The Green Party of England and Wales, often abbreviated to ‘the Green Party’ and established in 1990, is a UK political party which champions environmentalism combined with left-wing economics and progressive social policies. You’ve probably heard of them. In a magazine about climate change, the Greens are at the forefront of those politically committed to tackling the issues facing the environment today. But how viable are they as an electoral force?
Fundamentally, the Green Party’s deal is mostly all about the environment. Specifically, ‘to end the system that keeps hurting the environment and all of us who rely on it – and to build a better alternative.’ The Green political programme is based on ten pillars which elected Greens will strive to implement. These are:
- Save the environment
- Green our land
- Protect animal life
- Challenge privilege
- End discrimination
- Champion international friendships
- Liberate our working lives
- Unleash our creative power
- Embed collective kindness in our society
- Deliver quality of life for all
Sounds good so far, but they need to be elected to do those things, and they don’t have a good history of being able to do that. The Green Party has only ever had one member elected to the House of Commons. Caroline Lucas, party leader 2008-2012 and 2016-2018, was elected as the representative for Brighton Pavilion in 2010 and has kept her seat in successive elections, increasing her majority each time. However, this is just one Parliamentary seat out of 650.
The Green Party is unlikely to ever see great numbers of MPs without substantial electoral reform. In the 2019 general election, the Green Party received 865,707 votes, or 2.7% of the vote. By comparison, the Social Democratic & Labour Party gained 2 seats with 118,737 votes (0.4%) and Plaid Cymru gained 4 members with 153,265 votes (0.5%). By contrast, the SNP elected 48 MPs with only 3.9% of the vote. With the First Past the Post electoral system in place, it isn’t enough for the Greens to consistently come in at second or third.
Green representation is similarly poor in the House of Lords, which hosts two Green Party peers out of 803 sitting members.
So who is voting for the Greens?
18-24 year olds are the most concerned about the environment by far, and yet this demographic more commonly votes for the Labour Party by far, especially since 2017. 18-24 year olds are actually more likely to vote Conservative than Green. Problematically, 18–24-year-olds also have the lowest voting turnout of any demographic.
Beyond the 18-24 year olds, interest in both the Green Party and the environment is significantly lower, and things get increasingly worse with older age groups. This therefore leaves the Greens dependent on the youth vote.
The Green’s over-reliance on one demographic means that their voters are spread thinly throughout the country, more likely to vote for other parties, and less likely to vote in the first place. This is before other flaws in FPTP come in to play, such as tactical voting and a reluctance to waste votes on a party that probably won’t win anyway. So, what can they do to address this?
Without electoral reform, there’s not much that would fix their disadvantage. Having a large voter base is only useful if you can reach a majority over other parties in a constituency, and they have only achieved this in one place so far. Ideally, they would be able to widen their voter demographics or localise support in particular regions, thus meaning that their voters would not be so thinly distributed, allowing them to win a majority in more constituencies.
It also does not help their cause that, for all intents and purposes, the Greens come across as a one-policy party. Their focus on the environment is commendable, but obviously limits them to an existence more as a protest group than as a serious candidate for government. In the same vein, the image which emerges of die-hard ‘tree hugger’ environmentalists as the traditional voter base of the Greens would be off-putting to many moderate voters.
While many people may be sympathetic to their cause, people vote over issues that affect them, and the environment is rarely the top priority in that scenario. While the Green Party do have policies over the economy and social reform, it isn’t what they are known for by a long stretch. Moreover, many moderates with environmental sympathies may simply be appeased if one of the larger parties, who actually expect to win an election, makes a few vague pledges to protect the environment. This seems to be working out pretty well for the Labour Party, who have completely monopolised the Green’s youth voters.
This is not a party that is winning elections and they won’t do anytime soon. In that regard, they are not viable electorally. But that doesn’t make them pointless. Diversity in political representation is key to democracy, and I for one am very interested to see how the Green Party will look in the future.