Deputy Editor Kirstie Sutherland reports on a magnitude 4.4 earthquake which has affected parts of the West Midlands, including UoB's main campus.Written by Kirstie Sutherland on 17th February 2018
UoB Student Up For Election In Edgbaston
Alice Kiff, University of Birmingham second year student will be running on behalf of the Green Party in Edgbaston in the upcoming General Election. Phoebe Radford spoke to her about her campaign
As I am sure you are aware, on 8th June, Britain will be heading to the ballot box to vote in a general election.
With the election announced only weeks in advance, political parties have had limited time to organise their campaigns and candidates, and so when the Green Party emailed members asking if they wanted to stand, second-year UoB student Alice Kiff decided to apply. She was successful and will be standing for office as the Green Party candidate in Edgbaston.
Speaking to Redbrick, Kiff explained how she first got involved with the Greens after they were the party that appealed to her the most during the 2015 general election. When they held their party conference at the University of Birmingham in September 2016, she went along, and in her words, ‘it’s just sort of gone from there.’
So how does a second-year undergraduate end up standing in a general election?
‘My first step was actually getting involved in a national committee, which was quite a big thing to do as my first step, but they were doing elections for the national campaign's committee at conference and I got chatting to some people and they told me I should go for that, so that was the first thing I got involved in.’
“'It’s something I thought would happen a lot further down the line.’
Kiff then decided to join a Young Greens committee, becoming a Press Officer for the organisation.
Having been involved in these two roles, standing for office was something Kiff says she knew she wanted to do, ‘but it’s something I thought would happen a lot further down the line.’ Yet when this snap election was called, Kiff decided she wanted to put herself forward.
‘Suddenly, this general election got announced with such a short period of time, we have about eight weeks from the announcement to when the election is going to happen. So we’re all thinking “what can we do?” and actually standing as a candidate is a really good thing you can do for your local party because local parties need people to put themselves forward as candidates.
“'Standing as a candidate is a really good thing you can do for your local party because local parties need people'
‘Then the process was to attend hustings amongst members, which was a few weeks ago. We all stood up, put forward our case, and then it was democratically voted on. I was standing against one other person to be the Edgbaston candidate, and I got it.’
Although she is now standing for office, did Kiff think that it was the right decision, and time, for a general election to be called?
‘In a way, yes. Theresa May is not an elected prime minister, and she didn’t have the mandate for Brexit, and that is certainly what she is trying to do.
‘It’s come at a time when people are really waking up to politics, I think you’d be really hard-pressed to find someone on the street who is disengaged from the main political issues at the moment, such as Brexit.’
Yet voter turnout in Birmingham for the recent West Midlands Mayoral elections was just 28%, so whilst people may be interested in current political issues, it has yet to be reflected in electoral participation. It is these abstainers that the Green Party are to some extent targeting.
“'It’s come at a time when people are really waking up to politics'
‘The Green Party are representing, in my opinion, the issues that are the most relevant to people across all sections of society. The Conservative Party, time and time again, are failing us. They’ve failed us on housing, they’ve failed us on education, as have the Liberal Democrats.
‘The Greens are really the only party standing up for people at the bottom of society and actually giving people a voice. We operate totally democratically. We want society to operate from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, so local communities making decisions that are going to affect them, whether that’s housing, libraries, roads, anything like that.’
Indeed, it was the issue of housing, in addition to tuition fees and the environment, that Kiff cited when asked for three key reasons why students should consider voting Green.
“'The Greens are really the only party standing up for people at the bottom of society'
‘I think housing is something that every student and young person is worried about. Housing prices in London, in Bath and Birmingham and a lot of cities are just going through the roof because the government isn’t introducing rent controls. The Green Party is dedicated towards rent control and stricter tenancy agreements, which I think is really important to young people.’
Housing policy also matters to Kiff personally. ‘Between the ages of 13 and 18, I think I lived in four different houses. It’s really tricky to find affordable housing, my family are absolutely not the only family who are feeling that.’
On tuition fees, the Greens, like Labour, are committed to scrapping tuition fees, a policy that has met scepticism over affordability.
“'The Green Party are dedicated not only to scrapping tuition fees but also paying everyone back'
‘The Green Party are dedicated not only to scrapping tuition fees but also paying everyone back for their tuition fees, so all current students, their tuition fees would be wiped.’
Her third reason why students should consider supporting the Green Party concerns the environment, which is of course the core of the party’s agenda. Kiff noted that ‘climate change amongst other things doesn’t seem like that big of an issue’ but then highlighted that ‘when you have 40,000 people dying in the UK every year because of dirty air because of respiratory diseases caused by air pollution, it is a big issue.’
Of course, the hot topic of this general election is Brexit. Whilst Theresa May is offering ‘strong and stable’ leadership for a Brexit that ‘means Brexit’, the Greens are taking a somewhat different approach.
“'We need Theresa May to put forward a real case for what is going to happen with Brexit'
Along with the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party are offering a second referendum on the conditions of Brexit. According to Kiff, ‘The Green Party are saying we need Theresa May to put forward a real case for what is going to happen with Brexit and the conditions, and then we’re going to vote on whether we’re going to accept those conditions or not.’
In order to try and curtail the Conservative gains that are being widely predicted in this election, Green co-leader Caroline Lucas has been promoting the idea of a left-wing alliance, which has resulted in the Greens standing down in some key tactical seats, notably in South West Surrey in an attempt to oust controversial health secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
Kiff is not an ardent supporter of the scheme, saying she felt it was ‘unfair that we are being told by Labour and the Lib Dems that we should stand down in some areas when they are totally unwilling to stand down.’
“'The Lib Dems stood down in Brighton Pavilion, which, to be perfectly honest, is saving themselves the deposit'
In fact, the Liberal Democrats have stood down in Brighton Pavilion, the current seat of Green co-leader Caroline Lucas, something that Kiff dismissed.
‘So the Lib Dems stood down in Brighton Pavilion, which, to be perfectly honest, is saving themselves the deposit. It’s not a seat that they do particularly well in, and it’s not going to help us necessarily in that seat. What the Lib Dems and Labour aren’t doing is standing down in Sheffield and Bristol West which are part of our other five-target seats.’
Kiff thinks attention should be focused on why these progressive alliances are happening in the first place.
“'If we did have proportional representation, the Green Party would currently have 26 MPs.'
‘They’re happening for two main reasons. The first one, is that we have a really, really bad first-past-the-post electoral system. It’s a completely messed up electoral system, first-past-the-post is unrepresentative, its actually really undemocratic, and we need proportional representation in government.’
‘If we did have PR [proportional representation], the Green Party would currently have 26 MPs.
‘The other main problem is voter turnout is really low. When we consider something like 50% or 60% as a good turnout, that’s 40% of people who aren’t going down to the ballot box.’
“'The other main problem is voter turnout is really low.'
Despite these electoral obstacles in the Green’s path to power, what does Kiff think the future holds for the party?
‘We’ve got five-target seats in the GE, I think we have a really good chance of winning Bristol West. Our other target seats are Sheffield, Isle of Wight, and Bath. Those three we might not get this time round, but in 2022 we might get them, or in 2027. I think the next few decades for the Green Party are definitely going to see us get more MPs, and is going to see our MPs that we do have making an even bigger difference than they already have.’
And what about for her personally, if she were elected, how could an undergraduate balance third year with representing a constituency?
“'Well, Mhairi Black managed it, didn’t she, she was 20 when she got elected.'
‘Well, Mhairi Black managed it, didn’t she, she was 20 when she got elected, she had one year left of Politics at uni, and managed to complete it from afar.
If she is successful in her election campaign, Kiff told Redbrick that, ‘firstly, I’d think about what I was going to do with my £74,000 a year salary that I would get as an MP, I would definitely put a lot of that back into the party and green causes that I care about.’
The Green Party managed to win only 3.3% of the vote in Edgbaston in the 2015 general election, and indeed, the prospect of winning is something Kiff says is ‘definitely not something that I’ve thought about a great deal.’