The surge in support for the Green party in the 2015 general election has not gone unnoticed. Currently polling at 5% nationally, there are only a handful of seats where Green candidates will challenge for the top spot, but who are the 570+ candidates standing for election in 2015? Do Green party candidates offer something different than the ‘typical’ politician—white, male and middle-aged with a lifetime’s experience in jobs ‘instrumental’ to a career in politics? Drawing on data from the UCL/Birkbeck Parliamentary Candidates UK project, we look at the social background of Green party candidates in comparison to candidates from other parties and in comparison to the party’s supporters. We ask, who are Green party’s parliamentary candidates?
Gender With genuine descriptive representation, the numbers of male and female MPs, would reflect their proportions in the wider population. Of the five mainstream UK-wide parties, the Green party has the highest percentage of female candidates, at 39%, and by stark contrast, with just 13%, UKIP has the lowest percentage of female candidates. For the Conservative party, 26% of all candidates are female and Labour stands at 34%. Both parties retain a large number of incumbent MPs (265 and 219 respectively) as 2015 candidates, and therefore their percent female candidates contesting 2015 is lower than the percent of new female candidates selected.
Race/ethnicity One area of descriptive representation where the Green party falls short with regard to the wider population is the percentage of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) candidates it is fielding. At just 4%, the Green Party has the lowest percentage of BME candidates of all the major parties. The Tories with 10% BME candidates lead the way, followed by Labour and Liberal Democrats with 8%. Even UKIP, whose stance on immigration might make it less attractive to BME groups, has 6% of candidates identifying as BME. The low level of BME representation in the Green party may reflect the fact that it does not draw much by way of support from BME groups: its base is predominantly white, middle-income, well-educated, young and female.
Marital status It is difficult to draw inferences about the marital status of parliamentary candidates as very few make their living arrangements public. Based on available data, less than 1 in 5 Green candidates (17%) are public about their living arrangements, a figure lower than for the other parties. For those candidates who do report, there is greater diversity in living arrangements. For example, Green candidate, Marion Turner-Hawes’s biography refers to her living locally with her wife, and in Islington South, Charlie Kiss is hailed by the Green party website as ‘the first out trans man to stand for parliament’. A number of candidates make reference to their families—often seen as an electoral asset. Jacqui Lovell, the Green parliamentary candidate for South Stockton, with seven children, is something of an outlier: research by Campbell and Childs has shown that ‘45% of women MPs have no children, compared to 28% of male MPs’.
Age The average age of Green candidates, at 46 years old, is slightly younger than for the other parties (Conservative 48, Labour 49, LD 50 and UKIP 54). The youngest candidate at 19 years old, is Birmingham University economics student Dan Wilshire standing in South Holland & the Deepings, and the oldest to declare his age at 73 years old, is former Liberal Democrat councillor, Graham Sowter who is standing in Ribble Valley.
The party has the highest proportion of young candidates, with 10% of candidates aged under 24 years old and 30% of all candidates aged under 35. It’s assumed that the Greens draw support from younger voters, but recent data from Lord Ashcroft’s polls gives a mixed and moving picture: 9% of 18-24 year olds, 7% of 25-34 year olds and 11% of 35-45 year olds support the Green Party (compared with 8% overall). By contrast, only 3% of 55-64 year olds and only 2% of those over 65 support the Greens.
Green candidates comprise a higher percentage of women and are on average younger than candidates for the other political parties. And while the range of ages is similar to the other parties, is a greater weighting towards the younger end of the spectrum, as befitting an ideological party. Green candidates are less diverse in terms of ethnicity, a factor recognised and addressed by the party, which, paradoxically, is the only party boasting a Deputy Leader from a BME background, namely, Shahrar Ali. Fewer candidates disclose personal details regarding living arrangements and family, but those who do, show a diversity of circumstance removed from the stereotypical ‘married with two children’. Overall then, the party’s candidates offer up something less ‘male and stale’ when compared to the other political parties. But with so few winnable seats on offer for the Greens on May 7th, the Greens stand little chance of changing the look and feel of the political class.
Sally Symington, PCUK Researcher