No Sense for Plaid and Greens to Compete for Votes in Wales
The fracturing of British politics sits unhappily with the ‘first past the post’ system, and calls for tactical voting choices although the best tactics to achieve an individual voter’s desired outcome are hidden in a web of variables. In Wales there are now six main parties at the time of writing, the Green Party and UKIP having joined the line-up of Labour, Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats.
Votes translate into seats only when one party achieves dominance within a constituency. Labour, for decades the default party in Wales, won 65% of seats in 2010, the Conservatives won 20% , and the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru won 7.5% each.
Voting intentions as measured by ICM/BBC Wales between September 19th and 22nd 2014 show that UKIP and the Greens both have supporters, although their chances of a seat depend on how concentrated they are. If they were clustered within specific constituencies, they could spring upsets, UKIP especially, because the poll showed that 16% of electors back the party, eight times more than the 2% who said they would vote Green.
Labour’s electoral performance is so good because support is concentrated in the South Wales Valleys and the North East, the former mining and industrial areas. With 39% support, come May 2015 Labour would achieve a heavier haul of seats than their degree of support would seem to warrant. The other parties are disadvantaged in the first past the post system because their support is more dispersed.
The Conservatives would probably come away with fewer seats than their support, 23% in the September poll, would suggest is likely, and so would Plaid Cymru, with 13% support at the time. Plaid’s ongoing efforts to broaden the party’s appeal throughout Wales are handicapped by first past the post, by the winner-takes-all system which we use for so many elections, including to the Westminster Parliament.
Support for the LibDems has ebbed away, to 5% in the September poll, and it will be tough for them to retain their three seats in Wales. The elephant in the polling booth is UKIP, which sprinted from nowhere to 16% of electors. Demographic changes in rural Wales, which attracts comfortably-off retirees from all over Great Britain, favour the UKIP offering of messages coated in cosy nostalgia.
‘Alternative’ communities attracting green-minded people are also well represented in rural Wales, although their residents are lower in number. The Green Party is less popular in Wales than in England, with voter support at about 2% compared with 5%-7%, but it is a competitor for Plaid Cymru particularly, because the majority of policies overlap, and already in Westminster Plaid Cymru and the Green Party work together with the SNP.
Until we have a more equitable electoral system, I cannot see the sense of Plaid and the Greens fighting each other for votes, when the result of voting Green is most unlikely to result in any seat won in Wales, but would make it more difficult for Plaid to retain its seats – purely because the eco-minded Greens tend to move into the rural areas which in the recent past have chosen Plaid MPs.
There is a strong precedent for co-operation. Cynog Dafis was the UK’s first ‘Green’ MP, elected on a joint Plaid Cymru-Green ticket in 1992, and he represented Ceredigion for eight years. The two parties do not agree on everything, any more than each party’s members share the same policy priorities, but they are both left of centre parties focused on social justice and co-operative economics, and aware that policies must recognise the realities of finite resources and climate change.
Is it too much to hope for electoral co-operation before next May?