Local elections 2024: Greens hoping to sway disgruntled Labour voters in Bristol

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NationalWorld is touring the country to find out the issues that matter to you ahead of the general elections. This week, Politics Editor Ralph Blackburn visited Bristol

The rain is pouring down, dripping off the hood of my anorak, as I walk the streets of Bristol with a small army of Green Party members. Despite the inclement weather, the ink in my notebook soon starts to run, nine volunteers have joined council candidates Patrick McAllister and Carla Denyer, who is the party’s co-leader.

As a jogger with dreadlocks runs past shouting “go Green”, new member Colin Gillie tells me why he ditched Labour for Denyer’s party. The 56-year-old joined the Greens in January. He says the response to the war in Gaza, the U-turn on the child benefit cap and the references to Thatcher all put him off Sir Keir Starmer.

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“We need some ambition,” he explains. Rebecca Bentley-Price, 25, also joined the party in January. She says she got into politics because of Jeremy Corbyn, but couldn’t stick with Labour after its slow calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. “I’ve got to go with my principles,” she tells me.

This pair of new volunteers are exactly why the Green Party believes it can win control of Bristol City Council in the local elections. All 70 councillors are on the ballot come 2 May. Previously, the Greens were the largest party with a majority of just one, however Labour Mayor Marvin Rees held all the executive power.

In 2022, Bristolians voted to abolish the mayoralty, so as a result the largest party will once again get an opportunity to form a Cabinet. This will give the Greens an opportunity to govern the biggest city in the South West. So it’s no surprise that they chose to launch their local election campaign from Bristol.

Green activists in Bristol with Patrick McAllister and Carla Denyer, centre. Credit: NationalWorldGreen activists in Bristol with Patrick McAllister and Carla Denyer, centre. Credit: NationalWorld
Green activists in Bristol with Patrick McAllister and Carla Denyer, centre. Credit: NationalWorld | NationalWorld

‘When times are hard we need more ambition not less’

In my taxi ride to Engineers House in posh Clifton, where the Greens are launching their campaign, cabbie Sharif sets the scene. “Crime is a big issue,” he tells me. “There’s lots of shoplifting.” He also mentions the shocking spate of teen stabbings which have worried Bristolians over the last 12 months. 

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He says the city centre is still recovering from the pandemic, with major stores shutting down - an issue you hear across the country. I ask Sharif what he knows about the Greens, who are hoping to win a majority in the City Council elections on 2 May. “The Greens brought in the climate emergency,” he says as we swing out of Bristol’s Clean Air Zone. “Some generation has to take responsibility.”

The launch is relaxed and low key, but friendly and open - a far cry from Tory and Labour events. I’m greeted by local organiser Daron Coaker, sporting long hair and a green shirt, who welcomes me with: “Hello bud, how are you?” 

The party makes a swathe of announcements around housing, a crisis which is gripping Bristol like all cities. A number of residents have taken to living in vans parked along the Downs. Denyer and co-leader Adrian Ramsay say the Green Party would help fund 150,000 council houses nationally, bring in rent controls and introduce a “community right to buy” to increase housing stock.

NationalWorld's election coverage

Thank you for reading NationalWorld’s coverage of the elections in 2024. To find out more about the election in Bristol on 2 May, including a full list of candidates, visit the council’s website.

In order to vote, you must have registered by 16 April. You can register to vote here. 

At this election, you need to have photo identification, such as a passport or a driver’s licence, to vote. You can find a full list of acceptable forms of identification here. If you do not have any of those, you can apply for a voter authority certificate. The deadline for that is 5pm on 24 April.

NationalWorld would love to hear the issues that matter most to you ahead of this year’s elections. Get in touch with our Politics Editor Ralph Blackburn by emailing [email protected].

After speeches, volunteers, children and politicians mill about in the garden. All are open to questions from the media, again very different from national Tory and Labour launches. And it’s clear that in Bristol, Denyer and her party are targeting disaffected former Labour voters like Colin and Rebecca. In a veiled reference to Starmer, she tells activists: “When times are hard as they are for so many people at the moment, we don’t need bluster, empty words and U-turns. When times are hard we need more ambition not less. 

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“We need to rise to the scale of the challenges we face and be clear that not doing that is a political choice, leaving millions of children in poverty is a political choice, letting our NHS fall into chaos is a political choice. Failing to commit to the green investment we need is a political choice.”

Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay speak at their local election campaign launch in Bristol. Credit: PAGreen Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay speak at their local election campaign launch in Bristol. Credit: PA
Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay speak at their local election campaign launch in Bristol. Credit: PA | Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Denyer targeting Thangam Debbonaire in Bristol Central

Denyer also hopes to become the Green Party’s second ever MP in the next general election, and is standing in the new constituency of Bristol Central. The seat is mainly made up of Bristol West, where Thangam Debbonaire has a majority of more than 28,000 for Labour.

However, Denyer is hopeful that the boundary changes will benefit the Greens. Her party has councillors in 12 of the 14 wards that make up the new seat. “I’m very optimistic for our chances,” she tells me. 

“We are getting really positive responses on the doorstep. And I think we are, as a country and a city, in such a different situation to the last general election in 2019.” Five years ago, Denyer stood for Bristol West and came a distant second.

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“Since then, the leadership of the Labour Party has changed, and I think that, and the policies that have resulted, has affected how a lot of voters are feeling in the city,” she says. Despite becoming more popular across the country, in certain cities Labour’s support has declined. 

In 2017, on the back of a surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn, Bristol West had the biggest swing to Labour in the country. The city has a huge Momentum presence - the movement set up to support Corbyn’s leadership - however since Starmer became leader, many of these people, like Colin and Rebecca, have become disillusioned. A former aide to Corbyn, Laura Parker, recently urged his supporters to vote Green in target seats like Bristol Central.

Denyer’s message to disillusioned Labour supporters is that Bristol Central is a free hit: “It’s a seat which has no possibility of the Conservatives getting elected, it’s a Labour Green marginal - you can make a straight choice. If you prefer the positions the Green Party has been taking over the Labour Party in the last few years, then you can vote Green and you’ve got a very good chance of getting me elected as the first Green MP in Bristol.”

Labour council candidates Tom Renhard and Lisa Durston. Credit: NationalWorldLabour council candidates Tom Renhard and Lisa Durston. Credit: NationalWorld
Labour council candidates Tom Renhard and Lisa Durston. Credit: NationalWorld | NationalWorld

Labour promises 3,000 council homes in Bristol

The next day, with the rain mercifully blown over, I hop on the bus to south Bristol to meet Labour group leader Tom Renhard and council candidate Lisa Durston. We’re door knocking in Filwood ward, which is one of the most deprived areas of the city. 

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Crime and anti-social behaviour are the key issues in this area as well as regenerating the Broadway, Durston tells me. It’s been waiting on funding for more than 10 years, however it was recently granted £14.5million of levelling up cash which will renovate the community centre and shopping parade. Renhard says he’s hopeful this will be finished by the end of next year.

He agrees with the Greens that the housing crisis is the key issue in the city. “Solving this means working in consensus,” Renhard, who was the cabinet member for housing, says. “As well as building more homes, we need to build more school places.”

Labour’s commitment in this local election is to deliver 3,000 new council houses over the next five years. And in a sign of the influence of the Greens, Bristol Labour also backs rent controls on the private rental sector. 

“We also want to really focus in on the issues around climate change, focus on protecting our planet and create good green unionised jobs that are well paid,” Renhard tells me.

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I ask Renhard about the battle with Denyer and the Greens, and he cocks an eyebrow. He questions whether the party’s strong words on housing are matched by their actions, referencing a Green councillor calling in a housing scheme in north-east Bristol. “It’s about being realistic with what we are able to do,” he says.

‘The Greens are going to have to branch out to win’

Back in College Green, outside Bristol City Council’s offices, I catch up with reporter Charlie Watts. Charlie works for NationalWorld’s sister site BristolWorld, and has been closely following the Labour-Green battle over the last few years.

“The Greens are predominantly within Bristol Central, covering some affluent areas as well,” Charlie says. “Whereas Labour will have more of the outskirts of Bristol and perhaps the more working class communities there. 

“So in order for the Greens to increase their majority on the council, they're going to have to gain seats outside of central Bristol, in the outskirts where they previously struggled to gain any ground at all really.

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“Whether that's the sort of low income communities in the south of the city, but also in east Bristol - Labour have really occupied all the seats there. The Greens are definitely going to have to branch out and try to win over a different type of voter.”

One thing that I noticed on my rain-sodden door knock with Denyer and Green activists, was the broad coalition the party seems to be building in the city. It isn’t only former Labour voters who are moving left, but also Liberal Democrats and even some Tories. 

Chris Morris, 61, opens his window to shout “go on Carla”. He tells me: “I’ve voted Lib Dem all my life, but I voted Green in the last few local elections. We’re concerned about the environment. 

“They could have a massive impact with a few MPs. The problem I’ve got with Labour is they’re not going far enough.” While another gentleman, who says immigration is his biggest issue, indicates he’s considering voting Green. The party may struggle to win a majority on Bristol City Council come May, but Denyer’s coalition of support and army of activists bodes well for the general election later this year.

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Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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