How Proportional Representation can protect the environment
Interview with Henry Greenwood
This article is a written version of the interview held between Founder of the Green Schools Project Henry Greenwood and Torrin Wilkins.
Torrin: First of all welcome and its great to speak to you!
Henry: Great to speak to you too!
Torrin: So to jump straight in with the first question, why did you decide to start the Green Schools Project and why does the Green Schools Project support Proportional Representation? After all, Proportional Representation is something that isn’t often connected to fighting climate change and protecting the environment.
Henry: So the Green Schools Project started seven years ago when I decided to move from being a maths teacher to instead being more involved with the environment and fighting climate change. Whilst being a maths teacher was great I felt I could make a more unique impact in this area and I could bring something new to the table. Whilst it started off as a one man band we have grown since then and we work with lots of schools.
The Green Schools Project decided to support Proportional Representation when we were relatively small and it really came from my own political beliefs. I’m part of the Green Party of England and Wales so it felt like the right thing to do. As time has gone on it has just remained as a policy we support.
Torrin: You mentioned that the group has continued to support Proportional Representation as it has grown. Do you think Proportional Representation will help us to fight climate change and to protect the environment?
Henry: There is certainly some interesting research on this and it does look like countries with PR have better environmental policies. I think in the UK you can see a Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition with some more Green MPs doing some great things to tackle climate change.
Whilst I know there is the joke of who wouldn’t want Caroline Lucas in your cabinet dealing with the environment or climate change, it’s very true. That is some real talent the government could use. But, overall, I do think having Liberal Democrats, Greens and the Labour party around the table would be better than just having a single party there.
Torrin: You said earlier that you are a member of the Green Party, is part of the reason you support PR with the Green Party being so disadvantaged by the system?
Henry: It’s certainly a contributing factor but it is also about the broader message of fairness. After all under PR it wouldn’t just be the Green Party that benefits, it would also be other parties I don’t necessarily agree with.
Under a new system parties like UKIP and the Brexit party, now the Reform Party, would probably benefit. In 2015 UKIP did receive a single MP but large numbers of people did vote for them. They did have one or two MPs at diffrent points but they probably should have received more representation in the House of Commons given their vote share.
This isn’t to say I agree with UKIP, it is just that under a fairer system it wouldn’t just benefit your own party but any party that receives a large number of votes but very few seats. I think if you embrace the principle of fairness then that means creating a fairer system for everyone.
I think the only parties that would lose from this are the Conservatives and Labour. With Labour however it would allow them to form governments more often than they would otherwise be able to under First Past the Post.
Torrin: We have seen the large changes to the education system including the introduction of academies, changes to tuition fees, changes to GCSEs and so on. Would PR help when talking about longer goals in education?
Henry: Overall I think the education system wouldn’t have seen a lot of the changes that have been brought in during the Conservative government. I think overall there would be more possibility for progress in education under a proportional system. Issues such as tuition fees and academies could have been very different but we will never know for sure.
Torrin: Do you have a preferred model of PR, one that you would particularly like to see that would help that cross party working?
Henry: I have done some research on different electoral systems and honestly, when you look at how bad the current system is, I just think any proportional system would be better than First Past the Post. In a lot of ways, I don’t really have a strong opinion on that.
I guess one of the difficulties of moving towards a proportional system is that you would need to decide which system the UK moved to. Otherwise, we could end up in a debate over which kind of PR we should go for. Honestly, however, I think there are people who are better versed in specific electoral systems than me! But honestly, I think any version is better than the one we have.
Torrin: What do you think is the main difference between a consensus style of government under PR and a majoritarian style under First Past the Post?
Henry: I think running an organisation is very similar actually, you want different voices around the table whilst all heading in the same direction. That model of decision making where you all have an overall agreement but different points of view are accepted is one that would work well for government as well.
You don’t want a situation where a member of the cabinet can’t come out and express their disagreement with a policy. I don’t think not being able to express other views in that situation is particularly healthy and I think it would be much better in ensuring government reflects organisations and society.
Torrin: Do you think the Labour Party hasn’t realised it will struggle to form a government under FPTP and may have missed an opportunity by backing PR?
Henry: Whilst I’m not a member of the Labour party, so I’m not aware of the internal discussions that go on, I do know members and supporters. There seems to be a mixture of opinions from disinterest to vocal support all the way to strong opposition.
Whilst I liked a lot of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies Labour was very tribal and I couldn’t see him backing Proportional Representation or talking about it much. However, John McDonnell seems very keen on the idea so there was a split in the Labour party even then.
Under the current leadership it’s difficult to tell. However, through the hard work of organisations such as Compass and Make Votes Matter there is certainly progress being made. There was large progress made at the conference last year and I really hope it continues.
I have written to my Labour MP about it several times but sadly I’ve never received a reply. She is a great local MP and I hope more hard working local MPs support PR. In part due to the argument of fairness I was speaking about earlier on.
Its almost strange that we are one of the few European nations without PR and even the SNP support PR despite the fact they may lose seats.
Torrin: Where do you see the Green Schools Project going in the next five to ten years.
Henry: Our big goal is to expand climate education within schools. Whilst we are still quite small, we have already worked with forty schools and we now have a target of working with one hundred schools. However, there are 25,000 schools in the country so there is still a long way to go. Whilst we aren’t aiming to work with every single school we do want to raise awareness of climate change and nature. We also want them to have more opportunities to actually help in fighting climate change and to help schools become more environmentally friendly.
Torrin: Thanks so much for talking to me and telling me about the Green Schools Project.
Henry: It has been really good to speak to you today and thanks so much for having me on.
About the author
Henry Greenwood is the Founder of the Green Schools Project.