The leader of the Green Party on why she believes they offer the best alternative to the three main partiesby Josh Lowe / September 12, 2014 / Leave a comment
At the Green Party conference, delegates are making the most of the late summer sun, lounging about the garden of Birmingham’s Aston University Conference Centre dressed in beige jackets and nice cardies, a few reading battered copies of the Guardian‘s Saturday Review section. Inside the foyer, there’s none of the corporations or think tanks you’ll find descending on mega-sized venues around the country later this month to see and be seen with at the Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrat conferences. The only people here are representatives from a few charities and a steady stream of cheerful looking green activists. There is a stall for the West Midlands Vegan Fest 2014, too. You’d struggle to get hold of a “vegan Mars bar” at your average Policy Exchange reception.
But maybe that’s all set to change. The serenity of their conference aside, the Greens are gearing up for war. The big story of May’s European Elections may have been the rise of Ukip, but the Greens came out rather well too, gaining one MEP (to add to their previous two) at a time when the Green group across the European Parliament lost seven, and taking a higher share of the vote than the Liberal Democrats. Their national poll standings aren’t nearly as impressive as Ukip’s, but are better than they’ve had for some time; they are sitting at 5 per cent of the vote in YouGov’s voting intention polls, compared to the 2 per cent they were at a year ago. Leading the charge for the Greens is 47-year-old Natalie Bennett, party leader since 2012, whose conference speech attracted coverage that focused not on environmental policies so much as a wider election platform pitched at the disenfranchised and those disillusioned with Westminster politics.
I meet Bennett at the conference to discuss her plans. Despite having a lower public profile than Caroline Lucas, the former leader who has served as the party’s only MP since the last election, Bennett has overseen an almost 50 per cent growth in party membership in two years, from 12,500 when she took over to 18,547 now. She’s a somewhat overwhelming presence, speaking at a rattling pace as she offers me a tea or coffee from the machines in the press centre. She’s not someone you’d necessarily warm to…