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