The next leader of the Green Party could gain quite a lot by copying the idea. She should put a welcome message on her screen saver saying: "It's the environment - stupid!"
The Green party has a number of things going for it that have the potential to make it extraordinarily popular. They include:
1. It is right about the direction of development of the economy. Technology is changing rapidly. We are moving away from a world that can only function by burning fossils. There are plenty of good moral reasons to want to do this. There are also rock solid economic self interest reasons. Across the globe from China to Saudi Arabia governments are making major efforts to switch their economies away from oil and gas as quickly as they possibly can. No one does well by being the owner of resources or possessing skills or running companies that have become out of date. Boiler making is a dead trade. The people who invested in Apple early prospered. A party which argues for the necessity of the UK being at the forefront of that change to a new technology will be very popular. The best policy the Green Party had at the last election was to invest 1% of the UK national budget on scientific research and development. People saw the sense in it and admired the ambition for a better future.
2. It is right about the importance of local communities. The single most unpopular policy of the current Conservative government with the people who voted for it is its determination to allow developers to build whatever they like across green field sites. People don't want to wake up and discover lorries going past their window on the way back to the fracking well or to see land that they have loved for years covered in yet another executive housing development. These people can be mobilised very easily to defend their local environment and to fight this kind of thing off whilst still fully recognising the need to build more single bedroom starter homes at prices in the right places at prices that young people can afford. Increasing numbers of people are beginning to understand that getting rid of so much social housing has left a huge gap in the community which is going to be very hard to repair. It is now very easy to argue that a healthy community needs a mix of private housing and affordable social housing. It is also easy to persuade people that local government and housing associations need to be supported not bullied into selling off what they own on behalf of the public.
3. It is right about transport. There is so much to be gained by investing in a properly co-ordinated and efficient public transport service. The Northern Powerhouse concept of connecting majority of the North of England into one large job market, skills pool and technology transfer centre is an excellent example of what could be achieved. It is a relatively cheap and efficient way to rebalance the UK economy so that work is more evenly distributed across the country and more people can live in environments where homes are affordable and they have easy access to spectacular countryside. The same model can easily be applied to the South West or to the Birmingham/Black Country conurbation. The current mess of eccentric companies running different parts of the railway service without any powerful co-ordinating force is hugely unpopular. So is the fact that the Northern Powerhouse is currently all talk and no money or action.
4. It is right about collaboration. The Green Party has honestly told the electorate that we need strong local government, strong national government but also strong European and world institutions. Problems don't stop at borders in the modern world and so messy difficult international collaboration is a must and the idea that "A New Europe is Possible" is very credible and necessary.
5. The Green Party has been seen to be right in opposing a series of very bad wars which have had dreadful consequences for people and wildlife in the countries invaded or bombed including the generation of large numbers of helpless refugees.
Yet despite having got so many of the big things right the Green Party in the UK remains a small party that has yet to make the major breakthrough to being taken in deadly earnest as a potential government of the country.
Some of the reasons for this are fully understandable. The Greens have been arguing against austerity politics and putting forward serious economic alternatives. That is not an easy thing to do at a time of major budget deficit. Common sense says that if you aren't balancing your books you need to cut your spending. Unfortunately common sense is wrong and economists have known since the 1930s Great Depression that some recessions are so deep that the only way you can get out of them is co-ordinated international action to boost all the major economies at the same time. That isn't an easy or simple message to get across. Particularly when you are also trying to explain that when we do expand the economy we will have to change it radically so that it is a low consumption form of growth that we are creating and doing massively more to ensure that getting the economy moving again doesn't mean burning more fossils, ripping out more raw materials, destroying more forests and dumping more plastic into the sea.
But not all the reasons for the Green's failure to make a major breakthrough are down to difficulties in explaining an honest and necessary policy in the face of a hostile press. Many of those difficulties are down to policies or at the very least ways of communicating those policies which I think are wrong and which are deeply unpopular. For example:
1. Nationalisation is not the solution to every problem. Sometimes it is helpful but the most effective economies - such as the Chinese since Deng - have always been a mixture of free enterprise and state planning. Green policies need to be business friendly as well as people friendly and environmentally friendly. I don't know anyone in the Green Party that wants to introduce a North Korean style state run economy. But I have heard people explain things so badly that this is what it sounds like they want to do. If that is the way we come across to other then we won't get to implement any of our excellent policies and the Greens will have to be content with trying to criticise the deeply damaging policies of those who do win votes and power.
2. Freedom is every bit as important as equality. At its core the Green Party is a very libertarian organisation but it can often come across to the public as an organisation that wants to stop people doing lots of things. No one will ever win a high proportion of the votes in the UK by allowing itself to sound like the party of more restrictions. Greens have to articulate and develop their policies as ones which are enabling and empowering.
3. Long term ambition is not the same as the policy the Green Party would implement tomorrow. I have a long term ambition to live in a world with no passports or borders where we are free to move wherever we wish. I also think the UK has hugely gained from immigration and we need a refreshing injection of energetic young people from other countries to sustain the increasingly elderly population of this country. Furthermore I am convinced that we are not doing remotely enough to help out with the refugee crisis. That doesn't mean I think we can function in today's world without any controls whatsoever on immigration. That is actually Green party policy and appeared in our last election manifesto so we shouldn't be embarrassed to remind people of that policy. Saying that kind of thing clearly and often is necessary, helpful and honest. It also means that people can't easily write you off as nice but a silly little idealist who can't be trusted to make realistic decisions. It increases our chances of looking after more refugees rather than reduces them.
4. The aim of policy making is not to develop the most radical policy possible so that no one can outflank you from the left. Policy making is about making sure your proposals will work before you talk about them live on TV or radio. The Greens have been really poor at internally road testing their policies and getting rid of all the weaknesses before the leader is sent out to become easy meat for even the gentlest of media interviewers. Natalie didn't have a brain meltdown on live radio because she was personally flawed. She failed to explain a Green policy because it had been announced before it had been properly worked through and she was hung out to dry by being sent out to an interview before she had been subjected internally to every argument against it that could be predicted. If that happens to the next leader the Greens are finished as a serious force.
All of this leads to my final and biggest concern. Too many Greens are very happy to write people off. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that votes couldn't be won in particular localities because they are all Tories there or it is a UKIP stronghold. I won 30% of the vote in a seat that "always votes Conservative" in the last council elections and would have won if Labour hadn't stood and taken 25% of the vote. I won votes from Conservatives that Labour could never have won. The same thing happened in the national general election. I stood in one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, where I was told it would be impossible to retain the deposit. I got 5.7% of the vote and easily got the money back. Several of the people who voted for me said that they were intending to vote UKIP before I spoke to them on the street because they were desperate for an alternative. Once they heard Green policies they liked them. This is not down to some personal impact. In the last Council elections up and down the country the Greens did really well in Conservative held seats because people were prepared to vote for a sensible Green candidate that they knew personally who would never have voted Labour.
The only way to win elections is to listen to what people say, argue strongly back against things you disagree with and explain in straightforward honest terms why we are going to have to adopt sensible environmental policies sooner or later and we might as well get on with doing it now before the cost goes up even further. The new leader of the Green Party needs to learn that lesson. Either we vote for someone with the limited ambition to lead a pressure group without much influence. Or we learn to speak to the core concerns of the people we are hoping to represent and make sure that they understand why electing an environmentalist with a fierce determination to do the right thing is the best way to protect their own vital interests. I think we should do the latter and lay the groundwork for a huge move forward.