. We should have different lives, different diets, and different housing. Why, for instance, are we building glass front and office blocks worldwide in every conceivable climatic condition? It's ludicrous. 


So, what we need to do is create a democratic politics that's founded from the ground up, that's got local people making decisions for the local community. One of the great problems in British politics is the concentration of power and resources in Westminster. Many people don't realise we are the most centralised polities in Europe. Our local government and our local councils have far less power than similar institutions have in most of the rest of Europe. We need to rebuild societies with local diversity, living fit for local conditions, and having local people decide how they want to live. 


Now, I'm not talking autarky or anything like that. Of course, we want to keep the global links; we want to keep the chances for people to interrelate with each other and to have different kinds of online communities. But we don't want one global culture, one global way of living dominated by half a dozen companies, because that is not a good, resilient, or sustainable way to live.



Do you think that, now, you would make a better leader of the Green Party? 


Of course, I've learnt an enormous amount, but I have absolutely no desire to do it again. I've been there and done that; got the scars to prove it.


One of the things I would stress in answering that question is that being the leader of the Green Party is different to being the leader of any other party. When I was first elected, the media kept coming up to me and asking what new policies are you going to produce. I would patiently explain that the leader, any individual, doesn't set policies in the Green Party. These are decided by conference after a careful position period of consideration. We have the Policies for a Sustainable Society document that's been reworked and redeveloped continuously over 40 years. And journalists would go, "yes yes, but what new policies are you bringing in."


We want politics to be what everyone does, not have done to them. Everyone in the Green Party is a leader because they're stepping forward to lead society in a different direction. So, the position of leader in the Green Party is far less important. I'm happy that I can now contribute in different ways through the experience of many hours of sitting in the House of Lords and bobbing up and down, getting my Right Reverend Prelates and everything right. I can contribute more and different things to the Green Party now. 


I did two two-year terms because that's how it works in the Green Party. We have two-year terms, and I think it's great that we will have more and more people with the experience of being leaders, essentially representing the Green Party to the country. We want a world in which everybody is doing politics, and everyone has a say - this is something that is really foundational and different about Green politics and why we're the absolute opposite of the far-right. 


The far right says here is a person, possibly in a uniform, riding a white horse to your rescue. All you have to do is follow the person on the horse. You don't have to think, you don't question, you just follow the person on the white horse. In our politics, everyone has a say and contributes, and we try to make consensus decision-making as much as possible. This is what we've all agreed is the direction of travel. That's a different kind of politics. One in which people are empowered. 


We want to equip people to see that change is possible and change is necessary. People feeling that the streets are bit messy and they can organise a litter pick and that's just something that people do as a matter of course. Or saying, that corner of the park is a bit dull, I wonder if we could get to call the guerrilla gardeners and see if they'd like to put some bulbs in for the winter.


We want to see people taking control. Starting at that basic level and going right across society. That's absolutely central. It's at the core of Green politics and at the core of delivering a different kind of society. 

Image: Natalie Bennett Official Portrait

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