‘Democracy needs scrutiny’: Meet the ‘Green Party broom’ leader Bennett is sending to sweep out ‘dusty’ City Hall

The Green Party’s key Manchester candidate Ben Godfrey has said that electing Green councillors would help Manchester City Council find the ‘creative’ responses that it needs to austerity problems.

Godfrey, 32, who lives in Whalley Range and works as a researcher in the charity sector, will stand as the Greens’ candidate in the area for the upcoming City Council elections on May 5.

He said the Greens would reduce harm done by cuts and improve quality of life, as well as planting more trees to reduce air pollution.

“At the moment our City Council seems to be consistently throwing its hands up when a library is cut, when a mental health service closes down, when devolution is imposed on us by George Osborne,” Godfrey told MM.

“I’m not convinced at all that our council is working as hard as it could be to look at creative ways around this.

“Other cities are managing it, people just seem to be shrugging and saying ‘oh well, that’s the way it is’.

“That’s absolutely not what a Green councillor or Green councillors would do.

“We would work tooth and nail with a Labour majority, with other parties if they’re able to get in this year, to look at how we really listen to what residents need, reassess our priorities and think about new ways to raise revenues.”

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett also visited Whalley Range to canvass in support of Godfrey’s campaign and said that she hoped he could be ‘the Green broom sweeping through some rather dusty corridors there in City Hall’.

Bennett was speaking at Healthier Streets, a transport discussion event chaired by Godfrey at the British Muslim Heritage Centre which included other guest speakers from groups including the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign and anti-speeding campaigners 20’s Plenty for Us.

Godfrey, who has been campaigning for the Greens in Whalley Range since just after the General Election last May, said that road safety is one of the biggest local concerns.

“The biggest issues that we hear from people on the doorstep and people we meet in the street relate in some ways to roads, whether it’s speeding cars, parking, too many cars in school time, potholes, or drains,” he said.

“Roads and transport policy isn’t necessarily the most glamorous or sexy area to discuss but it’s the day to day realities that really significantly affect quality of life.

“It was just a great opportunity, something we’d wanted to do for a while and it all came together at the right time.”

Manchester City Council seem to have taken note of the Greens’ campaigning, with local councillors recently announcing a Community Speed Watch campaign asking people to record speeding cars as they happen.

While Godfrey credits the council for responding, he believes that they are still not responding well enough.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough people noticing speeding,” he said.

“The problem is that it’s not being enforced properly and that speeding and driving in general isn’t being discouraged properly as there aren’t better opportunities for people to commute or travel otherwise.

“There’s definitely a lot more that the council could do that we’re trying to push them to do, and that I would aim to do as a councillor.”

Godfrey explained that the Greens are not against driving in Manchester, but instead see improving the city’s cycling routes and public transport as vital for encouraging pedestrians, thereby boosting healthy activity.

“I’ve got a neighbour who I know drives about four miles to the gym to go and get fit and healthy, and I don’t blame people,” he said.

“It’s not a great environment for pedestrians, it’s not a great environment for cyclists and public transport is nowhere near as good as it could and should be.”

Godfrey’s campaign initially started out by surveying local residents.

The party have now ramped up electioneering, and he is confident about the Greens’ chances in a politically ‘switched-on’ area.

“People are on the whole very positive about the Green Party and on the whole very sceptical of the fact that all three of our councillors are Labour, all 96 of the city’s councillors are Labour,” he said.

“People understand that democracy needs debate. Democracy needs scrutiny, challenge, discussion.

“The people of Whalley Range have made me feel very welcome.

“I think people were quite shocked by my approach which is very much about starting a conversation rather than saying ‘isn’t my party brilliant?’”

With the Greens finishing second across Manchester in the local elections last year, Godfrey doubted that the Lib Dems are the only alternative to Labour in the city, and does not think the Greens will suffer from Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader of the Labour Party.

“I’ve barely left Whalley Range in the last eleven months and that is certainly not the case there,” he said of the Lib Dems’ chances.

“The last few years the Lib Dem vote share has absolutely collapsed in on itself.”

“The fact that we were able to come second and were able to secure 22%  of the vote in Whalley Range where we weren’t campaigning in the General Election really suggests to me that there is a huge amount of people who are ready for some Green politics in Manchester.

“People [in Whalley Range] are super switched on.

“They know that the leaders of Manchester Labour Party, Manchester City Council, don’t necessarily buy into Corbyn’s world view.

“The Corbyn effect doesn’t appear to have reached our council yet.”

“Corbyn is absolutely moving in the right direction for the Labour Party but is nowhere near going far enough.

“If you look at the Labour Party’s situation on Trident, if you look at fracking, if you look at principles like the Universal Basic Income, they’re being very reluctant in coming out to support these radical things which I think might be a political move.”

The Greens have been working on a Manifesto for Manchester, which combines national Green Party policy with the concerns of local residents.

“[Voters] end up seeing that there is somebody in here who doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest, who doesn’t necessarily go with the flow, who will be willing to champion their concerns,” he said.

“Any party having complete control over a council is unhealthy.

“It’s a chance to break into that and offer some opposition even if it’s one councillor.

“It could well be a lot to live up to but if we look at how things are done at the moment it wouldn’t take much to do them a bit better.”

Image courtesy of David Masters, via Flickr, with thanks.

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