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Shahrar Ali: why I want to lead the Green Party

In an exclusive interview, the Greens' former deputy leader and current spokesperson for policing and domestic safety speaks to the Star about why he wants to be the first BAME leader of a British parliamentary party and fight for immediate action on on the climate emergency, women's rights and a culture of debate and democracy

What do you think are the top priorities for the Green Party right now?

Firstly, to boldly make the case, at the ballot box and beyond, for immediate action on the climate and ecological emergency. It’s hard for us to get our heads round the scale of transformation required to overcome the worst excesses of climate degradation, much of which has already been set in train.

The prize for humanity is great, our continued existence and the threat of species extinction (not just our own) too grave to contemplate. Greens have long advocated a Green New Deal, which would require overhaul of the economic system and investment in renewable energy, with Green jobs to match.

The emergency response to Covid-19 has shown that, with political will, much adaptation is possible. We need to harness more of that spirit in pursuit of massive reduction in our carbon consumption. We need to get on a war footing for the sake of the climate emergency.

Secondly, we must reach out to new constituencies of voters, especially those who are feeling politically homeless due to leaders presiding, or facilitating, a hostile environment for them. I am thinking especially of women and ex-Labour members and voters.

Many women I have spoken to, including in my own party, have felt prevented from organising around campaigns to preserve or protect their sex-based rights. Many brilliant campaigners have in fact resigned. In any arena of equalities, if you’ve got a group of people who feel that they are affected by the claims of another group of people, that requires negotiation not imposition.

In addition, in order to negotiate you need to debate and tease out or interrogate people’s assumptions, if only to work out that there’s no misunderstanding. That kind of debate and culture is in increasingly short supply, in society and in political parties.

A further example is the conflation of legitimate criticism of Israel’s heinous policies with fake allegations of anti-semitism – often fuelled by the bogus, politicised IHRA definition.

Starmer is being sucked into a rabbit hole of his own making by scapegoating lifelong anti-racist campaigners in an attempt to look strong, but actually is looking increasingly unprincipled. Politics should not be about betraying our values for the sake of virtue-signalling optics. It should be about living by our values and challenging misrepresentation.

It is monstrous that a lifelong anti-racist of the pedigree of Corbyn was hounded out in the way he was. I, too, have had to face down anti-semitism smear campaigns and recently won an IPSO ruling against the Jewish Chronicle on five counts. I am now pushing not just for rejection of the IHRA definition by my party, but adoption of the Jerusalem Declaration instead – a well-crafted statement that would help identify and tackle genuine anti-semitic incidents.

The common thread running through these conflicts, which often become internalised in parties, is the failure to model mature, rational debate. Groupthink and cancel culture thrive in such conditions, often reinforced by social media bubbles. Leaders must collaborate to overcome the threat to free speech – by modelling it themselves and confronting Orwellian abuse of language.

In the wake of the latest IPCC report do you think changes to the structure of the economy are needed to deal with climate change?

To anybody who has not had their head buried in the increasingly sinking sand, the IPCC Code Red for humanity comes as no surprise. We are not going to reach net zero by 2030, let alone before that, without massive international focus – today, not by ignoring yet more sobering scientific reports year on year. The Green Party advocates for tax and dividend mechanisms to recalibrate our relationship to our carbon-intensive activities.

I believe we should supplement carbon taxes with Personal Carbon Allowances – a system of carbon currency accounting at source, where each of us would be given an annual carbon budget to spend against. We need a radical shift in how we budget in order to bring CO2 within safe limits, today not tomorrow. This system would also be egalitarian at a stroke, as the rich would have the same budget as the poorest in society.

The rich West would also have to bring their overconsumption down more sharply than those in less developed countries. This is fair as it is those least responsible for climate change who are often made to suffer most at the sharp end of rising sea levels or drought, yet least able to afford the remedial action to contend with it. This is the double injustice of the climate emergency. The devastation wreaked upon Western Europe, closer to home as it was, should be a wake-up call to us all.

What is your view on demands from Extinction Rebellion for citizens’ assemblies to come up with solutions to the climate crisis – do you think they can they be effective?

I was a founding signatory of Extinction Rebellion in 2018: to tell the truth and to help change what is politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. Citizens’ assemblies would play an important role, alongside street protest and non-violent occupation to raise social consciousness of this most pressing issue of our time, for the sake of current and future generations.

As Greens, we firmly believe in the necessity of community engagement beyond the ballot box to achieve the scale of social transformation required. We must resist the criminalisation of protest contained in the current Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill and the targeting of environmental activists, too.

Do you think that Britain has a democratic deficit and what can be done to put more decision-making power in the hands of ordinary people?

Yes, our democracy is hardly fit for purpose – whether the unelected second chamber or the deprived voice smaller parties get through a FPTP-elected Commons. Using the 2019 general election as an example, Greens would have had 11 MPs under a proportional system, not one.

Eighty-three per cent of Labour members now back proportional representation for general elections. The challenge is how is Labour going to get into a position to implement such change through a referendum, without power first. We must also advocate that any future constitutional referendum, unlike that brokered by Clegg and Cameron in 2011, is advocating for genuine PR not a flawed form of it. For this and other reasons, a weak Labour opposition is not good for democracy.

It is time, however, for a new Green Party leader to help build a resurgence in the Green popular vote, membership and campaigns – to tackle the biggest issue of our time. Readers who sign up by August 27 can have a say in the future direction of our party.

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