Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett on the campaign poster. Photo: Green Party
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"What are you afraid of, boys?" The Green Party leader attacks Westminster's "three amigos"

As membership of the party grows to 44,175 in England and Wales, the party leader, Natalie Bennett, attacks the old boys' club of Westminster.

The flourishing Green party has launched a fresh challenge to the party leaders over the televised election debates with a new campaign poster, asking, “What are you afraid of, boys?”

Speaking this morning outside Westminster the Green party leader, Natalie Bennett, said that including the Greens in the election debates would be important in moving away from the image of Westminster as an old boys’ club. The poster, featuring Bennett and and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas standing side by side, urges the broadcasters to invite the Greens to the TV debates.

The event, in which the election poster was unveiled on College Green, featured LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell, a mascot in a tree costume and another mascot in the form of a chicken from political bloggers Guido Fawkes, holding a placard, reading: "Don't be a chicken, Ed!" Last week at prime minister's questions, Miliband was branded a "chicken" by Cameron for failing to agree to a multi-party televised debate incorporating the Greens.

Bennett also announced that membership of the Greens in England and Wales now stands at 44,175. Or 52,000 including Scotland and Northern Ireland. Last week, the Green party overtook Ukip’s number of party members after a 2,000-strong overnight surge. Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, has previously said that the Green party did not have sufficient support to qualify for a “major party status” in the general election, but Ukip may have.

In a synchronised 6am strike last week, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage sent separate but identical letters to David Cameron suggesting it would be “unacceptable if the political self-interest of one party leader” stopped the live debates from taking place. It was also added that the broadcasters provide an “empty podium” for Cameron should he change is stance.

But today Bennett said that the three amigos (her words) idea of an empty chair for Cameron would not be a helpful intervention. 

Here’s what Bennett said this morning, outside Westminster: 

First of all at the start of the week we saw what I’ve dubbed the three amigos – Milband, Clegg and Farage – writing to the broadcasters suggesting that they should "empty-chair" David Cameron. I don’t think that’s a very helpful intervention.

And I am pleased to say that yesterday on the Marr programme Mr Clegg moved on from that and he’s now said that the broadcasters need to think again about the format.

It’s worth pointing out that the broadcasters always put out their plans for consultation and so now we’re looking at a situation where they’ve had a lot of response from the public. Of course we’ve had a petition with 275,000 people saying invite the Greens.

“It’s very clear that we should be there if it’s going to be a balanced debate. What I am doing this morning is launching this poster behind me and it’s making a very important point – we do have behind us what is an old boys’ club in more than one way, and it’s time we moved on from that. The debates are an important part of that moving on. This is [today] a little bit of fun, while making a point.

This is the Green surge. We don’t know where it’s going but it’s certain that politics in Britain is not going to be the same again. And that’s a very good thing.

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.