THE BLOG

Sorry Greens, the TV Debates Just Aren't for You

15/10/2014 11:59 BST | Updated 14/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The self-importance of the Greens is astonishing. In case you've missed the pandemonium, the Greens have threatened legal action over TV broadcasters excluding the party from the planned TV debates during the run-up to next year's general election. The furore generated by a party polling on 6%, with 1 MP (with only a 1252 vote/2.4% majority) and who have frequently trailed in every by-election since 2010 is audacious to say the least. In fact, polling by Lord Ashcroft indicates that Labour have a 1% lead in Brighton Pavilion, suggesting the Greens may be set to lose their only MP. A ComRes/BBC poll last year saw support for the Greens fall by 12 points to 21%, leaving them a measly third behind Labour and the Tories. Given the Greens lost 327 deposits out of the 335 seats they contested in 2010, the party's support is fragile nationwide and thus it is not a suitable candidate for a national debate.

The comparison between UKIP and the Greens is tenuous. Both parties only have one MP in the Commons (albeit UKIP's a defecting incumbent), but UKIP is more widely represented in the European Parliament (UKIP have 24 MEPs, whilst the Greens have 3) and in the Lords (by 3 Lords to 1). To put this in perspective, UKIP's 27.49% of the vote won them the European elections and gained the party the accolade of the first party other than Labour or the Conservatives to win a UK-wide election in over a century. Moreover, in the European elections, UKIP won as many seats in the Eastern region alone as the Greens did throughout the UK.

The argument cannot even be made that the Greens have strong grass-roots support and should thus be included in the TV debates. In the 2013 local elections, UKIP received over 5 times as much support as the Greens (19.9% compared with 3.5%). Throughout England, UKIP won 147 council seats whilst the Greens achieved just 22. In the more recent local elections of 2014, UKIP again made serious electoral gains and were awarded 163 council seats (a gain of 161). Conversely, the Greens highlighted their lack of nationwide support with just 38 seats, polling less than the Residents Association (who gained 53 seats). Furthermore, more independent councillors were elected nationwide than those that stood on a Green Party platform.

Finally, the Green's performances at by-elections since 2010 highlight that the party simply isn't prepared for a general election TV debate. The party's 3.1% of the vote in Heywood and Middleton was hardly awe-inspiring given they received the wooden spoon in that by-election. In Clacton (admittedly not a hotbed of Green activity), the party achieved just 688 votes but their 1.9% of the vote was enough to place them in front of the beleaguered Liberal Democrats. Newark saw another abysmal electoral performance for the Greens, who achieved just 2.7% of the vote and were comprehensively beaten by independent candidate Paul Baggaley. The Greens saved their best by-election electoral performance (alongside Heywood and Middleton) for Wythenshawe and Sale East, where a miserly 3.1% of the vote epitomised their electoral woes.

As preposterous as the Green's inclusion in the TV debates would be, it must be said that the current system is somewhat flawed. The Guardian's support for handing the election debates to an independent body (like with presidential elections in the US) seems the most effective way of preventing political interference with those involved in these debates. Moreover, as the Liberal Democrats are currently a party of government, their mediocre polling should be overlooked and thus they should retain their place in the debates in order to defend their record in government.