For scarce local fruitcakes pondering amendment from the inflexible supercilious Conservative regime mightn’t be a bad thing, I concluded with an acerbic but obvious notion last week; the price we pay for amiability in this idyllic location is selfish Tory dominance; bittersweet irony with cherries on top.
The attitude if you don’t like it you know where the M4 is, fading with the emergent tenet Tories are kaput, and many media conditioned into assuming Corbyn is the kind of hippy you avoid at Glastonbury, let’s look at another alternative; got to try, or are there really no surprises living in Devizes?
What I find most irritating is that it’s crucial now to address our environment, but such issues are on the backburner in government and society, as if the world will wait for us before it meltdowns. So I’m honoured to have a chinwag with the Green Party candidate for Devizes, Dr Emma Dawnay, to ask how they can increase awareness of the subject.
“At the moment most people tend to think of looking after the environment as something we tack on to other policies – promoting growth and the consumption of ever more things,” Emma says.
“With these ideas, if the economy is doing badly then environmental policy tends to drop off the bottom of the priorities list.
“During my lifetime we’ve become, on average, about three times richer than we were, but are we any happier? It appears not much. Alternatively, it should be possible to work three times less and still be able to consume as much as we did in the 1960s – but this is clearly not possible for most. Would you be happier if you couldn’t buy so many things, but you could work less and have more free time to study, be with friends, spend time with the children or look after loved ones?”
Does that need an answer? I’m happy with a fidget spinner and bag of onion rings as long as it’s my day off.
Emma continues: “What we need to do is to change the rules of the economic system. This is what Green Party policy is all about; cutting down on unsustainable consumption whilst increasing wellbeing.”
She backs a decisive socialist strategy in which everyone receives a universal basic income: “This has been shown to encourage young people to study, and enables people to choose to look after their families.
“It avoids poverty traps as no benefits are withdrawn if you start to work, so working always pays. This is quite a radical change, so we’d advocate a pilot study first.”
Radical experimentation aside and looking at near-term ideas, the Green Party aims to make environmental and financial benefits, such as home insulation.
“We have the least well-insulated homes in Western Europe, making our heating bills high,” Emma says.
“Pushing for national and local programmes to help people insulate their homes better to save on heating bills makes sense; there was a programme to do this, but cut by the Conservative government.”
Talking of Tories, who’ve thrown environmental issues in the unrecyclable trash, on the assumption the Greens are a single-issue party, I put to Emma surely a tactical vote in our constituency would be wiser.
“We are not a single issue party,” Emma says. “We have policies across the board which will increase wellbeing and give people the financial motivation to live in a more sustainable manner.
“For me our economic policies, on tax, investment and the monetary system – are more important than rules on, for instance, plastic bags, as they will have a far wider impact.
“I’m a political economist, and it is the Green Party’s economic policies that convinced me to become Green.”
“Tactical voting won’t make any difference here. We know that the Conservatives will win; no other party is anywhere near. Why not vote with your heart and conscience? But do please vote! Fewer Conservative votes will send them a message, you might as well send the message you really believe in.”
Prove it then Emma, where do the Greens stand on the key issues; Brexit, the NHS and our failing school system?
“Theresa May is going for an ‘all or nothing’ gamble with the EU, trying to get a special British-EU trade deal that has nothing to do with the single market or the European Court of Justice,” says Emma, on Brexit.
“The EU has clearly stated how they work, and such a deal is a non-starter. A hard Brexit will be a disaster. We need a fall-back position. The Green Party advocates giving everyone a vote to choose whether to adopt the final Brexit deal or to remain in the EU, to make sure we don’t end up on a path which is clearly not in the best interests of this country.
“Cuts to public services: The Conservatives believe this is the only answer to poor public finances. It’s not – it’s a political choice. The government has the option of borrowing (at 1% for 10 years, i.e. very cheaply) or taxing higher earners and the wealthy more.
“The cuts the Conservatives are imposing are almost all a false economy: cutting primary healthcare puts up costs as people go to hospital more; cutting funding for schools means a less well-trained workforce for the future; cutting funding for prisons means more re-offending and prison riots. We need to invest more in our public services!
“NHS: We have a fantastic service but we pay less as a percentage of GDP than almost all other rich countries. It needs to be better funded – not privatised. In the USA there is much more private healthcare provision and they spend double the amount we do on healthcare per person (and they don’t live as long). This is not the way to go. The Green Party, Caroline Lucas, has tried to bring a NHS reinstatement bill (to reverse privatisation) – and she’ll keep on trying.”
I’m liking this; but how do we defend our utopia? I mean, what do we need Trident for, if we’re subject to nuclear attack we’re pretty much dead anyway?
“We don’t believe Trident makes us safer and the huge amount of money could make so much difference to us if it was used elsewhere,” Emma tells me.
“I think possessing nuclear weapons makes it more likely that we’ll be sucked into world conflicts, which is a major worry with President Trump being somewhat erratic.
“Instead of putting so much effort into outdated irrelevant technology, we need to make sure our service men and women are properly equipped for the type of conflicts encountered today, and that we need to develop a serious counter-cyber-attack capability for the future.”
Phew, this is like getting heavy dude, how’s about we bring it to a local level; local matters for a local column? I was interested to know how much of an issue pollution is in rural Wiltshire. Aside from congestion in our market towns due to infrastructure, what other areas would Emma look into locally?
“Air pollution is one issue – levels in Devizes and Marlborough are about World Health Organisation safe levels,” she says.
“Tackling this is partly about having better alternatives to driving fossil-fuel vehicles: better bus services and bringing rail links to Devizes and Marlborough, and by making cycling and walking preferable by having attractive and safe cycle ways and pedestrian routes. These are often likely to be implemented at the local council level, however national laws affect what councils can do, and how much money they have. The Green Party would re-nationalise railways.”
Seems to me there are plenty of small companies producing environmentally friendly/biodegradable alternatives, but are shadowed by pressure from the mainstream plastic and fuel industries. I wondered how the Greens would change this.
“There is a huge problem that large multinational companies have too much lobbying power and often can tilt the playing field to their advantage, through tax-loopholes and by pressing for regulation that benefits their products,” says Emma.
“The Green Party is trying to level the playing field to enable fair competition, and to implement and support policies to encourage the use of environmentally friendly products.
“This could be through increasing food and animal welfare minimum standards, better labelling, or having higher fossil-fuel taxes to make products that use less fossil-fuel in their manufacture more attractive.
“I don’t believe we can just persuade the majority of people to change to greener lifestyles without changing the rules. Life is too complicated for most people to bother about working out if the beans they buy in the supermarket are environmentally friendly or not, and many people can’t afford the environmentally friendly option anyway.”
The socialist idealism of the party may be a hard pill to swallow for many, in the reality of capitalism, and one we could philosophise over till the cows come home, but the Green’s baseline policies makes sense to me. I’d like to see these ideas having more clout in Parliament; I’d like these guys to at least be given a fair hearing. So I thank Emma for her time at this vital moment and long for the possibility of a coalition.
While Corbyn has stated he’s uninterested in a coalition Mrs May seems certain one is possible… Would the Greens consider a coalition with Labour if it was on the table, is my final question to Emma?
“The Green Party would work together with any party to get our policies adopted. We do not have a party whip: a Green politician can always vote as they believe best, which may make a formal coalition difficult,” she says.
“Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have adopted many Green Party policies in their 2017 manifestos, so we would certainly support these policies going through parliament.”
The other candidates standing in Devizes for election on June 8 are: Chris Coleman, Lib Dems; Jim Gunter: Wessex Regionists; Tim Page, UKIP; Claire Perry, Conservative Party; Imtiyaz Shaikh, Labour.