Time’s up! Green surge in the East alarms the old parties

This article first appeared on East Anglia Bylines here.

As the dust settles on the remarkable local elections earlier this month, the Conservatives should be very worried. Losing over 1,000 net seats was a feat that managed to eclipse even their own attempts at pre-emptive ‘expectation management’.

Nationally, Labour did well through a combination of targeting, deals (mostly tacit) with other parties, and Tory vote losses to other parties. But the real story of the night was the rise of other parties.

The new electoral landscape in the East

Which other parties? Well, largely the LibDems and (especially in this part of the world) the Greens. Away from the spin doctors and media outriders in Westminster, a grassroots political movement is blossoming in the East of England.

The Green Party won their highest ever number of local councillors nationally – a net increase of 241. A quarter of them were in this region. Here in the East, the Greens gained majority control of their first ever council in Mid Suffolk, as well as becoming the largest party in East Suffolk and in Babergh (and other Councils such as East Herts).

Most importantly, this set of elections suggests that it is no longer true that Greens can only win by taking votes away from Labour. In fact, in this election, around three quarters of Green wins were at the expense of Conservative councillors – indeed, there are seats where the Greens can apparently win against the Conservatives.

How did this happen?

This is happening largely due to the hard work of local activists. While I was out campaigning in Mid Suffolk, I heard time and time again voters’ big concerns about housing, protecting the environment, and shielding local services from cuts. These are issues that residents felt let down on by their Conservative council, and that the Greens have a strong record of delivering on. The result in Mid Suffolk comes from the steady presence that the Green Party has built there over many years.

On the macro-scale, part of the reason that the Greens experienced unprecedented electoral success is the extent to which the Labour Party and the Conservatives share a centralising approach to government, prioritising economic growth at the expense of the natural environment. The Green party, in prioritising the environment, places a higher value on local governance.

The 2023 council elections were an important step forward for the Green party. But perhaps their most important consequence will be that they have shown that it must be possible for the Greens to win more seats in Parliament, and they will want in particular to target the new Waveney Valley constituency, in the hope of sending a colleague to work with Caroline Lucas at Westminster.

Looking ahead

Waveney Valley will clearly be a straight fight between the Greens and Conservatives in an area where Labour and Liberal Democrats each barely scraped 10% of the vote share. And the Green Party have put forward former Norwich councillor and current Green Party co-leader, Adrian Ramsay, as their candidate. The present writer recently spoke at an event there when the political comedian Mark Thomas came to do a well-attended benefit gig for the Greens. Efforts like this will continue and escalate in the run up to the next election.

The Green party’s distinct policies are now beginning to resonate with many (formerly) Conservative voters. The next election will give them an opportunity to advocate policies that protect people and planet. They will earnestly hope that it will also augment the voice of the party on the national stage at Westminster. Time’s up for it being worth hoping for anything less.

Big thanks to Atus Mariqueo-Russell for help researching this article.