The Green Party are likely to do better in this coming general election than the have done in previous general elections. Despite this the campaigning itself is not going especially well for them. Natalie Bennett’s media gaffes aside, the general theme of the current political debate is not around climate change or social welfare, which is where the Greens are strongest. The debate is focused on economic competence and deficit reductions, where they’re weak.
Elections are not won or lost based on how good your answer to the voters’ questions are; they are won when the voters ask the questions to which you have the best answer. The election is a battle to change the topic of political conversation in a party's favour, something the Green Party is not doing especially well. This is mainly because they are a small party and have less sympathetic friends in the media, but it is also because they are not connecting with enough voters.
When I mentioned this in discussion with a friend and Green Party supporter, she replied that what I described was "playing the game" and that the appeal of the Green Party is that they do not behave like the other parties, made up of career politicians and spin doctors. The Greens want to change the game of politics to something more accessible to ordinary people. This got me thinking, are the Green Party playing the game of politics or changing the game? Are they different from the other, more established parties, or they are just politicians of a different stripe?
The Green Party certainly do not make arguments like any other party. They are the only party openly challenging the neo-liberal consensus that has gripped politics for the last 30 years. They argue for benefits, in favour of immigration and for taxing the wealthy. The Labour Party do not openly endorse these policies, and the cabal of right-wing parties are completely against them. In terms of policy the Greens do seem to be genuinely different from the other Westminster parties – the regional independence parties are a different case.
Politics is all about establishing a narrative, the Tories have done this very effectively with their “Labour's borrowing caused the financial crisis and austerity will restore prosperity” narrative. The other Westminster parties are following this narrative to a greater or lesser degree; Labour have promised spending cuts if they are returned to government. The Greens are the main Westminster party that is challenging this narrative. However the new narrative laid out by the Green Party is a more radical change to politics.
The Green Party are challenging all of our established ideas on benefits, on spending and even on economic growth itself. They are the only Westminster Party making a strong case for benefits as a safety net for the less fortunate. They are the only Westminster Party making a case for public spending as the driving engine of not only prosperity but also equality. They are also challenging the idea of economic growth as a goal in itself and attempting to assert a new narrative about preserving our natural environment.
Such a radical change to our political narrative cannot be considered to be "playing the game". Labour are playing the game by signing up to the Tories narrative on spending cuts and deficit reeducation. The Greens are refusing to play this game and are attempting to assert a radical new narrative of their own.
A new narrative could also be considered “playing the game of politics”, changing the game would involve being a party that is different to the Westminster parties. A party made up of people disenfranchised from the game of politics. Westminster politics is dominated by white, male, middle-class, career politicians from public schools. A party changing the game would ne the opposite of this.
So how diverse are the Greens? On the surface they are very diverse they have a female leader and their only MP is a woman, which is certainly different from the other four Westminster parties. However their candidates, activists and supporters are mainly white and mainly middle class, this is true even of the their leader. One of the key problems the Green Party face is lack of working class support despite a raft of policies aimed at those with low incomes. They are incapable of shaking their middle-class Guardian reading, organic yogurt eating image and this is partly because of their lack of diversity from an ethnic and class point of view.
This Guardian video shows how undiverse in terms of race and class the Green Party activists in Bristol West are. It also shows the problems they are having in reaching out to voters who are not white and middle class. The Greens maybe trying to change the game of politics but from many disenfranchised voters point of view, they look the other Westminster parties.
Despite the Green Party’s lack of diversity they do have a lot of policies that could benefit disenfranchised voters abandoned by other parties. However the Greens still have a problem connecting with the people who stand the most to benefit from their policies. One reason for this is that they couched their radical vision in the language the other parties use. Bennett is quick to use phrases such as “fully costed”; to disenfranchised voters this makes them look the same as the other parties. The Greens have a different way of doing politics, but by using the language of the other Westminster parties they are not changing the game of politics and not differentiating themselves enough to disenfranchised voters.
The Green Party called for a peaceful revolution against the established order of Westminster but their revolution looks very white and middle class. From my point of view, a real revolution against the political establishment would both represent and appeal to the poor, the disenfranchised and members of ethic and social minorities.
The Greens are not popular enough with the poor and ethnic monitories which are overlooked by the other Westminster Parties to be changing the game of politics, nor do they adequately represent these groups - which would be necessary to change the game of politics.
The Green Party may not be leading a revolution, but they are challenging the established political narrative, which is a welcome change. The Greens are not changing the game of politics but they are playing it in a new and interesting way.