‘Bristol is ready to give us power’: Greens hopeful of win in pivotal byelection

Council election could have national implications if Greens snatch ward from Lib Dems

The issues that have been raised on the doorstep during the campaign have tended to be local ones – from concerns over new housing developments to the state of the pavements and plans to increase fees paid by people who live on boats in the harbour.

But a council byelection taking place at Bristol city council on Thursday may have national implications should the Green party manage to pinch the ward from the Lib Dems.

If the Greens do win – and they lost last time to the Lib Dems by only 26 votes – they would become the biggest party on Bristol city council, which they say would be a significant shift and one they believe would put them in pole position to eventually win power at city hall and a parliamentary seat at the next general election.

“It does feel like an important moment,” said Carla Denyer, the co-leader of the Green party in England and Wales and herself a Bristol city councillor, speaking while out on the campaign trail in the ward, Hotwells and Harbourside.

“For a start, it would be part of the trend of the Greens making gains here. The Greens are already the joint biggest group on Bristol city council with 24 councillors, the same as Labour. We know there’s a massive appetite for Green politics in Bristol.”

Bristol is traditionally thought of as a Labour city but the Greens drew level, at least as far as the number of councillors was concerned, in May 2021. It means they already have more councillors in Bristol than in any other local authority.

However, it did not lead to access to the levers of power as Bristol has a Labour directly elected mayor, Marvin Rees, and he resisted calls for Greens to be given cabinet posts. “He could have chosen to have a cross-party cabinet – he opted to have a 100% Labour cabinet,” said Denyer. She does not expect much to change immediately if the Greens win on Thursday. “I’m not holding my breath that he will hand over the keys of the city.”

But major changes are afoot with the city voting last year to scrap the mayoral role, returning to a committee system from 2024. How this will work is being hammered out but a win at this byelection, followed by strong showings at the next council elections in May 2024, will help the Green cause.

“I do think the direction of travel demonstrated by Green results in the last few elections shows Bristol is ready to give Greens power,” said Denyer. “There’s a change of the guard in the air.”

Denyer is also the Green’s MP candidate for Bristol West. In the 2019 general election she came second, nearly doubling the Greens’ previous vote share.

‘We know there’s a massive appetite for Green politics in Bristol,’ says the party’s co-leader.
‘We know there’s a massive appetite for Green politics in Bristol,’ says the party’s co-leader. Photograph: High Level/REX

Of the 20 councillors in Bristol West, 16 are Greens and winning in Hotwells and Harbourside would make it 17. “It would a boost to our chances of winning the Bristol West seat,” said Denyer.

She was out with the candidate for Hotwells and Harbourside, Patrick McAllister, who works locally in legal services, trying to persuade a few last “undecideds” that Green was the way to go.

McAllister said he was determined to secure a fairer, greener future for his ward and the city. “People talk about those local issues – the housing developments, the boat charges and so on, but also about things like council tax going up and how they afford it at a time of a cost of living crisis.”

The Lib Dem candidate, Stephen Williams.
The Lib Dem candidate, Stephen Williams, says the Greens have not focused on important local issues such as plans to build hundreds of new harbourside homes and a controversial road scheme. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt

The campaign has not been without controversies. The scandal of flammable cladding affects many residents in the ward, including the Labour candidate, Eileen Means, who has said resolving the issue will be her top priority.

The Lib Dem’s Hotwells candidate, Stephen Williams, a former UK government junior minister in the Cameron-Clegg coalition, has accused the Greens of trying to “smear” him during the campaign by suggesting he could have done more to address fire safety issues when he was in power. “It shows how desperate they are.”

Williams, who was Bristol West MP from 2005 to 2015 and has previously served as a city councillor, claimed the Greens had not really focused on important local issues during the campaign, such as plans to build hundreds of new harbourside homes and a controversial road scheme.

“Almost the entire focus of their campaign has been: ‘Give us another councillor, then we’ll be really big’ and they’ve hardly been talking about local issues. There are 50 things they could have campaigned on. I’m puzzled. Ironically, they’ve been producing an avalanche of leaflets, a forest of them.”

Thecandidates for the byelection are: Stephen Williams (Lib Dem), Patrick McAllister (Green), Eileen Means (Labour), Eliana Barbosa (Conservative), Martin Booth (Independent).


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Attempt to form pro-remain alliance in Peterborough fails
Lib Dems, Greens, Renew and Change UK had been in talks over backing single candidate

Rajeev Syal

09, May, 2019 @6:38 PM

Article image
Greens celebrate ‘phenomenal’ gains in local elections across England
Party takes more seats and extends reach, with victories in South Tyneside, Cumberland, Oxford and Worcester

Peter Walker Political correspondent

06, May, 2022 @10:56 PM

Article image
The Green party surge – and why it’s coming from Bristol and all points west
Polls this week put the Greens on 8%, overtaking the Lib Dems for the first time in a decade and providing a clear challenge to Ukip in the east, writes John Harris

John Harris

25, Oct, 2014 @7:00 AM

Article image
Local Greens criticise Caroline Lucas over Richmond Park byelection
Members condemn Green party co-leader’s support for Liberal Democrats in byelection triggered by Zac Goldsmith’s resignation

Jessica Elgot Political reporter

28, Nov, 2016 @3:28 PM

Article image
Local elections 2022: Tories lose hundreds of seats to Labour and Lib Dems – as it happened
PM insists ‘mixed’ results also included some ‘remarkable gains’ for Conservatives; Labour, Lib Dems and Greens celebrate key wins

Nicola Slawson (now) Andrew Sparrow and Helen Livingstone (earlier)

06, May, 2022 @10:20 PM

Article image
Local elections: Labour must take advantage of changing demographics
Analysis: party allegiances are shifting all over England and Keir Starmer has to ensure he makes the most of favourable trends

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

04, May, 2021 @6:59 PM

Article image
Local elections: Tory MPs say Boris Johnson has questions to answer
Conservatives down 122 seats with just over half the results for England declared, and Labour up 35

Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason

06, May, 2022 @3:03 PM

Article image
Key conclusions from a hazy night in English local elections
Labour failed to dent the Tories, while Lib Dems enjoyed a tiny revival and Ukip became irrelevant

Dan Sabbagh

04, May, 2018 @7:07 AM

Article image
Almost 4,000 people may have been denied vote by election ID pilots – as it happened
Electoral Reform Society releases figure as local elections in England bring mixed results for main parties

Jamie Grierson, Andrew Sparrow and Kevin Rawlinson

04, May, 2018 @10:20 PM

Article image
Local elections: neither Corbyn nor May able to break poll deadlock
Labour and Tory leaders both find reasons to celebrate after mixed results

Heather Stewart and Peter Walker

05, May, 2018 @6:43 AM