Comment: Greens must appeal to Tory voters too

Watermelons: Greens need to move beyond  caricature of being Green outside and red inside
Watermelons: Greens need to move beyond caricature of being Green outside and red inside

By Tom Chance

I've never liked attempts to define the Green Party in out-of-date terms like "left wing". Some suggest there is a built-in progressive consensus in London, being a left-leaning city. People suggesting this usually live in inner London, where they're surrounded by solid Labour fiefdoms, but it's not a very secure consensus across Greater London.

If you were to assume that Labour, Lib Dem and Green voters comprised this progressive coalition, you would take comfort from the 2005 and 2010 general elections when they combined to average 62 per cent of the vote across Greater London. But if you look at 2015 and take the Lib Dems out, this drops to 49 per cent, with the Tories plus Ukip and the Lib Dem rump combining to win 51 per cent.

In the London mayoral and assembly elections, Boris has been elected twice in a row. His pitch has always been socially liberal but economically conservative, feigning (persuasively, for many) concern for the environment and poverty at the same time as promising to cut council tax and promote airport expansion. His was a broad centre-ground ticket not so different from Tessa Jowell's pitch today. Was this a sign that he is part of a progressive consensus, or that this is an unhelpful way of looking at voters' views in London?


Another suggestion I've heard is that we bring together an anti-austerity consensus. But in May 2015, the two anti-austerity parties (Green and TUSC) clocked up a combined 5.1 per cent of the vote, leaving 94.9 per cent going to pro-austerity parties. I think austerity is a callous confidence trick, but I also know we need to persuade more voters of this and can't imagine the anti-austerity label will bring voters flocking to our side.

Tom Chance: Hoping to be the first Green London mayor

In May I stood in Lewisham West & Penge where a very credible TUSC candidate, a local NUT secretary and prominent anti-academies campaigner, got 391 votes (0.8 per cent) on a left-wing, anti-austerity ticket. I campaigned on anti-austerity issues but also parks, air pollution, academy schools, library cuts, estate regeneration, private renting costs, safer cycling and more. On this broader, Green ticket I clocked up 4,077 votes, quadrupling our vote share to 8.5 per cent.

What about core Green voters' attitudes? They're also not that straightforward.

Look at the second preference votes of the 98,913 people who voted for Jenny Jones (Green) as their first preference in the May 2012 mayoral election. Five in ten gave their second preference to Ken Livingstone, a left-leaning environmentalist by Labour's standards. But three in ten lent their second preference to either Boris (Tory) or Paddick (Lib Dem).

That's 15 per cent of our core vote willing to support a Tory candidate, and another 15 per cent to a candidate standing for the other party in the coalition government.

Jenny got 20 per cent of all Londoners' second preference votes, showing the huge potential for us to expand our vote share. But many of them voted for Boris, Paddick or the centre-ground populist technocrat Siobhan Benita with their first.

If we want to get three, four or even five London Assembly Members, we will need to attract votes from people who might support a Tory, Lib Dem or Labour candidate for Mayor.

Many voters, and especially Green voters, aren't tribal, and can't be easily squeezed into narrow definitions like "left wing". I have never voted Tory in my life, but if we go around suggesting that anybody contemplating voting Tory can't possibly vote Green we'll be focussing on half of Jenny's 4.5 per cent instead of reaching out to all of the 20 per cent who showed they might support us.

None of this is to suggest that it isn't possible to build a broad consensus around our Green vision of a capital where nobody grows up in poverty, where homes are provided for people in need rather than speculators after a profit, and where public ownership of public services like TfL is cherished. We can build this, and call it a progressive consensus. We just can't take it for granted.

The Green Party came third in the London mayoral and assembly elections in 2012. If we are to build on that next year we need to move beyond narrow, tribal attitudes and be confident in building a broad coalition of Green voters.

Tom Chance is standing to be the Green Party's London mayoral candidate. You can join his campaign here.

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

 

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