The BBC’s “flagship political debate programme,” Question Time, hasn’t had a representative of the Green Party on since 2019.
This is symptomatic of the abysmal, almost non-existent, media coverage that the Green Party of England and Wales receives. Despite this, the results of this month’s local elections saw a historic increase in vote share for the party.
You would assume that this would attract significant media attention and analysis of the Greens’ success. In fact, the success of the Greens resulted in few reflections on what they did well. Instead, it has almost exclusively been used to demonstrate how and why Labour had performed poorly.
Although the BBC website did feature an article on the success of the Greens, this was titled “Is the Green Party on the rise – and if so, why?” when the recent election results clearly demonstrated the answer is “yes”. This was the first sentence:
“The joy of a buffet of elections is being able to graze on the details that emerge beyond the main headlines – the political afters while most people are gorging on the main course.”
This brazenly admits what we all knew – the Green Party is treated as an afterthought by the media. Some would argue that this is because elections are ‘two-horse races’ between the two biggest parties. But it isn’t set in stone that Labour and the Conservatives are the only politically significant parties – in Scotland, for example, the SNP have built political support and now have a majority of MSPs.
Moreover, the Liberal Democrats receive much more media attention than the Green Party. In many parts of the country, however, the Greens have taken over as the third party in terms of vote share (and in some places, they are even first or second). The media often ignore this – for example, when displaying the Scottish Parliament results, Sky News’s results bar chart labelled the Scottish Greens as ‘other’ even though they won 8 seats to the Liberal Democrats’ 4.
An analysis, comparing the number of articles written about each London mayoral candidate to the number of votes they went on to receive at the election, showed that the Green Party receives disproportionately low news coverage, even considering its smaller vote share. In the month running up to the elections, there were twelve times as many articles written per vote cast for Sadiq Khan compared to Sian Berry, the Green mayoral candidate, even though she came third, with 8% of first preference votes.
It is not only establishment media outlets that dismiss the Green Party’s success. Many commentators on the Left of Labour only analyse the Green Party and their success through the prism of Labour’s political positioning and electoral performance. They rarely treat it in their analysis as a legitimate party whose success is due to their own campaigning work.
A good example is Ash Sarkar’s response to the Green Party gains in Bristol, where they pushed the previously Labour-led council into “no overall control”. According to Sarkar, the lesson of this result was simply that “Labour have to work to retain progressive and left-wing voters” – minimizing the efforts of Greens in Bristol. Worse, back in 2018, Owen Jones (probably the most prominent Left-Labour-aligned commentator) dismissed the entire concept of the Green Party, arguing that they should call it a day, and become a Green wing of Labour.
There are several reasons the Green Party are ignored in the media, but they point back to the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, which has allowed the two main parties to gain almost complete dominance of the national political system and political discourse (Barring rare occasions like 2010 where the Liberal Democrats made major inroads in parliament). FPTP means many who sympathise with Green policies vote for another party, because they don’t want to vote for someone who is unlikely to win. FPTP also means the Green Party are a long way from winning national power, which many use as a reason to leave them out of conversations. This then creates a vicious cycle – less media attention makes it more difficult and more expensive to win political power.
Although a proportional voting system for Parliament would help Labour to gain power, because they often gain more of the popular vote than the Tories, this would mean they would have to work with left-wing parties such as the Greens. Even though support for proportional representation among Labour members is rising, the parliamentary Labour party mostly oppose it– clearly, they would rather face continued time in opposition than win power at the expense of having to work with other parties. Instead, Labour convey in their messaging that voting for smaller parties is “a wasted vote” or fear monger that doing so will “let the Tories win”.
However, this no longer rings true in places like Bristol, where Greens and Labour are neck and neck – this is why I think that at the next general elections, the Green Party will do better in areas like this.
Ignoring the Green Party in media discourse is not only unfair, but bad for democracy. Due to the lack of media coverage, the public only learn about the Green Party (and other smaller parties) through local campaigning, meaning many people are not fully informed about the choice of parties they have.
The media are holding politics back and keeping us entrenched in a two-party system which has led to a right-wing government in power for the last 11 years. To move on, the media need to give smaller parties, such as the Green Party, the attention that they deserve, and left-wing parties need to embrace a proportional voting system, so we all have a chance to elect a progressive government.