Natalie Bennett: Appetite for a democratic revolution

TEN years after the financial crash, centrist politics is clearly dead '“ which is one reason why the idea of a new centrist political party in the UK (and the existing Liberal Democrats) has struggled. Yet leaving things much as they are is clearly untenable.

Natalie Bennett is a former leader of the Green Party.

Emmanuel Macron pulled off the curious feat of appearing to offer change in France through his personality rather than policies, but that’s not working out so well. And, after the disillusion created by Tony Blair, such an approach is unlikely to appeal to British voters.

So politics is going to change, and one of the ways it has to change is in demanding Britain become a democracy.

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I’ve been hearing that everywhere from anti-fracking protection camps in the North and the Midlands, to the recent Leeds for Europe Great Northern Stop Brexit Convention, to the Future Resource Expo (a gathering of professionals and companies in environmental services).

Democracy means both introducing a fair voting system (when 68 per cent of votes in the last general election didn’t count, no wonder people are demanding we take back control), and genuine, locally determined devolution of power, ending the concentration of it in London.

One of the biggest cheers of the day in Leeds came when I called not just for genuine, Yorkshire-wide devolution, as the One Yorkshire campaign is calling for, but for a Yorkshire-wide Assembly, on the Welsh model, ensuring every community has a chance to have a say in self-government, rather than a single elected mayor. I’ve never heard such a level of enthusiasm about local government, and that’s no wonder.

As The Yorkshire Post regularly highlights, we are starved of funds in the North while London and the South East see infrastructure investment piled high, and as with fracking and greenbelt building, community concerns and decisions are overruled by distant minister or bureaucrat. Far too many of our communities are collectively clinging on by their fingernails, with economies unduly dependent on a tottering retail sector – underpinned by that unsustainable level of personal debt.

Support for an entire reconsideration of the way we create money – to take it out of the hands of the banks and ensure the money is directed into the real economy and real needs (such as slashing carbon emissions) – is growing in some unexpected quarters from the International Monetary Fund to the Financial Times.

Land Value Tax (another long-time Green Party policy) keeps popping up – an idea that Winston Churchill promoted to curb the unearned income of landowners beside Victorian railways is finally about to have its day.

Workers are demanding a real living wage – not George Osborne’s fake version – from McDonald’s to Wetherspoons, and the much-squeezed public sector to cycle couriers, they are getting together and demanding their share of the profits from their labours has to be enhanced, and fat cats and owners need to take out less.

And communities are demanding that multi-national companies pay their taxes to support the services and infrastructure that their profits depend on. If Amazon doesn’t pay for the roads its parcels need, the hospitals and schools for its customers and workers, then it is a parasite. And if allowed to continue, it will destroy its own foundations.

But what’s clearly not happened, and must, is the reining in of the financial sector and multi-national companies. Which is where we get back to the politics. Currently we get the politics 
they pay for – funding for political parties has to be reformed. And nationally, we 
get a media which is controlled by a handful of rightwing tycoons. That has 
to change too.

Talking change back in 2006, when I joined the Green Party before the financial crash, was difficult. Now, it is the people who are leading, and our political establishment is trailing far behind.

Forty years on from Margaret Thatcher, her ideas have clearly, comprehensively failed. New ones must take their place. And we must complete the work of the suffragettes in delivering a fully-elected parliament that reflects the views of the people, and which respects the rights, decisions and needs of all of the people of the UK.

That’s a big challenge, but that’s what the people are demanding. Economic and environmental justice, and democracy, are inextricably intertwined.