Local elections: We have an opportunity to end ‘one party councils’ in England

In many councils, voters have a choice: to accept one party state councils - or to elect a real opposition, writes Green leader Jonathan Bartley.

The Greens were the only party other than the Conservatives to pick up seats in the last council elections – and this year we’re going to build on that momentum.

This election has seen the Greens get more organised on the ground than in any local election before. A record number of Green candidates are contesting, knocking on doors up and down the country. As a candidate in London myself, I’m genuinely delighted to be part of the largest slate of candidates that we have ever put out in the capital.

We have 164 councillors in England, of whom 32 are up for re-election this May. Most of our seats up this year are on Labour-run Councils, and they are trying desperately to take those seats from us. I don’t begrudge them for that, I don’t think there’s a political party on this planet that doesn’t want to maximise its vote share.

But targeting dissenting voices doesn’t make for better, fairer politics. In fact we believe that nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, and that politics is at its best when there are different voices in the room.

Across the country one party state councils have become cosy and complacent, and forgotten the people they are meant to serve. Without a strong and effective opposition they become complacent, callous and oftentimes cruel. According to Cambridge University academic Mihály Fazekas, these councils could be worse off by around £2.6bn when compared to councils with a strong opposition.

Without that pushback, what’s to stop a one party council from knocking down council housing without consulting residents, to put up more private housing over the rubble?

That has become a sad reality in Lambeth. Lambeth only has four opposition councillors, including one Green councillor Scott Ainslie. The other fifty nine seats are occupied by the Labour Party, whipped to follow the party line. Scott has stood with residents on six estates facing demolition by this council.

If it goes ahead, the planned regeneration of Central Hill housing estate will destroy a community and socially cleanse the area. Scott has fought tooth and nail to protect those residents, and with a bigger opposition on his council he can win that fight.

Caroline Russell in Islington has spent four years acting as the only opposition on her council, against forty seven Labour Party councillors. In that time she has made huge strides to get council action on shocking levels of air pollution.

Caroline first exposed the state of Islington’s filthy air in 2011 when she launched one of London’s first citizen science projects. Since then she has championed measures to link public health and transport, pushing the council to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport in their urban planning.

This of course isn’t to say that people should only vote Green in areas where there’s a one party council. Despite the wide range of parties in Sheffield, it was Green Councillor Alison Teale who stood up to the council’s tree-felling spree in the city.

In Oxford, Green councillor David Thomas took action against his council when they cut funding for homelessness services and starting fining beggars. He and the other Greens won agreement from the council to work on an Empty Spaces Project so people have somewhere to stay, and are now pushing for the restoration of shelters. A Green councillor in your area will push the issues that nobody else is talking about.

We’ve set ourselves an ambitious target, getting a Green onto every council in the country. It’s a big challenge, but one that we relish. A Green on your council is someone to stand up for your community and a voice holding your council to account.

So many times pundits and other parties have counted the Greens out, waiting for us to falter. Instead we’ve thrived, constantly surpassing expectations.

Voters have a choice: to accept one party state councils, or to elect fearless Greens to hold the big parties to account.

You can vote to secure an opposition on your council. To protect homeowners, stand up to bad management and to never stop questioning the actions of those in power. One Green can make a huge difference.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party of England & Wales.

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