Have Greens finally found right conditions in which to grow?

As its conference annual conference opens, Andy McSmith finds a party ready to make an impact

Green Party members are on their very best behaviour. In just a few months time, when the next general election is held, they hope they will have their first elected MP. But first they must get throughtheir party conference without doing anything stupid.

If the evidence from council and European elections is to be believed, they are almost home and dry in the Brighton Pavilion constituency, where the sitting Labour MP, David Lepper, is retiring. Of the candidates lining up to take his place, the best known is Caroline Lucas, the Green MEP for South-East England.

The Greens took 31 per cent of the vote in the constituency in the last council elections in 2007. They have since won two council by-elections, increasing their vote, and in last year's European elections their support rose to 38 per cent, compared with 31 for the Conservatives and 22 for Labour.

So long as the Green Party stays in the public eye locally and does not implode, Brighton Pavilion should be theirs for the taking, and Lucas will enter the Commons as Britain's first Green MP. They also have outside chances in two other seats – Norwich South, and Deptford, in south London.

But those with long political memories will recall what happened last time the Green Party was close to breaking into national politics in a big way. It was 20 years ago, when support for the Liberal Democrats disintegrated because of a feud with the rival centre party led by David Owen, leaving a big hole that the Green Party almost filled.

As they assembled for their autumn conference in September 1989, they were at 15 per cent in the opinion polls, and had the committed backing of a national newspaper, the now defunct Today. But their conference turned into such a display of chaos and indiscipline that their position in the polls vanished as fast as it had risen.

One problem was their refusal to elect a party leader, fearing they would lose the happy, democratic chaos of a party full of people who liked being on protest or setting up peace camps. But today's Green Party is for grown-ups. Membership has swollen to about 10,000 – far fewer than in the main political parties, but also proportionally more active. They have a bureaucracy, including press officers who have learnt to be suspicious of journalists, and officials who can be overheard ordering taxis rather than bicycles.

There are even disciplinary tribunals, which on rare occasions have expelled party members. Owen Clarke, co- ordinator of the disputes committee, about the need for self-discipline, said: "There will be many stresses and strains as we work to obtain good Parliamentary representation. We cannot afford to add the extra strain of exaggerated internal disputes."

And after years of agonising, the Greens finally decided last year that they should have a leader, like any other party. Lucas was elected in September, though there is no prospect of her staying in post for years on end, like Tony Blair or David Cameron, without a challenge. After two years, she will have to reapply for her job, and she says she expects someone will run against her.

Now 49, she was working as a £5,000-a-year press officer for the Green Party when it blew its previous big chance.

"It was an emotional time to be a press officer, to see the party grow from almost nothing to 15 per cent and then see it go wrong," she said. "The party has learnt now to prepare for success. That means being disciplined about what you say, which is the thing with any political party."

Question time: So why are you a Green Party member?

Mo Jiwa, 25

I've been quite concerned about the state of UK politics, both on a local and national level, and I could not find anything in the other parties. The Greens, however, were principled and seemed to fit my own ideas of the world.

Sue Mallender

I've been a member since 1983. I joined after I read a leaflet in the general election around that time. I was overjoyed to find that I was not the only one with my viewpoint.

Nick Clinch, 19

They're more progressive. They're interested in the environment. They're out there to make a difference in the world. I hope to raise awareness about environmental issues.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup