The Green party being excluded from the TV leaders’ debates could be just the boost the party needs. In the time since the broadcasters’ announcement on Monday morning, it has leapt from being perceived as the sidelined smaller party that never quite found Ukip-style stardom to the unjustly wronged underdog that everyone wants to get behind.
A petition on Change.org called “Include the Green Party in the TV Leaders’ Debates ahead of the 2015 General Election” has had a mammoth number of signatories – reaching nearly 150,000 supporters this afternoon at a drastic pace. The petition, which was set up following the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky announcing their plans for the televised political debates, was receiving 350 signs a minute yesterday, and at one point went from 500 to 40,000 signatures in four hours.
This outrage at the Greens being sidelined coincides with a boost in the party’s membership (it has gone up 52 per cent this year alone) and seats (it gained 23 in this year’s local elections), which has been dubbed the “Green Surge”. Never before have 150,000 people so rapidly paid this much attention to the party, so is the attention actually helping it boost its profile?
I spoke to John Coventry of Change.org, who told me that this kind of interest in a “purely political” petition is rare. “It’s been incredibly quick. This does happen when a petition is on the back of a big, breaking news story, but this is the biggest we’ve had on a purely political petition this year.” He also points out that this petition is “unusual” because it is so “explicitly in favour of one political party”.
Coventry adds, “I’d guess they’re [the signatories] not all Green party supporters”, suggesting that such a petition makes people engage with the political process rather than just party political concerns: “It’s less about right and left, and more about right and wrong.”
But could this have a long-term boost for the popularity of the Greens? Or is it just people on the internet getting exercised about democracy? Coventry suggests that parties can, “jump on opportunities to use the web to help have long-term engagement with voters”, and predicts that once the petition receives the signatories it needs, it could lead to supporters taking action – marching into parliament or the broadcasters’ television studios, for example.
Although the Greens are furious about being left out, and are threatening to get lawyers onto the case, this story could be giving them just the attention they’ve needed for a long time.