After serving four years as Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett has moved up North to contest Labour’s long held seat in Sheffield Central. HNews’ Stephane Lawes caught up with the now prospective MP to discuss her objectives in Sheffield and her former role as Green Party leader.
“I saw Sheffield and I saw its energy, excitement and I thought that’s a brilliant place to live and represent as an MP”
It is fair to suggest that The Green Party’s strength is often dismissed, they don’t seem to stand as tall as The Conservative or Labour Party on the political spectrum.
But this is changing, in the 2010 General Election the Greens’ won their first seat in Parliament representing Brighton Pavilion, a huge step for the party, who now hope to repeat this in Sheffield with Natalie Bennett.
Which begs the question; why Sheffield?
“I had done two terms as Green Party leader and I felt it was time to do something slightly different but something that was very much still full-time in the Green Party.
“I had also been looking to move out of London, I looked at Sheffield and I saw its energy levels, lots of pop up businesses, lots of start-up businesses, lots of energy and excitement. I thought that’s a brilliant place to live and an excellent place to represent as an MP.”
The former party leader talks about Sheffield with a sense of excitement and eagerness, she continues…
“Also a lot of students are here and famously it’s the city where most students stay after graduating from university so it’s clearly a great place where a lot of people choose to make their lives.”
So the Green Party are about to establish themselves in Sheffield, but do they have a history here?
“So Sheffield is a long time center of strength for the Green Party, we’ve currently got four councilors here representing wards that many student live in. We also got our third highest result in Sheffield Central in the 2015 General Elections.”
2015 saw the Greens’ Jillain Creasy secure 7,000 votes in Sheffield Central, finishing 2nd to Labour’s Paul Blomfield with 24,000 votes.
“An interesting thing that many people don’t know is that the Green Party, until 2015 had never finished second in a General Election steep so we have really set things up here with great possibilities.”
“Politics is something that everybody, particularly young people should do, rather than having done to them”
A major aspect of the Greens’ new presence in Sheffield is Bennett’s profile, as former party leader she has a global reputation. But her profile isn’t everything, I asked her how she plans on using her leadership experiences in Sheffield.
“I think that as Green Party leader, one of the things that wasn’t visible on a national scale was that I would travel all around the country. Doing this, I would see lots of really interesting and good things happening, one of the things that I do regularly and hope to carry on doing is linking up organizations. When I see a similar place doing something good then I advise people to be inspired by this.”
Surely the change from Party leader in London to prospective MP in Sheffield has been huge. So I ask Bennett what she think of her new role.
“In many ways it’s a great chance to get engaged with local issues and there’s a huge number of issues in Sheffield. It’s a place that does some things a lot better than London, for example one of the things we’ve been focusing on recently is Sheffield’s city of sanctuary image. Sheffield was the nation’s first city of sanctuary, welcoming refugees and has a very long tradition of doing this, so it’s a place where lots of people come together.”
Something that London and Sheffield share are their larger than average student populations. What will Bennett do to appeal to our student community in Sheffield?
“One of the things that has always been a big focus of mine is that politics is something that everybody, particularly young people should do, rather than having done to them.
“In terms of the Green Party and what we offer students. The very obvious thing is to say we believe passionately in zero university tuition fees, we believe in free universities and that’s because it’s a public good, the cost should be met by general taxation.”
“There’s also the issue of the nature of our schooling system, they’ve been turned into exam factories, pupils shoved through exam after exam after exam. The vision we have of an education for life not just for exams, is something that appeals to lots of young people and their experiences of life.”
And finally, as well as appealing to our students, what will Bennett do to make Sheffield greener?
“Just this morning we launched ‘Let Sheffield breath’ and one of the things we’re focusing on is the issue of air pollution which is particularly acute in many parts of Sheffield.
“We need to do something to change this and that something is encouraging cycling, improving public transport and making it more affordable. We also need to look at cleaning Sheffield’s bus fleet, making sure taxi drivers have clean vehicles and importantly, we need to cut traffic.”
Natalie Bennett holds a lot of enthusiasm and passion for Sheffield, a city she hopes to modernize and clean up. On top of this she has a lot of time for the youth of Sheffield, inspiring many young people to get politically engaged and aims at reforming the education system, something important in a city of 60,000 students.