The Greens in London – a real alternative?

I’m not a Londoner, but, when analysing the Green Party’s message ahead of the London mayoral and assembly elections, I think this puts me in a better position. I don’t have to face the prospect of Boris or Ken managing my locality for the foreseeable future.

The video below, ‘Make the Difference’, is the main Green Party Election Broadcast for the elections on 3rd May. It’s a youthful take on the standard Green policies, but is it a viable set of proposals for London? Is there really a chance for a Green breakthrough?

Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones sees the two prongs of the Green Party as environmentalism and social justice, and these themes are put forward prominently. Using children to provide the message of ‘We can’t vote, but you can’, is not just a heart string-jerker, but emphasises how the environmental problems we face might not effect our daily lives now, but could be severely damaging in the future.

Environmentalism

There is a predictable strong green (deliberate lowercase) message in the video. The kids recount plans for more trains, bikes and lower fares for public transport, in place of cars and wider roads. There is also a commitment to protect the countryside, open spaces and playing fields. Jenny Jones calls it a ‘green belt’ throughout London. Another classic environmental policy is the assurance that all new houses would have to meet energy efficiency standards, and those that aren’t can receive financial assistance.

These are all admirable environmental objectives and – in my most lowly opinion – they are steps will need to be taken in our efforts to make a more sustainable society. However, these aren’t the concerns of most Britons, or even Londoners.  Quite honestly, they care about the money in their back pocket and how they can use it.

Can Jenny Jones do a 'Caroline Lucas' and seize London?

Social justice

The other side of the Green message goes beyond environmental issues. The support of a ‘living wage’ for London and, I imagine, for the wider nation, is a necessary step. The priority given to small shops on high streets rather than outlets from the big brands is another great move that can boost entrepreneurship and re-energise local economies. That is, if it is able to be enforced. Finally, more police on the streets is a message pushed by all parties, so that’s not really a point of difference.

In fact, all these ‘social justice’ issues don’t really draw the Greens away from the Labour Party. And, with the more cuddly and spend first approach of Boris’ reign in London, I don’t think there’s much to differentiate them with the Conservative incumbent’s policies.

Those are just the messages from the video, but the question is whether this ‘vision’ can be accepted by Londoners.

My belief is, unfortunately, no.

Boris, along with Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick, appears to tap in to the concerns of the majority

The problem for the Green Party is that the people that are convinced of their message are in a minority, and the established three parties offer a much more complete electoral package for the majority of voters.

Environmentalism is way down the list of concerns for most voters. The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems do consider green politics but it comes after social and economic policies. For the Greens, environmental concerns are  inevitably the primary issue but this won’t make them a major political force.

For the Greens to be effective at elections, it appears that they have to be either a protest vote party, or tackle libertarian issues more generally, proclaiming the mantle of ‘protector of freedoms’ for themselves. However, this might take them away from the environmental focus that attracts Green supporters in the first place.

Yet, I believe this focus on the youth that encompasses the election video could be a winning gambit for years to come. If the Greens can bring that stark reality of environmental danger home for lots of voters, emphasising how the future, their children’s future, is not as secure as they’d wish to believe,  it could be the key for Green Politics to truly enter Britain’s political establishment.

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