Green surge falters after on-air ‘car crash’
UK voters disillusioned by the political establishment are flocking to Greens — especially among the young. But a disastrous campaign launch has called the party’s credibility into question.
‘The old way of doing things is falling apart as the politics of hope triumphs over the politics of fear.’
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett sounded full of hope as she kicked off her party’s election campaign earlier this week. But just hours later she found herself grovelling to supporters for a ‘brain fade’ during a disastrous live radio interview.
Bennett struggled her way through questions about the Greens’ pledge to build 500,000 new social homes. She coughed and stuttered, ummed and ahhed, and failed to answer anything coherently. Following a similarly disastrous TV interview last month, speculation is now mounting about how much Bennett and the Green Party really know about their own policies.
Housing isn’t the only area the Greens have stumbled over. They recently announced their ‘citizen’s income’ policy — pledging to give £72 a week to all over-18s — which led to criticisms over the party being unsure about its cost and how it would be funded. The Green Party has defended itself by pointing out that this idea is a long-term aspiration, not a policy proposal for the next parliament.
Aside from these policies, the Greens promise greater economic equality, a minimum wage of £10 an hour and fairer access to education. Despite the odd blunder, they have seen a rapid surge in membership and popularity in polls. Six months ago, they aimed to have a Green local candidate in 75% of constituencies across the UK, but now this stands at almost 90%.
They currently have one MP, but claim to have a chance of gaining 12 seats in the general election this May. Support for the party really became apparent earlier this year, when hundreds of thousands signed a petition to include the party in this year’s televised pre-election leaders’ debate.
Part of the Green Party’s success is down to mounting concerns about climate change. But it is also attracting disillusioned voters with its claim to represent a genuinely fresh and radical alternative to established parties.
Fresh or unripe?
Many journalists are dismissive of the Greens: whenever they are put under any kind of pressure, they crumble. Their policies for this election are a shambles, never mind the politicians announcing them. Politics is a two-way street — if you want to be taken seriously you must act like a serious party.
But judging a party isn’t just about of picking apart its policies, Green supporters say: it’s about the big ideas the party stands for. The Greens won’t be winning a majority in government, so critics who insist on meticulous practicality are missing the point. What matters is that the Greens are shaking up complacent politicians and showing voters there is a real alternative.
- If you could vote in the coming election, would you consider voting Green? Why / why not?
- Do smaller parties need to think their policies through as much as bigger parties do?
- If you were the leader of a small party, what one policy would you campaign on? Propose your nominations and put it to a class vote.
- Imagine there’s a Green Party government after May’s election. Briefly describe how you think the country would be different three years from now.
Some People Say...
“The question is no longer whether change is coming but where it takes us.”Paul Hilder
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why is the Green Party not more popular?
- A poll last year found that when voting for policies ‘blind’ — without being told which party’s they are — Green Party policies were the most popular. This suggests its policies aren’t the main reason it is on the perimeter of politics. Some blame party loyalty — people vote according to how they and their families always have.
- What’s the point in voting for smaller parties if they’re never going to get into government?
- Support for Labour and the Conservatives is much lower than previous elections. There was a time when together the parties amassed 97% of the vote, but now stands at 60-75% in the polls. This means that the next government could also be a coalition, so smaller parties including the Greens and SNP could help to form a government.
- ‘Brain fade’
- A psychologist explains Bennett’s mind blank as stage fright. Our ability to recall information, she says, depends on our ability to pay attention. And when we’re stressed or feel we’re being judged, paying attention and remembering information is difficult. Bennett says it happens to everyone, and that she’s only human.
- The Greens’ social housing policy pledges to build half a million homes by 2020, partly funded by scrapping buy-to-let mortgage interest tax allowances. This is what Bennett was probably trying to say in her interview.
- The Greens say costs and funding will be explained in their manifesto, which is released next month. They say it will replace tax-free allowances and most social security benefits; it will not be means-tested, but given to everyone.
- Last month the TV regulator Ofcom ruled that the Green Party didn’t have the ‘major party status’ it needed to take part in the leaders’ debate to be televised in the run-up to the election. But the fact it was being considered shows major progression from the usual two-party debate.