[Please share this one with your Labour voting friends]
I tweeted last week my congratulations to Bob Dennett, a long standing anti-fracking campaigner in Fylde, who stood for us at a local byelection for the council. Fylde is an area with the potential to be badly affected by fracking and there is strong local feeling against it.
So there was some crowing by the usual suspects when the byelection was convincingly won by an independent, and Bob finished last with just 4.3% (although that compares with 5.1% for the Lib Dems). So what is going on? Does nobody care about fracking? Actually the winning candidate (an independent Ratepayer) was also strongly against fracking. He is a former councillor and a well known postmaster, and given the result last time, he was very much seen as the stronger of the two anti-fracking votes. His vote jumped by nearly 30%. The total “no to fracking” vote was 70%, with just 30% going to parties in favour of fracking.
That result matches up with the findings of national polls about how strong local opposition will be to fracking in a voter’s immediate area. Given how incredibly unpopular fracking is going to be in the many local areas affected around the North West (and the rest of the UK), how are the other parties going to deal with the fact that the Greens are the only credible Euro vote contender who are against the fracking industry?
At the first hustings of the North West campaign on Friday night in West Kirby on the Wirral, there was a key local issue about coal gasification under the Dee estuary. Unsurprisingly the panel were not all in favour. I hope to have a link to the hustings soon (it was recorded by Bay TV), but in the meantime I’ll summarise the party positions (forgive the paraphrasing):
UKIP: their representative at the hustings made clear that they were in favour of keeping the lights on, but that this had to be sited appropriately and that this sort of development would be better placed elsewhere
Liberal Democrats: it was not the clearest of answers so I can’t honestly say that either the audience or I was exactly sure about his personal position, but he wasn’t saying it had to happen in the Dee estuary either
Labour: the local parliamentary candidate is vociferously against fracking and coal gasification. She is campaigning against it and I don’t doubt her personal sincerity.
Tories: Esther McVey, the local MP, was there. They of course support it nationally but she tried to reassure the audience that it won’t happen to Hilbre island. If I’m kind, I think I’ll say that people were sceptical and they wanted more than just her reassurances.
So what did I say? All the parties above are in favour of fracking / coal gasification, but of course we are going to get local representatives campaigning against. In particular, Labour’s representative was well supported at the meeting, and she was saying all the right things. I thanked her for her opposition but told her that I wished that the answer she had given was the one that Caroline Flint had given to Caroline Lucas when our Green MP asked the Labour Shadow Minister for their position nationally.
We are going to see a lot of this in the run up to the European Elections. Voters can actually support policies that they want or they can vote out of tribal loyalty, familiarity or because they are simply not aware that the party they are voting for is in favour of such policies.
So for voters who currently support Labour or the Liberal Democrats, but are actually supporters of Green policies, it is important to recognise this:
- At a hustings or public meeting about fracking, expect Labour and the Liberal Democrats to often stand against whatever “local” scheme is being discussed and even against it nationally, because it make sense on those hustings to have a sceptical position
- A parallel example might be at a hustings about Trident, expect the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates to be against it personally, despite the relative records of their national party
By doing so, the other parties are trying to crowd out support for the Greens and our popular policies. I want to make clear that I’m not attacking the personal positions of Labour (or even Lib Dem) people on these issues – they agree with us and good luck to them in changing their own parties (they will need it) – but I am very critical of this “wolf in sheep’s clothing” politics. What I think the electorate does deserve to know is the positions of the people they will elect. If Labour are going to elect 3 Euro MPs in the North West, are they towing the party line on fracking, Trident and everything else, or where do they disagree? Whatever the position of the local person at the hustings, it matters about the politics of the person you are going to actually elect.
This is clearly to me a strategy, where other parties can get cover for their hugely unpopular policies, like support for privatised energy, TTIP, nuclear weapons and fracking, by making sure that the people who are on the frontline of the political debate at the grassroots more acceptable to the audience than the policy. For European hustings, you expect to see European candidates, and their absence should raise questions. Why at a European hustings was I the only North West European candidate?
One of the key issues for us ahead of the European Elections is to make the case that people don’t get falsely reassured about policy because their local representative has the right view on it. This is particularly true for potential Labour/ Green swing voters. They have to ask themselves about the direction of Ed Miliband’s Labour. If UKIP have a successful election and make some gains, where does that lead? However if both UKIP and the Greens have successful elections, with the Greens trebling our number of MEPs on a 1.3% swing, how will that influence Labour?
You get what you vote for. If the Labour supporters that want the very popular policies put forward by the Greens to be part of the policies of the next Labour government, the European Elections are their last chance to wield some influence. Otherwise expect more supine votes, like the one last week to support the welfare reforms, where the majority of Labour MPs back the coalition and are too afraid to strike out for a radical and better Britain.