Green Party leader Natalie Bennett spoke to the Bury Free Press this morning before addressing a meeting of Green Councillors at The Mix Youth Centre in Stowmarket.
The town has been picked for the first time to host the annual meeting of the Association of Green Councillors, which takes place over the weekend.
In a interview prior to her opening speech, Ms Bennet said the party had to build on its strong performance in the General Election.
“We got 1.1 million votes which is four times what we have ever got before”, she said.
“We were able to stand in 93 per cent of seats so the majority of the country had the chance to vote Green.
“Although that only delivered one seat we finished second in four seats.
“We are really now a truly national party and we are spread around the country in a way we haven’t been before.
“We are really looking forward to continuing to grow. It could be another big year for us.
“One of the things we are talking a lot about is electoral reform.
“We have a government that is backed by 24 percent of eligible voters - that is not any kind of mandate.
“Our system isn’t working and we need change not just in Westminster but in local government.”
Asked about her reaction to the budget: “Horror is my one word response to that”, she said.
“What we saw was basically a continuation of making the poor the disadvantaged and the young, particularly the young, pay for the greed and fraud of the bankers.
“So many households are close to the edge. People are just managing to keep food on the table and a roof over their head and now households are saying we are now £1,000 or £2,000 worse off.
“One of the most disturbing things is the benefits cap.
“On the old benefits cap a judge said the UK was in breach of the UN conventions on the rights of a child so we are breaching children’s rights with the old cap and we’ve just made it even tighter.
“The restriction of children who are third or later in terms of benefits - that child has done nothing to choose in that situation and will still need to be clothed and fed and everything else.
“We need to see that things happen in peoples lives - people lose their jobs, get ill, become disabled, sadly people die - and the idea that their children should be punished as result of that is just unacceptable.
Ms Bennett criticised the Government’s minimum wage, saying it didn’t go far enough.
“This is not a real living wage,” she said
“One thing that is useful about this is that the chancellor has conceded the principle that the minimum wage should be a living wage - which is something the Green Party has been campaigning for many years.
“What he is putting forward isn’t the real living wage. Although interestingly he is saying he wants £9 by 2020 - we campaigned for £10 an hour by 2020 and of course we had lots of Tory candidates scoffing at us and now its not that far from it.
“One of the other interesting things in the budget, although it in no way outweighs the rest of the elements, is the fact there is a restriction on mortgage rate relief that landlords can claim in tax so it is a small restriction on private landlords.
“We need to go much further to rebalance out housing market and make rents affordable but it was interesting that some things the Green Party was proposing, even in a somewhat watered down form, have ended up in the budget.
Ms Bennett stressed the importance of local grass-roots politics to the party.
She said: “This is an annual gathering for Green councillors, and people aiming to become Green councillors, where they can talk about their work, their aspirations, how they can change and deliver in their communities,” she said.
“It’s a great chance for people to get together and work cooperatively.
“I am often citing the fact that on Mid Suffolk District Council we are the official opposition to the Tories.
“It’s an area where we have shown we can win seats in rural areas. It’s very important and something we can really learn from.
“This is the first post ‘Green Surge’ Association of Green Councillors meeting we have held.
“A year ago when councillors were last meeting we had 20,000 members, we now have 67,000 members.
“So what we are also doing is sharing the excitement and energy that they are seeing round the country and in their local parties.
“We are aiming to continue to grow membership.
“We are now the third biggest party in England and Wales. We are looking to overtake the SNP and become the 3rd biggest party in the UK.
“We are looking to get more councillors elected in upcoming elections.
“More people are saying we want to vote in something they believe in, that our current politics isn’t working and that they want real change.
“It’s very clear we are in a state of economic, social and environmental crisis.
“We have still got too-big-to-fail banks, we still have a corrupt fraud-ridden financial sector, we’ve got so many people struggling to get by, the use of food banks use at a record levels.
“We need to change the way we do things, we need an economy that works for the common good, within environmental limits.
“We are saying we need a different kind of society, a healthy society , a caring society.
“We can and must do that and then we will all have a better life.”