Benali Hamdache has worked as a campaigns coordinator for a migrants’ rights charity as well as having helped to set up a charity that advocates on behalf of young people with mental health problems.
He is currently the LGBTIQ Greens Co-chair and has campaigned for marriage equality and against the blood ban.
Benali became a Green Party member 3 years ago because of their social justice policies. Their humane stance on immigration and their advocacy of gender equality and LGBTIQ rights immediately appealed to him. Benali is a member of Unite and lives in Islington.
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- What first motivated you to get into politics? What issues are you passionate about?
There are a few factors that motivated me to get into politics. I’m mixed race, my father is Algerian, and his stories about discrimination at work and in public motivated me to want to take on injustice. My Dad can tell you stories about being called a “f***ing Iraqi” during the Gulf War, or a policeman being more interested in where he was from than the crime he was reporting. Witnessing and then personally experiencing that sort of discrimination certainly fed into my motivations to get involved politically.
I also worked as an assistant psychologist and then in research on Black and Asian mental health. A realisation that systematic discrimination in the UK was feeding into poor mental health for Black and Asian communities fed my sense of outrage with the status quo.
Beyond this, the rise of UKIP and the mainstreaming of migrant bashing really made me feel that we need the voices of migrants and their children in politics. We can’t allow the scapegoating of migrants in the political arena to go on.
I’m also a gay man and have been involved in LGBTIQ campaigning since university. Race, migration, sexuality and mental health are all issues I work with and campaign upon on a regular basis.
- What attracted you to the Green Party?
I think like many people my age I was sucked in by the promises of the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg in 2010. After seeing their betrayals over the NHS and tuition fees I found myself quickly being unable to support the party anymore.
Afterwards, politically homeless, I found myself looking between the Labour Party and the Greens. When Caroline Lucas was elected as an MP, I found her to be an incredibly inspirational politician, and found myself more and more disappointed by the Labour Party. With the Greens I saw a party that supported workers’ rights, rejected austerity and stood for an ethical international policy. I couldn’t see Ed Miliband moving Labour away far enough from Blair’s legacy, so in 2012 I joined the Green Party.
- Given the public’s disengagement from politics, how do you think political parties can reconnect with voters?
Political parties have to reconnect with voters by doing rather than pontificating. It’s very easy to make empty promises, but to re-engage voters politicians have to once again start delivering for their communities. Voters want to see politicians who are approachable and passionate, and who work hard to resolve issues in their area.
That’s why a big part of my politics is being involved in local issues. I live in Islington and I’ve been really proud to see the achievements of my local Green councillor – things like getting agency staff full-time contracts and pushing the council to save jobs instead of spending council money on spin doctors. It’s by delivering real concrete change that politicians prove their worth.
- Why should voters support your party?
Before anything I’d say it’s hugely important that people register and vote, whether or not if it’s for the Green Party. Too many parties focus solely on older voters from white communities because they’re the people most likely to vote. It’s only by using our voting power can we pressure politicians to hear our voice. Register to vote here and then vote.
On top of that I’d say the Green Party is the only party offering a real alternative to politics as usual. Natalie Bennett has delivered a clear pledge that we as a party are the only party that will protect the NHS as a public service, deliver a fair economy that delivers jobs with a fair wage, and tackle climate change.
Equally, as a party we have some strong commitments to tackle discrimination in society. As a party we want to push the anonymisation of CVs, so recruiters can’t screen out those who aren’t White British before interview. We’re the only party not pandering to cheap migrant bashing and instead recognise that we need a humane migration policy that protects the rights of refugees and migrants. We’ve also made commitments to curb the police’s very selective use of stop and search that overtly targets Black communities.
- Name one policy from your party that you think is a “game changer” that will make a real difference to the lives of ordinary people, and explain why.
Fundamentally I think our promise to make the minimum wage a living wage would deliver scores of people out of poverty. It would rebalance our economy towards individuals getting a fair wage for their work and employers paying their way.
- If your party ceased to exist, which is the closest party to your ideology? And would you join that party?
If the Green Party was sadly no more I’d find myself perhaps drawn to Plaid Cymru or the SNP, parties with which we’ve found much common ground on our opposition to austerity and Trident.
- If you had to pick one issue that you feel isn’t being addressed by the government or an issue on which we need to have a wider and more honest discussion about as a nation, what would it be?
I think the deep-set imperialism in our foreign policy is one of the biggest issues the world faces. Our involvement in the Iraq War and our selective support of dictators and democracies helps to deliver a world that is less fair and more violent. We as citizens have to look seriously at our government that is comfortable propping up and supporting oppressive regimes like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
It’s vital that we get our government to understand that rather than building peace it is building the wars and the conflicts of today and tomorrow. We must stop supporting brutal dictatorships for personal gain and scale back our military and our interventions in conflicts.
- Are you in favour of leader’s debates or do you think they are a bit of a distraction?
I think the leader’s debates are an important and accessible way for voters to hear directly from the leaders. However, in isolation they are not enough. Every voter deserves a knock on the door from a politician. Every voter deserves to get material from political parties. Every voter deserves a chance to be properly engaged by every political party. I spend my weekends door-knocking because talking to people in person is, I think, the most authentic way of engaging voters.
- What should the health service of the future look like – if the NHS has finite resources, how should they be spent? Is it more cost-effective to outsource services?
It is incredibly clear that the introduction of a market and private enterprise into the NHS has done terrible harm to our NHS. For me, it’s why I am incredibly proud that Caroline Lucas is introducing in Parliament a proposal to roll back both Labour and Conservative efforts to introduce “competition” and the private sector into what should be a publicly owned cooperative that is free at the point of delivery.
The NHS is, despite many of the harmful tinkering introduced by previous governments, a remarkably efficient and cost-effective service. We have to preserve it. There will be challenges to the system with our ageing population, which makes young migrants coming to the UK to work even more important. Their taxes prop up the NHS and many of them work hard within the NHS as doctors and nurses.
- What do you consider to be one of the biggest challenges facing young people today, and does your party have any policies or proposals that could help?
Unaffordable housing, a shortage of jobs and barriers to getting an education are all huge issues for young people.
The youth unemployment crisis is disastrous, with too many young people unable to find work or stuck in zero-hour contracts. We need to reshape our jobs market by creating thousands of high-skilled green energy jobs, as well as growing more food in the UK. With healthier local high streets rather than an economy dominated by tax-dodging corporations, we can create more high-quality jobs.
We also need to tackle runaway house prices. The Green Party plans to build 500,000 new homes by scrapping tax breaks for buy to let landlords and allowing councils to borrow more money to build. By building more homes and introducing rent caps we can make renting and buying a home more manageable.
We also need to make sure we have more high quality apprenticeships that pay a living wage. Too many opportunities don’t teach much and pay a pittance. We also need to scrap tuition fees so young people aren’t saddled with huge debts just for wanting an education.
- What advice would you give first-time voters?
Go out and vote. If you don’t vote the mainstream parties will keep ignoring your voice. You and countless others can take to the polls and bring in a peaceful revolution.
- What are your thoughts on the state of the immigration debate in the run-up to the election? Is there on issue related to immigration issue that you would say is a priority and why?
The debate around migration is happening in a vacuum of evidence. Everything points towards migration to this country enriching our communities and strengthening our economy. Yet post-recession, migrants have become an easy scapegoat for the ills of society and we’ve seen a rush to the bottom over discriminatory legislation.
We’ve seen caps on the amount of skilled non-EEA workers, much to the chagrin of businesses. Barriers put in place on UK citizens’ naturalising partners are splitting up families. Curbs on international students have resulted in the first drop in international student numbers in 30 years. None of these measures have worked to bring down net migration levels, but each have threatened family life, the financial health of our universities and our businesses’ access to top talent.
Moreover, there’s little evidence that the public actually supports these measures. In public polling the public is unquestionably in favour of international students, with a plurality believing they bring in more than they take. Equally, the public is in favour of professionals coming to the UK to work, with a majority seeing such workers as good for Britain. On spouses a solid majority support UK citizens naturalising their immediate family.
We should instead be having a debate on how to make the most of the benefits of migration to the UK into the future, given that so many of our opportunities are intertwined with the UK’s international outlook. We’ve established that migrants are net contributors to the economy – perhaps now it’s time to talk about how to make sure that economic benefits are evenly felt in a fairer, more responsible economy.
- Do you think we should raise the minimum wage (or perhaps adopt the living wage)? Why or why not?
The living wage should be introduced immediately. A hard day’s work deserves a fair wage, and it’s absolutely disgrace that so many in work need benefits to get by. Employers should pay their fair share.
KPMG has shown that the living wage works for employers too, giving them happier, more productive and healthier workers. For smaller businesses that might struggle with the living wage cost, we should look at rolling back national insurance and tax breaks for small businesses.
- Do you think the public sector can sustain more cuts, and is there a social price to pay?
Austerity is a wrong-headed approach to dealing with the economic crisis. Cuts have left much of the EU in recession and high unemployment because of an ideological commitment to a smaller government. Cuts are a political decision – a decision we don’t have to support.
All the mainstream parties are committed to some degree of cuts, all of which threaten delivery of key services and our goal of a fairer society. Rather than cutting the NHS, our education service and our public services to the bone, we should be asking the wealthy to pay more with a wealth tax and clamping down on tax avoidance.
- What is one policy or measure that you think would go some way towards making sure the benefits of economic growth are felt by all?
We need a cap on runaway wages at the top, and more redistribution of wealth from the top to those who need it most. From that, we need the wealthy to contribute through a wealth tax which would raise billions for public services. We need to clamp down on tax avoidance from corporations and individuals. We need to rein in runaway bonuses for bankers and directors, and looking at wage caps for the top earners should be a start.
Growth has stopped delivering real meaningful improvements for most people. GDP has been going up but people’s wages have not. We have to question our fixation on GDP; it’s not an indicator of a healthy economy. A strong, fair economy should be judged on people’s quality of life.
- Should Britain remain in the EU? Why or why not?
Britain should remain in the EU. The EU isn’t perfect; corporations and vested interests have too much power in the EU. Yet much of the most important progressive legislation in this country has been written in Brussels. Consumer rights, workers’ rights and environmental protections have all been passed through the EU parliament, and if we left the EU we have no guarantee we’d keep those laws. Indeed the main reason Conservatives want to leave the EU is to roll back your right to a limit of a 35-hour working week and stringent environmental protections against toxic air pollution.
- Any final reflections you’d like to share ahead of what is touted to be one of the most unpredictable elections for a number of years?
This is indeed a hugely transformative election. People are looking for an alternative to the mainstream and it’s creating a hugely unpredictable result. I’ve watched with alarm the rise of UKIP and truly feel the Greens are the antidote to UKIP’s angry scaremongering and the mainstream pandering. It’s time to vote and push Green’s platform of anti-racism, inclusion and fairness to the forefront.
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The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.
Articles published in the other politics series so far:
- Kiri Kankhwende: Introduction: Small Politics
Omayma El Ella: The Suffocation of British Muslim Civil Society Space
Pragna Patel: The Elections 2015: Desperately Seeking Equality and Justice
Maya Goodfellow: Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most
Anouchka Burton: The pink bus is a start but parties need to show women they’re in for the long haul
Colin Joseph: BME communities should get on the bus & vote at this year’s Election
“It’s an exciting time to be a politician”: Interview with Reema Patel (Labour Councillor)
The Conservative Party is a broad church” Interview with Walaa Idris