The Green vote increased four-fold nationally, while her own majority swelled from narrow to secure, yet in every interview following her re-election as MP, Caroline Lucas faced the same question: where was the surge? After all the expectation, why still just one Green MP?
It was that sort of night for the party, officially led by Natalie Bennett but still destined to be publicly associated with Lucas. She became the first Green MP in 2010 and, in the party’s one truly stunning result of Thursday night, boosted her majority from 1,252 to a shade under 8,000 in Brighton Pavilion.
The Greens secured their best-ever general election result – more than 1.1 million votes overall, just under 4% of the total and hugely up on the 285,000 seen in 2010.
But aside from Lucas, many of these votes went to creditable losers, among them Bennett, who increased Green support in the inner London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras by 10% but was still third behind Labour and the Conservatives.
While the bulk of Green resources were poured into Brighton – at once point Lucas had 300 volunteers pounding the streets and knocking on doors – the party had high hopes for Bristol West, especially after exit polls predicted a two-seat total. In the end, Darren Hall trailed the winning Labour candidate by more than 5,000 votes.
Hall was among four second-places finishes for the Greens. More encouraging for the party, the others of these took place outside their traditional strongholds, in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.
Lucas blamed a “broken” electoral system for the lack of a parliamentary breakthrough: “I think it’s a real travesty over a million people voted Green up and down the country and yet that’s been translated into just one seat so I’m feeling fairly confident that as a result of what we’ve seen tonight there will be a real movement outside of parliament, a real anger for people wanting voting reform.”
She rejected the idea of taking back the Green leadership, saying Bennett had done an extraordinary job in securing such a large national vote, and overseeing a rise in party membership in England and Wales from about 12,000 to 63,000, which she called “a surge by any computation”.
Lucas’s own election night was long and occasionally fraught. After a massive ground campaign Green officials were publicly bullish about her chances, but the smiles became more strained as the clock crept towards 7am. They need not have worried: Lucas trounced the Labour hopeful, Purna Sen, eventually winning almost 42% of the vote.
“Five years ago I stood here and said we had made history here in Brighton,” Lucas said to loud cheers inside the Brighton Centre conference venue. “But tonight we’ve gone further.”
Aside from a new and unlikely seeming informal alliance with Ukip over electoral reform, Lucas promised to be a prominent voice opposing what she called “another five years of horrendous Tory cuts”.
Lucas had tough words also for Labour’s campaign. She said: “They themselves engaged in some politics of fear. I think that they failed to show a bold enough vision of a more positive future for this country.
“I think here in Brighton, again, they were throwing things at the Greens. It was a difficult campaign. It was number 19 on their national hit list, they very much wanted the seat back but I think here in Brighton Pavilion we kept a resolutely positive campaign and I think people do respond to that.”
The Greens now face the potential opportunity of a post-Ed Miliband Labour party shifting away from the left, giving them more political space. But equally, as the election shows, it is now up to Lucas – and, especially, Bennett – to prove they are not a one-woman band.
This article was written by Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th May 2015 15.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010