A bleak day for many

Green Peer Natalie Bennett reflects on the results of yesterday’s election, arguing that electoral reform is urgently needed to form a Parliament that truly represents the views of the people.

Natalie Bennett in parliamentary office.
Natalie Bennett in parliamentary office.

Hollin Jones

Natalie Bennett

Friday 13 December, the day after the 2019 general election, is a bleak day for many people.

Households struggling with low wages and insecure employment, the disabled, the young strikers who’ve been doing so much to focus attention on the climate emergency and the collapse of our natural world, are feeling shock, sadness and fear.

A party that has been responsible for inflicting that suffering on them, for magnifying the massive damage done to our natural world by our destructive, wasteful economic policies has achieved a majority.

We need to acknowledge that and provide comfort where we can.

And there is comfort to be found in the Green Party’s results and the nature of the election debate that contributed towards them.

The climate emergency was at the centre of election debate like never before. The majority of the public supports our 2030 net-zero carbon target and that’s one key reason why the Green Party piled on votes yesterday.

850,000 people voted Green, an increase of more than 60 per cent on 2017, winning 4.3 per cent of the votes in the seats that we contested, up from 2.2 per cent in 2017.

The wonderful Caroline Lucas added to her already stupendous majority in Brighton Pavilion, with a five per cent increase to 57 per cent of the vote.

In Bristol West, Carla Denyer, the councillor who won the first local climate emergency declaration in Europe lifted the Green vote by 12 per cent to 25 per cent, and Co-leader Jonathan Bartley saw a 14 per cent increase to 16.5 per cent in Dulwich and West Norwood. 

Notable other results included an 11.5 per cent increase for Helen Geake in Bury St Edmunds, an area where the Green Party has a strong councillor presence, and the Isle of Wight, with Vix Lowthion winning 15.2 per cent.

In a democratic electoral system – one where the number of seats matched the number of votes – we’d be celebrating the presence of 18 MPs in Westminster. Instead Caroline, with Jenny Jones and I in the Lords, will be the parliamentary team.

And, of course, so many people wanted to vote Green, but felt pushed towards voting for a second or lower choice party in the hopes of stopping the worst option in their constituency. That’s no way to get a Parliament that reflects the views of the people.

One third of registered voters didn’t cast a ballot, many driven away from politics by the tone and nature of the debate, and by the knowledge that their vote is not going to result in representation. Some of them expressed their frustration in the ballot box, as I saw watching the count in Sheffield last night. 

Some graffitied ballots made a very obvious graphic comment on what they think of the state of politics. One had in emphatic capitals ‘change the system!’

Boris Johnson’s Tories only got 300,000 more votes than Theresa May’s team did in 2017, and 1.2 per cent more of the vote, yet achieved a sweeping victory in contrast to her messy position. 

One crucial change for the future has to be the Labour Party embracing constitutional change, to create a majority for a modern, functional political system. And I’m seeing a shift in the position of many long-term opponents of proportional representation from party stalwarts, as well as a generation shift among younger Labour people.

The Tories have been elected in many constituencies where they are far from naturally comfortable, particularly in the north of England, and some of their apparently obvious backers are profoundly suspicious of Boris Johnson and his glib promises, as reflected in the Financial Times leading article this morning, noting that his regime thus far has been ‘turbulent and unsettling’.

I’m not resigned to five years of Boris Johnson. His ‘Get Brexit Done’ promise that won this election – playing on the understandable frustration of the deadlock of British politics – is undeliverable.

The climate and nature emergencies will continue to press themselves forward in practical terms, as we’ve seen with the recent flooding in South Yorkshire.

The Fridays for the Future movement and Extinction Rebellion will continue their work. 

 The state of British politics remains profoundly unstable and the importance of the Green Party for the future is evident.

One crucial comfort is to offer the possibility of each individual being able to take action to change the future. History isn’t pre-written, but made.  

And we’re already seeing many people seeing joining the Green Party as a way to do just that.