London Elections – Greens go from strength to strength

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In local elections held in May this year, Greens in the UK saw considerable success. This was especially the case in London, where the Green candidate for Mayor Jenny Jones finished 3rd, with the highest ever vote for the party in such an election. The result was not a surprise: the 2010 Parliamentary elections, when the first Green MP was elected, resulted in increased coverage of the party and gave them an opportunity to present their message to a wider audience. Combined with a lot of hard work, this paid off for the party in the local elections. We talked to one candidate about her experience of the campaign, and what other Greens can learn from it.
Natalie Bennet was 4th in the list for the London Assembly, the 25 Member body which scrutinises the work of the Mayor of London. The Greens had 2 seats on that Assembly, but despite an increase in the vote, did not increase this number.

For Natalie, a core part of the Green strategy was the continuing effort to break the idea in people’s minds that they were a single issue party. So while traditional green issues such as air quality and energy were featured in their manifesto, the main message was on ‘social issues’ such as low-pay, housing and effective policing. Overall, their theme for the campaign was to make London a more ‘liveable’ city for its inhabitants.

Copyright Creative Commons Kol Tregaskes

The Greens are now the 3rd largest party in London

Getting their message out was made easier due to a decision by the BBC (mirrored by some other news organisations) to give the Greens the same amount of coverage as the Liberal Democrats (currently the junior party in the coalition Government). As a result, Jones was one of four candidates in many of the debates. An example of success begetting success, this allowed the Greens to spread their message to the widest possible audience.

Of course, a good message needs a good candidate and a lot of resources, especially for a city such as London. In Jenny Jones, the Greens had an excellent candidate, who had served on the London Assembly since 2000 and who had previously served as Deputy Mayor of London. In a heated, celebrity-style race between the incumbent and a previous holder of the office, she was able to portray herself as the experienced voice of reason.

Resource wise, the Greens would not have nearly the same level of resources as the larger parties, especially as they reject the corporate funding that others receive. However, the London mayoral elections operate under a system of proportional representation, unlike most elections in the UK. Greens always fare better under such systems, as voters are less likely to feel that their votes are ‘wasted’ on smaller parties. The Greens therefore decided to put a lot of their resources into this election, which paid off with this excellent result.
Over 1.25 million leaflets were distributed by the Greens’ central campaign, which ensured that the Greens had a high profile in the campaign.

Planning the next successes

Of course, handing out leaflets is not enough to get people to come out to vote, let alone vote Green. Following a high-profile expenses scandal in the UK, and the disillusionment that has come with the economic downturn, voters are more cynical of politics and politicians than ever before. For Natalie, it was crucial therefore to make a real connection with voters. Her local branch, in Camden, put a lot of time into knocking on doors and talking to voters. As the Campaign Handbook reported, this type of canvassing is catching on with other Greens in Europe.

The Camden and other London Greens are regarding such work as just the start of a continuing conversation with voters. . They are building up knowledge of individual voters from conversations on the doorstep, which provide information about what voters are interested in and what policies are most likely to attract them. This can then be followed up with personalised letters. Collecting email addresses for regular local newsletters is also a key part of the process.

Natalie is positive about the future prospects of the Greens. Now that they are the “3rd party” in London, they have a greatly enhanced profile with which to attract new members and future candidates, and a voting public open to new ideas. Although the local and European elections are two years away, work is already beginning on the campaign, so that the Greens can continue to go from strength to strength. British Greens have had two MEPs since 1999. Natalie said the Greens should be able to double, and hopefully even treble, that number in 2014 across the UK*, and greatly increase the number of councillors in London.

Article written after interview with Natalie Bennet, candidate in the recent elections and member of the Editorial board of the Green European Journal 
*The UK operates a system of proportional-representation for European Parliament elections, making it easier for the Greens to win seats than in traditional ‘first-past-the-post’ system that is operates for local and national elections  

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