This week saw what can only be described as one of the most horrendous political party leader interviews in recent history. Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party conducted an incredibly poor interview on LBC Radio. The embarrassment caused by her lack of knowledge surrounding her own party’s plans for social housing and the house building costs proved the increasing amount of scrutiny the smaller parties are coming under from the press due to their unprecedented success in recent months. It also shows how the relatively weak platform of the Greens is being overshadowed by the dominant political messages and leaderships of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Scottish National Party (SNP).
The Green Party has been seen celebrating its incredible rise in membership over recent months; party membership went from around 13,000 in 2013 to a massive 54,000 so far in in 2015. As well as a huge rise in membership for other smaller parties including UKIP and the SNP, and the subsequent media attention this has resulted in, the parties have been scrutinised and grilled by the media much more on the intricacies of their policies in recent months. The Greens, however, do not seem to have been able to portray the populist success of UKIP or the SNP in terms of managing the media and public opinion. Only this week their poll ratings slumped, whereas UKIP’s has remained high ever since the European elections in May 2014, and the SNP have been polling incredibly well in Scotland for the past few years.
The reason for UKIP’s and the SNP’s comparative success compared to the Green's lay in their focus on a single issue which is of concern to the core of their support, and thus they are much more easily able to maintain their recently high levels of support. The SNP may have lost its push for Scottish independence in the September 2014, but this has in no way diminished its support among the Scottish electorate.
In fact the relatively close result of the election managed to maintain support for the SNP’s cause, and furthermore a new and equally popular leader in Nicola Sturgeon, following on from the Scottish giant Alex Salmond has helped rejuvenate a message that could have otherwise become stale. Sturgeon has quickly proven that she is a competent and powerful leader, and has kept up the populist rhetoric of her predecessor in promoting the Scottish interest throughout the UK and in Holyrood. It currently looks as though Sturgeon’s party could almost wipe out Labour in Scotland come May, which would only heighten their support and momentum in gaining complete control in what is very quickly becoming a single party state.
UKIP has an equally as impressive leader in Nigel Farage, whose populist rhetoric on the European Union and immigration resonates with the anti-Westminster tone of the Sturgeon government in Holyrood. His popularity the country through, and his parties abilities to engage in one of the issues the public is most concerned about has helped rocket UKIP up the opinion polls. Moreover, the party’s victory in the European Elections and concurrent council elections in May 2014 reinforced their popularity. Similarly to the SNP, although UKIP may not gain a significant number of seats in May’s election primarily due to the electoral system; both parties seem to have tapped into particular motifs that resonate with large swathes of the U.K public, and they don’t seem to be going away.
Although populism has a very small place in UK politics compared to other nations like the US, which has traditionally been much more susceptible to its influence. Here we only need to look at the consistent strength of the Tea Party on the American Right in recent years. However UKIP and the SNP seem to be challenging this discourse. After all, the British public have flirted with populist parties and leaders before, but never in such a fundamental way. After all, the SNP has been a dominant force in the Scottish Parliament, winning a majority of seats in a Parliament that was purposely designed to prevent this, since 2011. In addition, UKIP has been polling increasingly well in European Elections for a number of years, coming in a strong second in 2009, well before the media began to focus on the party more closely.
If the Green Party wants to imitate the success of their third party counterparts they need to find a single core issue on which to focus their attention. Merely sighting an opposition to the general theme of austerity will not provide the answer, as Plaid Cymru has seen with their stale poll ratings in Wales. A much clearer message and perhaps a stronger and more capable leader would be a start; that is if they want to maintain their popularity into the General election, and even beyond. It doesn’t look as though UKIP or the SNP are going away anytime soon, and it really seems as though they may be changing the very foundations that British politics has built itself on.