The European Elections: Greens attempt to cultivate the protest vote: Sandra Barwick visits Walthamstow to report on the fortunes of a party that may face humiliation in the poll

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The Independent Online
The Green Party candidate, Jean Lambert, had strategically placed herself on the steps to Walthamstow Central station between a bicycle and a lost-dog notice. Is the Green Party also lost? The polls are forecasting humiliation, a 1 or 2 per cent share of the vote.

Last time, in their days of glory, the Greens came third, with 25,949 votes, 18.4 per cent, in this poor, badly housed urban Euro- constituency. The national share was 15 per cent, the highest Green vote in Europe. This time, who knows? Not the candidates. The task of carrying out overall door- step canvass returns is too big for a small party.

'The street stalls are getting a fairly positive response.' said Ms Lambert, who has spent the last five years on the European Greens' executive in the European Parliament. 'It's enough to make you feel comfortable.'

The swell of commuters coming out of the Underground into the evening heat looked drained and blank. Most brushed past the proffered leaflets, printed, of course, on recyled paper. This area, said Ms Lambert, has the lowest turnout in elections of anywhere in the UK. But a few accepted them with a smile.

Alastair Smith, in his early thirties, was one of those. He works for the housing charity Shelter. He voted Green in the last Euro-election and will again.

'It's partly to register a protest at the absence of Green policies.' he said. 'At a general election I don't vote Green. I would probably vote Labour.'

Several young men said much the same, suggesting that the Green vote may hold in a European election at least the same level as at the local elections, around 5 per cent, nearly 10 per cent in London, rather than the dismal 1.3 per cent at the last general election.

All had voted Green last time and will vote Green again, largely to bring pressure on the main parties to put the issue higher in their manifestoes. They saw Green policies as particularly apt in the European Parliament. 'If I thought the Green Party was going to win it might be different.' said Mark Hansford, a chartered surveyor. 'I'd think - hang on a bit - I've got to find out more about them.'

Few know anything more of Green policies. At one point two vague young men with dreamy big smiles passed the Green team at Walthamstow Central. 'They might be interested,' said Ms Lambert, 'in the fact that the Green party believes that the possession of small quantities of cannabis should be legalised.'

London North East is a Labour stronghold, with a majority of 47,767, giving those who vote Labour in a general election the freedom to emphasise a single issue. The party is said both by the Greens and by some in the Labour Party to be picking up some discontented Conservative voters. The party's anti-Maastricht stance, which some of the Green candidates are emphasising in their leaflets, may also draw some Euro-sceptics.

(Photograph omitted)