Welsh Greens Election Review
I just read Peter’s post about the performance of Greens in Scotland and thought I should finally contribute something about the experiences in the May Welsh Assembly Election. But first the stats, in South Wales Central we saved the deposit for the first time ever at 5.2%, but were 2.7% away from what we would have needed to win, to beat the Lib Dems since Labour won every constituency seat.
Despite being unsuccessful, the Welsh campaign was unprecedented in many ways. It had a dedicated campaign coordinator for the first time, and full time media operation and a vastly expanded core of activists and organisers compared to previous elections. We had asked for advice and lessons from previous teams (South Wales Central was the target region for the first time in 2011) but on the whole we were starting from scratch, going with what seemed sensible and intuitive.
We continued the focus on the economy devised in the General Election, to the protest of some in the party, but we definitely succeeded in getting outside of our comfort zone. We also had the aim to get the media talking about the voting system, since it has never resulted in a new party being elected in Wales and thus understanding of it is poor compared to Scotland.
We took the “2nd vote green” message that had worked so well in Scotland in 1999, and also adding the point that Labour wouldn’t be able to win any list seats, urging Labour supports not to waste their vote, turning the convention anti-green argument on its head. This seemed to get us media attention and also of certain chattering groups who *should* have been voting for us before, I met a trade unionist in June who said that everyone he knew had 2nd voted Green and didn’t understand why we hadn’t won a seat.
This was also the first election where regular polls had been taken, putting us on the dizzy heights of 12% one month and as low as 3% in others. Sometimes we all got carried away by the combination of good polls, media coverage and whisperings about Labour encouraging people to vote for us on the quiet. But Peter’s analysis applies in the Welsh content too, in my heart I knew that with the operation we had, we would have had to be lucky to actually take the seat, since on the ground work was simply not at the level I felt was needed to make victory a distinct likelihood. I remember on the day of the election worried that I wasn’t mentally prepared for losing after the tireless work put in for months, not just losing, but being no where near winning. When I arrived at the count I was brought back to earth straight away, sobered by the awful results achieved in the General Election the year before.
I was immensely proud of the media operation we had mounted during the campaign and the publications we had put out, but we simply did not have the people power to go out and talk to sufficient people in the way that Greens usually win elections. The groundwork in the intervening years had not produced the resources needed. Add to that that most people in Wales read London based newspapers and the likelyhood of winning on the basis of media was downgraded further.
Welsh Greens being in the situation we were, any decent strategy in this election would have been a gamble, and so it was to target labour supporters rather than a traditional way Greens campaign. I remain convinced that it was the right message along with emphasising our “old-Labour” credentials, its just that message didn’t get out far enough. That’s not to say that strategy will be suitable in 2016, the next election, when who knows who will be in power in Westminster. A few reflections on the basis of what Peter has said though:
1) The fact the AV referendum was happening at the same time did lead to some confusion among people we spoke to, which was unfortunate as Scottish Greens had told us that “2nd vote green” was the crucial breakthrough message.
2) At times it feels like the Welsh campaign put too much emphasis on explaining the voting system, and talking about Labour rather than our own vision.
This of course has to be balanced against the argument that we needed to present a credible reason why we could get elected when we’ve never been before, unlike in Scotland. But looking to the future, we are currently working hard to target Council seats for next year and winning those seats is felt to be absolutely crucial to the Assembly breakthrough in 2016, Councillors providing the best base for a grassroots campaigning presence, which we now know is so important. Whether that should be built into an integrated long term election strategy to target a Parliamentary constituency in Cardiff is a debate that will probably emerge soon.