Can the Green Party continue its recent success in the European elections?

The Greens have two main problems: a lack of media attention, and the Liberal Democrats.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman\'s Morning Call email.

Can the Green Party translate its fantastic performance in the local elections to another set of strong performances in the European elections on 23 May?

The party has kicked off its European campaign this morning with a rally in Islington. The last set of European elections were the parties’ best in terms of seats but some members have a different yardstick in mind – their 1989 performance in the European elections, still the Green Party’s best ever performance in a UK-wide contest in terms of both votes won and the total percentage of votes (15 per cent) taken, though thanks to the First Past the Post system in use at the time they won nothing for their efforts.

The party’s big message is “no to climate change, yes to Europe”. Which is admittedly screamingly obvious, but that’s a strength, not a weakness, of a political slogan. If your slogan and your political strategy require three bar charts and an essay to parse, your slogan and strategy are bad.

The Greens are making an obvious and compelling pitch to voters who are socially liberal – Siân Berry, their co-leader, made sure to attack Labour’s failure to defend free movement – pro-European, economically redistributive and environmentally concerned.

That 1989 performance was boosted by the Chernobyl disaster, a Conservative Party divided over Europe, a Labour opposition about which many voters were still uncertain, and a newly merged Social and Liberal Democrat party, whose uncertain launch and confusing name saw them slump to what is still that party’s worst ever nationwide performance.

History isn’t a circle, but you don’t have to squint too hard to see the obvious parallels. We have a slew of terrifying reports about the consequences of manmade climate change and our wider impact on the planet’s biodiversity. You have the Conservatives, split over Europe, still. You have a Labour Party that, if last week’s local elections are any guide, isn’t yet the natural choice for voters who want to kick the Tory party.  And you have Change UK, with an uncertain launch and a confusing name.

The Greens have two problems: the first is that while Change UK isn’t in the best of health organisationally, the Liberal Democrats look to be on the up. That’s part of the reason why Berry made sure to highlight that party’s participation in the coalition.

The second problem is media attention. When Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin analysed Ukip and Nigel Farage’s media appearances, they found that electoral success was followed by media attention, not the other way around, though that is evidently not the case for Farage’s new venture, the Brexit Party, where attention has come well ahead of any success for the new party.

But what they also found was that when you looked at the Green Party’s electoral successes, media attention did not follow. While there was obviously a case for giving Ukip more media attention when the party was capable of attracting Tory defectors and had finished second in the 2009 European election, that attention also obviously helped Ukip sustain its momentum. Success tends to breed success, and there’s no reason to suppose that dynamic didn’t help Ukip’s rise.

There wasn’t a flurry of media attention for the Green Party after Caroline Lucas entered Parliament in 2010 and there hasn’t yet been one following their triumphant results last week. And that dynamic will be a source of hope to their established rivals, who will hope that their larger share of the national spotlight will stop the Green wave in its tracks.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Free trial CSS