By Gareth Axenderrie
Wandering toward the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, The Green Party’s Benjamin Smith, a second-year student at RWCMD, joked with me over the phone: “I’m the one with the long hair and green t-shirt. Stereotypes are alive and well!”. When I walked into the foyer, there was Ben, the stereotypical Green Party member.
Studying Stage Management and Technical Theatre, Ben began by explaining how he is juggling his studies with his campaign. “Thankfully, the course I’m involved in means when I’m busy I’m very busy, but I do have downtime that I am free to use. It’s been a challenge, but I’m enjoying it. My friends tend to think it’s a bit odd, but on the whole, they are supportive, as are my lecturers.”
Ben goes on to explain that despite being just nineteen years old, he has always wanted to stand for election. He stood in the council elections in May, inspired by the frustration he felt when he couldn’t vote whilst in school. He credits his family environment with his political awakening, his father is a vicar who always encourages debate, whilst he and his two brothers are each affiliated to different political parties.
When asked how he feels the election campaign has gone so far, Ben sounds positive and realistic. “It’s been a quick turnaround since the local elections,” he starts. “We don’t accept donations from corporations or trade unions, so my campaign has been crowdfunded. Nationally we are targeting a couple of seats … Bristol West and Isle of Wight. If we can take one of those and hold Brighton Pavilion we would be very happy.”
Ben is also positive about how constituents in Cardiff have responded to his campaign. “People have been positive generally. When people, especially students, hear Green policies, they tend to agree.”
Keen to explain the party’s manifesto, Ben explains that the Greens have a series of guarantees. “We want to live within the finite resources of the planet, and share them out equally. There’s a diagram called the Doughnut Theory that we have been using, it’s the idea that everything in the inner circle is what we need to survive, and the outer circle is sustainability within that. We want a healthy planet, healthy communities and decent lives for everybody.”
Ben is particularly excited about the Green Party’s pledge to introduce a Basic Citizen’s Income, a monthly state income for all citizens that provides people with the basic resources they need to live. “It would revamp our benefits system, making better use of what we have with greater efficiency, rather than continuing to lock people into the cycle of poverty and benefits.” The Basic Citizen’s Income, or Universal Basic Income, is a policy tried and tested in differing forms by both left and right wing governments. Richard Nixon once favoured it in the United States, Finland are currently planning to trial it and Switzerland held a referendum on it last year.
The Green Party’s co-leader Caroline Lucas is regarded as one of Westminster’s best MPs, and yet the Greens have never managed to gain more than a single seat in the Houses of Parliament. Ben feels this is partly due to a flawed electoral system, where First Past The Post (or Single Member Plurality) favours the larger parties in elections. “If we had had Proportional Representation in 2015, we would have won 25 seats as opposed to just one, based on vote share. Caroline (Lucas) is a brilliant MP, just imagine what two, three or four more MPs could achieve.”
“What’s certain is that when you vote Green, you get Green,” Ben explained, pointing at several policies that stand them apart from the other parties. The party want to scrap the Trident nuclear program and put the environment at the forefront of policy.
With many of the Green Party’s 2015 manifesto points now replicated in the Labour Party’s manifesto, I was keen to quiz Ben on how Labour’s shift toward the left has impacted his party. “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and the Welsh Labour Party are very different. Scrapping tuition fees may now be on their agenda, but Labour could have scrapped tuition fees here in Wales, and they haven’t. That’s where we differ, we have been proposing these things for years.”
As a student, Ben believes he knows what young people need. “I am a student, here in Cardiff. I live in Cathays, so I understand the constituency’s area. We need more young voices in politics. We make up 1/10 of the population but only 2% of MPs. I understand the issues with student landlords, rent and debt. I offer a real alternative for students. A vote for me in Cardiff Central is a vote for what you believe in.”