Over the past month the true start of the General Election campaign has commenced, with endless coverage of the fact that it is now less than 100 days to go until an unprecedented and unpredictable election and subsequent deal brokering between parties. Whilst much focus has been, understandably, on the two major parties, Labour and the Conservatives, it is widely believed that neither party will gain enough seats to form an outright majority and will therefore require coalition partners or supportive parties to form a government. Perhaps then the most intriguing aspect of the results from the election will be who the kingmakers will be. Perhaps the biggest unknown quantity in that debate is the Green Party.
The Greens won one seat five years ago in the Brighton Pavilion constituency with Caroline Lucas becoming their first MP. This year they are standing in over 75% of the constituencies and are targeting 12 seats claiming that around six are winnable. The growth of this party over the last few months is staggering. Membership of the party has exploded, doubling from 22,000 in October 2014 to over 44,000 today, making the Greens the fourth biggest UK party in terms of membership ahead of UKIP and the Lib Dems. Unfortunately this does not translate well to their polling numbers where they currently hold a national rating of 6%, just behind the Lib Dems, which is disappointing. I predict however their final vote share will be much higher than that for two main reasons.
First of all they have a golden opportunity to gain widespread coverage due to their inclusion in the televised debates. David Cameron claimed, when the broadcaster’s plan had not involved the Greens, to boycott the debates unless their participation was ensured. His threat has seemed to work, with Natalie Bennett, leader of the Greens, set to take part in two of the four debates. This will give her the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with her opponents and be presented as the one true protest party, which it seems people are desperate to find as disillusion at the political establishment continues to grow. Especially when her biggest rival for the title of protest party of choice is Nigel Farage whose effect will be limited due to his similar personality traits to the three major party leaders and his diatribe of anti-immigration beginning to sound unoriginal and dull.
Furthermore the Greens are succeeding in wooing the youth vote. They currently hold a 29% favourability rating in the 18-24 group, tied top with Labour, but perhaps the most important comparison is with the Lib Dems who hold a number of the seats they hope to win. In previous years the Lib Dems have been the party of choice for young people with their vows to scrap tuition fees and improve environmental policy, issues that are important to young people but with their involvement in the tripling of tuition fees and their inability to make any real positive impact on eco-policy their youth vote has been decimated; the same poll that had the Greens (and Labour) at 29% had the Liberal Democrat support from 18-24 year olds at 4%. It is Lib Dem held seats, mainly in university towns, where the Greens have the best chance at striking.
The Greens are therefore well placed to exceed expectations at the General Election and I believe they will win more seats than UKIP. Whether they hold enough seats to be one of two or even three coalition partners is unlikely but if support from the Conservatives, or more likely, Labour they may turn to the Greens; Bennett has stated that they will be unwilling to enter a formal coalition but will negotiate on a policy by policy basis, something that should enable an acceleration in green policy and other issues held by Green supporters. Beyond this year I also feel they are in a good position to accelerate away from UKIP as the largest ‘fringe’ party and have a chance at overtaking the Lib Dems as the third party in future years. The Green Party has truly arrived, and it is here to stay.