“It’s all Victorian grandeur and 60s sh*t,” Dave Stevens tells us when we arrive in Bradford City centre, gesturing at the buildings around us. “The place wasn’t bombed much during the war – wool isn’t strategically important – but then they saw what was happening in Coventry and decided to copy it.”
Stevens is the Green candidate for Bradford East. In fact, he is the party’s first ever candidate for Bradford East, and part of a wave of Green Parliamentary candidates across Bradford that mean, for the first time, everyone in Bradford will have the opportunity to vote Green.
Perhaps a little optimistically, Stevens describes his constituency as a “five-way marginal” between the Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and himself: “It’s possible, if not likely, that we could win here… Traditionally Greens lose their deposits when they field candidates, but if the best we can do is to win back the deposit, I wouldn’t be interested.”
“The Green Party [nationally] appeals to Lib Dem supporters who have felt let down by the coalition, Labour voters who have been alienated by New Labour, Conservative voters who came back to Cameron for One Nation Conservatism – all of these people you find in Bradford East.”
We are by now sitting in the offices of Bradford Community Broadcasting, a local radio station where Stevens volunteers. Every so often their programmes are syndicated by local BBC stations, and they’ve won various awards over the years, such as the Radio Academy’s Nations and Regions Award for Yorkshire. The station has a small staff, but the bulk of the work is done by volunteers.
This is presumably the sort of thing David Cameron was envisaging for his Big Society? “You know, I was quite optimistic about Cameron’s government! His pledge to have the greenest government ever, the way he was detoxifying the Tory brand, his One Nation Conservativism, but that just hasn’t been followed through.”
Whether or not BCB is a manifestation of Cameron’s Big Society, it is certainly a manifestation of how Bradford is overshadowed by its neighbour Leeds. The local BBC radio station for Bradford is BBC Radio Leeds, which, naturally enough, does not give much attention to Bradford – “It wouldn’t be so bad if it was BBC West Yorkshire,” Stevens sighs.
As well as being overlooked by the BBC, Bradford is not being given much attention by the transport system. We had travelled in from Leeds, and, not to Stevens’ surprise, the train was delayed – the engine was just turned off at Leeds station, due to a technical malfunction.
“You just experienced the reasons behind several Green Party policies,” Stevens says. “One: renationalising the railways, because the private sector hasn’t done a better job. Our railways are horrendously expensive, for tax payers and passengers and the only people actually benefitting are the private sector operators.
“Also devolution, because Whitehall doesn’t think that new trains for Bradford are value for money. And also scrapping HS2. We don’t need to take 20 minutes off the journey time to London. We need to take 20 minutes off the journey time to Manchester.”
Whitehall may well be too focused on London and the South. But then, perhaps the Green Party is too. Its main targets for the general election are Bristol West and Norwich South, as well as keeping hold of Brighton Pavilion. Sheffield Central and York Central are also on the Greens’ radar, but much less prominently.
Are there differences between the Green Party in the North and in the South? “I don’t really know,” Stevens says. “I don’t think we’re big enough… We had our conference in Liverpool.
“Do we have middle class tendencies? I suppose the general election candidates are middle class public sector professionals, I’m an ex-police officer, Ros [Brown, for Keighley] is a former headteacher, Kevin [Warnes, for Shipley] is a college lecturer and Celia works in social housing… but Andy [Robinson, for Bradford South] is a former Captain of Bradford Northern [Bradford’s Rugby League Team] – you can’t get more authentically working class than that.”
Stevens also points to Shipley, a northern suburb of Bradford, which is represented on Bradford City Council entirely by the Green Party. “And that’s a very mixed ward.”
Nor does his party appeal solely to the white population, in Stevens’ view. Which must be useful to him, since the population of Bradford is nearly one-fifth ‘Asian or British Asian.’ “Thinking about the emails I get, there are more emails about Palestine from people called Hussein, and more emails about animal rights from people called Smith. But issues like tax avoidance and the NHS are from everyone. It’s not as simple as the ‘Asian vote.’ There are lots of class-based issues.”
The view of the Green Party as a bunch of white middle-class hippies “predates the Green Surge. It looks like we’ve hardly broadened our appeal in Brighton at all,” Stevens says, referring to the closeness of the race for Caroline Lucas’ seat, where Labour polled ahead of the Greens as recently as last June. “We haven’t got 50,000 new members in Brighton.”
Stevens’s campaign, while hardly a first priority for Green Party Headquarters, has not entirely been left out on a limb. “Natalie Bennett came up to Bradford in September and encouraged us to stand as many candidates as possible,” says Stevens, who himself only became the candidate for Bradford East in January. “She told us, ‘The politics of the past is breaking open.’ And I really think she’s right.”
He has received some funding from the central party office. “I could have applied for more, but we’re not in the most need. We’ve got a local structure, a treasurer and chair and so on. We’re further ahead than other places, Selby, say.” Most of the money came from a crowdfunding appeal, which raised £750, all small donations from individuals: “My biggest single donation was £50 and that was from my Dad. So this really is a people-fuelled campaign.”
As our conversation draws to a close, Stevens tells me about how he used to complain to the local Green Party for not fielding candidates in all the constituencies in Bradford. “I’d ring and ask them why I was unable to vote for them. Then they’d ask me whether I wanted to be their candidate. But I didn’t necessarily want to vote for them, I just wanted to be able to vote for them.”
Now, however, he is a committed Green Party member, rather than just a political and environmental campaigner. “Not being gay I don’t know, but I feel like I’ve come out. This is me, I’m Green and I’m Proud.
“I say to people, ‘If you want change, vote for change, don’t just vote for who you voted for last time’.”