Politics Magazine

Why The Green Party Can’t Win

Posted on the 11 April 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant
Green Party of England and Wales

Green Party of England and Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



The Green Party is regularly on the cusp, it seems, of changing Westminster politics forever. The electoral breakthrough for the left-wing party that represents its elevation to a major political force is always ‘just around the corner’. After the party’s failure in the late 1980s, political observers became a lot more sceptical of the possibility of the Greens ever becoming worthy of notice. However, it briefly appeared in 2010 that such predictions were wrong, with Caroline Lucas elected to Parliament, and then the same city (Brighton and Hove) electing the party as a minority administration a year later.

In effect, the Greens had become the second largest opposition party in Britain, and they had a unique opportunity to replace the Liberal Democrats the magnet for protest votes – though this wasn’t their explicit intention. Unfortunately, the plan is going badly wrong for the self-styled ‘Voice of the left”.

On a national level, the Greens’ success was built not upon their own merits, but rather their capitalisation on the political gaps left by other parties. Most of the Greens’ votes came from disillusioned Labour supporters who felt New Labour had ignored them and their principles- the two main examples of which were the Iraq War and the failure of Tony Blair to simply be more socialist. Now that Ed Miliband is reconnecting Labour with its grassroots, embracing the tried and tested ‘broad church’ philosophy, and adopting a progressive policy platform, the supply of defectors has dried up.

This brings us to the Greens’ other political niche: protest votes. With the Liberal Democrats now detached from this constituency, would those annoyed with the supposed arrogance and distance of the two-and-a-half party system look to the left to vent their frustration? No… they have now found a home in the UK Independence Party, which has now leapfrogged the Greens in the polls, and are now at between 11% and 19%.

It is a peculiar phenomenon: UKIP support deeper spending cuts while polling indicates many of their new supporters do not; UKIP believes climate change is a ‘left-wing myth’ while supporters care about green issues; UKIP considers itself to be of the radical right despite 36% of its supporters saying it is centrist or even left-of-centre. The conclusion to draw from this is that UKIP has tapped into a large protest vote who wish to rail against the system as opposed to endorse any specific right wing policies. So why haven’t the Greens attracted any of these votes?

To answer this question, we should look at the last left-wing movement to offer radical change that was theoretically popular, but proved to be a liability during elections: Labour in the early 1980s. Middle class intellectuals planned for nuclear disarmament, redistribution of wealth, semi-nationalisation of the banks, and even a Minimum Wage. The problem was that they were not in tune with the working class and the disadvantages that they claimed to speak for. The Conservatives have always appealed to these groups by being the ‘party of aspiration’ (a formula which a grocer’s daughter from Grantham sold particularly effectively) and today, UKIP stands for the humble British worker suffering from the effects of mass immigration and EU red tape.

Labour has grown smart about the tendency for the Left to wander off message. The Greens, by contrast, have no working class base because the party is so wrapped up in middle class idealism that it pays little attention to its practical application, with the result that it is ideologically pure (a trait that even the most ardent Labour or Conservative supporter could not claim credibly for their party), but little more effective than a debating society. Under the Greens’ policy platform, it is forecast that the basic rate of Income Tax would have to rise to 45% at least- ignoring the real possibility that the weight of skyrocketing taxation would crush economic growth. The prevailing sense for those aware that the Greens are no longer a single issue policy (many use the names ‘Greenpeace’ and ‘Green Party’ interchangeably, showing how dismally limited public awareness of the party is) is that the Green Party does not live in the real world.

Unless it addresses this, the Green Party might as well resign itself to spending the duration of existence with the ability to count its electoral successes on one hand.


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