The Greens have had their best national polling performance since 1989. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Greens may become a force to be reckoned with

It could be a blip, but the Green party's polling suggests a bright future.

An Ipsos-MORI poll for the Evening Standard the other day had the Green party on 8 per cent for the second month in a row, the same figure as the beleaguered Liberal Democrats. Is this a statistical blip or the start of something significant?

In last month’s European elections, the Greens gained an extra seat leaving them with three MEPs on 8 per cent of the popular vote, a performance that served to push the Lib Dems into fifth place. There has been little comment about this performance, probably because the mercurial voting patterns common in European elections are, to some degree, politically discountable.

Indeed, the Greens have spiked in the European elections before, memorably winning 15 per cent of the vote as long ago as 1989 before dropping back to low single digits. But what is interesting, albeit on the basis of two monthly tracker polls, is that this is their best national polling performance since then.

The implications of an electorally competitive Green party at next year’s general election are potentially significant, not least because it would clutter up the centre-left field. Most obviously, the Greens could offer a home for young voters and political purists, many of who simply don’t bother voting, but who may be persuaded to do so if there is heightened media attention about their chances.

A viable Green party also provides a ready option for disgruntled Lib Dems who don’t want to return to a Nick Clegg-led party. David Cameron’s apparent dismissal of environmental protection as “green crap” and the antipathy shown to wind power, means the coalition – and by extension the Lib Dems’ – credentials on the environment are weak.

For Labour, the Greens offer unwanted competition for those same wavering Lib Dem souls. Ed Miliband has been extremely successful in positioning Labour as the obvious haven for soft-left progressives. Given Labour’s poll lead is famously boosted by Lib Dem switchers, party strategists will cast a wary eye in their rear-view mirror if the Greens gather pace on their left flank.

Of course it could all be a blip. However it would be disastrous for party morale if the Lib Dems were to fall behind the Greens in the equivalent poll next month. Clegg will already be dreading the run-up to his party conference in the autumn without having to explain how he has led the Lib Dems to fifth place.

What is clear is that if they manage to sustain their current performance, the Greens will join with UKIP in conclusively sounding the death knell for our traditional system of three-party politics.
 

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why Labour's rise could threaten Nicola Sturgeon's independence dream

As the First Minister shelves plans for a second vote, does she join the list of politicians who bet on an anti-Brexit dividend that failed to materialise?

The nights are getting longer, and so are generations. The independence referendum sequel will happen after, not before the Brexit process is complete, Nicola Sturgeon announced yesterday.

It means that Scottish Remainers will not have the opportunity to seamlessly move from being part of a United Kingdom in the European Union to an independent Scotland in the European Union. Because of the ongoing drama surrounding Theresa May, we've lost sight of what a bad night the SNP had on 8 June. Not just because they lost 21 of the 56 seats they were defending, including that of their leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, and their former leader, Alex Salmond. They also have no truly safe seats left – having gone from the average SNP MP sitting on a majority of more than 10,000 to an average of just 2,521.

As Sturgeon conceded in her statement, there is an element of referendum fatigue in Scotland, which contributed to the loss. Does she now join the list of politicians – Tim Farron being one, and Owen Smith the other – who bet on an anti-Brexit dividend that failed to materialise?

I'm not so sure. Of all the shocks on election night, what happened to the SNP was in many ways the least surprising and most long-advertised. We knew from the 2016 Holyrood elections – before the SNP had committed to a referendum by March 2019 – that No voters were getting better at voting tactically to defeat the SNP, which was helping all the Unionist parties outperform their vote share. We saw that in the local elections earlier this year, too. We knew, too, that the biggest beneficiaries of that shift were the Scottish Conservatives.

So in many ways, what happened at the election was part of a bigger trend that Sturgeon was betting on a wave of anger at the Brexit vote. If we get a bad Brexit deal, or worse, no deal at all, then it may turn out that Sturgeon's problem was simply that this election came a little too early.

The bigger problem for the Yes side isn't what happened to the SNP's MPs – they can undo that with a strong showing at the Holyrood elections in 2021 or at Westminster in 2022. The big problem is what happened to the Labour Party across the United Kingdom.

One of Better Together's big advantages in 2014 is that, regardless of whether you voted for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or the Labour Party, if you believed the polls, you had a pretty reasonable expectation that your type of politics would be represented in the government of Britain sometime soon.

For the last two years, the polls, local elections and by-elections have all suggested that the only people in Scotland who could have that expectation were Conservatives. Bluntly: the day after the local elections, Labour and the Liberal Democrats looked to be decades from power, and the best way to get a centre-left government looked to be a Yes vote. The day after the general election, both parties could hope to be in government within six months.

As Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, observed in a smart column for the Herald after the election, one of the reasons why the SNP lost votes was that Corbyn's manifesto took some of the optimistic vote that they gobbled up in 2014 and 2015.

And while Brexit may yet sour enough to make Nicola Sturgeon's second referendum more appealing on that ground, the transformation in Labour's position over the course of the election campaign is a much bigger problem for the SNP.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

0800 7318496