Last week, the Green Party won the inner-city ward of Hotwells and Harbourside from the Liberal Democrats at a byelection in Bristol, gaining their 25th councillor and becoming the largest party in Bristol.
Under the directly-elected Mayoral system, the Greens will not be taking executive power as the Labour Mayor, Marvin Rees, is under no compulsion to bring them into the cabinet. Next year’s local elections, which will lead to a committee-style council, will be a real test for a Labour Party which has held the Mayoralty since 2016.
But the impact of last week’s by-election could be even more far-reaching than City Hall.
Turning Bristol Green
At the 2020 Mayoral election, the Green Party candidate pledged to invest £500 million in the building of 2,000 new council homes, and insulate all council homes by 2030, stating in campaign literature that Bristol Greens are committed to creating affordable housing and insulating homes across Bristol to reduce our emissions and costs.
Most recently they campaigned against the expansion at Bristol Airport, leading to the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees and North Somerset Council (where Bristol Airport sits) to remove their support for the expansion. Green Party Councillors have also:
- Often challenged the Mayor’s preference for tall buildings, even when including affordable or social housing.
- Worked with other parties on the Council to create new housing policies which restrict the number of new Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) in areas of the city and set higher standards for room sizes, sound insulation and bin and bike storage.
- Helped to defeat a planning application for a city centre car park at Cabot Circus.
- Influenced the drafting of the new Bristol local plan, including pushing for climate policies such as energy saving developments to be higher priority, and for guidance on HMO’s.
- Lobbied the Council to adopt the ‘agent of change’ planning policy which would protect music venues by putting the onus for soundproofing on new residential developments built near an existing music venue.
The Green Surge Mk. II?
The constituency of Bristol West, held by Labour MP and Shadow Leader of the Commons Thangam Debbonaire, has long been a top target for the Greens but there is now a real chance of it becoming the Party’s second seat in the Commons, after Brighton Pavilion.
The Greens now hold 17 of the 20 council seats in Bristol West constituency, and new boundary changes which will turn the constituency into Bristol Central will further remove some traditional Labour wards. The Green national Co-Leader Carla Denyer (herself a Bristol Councillor) is bullish that the Greens will take the seat at the upcoming General Election.
The Green Party, unlike Labour, are very strongly in favour of re-joining the EU – and any political activist who has campaigned in Bristol West will tell you that this policy is very popular with the electorate there. Bristol politics (and society) has always been of a strongly non-conformist bent and this has benefitted first the Liberal Democrats and now the Green Party in recent years.
However, winning Bristol Central may still be a difficult task.
In 2019, Carla Denyer got 25% of the vote, but Thangam Debbonaire still won with more than 60% in an election which saw Labour’s worst defeat nationally since 1935. If the election were to be held today then Labour would take around 360 seats, a healthy majority (although still under Labour’s 2005 victory) and one which may refuse the Greens their second seat.
There is also plenty of evidence that many Bristolians comprise a “sophisticated electorate”, voting for different parties at council and national level, meaning that the Greens cannot take local support as being reflected at General Election time.
So, what does this mean for the future of Bristol? Well, May 2024 is the year to watch. The Mayoralty will be abolished, all seats will be up for re-election and the Council will move to a committee system.
A week is a long time in politics and there are 64 weeks to go until those all-up elections – so a lot can change; however, in the intervening period it would be sensible for any developer considering investment in Bristol to look at the Greens’ election pledges set out above, as they could be making their way into the City Council’s next local plan.