Ian Callaghan is the Green Party’s candidate for Romsey & Southampton North. He works in international development and is described on his party website as a ‘seasoned environmental campaigner’. He has lived in the constituency for 12 years. Our interview took place on the 24th of April.
What would be your number one priority if elected?
The housing crisis that is facing the UK. It affects not only the urban parts of the constituency, but the rural areas as well. The other thing we would do on day one would be to raise the minimum wage to a living wage: £8 an hour, rising to £10 over the life of the Parliament. That would hopefully begin to tackle some of the low pay issues in the economy, particularly for younger people.
There is a large population of students in this constituency; what can you offer to them?
I think what’s most valuable to students is that we’re the only party that’s offering no tuition fees. We believe that, as with my generation, probably the best investment our country can make is in the education of our younger people. We would offer free education from nursery right through to university.
What was it that made you first get into politics?
The reason I decided to stand as a Green candidate this time around was that I really felt it was time to stand up and be counted. The country is getting into a serious mess now with huge and ever-increasing inequality in the economy, and the Green Party is the only one which offers a serious alternative to that. I think that is why we are now the third-largest party, by membership, in the country.
The party in the past has faced accusations of ideological incoherence; can you sum up briefly what the key Green Party mission is, as you see it?
We are a party which is genuinely trying to stand for the common good; that’s our motto and that’s part of everything we stand for. That includes not just environmental concerns and the good of the planet, but the good of society as a whole. As I was saying, we think that economic inequality has reached a stage now where it actually threatens the fabric of society. That is front and centre of everything we are trying to do. But we think we do have a set of coherent, well-costed policies which addresses all of those concerns.
There is a high proportion of rented accommodation in Southampton, particularly student housing. What would you like to see done with regards to the rental market in the local area?
The problems which people are facing go back to the shortage of housing in the UK. That’s why rents are so high; that’s why agents can currently charge such high fees, because so many people are competing for a limited stock of housing. The Greens are the only party promising to use government money to build social housing – we would build half a million homes in the UK. The other parties are just hoping that their friends among the private developers may or may not get around to it at some point. Their targets are only targets and they depend on someone else doing the actual building; we will actually build half a million homes, and that will start to address some of the big picture issues by massively increasing the stock of housing that’s available to people like students at the lower end of the housing spectrum.
That leads me on to the next question… Many of the party’s policies are going to be expensive to implement, as you know. For example, Citizens’ Income – one of your flagship policies – has been costed at around £280 billion. Clearly there are different figures from different sources, but how are you going to raise this kind of money?
Well, Citizens’ Income is not something that would come in on day one – that would actually be something we’d work towards over the life of the Parliament, because it’s quite a complex policy to implement. But our total spending package amounts to 45% of GDP – exactly the same as Germany. In France, another European peer of ours, spending is 48% and in Denmark – which has been voted the happiest country in the world – it is actually 58%. If you believe the scare stories, you would imagine that if you go to Copenhagen, you would find no companies there and no rich people there, but actually it’s buzzing with companies and I know, through my work in international development and philanthropy, quite a few very wealthy Danes, who are very happy to contribute their fair share of income and wealth to the good of their society. They get the big picture. So all these scare stories of wealthy people disappearing, are just scare stories.
Okay, but can you give me say, three specific ways you will raise the money you are going to need?
Well, the first thing is we would actually make some efforts to collect tax, which the current Coalition has been singularly unkeen to do from richer people; we would hire an extra 15,000 HMRC staff. A big one would be raising corporation tax for large companies; we would keep it at 20% for small companies, but the Amazons of our world we would charge 30% – which is actually the rate in America, so it’s not an unusual rate for countries to charge. The third big one, which is inescapable, in the ‘Robin Hood’ tax, the financial transactions tax, and that would be a small amount imposed on every financial transaction and would raise about £25 billion on its own, and is a completely unavoidable tax.
A list of all candidates running in Southampton and Winchester can be seen here.