Politics: Is the Green Party an Alternative to the Labour Party

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The debate between the Green Party and the Labour Party? (from 2012)

The Green Party, in southern England, could help deny the Labour Party an overall majority at the next general election.

Recent Green and Labour Performance

The Green Party won their first parliamentary seat in Brighton Pavilion in the 2010 general election. This was their biggest success since the European elections of 1989 where they claimed 15% of the overall vote.

Although the Labour Party lost the 2010 general election, it stands at 40% in the opinion polls at end of February 2012. It also made major gains in its Northern England strongholds at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

The North-East - South-East Divide

Compared to the Labour Party, the Green Party is of limited significance in North East England. For example, in Gateshead, in 2010, they gained 379 votes (1% of the total vote). A recent opinion poll put the Labour Party on 55% in North East England with the Green Party not mentioned.

The situation is different in the university cities of the South and East. The Greens won the Brighton Pavilion seat with an 8.5% swing from Labour to Green. In Cambridge, the Greens gained 7.6% of the vote. In Norwich South, they received 14.9% of the vote. These three parliamentary seats were all held by the Labour Party recently.

The challenge for the Labour Party in 2015

The difficulty for Labour comes with any possible arrangement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives at the next general election. The coalition parties could decide not to compete, or not to compete seriously with each other. This problem is compounded by the loss of Labour Party support to the Greens.

Policy divisions between the Greens and the Labour Party

Labour lost many seats, such as Cambridge, in 2005. One of the reasons for this was the Labour government’s decision to support the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Iraq war led former Labour Party activists to support the Greens instead. Labour could be concerned that people born before 1990 will remember the 2003 Iraq war. Shadow cabinet members may still find it difficult to distance themselves from Tony Blair’s legacy.

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) may also have damaged Labour. Such technical economic policies could be more widely debated, by former Labour voters, in the university cities of Southern England.

Labour and the Current Economic Context

Labour is not offering a fundamental review of macro-economic policy. Instead, it is suggesting initiatives such as a temporary cut in VAT to motorists. Labour’s policies have been criticised for being part of a stale consensus where the main parties debate a similar agenda.

The Green Party leader accused Labour of trying to compete with the government over who can offer the greatest austerity. In contrast, the Greens are offering alternative policies, to Labour, such as a levy on the six main energy companies. This is to help people with their energy costs by providing a fund to make homes more energy efficient. A policy which Labour appears reluctant to match.

Labour and the Greens at the next general election

In defence of Labour, it may feel that it has to take a moderate approach. It could believe that it has to compete directly with the Conservatives for ‘traditional swing voters’. These voters could be defined as those who will vote only Conservative or Labour at the next general election. Such a strategy was arguably successful, in the short term at least, between 1997 and 2005. This approach could control ‘the centre ground’; as if politics were a two dimensional chessboard. This works in Northern England where traditional loyalty to Labour has generally returned after the Conservative national revival. Disaffected Labour voters in the north often have little alternative.

However, such an approach cannot be fully successful when Labour has lost activists and voters to the Green Party. Labour is now facing a more professional environmental party with an established leader. The Green Party could significantly affect Labour’s performance in parliamentary seats in the south and the east of England at the next general election.

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