Reaching beyond the core
Our Guest writer is Chris Williams, who has run a number of Green Party election campaigns, and was manager of the Norwich South General Election campaign. This is the latest in our series on messaging in Green election campaigns.
Greens are attracted to be members not for the amazing 24/7 media coverage we receive or for the sexy profiles of our so many MPs but because of raw policy beliefs. Green Party members are highly principled – we’re not the Lib Dems. This is to our advantage and is what impressed me when I joined the party in 2004.
The temptation at election time is to shout out what we are proud to believe in but the rest of the world just aint that interested. Come election time, Greens sit down and think of random things that we think will win us an election but we tend to start with what with what motivates and interests us rather than what the public are interested in hearing at any one time. Peter McColl would describe this as campaigning within our comfort zone .
In choosing our campaign messages we tend to go back to the things that unite Greens and make us so very distinctive – recycling, climate change, public transport. All areas where I wholeheartedly and so passionately back Green Party policy but in most wards, constituencies or regions, together, they only cover a small percentage of voters’ top interests. And perception of being a single issue party has so very often stopped people voting Green even when they are passionate about climate change and green jobs. Voters want parties that can govern and have policies in all areas. Many voters still don’t even realise we have policies on non-environmental issues.
Greens appeal well to post-materialists who make up a small percentage of society but we can appeal more effectively to the next tranche of potential support – traditional Labour voters: both middle class terraced house dwellers who talk in the language of justice, inequality, public services and the working classes who want to hear about jobs, housing and decent hospitals.
Having met with the Brighton campaign team I was very impressed by their election communications. Their clear messaging was a crucial asset to Caroline Lucas’s campaign and it was not overdone in the election period. Policy heavy material came early on in the months leading up to the election period and during April it was fairly policy light – only headlines featured and even then they didn’t mention a great deal about climate change! This doesn’t mean Caroline has abandoned her passion to fight for justice around that issue. Noone would ever suggest that but she has, I am proud to say, made waves over academy schools, Trafigura and the Ian Tomlinson affair.
In Norwich too the campaign I worked on there focussed on a range of issues (although perhaps we tried to focus on too many issues). On the plus side, voters definitely realised we weren’t single issue, though still aware we’re great on the environment so we got all the environmental votes we were going to get and some more. With a narrower focus, we’d have only got the environmental core.
In Solihull in 2008 where I ran a campaign in an entirely working class ward that has always been Labour, we focussed on the issues of interest to people there. We simply asked through door knocking what the top issues were and communicated the Green solutions to housing issues, antisocial behaviour and private regeneration companies ripping off the local community. That doesn’t mean our elected Councillor Mike Sheridan isn’t standing up for environmental issues in the chamber but matters of social justice are core Green issues.
If Green Party election campaigns focus on issues inside our comfort zone and we choose not to move into other promising territory, Green Party campaigns are going to underperform. Building on the lessons from around the country, I sincerely hope that with the Green Party’s Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and crucial 2011 local elections campaigns, we will see campaigns encompassing a full range of appealing issues we know are of interest to voters.