The electoral performance of the Green parties of the United Kingdom is an under-researched topic, so I was pleased to be asked to review The Greens in British Politics. Dennison’s book charts the extraordinary rise in popularity of the Greens in 2014-15 and their inevitable decline following the 2015 general elections, with the main focus on the Green Party of England and Wales.
Starting with a brief historical background, he compares the difficulty of the then-UK Green Party, with more successful parties in Europe and around the world in the twentieth century, slightly dismissing the supreme hurdle presented by our electoral system, citing the 1989 European election when Greens won 15 per cent of the vote but no seats. The book moves quickly through 20 years of political change following 1997, including the successes in the European and GLA elections, changes to party leadership and the 2010 parliamentary breakthrough.
Recognising the greater media exposure these changes presented, Dennison extensively considers how the party adapted to cope with the challenges. Curiously, it is these more recent events that frustrate the narrative. Although there are some shrewd observations – concerning the rebuild of the membership database and digital storage system, for instance – he has paid a lot of attention to the 18 months from the 2014 European election to the 2015 general election, when the party employed senior staff to assist us. Dennison seems to base much of his research and analysis on conversations with those staff who appear to assert that they transformed the party into a professional campaigning organisation. Unfortunately, the reality was very different: local party experience and autonomy was overridden, as was the accountability of the party executive; some key constituencies were encouraged to abandon the well- honed ‘Target to Win’ strategies, producing a poorer outcome than should have been achievable. While fundraising was indeed successful, financial accounting and planning was lacking, leaving the party executive with serious difficulties when the contracts of the two directors were not renewed.
In spite of this, there is much in The Greens in British Politics that I find interesting and entertaining. Although I don’t agree with all the conclusions, his academic perspective is certainly thought-provoking from the point of view of a party strategist. Just be sure to keep a pinch of salt within reach during the middle chapters.
Judy Maciejowska, National Elections Coordinator 2009-11 and 2014-present