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Will the 'Green surge' make an electoral difference?

A feature of the 2015 election campaign in the United Kingdom is the place of small and regional parties that have been able to punch far above their weight. This is because of the shift away from the establishment parties and the possibility of a hung parliament where the votes of the smaller parties will count for a great deal.

The Green Party, with its anti-austerity platform, has seen a surge in its membership in the last few months. The ‘Green surge’ as it is called may not translate into more than the single parliamentary seat that the party held in the last elections. Nevertheless, the party has been active and vocal, and able to get its message across. The party has held a steady five to 7 per cent of the vote-share in the opinion polls.

The Green Party is one among the smaller parties that has been able to punch far above its weight in the 2015 elections, owing to a fragmentation of political loyalties in the electorate, a large part of which has shifted its voting intentions away from the three major parties — the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

Not only has the Green Party, along with the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Welsh Plaid Cymru, brought a new dimension and depth to the election debate, the group has challenged the elite all-male leadership stereotype by bringing in strong women candidates and leaders.

British of Australian descent, Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party is one such candidate. Clear, articulate and well informed, she is accessible and interacts directly with ordinary voters and the media.

“We will do everything we possibly can to ensure that we don’t have a Conservative government. With a Labour-led government we will be pushing them against austerity… We’re also going to be fighting to get rid of Trident weapons and for a sensible energy policy. And for a humane, fair and just immigration policy, particularly where it applies to non-EU citizens,” she said.

The fragmentation within British polity, Ms. Bennett said, shows that people are fed up with the ‘business-as-usual’ politics of the three major Westminster parties. “They are old and stale and basically continuing the status quo, the kind of model that’s seen a low-pay economy in which the rich keep getting richer, where the economy is dominated by big multinational companies, and [in which] small businesses get stamped all over. On immigration, the main parties are trying to “out-Ukip Ukip” she said, instead of “standing up to nasty, dangerous immigration rhetoric.”

She believes that the desertion of voter loyalties from the mainstream parties to alternative ones is a “huge shift” not adequately reflected by the first-past-the-post system. “People felt they must vote for the lesser of two evils, i.e., vote for a party they don’t really like, to stop the party they really hate from getting in.” That however is changing and “once the shift starts happening it will move at a rapid speed, as happened in Scotland,” she says.

Ms. Bennett , spoke to The Hindu after addressing a Kurdish Community hall on the issue of immigration.

This election, which you have said is the most crucial in a generation, is predicted to deliver a hung parliament. Is this to the greater advantage of small anti-austerity parties like yours? Will it give you more voice and leverage?

Very much so. What we are looking to [achieve] is a strong group of MPs in the next parliament [being] able to have a massive influence. We will do everything we possibly can to ensure that we don’t have a Conservative government. And with a Labour-led government we will be pushing them against austerity, this terrible policy in which the poor, disadvantaged and very young have been paying the price for the errors and fraud of the bankers. We’re also going to be fighting to get rid of Trident weapons and for a sensible energy policy. And for a humane, fair and just immigration policy, particularly where it applies to non-EU citizens.

What is the process of political fragmentation telling us about British politics?

I think what it is telling us is that people are really fed up with ‘business-as-usual’ as offered by the three — you might say — traditional parties that have dominated British politics. They are old and stale and basically continuing the status quo, the kind of model that’s seen a low-pay economy in which the rich keep getting richer, where the economy is dominated by big multinational companies, and small businesses get stamped all over. And also I think on immigration, there is a lot of anger [among] migrant communities about the way in which they have chased after UKIP and for not standing up to nasty, dangerous immigration rhetoric.

Why is it then we are not seeing mass desertion from the mainstream parties to alternative ones?

Well, I think [there is]. A couple of decades ago, 97 per cent of people voted for the two largest parties; it will probably be about 60 percent in these elections. That is huge movement. But of course what we have is the first-past-the-post electoral system, and so people have felt they must vote for the lesser of two evils, ie., vote for a party they don’t [necessarily] really like [in order] to stop the party they really hate from getting in.

But what is happening is that we have more and more people are saying that they want to try something different. They are saying that they have got the kind of politics we have because of doing just that. That is a huge shift. But shifts take time and also, once the shift starts happening it will move at a rapid speed.

Scotland is the real demonstration of that. Scotland started early because the SNP party was running the referendum and the Independence campaign. And that started a year or more before the general election. So it’s a case for us. We’ve got the green surge, we are 62,000 members, we are larger than UKIP and the Lib Dems.

So there is a real chance to take the green surge onwards. We have got to 62,000 but the day after the election we are aiming to keep growing that figure, and surging onwards.


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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 7:26:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/will-the-green-surge-make-an-electoral-difference/article7173363.ece

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