The Race For The Bath Constituency: An interview with Dominic Tristram, Bath’s Green Party candidate

This is part of an election series with all of Bath’s parliamentary candidates – all interviews will be posted on our website over the next week. Some answers have been edited for legible clarity. 

Monday 10th June 2024

Interviewers:  Katie Head & Merle Cooper-Wilson (in bold)

Interviewee: Dominic Tristram, Bath’s Green Party Candidate

So why would you like to stand as an MP and why the Bath community in particular?

Well, firstly, I live here and I’ve done it before, so it kind of makes sense to do it in Bath. As a Party we don’t tend to stand MPs in places where they don’t live. For example, the Tory candidate here lives in Exeter. You know, that’s up to them, but it’s not something we’d do. I think it takes away some of the credibility of the person standing. If they lose, they’ll go and you’ll never see them again. I’ve got kids here and you know, I’m not going anywhere whether I win or lose. So yeah, I think it adds some, what’s the word? I’m not going to say credibility. But if people can see that you care about the constituency because you live in it, work in it, or whatever your connection. I mean, I’m not even that fussed about people who live there or don’t. What I am fussed about is people who aren’t going to disappear often. 

So that’s why Bath. As to why I’m standing, well, the country’s not very well, is it?

Basically, I think it’s fair to say that most Greens aren’t standing for a career or power because let’s face it, it’s unlikely that most of us are going to win. But we need, somebody there in all these debates saying things that nobody else is saying, for example, that we should renationalise water. Why are we the only Party saying that you know, people can see all this sewage going into the rivers, and we’re saying, well, this is kind of obvious and it’s something that 80% of the public think too.

It’s interesting that you say that because my next question was that Wessex Water has announced they’re seeking price rises of up to 50%, putting the average annual water bill up to £822 after a recorded 41,000 sewage spills last year. How can we ensure that residents in Bath have access to clean and reasonably priced water?

Well, I mean the answer is renationalization, or at the very least a regulator who does something, but they (Ofwat) do nothing. They don’t have enough staff for one thing. I have some sympathy with them for that. But also, the fines issued to these companies that are making millions of pounds of profit are tiny. 

It’s more cost-effective for them to take the fines than potentially it is for them to deal with these issues.

I’m old so I remember when water was privatised, and we were told it would be great because these private companies will come in and they’ll spend loads of money investing. But even at the time I remember thinking, even if you like privatisation, it only works if there’s competition. The reason most people go for privatisation is ‘oh it would be good because then all the people compete’. You can’t choose where you get your water from, so you’re basically giving them this massive monopoly and they can print money, they can charge what they want because what are you gonna do, stop drinking water?! So that’s why things have got to where they are. And, you know, it’s an obvious truth. And it seems bizarre to me that no other party is really talking about it. 

But you really think that’s something the Greens can offer is a voice on alternative policies?

When it comes to elections, we suffer greatly from having way less money than every other party.

I often get people saying to me, why haven’t I seen you on television? Why haven’t we had stuff from you through the door? Because we can’t afford it. The part of political campaigning that people are used to, by the Tories and Labour, well, £35,000,000 is the spending limit for this election and they’ll each spend close to that. The Lib Dems in Bath are very well-funded because Lord Strasburger gives them all the money they want basically, so as a local party they’ve done very well in Bath. And we’ve got, you know, this whole general election, we might spend in Bath £5000 tops. It’s just that we can’t afford to do all the stuff they do. So, where we benefit from standing in general elections is we’ll go to hustings and the press is almost obliged to report on us because they must through impartiality. And then we’ve got a chance to talk about all these things that nobody else is saying? 

You know, you sometimes get people saying to us, ‘Why do you stand when you’re not gonna win? That’s not the point. The point of a public debate is to make others accountable, to say, ‘What about this’, ‘Answer the question’. 

I think that’s a really interesting perspective. 

It’s democratic, it’s democracy. If we weren’t there, nobody would be saying it. Absolutely.

And as the Conservatives have rolled back their net zero commitment and Labour on their environmental spending plans, many students are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the government’s ability to seriously counter the climate crisis. What are your party’s main policy proposals to counter the climate crisis? And what would you say to students to make them trust you that you are actually going through with this?

Well, I guess my main point to students or anyone else is that if there’s one thing that unites everyone in the Green Party. It’s caring about the environment. I mean, people sometimes accuse us of being a single-issue party, I don’t believe that’s a valid criticism, but even if it were it would be because we’re all about the environment, and that’s why we’re all together as a party. We’ve been talking about climate change for years and years and all the other parties said it was made up, you know, and we’ve been proved right again and again. In fact, we’re the only party that’s been proved right on everything we’ve said about the environment. You know, now people are catching up, but they’re still not really getting the urgency of it. With Labour it’s the first thing they roll back.

And I have to say that we often hear that Labour are ‘quite good on the environment.’ They have MP candidates like Graham Stringer, who’s the chair of a global climate change denier group, and he’s one of their MP candidates. If you’re a serious party about the climate, you don’t let people like that stand for you. 

As to what we would do to fight the climate crisis, I mean, what wouldn’t we do? I think the start of it is to insulate everyone’s homes. You know, everyone’s talking about the energy crisis and we’re saying, well, our homes are some of the worst in Europe. You know, you, there’s people, especially poorer people who spend a huge amount of their money heating their homes. Why aren’t we building even brand-new homes now that are not very well insulated? I mean, I get it. There’s a cost to retrofitting things like the installation of solar panels. But when you’re building the houses could make them much, much better, but the reason this government and previous governments haven’t is due to the huge donations they get from house builders. It’s just the sort of corruption that people accept, and we don’t accept it. We don’t take corporate donations. And it’s because of that we can say this is corrupt. You know, why are both these parties doing it? Labour is taking money from fossil fuel companies. 

So potentially it’s killing two birds with one stone if you’re building houses that are both socially and environmentally sustainable. 

Yeah. So, we will have a huge council house building programme. You know, there’s a big problem in this country.

People who want to buy houses can’t afford them and people who want to rent houses, can’t afford them. They’re two separate things. Rent controls we’ll bring in to stop some of the gouging. You know, because landlords, nobody has a problem with somebody who owns a house who needs to go abroad or something, or they inherit the house, and they need to sell it. They’re not a problem. What we are seeing is people who own tens or hundreds of houses, these property barons, they don’t work. All they do is own houses, and they can charge the market rate for all their houses. So, they’re making an absolute fortune and doing what? They’re buying up all houses they find which just drives up all the prices, which drives up rents. It doesn’t provide anything to the economy and they’re not doing anything productive. So, we want to see an end to that. It’s fine to see some small-scale landlords, but the main landlord should be the local authority.

I think this is really interesting, I’m actually going to jump ahead now in our questions, just leading on from there because it’s been a big issue for the University and the SU this year. The state of student housing was described as ‘deplorable’, with many student houses depicted as being mould-infested and poorly insulated, particularly in Bath. What can we do to ensure that landlords in this country provide adequate living conditions for their tenants? 

Well, I mean it’s a bit of a… There’s a whole load of things that combine to make it awful. Firstly, the council’s funding has been massively cut by the central government. Councils employ housing inspectors. So, the way in theory that landlords are, I wouldn’t say controlled, but at least inspected, is that the council will send housing inspectors. But there’s hardly any of those left due to the cuts.

So firstly you’ve got the mechanism the council must control these houses being taken away. Then you’ve got landlords making huge amounts of money. I was a student for a long time, and when I was a student, rents were reasonable. And the difference now is because students get loans, everyone knows exactly how much the students have. And if you’re a landlord, you go, oh, well, I know how much they have, I’m going to charge as much as I can because I know exactly how much money they have. Whereas, when I was a student and there were no loans, they couldn’t do that, could they? They had to kind of assess how much people could afford. So that combined with more students, means that being a landlord for student properties is just a way to print money. 

And I think what we’ve also gone from again is that when I was a student landlords would maybe own one or two properties; these companies that own student accommodation now will charge as much as they can because it’s a business. It’s not something they do just to make a little bit of money on the side like it used to be. It’s a business. And as soon as that’s true, they will try and maximise profits. What do you do about it? It’s tricky, isn’t it? I mean, I would like to see universities own all this accommodation when it comes to purpose-built stuff, running it on a not-for-profit basis because really the university should be there to support students. That was always the way it used to work. Student halls were never run for profit and student accomodation should all be student halls.

Actually, all of our university accommodations on campus have risen significantly since the pre-COVID era. I’m in the cheapest accommodation on campus and it’s risen by like £30 a week for next year, which is quite horrendous.

It is. I mean even accounting for things like inflation, it’s much more than it used to be. Partly, it’s not the University’s fault because universities have lost a lot of central government funding and are told they must run more like a business.

So, I don’t want to blame the universities entirely. However, they are somewhat using it to make money, which they never used to. It used to be a service they provided for students and now it’s become a way to make money for students. It’s always going to make prices go up, isn’t it? Until some sort of rent control comes in, where the national government say the most you can charge for your student accommodation is some formula. I’m not going to say I’ve got that answer because it will depend on where you are, depending on the region, on all sorts of things. 

But there must be, it shouldn’t be that students on say the minimum maintenance loan, can’t afford to cover their accommodation with that loan.

Student loans haven’t risen since its cost-of-living crisis, leaving students with less to live on. And on top of that, Trussell Trust has reported that food bank usage has increased by 1/4 since the last election. And basic. How can we make day-to-day life more affordable? And is tightening inflation enough? 

Well, again, we’re the only party against student loans. We believe it should go back to being a grant.

When I was a student, I’m going to keep saying this, but there was a grant and if your parents couldn’t give you enough money, and it was means tested, the council would give it to you, so everyone had the same amount of money going in. And it wasn’t a huge amount of money, but it was enough if you calculated how much accommodation is and how much food would typically be. And I got through university with no debt, and that was not unusual. And people say it’s impossible and you could never, but other countries do it today. You know, it’s not like the whole world has changed. Britain now has some of the most expensive, if not the most expensive universities. And I remember when fees were brought in and it was always painted as ‘oh, very few people pay the maximum’, but it ended up with everyone paying the maximum. And so students come out with ridiculous debt and then they’re told ‘oh, don’t worry, you’ll never have to pay it back’. But what sort of excuse is that? They still must pay X pounds per month until they retire. You know, it’s an extra tax. 

And as well, at the moment, the inflation on Student Loans is sitting at about 8%, I believe. 

So when loans were brought in, they were interest-free, or at least they were base rate. And they always sneak these things in. They say, ‘Oh look, it’s reasonable because they’re not going to be paying any interest on it’ because I was offered it, right? And we didn’t. They weren’t mandatory at all when I was a student, and they were at the base rate, at what, 2%.

You could pay it off, you know, it wasn’t a big loan. You could pay it off if you wanted it. Some people took one out and bought a car. That is a reasonable way of doing it because there’s no need for the government to make money on loans. If you’re going to have loans, it should be an effective interest free payment so it can help students get through university. It shouldn’t be a way for private companies to extract money from students. 

I want to bring it back to Bath and ask a question around parking permits while we’re focusing on the cost-of-living crisis for students. With the advent of Parking permits this year many students have felt priced out of bringing a car to Bath. Should parking permits be more affordable or should there be allowances made for the students? 

You know, this is going to make me unpopular with students. I don’t think any student should have cars.

I think that’s interesting

Public transport should be good enough that you don’t need a car. There’s a massive problem in Bath, as you know there’s not much parking and a lot of cars. In theory, I mean, the public transport out here isn’t too bad. I mean, there’s a bus that runs pretty much 24 hours a day, right? And I know this is going to be an unpopular viewpoint, but you don’t need a car if you live on campus and you don’t if you live in town and can walk to the bus. And I get that people want a car. I mean, I wanted one when I was a student.

But ultimately, if there’s no space, what is the solution? 

I don’t agree with the general kind of anti-student ranting that goes on sometimes in Bath, but a lot of it is to do with parking. You know, you’ll get you’ll get a student house with five cars outside of it. And I completely get what the residents are saying, it’s become a problem, and it is a problem. The reality is that there are lots of problems and it’s one that we don’t need, you know.

Yeah, you bring up public transport as a solution to that, but last year First Bus once again increased the price of buses in the Bath area. How can we make sure that the public transport stays affordable for both students and residents?

Well, this kind of brings me to one of our other policies. We have a policy that bus transport should be free for those under 21, so problem solved. Also, there’d be more buses for one thing, because we were trying to bring those into public ownership as well.

The trouble with having buses run by private companies is they will do what is profitable. They won’t do what makes the most sense of the city. Now, I’m not against private buses. You know, if somebody wants to run a bus or you make money, good luck to them because I like buses. But if there’s something that is needed like buses from the University down to town or whatever, then that should be provided because if you don’t provide it, people will just need to buy cars. As I just said, students don’t need cars and they shouldn’t have cars. And that’s true. But you’ve got to have that low cost or free transport that they can use instead.

You’ve got to make it more attractive for students to want to use public transport than to bring their own car. 

Exactly. And I think it would be if it was frequent and free.

I mean, I’m sure some people would still prefer a car. Of course they would, but they’d have much less of a reason, other than I just like my car. It would be the more expensive option. 

So, I think coming back to the residents in Bath, do you believe there’s a shortage of housing in Bath? And if so, what steps do you think should be taken to address this? 

Yes, absolutely there is a shortage of housing in Bath. 

The problem with Bath is that well it’s not always a problem, it’s a nice thing in some ways. Lots of people want to come to Bath on holiday. So, there are more and more Airbnb properties and empty houses which are, you know, not really lived in or they might be lived in for a small number of weeks per year. So, we’ve got something like 1700 houses in Bath and NE Somerset widely which are not in full-time residential use. That’s a lot of housing.

So what do we do about it? Well, I mean, you can’t stop people not living in a house they own, but you can massively increase taxes on empty homes or second homes or Airbnb’s. And we think there should be things like a tourist tax where you’re charging a percentage on top of the nightly fee.

In the context of say Airbnb properties for example, they’ll take the money and then they’ll pay a tourist tax, which will then go to the local authority to fund more council housing or whatever’s needed. The problem with Bath itself as a city is that there’s not much more room in it. So, when more houses have got to be built, we do need more housing for everyone, but mostly lower cost and social housing. And there is, I don’t know if you’ve seen but there’s a local plan that the council just put out. They’re talking about building thousands more houses and they must because the government’s forcing them to, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they’re just putting it out there though. Oh, we’re gonna build them all in Midsommer North. You can’t, You can’t because there’s, there’s one little road that’s already really busy. There’s no train, there’s hardly any buses. You can’t, Students can’t live there. Not just students, but people live in who work in Bath can’t easily right?! You need to build houses in unpopular places. So, the obvious place is the A4 between Bath and Bristol because there’s a railway line. So, you can say right, get the train, increase train frequencies.  It’s flat, there are no hills, so it’s much easier to cycle. There’s a pretty good cycle path. But as soon as you say that people go oh it’s an area of natural beauty and that’s just West of the path outgoing. In the end, you either want pretty hills around Bath, which I get, I completely get it, or you have thousands of people who can’t afford to live here. I think we must have these difficult conversations where you can’t just keep building loads of houses out Midsummer North and Mastock and places because those people will all get in their cars and then all sit in traffic to get into Bath every day.

Moving to a more national topic, another thing to consider is the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. How are the Green Party going to ensure peace and national security given a commitment to remove the UK’s nuclear deterrent?

Well, firstly, I’d say the nuclear deterrent doesn’t help us in any way at all, been you know what, what are we gonna do? Let’s say I guess worst case, Russia nukes Ukraine. What would we do? People who say it’s good that we’ve got nuclear weapons but what would we do then? Would we nuke Russia? Because that would effectively end the world, wouldn’t it? So, if it gets to the point where Ukraine is nuked our weapons are useless. And if it gets to the point where they’ll nuke us our weapons are useless, aren’t they? Because what’s the choice then? Let’s say the Russians drop a bomb in London. What do we do? Do we nuke Moscow? I mean, why? What’s that achieved? Because at that point things have kicked off right.

Another point regarding nuclear weapons is that they’re massively expensive. You don’t have to be a pacifist to know they’re a waste of money. Because if you spend that £6 billion, what they’re spending on renewing Trident, on conventional forces, we’d be able to do far more in Ukraine. You know, at this point Britain can put that most 5000 soldiers on a battlefield, it’s the smallest army we’ve ever been able to raise. And yet at the same time. We’re saying, oh, let’s get three new nuclear submarines. You know, effectively the thing we need most are soldiers on the ground to go to places like Ukraine and help out. 

We don’t need nuclear weapons; our nuclear weapons are sitting there doing nothing when Ukrainians are killed. You know, it just does my head in. And I would question any leader who says they would press the button like it’s some sort of boast.  It’s not a boast, is it? What they’re saying is they’ll end the world.

So, coming on to my last question, many students feel disenfranchised by the current political system. What would you say to encourage students to visit the polling stations in July?

Well, you know what, the reason a lot of people think politics is no good and isn’t working is because the people who do vote are old people, who will always vote. Therefore, politicians will say, what do I say to old people, to get the older people because they’re the ones who are going to vote and they kind of ignore the young because the young people, it’s sad to say, are generally the least likely to vote. And so that’s why politics doesn’t work for young people generally, because in the end, a lot of politicians are all about power and they’ll just say what they need to say to get elected. It’s a case of letting everyone know you’re going to vote, let them know what sort of stuff you want and then follow through and vote and vote for the people you like the best. Don’t let people talk you into the old ‘don’t vote because it’s pointless’, those people are effectively working with the people who are against you. You know, the Tories, I don’t want to be party political, but it is kind of a party political because the Tories don’t tend to get votes for younger people. They will go around like this. It works for them if they say to young people there’s no point in voting, they want people to think that. So, you know what we’re saying, we’re desperate. Some of our highest votes are from younger people. And so, you know, we’re saying that for students, for example, you can register at home and university as long as you only vote at one of them.

You know, you can still pick on the day. So, we often hear I don’t know where I’m going to be because it’s an early election and everyone should be home by them. But you know, we’re saying just register anyway because worst case you might be registered in both places, and you can still vote where you are and get a postal vote. You know, people say to me, where should I register for my postal vote? Should I register in Bath or where I live? And obviously, I’m biased so I say Bath, vote for me. But ultimately, I don’t care as long as you register and vote.

And a postal vote is a good way of making sure you do it because you’ve got a sort of two-week window. You’ll get your form and your ticket and off it goes. And then you don’t have to think about it again. I would always encourage everyone to register for a postal vote. And if you do change your mind, you can go hand it in any way, you know, but you can’t change your mind when you post it. Yeah, but you. But you can keep it up to that time. But yeah, absolutely disengagement of politics. I mean, I have a lot of time for people like XR (Extinction Rebellion), but what makes me sad about them is they’ll have this message of, ‘Oh, politics has failed’ and it’s all about their own action. Politics hasn’t failed. What people don’t realise is things like elections and especially local elections can be swung by 20 votes.

You know, it just takes a few young people to go, you know, maybe we should elect somebody who cares about the planet and now, you know, and they can change things.

There’s so little engagement and returns are so low that if you do care and you do vote, you’ll have a much bigger say than the people that don’t.

So, your message would almost be if you want them, if you want politics to work for, for you as young people, the best way to do that is to make your voice heard. And the only way you do that is by using your power as voters. 

Yeah, it’s all politicians care about. It really is about getting our message everywhere, but certainly in Bath, where the Lib Dems are going to win. Now this is a given. It’s one of the biggest majorities. So, people say to me, oh, what’s the point of voting then if the Lib Dems are going to win? 

Because if you vote Green, my pitch, obviously ’cause I’m Green, but I mean, people will have their own say. But, the power of the Greens coming second, which we could as we came second in the local elections, means the Lib Dems aren’t just trying to be a bit better than Tories, which is easy, they are trying to be better than Greens, which is much harder because it will make them greener. Like even if the party you like doesn’t win, it can really influence the winning party because they’ll see your party and their policies as their competition.

and influence their direction.

 I think we’ve had a productive discussion. Thank you for your time. I really do appreciate it.

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