Can the Greens become the "Ukip of the left"? Photo: Getty
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The very nature of left-wing policies and party funding means there isn't a Ukip of the left

Instead of asking why there isn't a feasible left-of-centre party, we should be asking why, when support for their policies is so high, only 1 per cent of voters crossed the Greens' box in May 2010.

This article was written in response to a column by Helen Lewis asking "Why isn’t there a 'Ukip of the left'?" Read Left Unity's response to the column here.
 

This week has been a good one for the website voteforpolicies.org.uk. The team have finally hit their fundraising target meaning they will now be able to replicate their popular 2010 site for next year's general election. As described by a Channel 4 reviewer, posted with pride on the site, "Vote for Policies is an interesting survey based on policies alone - allowing  users to find out who they would vote for if the policies were anonymous."

And as the Conservatives "won" the last election with 36 per cent of the UK vote, it was also the Conservatives who came up on top on voteforpolicies.org.uk in 2010, right? Wrong. In fact, it was the Greens who came top, with 25 per cent identifying most closely to their policies - ahead of second-place Labour by a margin of 5 per cent, and ahead of the Tories by over 10 per cent.

Using visitors to one website as a representative sample of Britons is not without its flaws - perhaps the half-a-million people who took the survey happened to be more left-wing than the general population? But as the New Statesman's deputy editor, Helen Lewis, wrote last week "there is certainly space in British politics for a party beyond the edge of Labour."

Helen and I are in agreement that the electorate is crying out for a party that represents their views on a range of issues from nationalisation to the living wage. Helen is also not alone in calling for a "UKIP of the left" - here she is joined by Russell BrandKen Loach of Left Unity and a plethora of founders who have set up their parties because of a perceived "vacuum" in British politics. But the reason I asked her to grant me the column inches for this article - which, by the way, went directly against the plea in her article for affronted Greens to "sheath our pens", so I am very grateful to her for humouring me! - is that, as I have argued elsewhere, I believe nothing will be gained by creating another leftist party when so much activist time has been spent on one already.

One of the lessons we can learn from Vote for Policies is that the public are already behind the Greens' political aims. The Greens' already boast three MEPs, an MP, a working peer, two London Assembly Members and 162 Councillors (plus two MSPs north of the border). In addition, the struggle involved in becoming an elected Green means that a) the power hungry need not apply and b) those who make it are at the top of their game. Just check-out the number of political awards Caroline Lucas MP has totted up for a list to make you feel inadequate.

I believe that the very nature of left-wing policies and the current party-funding structure and media environment means that there will never be a "Ukip of the left". Creating a new "Green Party. v2" will simply mean spending time building up a party which will ultimately repeat the Greens' modest electoral history - if indeed if ever manages to match a party that punches so far above its weight.

So instead of asking why there isn't a feasible left-of-centre party, we should be asking why, when support for their policies is so high, only 1 per cent of voters crossed the Greens' box in May 2010.

Rich businessmen and media magnates have a vested interest in pushing the political discussion to the right in order, consciously or otherwise, to preserve their own wealthy and privileged lifestyles and that of their descendants. This is why they can often be found bankrolling and publicising parties that maintain the status quo, both politically and economically. It is unsurprising that voters, who despite the great work of campaigns such as Vote for Policies, still gain the majority of their political information from the mainstream media, go on to vote these parties into power.

To combat this problem, the Green Party advocates public funding for political parties, allocated on the basis of previous performance in proportional elections (as have others here). Amid the ongoing cash-for-peerages scandal, reform was promised at the start of this government - but given who benefits from the current system, it is hardly surprising that reform was not forthcoming. How can there ever be a "Ukip of the left" whilst Ukip are allowed to receive a £1m donation from one single supporter's company? It is hardly likely that there are similar millionaire donors waiting in the wings to donate to or to use their news-sheets to publicise a party that would see them give up much of their wealth to help those less fortunate in society. Similarly, it is unlikely that a party that relies on such donations would produce legislation to reduce wealth inequality - how on earth would it fund its next election campaign?

Just as Vote for Policies found it needed capital to reach its audience, political parties can't pay for their election campaigns using just goodwill. It costs cold hard cash to fund press staff, pay for candidate's deposits, pay for leaflets and advertising. Without a fairer system of party funding, no party that dares challenge the super-rich can ever compete.

Clare Phipps is editor of the London Green Party website and is studying for a PhD in gender and health

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA