Fortunately this is not one of my jokes from the stand up routines I used to do as amateur comedian, many years ago, so you can continue reading. What is common to Britain, Australia and Canada? The answers are Caroline Lucas, Adam Bandt and Elizabeth May. They are all sole Green MPs in their respective parliaments, elected in tough contests in the last round of national elections.
Tomorrow, Adam Bandt’s 3 year term as Australia’s first Green MP comes to an end as Australians re-elect their new parliament, and elect part of their upper house, the Senate. I very much hope that by September 8th we will have learned that he has been successfully re-elected.
So what does a single Green MP in a lower house of Parliament achieve? In Caroline Lucas we have an MP that has been prominent in raising issues ignored by the other parties. During the passage of the AV Referendum Bill it was Caroline Lucas (supported by a few others) who asked for the British people not just to choose between a bad system (First Past the Post) and a marginally less bad system (Alternative Vote), but to offer us a genuine vote on proportional representation. It is Caroline Lucas who wholly represents opposition to fracking in our Parliament, who challenges the misogyny of page 3 and Caroline who opposes Trident renewal and proposes rail re-nationalisation.
In the UK the effect of a single Green Parliamentary seat raises awareness on all the issues we campaign on. It puts an alternative voice to politics as usual out to a wider audience. Occasionally, just occasionally, a single Green vote in either an upper or lower house can make a crucial difference on legislation, as I explained when Jenny Jones was accepted as a nominee to the House of Lords.
Adam Bandt and Elizabeth May have had a similar effect in their own nations. You don’t have to take a partisan view on this to recognise the impact of a single Green MP, as all three have won Parliamentarian / Politician of the year awards, and these are voted for by non-Greens.
Bandt is the first to face re-election in his Melbourne seat. He does so in the face of a hostile majority Murdoch press that would like nothing more than to see the Australian Greens lose this seat and a couple of their upper house senators. Since the 2010 the Liberal/National coalition have preferred Labor to the Greens in their AV recommendations, as they seek to rip the heart out of Australian climate change policy in the next parliament. All that stands between absolute power for the most right wing Prime Minister in Australia’s history is the Greens, and the political establishment know it.
Whatever the result, what we will see is an increase in the number of people who vote Green in Melbourne as their first choice party. In the neighbouring seat of Batman, the Greens might get into second place, ready for a full challenge in 2016. A loss would be a setback, but not the end of the journey for the Australian Greens. Their task is in this circumstance made much harder not by the AV system, but in the uniquely above/below the line voting that allows parties, rather than voters to rank the order of the candidates.
A win for Bandt will mean that the Greens are there to stay in the Australian parliament, with three or four more seats that become winnable next time. I’ll be watching for results from tomorrow evening. We should seek to learn lessons from our Australian counterparts when it comes to the defence of Brighton Pavilion in 2014 or 2015.