Friday, 13 May 2011

Beyond the AV vote: Why Greens should see this result as an opportunity

Last week produced some fantastic results for the Greens across the United Kingdom, including an amazing opportunity here in Brighton for us to prove our mettle as a viable local authority. That said, the results were tinged with the depressing resolution of the AV campaign, which was comprehensively lost with 68% of those who voted rejecting a change to the voting system. To many Greens that I’ve spoken to since the referendum, a mood of resignation has descended, especially for those areas where results weren’t as favourable for the Green Party. The prospect of reform seems further away than ever.

However, I was always a little concerned that we were putting a lot of eggs in one basket. Pinning hopes on a change that will produce modest gains in support for us isn’t a sustainable strategy. It felt like a panacea for our electoral ills and risked letting us off the hook of undertaking the heavy lifting of developing local groups around the country. Yesterday, I read an interesting piece on The Daily (Maybe), which highlighted the close relationship between those local areas who voted “Yes” to AV and those that had (or until recently had) successful Green representation in their local council.

For me, the lesson is clear. We have proved in places like Norwich, Lewisham, Brighton and Oxford that with strong organisation, sound local policies and tenacious candidates, we can make gains even with a voting system stacked against us. We need to concentrate now on winning seat by seat. Over the longer term, this provides us a stronger base and voice with which to make the case for reform, if and when the next opportunity occurs. This ties in with a point I made in my last post, when I argued that one of the greatest challenges to the Green Party is capacity-building and mentoring potential activists and candidates. Now more than ever, successful local Green parties need to invest time back into sharing their strategies and working methods with regions where we need to expand, such as the North-east of England.

Coupled with this, we need to understand why the AV referendum failed. It became a proxy verdict on the Liberal Democrats entering into coalition with the Conservatives. As I mentioned in my pitch for people to vote yes, it was terribly difficult to disentangle the fair rationale for change from party political advantage. We need to make the case better and argue for a more proportional system than AV alone would have delivered. (I would favour AV Plus, which steps toward proportionality but retains the constituency link that British voters treasure). The Green Party needs to draw together our best minds and work out two or three killer lines to sell on the doorstep, alongside two or three on why First Past The Post doesn’t work any longer in multi-party politics. We didn’t quite nail it last time. Lets leave criticism of our opponents out of it. The silver bullet is to make a cast iron case for fairness to all voters, regardless of party affiliation.

There is going to be no short-cuts on our journey, but we have momentum and the right arguments on our side.

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