Green politics in the UK: Serious politics or a way to win votes?

The Green Party are here to stay and will continue to grow in numbers and power

“Green politics” is defined as an ideology which aims to create an ecological sustainable society, focusing on environmental and social justice, with a preferred decentralized government (Wall, 2001). The movement first generated support in the 1970s but dropped in momentum during the 80s. Following another resurgence in support during the 90s, Green parties across Europe began to emerge as serious political players; this is perhaps most notable in Germany, where the German Greens have remained one of the most powerful parties for many years.

Many believe we are currently amidst a new wave of environmentalism – myself included – with “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” products showing up around us at an increasing rate. Companies large and small appear to be making efforts to ditch the plastic, invest in renewables and with the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags resulting in 6 billion less being bought in 2016-2017, it appears the fight to go green is gaining strength.

But what about “Green politics”? We’re all aware of the Green Party (comprised of the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Greens and the Green Party in Northern Ireland) and their – unsurprising – commitment to the natural world. Unfortunately for environmentalists, the Party is yet to break through to the top tier of British politics – but could this soon change? Aside from the Greens, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all pitch their green ideas (albeit somewhat lacking in enthusiasm) in recent manifestos. It has been suggested that the adoption of green policies by the traditional political parties is mostly just a tactic to attract young voters; Green Party supporters are typically young (64% of voters being under 45 years old), from a middle class background (61%) and highly educated. In the 2017 general election manifestos for the Conservatives, little was mentioned about the environment. Dominated by Brexit, the manifesto contrasts that of the 2015 manifesto, which held 4 pages on the Party’s commitment to the environment. An even smaller section was featured in Labour’s 2017 manifesto. Contrasting this, the Liberal Democrats’ 2017 manifesto contains a respectable amount of information regarding their environmental protection promises. If the adoption of green policies is just a way to harness voters, the Lib Dems disguise this well.

Let’s not forget about the Green Party, though. Despite being a small player on the political stage, in recent years they’ve seen their support continue to grow: in 2015, their votes increased to 1,139,682 from just 265,187 five years previous. This was, to date, the Green Party’s most successful general election. Though the number of voters slipped in the 2017 snap election, this could be explained by the lack of sufficient time and money to plan, rally and market themselves as effectively as the three main parties.

CC Paul Gillett. 2015 General Election Green Party bus

Traditionally, Green Party policies revolved around ecological justice and protection. In recent years the focus on the environment remains, but alongside a fully comprehensive manifesto detailing policies for the economy, schools, the NHS, immigration and every issue that a top tier party must address. The Greens have traditionally sat beside Labour on the left wing of the spectrum, not always sure of the space they occupy. This could be changing, especially, some believe, because of the direction that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is taking his party: more central than left-wing, potentially opening up a wide space for the Greens to emerge as key political players.

By the widespread adoption of at least some environmental commitments from the three main parties, we can assume that, for now, “green” politics is here to stay. The fact that the Greens are as committed to wider social issues as they are to the environment also clears up any confusion that they are tree-hugging hippies and not a serious electoral candidate. As the general awareness and education surrounding climate change, renewable energy, plastic pollution and the amount of people adopting a vegan lifestyle all increase, the political stage is once again shifting to potentially make way for a new leader: the Green Party. Though the three main parties remain the biggest and win the biggest vote shares, it is unlikely that this will always be the case. The demographic of the UK’s electorate is changing, with more young people becoming involved in politics, many of whom prefer progressive, non-violent and social justice movements: the three central pillars of the Green Party.

 

References

Wall, Derek (2010). The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications. ISBN 978-1-906523-39-8

 

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Sophie Parker
About Sophie Parker 1 Article
I’m a recent graduate from Nottingham Trent University, where I studied BSc (Hons) Environmental Conservation. From a young age I’ve always loved and been fascinated by the natural world and the wildlife that inhabits it, inspired by Sir David Attenborough, Steve Irwin, Ben Fogle and Jane Goodall. I knew I wanted to help protect the environment when I grew up, and hope to complete a Masters Degree in Marine Biology so that I can help protect the delicate ocean ecosystems.
Contact: Twitter

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