As the dust settles on the London Mayoral election and out of date leaflets (hopefully not too many!) are put out to be recycled, I thought it might be worth sharing my reflections on that election before our attention becomes firmly fixed on the unfolding Leader and Deputy Leader elections.
Moving back to London a couple of months before the kick-off of the election meant that I didn’t get the chance to see the preparatory ground-work undertaken by the London party during the last year or two, but there was definitely a feeling of a more professional central organizational voice. I was regularly impressed at the scope of activities being attempted by local parties on a daily basis. If you had wanted to volunteer to help out and had access to an oyster card, the opportunities were there to engage. Some strong local parties in the capital provided visible role models for others to emulate, which is one of the advantages of being in such a geographically-dense region and I think has paid off in an increased level of professionalism across the board.
Our level of media coverage took an incremental step forward, partly as a result of the BBC decision to increase our level of representation in their programming for the election. The choices made by the Mayoral media campaign, such as Jenny’s intervention around candidate tax transparency, paid off. I’d argue that it might not have hurt to take a few more of those provocative gambles, as there was definitely an appetite for an insurgent voice in this election. Paradoxically, by being more professional and on-message, we ceded this ground to Siobhan Benita, who was running on a fairly conservative and vague platform. Whilst I don’t think all Benita voters were natural Greens, we probably could have gained a fair few more.
From my vantage point in Lambeth, where I think we need to be stronger is on the ground in our constituencies themselves. Building a database of voter intentions, regular canvassing as a monthly priority outside of elections and an efficient polling station operation are essential if we are to take our vote share and render it firmer. Although this can sound intimidating, if local parties concentrate on one or two key wards and build their operations there, it would be a valuable testing ground to build confidence and learn practical lessons.
On past form, I would normally argue that the Green vote is widespread, but shallow. This is why we tend to do better at proportional elections but fare less well at Local Authority and General Election contests. Displacing the Liberal Democrats as the third party in London has resulted in a psychological boost for the party, but we mustn’t lose sight that across the city, actual Lib Dem representation is much higher than ours. They have a small army of elected representatives daily making the case for them in local communities. Our vote share is promising, but still quite low. In most constituencies where we came third, the Labour and Conservative vote was so high it remains untouchable. I would have to disagree with Caroline Lucas when she argues that we should aim to overtake the Liberal Democrats and capture their voters. We need to be actively taking the fight to the Labour and Conservative party by challenging their policies head on and chipping into their voter base.
Finally, I really think we need to engage ourselves much more with City Hall during Boris Johnson’s second term. It became clear throughout the election that scrutiny of his policies by the London media has been exceptionally weak over the last four years. Where possible, London activists should become more informed about how the Mayoralty and Assembly works and put some time into supporting and publicising the crucial work that Jenny, Darren and their team are doing to make Boris accountable to the public. Even more so than now, the next election will stand or fall on the effectiveness of those in office to deliver on their promises. Our success will depend on highlighting the inevitable gap between the Mayor’s rhetoric and his record and having a carefully thought through strategy for how we would use the Mayoral powers more efficiently.