Chances are if you don’t live in Oxford’s North Ward then you won’t have noticed there was a by-election their yesterday – if you did then the incessant canvassing and leafleting will have made it difficult not to notice, however, hard you tried. The result gave both Labour and the Lib Dems something to be happy about: an extra councillor and a sizeable swing in their favour respectively. What is significant for our purposes here is who came away with nothing to be cheery about: the Green Party. Having come a reasonable second in the ward in 2012, they might have expected to be in with a chance. Instead they dropped into third.
This very shortly after their party conference where there was a session scheduled on they could “break into mass popular awareness in the way that Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party managed in May’s local elections.” And they might think that now is their chance to do likewise. There is unlikely to be another time when the Lib Dems are in coalition with the Tories and Labour is led by Ed Miliband. And they have of course broken into parliament for the first time.
However, unfortunately for them no one seems to have told the electorate that now is supposedly the Green moment. As Neil Lawson laments in an open letter to the Greens:
Brighton Pavilion and Brighton council are looking like the high-water mark of a party now going backwards and certainly not a foothold beginning a march to power. Three or four-way marginals are thin on the ground. It’s virtually impossible to win more parliamentary seats. Running Brighton council has proved, to say the least, a mixed blessing, and may help defeat Lucas. And UKIP stand ready and able to obliterate you in terms of MEPs. Face it: there is no prospect of an electoral breakthrough.
I’m just not sure there is enough of a latent Green vote to power UKIP style surge. They got less than half the votes UKIP did in the last European Elections. A look at the Green’s sister parties across Europe suggests that they struggle to get much above 10% in elections even when they don’t have to grapple with first past the post.
It seems a bit like now or never for the Greens. And that should scare them.