(Title Image: BBC Wales)
- Largest majority : None
- Smallest majority : None
- Biggest increase in vote share : +4.4%, Cardiff Central
- Biggest decrease in vote share : -1.8%South Wales Central
- Lost deposits : 36 (£18,000; +32 on 2011)
The Greens flopped and it’s very hard to argue otherwise. This was probably their best chance of getting an Assembly seat since 1999 but in the end they didn’t even come close. Generally, the picture is good – their share of the vote in the constituencies is up, but that’s only because they had almost a full complement of candidates this time around. When compared to the other parties however, they’re so far behind it’s very difficult to see how they can make a breakthrough any time soon.
They can point to some decent-ish results in Cardiff and the A470 corridor/Taff valley – and they perhaps did better than expected in Preseli Pembrokeshire – but other than that….
The Good News
Their first proper national campaign – The campaign in 2011 was mainly confined to the regional lists and encouraging Labour voters not to waste their second vote. That’s arguably the best strategy for the Greens, but their first attempt at a serious national campaign for the Assembly (I’d call last year a test run) would’ve given them an idea of what’s required and, as I’ll return to later, some of the challenges facing them are pretty daunting.
They got a disproportionate amount of coverage – Considering the relatively low levels of support the Greens have, they got an awful lot of press and certainly more than their position justified. I suppose the argument is that parties can’t improve their position without extra press so they should’ve got it anyway. The Greens certainly did this time around when compared to 2011, but in the end it didn’t really matter, did it?
They’ve shown they’ve got something beyond Caroline Lucas – ….though perhaps that’s not going to last very long. Two new credible Green personalities have emerged from behind Pippa Bartolotti in Wales during this campaign : Alice Hooker-Stroud and Amelia Womack (Lisa Rapado has received praise too). They’re gradually building the candidate and talent base to be taken seriously, but numbers are still thin and it’s still unclear what precisely the Greens want to achieve in Wales.
The Bad News
Their manifesto was half-finished – There’s something to be said for political parties producing succinct documents to explain what they intend to do; nobody wants a 200 page tome in pdf form or paper clunking on the desk. When parties go too far in the opposite direction that can also cause problems. We don’t need to be bombarded with details, but we shouldn’t be left asking questions. Although it was clear from their emphasis on rural problems like school closures that the Greens simply wanted to win one seat (Mid & West Wales), their manifesto was pretty half-arsed. Nobody knew what they stood for, nobody knew how much their policies might cost and none of their policies really grabbed the public’s attention.
They still don’t “get” devolution – All of the other parties have “Welshified” to varying degrees, even UKIP, but the Greens perhaps see themselves as smugly above base nationalism. They might call it that, but I’d call it understanding your target market. One of the more baffling decisions made by any party in the election was the Greens’ decision to draft in a former Green member of the Dail Eireann as campaign manager, so it was presumably their idea to stand in most constituencies at a cost of £500 a pop.
Ireland uses STV to elect their politicians so standing in every seat is a necessity if you want to make progress, but anyone with a bit of knowledge of how Welsh politics works would’ve realised very quickly that Green candidates would never see that £500 again. If they wanted a campaign manager, that manager should’ve had a firm grip on devolution and the Welsh political scene. Supposedly, the EnglandandWales party also threw Welsh membership subscriptions at a London mayoral contest (where they came a distant third with under 6% of the vote). Financially, this is looking like a disastrous campaign.
They’re not a major party – Unless they get some good results next year, it’s going to be very difficult to justify their inclusion in things like the leader debates in the future. Even the disproportionate coverage given to them by myself this year will be looked back upon as an aberration.
Most of their vote share gains would be within margin of error territory in polls, while in their best opportunity to gain a seat – Mid & West Wales – they managed to finish more than 2,000 votes behind Abolish the Assembly. Now, we all have to start somewhere in politics, but the Greens have been plugging away for decades with nothing to show for it. They flatter to deceive when it comes to their chances of success and I don’t think it’s that absurd to ask whether there’s a long-term future for the Green Party in Wales?
What would’ve happened with the Plaid-Lib Dem-Green electoral pact? – The Greens were never going to be competitive in any constituency, so their only chances were on the lists. It’s very hard to see how the Greens would’ve benefited from a pact other than the Lib Dems and Plaid giving them a clear run in South Wales Central/running a joint list (I doubt they would’ve let them do the same in Mid & West Wales). That wouldn’t have happened, but a pact might’ve been useful for next year’s local elections.
What do they need to do?
Reform themselves as a pressure/campaign group until the electoral system changes or the Assembly expands – The latter is the only way we’re going to see any Green AMs elected, while the former would at least keep them in the headlines and maintain their campaigning infrastructure.
With all due respect to Alice Hooker-Stroud, she would’ve made an excellent AM, but the debates and campaign show she’s more a strategist than a leader – there’s no shame in that either. She knows her stuff, but lacks charisma and gravitas. Pippa Bartolotti was the opposite in having stage presence but no firm grip on policy.
I’ve mentioned Amelia Womack before and from all indications she’s gone down well on the campaign trail, securing the Greens’ best result on May 5th. Amelia would probably be the obvious choice if they’re considering a leadership change as she seems to have the best qualities from both sides – understands policy but also has some charisma. She’s probably our equivalent to Caroline Lucas compared to Alice’s equivalent of Natalie Bennett.
Don’t stand in any constituencies in 2021 (and only run in a few in 2020) – Not wanting to repeat the point, but they didn’t heed any lessons from the 2015 UK election. First-past-the-post hates the Greens and their bank balance. I thought it would be plain as the light of day that they could only realistically attempt to retain their deposits in three constituencies : Swansea West, Ceredigion and Cardiff Central. Instead, they flushed £18,000 down the toilet for no reason other than vanity.
Win a few council seats next May – If they don’t win any council seats next year I don’t see how the Greens can keep going as they are. They’re in desperate need of more talent and more “faces”and – in arguably the best news for the Greens in this campaign – they’ve already secured one in the form of Cardiff’s Cllr. Ralph Cook.
The Minor Parties
Abolish the Assembly Party – The story that hasn’t been commented on very much is the good performance of the abolitionists/direct-rulers. Finishing ahead of the Greens on the regional list vote, considering they got hardly any mainstream coverage, is a pretty good achievement regardless of your opinion of their aims.
They shouldn’t get carried away, as the strength of the vote demonstrates the “silent majority” doesn’t exist in any great numbers. These are still only piddling figures of 4-5% of the electorate, but it’s an electorally significant number and by the looks of it they were only about 3,000 votes away from winning list seats in North Wales and Mid & West Wales.
If those who voted Abolish voted UKIP instead – who had previously been the leading direct-rule party – it’s quite likely UKIP could’ve won up to 10 seats. Meanwhile, the performance of Abolish the Assembly could well have contributed to Plaid (ironically) winning an extra list seat in South Wales West. They made an impact on the final results – definitely.
Monster Raving Loony Party – The eighth-placed party in Wales. Let that sink in. I’m going to assume that most of that was driven by a rather charming 1 minute video during the BBC Leaders Debate.
Women’s Equality Party – They should’ve stood on more lists. They managed 1.2% of the vote in South Wales Central. If that were replicated across Wales, they would’ve been looking at maybe 10,000-15,000 votes, which would’ve been nothing to sniff at.
People First – There’s no doubt Sian Caiach played a role in deciding the Llanelli constituency election and with good reason. Parties like People First only spring up when there are serious problems in a local area (as we’ve seen in Blaenau Gwent previously). While their performance wasn’t anything exceptional, it will hopefully send a message to Plaid Cymru and Labour in particular that they need to take a close look at what they’ve done, or are doing, in Carmarthenshire.
Unfortunately, it appears Emlyn Dole is as much a ventriloquist’s dummy as Kevin Madge. Though if a former PCC is making less than flattering comparisons between Carmarthenshire and the Sicilian Mafia then all but the blindest of the blind must be able to see what’s going on there.
Independent candidates – Some very mixed performances as you might expect, with many struggling to get more than 500 votes. The best performance on the night appears to have happened in Neath, with Cllr. Steve Hunt getting 8.1% of the vote and coming very close to finishing in fourth place. Louise Hughes retained her deposit in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, while Cllr. Debbie Blakeborough finished fourth in Monmouth, ahead of Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and Greens.
Communists/Socialist GB/TUSC – Nowhere yet again and even if their vote were combined it would’ve still amounted to a big fat nothing.
English Democrats – 146 votes in Monmouth, or £4.84 a vote; their worst ever performance in the Assembly. Take the hint.
What can they do next?
Of all of the smaller parties, People First and the Women’s Equality Party are the only ones which probably have chance of growth and genuine political influence; the former in the Carmarthenshire local authority itself, the latter as a feminist pressure group to force the parties to adopt some of their policies (helped by the fact they clearly have strong behind the scenes backing).
As for the Abolish the Assembly Party, I don’t think they’ll go away, but their cause is simply going to die out – whether through the soon to be enshrinement of the National Assembly as a permanent feature of the UK’s constitution, or literally dying out. I’d expect them to run again in 2021, nonetheless. It’s just a case of how enthusiastic its members will remain and how much effort they’re willing to put into their campaigns. If not, they’ll be an interesting footnote in some future Welsh political almanac or academic research.