In the second round of the Mayoral elections in Innsbruck, Austria on may 6, Innsbruck elected a brand new Green Party mayor. Austria has had a growing green political presence since their first electoral successes in 1986 and have been growing as a political force in local, national, and European elections steadily over the past decade. In 2013, they won their largest share of the national vote, with 12.4 per cent, giving them 24 seats in the Nationalrat.
In the 2016 Austrian Presidential election, Green candidate Van der Bellen became the first Green president in Austrian history after winning a second-round recount with 53.79 per cent of the vote. In 2014, they won 14 per cent of the vote in European elections, almost doubling their vote count from 2009. However, their national vote share in 2017 was hit significantly after party leader Peter Pilz left the party over sexual harassment allegations, alongside a handful of others.
Compare this to the UK’s record of the Green Party; their European success peaked at 15 per cent of the vote in 1989 and has now declined to 7.6 per cent of the vote. They had their best general election results in 2015, with just over a million votes (3.8 per cent), which then dropped to 500,000 in the 2017 snap election — though we can attribute this partially to the resurgence of two-party politics and the polarisation that has occurred post-Brexit.
They have recently experienced their best ever haul in last week’s local elections, finishing with 39 councillors, a net gain of eight seats. They grew their share of the vote, arguably because of their anti-Brexit strategy, rather than their green policies, but this is still welcome progress for the Greens. Though the attraction of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party for young voters has cost them some support, they managed to increase their local vote share — in an electoral system they claim to be incredibly biased against smaller parties.
Caroline Lucas is perhaps one of the driving forces behind the growing presence of the Green Party in the UK over the past number of years. She has become a renowned politician within political circles; she put in a fiery performance at the leaders debate prior to the 2017 general election; and has become somewhat of a sensation online, with videos of her appearances on TV frequently going viral.
She has been an MP for Brighton Pavilion since 2010, increasing her majority in 2015 and 2017 and won the award for Politician of the Year in the Observer Ethical Awards in 2007, 2008, and 2010 respectively.
So this begs the question: why did her party fail to make any significant gains in last year’s general election? And why is the Green Party never seen as a viable option for government in Britain? The 2017 general election saw young people flock in droves to the Labour Party, though this doesn’t really explain the poor electoral performance of the Green Party in UK general elections.
One explanation often pointed to is the electoral system. In the UK, the First Past The Post (FPTP) system heavily favours larger parties and is part of the reason that two-party politics has been so entrenched in Britain for so many years. It tends to discourage voters from choosing alternatives to Labour or Conservative candidates, being seen in many places as throwing away your vote — given that any vote not cast for the winning party essentially becomes a wasted vote.
On the other hand, in Austria, national elections are run on a Proportional Representation system, which tends to encourage voters to choose third parties as no vote is a truly wasted one. The voting age in Austria is also 16, compared to 18 in the UK, and younger voters tend to be more likely to vote Green.
This clip from BBC News from a few years back really gives an insight into why the Green Party are not seen as a viable electoral alternative for many people. The condescending way in which they describe and discuss Green politics and policies — often dismissing them as either achievable or affordable — is apparent. The clip also gives a great insight into why Lucas has been successful as a Green politician. She quickly dismisses the idea that their policies are unworkable and challenges the hosts over statements that people don’t know what they are voting for.
With the current hyper-partisan political climate in the UK, combined with the FPTP voting system, it is unlikely that we will see the Green Party experience the same kind of significant electoral success as they have in Austria. However, Austria demonstrates that with a truly representative voting system, the Greens can be a viable electoral option.
Perhaps, if we see electoral reform in the UK in the next decade, we could see more Green MPs in Parliament.
By Josh Hamilton
Editor at www.thejist.co.uk