Carla DenyerCo-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bristol West, and a Councillor for Clifton Down Ward in Bristol.
Writing exclusively for Chamber, the Co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales champions women entering politics who want to do things differently.
I’m involved in politics to make change happen. Back in 2014, I was an engineer on some of the biggest wind energy projects in Europe. It was a great job. I got to travel all over Europe, working with brilliant people. We were tackling climate change, the biggest challenge of our lifetime.
However, I was frustrated by the slow pace of change. I was only really changing the world one wind farm at a time – and it was clear from the climate science that this wasn’t fast enough. The main reason UK action on climate change isn’t going fast enough is not the technology, it is the politics.
So, I decided to stand for election to fix it.
I was elected as a councillor in Bristol in 2015 and applied my analytical skills to political decision-making.
Today, I am one of over 500 Green councillors across the UK. There will be even more after this May’s local elections because every day, we work to bring communities, local organisations and councils together to press for the radical, practical, common-sense solutions that make a difference to people’s lives.
Come the General Election, I want more Green representatives in Parliament too. Then, we can work with others to restore relations between local and national Government and help make the changes the country so desperately needs.
Some people assume that because the UK political system is biased against smaller parties, Greens can’t make breakthroughs or make change happen. They are mistaken.
I proposed a motion to Bristol City Council in November 2018, calling on the mayor to declare a climate emergency and bring Bristol’s emissions reduction target forward 20 years to 2030.
The motion passed and was the first policy of its kind in Europe. Councillors from all parties unanimously backed it. Our port city began working on the policies needed to tackle the crisis we all face.
Since then, three-quarters of UK councils have followed suit by passing similar motions, plus many universities, businesses and the UK Parliament itself. That is making change happen.
Of course, the UK Government has not done nearly enough to turn words into urgent action and many councils have also struggled – in large part because their hands are so tied by insufficient funding and devolution from Westminster.
That’s why – even though I’d had no plans to be a politician until a few years earlier¾I put myself forward to be the Member of Parliament for Bristol West at the next General Election, and to be Co-Leader of the Green Party.
Our brilliant existing MP, Caroline Lucas, has shown what a difference one Green MP in the Commons can make. I know how widely she is respected inside and outside Westminster, and likewise, our two peers.
I know too, what a big difference we could make with more Green MPs, councillors, London Assembly Members and members of devolved Parliaments, offering the pragmatic, evidence-based solutions we need to overcome the ideologically driven chaos of the last few years.
A few bright sparks in the political landscape, boldly challenging the political status quo, can make a big difference. Often, those are women with a radical, pragmatic approach to doing politics and making a difference.
Women in elected office around the world
In Aotearoa, New Zealand, former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed the world that it is possible to run a country with compassion, authenticity and collaboration – a lesson that the UK could do well to learn.
She continued to teach us right through to her resignation, where she remarked, “I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go.”
Green Party of Aotearoa, New Zealand, Co-Leader, Marama Davidson, has worked closely with Jacinda and reflected, “Jacinda’s compassion in times of crisis, her determination to make progress towards a fairer and safer Aotearoa, and her leadership of two multi-party governments is a cause for huge admiration.” Marama’s Co-Leader, James Shaw, added, “She is one of the most dedicated, authentic, values-driven people I have had the pleasure of knowing. I completely understand her decision to stand aside, but I will miss her.”
I like this approach – working together across political divides, with compassion and understanding, and recognising the need to bring change. We need more of that here.
We need to better support leaders who want to work in this way, so that their efforts take less of a toll on their well-being. Instead, according to the Fawcett Society, only 37% of women MPs in the UK agree that ‘the culture in Parliament is inclusive for people like me’, compared to a majority of men (55%).
That has to change if we are to tackle major crises, like the cost of living, declining biodiversity and the climate emergency. International Women’s Day (8th March) is a good time to reflect on this.
I believe we also need to bring civic society and trade unions into the decision-making room, alongside local and national Government, and pay less heed to the siren voices of vested interests, like the fossil fuel industry, that want us locked into a failing past.
If the Government listened to wider, more representative voices, it could have avoided much of the chaos it has presided over – the public sector strikes, the unreformed and outdated planning rules, the damaged international relations.
The fantastic campaign by the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and other grassroots groups to alert the public to the bonfire of environmental regulations threatened by the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is a case in point.
Impact of post-Brexit reforms
The Government could have simply agreed, post-Brexit, to retain the regulations and laws that protect our countryside, rivers and natural habitats. That would have helped build bridges with the EU, supported farmers, helped stem the rapid decline in nature and helped councils improve their green spaces.
Instead, it is threatening to ditch popular regulations just because they were adopted during our membership of the European Union.
As Greens, we believe that openness and collaboration are key to a healthy democracy and good-quality decisions. It’s why we support democratic reforms such as proportional representation, votes at 16, an elected second chamber in Westminster and greater devolution at all levels of government.
We put that approach into practice daily, with our councillors and London Assembly members collaborating across parties and with Independents to make change happen, including in the 17 local authorities in England where we are in joint administration.
While I will proudly say that I think Greens, including our sister parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland, have the best policy platforms of any parties in the UK, I certainly do not think that we have a monopoly on good ideas.
So, when I join the House of Commons – as I hope to do at the next election – I will look forward to working with all MPs to find our common ground and make our country fairer and greener.