Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay

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.

East Hertfordshire. You probably couldn’t point to it on a map. But over the next week or so, you might hear that name pop up more than a few times. Why? Because it is one of the councils where the Green Party is optimistic about making substantial inroads.

Presently, the Greens hold just two seats on East Hertfordshire District Council. Both councillors were elected in 2019, the last time there were elections in this patch. That was the year the Green Party had its major breakthrough in the local elections, and many council chambers across the country saw their first green tinge.

Historically, what has tended to happen when the Greens win their first seats in local councils is they make slow, steady and incremental progress, growing their numbers one or two seats at a time. But on May 4, the Green Party is hoping to take a different route in East Hertfordshire. Locally, the party says it could win as many as 16 seats this time around.

Looking at the 2019 results alone would suggest that this is theoretically possible, but a very tall order. Across the whole council area, the Greens picked up a respectable 15 per cent of the vote, despite standing in just over half of the seats up for election. In 17 seats, the Greens came second or third, with some of them being incredibly close.

That’s part of the reason why local activists say they feel that anything below winning 10 seats would be ‘underperforming’. They also say their canvassing returns give them cause for confidence, claiming the data suggests they could double their vote share across the district. The Labour Party’s presence is limited and confined to a few wards, with the Liberal Democrats only maintaining a major stronghold in Bishop’s Stortford – the district’s largest town. All of this, combined with an atrophied Tory campaign means they think this could be the year the Greens win big.

This is a similar story to other more rural, Tory leaning areas in this year’s elections, such as Herefordshire and Mid Suffolk. Dwindling Conservative Party membership in areas like this have meant that they lack the capacity and resource to mount effective campaigns through canvassing and leafleting. This allows a professionalised Green Party campaign machine laser focussed on winning council seats to sweep in and achieve considerable electoral success.

East Hertfordshire, therefore, could be one of the councils that is politically transformed next week – a council that has been run with a Tory majority for almost the entirety of the last 50 years. It would take something seismic for them to lose that majority this year. But whether or not that happens, this year’s elections are likely to be nonetheless indicative of a wider phenomenon passing through parts of England – local authorities which comprise smaller towns and villages that are just about commutable distances to major urban areas are increasingly turning Green. That’s true for the patches to the north of London like East Hertfordshire in the same way that it’s been true for parts of Surrey, Oxfordshire and Sussex – all formerly true blue.

So when the votes are all counted, East Hertfordshire may well be one of those places that tell an interesting story about the shifting political map in England – a story of how votes for the Green Party are removing Tories from office in across the country.

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Image credit: Bristol Green Party – Creative Commons