Natalie Bennett: Electoral reform is crucial to take back control of our environment

EXCLUSIVE: The 2017 General Election offers an opportunity to campaign against a "hopelessly out-of-date" electoral system and establish a government that makes sensible, long-term green policy decisions, the former leader of the Green Party has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to edie in the aftermath of the snap General Election announcement, Natalie Bennett said the UK’s current first-past-the-post voting system is undemocratic and has led to an “extreme disillusion with politics” across the country.

What will the 2017 General Election mean for green business

Bennett, who is campaigning to become the first Green Party MP in the North by taking the Sheffield Central seat, believes electoral reform would allow for more representative decisions to be made on key environmental issues like renewable energy subsidies and fracking.

“We have an extreme disillusion with politics at the moment and behind that is an electoral system that is hopelessly out of date for the modern era,” Bennett said. “Getting a fairer system is something I will be a campaigning on very strongly.

“We don’t have democracy at the moment and that’s at the heart of lots of our difficulties. Take the issue of energy… there’s huge public support for solar, offshore and onshore wind, and there’s huge public opposition to fracking. Yet, we’ve got a Government that has been actively discouraging the clean technologies that the rest of the world is racing ahead with and actively encouraging fracking.

“Getting a government that reflects the will of the people really is crucial for environmental issues.”

Take back control

And this electoral reform could happen as early as next year: the 100-year anniversary of the women’s right to vote provides an ideal platform to ignite a social movement against the current establishment towards a fairer electoral system based on proportional representation, Bennett says.

“In the 100 years after women got the vote, we haven’t really seen any significant reform in Westminster, so next year would be a great time to bring democracy into Westminster,” she added. “In the EU Referendum, the hashtag for people campaigning to leave Europe was #TakeBackControl. I think we now need to #TakeBackControl of Westminster. It’s crucial for the environment, for the state of our economy, and our society.”

The Conservative Party’s controversial ‘chop-and-change’ approach to environmental legislation, which Bennett has been highly critical of in the past, further highlights the inadequacies of the current voting system, according to the Green Party member, who is calling for more consistent policymaking.

“We tend to see green policy issues continually changing between Governments and we need to make some sensible, evidence-based policy decision for the environment,” Bennett said. “Those decisions need to be stuck at over the long-term, not seesawing every time a minister or government changes.”

As a step towards electoral reform, the Green Party’s co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley this week penned a letter to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Lib Dems leader Tim Farron calling for an electoral pact to avoid centre-left parties competing against each other in certain seats. This is the only way to “stop the Tories from wrecking our country for generations to come”, the Greens said.

An example of this so-called “progressive alliance” approach came in December’s Richmond by-election, which saw the Green Party opt not to field a candidate, which in turn helped the Lib Dems unseat the Conservative Party’s Zac Goldsmith.

Standing down

In the build-up to June’s General Election, Bennett believes there is now a “great opportunity” for similar moves to be made in other seats across the country, but added that these decisions would have to be made at a local party level.

“We’ve already seen the fine example of Richmond Park where this approach was successful,” Bennett said. “But, by contrast, you could take another recent by-election like Copeland – where we had the only anti-nuclear power candidate – it would have been inappropriate for us to consider standing down in that seat because people needed to be given that choice. So, we need to take this on a case-by-case basis.

“Obviously, the progressive alliances are about getting rid of the Tories, but they are also very much about getting a democracy so that peoples’ views can be represented. That then leads on to tackling key environmental issues.”

Having resigned as leader of the Green Party last August after four years at the helm, Bennett believes she has a “great chance” of beating Labour’s Paul Blomfield in Sheffield Central – a city which has been ranked one of the ‘greenest’ in the country. The Green Party, which currently has Lucas as its only MP in the Brighton Pavilion seat, is equally hopeful of securing the Bristol West constituency, with MEP Molly Scott-Cato also looking to unseat Labour.

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie