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Greens spot window of opportunity in Brighton | Marek Kohn

Brighton's windows are plastered with Green posters, but it's still an open race as voters wrestle with tactical choices

If windows were votes, Caroline Lucas would be borne to Westminster this Friday on the kind of majority rarely seen these days outside North Korea. On a 10-minute walk through the south of Brighton this morning, my tally of households displaying election posters was Conservative, 0; Lib Dem, 2; Labour, 3; Greens, 26. All over downtown Brighton, the splashes of fluorescent green are making houses look as though they're wearing high-visibility vests.

But windows aren't votes, and southern Brighton is only half of the Pavilion constituency. Whether Lucas succeeds in becoming Britain's first Green MP depends on several different questions. One is how big the core Green vote now is – how many people will vote Green out of conviction. Another is how successfully the Conservative candidate, Charlotte Vere, has campaigned in the northern suburbs. A third is whether the Liberal Democrat, Berni Millam, will take more votes from the Tories or the centre-left parties. The last, and possibly the decisive one, is how centre-left voters will make their tactical choices between Lucas and the Labour candidate, Nancy Platts.

Moreover, my strong hunch is that it's "will make", not "have made". If my neighbours and friends are anything to go by, much of the town is still wrestling with which way to call it. And behind not a few of those green-splashed windows, I suspect, there are houses divided, with one partner leaning towards the Greens and the other sticking with Labour.

The underlying issue – apart from us being fretful liberals who can't make our minds up – is there simply isn't adequate information to make a sound tactical choice. There are no recent, reliable opinion polls. The most up-to-date figures come from the bookies. The balance of the circumstantial evidence, including the Greens' own ICM poll from last December putting them ahead, and their steady advance on the city council to the point where they have as many councillors as Labour, points to Lucas as the safer bet for an anti-Tory tactical vote. But in an election where Sky News has national opinion polls rotating continuously on its screen, the lack of local data is like finding oneself without a mobile signal. We're at a loss for what to do.

This is why the window posters really matter. The Greens have realised that in the absence of sound figures, impressions are vital. On the bank holiday afternoon, the bustling North Laine area was thick with Greens handing out even more fliers. Their success in owning downtown Brighton, the city's centre of gravity, is a huge propaganda victory over Labour. In residential streets, their election workers have been homing in on isolated Labour posters, monstering them by persuading neighbouring householders to sport Green ones.

Perhaps the air of unreality whipped up by this fluorescent carnival will encourage voters to look at what the candidates are actually offering. The key difference between Lucas and Platts could be seen most clearly in their comments on education during Sunday's BBC Politics Show South East.

Lucas said what so many parents want to hear: that what people want is for their local school to be a good school. She didn't talk about local schools here in Brighton, though. All through her campaign, she has seemed to me only minimally concerned to make connections with this constituency. Sure, it could be the Greens' platform for national politics, but it's also where we live.

By contrast, Platts confirmed that she is a hard-working local politician who has made it her business to get to know the constituency she hopes to represent. She name-checked a couple of local schools, and noted the problem that they are not evenly spread around the city. But she also suggested that it could be hard to find space for a new secondary school – without admitting that there used to be another one, which was closed down (after an expensive refurbishment) on the then Labour council's watch.

And she also said that she was "really proud of the achievement of schools in Brighton and Hove". Proud that Brighton and Hove's secondary schools perform not only worse than the national average at GCSE level, but worse than schools in deprived inner-city London boroughs like Lewisham and Lambeth? Proud that, according to the local Argus newspaper, the city is 127th out of 152 local authorities on GCSE results? While she has signalled a certain degree of independence from the Labour elite nationally, her view of the city's schools suggests that she is lined up four-square with the Labour establishment locally.

Despite Charlotte Vere's enthusiasm for getting parents to run schools instead of councils, she's not really at one with her own party's leadership either. A recent arrival on the Brighton political scene, after the previous Tory candidate's resignation, Vere isn't one of these Cameronian "look, we're sorry, we've changed" Tories. If politicians were cars, Vere is pretty much what the Thatcher model would look like after 30 years of development. She may not be the best candidate to win over centrist voters who might be drifting towards the Liberal Democrats.

Yet, if the centre-left vote splits down the middle, she may end up representing this mainly left-of-centre constituency. A win for Caroline Lucas, on the other hand, would be one step towards an electoral system that would allow people to vote for the candidates they prefer, instead of forcing them to expend their political energies trying to guess what everyone else is going to do. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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