In recent weeks, a massive surge in membership saw the Green Party overtake both UKIP and the Lib Dems, signing up 13,247 new members in just one week. If the current rate of growth continues, membership figures will overtake the Tories by the middle of March, and Labour by May. Although those who are members of a political party represent only 1 per cent of voters, this is a massive boost for the Greens, which will make it increasingly hard to continue to exclude them from televised debates.
The Independence Referendum arguably began this shake up of British politics. The campaign saw a massive surge in political involvement; thousands of people registered to vote, never having done so before, and SNP membership increased by 300 per cent.
For the first time in a generation, people felt like their vote would influence the future of the country. Post–referendum, we continue to see this feeling. Parties like the Greens, the SNP and UKIP are now posing a real threat to the three main parties, who become increasingly similar and distrusted.
The Greens have recently combated the idea that they are a one policy party, with their manifesto including raising the minimum wage to £10, cutting public transport costs and renationalising the railways.
These are exactly the kind of anti–austerity policies that the public want after the drastic cuts to public services which are still ongoing. For a long time, left-wing commentators have been saying that to win both confidence and votes, Miliband needs to offer more radical policies. Now the Greens have done just that, and it has proved very successful.
The Greens’ other attraction is that they provide an antidote to UKIP on the right. Their surge in popularity mirrors that of UKIP, creating a strong left-wing alternative that was needed to fill the gap. Without them, the whole of British politics would become undeniably dragged right-of-centre. Most Green voters tend to be younger people, and in a changing world in which politics is driven by social media, it is unsurprising that they have become so popular. Over 260,000 people signed the online petition calling for Natalie Bennett to be included in the leadership debates.
The Greens are currently given very little coverage in the media, which perpetuates the idea that their only policies are environment-based and prevents them from becoming major players. Including the Greens in the debates will allow their popularity to continue to increase, giving them the chance to reach a wider audience and set themselves up as the left-wing alternative for voters disillusioned with Labour.
Ultimately, this surge in popularity is not sustainable. The Green party will not win the election in May, and it’s doubtful that they will win many more seats across the country. However, if people start to believe that their vote counts, stop voting cynically to try and stop someone else getting in, and instead vote for the party they actually want, there is potential for real, meaningful political change in coming years.