Baroness Jones: Why the Green Party poses a threat to the Tories in their rural heartlands

'This isn’t just a dip caused by Boris Johnson’s lies and PartyGate, it’s an indicator of a more serious problem facing the Conservatives as they lose the support of rural communities.'

Green Party activists standing with a party banner

Jenny Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords

The Conservatives are scared they will lose their blue wall, rural heartlands this Thursday. Two Council by-election wins in Sussex and Dorset in March support the analysis that the Greens have recently become more effective at taking rural seats from the Conservatives than Labour or Lib Dems. Both those seats had been Conservative for decades and it fits into a pattern of losing councillors in traditional strongholds. The Green Party has won a total of 12 Council by-elections from the Conservatives since last year’s local elections.

This isn’t just a dip caused by Boris Johnson’s lies and PartyGate, it’s an indicator of a more serious problem facing the Conservatives as they lose the support of rural communities.

Many rural voters have a growing sense of post Brexit betrayal (as do I). Regions like Cornwall have lost a huge amount of funding due to Brexit, which the government has failed to replace. The Farming and Trade Bills were pushed through Parliament without any guarantees that existing high UK standards on animal welfare and food standards would be preserved.

For some, this may be just another issue for most urban lefties, but over a million people signed the NFU petition calling on the government to incorporate these standards into the legislation. The government refused and signed the Australian Trade Deal which does little for the UK economically, and under-cuts those running family farms. A million people, who care about farming, welfare standards and rural life, had their fears confirmed.

A similar sense of rage has run through true blue communities over the government’s failure to act on sewage dumped in rivers. Look at an online map of where water companies are pouring raw sewage into rivers and emptying it onto coastland and it is in areas predominantly represented by Conservative MPs.

When there isn’t a single waterway with a clean bill of health, then those who walk their dogs, or fish, sail, swim, or even let their kids go for a paddle, all have first-hand evidence that the Conservatives don’t take care of the environment. It was left to the House of Lords to rebel and along with a massive public outcry, to force the government into an annoyingly small U-turn. We now have an obligation for water companies to reduce the level of deliberate spillages, but without a timescale for the clean up; the government are refusing to treat this as an urgent issue.

Anyone who uses a bus to get around the English countryside knows the neglect that these communities have suffered. The cost of living crisis has hit the rural poor just as hard as elsewhere, but often without the support network that urban communities have developed. The Green Party’s focus on home insulation at this election connects the cost of living crisis with the climate crisis, as well as supporting local businesses and jobs. It’s a practical solution, but enables us to say that if we did insulate Britain properly a lot of poorer people would be better off.

The Conservatives are treating voters in their rural heartlands with the same contempt that Labour showed many in the old industrial strongholds that they ruled for decades. The First Past the Post system reinforces an assumption that the two main parties don’t have to put a lot of work into large swathes of England as those voters have nowhere else to go. Losing council seats in local elections is a warning sign that voters can’t be taken for granted.

Fortunately for Boris Johnson, the Tories are unlikely to lose control of many councils during the elections on Thursday. It is mostly Labour seats that are up for grabs with a big focus on London and Scotland – neither of which is likely to topple the Prime Minister. The Greens will continue to take seats off Labour as well, and grow its urban base as the party of social justice and climate action, but it is their gains (along with the Lib Dems) in rural areas that could convince Tory MPs to finally end the corrupt regime at Number 10.

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