Politics has changed a lot since the 2011 AV referendum. We need real PR. (CC lewishamdreamer, flickr)
Politics has changed a lot since the 2011 AV referendum. We need real PR. (CC lewishamdreamer, flickr)

It probably sounds like heresy in Green circles, but hear me out. The Greens need to work with UKIP after May the 7th. The stakes are too high not to.

We live in a multi-party system now. But our voting system is wedded to the past – the old two-party duopoly which no longer exists.

So while it might be anathema to some on both sides, the Greens and UKIP should work together to secure PR after the election:

1. Both the Greens and UKIP will be thoroughly screwed over by First Past the Post this election. The Greens are expected to win around 5% of the vote this election. Enough to secure lots of deposits, sure – but on 5% of the vote, every single election projection is expecting the party to win just 1 seat. That’s 0.15% of the seats in Parliament – 3% of the number of seats the Greens will deserve (33).

But if we believe in democracy, we believe that UKIP voters should be represented too. They’re expected to get around 3-4 seats on around 13% of the vote – 0.6% of the seats in Parliament. If we had proper proportional representation, they’d get 85 seats. Whatever you think of UKIP, that’s simply not right. Parliament is the debating chamber of Britain – if you disagree with a party, they should be challenged in the Commons if they have public support.

The Greens and UKIP are likely to get nearly a fifth of the vote, but less than 1% of seats, writing off a huge section of the population.

2. There are going to be a lot of angry voters after May. Many new Green and UKIP voters are expecting their parties to win lots of seats. That’s not going to happen. And they’re going to be sorely disappointed, angry at our political system and even more disillusioned with formal politics. It won’t be healthy for democracy.

3. Electoral reform is one of the only issues the Greens and UKIP agree on. It’s something we can and should work with them on, on principle, even if we disagree on 99% of other things. Because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it is in both parties’ manifestos.

Including the Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid, a large chunk of the electorate will be voting for pro-PR parties on the 7th. An alliance is the only way – and a Green/UKIP one would be the most potent…

4. It would be hugely symbolic and incredibly powerful. Imagine what kind of message it would send if the two parties could put aside their other massive differences and unite on something. Imagine if Britain’s most left-wing and most right-wing major parties came together and said, for once: “We agree on this”. A joint press conference, a joint letter to the press, a joint campaign. Anything it takes. It would all put the issue of electoral reform on the agenda – and high up the agenda, at that.

This is an opportunity that can’t be missed. Our politics has changed massively since the AV referendum (itself not a vote on PR). It’s time for the voting system to change too.

5. We’re about to see another hung parliament. Despite being screwed over by FPTP, the Greens and UKIP will have around five or so seats – enough to potentially swing some votes in the commons, if there’s a deal, or indeed if Labour swings behind a fairer voting system given the situation in Scotland (FPTP will benefit the SNP this election, even if they will remain pro-PR allies).

Working in Parliament for electoral reform, the Greens and UKIP could help secure some real change – for example PR for council elections; a fantastic first start, and one which has a strong track record of success in Scotland and Northern Ireland (it’s also a move which won’t require a referendum).

I’ve spoken to Green leadership figures about this, and as uncomfortable as some may initially be with the idea, the notion of working together to win a better voting system after the inevitably unfair result in two weeks’ time is gaining ground.

Electoral reform could be back on the agenda on May 7th – but only if parties push for it.

Let’s not miss this chance.

Josiah Mortimer works for the Electoral Reform Society

Note: In response to comments, there are two points to – firstly, We’ve already worked with the right for progress in the past – Caroline has worked with Tory MPs like Zac Goldsmith previously, over voter recall and so on. When the Lib Dems introduced the AV referendum, the STV amendments were by Caroline Lucas and Douglas Carswell (then a Tory, now a UKIP MP). 

Secondly, working with UKIP doesn’t rule out working with the SNP (expected to win well over 40 seats), Plaid Cymru or other parties. We need to do both. But what would be most powerful? Predictably focusing on working with people we agree with almost everything on, or working on this issue we a party we fundamentally oppose? The resonance of the latter would be enormous.

We have to cooperate with people on an issue-by-issue basis – if we believe in PR and the politics of the future as opposed to the artificial duopoly of the past, then we must agree on that.

We live in a multi-party era – and we need to work together on things we agree in. Purism for purism’s sake won’t get us anywhere; that’s the mindset of the past. Pluralism is the way forward, and it doesn’t mean we agree on everything. PR is too important to be sectarian about.