Leading article: Down a little, but not out

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With the honourable exception of Norwich, where they now lead the opposition, the Greens did not cover themselves in glory in last week's elections. In London, where the contest was dominated by the Johnson-Livingstone duel, Sian Berry made a creditable showing. Across the country, though, the Greens generally fell back in those seats they also contested last year.

This is disappointing, but it is not "bad" – the word also used quite justifiably by Gordon Brown to describe Labour's dismal showing. It is nonetheless surprising that, at a time when environmental issues have climbed up the national agenda and evidence of the deleterious effects of climate change mounts almost by the day, the Greens did not attract more support.

We offer two tentative explanations: one positive, the other less so. The positive one is that many "green" policies have gone mainstream – cutting carbon emissions, promoting reusable energy and building eco-friendly housing are now official government and opposition policy. The Greens thus have to be more imaginative if they are to make their mark.

The other is that, at a time of economic belt-tightening, some green measures might seem an expensive luxury. There is no reason why this should be so. Environmental responsibility need not cost any more, and should cost a lot less in the long term than profligate consumerism. But the Greens may have to adapt their message to the new austerity. In the meantime, they can console themselves on the way their influence has permeated the mainstream – without, of course, resting on their laurels.

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