Last Friday, 22nd of April, YorkX played host to leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett. YorkX is an up and coming student-run organisation who aim to connect “a credible academic audience with prominent figures of culture and politics.” The discussion with Natalie Bennett was the first event to be hosted by YorkX.
Natalie Bennett spoke at Alcuin College with Akul Pankhania, a First Year PEP student who founded YorkX alongside Ilyas Ibrahim. The event began with a brief introduction to YorkX and what their aims were. Pankhania was keen to point out that the organisation does “not want to be in competition with other students societies” but instead hopes to “unite students and members of the public across the north of England.”
The discussion began with Bennett being questioned about her British citizenship and life before politics. Bennett explained how she had settled in Britain in 1999, after being raised in Australia, due to her admiration of British history and culture. She commented that she “could not imagine going back to Australia by choice.” Before entering the world of politics, Bennett was a journalist and worked as Editor for The Guardian Weekly until 2012. “Politics was never the plan” said Bennett, after being quizzed on why she became interested in the field.
When questioned about the aims of the Green Party, Bennett said that they wanted to “build a whole new social, economic model” rather than try to revise the current system. Pankhania asked about some of the greatest achievements of the Green Party so far: Bennett added that they were the party responsible for the introduction of the “real living wage” as opposed to the Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, and his “faux living wage.” She used this example as evidence for how other major parties tend to adopt Green Party ideas and get the recognition for it.
Pankhania made the discussion more personal when he asked Bennett about why she identified as a Green rather than a socialist. She replied by saying that she “can only philosophically sit comfortably in the Green Party” and despite their socialist policies, Bennett insisted she “is a Green.”
The discussion turned to the recent Green Party broadcast and their decision to use children to act and portray the other political party members. Pankhania highlighted some of the YouTube comments on the video, including: “and of course, this video shows the Green Party are either skiving or nowhere to be found.” Bennett was quick to defend her party, she stated that if YorkX had played the whole broadcast (as it had been cut short) then it would be clear that the Green Party were represented by the adult at the end. This illustrated how the Green Party had ‘grown up politics’ as opposed to the other parties’ ‘childish politics’.
Pankhania did not hold back on the tough questions, and asked Bennett whether she believed in breaking the law to create change. He highlighted how Green MP, Caroline Lucas, was arrested at an anti-fracking protest. Bennett said she was a believer in “non-violent, direct action” and after being asked again by Pankhania, admitted that she “would break the law to make a change.”
The host continued with his line of tough questions, quizzing Bennett on why people should vote for the Greens when “Labour can offer the same and are more likely to get into power.” Bennett highlighted how, although their policies may seem similar, the structure of both parties are very different. She stated that the Labour Party has a lot of internal divisions, whereas the Green Party is “green right through.” This means that the voting public can be sure of where the Greens stand, especially as policies are decided by members and they are all supportive of one another. She furthered this by saying that the Green Party is very supportive of women and want to combat the misogyny that takes place within politics.
Pankhania took a more controversial approach to questioning Bennett, initially mentioning the Green Party surge that took place leading up to last year’s election, but then highlighting their ‘failures’ and how they still only have one MP. The host asked why Bennett thought these ‘failures’ were taking place. Bennett blamed this on voters being deterred from voting Green due to tactical voting in their constituencies. She also put emphasis on the ‘unfair’ electoral system, and feels that the First-Past-the-Post system needs reforming. She is very much in favour of introducing a Proportionate Representation electoral system, despite the power it could also bring to UKIP, as it is the “most democratic system.”
Questions were then brought to the floor. One audience member asked Bennett about how she felt about the NUS, given their recent controversies. Bennett explained that she did not know enough about the recent events to make a comment, however she would have liked the NUS to have fought more against rising tuition fees in the past. When asked about the EU, Bennett commented that the Green Party were “strongly in favour of remaining in the EU” and she personally believes that the “EU enriches everyone’s lives.” She stated that we should “stay in [the EU] and fight to reform it” rather than vote to leave.
Bennett received some criticism from members of the audience, which was to be expected given YorkX’s rules of allowing the audience to not just ask questions but also to make comments and spark debate with the guest. However, Bennett portrayed how much of charismatic speaker she was throughout this and never hesitated to respond to criticism. At one point she was asked whether she thought David Cameron should resign as leader of the Conservative Party. Bennett said she was not in favour of Cameron resigning as “the other potential leaders are no better.” Instead, she is “more interested in getting rid of the whole government, not just Cameron.”
Overall, the discussion prompted a lot of interesting comments and debates from Bennett and the YorkX hosts. Despite a few last minute hiccups, such as security changing the rules regarding admittance, the event was a big success for YorkX. The next event held by YorkX will be a discussion with Moazzam Begg, a former prisoner of Guantanamo Bay, on the 27th of April.