Green and Ecosocialist Independent Councillors in Lancaster

The Lancaster Green Group were disappointed last night when numerous Labour individuals and groups launched a misinformation campaign against us with pre-prepared graphics and statements while we were still in a council meeting.

At the council meeting, the Green Group, supported by the Ecosocialist Independents – who left the Labour Party last year – voted to support the Green Party’s candidate for leadership of the council.

In 2019, the result of the City Council election left the district with 21 Labour councillors, 14 Morecambe Bay Independents (a local independent group), 12 Conservatives, 10 Greens and three Liberal Democrats. This led to the forming of a Cooperative Alliance between Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. This meant a clear majority of 34 out of 60 councillors, and a cabinet made up of seven Labour councillors and three Greens, led by Labour’s Councillor Dr Erica Lewis.

However, fairly early on concerns arose around the style of Lewis’ leadership as being overly abrasive, tribal and divisive. During Lewis’s tenure as leader of the Labour Group over the past two years, a third of Labour’s councillors have left the party. None of these are due to by-elections where councillors have passed away, and all of these councillors continue to sit on Lancaster City Council. Five of them formed the Ecosocialist Independents who were also disillusioned by the Labour Party’s drift back to a centrist ideology.

Leadership of Lancaster City Council is a two-year term, and Lewis’s term came to an end at last night’s meeting. In just two years, the make-up of the council had changed quite drastically, with seats now distributed as follows: Labour: 14, Conservative: 13 (+1 from the Liberal Democrats in a by-election), Green: 10, Morecambe Bay Independents: 9, Ecosocialist Independents: 5, Independents: 7, Liberal Democrat: 2.

This meant that the Cooperative Alliance of Labour, Greens and the Liberal Democrats no longer held a clear majority. The alliance itself had also been undermined by a separate bilateral alliance that Labour had formed with the newly formed Independent Group of 7, to whom Labour had given one of their cabinet positions without consultation with the other members of the alliance.

Labour’s haemorrhaging of councillors has caused the alliance to become increasingly unstable. The regular resignations have led to the party constantly reshuffling cabinet places. One portfolio has had three different Labour councillors supposedly leading it within a period of less than two months.

In light of this, the Greens approached the local Labour Party a couple of weeks ago to propose a change of leadership at the end of Lewis’s term. With the Greens having the support of the Ecosocialist Independents as an informal grouping of 15 councillors to Labour’s 14, this felt entirely reasonable. Councillor Caroline Jackson who has been serving on the cabinet and as co-leader of the Green Group has an excellent track record on issues of social justice and tackling the climate emergency, and is very well-regarded across the council. Our proposal involved maintaining the make-up of the cabinet, and installing Councillor Dr Erica Lewis as Caroline’s deputy. It was rejected by Labour out of hand.

The Green Party did not approach other parties for support, but as a result of general concerns about the leadership, they approached us and offered it. We know that the Labour Party repeatedly courted other local parties for their support before the leadership election. Going into the meeting last night, we did not know how the Conservatives were going to vote.

Despite Labour being well aware of the situation, their councillors feigned ignorance at the council meeting and pretended they didn’t know the Greens intended to challenge Lewis’s re-election. Simultaneously a misinformation campaign immediately began while the meeting was still ongoing, with Lancaster’s MP Cat Smith tweeting that the Greens and Tories had “joined forces to end the Progressive Alliance”. This is an obvious, made-up lie. A graphic also began circulating immediately, released by Lancaster Labour Party on Facebook which misleadingly suggested that Caroline Jackson was a Conservative, and that the Greens had backed her over Labour’s candidate.

Labour’s hysterical reaction to the Conservatives voting for the Green leadership candidate is somewhat bizarre given that as recently as 2007, Labour voted as a bloc to support a Conservative leader in Lancaster.

As for Labour’s confected outrage about us supporting a Conservative chair of a committee, there are two regulatory committees on the council: licensing and planning. As per the convention of distributing these seats proportionately among the parties, we supported the incumbent Labour candidate for licensing, and an experienced Conservative for planning. The other two chairs that the Conservatives were elected to are scrutinising committees: Budget and Performance, which they held previously under Labour, and Overview and Scrutiny, where the incumbent independent didn’t stand for re-election. Neither of these seats were contested, and therefore the Conservative candidates were appointed, with Labour’s notional support as well. If Labour didn’t support these candidates, they would have nominated other candidates.

Caroline was further criticised by Labour for not announcing her cabinet at the meeting, and only naming Ecosocialist Councillor Kevin Frea as her deputy. The reason Caroline didn’t name her cabinet is that the Greens want to continue working with Labour despite their reaction to what has happened. She needs to know whether or not Labour will continue to work with us before announcing the cabinet.

I sincerely hope Labour – having let off some steam – will realise that the best way to make a positive impact and to improve the lives of the people of our district is to continue their alliance with us. We’re very excited that Caroline Jackson has been elected as the first Green leader of a council in the North West of England, and I feel very privileged to serve alongside her as a councillor on Lancaster City Council.

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