We can’t deny her passion. Natalie Bennett, the recently elected leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, delivered a striking keynote address at the party conference in Bristol on Friday, in which she claimed the moniker of true parliamentary opposition in this country.
“We have to be the opposition to this disastrous Coalition government. We are the opposition.”
We can do it because we have the vision of a better, more equal, healthier Britain, and we know how to get there.”
There’s very little chance of the Greens, or the Lib Dems for that matter, unseating Labour as the primary party of the left in the UK. (We could rush into a debate over Labour/New Labour’s position on the political compass but let’s leave that for now).
Jenny Jones may have claimed third place in the May 2012 London mayoral elections, but that was with just 4.5% of the first preference votes. Heavyweights, Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, claimed 44.0% and 40.3% respectively. And while then Green leader Caroline Lucas may have secured Brighton Pavilions in 2010, there were no such breakthroughs elsewhere. Nationally the Greens only polled 0.9% of the vote, leaving them behind their right wing equivalents the BNP and UKIP.
Electorally then, the Greens are no opposition. Even if their beloved PR electoral system was instituted, they wouldn’t become a serious political force. In full proportional representation they could only claim four or five seats with their 2010 voting percentage.
But what about their proposition? To me, this is where the Green Party actually differentiates itself. Critics might bemoan the overtly environmental characteristics of the party, but they have made strides in recent years in presenting a complete and coherent ideological framework to the public.
There is a real Green vision for the future. Amongst a wide range of plans, they want a Britain with a living wage for all, support for small businesses, a progressive tax system, fair benefits for those who truly deserve them, and, of course, a sustainable model for growth that takes into account the environment as well as top line economic figures. Jenny Jones articulated this in the London microcosm during her mayoral campaign and it paid dividends. Natalie Bennett, in her distinctive Australian tones, is doing the same now.
Right or wrong this proposition may be, but I challenge you to tease out such a vision from the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour. Perhaps the major parties could learn something from the style of Green Party rhetoric.