Enough stealth success for the Greens, let’s get visible

No wonder more than  60 per cent opted out of this stale game and decided to stay home

As the post-mortem for last month’s elections hits its stride, many voters have commented that the Green Party got far more votes per minute of television time than any other major party.

And that lack of balance has continued in the reporting of the European poll. That the Lib Dems were pushed into fifth place, and into crisis, has been widely reported, but there’s a  lacuna above that, in fourth place. Yes, that was where the Green Party finished, increasing its number of MEPs from the two we’ve held since the vote went proportional in 1999, to three, with the election of Molly Scott Cato in the South West.

More than 1.2 million voters chose the Green Party in this election, and the Green Party is now the official opposition on councils from Liverpool to Solihull, Islington to Lewisham, and represented on seven new councils.

Those voters had to do more “work” than those voting for other parties to learn about us – and we had to work, with shoe-leather and social media – to reach them, with little access to traditional media channels.

That fact drew a response from a wide range of commentators, from Louise Mensch on Twitter, to Brighton resident Portia Cocks, who launched a petition that has garnered more than 38,000 signatures, calling on the BBC to offer fairer coverage.

But that raises a much broader question about the quality of our political coverage. Not only do we see the same old faces presenting and answering questions, but we hear the same questions, again and again.

Is it any wonder that more than 60 per cent of voters decided to opt out of this seemingly stale game and stay at home? There were critically important issues to be debated in this election: the disastrous proposed EU-US free trade deal; the importance of strong renewables and energy efficiency targets; the very nature of the EU and the need to reform it to make it work democratically for the people of Europe rather than in the interests of big corporations.

For the local elections, where was the media debate about the massive impacts of national government austerity, and the multiplying impact of populist promises to freeze council tax on essential services?

That’s one more reason why the Green Party needs to be represented on programmes ranging from Question Time to local radio: we raise these issues, we try to engage in policy debate, and on issues ranging from  re-nationalising the railways to wind farms, from maintaining a publicly owned NHS to making the minimum wage a living wage, we represent majority public opinion.

Not only are voters failing to get the chance to hear a representative range of views, they’re failing to hear their own views represented.

The writer is the leader of the Green party

Twitter: @natalieben

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Let’s Get Heretical on Education: Competition Has Failed

natalie+bennettIt’s time we talked about education.

Not just about the disasters of free schools, the horrors of stressful, damaging Ofsted inspections that produce random results (as the organisation itself has just acknowledged), the huge workload being carried by teachers and pupils, but about the basics – the philosophy behind our education system and indeed education itself, and its place in society.

I’m going to begin by quoting the Open University’s Ron Glatter, who has argued: “international experience indicates that emphasising choice and competition to drive improvements is not effective”.

That makes sense when you strip away the ideology and think about what competition between schools means – the driving force of Michael Gove’s free schools approach. If you have competition between widget factories, then some of them will fail. That will be pretty bad for the workers, but we might assume that if there’s a fixed need for widgets they’ll get a job at a more successful plant. So no great problem for society.

But turn that model to schools, and what happens when a school closes down? Pupils have their education disrupted – disastrous in our age-driven, rigid system, that means they can’t just go back to catch up. Pupils in neighbouring schools see their education disrupted too, as new groups are levered into their existing structures. Local areas lose what should be their heart – the place where parents get together, build organisations and build community spirit.

Schools are encouraged not to share good techniques and approaches, but hug them close – or at best to to try to sell them to other schools. And they’re encouraged to sneak sideways into selection – ensuring by hook or by crook that pupils who aren’t going to be an ornament to their results aren’t on their rolls at test time.

So let’s start with one heretical thought: competition is disastrous in our education system and should be abandoned as a guiding principle. Instead what we need is cooperation – an informal co-operative of pupils, teachers, parents, communities working together to help achieve the best possible outcome for each pupil.

Then we come to what education is for: and I couldn’t argue with the 1988 Education Reform Act, one of the few in our history to explain what schools should do: “promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils … and prepare pupils … for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.”

But that’s not what schools and teachers are being judged on now. The test result is king. Sat results, league tables, are what heads hold or lose their jobs by, and they’re forced, whether they like it or not, to pass that pressure down to their staff.

Look at the turnout at the recent elections, particularly among the young, and hear when many explain they don’t vote because they don’t know enough, and you have to acknowledge that citizenship education is certainly failing, and if we think about skills that everyone needs: cooking and nutritional knowledge, financial management, sex and relationship education, gardening even … few would claim that many schools are providing these essentials, let alone more abstract but essential life skills like problem-solving, emotional resilience, and effective communication.

So my second heretical proposal: let’s cut the testing, stop spending time on endless drilling for Sats and other exams, let’s ensure that our children get a broad, healthy education for life.

Original article published in Huffington Post

Based on a speech delivered on the afternoon of June 1st at the How The Light Gets In Festival 2014 in Hay-on-Wye

Follow Natalie Bennett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@natalieben

European Elections: Greens’ Message of Real Change for the Common Good Resonates With Voters

natalie+bennettAs I write I’m on the train to Stroud, for a lightning trip to congratulate our new Green Party MEP Molly Scott Cato, who becomes our third representative in Brussels, with London’s Jean Lambert and the South East’s Keith Taylor re-elected.

Those results came on a good night for the Green Party – we finished fourth in the European parliament election, comfortably beating the Lib Dems (who finished with just one MEP) into fifth place.

It was result achieved despite extremely limited media coverage – there’s no doubt that we got vastly more votes per minute of TV coverage than any of the other four large parties.

So why did it happen? Partly, undoubtedly, as our strong local election results indicate, it was the result of solid on-the-ground campaigning, going door to door, holding stalls, delivering leaflets.

But more than that, I think what won many votes was our message of hope, of positive change, offering a plan for real change to ensure that our society works for the common good, the 99%, not for the few, the 1%.

Policies such as making the minimum wage a living wage, renationalising the railways, keeping our NHS publicly owned, publicly run and free at the point of use, investing in renewable energy (while banning fracking) and providing warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes all played their part.

But it was above all our determination to look forward with optimism, to say that we do have within our democratic power the ability to create a better society, one in which everyone has access to the resources for a decent standard of life (which means jobs you can build a life on and adequate benefits for everyone who needs them) within the limits of our one fragile, overstretched planet.

That means standing up to the politics of fear, as represented in the form of Ukip – which seeks to blame our many, obvious, problems in society on immigration and Europe. Sadly, the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems have failed to tackle this narrative – to unpick how our low wage economy, housing crisis and crowded schools and hospitals are not the fault of immigration or immigrants.

To start with low wages – no immigrant arrives at the White Cliffs of Dover and says “I want to work for poverty pay, be shamelessly exploited and pay extortionate rents for a bed in a shed”. Low wages exist because we have an inadequate minimum wage, inadequately enforced, and the power of unions to help workers to band together to resist has been shredded by legislation.

Housing? Well that’s complicated, but worth starting with the fact that there are now more bedrooms per person in Britain than ever before (huge inequalities of access here as there are in income and wealth), and at least 600,000 empty homes, mostly in the North and the Midlands (the result of failed and non-existent regional development policies, and one more reason why we shouldn’t build HS2). And schools and hospital? Michael Gove’s free school laissez-faire approach has left local authorities unable to plan for demand, and funding for both is seriously inadequate.

When you consider the failures of successive governments these facts represent, it’s perhaps not surprising that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems would rather go along with the Ukip narrative on immigration, and try, all too often, to out-Ukip Ukip, in promising curbs on immigration and introducing the disastrous, unworkable Immigration Act, as well as chasing after their climate change-denier agenda on wind turbines and other energy policies.

Instead we’ll continue to say, loudly and proudly, that we celebrate free movement of people within the European Union – which results in roughly balanced numbers of expatriates and incomers for Briton, and that we should continue Britain’s proud tradition to providing asylum to victims of persecution and war, and hosting foreign students to our mutual benefit.

The BBC asked me this morning if the arrival of Ukip (and even darker parties such as the Front Nationale) in Brussels would be disruptive. I agreed that it will be.

But disruption, creative chaos, real change, is just what our stale, failed political system needs, just as the angry voters, lashing out or expressing frustration by either voting Ukip or staying at home (as 63% did), need to be offered hope.

Our political future doesn’t look like the past. Happily.

Read the original article in Huffington Post here

 

Follow Natalie Bennett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@natalieben