‘If you’re not a socialist before you’re twenty-five, you have no heart; if you are a socialist after twenty-five, you have no head,’ goes the old, oft-misattributed saying. But if you’re a Green party supporter on a university campus today, you’re more likely to have no friends.
It was reported last week that the Green party’s share of the student vote has almost halved in the past two months – falling from a peak of 28 per cent to a paltry 15. In January, the Greens’ vote was creeping up on Labour (the consistent student favourites) but it has now plummeted below even that of the so-called ‘Tory scum’ you hear so much about on tuition-fees demos. The pollsters at YouthSight put this down to limp media performances from Green leader Natalie Bennett, whose ‘dislike rating’ has doubled since September. It’s clear, though, that the eco-party’s plunge in student popularity goes beyond the shortcomings of ‘brain-fade’ Bennett.
The traditional view was that the Greens appealed to students’ idealism and radicalism. Yet one flick through their manifesto should be enough to assure any would-be history-maker that the Greens are anything but radical. Where the progressives of the past demanded that society produce more and create a land of plenty for all, the Greens champion ‘zero-growth’. ‘Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, society has expected continual increases in material affluence for the people of the world,’ they spit on their website. ‘This must cease to be an automatic aim of human societies.’ And, while old leftists like Tony Benn dreamt of energy so abundant it would be ‘too cheap to meter’, the Greens reject two of our most abundant (and clean) potential energy sources: nuclear and shale. ‘Just because science allows us to do something, that does not mean that we should do it,’ they say.
While the Greens posture over welfare and the NHS, eco-austerity is at the core of their ideas. But the promise of a bigger, more productive society has always energised the young. When the left all-but abandoned material progress in the 1970s, it was this generative spirit that Margaret Thatcher’s pledge for ‘a new prosperous society’ tapped into. It won her 42 per cent of the youth vote when she first came to power.
When it comes to appealing to the imagination of the young, the promise of eco-welfarist subsistence simply doesn’t cut it. In the end, all the Green party has managed to do at Britain’s universities is cater to the political prejudices of the luvvies who dominate SU politics. Undergirding the Greens’ environmentalism is a snobbish kind of moralism, one that sees the grubby consumption of the masses, their preponderance for ‘cheap stag nights in Riga’ and normal people’s selfish, carbon-guzzling demands for a better, more comfortable life, as the source of society’s rot. No doubt this chimes with cliques of campus politicos, but such a deeply negative message could never truly inspire vast swathes of students. The Greens’ student slump should fill us all with a bit of hope. The kids are alright after all.
Tom Slater is assistant editor of spiked.