Interview with the Green Party’s Baroness Jenny Jones

We were pleased to give Sylvia Wild, our King Alfred’s work experience student, the opportunity to help Penny interview a senior national politician when Baroness Jenny Jones from the Green Party visited Newbury on Wednesday 26 April 2023.

Baroness Jenny Jones has had a seat in the House of Lords as a Green Party member since 2013 and before that served many other prominent political roles including: Deputy Mayor of London and Chair of the Green Party of England and Wales.

Sylvia Wild (SW): Is our current political system with short term election cycles capable of making the challenging decisions required to tackle climate change? 

Jenny Jones (JJ): It absolutely isn’t. But I mean it’s not necessarily the system, although of course the Green Party would like proportional representation because that would be a much fairer system – the sort of system they have in Germany and other places – and it gives you a real stable government as opposed to the three prime ministers in three years that we’ve had here. It’s not the cycles as such, it’s the way that we elect people. And if we had proportional representation it would be much easier to get climate change higher up the agenda because we would have more Green Party MPs. At the general election in 2015 we had over a million votes and yet we still only got one seat in parliament which just shows that it takes a lot to get one Green elected despite a lot of people who do vote for us. 

Penny Locke (PL): So, if there were more Green Party MPs do you think the decisions would be made that need to be made even though you must stand for election every five years? 

JJ: The only example I can give from my own point of view is that when Ken Livingstone was first elected as Mayor of London I worked very closely with him and he even did things like phone me up to ask me if one of the sponsors he’d got for the Olympics was okay from the Green perspective. So yes Greens can have a huge impact. I mean currently all I do in the House of Lords is stand up and shout at them and it is quite possible that some of them agree with me, but you cannot see it happening really, not in government policy. Government policy is appallingly anti-science honestly. It is dreadful, we need a change in government policy. 

PL: So, what about the House of Lords and citizens assemblies, these are two things that are talked about – House of Lords obviously do not have the electoral cycle to worry about – could they potentially make harder decisions? 

JJ: There is a lot to cover there. Both Natalie Bennett and I – we are the two Green Party members in the House of Lords out of eight hundred people – when we first arrived, we put down the same bill about reforming the House of Lords – and it didn’t mention citizens assemblies, but it easily could have done. It was changing the House of Lords to actually represent the people. Strangely, at the moment the House of Lords is doing an amazing job because we’ve got a government that’s basically out of control who are putting worse and worse legislation through and so the House is actually the backstop to it all. With the Conservative majority of eighty MPs they can really push through absolutely anything they want and since MPs don’t have time to even read legislation it falls on us in the House of Lords to read it, try and improve it, send it back to Parliament only to have them rip everything out to re-send it back to us and so on.  But just occasionally we can manage to stop something being passed that is illegal or breaks treaties. 

PL: I know a lot of people don’t like the House of Lords and want to abolish it – but you think it has got a role at the moment? 

JJ: Well we need a second chamber, there’s no doubt about that. It’s necessary to have a second chamber that’s actually watching what the first chamber does. Obviously if it were representative – which ours isn’t – then we’d have better laws. When I first made it into the House of Lords I really disliked the fact that there were Bishops and hereditary peers, I just thought that was a totally outdated system. But bizarrely – with the government we’ve got – the Bishops are quite amazing (currently only the Church of England is represented in the House of Lords -Ed), because they at least talk about poverty and deprivation which really annoys the government. The irony with the hereditaries is that they actually have to be voted in – by a small group, a large group, or sometimes by the whole house – so they actually work very hard when they come in because they really want to be there, whereas quite a few people who get appointed to the House do not pull their weight. 

PL: So can we just ask about citizens assemblies since they are touted by XR (extinction rebellion) and other groups as being a miracle cure, but they’ve already had climate citizens assemblies in Scotland and if the results aren’t binding then what’s the point? 

JJ: I suppose in a way we have an element of citizens assembly in the House of Lords through the crossbenchers. Crossbenchers are about two hundred people who are appointed through a different system: they have to apply and be interviewed and that sort of thing. They are people with no political affiliation so I suppose you could say they are independent, before they vote they will listen to the debate and then actually vote by their conscience rather than by policies. They represent medicine, the arts, teaching, nursing, everything you could think of and they play a really crucial role. Citizens assemblies could play a different role of giving advice about what they think and although quite often people give very good advice, as you say, it’s not listened to and I think that’s going to be very difficult to get through. Similarly to how difficult it will be to get proportional representation through. So yes, changing the system is going to be incredibly hard. 

SW: How can local Councillors build popular and democratic support for the system change we need to stop climate change? 

JJ: First of all they’ve got to make sure people understand what it’s about and the impacts of it. I mean what we find again and again is that people really care about the planet and they care about the future for their children and their grandchildren. But a government that makes it hard to do the right thing – whether it’s local government or national government – just won’t help those people so it has to be made easy. And that could be done through the law – for example banning plastic bottles – but also that if people do buy these things that it’s made easy to recycle them, that it’s easy to walk to the shops rather than drive, so it’s a whole system change. I think people want to do it, it’s just that it’s very difficult for them to do it. 

PL: And do you mean system change in terms of personal/ local habits or do you mean large scale governmental system change? 

JJ: Well as I said it needs laws to actually help people to do it such as reducing car use or reducing aviation and making aviation pay its way. So government can do a lot – but a lot of it is about education, just explaining to people what they can do and why they should do it and showing them how simple it can be to do. I mean everywhere I go I carry a fabric carrier bag and it’s so simple and small.  

PL: What about the big things like stopping licensing new oil? 

JJ: Oh god yes. I mean that’s the sort of stuff the government should do. The best thing we can do to stop increasing climate change is to stop using fossil fuels, that’s the absolute basic thing we need to do. I mentioned that the other day in a meeting and an MP said ‘I can’t ask my constituents not to fly’, but actually that’s exactly what they’re going to have to do.  

PL: So how do we get the MPs on board with that? 

JJ: It’s the national party that’s going to have to educate its own MPs. The Green Party has got all the policies we need. We have a really good manifesto, and I always offer to share it with the Conservative Party in the House of Lords. It’s not difficult to find out the right things to do. What is difficult is changing MP’s mindsets so that they realise they can ask their constituents to change their habits. Of course the main differences have to be made by the government but it is still necessary for everyone to do their part. When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London I sat him down in his office and I got him to read through three rules of sustainability, the third of which is ‘everyone does something’. It’s not enough to tell the government what to change, you have to do it in your personal life as well and to encourage others in your community into it as well. We all have a role in it. It is beyond belief that this government just doesn’t get it. And you’ve got to remember the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report which came out the other day, which is a very good report, was very alarming with the problems that we’re going to face, and that keeping temperature increase to 1.5 degrees is probably impossible. That report went through dozens of countries, thousands of scientists and hundreds of committees. It was not a radical report, if anything it was a Conservative report on our future and yet it is still likely that the Conservatives will not keep global warming down. The fact is that our government is absolutely corrupt. It sits down in front of fossil fuel companies and it takes their money and then it backs their legislation. Getting this Conservative government out would be a start but Labour wouldn’t be much better, they aren’t pushing big ideas at the moment. We need more Greens.  

SW: What do you think that the action in London last weekend – ‘The Big One’ – achieved?  

JJ: First of all I loved going to it, it was absolutely brilliant. It was incredibly well organised, I was sent a list of picket lines I had to go to and contacts and it was absolutely fantastic. It’s always good for people to see that they’re not alone and that other people do care. There were thousands of people out on the streets of London which was quite heartening to see. Although, sadly, it got barely any coverage, one man on a snooker table got more coverage than the thousands of protesters out on the streets of London. It was also an interesting exercise in control and organisation by XR which they performed very successfully. And since I loathe violence, this particular brand of organised disruption – which people are now getting prison sentences for – which is absolutely not violence, I very much support. I think that although the protest wasn’t successful in getting the government to meet the demands by Monday it was successful in cheering me up, creating a strong sense of solidarity, and it also proved that XR is highly organised and very powerful.  

PL: If you were Prime Minister what would you do? 

JJ: I would never be Prime Minister, that would be somebody like Caroline Lucas. 

PL: Well what could they do to stop Climate Change? 

JJ: They would bring in the Green Party manifesto immediately. They would work on improving public transport and the buses like Ken Livingstone did – which was hugely successful in London. Within the first hundred days there would be easy things we could achieve such as starting legislation on fossil fuels and plastic etc, Making people pay a frequent flyer levy could happen overnight. But some of the other stuff is tougher and would take far longer to instigate. . Ultimately it’s not one thing it’s a multitude. People like the idea of a ‘silver bullet’, that there is one large thing we can do to change everything but that isn’t the case. There is a million little tiny things that we have to do in order to make the difference. The Green Party is very good at that, we work hard on councils and we listen to the residents. I was a councillor for four years in London and it was really hard work so I admire those that go for it. Educating people is the most essential bit, most people don’t want the planet to die so if we just make sure to educate them on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it they will understand that and back our policies and legislation.
 

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