Sian goes whaling

Exciting times as Sian goes head-to-head with a whale plus the glamour of a rickshaw ride in Leicest

We’re in the final week of the Welsh, Scottish and local election campaigns and, quite frankly, I’m on tenterhooks.

I was helping out Leicester Green Party this weekend. No pedalling myself around this time – oh no. I was transported up from the station in a swanky rickshaw eco-cab, to visit shops and knock on doors in Castle ward, which is officially the most marginal ward in the country for the Greens.

Four years ago, our candidate failed to be elected after reaching a tie with the Labour candidate for third place in a three-councillor ward, enduring four recounts, and then watching as the other candidate’s name was drawn from a hat. After all that, Green lead candidate Matt Follett and his team have been working hard to make sure they win with votes to spare on Thursday.

This time next week, the political map of the UK could be very different. Last year Labour lost control of several councils they had run for decades, including Camden where I live, and now a virtual meltdown in Scotland doesn’t seem out of the question. The Scottish Greens are being talked about as a potential partner in a new government.

Unusually for an election campaign, there’s lots of talk about green issues in the media. I have never been busier, and top of the list is of course bins. The rush for councils to make their recycling targets in the face of a steep increase in landfill tax next year, has meant nearly a third are going for the ‘panic button’ option of cutting mixed waste collections to alternate weeks, in the hope this will force people to recycle more.

This has left many households hanging onto their food waste (rarely collected by councils for recycling) for a fortnight, with some unpleasant results. I was called onto Newsnight to argue with ‘shock jock’ James Whale, which was fun. Although he wasn’t exactly engaging in sensible debate, (“Green - isn’t that something that comes out of your nose?”) I do have some sympathy for the campaigners – and not a lot of sympathy for councils that are playing catch-up after failing to invest in full recycling before now.

It seems it’s not just the media who have got the environment high on their agenda. Polling organisation MORI ask the public every month what they think ‘the most important issues facing Britain’ are. It’s an open question – people don’t choose from a list – and the results are classified into groups such as prices, education, defence, etc. afterwards.

You can look at MORI’s results going back to 1974 on their website. Anything relating to pollution and the environment has only been given its own category since 1988, but the results since then make fascinating reading. After reaching the heady heights of 35 percent (ahead of everything else) in July 1989 and staying mainly above 20 percent for another year, the growing recession of the early 1990s sent green issues back to the bottom of the pile for a while.

But, since 2003, there has been a sure and steady rise. A couple of big jumps in the past few months has seen nearly 20 percent of people bring up environmental concerns for the first time in ages, and it’s now figuring almost as high as education.

What this means for Thursday’s polls I don’t know. We’re expecting a record result above 10% as I mentioned last week, but that’s just based on election results a year ago and our canvassing. Thursday might prove even more exciting than we imagine.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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