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The Greens Didn't Only Win In Brighton, They Also Share A Victory In Oxfordshire

12/06/2017 12:33 BST | Updated 12/06/2017 12:33 BST
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It would be fair to say that last week's election was not a good day for the Green Party. The halving of the vote share from 2015, coming so soon after an up-tick in support during the local elections only a few short weeks before, was something of a surprise. But as we now all know, surprises were pretty much the central theme of this election.

But there were a couple of high points for the Greens amidst the commiserations.

Firstly a massive improvement in Caroline Lucas' majority in Brighton Pavilion with a 10.4% increase in vote share on 2015 when she also showed a similar increase. It's clear that Caroline is a big hit with her constituents, which makes the fact that other areas such as Bristol West, where current MEP Molly Scott Cato was hoping to give Caroline some company on the Westminster benches, seemingly didn't see the value of a Green MP.

The other win for the Greens, albeit by proxy, took place in my home constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon where the Libdems took back a seat they had held fairly consistently up until 2010 when they lost by a mere 176 votes to the Conservatives.

With the general post-coalition collapse of the Libdem vote in 2015, the Conservatives held on to the seat in 2015, consolidating their majority to 9582 after which it seemed like they were here to stay. But there was a belief locally that the seat could be taken back if all parties worked together.

To that end, Oxfordshire Greens held a meeting with Libdem Candidate Layla Moran with the aim of forming an alliance, something Greens all over the country have been advocating and acting on.

The initial proposal was a straight constituency swap. The Green candidate would stand down if the Libdems reciprocated in a Green target area. When that was rejected by the Libdems it seemed the idea was a non-starter. But the Greens still felt there was a greater prize to be had in chipping away at the overall Tory majority. It's not for nothing that their national strapline is 'for the common good'.

So on the basis of assurances to work together more closely on future elections, Green candidate Cheryl Briggs took one for the team. Not only did she stand aside to give Layla a better shot at the title, she also helped campaign with her across the constituency, drawing local Green activists into the fight with her.

This included Greens leafleting and canvassing on behalf of the Libdems and the sanctioning of the idea of 'lending' the Green vote to them, thus becoming the rarest of political animals - a genuine progressive alliance.

Accusations flew around about 'grubby little deals' and 'vote rigging', but when faced with an electoral process that neither party sees as fair, this seemed like a justifiable move. The principle was not to vote tactically, but to adopt a more strategic approach between two parties with some common ground.

Both the Libdems and the Greens have electoral reform as a key policy, with the Greens specifically passing a motion at their last conference to approve electoral alliances with the joint aim of achieving voting reform.

Moreover if we're going to bandy about terms like 'grubby' we shouldn't forget that this situation was precipitated by Theresa May circumventing the idea of the fixed term parliament in the first place. A restriction that was put into place exactly to stop the party in power from calling an election when it best suited them strategically.

Ultimately the Libdems won in Oxford West and Abingdon by another close shave majority of 816 votes. Critically that was slightly less than a third of the votes cast for the Greens in 2015. Even if the Green candidate had suffered the same fall off in votes as others across the country this time around, she would still have taken more than enough votes to rob the Libdems of victory.

The result should thus go down as one of the most effective political alliances in recent electoral history. Given that none of the other parties in the constituency heeded the call to cooperate, a good deal of the credit for the result has to go to the Cheryl and the Green Party in sacrificing their campaign for a greater cause.

Moreover reports from both parties of a galvanisation of supporters and activists, particularly the young, was an unexpected bonus.

Local Green activist and past candidate in the constituency, Chris Goodall, brokered the deal with the Libdems and reported a surge of activity from previously non-political people. Leafletting became so popular that new leaflets had to be printed all the time and a rally held to support the alliance led to an embarrassment of riches in volunteers prepared to knock on doors night after night. Activists even spoke to people on the street where they found a real appetite for engagement with a group who were putting joint ideals before party dogma.

Of course it remains to be seen if this new camaraderie and enthusiasm will persist into the uncharted political landscape we all find ourselves in now. But if there's one thing this election has proven, it's the dysfunctionality of our current democratic process.

Even as the major parties in Westminster jockey for position in what they'd prefer to see as a two party state, it's clear that neither is apparently able to govern alone. Even Labour, having enjoyed their somewhat pyrrhic victory, now have to deal with the cold reality of cross party alliances, if not before an election, certainly after one.

As our electoral mechanisms continue to stutter and jam, we're likely to find that administrations will be based on proportionality in practice if not in theory. Until we finally embrace and encapsulate that process at the ballot box, we'll have to rely on such ad hoc arrangements as we've seen can be effective in West Oxfordshire.

In that respect at least, The Green Party represents a truly progressive force leading the way into a new political future for us all.