How the Greens are Quietly Shaping the New Political Consensus

14/07/2011 12:24 BST | Updated 13/09/2011 10:12 BST

In recent years, the Green Party and the wider environmental movement have successfully carved out political territory on green issues that forced other parties to adapt themselves to an agenda they had previously ignored. This allowed sustainability to cross over into mainstream public debate, even if the records on delivery from our political opponents failed to match the promise of their new-found rhetoric! In spite of this achievement, our choice of campaign priorities has sometimes given the perception that we are a one-issue party. Away from the glare of press attention however, this is steadily changing.

Now social justice is redefining modern membership of the Green Party. Since last year's General Election, there has been a massive increase in national membership of the party. In my own local party of Brighton & Hove, we have experienced a doubling of members. Anecdotal evidence from the new intake resonates with a tonal shift I am detecting in our internal debates. Many of the newcomers are ex-Labour or Liberal Democrat activists who have left their own parties out of frustration with the regressive policy positions their leadership has championed over the heads of party democracy. There is an exciting sense that we are finding fresh ways to marry our traditional values and principles to the realities of exercising power.

The policies of the coalition government are already widening the yawning chasm between the wealthy and poor as the low paid and vulnerable take the greatest financial hit in balancing the national debt, whilst bankers and high-earners escape with a moderate slap to the financial wrists. For all their aspirations to tackle inequality and child poverty, New Labour's departure from office has hastened recognition of their timidity in confronting vested interests. As a country, we have barely kept pace with rising inequality. Public disquiet with these structural inequities is increasing and the failures of our political consensus become more discernible. Greens are increasingly imbedded within community organisations striving to prevent the unravelling of the social fabric under the harsh realities of austerity Britain.

The ground-breaking election of Caroline Lucas to Parliament, closely followed by the establishment of the first Green-led Council in Brighton and Hove shows that where this public appetite for social justice is articulated and addressed over a period of years, it can translate into a broader-based level of support. While these headline-grabbing successes contribute to a slow shift in public perceptions (especially nationally, where Caroline Lucas is now rightly seen as a serious political figure), we need as a party to recognise how this agenda resonates with the public and imbed these new priorities more fundamentally and consistently across the party's campaign activities.

This means bringing equalities squarely into the centre of our policy-making, to ensure that making hard financial choices should not mean short-changing working mothers and struggling families. It means challenging the myth that unrestrained high pay can result in trickle-down prosperity, by making the fiscal case for the introduction of a living wage for those paid least. It means achieving our sustainable outcomes whilst also re-building British industrial capacity, through the establishment of a programme of new green jobs in the housing and energy fields.

The Green Party has an opportunity to champion social justice in a way that moves beyond technocratic economic management. No longer the single-issue party, we are becoming a voice of reason across the political landscape. One that argues for greater respect of the public sector, taking a stand on inequalities and arguing for a more balanced and people-led response to the changes globalisation brings to our communities. And I think people are starting to listen.