Yet almost 50,000 votes were cast for the Socialist Labour Party and No2EU. Together they amounted to just 3% of the vote – nowhere near enough to make a positive impact. The plain fact is that had even a minority of that left wing vote gone to the Greens we would not be waking up to the fact that the North West is sending a fascist to the European parliament. This was a completely unjustifiable indulgence by sections of the left.Underpinning this is the naive assumption electoral support for political parties can be wielded like trade union block votes. Had No2EU avoided the North West, then all or a good proportion of those votes would have been drawn to the Greens. But is is never as simple as that.
Cast your minds back to the 2003 Holyrood election. Having served there since the first elections in 1999 and having a good reputation as a leftwing Labour MSP, John McAllion was able to do a deal with the Dundee branch of the Scottish Socialist Party where the latter agreed not to stand against him. However, while the SSP managed to return six MSPs on that occasion McAllion lost his seat to the SNP. Rather than assisting him, in the absence of the SSP voters unexpectedly turned to the nationalists and leaving McAllion high and dry.
Then of course there is my patch, Abbey Green ward in Stoke. Back in 2006 we had a couple of Labour party councillors defect to us just prior to the local elections. After a hard fought campaign the Socialist Party came in third with 508 votes (17%). Labour came second and Stoke BNP leader, Alby Walker, came first. Of course we were blamed for letting the fascists in and splitting the vote, etc. In 2007 and 2008 we did not stand in this ward, so what happened to the SP vote? First, turnout in the ward had risen in the two previous contests where we had also fielded a candidate, and since 2006 it has declined. Second, the Labour vote has been rising since - despite fielding possibly the worst possible candidate - but the BNP's margin of victory has been increasing year on year. In fact the only year their vote share didn't rise was, you guessed it, 2006.
If the voter make up of unambiguously socialist organisations like the SSP and SP is complex, that would be doubly so for No2EU. Sure, there would be a hard left and old Labour component, but because of its Eurosceptic name and relative lack of profile it undoubtedly picked up casual anti-EU voters who might not be au fait with the left wing character of the formation. in Stoke we have some limited evidence from our No2EU stalls - while we did not speak to anyone who said they were going to vote Labour or Green, far more did admit they were going to lend their votes to UKIP and the BNP. It was among this group we had the most canvassing success. Therefore, in relation to the North West there is no telling where our vote could have gone had we stood aside - but I'm pretty sure more would have gone to the BNP or stayed at home than the Greens.
Incidentally, it's interesting to note that the best placed candidate to prevent Griffin from getting a seat was in fact UKIP. They missed out on a second seat by just 900 votes while there was 5,000 between the Greens and the BNP. But alas I've yet to come across anyone condemning the English Democrats for taking votes from them. The same is true for Yorkshire and Humber where the BNP sneaked a seat for Andrew Brons. The Greens polled extremely well, but fell short of a seat by 15,000 votes. However, according to vote block logic had they stood aside Labour would be sending an MEP to Brussels. Again, where are the hoots of outrage?
In short the vote block argument crumbles when lightly chipped by analysis. And yet it remains a persistent feature of political discourse. This is because it lets certain interests off the hook. It's far easier for Labour and others to blame small left wing electoral interventions for letting the BNP in than looking at the glaring political failures closer to home. It's far easier for many Greens to wag their finger at the far left than address their historic refusal to consider joint challenges and/or agreements. And for those tied to 'vote-anyone-but-nazi' campaigning, blaming groups for diluting the anti-fascist vote avoids questioning the viability of their strategy.