Nice to see them quote Andrew Dobson who was my Phd examiner.
The campaign trail (1)
Why the Green breakthrough may finally have come
Mar 31st 2010 | BRIGHTON AND LONDON | From The Economist print edition
Caroline Lucas, a grown-up Green
THE buzz among Green activists in Brighton, a southern seaside town famed for its pier and political conferences, is contagious. Brighton Pavilion is their party’s best chance of winning their first parliamentary seat in the coming general election, and their candidate, Caroline Lucas, an MEP, is also their leader. With the help of nearly 50 volunteers, Matt Follett, the national policy co-ordinator, and Simon Williams, the local campaign manager, are leafleting at least half of the constituency each Saturday. “Ask Eric Pickles if he can do that,” says Mr Follett. (Mr Pickles is chairman of the Conservative Party.)
On paper, Brighton Pavilion should be a stroll for Labour. It won last time with 35% of the votes cast, while the Tories got less than 24% and the Greens under 22% (twice their previous result). But the incumbent is standing down, and polls suggest a fight between the Tories and the Greens.
Ms Lucas’s party takes comfort from two polls. In the first, for PoliticsHome, a website, more than 34,000 people in 238 marginal seats were interviewed last September. The pollsters found that seaside towns showed milder swings to the Conservatives than other marginals and the strongest shift towards minor parties (up from 8% in 2005 to 19% in 2009). The Greens would win Brighton Pavilion, they concluded. This finding was reinforced by an ICM poll in the constituency in December for the Green Party. Some 35% of those intending to vote supported the Greens, 27% the Conservatives, 25% Labour, 11% the Liberal Democrats and 1% the United Kingdom Independence Party.
The Greens infuriate the Tory candidate, Charlotte Vere, a businesswoman and self-styled “social entrepreneur”. She believes she can marshal votes in the wealthier northern wards, but says, glumly, that the fight is “unfair” because the Greens, whom she describes as hard-left “eco-fascists”, don’t face the kind of political scrutiny endured by mainstream parties. But she has taken a leaf from their book: her election literature makes great play of her “passion” for the environment.
Such rhetorical flourishes demonstrate the power of the Green vote in Brighton. There are a number of reasons why the party can win there, supporters say. Unlike the other candidates, Ms Lucas is a national figure. The party has strong roots in Brighton, a raffish, leftish town of tattoo salons and health-food shops, where undertakers offer “green funerals”. It holds more seats in the council wards in the constituency than the Tories or Labour do. The party received donations totalling a modest £352,163 last year, which it is concentrating on its three target seats (the others are Lewisham Deptford and Norwich South). And the Greens always have lots of willing hands to help. Widespread fear of climate change boosts their chances too, of course.
But the party has also grown up. Andrew Dobson, a professor of politics at Keele University, wrote the Green Party’s election manifesto. He says that there is now a clear distinction between a professionally run party and the wider, more chaotic environmental movement. The change in how policy is presented demonstrates this, he claims: the manifesto focuses on fully costed economic policies, not on inspirational environmental slogans.
Ms Lucas was elected as the Greens’ first leader two years ago, and she has made the most of her media opportunities. The party has developed, she says, “a much clearer focus on electoral politics”, taking heart from its victories in local and European elections. To improve its chances, it appointed a new advertising agency, Glue London, last year.
The Greens’ PR boss, Tracy Dighton-Brown, recalls arriving for her first meeting with the agency and being greeted by its chief executive. They both had certain stereotypical expectations, she says. “He was wearing a cardigan and offered us herbal tea. I was wearing a suit.” The agency does focus-group research for the party. It also draws inspiration from Barack Obama’s use of friendship networks to mobilise voters (and donors).
Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, reckons the party has a chance of winning a seat or two this time, pointing out that the Greens are seen as a “gentle and harmless safe alternative for disillusioned voters”, mostly on the left. He predicts a growing presence in southern university towns—Oxford, Cambridge and Norwich in particular. But the first-past-the-post voting system for MPs is a huge obstacle for any small party. Greens may be moaning about that man-made, artificial construct for some time.