On its second day in Cambridge, the Green party’s battle bus, a red and green Routemaster running on cooking oil, was joined in its campaigning by party leader Natalie Bennett.
Bennett’s return to Cambridge less than three weeks after her last visit indicates just how desperate the party is to win this seat, and how crucial the student vote is to the Green party’s electoral prospects.
Local candidate Rupert Read is all too aware of this – in a quiet discussion about this week’s election, he said: “If the students really turn out, our votes could go through the roof. Are they going to? We don’t know - they’re students.”
The situation is the same across the Green party’s target seats. Natalie Bennett didn’t have a lot of time following her talk before she had to dash off for an event in Bristol. Still, she is remaining upbeat even in these last few days of what she calls “a truly amazing, exciting election campaign”, taking care to emphasise the extent to which party support has grown in recent months and remind the assembled voters (and media) that a Green vote would not be a wasted one. “By voting Green, you’ve got a chance to show whoever is the next Prime Minister just how much climate change matters to you… Every Green vote is going to count. Every Green vote will strengthen our message.”
Even so, the turnout from locals and the press impressed Read. After Bennett’s address to voters on the environment had finished and the media had swept in for interviews, he remarked, quietly: “There’s a real, massive buzz, a media frenzy… I’d have shaved if I’d have known there’d be the national media here.” He did, however, admit to liking his stubble, claiming that it gave him “an edge”.
In interview before Bennett arrived, Read explained that the party feels confident that whatever the situation following 7th May, they’ll have some kind of involvement within the next government: “We’re hoping there’s going to be a bunch of Green MPs elected. However few or many Green MPs there are, we’ll be working with the other anti-austerity parties, Plaid Cymru and the SNP especially as part of a sort of informal bloc potentially negotiating with Labour. I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll form a full coalition government. What’s much more likely is some kind of informal arrangement, maybe a so-called confidence and supply arrangement where we would take things as they come and we wouldn’t have any ministerial cards but we would make sure that we retained our independence and our consciences.”
So, not like the Lib Dems in 2010, then.
He continued: “Hopefully we’ll be talking with whoever’s forming a government and what we are hoping for is that there’ll be some kind of Ed Miliband-led minority government which will rely on these other parties for support. It’s absolutely clear that there’s going to be no one party in control – I think everyone knows that now – so it matters who those smaller parties are and hopefully the Greens will be in there.” There would be conditions, though; the Greens and Labour aren’t a perfect fit, after all. Supporting Labour is, according to Read, “the most likely scenario. If he’s up for making some serious concessions. We’re not interested in supporting him just regardless, we’re interested in supporting him if he’s interested in making concessions on austerity, on Trident, on electoral reform. These are some of our key issues.”
The party may be keen to support a minority Labour government, but Read was (naturally) strongly against the idea of tactical voting in swing seats such as Cambridge. After explaining that Labour could be worked with on an informal basis, he went on to proclaim that “unless we vote for what we believe in, nothing’s ever going to get better”, calling Labour “completely old-fashioned” and explaining that they “just don’t understand” about planetary limits and economic growth. This union would hardly be like the slick partnership we saw in the early days of the 2010 coalition.
Especially not if Natalie Bennett has anything to do with it. When I asked her about Russell Brand’s endorsement of Ed Miliband, she gave a frustrated sigh before answering: “I think that’s very disappointing and I think it’s worth remembering that he’s just endorsed a man who in the Question Time event last week actually promised, indeed almost boasted, that he was the first Labour leader ever to be going into an election planning to cut key services”, continuing with a repetition of her austerity-lite, austerity-heavy mantra.
Clearly, the Greens aren’t planning on offering Labour an olive branch any time soon.