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Norwich South: Achievement and Lesson

By Adam Ramsay and C’llr. Rupert Read.

[A different version of this article has appeared in the Green Party’s ‘Green Activist’ newsletter, Aug. 2010).

This is an exciting time to be a Green. We’ve won our first ever MP, doubled our vote in Norwich, and won new seats on a number of councils.

Those successes are particularly impressive in what turns out to have been the biggest political squeeze in recent British history. Despite Cleggmania, the Lib Dems went backwards as the country turned out in their millions to stop the Tories, or to boot out Brown. In other words: in the first stage of the campaign, after the 1st leaders debate, we suffered a new phenomenon – a 3-party squeeze. Our poll numbers went down, as the LibDems moved up. In the final stage of the campaign, this turned into a classic 2-party squeeze, and our numbers suffered even further, as people started voting just to keep the Tories out, or to get Gordon Brown out.

In fact, the result in Brighton (and also that in Norwich) is particularly impressive when we realise that nationally there was a swing against us as many of our voters desperately tried to keep the Tories out in the closest election for 36 years. Similarly, though we had hoped we’d win, we are pleased to have doubled our vote share in Norwich against a background of Green campaigns across the country being squeezed very hard.

If the next election is under first past the post, it will be crucial that we show we can win (It will be easier, if the system has changed to AV).

But much more important: Green politics is about building a fair and sustainable economy from the ashes of the recession. The people who will benefit most from this have spent the last 15 years voting for a Labour Party which no longer represents their interests. When we talked to them about their day to day struggles, and how we will stand with them in these, we discovered that this is the voice they were crying out to hear, and many of them seem to have made a switch during the campaign to vote for us.

The broad trend was that this switch was big enough to double our vote despite many of our core supporters from local authority elections deserting us to vote LibDem against Charles Clarke, or to vote for Clarke to ‘stop the Tories’. This puts us in good shape to win in Norwich, next time. When, for the first time in a long-time, given that the Libdems have put Cameron in number 10, there will likely be tactical voting against the LibDems…

What then are the key lessons?:

1)Clear messaging. Green investment vs. Tory (and to some extent LibDem, or indeed Labour) cuts was a clear message, which helped us in Norwich. But we could have been clearer and more single-minded in the way that we put it forward. In retrospect, our leaflets were sometimes too multifarious in what they were trying to say to people.

2)Hard work works: In those places that have seen their vote go down despite lots of hard work, it doesn’t feel like it, but one of the key lessons from Norwich is that years of building up personal relationships with voters helped the vote to double despite the squeeze.

3)We can win working class people’s votes in large numbers. Through year-round organising, and clear explanations and demonstrations of how we will work with people to improve their communities and their lives, we can secure their votes; and these are less likely to evaporate in a squeeze than those of middle class tactical voters.

4) Reflect people’s progressive values. Finally, and connected to the above 3 points, we need to press home our commitment to a ‘progressive majority’. Most people in this country share our values much more than they do Tory values, and most Lib Dem voters do even more so (very few LibDem voters think of themselves as right-of-centre, even though that – right-of-centre – is what the LibDem leadership are).  We need to relentlessly criticise the blow-with-the-wind willingness of the LibDems to work with the highest bidder – not through abstract ideas about political process, but through showing the specific examples of how they are making people’s lives worse, by explaining why we think this is unjust, and by standing with people in their struggles against these policies. If we do this, we will not only be likely to reap electoral rewards. We will be doing what political parties ought to do – helping people in their day-to-day fight for a better world.

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