Gulnar Hasnain, the Green Party candidate for the London borough of Vauxhall, has just closed a cryptocurrency crowdfunding campaign. She is the first mainstream European politician to accept Bitcoin, Dogecoin and Litecoin donations. Talking about the fundraiser, she shows me a picture on her phone of a 'Bitcoin Rat' cuddly toy she was given by a supporter to use as a mascot. Gulnar, the former Head of Environmental Strategy for the London Development Agency, plans to take the toy out on the campaign trail with her ahead of the May general election.
It says something about the kind of politician Gulnar Hasnain is that she's happy to have the humble rat as a mascot. "I'm not a career politician," she says before adding: "I'm not into identity politics, I'm fighting for issues."
Abolishing business as usual
So what are the issues Gulnar Hasnain is campaigning on in her battle to become London's first Green Party MP? Economic reform is a priority. And it's in addressing this issue that Gulnar's enthusiasm for Bitcoin and social justice meet. Digital currencies, she believes, will challenge the existing financial system.
"Governments can basically shut down the economy but Bitcoin entrepreneurs are doing something about it. It [Bitcoin] is a challenge to power," Gulnar says.
Discussing the 2008 financial crisis Gulnar admits she thinks politicians should have let the banks fail. With Bitcoin as the world currency, governments and central banks would be unable to intervene in their domestic economies by lowering interest rates or printing money. Though this scenario sounds extreme, Gulnar believes it would lead to a more just outcome than the bailout that followed the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers. According to Gulnar: "Bitcoin is about representing the majority, not the few. It's about taking the control away from the banks."
It's not just in countries with established banking systems that Bitcoin can make a difference. "I got involved in Bitcoin," Gulnar explains, "because of an interest in what decentralised currencies can do for developing economies."
Gulnar paints an attractive picture of a world where corrupt government-controlled currencies are replaced by robust, egalitarian digital ones. But the reality is that many members of Gulnar's own party remain unconvinced by Bitcoin.
The Green Party has no official stance on Bitcoin, though it supports lesser-known local currencies such as the Brixton Pound.
Switching sides, there are many cryptocurrency evangelists who don't identify with the Green Party's style of politics. Gulnar sums up their objections saying: "Bitcoin enthusiasts are libertarians and the Green Party isn't a libertarian movement. Though we are for smaller, decentralised government."
These differences aside, Gulnar sees an underlying similarity between environmental activists and Bitcoin champions. She believes they're among the few groups brave enough to challenge the status quo. "The Green Party are the only ones that are standing up and being outraged by what's happening at HSBC. The Bitcoin entrepreneurs are the only ones who actually stood up and did something about the banking crisis."