Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Green Party - all mouth and no trousers

Other bloggers have talked at length about the failure by the Green Party to do any better than fifth place in the Norwich North by-election. The Party went into the poll on the back of a great performance in the Euro elections and as the second party on the Council. Unlike the Lib Dems, no one could yet accuse them of being a party of the establishment (I dispute that the Lib Dems are, but many voters disagree) and the Norwich election was absolutely crucial to their future chances.

At a conference last month I talked for some time to a number of Green Party activists. I suggested to them that the Norwich North vote was vital to their future electoral prospects. But Norwich South is our strong seat was the reply. Tough. Journalists will look at the Euros and the Council and start expecting a lot of you. If you ignore the opportunity then you'll do yourself damage.

And so what happened?

The press did their bit. They talked up the Greens for all they were worth.

The Green Candidate did what he was meant to do - wind up the Lib Dems, get on the news and act like a serious candidate.

But the Green Party itself failed the test entirely.

As Lib Dems of the 90's know, by-elections are a source of vital media attention for a smaller party. A strong showing can catapult you up the bulletins and force any voter who has half an eye on the TV to take notice. The Party therefore throws everything at it. Helpers are dragged in from all over the country so that there are more than 1000 people a day coming through the doors on the final weekend. The budget is calculated and then blown to produce more and more pieces of literature for the helpers to deliver. There is a massive canvassing operation so that every door is knocked on at least twice in the campaign and then there is a polling day operation that makes sure that no one who even hinted at the Lib Dems is left behind.

(There has been a lot of talk recently about Rennardism but I have no doubt that this is still the model to follow for a smaller party wanting to break through.)

Did the Greens throw everything at Norwich? Well I hope for their sake that this wasn't everything, because it was a truly appalling effort. To deliver just a single leaflet (and one freepost) across a constituency you are targetting is a terrible effort. Have you been reading too much of the likes of Irfan or Charlotte? Did you really believe that simply standing would lead to everyone 'doing the right thing'?

Having failed the Norwich North test, I am fairly confident that the Greens are also going to fail the General Election test.

Let's be honest, the Green Party has doen pretty well in recent elections. They have MEPs and they have Members of the GLA. They also have strong representation on a number of local councils. But their real breakthrough will come when they gain Parliamentary respresentation at Westminster. The system might be against them but a serious party cannot refuse to play until the rules are changed to favour them. As a Lib Dem, I think I'm entitled to moan that this should not be the be-all and end-all. But it is. Live with it.

So surely every sinew of the Green Party general election effort needs to be stretched to secure a single MP. Every single resource that the Party has needs to be thrown at the seat where they have the best chance of winning. Ruthless targetting is surely the way to make the breakthrough.

But no.

At the general election, the Green Party will be splitting its efforts between three seats - Brighton Pavillion, Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford.

All might be strong candidates to be picked as THE target seat (although Norwich arguably less so after this week's efforts). But (as a TV talent show host might say) there can be only one winner and the Green Party as a whole needed to make their choice many months ago. As commentators on the 'Rennardism debate' have made clear, the best chance of winning on polling day comes with the credibility of having campaign for many months - or preferably years - beforehand.

So the Greens will fail to make the breakthrough once again at the election next year and will continue to be a non-existent force at Westminster.

With the greatest respect, I would suggest that the Greens can learn a lot from the Lib Dems. In 1983, we had two leaders and secured a good showing everywhere rather than putting in a winning performance in a smaller number of seats. They have just got their heads around the single leader thing but appear to be making an almighty hash of having any sort of winning strategy.


Anonymous said...

I would hasten to add that the Greens won a by-election in Brighton and Hove on Thursday evening. The Greens took Goldsmid from the Tories and the Council is now in no overall control, with the make-up now 25 Tories, 13 Greens, 13 Labour, 2 Lib Dems and 1 Independent. This is the first time the Greens have taken a seat in Hove and the first time they have taken one from the Tories.

I think in Pavilion (where I have been involved in the effort to get Caroline Lucas elected-the only Green with a strong national profile) we will win. This is after a sustained effort of convincing voters across the board to vote Green. In Brighton Pavilion the Greens will be the choice for all Lib Dem voters, all the Labour Left and even possible Tory voters who may still reel from the expenses scandal.

I wouldn't take Norwich North as a measure of chances. Even your own party, the Lib Dems, were keen to stress that it was in Norwich South where the Greens profile was highest and where their influence was located, has this changed all of a sudden?

Surely, as a Lib Dem, you must be equally dissappointed. Your party sent out however many leaflets (attacking our candidate), spent a small fortune, talked up of coming second, publishing an eve of poll newsletter suggesting Labour had no chance, and only managed 14%. I would consider that a disaster, regardless of spin you may want to put on, it was awful.


Norfolk Blogger said...

But you miss the point Anon.

The Greens complained at the count that other parties had targetted Norwich North, but the Greens ignored the fact that they drew in supporters and members from all over the country. unbelievably some of those attending the count were out of Norfolk helpers moaning about the other parties doing what they were doing.

The Greens thought thye were doing better than they were. They brought lopads of people to the count and simply coul;d not beleive they got 9%. They expected more, they expected 2nd place, and they were shown up.

As someone with some Norwich South experience, this bodes ill for you in a Genera Election.

There was already clear evidence of a drop of 6% from your local election and Euro results with the evidence from more than one polling district in Green held council wards at the Norwich North count indicating that you were in 3rd or 4th place.