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Interview: Leslie Grahame

The Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Norwich South is Lesley Grahame. Sitting in Marzano café inside The Forum, literally 100 metres away from where she launched her campaign back in January we discuss her campaign so far as I try to get to know a bit more about the softly spoken candidate that the Green party have chosen to represent them in this constituency in May.

Up until when she took leave in January to focus on her election campaign, Lesley Grahame was a district nurse in the NHS. Her role is one she takes great pride in and is eager to tell people about on her campaign leaflets.

“The NHS is a really critical issue within this election because it’s one of the institutions most unifying in British politics” she says to me when explaining why she campaigns so passionately about her job. “Everyone cares about it and one way or another everybody is likely to use it at some point in their lives. Even if they always use private healthcare they always know that it’s there if they need the NHS in an emergency”.

Working inside the public service, she claims, has provided her with a unique insight into the decline of the health service. “I want to be elected to stand up for patients and nurses. I’ve been standing up for patients as a nurse and part of that role is advocacy in supporting patients. I’ve watched services deteriorate and nursing moral tumble over years and years and it’s really important to reverse the rot”.

Passion is one thing which Lesley Grahame clearly has and her willingness to stand up for causes such as the NHS has been proven through active campaigning throughout her life. Most notoriously she was arrested in 2008 for trespassing at RAF Lakenheath, I asked her whether she believed that the way she had acted was wrong and whether she would ever consider doing something similar again: “I’m really passionate about the rule of law” she stated. “I don’t think you should ever break the law unless you have a really good reason to. We had a good reason to”.

She highlighted that despite breaking the law to make her point she received praise for her efforts from members of government: “They took us to trial and on the day that the verdict was reached David Miliband was in Oslo signing the cluster ammunition convention which outlawed the sale, transportation and use of cluster bombs. He commended the societies and campaigning organisations that had brought the convention about”.

She went on to explain that if she was in power she would still consider using such methods of direct actions if she believed it necessary: “It’s not something you’d do lightly as a parliamentarian, you aren’t and you shouldn’t be above the law [but] being a parliamentarian is campaigning by other means. Similarly I would say campaigning is politics by other means and you have to use the techniques which are most available to you”.
Sipping our hot drinks in the vibrant atmosphere of the café we had found ourselves located in we quickly moved on to discussing tuition fees: “If you look at our education policies you’ll see that they’re the most student friendly on offer. We believe education is a privilege and that tuition fees are a huge barrier to people receiving the education they need and deserve and want. So if your education makes you rich you should pay for it through your income tax, you shouldn’t have to pay for it before you start”.

With the number of people studying at university having continued to rise over the past few years despite tuition fees tripling, some people have argued that there is no need to get rid of tuition fees because it is having no impact on demand. However, when I put this to Grahame as an argument she was quick to respond with why the argument was wrong. “Why should anybody have to start their career with a debt which is so large? When you first start your career you might want to think about buying a house, you might want to think about settling down, you might want to go travelling and if you’ve got fifty grands worth of debt pulling you down how can you do these things?”

While the Green Party’s pledge on tuition fees is likely to be popular with students I reminded Grahame of the feeling of being let down by the Liberal Democrats that students felt in when tuition fees increased in 2011, how was it possible to trust another party given the broken promises of the past?

“You can’t demand people’s trust, you’ve got to earn it and we’ve been earning it as councillors and campaigners on justice issues for the last thirty years” argues Grahame before pausing. For a second she asks whether she can have a minute to think about the question before quickly changing her mind as she thought of what she wanted to say: “I suppose one of the things about trust is, if I were a normal career politician, do you think I would have joined such a small party?”

A small party it may be, but they are currently surging in support and Norwich South is their second target seat and one area of the country that the party is keen to be representing in parliament. When I asked Grahame about whether she believed that the seat could possibly be retained by the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP she was very confident in her opinion: “occasionally strange things happen but it’s unlikely”.

“You have to remember that [Simon Wright] had a majority of just 310 which is one of the smallest in the country”.

As our conversation slowly moved on and our cups of tea began to get cold from talking rather than drinking we moved on to discussing the perceived belief that the Green party was sometimes seen as a one issue party.

However, Grahame was keen to argue the exact opposite: “I think we’re the only party that’s not a one issue party!” she exclaimed.

“The one issue preoccupying the other parties is GDP growth. Well GDP measures the amount of money people spend but it doesn’t tell you anything about the distribution of wealth. If you or I got knocked over by a bus that would increase GDP because an ambulance would be sent and we would be treated in hospital, we might even employ a caretaker… the point is GDP doesn’t tell you everything you need to know”.

As our conversation is drawing to a close I ask Lesley Grahame one last question. The question that has been asked to all Norwich South candidates at the end of our interviews: “Why should people vote for you?”

At first the question caused Lesley Grahame to stumble: “That’s the one that always fools me!” But, after a few moments to gather her thoughts she responded: “I have a long history in campaigning on peace and justice issues, I have 20 years’ experience in the NHS, three kids – one of them disabled-, and a lifelong commitment”.

01/05/2015

About Author

danfalvey Dan Falvey is an undergraduate politics student about to start his second year at UEA. Being an avid tea drinker means that he has the most essential skill needed to be a successful journalist. Outside of his interests in writing and politics, Dan. is also a regular theatre-goer, film geek and most importantly, a supporter of the mighty MK Dons.



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