Newly elected Young Green councillors
Image credit: Young Greens

The 2019 local elections were a landmark for the Greens. The party more than doubled its seats and broke into 50 new councils, prompting a green wave that saw over 500 members sign up in a day. Caught up in the current were seven successful young green candidates, set to shake up the middle aged, middle class world of local politics.

As they celebrated their success and prepared to take up their positions, Bright Green spoke to four of the country’s youngest new councillors.

Playing it positive in Brighton

Brighton and Hove Green Party didn’t just stand one young candidate, but had five hopefuls across the city who were all under 25.

Amy Heley – who won her seat in Preston Park with over 1,500 votes more than her closest non-Green rival – said voters were “pleasantly surprised” to see someone of her age as a candidate.

She said:

Most people I spoke to appreciated the fact that we needed more young people involved with politics at all levels – one resident even said I was Brighton’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, which is the greatest compliment of them all!

Speaking to young people – even if they weren’t of voting age – was one of the most rewarding elements of the campaign for Amy.

The 23-year-old said:

Some of my favourite conversations involved parents calling down their children to speak to me.

The power of positive engagements like this is a theme in Amy’s analysis of the Brighton’s local success.

A negative Labour campaign helped Greens win favour with people who had been invigorated by Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and Brexit:

Residents appreciate honest campaigns that focus on practical, future-facing policies

I think people realised that Greens are standing up for a new kind of politics with tackling inequality and the climate crisis at the heart of our policies.

A drive for real democracy

Jamie Osborn, newly elected to Norwich City Council, told a similar story.

An Extinction Rebellion member himself – in February he was arrested for occupying the city council chamber he will now sit in – he says Labour’s failure to mention climate change in their election leaflets cost them votes.

But the charity worker also said frustration with Labour’s Brexit position had had odd consequences:

We had quite a funny thing in Mancroft, where there’s quite a high Brexit supporting vote, people voted for the Greens basically because they were the only party who were not Labour.

Protest votes like this suggest a problem with the current political system, something Jamie is determined to change:

I think one of the things I want to see is less power in City Hall and more power to the people.

Running for election made Jamie realise the level of privilege needed to even start a campaign.

He said:

You have to be in a position where you can afford to spend a lot of time knocking on doors.

When you get elected the salary is not enough to live off, you have to have another job, and its much harder if you have a zero hours contract or if you are a mother with kids or you are disabled and have to get around and knock on those doors.”

So Jamie, who is 24, wants to experiment with more direct forms of democracy, like citizens assemblies, especially as a way to side-step entrenched hostilities:

A lot of the time Labour will not accept a Green motion, or will change it just for the sake of it so we can’t say it’s a Green motion.

And to be fair Greens probably do the same, sometimes with justification.

Serving students

Nannette Youssef, also elected in Norwich, has issues she is itching to work on too.

Her ward in Nelson has a huge student population, but she fears they have been ill-served by past councillors.

She said:

I want to get people involved, but also encourage more engagement between students and others.

We hear so many stories of unruly students from one side and impatient neighbours on the other side.

Like her fellow young councillors, Nannette, 23, had an upbeat response whilst campaigning – though she also claimed residents seemed unsurprised to find a candidate of her age canvassing them.

Nannette, who splits her time between Norwich and London, where she works for WWF said:

We got a really positive response, people liked that I was young.

I got quite a few patronising people but its important to just smile through that, but also prove them wrong.”

But Nannette didn’t just focus her campaign on the doorstep – she used social media and targeted influencers to reach her younger student audience.

She thinks her team reached 10,000 people online alone.

Unexpected success

Both Brighton and Norwich have a history of Green success.

But Mid Devon council is dominated by the Tories, yet picked two Green councillors, the first the party have ever had.

One of them is Jo Norton – who amazingly won her Canonsleigh seat despite being a paper candidate.

The history teacher who is 23 said:

It makes me feel really quite confident and hopeful that people in my ward are Green leaning and have decided to put their trust in myself to speak for them.

To kick off her council career, Jo wants to establish a strong Green voice in the area, as well as addressing some pressing local concerns.

She said:

We are incredibly rural and for example public transport is terrible within the ward.

There isn’t a village shop, the ward is literally made up of four villages and there’s maybe one or two little corner shops between them.

Jo does have concerns about how she will fit in with her new colleagues:

I really want to work with the other councillors but I haven’t met anybody yet and there are not many people who have been elected who are under the age of 30, so I feel like I’m in the minority.

It’s nothing that anybody that I know has ever done.

Despite her concerns Jo is excited about the work ahead.

And, along with her fellow young councillors, she’s ready to play her part in a determined and energised wave of new Green leaders.