Beckett Report: It wasn’t the Greens that cost Labour the election

26 Jan 2016


We’ve all seen the headlines from Labour’s inquiry into its election defeat released last week. ‘Miliband seen as weak’, ‘Labour not trusted on the economy’ and so on ad infinitum. But in listing four reasons for defeat, one thing was pleasingly notable for its absence: the Greens.


The Green Party has long been an easy cop-out for some tribalists within Labour to explain defeats. The ‘stealing votes’ narrative is well known by Greens, and can generally be met with a groan and a fatigued opposition to the idea that Labour ‘own’ votes. But the Beckett Report is surprisingly magnanimous – and it is by no means designed to be – in its handling of the Greens in terms of the 2015 General Election. The ‘Greens cost us the election’ argument – thankfully on the wane though never quite dead – is swiftly rebuffed.


Here are four reasons the Greens didn’t cost Labour last May’s election, according to Labour itself:


1. Firstly, and simply, the Greens didn’t take any Labour seats. The one seat the Greens won, Brighton Pavilion, was already controlled by the party. The report states: ‘Both UKIP and the Greens made large gains in votes but won only one seat each. Analysis suggests that votes that went to UKIP and the Greens did not significantly affect the overall outcome of the election, i.e. the number of seats won by Labour and the Tories.’


2. It’s not just that Greens didn’t win seats though: Green votes mainly came from the Lib Dem collapse rather than Labour voters: ‘There were 43 English (mainly South and Midlands) and Welsh Labour target seats where the Green vote rose by more than the Labour vote. While some people switched to the Greens from Labour, they were probably few in number. The increase in Green votes came overwhelmingly from the 2010 Liberal Democrats and was correlated with those constituencies where the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed the most, including some of the seats that the Liberal Democrats lost to Labour.’


3. There’s almost a hint of praise for Greens’ tactical voting: Greens tend to vote Labour in marginal seats: ‘What is certain… is that there was significant tactical voting by Green supporters, including many who voted Green in the local elections, who backed Labour in marginal seats. We can therefore conclude with some confidence that Labour was successful at attracting the support of Greens and that their rise played little part in Labour’s defeat.’


Whether Labour attracted that support on merit or Greens simply attempted to keep out Tories is neither here nor there: Greens use their votes carefully under our broken First Past the Post voting system. Indeed, Labour’s only southern victory can be put down to tactical Greens, suggest the authors of the Beckett Report: ‘Our only gain in a southern town was Hove, where we had a very strong local campaign and probably benefited from tactical voting by Green supporters.’


4. Finally, the report offers a welcome rebuttal to the tired ‘Labour was too left wing’ mantra. ‘Many of our most “left wing” polices were the most popular’ – indeed the Greens’ quadrupling vote share can no doubt in part be put down to its positioning as the ‘true’ left party in the face of Labour wobbling. The left-wing policies Labour did have (rent controls, gradual rail renationalisation etc) 'were the kind of policies the public expected from Labour.'


Indeed, left-wing policies were quite probably a boon: ‘An analysis by BES suggests that some of those who supported us would have been less likely to had they seen us as less left wing.’ Left-wing policies are often the vote winners: 'Both the SNP and Greens gained votes in this election and arguably they were seen as to the left of Labour.'


So, Greens are absolved. It wasn’t the Greens that lost the election for Labour: it was Labour itself.


This piece was first published on Bright Green

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