How the Green Party has got its groove back

After disappointment last year, the Green Party is bouncing back. 

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Labour and the Tories are sinking under the pressure of decentralized politics. But for the Greens it could be the key to electoral success. Such was the optimistic logic in operation at this weekend’s Green party conference in Harrogate.

Only a year ago, the Greens were similarly forecasting a general election triumph. Yet they fell short in several of their target seats. The "Green Surge" then took another hit as "Watermelon" members (green on the outside, red in the middle), distraught by the Tory majority, sought solace in Jeremy Corbyn's new vision for Labour.

So what might make this year different? That elections in Wales and Scotland are held under a proportional system, rather than first-past-the-post system, for one. 

“We are the modern politics,” Green Leader Natalie Bennett told me - citing rising support across all three nations, a growing membership, and willingness to work with other parties. The old style of “Bish-Bosh politics” has had its day, she says.

Bennett was previously skeptical about the prospects of a post general election coalition. But now, on single issues at least, the attitude to coalition-building is openminded, and not just towards Labour.

“To get things done in politics you may need to forge coalitions with people who you entirely disagree with on a broad range of issues,” she explains. "If they [people on other side of politics] are going to argue that Trident is a waste of money, I’m very happy to sit with them and argue that it is a waste of money: let’s bring together the broadest possible coalition.”

This pragmatism has already seen Bennett join forces with Ukip over the need for electoral reform. And is representative of the party’s energetic new shape.

Over the course of an afternoon, I watched Amelia Womack, the UK’s youngest ever deputy leader, chair a panel on the refugee crisis; sat through speeches next to Peaceful Warrior, a woodland caravan-dweller; and walked to the Trident demo with Mhairi Mackie, a 65 year-old Architecture lecturer from Glasgow.

The cast of conference characters may be eclectic, but their shared direction is firmly set towards the future. Nostalgia and sandals are out; Leonardo DiCaprio and customized Converses are in.

This trend is partly fuelled by the expanding under-thirty membership. Badges advocating “Cats Not Cuts” adorn the coats of a handful of Young Greens chatting in the canteen hall – some of the 20,000 who have helped the YG membership grow tenfold in under two years.

It is also, Bennett suggests, the product of a more “mature” political philosophy that confronts environmental, social and economic injustice as an inter-related challenge. “We are where you get to when you understand that we have to live within the limits of our one planet. And that requires a vastly more equitable distribution of the resources in our societies.” 

And it is one being fostered by an exciting new leadership; who are young, pre-dominantly female, and poised to fill a raft of seats come the elections in May.

In Wales, a strong field of candidates is being led by 31 year-old climate-scientist Alice Hooker-Stroud, who joined as part of the “Green surge” just 18 months ago. She will be fighting off Ukip candidates to win the party’s first seat in the Welsh Assembly. 

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Party is expecting to see representatives elected to the Scottish Parliament from every region of the country. 

"We look forward to increasing our number of seats on the London Assembly, putting in our best-ever performance in the London Mayoral contest, gaining a seat on the Welsh Assembly and growing our representation on councils across England and Wales." Bennett says.

Such a sweep of seats this May, if pulled off, might surprise many within the political establishment. But certainly not the party’s much-admired new Deputy Leader and London Assembly candidate, Dr Shahrar Ali. “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you.” he told the membership, quoting Ghandi. “Then they attack you. And then you win.”
 

Ones to watch...

Amelia Womack, 31, - Deputy Leader, and lead list candidate for South Wales Central
"Across the world others are leading the way - and shaming our Government in the process. Last year Denmark produced almost half of its energy from wind power. Latvia smashed through its 2020 renewables target, and Germany's renewable sector became the biggest contributor to its energy mix."

Sian Berry, 41 - London Mayoral Candidate
"We now live in an era of multi-party politics where the politics of the future no longer has to look like the politics of the past."

Ross Greer, 21Scottish Green Party spokesperson on Europe and External Affairs, and top green candidate for the West of Scotland region
“Something feels possible for us in Scotland for the first time”

Emma Carter, 26 – Accountant and Young Green, standing for the Party in Leeds North West. At her first conference she proposed a motion that is now the basis for the party’s Higher Education policy.
“I joined because of knowing you can really have an influence over the direction of your party: if you don’t feel like you have an effect on the direction of your party, you’re not going to feel like you will change things in government.”

 

India Bourke is the online editor for the New Statesman's international edition.

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