Firstly, I’d like to offer a huge note of thanks to Martin Dobson and everyone who worked on his campaign. I know how hard it is to be a lead candidate from my experience in two Euro campaigns. I also contested Liverpool Riverside in 2005, but did nothing like the level of work that Martin put in this time. He deserves all of our thanks. I think we can always learn from campaigns and I’m going to do a little bit of number crunching on this blog (if you don’t like that sort of thing, please look away now!)
Last year’s local election results showed that Labour gained 53% of the vote and we gained 27%. So an obvious question is that despite a really impressive and hardworking campaign from Martin Dobson and his team in Riverside, why was the General Election result Labour on 67.4% and the Greens in 2nd place with 12.1%?
The first point to make is that our local vote wasn’t that much different. If we aggregate the local election vote for Riverside, we gained 23% of the vote, which is a little down on last year’s share. We know that there is a much higher turnout at General Elections, and these figures suggest that people who vote at General Elections are slightly less likely to vote Green. If we also make a basic assumption that people who voted Green in the General Election also voted Green locally (as the options were the same on most ballot papers) then the other half of our local election voters chose not to support us in the General Election. So what are the reasons for this for the disparity? I’d suggest the following:
- The national message that you have to vote Labour to beat the Tories
- That people don’t see the Greens as a “national” party yet but do like local Greens
- Lib Dem voters boosting our local tally marginally in seats where they fail to put up local candidates
There is evidence of the first. I sent out my final email message to voters in the Wavertree constituency who had contacted me during the campaign the day before the election. I got back a few positive replies, but I also got back replies that included phrases such as:
“I like the Greens but I’m voting to keep out the nasty party”
“I don’t want to let the Tories get in”
Now in Wavertree constituency, the Tories did actually finish 2nd with 10% of the vote, but no serious political analyst thinks they have a cat’s chance of winning this seat for generations. Our conversion rate from local to national votes was a bit higher in Wavertree, but not that different to Riverside. In Riverside we finished 2nd. That argument can and should be dealt with before we get to 2020 as we can make the case in every election that we are the main challenger to Labour in the Riverside seat.
There are people that Martin said he met on the doorstep that would vote Green locally, but not nationally. We are not yet seen as a credible national party by many. That is harder to address, but the 2nd place finish in Riverside, plus the fact we are the main opposition in Liverpool and we contested all Liverpool constituencies for the first time should start to address this issue. However, we perhaps need to think about how we can best remind people that we are a party that can win seats at Westminster. The more people see of “Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party” the better.
The final way to really put ourselves in the frame for next time will be to win council seats in every local election between now and 2020 in the seats within the constituency. We were the 2nd place party in every ward except Kirkdale (3rd) and St Michaels (1st). We are going to have to win seats in 2016, 2018 and 2019. We need to show real momentum locally going into the next General Election, because we will need to improve on the 23% gain we made in Bristol to win the seat, but we also need to spread ourselves more widely in Liverpool.
One complicating factor is that we will almost certainly face redrawn constituency boundaries in Liverpool, with 5 constituencies being reduced to 4. We’ll see possible competition between Labour MPs (unless Louise Ellman chooses to step down) about who should go for which seat. So our target constituency strategy also has to look outside the current boundaries of Riverside to wards like Kensington& Fairfield, Wavertree, Church and Cressington. Under redrawn boundaries any number of combinations could be developed, but we would be unwise to focus solely on the wards that are within the current boundaries.
On a final note, I can take absolutely no credit for the Liverpool Riverside result. This year, the demands of a new job and a new baby have meant I’ve been putting much, much less of my time into politics. I was delighted to be the Wavertree candidate and very pleased we kept our deposit there. I owe that to the hard work of local candidates like Steve Faragher and Josie Mullen, who did quite a bit within their wards on local campaigning. I’ll be a lot less frontline in Liverpool for a while, but as time allows I’m going to be working hard to help more Green councillors get elected in the coming years.