Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters?


10:01 am - September 6th 2012

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contribution by Dr Matthew Goodwin

For political parties, the arrival of a new leader is often a catalyst for change. But as the relatively unknown Natalie Bennett will quickly find, the wider environment offers the Greens both problems and opportunities.

Like their counterparts in other Western democracies, over past decades the Greens have benefitted mainly from a broad process of value change that has seen more educated and secure citizens increasingly embrace progressive and post-material values, such as concern over the environment, human rights issues and economic equality.

The “Bennett strategy” appears to be anchored in appealing to social groups that have long supported the Greens while reaching into the ranks of disgruntled Liberal Democrat and also Labour voters: left-wing citizens who are concerned over a lack of economic equality, sceptical that a globalised economy can deliver prosperity for all and, more generally, are concerned about quality of life issues.

If this is the strategy, then Bennett is not wrong to target a combination of the disgruntled and more affluent wing of Labour and traditional Liberal Democrats. In fact, Green support has been traced to University towns and urban areas where the Lib Dems have tended to poll well, and also to middle-class areas in the south of England where there are large clusters of young and highly-educated citizens.

In contrast, the Greens would be making a strategic blunder were they to target those social groups who have suffered the most from the economic crisis, as these have never tended to vote Green.

This pattern of support differentiates the Greens from other minor parties, such as Respect that is strongest in more ethnically diverse and Muslim areas where there are high rates of unemployment, or the BNP that is strongest within working-class and mainly white enclaves that are close to more diverse areas.

But there is also a populist angle here, and one that Bennett would do well to push. The bonds between voters and the mainstream parties continue to weaken, while political distrust remains high. Amidst these broader changes minor parties have certainly drawn strength, with their share of the total vote at general elections rising from 3.8% in 2001, to 5.7% in 2005 and to 6.4% in 2010.

But there are specific opportunities here for the Greens, who unlike the BNP or UKIP appear as a more “acceptable home” for voters who are disillusioned with Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. Labour, argues Bennett, “just wants to cut a little more slowly than the coalition”.

Indeed, the Greens are on strong ground when talking about opposing the cuts, protecting benefits for those in need, revitalising the manufacturing sector and criticising the three main parties – but especially Labour that is a stable of potential Green voters- for failing to clamp down on tax havens and big business and bonus culture.

The task facing Bennett is to make this narrative both credible and clear. Voters are certainly receptive to a populist, anti-establishment strategy that also bangs on about a lack of progressive values and fairness in society.

Much will depend on whether Bennett can build on her predecessors by packaging the minor party as a credible and legitimate alternative. Further gains at the local and European level will be important to demonstrating that the Greens mean business.

While voters may be willing to hear about a “vision for radical change”, in the current climate they are unlikely to be won over by vague references to the need for greater investment in housing, jobs and renewable energy. But given the unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg, and Labour’s ongoing struggle to demonstrate economic competence, there is clearly enlarged space in the British party system for the Green vision.


Dr Matthew Goodwin is an Associate Professor at the School of Politics & International Relations, University of Nottingham

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Reader comments


“Dr Matthew Goodwin is an Associate Professor at the School of Politics & International Relations, University of Nottingham”

I do hope this article was not written when Dr Goodwin was being paid by the state and that he did not use any state-funded facilities for its production and dissemination.

And I’d same the same of any academic whatever their political views…

2. Chaise Guevara

I doubt many people will switch from Tory to Green. But they should be a natural home for disillusioned Lib Dem votes who don’t switch to Labour.

3. TorquilMacneil

“In contrast, the Greens would be making a strategic blunder were they to target those social groups who have suffered the most from the economic crisis, as these have never tended to vote Green.”

I wonder why that might be? Perhaps those people who have most suffered from this crisis, the poorest workers, have a good reason to think that the Greens would just make them poorer, that all their talk about ‘revitalising the manufacturing sector’ is cock and eyewash? Or are poor people just too dim to grasp these things?

Chaise, I’m not sure you’re right about Tory to Green given this in the OP:

“and also to middle-class areas in the south of England where there are large clusters of young and highly-educated citizens”.

5. Chaise Guevara

@ 4 Jack C

Same demographic, sure, but how likely does it sound that specific individuals are wavering between the throw-the-poor-on-the-scrapheap-and-tarmac-over-everything Tories and the let’s-have-lots-of-lovely-meadows-and-be-nice-to-everyone Greens? There aren’t many close borders between them.

I grew up in a middle-class area in the South (Surrey), and while the dominant party there is definitely the Tories, historically there’s been a lot of Lib Dem support too. That’s where I’d expect the Greens to make gains in the home counties.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 3 Torquil

“I wonder why that might be? Perhaps those people who have most suffered from this crisis, the poorest workers, have a good reason to think that the Greens would just make them poorer, that all their talk about ‘revitalising the manufacturing sector’ is cock and eyewash?”

A priori, I would expect poorer people to be more likely to vote based on their immediate needs. Combating climate change doesn’t really fall under that category for anyone in the UK.

“Or are poor people just too dim to grasp these things?”

That’s a silly question. You can’t assign one IQ to an entire income group.

7. TorquilMacneil

“A priori, I would expect poorer people to be more likely to vote based on their immediate needs. ”

Quite, so their assessment is that the Greens will make them poorer. I think they are right, but I doubt that the party will stand up and say it out loud. It makes all the anti-cuts rhetoric a waste of breath.

Chaise, I don’t know how likely it is, but do know that the young are far less aware of traditional labels.

There are areas of common ground:

a) Many Conservatives are livid about possible changes to planning permission. The Telegraph may do itself an injury on the subject.

b) Small c Conservatives and Greens are both inherently conservative (which doesn’t preclude having a progressive outlook on social matters).

c) Many may feel that the three main parties are past it, and/or totally objectionable.

@ Torquil: I agree that the poorest probably aren’t motivated by talk of climate change, but the Green Party aren’t only a party of environmentalism.

The party motto is “Fair is worth fighting for;” no mention of the environment and a heavy emphasis on social justice. Their manifestos and policy documents (http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/) continue the heavy emphasis on social justice, placing them quite far to the left of Labour.

In fact, the latest edition of the Green Party newsletter featured a piece advocating changing the party name to the Progressive-Green Alliance, to avoid the assumption that the Green Party are only about environmentalism or have nothing to offer the less well off.

Anecdotally: a couple of years ago, at a Green Party event, the subject of people’s political journeys came up. I was the only person there who wasn’t ex-Labour.

“left-wing citizens who are concerned over a lack of economic equality, sceptical that a globalised economy can deliver prosperity for all and, more generally, are concerned about quality of life issues.”

If so, the Greens are competing for ‘The Guardian’ vote….However, if ‘the environment’ is anything as a political issue, then it cuts across political boundaries…

3 points:

1. I have never seen why anyone should be concerned about economic inequality – when overall everyone grows richer. I live on a very modest income; but I do not envy those who earn mega-bucks. Yet I grow richer as those wealth-creators sacrifice their leisure, health…etc, as I can buy more and better things even on my limited income. —- Moreover, we could all very easily become much poorer if we were “more equal”. Funny, but the egalitarians never mention that!

2. Whether a globalised economy delivers more benefits over disbenefits is largely an empirical matter. So far the evidence is Yes. Would the Greens prefer that we in the UK consumed expensive UK-produced goods rather than consume cheap globally-produced goods? (This experiment was tried in the Soviet Union and failed. Socialist and non-consumerist societies fail because they don’t provide what people want.) Do they even know what ‘comparative advantage’ is?

3. Every political party in the UK is concerned with quality of life…

@ TONE: Read “The Spirit Level,” it completely refutes your first point.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jason Brickley

    Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? http://t.co/IBKx6OHh

  2. Matthew Goodwin

    Can the new Green Party strategy pay off? I've written a guest piece for @LibCon @theGreenParty #green http://t.co/jYZyCklb

  3. Warren Pearce

    Can the new Green Party strategy pay off? I've written a guest piece for @LibCon @theGreenParty #green http://t.co/jYZyCklb

  4. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? http://t.co/Zh4kMxkD

  5. sunny hundal

    Can Natalie Bennett’s "Green strategy" pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? http://t.co/xNjQezP1 / good Q by @goodwinmj

  6. Steve Hynd

    Can Natalie Bennett’s "Green strategy" pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? http://t.co/xNjQezP1 / good Q by @goodwinmj

  7. Ian wingrove

    Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/EvePs3Vz via @libcon

  8. Joluni

    RT @GoodwinMJ Can the new Green Party strategy pay off? I've written a guest piece for @LibCon @theGreenParty #green http://t.co/lenjfJtP

  9. Jenny Jones

    Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/EvePs3Vz via @libcon

  10. Michael Edwards

    Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/EvePs3Vz via @libcon

  11. David McQueen

    Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/EvePs3Vz via @libcon

  12. Bill Linton

    Can Bennett’s Green strategy pay off with former Libdem and Labour voters? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/EvePs3Vz via @libcon

  13. Charlie Kiss

    Seems odd to say don't target those who would benefit from policies – The working class. Author wrong @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/XbyI65iG /

  14. Matthew Goodwin

    With @EconBritain looking at potential for the Greens, just how would the minor party make gains? http://t.co/5pkcJhYp @sunny_hundal

  15. sunny hundal

    With @EconBritain looking at potential for the Greens, just how would the minor party make gains? http://t.co/5pkcJhYp @sunny_hundal

  16. Phil Randal

    With @EconBritain looking at potential for the Greens, just how would the minor party make gains? http://t.co/5pkcJhYp @sunny_hundal

  17. Mohammad

    With @EconBritain looking at potential for the Greens, just how would the minor party make gains? http://t.co/5pkcJhYp @sunny_hundal

  18. Mark Robertson

    With @EconBritain looking at potential for the Greens, just how would the minor party make gains? http://t.co/5pkcJhYp @sunny_hundal

  19. Sophia C Botha

    http://t.co/bbULF4u5 this is exactly the strategy I've been advocating the #GreenParty should take in appealing to disgruntled lefties etc ,





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