Are the Greens a “major party” – an objective look at the evidence

Disclosure

In the spirit of openness I should disclose I am a Labour Party member and activist, so I desperately want Labour to win the 2015 general election. I believe the Greens could prevent this, split the left vote in some constituencies and let the Tories or Lib Dems in.

But I am also a proud geek and like to see the correct use of data and evidence, so in the spirit of true geeky scientific enquiry I’m going to try to look at the evidence in a non-partisan way to establish if the Greens can lay claim to being a “major party.”

Feel free to criticise my analysis but if you disagree please do so on objective grounds rather partisan ones.

What is a major party?

Ofcom determine which are the major parties to determine how the number of party election broadcasts are drawn up. This is the definition of major party that has upset the Greens and their supporters, so I will stick with that.

According to the Ofcom consultation document they look at past political support (i.e. 2010 general election and other elections since) and current political support (i.e. current opinion polls). That seems a fair enough way of looking at things: how things were at the 2010 election and how things have moved on.

Also note that Ofcom look at England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland separately to reflect the very different electoral dynamics in each of the devolved nations. Again this seems fair enough, otherwise if we looked at UK-wide support the nationalist and unionist parties outside of England would not be treated as minor parties on the regional TV in the devolved nations.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru patently deserve a platform similar to Labour on Scottish and Welsh TV respectively, but not in England where they are not fielding any candidates.

The major comparators 

The Greens should be making the case for major party status in their own right but it is helpful if we also compare them with UKIP (who have just been given major party status) and the Lib Dems (who are at similar levels in the opinion polls).

Past support – General Election 2010

In 2010, the Greens had 1.0% of the vote and won one Westminster seat in England. By comparison the Lib Dems had 23.0% of the vote and won 57 seats; and UKIP had 3.5% of the vote share and won no seats. On this basis the Greens have no claim to major party status based on past support in 2010, but then again neither do UKIP.

Past support – other elections (including European elections)

Here, UKIP clearly did well in the 2014 European elections (and the council elections that ran concurrently) getting the highest share of the vote (27.5%) and 24 MEPs. The Greens had 7.8% of the vote with three MEPs. The Lib Dems got 6.9% of the vote and got one MEP.

Is 7.8% of the vote and three MEPs enough for the Greens to claim major party status? Let’s take a look at this in the round. They won one seat each in three of the nine English regions, giving them three out of 60 MEPs in England. It is a big stretch to claim this very modest result gives them claim to major party status. But then again applying this criteria the Lib Dems can’t claim to be a major party.

Current support – opinion polls

But the Green surge in the opinion polls surely gives them a strong argument, doesn’t it? The Green’s opinion poll support has gone up in recent times and is around the same level as the Lib Dems (or sometimes higher) at about 8%.

Is 8% opinion poll support enough to be called a major party? Again it seems a bit of a stretch to say it does.

But wait!

The Lib Dems have this level of support and do have major party status. If the Lib Dems get major party status surely the Greens should too?

Well the big difference is the Lib Dems are right now a major party because of two very simple facts: they have 57 MPs, and they are one of the parties of government. That alone clearly qualifies the Lib Dems for major party status (though I accept this may change after the general election). But the Greens can’t make anything like this claim with just one MP.

I’d also add that to be considered a major party you need to act like one, and so far in the past 19 Westminster by-election the Greens have not contested seven and lost deposit their in the other 12.

Given the facts above I don’t think it is the Greens who do badly compared to the Lib Dems; it is the Lib Dems who fare well compared to the Greens. If major party status was only based on post 2010 election results and opinion polling (but did not include the 2010 general election results) then the Lib Dems would join the Greens as not being a major party.

A close look at the evidence shows the Greens can’t objectively lay claim to currently being a major party but it is entirely possible Green support could rise to the point where they are a major party in 2020. The real story is not about the Green surge but the Lib Dem plummet. After this election they may well lose their major party status.

Remember this is not meant to be partisan political comment. It is solely meant to be am objective assessment of the relevant evidence. Have I missed anything? Is my logic faulty?

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