MAYORAL ELECTION: The Greens on the election trail

The Green Party wants to be taken seriously on issues apart from the environment. Kate Magee reports on its bid to draw the debate away from 'Ken and Boris'.

Green Party
Green Party

Members of the Green Party are milling around the conference room at Church House in Dean's Yard, a stone's throw from the Houses of Parliament. Three weeks ahead of the 1 May voting day, they are gathered to launch the party's manifesto for both the mayoral and London Assembly elections.

The Green Party's media strategy is a realistic one. Its leaders know that the chances of their candidate Siân Berry winning the mayoral election are slim. Instead, the focus is to get candidates elected to the London Assembly while using the election media carousel to show it is a serious political party.

Chief press officer Gary Dunion says that, on a national level, this is not ­always seen as the case. ‘People are ­often surprised we've done things,' he says.

A key message of its campaign is to highlight what its London Assembly members have already achieved and stress their influence over this body.

Key London role
The Greens play a pivotal role in the London Assembly, which was granted extra powers of scrutiny over the mayor's actions in the GLA Act 2007.

Ken Livingstone has had to rely on the support of the two Green Assembly members - Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson - to ensure no amendments are made to his budget.

Green candidate Sian BerryThis is something the Greens are keen to emphasise in the press. ‘We're spending the taxpayer's money. It is ­only right and proper that we are held accountable by the press,' says nat­ional press officer Matthew Hanley.

The party is careful to present new policies in the context of what has ­already been done. Dunion claims this can be mutually beneficial for both the party and the journalists it deals with because it makes the story more interesting and therefore bigger.

Another trick the party uses is to ape the language and techniques of other political parties, which Dunion believes helps journalists to see the party as a ­serious political power.

‘We know the idioms and language in which political journalists deal. If we look and sound like other political parties, then journalists can understand with whom they're dealing. We are able to behave in a way that shows we belong,' he says.

The Metro's political correspondent John Higginson agrees that the party presenting itself as serious is crucial: ‘Siân is clearly a serious candidate. It is a clear advantage that she seems to be a fast-talking, fast-living person, as I don't think the sandals-and-beard image does the Green Party any favours. The more serious Siân looks, the better.'

The Greens are also using the London election campaign to break down the perception that they are a one-issue party. ‘We are a centre-left social justice party with environmental concerns. We do not want to be perceived as the ­political equivalent of Friends of the Earth,' says Dunion.

He adds that the party is often invited to comment on environmental issues such as biofuels, but in the past it has found it impossible to be given opportunities to discuss trade union rights or the minimum wage.

Bid to change perceptions
But it has begun to gain more diverse coverage by discussing policies that have both environmental and social repercussions. The party's call for free insulation for Londoners is one way it has attempted to change perceptions.

Berry says: ‘We used to talk about the environment and social justice separately, but the media would only listen to the green message because it fitted the paradigm of what they saw the Green Party to be. Now we talk about the two issues in the same breath.'

Dunion believes laying the groundwork in this mayoral campaign will be beneficial for the party in the ­future. ‘Journalists on the London ­papers will go to work on the nationals and will take the understanding with them,' he says.

But while the Metro's Higginson says he has quoted Berry in articles about other ­issues to introduce her non-environmental policies to his readers, he warns the Green Party to be careful not to miss great media opportunities.

‘The Green Party often spends too long trying to get noticed on non-environmental issues and then sometimes misses coverage on green issues when it should be there giving its view,' he says.

‘The environment is now the biggest ­issue in the world and the Green Party should be there shouting it from the rooftops.'

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