'Gaining Brighton Pavilion made us fragile'

Adam McGibbon was the campaign manager for Brighton Pavilion in 2015 as Caroline Lucas set out to defend her parliamentary seat for the first time. With a majority of just 1200 votes and a recent important council by-election loss, winning was by no means guaranteed.

Caroline Lucas Campaign 2015
Caroline Lucas Campaign 2015

Winning smiles: Adam McGibbon (right) celebrates with Caroline Lucas after retaining her seat with an increased majority of almost 8,000.

Adam McGibbon

In 2013, newly arrived in London, I applied to be the Campaign Manager for Caroline Lucas’ 2015 re-election campaign.

At that point, I'd already been a Green for a long time. Born in Belfast, I'd joined the Northern Ireland Greens after their breakthrough in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly election. I sat on the party’s executive, founded the youth wing, stood as the youngest Parliamentary candidate in the 2010 general election, and was deeply involved in many election campaigns. But working for Caroline Lucas seemed like a long shot. To my complete surprise I got the job! 

Arriving in Brighton, I found that despite the Greens’ landmark 2010 win in Brighton Pavilion, nothing was guaranteed. We had a tiny majority then of 1,252 (2.4 per cent). The Greens controlled Brighton & Hove Council, which was proving difficult with central government budget cuts every year. Weeks before I started as Campaign Manager, the local party lost a crucial council by-election in the constituency. The Labour Party smelt blood.  I wondered if I'd bit off more than I could chew.

But we had the perfect candidate in Caroline, and unbelievably committed people. People who, in Brighton, had been deeply involved in their communities for decades, had built the Green Party up from nothing and patiently convinced tens of thousands of voters to give us a chance. Gaining an MP in 2010 had been a huge boost, but it also made us fragile. At the time, it felt like the Greens - a party with a 2013 membership only a fifth of its 2023 size - was deriving almost all of its national political power from the voters of Brighton. Losing the seat at that point could have set us back massively. That weighed heavily on all of us.

So we changed strategy, learning from other Green parties around the world. We extended participation in the campaign far beyond the Green Party, and brought in hundreds of non-members to take part in the campaign. We worked constantly, seven days a week. Every waking moment was given to the Green Party. We extended participation in the campaign beyond the party and brought in hundreds of non-members. Labour, for its part, ran one of the most negative campaigns I’ve ever seen - and I'm from Northern Ireland! The Greens and even ordinary Brighton residents were exasperated at how much Labour energy was going into unseating the UK’s only Green MP. The campaign dominated my life and the lives of many of us.

It was hard, hard work, but there were incredible moments: Caroline’s arrest for protesting fracking in Balcombe and the joy outside the courthouse when she was acquitted. The frantic excitement of the ‘Green Surge’ in early 2015 when hundreds of people were joining the local party every day. The moment of pure joy when we found out we’d won the election, one of the biggest highs of my life. (That win was tempered with dismay at the fact Labour had failed to take neighbouring Brighton Kemptown by a mere 690 votes - a difference they could have made up had they not gone full-pelt for Pavilion.)

After the campaign was done, I left Brighton but took the lessons I’d learned there with me. I ran the Greens’ London Mayoral campaign in 2016 and went on to train Greens to win elections in other parts of the UK. It was a joy to see others take up the successful tactics we’d used particularly back home, where the Greens elected Clare Bailey to the Northern Ireland Assembly, shocking the establishment and political pundits. 

Caroline has achieved so much in Parliament. An overlooked achievement is her work pushing the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee to adopt strong recommendations against the UK Government’s multi-billion programme of overseas fossil fuel financing. Campaigners used that recommendation to force the government to stop the financing, which then in turn led to an international agreement, the Glasgow Statement, that is currently shifting billions of pounds internationally out of fossil fuels and into clean energy instead. One MP has truly made a massive difference.

The Green Party no longer feels as fragile as it did then, with around six times as many councillors now and genuine local power bases. Nothing can be taken for granted though - Sian Berry will need everyone's help to hold on. I hope you can help her keep the seat - you’ll learn a lot taking part!

Adam McGibbon is a campaign manager and strategist. He works for Oil Change International on global campaigns tackling the finance behind the fossil fuel industry.