The Green party focused on young people at its election campaign launch in Bristol, pledging to fight to scrap tuition fees, give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote and protect the environment that youngsters of today will grow up in.
In a city where there has been a spate of suspected suicides among its student population, Molly Scott Cato, the Green candidate for Bristol West, said there was a mental health crisis among young people because of the bleak future they faced.
The party’s co-leader, Caroline Lucas, said she was optimistic the Greens would win Bristol West after finishing second in 2015 behind Labour.
She accused other progressive parties of being “reckless” by not backing tactical voting and said there was a groundswell of public demand for deals to be made to fight the Tories.
The Greens had high hopes of winning Bristol West in 2015 when Darren Hall, a former RAF engineering officer, tried to overturn a Liberal Democrat 11,000 majority. Labour took the seat with a 5,673 majority and the Greens forced the Lib Dems into third place.
Molly Scott Cato, who is an MEP for the South West of England, said: “This election is the most significant of my lifetime. We truly are at a crossroads,” as she announced her party’s first policies on a hotel terrace with the Clifton suspension bridge as a backdrop.
“Today marks the beginning of the Green party’s campaign for a bold, positive future for our country in wholehearted opposition to the extreme Brexit and far-right agenda threatened by another five years of Tory government.”
She said inequality was widening in the UK on every front. “But I want to speak particularly to young people,” said Scott Cato. “I want to look at the gulf that is opening up between young people and older generations. The way young people are being let down is a disgrace. It’s hard to think of a time when the young have faced a bleaker future.
“They [the Tories] will pursue an extreme Brexit that young people didn’t want and voted against. They will dismantle pubic services which benefited their parents and grandparents, from health to welfare to education. They will take away their opportunities, their security, their prosperity. The only thing that young people can count on at the moment is debt.”
On tuition fees, Scott Cato said young people’s lives were being “frontloaded with debt”. She said the Greens would scrap tuition fees and “restore the principle of free education”.
She added: “There’s little wonder we’re seeing a mental health crisis amongst young people. This generation live their lives so precariously and with so little uncertainty about their future.”
It was wrong, she said, that young people could pay taxes and fight for their country at 16 but not vote. “You are entitled to have a say,” she told them.
Lucas added: “When it comes to young people they have been betrayed in so many ways. One crucial way is by what this generation and this government and the previous one have been doing when it comes to protecting the environment. We had the hottest year on record last year. What else does the environment need to be doing to be taken seriously? All the signs are there and it is young people who are going to bear the brunt of a wrecked environment.”
The Greens had opened up the possibility of standing aside in next month’s West of England mayoral elections if the Lib Dems did the same in Bristol West at the general election. But no deal has taken place.
Lucas said growing numbers of people were attending public meetings to discuss how to get around “this incredibly undemocratic system” through tactical voting. She added: “There is a groundswell of public demand for this. I’m disappointed tribal politics has not been put aside for this incredibly important moment.”