The Grass is always Greener... An Interview with Green party leader Natalie Bennett
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With Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, making an appearance on Streatham Campus, Exeter's Exeposé Features Editors James Roberts and Imogen Watson talked to her about fracking, Australia and being a woman in politics. It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon and the Green Party are taking over campus. Natalie Bennett has shale gas on her mind, and is preparing to introduce a video starting Exeter’s fightback against fracking. “We’re on the path to catastrophic climate change,” Bennett explains with an urgency rarely seen outside the Green Party, “we have to leave at least half of our fossil fuels in the ground.” No doubt, Natalie Bennett is on a mission. Bennett arrives early for our interview. Our unnecessary large and unthinkably excitable XTV camera crew are still hurriedly scurrying around with cables and lenses, yet Bennett seems utterly unfazed. “If you think this is bad, you should try being in a BBC studio,” she says warmly, before beginning some gentle politician’s patter about our respective degree courses and her own experiences as a journalist and civil servant in Thailand. “I couldn’t speak to most people there,” she jokes, “I had to get into taxis with something written down and hope for the best.” The first thing that strikes you when meeting the leader of Britain’s fifth largest party is her Australian accent. “My accent is classless,” Bennett explains, “it’s quite useful really.” She was born in Sydney, and worked for many years on provincial Australian newspapers before her big break in Bangkok. Was it in the Australian bush that she was first bitten by the political bug, we ask? “Australian country politics is mainly conservatives, and people who think conservatives are soft and wussy and not good enough on the death penalty. There wasn’t much politics to be involved with,” Bennett answers with a chuckle. She is surprisingly adamant about her own real world credentials for a civil servant-turned-journalist-turned-politician, perhaps aware of the particular public wrath reserved for the cloistered and the careerist. “I joined the Green Party on 1 January 2006,” she recounts with an intriguing mix of precision and surprise, “seven years later, here I am, leader of the Green Party!” Despite her genuine warmth, Bennett is clearly a cool political operator in British Green politics. Currently the only female party leader in Britain, Bennett has a lot to say about the role of women in politics, explaining that her “first politics is feminism.” She is worried that, in 2013, women do not have enough of a role in decision making at the top tables. “There are very few women making decisions which run the country, outside Theresa May,” she points out with no small dose of exasperation, “and I think that really is a problem.” Bennett is acutely aware that her election as leader marked “the first time a woman leader had taken over from another woman leader in British political history.” Will she be handing over to another female party leader when she leaves office? For the time being, Bennett is committed to both running for a parliamentary seat and remaining as leader, unlike her predecessor and Exeter alumna Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion. “The seat I’m likely to stand in is in London,” says Bennett assuredly, “and it’s no more than twenty minutes from the Millbank studios of the BBC and Sky, so it’s quite handy.”
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