4 Nov 2009

Young face of the Greens' future hopes

Great article from John Millington who I had the pleasure to bump into at party conference with Alex Phillips who I have had the pleasure of working with to promote Caroline Lucas's election campaign....this saturday is action day in Brighton so come along to the eco centre opposite Brighton train station and help with Caroline's campaign. I had some problems with the link so may be just get 60p and buy the Star tomorrow

Young face of the Greens' future hopes
John Millington
Articulate, well presented, striking and passionate. These are some of the qualities we want from our politicians and Brighton and Hove Green Party councillor Alex Phillips is certainly not found lacking.

At the age of 24 she is the youngest councillor in the Brighton and Hove area.

As a self-confessed "normal" young person, Phillips is part of an increasingly confident and growing Green Party, which has a good chance of securing its first MP in Brighton at the next general election.

For someone so young, Phillips has had quite an intrepid political journey.

She recalls her first political memories of Nelson Mandela being released from prison and the death of Labour Party former leader John Smith.

"He would be turning in his grave now, seeing what the government have done," she blurts out.

Through the course of the conversation, it is clear Phillips has very little positive to say about the government on the grounds of wars, social justice and climate change.

As a former member of the Labour Party she left after joining anti-war demonstrators against the Iraq war in 2003.

"I joined the Labour Party at the age of 16, but I felt I could not march against my party of government and continue to be a member," she recalls.

What will surprise most people is that Phillips is adamant that she did not join the Green Party for environmental reasons.

"What actually attracted me to the Greens was their policies on human rights and social justice," she explains.

"Yes, the environment was an issue, but not my biggest one at the time."

Phillips wears many political hats. As well as being a councillor she is the joint chair of the Young Greens and is the campaign co-ordinator for Caroline Lucas's parliamentary bid.

The prospect of Lucas becoming the first Green MP clearly means a lot to Phillips. She is in no doubt that a breakthrough for Lucas would signal the beginning of a sea change in British politics.

Our conversation eventually does turn to the environmental and economic crisis facing Britain and the rest of the world, though.

Phillips well and truly lays the blame for both at the foot of the government.

"The government know what they have to do but because they and all three main parties are backed by big business, they are walking a tight-rope," she says.

Emphasising the need for "a green new deal," Phillips sees the need to tackle climate change as inextricably linked with the economy.

"The green new deal would create energy efficiency and create skilled jobs for skilled workers at the same time.

"Since many under 25 year olds are signing up for JSA, this would be an ideal opportunity to train young people and tackle the recession."

Phillips believes young people have been neglected by society in a number of ways - demonised in the media, denied good jobs and loaded down with back-breaking tuition fees.

But she is very keen to emphasise that going to university should not be viewed as a "necessity."

"You can have success and a sense of achievement by not necessarily going to uni but by doing other things such as training to become a skilled worker," she explains.

"Unfortunately, apprentices and the skilled jobs themselves are hard to come by. That's why investment in the green economy is key."

Phillips's keen interest in the plight of working people certainly puts pay to the stereotype that Greens are only interested in abstract climate campaigning and vegetarianism.

Turning to the trade union movement, Phillips believes that unions have not had as much influence on the political scene as she would have liked.

"Look at the expenses scandal. Only a couple of unions have threatened or withdrawn funding for MPs over the issue," she says.

"But Vestas was an example where green and workers issues combined. That is a positive."

Despite the possibility of a catastrophe for the majority of the world's population if huge carbon emission reductions are not implemented, Phillips is enthusiastic about the future.

She emphatically admits to being a "socialist" and has radical views surrounding education.

Phillips wants to see private schools lose their charitable status and believes they are key to maintaining "the class system" which she opposes.

However she does believe that reform within capitalist economic relations is possible in being able to deal with the major environmental and economic problems facing the peoples of the world.

A key and immediate change in the political fabric would be secured by Lucas being elected MP for Brighton and Hove, Phillips argues.

But, she adds, "getting Caroline into Parliament would be a lot easier if the electoral system was fairer. The general public is in favour of proportional representation."

Phillips admits that green and climate change issues are still not resonating with the general public.

But she is adamant that, when the changes in the environment begin to impact more adversely on peoples lives, public opinion will change.

"That is why we need people in Parliament with the political will to argue for the policies people need."

Forever the optimist, Phillips sees no reason why the Green Party should not be forming a government in years to come.

Pressed to give a date, she predicts "within my life time, around 2050."

There can be no doubt that there is a crisis in working-class representation and clearly young, inspiring Green politicians like Phillips believe that their party can go it alone and achieve progressive change in the years to come.

As the battle to reclaim Labour rages on, it is inevitable that alternatives will appear on the political scene.

A question mark remains over whether the Green Party can overcome the problem of having no organic or historical link with the working class movement.

One thing is for certain, though. Phillips and the Greens are here to stay and will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

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