The man against the Prime Minister

Stuart Macdonald is the man up against David Cameron. No wonder he finds the election campaign “extremely hard work.” “The Tories in particular, and Labour to a lesser extent, have a machine there and massive national support – the Greens haven’t. Towards the end of the campaign I’ll be giving three or four presentations a day and it’s hectic – it’s alright if you’re the PM and are being taken from one to the other in a chauffeur-driven car, but the Greens don’t work like that.” Macdonald does not hold this against Cameron however. “I’ve debated against him, and I actually find him fair, reasonable and reasoned. I quite like the man.”

Being a representative of the Green Party in Witney has some advantages. “The opportunity in Witney is to say things and to be heard in a way you wouldn’t be able to in other constituencies. That’s because of the dominance of Cameron and the Conservative Party. The world’s media descends on Witney, and much of it is interested in something different or unusual. We cash in on that quite shamelessly.”

The coverage of the Green Party is topical after Cameron threatened to not participate in leader’s debates if the Greens were excluded. “It’s the right thing for him to say,” Macdonald conceded, “but for the wrong reason. He’s doing it is so that the Greens can erode Labour’s position.”

Macdonald is also not optimistic that the Witney authorities will be welcoming of his campaign. “As the election heats up we’ll have all sorts of action taken by local officials to make life difficult for us. On the streets sometimes too: we’ve had police summoned to take our stalls down, threats of arrests from local mayors because we’ve put a poster up. It can be very hostile. They find the Green Party particularly threatening,” he said carefully, “Come the election there’ll be a host of ratbag parties but they’re flash in the pan. But the Greens are here to stay, and we are ferocious in the election. We take Cameron to task. We got one of the highest votes in the country in 2010. That’s pretty good in the Prime Minister’s constituency.”

The Green Party are constantly dealing with misconceptions, but Macdonald speaks clearly about what they stand for. “The Green Party is not a single issue party, it’s got a full spectrum of policies.” “The problem is that the keenest Greens tend to be the ones looking for a tree to hug, not the ones who view the Green Party as a radical socialist party, as I do.”

The name, however, can prevent people from being aware of the party’s social policies. The deaths of Mark Wood and David Clapson in Witney came as a result of austerity measures and benefit cuts. “We just had our first public meeting looking at the two men that were starved to death in their own homes following benefit sanctions. You’re able to publicise that event nationally, and then from the press you get the interest of the local press which otherwise you wouldn’t – because it’s totally Tory dominated.” Macdonald laughed, “We’re out to change things but we have the opportunity to in Witney that other Green candidates don’t have.”

Macdonald is also concerned with student issues, particularly tuition fees. “Making a market system out of education is appalling, not just university education but public schools – it’s appalling. The Oxford system is illogical if you’re making a market out of it. How do you justify capping? Oxford can charge very, very, very much more than other universities. It doesn’t make the system sensible. Education is a public good, not a private good.”

Macdonald fears the effects of the rise in tuition fees. “Students now will be poorer than their parents. That has not happened for centuries in this country. Students have been a political plaything for decades now – the whole idea that if you have half of your cohort going to university it will create a high technology economy that will create a lot of wealth – this is absolute nonsense. We create students who go into careers that don’t need degrees, striving to get qualifications rather than learning.”

So what does the future hold for the Green Party? “The word is that small parties will do well in this general election. I think they will too, if only because there’s a real dissatisfaction with the main parties.” 2010 saw the Greens gain 4.1 per cent of the Witney vote, but this year Macdonald is confident – “We will do better”.


PHOTO/ Stuart Macdonald