[Reposted from my Green Party column at The Yorker]
You’d be forgiven for thinking amid all the hype about UKIP that the Greens had dissolved as a party and headed to the pub to drown our sorrows.
But the striking thing about the council election results is that though a certain hard-right protest party has crept ahead of the Greens in terms of councillor numbers – though not by much – the Greens remain distinctly the constant fourth party in British politics.
The party made some real breakthroughs, and continued a steady march towards becoming a major force, stepping on to councils in Essex, Cornwall, Kent, Surrey, Devon and Warwickshire for the first time. And on Warwickshire County Council, the Greens not only won extra representation, but kicked out the Tory council leader by several hundred votes. That’s what it’s all about folks – a definite highlight of the political year. The York Young Greens’ youthful counterparts won seats in Bristol and Oxford, too
Our reach is spreading, setting us up for next year’s European elections, where a mere 2% swing could see the Greens tripling our number of MEPs from two to six. Easily achievable – especially after this election extending the Green hand to previously untouched areas, and continuing the rapid conversion of the West Midlands to a Green heartland.
So what do this week’s council elections show? Aside from a new presence on six councils, and a net gain of five seats, it shows the Green Party message of sustainable and local economies is getting through in these tough times. It shows that our message of a Living Wage for all is speaking to people whose wages have stagnated over the past 30 years under a failed neoliberal economic model. Our opposition to austerity and its ramifications – cuts, privatisation, outsourcing, reduced public services – is resonating. The party’s growth is steady – unlike UKIP’s flash-in-the-pan anti-politics which could fade now that they hold the balance of power in some councils.
The Green Party now has 141 principal authority councillors. Yet the coverage of our successes has been dismal. Why? Well, the party itself is less sensational than a collection of EDL-supported candidates and conspiracy theorists rising from seemingly nowhere. But beneath that, there’s a sense that the largely right-wing media have reasons not to fall in love with us like they have the party of the public-school educated stockbroker’s-son Nigel Farage.
So the Greens have to work much harder than the anti-immigration lot do to get a positive front page in the Daily Express or the Sun. But if we wanted their endorsements, we wouldn’t be the party we are. And that’s something to be proud of. A party without wealthy ex-Tory backers, without xenophobic rhetoric, and without ecstatic tabloid coverage is gaining ground, slowly but surely. The real fourth party of British politics – one that actually has an MP – is, possibly unlike UKIP, here to stay. And with a positive message of social and environmental justice, the Green Party’s steady growth is potentially unstoppable.