21 Jan 2015

From protest to Parliament: can Greens hold the youth vote?

The Green party hit new highs in the latest polls after a surge in support from young people, support for the Labour party fell. We speak to young activists backing the Greens and others who are wary.

A YouGov/Sun poll put support for the Green party at 10 per cent, its highest level since the last election. A Guardian/ICM poll put Green party support at nine per cent, with Labour’s lead over the Tories cut to three points.

Last month a YouGov poll of 18-24 year-olds showed support for the Green party tied with the Conservatives at 22 per cent. Support for the Labour party amongst young people has fallen from 45 to 32 per cent in the space of March to December 2014.

Half say no way, I’m never going to vote for a party again. Maybe because of Labour and Iraq or the Lib Dems and tuition fees.
Aaron Bastani

Pic: YouGov poll showing voting intention among 18-24 year-olds

Nineteen-year-old Georgia Elander joined the Green party in December 2013. She says her parents have been Green voters “at heart” for a long time, but sometimes vote Labour for tactical reasons.

She says that higher taxes on corporations and a £10-per-hour minimum wage are two Green party policies convinced her to join.

Georgia told Channel 4 News that more and more young people are supporting the Greens because other parties are “moving to the right”.

“Young people are getting tired of endless austerity – what the Green party offer is something totally different. We don’t have to do things the way they are now, we can create a society that works for everyone.

“It’s also about the way the party operates – one of the deputy leaders is a young woman who is committed to giving young people a voice.”

But not every young voter is turning to the Green party.


Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media, a radical left-wing media project that grew out of the 2010 and 2011 student protests told Channel 4 News that he thought “about half” of young people he engages with would consider turning to the Greens, and another half were turned off political parties altogether.

“Half say no way, I’m never going to vote for a party again. Maybe because of Labour and Iraq or the Lib Dems and tuition fees.

“But clearly, and it’s impossible to dismiss, there’s a very significant minority who are turning to the Green party who aren’t necessarily members but are considering voting for the Greens or tweeting their support.

“The question is, we’re four months out from the election. Will that still be true in May?”

Critics of the Green party say that their radical ideals change once they come into power.

‘Reality kicks in’

Joseph Healy was a Green party member and prominent activist for 10 years before he quit in 2012. His decision was based on a budget passed by the Green-controlled Brighton council, which included spending cuts after a reduction in grants from central government.

“The left in the party were adamant that we didn’t want a Green administration to pass on the cuts,” recalls Healy.

Joseph Healy was a parliamentary candidate for the Green party at the last election, and he sees parallels with the surge in support for the Lib Dems then and the recent good polling for the Green party.

“People were talking about the Liberals doing well and lots of people on the left were telling people to vote Liberal.

“I think the Greens are getting the same treatment this time round. People are looking for something different and something radical.

“I think the Greens have a radical agenda. There are people in it who are genuinely radical. The issue I’m concerned about is that whenever they take power, the reality kicks in.”

The Greens point out that in Brighton they run a minority administration and are often out-voted by the Labour and Tory groups.

Aaron Bastani agrees that experience of running Brighton council has given some people second thoughts about voting Green.

“The Green party are viewed as an anti-establishment party,” says Bastani.

“People that are familiar with Brighton don’t see them as anti-establishment, but most people aren’t aware of that.”

They’ve had absolutely no choice but to administer those spending cuts
Georgia Elander

Georgia Elander says it is unfair to judge the Greens on Brighton alone.

“The difference between the council in Brighton and the Greens getting elected nationally is that councils across the country have had cuts imposed on them. They’ve had absolutely no choice but to administer those spending cuts.

“Whilst there are lots of people not that happy in Brighton, the local party haven’t had as much power as people think they have.”

Will the support for the Greens last until after the election?

Will members stay?

Joseph Healy says he’s spoken to activists within the party who think the membership could reduce after May.

“A lot of people think there will be a media breakthrough but it’s unlikely they’ll win any extra seats. That will probably have a dampening effect on those people who’ve joined, but of course some of those will stay.

“There’s a combination of people in the party who are genuinely radical and then there’s those who follow the path of the realist. Those strains will increasingly show after the election.”