Reasons for Greens to be optimistic

The Green Party expects to end 2004 with at least six UK MEPs (currently two), at least one more London Assembly Member (currently three) and 20% more local councillors (currently 53).

This prediction is based on:
1. Best ever English local election results in 2003 (29% increase in councillors).
2. Sevenfold increase in Green MSPs in Scotland in 2003.
3. Steady rise in Green vote in local elections since 1999.
4. Growth in membership throughout of the period since 1999 (including a 25% increase in members during general election year 2001, and 10% increases in 2002 and 2003).
5. Council breakthroughs in important cities in best-prospect Euro-regions.
6. Much higher media profile than in 1999.
7. Evidence of growing popularity of Green Party policies.

Euro-election prospects

Comparing the Green vote with previous Euro-elections

The record Green vote, the dramatic slump, and the steady comeback

In 1989, 2.2 million Britons voted Green in the Euro-elections. That was the highest Green vote in a national election in any country, ever. The UK Green vote then rapidly and heavily slumped. Looking at the parallels with 1989, and at the reasons for the subsequent slump, we would not rule out a similar vote in the 2004 Euro-elections, which would mean Green MEPs elected in most English Euro-election regions and in Scotland.

The chief dissimilarity with 1989 is that then the LibDems were in disarray, which undoubtedly assisted the Greens to become third party in that election. The similarities are, however, stronger (see below).

The main factor behind the dramatic slump in the Green vote after 1989 was that the other parties claimed they had taken on board our message. The government and the other parties adopted much of our language but didn't in fact adopt our policies - Thatcher's flagship Environmental Protection Act was mainly about litter and supermarket trolley deposits, while Blair's promise to "put the environment at the heart of government" has been repeatedly broken. But the message repeated time and again by those parties (and by the media) was that the Greens had made their point and were no longer necessary. We have now had 15 years' experience of the other parties failing to adopt serious Green policies. They all still pursue roadbuilding, airport expansions, economic globalisation and a militarised foreign policy. They are all undeniably neoliberal parties. The more time passes, the more the public sees there is only one Green Party.

The second major factor was that 15% had voted Green - but no Green MEPs were elected. The view became firmly established that a Green vote was a wasted vote. Had the UK had the same system of proportional elections as Germany, a 15% vote would have returned 12 UK Greens to the European Parliament. This would have been the largest national Green Party group, and it would have made up a large proportion of the Green Group in the European Parliament. It's reasonable to speculate that it would have transformed the Green Party's fortunes in the UK for the better, through the resulting much higher media profile and resource-input that having MEPs brings.

By 1999 a PR system had been introduced for Euro-elections. The Green Party had passed through its mid-1990s lowpoint and had begun its comeback. But the PR system was new and was little understood, and the Green vote was only about half of the 1989 vote (though double the 1994 vote). It is reasonable to expect that now the public is more accustomed to PR elections and to seeing that Greens can win, this factor in itself will boost the Green vote.

As 1989 is the year journalists often refer to as the heyday of the Green Party, it's worth comparing the 2004 situation with the 1989 situation. The comparison is generally a very favourable one.

Favourable comparisons with 1989

Environmental issues

Environmental issues were high-profile in the late 1980s. The same is true now. E.g. there is a far wider public understanding of climate change and its effects; GMOs have been a very high-profile issue; food safety crises have often dominated the headlines during recent years; household pollution has been in the news very recently; water fluoridation is creeping up the political agenda. The environmental factor can be expected to help boost the Green vote because the Green Party is recognised as having strong policies in those areas.

Escape from the "single issue environmental" ghetto

On the other hand, in 1989, and even in 1999, the Greens were seen by many or most people as a "single-issue environmentalist" party. This was a damaging perception, because many people are reluctant to vote for parties that aren't seen to have good policies across the board. Now, especially where Greens have been elected and have been seen locally and regionally dealing with the full range of issues, the damaging perception of "single-issue Greens" is considerably weaker. The launch of the Real Progress theme this year, which was generally well received by the media, is likely to reinforce the view of Greens as offering policy solutions across the board. This factor may be expected to help increase the Green vote.

The Iraq factor

The government's policy on Iraq has been highly unpopular. This benefited both the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in the 2003 elections. However, the LibDems, having managed to portray their maybe-war policy as an anti-war policy, showed their true colours by supporting the war once it began in earnest. Of the two parties, the anti-war vote is now more likely to be seen to be deserved by the Greens.

The political landscape

The political positioning landscape is currently favourable to the Greens. A strong perception has grown - which the Green Party shares - that New Labour's move to the right has effectively converted it into another conservative party in terms of most of the policies it pursues. Certainly it shares with the Conservatives and the LibDems the core neoliberal ideology of privatisation, globalisation, a militarised foreign policy and (from a Green perspective) an approach to the ecological crisis which is patently inadequate because it's tacked-on to neoliberal economics.

A recent evaluation showed that some 30% of new Green Party are ex-Labour (with negligible percentages from Conservative, LibDem and others). The Green Party is increasingly seen as occupying the left-of-centre space evacuated by Labour.

On the other hand, over 60% of new Green Party members come from "no previous party." It is significant that the Green Party, while still very small, has continued to grow since 1999 while the membership of the big three parties has fallen significantly. This is an indication that at least some people who see little difference between the big three turn to the Greens instead of to apathy.

The Liberal Democrats have often been seen as a moderate left-of-centre alternative. Recently however they publicly stressed the priority they attach to market economics. This move has been seen as a bid for soft Tory votes in the run-up to this year's elections. But it's extremely convenient for the Green Party, as it weakens any LibDem claim to the left-of-centre appeal, eg on policies like opposing privatisations, promoting renationalisation of railways and utilities etc, which are Green Party policies.

The George Galloway/Respect party looked as though it might appeal to the anti-war vote. However, the potential threat from Respect, challenging the Greens for the left-of-centre vote, looks as though it hasn't got off the ground and will be no more of a threat than Arthur Scargill's SLP. The initial "broad-based" look has disintegrated, not least since George Monbiot resigned from Respect and announced he would be endorsing the Greens. It has become increasingly obvious that Respect is largely the hard-left revolutionary Socialist Worker Party fronted by a George Galloway desperate to preserve a political career. SWP publications have recently located Respect within the Trotskyist "broad front" tradition, which is unlikely to be a recipe for sweeping success.

Growing popularity of Green Party policies

Our research into opinion polls on policy issues has shown that Green Party policies are, overall, far more popular than Labour and Tory policies (see Green Party The Strongest Link, April 2001, currently being updated). Because the Greens have a lower media profile than the other parties, there are still many people who don't realise the extent to which they agree with the Greens. But as our media profile rises, the Green vote is likely to rise simply because more people will see the extent to which they agree with us. Our news monitoring showed we achieved approximately twice the media exposure in 2003 as in 2002, a directly comparable electoral year - a result we attributed partly to the growing success of elected Greens, and partly to improvements in our media strategy and operations. In the same period our vote share in local elections increased (according to the BBC) from about 5% to about 7%, and 29% more Green councillors were elected in 2003. Although their numbers are small, the steady progress of breakthroughs and consolidations even in a highly disadvantageous first-past-the-post system is significant.

The fact that the Green Party has sitting MEPs puts us in a more favourable position in terms of media coverage than it would in a general election. Given the demonstrable overall popularity of our policies, more media coverage can be expected to translate into more votes.

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