This article is part of a series of articles that appear in our December 10 print edition under the subheading “Small parties, big ideas. We sit down with the insurgent parties trying to upset the Labour incumbent.” You can also check out our interviews with the Brexit Party, Liberal Democrat, and Socialist Equality Party candidates.
Kirsten de Keyser, Green Party candidate for Holborn and St Pancras, meets with The Beaver on a brisk afternoon in early December. She opens up about campaigning, the climate crisis, and whether or not there is such a thing as a ‘wasted vote’. De Keyser is candid in her responses – a refreshing quality for a politician. The interview flows naturally.
De Keyser is honest about her political background: “I was a bit of a political bed-hopper, you might say.” Originally a Labour member, she joined the Liberal Democrats to fight for abolishing tuition fees. “That lasted, what, five minutes?” she laughs. Eventually, she came into the Green Party by accident. “I looked at the [Green Party’s] website and thought, oh, actually this party’s come of age… I was really impressed.” That was five years ago now.
De Keyser is adamant that this is the “climate election”. “If we don’t have a climate, it doesn’t matter how good or bad Brexit is,” she says. She is weary of how Brexit has been a talking point “hammered” by Labour and the Tories, or “the Grand Old parties as I like to call them.” Despite this, she is hopeful about the climate message. “This is possibly the easiest election I’ve ever campaigned in, because the planet’s campaigning with me.” For de Keyser, the Green Party is the climate action party, “because we are one hundred percenters.” Other parties don’t go far enough because “they’re afraid of losing votes.” What’s missing from the other parties is this courage, “the guts to tell people uncomfortable truths.”
She comes across as passionate, driven, but above all else, pragmatic. “I’m no lentil-munching tree hugger,” she tells The Beaver. In the Holborn & St Pancras constituency, de Keyser recognises the significant lead that incumbent senior Labour Member Keir Starmer has. “I’m not campaigning to win the seat,” she says. “That would be like Jo Swinson standing up and saying, ‘I’m standing here as the next Prime Minister of the UK’ – no you’re not, Jo.” Instead, de Keyser wants to be “the grit in the oyster… the person that keeps the conversation alive.” In fact, there’s a beauty to this logic, in her seat at least. Starmer’s lead is such that “the Tories will never catch him… even the Lib Dems would have a hard task catching him.” This means that “it doesn’t matter, we can vote with our hearts… [we can] actually vote for what we believe in.” For de Keyser, there’s no such thing as a ‘wasted vote’. She believes in the power of making a statement through voting. In Holborn & St Pancras, a large Green vote would “be a wakeup call” to Starmer, meaning “he would have to heed that Green presence” in his position. She wants to be this “voice from the left to the left.”
De Keyser is pragmatic too on the dilemma of tactical voting. For those voting from the left, “if you’re in a very marginal constituency, then it could well be that you need to vote Labour in order to get the desired result… if it’s that or Tory, then obviously you would vote Labour.” This should be viewed on a “constituency by constituency basis,” however.
In Holborn & St Pancras, she tells The Beaver, “it really is a multicoloured constituency in both culture and political hue.” This complexity, she says, “has its own challenges for the blues and the reds”, but not for the Greens. Why? “Because everybody agrees with us!” The Green Party is targeting youth investment in the area, opening youth centres to be run in collaboration with young people. De Keyser argues that this must be a priority in politics, highlighting the rising knife crime in Camden as an example of the need for youth advocacy work. “You don’t stop that by having greater sentences or whatever, because that’s not where it starts, it starts at the grassroots level.”
Discussing recent Greens controversies, de Keyser remains candid and honest. Regarding the recent remarks made by Extinction Rebellion’s co-founder Roger Hallam, a group the Green Party have collaborated with on a number of occasions, she admits that she “hadn’t been directly involved in it.” On Extinction Rebellion more broadly, however, de Keyser admits that she “broadly agree[s] with what they do.” “Peaceful protest almost took us backwards, let alone got any results… since XR [Extinction Rebellion], and since Greta Thunberg, things have suddenly started to shift, so they are effective.” Her pragmatism reemerges in discussing the recent announcement of the pact between the Greens, Lib Dems, and Plaid Cymru, in which they agreed to stand aside in more than 60 seats to avoid splitting the vote for Remainers. “You have to collaborate with other people,” she says, “it’s like a coalition in opposition.” Acknowledging that this will deprive certain voters of the opportunity to vote for the Green Party, she finds it to be a matter of the “greater good.” “Coalitions are grown up politics,” she says.
De Keyser would love to see an LSESU Greens Party society led by the students, similar to ones at other universities. The Green Party have a number of key initiatives significant to the student vote, particularly abolishing tuition fees and lowering the voting age to 16. “As a party we are more youth-focused in the things that we do,” she shares. Compared with the Labour party who are “stuck in the 70s” in their entrenchment with trade unions, the Tories who “just want to hold on to what they’ve got”, and the Lib Dems who “seem to have their own traditional values”, the Greens aspire to represent this gap.
She fundamentally believes in the power of young people. “Sixteen-year-olds are bloody impressive,” she declares, but at the same time, “young people are so disenfranchised.” The politicians know they need to please the pensioners she argues, “because they vote.” Young people are overlooked by politicians in their decision making like this.
Her solution? “Vote, vote, and vote some more.