Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, made a bid for the constituency of debt-ridden, disaffected youth on 31 October as she sought to position her party as the young people’s champion.
Addressing the Young Greens’ national convention in Nottingham, she portrayed the party as being about far more than just the environment – drawing attention to issues such as student debt, rising rents and rip-off apprenticeships.
She promised that things would get better and pledged to work with the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and the greatly expanded Scottish National Party to make sure that happened.
“I know today it can be hard to be hopeful, as many of you face 30 years of unpayable student debt hanging over your head while you confront a job market in which under-25s are going to be lower paid,” Ms Bennett told the audience at Nottingham Trent University.
She was speaking two days after a new state-of-the-nation report found that young people were suffering the “worst economic prospects for several generations” as a worrying age inequality gap is opening up.
Decrying Britain’s descent into a society where schools are increasingly obsessed with exams, apprenticeships are “too often only exploitative low-paid work” and rents soar every year, Ms Bennett insisted that things had to change.
“The current state of economy, society and environment means the status quo, the way things are done now, will not continue. That’s a certainty,” she said.
“Change, real change, is coming fast – and the implementation of those solutions, solutions that can give us a healthy, prosperous, sustainable society, is in our hands.”
The Tories have come under huge criticism from the green community since taking office, as they scrap subsidies for solar farms and onshore wind, champion fracking, and rely on Chinese government backing on a nuclear power project. But, despite the particular appeal of green issues to young voters, Ms Bennett is determined that the party’s focus is much wider than just the environment.
During her speech, she held out the prospect of a society fuelled by renewable energy and producing far more of its own food, creating massive employment and business opportunities in the process. Furthermore, she said there was tremendous scope to improve public health by investing heavily in public transport and in ways to encourage people to walk and cycle.
“We know that the financial sector is unstable, fraud-ridden and corrupt, and we’re going to have to rein it in, and rebuild the British economy on the foundation of strong local communities built around small businesses and co-operatives,” she said.
Asked by Sam, a delegate from Oxford, whether Jeremy Corbyn was effectively eating the Green Party’s lunch, she argued that the opposite was the case. The kind of suggestions that typically put the Greens in the minority – railway nationalisation in particular – were now moving into the mainstream, thanks to Mr Corbyn, she argued.
There is some evidence that the Green Party’s courtship of the young is already working. Membership of the Young Greens, which stood at just 1,300 at the end of 2013, has soared to more than 20,000.
And despite a surprisingly low turnout – fewer than 70 people watched Ms Bennett’s opening speech on – there was no doubting the conviction of those who did attend.
“Young people are being politicised by austerity,” said 23-year-old Tom Pashby, an unemployed former climate change campaigner living in Watford.
“The Green Party are the only ones providing a viable option.”
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