Tuesday, 14 October 2014

12 reasons the Green Party should be included in the leaders' debates


On October 13th 2014 it was announced that the UKIP leader Nigel Farage would be invited to join the pre-election leaders' debates, and that the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, and the leaders of several other non-traditional parties would be excluded.

In this article I'm going to spell out twelve reasons why the Green Party should be included in the debate.

The European Election results

The fact that UKIP won the most votes in the 2014 European elections has been used as one of the main justifications for allowing UKIP into the leaders' debate. I actually agree that UKIP should be there because of their strong performance in the European elections. However it must be remembered that the Green Party finished with more votes than the Liberal Democrats, and returned three MEPs to the the one remaining Lib -Dem MEP (which is a fact you probably wouldn't even know if you relied only on the mainstream media for your political news).

If the results of the European elections are to be considered as an important factor in the decision about which parties are represented, then the fact that the Green Party managed to outperform the Liberal Democrats, despite the appalling lack of mainstream media coverage they received prior to the election, must also be taken into consideration.

The results of the European elections draw a clear picture of a five party system in England, where the Green Party are the fourth most popular party by some distance ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Using the European election results to justify the inclusion of UKIP, without also using them as a justification for the inclusion of the Green Party too reeks of double standards.

MPs

It seems no coincidence at all that UKIP were invited to the pre-election debates within a week of them winning their first MP, however the Greens also have an MP. Caroline Lucas won her seat in Brighton Pavillion in the 2010 General Election through sheer hard work and dedication to the Green Party cause. The turnout was 70%, so nobody can accuse her of fluking the result on a low turnout.

The way UKIP won their seat was by poaching an MP off a rival party and then winning the protest vote on a low by-election turnout of just 51%. The idea that a guy who was a Tory party politician until two months ago is equivalent to someone who has put an enormous amount of work into building support for their party for decades is totally ludicrous.

When a long-term UKIP supporter wins a seat at a General Election, then they can perhaps contest that their MP is equivalent to Caroline Lucas. But until then, it is clear to anyone that no number of turncoat Tory backbenchers could have the same legitimacy as someone who has actually won a seat for their party at a General Election.

Party Membership

The Greens have experienced a large surge in party membership since the turn of the year. The Green Party of England and Wales has experienced a 45%+ increase in party membership in ten months, and the Scottish Green Party have seen an incredible growth in membership in the same period, from a little over 1,000 members in December 2013 to over 7,000 members in October 2014.

If this undeniable surge in support for the Green Party continues at a similar rate until the next election, it is entirely conceivable that they will overtake the Liberal Democrats in terms of party membership, especially since the Lib Dems have lost 33% of their own members since the decision to jump into bed with the Tories in 2010.

Although this article is about the case for Green Party representation in the debates, the huge surge in membership of the Scottish National Party to over 80,000 (making them the third largest party in the whole UK by a significant margin, despite only standing candidates in Scotland, which has only 8% of the electorate) is a strong argument that the SNP should be represented too.

Local government

In terms of local government, UKIP and the Green Party have both been increasing their representation, however one thing differentiates them, and that is the fact that the Green Party actually run a council.

Admittedly Brighton council is a minority administration, which has made it so much easier for the Tories and Labour to collude in undermining them at every move, but this means that unlike UKIP the Green Party have some real experience of actually governing somewhere.

If local government is to be considered a factor for inclusion in debates, the fact that the Green Party actually runs a council has to count strongly in their favour.

The London Assembly

    
The Green party is the 3rd biggest party on the London Assembly. They only have two seats due to the only partially proportional nature of the London Assembly electoral system, but they picked up significantly more votes in the 2012 election (189,215) than the Liberal Democrats (150,447) who also won two seats. UKIP has no representation at all on the London assembly.

The Scottish Parliament

Once again UKIP has no representation in the Scottish parliament, whilst the Green Party have two MSPs thanks to 87,060 votes in the 2011 Scottish election, making them the fifth party in Scotland. UKIP on the other hand finished with no MSPs at all after attracting only 18,138 votes and being pushed down to 8th position by The Scottish Senior Citizens Party and the independent candidates.

Given the sea change in Scottish politics as a result of the 2014 Independence referendum, it is inconceivable that the Scottish Greens won't surge past the Liberal Democrats in the next Scottish parliament election, and, given the exponential increase in support they've experienced, it's even a possibility that they could leapfrog the Tory party to become the third party in Scottish politics by 2016, behind only the SNP and Labour.

Opinion Polls

Lots of UKIP supporters have tried to defend the inclusion of UKIP in the pre-election debates by highlighting opinion polls which place UKIP as the third most popular party. It is equally possible to dig out opinion polls in which the Green Party are vying with the Liberal Democrats for fourth place at around 6/7% of the vote.

Although I don't think that popularity in opinion polls should be considered a major factor in whether parties are represented in pre-election debates, the fact that so many people are pointing to the opinion poll popularity of UKIP as a factor that supersedes the fact that the Green Party, UKIP and several other parties all just have just one MP, then the fact that the Greens have been vying with the Lib Dems for fourth place must also be taken into consideration.
 

Social Media

In my view judging whether a party should be included in the pre-election debates based on their popularity on social media is as silly as using opinion polls as a justification.

It is worth noting however, that The Green Party have more followers on Twitter than either UKIP or the Liberal Democrats.

It is also worth noting that the Green Party (25,900*) have more than three times as many Facebook interactions as the Liberal Democrats (8,600), and they're rapidly catching them up in terms of total followers too (which is actually a much less important factor on Facebook than the number of active users as measured by interactions).

The Green Party also have more interactions than the official Conservative Facebook page too (23.200), illustrating the Facebook principle that active organic followers are much more useful than inactive paid-for-likes.

                   
The Youth Vote


I believe that it is of fundamental importance that more effort is made to engage the youth vote. The fact that the 18-24 demographic has become ever more apathetic over the generations is a big problem for anyone who believes in the value of participatory democracy, because the youth of today always become the adults of tomorrow, as the older demographics edge towards the retirement from political participation that tends to come with death. 

The Green Party are significantly more popular than UKIP with the 18-24 age group. It depends which measures you use, but they're either vying with the Liberal Democrats for third place according to the polls, or they've already overtaken them in terms of young people who are committed enough to actually become party members.
Whether we class the Green Party as the third party amongst the youth vote or not, what can't be contested is that denying the youth vote representation from a party they're more keen on than UKIP is a surefire way to disengage them from politics, and teach them that their own political concerns are irrelevant.

The exclusion of the Greens from the debate, despite the fact their youth membership has more than doubled in just one year, could even be portrayed as a deliberate attempt to "nip this problem in the bud" 
 by ruling them out of the debate before the Greens become "too popular"

In order to believe any such theory, you'd have to suspect that someone behind the decision to exclude them from the debate had an intense loathing of the Green Party and the left-wing / libertarian policies they promote.

Rupert Murdoch

       

One of the bodies behind the decision to invite Nigel Farage, but not the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett to the debate was Sky TV, which is part of Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire.

The other bodies involved in the decision were ITV, Channel Four and the BBC, all of which have been guilty of downplaying, or simply ignoring the Green Party too.

It is no secret that Rupert Murdoch loathes the Green agenda, is sceptical about climate change and has nothing but contempt for the left-wing social democratic agenda promoted by the Green Party. 


It is absolutely clear that Murdoch would object to Green Party involvement out of disagreement with their policies of renationalisation of the rail network and energy companies, their radical proposals for financial sector reform and their determination to overcome the scourge of absolute poverty for once and for all through what would be the biggest benefits reform in history. All of these policies go against the ideological dogma of neoliberalism that he has so successfully promoted using his vast media empire.

Another of the many reasons that Murdoch loathes the Green Party is the fact that their leaders never suck up to him by posing in demeaning publicity shots for his newspaper, or attending private off-record meetings with him, as the leaders of the four chosen parties have all done time and again.

In my view the decision about which political parties are are barred from pre-election debates should lie with an independent body, and there is absolutely no way that a foreign media mogul, who has far to much influence over our media and our political system already, should have any influence over the decision whatever. 


Political plurality

I'm massively in favour of political plurality. The more different viewpoints the better as far as I'm concerned, and the party that would do most to increase political plurality in the leaders' debates would clearly be the Green Party, not UKIP.

Not only do the Green Party offer UKIP's main selling point with their commitment to a referendum on membership of the EU, they also offer a much more radical policy portfolio than any of the other parties. Their proposals on reform of the monetary system, renationalisation of state infrastructure and Universal Basic Income are not offered by any of the other parties.

It's unclear whether UKIP plan to offer free university tuition like the Green Party. And given the haphazard nature of their policy making, it's very unlikely that any such proposals would be costed like the ones in the longstanding and evolving Green Party manifesto. The Green Party are a serious political outfit with longstanding policies that don't just get dumped in the bin when their leader describes their entire manifesto as "drivel" and admits that he never even bothered to read it in the first place!

Nigel Farage would certainly add a bit of personality interest to the debate, but in offering a genuine anti-austerity agenda, and several unorthodox policies, Natalie Bennett would add a lot of interest to the debate for those who see policy as more important than personality.

Without the Green Party, the debate is just going to feature four parties that subscribe to almost indistinguishable variants of pro-austerity neoliberalism ranging from Ed Miliband's sickening brew of toxic right-wing economics and pseudo-socialist sweeteners to disguise the filthy taste, through to Nigel Farage's brand of "keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive" neoliberal militancy.

The most popular policies
 

According to blind tests conducted by the Vote For Policies website, the Green Party have by far the most popular policies, winning in four categories, and appearing in the top two out of all but two of the nine policy areas.

The fact that the Green Party have been excluded from the pre-election debates provides a clear and unequivocal answer to the question of why so few people vote for the Green Party when they have the best policies by such a significant margin, using the most objective measure available.

The answer is that there is a deliberate media blackout is going on, to deny publicity to the party with the most popular policies because, unlike UKIP, they actually present a serious alternative to the Westminster establishment, instead of a party completely bankrolled by ex-Tory donors, and offering nothing but a more extreme version of more of the same.



Conclusion - What we can do?

This is a petition on 38 Degrees for the Green Party and other smaller parties to be included in the pre-election debates.

There is another petition on 38 Degrees calling for an end to the deliberate media blackout on the Green Party.

This is the link for complaining to the BBC over their part in the decision to exclude the Green Party from the debate and/or their general bias against the Green Party.

We can make sure to share social media content from the Green Party, the Scottish Greens and other parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru, in order to try to counterbalance the bias of the mainstream media, and ensure that as many people as possible are informed about the policies of the non-traditional parties the mainstream media are clearly intent on denying coverage to.

Joining the Green Party is another option. There are well over a million Green Party voters out there, so if just a small proportion of them joined the party in order to help them fight back against the hostility of the mainstream media, the Green Party would soon overtake the Liberal Democrats in terms of party membership. The additional bonus in joining the Green Party is that you could try to influence their policies, which is possible because, despite the Lib-Dem lies to the contrary, the Green Party have by far the most democratic structure, where all members have the right to vote on party policy. Here's the link to join the Green Party of England and Wales, and here's the link to join the Scottish Green Party.


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Footnotes
* = Combined total for the Green Party of England and Wales and the Scottish Greens.
UPDATE: A poll conducted by Channel 4 (one of the parties that made the decision to bar the Green party from the debates) found that the Green Party are the second most popular party with 16-24 year olds, adding further credence to the idea that the decision to exclude the Greens was a deliberate attempt to further marginalise the youth vote by barring their second favourite party from the debate.




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