Bennett on Miliband: "There's not any sense of conviction of what kind of society he wants." Photo: May2015.
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Natalie Bennett: Ukip voters are "simply lashing out" like "a small child" (Video)

Ukip voters are lashing out, Miliband has no conviction, Cameron has only done one thing well… May2015 talks to the Green Party leader.

This interview originally appeared on May2015.com, our new elections website.

After winning just 1 per cent of the vote in 2010, the Green Party are now polling at around 5 per cent. In the past four years they have won over 10-15 per cent of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010, and around 5 per cent of the 2010 Labour vote.

But who are the Greens and what do they stand for?

With just under six months to go until election day, we spoke to Natalie Bennett, leader of the party. Here are the 9 things we learnt:

1. Britain is in crisis

The Greens are thriving because of four “matching” and “interlinked” crises: “an economic crisis, a social, environmental crisis, and a political crisis”.

“We're really the only non-business as usual party.”

2. Ukip voters are “lashing out” like a “small child”

Are Ukip not also an anti-establishment party? Bennett suggested that those voting for them are:

“…simply lashing out, in the same way a small child, who’s a bit overtired and fed up, lashes out.”

"…with unemployment, with the fact that benefits are inadequate… it's understandable, it's an expression of anger."

3. There should not be a cap on immigration

“Should there be a cap on immigration?” We asked. “No”, Bennett replied.

“Actually, it’s probably worth expanding on that a little…”, she continued, “the government is attempting to put a cap on net migration” which is an “intellectual nonsense and a moral wrong”.

“I have huge sympathy with the fact that we’ve got a low wage economy, but that’s not caused by immigration. No immigrant arrives at the white cliffs of Dover and goes ‘I want to work for really lousy wages and be utterly exploited’. What we need is a decent minimum wage that’s properly enforced.”

4. Ed Miliband lacks conviction

To what extent is Ed Miliband offering anything like what he should be offering?

"Er, well, I think, you know, it's… Ed Miliband… Yes… [chuckles]… I think, that you know, it's very disappointing that he's not showing real leadership." Bennett began, haltingly, before concluding more strongly:

"There's not any sense of conviction of what kind of society he wants."

5. David Cameron has done one thing well

“Gay marriage … I think he showed some real leadership and some courage in taking on parts of his own party.”

Is there anything else to commend? Bennett quickly moved onto the “many worst things” he’s done. “The fact that he appointed Owen Paterson as environment secretary is deeply disturbing.”

6. Should the SNP be in the leaders debate?

Yes, said Bennett: “I wouldn’t be opposed to them being in.”

7. The Greens will not join a coalition

“You sacrifice your ministerial cars, but you get to keep your principles, and I think that’s what the Lib Dems did wrong.”

“Should we find ourselves after the next election or any point in the future [able to form a coalition]… our first idea isn’t a coalition, it’s a confidence and supply agreement.”

8. What do the Greens think about…

They are anti-academies, think the NHS is being privatised, and want to decriminalise prostitution, but will only commit to setting up a “Royal Commission” on legalizing drugs.

The war on drugs has, though, “definitively, clearly failed”.

9. Is Britain the best country in the world?

“I can answer this by my actions rather than words. I chose to be British, it wasn’t an accident at birth.”

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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution