Thursday, 29 May 2014

If the Green party has the best policies, why does hardly anyone vote for them?


According to the Vote for Policies website, the Green party has by far the best range of policies.

Over 400,000 people have taken the survey in which they must pick their favourite policy out of a range of six without knowing which parties they come from. It isn't a completely blind survey because in some categories it is fairly easy to identify the policies of a particular party (the BNP on immigration, the Green Party on the environment ...), but it is very good, and it's about as close to a properly blind political policy survey as it is possible to do.


The Green party policies have been picked as the best over 25% of the time, with Labour in second with just over 20%, the Lib Dems 3rd (17%) The Tories 4th (15%) UKIP fifth (12%) and the BNP last (10%).

Of the 9 categories in the survey, Green party policies have been judged the best in 4 of them (health, education, crime, environment) and second best in 4 more (economy, welfare, immigration, democracy). The only category in which they weren't judged as one of the two best out of six was Europe, where they were judged 4th best.

In order to put this into perspective a little, it is interesting to note how unpopular the policies of UKIP were. They finished 3rd in one category (economy), 4th in another (welfare) and 5th in all of the other 7 categories.

In a blind "tasting" the Greens romped to victory, and a small minority of people picked the UKIP policies as the best. However in the 2014 European elections the pattern was reversed and UKIP were the ones that romped to victory, whilst the Green party came in 4th, marginally ahead of the politically toxic Lib Dems.

This huge disparity between the quality of policies and the performances in elections is very interesting, and it raises an important question. If people aren't voting for political parties based on the quality of their policies, what are the reasons they are voting for them?

In my view two of the most common reasons people vote for parties are habit and media coverage.

Habitual voters, who always vote for the same party no matter what, make up a significant proportion of the voting public. There are millions and millions of die-hard Tory and Labour voters all over the UK. In former industrial areas you could stick a red rosette on a donkey and it would win a landslide victory. Even if David Cameron killed, dismembered and ate a baby live on television, there are Tory heartlands that would still vote for him in droves, simply because he is a Tory.

There's little that can be done to change the voting habits of habitual voters, because to them politics is like football. They have their team which they will support through fair weather and foul, and it doesn't matter how much better another team might be playing at any given time, they're sticking with their own team rather than switching allegiances and supporting the best team (glory supporting).


The role of the mainstream media in this is very important. The pre-election blanket coverage of UKIP played a decisive role in their success in the European elections. It's frankly amazing that of all of this blanket coverage, barely any of it related to what UKIP's policies actually are. It is also amazing that UKIP went into this election without a proper manifesto and actually won it. It just goes to show how little value people put on policy when a party without a proper manifesto can win an election outright.

I did my best to redress the balance by asking what the UKIP policies are on hugely important issues like the NHS and TTIP, but just a few tens of thousands of people read my articles, and the mainstream media were too busy marveling at the UKIP circus to bother asking any serious questions. Reams of coverage focused on the ridiculous antics of the Ukipper fruitcakes, and when it did come down to policy, the media tended to present Nigel Farage and his UKIP colleagues with an open goal by limiting the discussion to the issue of Europe.



In my view UKIP were helped to success by the media because the media knows that the UKIP circus is "click-bait". The reason that the Greens did so poorly, despite having the best manifesto from an objective point of view, is that they were more-or-less completely ignored by the mainstream media as boring stuff that nobody will click on.

Even when it came to election results night and it became clear that the Green party had leapfrogged the Liberal Democrats into 5th place, the mainstream media cut them out of the coverage by lumping them into the grey column with "others". UKIP winning the election was obviously the big story of the night, but the Lib Dems finishing in fifth behind the Greens was surely a noteworthy story, worth a little bit of coverage.


Things got even worse in the aftermath of the election when BBC Newsnight hosted a debate on "four party politics", in which the party that finished fourth in the election was excluded from the debate and replaced with a representative of the party that finished fifth!

It is absolutely clear that the Green party is not going to get a fair deal of coverage from the mainstream press, so that makes it doubly important that they do something drastic with their social media policy. Let's put it this way. I am a just a bloke from Yorkshire and I've got more Facebook followers than the Green Party page, and more than twice as many people have been talking about my stuff as theirs - in the week of their most important election in the electoral cycle!

I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet and brag about my statistics, I'm trying to say that if I can achieve this on my own with no financial backers, no massive team of volunteers, no graphic design team, no public relations officer, no policy unit ... then the Green Party is clearly doing something wrong.

The Green party has made a few small but significant strides in recent years. They have 3 MEPs, a wonderfully honest and hard working MP (Caroline Lucas), two members of the London Assembly, minority control of Brighton council, and they form the official opposition in Liverpool, Norwich and Solihull. They have good policies that people really like when they don't know that they come from the Green party, and they have a core of very dedicated activists.

The problem is that they simply aren't managing to reach out to people, mainly because the mainstream media bias against them.

Instead of complaining to the BBC about their blatantly biased coverage, the Green party needs to engage alternative strategies. The old world of traditional media still dominates now, but the party that really figures out the new world of social networking and independent bloggers is going to be at a distinct advantage in the future.

That it is the Green's only only chance to ensure that as many people as possible actually get to hear what they have got to offer right now, makes it that much more important that they do something drastic with their social media policy as a matter of urgency.



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