The election of Natalie Bennett confirmed something the Green Party knows about itself. It confirms what people outside the Green Party think about it – it is a party of middle-class white people, who principally live in the South East.
This is not meant to be negative. I am sure that Natalie is capable and compassionate leader who wants to see the lives of those in the UK and abroad improved in a sustainable way, ensuring we have a planet worth handing over to our children. I am sure she gets as angry about inequality as everyone else.
What concerns me is the political class has become so controlled by white, mainly male, privately-educated people from a very narrow band of careers. Parliament is full of identikit Politicians who seem to be either Lawyers or from the Media.
Over time this has led to the real detachment of politics from the lives of millions of ordinary people. This has led to the decline in turnout at general elections. In 2010 24% of the socio-economic class AB did not vote. By comparison 42% of C2s did not vote, alongside 43% of DEs. The evidence is clear – Bus Drivers, Nurses, Cleaners and most other working people do not identify with our national party leaders. When David Cameron and his cabinet of millionaires say ‘we are in it together’ who believes them?
The irony is the Green Party is best placed to address the issues in everyday life that people struggle with – jobs, housing, schools for their children and so on. Only the Green Party really understands that it is the system we live under that generates the problems that people face. If you don’t change the system, you won’t change the outcomes.
Being financially limited makes green choices hard. A family struggling on a modest income may love to trade in their old car for an efficient hybrid one, but they don’t have the money. Public transport itself is very expensive too. They may not like buying imported school trousers for £3 from a supermarket, but they have no choice. Organic produce looks good, but when the weekly food budget for a family of four is £50, it is out of the question. Switching fuel supplier to a 100% renewable one could add £200 to their annual bill.
These reasons are why the Green Party struggles to break-through well into the areas where a living wage, affordable decent housing and good public transport would revolutionise their lives. The party needs to fight hard on these social justice issues first and foremost to win support beyond a middle-class with the financial means to make green choices. These measures would not only be popular, but help a sustainable economy too. Tell them you want them have a living wage and a good quality house first before telling them about melting glaciers.
This group is a huge army of current non-voters, looking for some inspiration and a vision. Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have left them behind. The Green Party has the vision to offer them.
This is why the Green Party needs a leadership that can appeal to the back streets of Leeds, Birmingham and Hackney. A leadership that talks their language and understands their lives.
This is Natalie Bennett’s biggest challenge.