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

What Labour's plotters are thinking

The ground may have shifted underneath Jeremy Corbyn's feet, at least as far as the rules on nominations are concerned. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has been rocked by seven resignations from his shadow cabinet, as the attempt to remove the Labour leader gathers speed and pace.

I’m told there will be more to come. What’s going on?

As I’ve written before, the big problem for Labour’s Corbynsceptics is that Corbyn won big among party members in September and his support has, if anything increased since then. Although a lot of ink was wasted over fears of “entryism” which at the outside probably contributed about a percentage point to Corbyn’s 40-point landslide, it is “exitism”  - the exodus of anti-Corbynite members and their replacement with his supporters that is shifting the party towards its left flank.

Added to that is the unhelpfully vague wording of Labour’s constitution. It is clear that Corbyn’s challengers would need to collect 50 signatures from Labour MPs and MEPs to trigger a leadership challenge, a hurdle that the plotters are confident of hopping. It is less clear whether Corbyn himself would have to do so.

But what appears to have happened is that Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, has received legal advice that he should not put Corbyn on the ballot paper unless the parliamentary Labour party does so – advice that he is willing to put his job on the line to follow. McNicol believes that the NEC – which has a fragile Corbynite majority on some issues but not on all – will back him up on this matter. (Significantly, at time of writing, none of the three frontbenchers who hold NEC posts, which are in the gift of the shadow cabinet not the party’s leader, have resigned.)

McNicol himself is currently at Glastonbury. Also on his way back from that music festival is Tom Watson, the deputy leader, whose political protégés include Gloria DePiero, who resigned earlier today. Stiffening the resolve of Labour MPs that they can pull this off and survive the rage of the membership is a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn passed by Wrexham constituency Labour party. The MP there is Ian Lucas, a respected MP from the party’s right, who is now on the backbenches but resigned from Tony Blair’s government in 2006 after Blair refused to set out his departure date.  That coup, of course, was organised by Tom Watson.

Watson is respected by Labour’s general secretaries, who are publicly supportive of Corbyn but many of whom would privately prefer to see the end of him. Crucially, they are even more opposed to John McDonnell, who has been a reliable ally to their leftwing opponents in internal elections.

As for party members, having called around this morning there is certainly some movement away from Corbyn, partly due to the Vice documentary and also due to the referendum campaign. My impression, however, is that the candidate they are looking for – someone who could have much of Corbyn’s politics but with greater political nous and the ability to bring together more of the PLP – doesn’t exist in the parliamentary party. There are some lower-ranked members of the 2010 and 2015 intakes who might fit the bill, but their time is far from ripe. It's also not clear to me how significant that movement away is in percentage terms - Corbyn won by 40 points and was 19 points clear of needing a second round, so his capacity to survive erosion is strong. 

Significantly, within the parliamentary party's three anti-Corbyn tendencies, “the let him fail and strike once” and the "we're stuck with him, keep quiet and do other things" factions are currently recessional and the “strike and strike until he gives up” faction is ascendant, adding to the pressure on the leadership, at least temporarily. The prospect of what may be a winnable election post-Brexit with a different leader - as one MP said to me, "Angela [Eagle] is not that good but she is good enough [should Brexit trigger a recession] - has Corbynsceptics less inclined to write off the next election. 

At the start of the year, I thought that no attempt to replace Corbyn before the election would work. That's still my “central forecast” – but a bet that looked more reliable than a ISA now looks rather shaky.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.