Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: the Greens…
I was initially invited to visit the Green candidate for Thanet South at his Broadstairs home – an arrangement I jumped at, to check if it featured sacks of mung beans and a composting toilet. In the event, we meet in the Belgian Bar in Ramsgate, which boasts neither. It is a testament to Councillor Ian Driver’s capacity for forgiveness or the thickness of his hide that he wants to meet me at all. I have been less than complimentary on these pages in the past. But his smile is wide when I arrive, so I cut straight to the nub of my doubts.
He tends to party hop, doesn’t he?
“Not really, no,” he says. “I’ve gone Labour, Independent, Green.” He cites other council movers. “Zita Wiltshire’s gone Conservative, Independent, UKIP…” I wouldn’t hold her up as a shining example, I tell him. He guffaws. “Perhaps not…”
He needed to find an organisation he was happy with. “I tried being Independent but I kept on arguing with myself.” He pauses for another chuckle – this is clearly a well-worn joke – but admits it was “really tough”. He’s always been sympathetic to the Green Party and Labour do not have a good record on “the environmental thing.” Is that why he left them? I enquire, preparing myself for a worthy speech about greenhouse gases. His answer is somewhat more colourful and I have not been permitted to quote it. But I like a man who speaks his mind, and you get plenty of that from Mr Driver. “The Thanet Labour group is a bit like you’d expect 1930s Chicago politics to be… .they are self-opinionated and they won’t take criticism.” (This is the short version.) Nationally, you couldn’t “slip a cigarette paper between them and the Tories”. Labour is full of people who “don’t really know what the world is about”. The 58-year-old thinks he does.
He was a Labour councillor in Southwark before he moved to Thanet in 2007 and was previously “very active” in the Trade Union movement. He bemoans the lack of “ordinary men and women” in politics today – it is the one area he agrees with Nigel Farage on. “There is a political class that is out of touch and serves its own self-interest.” He is angry about hypocrisy and can still get heated about the expenses scandal: “…snouts in the trough. It stinks!” Again he defends Farage. “At least when something goes wrong with his party, he kicks their arses”. I enjoy a further diatribe on the state of Thanet District Council before bringing him back to the matter in hand. What will he, personally, do for Thanet if he is elected? He is honest enough to acknowledge that there isn’t much chance of this but standing helps to “raise the profile of the Green Party”, and he is up for the council again too where he hopes there will be a shake up. “There is an opportunity now to get new blood in that will do things in a different way.”
So what needs to be done?
“Regeneration is the big one.” He would “throw open” the Regeneration board, Invest in Thanet, empowering local people and tapping into the creative, artistic groups here, as well as the business-minded. “We’ve got quite an entrepreneurial community developing ‘despite the council’”. He doesn’t want Manston to be an airport but a mix of housing and business park. His dream is to see Ramsgate develop a new modern marina and is vocal on how much the port costs compared to how much it is utilised. “Pound for pound it could create more jobs and business opportunities than anything else, and bring in more visitors…”
I realise we’ve not mentioned traditional “Green” issues much at all. “Housing!” he says. We need 2000 more homes in Thanet. All new-builds should be environmentally friendly with solar panels, rain water re-use, treble glazing, massive insulation. Thanet has the highest level of fuel poverty in South East England. Over-65s are dying because they can’t keep warm…”
I agree this is appalling but how will improvements be paid for?
By an end to Trident, he tells me.
“Affordable social housing – that’s what I’m passionate about.”
There is no denying his fervour. He seems genuinely upset and angry that there are people sleeping rough in Thanet and that Carers are denied a proper wage.
“You shouldn’t be in politics if you’re not passionate,” he says. “You shouldn’t be in politics if you don’t care…”
OVER IN NORTH THANET Ian’s counterpart Edward Targett also has a vision. The Green candidate says he will donate £1000 of his MP’s salary each month to local causes, if he is elected. The 32-year old has been working long hours at his day job as an editor – motorcycling to and from the city from his home in Margate (he’d ride a push bike if it wouldn’t take so long and use the train if he could afford it) – so we converse by email. He has no political experience but enthusiasm in spadeloads and a clear plan for what he would do if elected. “I’d work ferociously hard to create quality jobs, make sure services are properly funded and regeneration money is handled transparently and allocated democratically.” As well as giving to charities and sports clubs he would want to “bring empty buildings back into use and plant thousands of trees”.
So what’s his big dream? “Plenty of secure employment that pays the living wage, thriving and well maintained High Streets with affordable business rates, cheap, clean and efficient public transport; an egalitarian society with free access to education and higher education for all.” It all sounds wonderful but he hasn’t finished yet.
“Public services in public hands, not asset-stripping with nationalised losses but privatised profits. World-leading engineering and energy independence, reducing pollution, creating jobs and combating climate change. Flourishing, protected wildlife and green spaces. Robust, representative democracy, with civil liberties protected and the powerful held accountable.”
Phew. How is he going to pay for it?
He types back straight away: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions, along with a wealth tax on the richest 1%. I’d also crack down on large-scale corporate tax evasion.
VERDICT: Commitment shines from the Green Candidates. Everyone needs a dream.
Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!