If there’s an early General Election, Greens shouldn’t rule out electoral alliances
Nobody has the slightest idea whether there will be a general election this year. Except perhaps Theresa May, and she will deny it right up to the time she calls it. But there might be. Local Green Parties have been urged to make sure they have candidates at the ready.
If it happens, the UK’s Green Parties are likely to be confronted with difficult decisions. Especially if Labour and Conservative go into an election without any policy that committed them to raising a question mark over Brexit. That would leave the Lib Dems and the Green Parties as the only parties firmly committed to policies that could put a stop to Brexit.
Looking to the past – the 2017 progresssive alliances
Inevitably, questions about possible alliances arise. There is likely to be an outcry from those who believe that the policy of “progressive alliance” was a disaster in 2017. All the same, I don’t think that the questions will go away.
First, there are questions to be asked about the extent to which progressive alliances went wrong. There is also the fact that, as activists in a Conservative area, we regularly get questioned as to why we won’t work with other parties. Where one party is dominant, there is undoubtedly an appetite for action that would challenge them.
Of course, this partly results from first past the post. In an electoral system that delivered representation to all shades of opinion, there wouldn’t be a need for such shenanigans. There would almost certainly be a strengthening of smaller parties, such as Greens. People would know that being small wasn’t a barrier to having influence.
But going back to 2017, what really happened? At the outset, most Greens were hopeful that we could build on the successes of 2015. But it soon became obvious that was not going to happen. Corbyn had shifted to Labour Party to the left. By no means “hard left” by historic standards, he soon demonstrated that the political gap was not in the centre, but on the left. That generated a good deal of excitement among left leaning voters.
The excitement affected everyone. Friends in rock solid Conservative seats started to talk about voting Labour when otherwise they might have voted Green. They knew there was no chance of defeating the safe Tory, but they wanted to be part of the movement. Green Parties lost members and voters to Labour.
At the same time, in the heat of events, some local Green Parties became over enthusiastic about progressive alliances. Candidates withdrew on tactical grounds without proper negotations and without the guarantee of a compensating gain. That was certainly a mistake.
Stop Brexit alliance
What is different in 2019? Some polls are suggesting that if Labour and Conservative haven’t moved from their present position, they will see big reductions in their votes. The main beneficiary will be the Lib Dems, but Green Parties should benefit too. This will create a situation where we will need to look hard at what tactics will most effectively translate votes into Parliamentary seats.
If Green candidates stand everywhere, will that dilute the shift away from Labour and Conservative? If so, do we believe that is desirable? Will there be scope for any deals that would get the Lib Dems more seats at the same time as giving Green candidates some real chances?
After the experience of 2017, it seems likely that some Green Party members will shy away from any attempt at deal making. To me, that seems to miss a possible opportunity. Certainly we don’t want to give anything away. Whatever we do to aid another party must have significant payback. But so long as we are stuck with first past the post, I believe that we should be willing to explore any practical opportunity to increase Green influence.
It’s true that local electoral pacts have been very suuccessful in local authority elections but 2017 taught Greens a harsh lesson – in general elections alliances with other parties cause us a lot of damage. The Labour Party will not agree to reciprocal agreements and will not honour any promises, especially not on PR. The message across the election was that Greens say ‘vote Labour’; our vote share dropped and our Green agenda was obliterated.
It is absolutely essential that the Green Party contests as near a full slate as possible in a general election, and give all those people who are sick to the teeth with the mess and muddle that both Tories and Labour have created, the opportunity to vote for something really different. Greens must rebuild our vote share and work also for Greens on local authorities and parliament.
In the May 2018 council elections Richmond & Twickenham Green party gained 4 seats as a result of an electoral alliance with the Lib Dems.
Lambeth Green Party also gained 4 seats without an electoral pact!
At the last council elections half the gains in Green councillors across Engkand took place in Richmond following an electoral pact with the Liberals. This new Green voice on the council is no doubt of value, but it would be interesting to hear from local Greens if the pact is having an impact on policy.
In Powys in the 2017 council elections one Green and two Plaid Councillors were elected and now act as a group on the county council. These experiences on the ground will help to inform this debate.