Green leader predicts rise in calls for voting reform in May

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DEMANDS for reform to the voting system will grow in the aftermath of May’s General Election, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has predicted.

The Greens have seen a huge surge in membership in recent months and the party is on track to enjoy one of its best ever election nights on May 7 in terms of votes cast.

Green party leader Natalie Bennett (right) and Shan Oakes, Green candidate for Harrogate

Green party leader Natalie Bennett (right) and Shan Oakes, Green candidate for Harrogate

But with those votes spread across the country rather than focused in particular constituencies, the Greens may not get the reward in terms of Westminster seats they think they deserve.

Ms Bennett believes voters will become increasingly frustrated if the growing support for parties outside the main three is not reflected in election results.

She said: “The one certain loser from this election is going to be the first past the post electoral system.

“There is a very high probability that quite a few MPs will be elected with not much more than 25 per cent of the vote.

Green party Leader Natalie Bennett, pictured with Shan Oakes the Green Party Candidate for Harrogate and Knaresborough during her visit to Harrogate....SH10012092b.16th February 2015 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Green party Leader Natalie Bennett, pictured with Shan Oakes the Green Party Candidate for Harrogate and Knaresborough during her visit to Harrogate....SH10012092b.16th February 2015 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

“A lot of the people in the other 75 per cent are going to be asking ‘hang on a minute, what happened there? How did that happen?’

“People have been voting tactically for decades, people have been told to vote for the party or person they dislike the second most to stop the people they really hate getting in and that’s given us the kind of politics we have now.

“Going around the country, in Yorkshire and other places, I meet more and more people saying ‘I’m not going to do that any more, I kind of get that why we are in the mess we are in politically, I’m going to vote for what I believe in.”

The Green Party leader was speaking during a visit to Harrogate supporting Shan Oakes, its candidate for the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat currently held for the Conservatives by Andrew Jones and won from the Lib eral Democrats in 2010.

But the party’s more realistic hopes for breakthroughs in Yorkshire lie in seats such as Sheffield Central and York Central where it hopes to capitalise on high levels of student support and become the main challengers to Labour.

Further afield, Norwich South and Bristol West are considered the Greens’ best hopes of adding to the party’s single MP, Caroline Lucas.

Inspiring young people to vote will be crucial if the Greens are to enjoy success in May and the party has taken hope from the Scottish independence referendum.

“The Scots pretty well showed us the way with an 85 per cent turnout and under-25s voting in the same kind of proportion as the over-60s did.

“There’s a real chance to just utterly break politics wide open at this election and even if we don’t make that big a change the pressure for electoral reform is going to be there and the stronger our vote is the more we can drag politics away from the Ukip direction and into the direction of a humane decent society that cares for the vulnerable and understands the environmental limits.”

Ms Bennett looks set to feature in the leaders’ TV debates ahead of the election after David Cameron insisted it would be unfair to exclude her while inviting Ukip leader Nigel Farage to take part.

The move was widely seen as a tactic to ensure Labour leader Ed Miliband has to defend himself against the Greens as the Prime Minister tries to fend off Ukip.

Ms Bennett insists she is unconcerned that taking votes away from Labour could conbtribute to a Conservative victory.

“The Labour Party might sound a bit different to the Tories but they are still basically committed to the policies of austerity. They are not committed to fundamental reform of the banking sector, they are not committed to the kind of changes we need,” she said.

One of the concerns she does share with her Labour counterpart, however, is the potentially negative impact of recent changes to voter registration rules on the number of people who will be eligible to cast a ballot in May.

“One of my real concerns is that on election day, the election catches fire in the last few weeks, a lot of people turn up at the polling station and find out they are not registered to vote.

“That would be really damaging to our democracy,” Ms Bennett said.