The political party conference season is upon us and, for once, the Green Party has managed to cut through the acres of coverage to grab the headlines with plans to relaunch itself as a serious alternative to New Labour.
The party is taking steps to shake off its stereotypical image of sandal-wearing bearded hippies resistant to progress. It is to adopt a new look, which it hopes will help to turn the party into a modern, vote-winning political machine.
At its recent conference in Hove, the Green Party unveiled a new logo and a fresh slogan – Real Progress – with a positioning that deliberately runs counter to traditional perceptions. It plans to promote itself as much more than a single-issue party obsessed with recycling and wind-farms and will instead embrace issues such as asylum and human rights, the legalisation of cannabis and the occupation of Iraq. The Green Party has the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament and London Assembly in its sights.
The brains behind the relaunch is Matt Wootton, the youngest member of the party’s executive. He says: “It is all about changing the tone. We are not anti-progress. The party is about making real progress in everyday lives, such as ensuring there is sound environmental agriculture.”
Green Party chief of media Spencer Fitz-Gibbon says the new approach is aimed at attracting disaffected Labour voters who were opposed to the Iraq war and are frustrated by the delivery and reform of public services.
But many feel the Greens’ new image and marketing push is not sufficiently convincing. Ross Barr, former joint chief executive of DDB London, questions how much of a natural home the Green Party would be for the average Labour voter. “I can understand the Greens wanting to broaden their canvas if they want to win more votes and increase fundraising. But the danger is that the party might lose its clear focus of what it actually stands for,” he says.
Branding expert Graham Harding, from Value Engineers, says: “The problem with the Green Party is its brand, which is unashamedly owned by lobby group Greenpeace. Therefore as a brand equity there is not much that the Green Party can do with it. To tweak it with a makeover may make sense for the party, but my worry is that the new look is still too nebulous to attract disgruntled Labour voters.”
Both Barr and Harding agree that like the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party has struggled with credibility issues and has been unable to convince a cynical UK electorate that it can govern the country without making it bankrupt while delivering on “green” promises.
Fitz-Gibbon says the new-look Greens will now try to appeal to the common sense of those who believe in “social justice and environmental sustainability at both local and global levels”.
The UK’s Green Party was founded in 1973 as People, set up by a group of environmental activists from Coventry. People almost disbanded two years later, but was then rebranded as the Ecology Party and then later, in 1985, as the Green Party.
By this point Greens had gained some electoral success in Germany and adopted four key values of “ecology, non-violence, social justice and grassroots democracy”, which were later used by the international Green movement.
This increased focus on environmental issues, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl and increasing concerns over damage to the ozone layer helped to boost the Green Party’s fortunes in the UK: the party took 15 per cent of the vote in the 1989 European Elections. Ten years later, representatives from the UK Green Party became MEPs, after benefiting from the introduction of a proportional voting system for the European Parliament.
Now the Green Party has eight local councillors and two MEPs, while Deputy London Mayor Jenny Jones is a member of the Green Party. But the party has the hard task of converting these European and regional gains to national elections. HHCL/Red Cell head of planning Richard Huntington points out that the Green Party is in prime position to benefit from increased concern over issues such as sustainable energy and genetically modified foods.
“Most wider political issues are now tied in with the environmental agenda and that is what the new Green Party is striving to achieve. Also, people are no longer buying into either the Labour or Tory brands and the Green Party has an opportunity to fill in those gaps,” says Huntington.
However, TBWA/London chief executive Andrew McGuinness expresses concern that rebranding might dilute the effectiveness of the party’s core values – “that of being a strong ecological brand”.
But Fitz-Gibbon argues that the new-look party only aims to build on its green credentials by adopting positions on wider issues to try to bring in new voters such as pensioners.
Had the Green Party continued as before, it seems unlikely that it would ever have gained mass support. But it will need to do more than just modernise its image if it is to gain a presence in the House of Commons.