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More than just shoots: the Green Party surge in local elections

Photo by Michelle Mendieta Mean.

Whilst much of the media’s attention last weekend was on the Labour Party’s failings at the local elections, Greens up and down the country were marvelling at the party’s successes, taking seat after seat.

Indeed, in all regions of England, from the North East to the South West, as well as in Wales, and in Scotland (which has a separate Green Party), voters increasingly turned to the Greens, many for the first time.

The Greens were in fact the only party to increase their number of local council seats in every region of England. In traditionally stronger areas such as Bristol, Green councillors won 13 seats, and now are the joint-largest party, alongside Labour on 24 seats each. Moreover, in the Bristol Mayoral election, the Green candidate made forced the Labour into a second-round run-off, with the votes split 56.5% to 43.5% to Labour.

Yet the Greens made huge strides everywhere, picking up an extra 85 seats, taking their tally to 151 councillors across England. This is in comparison to a Labour loss of 267 councillors, and a Lib Dem gain of just 3. Now of course, these parties have a far greater number of councillors overall – 1,344 and 588 respectively – yet the fact that the Greens were the only party apart from the Conservatives to make significant gains, should be highlighted and celebrated.

So why is it that Greens are making gains in Sheffield, London, the Isle of Wight, Burnley, Northumberland, Bristol, and so many other places?

The first answer lies in the failures of the Labour Party.

Let us list a few aspects of Labour that voters across the country are turning away from:

  1. Constant internal briefing wars and internecine conflicts;
  2. A leader who fails to challenge and oppose the Government, and to do so in a way that attracts voters;
  3. A party which has seemingly taken voters for granted, which has not outlined to them what it can realistically achieve in opposition, or on the flip side, the extent to which local government has had its funding and powers limited by Tory cuts;
  4. A party without a clear or flexible message to voters across class and social bases. Boris Johnson can attract poor, ‘left-behind’, Brexit-supporting voters in Hartlepool, as well as Range-Rover-driving Waitrose lovers who send their kids to private schools in the leafy surroundings of rural Oxfordshire. These two places are worlds apart in terms of economics, social views, lifestyles, opinions on the EU etc., yet the Tories won their votes with a clear and flexible message.
  5. And lastly, a party that has failed to convince people of its beliefs, of its policies, and fails to does so in language and in ways that ordinary people understand, instead, using language that appeals to those already in the party tent, reaching outside and talking about policies and proposals in simple terms and what it means for peoples’.

And now let us list how the Green Party lives up to its mantra of doing politics differently:

  1. A party not dogged by the century-old splits which occupy so much time, energy and resources.
  2. Two co-leaders, Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley, who, alongside Caroline Lucas as the party’s only MP, challenge the Government in all areas, from corruption to climate, covid to cuts.
  3. A party which can take no areas for granted, due to the fact that it has no ‘my father and his father’ tradition of inherited voting patterns and expectations. Every vote the Greens have to fight for, thus, no voters are taken for granted.
  4. The Greens, it is true, are strongest in Labour, Remain and graduate areas, yet as these elections have shown, the party can take seats from right across the political spectrum: for instance, Greens took the seat of the former Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council. Meanwhile, in last week’s column I mentioned a Green candidate standing in the Red Wall Wirral Council in Merseyside – Harry Gorman won the former Labour seat with 54.5% of the vote, representing a swing of nearly 35% from 2016.
  5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, people know what Greens nationally, and what Green candidates locally, stand for – they know what a Green vote means, what a Green voice says, and what actions a Green politician will take. And what’s more, the Greens don’t give up on voters if they change allegiance, they don’t change policies or move to the centre if they think it’s their radicalism that is losing them votes – they work hard to convince people of the merit and value of their policies.

Thus, even whilst the voting system in this country, at local councillor elections (though not for mayoral and devolved government elections) as well as at Westminster is stacked against the Greens, the party has still been able to make significant gains, even though the likes of Labour and the Lib Dems have struggled.

The even more impressive thing about the Green surge is that the party has no record in government to back itself up with. Labour’s best results were in places where it already held the reins of power and thus could show what it stood for – such as in Wales, Manchester and London; the same goes for the Tories with the likes of the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen.

I’m biased, but when it comes to the likes of Caroline Lucas standing up for the environment, for working people, for minorities in Parliament, or Jonathan Bartley speaking on the BBC during its election coverage at the weekend, and compare that with Keir Starmer sitting in his Westminster office feeling “bitterly disappointed” about the results, or Boris Johnson getting photo opportunities in northern constituencies without actually answering questions directly, I see no contest.

Bartley’s clarity and directness are such refreshing additions to politics in this country. Here’s what he said on Newsnight about the Greens’ policies: “We want to see tackling the climate emergency, we want to see affordable public transport, we want to see a universal basic income to lift people out of poverty… let’s have the decent warm homes that the government has now ditched, getting rid of its Green Homes Grant.”

Even more so, Bartley goes on to strike at the heart of what makes the Greens different, a party which is increasingly threatening the Lib Dem’s long-held third-party status: “Both of these parties [Labour and Conservative] are basically saying we want to have power, now what is the prospectus we can offer to the electorate in order to give us that power. We’re coming from a completely different perspective; electoral politics for us is a means to an end, tackling the climate emergency, dealing with inequality, making this country a welcoming place for refugees…”

ACTION: This one’s simple – join the Green Party! Membership fees are really cheap for students, and in becoming a member, you’ll join the 52,000 people who not only believe in, but strive for, a better society for the planet and its people.

Pura vida,