Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Bristol West candidate Darren Hall visit UWESU to try to swing students’ votes ahead of the May general election.

– Natalie Bennett addresses a room of 500 UWE students and staff at a Students’ Union Q&A // Credit: Rosy Webb
Natalie Bennett addresses a room of 500 UWE students and staff at a Students’ Union Q&A // Credit: Rosy Webb

“Politics should be something that you do, not that’s done to you.” The theme of Natalie Bennett’s visit to UWE Students’ Union, and indeed the theme of the Green Party manifesto, is one of togetherness and of involvement.

In a question and answer session held at Red Bar, both the leader of the Green Party and Darren Hall, Green candidate for Bristol West, addressed questions from students spanning from social housing to the abolition of tuition fees.

The Green Party appear to want to change our fundamental approaches as a society, as opposed to a few policies, and claim to want “real change from business-as-usual politics.” Speaking to the audience of over 500 UWE students, staff, and local Bristolians, Bennett said, “Everybody of all ages needs to be cared for and everybody needs to take responsibility for our future.”

Speaking to WesternEye, Bennett enthused that Green Party membership has increased four-fold since the 2010 election, including many young Greens, and it is this promising development that brought Bennett and Hall to UWESU just weeks before the vote. Students stand to benefit from the policies in the Green manifesto as the party promise to remove university tuition fees and reintroduce the student grant.

Natalie Bennett engages with WesternEye writers Sophie Evans and Jamie Jordon // Credit: Rosy Webb
Natalie Bennett engages with WesternEye writers Sophie Evans and Jamie Jordon // Credit: Rosy Webb

Reinforcing this point during the questions, Hall claimed to be unsurprised that other party leaders had declined UWESU’s invitation to speak, and added that he believes they are avoiding the issue of student fees. “Students shouldn’t be leaving university saddled with massive debt,” he told the room.

However, along with relaying student-specific Green Party policies, Bennett and Hall addressed questions surrounding the majority of their manifesto points. “We need to talk about benefits in a different way. In a decent society we should have a benefit system that gives not grudgingly, not as though it’s charity, but gives gladly,” Bennett explained, following up a question about allowances for disabled individuals with “We need to get away from the rhetoric that people are trying to get away with something… so many groups have suffered under this government but disabled individuals perhaps worst of all. We want to restore funding, and we want to remove the bedroom tax.”

From the topical Trident debate – “Owning weapons we could never use or want to use doesn’t make us any safer” – to the housing crisis – “We want to end ‘right to buy’ as it is one more form of privatisation of social assets” – Bennett addressed all questions strongly, receiving frequent cheers from the crowd.

Not only does the Green Party want to champion social change, but they take pride in having a fresh outlook on “an era of grown-up politics”. Bennett says, “No more being nasty because you’re part of opposing parties, agree to disagree, and work together.” Similarly, in his bid to win UWE student votes, Hall echoed “I want a group of MPs in parliament holding major parties to account.”

Following the recent televised debates, Bennett commented “Men shouting at each other and making chicken noises – this is called politics in the UK.” Both Bennett and Hall spoke spiritedly of the call for change in UK politics, including maintaining a gender balance of the party leaders, but added that there is progress still to be made, such as increased inclusion of BME and disabled individuals in politics. Addressing both her immigrant status and the homogeneity of Westminster, Bennett joked, “I am the only political leader who knows how to shear a sheep.” To considerable applause, Bennett continued, “any background that doesn’t include Eton would be a good start”.

Having spanned a range of topics, Bennett powerfully reminded the room of the Green Party’s core values by saying, “Where we are now is not economically or socially sustainable, and last year one million people went to food banks. It is also not environmentally sustainable. All of us use three planets’ worth of resources, but we only have one.”

By Sophie Evans and Jamie Jordon