The Creeping Greens


Political analysts and the media have been (justifiably) focusing their attentions on the rise of UKIP. Many column inches have been spent on the impact of Farage’s People’s Army on the Conservatives’ hopes for a majority next year, as well as the effect on Labour. The relationship between the established parties, and the insurgent UKIP is rightfully being explored. But Joshua Townsley points out that the scrappy insurgency on the opposite end of the political spectrum, the Green Party, deserve some mention, particularly with regards to their relationship with the more established Liberal Democrats.

Since entering into coalition, the Liberal Democrats have, following u-turns and compromises, seen their once bright yellow light begin to wane. Several parties have benefitted directly from this development in the British party system, one of which is the under-covered and under-researched Green Party. Dubbed by The Economist recently as the ‘UKIP of the left’, Natalie Bennett’s party has been quietly making gains at the Lib Dems’ expense. After securing just 1% of the national vote share in 2010, the Greens are now polling around the 5% mark. In May, the Greens returned three MEPs to the Liberal Democrats' one to the European Parliament, and have been increasing their number of councilors to 162. A recent YouGov poll put the party neck-and-neck with the Liberal Democrats on 6%. So, how are they making such gains?

In an almost mirror-opposite resemblance to UKIP's radical right-wing populism, policies such as renationalisation of the railways, protecting the NHS, a higher minimum (living) wage, and clamping down on tax-dodging businesses, smack of the kind of left-wing radicalism often espoused by the Liberal Democrats before 2010. The insurrection of the Greens to the left of the governing Lib Dems resembles that of UKIP on the right of the governing Conservatives, or at least it might do if awarded the same media coverage enjoyed by Nigel Farage. Other obstacles that stand in the way of the Greens becoming a 'UKIP of the left', are explored Clare Phipps at the New Statesman. However, with the Liberal Democrats shifting to the right in government, abandoning, at least for now, their old strategy of pitching themselves to the left of Labour, there is arguably a gap to be filled beyond Labour on the left of British politics.

So who are these voters switching to the Greens? Unsurprisingly, many have come from the Liberal Democrats, with 13% of the Lib Dems' 2010 voters having switched to Natalie Bennett's party. Many of these switchers are young people and students, who feel let down by Nick Clegg's tuition fees u-turn. Many are protest voters of a left-leaning persuasion who feel unable to connect with Ed Miliband's Labour Party. The party's membership has been steadily building since the early 2000s, while the Lib Dems' have fallen over the same period. The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that both they and the Greens are fishing in the same demographic pond for voters. The demographic make-up of Green Party supporters (younger, left-leaning, degree-holding professionals), is remarkably similar that of the Lib Dems' in 2010. The concern for the party is that this pond is arguably not big enough to provide a core support for two truly national parties.

The Lib Dems retain the advantage in local infrastructure across the country. With local organisations that have been embedded for decades, and an often ruthless campaigning edge, the Liberal Democrats will not easily be shifted from their yellow bastions. But if the Green Party can hold on to their left-wing protestors, and young and student supporters, they may prove more than a thorn in the side of Nick Clegg's party.

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