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Election special: Green Party leader Natalie Bennett on gentrification, theatre and Thai food

Posted at 3:30 pm, April 12, 2015 in News

In the run-up to the general election on May 7, we’re chatting to leading figures in all five major parties. Eddy Frankel met the Greens’ leader in a King’s Cross wine bar to talk housing, pubs and Aussie rock.

Why should London vote Green?

‘What we need is a city that works for the common good, which means a city where everyone is on the living wage, where benefits are available to people who need them and where the benefits cap is not forcing people out of London. It’s a London where public services are run for the public good, with no profit motive. And of course, in a broader sense, we have to live within the environmental limits of the planet. A one planet-living London, that lives within the limits that we have to live within. The outcome of that is a fairer city, a much more pleasant city and a better quality of life.’

Well, the city feels more and more unfair these days: do you think gentrification is a big problem?

‘It’s certainly a problem in terms of where communities are forced out and split apart. Obviously improving the fabric of buildings is an issue, but the way to do that is not to break up existing communities. London has always been a very socioeconomically mixed place, and we want to keep it that way.’

The problem is that there’s no protection for tenants.

‘Housing is the topic of conversation in London. We want to bring in five-year security of tenure so your rent wouldn’t go up more than the rate of inflation or a fixed rate each year.’

Should London be given greater independence?

‘I think, as a general principle, we believe in localism: decisions being made locally by the people most affected. We want very much the assembly having more power and more influence, and the boroughs need to have more control over local things.’

All this political malarkey sounds exhausting – do you have a favourite pub that you escape to?

‘The Edinboro Castle [Mornington Terrace], particularly in the summer: it has a lovely beer garden.’

Do you go there often?

‘No. I believe in a work-life balance, but I don’t have one.’

How about a favourite restaurant?

‘It’s fairly close to home (and it’s not very posh) but Taste of Siam on Camden High Street. Having lived in Thailand for five years, it does remarkably authentic Thai food and I’ve never tasted better som tam outside of Thailand.’

What was the last cultural thing you did in London?

‘I used to do theatre reviews and I used to spend a lot of time at fringe theatre, but the last show I went to…’

So would you describe yourself as a big theatre buff?

‘Yes, particularly fringe theatre. But the last cultural thing I did…well, the election campaign has just been everything…So, no the last cultural thing I did is that I went to the Camden People’s Theatre and I had a meeting with people in the arts in Camden. Which was work. But it was cultural!

I don’t know if a meeting counts as culture, but never mind. Do you have a favourite work of art in London?

‘I used to be a volunteer at the British Museum. You’d have a whole range of objects in front of you, and you’d talk to the visitors and let them handle the items. The Asante Ewer. It’s from the time of Richard II in Britain. It was found in what’s now Ghana in the 1890s and no one knows how it got there. And if that could talk, you’d love to know what the story is!’

How about music: what gets your toes a-tapping?

‘This is where I prove I’ve never been cool on the subject of music.’

Hey, come on – you like fringe theatre, you’re down with the kids…

‘Ah well, yeah, but music’s not my big thing. There’s an Australian band called Redgum, an old political band from the ‘70s, so that’s basically the music from my childhood.’

So what would your campaign song be? Something by D:ream?

‘Oh. “I Am Woman” [by Helen Reddy].’

Is there somewhere you go when it all gets a bit much? You know, somewhere green?

Camley Street Natural Park – it’s wonderfully deserted. It really is an oasis, it feels so calm.

Next week: we grill Nick Clegg

Want more election news? Read Giles Coren’s column on voting.

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