Time for reflection
Like many people, I’ve spent much of today asleep. The day after results night is always a strange one – a day of jubilation, or a day of disappointment. For me, it’s normally a mixture of the two. And so it is this year.
But after we’ve all caught up on sleep, had some proper food, and celebrated our new found freedom or new elected position, it is time to reflect. And this year, as ever, there is much reflecting to be done.
Perhaps most of all, the Lib Dems must look at their position. It was always going to be a bad night for them. But this bad? They will claim that many of the council seats they have lost in England were only seats that they gained 4 years ago – that they are not Liberal Democrat strongholds. But in Scotland, this is not the case at all – they lost all but 2 of their constituencies – Orkney and Shetland. Some of the safest Lib Dem seats in the UK fell to the SNP. And in Wales, they lost Cardiff Central – a seat they held just a year ago with a 13% majority.
But Labour too must look at their position. For it is clear that, outside Wales, they have failed to inspire. They talk in Scotland about the fact that they didn’t lose many votes. They lost because the SNP gained support. But the fact is that the Lib Dem vote collapsed, and that Labour failed to pick up any of this is a terrible result for them. Similarly, they may have won 700 council seats in England, but this is on a baseline of the 2007 results – an election which took place only months before Tony Blair left office, an election that cost them 500 seats. The fact is that they failed to inspire their base, and they failed to significantly take on the Tories. Labour though, do have some pointers: their results in Wales were exceptional – they squeezed not just the Lib Dems, but also Plaid. In Scotland, they ran a fearmongering campaign to the right and were hammered. In Wales, they didn’t shy from the left and they surged. Of course England is a different country, but this does show that where the party has a vision, it can regain significant support.
And it is a night of reflection too for my party. In England, we did very well. There were real fears that we would lose seats in Norwich to a resurgent and hard working Labour. In fact, we made gains last night, and we increased our majorities in each of the wards we held. Where people are given a viable progressive alternative, they jump at it, it seems.
In Brighton, we did very well indeed – we are up by 10 seats. For the first time, a Green Party is the biggest group on any council in the UK. And we made council gains across England. Fears that Labour’s return to opposition would hit us hard haven’t been realised. This year’s Green campaign was unashamedly of the left – opposing cuts, defending the welfare state, supporting investment in creating jobs building a new economy. This message has clearly helped build the support of the party.
But in Scotland, our results were disappointing. We essentially held steady on our poor 2007 vote. In 2007, our vote was heavily squeezed in a very close election between Labour and the SNP. This year, there was no such squeeze. Like Labour, we completely failed to pick up any of the support that was pouring in barrel loads from the Lib Dems. After years of trying to appeal to Lib Dem voters, none of them came our way. That is a big failure. It would be easy to explain this away by saying that the SNP surge is unprescendented. But this is just to say that they ran a good campaign. And they did. And if we are to make gains, then we too will need to run better campaigns. We will need as a party to discuss together what went wrong, and to work out what we can do to fix it. Scottish Council elections are next year, and we’ll need to learn any lessons in time for them.
Overall, it seems to me that there is a clear message from last night. Greens have done well where they have been a viable alternative with a progressive vision. The SNP did well because they were a viable alternative with a (mostly) progressive vision. In Wales, Labour did well because they were the viable alternative with a progressive vision. In the rest of the country, Labour refused to budge from the centre ground. And they haven’t significantly inspired support, and so they haven’t made significant gains. And so, as we all wake up from our post election dozes, we must smell the coffee, and learn the lessons of the successes and failures of last night. And let’s all just forget about the whole AV thing.
Adam – Great article, and useful discussion.
Writing about our lack of gains, you say: “It would be easy to explain this away by saying that the SNP surge is unprecedented. But this is just to say that they ran a good campaign.”
True – but not the whole truth. The voters are not simply a passive force waiting to be moulded by the best campaign around.
There WAS something completely unprecedented happening which even the SNP didn’t recognise.
“Vote hope, not Fear” sums up the SNP’s very effective campaign, but paradoxically people turned to the SNP because they dreaded the impact of the Tories and dreaded more LibDem and Labour betrayals.
We probably have a huge opportunity next time round to be the party of radical hope, the party that says that it doesn’t have to be like this, the party that points to the fundamental causes and solutions. The SNP vote was not just the result of competent governing and good campaigning, it was also a protest vote of hope.
Who knows whether in 5 years time the SNP will be clearly revealed to be as in thrall to the powers that be as the other major parties?
If they aren’t, then people will have grown in confidence that taking the more radical route – the high road of hope – is a route worth taking; and feel secure enough to vote for greater self-determination, for the bigger vision of the world grounded in communities that Greens embody. If this is the route then we need to be building the story and space for people to see that self-determination for Scotland needs to becomes self-determination for communities, in order to take the electoral wave to the next level.
If, on the other hand, in 5 years time the SNP are clearly in thrall to the powers that be, then we will be the only electorally visible party left standing which can embody that paradox: “Vote hope, not Fear”, but this time not just because the route the others are taking us is scary in the extreme.
Being visibly competent, principled, realistic and having a great campaign – Yes!
But treating the voters as capable of far more than the other parties believe they are capable of, and tuning that in to a very clear story of culture shift is key. This involves deepening our underlying story so that it connects people’s everyday experience with the deeper cultural story of how – for economic, environmental and social reasons – the system as a whole is changing and needs to change, and change fast.
“In my opinion, the Green Party is a socialist party so I’m fairly sure that policy isn’t the problem.”
Problem is, a lot of people have no freaking idea what our policies are. We seem to be doing OK amongst the politically engaged (by which I mean people who occasionally watch Newsnicht, and actually understand the difference between the constituency and regional list votes) but I’ve been recently horrified to discover just how small that constituency is. A terrifying number of people just don’t get how Scottish parliament elections work.
I don’t think we should be too down-hearted though. There was clearly a very strong desire to return an SNP government, which squeezed everybody else. We’re the only party of any significance other than the SNP which didn’t actually see our share of the regional vote fall.
I wouldn’t say it’s our policies that are ‘middle class’. I’ve found that many people (often working class or from working class backgrounds) stick to the adage that they have ‘always voted Labour’. This is one of the many things we need to crack before we can get the working class vote. Our policies are more left wing than the Labour party (I remember someone saying that if our last GE manifesto was implemented it would be just short of a revolution), but somewhere in our messaging or campaigning this is getting lost. In my opinion, the Green Party is a socialist party so I’m fairly sure that policy isn’t the problem.
That being said, having a middle class base is quite a helping hand, as it means we won’t need to ‘do a New Labour’ and move to the right when we have cracked the working class voter problem 🙂
Rupert – agreed on Chatham House rules – but we will loose a major multi-nation learning experience if we don’t create the space to learn and share
eg what reliance on a student vote that potentially doesn’t materialise
How important is a good press machine
What role for constituency casework
Almost – have we a great machine to deliver Councillors but great change required to delivered MPs/AMs/MSPs and this melting pot can set people thinking.
I worked in Wensum ward and lived very close by for a number of years so I am well aware of the place. There are many students and well off professionals there due to proximity to the UEA. It is very clearly not what a fair and reasonable person would call a genuine working class area.
Fringe idea very good – though it might have to be done as a closed meeting on a Chatham House basis.
Steve W.: you may not be aware that many wards held by Greens in Norwich and Brighton ARE substantially workingclass wards. e.g. My own ward, Wensum.
Could I suggest a frank fringe debate occurs at the autumn (Sheffield) GPEW conference – with a panel (sponsored by Bright Green) from Scotland, England, Wales and NI explaining what they did – what they learnt – what they could do better and throwing it upto the floor.
(Note we would need decent people from each campaign – not necessarily those who got elected but those who knew the overall campaign shape etc)
If you want to really expand, I think you need to fill the country with nice middle class folk. Like Norwich and Brighton. Okay, that’s a harsh way of saying you need to appeal to a much greater percentage of genuine working class people, which will mean a greater focus on certain areas of policy and unfortunately perhaps less of a focus on some of the core ideas/beliefs that separate the Green Party from a socialist party.
AV was voted down as people didn’t want it. Sure, they understand it as the Yes campaign said many, many times. So they genuinely didn’t want it. Leave it be.
I don’t know a lot about the English Greens’ campaign so can’t comment on what can be learned from that.
I’d say the Welsh Greens, though they failed to get their AM, had a fantastic PEB – providing information on the Greens AND serving the public by helping explain the electoral system. As an external analysis I’d have said the Welsh Greens fell down just where the Lib Dems and Plaid have – by being too willing to compromise their principles and declaring they would support (pro-nuclear amongst other things) Labour in a coalition – which if it had happened would have given them no time to extablish themselves in the Assembly and get known as a great and principled party by the electorate. Whatever your principles it seems the UK electorate prefer it if you stick to them. However as I never raised these concerns with the party during the election, nor involved myself in the campaign I’m not sure I’m in a posititon to criticise.
As for the Scottish Greens, I can’t say I’m not disappointed they didn’t get the 5-8 MSPs that some polls predicted – it would have been a far more exciting result. I had some criticisms of their campaign – primarily the “2nd vote green” slogan which I thought was misleading and which I passed on to them from the start of the election campaign. I don’t think this had a major impact on their votes though. Having seen the campaign from the sidelines, whatever else may be said, I think they did a great job with the resources and support that they had and I know that on a personal level neither volunteers nor staff could have worked much harder. The Greens’ share of the vote went up since 2007 accross Scotland and it was notably increased in the two regions which have had Green MSPs working hard for the last 4 years.
There are certainly lessons to be learned from all parties in this election – being in Scotland and a Green supporter I’d hope that party members stay supportive (while constructively critical) of one another, and that the party does not compromise on its principles, something we have seen is one of the most fatal things a political party can do – and we can only wait and see how long it takes the electorate to forgive those who have!
Comment No. 3
Thank you for your vote, but with regards to the insulation/budget debate, you have to understand that it wasn’t the numbers that was the problem- it was the fact the SNP insisted on means testing it and we felt that would be just an extension on what was already happening (which isn’t working).
We wanted to get the scheme in Kirklees going in Scotland- free, universal insulation scheme, no matter how big. The SNP never offered us this.
Lessons certainly need to be learnt from this year so that we can progress with next years regional contest: the London Assembly elections. It’s especially useful that the Welsh Assembly uses a similar system on a wider scale, so lessons from South Central Wales can be passed on to London campaigners so they can see whether certain tactics worked (I’d be interested to know if ‘Second Vote Green’ has a positive effect or not). London has the advantage of already having 2 AMs and not needing to break through, but with a possible 2 additional seats up for grabs we need to make sure we really make the most of the collapsing Lib Dem vote.
I was too young to be aware of the finer points of 2003, but I’m sure the Iraq war made a difference, as it did for the SSP.
Why did we make such gains in 2003: perhaps that was the anomaly? I fear this is the Scottish Green’s core vote, the base, and we need a lot of members and voters to become activists before it can increase.
What Stephen said.
Let’s have more personnel interchange and communication between (e.g.) Scotland and Norwich. I certainly learn hugely (e.g.) from Patrick Harvie whenever I am fortunate enough to spend time with him, in terms of things like Parliamentary tactics, handling hostile media, etc. . It is possible that there might be some things (e.g. vis-a-vis electoral strategy / on the ground campaigning, and maybe also on messaging) that we might be able to help out with, in return.
Thanks for a really measured and frank post. Whilst I don’t think that those of us in Brighton & Hove Greens have the monopoly on good ideas and strategy, I do think there is much to be said for the Green Party facilitating much more “mentoring” between strong parties and those trying to build themselves up. I’d be eager for us to invest a little more time than we have previously in capacity-building.
Despite giving my second vote to the Greens, I almost didn’t as I felt their behaviour in the last parliament was at times as infantile as that of Labour’s. Though Labour opposed everything on principle just to spite the Nats, the Greens acted liked spoilt brats. Does it make sense to vote down £33m for insulating Scotland’s homes just because you want £100m? Instead of something, the Greens got nothing.
I gave them the benefit of the doubt, others didn’t. I’m not sure if I will next time.
And, despite their belief in independence, are the Greens here not just another extension of a London-based party? The above blog seems to suggest such. To be frank, I don’t care what the Greens do and don’t do in Oxfordshire. Not when we have massive poverty on our own patch from Glasgow to Fife, from Dundee to Stornoway. Let’s deal with that first.
The Scottish Green Party is an entirely separate party from the Green Party of England and Wales. Adam is a member of both (as am I) and this is not a specifically Scottish blog (despite our URL), so Adam naturally talked about both parties, as well as several other parties from across the UK. There are lessons to be learnt from all of hem, whether you particularly care about who runs South Oxfordshire Council (or any other ) or not.
Let’s forget about the AV thing… Well, there’s lessons to be learnt there too, sending clear messages related to your discourse.
Lib Dems were clearly the most expectant for a yes result, as it was their campaign manifesto, so perhaps what the end-result means is that people were more keen to get a revenge on them than anything else – perhaps the point being that what’s currently happening in government is kinda expectable from Conservatives but not from Lib Dems, who thus got punished.
The result also points to the large indifference/disengagement with party politics, which though the AV could have improved with a focus on more issue-based campaigns, it wouldn’t have challenged it completely – and this is reflected in the fact that almost two every three voters didn’t bother going to the polls.
Looking at the bright side of things: as a result of the antagonisms, there might be more tension in government, with Lib Dems (hopefully) distancing themselves and putting the breaks on the Conservative agenda, in the hope of salvaging some of their previous election’s success, their only hope being to go back to a more lefty position (which might be too late for anyone to believe in).
Now, to have someone throwing spanners in Dave’s works not just on the streets but also in parliament, that really would qualify as an achievement (bigger than the satisfaction of seeing Cleggy’s disappointed face)…
Great piece Adam!
I’m excited and interested to hear – from you and the other BG contributors – what your vision of a better campaign for the Greens would be. From experience I know that Green resources are limited – so where is energy best spent? Leaflets? Messaging? Graphic design? Canvassing?
How can we take the things that have worked in Brighton and make them work for Scotland?