The Sunday long read
When the Green Party began life in 1972 as “People” its main concerns were employment, energy and fuel supplies, pollution, defence and social security, all in an ecological perspective. This formed the basis of the first green party in the UK and Europe. Its belief in ‘steady state economics’ put the emphasis on relationships, community, and a better life for all, instead of over-consumption and unfair working conditions and trade practices. Adrian Ramsay, co-leader of the Green Party, believes that these values, together with a concern for the protection of the environment, have resonance in today’s broken political reality in Britain.
“Britain is broken”
It is widely agreed that Britain is broken, and needs significant change. People are concerned about the cost of living and reduction of community support; pollution, especially of our rivers; a lack of care for the environment, which is sacrificed to build new roads, railways, power stations, and houses without the requisite planning and regulation that takes account of people’s needs and preferences. People feel that things no longer work in the way they used to; the NHS is not there for them any more, and importantly, people believe that Parliament and politicians are not concerned about them – they only care about themselves and getting richer at their expense.
The country seems to be in a kind of stupor, where promises are made with no intention that they will be fulfilled. People no longer believe that parliament or the mainstream parties are working for them. The country is at a crossroads, in desperate need of fundamental change, to deal, not only with the problems created by a chaotic and inept government, but also with the coming climate emergency.
Meeting Adrian Ramsay
On the face of it, the Green party seems a perfect fit to deal with the current crisis. Their philosophy and proposed policies match the core problems. They sound and behave brave and confident about meeting the new challenge, offering a new and positive vision for the future. So, is the Green Party in a position to rise to the challenge it was born to deal with?
So, I spoke to Adrian Ramsay, co-leader of the Green Party, following their momentous achievement in taking control of their first council in the UK in the May 2023 local elections. I wanted to get a sense of whether the Greens are ready for a bigger role in British politics.
Why did the Greens win Mid-Suffolk?
My first question concerned the reasons for their success in Mid-Suffolk.
Adrian Ramsay (AR): Well, we won our first seats on Mid-Suffolk council 20 years ago. And in every election since then, we’ve increased the number, because people liked what their green councillors have done: working hard for their community, putting forward very practical proposals that will make a difference for people and for the environment locally. This time, we were giving people a choice, because it was really clear that in mid-Suffolk, there was an opportunity to not just change the councillor, but change the whole council. And I think we have shown that we’ve got practical policies and experienced people grounded in their community that can make a difference.
Suffolk has been conservative for as long as people can remember, and still is in terms of their MPs. There can be a change, if we give people something positive to vote for. People who are non-voters, who distrust the political system, can see all the scandals and no longer believe that politicians are listening to them. We need to restore standards in public life, that also offer people a positive vision, which is what Greens want to do.
Pavement politics have helped – speaking to people and engaging with them locally. People saw that we were listening to them. We were able to show that we can do things that will make tangible improvements to their everyday lives: insulating their homes, improving public transport, supporting local farmers to produce more food locally. These things, especially in the countryside, make a real difference to people.
What were the main issues on the doorsteps of Mid-Suffolk?
AR: My colleagues and I spent a lot of time on the doorsteps across Mid Suffolk. People regularly raised housing and development. Too often, they see homes being built that are too expensive: luxury houses, built on greenfield sites or in the countryside, without investment in local infrastructure, such as GP surgeries, schools, and bus services which are being eroded in rural Suffolk. They are being priced out of their own community. Our main platform in the election was: right homes in right places, and at right prices, so that homes being built are affordable, on brownfield sites wherever possible and with investment in local infrastructure. People responded very positively to that.
Did the climate emergency come up on the doorsteps?
AR: I think awareness of the climate crisis is much higher than even a few years ago. The environment is more than ever a political issue. People regularly said that they want to see more done. They want things to be shaken up and believe that voting Green is one of the ways to bring about that action.
What are the priorities of the new Green Mid-Suffolk district council?
Working within the powers that councils have, we want to build more social housing, and ensure that it is built to the highest possible environmental standards, which will keep people’s bills down. A top priority is to create a home insulation scheme and the council has already secured £2m towards this.
Then, really putting communities back at the heart of the planning system, in terms of the way future developments will support people in the district. They’d like to see big improvements to public transport, and though that is mainly a county council responsibility, there are things that we can do at a district level. On other issues, like the pollution of our waterways, it’ll be more about using soft power to influence improvements.
How will your local campaign support your approach in the General Election?
AR: Some of the key issues we’ve been campaigning on will be big issues at the general election: cost-of-living and energy bills, home insulation and renewable energy, our approach to housing that protects green spaces and ensures appropriate infrastructure development. All these are relevant at a national level.
You are the Green candidate for the new Waveney Valley constituency. What’s your plan?
AR: I grew up in East Anglia and live here. I care deeply about this region. I would truly be East Anglia’s person in Westminster rather than Westminster’s person in East Anglia. I’m already talking to constituents. Every week, I hear from residents who are really angered by the Conservatives’ behaviour over the last decade: by the fact that they have ripped up the rule book on standards in public life, by their cuts to the NHS and local services, and by their increased pressure to build on the countryside and green belt. These policies have hit Norfolk and Suffolk hard. Residents are also uninspired by Labour and don’t see any real leadership from either the Labour opposition or the Lib Dems.
We received the largest vote share across the wards that make up Waveney Valley in the recent local elections, including the very recent by-election win in West Depwade. We now have more district councillors here than any other party. We are also the only party that has selected a candidate for the new Waveney Valley constituency, which shows our dedication to the area and its residents. These are people who have been taken for granted by their Conservative councillors and MPs for decades. They really value this chance to get a new MP for their new constituency, and I think they are going to grab it.
Is the Green Party ready to fight a general election in the next year?
AR: In the last four years, the Green Party has fought local elections with record gains around the country. We’ve learned how to use our resources effectively in those wards where we’ve got the best chance of winning councillors. And it’s the same for winning MPs. We’ve already selected candidates for our strongest constituencies around the country and we’d like to have greens right across the country.
What do you think the main issues will be in the general election?
AR: The Conservative Party has caused a cost-of-living crisis that is unparalleled in the rest of Europe, due to years of cuts to vital services – from the NHS and social care services to public transport and youth centres. As a result, when the pandemic and the war in Ukraine hit, we had almost nothing in reserve. I think the cost-of-living crisis and the crisis in the NHS are major issues to fight on, as are, of course, the threats to our countryside from river pollution and overdevelopment, and the threats to farmers and our food security from an increasingly unpredictable climate.
Increasingly, people are recognising that issues like rising energy bills and the cost of living crisis are linked, and that by creating a greener economy, we’re also dealing with the issues related to the rising costs.
How would the Green Party tackle the cost of living?
AR: This is one of the Green Party’s key priorities and in March, we launched our own spring budget proposal for a fairer, greener economy. Among our proposals are 35 hours per week of free childcare for all from the age of nine months, which will remove a major barrier to work for millions of people. We want to invest in public transport and introduce a £1 single fare on all bus routes across England, with free bus travel for young people. That will cut the costs of congestion, reduce health costs associated with air pollution and help tackle carbon emissions and costs incurred from the climate crisis.
We want to reduce energy costs by investing in better homes. We have the leakiest houses in Europe, so money could be saved and jobs created through improving home insulation. We’ll also meet the demands of public sector workers for a pay rise that matches inflation. If we are to build a fair, green economy, we need to restore our public services and pay public sector workers properly.
So what is the verdict?
In Suffolk, the Greens seem to have a spring in their step, with renewed vigour and confidence in their new-found successes. There have been some setbacks – the loss of some councillors in Brighton and Hove in the last local elections, and much more importantly, the fact that Caroline Lucas will step down at the next general election. Over her 13 years in Parliament, she has been an inspiration not only to members of the Green Party, but to citizens all across the UK. But Adrian Ramsay says “the Greens are determined to get a group of Green MPs elected at the next General Election, to hold whoever forms a government to account and to offer a beacon for environmental action and for a different approach to politics.”
Interesting too is the result of the by-election in Uxbridge, which the Tories regained by blaming Labour for the extension of the ULEZ area. This will show the Greens, and other parties, that any big policies, no matter how green or necessary, will need to be carefully managed and fully funded, to ensure that they do not punish ordinary people during the cost-of-living crisis.
Uxbridge shows that it will not be enough to be just the listening party, or the ethical party, if their policies damage people’s pockets.
Some of the answers in this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity. We have taken care not to alter the meaning.