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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
The Green Party quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

  56k  


The Green Party, launched its manifesto today. At the heart of it is a pledge to raise the income tax for higher earners and a huge investment in non-nuclear renewable fuels.

Greens serve in governments in France, Italy and Finland, but have never won a seat in the Westminster elections. Their electoral high point was the 1989 European elections when they received nearly 15% of the vote. Since then their support has dropped.

In this election they are also campaigning on climate change issues, challenging the negative effects of globalisation,and they support giving more aid to developing countries. They oppose the euro and support higher fuel duties offset by cuts in vehicle excise on smaller cars.

Margaret Wright, a principal speaker of the Green Party, joined us on the day they launched their manifesto and answered your questions in a live forum.


Transcript


Newshost:

Margaret, I have two questions about Tony Blair and the Labour Party. The first is from Sara Angelini, London: I am thinking about voting Green instead of Labour this time. How would you convince me that my vote would be well placed?

The second is from Vladimir Dvoretzky, Sofia, Bulgaria: What are the Greens' main points of criticism towards the Blair government?


Margaret Wright:

Well your questioner from London needs to look at the freepost leaflet which will come through to her where she lives - she has a Green candidate I believe. She should study it carefully because every party should stand on not just its national manifesto but what the candidates put out and we are fortunate in that London is a real activist centre for the Greens.

I think she also will be aware of the track record particularly of Darren Johnson who is in Ken Livingstone's cabinet for the environment and their recent success for example in at least putting a temporary stop on the Crystal Palace development - there are very practical things. Overall it depends what her priorities are and I don't know what they are but ours are justice overall but a sustainable society in which people are also cared for would be the simplest way of putting it. In order to find out more she should look at our web site or get hold of our manifesto but that is our central plank.

To answer the question put by Vladimir. We have many points of criticism. One is certainly the Labour Party and the Conservative Party's position over asylum seekers which has come up in the news today. We are what you might say (with a small "l") much more liberal about asylum seekers. We welcome asylum seekers for what they can contribute to our society. We don't like the rhetoric of floods of asylum seekers and bogus claims and all of this. We would not be detaining aslyum seekers although we would obviously be looking into what kind of application was being made.

So that is one criticism but also the way that he has already given a pledge that the Labour Party will not increase taxation. Having done that he has tied his hands in the same way as he did in 1997. He is not looking to generate more wealth to put into the system so that he really can fundamentally address the many problems in the health service, education - the public services. He has gone gung-ho on public private partnership - we are against that. We think that it is wasteful of resources ultimately. It sounds very forward looking - it is very American but we think you are paying twice over in that direction. So there are some of our criticisms of the Blair government. On transport - he hasn't put in a national limit on road traffic which we tried to press through.


Newshost:

We will come onto transport in a moment but you are the Green Party - do you have specific criticisms of the Labour Government's record on the environment?


Margaret Wright:

Well yes indeed. Not long before this election campaign, Tony Blair launched an environment White Paper, I remember looking at that very carefully and he said many of the right things. His analysis of the problems of the environment was fine but as usual with the Blair Government - they have done this on several issues - he didn't deliver the goods about what he was going to do. He went for an increase in renewable energy - he looked at energy policy but that was all and that wasn't by our standards adequate. But he totally failed, for example, to address issues of transport in that paper.


Newshost:

Moving on to transport, we have a question from Ron Manley, Cambridge: On BBC television news this morning it was stated that the Greens plan to renationalise the railways. Every year from 1995 to 1999 the percentage of both passengers and freight increased on the railways and decreased on the roads so privatisation has been environmentally beneficial. Why reverse an environmentally successful policy?


Margaret Wright:

I don't think many people would agree with this gentleman even though he lives in my home town. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the railways. Certainly where he lives he deals with WAGN, West Anglia Great Northern Railway, and I know the line intimately. The Hatfield derailment massively disrupted services for months and months in that area and revealed the appalling safety record of Railtrack. We know that there is very wide - possibly 70% - support for some kind of public ownership of the railways - it is not a minority view. I just do not agree with him.


Newshost:

So is this a policy that you have adopted because it is electorally popular or because you believe it is necessary?


Margaret Wright:

We believe it is necessary and it happens also to be electorally popular. We believe, whether you use the language of nationalisation or public ownership - the use of the rail and the figures aren't in front of me - but it was increasing and then the Hatfield derailment and the subsequent total disaster of shutting down tracks for assessment and checking for cracks etc. caused the numbers to fall off massively. I think that they are still lower and that many people have not returned to the railways in spite of inducements. So often trains are late - we haven't got the safety mechanisms in place that they have in other countries in Europe but we haven't got the small lines with stopping trains which the Greens prioritise.


Newshost:

We have two questions on the single currency and Europe. Richard Wright, Sheffield, England asks: Why isn't the Green Party in favour of a Single European Currency? And another question goes with it: Margaret Malcolm, Aberdeen, Scotland asks: I was going to vote for you until I read that you are anti-European and anti-European integration. How can a progressive party be so backward in this respect?


Margaret Wright:

We are certainly not anti-European - I would like to deal with the last point first. The Greens are a global party now and have sister parties in all countries in Europe. We have, where there are different electoral systems, many people elected. The Green group in the European Parliament represents, I think, 15 countries. So we are certainly not anti-European.

The logic of our position on the single currency is that we don't want to see economies over-centralised. We are not xenophobic - we are not saying that everything across the Channel is a problem and we want to keep out of Europe in that way. But we are strongly in favour of regional economies and we see keeping the pound in that context - we don't want the centralisation of banking to Frankfurt and so on. But I do acknowledge that there are Greens in other countries who do actually support the single currency.

If I could just expand a little. There is a north/south divide in Europe about the single currency. The countries that border the Baltic in the North tend to be much more cautious about the single currency and the countries towards the Mediterranean and the South are much more in favour and in between you have quite a division. Also the history of a currency is I think quite significant. If you think of Germany and the massive inflation in the 1930s and the people carrying barrow loads of notes that meant nothing. We haven't really quite had that experience with the pound - there is a rather basic attachment to it but I do hope our attachment doesn't ring of xenophobia. We wish to dissociate ourselves from that.


Newshost:

We turn now to something which is very important for many people whether they count themselves as Greens or not and that is global warming and the Kyoto Protocol - the international treaty on the climate. Dean Hallett, Basingstoke, United Kingdom: If the United States decides to go its own non-Kyoto way, what can Europe do about it? Another question from Richard Kelly, Bristol: What action do you feel should be taken against President George Bush to stop him breaking internatinal treaties on global warming and pollution?


Margaret Wright:

- Yes, it is quite difficult - what can you do in relation to the United States when it has so much power and that is a problem. You can do those things which are open in a democratic system to all of us and for the Green Party that includes the right to non-violent direct action and protest. It also involves that the European Union - certainly the Greens - get together and put forward a coherent policy which puts the problem of global warming at the centre of its policies and makes it clear. So it is defeatist to say what can you do - it is like saying you couldn't do anything about Cruise missiles when the United States wanted to site them here. In fact, you could argue about whether the Greenham Common women and the massive concerted protests throughout Europe against that were any influence on the United States. They do care about world opinion.

There are several actions which obviously standing in a General election putting forward a very strong programme which totally accepts the facts of global warming and how policies may address this problem through not creating CO2 emissions as much as possible and there are many policies addressing that. But also we do support those people who are suggesting boycotts of American oil companies. There are of course Greens now in the United States and we are in solidarity with them.


Newshost:

Do you think the rest of the world should push ahead and ratify and implement the Kyoto Protocol despite the United States?


Margaret Wright:

Yes absolutely.


Newshost:

A question now on food and animal welfare. Nigel Bedrock, London: The Green Party has a policy to encourage cruelty-free diets in hospitals, schools and in the UK generally. How will you do this?


Margaret Wright:

It is not difficult. There is widespread concern after the recent foot-and-mouth disaster about we are treating animals. Many people were horrified at the needless, it seems, slaughter and burning of animals which could have been used for food and could have been farmed sensibly and the farmers were distressed. Many people have been in touch with us about this. So it is not difficult for example to introduce policies of sound nutrition in schools. In much earlier days - I come from the days of school dinners - but there was definitely a policy of a balanced diet of some sort. We have the legislation now to bring that about. In hospitals it is an issue already - the standard of food in hospitals is an issue. I have particular concerns about the mental health system. In a recent survey which MIND has revealed that lots of people in the hospitals were hungry and malnourished and this isn't good for health.


Newshost:

A last question on bureaucracy and administration. Len Marlow, Broseley, United Kingdom: Do the Green Party see paperwork in education, the National Health Service and the police as a Green issue? How would they move to a paper-free management system?


Margaret Wright:

Yes we do agree with that. We do see it as an enormous problem. It is clear in our manifesto that we think teachers should be teaching and not filling in endless forms which is literally driving some of them mad and many leave the profession.

A paper free system - I suppose you are going to say we use the hi-tec system access to things but in fact PCs and computers generate a lot of paper. If things were run locally with strongly decentralised policies and community involvement, there would be less endless passing of paper because it would be more immediate.


Newshost:

So a paper-free society in your view would be a much more democratic and Green society?


Margaret Wright:

No, I wouldn't say that. I think that there are many people who still use paper, who use the post - and I am one of them - but it should not be over-burdening us. I think that the present technology of computers can also - depending on how people print out their work - generate a lot of wasted paper.

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