Green Book – Positive Policies Need Translation and Smarter Branding
Of the three main political parties, the Lib Dems are generally considered the greenest. The Green Book, launched on Monday, sets out a suite of environmental policy ideas, arguments and analysis that seek to build on that platform and further embed the agenda for ‘green growth’ within the party’s 2015 manifesto.
The stated aim of the book is to offer a ‘fundamentally different approach to economic and social policy’ weaving a green thread through every aspect of policy, both in government and beyond. The authors want the Lib Dems to put green policies at the core of their agenda to stimulate jobs and growth, combat climate change and distinguish the party from its coalition partners.
Judging by the chapter headings and the profiles of the contributors, this weighty tome will be devoured with relish by environmentalists and NGOs. The contribution of business lobby The Aldersgate Group to the launch confirmed that there are also large parts of the business community that are sympathetic to this promotion and development of the green growth agenda.
And the range of the book seems comprehensive. Driving the green agenda through most of Whitehall – from fiscal policy, through business, energy, localism, waste, transport and foreign policy. The major absentee appears to be agriculture and food, which was admitted by the editors as a deliberate omission to avoid the book becoming an encyclopaedia.
A further criticism was acknowledged by Duncan Brack in his opening remarks. He admitted that the book is unashamedly by policy people for policy people.
Therefore it remains to be seen whether these ideas can be distilled and translated into proposals that can resonate with the electorate. As the ‘gravel pit’ by-election in Eastleigh showed the Lib Dems can communicate effectively on local environmental issues. However the benefits of championing a broader environmental agenda during a time of austerity are more difficult to predict, particularly when green measures are seen by many voters as increasing costs of living, causing inconvenience and/or spoiling their local environment. How to counteract those arguments will often vary from constituency to constituency making this a difficult platform to fight on nationwide.
This uncertainty leads to a broader point about the branding of this initiative.
In their enthusiasm to clothe themselves in the history of the Yellow and Orange Books, it seems to me that the editors have missed an opportunity. These ideas could easily have been brought under a heading that steered clear of the term ‘green’ which has been shown to (in the words of the B&Q representative at the event) ‘turn consumers off’. If a colour was required perhaps a return to yellow would have been preferable if this thesis for growth is to be truly compared to the 1929 manifesto ‘Britain’s Industrial Future’. Instead (as this blog perhaps illustrates) the use of the term ‘green’ is often a signpost for those that already share enthusiasm for the topic, rather than an invitation for the broadest engagement.
By calling the program ‘The Green Book’ it will immediately be considered by some as a niche agenda. This presents two risks – (i) that the ideas will not be taken seriously, and (ii) that the environmental lobby is seen as talking to itself.
The list of speakers booked to discuss The Green Book at the Lib Dem Spring Conference suggests the initiative is backed by the highest levels of the party, which will help with the first risk. As for the second, judging by the slightly esoteric nature of the discussion at the launch, more needs to be done to broaden the Green Book’s readership if these ideas are going to take hold.