The election to replace Caroline Lucas and Adrian Ramsay as leader and deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales is underway, with ballots already out, and I sent a few questions to the four candidates running for the leadership, and to the four candidates for deputy leader.
Given that I’m trying to do justice to the views of eight people on a range of issues, this is therefore the first of four or five posts that will hopefully follow in quick succession.
First question follows, then all eight answers, then my very brief views on them at the bottom.
Q: Where are the next million Green voters coming from and why will they vote for us? (i.e. non-voters, new voters, or former supporters of other parties)
Pippa Bartolotti: My goal is to open the Green Party to new members across the spectrum. I am pretty centrist in my outlook, but passionately anti-cuts with a strong environmental bias. I am just as keen to attract disillusioned Labour voters as working class Tory voters. With the rise of concern for the environment, I see us appealing to conserve(atives) who are changing their priorities. Addressing the non-voter is a big challenge, yet an important one. For this we must appeal to the Green party movement, rather than the Green party politics. We are piloting a social event programme in Wales which is open to non members and already it is showing signs of success.
Natalie Bennett: We can win all of those groups to our politics. However, in general our biggest gains are when we persuade people who are already voting to switch to us. Much is made of the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote and we should work to win those defectors but we have to be cautious about this. Firstly, in some areas there were never that many Lib Dem voters in the first place and we couldn’t win seats if they all came over to us en masse. Second, those defectors are going over to the Tories, Labour or dropping out disillusioned – we can win those votes in areas where we’re seen as a credible alternative but they certainly won’t come over to us automatically.
The Labour vote however is much weaker than many people realise. Where there is no alternative people are going back to Labour in opposition to this disastrous government but there is no deep enthusiasm for Ed Miliband. When we put the work in on the ground and become seen as the credible opposition we can and do take those votes. In 2014 I think we can raise our vote from 2009′s 1.25 million to 2 million by pursing a broad strategy that leaves no region untouched. I think realistically we can win MEPs in six regions but only if we ensure we’re giving them all coverage, support and political affection. To win, for example, the eastern region (which would be number six on an even swing) we need a modest jump of under 2% but it won’t fall into our laps, and the national party needs to take winning all four of the new regions seriously.
Even in those areas where we are unlikely to be winning an MEP this time it is the perfect opportunity for the regions to start thinking strategically about how we combine regional work with targeting new council seats. I’m very optimistic that, with the right priorities, these European elections can be very good for us, even in regions where we don’t win an MEP. Then we can make sure every region has an MEP in 2018, so everyone in England and Wales has at least one Green elected rep.
Peter Cranie: All of the above. Demographics will play a part but only if we can actually increase turnout in the 18 to 30 age groups as our support is highest among young people. Non-voters have often given up on politics or don’t feel that their vote makes a difference. Getting the message across that we are close to electing more Greens to represent them will help, but what they need to hear or see is someone who can inspire them to support us. Caroline Lucas has been incredible in that role, but she is just one voice. I believe I’m someone with “fire in the belly”, and I believe that some people need to see and hear someone who has gone through similar experiences to their own and who feels the anger they feel.
We won our first MP seat not by changing our policies but by connecting with a broader range of voters on the basis of our less well-known but very popular social and economic policies. So we need to strengthen the emphasis on reaching those voters who we know are sympathetic to our policies beyond the environmental agenda. There are probably millions of former Labour and Lib Dem voters who are already closer to us on a wide range of issues than they are to their former parties, and we need to make stronger efforts to connect with them. Consider all those people opposed to the anti-austerity agenda who will have no established party other than the Greens to vote for; all those who want a Robin Hood Tax, redistributive taxation, a crackdown on tax avoidance/evasion; those who want to protect the NHS and post offices and who want a not-for-profit People’s Bank, and an end to bailouts but a windfall taxes on bankers’ bonuses.
Romayne Phoenix: There are many thousands of reluctant Labour voters. Some would vote Green if they considered our policies and values, but many will not because we don’t have a PR system and the likelihood of shifting most parliamentary seats at the moment is so unlikely. There are Lib Dem voters who feel betrayed, and if they are beginning to doubt the values of a capitalist society, and doubting the potential success of the current austerity economics, may find a comfortable home with our party. Those who lost any trust in party politics, well before the recent scandals, triggered the Power Enquiry to investigate the historic drop in voter turn out, may be encouraged to support our policies that address many of the concerns revealed by that study. The 50,000 students who demonstrated against EMA cuts and tuition fee increases also deserve a party that supports their interests, and people involved with Occupy and UK Uncut will be able to support our equality policies, anti capitalist ‘post growth’ economics and our open, transparent and democratic internal party structure.
However, few of these potential supporters, voters, members will come to us at all if we don’t go to them first. Our national election agent has crunched the numbers and we are on target to have a few hundred councillors in the next hundred years. I’m standing with Cllr Will Duckworth and we are planning to help deliver the very successful ‘ upgraded’ Target To Win version – The West Midlands Strategy – but even with this plan we will not grow fast enough, build enough local electoral success or increase our membership at a sufficient rate to bring us effective political influence.
We need to take responsibility alongside all others that we can work with to build a mass movement of resistance against austerity and privatisation. This is part of our philosophical basis to work by any (peaceful) means possible to make the necessary progress for environmental and social justice. The work that has started is already helping to create a space for a real political debate about what sort of society we wan to live in. Greens are involved in this. I am Chair of the Coalition of Resistance and we have given platforms to elected Green Party members to contribute to this debate. Caroline Lucas MP was at the centre of the front page of 10,000 COR broadsheets at the TUC March for the Alternative on 26th. But it is not enough for the GPEW to be affiliated to COR. Greens need to be active and campaigning alongside people in their communities on all local issues arising from the destructive effects of austerity measures, and working with them to build strength at both a regional and at a national level.We have so much work to do to counteract the wall of media misinformation that refuses to introduce any alternative ideas into the current political ‘debates’.
We need to help shift the mood of the nation, to bring alternative ideas to more people as we stand beside them in the fight against gross inequality and mismanagement of our economy and our ecology. Then we will get the attention of the masses, then they will look at how we work for them when elected at a local level, then we can call for their votes – from young, old, working or unemployed, other political parties or none, and from any background – and they could work with us to ‘get the vote out’.
Deputy leader candidates
Caroline Allen: A mixture; many non voters are sick of the grey parties and their out of touch, corrupt, professional politicians; we must differentitate ourselves and appeal to those people. Young people will be reaching the age of 18 with the worse outlook in jobs, housing and education for decades; we must speak to their concerns. Labour seem to be in the resurgence, but their support is soft. If we get out and talk people and demonstrate that we care about their concerns they will vote Green. There are millions of people who have been let down by Labour first and now the coalition, millions are struggling. We must speak for and to these people. People will vote for us if we can show how we will make life better for them – we need a positive message of a better Green future.
Richard Mallender: From new voters, non voters or supporters of other political parties? We need to get them from all three! Many people are turned off by party politics but are still interested in politics in terms of how decisions affect their everyday lives. We need to be recognised as a strong, credible alternative to the three main parties, win over disillusioned Labour and LibDem supporters in particular and have clear messages for young people that they can trust us, that not all parties are simply varying shades of grey.
Overall, I was surprised at the extent to which the field is interested in targeting Labour voters and downplaying former Lib Dems. Not that I disagree, just that this might be a difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Here disillusioned Labour voters have the option of the SNP, who talk left enough for them to appeal to wavering Greens. This focus for GPEW does also perhaps reflect the seats they’re targeting, where the Lib Dems were often already weak or have already collapsed.
In terms of differentiating the responses to help inform my vote, I am a sucker for a an evidence base for this kind of strategic question. From the Deputy list, Alex and Will score highest with me on that question. I want a leadership team that puts winning first, and that means understanding the terrain you’re fighting over. On the leadership side, Natalie’s answer felt strongest to me, not least because it was the only one to talk explicitly about the European elections which, barring coalition meltdown, will be the next important national election for GPEW, and the party’s strongest as the only national election they fight under PR. I’m also curious about what The West Midlands Strategy that Romayne mentions is. Perhaps someone could elaborate in the comments. On the policy side I felt Peter’s response scored highly. The issues he cites at the end are all strong choices – left policies which are also pragmatic and easy to communicate without sounding like leftist fist-waving, and they’re exactly the sort of issues I’d like to see GPEW put front and centre.
If you found this useful, tune in for more shortly. If not, please steer clear of my next posts for while.