Another Zahir article, this time about the potential for the growth of the Green Party. It’s from Spring 2011, but, again, I still think it’s valid.
One of the highlights of the 2010 General Election, often missed by commentators obsessed by a hung parliaments and new potential coalitions, was the election of Caroline Lucas. In the constituency of Brighton Pavilion, they voted for the first Green MP in British history. For any small party an MP is a huge step, allowing a position of influence and publicity unavailable to the unelected. However, despite the benefits to the Greens, their one MP, only elected last year, shames Britain. We are the last country in Europe to elect a Green member of our national parliament – a quite abysmal record considering the threat of global climate change. Britain still has a lot of catching up to do. The German Greens had power in a red-green coalition from 1998 to 2005, and are recognised as a serious political party across the nation. Similar coalitions have governed in France, Belgium and Italy. Latvia elected a Green Prime Minister in 2004! Britain seems to lag absurdly behind.
One obvious reason is the electoral system, first-past-the-post (FPTP). Under this system, a majority in a constituency is needed for a seat, meaning that smaller parties, such as the Greens, have to focus their more limited resources in certain areas they think they can win. However, all their votes from constituencies where they do not win are essentially worthless. Under a more representative system, the Green Party could consistently have a small block of MPs that showed the support they received across the nation.
However, it is easy to simply blame the system for failure. The party are often perceived as only focussing on the environment, a pressure group trying its luck in politics. They can be ridiculed by the right as nothing but a bunch of hippies, trying to take us back to a pre-industrial age. They seem to embody the worst excesses of the “loony left” – the 2010 manifesto suggested increasing alcohol and tobacco taxes by 50%, a maximum speed limit of 55 mph on motorways and the decriminalisation of cannabis. The Greens are seen as environmental fundamentalists, destroying social order to reduce emissions. However, much of this is simply smear tactics. In reality, the Greens are a modern social democratic party – something the UK lacks – and stand a real chance of succeeding in the current political climate.
The policies of the Greens are undeniably left-wing, but they are also, in many places, the solutions people want and need. Their economic policy is focussed around equality and redistribution, for social and environmental reasons, and stimulating the economy through massive investment in green technology, reintroducing a manufacturing sector of the economy and improving the environmental state of the nation. Their social policies mainly focus on improving public services, creating a stronger welfare state and improving public participation in the political system. These views are also supported by elements of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. But it is possible for the Greens to look at becoming the party of the people and those disillusioned with their traditional representatives.
In 2005, Charles Kennedy’s Lib Dems provided a left-wing alternative to Labour for voters who had supported Blair, but were now disillusioned following the Iraq War and the introduction of tuition fees. Whilst they were denied seats by FPTP, they were hugely successful in weakening Labour’s authority. The Green Party of 2011 have a similar opportunity to chip away at the support for Labour and the Lib Dems. Many supporters of the Liberals have been seriously dissatisfied by the coalition, feeling that the party has betrayed its morals and compromised its values. The leadership, especially Nick Clegg, are to the right of much of the grassroots base of the party, leaving many feeling that they are supporting a party that does not represent them or their interests. The Green Party has an opportunity to gain the support of these individuals, the liberal-left middle class who feel that the Lib Dems have betrayed their commitment to social opportunity and equality. They could also gain majorly in the student vote, amongst those who feel Clegg and the party leadership has deceived them over tuition fees.
Similarly, if the new Labour leadership fails to escape from the toxic legacy of Gordon Brown, many supporters will be encouraged to vote for another party. Whilst Ed Miliband has attempted a clean break with New Labour, he and his new Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, have strong links to the previous administration. Balls in particular was a die-hard Brownite, and his economic ideas may be called into question by Tories linking him to the budget deficit and banking crisis. Labour may struggle to attract new voters and angry Lib Dems if it is linked to its past; the Greens have another opportunity to attract supporters.
The Green Party undeniably has an opportunity to enter the political mainstream, as many of its European equivalents have. If the party can present itself as interested in more than just the environment and present itself as a credible social-democratic alternative to the Liberal Democrats or Labour, then they stand a good chance of developing into a force in British politics.