Greens: a middle-class party? Think again
Josiah Mortimer is a student and Green Party activist based in York. Follow him at @josiahmortimer
Green Party members. A bunch of humous-eating, London-dwelling, middle-class, Masters-holding Guardian-readers. That’s the stereotype anyway. How true is it though? The answer is – not entirely. The results of the Green Party Equality and Diversity membership survey are in, and some of the results are fascinating.
1100 members took the survey, a decent proportion of the party (especially for a voluntary questionnaire) and around the sample size of most polling. Bearing in mind that non-compulsory surveys, especially online ones, generally over-represent wealthier people – those with more spare time on their hands and generally the most politically engaged – the findings are surprising.
Nearly a quarter – 23.4% – of Green Party members earn less than £10,000 a year. This category was by far the plurality – i.e. the largest group. Over 17% live on between £10-15k a year, another 12% between £15-20k and 10% between £20-25k – still below the average income nationally. In total, this means well over 60% of Greens earn below the median income of £26,500. Since the median income, by definition, means there are around 50% on either side earning more or less, for 60% to be earning less than this in the party means Greens are actually over-representative of people from lower-income background – no bad thing in my book. (To those who think this is due to the high proportion of students in the party, this doesn’t seem to hold water. Less than a tenth of those who answered the survey were under 25). Only 9% slotted into the top-rate of tax band of more than £45k a year, probably explaining why as a party we’re so skint all the time. So the stereotype of the Greens as middle-class hippies seems just that: a stereotype.
Yet class is a messy concept, of course, and income isn’t always the best indicator. Occupation, background, housing type, education, culture – all are factors in many definitions of class. Sadly the survey didn’t look into all of these, but the figures for education are less surprising than income. The proportion of members with a university degree is 57%, far above the national figure of 26%. Within the 57% figure (since you could tick more than one box), 37% of all respondents had a Masters, PhD or other ‘higher’ degree. A pretty huge figure. Given the stats earlier about income, it seems the Greens are becoming a party of the precariat – educated but poor, especially given a higher proportion of members compared to the general public who are private renters (20%) and living with family or friends (nearly 8%).
On the whole, this seems to be borne out by how members described themselves in class terms. 56% responded as ‘lower middle class’, and just under a quarter (23%) identified as ‘working class’ of some form or another. This means that nearly 80% of the party, an overwhelming majority, see themselves as among the least well-off sections of society, reflected in the income findings.
There are so many interesting findings in the survey, especially for politics geeks like myself. This ranges from the high proportion of disabled people and those of ill-health represented in the party (just 73% saying they are in good health, compared to 81% nationally), the high proportion of LGBT people, with 22% identifying as non-heterosexual, to the significant proportion of non-Southerners (37% – encouraging stuff for Greens like myself up in York). But though the party is becoming increasingly more diverse and welcoming, there’s still a long way to go in terms of ethnic minorities and women, despite of course being England’s only party with a female leader.
The main picture to take from this all is a positive one however – in an age when the word ‘class’ is barely used, when workers and families are being trampled on by austerity, when the young are having their futures ripped up, and the poor having their benefits stripped away and livelihoods down-graded – the Greens are the party which, in both policy and practice, is increasingly representative of ordinary people. Shout it loud – the Greens are becoming the true party of the working-class.
Green Party members can view the full survey results on the Members’ Site.