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How green are you?

Mary Southcott examines the lessons from fighting the Greens in Bristol.

When little I played a game whereby one person went out of the room, an object was hidden and then everyone whispered or shouted ‘how green are you?' to indicate how close the object was, until it was found.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Green Party has one MP, two MEPs, two London Assembly members, some former Labour socialist members, and voters who switched to LibDems in protest against the Iraq War, now voting Green against the Coalition Government. Where they go next will depend on Labour, its environmental policies, its own commitment to equality and diversity.

Labour is not as worried as it should be about UKIP, although they take some of their vote, because they believe they can creep into power by UKIP splitting the anti Labour vote. But for all the talk of being the fourth party, UKIP has no MPs. Why is Labour not paying attention to the Greens, as the UKIP of the left, taking votes from Labour, breaking out of the straitjacket of first past the post and playing its games?

In 2012, Chuka Umunna came to Bristol to help Marvin Rees, Labour's candidate for Mayor. He said “the Greens are the new LibDems” – they can say anything because they are never going to be in power to implement their policies. Then I saw the Green leaflets – bar charts everywhere pointing to the 2011 results on the back of the Tesco riots. The Green candidates, now councillors, were both white men, whereas Labour and LibDems put up diversity candidates. I started to think of Greens as ‘Whites' and believe they attracted white voters who saw the diversity of the ward as a problem. Since the result was narrow – 85 Labour voters not voting tactically for the Greens would have reversed the result. I believe that either an active independent – we had a paper one – or a UKIP candidate would have reduced the Green's majority to zero.

Yet in Lewis Baston's Progress analysis of the seats Labour needs to win a majority – the Green party was not mentioned – where Labour is not up against Tories it is the Green Party which makes the difference.

Labour parties up and down the country are looking at a seamless campaign through the European to the General Elections. The Green Party have their best results outside London and South East in the South West. Labour did disastrously in 2009, polling over a quarter million votes fewer than the Greens, neither getting MEPs. Labour may eat into the LibDem vote but the Greens will surely take theirs. The strategy which worked for 2010 that the Greens will damage the LibDems by splitting the anti Labour vote will not work in 2014 or 2015.

What we have demonstrated in Ashley (which contains the St Paul's polling districts) is precisely the opposite – the Greens took our vote either on principle or, as they said on the door, because Labour stood no chance—and Labour supporters should vote for them tactically to get rid of the LibDems. This is particularly appealing in a two nation seat where those living in more opulent areas have little contact with the inner city, its diversity and its poverty, its tendency to vote Labour when engaged, registered and encouraged to vote.

So is there a Green Watch looking at Brighton, Bristol, Norwich, Oxford and Cambridge? The Greens are not all watermelons with red insides. They have earned the name trustafarians to distinguish them from other inhabitants of the inner city. There is an element of green voting where people no longer have basic material concerns.

A friend in Brighton says Greens are predominantly white/middle class, very old Labour, chattering classes, fairly affluent libertarian conservatives who like to show a superficial Sunday colour supplement gloss of social concern, and all-day-long odd-balls who in another part of the country might have joined UKIP. They do precise targeting of wards and attract lots of young people and students as they have in Bristol.

So now that we have given the Greens PR and Supplementary Vote, which make their votes count, and they have learned to work the current system, why don't we introduce STV in local government or allow pilots, especially were unitaries have all out elections and/or they have an elected mayor? And why don't we make more of our green credentials – sustainability was one reason many voted for Ed Miliband?