How do you spread Green messages? Certainly not through the mainstream media, according to Hendon’s Ben Samuelby Alexander Woolley on Feb 27, 2015 • 12:19 pm 5 Comments
Is it a coincidence that although the Green Party has, in one form or another, existed since the 1970s, it is only in the era of social media that it has become a significant political force? Even if, come May, the Greens are able to do no more than retain their Brighton Pavilion seat, the the party is now the UK’s third largest, in terms of membership, having outstripped UKIP and the Lib Dems in January.
The eventual agreement to include Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, in the TV debates was spurred on by an online petition signed by 260,000 people – a petition distributed widely on social media.
The Greens’ candidate in Hendon, Ben Samuel, who, although he is not standing in one of the Greens’ target seats, could well disrupt the traditional Labour-Conservative contest, is keen to underline the importance of social media – and the more old-fashioned word of mouth – for his party: “The Green message travels by word of mouth, on marches, by social media.”
“Personally, I don’t think more than 5% of the media should be in one person’s hands. It was a big part – not so much in the timetable but the fact it was literally ‘number one on the agenda’ – of the Autumn Green conference [in Birmingham’s Aston University],” he says, pointing out, too, that the official Green Party position is to push for a limit of 20%, with certain controls, including transparency of governance, to be put into place onto companies that own more than 15% of a media market. “And obviously we can’t filter messages like that through the mainstream media.”
The power of independent, campaigning journalism is much in evidence in Barnet, the London borough in which the Parliamentary constituency of Hendon is located. Samuel is a particular fan of Mrs Angry, the pseudonymous author of Broken Barnet.
“Here is some reading for the journey,” he emailed me the night before I was due to show up at his house for a hummus-based lunch. The link is to a story/ diatribe about the regeneration of the West Hendon estate, which critics claim is a way of replacing the poor and needy with the fantastically rich. In Samuel’s words, “it’s a Thatcherite council using the most far-left [compulsory purchase] powers.”
Mrs Angry is part of a loose group of bloggers in Barnet, who have had some considerable success in holding the local council to account: most notable was their uncovering of the council’s misuse of public money in hiring a security firm to keep an eye on the bloggers. Eric Pickles became one of their fans.
Aside from appreciating the power of social media – and their slightly archaic cousin, blogging – Samuel is aware of the importance of good old door-knocking in delivering the Green message. “I’m targeting first-time voters – I’m a young person, I’m twenty-eight, so I can identify with them. This isn’t Green policy, but I think voting first time should be compulsory – in seven elections’ time, there will be no voters [if current trends continue].”
“I’m going after Tory wards, too – obviously I want to argue with them. I agree it’s not a standard strategy.”
And if, as is almost inevitable, Samuel doesn’t win a seat in Parliament in May, what’s next for him? “I’m going to carry on trying; I’ll be back next time. Only the Green Party has a long-term plan – I genuinely believe that.”