UK Election: Greens seek to capitalise on membership surge

(Originally published by Equal Times)
Translations: Spanish | French

 Brighton MP Caroline Lucas. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
With less than two months to go until the UK general elections on 7 May 2015, the Green Party is riding high on a wave of popular support.

Earlier this year, three separate polls estimated that around 10 per cent of the electorate intended to vote for the party – its highest rating in years.

Meanwhile, membership has increased from under 20,000 to nearly 60,000 in the space of a year, echoing the success of other progressive, anti-austerity parties in Europe like Podemos in Spain and Greece’s ruling Syriza party.

“If we can utilise all these members, and get young people out to vote, we could pull off some big surprises,” Kieran Turner-Dave, the Green Party candidate for Manchester Central, told Equal Times.

“I think most people in Britain are disillusioned by the current political system. Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP all bark at each other like animals in the [House of] Commons – yet all four quietly agree that tax loopholes, austerity cuts and privatisation are good; whilst immigrants, welfare claimants and young people are bad.”

Since 2010, the ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition has implemented a programme involving public spending cuts to the tune of £35 billion (US$52 billion), with a further £55 billion (US$82 billion) projected by 2019.

With Labour leader Ed Miliband promising his party will also cut public spending if it wins the elections in May, the Greens present themselves as the only progressive alternative.

The Greens are also the only national party who have pledged to renationalise the railways and scrap Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system.

In terms of environmental policies, the party has called for a ‘Green New Deal’, which would involve spending billions of pounds on renewable energy projects and home insulation, instead of continuing to rely on fossil fuel and fracking.

Yet despite the huge membership surge, the party’s performance in opinion polls appears less impressive, with the latest polls putting them at around 6 per cent, in fifth place.

Furthermore the biggest challenge remains holding on to their only seat in Parliament, that of MP and former party leader Caroline Lucas.

Last week campaign manager Adam McGibbon urged Green members to back the fight to retain Lucas’s seat, calling it “our biggest challenge yet.”

“If we win, we will open the door to many more Green seats. But if we lose, the Green Surge could be over,” he wrote in an email to supporters.

Turner-Dave says the Greens’ chances will be hampered by the fact that the UK lacks a system of proportional representation for general elections.

“Due to the first-past-the-post system, we could potentially get 9 per cent of the vote and one to three seats, whilst the Scottish National Party (SNP) could get 4 per cent of the vote and 52 seats.”

However, this hasn’t stopped thousands of voters on the left defecting from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.

The party is especially popular among students and young professionals with a YouGov poll in January 2015 showing that 22 per cent of young people support the Greens, making it the second most popular party for young people behind Labour, at 32 per cent.

29-year-old Jessica De Ferry, who works for a publishing company in London, says she will be voting Green for the first time in May.

“I feel disillusioned by the main political parties, whose allegiance seems to lie firmly with banks and big business at the expense of the public’s welfare.”

“The Green Party is the only party that I trust not to dismantle the NHS (National Health Service) with creeping privatisation. It is the only party that I think will try to tackle widespread tax evasion by high-worth individuals and companies and is the only party that will, without question, prevent fracking companies from damaging pockets of the British countryside for profit.”

Another recent convert to the Green cause is Peter Pinkney, the President of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), who made headlines last month when he announced that he would be standing as a candidate for the Green Party despite his union’s strong historical ties to Labour.

“I joined because I believe in alliances of the left,” Pinkney told Equal Times. “I am a socialist and believe the Greens are moving further left. They have a radical agenda including building social housing, investing in NHS, renationalising railways and other utilities, repealing anti trade union laws, and demanding a higher tax for those who earn most.”