Next priority – elect a second Green MP


I hope it hasn’t been forgotten that the Green Party didn’t stand a candidate in Richmond Park, and expressly backed Sarah Olney. Labour did stand a candidate, but it was widely reported that some Labour members didn’t think they should have.

On the other side of course, neither the Conservatives nor UKIP stood, therefore leaving the centre-right vote clear for Zac Goldsmith. It was an unusual by-election, 95% of the vote went to two people. There may not be another by-election like this in this parliament.

The great problem for progressive parties in Britain is that they divide the progressive vote. Within a First Past the Post electoral system, this benefits the Conservatives and their parliamentary candidates are elected on, say, 40% of the vote while the progressive parties fight each other for the rest. Richmond Park provided an alternative narrative to this outcome. The Greens didn’t stand, groups like More United and the Women’s Equality Party backed Sarah Olney, and the progressive voice was almost completely united.

The lessons of political history show that it is at the moment of victory that leaders can reach out to others and change the political narrative. This time is now. With 8% or even 16% national support, the Lib Dems will not change British politics under the current electoral system. The Greens, More United and the Women’s Equality Party have shown us how we can win. Now we need to return the favour.

* William Hobhouse lives in Bath and is co-founder of the Lib Dem Campaign for Manufacturing.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • William Barter 5th Dec '16 - 9:35am

    Given the boundary changes mean that the Greens nominally lose their winning margin in their first seat – Lucas in Brighton Pavilion – maybe we should look there. It’s now a 3-way marginal between the Greens, Labour and the Tories. Given how much more we, as a party, have in common with the Greens than with Labour or the Tories, maybe we should consider stepping down their, returning the favour, and letting Lucas have a clear run.

  • Alex Hegenbarth 5th Dec '16 - 9:39am

    I agree with William – I think we need to see how the upcoming boundary change shape the political landscape first before we start writing-off Lib Dem chances in some areas in favour of the Greens and perhaps focus on helping the Greens retain Brighton Pavilion first before looking elsewhere/

  • Daniel Carr 5th Dec '16 - 9:46am

    Where are we going to stand aside for WEP?

  • Christopher Haigh 5th Dec '16 - 9:51am

    I agree with William that the Greens are a progressive and radical party that liberal democrats can work with. It was so depressing to listen to a labour mp called Ian Austin from Dudley talking on BBC after our RP victory talking up the current electoral system and refusing to stand down labour candidates where they can only split the anti-tory vote to the tories favour. I’m sorry to say it but I think the labour party has had its day and will now gradually wither away.

  • Chris Moore 5th Dec '16 - 10:00am

    Standing down the Lib Dem candidate “in favor of the Greens” doesn’t help the Greens, unless more LIb Dem voters have Greens as their second prefrence than the party competing with the Greens.

    Constituency by constituency, this is almost always not the case, even in Brighton Pavilion, where many Green-leaning Lib Dems will already have voted Green in previous elections. Typical second preference of rump LIb Dem voters in Brighton Pavilion may well be Tory. Or Labour.

    This problem is repeated across the country. Whereas William Hobhouse’s preference may be for a progressive alliance, many Lib Dem voters have as their second preference the Tory party or indeed UKIP.

    Let’s remember we are a centre party and we can’t mandate right-ward leaning Lib Dem voters to support the Greens or indeed Labour.

  • Max Wilkinson 5th Dec '16 - 10:08am

    I may be missing something, but why would the Liberal Democrats make electing a Green MP a campaign priority? If there’s a case to be argued, it certainly hasn’t been made in this article.

  • Adam Corlett 5th Dec '16 - 10:23am

    Any particular seat in mind? Are there any Conservative seats with the Greens in second or even third place?

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '16 - 10:26am

    We should keep in mind that standing down in RP led to a letter from several prominent local Green activists disagreeing with Caroline Lucas and in the end the local Green Party publicly declined to endorse anyone. In Sleaford they have endorsed the NHS independent, not us.

    However Lucas did go out on a limb for us and probably if I was in Brighton I would be ok not to stand against her. But that is for Brighton Lib Dems to say, not me..

    The acid test of any progressive alliance with the Greens would come in seats like Bristol West and Bath where the other Party has a large vote and is active. Would we be prepared to give up Bristol West where we had an MP in 2015 but came third??

    As far as Labour is concerned, in Tory seats we are better off if they stand but don’t do much, to be honest. Being endorsed as “Progressive” by Corbyn will do us no good at all with Tory-inclined voters. Fortunately it is not going to happen. And experience from 2015 suggests that in Lab-Con marginals like Pudsey, our vote may have broken for the Tories, not Labour…, so it may not do them much good either..

  • @ Daniel Carr – does it matter ? On current poll rating and boundary changes, the Lib Dems are on course to lose 4 of the 8 seats they won at the last General Election.

    It’s not just about electoral pacts, its about genuine co-operation, agreeing to change the voting system and allowing people to agree to disagree.

  • David Evans 5th Dec '16 - 10:28am

    Next priority – get to Sleaford and help the party there.

    Then work hard to elect the tenth, eleventh and twelfth Lib Dem MPs, plus some more councillors across the country.

    Then make sure you have contacted all your new members and get them to a social event.

    Then win seats (or go and help Lib Dems elsewhere in the country) in the 2017 county elections.

    On top of these, I’m sure others could add quite a few more real priorities.

    The Greens were nowhere in Richmond Park – even in the disaster of 2015 they were 8,000 votes behind us. Maybe Brighton in 2020. But never a priority.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 5th Dec '16 - 10:32am

    I feel it would have been better if the Greens had stood in Richmond Park. Sarah would almost certainly still have been elected. It seems that some Green members and supporters chose to vote Labour or vote for Zac, so the decision not to stand a Green candidate did not necessarily help us much. Of course it was a well meaning gesture on the part of the Greens, and its right that we should express our appreciation of the gesture, but that does not mean that we should consider ourselves indebted to the Greens to the extent of being obliged to stand aside in another constituency.
    The Greens’ decision not to stand in Richmond Park meant that the voters were denied the choice. We must not deny voters in another constituency the chance to vote Lib Dem. And we should remember that many people who usually vote Lib Dem might well choose to vote conservative rather that vote Green.

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Dec '16 - 10:36am

    I do feel that the more minor party MPs there are in England, the more the case for reform of the constitution grows and cannot be dismissed as LibDem self-interest.

    That is why – although I despise them and I do worry about the effect on Tory internal politics – I would be relatively calm about seeing UKIP take seats off the Conservatives, and in some cases, Labour.

    The problem for us when considering the Greens is, given our own dire need to rebuild national coverage and credibility, where (apart from Brighton) does the reverse of Richmond Park exist – where is there a seat that the Greens could seriously hope to capture that we LibDems would not be in serious contention for, or are not hoping to be so?

    This is even more of a problem when 2010 results are taken into consideration alongside 2015.

    Before 2015, the Greens described their targets (outside of Brighton) as being Bristol West, Norwich South, Sheffield Central, Liverpool Riverside, Oxford East, Solihull, Reading East, York Central (Labour), Holborn and St Pancras and Cambridge.

    I would like to see us secure – nationally, not locally – some kind of understanding of mutual respect with the Greens as some (not all) of our aims are compatible. And it’s good to see the Greens going off Corbyn.

    But we seem to be frequently gunning at the same targets.

    I think for those on the relative centre-to-right of this party, it’s even harder to contemplate the above.

    But it looks like – as an outsider who did not participate in the campaign – that we do owe the Greens for Richmond Park. Not in whole, but in part.

  • William is in a fantasy land.
    Lib Dem , Liberal revivals come in 3 stages. Local council gains over a 6 – 12 month period, then hopefullyl a favourable by election then a surge in the Opinion Polls. Stages 1 and 2 have been achieved, we await the third, I am confident that will happen as well.
    The Greens like UKIP are sinking fast. We are not in the business of helping them, they are way to the left, so far out that many of their members are disullusioned ex Labour/Socialists for whom Labour is too right wing.
    This progressive approach has been tried before and failed, parties standing down to give others a free run. It does not work mainly because Conservative voters object to being ganged up on and those who may have supported a Lib Dem stay with the Blues.
    Being a progressive means you have to understand how Conservatives on the left of that party view matters, one thing they intensely dislike is being stitched up, they will not support it and certainly would not and have not in the past supported it.
    Such a proposition is doomed to failure.
    If Carolyn Lucas and others in the Greens wish to join us they are very welcome but a stitched up arrangement, no sir it is an electoral failure and so it should be.
    We need to remember that well over two million people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 voted Conservative mainly on a tactical basis to prevent a labour/SNP government and to continue stabilizing the economy. They will not come back into a “progressive alliance”, they will come back to the Liberal Democrats.

  • Conor McGovern 5th Dec '16 - 10:44am

    We could learn a lot from the Greens. I think in a FPTP system an alliance of radical parties is essential and we should be laying more of the groundwork right away.

  • Unless I’ve missed something there were only 2 seats in the country in 2015 where the Greens were the top party other than the Tories and UKIP. One of these was Brighton Pavilion, of course. The other was the Isle of Wight. In the former standing aside and supporting the Greens would likely make sense. Whether or not it would make sense to come to some sort of agreement with the Greens where each party stands for one of the Isle of Wight’s two constituencies in a 2020 election could depend on how geographically concentrated the support for the two parties are. Which is difficult to tell for someone not familiar with the island’s politics, particularly with there currently having been no local elections there since 2013 (when the lib dems took 1 seat and the greens none).

  • It’s possible Labour not standing in Richmond Park (and by implication supporting the Liberal Democrats) could well have been detrimental. I imagine this was definitely the case with UKIP not standing and supporting Zac. Farage is repulsive to many in Richmond Park, but so is Corbyn to many centrists and soft Conservatives there.

  • David Pearce 5th Dec '16 - 11:08am

    on the contrary, voters abandoned lib dems in 2015 because the libs became too much tory light, even tory fall guy. It was not for fear of a labour or left wing alliance. If anything the surviving liberals were ones who faced conservative opponents, where their identification with conservatives made them an acceptable alternative. In order to rcover their 2010 position, libs need to be seen more to the left.

    I would agree that lib dems need to be seen not to identify too much with either labour or conservative, and their traditional appeal was because they were ‘neither of the above’. This was blown away by becoming tory light, and especially by broken promises. Part of UKIP success has been to take this mantle of ‘none of the above’.

    Libs have always won through tactical voting. Richmond was a case in point, but with the right kind of tactical voting Sleaford this week is also winnable. Do not throw away such victories.

  • No progressive alliance that has the potential to put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street should be supported. There is little liberal about either the Greens or Labour, Labour led Government under Corbyn would be an authoritarian nightmare.

  • Leekliberal 5th Dec '16 - 1:02pm

    @Catherine Jane Crosland ‘I feel it would have been better if the Greens had stood in Richmond Park. Sarah would almost certainly still have been elected.’
    Sarah Olney’s majority was only 1872 and had a Green and/or Women’s Equality Party candidate stood it is far from certain that Sarah would have won!
    If we are serious about winning proportional representation we will need to give as well as take in a progressive alliance. Apart from standing down in Brighton for Caroline Lucas it makes sense to wait for the new boundaries before moving forward with this. My problem with Labour is that apart from a handful of MPs like Ben Bradshaw, Stephen Kinnock, Clive Lewis and Chuka Umunna, they are for the old politics symbolised by first past the post. The hope is that as Labour become increasingly unelectable they will recognise that pluralist politics is the only way for the left to exercise power. Let us lead the debate about achieving this new politics which polls indicate is becoming more acceptable to the voters.

  • Yes we owe the Greens, however everyone’s talking about constituencies. I’d have thought that (aside from Brighton) it would be more useful for them not to stand in a couple of council wards which we wouldn’t be competitive in, but the Greens wish to target. We need to give as well as take.

  • Richard Malim 5th Dec '16 - 2:01pm

    I voted Lib-Dem in 2015 in Bristol W in order I hoped to keep the Labour out. I cannot see any tactical voter ever voting Green. Up and down the country LDs will always do better from ‘tactical’ and disaffected tories or socialists than teaming up with Greens

  • Dan Falchikov 5th Dec '16 - 2:39pm

    Is it April 1st?

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Dec '16 - 2:45pm

    The priority needs to be to scrap the idea for a second referendum and support soft-brexit instead. The party won’t go big places by focusing simply on liberal-leftism and Guardianism (the newspaper).

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '16 - 2:49pm


    The Greens came second in Bristol west in 2015 and if half the Lib Dem vote had transferred to them (and none to Labour), they would have won. We had the sitting MP of course so it was a bit of a shock..

    However, they would need to be doing better than they are now compared to Labour to stand a chance of winning, even if we did not stand.

    In Norwich South, it was the rise of the Green vote at the expense of Labour that gave us the seat in 2010, and then the rise of the Labour vote at our expense that sent us into 4th place..

    At the end of the day though, we cannot blame the Greens for loss of any seats in 2015 – it was all our own work…

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '16 - 2:56pm


    We will go nowhere without distinctive policies. The proportion of the electorate that would support another referendum is greater than any Liberal vote share since before WW1, and it has the potential to rise. Meanwhile we are of course campaigning as well for a soft Brexit, staying in the Single Market, if we have to Leave.

    Distinctive policies always lose voters as well as gain them. You have made it clear repeatedly that we have lost your vote, but we clearly gained lots of others from across the political spectrum in Richmond Park. Such is life, but we have been at 8% in the polls for over 5 years now and going for compromise policies will not do any more.

  • Peter Watson 5th Dec '16 - 3:00pm

    This thread makes for a depressing read and, sadly, still leaves me wondering what is the point of the Lib Dems these days.
    The Lib Dems are probably the most conservative and least radical party in British politics at the moment, expending campaigning energy on opposing change (no to Brexit or changing the relationship with the EU, no to Scottish independence, no to fracking, no to airport expansion, no to scrapping Trident, no to more grammar schools and no to fewer, …).
    Away from the anti-Brexit echo chamber the party lacks a clear, unambiguous message or vision. Apparently it cannot even decide if it is like the Greens or the opposite, left or right, both or neither.
    Very, very depressing.

  • No thank you! 5th Dec '16 - 3:01pm

    In the tragic event of Ms. Lucas going under a bus, there might be a case for not standing in Brighton Pavilion. But essentially we should be squeezing the Greens and weps out of existence by staying true to our green and equality-focused agenda, not pandering to any Tom, Dick or Harry who decides to set up a new party and claim to be part of a ‘progressive’ umbrella. At some point, you have make hard decisions if you win power, and you can sure as eggs is eggs bet that the Greens / WEPs would hightail it over the horizon at that point. It’s what the Greens did in Oxford, after all.

  • paul barker 5th Dec '16 - 5:08pm

    Essentially its just way too soon to even ask these questions usefully. Politics is in flux & seems to be dividing along Pro/Anti Brexit lines. Where are the Greens as Parties on that ? We dont know how quickly we are going to recover, how quickly Labour will decline & how their ex-voters will split or, crucially how Brexit will go.
    Things may well be a lot clearer in 6 Months, lets reconsider this idea then.

  • Ordinary bloke 5th Dec '16 - 5:10pm

    Stop talking about “narratives”! Who on earth uses that word other than politicians. No wonder people are disconnected from politics these days.

  • Richard Warren 5th Dec '16 - 5:23pm

    Just for the record, we didn’t get 100% support from Richmond Park Greens. A former Green Party parliamentary candidate, James Page, and maybe a few more supported Zac Goldsmith, while a dozen or so others went public in their support for Labour, having a letter published in The Guardian in the final week of the campaign, which wasn’t very helpful. What’s more, James Page, allowed himself to be quoted in a Zac leaflet singing his praises. Working with the Greens won’t be that easy as the Richmond Park experience shows.

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Dec '16 - 5:29pm

    If you’re 2p short, and someone gives you that crucial 2p to help you buy something, you are clearly indebted to them however much money you put in to it yourself.

    But identifying the item they want to buy, that you could meaningfully give them 2p in recompense towards is more difficult.

  • The best reward for Lucas is for Sarah, along with our other MPs, to work together on the issues where our policies overlap, of which there is plenty. Nevertheless, I still support the idea that we should be thinking about identifying a few constituencies where we would consider making an active decision to step aside, and even campaign for, the right candidate.

    I’ve been saying since before Richmond that we should make a statement out of standing aside in Brighton for Lucas. Unless she does something remarkable between now and the next election, and regardless of boundary changes, I think that one is a no-brainer. Many of our voters in that constituency have already made the decision to vote tactically for her. She didn’t just advocate for Sarah, she is a good MP who brings a lot to the HOCs, and if we believe in PR, then we believe in her right to be there.

    Picking other constituencies will be more tricky, and it’s definitely right to wait for news of boundary changes, and possible candidates, before making any decisions. However, we can think about what criteria we’d apply to making those decisions.

    Someone said we should be working for the demise of the Greens and WEP. I’d say that WEP are working for their own demise anyway. Realistically, they have no real desire to stand lots of candidates – they simply want there to be better gender balance in Parliament. We can repay their support, and possibly get more, if we make sure we have a decent number of female candidates of our own.

    I definitely think we could do a better job of pushing our own environmental credentials, and IMO many of our members are much more environmentally savvy than many in the Green party. Many people will lazily vote Green assuming that they must be the best environmental option and it’s up to us to let them know there is an alternative. The true environmentalists in the Green party will be happy with that.

  • While I agree it is not a priority, it is important to show that in and out of power political parties working together can deliver for the vast majority of people and can deliver for a progressive future.

    Where Lib Dems can win a bye-election then it should compete. Where it is third or fourth to a better placed Greens (or party with shared values) then that party should be helped to grow and persuade people that where even UKIP MEPs are saying the Tory party has gone too far right that this trip to the past isn’t a good thing.

  • Simon Banks 6th Dec '16 - 11:50am

    The messages on progressive co-operation sent by Richmond Park are quite confusing. Labour stood and were humiliated – but in a closer contest, their intervention might have been crucial. Many Labour supporters ignored their party and voted for or even campaigned for Sarah – but in any election in this constituency since 1992 – except 2015 – many Labour supporters no doubt voted tactically for us anyway. The Green leaders bravely supported Sarah, but their local party didn’t.

    There is the difficulty that while most Labour supporters without a Labour candidate will stay at home or vote for us, we cannot be sure not standing a Lib Dem candidate won’t benefit the Tories as much as anyone. However, this might change if there was a clear understanding between the parties and would also vary according to local circumstances: in the Westcountry there is much Lib-Labbery, but in the Pennine towns the most basic divide is often Labour or Not Labour.

    As for the nature of the Greens, it was their tendency to self-righteousness and disdain for practical politics that kept me from considering them during the coalition, not their policies. On the online tools in 2015 supposed to help you choose a party, those based purely on manifesto commitments had me Lib Dem/Green/Plaid Cymru neck and neck, well ahead of the rest. Only the one that teased out attitudes rather than policies made me Lib Dem far ahead of Green.

  • The Greens got 6% in 2015, up from 1% in 2010. That is more likely why they didn’t stand.

    I question the understanding of never mind commitment to Party loyalty of anyone who’d make actively campaigning for another Party.

  • It’s tremendously patronising of political parties to say they will not stand a candidate in a particular election because they support some sort of tactical deal. It’s this sort of behaviour which allows the likes of Farage to claim that all the political parties are the same: only interested in serving their own interests.

  • The issue with standing aside for the Greens is that the only constituencies that they do well in are also places that the Liberal Democrats do well in.

    Bristol West:
    Although we came third in 2015, this was a held seat for us. Our organisation is much better than the Green Party’s so the chances of us gaining it in 2020 are still much higher than their’s, not to mention the fact that neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Greens should be standing aside for one-another in seats that can reasonably won by either of them.

    Norwich South:
    The Greens made very little impact. They came a poor third, despite being a seat for the taking, only beating the Liberal Democrats by 0.3%. A route back for the party may be tricky for the Lib Dems in 2020 – less so in a by-election though – but nevertheless we lost 15%, those supporters are still out there for us, but the Greens have done little to show that they can get beyond 15% so far.

    Oxford East:
    In 2010 this was a seat that the Liberal Democrats were widely expected to win, however since it has essentially collapsed – losing 23% of the vote, yet only just coming behind the Green Party who’s activists thought they were going to win the seat. The party is on the rise again there, while the Greens lost all their organisation and with it a third of their seats on the City Council earlier this year. This is not an area they’re likely to do well in in 2020, and in a by-election their right next door to the largest constituency Lib Dem party in the country – the Lib Dems would have a good shot in a by-election.

    St Ives:
    A target seat for the Green Party in 2015. They came fifth, succeeding in little more than holding their deposit. We came second just 5% behind the Tories – making it one of our most winnable seats. Need I say more?

    Liverpool Riverside:
    Why not, tbh, let them fight this. But still – it would be up against Labour who they are surely also looking to be in a progressive alliance with?

    So unless a Brighton Pavillion comes up for whatever reason, realistically there isn’t really anywhere we can ‘return the favour’.

  • @Guy, are you aware that UKIP, like the Tories, decided not to stand so they could support Goldsmith? They did it long before the Greens made their announcement.

    Nevertheless, I do accept that if this tactic is used too often, then the public will be frustrated. It’s the sort of thing that should only be used sparingly, and with the reasons given explicitly. One of the main reasons for standing aside is in the pursuit of a voting system that means that tactical voting becomes unnecessary.

    The other reasons given were that the Greens agreed with Olney on other issues, especially Europe which is the single biggest danger to us right now – with considerable environmental consequences. No doubt it helped that Sarah is a keen cyclist (according to social media).

  • Chris Tanner 6th Dec '16 - 9:41pm

    All the above shows how divided the centre left is over small things relatively speaking while the right remain together in spite of major differences ….their focus is on holding power not winning the arguments….is there a lesson for us and how do we respond….? We have a real non labour alliance forming and yet we still argue over our differences, not what unites us.

  • Greens should have a golden opportunity of a Gain tomorrow at Lancaster University Ward, 2015 only 50/100 behind Labour, with us nowhere. On present trends we should pick up, Labour hold and the Greens fall back, but let us see.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Dec '16 - 1:37pm

    A lot of sense on this thread.

    We must see some of the Greens as allies sometimes, but only then put aside differences.

    Caroline Lucas is their leader in a seat we stand no chance of winning.

    We should let her have free run of her seat.

    Job done .

  • This is probably the most riduclous headline and one of the most ludicrous articles to have appeared on Lib Dem voice. It’s the Green parties business to elect Green MPs they have managed it once. Lets concentrate on electing Lib Dem MPs we have a much better track record of achieving.

  • If a by-election comes up where both Labour and Libdems agree not to field a candidate and the Green / Progressive candidate can defeat the Conservative and UKIP candidates, please …

  • Stephen Yolland 12th Dec '16 - 1:18pm

    We are NOT a bloody “centre party”!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • nigel hunter
    Beware the UK alt right press .It is in their interest to devide and conquer to keep Johnson in power.REMEMBER jOHNSON SAYS THAT THE TELEGRAPH IS HIS 'BOSS'.iF ...
  • TonyH
    Fantastic news about Dobbie Aldridge. My city couldn't have a better Lord Provost, and on a personal level I'm thrilled for one of the nicest, most hard-working...
  • Jane Ann Liston
    Ian Sanderson it was James II in 1457 who banned golf (and football) because it took people away from practising archery. James III and then James IV also banne...
  • Brad Barrows
    @Martin I’m surprised you do not see the situation with Kosovo as relevant to the discussion. NATO chose to use force against Serbia - without UN authority -...
  • Mick Scholes
    The facebook page for the Tiverton & Honiton by election is below. Lots if very useful information plus photos of the team in action. BUT, I understand we...