The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Natalie Bennett Headshot

Spreading the Green Party Message

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Yesterday, the Green Party took the next step towards becoming a truly national party, growing out of its traditional strongholds into new areas of the country, winning its first seats on five councils (Warwickshire, Essex, Surrey, Cornwall and Kent) and doubling numbers on Bristol Council and Worcestershire County Council.

The growth wasn't as spectacular as a certain other party outside the "Biggest Three", which you might have seen mentioned once or twice on television or heard about on radio, but it reflects the next step in the Green Party's development. It sets the foundation for a big growth in our number of Members of the European Parliament next year, from the current two to quite likely six (and Scotland is pretty confident too, so you can possibly make that seven).

That will mean when we go into the general election in 2015, many more people will have both local Green councillors and MEPS, and Green will look like just a standard part of the political menu. Already, calculations from the seat of Bristol West parliamentary, based on yesterday's council results, make it clearly a three-way marginal.

However, these were, despite the media's determination to turn them into a prediction engine for the 2015 general election, very much local elections, and in many places the results were based on local issues, and Green wins on solid track records of long-term campaigning.
To take just a few examples, in Rochford in Essex, Cllr Michael Hoy was already a respected district councillor, who has worked particularly with the long-ignored communities in park homes on issues ranging from heating costs to pedestrian access. In Nuneaton, Cllr Keith Kondakor, also already a district councillor, has, as he showed me proudly around the market on Wednesday, been a champion for the stallholders and the small local shops, crucial to the town's economy. And in Surrey, Cllr Jonathan Essex, yes another district councillor, has been campaigning on road maintenance, public transport and community facilities - and won more than 50% of the vote in his seat.

These aren't people who have suddenly popped out of nowhere - they will be well-placed to hold councils to account, to ask awkward questions about spending and priorities - to push, as the Green-run Brighton and Hove council, and the Green groups on Norwich, Oxford and Manchester councils have done - to see victims of the bedroom tax protected from eviction.
They've been in place for years - campaigning against incinerators, as with the very strong Cllr Sarah Lunnon, returned in Stroud in Gloucestershire; against university fees, as with Sam Coates in Oxfordshire; for road safety and sensible speed limits, as with Mark Ereira-Guyer in Suffolk.

Sadly, sometimes excellent local work wasn't always enough to keep fine councillors in place. We lost some councillors, mostly by by narrow margins, among them Cllr Sam Riches in Lancashire, Cllr Elise Benjamin in Oxfordfordshire and three fine local reps in Norfolk, Richard Edwards, Jonathan Hill and Paul Neale. Generally that seems to be a function of voters returning to Labour "to get rid of the Tores" - we need to work even more effectively to ensure voters understand the local situation and how a Green vote gets them great Green reps.
Lots of journalists have been looking back to the Green Party's European election result of 1989, and comparing it to Ukip's current surge. But the fact is, under the then first-past-the-post election system in Europe, we won no seats in 1989, despite winning 15% of the vote - and since then we've adapted to the electoral system, winning our first MP Caroline Lucas, in 2010, taking over as a minority administration in Brighton and Hove, being the main opposition on Norwich City Council.

We've done that by concentrating our resources, but now we're looking to grow, to spread out across the country, and win seats - elect good people with track records and solid local parties behind them. It mightn't make a big purple splash, but as our election broadcast symbolised, it's producing a sustainable flowering.

And we're certainly heading into interesting times in British politics. It's like the message you get on adverts for financial products - along the lines of "past electoral performance is no guarantee of future returns".

Fewer and fewer British voters regard themselves as committed to one party - they're looking around, unsurprisingly unhappy with the three largest parties with their indistinguishable policies stuck with the economic and environmental models of the 20th century, decisionmaking by focus group, and concentration on what they think will appeal to a few hundred thousand voters in the key "swing" seats. That's a huge opportunity for the Green Party.

But it is also a challenge to the current electoral system - first past the post has never made sense, and it is clearly an archaic, failed system in a country where no single party won more than 30% of the vote in the recent election.