Candidates for South Suffolk photographed while the winning Conservative was being congratulated
So here it is then, the result of the South Suffolk parliamentary election. Greens received a measly 4.3% of the vote. We didn’t even save our deposit. What was the point of it all? Should we Greens despair?
South Suffolk Constituency
Con 27,546 – 53%
Lab 10,001 – 19%
UKIP 7,900 – 17.3%
LibDem 4,049 – 7.8%
Green 2,069 – 4.3%
Well the other way to look at it is that here in South Suffolk we went from 0% five years ago – when we didn’t have a candidate – to 4.3% – a shade above the national average Green vote of 3.8%. Over two thousand people voted for a Green MP, who never had the chance before. One of those voters said to me on Facebook “No bloody hope around my neck of the woods but hay ho It is the first time in many elections that I smiled when I placed my cross.”
Meanwhile, as parliamentary candidate, I shared a platform with the other candidates at hustings and local radio shows. I got to put forward the Green alternative view to infinite economic growth – the idea we have to rebuild the economy to make it sustainable so that we live within our ecological means, the idea that we can’t go on consuming resources as though they are infinite – in seven different hustings, including one that was televised across the Eastern region and including in two schools. I got to learn how to present our ideas in a reasonably pithy and forceful way. People got to hear them and think about them for the first time.
Here is a message from a supporter in the Brett Vale ward, where Colin Widdup fought so hard: “I think you have really raised the green profile amongst our children, both of mine will be voting next time, and it’s their future that is most at stake I think. So keep up the good work, thanks for standing and please don’t give up and keep talking to the kids!”
On the local level, I got a platform to make the case that road building – and specifically a Sudbury bypass – is not a long term answer – or any answer – to traffic congestion.
Seeds have been sown, in other words. Someone even emailed me asking me for more information about how an economy could be stable when it does not grow. People are thinking about things that they might not have done before. When change happens it can happen incredibly fast. Just as when a plant’s roots finally establish themselves and it suddenly shoots up.
In Bristol West, Green candidate Darren Hall turned a 3.8% Green vote in 2010 to a 29% vote and second place this time. Greens won seven more council seats in that city yesterday – bringing their total to 13. Bristol may have reached a crucial tipping point – a critical mass of Green support where people start believing that they can win. When people start believing that they can win, then, with hard work and persistence, they do.
Almost unremarked by local media, here in South Suffolk we had 43 Green candidates in the local elections for 43 seats – we were the only party here to achieve this. Journalists pay little attention to local elections – but that is where we start to build from. Nearly all those 43 people have never stood in an election before and many of them have never been a member of a political party before, having joined in the past few weeks and months.
Many came to the count and saw the excitement, camaraderie and buzz of an election in action. Several will be hooked and will not want to give up. People like John Burch, our candidate in Sudbury South and for Sudbury Town Council, who is waiting today to hear if he has won a seat on the town council.
I was several times asked by new members at the count “When are the next elections?”
The Conservatives were whooping and celebrating at the count last night. But many of their “new” councillors are elderly and retired. Spending their next four years in the council chamber nodding through Government imposed cuts and approving Government encouraged green field developments will not be a lot of fun for them, if they care at all about the reactions of their constituents. I congratulate the Conservatives and wish them luck. Their national party ran the best campaign, using the best simple but emotive language, and Conservative councillors have benefited from that. It was manipulative and I profoundly disagree with their “austerity is good for you” con trick, which has deluded Labour. Unfortunately, if fighting an election is a game, which it is, rather than a philosophical or moral debate, then the Conservatives deserved to win based purely on their superior tactics. Labour’s message was tame and managerial by comparison: “a better plan for a better future”. As if all they can offer to do is, er, a bit better than last time.
The LibDem’s campaign was just as passionless but also mixed in some hypocrisy. They said: “We’ll spend more than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour” but then added “We’re prepared to do a deal with Labour or Conservative”.
As for the Green Party, it’s national campaign suffered from an inexperienced leader who had not had enough media training and has not experienced elected office, and who appeared to be doing virtually all the interviews and media appearances. The “head office” messaging appeared to be based around urban issues and urban viewpoints, ignoring the fact that much of the Green Party’s traditional strength is in rural areas. But the general election campaign has thrown up major new talents within the Green Party across the country – who will, I hope, be nurtured and encouraged as national spokespeople and future leaders and MPs.
Meanwhile, the Green Party has put down real roots in South Suffolk, in Suffolk Coastal, in Ipswich, in West Suffolk (where there has also never been a candidate before) and all over the country, in other places where there has never been a candidate before. All of those candidates will have accumulated invaluable expertise, and I am confident some pretty strong saplings will be shooting up in the next few years, in South Suffolk and around the country.