Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The future of the Green Party

Sorry it's been so long since I last posted on this blog. I do intend to start posting on here more often in the future though!

If you haven't heard about the #GreenSurge then let me tell you all about it. Last October-ish the BBC along with ITV and Channel 4 announced that they had no intentions of inviting the Green Party to the leaders debates, yet they would invite UKIP. The Green Party published an e-petition on Change.Org calling to be included on the live TV leaders debates, which gained over quarter of a million signatures in just 2 or 3 months. A couple of months later Ofcom announced that the Green Party would be classed as a minor party, while UKIP would be classed as a major party, despite the Greens having elected an MP for 4 years before UKIP received defected MPs from the Tories. This gave the TV broadcasters even more reason to exclude the Greens from the debates. This caused an outcry amongst left-leaning voters who oppose the politics of UKIP. Tens of thousands of people joined the party. Membership now sits around the 55,000 mark, which is above both UKIP and the Lib-Dems which makes us the 4th largest party in the country. In Scotland, the Scottish Greens got a massive surge in members following the independence referendum and more than doubled their membership in something like 2 weeks. They went from around 2,000 members before the referendum to over 7,000 members now. This means that the majority of Green Party members were not Green Party members at the last Green Party conference. In opinion polls the Green Party has been getting between 6-10% and frequently beating the Lib-Dems which is an improvement from the 2-5% we were getting about a year ago. In this post I want to talk about how I'm feeling about this surge in members and the potential futures of the party.

Now Until the General Election:
I predict just one thing until the day of the general election, and that is small further growth and steady media coverage. We are at about 55,000 members and I see that rising to 65,0000-70,000 members perhaps, maybe even just 60,000 members. We will be on 2 of the 3 leaders debates and I predict that the public will have mixed responses to it, but we will overall gain more supporters than we would had we not been on the debates. The party intends to stand in every seat in the general election and as a result we will receive a heck of a lot of extra media attention that we did not receive at the last general election. The party is realistically targeting to win in 3 seats (Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Bristol West) and has several lesser target seats spread throughout the country. The party is likely to stand in a record number of local election seats as well. What will happen on and after polling day is yet to be seen. For arguments sake, for the following predictions I am assuming that all that our possible number of MPs will do is as Caroline Lucas has been doing over the last 5 years, supporting or opposing issues on a case by case basis and refusing to enter any coalition government. Remember, this is all just my opinion and mostly speculation. Anything could happen in reality.

Possible scenario no.1: Greens do very well:
In this outcome, the Greens receive 5 or more seats as some members are predicting at the general election. The party keeps deposits in over 50% of seats. National share of the vote could be as high as 10%. The surge continues and we could potentially reach 100,000 members by the end of the year including members of different parties including Labour, the Lib-Dems, and other parties to the left of the Tories. Now, the more members who join, especially in a sudden surge as opposed to gradual growth, the more diverse views and opinions will be within the party. There will be calls for changes to the party as new members will be likely to expect the party to challenge to run local councils and by 2020 to be in a position to be in the next government, even if that is a minority party in a coalition. I'm already hearing calls from new members for the party to get rid of our more radical policies in order to be more presentable to the electorate. If we get another surge in members this call may only increase. Over the next 5 years the party gains seats all over the country and has a less radical vision than it has had. Members on the left of the party leave and potentially join other parties such as Left Unity, who in turn have their own small surge and become more of a force in British politics.

If this happens, the party will change its rules to become a less democratic party, or at least a less directly democratic party and a more elected representatively democratic party starting with introducing delegate conferences where your local party has to elect you as a delegate before you can come and vote at conferences. More and more power within the party will become centralised with the leaders, executive, paid staff and other committees making more decisions without first consulting the wider membership. I can already see this happening with Natalie Bennett setting the agenda for the party by choosing what she talks about in interviews. Essentially the party heads towards the general direction that the Lib-Dems were in perhaps 10 years ago, compromising on more radical left-wing policies, centralising power & influence within the party and appealing to a broad range of disaffected left-learning middle class Guardian reading voters. I think the likelihood of this outcome will be moderately low, I don't think we will receive as many as 5 seats in the general election.

Possible scenario no.2: Greens receive 3 seats:
So in this scenario the Greens gain 2 extra seats in the general election and therefore triple their seats in the commons. The surge continues but not as quickly as has happened. Many people feel that the Greens are not so likely to make a major breakthrough in British politics . Membership reaches over 100,000 within a year or two or perhaps a little longer. The party has less influence in Parliament than scenario 1 and has more freedom to be radical. As a result the Green Party keeps more members on the left of the party and starts to be taken more seriously by those on the left outside of the Green Party. As with scenario 1, the new members call for many changes to the party but these changes are less of a shift towards the centre. In general this scenario is the middle ground between scenario 1 where we lose our radical focus too quickly and the next scenario which will involve continuing our slow-ish gradual gain in seats and influence on British politics but no major surge. This scenario will still involve many members calling for compromises in order to become more electable but this will be slowed down by a higher percentage of the membership favouring the more radical left-wing policies. There will be internal struggles between polarised sections of the membership, with some members eventually leaving the party on both the left and the right of the party. I see this scenario as a compromise between the gradual, slow, but radical influence on British politics and the quick growth and shedding of our radical roots by too much compromise.

Until a few months ago when the surge began I felt this was an incredibly unlikely scenario, but given that we have had a big surge in members, we are going to be in the leaders debates and get a much increased media presence and we have had a significant rise in the polls, these 3 seats in Brighton, Norwich and Bristol could well be ours. I'm still not entirely convinced that we will get all three, but it could happen.

Possible scenario no.3: Caroline gets re-elected:
In this scenario Caroline Lucas gets re-elected but we don't gain any new MPs. I see this as the most likely outcome. With this scenario, we gain a few members, we lose a few members who felt we would gain seats, but in general we carry on slow growth that we had before the surge. This scenario makes me the most excited (perhaps along with scenario 2) because I feel this will give us the time needed to develop and mature into a sustainable major party. While surges are great, they aren't without their problems. The larger the party becomes the more difficult it is to have an open and direct democracy and having a slower growth will allow us the time to shape and test our democracy with a larger membership base. This scenario would allow us to remain as radical as we have been and will involve a lot less compromise than the first 2 scenarios. It will also be a period in which we really convince many members to remain with us for the foreseeable future. What I mean by this is that the members who stay in the party and work within the party are more likely to stay in the party for the long run. They are less likely to leave because we have compromised too much or because we have lost seats. As a result our candidates become more experienced and cemented in Green Party 'ideology' (for want of a better word). I'm really excited about this possibility.

Possible scenario no.4: No Green MPs:
We lose our only MP and we don't gain any new MPs. Members gradually leave until we're at roughly where we were before the surge (roughly 20,000 members), or perhaps a bit higher, maybe 30,000 members. Our influence in politics declines a little, we start receiving less media coverage and we have less resources than before. This isn't actually the end of the world for the party, it is still a much better position than we were in before the 2010 general election. We will still have more members and more elected representatives than we have had in recent years. This scenario could go two ways - we could build the party and still become a significant force in politics, just a lot slower than the other scenarios - or we could fall apart, members leave and join other parties who see a mini-surge and we gradually decline until we're no longer electable as has happened with far right parties like the BNP and National Front who have never recovered from the great plunge. I think it is a reasonably realistic outcome that we could end up with no seats, but I am more convinced that we will have at least 1 MP. However, this requires work. We need to work hard between now and the general election to give the Greens the best possible chance of gaining seats.

Well, those are my thoughts about potential outcomes. Really exciting but also really daunting as we're entering unknown territory. Let me know about what you think is most likely to happen in the party.