Explaining the emergence of the Green Party in the United Kingdom, 1973-79

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis investigates the emergence of the Green Party in the United Kingdom from its creation in 1973 up until the 1979 general election. The party was first called PEOPLE, then the Ecology Party from 1975 before changing its name again to the Green Party in 1985. The thesis focuses upon the creation and early history of the party, considering the reasons for its emergence. Studies of the UK Greens have examined several areas including their membership, ideology and internal structure. They have not considered in detail the question of why the party emerged. There are more general theories and ideas about the emergence and development of green parties as a phenomenon across numerous countries. Not only do such accounts fail to fully engage with the specific details of the UK case. They have also been the subject of comprehensive criticism, calling into doubt their broader merit as explanations for the emergence of green parties.

This thesis employs historical methods to provide insights into the causes of the party’s coming into being. It focuses in particular on the party’s founders and early members, looking at their background, the influences on their thinking, and their perceptions, ideas and views. Two main types of sources have been used which together represent the most comprehensive study of the party’s history to date. First, 50 oral interviews were conducted with individuals who joined the party between 1973-79. Most of these participants had never previously been interviewed for research into the party. Secondly, thousands of archival documents relating to the party from this period, which were retrieved from public archives and personal collections of papers, have been consulted. A considerable amount of this archive material had not previously been accessed by researchers. The thesis rejects monocausal explanations for the party’s emergence. Instead it identifies several important motivations. It does, however, place particular emphasis on some dynamics in the period leading up to and during the party’s inception: the increase in concrete environmental problems as a result of population growth and economic development, increased public and media attention on the environment and, in particular, the emergence of an environmental or ecological ideological project without which the party’s existence simply would not have made sense.

The first and most obvious original contribution to knowledge which this thesis makes is in enhancing understanding of the Greens in the UK. This is important because they have achieved the rare feat within the British party system of breaking out of obscurity and establishing themselves as a small but significant and, seemingly, stable force which therefore merits investigation. The nature of the method employed here, including extensive use of interviews and accessing longstanding party activists’ private papers, means this was one of the last chances to conduct such work. This thesis will provide a valuable record for future researchers. More generally, the party’s emergence during the 1970s was part of a wider set of developments in the form of the fragmentation of the UK party system, the emergence of a broader environmental movement in Britain and internationally, and the collective emergence of green parties across the world. All of these developments have had longstanding and significant political impacts. The research conducted for this thesis enriches academic understanding of them.
Date of Award1 Jul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Kandiah (Supervisor) & Andrew Blick (Supervisor)

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