Green Party local election preview: Eastern region
Local elections are right around the corner. Thousands of new councillors are set to enter local government in England and the north of Ireland. Nearly 200 Greens are currently elected to local authorities across the UK. On May 2, both the Green Party of England and Wales and the Green Party in Northern Ireland are hoping to add to their tally.
Bright Green is taking a look at some of the most interesting races for the Greens – highlighting the candidates, reviewing the campaigns, and previewing what could happen on polling day.
We start our Green Party local election previews in the Eastern region.
A fine city
Not long ago, Norwich was touted as the city that would host the Greens’ second MP. In 2010, Adrian Ramsay secured 14.9% of the vote in Norwich South at the General Election. At its peak, Norwich Green Party had fifteen councillors on the city council, as well as seven on Norfolk County Council.
Fast forward to 2016, when Corbyn fever was in full swing. The Greens fell back to holding ten seats in city hall. Two years later, Labour had snatched a further five, with the Greens losing office in each ward it had previously held.
However, a combination of factors mean that 2019 could be see fortunes change.
Norwich normally elects its councillors in thirds. But this year boundary changes mean that the fine city’s voters will be electing three councillors each in uncharacteristic all-out elections. This means that Greens could sneak a councillor or two back into wards where they’ve fallen back over the last three years.
Wards that have gone Green in the past – especially Nelson – have an electorate which is highly engaged in politics. The shift from Green to Labour since 2016 shows how despite a slick local operation and a strong track record voters are susceptible to national trends, even when voting at a local level. In this largely remain voting city (56%-44%), Labour’s fuzziness around Brexit plays heavily into the Greens’ hands.
Of the five wards the Greens have previously held at city level, the party has a good shot at winning back councillors in three of them. Two span the city centre – Mancroft and Thorpe Hamlet. The third – Nelson – lies in the city’s ‘Golden Triangle’, an area with a high density of students, house shares and young families.
On a good day, the Greens could win three seats in each of these wards, and return nine councillors to city hall. More likely, the party will see five elected – two in Nelson, two in Mancroft, and the fifth in Thorpe Hamlet. That would see the party send former and current councillors back onto the council and secure the party’s place in Norwich’s politics for the future.
60 miles south
We venture south now – leaving Norfolk, passing through Suffolk, and stopping in the Essex town of Colchester. Not traditionally viewed as hotbed of radicalism, the Borough Council has see-sawed between Conservative and Liberal Democrat control – with the latter often being propped up by Labour.
The Greens have never before held a seat on the council, despite running a near to full slate of candidates for many years. In 2018, the Greens came close to bucking that trend, but ultimately fell short by what was likely down to the cruelty of election luck. Just eleven votes separated their candidate – Mark Goacher – from the Conservatives in Castle ward. That built on an almost equally strong result from 2016, when Greens was shy by twenty votes.
Castle ward is in the centre of Colchester, covering its town centre. Historically, it has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold, but its voters have opted for Conservatives in recent years.
In 2019, the Greens are hopeful of finally taking the seat. Doing so would be a major victory – not only in getting the first Green representation on the council – but also in that the incumbent is the current leader of the Conservative group.
A place to change trains, a place with changing politics
Anyone who has lived in or visited East Anglia will be familiar with Peterborough. The city is crucial to the region’s transport network. Travelling by train to much of the North and Midlands requires a change at Peterborough station.
But trains aren’t the only thing changing in Peterborough. The city’s politics is too.
Peterborough’s MP Fiona Onasanya was found guilty of perverting the course of justice in December 2018. She was subsequently suspended from the Labour Party. A recall petition has been automatically triggered, and will close on May 1. That means the day before Peterborough goes to the polls, the first steps in initiating a parliamentary by-election could be underway.
However, change isn’t only afoot at the parliamentary level. Indeed, Peterborough’s council elections have produced interesting results in recent years. The Conservatives took overall control of the city in 2016, retaining their majority of one in the 2018 elections. Despite suffering massive losses across the country, Peterborough is one of the few places to still have representatives from UKIP. And more remarkably still, the rump of the old Liberal party – those who resisted the merger with the SDP that formed the Liberal Democrats in the 1980s – are also represented.
But most interesting for us is that 2018 saw the Greens leap to victory in Orton Waterville ward in 2018. This saw the party pick up its first seat on the council, holding a comfortable majority of nearly 400 votes. Now the party wants to see further success, by getting a second councillor elected in the ward. With both Labour and Liberal Democrats trailing far behind and focusing on other areas, progressive voters are likely to coalesce around the Greens, and double their representation in the council.
The outlook is looking brighter for the Green Party in rural Suffolk, actually.
Mid Suffolk could see as many as 10 Green councillors get elected in May, Babergh will see at least one Green gain, and the new East Suffolk should see us doubling our councillor numbers to 4 (compared to results from Suffolk Coastal and Waveney).
“Despite suffering massive losses across the country, Peterborough is one of the few places to still have representatives from UKIP.”
UKIP has a representative (not representatives) who was elected in 2015 so has not faced an election since. It is not remarkable.