Let’s make this the last ever ‘lottery election’

First published on Left Foot Forward

British politics is now truly a multi-party phenomenon.

In May, the SNP could win over 50 seats, potentially overtaking the Liberal Democrats, while UKIP and the Greens together currently have the support of over a fifth of the UK population. The era of everyone voting for the two main parties is long gone.

But what happens when this is combined with a worn-out electoral system like First Past the Post?

The answer is: chaos. May 2015 could be what the Electoral Reform Society is calling a ‘lottery election’ – where your vote is worth about as much as a lottery ticket.

The ERS asked polling expert Professor John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde to look at some of the possible post-May scenarios: he found that it could all depend on relatively small swings of the vote affecting the whole outcome of the election.

Take one example. Despite the surge of the SNP to double-digit leads over Labour, small swings in the vote and its geographical spread mean they could either end up with a handful of seats or dozens (see graph). A neck-and-neck Labour/SNP result would leave the nationalists with fewer than 20 seats to Labour’s near-40, while a ten-point SNP lead would almost completely reverse that result.


When the Greens and UKIP are thrown into the mix, the result becomes even more unpredictable. What is likely, however, is that both parties will be disappointed, with UKIP potentially failing to build on their two by-election victories even with an expected 13 per cent of the national vote. At the same time the Greens – though likely to retain Brighton Pavilion – could fail to make any gains even with the 8 per cent they are currently polling.

Yet the Lib Dem vote could to some extent determine the election, with their support hitting the Conservatives harder than Labour. To illustrate this, a Lib Dem vote of 10 per cent would mean the Conservatives need a seven-point lead for a majority. But a Lib Dem result of 15 per cent would raise that to a full ten points (see graph).

ThatThreeway_Lottery_InfoG’s what happens when you try to squeeze six or seven-party politics into a two-party voting system. All the parties are affected by the lottery election one way or another, and while some may got lucky, others are going to be sorely disappointed.

Is this any way to determine the make-up of the next House of Commons? What can we do to make it fairer?

What we need above all is an electoral system that reflects how diverse British politics has become. One positive result of the May election might be that debates around electoral reform come back on the agenda. Perhaps we could even make 2015 the last lottery election.

Read ‘The Lottery Election’ here.


The results of the Green Party leadership election are out…

The results are now out for the Green Party Executive election – a ballot which included the election of the leader and deputy leaders of the party. Sadly it received little attention, but I think it merits some.

Firstly, big congratulations to ecosocialist Amelia Womack on being elected in the first round, and commiserations to Will Duckworth, a working-class left-winger from the Midlands who will be missed as deputy by many. But congrats to Shahrar Ali who as a confident public speaker and a strong profile will do well I’m sure.

And of course, congrats to Natalie Bennett for her (uncontested!) re-election.

Turnout hasn’t been worked out yet but going off a conservative 16k mailout figure I estimate it’s just over 15%.

Newly re-elected Green Party International Coordinator Derek Wall has posted the full results of the election on his blog here.

Reposted here from the email to all party members on Monday:

The results of the Gpex elections 2014 were as follows:

Party Leader: Natalie Bennett was elected 2618 Re-Open Nominations (RON): 183

Party Deputy Leaders:
In the first round – Amelia Womack was elected with 1598, Will Duckworth’s 1108
In the Second round – Shahrar Ali was elected 1314 to Will Duckworth’s 1277

Gpex Chair: Richard Mallender was elected 2640 to RON 101
Campaigns Co-Ordinator: Howard Thorpe was elected 2546 to RON 181
Elections Co-Ordinator: Judy Maciejowska was elected 2631 to RON 161
External Communication Co-Ordinator: Penny Kemp/ Clare Phipps/ Matt Hawkins were elected 2586 to RON 147
Management Co-Ordinator Mark Cridge was elected 2636 to RON 82
International Co-Ordinator: Derek Wall was elected 1416 to Anna Clarke’s 891
Trade Union Liaison Officer: Romayne Phoenix was elected 2639 to RON 94
Policy Co-Ordinator: Sam Riches and Caroline Bowes were elected 1786 to Rachel Featherstone and Anna Heyman’s 839
Publications Co-Ordinator: Martin Collins was elected 2468 to RON 249

Steady gains through shifting left – the future of the Greens?

Reposted from Chat Politics

It’s been a strong few years for the Greens. Membership has surged past 18,000 – up from around half that figure before Caroline Lucas’ success in Brighton. There are more Green councillors than ever, 170, and this May’s European elections brought an extra MEP in the South West’s Molly Scott-Cato, bringing the number of Green European Parliamentarians to three.

Leader Natalie Bennett, a surprise victor back in 2012, has proved more radical than some would have expected. Prioritising the renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, as well as joining picket lines across the country for a Living Wage and workers’ rights; she has arguably entrenched the leftward pull on the party that has grown since the election of Lucas as an MP.

The growth figures – both in terms of electoral success and members – suggests this strategy has worked, picking up disenchanted ex-Lib Dem and Labour voters and becoming the third party of students and ‘the youth’ through the Young Greens.

All this has led to the highest polling figures for the Greens since the historic 1989 European election, where the party polled 15%. Greens are currently level-pegging with the Lib Dems for the General Election. That’s both new, and very exciting.

What does this mean for the next year? It could bring an extra couple of MPs. Natalie Bennett is pouring plenty of work into her Holborn and St Pancras constituency, while activists are dedicated to re-electing Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. Although many expect the party will lose the council there, it seems likely that Lucas, a popular and hard-working MP, will retain her seat. However, Labour, targeting the constituency, are determined a Green alternative isn’t heard in Parliament which could threaten their position as ‘the’ ostensibly progressive party.

At the same time, Bristol is rapidly becoming a hive of Green activity, tripling the number of Green councillors at the recent local elections and becoming the first party by popular vote across Bristol West wards. The ramifications of this could be enormous, potentially securing a Green Parliamentary seat in local environmental campaigner Darren Hall. Alongside Scott-Cato, the South West could become a future stronghold for the party. Meanwhile, Greens expect to pick up further council seats in the Midlands, alongside Cambridge, London, Oxford, Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere.

But there are ideological differences bubbling underneath these steady gains. Although you probably don’t know about it, there’s a leadership election going at the moment. The Greens are picking their team for the next two years. Well, sort of. The leadership position is uncontested, effectively guaranteeing Natalie Bennett another two years in her post. But the two deputy posts are contested among five candidates. Three come from broadly the centre and centre-right of the party – admittedly still on the left of the so-called ‘political spectrum’.

But the other two; incumbent Will Duckworth and Young Green Amelia Womack, are proud ecosocialists who intend for the Greens to stress a radically different vision for Britain compared to the neoliberal consensus. One which proposes systemic change, not just cautious reforms.

We don’t know who will win yet, but it seems likely that Duckworth, with the incumbency advantage of recognition and popularity as a working-class non-Londoner, will keep his post. And Womack, so far the only self-declared female candidate, is effectively guaranteed a seat through the gender ‘balance’ rules, although she is pushing for a strong first preference vote nonetheless.

What this means for the future of the Greens is that, for the first time in the history of Britain, a de facto ecosocialist party could be – if it isn’t already – the third or fourth national party. And that is something that gives hope to those on the left, whichever political tribe they come from.

Natalie Bennett to restand uncontested for Green Party leader

The Green Party have just published the full list of nominations for the upcoming Green Party Executive (GPEX) elections. Natalie Bennett will be restanding uncontested, while current Deputy Leader Will Duckworth is also restanding – but this time under a new system of two co-deputies in a hotly contested race (including two Young Greens – Amelia Womack and Rob Telford).

Just three of the eleven (twelve with the two co-deputy leaders) positions are contested. Howard Thorp stays in the job as Campaigns Coordinator while Sue and Richard Mallender both keep their posts. Meanwhile Green Left activist Derek Wall faces a challenge in the International post. The fairly new post of Trade Union Liaison Officer retains People’s Assembly co-chair Romayne Phoenix as the holder, while Management and Publication Coordinator jobs remain rather unexciting and thus uncontested.

Bennett’s strong uncontested candidacy arguably reflects her solid support within the party, having led the party into new election successes (including the first South West MEP) and astonishing growth over the past two years – now up to 17,000 members from around 14,000 when she was first elected.

Ballot papers will be delivered in late July/early August. Keep your eye on the doorstep, members – this time, your own!

Members can view the full candidate statements here after logging in – https://my.greenparty.org.uk/node/5565

Here’s the full list:

GPEX elections 2014Meanwhile, there’s still time to vote in the prioritisation ballot for what policies will be decided at the upcoming Green Party conference – make sure you do so if you are a member: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/node/5480

Greens now third party amongst students

Students are now more likely to vote Green than Liberal Democrat or UKIP, a recent poll has shown.

Support for the Green Party amongst students is now higher than ever before, with 14% of students backing the Greens – ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 6% and UKIP on 5%, the poll conducted by YouthSight found.

The poll, taken as part of the comprehensive Student Vote 2014 survey, follows another from the Tab this month showing Green support at 12% to the Lib Dems’ 10% and UKIP on 8%.

Siobhan MacMahon from the Young Greens, said: “The Green Party is the only party campaigning for university to be free, as it is across much of Europe. This is one of the many reasons students are leaving the Liberal Democrats and joining the Green Party. Pushing the Lib Dems into third place shows they have rightly paid a high price for their betrayals.

“Students are flocking to the Greens as a serious alternative to the right-wing consensus of the main parties, and Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should take notice.

“With Green support amongst students higher than ever before, our progressive message for a Living Wage, an end to zero hours contracts, publicly-owned services and a fair deal for the planet is resounding with thousands across the country.”

The Tab survey also showed students supported Green Party policies, such as same-sex marriage, legalising marijuana and remaining in the European Union. The Conservatives topped the poll with 33%, beating Labour into second with 30%, while YouthSight’s survey had Labour on 43% and the Conservatives on 24%.

The YouthSight poll was conducted at the start of April and surveyed over 1000 students. Over 5,000 students responded to the poll on the Tab’s website.

10 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Party Funding

Last week saw the release of all registered parties’ finances for 2012 – gold dust for politics geeks. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the media chose to ignore pretty much all of the data, probably due to all the much more newsworthy story of a couple having a baby.

Saying that, the press did pick up on Labour’s finances (no surprise there), noting that it received the most donations out of any party after raking in over £33m (and spending over £30m of it). Yet this fails to note that the total was in reality a fair bit higher than that due to the existence of the Co-operative Party, which only runs candidates jointly with Labour – effectively adding over £1m to Labour’s spending. So £34m spent, with not much of a boost for Miliband. There are some much more interesting findings altogether ignored. Here’s the top ten:

  1. The BNP remains heavily in debt (despite claims by Nick Griffin that it’s on the mend), with over £356,000 in liabilities. While a slight improvement on its previous £541k of debt, in relation to its income (nearly £650k) it still equates to the party being 55% in the red. If we were using the domestic analogy those the BNP’s hard-right allies love to invoke, it ain’t too healthy a household financially.
  2. UKIP’s rise isn’t really reflected in its 2012 finances after bringing in £1.23m, only slightly up on its £1.07m in 2011. And it spent just over a million pounds, little up on its £971k the year before. So its surge in membership and support doesn’t seem to have translated immediately into hard cash. On the other hand, it looks like it’s building up a substantial-ish fighting fund for the 2015 election (see here). Thus far it’s amassed over £323k, tripling its 2011 assets of £104k. Keep your eye out for a continuing trend in 2014 in the run-up to the election…
  3. Interestingly, the SNP’s income plummeted last year from over £5m in 2011 to just over £2.3m. That doesn’t bode well for its independence hopes. It’s also reflected in its expenditure, which went from £3.45m in 2011 to £2.66m last year. It does have half a million quid in reserves, meaning the SNP could be gearing up for a big referendum campaign spending spree in 2014. Or if could reflect its activists and independence supporters tunnelling funds directly into the Yes to Independence campaign, a more urgent priority and perhaps a more efficient conduit for those hoping for freedom from British tyranny. Check out the graph anyway. It’s pretty dramatic
  4. There’s a more mixed picture for the Welsh nationalists, with Plaid Cymru racking up £683k in income and spending £594k of it – yet with similar assets to that of UKIP of £318k. Why does a Welsh-only party have the same amount in the kitty as a UK-wide party polling double that of the Liberal Democrats?
  5. My own Green Party of England and Wales is on the up, remaining one of the only parties to spend less than it brings in. Basically, the Greens know how to ‘balance the books’. Scoring some steady gains in local government, the party ran a pretty tight ship on an income of £781k (not much more than the collapsing BNP’s £650k), and spent £745k. Not bad work.
  6. At risk of pointing out the Pope’s religion, things aren’t great for the Liberal Democrats. They’ve gone from holding nearly £2m of assets in 2006 to being £1.15m in the red today. At the same time, their income has gone from £10m in 2010 (at the peak of Cleggmania) to £6.4m today, a collapse of more than a third.
  7. Labour are actually much less in debt than the Conservatives. Says a lot about Osborne’s economic policies both for the country and his own party…
  8. The Communist Party of Britain seems to be doing reasonably (especially given it sort of disbanded at the start of the 1990s), with an income of £123k while spending over £129k in 2012 – leading some to ask how it was planning to make up the shortfall: Keynesian stimulus or ruthless austerity? Either way it’s unclear what they spend it on given they rarely stand candidates. Either way we won’t know who funds them since they stopped registering large donations in mid-2009 (check it yourself here).
  9. Looking at the latest figures for 2013 also offers some interesting insights – out of the blue, the ~200 member strong Socialist Party of Great Britain, not to be confused with the much larger Socialist Party of England and Wales (hold off the People’s Front of Judea jokes…), raked in a £295,775 donation early this year from a certain Mr. Stanley Robert Parker. A quick Google search shows he’s a published sociologist (cited on Wikipedia, no less). He’s also, clearly, a wealthy backer of one of the smallest far-left grouplets in the country. In fact, his donation is the 7th largest party donation of the whole first quarter of 2013. The same chap also gave them £150k at the end of 2012. That’s nearly half a million in a few months. Nothing’s too good for the workers, comrades…
  10. Company donations made up over 40% of UKIP’s income in the first part of the year, a higher proportion than any other party (the Lib Dems ranking second at nearly 25%, with the Tories on less than a fifth).

All this goes to show how much the media can bury – and how party finance, much like our economy, remains a very messy, unstable beast on the whole.

Lessons to be Learnt from the Green Leadership Race

It was unexpected, to say the least, but Monday’s announcement that Natalie Bennett is the new leader of the Green Party is to be welcomed – a strong public speaker, writer and campaigner, she’ll be sure to keep the party on its principled track while at the same time winning votes across the spectrum.

But while it’s important to move forward now, we must also learn from some of the big issues in the leadership election, the most significant being turnout – why is it that only 25% of members voted for such an important position? Not much more than 3000 of our 13000 or so members bothered to pick up a pen and shape the party’s future. Was online-based campaigning valued above visiting local parties?

All the candidates, as far as I’m aware, had websites. How many went to more than a dozen or so branches outside of the few hustings events? The limited candidate ‘touring’ is the classic problem of lack of funding, an issue in all parties. But perhaps we should consider funding candidates in order for them to visit as many local parties as possible and maximise real member engagement.

Also, on a more minor point – where were the emails reminding members to vote? Over the course of the election weekly messages would have got hundreds more to send off their ballots. But such reminders appeared as only side notes in internal emails over the election period.

Of course, for many less online-active members, the literature they received through the post was their main source of information in deciding how to vote. Which makes the unofficial mail-out, sent during the leadership race, quote troubling. I’m referring to a seemingly party-endorsed pack with four pieces of promotional literature in it, sent to thousands of members – of which Natalie Bennett and Pippa Bartolotti’s pitches were the only leader candidate ads to feature. Two deputy candidates, Mallender and Allen also had their ‘ad’ pieces in there, and both Mallender and Bartolotti’s lacked an imprint (the ‘promoted by…’ footer), in contravention to party rules. Indeed the whole mail-out had the false air of being official.

All the candidates were censured by the Returning Officer  (see here) – but few members knew of this as the censure was not actually posted to members but put online, to be printed in the post-election Green World. Shoddy stuff. With Bennett beating Cranie by just over 500 votes, the dodgy mail-out could, theoretically, have proven decisive.

There are deeper constitutional problems though. The gender-balance rules meant that, since Natalie won the leadership vote, both female deputy candidates, Alex Philips and Caroline Allen, were instantly eliminated – regardless of how many votes they won. If we’re serious about boosting female representation, and serious about democracy, these rules have to be modified to a gender-balance/+1 system where women can hold both leader and deputy positions. There seems to be a good base of support in the party for such a change, and no doubt the party’s next conference will see the motion put forward.

All of these problems are rectifiable – but they must be noted and learnt from nonetheless. Some – like issues of money and constitutionality, will take longer to solve. For the moment we can celebrate both the huge media coverage the election has received and the fact that our new leader has the ambition and skills needed to drive the party forward. Bring on Bristol conference.