Comment: The Greens are Britain's first female political party

Matt Hawkins: The Green party has had two very strong female leaders
Matt Hawkins: The Green party has had two very strong female leaders

By Matt Hawkins

As a Green party supporter it can sometimes be frustrating to witness the way the press (often even the left-leaning section) write us out of political discussions. When lamenting the impasse from the major political parties on issues such the support for welfare or opposition to the rampant march of privatisation, the Green party rarely seems to warrant a mention – despite the fact that these policy areas are now deeply embedded in the party’s psyche.

Even the debate, sparked by Russell Brand's rallying cry on Newsnight, as to where we can look for a political alternative to the three mainstream parties has rarely included a mention of what the Green party has to offer.

Green coverage in mainstream media is often reliant on long exposés where the party takes on the form of an exotic animal. Brought out to be shown off to the curious crowds, the party is swiftly returned to its cage to await another outing, too ethereal and wild for day-to-day discussion 

This is surprising because, as Zoe Williams pointed out in her own exposé on the party for the Guardian, Green party policies are popular with the public. Support for the re-nationalisation of the railways is at 75%. Few people would oppose our commitment to the living wage or to defending and safeguarding our public health service.

Why, then, is the party rarely at the dinner table of political debate, instead occasionally brought along as the evening's entertainment? Perhaps it is because of the tendency to see political parties as if they have individual personalities. The Conservatives are patriarchal. Labour is two-faced: sometimes it's the trade union rep from the factory, others it's the intellectual bourgeois from the ivory towers. The Liberal Democrats are the awkward cousin who comes along for the ride. Ukip is the embarrassing uncle you know is bound to say something racist or sexist or both.

If political parties are treated like people then the Green party faces two potential problems.

Number one is the lack of an easily recognisable Green personality to draw upon within Britain's media. Rather than being defined by its persona, the party is largely defined by just one policy: its stance on the environment. If this is the assumption with which most journalists and readers work, it's not surprising Greens rarely feature in the news.

The second problem is that the personas of the other three parties are very male. Politics has traditionally been a male pursuit. Still today 78% of MPs have a Y-chromosome.

Hardly surprising then that the characterisations built to describe our longest-standing parties effuses these male characteristics.

The Green party though is different. It doesn't have the bullying fists of Ed Balls or the Bullingdon Club mentality of the Tories. Instead the party has had two very strong female leaders: currently Natalie Bennett and previously Caroline Lucas.

On to this distinctive party headship has been built a discrete political outlook. This is one that is brave in standing up to some of the apparent status quos of society - big business and the banks. It is aspiring in its belief that we can build an economy that uses resources fairly and responsibly and guarantees a decent quality of life for all. And it is courageous in its efforts to deal with the current crises that we face – environmental degradation, crippling inequality and falling wages. 

There is no pre-written script for this kind of outlook and no type-cast role for the party's leaders to play. This means the party is different – a good thing. But it also makes it harder to break into the established narrative. That's a shame because the issues the party focuses on and the solutions it offers have never been more relevant to the current political debate.

Matt Hawkins is a Green party activist who works in the charity sector.

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.


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