Mark Stevenson is the Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Henley, Oxfordshire. This is his fourth term running in Henley. He also ran as a candidate for Witney in 2001. Stevenson is a former educator, having taught mathematics and ethics. Currently, he works as an organic farmer. I spoke to him about his campaign in Henley as well as the recent rise of the Green Party and the role of the media in the election campaign.

YB: How did you enter active politics?

MS: The Green Party was quite strong in central Oxford. When I moved out to the countryside in West Oxfordshire, you might just have not heard of the Green Party; there was nothing, nobody knew it existed. I thought, if I’m going to vote Green, I’m going to have to stand as a candidate!

The Green Party was the only one that presented a clear vision of what the country should be like and what they wanted to achieve. The other parties pursue reaction politics; something happens and there is desperation to be seen to be doing something about it straight away. That gets translated into policies that do not have the impact that the politicians hoped for.

At the Green Party, any member can take part in policy making, go to conferences and vote on what the policies are going to be. That very inclusive and democratic basis is something that I find very useful and important.

YB: Could you tell us a bit about your campaign in Henley?

MS: Henley is very rural; it doesn’t tend to have the same activity as a city or a town constituency. The campaign is far less visible; a lot of it has to do with word of mouth. There’s a lot of activity going on in schools, with sixth form groups. It’s coming through from students themselves as well as teachers, who are very keen on helping to make up for the democratic deficit suffered in this country due to poor political education. Young people come out not understanding anything about how politics functions.

The school events are usually accompanied by a school election where they have representatives from their parties. It’s a combination of candidates being able to present their case as well as the pupils themselves learning what it is like to take part in politics and make a political presentation.

YB: How is it different campaigning a safe seat?

MS: There is a lack of democracy. Because it is traditionally a very safe seat, the campaign focuses on the Conservatives ensuring that they get their core vote out. Because of that, it’s not really a public campaign.

YB: How would you explain the great increase in Green Party membership?

MS: People have started to feel dissatisfied with current politics. When they started to look for alternatives, people began to be aware that the Green Party wasn’t just an environmental movement, that it was a serious political party with a real agenda for change. I think that when people began to pick up on that and once the media profile was enhanced due to the leadership debate issue, it became clear to a lot of people that there was a party here that was offering far more along the lines of what they liked and could get involved with. Talking to some of the new members, a significant part of it was also that they would be involved, not just told what to do and think.

YB: What has been the main issue that has led to dissatisfaction, particularly in this term?

MS: I think it’s been accumulative; if you look at the proportion of people voting, there’s been a steady decline. A lot of it has to do with the fact that people feel it doesn’t make much of a difference. They felt it didn’t make a difference which party was in power anyway.

Essentially, the parties are coming from the same ideology of promoting economic growth as the main concern; somehow they have this view that economic growth is going to answer all problems. The tendency has been lobbying and pressure from large-scale business. People practically felt disenfranchised.

YB: Which issues do you think should be focused on instead?

MS: I think the important thing is the idea of human flourishing; that people are going to have opportunities, exercise those opportunities, to be able to develop communities that are supportive and strong. We all need that; no man is an island!

YB: At the Oxford Election debate, you argued that shifting our value set and working within the EU could bring about bigger opportunities and contribute to the empowerment of the British people. Could you elaborate on this?

MS: One of the things we talked about fifteen years ago was subsidiarity. We thought too much power was centralized and it had to be decentralized. That idea got taken up by the main parties much more recently, for example, with the Localism Act, but they’ve tended to override that.

But this idea extends in the opposite direction. It is also appropriate to move decision making up, because that greater, collective approach can have an influence for good at the larger level.  For example, achieving something valuable like instituting good standards of animal welfare could have a disastrous economic effect if it is not achieved at the EU-wide level. But if it is, we’re all on the same playing field and you’re not going to have that kind of problem.

YB: Do you think the benefits of EU membership have not been understood very well because they have not been expressed properly?

MS: Absolutely! Take UKIP; they say, if we’re not members of the EU, we’ll have billions of extra pounds to spend on whatever we like. That’s not the case; for example, as a farmer, if we weren’t members of the EU, we wouldn’t have the Common Agricultural Policy payments coming through. Those payments do subsidize farming; the costs of farmers would increase by 10 per cent without them. That increase would force most British food out of the market.

Unless the government did exactly the same thing and had its own agricultural policy with subsidies that matched European subsidies, all that would happen is that we would lose our market share. Thus, if we pulled out of the EU, the government would still have to spend that money.

YB: Why have they not been expressed properly?

MS: Whether it is intentional or not, there is such a deep Euroscepticism in the way things are presented that it’s quite difficult for people not to start accepting those prejudices. It’s both the Eurosceptic sections of the media, as well as political parties that are aware that there is a Eurosceptic element which they need to satisfy and get votes.

YB: The Greens are praised for having a great share of women involved, whereas these ratios are lower for other parties. What has the Green Party done differently?

One reason is the inclusive way in which the party operates. When you get women coming into the party, if they want to get involved and want to try and achieve something, they feel just as able to do so as anybody else. There’s nobody expecting them to go and make the tea!

We would still like to have more women candidates. But it’s partly a reflection of the fact that a lot of candidates are going to be standing in areas with very little chance of achieving much of the vote, and where there previously haven’t been Green candidates standing. Women tend to stand where they think they will make a difference.

YB: Surprisingly, a recent study found that the Greens have the lowest ratio of ethnic minority candidates. How would you comment on this?

MS: I think that it is a reflection of the fact that up until very recently, the Greens were identified in the media as an environmental pressure group, and for most ethnic minorities, that wasn’t the key political concern that they had. We’re still suffering from that; six months isn’t long enough! Hopefully, that will change over time. Our deputy leader is from an ethnic minority background.

YB: How is the party tackling this problem of media coverage?

MS: What we’ve done is that we’ve assumed most people know that the environment is central to our whole thinking. Instead of talking a lot about the environment, we’re talking about the other issues, but they’re always connected.

I think that the approach is drawing more people to the party. One of the only good things that came out of the rise of UKIP was the preparation of the media to consider what other parties might be saying, rather than casting it in terms of the three main parties.

The media is excited by the fact that people are looking for alternatives, but because a lot of the media is not politically independent, it’s often put in the context of “who is going to form the next government”, enforcing the whole idea of tactical voting. This is one of the ways in which they keep other parties out of the system. It is worrying. I’m hoping that people will recognize it and it will strengthen our case.

YB: At Shout Out UK, we aim to reduce political apathy and make young people more aware of politics and the way it impacts their lives. What would you like to tell our young readers?

I went into farming from teaching, and for the first couple of years, that was equal to a 75 per cent pay cut. But that didn’t matter because I felt that what I was doing was something that gave me a great amount of satisfaction and was very valuable because at the time, one of the problems was a complete shortage of local food in the area. I felt that I was contributing to society in that way.

The key thing is: what makes you feel valued? What makes you feel that your life is worthwhile? Pursue that to the best of your ability! If those opportunities aren’t being given to you, then fight for them!

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