14 Questions with: David Williams
The first leadership interview for ’14 Questions’. Being stuck in a music time bubble, flying over the Amazon and an unfortunate incident in St. Helens: that’s David Williams, leader of the Greens on Oxfordshire County Council.
- What inspired you to first join the Green Party?
The background was growing disillusionment with the Labour Party in the mid 1990s. I had been a member by then for over 20 years but they were no longer a party of social justice, peace or equality. No longer a progressive party of social change.
As a part of my job, I travelled the world at that time encouraging students to come to the UK to study and I saw at first hand the destruction of the environment by greedy multinationals. I became more and more aware of climate change and the need for immediate action to stop what could only end in the destruction of mankind.
In the 1999 Euro elections, I became aware of the Green Party in Oxford and I voted Green for the first time, helping Caroline Lucas to become our MEP. I looked at Green Party policies at that time and the blend of social justice and environmental concerns was exactly what I thought important in the 21st century.
When Labour became the US poodle in the Iraq War I joined the Greens. When Labour started the privatisation of the NHS in 2004 I decided that I must fight Labour to stop them and became very active in the Green Party. My transition from Red to Green was complete.
2. You get given a ticket for you and a plus one to see your favourite band or artist. Who do you take and who do you go to see?
I would go with my wife. We are caught in a time bubble from around the late 1960s to punk and the early 1980s. We are both late Beatles fans but sadly we could never go to one of their concerts. Perhaps we would go and see old friend Graham Nash when he comes back to the UK. Or folk singers such as Peggy Seeger who lives locally - we always loved her partner Ewan Maccoll - or other people we have liked such as Van Morrison or Radiohead, even Bob Dylan if he came here again. Music still has a deeply emotional impact on me.
3. Politics aside, who inspires you and why?
Lord Buddha: ’True peace is found within yourself.’ Do not dwell on yesterday ‘.
Jesus Christ : ’Turn the other cheek’, ‘thou shalt not kill’ and ‘give to the poor’.
Spartacus : Slavery is wrong. We must fight to preserve our freedoms.
Boudica: Fighting back against rape and Empires.
Tom Paine: The ‘Right of Man’ author and contributor to the American constitution.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel: The world’s greatest engineer.
Karl Marx : … ”Workers of the World unite you have nothing to lose but your chains.”
Sylvia Pankhurst : A socialist fighter for women’s votes. Stood against the First World War.
Keir Hardie: … Labour’s first MP. “ People must be represented in this chamber, not just wealth”.
Mahatma Gandhi : Strong non violent protest. ‘Be the change you want to see.’
George Orwell: A great writer.
Clement Attlee: Building the welfare state.
Che Guevara: Fighting corruption and anti-American imperialism.
Esther Williams : (My Mum) For fighting for my education and a belief in me.
Harold Wilson : Keeping me out of the Vietnam War. Never seemed to do anything really bad.
Martin Luther King: I have a dream of a non-racial society.
Nelson Mandela: Long march to freedom against apartheid.
Vivienne Westwood: Beautiful fashion and jewellery.
John Lennon: Imagine and give peace a chance.
Peter Tatchell : Gay rights are universal human rights.
Petra Kelly: We must do the impossible or face the unthinkable.
Caroline Lucas: Being the leading UK Green at the turn of the century. Standing alone.
4. What do you consider to be a formative moment in leading you to where you are today?
Flying over the Amazon from Belo Horizonte to Salvador and looking down at the unbelievable scale of destruction of the rainforest by farmers and loggers. Here was mankind actually destroying itself.
5. What’s the most embarrassing thing you have ever done (that you’re willing to talk about!)?
Walking along what I thought was an empty street in St. Helens, I let off a tremendously loud fart. The instant laughter of a group of young girls on a balcony just above my head who I had not seen sent me scurrying away head down.
6. You have the choice of going to dinner or a drink with Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron and Theresa May (or all three at the same time). What would you talk about? What do you think they would be like?
One thing I would ask all of them is to support PR, although I think we will have a hard job coming to any agreement with Corbyn or May. I would also try to encourage all of them to adopt a completely anti-nuclear and fossil free approach to energy generation, this may be something that we could agree on to some extent, powers of persuasion at a dinner party and the need to be being too polite may limit the chances of success.
Individually, I have never met Tim Farron so I don’t know about him … but as we went to the same University (some years apart) and studied the same subjects perhaps we could talk about the academics we both knew.
I have met Theresa May. She came to the school open day at Wheatley Park the local Comprehensive school here in Oxford when my son went there. She looked ill and rather pompous and did not seem to have any small talk so I doubt if she would be good company.
So I would be left with Jeremy Corbyn who I have met many times. Unfortunately unless you talk serious politics conversation is difficult. He always seems a bit detached. I suppose we could reminisce about the times our paths have crossed …..Miner’s strike Iraq war etc etc. that might be interesting. I would try to persuade him to see that we need to redistribute what is already produced rather than continually growing the economy as its makes sense to redistribute in socialist terms .
7. It’s been a long day and you just want to let everything go for the evening. How do you unwind and relax?
I rarely relax in that way … as I enjoy political action.
I really feel the need now and again to simply walk around the garden pottering about and wondering why I sometimes manage to let things grow and sometimes other creatures benefit by eating half or more of what I plant, I love to laugh with friends, but most of all I love to go to bed and sleep.
8. If you had decided not to go into politics, what do you think you would be doing instead?
When I was 15 I wanted to be an actor but having a Northern working class accent … that was out, as was my other dream of being a professional dancer.
When I was 16, I passed the entrance exam to go to The Conway Naval Academy to train as a merchant navy officer. I love to travel and that might have been good. At 18, I went to Art College for a couple of years. I think I would have been good at starving in a garret trying to sell my awful paintings. When I was 57 I started to write books (two complete; Dirty Old Town and Busy Being Fabulous ) and when I give up politics that’s what I will become a writer … maybe!
9. How would you use your long experience as a local councillor to reach out to new voters, particularly those where our demographic base isn’t as strong?
I have great experience of representing very multi-cultural wards (elected 8 times over a 31 year period). The way to do it is to get to know the lifestyles and cultures of all the ethnic groups around you. Join in, become part of that culture, understand the different priorities and what is important build friendship by working together establish trust.
In elections in Oxford I also have achieved high votes because I do strike a chord with Labour voters. I speak their language about Green policies and as such they vote Green and start to realise it makes sense to anyone from any walk of life.
10. If you had the power, what would be the one thing in the world you would change or implement?
To get all the countries of the world to reduce global carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions to a level that is pre-1914 within 5 years. Technically, that can be done now with existing technology.
11. You have a strong belief in the importance of education. What would you like education across the country to look like? Are there any policies that you think the party should adopt or campaign for?
All education should be free from the cradle to the grave, open to all at the point of use. We have a duty to educate not just train. The amount given by the state at all levels to fund education should be expanding in real terms by at least 2% per annum. Schools should be run by governing bodies that are composed of parents, teachers and community reps not faith groups or businesses. Free schools and academies must be phased out and local control restored. There should be no privileged private education and no selective grammar schools. All children must be treated equally and given equal opportunities. There is a need for dramatic reform of the National Curriculum on Finnish lines and abandon SATs.
12. The Olympics are currently on! Are there any sports or sportspeople that you are keenly looking out for?
Not really.. I find it all a bit of a nationalistic flag waving session.
Having said that I do like the swimming and the cycle competitions. I do respect the work that competitors do to see how far they can develop the human capacity to do so much.
However, sports that I was good at: rock climbing and darts - aren’t there.
13. You have the opportunity to create your own frontbench in Government. If you could pick any politician from any party, who would you pick and to which role would you appoint them?
Prime Minster … Me (of course)
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Cllr. Craig Simmons (Green Party)
Home secretary: Peter Tatchell (Green Party)
Education: Martin Francis (Green Party)
Justice: Matt Sellwood (Green Party)
Health : Larry Sanders (Green Party)
Foreign Affairs; Natalie Bennett (Green Party)
Workers rights: Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Party )
Animal Rights: Jean Lambert (Green Party)
Young People and Registration: Amelia Womack
Peace and Defense: Rev. Bruce Kent (CND)
Local Government: Andrew Cooper (Green Party)
Culture and Sport: Sharar Ali (Green Party)
Minister for Europe: Caroline Lucas (Green Party)
Environment: Tony Juniper (Green Party)
Gender and Diversity: Sian Berry (Green Party)
Science and Technology: Esther Obiri Daiko (Green Party)
Wales: Alice Hooker Stroud (Green Party)
Scotland: Adam Ramsey (Scottish Green Party)
14. What specifically, beyond what is listed in your manifesto, do you feel you can bring to the Green Party leadership?
A bit of Northern humour and an understanding of Labour voters and possibly some LD voters, to bring them to vote for us.
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