Greens, UKIP and the politics of anti-politics

I have said it before and I will most likely say it again, politicians are at an all-time popularity low. People are cynical about all politicians but this cynicism is mainly directed at the three largest parties. UKIP has managed to gain prominence by riding a wave of anti-politics. Their pitch is that if you do not like the three dominant parties then vote UKIP. Strangely enough, as this anti-political feeling is present on both the left and the right, why isn’t there a left wing party taking advantage of this?

The Greens would be the obvious candidate, they have an MP and have been around longer but why are they not using anti-politics to attract disillusioned voters? Disillusion with Labour, Lib Dems and Tories then vote Green? Why is no one saying this? Why is their approach too polite, “excuse me, have you thought about voting Green? Oh no you haven’t. Well I want bother you anymore then”. It could reinvigorate the left and take some of the momentum out of UKIP. 

The Green Party are reluctant to aim UKIP-style vitriol at the current political establishment. This is partly because it could come across as hypocritical. The Green Party, being a middle class Guardian reading movement, is part of the establishment. UKIP, being mainly made up of rich white men, is also part of the establishment but pointing this out has not lessened their appeal. It is because of this that I feel that the Green Party’s concerns that this could backfire are misplaced.

The larger problem with tactics of the Green Party is that they are not acknowledging that the people who want to vote UKIP have valid complaints. It is easy to dismiss those who plan to vote UKIP as racists, Europhobes or just plain stupid. However, it cannot be overstated how angry the average voter is at the main three parties. People are tired of being angry at politicians and are tired of this anger being ignored and now they are going to send a message that cannot be ignored by voting UKIP.

It is hard to tell where this disillusionment with mainstream politics has come from. Was it Nick Clegg selling out on everything he promised? The expenses scandal? Tony Blair? Both parties moving towards the centre? Constant media scrutiny meaning only the blandest politicians can survive? The rising number of politicians from privileged backgrounds? The rising number of politicians who have never worked outside politics? It is difficult to say, all these factors and more have contributed to voter disillusionment. What is clear is that there is not an easy fix. The Green Party could build a campaign which focuses on giving people hope that a vote can change things for the better but that seems like a lot of hard work so the Green Party is not bothering.

There is a belief on the left that sunlight and scrutiny will destroy UKIP, that exposing their racist behaviour, their expense claiming and their cronyism will cause voters to turn against them. This has not happened because most voters do not care that UKIP are crooks. They see all politicians as crooks and UKIP as the only ones who are honest about it. The truth about UKIP will not encourage angry voters to go back to the establishment parties if the root cause of their voting UKIP has not been tackled.

The Green party’s reluctance to use anti-politics is partly because they want to appeal to voters for different reasons than “tired of all the above, then vote for us”. They do not want to take advantage of voters being angry about the political establishment, they want to take advantage of voters being angry about the environment.

It would be short sighted to take advantage of the current high popularity of anti-politics if your party is based around a specific idea (i.e. environmentalism) which could be popular in the future. Certainly with the global environmental outlook worsening, popular support could naturally swing towards the Green Party. However until there is a ground swell of support for environmental policies the Greens are currently missing out on the anti-politics bandwagon.

There are several valid reasons why the Green Party would not want to behave like UKIP and exploit the politics of anti-politics but, the biggest mistake the Green Party (and the left as a whole) is making is not acknowledge that people who vote UKIP have a valid grievance. Anti-politics maybe the flavour of the month but voter is disillusionment is a big problem which threatens our democracy.