There is a cost to being taken seriously. Green policies will be scrutinised as never before and the same goes for Green politicians. The age of innocence is over.
The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky will include party leaders from seven political parties in this year's pre-election debates including the Greens, the Scots Nationalists and Paid Cymru.
The biggest loser from the move is UKIP, which had previously been the only one of the smaller parties to be recognised as a 'major party', triggering widespread protest - and head-scratching.
The broadcasters are now offering two debates involving the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru; and a single closing debate between the Prime Minister and the Labour leader.
One of the seven-party debates will be hosted by the BBC, and the other by ITV, and Channel 4 and Sky will co-host the final two-party debate. Proposed dates for the debates are the 2nd, 16th and 30th April.
And the broadcasters are clear that they will 'empty chair' any party leader that declines the terms on offer. "The party leaders have been formally invited to take part in these debates", reads a formal statement. "If any decide not to participate the debates would take place with those who accepted the invitation."
'This is the Green Spring'
"The decision to include the Greens in two debates is an acceptance by the broadcasters that we now are in an age of multi-party politics", said Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, who describes the current proposals as "fair and reasonable".
"This groundbreaking decision serves the interests of both the electorate and British democracy. Our membership and polling surge demonstrates that when people hear about Green Party values and policies many embrace them.
"The political landscape is fracturing and fewer and fewer people want the business-as-usual politics offered by the traditional Westminster parties. This is the Green Spring.
"The fresh proposals means that Green Party policies that can bring real change to Britain - from bringing the railways back into public hands to a £10 minimum wage by 2020 to zero university tuition fees - will now be heard far more widely."
Reacting to complaints of exclusion by Sinn Féin, the DUP and Respect, Bennett said: "I think it's time to move on from the debate about the debates, and get on with the debate about the issues."
The news is also welcomed by Plaid Cymru and the SNP, whose Leader Nicola Sturgeon said "the inclusion of the SNP, Plaid and the Greens will rightly show that politics beyond Westminster isn't just an old boys club."
Membership and poll success continues
Meanwhile the Green Party's membership surge continues. As reported on The Ecologist, over 4,000 people joined the Greens in the space of two days last week when the 'debate fever' was at its height, pushing it above both UKIP and the LibDems on a single day.
By yesterday morning the Green Party of England & Wales had added more than 3,000 additional members, and the number of members now stands at over 48,000. On the basis of current trends, the party is likely to reach 50,000 members next week. Add that to the Scottish Greens' membership of around 9,000 (up from 1,700 in September) and the Greens have over 58,000 members.
As well as showing support, the influx of members will also transform the Green Party's finances. Even if the new members are only paying an average of £10 per year (reflecting a high proportion of students) an unscheduled £300,000 or so has reached the party's coffers since January. That's on top of a £300,000 donation by the campaigning fashion designer Vivienne Westwood a few days ago.
Opinion polls also show the Greens riding high. A 22nd January Yougov poll shows the Greens ahead of the LibDems with 8%, a lead of 1%, after briefly spiking at 10%. A Guardian/ICM poll published on 20th January shows the Greens on 9%, the highest recorded by ICM in more than 20 years, up 4% on the December figure.
But most interesting is the analysis of voters' preferred outcome in the event of a hung Parliament, with the strongest support going to a Labour / SNP / Green coalition on 19% - more than any other arrangement. The least popular outcome was a minority Labour government, on 3%.
"The parties we used to relegate to the margins with the term 'others' are now moving centre stage", Martin Boon of ICM told the Guardian. "The combined forces of all those outside the old LibLabCon triopoly has never been stronger during three decades of Guardian/ICM polling."
But while the Greens are rightly celebrating their surge, they will now have to professionalise their act and prepare for far closer examination at both an individual and policy level, one Green Party veteran told The Ecologist:
"Finally the Greens have arrived on the mainstream political map, and this is something I have been fighting for for over thirty years", he said. "But there is a cost to being taken seriously. Green policies will be scrutinised as never before and the same goes for Green politicians. The age of innocence is over."
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.