What Obama’s success teaches Greens about claiming our political ground

images-1So there we have it. Progressives en masse can now exhale.  Barack Obama was re-elected to the US Presidency.  I took yesterday off work so that I could stay up and watch the coverage throughout the night. As the count for each State was counted, dissected and announced I really got a sense of the political and ideological gulfs that exist across the USA and consequently more of an appreciation of how one individual must seek to paint a coherent narrative that speaks across those differences. Whatever our views of their respective politics (and believe me, I could critique Romney all day), you have to admire their ability to craft a message that survives so much partisan scrutiny.

The secret of this success lay in the creation of a high-level aspirational narrative for the country, coupled with a small handful of distinctive, realistic political choices that only your party would take. As Obama proved, this essential bedrock is nothing unless backed up with a serious ground-operation to saturate local communities with your message and to nurture previous and potential voters.

I’m heartened to already see that under our new leadership, there are signs that many of these lessons are being taken to heart by the Green Party. Only yesterday, I received an email from our Internal Communications bulletin filled to the rafters with information encouraging members across England and Wales to engage in a large number of individual campaigns taking place over the next fortnight. In the past, the odd mention of a key campaign target might be showcased, but it was really inspiring to see even the smallest ward by-elections being championed. Even small organisational changes like this matter, because they underscore to smaller parties that they are valued and essential partners in our journey to political success, whilst costing us nothing. Much as we might raise a sceptical eyebrow to the ‘nudge’ agenda, for a political party operating on financial fumes, it doesn’t hurt to take that methodological lens to how we could function more effectively.

On the wider narrative, since our leadership election there has been continuity with the social justice agenda espoused under Caroline Lucas’s tenure as Leader, but with a welcome deepening of our stance from merely calling for a Green New Deal, important though this continues to be.  Recent concentration on the provision of affordable housing, living wage and energy definitely speaks to the bread and butter issues facing voters. Interestingly, these issues are now making their way onto the agenda of other political parties, including Labour and even Boris Johnson.

For politicians such as Obama, operating in an effectively two-party political system, it is easier to differentiate and take ownership of particular policy platforms. Operating in a much denser political marketplace, we need to ask ourselves how we handle the appropriation of our policies by others. Practically, I am pleased that we are being able to force the centre of political gravity away from the right, but for the longer-term credibility of our party, we need to find ways in which our fingerprints can be made visible on mainstream political trends. Otherwise our role within contemporary politics will remain that of donating a progressive sheen to the discredited mainstream.

I have my own thoughts on how we can achieve this, but it would be interesting to hear what others think. How do we craft an authoritative voice to take ownership of policies in a broadly indifferent media environment?


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