The Greens have been rising in the polls in the last few months and in one recent poll had pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place in the national share of the vote. UKIP have been making waves as insurgents on the right. Will the Greens be able to do so on the left in time for 2015?
This is one of those political questions that at present can be answered briefly: no. At least, not without some remarkable shifts in public opinion, of which there are no signs at present.
The Greens do not start from a strong platform. They currently hold one seat at Westminster (Brighton Pavilion) and in 2010 they saved their deposits in only six other seats: Norwich South, Cambridge, Lewisham Deptford, Brighton Kemptown, Hove and Edinburgh East (in descending order of vote share).
A full list of the Greens' performance in 2010 is given here (prepared by AndyJS of politicalbetting, and I am very grateful for his hard work):
It is generally a grim story for the Greens, and emphasises how far they need to travel for further electoral success.
They do only slightly better at the local level, with 162 councillors on 56 councils in England & Wales:
Note the number of councils on which they have councillors. This is not a good thing for getting Parliamentary seats on a first past the post basis. Nuclei of councilors are much more promising for that. The Greens proudly boast of being the official opposition in (among others) Islington and Lewisham, but in both they have only one councillor against a monolithic bloc of Labour councillors. These are not obvious bases for a path to power.
That said, the Greens now have substantial blocs of councillors on the following councils: Brighton (21 - the largest grouping, and leading the council), Norwich (16), Solihull (ten), Bristol (six, where they participate in the council leadership), Edinburgh (six), Oxford (six), Glasgow (five) and Kirklees (five). They also have two London Assembly members, both of whom have substantial London-wide profiles.
The Greens also have a reasonably large activist base. They now have 20,000 members in England and Wales and over 7,000 in Scotland, boosted in the latter case dramatically by converts in the wake of the independence referendum. By way of comparison, UKIP are approaching 40,000 members across the UK while the Lib Dems are just above that mark. In Scotland, the Greens certainly have more members than the Lib Dems and may even be approaching the tally of Scottish Labour (though they are far behind the SNP's 80,000 members).
The Greens lack cash and lack the ready access to media coverage that the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and even UKIP have. They are set to be excluded from all three TV debates (though the Conservatives chivalrously for their own reasons are advocating their inclusion and there may yet be a legal challenge to this).
These are the seats that the Greens are saying that they're targeting in England and Wales:
So, with that preamble, let's have a look at the Green battleground:
Yes, I've included every best price where the Greens are at 50/1 or shorter. Yes, it's a really short list. They're shorter than 25/1 in only three seats.
There are related markets. Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power all allow you to bet on the number of Green seats. Your best price at present on no Green seats is evens with Ladbrokes, your best price on exactly one seat is 7/5 with William Hill, and your best price on two or more seats is 5/1 with William Hill, though you might like the look of the 6/1 on 2-5 seats with Ladbrokes better. The 1/7 with Paddy Power on under 1.5 seats represents better value than combining Ladbrokes' evens on no seats and William Hills' 7/5 on one seat.
If you really think that the Greens will get six or more seats, first have your temperature taken and second ignore Ladbrokes' not particularly generous 25/1 offering and play the constituency markets instead where there is better value.
What of the seats themselves? The punters reckon that there are three serious-ish prospects: Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Bristol West.
In Brighton Pavilion, the July 2014 constituency poll for Lord Ashcroft found Labour 1% ahead of the Greens (33%: 32%). The controversies of the Green-led council do not seem to have particularly harmed Caroline Lucas' chances of re-election. It looks like a complete toss-up. I'm steering clear of betting on this seat this time, having no particular inside information. The current prices look fair to me as an outsider.
You also can't assume that if the Greens win, say, Norwich South that they will also retain Brighton Pavilion. While they are related contingencies, the relationship is fairly weak - kissing cousins at least.
Moving on to Norwich South, the Greens tallied a healthy 15% of the vote in 2010 and have a longstanding presence on the council. Lord Ashcroft found that they are now in second place in July, some way adrift of Labour though (33%: 20%). There would still need to be a substantial swing from Labour for the Greens to take this seat, so I caution punters not to get over-excited. With the poll also showing the Conservatives, UKIP and the Lib Dems all polling in double figures, this could be a five way marginal. That means that the total vote share required to take the seat could once again be in the 20s, making it easier for a niche party like the Greens to win.
The tactical voting could be interesting - Conservatives backing the Lib Dem incumbent to keep out Labour, Conservatives voting Labour to keep out the Greens, Lib Dems voting Green to keep out Labour, Kippers voting Conservative to try to thwart progressives of many stripes. And so on.
Anyway, I tipped the Greens in Norwich South at 25/1 earlier in the year here:
The best price now is 5/1. That's short enough, I'd say.
I have to say I don't really understand the 10/1 in Bristol West. The push on this price is evidently based on local knowledge of what's happening there, but I'd want very good information before backing the Greens at that price there. They contested this seat in 2010 and lost their deposit. Since then the Greens have built up a seat base on Bristol council, but it's nothing amazing.
What of the longer shots? Well, there are actually a couple that are worth thinking about. The Greens didn't stand in Solihull in 2010, but they've had a few good years in this area. The Greens are the main opposition on Solihull council to the Conservatives (note, Solihull Council covers two constituencies, Solihull and Meriden) and one of their long-standing councillors is standing for them in the Solihull constituency. The candidate has an interesting history, having defected from the Lib Dems in protest at the formation of the Westminster coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, so he's perfectly placed to pick up on the anti-coalition votes in the constituency. Labour took over a quarter of the vote share in 2001 (albeit on slightly different boundaries), so there must be a substantial anti-coalition vote in the seat. It's a knife edge marginal between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, and UKIP may well take a bite out of the Conservative vote. It's unlikely that the Greens will take the seat, but with a well-placed candidate in a marginal seat (again lowering the vote share that the Greens would need to take the seat), it doesn't look inconceivably unlikely to me. I'm on at 33/1. It's now 25/1 and that may still be worth considering.
It's more likely that a good Green performance will hand this seat to the Conservatives. But I'll come back to the secondary effects of an improved Green performance in a separate post.
The Greens, off the back of their recent Scottish surge, are making Edinburgh East their one Scottish target seat (see halfway down this admittedly boosterish piece):
They saved their deposit here in 2010 (as they did in 2005) and will be hopeful of a much better performance next year. The Green candidate is the rector of Edinburgh University and there is a large student vote in the constituency (note that if the election is in May next year, that will be in university term time). The incumbent is a pretty anonymous Labour MP, and neither the SNP who finished second last time out nor the Lib Dems who finished third have yet selected candidates.
I got on this at 33/1 and it's probably still worth it at 25/1, given the footsoldiers that Scottish Greens now have at their disposal. The SNP might conceivably quietly give their fellow Yessers a free run at this one seat, soft-pedalling their own efforts in return for the Greens not queering their pitch in other seats. Will the Greens win? Probably not - but it's a bit less improbable than 25/1.
Otherwise, I'm keeping my money in my pocket. Of more general interest is what an increased Green vote might do to the battlegrounds in seats where they stand no real chance. But that needs to be the subject of another post.