- Phoebe Purnell
Understated or Unnecessary: Who are the Green Party?
The Green Party has been a fixture in British politics for several decades. Since their formation in 1990, their relevance and impact have been the subject of debate. Standing as a traditional left-wing, green, and socially-progressive party, environmentalism and a nationalised welfare structure are key to their identity, yet leave many wondering if that is all they can offer.
Currently led by Carla Deyner and Adrian Ramsay — as joint leadership represents diversity of people and ideas — the party’s latest manifesto ‘If Not Now, When?’ advocates for proportional representation, civil rights and policy reform, and a ‘Green New Deal’.
What does the Green Party stand for?
Also known as the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW), raising awareness on climate change and other environmental issues have been instrumental in their growth. They have been a consistent voice in Parliament pushing for more action regarding the climate crisis and holding the government accountable for its environmental record. By championing policies such as the carbon tax, increased investment in renewable energy, and a ban on single-use plastics, the Green Party has had a meaningful impact on British politics.
In addition to its environmental focus, the Green party has also championed social justice issues such as universal basic income, a four-day working week, and an end to zero-hours contracts. Such policies could be increasingly relevant in a country grappling with rising inequality and a widening lack of economic opportunity, according to the Equality Trust.
How did the Green Party form?
Emerging during the peace movements of the 1970s, the PEOPLE party (Public Ecology Party of the Land and Environment) unified with the Movement for Survival and Ecology Party to form the modern-day Green Party.
The Green Party slowly gained popularity in the 1980s and won its first seat in the European Parliament, making it a member of the European Green Party and the Global Greens. This allowed them to gain closer ties with other Green parties from around the world.
Although they had limited success in UK parliamentary elections, the Party won its first seat in parliament in 2010 when Caroline Lucas was elected MP for Brighton. More recently, the party won seven seats in the European Parliament in 2019, representing the joint largest UK party in the European Parliament.
Why is the Green Party so controversial?
The controversial nature of the Green Party is a result of a combination of political ideology, electoral success, contentious statements, and internal conflicts. Ultimately, the Green Party’s lack of electoral success has led to criticism and scepticism about their ability to govern.
In terms of political ideology, critics point to the fact that the policies, while popular with some, can be seen as radical and untested. For example, the party’s proposals for a universal basic income and a four-day working week have been met with scepticism by some economists, who argue that these policies could be too expensive or impractical to implement. A proposal to cut carbon-emissions to achieve a carbon-neutral society was deemed unrealistic by some, furthering the view that they are solely a fringe party that is out of touch with mainstream politics.
Some members of the Green Party have made controversial statements or taken actions that generated negative attention. In 2016, former party leader, Natalie Bennett, suggested she was open to rethinking relationship and polygamy protection under their policies. This led to controversy from gay marriage critics who inferred unlawful marriages may become the norm. The party has also faced criticism for its position on vaccinations and nuclear power.
Like many other political parties, the Green Party has experienced internal conflicts over policy and leadership. Members have often clashed over suggested centralised leadership and that the party has become too focused on identity politics, and straying away from its key values of environmentalism.
Do the Green Party have significant power in the UK Parliament?
While not having significant power at a national level, the Green Party can impact policy and public debate at a local level and on specific issues. Over 300 councillors have been elected to local councils across the UK and the party has been able to influence policy and make a direct impact on a regional level. Additionally, there has been an increase in vote share in recent years. In the 2019 European parliament elections, the UK Greens won 11.8% of the vote and also saw a small growth in the general election.
That being said, the party is still relatively small and does not hold any major positions of power at the national level. Although one MP is represented in the House of Commons, this is not enough to have a significant impact on policy making. Caroline Lucas, who was elected in 2010 and re-elected for two consecutive years, has been a vocal advocate for social justice and used her limited position to push for policy changes for the Green party. Despite this, the Green Party only won one seat in the 2019 General Election, against 365 for the Conservative Party and 202 for the Labour Party. Could this suggest that the party is not experienced enough to lead the country? Are they just a single-issue party lacking broader appeal?
Is there a future for the Green Party?
It’s difficult to predict the future of any political party, but the Green Party has shown some signs of growth and potential. In recent years, the Green party has seen an increase in membership and has gained some success in local elections. They have also garnered attention from young people who are concerned about social justice and the climate.
It is also important to note that the party still remains relatively small, with limited resources, and media coverage. Larger parties often take up more space on the political stage and compete directly with the Green Party by adopting some of their policies to gain the support of younger, more progressive voters. This can be seen from the Labour Party, who have adopted rhetoric regarding environmental issues in recent years.
Despite these challenges, the Green Party remains an important voice in British politics. The party's commitment to environmental issues and social justice has helped to shift conversation on these issues in the country. As the UK continues to grapple with the effects of climate change and growing inequality, the Green Party’s policies and political vision for a more sustainable, equitable future are likely to remain relevant and offer a fresh approach to modern politics.
The future of the Green Party will depend on a variety of factors including their ability to build on their successes, to address any challenges, and how well they can communicate their message. With issues, such as climate change, still raging and evoking discontent, and an emerging generation of young people searching for political reform, the future may be bright for what was once an overlooked political party.
Edited by Alice Holmstedt Pell