UK Greens Run And Win Most Local Government Seats Ever
1,419 Candidates Compete Across English Cities And Towns

by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.

In the May 3 elections, the Green Party of England and Wales ran 1,419 candidates – the most ever in their party’s history going back to 1973 – for what are called Principal Local Authority seats.

In what was called a “breakthough election” by Green Party Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall, the party won 63 seats, including holding 39 existing seats and gaining 24 new ones, while losing only seven that they had previously held. This gave the English Greens a net gain of 17 seats, leading to a total of 110 sitting officeholders in local government, also an all-time high.

Scheduled elections took place in 312 District, Borough, Metropolitan Borough and Unitary Councils outside of London.

Districts and Boroughs are responsible for planning, housing, leisure, environmental health, solid waste collection, and local roads. Unitary authorities and Metropolitan Boroughs are all-purpose Councils providing the full range of local services in their area so that, besides the above, they are also responsible for education, social services, libraries, waste disposal, principal roads and other transport matters. They also play a part in running the police and fire services. Councils also have a broad authority to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.

Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.

The biggest gains came in the seaside destination of Brighton and Hove City on England’s south coast, where local Greens held on to six council seats and gained six more; and in Lancaster City in north west England, where they defended seven seats and gained five more.

In Brighton and Hove, the Greens pulled within one seat of becoming the primary opposition party on the 54-member local Council, behind the Tories (26) and Labor (13), which lost ten seats. Among elected Greens was 22 year-old Vicky Wakefield Jarrett, a vegan peace and environment activist who was one of three elected Greens nationally 25 years old or younger, giving them a total of seven now holding office aged 27 or younger nationwide.

According to National Election Agent Chris Rose, “the party’s success in winning more seats was, as usual, largely due to careful targeting of resources so as to hold and to build the majorities required to win ‘first-past-the-post’ elections’ in chosen Wards. A key part of this work is the delivery of newsletters to voters throughout the year. These cover local issues, convey a local angle on global ones and report on action by (aspiring) Green councillors. Critical to success is canvassing (knocking on doors and talking to voters on their doorsteps), both well before and during the election period.”

With nine of the 12 Green council seats concentrated in the Brighton Pavilion House of Commons constituency (district), compared to six (Tories) and 5 (Labor), the Greens’ success also gives the party increasing hope of picking up its first-ever parliamentary seat in the next elections to the House of Commons, which has to be held by July 2010.

Just two years ago, Brighton Pavilion City Councilor Keith Taylor received 22 percent in a four-way race for Westminster, only 1.9 percent behind the Tories for second place. These results come in a district where Greens also received 27 percent in the 2004 European Parliament elections. This time Taylor is contesting the Greens’ selection election (party members’ primary) against fellow Green and European parliament member Caroline Lucas, with the results to be known on July 18.

In historic, medieval Norwich in eastern England – often dubbed the “greenest” in the UK before the election because it had the most Green councillors on a single authority – the party won the highest percentage of the overall popular vote, re-electing all three Green incumbents and gaining a fourth seat. Unfortunately they fell a single vote short (after four recounts) of winning a fifth seat against a Liberal Democrat incumbent, meaning they would have become the primary opposition party on the Council.

Green group coordinator Adrian Ramsay, who himself was re-elected with 62 percent in Nelson Ward after winning there three years ago at the ripe young age of 21, said watching the election returns in this close district coming in during the night had been like a “roller coaster ride” for the party.

Labor now holds 15 seats on the local council, the Liberal Democrats 11, the Greens ten and the Tories three. And while that means Labor is likely to continue as a “minority administration”, the Lib Dems have slipped from the party of power just a few years ago, to a desperate fight to remain the largest opposition group ahead of the Greens. Recognizing this, Labor Council leader Steve Morphew said after the election that “we have a good relationship with the Green Party and we will work together on major issues in Norwich.”

Perhaps so, but according to Wall, the Greens’ strong result “places us in pole position to fight for the Westminster seat,” as they hope to replace the Lib Dems as the main challengers to the sitting Norwich South Labor MP in the upcoming 2008 House of Commons elections.

In addition to the raw number of candidates and wins, there were several other measures of success. Political parties in the UK with at least two or more members on a Principal Local Authority are said to have “group status”, giving them the ability to sit on more committees, as well as to second their own motions and ensure debate. Before the May 3rd election the Greens had group status on 17 bodies. Now they have it on 22.

According to Rose, for the 1,412 candidates for which gender was known, 831 (58.9 percent) were male and 581 (41.1 percent) female. As for youth, at least 102 (7.19 percent) were aged 18-30 (age was not known for all candidates), and with the change of national election rules to lower the age limit to run from 21 to 18, at least 22 fell into this age group (1.55 percent.)

Also held on May 3 were Parish and Town Council elections. These are the most local form of government in the UK. They are essentially the same, but with the latter type having a Mayor. There are more than 10,000 such Councils in England, with most holding their elections this year.

They have a selection of statutory local powers such as maintenance of cemeteries, renting land to citizens for growing vegetables, fruit and flowers, bus shelters, community halls and so on. Of particular interest to Greens is that they also have what is called a “power of general competence,” which means they can spend tax revenue up to a certain amount on anything they see fit, so that quite innovative ideas can be pursued. They have recently been granted powers to both promote and spend money on reducing energy consumption in their areas, and on micro-renewables (solar, wind turbines, woodchip [furnaces], etc.).

Many of these Councils are in rural areas where the Greens are weaker. It is often the custom that candidates don’t use Party labels. There are frequently less candidates than seats for election, so it’s easy to get elected “unopposed.”

233 Green Party members were candidates for these elections, of whom 143 were elected (70 unopposed, and 73 in contested votes). Stroud Greens in the west of England retained control of the Town Council there, with John Marjoram being re-elected as Mayor by fellow Councillors. Kirklees Greens won control of Kirkburton Parish Council, where energy expert Andrew Cooper will be trying to stretch the new powers in this area to the limit.

For more information: www.greenparty.org.uk