When you mention the Green Party, people often say nice things, but are also of the opinion that voting for The Green party is a wasted vote. As a Party, they have seen considerable growth over the years in membership and for the first time fielded candidates in all constituencies of Bradford and District.

This edition we caught up with the grounded Celia Hickson parliamentary candidate for the Green Party for Bradford West. On first look, you wonder whether Celia would be able to hold her own in a constituency that has the powerful and extremely experienced (might I add), personality and orator George Galloway of the Respect Party, coupled with Labour’s dynamic and national darling who has an impressively inspirational back story Naz Shah.

Celia may not have a powerful personality, but compared to the other two PPC’s she seems to have the most grassroots experience, having worked in community regeneration for over a decade, with a variety of organisations across Bradford and District.

So does Celia have a chance of impressing voters when local and national media are splashed with stories of the Labour and Respect rivalry? Only the electorate can decide.

What do you think are the key three issues for Bradford West and how will you tackle them?

The three keys issues in Bradford West are:

Poverty: In some wards of Bradford West HALF of all children are being brought up in absolute poverty; which in the 21st century is just wrong. The impact of austerity measures, benefits sanctions and the low wage economy are contributory factors and The Green Party would tackle these issues by doubling child benefit, stopping all benefits sanctions and working with local employers to implement a living wage of £8.50/h rising to £10/h by 2020 paid for by implementing a Robin Hood Tax on bank activities and closing tax loopholes. We would insulate draughty homes to reduce fuel poverty and end the awful Wintertime decisions which many have to take; heat or eat.

Educational attainment: Children in Bradford have been seriously let down for decades by those who should be accountable for the performance of our schools. Only 9% of Bradford students go onto university; in other parts of the country such as Reading this is 43%. Why are our young people denied opportunity and aspiration? I would strive to learn the lessons from the top performing schools and to look to giving those non-academic students options in terms of employment and apprenticeships. Teachers are trying to work in an environment of near constant change which is not good for their mental well being or morale. Teachers should be supported to deliver a wide ranging and creative curriculum. Children are currently over-assessed and teachers are over-regulated. We want a comprehensive system of local schools offering mixed ability teaching which must be staffed by qualified teachers. We want to provide a free universal and flexible system of support for parents and good quality early education from birth until compulsory school age to give all children the very best start to their educational lives.

Job Creation: To address the issue of climate change we need huge investment in using energy more efficiently and generating energy sustainably. This requires public investment and this investment would generate jobs which would be paid a living wage, be secure and sustainable. By insulating homes we would reduce our energy requirements at the same time as creating jobs, and impacting positively on fuel poverty. By investing in renewable energy projects such as Run on Sun, where schools use their roof space to generate electricity for use in the school and for sale to the grid we would teach a generation about the  importance of fossil-free power and renewable energy. These are changes that could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and benefit our economy, our society and our planet.

What do you think your chances are of winning Bradford West?

I wouldn’t have sought the Green Party nomination for Bradford West if I thought I had no chance! I have affected the greatest change when hustings have taken entrance and exit polls so I think people are hearing what I’m saying and liking Green Party policies. The seat has a recent history of not going with two party politics so it’s all to play for! Every vote counts; believe in and be proud of your vote; the lesser of two evils is still evil.

What do you think about all the national news coverage on Naz Shah and George Galloway with very little mention of the rest of the Bradford West candidates?

The news coverage has been highly unrepresentative of what has been going on at hustings. You would think that there were only the two of them there. The rest of us have a serious and wide ranging debate about the issues affecting Bradford West and all that is reported is their constant sparring. Occasionally George Grant gets a mention but nothing from the rest of us, despite my being second in exit polls. It is very frustrating and doesn’t actually represent what is going on in the constituency.4. In the Bradford West general election it seems that other PPC’s including yourself are being overshadowed by the powerful personalities of Shah and Galloway. How do you plan to tackle this and be heard?

I am an oasis of calm and rationality in a sea of chaos! I hope to be heard by talking about issues and policies rather than being tainted by personality politics from career parliamentarians. I know our policies really resonate with the electorate and believe that we can bring real, much needed and sustained change to a constituency that has been appalling affected by the ideologically driven austerity agenda of the Coalition. If you dissect the answers that the candidates from Respect and Labour are giving they are not that strong in terms of policy. My personality has yet to be revealed!

Labour have a BAME manifesto pledging to improve the representation of ethnic minorities in public life, with Bradford West making up at least a quarter of the BAME community, how do the Greens plan to work for the BAME communities?

We are a party based on core values of equality, democracy, peace and social justice. Austerity driven politics have hit communities and families from the BAME community the hardest, with children growing up in absolute poverty increasing year on year in Bradford. Our economic policies would benefit these families hugely. Our peace and anti-war stance resonates with those who have watched as the West has invaded foreign nation states, starting wars based on flimsy evidence that caused death and destruction and still have ramifications today. We are a listening grassroots party that seeks to represent all sections of the community and our policies around insulation and reducing fuel poverty will benefit those who currently struggle with paying extortionate bills to heat their draughty Victorian and Edwardian homes. Additionally we would make equality and diversity lessons mandatory in all schools from the first year of primary education onwards, to combat all forms of prejudice, bullying, promote understanding and acceptance of difference and ensure community cohesion.

Many say they like your policies and your sincerity, but feel you lack in being a strong communicator, or making your voice heard. What are your views on this?

My microphone technique has been criticised and I have made attempts to remedy this. I think my results in terms of hustings conversion speak for themselves; 6.9% on entry to 20.4% on exit at Carlisle Business Centre, and second at the University poll. I have had a very positive response on Twitter and Facebook as well. There were some issues with microphones at the Cathedral and University hustings, but I think I have improved dramatically. I am a very strong communicator and vary my message depending on my audience, effectively getting my message across to students at St Joseph’s and St Bede’s as well as to audiences at Sandy Lane Methodist hustings.

Can you explain what the Green Party mean in their manifesto regarding mandatory method of meat slaughter? If there was a mandatory method of meat slaughter imposed then this could
cause problems with the Jewish and Muslim faiths as they have to have their meat slaughtered in a particular way.

My reading of the manifesto is that any meat products need to be labelled to state the method slaughter so that the consumer is informed; additionally slaughterhouses would be compelled to install CCTV to prevent any repetition of the dreadful horse meat scandal and other animal welfare issues. Kosher and halal meat would not be affected by this change.

Bradford West is a hot spot for high insurance premiums, how do you plan to tackle this issue?

This needs resolving at a national level as it is affecting a whole generation of young drivers and their families. The fact that your postcode influences the premium cost regardless of your driving history is very wrong and is pricing people out of the market or worse still leads to them driving with no insurance which ultimately costs everyone if the uninsured are involved in accidents. That said with more fuel effective low cost publically owned public transport perhaps fewer families would need to rely on their cars so much!

Palestine is a very passionate and sensitive issue for the people of Bradford West. What are your thoughts on the Israel – Palestine conflict and if you became MP how will you be the voice for your constituents who want the Government to recognise the state of Palestine.

Our manifesto states that the Green Party would seek a peaceful solution to the Arab-/Israeli conflict based on mutual recognition of the rights of independent statehood for Palestinians and Israelis. We condemn aggression by the Israeli government in Gaza, and seek to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement sue to Israel’s on-going breach of international human rights law to encourage or compel Israel to recognise Palestine, the human rights of Palestinians and mutually acceptable borders.

If you were able to in one sentence say why people should vote for you, what would it be?

We are world’s sixth richest nation and yet our levels of food bank use and deprivation have increased dramatically over the last few years; this is wrong and the Green Party, the only anti-austerity party, will use income from closing tax loopholes to properly secure social security, ending benefits sanctions and raising families out of poverty with increased child benefit payments; I am an able and capable Bradfordian ready to take the needs and desires of Bradford West’s constituents to the halls of Westminster.

Things we don’t know about Celia:

Favourite Food: Chips and mushy peas

Favourite holiday destination: East coast of Yorkshire – Whitby, Scarborough or Bridlington not bothered.

Favourite film: Apocalypse Now

Favourite book: Shantaram by Gregory Roberts

Favourite place in Bradford: The top of Moorhead Lane looking down the Aire Valley towards Bingley or looking down over the whole of Bradford from Denholme Gate Road in Queensbury or the rowing club on the River Aire – too close to call.