Class is back in politics. Or at least that is what the media has been telling us, after an attack on the out-of-touch ‘posh boys’ David Cameron and George Osborne from backbench Tory MP Nadine Dorries this week.
Whilst Dorries remains a divisive and marginal figure, her attack has crystallised a view of the party leadership that has begun to resonate both within the Westminster village and in the broader public. After several years of taking class out of contention as an issue in politics, the fiercely partisan recent budget and the reveal of improperly close relationships between business and the Tories has taken a toll. The public is increasingly less trusting of Cameron’s ability to appreciate and champion their problems.
Yet the pattern here isn’t anything new. When times are prosperous, the background of those in charge has always remained broadly irrelevant to voters. As the standard of living tightens and people either lose or become very focused upon job security, expectations always rise steeply that politicians feel and communicate that anxiety.
As an issue, it is something that threatens Greens too. In spite of the rapid transformation of the Greens into a force for social justice in the last few years, this change has not translated itself obviously amongst the outwardly facing frontbench of the party or the appearance of our priorities.
In part this is a result of our inability to invest time into creating a democratically-elected cadre of front-line politicians operating as a shadow cabinet. In our knee-jerk refusal to ape the existing parties, we have missed a trick in not having a representative face to the public. (It also goes without saying that we remain a muddy prospect for those approaching us with media enquiries)
Our existing elected leadership, whilst not anywhere in the same league as the millionaires littering the Cabinet, I’m afraid still does portray a very middle-class worldview, both in the manner and subject matter they choose to talk about. Much as Greens don’t like to admit it, the issues that exercise our members are still seen largely as to the side of the public’s political centre of gravity.
Here I will be blunt. The Green Party has spent the last twenty plus years talking about environmentalism and sustainability, yet when we receive our pitifully small amount of media air time, never fail to run back to the safe embrace of these topics. Not only does it betray a lack of confidence in our platform outside familiar comfort zones, but it screams to the majority of voters that our priorities are miles away from those struggling in society. Even when we try to link things like the Green New Deal and employment, it feels like we’re only tackling one small part of the employment issue.
At this stage, I think it’s safe to say we have cornered the electoral market on environmental issues. However, by not having them as an integral part of a broader political vision, this achievement is undone by the sense that these policies are a fantasy wish-list. We need to shake off the view that Greens are the ultimate political dilettantes, because it is this that will ultimately alienate more completely than whether someone is too posh.
What should we be doing?
- Putting pressure on the Green Party Executive to reform the Party Spokespeople selection process as a matter of urgency so that we start building a more diverse and rounded frontbench.
- Engaging in the upcoming Leader and Deputy Leader elections in September to both apply pressure to existing post-holders and other candidates to respond to the needs of the struggling majority of voters and put their needs at the heart of the party.
- Local parties and activists should be immersing themselves in campaign coalitions with community organisations that work upon bread and butter issues around job creation, standard of living and housing issues.
- Challenge our elected politicians in the Houses of Parliament, the European Parliament and the Greater London Authority to make inequality their number one priority in campaign working for the foreseeable future