10:37 Tuesday 10th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve been talking pollution today. The Leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour’s Lewis Herbert, has told this programme it won’t be long ’til some cars are banned altogether from the city centre. The Council has produced a map of the city’s pollution levels, and it paints a worrying picture. Bus station on Drummer Street the worst affected area, roads like Queens Road, East Road, Newmarket Road and Elizabeth way not much better. Well the traffic around the city causes a whole ring of pollution on the map. So we’ve been asking what the solution is. We’ve had many comments from you saying we need cleaner buses. Perhaps we need a congestion charge, need to get rid of diesel cars. Well I’m pleased to say we’re joined by something of an expert perhaps. Caroline Lucas from the Greens. Morning Caroline.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: The Greens’ only MP at the moment.
CAROLINE LUCAS: At the moment.
PAUL STAINTON: At the moment.
CAROLINE LUCAS: We’re looking forward to being joined by Rupert Read in Cambridge, and we’ve got someone in Norwich South and Bristol West, all of our targets. So we’re hopeful.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Even after your faux pas by your Leader do you think? Do you think that’s going to have any impact on your poll ratings?
CAROLINE LUCAS: No. It doesn’t seem to have had any impact, It was a bad interview, and everyone’s said so, but people have off-days, and it just really struck me that it was such a disproportionate response. She forgot some figures. That was on the same day as we were hearing more and more revelations about Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, who had allegedly been taking money or prepared to take money in order to get access to decision makers in Parliament. So I think that’s a rather more serious concern. So I do think the amount of attention one mistake caused was a bit disproportionate.
PAUL STAINTON: But when you’re desperate to be taken seriously as a credible alternative, when people .. and many people commented on here, you know, they were thinking of going your way, and then they saw that and thought, well the Leader doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
CAROLINE LUCAS: It was one .. one example. Come on. And meantime our membership has quadrupled.
PAUL STAINTON: Really bad though, wasn’t it?
CAROLINE LUCAS: It was a bad day. It was a bad interview. But meanwhile our membership has ..
PAUL STAINTON: You couldn’t imagine David Cameron or Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg doing it.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I can completely imagine them doing it. Remember that Ed Miliband completely forgot the deficit in his conference speech altogether. Boris Johnson forgets the day of the week, and never mind anything else, regularly. So we want our politicians to be more human, and then when they are a bit more human, people really take them to task. So sometimes it feels like it’s a tough old job.
PAUL STAINTON: Mm. She was trying to explain how the Party would fund this amazing pledge of 500,000 new social rental homes, wasn’t she? Can you do it now? How would you do it?
CAROLINE LUCAS: Well it’s based on national housing charities’ estimates, and what they talk about for example is if you lift the local authority borrowing cap, then over five years you could raise £20 billion. At the moment you’ll know that local authorities aren’t allowed to borrow against the value of their stock. If they were allowed to they could raise £20 billion over five years. If you add that to reforming landlords’ tax allowances, again over the period of a Parliament that would give you another £20 billion. And of course what you’re trying to do at this point is not fund literally every single house. What you need to do is to have the Government as it were put down a deposit. It doesn’t have to fund everything up front, because with social housing and others obviously you’re getting your rent back quite soon. So it is fully costed, and as she and others have said, there will be a fully costed manifesto out there at the beginning of April which will demonstrate that. But it is based on figures and analysis from some of the most expert housing organisations in the country. So we’re pretty confident that it adds up and it is watertight.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. And so that’s just one of your eye-catching policies. There are many others as well, aren’t there? Just run through a couple if you could.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Well you’ve just been talking about congestion, and obviously air pollution is a real concern. So one of the things we’ve been doing in Brighton already is introducing a low-emissions zone. I think that’s something that’s seriously to be looked at.
PAUL STAINTON: Does Cambridge need that do you think? Do you think we need to think about things like that? Lewis Herbert already saying some cars need to be kept out of the city centre. Is that a good way forward?
CAROLINE LUCAS: Well everything that I’ve heard about the situation in Cambridge suggests to me we that do need some really radical action. So yes, I would think that low-emission zones would form part of that. I know Rupert Read our national transport spokesperson has been talking indeed about the possibility of a congestion charge for Cambridge. Obviously that would need some consultation and discussion, but it might well need that degree of radical action. What we’ve also been doing in Brighton is making a joint bid to the Government for money to bring our buses up to higher environmental standards, so that they can then enter the low-emission zone, and some funding has been made available from the Government so that those buses now meet Euro 5 international engine standards. So there is some finance out there if councils and MPs and others can work together to make bids to Government. But everything that I’ve heard suggests to me that ‘business as usual’ when it comes to the transport situation isn’t going to work. We need more incentive to reduce the need to travel, things like supporting high speed broadband to encourage more home working, video conferencing, re-regulation of the buses, the congestion charge. And of course one of the big things I’m pushing and it’s a big issue for the Greens nationally, is bringing rail back into public ownership. That doesn’t help your congestion there, but on the broader issue of the ..
PAUL STAINTON: So renationalise the railways.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Yes. Absolutely so. It’s been estimated that the current privatised system wastes around £1 billion a year, partly because of the fragmentation. So you’ve literally got a couple of hundred people who’s sole job it is to try to work out which company to allocate compensation requirements to, when trains run late. We’ve also obviously got the money leaving the rail system, going out to the shareholders.
PAUL STAINTON: Back to the days of British Rail. They were great, weren’t they?
CAROLINE LUCAS: Well do you know, people say it like that, that British Rail as all bad. And British Rail wasn’t all bad. And certainly we’re not talking about going backwards. We’re talking about going forwards and looking at some of the best rail systems in the rest of Europe, where they manage to run their railways more efficiently and more cheaply than we do in this country. And I think anyone who’s used French or German railways recently will probably corroborate that. So it’s about moving forward. It’s also about seeing how we could involve local people more in some of the discussions and decisions around for example, would it be appropriate to try to reopen the old line from Cambridge to Oxford. I think that’s a real ..
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. A lot of people want that. Yes.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Yes.
PAUL STAINTON: So renationalise the railways. That could be a winner. I see that. How are you going to secure our borders?
CAROLINE LUCAS: I don’t think we disagree with having border controls. We completely do support that.
PAUL STAINTON: You disagree with having border controls.
CAROLINE LUCAS: No I said we don’t disagree. Sorry that’s a double negative. We agree with having border controls. I think what we would do though is to have two main differences. One would be to start looking at the push factors. What is it that’s pushing so many people to leave their homes, which is a big decision to make, and often they’re coming from areas of conflict, or where climate change has already been beginning to kick in, and they simply can’t make a livelihood in those countries. So we’d want to be looking at some of the causes of immigration. And we would also want I think a rather more humane immigration system. For example I’m not sure that many people would agree that it’s appropriate when someone has married someone from outside of the EU that they themselves have to demonstrate that they’re earning at least £18600.
PAUL STAINTON: Mm. Would you get rid of our army?
CAROLINE LUCAS: Absolutely not. No. We would not get rid of our army.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s your big idea there? You’ve got an idea, haven’t you? Border force.
CAROLINE LUCAS: I think what we’re suggesting is that we would have more people who would be on reserve. And that’s something that’s the same direction that the Government’s going into. We recognise that of course you need an army. We just wouldn’t have such an offensive army that was leading us into .. well not leading us into but being dragged into I should say by Governments into illegal wars in places like Iraq.
PAUL STAINTON: Dangerous world out there though. Don’t we need our army?
CAROLINE LUCAS: It is a dangerous world, which is why I think what we need to do is to be investing far more in our diplomatic service, actually listening to some of the people talking here in Parliament about how we’re losing some of the intelligence expertise, we’re losing some of the staff of our embassies. And they are actually our ears and eyes on the ground, and that’s vital. So the more we can do to prevent conflicts before they start. That leads us to looking at some of our policies, for example with Saudi Arabia, where we are still very happily exporting arms to that country in spite of its human rights record. And then we look surprised when they get used. So I think in terms of making ourselves more secure, that comes to a much bigger question about the role of Britain in the world, and the kind of role we want to play. And we would want to be playing a much more peace-seeking role than perhaps has been the case ’til now.
PAUL STAINTON: Caroline, thank you for coming on this morning. Really appreciate that. Caroline Lucas the Green Party’s only MP at the moment. The Green Party also have a flagship economic policy, a £72 a week citizens’ income – some experts saying it might hit the poorest hardest. Maybe it’s a vote-winner for you. Renationalising the railways. Maybe not having such an offensive army. Going abroad and trying to sort out the problems before they cause immigration is one of their policies as well. And doing more to make our pollution go away, and make sure that we’ve got the right cars, the right buses on the roads.
PAUL STAINTON: Gerry’s been on. He says “Paul there appears to be a noticeable bias in favour of the Green Party on your programme. I hate to say it, but it does seem to support the notion the BBC as an organisation is politically swayed. It may not be so bad if the Greens were not a bunch of clowns with no sustainable policies.” says Gerry. We’re not swayed by anybody on this show. How dare you. They all get an equally tough time, rest assured.
PAUL STAINTON: Somebody earlier suggesting we’re a little bit biased towards the Green Party on this show. Well just to level that up, Ben has emailed in. He says “Paul, why do you spend so much time obsessing about someone else’s interview on a different station? It was ridiculous how much attention you paid to it whilst interviewing caroline Lucas. Ridiculous. And if you’d looked at opinion polls over the last few days, you’ll have seen that support for the Greens is actually going up.” Well I was just referring to what people said on this show, saying they weren’t going to vote because of what had happened. And I think it was pertinent to talk about that interview, since it was their Leader. “Then after you’d finished interviewing Caroline Lucas, you made negative comments about Green policy without giving her a chance to reply.” Well no. I talked about Green policy and what other people had said about it. “The BBC is meant to be maintaining political neutrality Paul and has the resources to investigate things like whether a party’s opinion poll rating is falling. your hostility and editorialising won’t put me off voting Green” says Ben. Well all I can say is I’m hostile to everybody. We treat them all the same.