With the election only three days away, I was grateful that Green Party candidate Laura Bannister had taken the time to meet me at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, straight from the train station, for a last-minute grilling on her campaign, the homelessness crisis, and climate change.
When did you join the Green Party? Why?
I joined the Green Party in 2009, after going to a workshop about economics and banking with Molly Scott Cato [Green MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar]. It wasn’t party-political, but hearing the Green Party talked about in connection to progressive economics, it made me want to find out more about it. I fully expected it to be quite meek [Ms Bannister admits here that, like many, she associated the Green Party as predominately ‘environmental’ before her research] but found there to be radical, yet sensible and workable proposals for a different kind of economy and society that I wanted. The policies were a close fit with the values that I have and so it seemed like the logical step to join up. I’ve been there ever since.
Why did you decide to run in Manchester Withington?
I’ve lived [in Withington] for a couple of years now, but have lived in surrounding areas since I moved away from home. It’s my home in Manchester and I feel really connected to it as an area. I’ve talked to lots of people and feel connected to what’s going on, so of anywhere I’d like to represent it would be [Withington].
If elected, what are the biggest changes you would like to see in your constituency?
I think the people of Manchester Withington are a pretty broad-minded bunch so there is a lot of stuff I would want to fight for in Westminster. A very big part of that is a new economic approach that reverses the austerity cuts we’ve seen over the last seven or eight years.
So many of the issues that people have been contacting me about essentially tail back to huge funding cuts that we’ve seen in public services, the NHS, and in schools. There are so many different groups that are suffering as a result of that, including a domestic violence group I am in contact with that has had their funding cut. People are worried about health issues but there is no funding or staff. It always seems to come back to this issue of funds being taken away or not increased in line of what they need to.
The Green Party’s manifesto is fully-costed so we are not making empty promises when we’d reverse the cuts, that we’d invest in the NHS, we’d invest in schools – we’ve actually looked at the sums and what we can raise from progressive taxation. None of which are especially radical or extreme. They are all about asking people to contribute a little bit more when they are well able to and benefiting from the economy as it is.
The Green Party is particularly popular with young voters. Why do you think this is and how have you reached out to young voters during your campaign?
I think the Green Party is a very broad-looking party and we talk about change on a bigger level. When I was originally looking around at political parties, no other offered the sort of positive change that I was looking for. I think that maybe young voters tend to look at the bigger picture, and to think long-term – ‘what kind of world do I really want to live in?’ – rather than settling for immediate and smaller changes that other parties offer.
I also think that we have a lot of great policies that young people can see themselves benefiting from, like free education and writing off tuition fees. We’ve also talked recently about free travel for younger people and bringing services back into public ownership. Young people are about to go out into the world of work and are looking at where their careers are going. They want to be working in important sectors of the economy that are driving forward into a useful and workable future. You want a vision that is moving towards a world of opportunities.
I think young people respond to the same kind of messaging that everybody does. We talk to young people like we do to all people, which is frankly and realistically about what is going on. But we do try to reach people through various channels; public meetings, street stalls, and on social media, so that we are hopefully connecting with people.
You’ve mentioned during your campaign your passion for fighting against high levels of poverty and homelessness across the city. What would be your next steps if elected?
I think we’ve got to be clear about taking real action rather than just making targets and giving warm words. I really hope that Andy Burnham [who has dedicated 15 per cent of his Mayoral wage to a homeless charity] does take real action and this goes so far beyond politics. Homelessness is an immense crisis – I’ve only just come through the city centre and the sheer number of people sleeping rough and begging is a massive indictment on our society. No-one should end up living in that situation.
We need a multi-pronged approach with social housing, so that there are homes available in which to house people, and I hope that Andy Burnham and the Labour Party will take seriously the prospect of building social housing and changing the laws that allow it to be sold off so easily at the moment. There are also a lot of expertise of people who have worked with people with these problems, that is not being put to use because of cuts. It comes down to taking the problem seriously and beyond targets, to making sure the homes and services are there.
This year we saw climate change find its way into mainstream political discussion on the BBC Debate and Caroline Lucas [co-leader of the Green Party] was particularly happy of its inclusion. What are your thoughts on the issue, especially with the recent news of President Trump backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement?
It’s not really an option whether we take action on climate change or not. We can choose to ignore it, as it might not be that important as it hasn’t affected it us yet, but innocent people who are famined and have done nothing to contribute to climate change are already suffering.
I think we need to use it as an opportunity to recreate the systems of economic systems and our transport, energy, and housing, in a better way. For example, if we are going to create a new energy infrastructure, rather than having it privately owned by a few well-off individuals, we could have it in broad public or community ownership with lots of people benefiting from it. I think it’s important to bring into the debate that this is not a problem of personal morality – we need to have solutions on a political level. That’s why we need politicians like Caroline Lucas to start those discussions and then we need the policies to nod us, as individuals, in the right direction.
How do you feel about the co-leadership of the Green Party? Do you think we will see this style adopted by other parties in the suture?
I think it works brilliantly for [the Green Party]. Caroline [Lucas] and Jonathon [Bartley] work great together – they’re both great people and speakers so they complement each other well. Whether it will be adopted by other parties, I couldn’t really comment on.
What I would say is that I don’t think that parties having dual-leaderships because leaders represent different fractions in a party would create a cohesive voice – which is often what people look for when searching for a political party. It’s not a solution for a diversity of opinion.