Monday, October 08, 2007

Minor parties and early general elections

First of all I'd like to thank Gordon Brown for not calling an early General Election. I'm rather busy at the moment and it really would not have fitted well with my schedule. Not one bit. The timing is almost as bad as the excellent postal strike being called slap bang in the middle of the end stage of the postal ballot for the remaining four posts of the Green's National Executive (which I'm technically in charge of). Every silver lining has a cloud, as they say.

Having said that I have been impressed by the Green Party's ability to pull itself together in the event of an election false alarm. Not only were almost as many candidates selected as last time, the majority had the funds to have some kind of serious campaign. Personally I've been running round soliciting pledges of funds (just over £1,000 in the last few days of election fever) whilst simultaneously getting 5,000 full colour anti-Tesco leaflets designed, proofed, negotiated over, printed and hand delivered to the local area in just under a week. I'm quite proud of them. That's on top of doing a bit of preparatory work for Rupert Read's new blog, but that's an aside.

On the whole, snap elections are a real pain for smaller parties who have less infrastructure and money to call into action at a moment's notice. A party without dozens of active members in an area (which appears to be all of them at the moment) is hard pressed to get itself into gear raising the required funds and delivering the logistical detail a General Election requires without the kind of support a reasonably well funded national party can provide.

Whilst smaller parties do get a significant level of support at election time they are, none the less, smaller than the three main parties by definition. This does not simply mean that they get less votes but also that their activist base in a local area will inevitably be dominated by one or two individuals. With the best will in the world that situation will mean that in some places the leading light(s) will not be prepared for an election at any given time, or even at certain points, God forbid, will be opposed to standing at all even when the conditions are favourable and a campaign would strengthen the chances of getting a local councillor elected next year.

For the larger parties these people are more easily circumnavigated but for the small fry they have a disproportionate influence over what is going to happen. Established democratic structures can both be useful (to ensure branches make decisions not mini-autocrats) but they can potentially be simultaneously problematic by confining the means of communication and mobilisation to conservative elements. That's what makes what the Greens have done in the last two weeks really impressive.

I'm not sure how other progressive parties fared but the timing seemed bad for Respect who's leading figures are in the midst of a heated squabble and with the (possible) exception of their main areas tend not to have functioning branches outside of the election cycle anyway. The Socialist Party have the opposite problem in that they tend to be slower paced, less fiery and therefore more stable but less prone to seizing opportunities as they come up. Neither would have fielded anything like the number of candidates that they had at the last General and Respect would have been extremely unlikely to have had an MP elected again. The reprieve must be especially welcome for these two left groupings.

As for the Greens this coming election is the first real opportunity to return one or more Green MP. The places to watch are Brighton, Norwich and Lewisham. I suspect a late election is good for these campaigns in terms of building our support in these areas and ploughing resources into the places where they are most needed, but it was heartening to know we were ready for the call should it have come.

It's a problem that all small organisations must face, a disproportionate reliance on specific individuals who can turn and shape events to their own idiocincraties. I guess the only real solution to this difficulty is to build movements strong enough to shape their leading local figures, sweeping them up in the course of events, rather than putting them in the position of determining for everyone else what happens in their street.

Big fish in small ponds are an inevitable consequence of having good people committed to a minority movement - but they only seem big because the pond is so small. The task is to take to the open sea where the ego of minnows is no longer a significant issue.

1 comment:

Liam said...

You built my hopes up with the anti-Tesco leaflet. I was rather hoping it was going to be just generally anti-Tesoco on account of its environmental impact.
Good work though.