(the answer is…. about 1% away)

This month’s European election was not a disaster for the Greens, but equally the party’s intentions of moving forward were dashed. With opinion polls hitting 9%, 10%, even 14 and 15 per cent nationwide for the Greens, it seemed at one point that there might even be the chance of a Green landslide – echoing the momentous Green vote of 15 per cent in the European elections in 1989. This could have seen Green MEPs for the South West and Yorkshire at least, as well as the target seats of North West and Eastern and the existing seats of London and the South East. Depending on the extent of the landslide, indeed any other region, including Scotland, could have had a Green MEP representing it – one for each region. There might even have been 2 Green MEPs to represent the South East.

But in the event, the Greens did not manage to gain their further two target seats of North West and Eastern.

Of course, the consequences for the Greens are not limited to the ambitions of the party; their agenda will also now remain less prominent for another 5 years.

Greens have already had to suffer dismissive articles such as Leo Hickman’s on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free “The grass wasn’t Greener: The European elections showed that, sadly, the Greens will always remain at best a tokenistic minority in party politics” .

Although hostile in tone, Hickman claims “I would love to see a Green MP – we might realistically get one in the form of Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Hove come the next general election – but I still struggle to see how this will come to be seen as anything more than a tokenistic presence at Westminster. We just don’t have the luxury of time for these small, incremental steps forward”.

And indeed – given the timetable of global climate change and the loss of natural resources and habitats – a Green landslide, of some extent, would have been very timely indeed.

But just how achievable was it? And did the Greens miss it by a whisker, or a mile?

The Green Party got plenty of votes in the South East and London. The South East had a majority of 109 048 votes. This equates to a surplus of 4.55% after the seat had been secured. The Greens beat Labour there and obtained the second to last seat. You can play about with the calculations live at http://icon.cat/util/elections/ituSFXZDxh.
In London, the Green Party had a majority of 66 392 votes. The Greens beat UKIP and obtained the second to last seat. Calculations at http://icon.cat/util/elections/yCuSqUZDkl

In contrast, where London and the South East won – arguably – comfortably, with a large margin, the two national “target seats” missed by a relatively very small margin.

In the North West – where the Greens were within reach of keeping out the leader of the BNP – they were just 4 961 votes behind. Instead of the Green Party’s Peter Cranie being elected, the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, was sent to the European Parliament, despite a major campaign by the North West regional party “www.stopnickgriffin.org.uk“. The North West example is particularly tragic: those less-than-5000 votes equate to just five votes short in each ward in the North West. To beat the BNP, the Greens needed just an added 3.3% on the vote they had already secured; just 0.3% of the total vote… Full NW results are here http://icon.cat/util/elections/FnAyvdHLCO

Meanwhile, in the Eastern region, Green candidate Rupert Read – who had been working full-time on the campaign for nearly a year (and supporting himself on his savings) – fell short by 15 945 votes, or just 0.99% of the vote. The calculation shows that the next party to get a seat in Eastern would have been Green http://icon.cat/util/elections/LrAyEfHLIp

The margins here are small compared to the 109 048 and 66 392 vote majorities the party obtained in the South East and London (as they quite rightly deserved, after 10 years of incumbency).

Obviously it is tempting to ask “what would have made the difference?” in those two, close-run target regions. In monetary terms, the national Green Party supported the North West campaign with around £3k of funding. The campaign spent around £40k overall. To make a crude (and purely metaphorical) comparison between money spent and votes earned, the Greens need only have spent £1 320 – or 3.3% more – to have won instead of lost.
This would – of course – have unleashed £1.5 million of public money to be spent by a Green MEP on parliamentary service over the course of the five year term – instead, that money is being spent by Nick Griffin and the BNP. Investing in a green victory would have meant a payback to the Greens’ progressive agenda of over a thousand-fold.

The votes/money metaphor when applied to the Eastern Region would have been about £5 000.

Of course it’s not all about money, but weighing up the percentage swing needed and the sums of money involved, on the face it would not have been impossible for the Greens to have won in these two regions – certainly in the North West to counter the all-important BNP threat – with maybe just a fraction more money and resources targeted at the regions.

But – more surprising than that – it was not just the target regions that were close to winning. Such was the political climate in the country that the South West Green effort was only 12 072 votes away from winning – or 0.78% of the total vote; less than Eastern in fact. Contributing factors include the collapse of the Labour (whom the Greens beat in the SouthWest) and the expenses scandal – although it was not a national Green Party priority to talk about the expenses scandal or clean politics.

In Yorkshire too – the Greens could have prevented the BNP from gaining the last seat if they’d just got 15 683 more votes, an extra 1.28% of the vote.

These four then, North West, Eastern, South West and Yorkshire, were all within 16 000 votes – or 1.28% or less – of winning. With a slightly elevated national profile and percentage, these seats would all have fallen to the Greens for the first time.

With 6 MEPs rather than 2 MEPs, the Green Party could really have claimed to have arrived, and could have put paid to comments such as Leo Hickman’s: “The Greens… still failed to add to their existing total of two MEPs. (They now share parity on that front with the BNP – not exactly something to shout about)”.

If they swingometer had gone further, every region might have been in with a chance of a Green MEP: Scotland was 34 485 votes away, West Midlands was 61 992 votes away, The East Midlands was 67 489 votes behind, the North East was 69 563 votes away and Wales was 49 425 votes behind. The North East – with its mere 3 seats available – was the last placed region – still 11.79% of the total vote away from winning a seat.

This analysis shows however that a Green landslide – at least a tripling of MEPs – was not only possible but was narrowly missed; it also suggests that the Greens’ policy of targeting new seats was well-founded but attracted insufficient resources and support.

All figures are taken from spreadsheets circulated by the Green Party’s national election agent. See here and here for original sources.

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