Thank you for giving me this opportunity to ask some questions, Natalie. Some Christians are drawn to the Green Party because of its emphasis on social justice and environmental issues. But some might worry that the Green Party carries an aggressive secularising flavour. Does it?
We have principles I think many people of faith can sign up to. We believe everyone should be able to access the planet’s resources and have a decent life, taking hold of and developing life’s opportunities as a result. Everyone has a right to these things.
We respect people’s private beliefs. Many of the food banks that I have visited over the past couple of years are run by faith groups and we are very happy to acknowledge the contribution Christians make, while also ensuring that everyone’s rights are acknowledged.
What place does faith have in the public arena?
In a post-Thatcherite era, it’s time to move on from that kind of neo-liberal individualistic approach and acknowledge that individuals are not islands. Everyone is a member of some community or other, including faith communities, and we need to acknowledge, accept and celebrate those communities and ensure that they’ve got a voice. And sometimes those communities will come into conflict, so you have to find a way through that ensures that everyone has a reasonable chance to put into effect the kind of society they want, whilst always accepting those basic principles of human rights, fairness, and justice.
You said earlier, “Politics isn’t something that should be done to you, but something that should be done.” Is there anything you could say to Christians about what they can do? How would you encourage their engagement in politics?
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that politics has many different forms – organising a litter pick is a form of politics. The Transition Towns movement is a form of politics that doesn’t get labelled with a big P, but it’s instrumental in changing communities and society.
It’s very good to do what we can in the space and time we’ve got available and try and make a difference. It was exciting in the lead up to the Scottish referendum to see the level of engagement with politics – with a big P. We need to see more of that level of engagement because so much necessary change is needed to address, for example, inequalities in our society, our failed economy, the fact that we haven’t reined in the banks and so on. Faith groups, other groups, every individual, can make a difference.
The Green Party is a grass roots party with many activists – ordinary people getting motivated. Presumably, churches, being voluntary and active grass roots groups, can also play their part within the party?
Indeed. We have a long working hours culture in the UK (we work some of the longest hours in Europe). Public services have been cut away and many people have extra caring responsibilities – relatives, friends and neighbours. People struggle for time and energy. The so-called Cameron “Big Society” basically meant slashing public funding and services and leaving whoever’s available or feels most responsible to pick up the pieces.
We need a society where we have a living wage, decent benefits and people are left feeling like they’ve got time, energy and head space because they’re not worried about debt and paying the rent and so on. They’ve actually got capacity to get out and say, “I‘d like to change this or that about my community” and be able to get on and do it.
So the Green Party is not allied to secular humanism and therefore anti-faith?
We believe you have to separate the public political realm from the faith realm. I think, for instance, bishops have no place in the House of Lords – and that reflects the fact that its members should be elected anyway!
So, disestablished religion, but you’re not anti-religion per se?
Exactly. There is the faith realm and there is the political realm. No faith should be particularly privileged, especially within the political realm. People come to the political realm as the people they are, with their communities behind them, but it shouldn’t be an institutional structure.
Brilliant. Thank you, Natalie.
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