18 May 2015

What? So What? Now What?


The Past

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.

The Future

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.

14 May 2015

Liverpool Wavertree - Thank You


It's a week on and I'd just like to formally thank all the voters of Wavertree before I start blogging about the result. A lot of people voted differently depending on whether it was the local or national elections, so while we got 5.2% for the Parliamentary vote, we got nearly 10% in terms of our local election results around the constituency. I've already explored this issue in the last blog about Liverpool Riverside, but this is one message I received from a voter:

"...i like your party peter but have to go labour. to keep the nasty 1% party out"

There are a few more like it. These illustrate the difficulty in persuading people, even in a safe Labour seat, that they can vote Green without any fear of the Conservatives winning. So for all those people that did vote Green, thank you.

Within Wavertree constituency, we picked up 2 second place council ward finishes, one expected and one not. Paul Kenyon was 2nd in Picton ward (12.3%) which we did expect, but in addition, Julie Birch-Holt finished 2nd in Wavertree ward with 11.5% despite this being one of the seats that there was some local Liberal Democrat activity.

As I've highlighted to colleagues, the forthcoming boundary review that will potentially hand 30 to 40 seats to the Tories on the basis of this year's result, is likely to result in just 4 Liverpool constituencies. We don't yet know what shape they will be in, but in order to build on our constituency 2nd place in Riverside, we now need to be working hard in a number of neighbouring Wavertree wards too. That is a big challenge for us, but it is one that we can take on. Planning is already underway.

10 May 2015

Liverpool Riverside Analysis


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.

9 May 2015

Leadership


Subtitle: In Praise of Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett

Caroline Lucas gained nearly 42% of the vote in Brighton Pavilion, up over 10% on 2010. Massively up on the mid-term polls in 2012 and 2013 that suggest Caroline would lose her seat.

At the beginning of that year I found out that Caroline was stepping down as leader to focus on her constituency. She knew what it would take to hold the seat as the Labour Party was going to throw everything they could at it. I urged her to continue as leader, so did other people. She was right and we were wrong. That is leadership.

Her decision to do that, for the last Parliament, was the right one. Going right back to the day after Caroline’s victory in 2010, we knew the success of our 2015 General Election campaign was always going to be about that one result. Despite our detractors in Brighton, we also recorded small increases in our shares of the vote in both Hove and Brighton Kemptown. At a council level, we’ve paid the price for some of the problems of the last four years, some of which were self-inflicted. Some hard working and very talented councillors lost their seats yesterday. There will be lessons to be learned for the whole party from Brighton, but we must note the positives as well from the time in office.

Natalie Bennett has led the party through a period of phenomenal membership growth. She has been incredibly hard-working and has supported local parties everywhere. Her work around the country has played a major role in our success.

She has had a tough election. The detractors have been out in force and yesterday’s piece in the Guardian questions whether Natalie should step down because the Greens failed to capture Bristol West, and whether that constitutes a failure or end of the Green surge. That is absurd. Our vote went from under 4% to nearly 27% - an unprecedented leap. The fact that we could even talk about winning Bristol West was exceptional.

The strategy of having regional target seats also deserves applause. Our 2nd place finishes in Liverpool Riverside (more on this soon), Manchester Gorton and Sheffield Central and that 23% gain in Bristol West mean that we can credibly target to win these seats going forward. There are also some high percentages of the votes in other seats, albeit where we are finishing 3rd or even 4th. Thanks to this strategy we are now able to compete at First Past the Post, and as we have seen, we can use our resources far more effectively than UKIP to achieve electoral success.

So Natalie deserves plaudits for her performance over this crucial bit of the electoral cycle. We’ve gained a Euro MP, made advances in the General Election and seen a massive surge in grassroots support, membership and activity. That is leadership. I hope we see Natalie lead us into the London Assembly and Local Elections next year, and we should make gains in both. It will not be a surprise if Natalie does get elected to the London Assembly in 2016, that she may then choose to step down to focus on that vital role, but that for now is speculation. The debate about who should lead us in the next big cycle of Euro 2019 and GE 2020 is not one we need to have now.

Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Remaining Liberal Democrat members will probably reflect back and realise he should have done this last year after the European Elections. It would have saved some additional Lib Dem seats with a new leader in charge who had been able to criticise the party’s broken promises on tuition fees. The Liberal Democrats have their reward for playing their set of cards very poorly in coalition.
The Liberal Democrats have always stood for electoral reform. What have they got to show for it after 5 years in coalition. Nothing. They talk about having moderated the excesses of the Tories, but we’ve had unprecedented austerity. They talk about governing in the national interest but we’ve been left with the legacy of five years of majority Conservative government even though 63% of the population didn’t vote for that party. Frankly, they blew their one chance to effect real change at a national level. I see no way back for them, particularly given the decimation of their parliamentary ranks.

You need to read my blog posts (main and second link) last year about Ed Miliband, Liverpool Labour and The Sun newspaper. This was Labour’s last best chance to change leader before the election. It was pretty clear that Labour chose the wrong leader for the wrong election. Now they face a triple whammy of boundary changes, an EU referendum which will neutralise UKIP (and therefore help the Tories in swing seats) and their wipe out in Scotland.

Little has to be said about Nicola Sturgeon. She has had a magnificent campaign, but when 1.5 million votes deliver 56 seats for one party, in one part of the UK, yet the Greens get 1.14 million and gain just one seat, you know the system is broken. The Tories won’t be rushing to fix it and indeed the boundary reforms that should have happened in the last Parliament will now come through. That will be worth another 30 seats for the Tories and make the prospect of a non-Tory led government getting elected in 2020 much harder to envisage (once again, you have to question the Lib Dems about this failure).

Finally, I’d like to thank each and every Green Parliamentary candidate. The 136 of us who saved our deposits (which is the best ever Green result) probably felt a sense of progress. But even for those candidates who didn’t, your votes mattered. The Short money allocation for this Parliament will enable Caroline Lucas to be better resourced in terms of research support. Your contribution mattered and we are all leaders for standing in our constituencies. We have a long way to go, but we are on the way now.

6 May 2015

Why Vote Green in Liverpool Wavertree Today?


I’m your Green candidate but I don’t expect to be your MP tomorrow. Wavertree is predicted to be one of the safest Labour seats in the country, but politics doesn’t have to be like this.

The Greens have the odds stacked against us. We were not treated by the BBC as one of the four main parties. Donations come in nationally in the thousands, not the millions raised by the others. Yet at this election we are a big part of the story and that is down to people like you.

There are now more than 60,000 members of the Green Party. We’ve got more members than UKIP. We’ve got more members than the Liberal Democrats. We are also the official opposition on Liverpool City Council and in the only Liverpool poll of the campaign (conducted by LBC), the Greens were in 2nd place ahead of the rest, as the main challengers to Labour.

Our policies are radical. We want to see real changes to our country and to our world. With this election likely to finish in a score draw between the red and blue parties, despite a third of all voters backing neither of these options, another election may be along soon enough.

Ultimately you will decide who wins this seat. If every voter tomorrow backs the Greens, we would win, but the bookies have it 100 to 1 on that Wavertree already has a Labour MP elected.

For those of you who see modern Labour nationally as a timid version of the Labour party your parents and grandparents voted for, then look at what the Greens are proposing and compare us.

You can vote Green knowing that there is no prospect of a Tory or Lib Dem win in Wavertree for a generation. You can vote Green wanting a Labour party that commits to ending austerity, rather than pursuing managerial politics.

Every Green vote you cast will help resource those Green MPs we do elect at Westminster, through the public money (Short Money) each opposition party receives.

The only wasted vote is for a party you don’t believe in. I don’t believe in the other parties, but I do believe in the Greens. So for my future and for the future of my children, I’m standing as your candidate and I’m asking you to believe too.

3 May 2015

Voting Green in Wavertree


I've just had a good question from a first time voter via email, so I'm sharing the response here:

Firstly, thanks for emailing me and giving me the chance to respond. I'll give you two answers - the issue based one and the technical one.

If you vote for something you don't believe in, or don't much believe in, you are probably wasting your vote. If you want society to change and new ideas to develop, red or blue are the two parties that have dominated politics in this country for a century. On the issues, if you feel that the Greens represent you, even if a Green MP doesn't win in your constituency, every Green vote will give weight to the actions of Caroline Lucas and any other Green MPs that get elected to Parliament. If they represent the views of 1 million voters, even with just one or two seats, you are being represented.

The second answer is technical. In Liverpool Wavertree, you are living in one of the perceived safest seats for Labour. There is no chance of a Conservative (or even Liberal Democrat) winning this seat. Labour will probably be disappointed if they poll less than 60% of the vote here. I'd recommend reading my blogpost on the forecasts for Liverpool constituencies written in March http://www.petercranie.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/electoral-calculus-election-forecast.html

Last week, LBC conducted a poll in Liverpool, with 38% of people saying they would vote Labour, the Greens in 2nd place with 9% but with over 30% of voters undecided. In last year's council elections we were the second biggest party in terms of vote share. Increasingly Liverpool is likely to be a Labour v Green contest, even under our outdated First Past the Post System. So you can vote however you want here, with no danger of the Conservatives winning.

A final point. Caroline Lucas was our only MP in the last Parliament. She won her seat with 31% of the vote in 2010. In the 2005 election, we had won 22% and in 2001 just 9%. If those people in Brighton in 2001 and 2005 had decided to vote tactically for the least worst option in those years, we would never have had the political credibility to win the seat in 2010. So how you vote in this election doesn't just matter for the result now, but also for the future.

14 April 2015

Where There is No Green Candidate...


It is true that we are standing more candidates than ever before in this election, but there are going to be places that won't have the opportunity to vote Green in 2015. Now there has been a lot of hot air from the Tories about Bolton West and the fact that the local party isn't standing in one of the seats the Tories would need to take from Labour if they needed to form a majority government.

Looking at Labour’s top 50 targets, 41 are Tory seats. If Labour were to win these seats from the Tories, combined with the ones it should take from the Liberal Democrats, it would ensure they are the largest party, even if they lose every seat they currently hold in Scotland to the SNP. In just 5 of these marginals, there will be no Green candidate. They are:

City of Chester
Crewe & Nantwich
Lincoln
Thurrock
Wirral West

If we look at Wirral West as an example, I know there are one or two members who were deeply disappointed not to stand. One of the risks of not having a Green candidate is that Green voters may not turn out in large numbers. However, where there are local elections on the same day (most metropolitan councils) they will still have a local Green candidate. I therefore think the majority of our supporters will still cast their votes. Out of the two candidates contesting a marginal seat, they are likely to go for the one who opposes fracking and is against the renewal of Trident. That will likely result in helping the Labour candidate Margaret Greenwood to gain the seat.

What we have to make clear is that there has been no national strategy on the marginal seats. Decisions to stand have been taken locally and in most constituencies, the Greens have a candidate. Should Labour win the five seats listed and hold Bolton West, we shouldn't expect any thanks from them. The First Past the Post system is broken and should Labour form the largest party, they will do well to bear in mind that at the next election, be it in October or in 2020, the Greens will be everywhere. It is time for electoral reform and if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister in May he would do well to move things along before the next election, as the Greens are on the rise and there will be no seat uncontested next time.