Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 17:45 UK

Greens push for the mainstream

By Carole Walker
BBC political correspondent

Caroline Lucas
There is a new tone to the Green message

Well it didn't quite match the razzmatazz and rousing rhetoric of the Republican convention, but the election of the first leader of the Green Party in the basement lecture hall of a London university was a landmark in the party's history.

The Greens are trying to edge into the political mainstream.

Their activists may still wear sandals and protest badges, but their new leader Caroline Lucas has the smart suits, lip-gloss and sound-bites required of a serious politician in the media age.

Until now the Greens had two principal speakers, a man and a woman.

It was supposed to show that they were different, truly democratic.

Instead Ms Lucas told me she spent the first part of every interview explaining the arrangement - not ideal for a minor party with precious little airtime to put its message across.

She hopes her election will ensure the Green message will have more coherence and impact.

The goal is still a sustainable future, but the policies are designed to tackle more pressing concerns

In her conference speech on Saturday Caroline Lucas waded into one of the hot political issues of the moment, calling for a windfall tax on the "robber barons" of the energy companies to provide funds to help poorer households.

There is a new tone to the Green message.

The party knows it needs to focus on immediate practical measures at a time when voters are more concerned with saving money than saving the planet.

Green spin doctors (yes they really do exist) insist there is no question of the party abandoning its principles or ditching controversial policies.

Yet there is a recognition that in the past some of the apocalyptic warnings of the threat of climate change risked sounding somewhat negative.

Sustainable policies

The goal is still a sustainable future, but the policies are designed to tackle more pressing concerns.

It is a difficult time for the party, with its bigger rivals all flaunting their own environmental credentials.

The Greens argue that Labour and the Tories have borrowed the rhetoric but ducked the hard decisions on road-building, airport expansion and nuclear power.

But it is hard for the Greens to retain their distinctive image if others are wearing their clothes.

The party also knows that consumers are all too quick to ditch green ideas if they cannot afford them.

Already there are signs that many of us are shunning the organics to head for the budget supermarket.

The Greens argue that the way to deal with spiralling fuel costs is to reduce our dependence on oil.

The Green New Deal would mean a radical economic shift coupled with a huge investment in conservation and renewable energy.

The Green party has 125 councillors and two MEPs.

The big goal now is to get a seat at Westminster - "to break the cosy cartel of the Westminster parties", as Ms Lucas put it.

Both the new leader, and her deputy Adrian Ramsay, have a reasonable chance of doing so at the next election.

In her speech she made a point of stating her support for direct action - peaceful of course.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Greens is whether they can make the breakthrough into serious politics without losing the radical edge which has been an essential part of their record to date.




SEE ALSO
Greens coming of age, says Lucas
06 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Greens pick Lucas as first leader
05 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Greens vote to have single leader
30 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
The great Green leadership debate
28 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Greens to vote on getting leader
06 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Pressure for windfall tax mounts
06 Sep 08 |  UK Politics

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