by winning the Labour-held seat of Brighton Pavilion at the
forthcoming general election.
A poll of voting intentions carried out by ICM Research shows that the
Greens, who had their best-ever result in the constituency in 2005,
hold an eight-point lead over their nearest rivals, the Conservatives,
with the Greens on 35 per cent, the Tories on 27, Labour on 25 and the
Liberal Democrats on 11 per cent.
If repeated at the general election, the result would see the Greens
snatch the seat from Labour with a majority of 3,500 over the
Conservatives. The Green candidate, Caroline Lucas, the party leader
who is already an MEP, would take her seat at Westminster in a key
political advance for the British environmental movement. The UK
remains the only major European country which has never had Greens in
its national legislature.
Several developments boost the chance of Britain's first Green MP. The
first is that Brighton Pavilion's incumbent Labour member, David
Lepper, is standing down. Mr Lepper is a popular local figure. A key
factor in his holding on to the seat last time around was that he had
voted against the Iraq war.
The Greens' 2005 candidate there, Keith Taylor, scooped 22 per cent of
the vote, beating the Liberal Democrats for third place and coming
within 1,000 votes of pipping the Tories to second. That was the
party's best general election performance.
Another is that dissatisfaction with the Government of Gordon Brown
does not, in radical Brighton – perhaps Britain's most "alternative"
city – translate into automatic support for the Conservatives. If Ms
Lucas is seen as a credible "keep the Tories out" candidate, she will
likely attract considerable support.
But the most significant development is the candidature of Caroline
Lucas herself, Britain's most accomplished Green politician.
Articulate, passionate, radical without seeming threatening, the
former Oxfam adviser has been MEP for South-east England for 10 years,
and is a world away from the old image of the Green party activist as
someone who lived in a tepee eating brown rice.
She presides over a party which has shifted from its purely ecological
roots to an identity which might be described as radical social
democrat; although still with the most demanding agenda for fighting
climate change, and resolutely anti-nuclear, the Greens are now
equally concerned with job creation in the recession and defending the
Besides a solid record of high-profile activism in the European
Parliament, Ms Lucas's achievement has been the modernising of her
party, by getting it to elect a single leader. For 20 years grassroots
Green activists rejected the "cult of leadership", condemning the
party to have several figures speaking for it at once, which meant
that the focus was hopelessly split and the Greens were consigned to
the political wilderness.
The Greens now have their best and highest-profile politician
standing, with no diversions of focus, for their most winnable
The party has 126 councillors in 43 local authorities across Britain
as well as two MEPs, Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert. It intends to
field a "half slate" of just under 300 candidates in the forthcoming
election, likely to be held in May.
But in what some may see as another sign of its political coming of
age, it is concentrating its efforts in just three target seats:
Brighton Pavilion, Lewisham Deptford and Norwich South.
In Norwich South, the party's deputy leader, Adrian Ramsay, is
standing against the former Labour cabinet minister (and leading
critic of Gordon Brown) Charles Clarke. The Greens have 13 councillors
in Norwich, making them the official opposition, and came first in the
city in last year's Euro elections.
In Lewisham Deptford they will field Darren Johnson, local councillor
and chair of the London Assembly, against Joan Ruddock, the minister
for Energy and Climate Change; they have six Green councillors in
Lewisham and in the most recent local elections polled 27 per cent.
But Brighton Pavilion represents their best chance of all, where Ms
Lucas may be part of the first all-woman slate in a British general
Her Labour opponent is Nancy Platts, a former policy adviser and
campaigner in the trade union movement and the voluntary sector; their
Tory rival is Charlotte Vere, a businesswoman who is chief executive
of an online support network for the emotionally troubled, Big White
Wall. The Liberal Democrats have yet to adopt a candidate.
The Greens' hope is that in Brighton Pavilion, they, and not the
Tories, will benefit from Labour voters' disenchantment. The ICM poll
– at present – bears this out. For not only do the Greens have the
greatest support, with 35 per cent; what excites the party campaigners
is the large number of centre-left voters, Labour and Liberal
Democrats, likely to switch their vote to Green if the party is best
placed to stop a Tory win.
Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters
polled indicated they would switch, with 37 per cent saying they were
"very likely" and 26 per cent saying they were "quite likely" to
switch in that situation.
Although the headline on the website of the Labour candidate, Nancy
Platts, asserts that "Voting Green Will Mean A Tory MP For Brighton" –
by splitting the Labour vote – it is clear that some Brighton Pavilion
electors take the opposite view, and consider that voting Green may
keep the Conservatives out – with historic consequences.
Monday, 11 January 2010