Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and lead candidate for East Anglia return to Cambridge once again as Cambridge Young Greens prepare for some mass campaigning over the next few weeks. But will we see a manifesto specifically for Cambridge? And what of the other parties?
Their manifesto is here and the Cambridge Evening News’ write up is here. Unlike previous gatherings I’ve been to, the mainstream media was noticeable by its presence. 2 newspapers plus the BBC and ITN with correspondents and cameras were here. (To what extent the latter two report anything remains to be seen). Oh – and me and Puffles with a digital video camera.
It was a slick confident performance from both Natalie and Rupert. Although the questions from the mainstream media were not as penetrating as they could have been – Chris Havergal of the Cambridge News probably asking the more tricky questions on trends in Cambridgeshire, journalists were faced with knowledgeable politicians on top of their brief.
Greens park their tanks on UKIP’s lawn
Some of you may remember this blogpost from 18 months ago – when Natalie delivered a speech targeting the Labour vote in a big way. More recently she targeted the Liberal Democrats at this event in Cambridge. Today, as the Cambridge News article indicates, the Greens defined themselves as being the opposite of what UKIP are all about. It was all the more powerful given these particularly distasteful posters released only hours before the launch. Accordingly, Twitter users made very light work of them.
Having met Natalie on several occasions, what was different this time was her mood. I got a sense of anger and aggression that I had not seen before. This wasn’t a ‘lets laugh at a bunch of climate sceptics’ tone, but rather ‘No! This time you have ****really**** crossed the line and we’re going to call you out on it!’ As Cllr Mark Ereia-Guyer of Suffolk County Council said in his remarks, one of the things that will define the Greens’ East Anglia campaign is anti-racism.
On the Lib Dems vs UKIP
Following the Clegg vs Farage debates that were ignored by the Conservatives and Labour, the Greens decided to lampoon both the former parties with what I thought was a humorous video as far as party political broadcasts go.
In one sense, both Clegg and Farage knew that neither had anything to lose on the TV debates. (See here). Clegg knows the Lib Dems are going to take a kicking at the polls due to the regional proportional representation nature of the vote. The current tactics for the Liberal Democrats is to focus on key strongholds and hold as many of those as possible, even if it means losing deposits and being beaten by electoral titans such as the Bus Pass Elvis Party.
Cambridge Young Greens conspicuous by their presence, but what about the rest of Cambridge Green Party?
Cambridge Young Greens appear to have a critical mass of activists prepared to commit the time and effort needed to make their presence more noticeable than in previous years when they stood ‘paper candidates’. Yet at the same time, those paper candidates still pulled in the votes. As I mentioned, the Green vote stubbornly held up. One of the Labour candidates said that this did not surprise her – the Green vote is a very principled one that will turn out come-what-may. Turning that local support at the ballot box into activists on the ground and online is what the party has struggled with in Cambridge. The lack of a county-wide co-ordinator on their regional contacts page stands out like a sore thumb. Speaking to their party political opponents recently, they’ve said that all the Greens need in Cambridge to unlock that dormant voter base is a competent party-political campaigner who understands campaigning tactics and strategy.
“What about their manifesto? You’ve not mentioned that!”
The theme ‘For the common good’ is a stronger one than ‘Fair is worth fighting for’ that they had at the general election. It doesn’t carry as much baggage as ‘socialism’ even though some of their political opponents accuse the Greens of being just that: Eco-socialists.
In terms of design, I’d have gone for a few more photos and diagrams in there, along with working hyperlinks and a much more creative front page. Length-wise, they’ve pitched it about right. The big issue Rupert campaigns on is transport – he’s the party’s transport spokesperson. See his speech below.
Irrespective of the election outcome, what I think Rupert needs to do next for the East of England is really take ownership of transport issues in the East of England. This means going beyond the headline of re-opening closed railway lines and going into the specifics. On his part that will mean doing some research and mapping on all of the local transport campaigns that are active in East Anglia, and raising their profile. When me and Puffles were in Haverhill (see last blogpost), I got the impression that the audience of about fifty people there were an audience that care about their town, but don’t really do party politics. For a party that perhaps doesn’t carry as much of the baggage as the big three Westminster parties, that’s an area worth investing in.
“Will we see a manifesto for Cambridge from Cambridge Greens?”
I don’t know enough about the local ‘non-student’ side of the party to know whether they will be publishing something similar to what Labour and the Liberal Democrats have published. While there are thousands of Green voters & sympathisers in Cambridge (3,800 voted Green in Cambridge at the 2010 General Election), for me there are three key things the Greens lack locally. They are:
- A local proactive ‘public face’ for the party that local journalists can go to for a quick quotation or photo opportunity
- A cluster of self-supporting social media users (given that in response to the BBC’s Andrew Sinclair, Natalie and Rupert said their biggest target audiences were students and young people – an audience that traditionally is less likely to vote)
- A local long term strategy
For 1) compare this to the other parties. Each has a handful of spokespeople who will regularly be quoted in and/or have their profile pictures in the local papers. Not only that, they have developed working relationships with local journalists and will proactively seek them out when they have something to announce.
For 2) this is just as much about getting the basics such as up-to-date content right as it is stepping into the local social media politics bubble in Cambridge. Furthermore, it’s also a means of engaging with an audience that isn’t likely to turn up to council meetings, and one that has traditionally been overlooked by the local political establishment.
For 3) this is about planning and sequencing actions over a number of years. This is the challenge Cambridge Conservatives face – one I blogged about recently here. Despite coming second in the 2010 general election in Cambridge, they only have one council seat on Cambridge City Council. Why have the Conservatives not been able to turn over 10,000 votes into more than one council seat? Hence why the discussion in the above-linked blogpost was around which ward the Conservatives would seek to establish a rock-solid base and presence, before targeting neighbouring wards. The same is the case for the Greens. How will they decide which ward to target in order to establish a solid base? (How will local Labour and Lib Dems react to such a challenge from their left flank?)
“Is the manifesto enough to win the Greens their first MEP for East Anglia?”
I get the feeling the manifesto was written for both a social media audience and specific pockets of the region where there is a strong ‘sustainability’ presence. With good reason. As Rupert said in response to Chris Havergal, the overall rightward-shift from the Conservatives towards UKIP across East Anglia is not a universal shift. Quite the opposite. Relationships between Conservatives and UKIP are not harmonious by any means, as this video featuring Farage and long-time Euro-sceptic Conservative Bill Cash MP indicates.
I think the two determining factors are these:
- Will we see a simple shift of the centre-right vote from Conservative to UKIP without a change in the overall total, or will we see (as we did with Boris Johnson first time around in London) previous ‘stay at home’ voters turning out for UKIP in numbers, raising the overall turnout?
- Can the Green Party ‘get the younger vote out’ and be the primary beneficiaries of the collapsing Liberal Democrat vote over Labour?
“What’s your preference/expectations?”
From the UK Polling Report website, for the five main parties (Tory, Lib Dem, Labour, UKIP & Greens) it’s striking that all of their lead candidates for East Anglia are oxbridge educated. Make of that what you will.
I expect the lead candidates from the Conservatives, UKIP and Labour to get elected to three of the seven vacancies available for East Anglia. I think the Andrew Duff has his work cut out holding onto his seat given the regional proportional representation nature. Were he defending a small constituency with a solid liberal base, he’d have a much greater chance. But I don’t think either he, Nick Clegg or other senior Liberal Democrats have done nearly enough to take the fight to UKIP and at the same time outline a clear vision of the Europe that they would like. In comparison, the Greens as part of the wider European Green movement seem to have a much more clear vision of what they want – one that’s easier to communicate to the public.
For the four remaining seats? I think Rupert Read will squeeze in – just. That leaves three seats left. I reckon UKIP and the Conservatives will pick up one each. In one sense, the Conservatives are fortunate to have picked their most competent, able and personable candidate as their lead candidate – Vicky Ford who sparred with Puffles recently. (I think we called it a score-draw).
Personally I’d like to see Alex Mayer of Labour succeed because I think it would send out a really positive message to young women encouraging them to get involved in democracy. (At the same time, I’d like to see her being seen to be more ‘independent in thought’ because her website feels a little bit too ‘Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell told me to write this’ for my liking. But I think she’ll struggle because Labour’s media profile in the European election campaign thus far has been minimal. Labour Party HQ for whatever reason seem to have allowed UKIP to be the focus of the media’s attention in the hope that the fight between UKIP and the Conservatives will put the rest of the electorate off. The problem with this approach is that the noise being generated by those two parties means that Labour is simply not part of any conversation. They’ve been drowned out – as I described in this, and in this blogpost.
Unlike The Greens, who have clearly linked what they are doing regionally to their sister parties in Europe and a wider environmental movement, I don’t get the sense that Labour have a firm vision for Europe that resonates with anyone outside of their core vote. Is it clear to the public that their policies in Westminster synchronise with what they are campaigning for in the European elections? ie ‘We’re campaigning for policy X in Westminster, linked to campaign Y in the European Parliament where we’re teaming up with our sister parties Z on the continent’. Now, they might actually be doing this on the ground, but by taking a step back and allowing the Tory-UKIP struggles to dominate the media, I feel that the wider population can’t see what Labour is trying to do. They have a month to turn it around.