The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Why I think the Green Party should change its name

Clifford Fleming explains why the Green Party’s low support level could largely be a result of its name

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The Green Party are approaching their fortieth birthday. Over those forty years they’ve seen slow, but steady, growth across the country. In 2010 the country elected its first Green MP, Caroline Lucas in the city of Brighton. The Green Party now has two MEPs, a new leader (Natalie Bennett), many councillors, and even came third in the last elections for the London Assembly, pushing the Liberal Democrats into fourth.

But here’s the issue: there is an increasingly large gap in left-wing British politics and with the Green Party’s left-wing stance and policies, they should be doing better.

The British Labour Party in the 1990s took a radical step in modernisation under their re-brand, creating the centrist party of New Labour. This not only moved their politics to the right, but it amassed a huge amount of publicity and attention in the media (not to discount Tony Blair’s charisma). The idea of the re-brand was to communicate the modernization of the Labour Party, put forward a strong opposition to the lack-lustre Conservatives under Prime Minister John Major, and build up solid party-line rhetoric through the creation of a high-ranking communications leadership. Why did they do it? Over the previous twenty years of the 1970s and 1980s, the Labour Party looked increasingly unelectable due to their negative brand image. Many of the public had an image of the Labour Party in their head of a party that couldn’t handle the Unions and couldn’t get the country on its feet. By changing their name and re-branding Labour was re-born with an entirely new public perception.

That is the thing you see, public perception is hugely important in politics. The Conservative Party in the late 2000s desperately tried to update their image under a re-brand, but they didn’t change their name. Come 2010, even with a flailing Labour Party, they still couldn’t win the election out-right. Many of the public still have a clear image in their head of what they think the Conservative Party means – Thatcherism. It can be incredibly difficult for a party to distance themselves from the publicly-perceived mistakes of the past.

My proposal to the Green Party is simple – change your name and re-brand.

Many will argue that it comes from the ground-work; it comes from the hard work of every member in the party talking to the public to change their image. My point is this – you are forgetting the impact that the media has on British politics. What the media say about you matters, and it matters a lot! People may give the example of UKIP in how to build
up a media presence, but the problem here lies in that UKIP often pander to prejudices, especially the prejudices against the ‘foreigner’. I definitely would not condone this of any political party. Even though UKIP stand for far more than anti-immigration (including the fact they are the own libertarian party), their media personality has become that of the
British man condemning the outside World, and they are doing so well because in politics these days only the people who have strong opinions actually vote.

Re-naming the Green Party could ground their roots in the left of politics. A re-brand would encourage new public thinking beyond the perception of the tree-hugging environmentalist. A re-brand would also give the party the best possible bet of media coverage, and the best possible bet of more votes. Most people in the country don’t look up what policies political parties offer. What most people do is get their ballot card and vote, for who they think, from the media coverage, is the least rubbish. If the Green Party want people to think of them beyond the tree-hugger a re-name would help. The fact that the party stands for the nationalisation of public goods like the railways and have equality-based policies such as the Citizen’s Income (where everyone in society would receive a basic income from the state) are very left-wing policies indeed. Do people think of the Green Party as left-wing? Not generally.

The Green Party need to establish their roots in left-wing politics whilst the field is left open. A Labour Student may disagree with me and argue that the Labour Party is the true left-wing, socialist party. I’m sure their national heads of communication, however, would be moving very uncomfortably under these ideas. Centrist politics is the consensus now; pragmatism, the markets and choice. I’m sure even under Red Ed (Miliband) wouldn’t argue for a re-nationalisation of railways or a move towards more state provision and state ownership. The road to 2015 starts now for all of the parties in the UK and it’s time for the Green Party to capitalise on their left-wing beliefs and re-name and re-brand!

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  • Thomas Glasser

    Hey Clifford, I don’t think they should change it. The Green Party in Germany enjoys a lot of success and I think that’s due to an ever-rising awareness in environmental issues; something which the ‘Green Party’ can benefit a lot from. And they’re definitely not regarded as a hippy bunch. It sounds like a platitude, but I think the challenge still lies with getting the message across. And, like you said, showing that Greens can wear suits.

    • Clifford

      The Green Party in Germany enjoys success due to high industrialization and PR voting system. We have neither here, so it’s a completely different game. The Green Party in UK hugely lack funds from business, donors and unions, and massively lack appeal often due to being seen as a ‘one-issue’ party. I agree that a grass roots re-brand through hard-work campaigning will help, but won’t change a generations perception of the Greens as ‘tree-huggers’. Also it forgets the impact of the media, which is hugely important

  • Simon

    The “green” in green party is a link to the historical and international roots of the party: Green politics. Green politics incorporate left wing ideas but nevertheless remains distinct from left wing ideologies. I would worry that a name change risks marginalising the other elements of green politics.

    Moreover, if the green party believes that capitalising on their “left wing” policies is a good strategic move I don’t think that a name change will help. It will take a long time (and a lot of energy) to convince a lot of grass roots members and will piss a lot of them off. Ultimately this will damage party cohesion and divert efforts better used elsewhere. Secondly, the green party has a (relatively) established brand with a left wing flavour. Trying to rebuild this from scratch will take more time and energy. I think it would be better to build on the image that already exists.

    • Jack Filmore

      YES! You are so very right here!

  • Anon

    “That is the thing you see, public perception is hugely important in politics”.

    Cheers for that.

    Renaming the Green Party would smack of desperation, and you’d acquire a reputation as a shallow party who are more of a brand than a political force. If you don’t think the ‘Green’ is strong enough, then you imply that your policies are even weaker. Politics is more complicated than branding.

    • Clifford

      Problem is this – on blind policy polls we always come out top. Our policies are great, with a vast number of people supporting them. Yet why is it that people agree on policies but don’t vote Green? Perception and public image.

      • Simon

        “on blind policy polls we always come out top” As far as I am aware the green party came out top in one blind policy poll that was only online, spread primarily through social media. I would suggest that that was the result of selection bias.

        • Clifford

          selection bias or not, 24% of 322,000 votes is a lot better than Greens in reality do!

          • Simon

            What I am saying is that the greens probably poll that high (approximately) amongst the type of people likely to take part in that survey (young, affluent, politically engaged). The poll doesn’t reach core labour/conservative/UKIP/BNP voters.

            • Jack Filmore

              I think you’re probably right there Simon, however, I recall seeing a similar ‘vote for policies’ survey website for the US elections, and reading the comments, a consistent type of comment emerged much along the lines of “my result came out as Jill Stein (Green Party), who the hell is she??”, people want to vote Green, they just don’t know it haha, to there is certainly a discrepancy between popularity of Green policies and knowledge about them. The answer, I think, is to publicise Green policies more, not re-brand the Party.

  • RobW

    I’m a Labour supporter, but I recently did that “vote for policies” quiz and, while mostly matched with Labour, on Health and Education I agreed more with the Greens. I also support their stance on renationalising utilities and transport. The issue is that there are a lot of things that I also disagree with them on. A lot of their policies seem utopian and unrealistic, especially, ironically enough, their environmental policies. I want to reduce carbon emissions, boost recycling, protect the green belt and massively reduce dependance on oil and fossil fuels, but, while I support renewable energy, I am also pro-nuclear power, as I think wind and solar alone is unlikely to be able to meet demand for generating electricity on its own.

    Also, while I support investment in jobs and infrastructure as a way to stimulate the economy, the Green Party plans seem expensive and, in some ways, remind me of the Lib Dem promises before 2010- promising a giveaway for everyone largely based on the principle they will never get into power to implement these policies. I can’t help but feel if they ever won a GE, they would have to scale back a lot of their ambitions on pragmatic grounds. That said, I would like to see a Red-Green alliance, much like there have been in other European countries. I think in many ways the Green Party would be a much better fit as a potential coalition partner than the Lib Dems, though obviously the party needs greater electoral success.

    Regarding the name, it is a problem as it makes the party sound very single issue. The stereotype of vegan hippies protesting outside Sellafield still pervades and little people know or care about their wider policies. The bigger problem in rebranding is that image, rather than the name and, much as I actually quite like Caroline Lucas, she doesn’t exactly break from this stereotype.

  • Adam

    Change the name to Socialist Green Party – simples!

  • Mancunion

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