16th December 2019

A Green Surprise

Last night the Green party received 60% more votes than they did in 2017, meaning over 850,000 members of the electorate backed them. Yet they have almost nothing to show for it. Caroline Lucas MP held onto her seat in Brighton Pavilion, a seat she has held since 2010, and that remains the only Green Party seat in the House of Commons.

However, the party made significant gains in terms of their share of the vote across the whole of the South of England. This was seen from Bury St Edmunds in West Suffolk where (while Conservative Jo Churchill retained her seat) Green candidate Helen Geake received 9,711 votes, up from just 2,596 in 2017, all the way to Bristol West where the Green candidate Carla Denyer received 18,809 votes, almost double the 9,216 that the previous Green candidate, Molly Scott Cato, received in 2017. Labour candidate Thangam Debbonaire held onto this seat.

This swing towards the Green Party is likely a result of their climate crisis stance, which has been unwavering since their formation in 2006. Their manifesto set out one of the more ambitious climate goals of the parties, planning to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030, compared to by 2050 in the Conservative party manifesto.

So if the Green Party have received 60% more votes than they did in the last election, why has this not been reflected in the House of Commons?

Firstly, an increase of 60% translates nationally as an increase of 1.1% in terms of vote change, which is fairly minor when compared to the Labour or Conservative vote shares, and doesn’t translate into multitudes of seats in the House of Commons.

Secondly, and more pressingly, our electoral system (First Past the Post) is mainly appropriate for a two-party system, and does not allow for huge gains for smaller, third parties like the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. This is because in order to win a seat in the House of Commons, a candidate must have the majority of the support in a specific locality (a constituency). This fits a two-party system because each constituency would have two candidates, one from each party; the people vote for whom they want to be elected, and whichever candidate receives the most votes in that constituency wins the seat.

The issue with this system is that smaller parties are unable to compete with the two larger, main parties in most constituencies, which leads to situations like the one in Bristol West, where despite twice as many people voting for the Green Party compared to the last election, there was no change in the party representing that constituency.

This issue is not limited to the Green Party: other smaller parties including the Brexit Party, UKIP, Liberal Party, and many other received scattered numbers of votes across the UK, but none concentrated in one constituency to lead to them winning a seat in Parliament. For example, the Brexit Party received 657,323 votes overall, or 2% of votes, and while this is dwarfed by the number of votes the two main parties received, it does mean that 657,323 people’s voices will not be represented in our government, and that’s just people that voted for the Brexit party.

Earlier in the week Nigel Farage announced plans to change the Brexit Party to the Reform Party and campaign for electoral reform and a more proportional voting system after the UK leaves the EU.

All figures correct at time of publication.

Image credit: Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash