Whilst the politics junkie me reveled as ever in the level of coverage given to the party conference season, I must confess that this year I’ve found it strangely frustrating. Not the prospect of listening to the rapturous applause greeting the self-serving hypocrisy we’ve come to expect from the three major parties (this is a given), but disappointment at how the Greens have responded to this crucial element of the political calendar.
First things first. The Greens had a comparatively strong conference this year. The prospect of Caroline Lucas stepping down had the potential to draw away even the scant media coverage we receive, but the mature manner of her departure and a strong performance from Natalie Bennett in the national press during those important first few days of her leadership was encouraging. There is a unity amongst our activist base that other party leaders would kill for.
Yet politics is interactive. As much as each party conference is an opportunity for opinion-formers in the media to comment and challenge the new policies and visions floated by politicians, this is also the ideal space for Greens to hold opposition parties to account and to try and hijack dominant narratives with a more progressive roadmap for England and Wales. This isn’t easily achieved, even more so for a party who is used to a cold shoulder from the media, but this is the only time in the year we come even close to being treated with parity. Unfortunately, my perception is that it feels like we packed up after Bristol and left the other parties to slug it out for the last three weeks.
Of course, political success is built all year round, house by house, voter by voter. But we mustn’t underestimate that the headlines of party conference season do filter through to even the uninterested citizen. Ed Miliband’s new-found credibility as a potential Prime Minister, the right to ‘batter burglars’ and Boris-mania will continue to pick up steam in the public consciousness as we roll into the new parliamentary term.
I’m not suggesting that our Leadership has been silent in the last few weeks, but concentrating on GM foods, land use, nuclear power and visiting local Green parties (important though they undoubtedly are) send the wrong sort of message to the electorate about our priorities. Where is our plan to reduce the deficit? Where is our growth strategy, beyond investing in more green jobs? These issues are the only game in town right now and I had hoped we would be hammering our positions on these home at every opportunity, rather than spreading our energies thinly across familiar political comfort zones.
Our response to Chancellor George Osbourne’s speech on Monday on our national website reads more like a conversational blog Q&A rather than a costed, professional riposte to his economically-illiterate partisan rallying call to the Tory faithful. I’d recommend taking a look. It reasonably points out the flaws in a number of his announcements, but responds to them with a fantasy wish list of un-costed promises instead. I’m a fervent Green supporter who would cheer every idea, but after the fifth expensive pledge, I couldn’t take our ability to afford it seriously. Consider this alongside the ways in which the Conservatives are making hay out of Labour’s perceived spendthrift record and how damaging that perception remains with the electorate. Do we think as a smaller party, we aren’t having our financial probity queried by voters just as rigorously?
It feels like I’m being incredibly tough on the hard working colleagues who endeavoured to make our party conference and leadership launch a success. I’m not – I was impressed as ever with our event in Bristol and the media attention we gained, but I think that in future we need to put together a strategy for the whole party conference season, not just the four days we meet together. This means a responsive political strategy towards each of our competitors, to ensure we have a well-thought out line to any of the positions they seek to take at conference season. Perhaps we need to programme in some policy announcements to wrestle headlines in our direction whilst other parties are meeting too.
Other political parties do not politely vacate the public stage whilst others take their turn. It isn’t just enough to turn up to the conference season, we need to be aggressively elbowing our way forward to make the news over this month, so by mid-October, our platform is the most relevant to voters.
Previous blog posts on Green leadership:
- Under new management: what Natalie Bennett’s election means for the Greens
- What we need from the post-Lucas Green political leadership
- How can the Green Party break through?