A YouGov poll showing the Green Party has more support than the Liberal Democrats raises yet more questions as to why the party is being excluded from a planned series of debates ahead of next year’s election. If the decision to exclude the party was questionable before, it is even more so now. The Greens are quickly gaining ground and deserve to be taken seriously. But more importantly, bringing the party in will make this a real debate, not just a Q&A with four white men who can only be differentiated by the colour of their ties.
The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 will run three debates between party leaders next year and will allow UKIP leader Nigel Farage to take part in one of them. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, however, will not be included in the line-up.
The party has threatened legal proceedings and a petition calling for Bennett to be given a place has been signed by nearly 200,000 people.
The BBC argues the Greens have neither the past or present support to justify giving Bennett a place on the debate stage in front of a national audience. They note, however, that they “will continue to keep any new evidence of increased support for the Green party under close review”. This latest poll would appear to be just such a piece of evidence.
It’s only fair
Politically, the Greens of 2014 are not the Greens of 2010. They are making serious gains in public opinion that could translate into significant electoral victories. Peter Kellner of YouGov has referred to the Party as a “wildcard” shaking up the election. He suggests a “two-headed protest vote” is emerging, with UKIP and the Greens as the driving force. For this reason, alone, the Greens have a legitimate case to be allowed into the debate.
It is no longer possible to simply dismiss the Greens as a fringe party. They are building a broad coalition of support that is progressively situating them as a legitimate political force. Even David Cameron, admittedly for his own strategic reasons, acknowledged this changing reality. He has acknowledged the absurdity of including UKIP but not the Greens in the debate when each has a sitting MP, stating: “I can’t see how you can have a party in that has an MP in parliament, but not another party.”
Just as importantly, Bennett’s inclusion would do much for adding a different kind of voice to these proceedings, especially as the other three leaders are all white males.
A true alternative
There is, though, a more fundamental reason for greening the debate. The Green Party offers a real ideological and policy alternative to the similarly pro-market and neo-conservative platforms of the other three major parties. Bennett would provide a different political perspective to the pro-austerity, pro-war and anti-immigration agendas that are likely to be pushed by the others.
Indeed, this is a point that Bennett, herself, has continually made but that remains largely overlooked. In this spirit, she recently wrote:
Policies such as bringing the railways back into public hands, saying that the profit motive has no place in healthcare, that the poor and disadvantaged must not be made to pay for the fraud and errors of the bankers with the failed policy of austerity have extremely high levels of support. Only the Green Party is supporting these policies.
These concerns are even more pressing now the Labour Party can be seen echoing the positions advocated by the Tories and UKIP. Ed Miliband has now placed Labour firmly in the anti-immigration camp, directly challenging Cameron on this issue. He publicly declared that dealing with immigration “is at the top of Labour’s agenda” promised that there would be a crackdown on immigrants within weeks of his party winning power.
Similarly, while UKIP is gaining popularity as the outsider party its economic policies are quite similar to those of the Conservatives – they are perhaps even more austerity-driven. Behind its populist facade, UKIP wants to eliminate progressive taxation, dramatically reduce spending back to levels before New Labour’s 1997 victory and stimulate employment by lowering business taxes and loosening regulation.
Not just good television
Democratic change is more than just an incumbent losing. It is also using elections to transform a country’s values and policies. By including the Greens, these debates would come closer to the ideal of having a space for exchanging different ideas about the direction the UK should take.
Without Bennett, it is four leaders arguing almost identical points using different language. It would undoubtedly make for compelling television, but contain little substantial value.
Elections are usually won and lost on pragmatic decisions by voters about which candidate is the least bad and including the Greens in these TV debates would not change that. But while it would have limited electoral effect, greening the debate would at least provide the forum for a more genuine contest of ideas concerning what is good for the UK in the 21st century and beyond.