Caroline Lucas is the 55th MP in this parliament to have announced she will be standing down as an MP at the next general election. Lucas is Britain’s only Green MP. She has represented Brighton Pavilion since 2010 and sits on a majority of just under 20,000 votes – a safe seat that has now, seemingly, been thrown into doubt.
It is hard to work out whether her vote in Brighton is personal, making this seat Labour’s to lose. I have some doubts that it is; I think the Greens could well hold on here. Before Lucas’s win in 2010, the Greens were gaining support at each election cycle. They saved their deposit in 2001 (after polling more than 5 per cent). They won more than 20 per cent in 2005. And then Lucas won with 31 per cent in 2010.
Green strength is not the sole reserve of Caroline Lucas in Brighton. Britain Predicts expects a comfortable hold for the Greens, though take that with a decent measure of salt. Modelling smaller parties using national numbers is a bit of a fruitless exercise.
But all this doesn’t account for recent events. In the local elections in May, despite national surges in Tory as well as Labour areas, support for the Greens fell sharply in Brighton, from 19 seats in 2019 to just seven, a solitary seat more than the six won by the Conservatives. Labour carried the city handily, winning with its biggest seat-based mandate on the council since before Tony Blair’s New Labour landslide.
In isolation, this looks bad for the Green Party’s hopes of holding the seat. Add up the votes that encompass Brighton Pavilion, and Labour eked out a small lead in May. But local elections are not general elections. In 2015, for instance, the locals were held on the same day as the general. While Lucas retained her parliamentary seat with ease, her Green comrades lost, falling in number by well over half across the city. In her own seat, voters often split their ticket, with many going for Labour locally, and nationally for her.
Labour’s local election lead here is small and feels coloured by council politics. But the departure of Lucas has created doubt over what was once a safe-as-houses seat for Britain’s fourth (or is it fifth?) most popular party. Let’s see how they handle it.