So as I predicted before the election, there is little thanks in the blogosphere from Labour and others on the left for the seats Greens didn’t stand, but plenty of blame thrown about the Tories now being in government - the SNP, the Greens, anyone but Labour. So the first bit of this entry will look at what happened this time, before I suggest a way forward in 2020 for progressive politics.
As I made clear in this previous blog, there were six seats where the absence of a Green candidate should have helped Labour hold or gain seats. In Bolton West, Labour failed to hold on despite the local Greens choosing not to stand, and clearly doing so with the marginal status of the constituency in mind. In Wirral West and the City of Chester, there were very narrow wins for both Labour candidates. Look at neighbouring Wirral South and you can see that had the Greens chosen to stand a candidate in these seats, it is highly likely that the Conservatives would have held both.
The Daily Mirror has flagged up constituencies where 900 votes made the difference between no overall control and a Tory majority. So we can also look at these seats and a couple of other marginals. Does the charge that the Greens handed the seats to the Tories stack up?
Well in one of them, Vale of Clwyd, there was no Green candidate so we can write that off. In Gower, you could say that it was the fault of the Greens, or you could say it was down to TUSC, whose votes exceeded the margin of the loss. In Bury North, Croydon Central, Plymouth South & Devonport and Telford the Greens were ahead of the Lib Dems, so maybe it was the fault of the Lib Dems. In Morley and Outwood, formerly Ed Balls’ seat, you could say it was down to the Yorkshire First candidate.
Only in Derby North can you specifically point at a Green candidate finishing last in the seat and say that if the Greens hadn’t stood it would have meant a Labour win, but even that claim depends on the assumptions that:
- Every Green voters would have still voted
- Every Green voter would have made Labour their 2nd choice in the absence of a Green candidate
- The dynamics of the campaign would not have been affected
So if Labour or left supporters want to play a blame game, they can, but it isn’t a black and white analysis. Simplistic claims just don’t work. Greens can equally point to Labour pulling the plank out of its own eye on this issue. As Adam McGibbon eloquently writes in relation to Brighton (my bold):
“...the full weight of the national Labour Party was thrown at us. Endless mailshots, scores of activists bussed in, a steady stream of shadow cabinet ministers, fancy offices, and a huge national infrastructure backing their local operation. In the end, while Labour threw the kitchen sink at Brighton Pavilion, they lost neighbouring Brighton Kemptown by 690 votes. With turnout in Kemptown 5% lower than Hove and Pavilion, there is so much more Labour could have done to elect Nancy Platts, their excellent, positive, left-wing Kemptown candidate. Not going hell-for-leather to unseat Caroline Lucas, and talking more about the Greens than about the Tories, would have been one thing that would have helped.”
Blaming other parties for a Tory majority means Labour has a long way to go to get to where they need to be in 2020.
My view is that we can either spend the next few years blaming each other for an outcome Greens, Reds and even Yellows didn’t want – a majority Tory government – or we can work out how we can work differently next time. This isn’t going to be easy for any single party. The price for Greens and Lib Dems to work with Labour in any sort of electoral arrangement would be dependent on:
- Labour understanding that Greens never want another majority government, Tory or Labour, unless they gain 50%+ of the vote and have a democratic mandate for it
- That there are very many Labour MPs in safe Labour seats who believe they have a job for life (including our MPs in Liverpool). They will not easily sign up to any electoral arrangement that will require a change to the voting system, but this would have to change
- The Greens (and hopefully the Lib Dems) would require real constitutional reform of the voting system, the House of Lords and political accountability in exchange for the kind of co-operation I’m outlining below
So how could it work? Firstly, you would need a Labour and Lib Dem leader willing to speak about working together with other parties to fix our broken political system. The Labour leader would need to be able to stand up to the majority of their Parliamentary Party who may prefer an extended period in opposition to a voting change that would mean they no longer had a seat for life. Caroline Lucas has already said this about the next election:
“Unless we break free of tribal politics and work together to fight austerity, and promote crucial, common-sense climate policies, we’re faced with an incredibly bleak political future. For the sake of all those who’ll suffer most at the hands of the Tories, we must rethink our relations and recognise the importance of our common ground.
That should include shared platforms and case-by-case electoral pacts, to build a strong progressive alliance to challenge the Tories over the next five years. Clearly in Wales and Scotland, where there are PR elections for the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, this doesn't apply, but where First Past the Post continues to distort election results, it should surely be considered.”
In Liverpool, the Greens are likely to pose the main challenge to Labour in the city for the next decade. The idea of Greens or Labour standing down in favour of one another here is unthinkable but in safe Labour seats, and indeed in most seats, politics would continue as usual. What we need to consider are the marginal seats, like Wirral West, Chester and Bolton West. We did not stand in these seats in 2015 but given our growth, we could have, and we would expect to in 2020. Our presence in these contests would have meant more Tory MPs and a bigger majority for Cameron. What we actually wanted was a hung parliament with a progressive majority.
So in 2020, we could have Green v Labour contests in Bristol West, Sheffield Central, Liverpool Riverside and Manchester Gorton (or more likely the successor constituencies to them), but potentially with Greens not standing in selected marginals, while Labour don’t stand in Brighton Pavilion. Any candidate standing in a marginal would have to be fully signed up to genuine electoral reform, as would the Labour leadership. The British people don’t deserve a “one last heave” philosophy being put forward by the biggest opposition party. They need something smarter. Given Labour’s near wipeout in Scotland this time, it is now in their interests too, and if Labour can take that step, then so should we.