At 20 years old, Nate Higgins is one of the youngest parliamentary candidates in the country. Standing for the Greens in West Lancashire, he may be a first-time candidate, but he is well known as a leading Green Party voice on gay Twitter. Originally from Suffolk, Mr Higgins left home at an early age following the death of his mother and is now a student at Edge Hill University, where he’s studying musical theatre. He spoke last week with THEGAYUK about his life, his candidacy, and why the Green Party is the best party for young voters.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
THEGAYUK: If I’m not mistaken you’re a university student and at least one of the youngest PPCs in the country. Why are you standing?
Nathaniel Higgins: The Green Party candidate for one of the London constituencies… is younger than me. So I don’t want to steal his thunder. But I’m standing for a number of reasons. I originally wasn’t going to. In my mind, I didn’t think it would be fair on constituents to have an MP who spends a lot of his time out of the constituency because of the nature of being a student. But after the local party and regional coordinator and a couple of other people spoke to me and thought I would be the best person to represent West Lancashire, and as I worked out my MP, Rosie Cooper’s voting record, I found a lot to disagree with. And I thought I could make a strong case that I would do the job better than her
I also think it’s really important for young people and LGBT people to have someone in this constituency that they can vote for. I don’t know if you know much about West Lancashire, but aside from the student population, there’s this image that it’s quite conservative, socially at least. Because of that, there isn’t a lot of people around here standing up for LGBT people or the European Union or students’ rights, for examples. As a student, as a gay person, and as a pro-EU person I’m the best person to stand up for those rights. I’m not willing to compromise on my principle positions to be elected, whereas I think the other candidates are.
TGUK: So many young gay men, in particular, seem apathetic about politics, especially as equality is achieved and mainstream acceptance is accomplished. Why should LGBT people of your generation care about this election and care about politics?
NH: A lot of LGB people thinks it stops at the B, and I don’t think it does. Also what I think needs to be remembered is that we don’t necessarily have equality. Although it’s quite a popular opinion to say that we do, there are a lot of issues where if you’re gay, if you’re lesbian, if you’re bisexual, you’re on the backburner. For example, if you want to adopt you’re probably going to be looked at with a little bit more suspicion if you’re a gay couple. If you want to give blood, until recently you were assumed to be dirty and taking part in dangerous sexual activity. Rather than simply asking if they do, they’ll assume that you do if you’re gay. And there’s a whole other host of issues that we haven’t necessarily achieved equality yet.
It’s not just gay people but young people across the board aren’t apathetic towards politics at all. If you ask them about individual issues on a nonpartisan basis, you’ll find quite a lot of enthusiasm for these issues among people my age. But they are apathetic about party politics, and that’s for a whole number of reasons. Primarily it’s because parties don’t feel the need to speak out to them. It’s sort of a catch-22 situation. Young people don’t vote because parties don’t speak out to them, and parties don’t speak out to them because young people don’t vote.
TGUK: That leads perfectly into my next question. Your party, the Green Party, has pledged to equalise job seekers’ allowance, universal credit, housing benefit between those over 25 and those between 16 and 25. Many would argue this is unnecessary because so many young people have help from their parents. Why are they wrong?
NH: If you indulge me and allow me to go into a little of my personal history, I was kicked out of my home when I was 18. I was going to college, and I had to pick up a second job in order to afford my rent, and even then I would not have been able to afford my rent without housing benefit. If that had happened now, now that housing benefit is not available for 18-21-year-olds, I would have had to leave college and move to another town where my dad lived and hope that he would be willing to let me live with him. I would not be where I am now if that had happened…
In a lot of cases just because someone has access to parental support, it doesn’t mean it’s fair to expect them to use it. For example, say that you have a family who is not accepting of LGBT people but is willing to, when asked by the government, is willing to house you if you deny that part of who you are. I don’t think that’s something someone should have to do, and I don’t think they should have to make that case to the government in order to receive the support that they need.
TGUK: Was that your situation? Were you kicked out for being gay?
NH: No, not quite. My mum passed away. My mum was married to an Iranian man, and in the Iranian culture, it’s desirable to remarry as soon as possible. My stepdad’s new wife didn’t like me very much.
TGUK: I’m sorry to hear that. But moving on to the next question, maybe a little less heavy. The Green Party is known to be on the left of British politics. Jeremy Corbyn is also extremely leftwing. Why should our readers vote for the Greens and not just vote for Labour?
NH: As much as politicos like to simplify it this way, politics is not a simple left/right scale. It’s far more complicated than that. What I think you need to see about Jeremy Corbyn is that there’s Jeremy Corbyn the personal politician and there’s Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the Labour Party, and the latter is far more disappointing than the former. Though there’s a lot to disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s voting record over thirty or so years he’d been a Member of Parliament, he is one of the more progressive Members of Parliament. But as Labour leader, he has left a lot to be desired. For example, he claims to want to break open the establishment but then doesn’t support things like electoral reform that will bring that. And the reason why is there’s a lot of disagreement on the backbenches of the Labour Party on electoral reform. Jeremy Corbyn’s position is nearly untenable as it is, so he doesn’t want to implement something like that. But then you see John McDonell who does support electoral reform.
…the Labour Party just isn’t standing up for you at the moment. You saw it on their capitulation to the Tories on Article 50, and how they gave the Conservatives a blank cheque on the Article 50 vote. And they do that because the Labour Party is terrified, absolutely terrified, of losing a certain number of its voters. It’s because the Labour Party is, at the end of the day, a coalition of very different people and its voter base is a lot of very different people. So a lot of times if you’re supporting the Labour Party you’re supporting a party that is acting in the interests of other people, whereas I think the voter base of the Green Party is much more unified. By nature of being a smaller party that’s much easier. But the Green Party is almost always going to be voting in your interest
TGUK: Almost always?
NH: Well I mean, no politician is perfect. There will be some Greens who disagree with the way that Caroline acts in Parliament sometimes. I don’t personally have any issues that I can think of myself, but it’s just no politician is perfect, and I think we should acknowledge that. What I think needs to be understood is in this electoral system it’s not possible for smaller parties to win a position in government as a smaller party. So a lot of the time they let go of their principles for electoral success, and the Green Party is never going to do that.
What you also need to remember is if you’re voting for the Labour Party in hopes that Jeremy Corby becomes Prime Minister, what happens if he doesn’t? Does he then resign and you get another Blairite? The Labour Party isn’t Jeremy Corbyn. What I think you need to remember is you’re voting for a representative of your constituency, not the Prime Minister. And Party leaders change often and they change unpredictably. So I don’t think you should vote Labour just because you like Jeremy Corbyn. And depending on where you are, a Green MP might be more supportive of Jeremy Corbyn than the Labour representative is.
TGUK: Can strategic voting and a progressive alliance actually work?
NH: I just want to stop you right there. There is no such thing as a singular “progressive alliance.” A “progressive alliance” is a principle that has taken many different forms in many different constituencies. No party wants to implement a national alliance with any party. It wouldn’t work, it would be wrong to the activists on the ground, and it would be wrong to the candidates if they’re already selected. Instead what we’re saying is in constituencies where there is a sitting conservative MP or a progressive Labour MP is at risk of losing their seats, let’s have a conversation about what we can do to best make sure that our principles continued to be implemented by this MP. Because there’s no point in putting in all the effort of standing if you’re shooting yourself in the foot by doing so.
TGUK: Speaking of democracy, the Green Party is against Brexit and has promised a second referendum. But haven’t the British people already decided that?
NH: The Green Party has not promised a second referendum. No party is promising a second referendum. What we have promised is, if we were in the ability to implement this, we would bring the final deal that is implemented back to the people in a ratification referendum. And that is not a second referendum. I think that’s really important, because when people hear a second referendum, what they hear is a party trying to subvert the will of the people. But this would be a different referendum with a different question, and it would be something along the lines of “is this deal acceptable for this country?” What I think you need to remember is that though a majority of people voted for Brexit, it was such a small majority – around four per cent. …
Once we actually know what Brexit looks like, once we know what is achievable and what is possible, we should bring that to the people just to make sure before we embark on the biggest change to our constitution since we joined the European Union.
TGUK: So much of LGBT equality is underpinned by rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (which Brexit doesn’t take us out of) and the European Court of Justice (which it does). How can we enshrine LGBT equality achieved through European mechanisms into British law post-Brexit?
NH: Okay, so one interesting thing is – so Theresa May, and I think people forget this, and I think Theresa May wants people to forget this, but she backed Remain. But what she said was “let’s stay in the European Union but let’s leave the European Court of Human Rights.” So her being Prime Minister now gives me absolutely no faith that we will remain in the ECHR in the long-term. What we need to make sure is that during the transition period of leaving the EU is that all of these ECHR rulings are transcribed into British law wholesale. I think that’s what should be done. There should be a bill in parliament that says all current EU law will be put on the British statute book, and we can then, later on, decide which policies are desirable to remove.
But I don’t think that’s a negotiation that should happen during the transition process. What you’ll get is all these different – it will clog up Parliament’s time, and it will be impossible for MPs to properly hold the government to account on the thousands of different laws that they would have to decide on. Like, you can’t do this one by one. Every EU law has to become British law, and those rights for LGBT people need to come with them. Then later on if the government wants to repeal certain rights, they can make that case to Parliament. In the meantime, we need to elect progressive MPs who we know stand by LGBT rights when it comes to voting on them. We cannot allow this battle that we’ve won to be undone.
TGUK: So that’s the opposite of the Great Repeal Bill?
NH: I’ve not actually read up on the specifics of the Great Repeal Bill, but in my view, we need to make sure that all EU law becomes British law at the time of leaving so that when it comes to repealing specific laws it can be held to account by MPs.
TGUK: The Green Party is also, obviously, concerned with the environment and climate change. What environmental concerns does Brexit raise?
NH: Well, by nature the environment is… a cross-border problem. The EU is one of the best ways to coordinate on that on a European level. The United Kingdom could become a carbon neutral perfect country and the planet would still be in crisis. We cannot solve this problem on our own; that’s what the Paris climate talks were about. Removing that level of cooperation between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, which is required in order to have a measurable impact on the environment, was a mistake in my view.
For example, our fish don’t stop at country borders. They will swim between country borders. So we need to make sure our seas across the whole of Europe are not polluted in order to stop the negative impact that has on sea life, for example.
TGUK: What’s the most important issue facing the LGBT community in this election?
NH: I won’t speak for all LGBT people, but for me, my worry is that when we have a Conservative government, that LGBT rights are going to stand still whilst the rest of the world moves forward. There are things like adoption rights – the majority of Conservative MPs voted against that for LGBT people. Same-sex marriage, the majority of Conservative MPs voted against that. And something that was pointed out to me today is that the Conservative government actually banned the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. If that had been any other government, that never would’ve happened. Even if the Church of England decided that it wanted to take out or provide same-sex marriages, they wouldn’t be allowed to because the Conservative Government actually banned it in the process of legalising same-sex marriage. And I think that identifies the Conservative approach to equality altogether…
Skylar Baker-Jordan is THEGAYUK’s political contributing editor and has bylines at HuffPost, The Independent and the Daily Dot.