Friday, May 09, 2008

Was it right to back Ken?

Interesting letter in The Independent today (in fact there are a number of them) which attacks the Green Party policy on backing Ken Livingstone with a second preference vote in the London Mayoral election. The letters goes;

Sian and Ken: the rainbow fades

Sir: Sian Berry could have at least doubled her 3.15 per cent of the vote as Green candidate for London mayor (Letters, 7 May) if she had not made a Faustian pact with Ken Livingstone.

By telling her supporters to vote "Sian 1, Ken 2", she confined herself to a left-wing ghetto, a green stripe in a fast-fading "rainbow coalition". Sian would have been better to appeal to voters of conservative and liberal disposition as much as to disillusioned left-wing voters. Many conservatives and liberals are active environmentalists and are profoundly worried by the consequences of unbridled economic expansionism.

Unfortunately, the Green leadership place their nostalgic commitment to the left before ecological principles.

Aidan Rankin

London EC1

So here is my response (we'll see if they print it);
Sir: Aidan Rankin writes (Letters, 9th May) that the Green Mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, could have doubled her vote if she had not called for second preferences for Ken Livingstone. That might be true, but so what?

If votes were all that mattered then she should have stood for the Tories, but she didn't because Greens have principles and are willing to take positions that might (or might not) cost them votes sometimes. Livingstone has faults, but he has virtues too, including a track record on the environment so far beyond his rival that they would need binoculars to see each other.

Mr Rankin cites the undisputed fact that some Tories and Liberals are very concerned about the environment, but it's difficult to see how Boris Johnson, who opposed the Kyoto treaty and has had, shall we say, a robust approach to environmental measures fits into that picture. The Mayoral campaign itself pushed Johnson towards making concessions on the environment and moderate his worst excesses, but we shall see how long that lasts.

It's a sign of a mature political organisation when it's willing to back a rival despite their differences for the good of London, regardless of how that might effect their vote. In the end the Green assembly members were re-elected in very difficult circumstances, had Greens taken a blinkered 'neither Ken nor Boris' approach that may well have not been the case.

Jim Jepps, Cambridge

In fact, the more I think about it, the more important, in purely electoral terms, it was to take a position on the Ken and Boris show. Everyone who did not clearly back Livingstone (apart from Boris) performed worse than they expected at the ballot box, squeezed in this highly polarised election.

The Liberal Democrats vote sagged humiliatingly, the Left List vote was abysmal, and there but for the grace of Ken would have gone the Greens. Even the BNP, who did marginally increase their vote share by the smallest of margins, failed to capitalise on the collapsing UKIP vote which appears to have uniformly migrated to Johnson.

It's absolutely true that not all Green voters followed our advice - in fact not all Green members did. When speaking to people on the street it was clear that there was a great deal of resistance to doing anything that felt like support for Livingstone. It may well be that there were some voters who did not vote Green due to the position on Livingstone, but there were many people, mainly traditional Labour voters, that rewarded the Green's sensible approach by voting for them in the all important list vote.

At the end of the day it was right to call for a second preference for Ken simply on the basis that he's infinitely preferable to Johnson, but this was a difficult election for everyone and I'm more and more convinced that, where others saw their vote collapse because they were marginal to the outcome, the Greens positioned themselves bravely next to Ken and were able to increase the numbers voting for them, ensuring thier Assembly Members were re-elected. That outcome was by no means assured.

No sooner do I post on this than Sian Berry writes a piece for the New Statesman on the very same topic.


Ian said...

Ken also claims that the Greens benefitted from that 'alliance' with him in The Guardian today (as he indeed would). I'm not so sure that is the case. It probably lost a few votes and gained a few. I think this is a factor that has been overplayed by people looking at the election as a gauge of Green success. I know people who voted Boris 1 and Sian 2, and Green on the list for example.

Much more important, in my opinion, was the strong campaign itself and the great work that went into the campaign, winning the support of the small business federation (not sure that's the right name), getting the media to recognise that the Green Assembly members have held the balance of "power" and things like that. Perhaps tho the best thing that came out of the Sian 1, Ken 2 strategy was winning the backing of The Observer and The Indy who may not have otherwise done so.

Jim Jay said...

Strange as it may sound I'm sure there were people who voted Boris 1 and Sian 2. After all if Paddick can vote for the Left List anything can happen :0

Yes, I thought the campaign was very good. Good materials, well put together TV ad and winning a good range of influential support.

On the ground I'm less clear. Where I was campaigning (Lewisham) there was a real buzz of a campaign, although I'm sure there were stronger and weaker areas.

Matt Hodgkinson said...

Aidan Rankin helped write the Third Way manifesto in 1997 - the Third Way are mainly ex-NF. He also joined UKIP for a while. Apparently he's also been in Labour, Conservative, Albion Party, and Conservative Democratic Party.

I don't think the Green Party needs to take any political advice from Dr Rankin!

Jim Jay said...

So good you posted it twice, lol.

Thanks for the heads up Matt, now you say it I can see see this letter fits very well with that, although I'd say he's expressing what quite a few (genuinely) environmentally minded Tories might say - so it's worth taking up the argument - although clearly the man himself cannot be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear unhappy Watermelon.

I can't blame Berry for backing Ken, both are sincere socialists. The gist however is that an environmental movement must transcend left-right party politics; certainly must avoid being just another Heinz 57 variety of pontificating middle-class sub-Marxist sect.

Roll on the pro-capitalism, un-Luddite, pro-nuclear etc. green movement. Probably Cameron will provide it.

Dave Riley said...

Jim I've valued your commentaries on the election very much and inasmuch as I can grapple with the issues are more or less on your side.

This debate of yours reflects a long term one here in Australia vis is a vis the preference decisions of the Australian Greens.And at the last federal election a decision like the one in London paned out, I feel, exactly the same way as the Greens would have been marginalised by not allocating a preference to the ALP given the polarised debate in the election. (Some other times they have made disastrous calls.)

This doesn't exactly solve the long term problem of the non Greens left -- as while most of us called for (1) Greens (2)Labor party -- the Greens still have to be challenged as they tend to buckle to neo liberalism.

The vote (1) Ken camp was wrong too. And those who backed the GP ahead of the rest were pitching the best approach.

That also means that these "others" -- even those who got it wrong -- have to think through their stance vis a vis the GP.

That debate has been long term here especially in forums like the Socialist Alliance so I have to note that that exchange is limited in the UK. Nonetheless, over the past 6-10 months thats' more or less resolved itself here -- until such time that the Greens (may) make bad preference calls and folk will revisit the debate.

In the early nineties here Greens preferences helped to bring down a Labor government in the state of Queensland and today that branch holds not one elected office either local or state. It may not be the absolute cause but it sure fostered a lot of bad blood and consolidated a rightist tendency in the party.

In fact "preference voting" and "preference bullying" has been a key greens strategy as they have tried to pitch one major party against another in order to win the Greens nod.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for this Dave.

The London elections are the only ones in the UK that have this preference system so I tend to think of this issue as a London one so it's very handy to be reminded there is a world outside the UK!

I think part of the dynamic was that it didn't feel the non-Green left mattered in this election. No one cared who they called for because they simply don't have any traction - and that is certainly not something I'm happy about nor is it an eternal fact.

However, it didn't stop them taking strange positions. The SWP spent a large amount of the campaign simply slagging off Labour/Livingstone which many people felt was actually helping Tory Boris get in.

The SP in Lewisham focused their fire on the Greens (I kid you not) even though SP members elsewhere were actually voting Green in their areas where they had no other progressive/socialist to vote for. This included, rather shamefully a number of untruths. Voters didn't find their sectarian campaign particularly attractive and they polled even less than the SWP.

The only left group that made any headway was Respect Renewal who focused their attention on one consitutency where there has been consistent work - and were rewarded with the only increase in the left vote in the entirity of London.

I think these decisions did make a difference. Even from it's very low level the non-Green left could have made better tactical decisions and been part of the mix. Conversely the Greens could have taken the decision to abstain from the most important issue and found themselves ousted from the assembly.

Dave Riley said...

But the SP results -- aggregated -- weren't nothing to get excited about.
Even Dave Nellist
has more in common historically with Galloway than the sort of far left orgs that now are trying to make their electoral mark.

So while it's correct to say -- look at Nellist and thats' the SP for you -- 1,643 votes(elected). It is also a skewed interpretation.

But I agree absolutely with this point:"Even from it's very low level the non-Green left could have made better tactical decisions and been part of the mix. Conversely the Greens could have taken the decision to abstain from the most important issue and found themselves ousted from the assembly."

Thats' the jell and that too sounds so very familiar. Here the Greens have tended to abstain by not aligning and instead by deploying preferencing as a smarty pants tactic devoid of any reference to working people. You know, the old "neither left nor right but...." argument. At last federal election if the Greens had abstained on Work Choices -- the draconian industrial legislation bought in by Howard -- they would have been a bit of past tense.

So my view is -- if I can use the word -- that the left of the GP tends to be "sectarian" towards it. Big mistake for all the reasons you know of.

Jim Jay said...

The SP results in Lewisham were very poor compared to their rhetoric before hand.

It's good that Dave Nellist was re-elected - he's someone I have a lot of time for - but that's essentially standing still, if he'd not retained his seat it would have been an enormous set back in my view.

I don't think supporting Ken Livingstone was part of neither left nor right but an acknowledgement that the (England and Wales) Greens are on the left of the political spectrum, but I recognise there are people who argue this neither left nor right position.

Pippa said...

Dave, could you point us to an example of where any of the Australian Green parties have encouraged a preference for the Liberals ahead of Labor?

(For context, I'm a former member of the WA Greens and current member of the England & Wales Green Party.)

My feeling is that the Aus Greens have always been unashamedly a party of the left (although not Marxist or hard left in any sense).

I know that there are occasions where they/we don't give preference recommendations or issue split tickets (such as in Tasmania in the last federal election). But I'm not aware of any occasions where an explicit preference has been encouraged for the tories. Although, or course, labor propaganda in inner city ALP/Green marginals likes to say that we have...

Pippa said...

I've just read back on my comment and think I could be clearer.

a) I am unaware of the Australian Greens or any of their federated parties recommending a preference for conservative parties.

b) Where no preferences are recommended or a split ticket is issued, I don't think this is part of a 'neither left nor right but straight ahead' narrative (that was the democrats' schtick)

c) If the Greens are to force the ALP leftwards, the Greens need to make the ALP work for the preference recommendation and not issuing it is used as punishment for crappy right wing, neoliberal anti-environmental policies (and usually only in non-marginal seats).

d) At any rate more than 80% of Greens preferences fall to the ALP regardless of what the how to vote card says.

e) For electoral nerds, there's an interesting article about Greens preferences and the ALP TPP here:

weggis said...

Jim said:
"but I recognise there are people who argue this neither left nor right position."

Too right, or should that be too middle?

Let the argument speak for itself!

Why put off half the population with a lable?