What next for the Greens?

The big news for the Green Party is Caroline Lucas’ victory in Brighton Pavilion. Winning a Westminster seat for the first time is an eye-catching breakthrough that brings direct benefits in funding and publicity.

But away from Brighton, the Greens’ scores weren’t spectacular; the significance of yesterday may be less the results themselves, and more the opportunity they’ve given the party to build on its current position.

Nationally, the Greens won 286k votes: up about 30k on 2005. But in 2005 they contested 200 seats; this time they were in 334 constituencies, and there was an overall small national swing away from the Greens. Overall, UKIP got 3 times as many votes, and the BNP got twice as many.

Away from Brighton Pavilion, their results in the constituencies they targeted were mixed. In Norwich South they gained 7.5pts, and in Cambridge Tony Juniper gained 4.7pts, but in both they remained in fourth place.  In both Lewisham Deptford and Oxford East, they lost ground, falling by 3.3pts and 2.1pts respectively.

So even where the party is making gains it’s still a very long way from being able to win more constituencies. Only in Norwich South are they in touching distance of the winning party – and Labour and the Lib Dems will be fighting tooth and nail over it.

There’s an argument that this election came at a difficult time for an environmentalist party: the focus on the economy squeezed out most coverage of green issues. But other factors may have helped, since the Tories and Labour were so unpopular, and the Lib Dems look to have been less popular than the polls had suggested.

All this suggests that the extra money, airtime and credibility that Caroline Lucas MP will bring is unlikely to be enough alone to help the party make further gains in Westminster.  The only answer for the Greens looks to be electoral reform.

But it can’t be any kind of electoral reform – in fact I suspect that the Alternative Vote system (which is the limited reform that both Labour and the Tories may push for) may even be unhelpful for the Greens. To do well in AV, you need not only to be disliked by relatively few, but you also need a decent number to choose you as their first choice. In Brighton Pavilion this shouldn’t be a problem, but I suspect the party would continue to struggle to find enough people putting them as first choice in other constituencies.

The only system that would allow them to take advantage of their broad but thinly-spread support (about 1% of the electorate under the current system – though it should increase under a changed system) would be a more proportionally representative system. A system like the ones in Wales and Scotland, which elects both constituency and regional Members, may be the most realistic and helpful answer for the party.

  1. Rupert Read says:

    AV will help us rather than harm us – because it will kill the ‘wasted vote’ / ‘tactical vote’ argument that has done us so much harm all over the country, including crucially here in Norwich South.

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