Ellie Chowns
The 2023 local elections are the most important in the history of the Green Party of England and Wales. In May, the Green Party will be defending over 200 council seats and has ambitions to gain at least 100 more. If the party pulls this off it will be historic and would confirm that the Greens are a major force in local government for the long term. In the run up to these elections, Bright Green is taking an in depth look at some of the councils where the results could be the most interesting and significant for the Green Party.

Can the Green Party double its seats on Herefordshire Council?

One of the big success stories of the Green Party’s 2019 local election efforts came in Herefordshire. The Greens gained five seats that year, ending up with a total of seven Councillors. As a result, the party was part of a wider wind of change that swept the county and removed the Tories from office.

Subsequently, the Council has been run jointly by the Greens and independents. In that time, the party has made strong claims about their successes in office. They include a post-Covid scheme the Council ran, giving free bus travel across the county on weekends, and “starting to build council housing for the first time in a generation”.

Locally, the Greens are positive about how their record in the administration is being received by voters. Ellie Chowns, who has served as the cabinet member for environment and economy on the Council told Bright Green that the electorate are turning towards the Greens because of that record.

She said: “Greens are winning in Herefordshire because we get things done. From free buses at the weekend as part of covid recovery to proper investment in Children’s Services, from starting food waste collection to dealing with government failings to restore the River Wye – we’ve been working with our coalition partners and everyone willing to make a difference for Herefordshire.”

According to Chowns, the Greens are increasingly winning over Tory voters in Herefordshire – something that’s needed given the many years the Tories ran the Council. She told Bright Green: “What we’ve found is that many people who have traditionally voted Conservative do very much care about the natural environment, climate action and a liveable planet for their children and grandchildren: when they see that the Greens are credible and effective they are delighted and proud to vote Green.”

Those close to the campaign think that the combination of the Greens’ record on the Council combined with the Tories’ diminished polling numbers means there is the potential for more big gains in this year’s elections. The Greens in Herefordshire are optimistic about winning as many as 14, possibly even 16, seats on the Council this year.

Doubling the number of Green Councillors overnight would be no mean feat. But the Green Party has demonstrated in recent years that it now has the ability to win big – particularly when they are up against Tories in areas where there has been little competition from other parties for some time.

Greens making significant gains in Herefordshire this year will primarily do two things. Firstly, it would increase the majority of the coalition administration, which has been exceptionally narrow for the last four years. Secondly, it would solidify the Green Party’s position within that administration – with the party having been the junior partner thus far.

But there is also a wider significance. Chowns, along with having been a cabinet member on the Council, is also the Greens’ candidate in the North Herefordshire constituency. That’s a seat that’s high up on the party’s list of targets. At the Green Party’s spring conference, Chowns talked up her chances there, saying she “really can win” and there is a “fantastic opportunity to win a Green seat from a Conservative”. If the Greens can illustrate they have the ability to win a substantial number of seats on the Council, it builds momentum for the next general election, and helps the party overcome one of the biggest barriers to its success – the narrative that it simply can’t win under first past the post.

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Image credit: West Midlands Green Party – Creative Commons