A feature of the campaign in Brighton Pavilion were the claims and counter claims by the Greens and Labour Party in their election material regarding whether a vote for the other would let the Tories in. This ‘debate’ has continued since Friday morning. For example, on this blog, Dr Faust has commented that “the Green argument – that Labour couldn’t beat the Tory – was bollocks as well, and I am certain that more people believed them than Labour. Why should only Labour and not the Greens lose credibility from using the same argument?”.
So I thought I would check out who has said what about the prospects of the other party and what we can conclude about their claims. Any emphasis is by me.
As far back as the summer of 2009, in ‘the brighton paper’ put out on behalf of Nancy Platts, Labour said “Voting Green will mean a Tory MP for Brighton”. Wrong. In a later edition of ‘the brighton paper’ distributed during the campaign, Labour claimed that “a vote for the Greens or the Lib Dems here risks a Conservative government nationally”. Had Labour won Brighton Pavilion, it would not have changed a thing nationally. So wrong again. In a leaflet distributed in the last week or so, in the context of previous results in Brighton Pavilion, Labour asserted that “Only Labour can stop the Conservatives”. Wrong again. In a letter dated May 2010, Nancy writes “A Green vote will mean the Conservatives slip through the middle”. Wrong x 4. In another direct mailing to voters, Nancy asks “Greens to come third again?”. On this occasion she leaves it as a question. That is acceptable but on page 2 of the letter, as a post script, she states, “A Green or LibDem vote risks letting the Conservatives in through the back door”. This is still just on the right side, presenting it as a possibility rather than saying that it would. In an eve of poll card, Labour says “A vote for any Party will let the Conservatives in”. This is a fifth example of Labour misleading voters.
So how do the Greens compare? In the spring edition of ‘GreenLeaf’ the interpretation of the 2009 European elections “suggests the likelihood of a Green win in Brighton Pavilion”. In a leaflet during the campaign, the Greens state that the “LibDems cannot win her” – correct – and that the ICM poll “showed Greens ahead, with Labour & LibDems trailing the Tories”. Again correct since they did not claim that Labour would come third. In an eve of poll leaflet, the Greens claimed that “a vote for the Green Party really could lead to the first Green MP in Westminster”. Again, correct (even had the Greens just lost). In another leaflet claimed that “the Green Party are favourites to win in Brighton Pavilion constituency”. Apart from poor grammar (Caroline, you should know it should have been “The Green Party is favourite to win …”), this was accurate since the bookies had the Greens as evens favourite to win. Finally, in a further leaflet the Greens warn of Labour scare-mongering, but do state “Only a Green vote can keep the Tories out of Brighton Pavilion”. Wrong. This is the only example I have been able to find of a misleading statement from the Greens.
On balance, the Labour Party’s credibility will be damaged because of publishing consistently misleading and incorrect statements. The Greens should not have made their categorical statement, but the Greens did keep the issue open. To answer Dr Faust’s question about Labour and the Greens losing credibility, Labour repeatedly misled the electorate, the Greens did so just once. The Greens were more open in their statements, and the Greens ultimately …. won.
Having said that, it was generally a clean campaign, and both Caroline Lucas and Nancy Platts emerge with their reputations and integrity firmly intact.
Labour supporters would be well advised to follow the mature and measured leadership of Dan Wilson who has commented: “No bitterness here. The Green campaign was well won and I offer my sincere congratulations to Caroline and the Green team. I think it’s also worth noting too that no bitterness is coming out of Nancy’s core campaign team or from Nancy herself. I strongly disassociate myself from any comments that don’t show grace in defeat. But yes, Labour in Brighton Pavilion has lots of reflection to do and plenty of decisions to make. Best done quietly, and in private, over the next few weeks and months, I think. Looking ahead to next May, we must crystallise our vision for Brighton, run bravura, positive campaigns and make sure we’re rooted firmly in our communities. Negative comments laced with bitterness don’t help us much. I’d say we’re down but not out. Not yet. And again, best wishes to Brighton’s new Green MP, Caroline Lucas”.
Next year in the local elections I hope we can avoid the ‘numbers game’. The Green Party is in the ascendency, Labour has its work cut out to recover, I hope both parties will put forward positive visions for Brighton and Hove and let the voters decide which vision they want.