Elliot (E): Considering that the normal requirement for standing for the London-wide list is two years continuous membership - and you don’t have that - what experience would you offer the party in terms of skills & experience over someone who has been a member for more than two years?
Ben (B): It’s really a question of what sort of experience you need in order to represent people on a political assembly. So, there’s no particular qualifications that you particularly need in order to be a candidate or to win. The main thing is to say things that resonate with the voters.
I think I’m quite representative of the generation of people who’ve recently graduated from University.
E: Because as you said, you were one of the first of one million young people who were unemployed.
B: Yeah. I mean that, to be honest, is the reason I lapsed in my membership - it’s because I didn’t have five pounds down the back of the sofa to spend on joining the Green Party, so the fact that they’ve recently made it free I hope will attract a good range of people, maybe people who were a member of the Facebook group or have lapsed.
E: Tell us a bit about yourself then.
B: My achievements are many. Academically I did quite well in A-Levels and then achieved the lowest ever degree score, right through to business, becoming one of the first of nearly one million graduates to be unemployed and proud to have joined the Green Party before its leader was elected! Currently working as a gardener, training to learn how to plant things. And I’ve got a bit more environmental work up my sleeve, to do with a property management company which needs someone to clean the shared space in between everyone’s flats.
E: What is your stance on the budget retractions that the government is undertaking?
B: Well, I believe you’re referring to the central government Con-Dem coalition cuts?
The cuts are going to hit my generation over the next coming year and I’m really expecting people to become more and more angry. The EMA is going to stop in June for 6th formers and the council housing contracts will change, so that people who need housing will only be guaranteed they can live somewhere for three years! Is that really enough time to even find the next place to live?
So I would ask the government - politely - to just basically pay your taxes; and, of course, Boots and Vodafone and all the companies that are registered in Monaco are not paying enough, really, as a percentage of income and profits. That’s what I’ve been doing: I’ve been occupying Vodafone and trying to occupy Monaco, which is only 2.4 square km, but there’s quite a lot of money there.
E: Oh yes, there was the event about occupying Monaco!
B: Yes. I think that’s what London relies too much on, really, is financial services. Really we should be making stuff.
So basically what I’m using is the political mandate that we won our MP on, which is that we had a TV advert saying “A future fair for all”...or was that the Labour slogan? Fighting...
E: Fair is worth fighting for.
B: Fair is worth fighting for. Where we will pay people a minimum living wage (which they can actually not be exploited and not live in poverty on) and a high pay commission has been established already. That just shows that when you don’t sell out and stand for your principles then you can have a very radical position!
E: In line of the recent rises in rail fares, bus fares etc., what focus do you put on transport?
B: Now of course, when they squeeze the poor they do this in a number of ways, but the reason why I travel around by bike is because it’s actually the cheapest way to get around; even if my bike cost me what it costs you, I probably would have invested that money firstly in walking and cycling and secondly in public transport - which, by the way, if you vote for the Greens in the GLA elections and for the Mayor, we will lower the fares from £1 down 20p. So basically 20p if you vote Green!
E: Wonderful! So, sum up what you will do for Londoners through the Assembly as a Green Party AM if you win.
B: Well, if I’m elected then I would heavily push for explaining to people what the Assembly actually is! It’s a bit like...well, you may have heard of the Youth Parliament, as you’re standing as a candidate for it. There are a number of boroughs, each of which have two MYPs (for the benefit of Young Greens newsletter readers). If they met up in person they would actually be forming a local Assembly very similar to the London Assembly; a sort of Youth London Assembly. They could even elect a Mayor.
E: The aim of the Assembly is to hold the Mayor to account, I hear. Does it work?
B: Well...it doesn’t work very well with Boris. Because we’ll invest a lot of time and effort in making a question and he just doesn’t answer it! And you ask it again - ‘You haven’t answered my question’ - and he just doesn’t answer!
E: I know! I asked him a question at a youth mayor’s question time and he wouldn’t answer it at all!
B: Well the reason he does those things is because they have no experience of him not answering questions.
Thank you for having the idea to interview me. It was a good idea.
E: My pleasure.