Mid Suffolk: The council where the Greens could take majority control
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.
2011 was an historic year for the Green Party of England and Wales. In that year’s local elections, the Greens became the largest party on Brighton & Hove City Council, making it the first local authority anywhere in the country under Green control.
Fast forward to 2023 and there are now more than a dozen councils where the Greens are in administration, with three councils in England having Green leaders – Stroud, Lancaster and Brighton & Hove. In all of these councils, the Green Party is either running things as a minority administration or in coalition with other parties.
That last sentence is important. What it means is that despite the significant growth in the number of Green councillors across the country, there has never yet been a council where the Greens have secured a majority. As a result, wherever Greens are in power, they are reliant on the votes of other parties to get their agenda through.
That could all change this May, with the Green Party leadership bullish about making significant gains in the local elections. Of the many councils attracting considerable excitement, Mid Suffolk is perhaps the one where there is most intrigue.
The energy behind the campaign is clear. The Green Party launched its national campaign for the English local elections in Stowmarket – the council area’s largest town. No party has put up a full slate of candidates, but there will be more Greens on the ballot than any other party. Indeed, only the Tories and the Greens are standing in enough seats to have the opportunity to win majority control of the council.
Hopes are high in part because of previous results. The last time Mid Suffolk had council elections, the Greens were the biggest winners, making the substantial leap from five seats to twelve, helping to starve the Tories of their majority. Mid Suffolk only has 34 councillors, meaning that the Greens need to gain just six more seats this time around in order to become a majority administration.
This is something the Greens are increasingly confident of achieving. The Greens’ sole MP Caroline Lucas has talked up the party’s chance of securing a majority, and local activists on the ground are similarly positive.
Speaking to local campaigners on the ground, they speak confidently about being able to cross the magic number needed to reach a majority – 18 – with Bright Green being told that it is “very likely” they will be the largest party, and “fairly likely” they could run the council as a majority administration. They believe there is a scenario in which they could win as many as 25 seats, which would mean three in every four councillors on the authority would be Green.
Reflecting on why residents in the area are turning towards the Greens, Andy Mellen, the current leader of the Green Group on Mid Suffolk Council told Bright Green: “Mid Suffolk first elected a Green district councillor in 2003 and we have been on an upward trajectory ever since. When people have a Green councillor, they like what they see – community representatives who are engaged and active, who keep people informed about what the council is doing, and who listen. Some of our communities have been blighted by overdevelopment and we have stood up to this where the rules allow us and been able to get some small wins on behalf of our residents.
“We currently hold 12 seats out of 34 and the council has no overall control, with the Conservatives forming an administration with one independent councillor and having to use the council chairman’s casting vote in order to keep control. They have run a budget surplus every year of this council term and have put millions into reserves – but people expect and deserve improved public services rather than a council squirreling money away.”
In just over two weeks’ time, it will become clear as to whether this confidence is well placed. Either way, with the Green Party’s election operation becoming more professionalised and the Tories’ continued polling woes, if there was any year a Green majority could happen in Mid Suffolk it would be this year.
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