>Far Pavilion? Helping the Greens win in Brighton (almost)

> The 22% won by the Green Party in the Brighton Pavilion constituency in the 2005 general election was – leaving aside independents, Scots and Welsh Nats and the case of George Galloway– the highest vote for a minor party for many years and seems an interesting example of a once very minor party start breaking through despite the vast obstacles of First-Past-the-Post.

Having discovered 80Soft’s excellent UK election simulation game of the 2005 election, Prime Minister Forever (good value at £8.00) I decided to give the World Cup a miss, help out and see if I could win it for them. PMF is a game that – having worked out the rules – needs to be played for long periods away the computer with pencil and pad, as putting together a coherent strategy, tweaking party programme – inspired by the Czechs I tend make them more realistic and less radical – balancing out the cash, building up activities and timing momentum to peak around election day requires a lot of forethought.

For the UK Greens, in the game as in life one thing is a no brainer. Although a getting certain national vote is important – the game sets a target of 3% of the national poll, which very difficult with only 200 candidates – Brighton Pavilion is the obvious and overwhelming target. It has the highest Green vote and at under 40% Labour and Tory votes are relatively low and there lowish Lib Dem vote, that could be squeezed. All this suggests the Greens could come through the middle in a three way marginal. Other high-ish Green votes of around 10%are unviable as appear in safe Tory or Labour seats (Lewisham)

Even with such narrow priorities, the Greens have problems. Lack of cash is a real problem. This dictates very limited activity (fund raising, barn storming and issue preparation) early on with more intense campaigning only in the final 2-3 weeks. My best efforts to get perennial Brighton Pavilion candidate Keith Taylor to Westminster involved a campaign spent mainly needling the Lib Dems – managing to get an endorsement from Liberty snatched from the Lib Dens through intensive lobbying and luckily finding some dirt onCharlie Kennedy and leaking it to the media the week before polling. I then tried to get the Labour vote down at the last minute, having saved enough in the campaign kitty for 2-3 days’s attack advertising across the South East right at the end of the campaign before the New Labour spin machine could get into action. There is also such a thing as too much early targeting as both Labour and Tories tend to target Brighton Pavilion with bigger and better resources.

The result? Sitting MP’s Dave Lepper’s vote took a dive, but the Green vote only climbed to 26% and the seat went Tory bya wafer thin majority with both major parties effectively tied on 28%. Disappointingly, the Lib Dem vote, which had reduced to 6% bounced right up to 12%. Dodgy canvass returns perhaps?

Interestingly, the wider results of the elections I’ve fought highlight the difficulty of Tories winning, having ranged from hung parliaments with large Liberal gains (winning up to 72 seats) to Labour winning workable majorities with the party on around 350 seats, as in the real thing. The Tories do tend to stand still, with 250 MPs being their maximum – what David Cameron wouldn’t give for that.

The underlying lesson seems to be the sheet difficulty of the Greens winning the required 35-40% needed to win in First-Past-the-Post contests above local level, despite their very skilled targeting of parliamentary seats through local elections – running city-wide slates to present themselves as fourth party – and good use of pavement politics. I suppose it the Liberals could do, so can the Greens but that does imply a timescale of about 40 years and the Liberals always retained a small parliamentary presence.

Thinking of the Greens and (small ‘l’) liberals I can’t help wondering that both are in fact always destined to be minority forces. Both have a difficult to sell message and tend to have a social support base confined to small educated sub-groups. Lord Acton’s comment that the sincere friends of freedom are rare and that its ‘triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own’ comes to mind.

Very much the same seems true of sincere friends of the planet. Who one wonders are the ‘auxiliaries’ that the Greens can team up with? In the Czech Republic, centrist liberals although the Greens in turn are the auxiliaries of pro-market neo-liberals of ODS, about the bltiz the Czech Republic with environmentally VAT rises. In Britain, traditionally the socialist left seems a pole of attraction for many Greens – at least to judge from a quick google of discussions about the Greens and Brighton Pavilion.

Lord A. does, of course, go on to counsel that ‘such association, always dangerous have sometimes been disastrous’, but I that’s politics, I guess

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