Last Thursday’s local elections were the most successful night for the Green Party in our forty-year history. Across the country we picked up new seats on new councils, and saw new councillors in communities we’ve long represented. To gain almost 200 seats in this election, especially given that the last round of these polls took place at the same time as our historic General Election vote of 2015, was nothing short of astounding.
But though it felt as if a Green shockwave had reverberated across the country, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. This election took place at a time when concern for the environment was at a historic high. After years of struggle from environmental groups, the last few weeks saw a combination of School Students on Strike, Greta Thunberg’s visit to the UK and Extinction Rebellion’s protests – and all of a sudden the fate of our planet flew to the top of the news agenda.
There’s no doubt that people are more likely to vote Green when environmental issues are making waves in the media. Indeed a look back at 1989, when the Green Party recorded their highest ever percentage of the vote (15%, European Election), shows the British public responding directly to the Chernobyl disaster in the ballot box. That vote didn’t win the Greens any seats at all – and without any proper infrastructure to deal with the surge the party failed to build on the excitement.
This election is different, and not just because the party has already translated a surge in votes into a record breaking number of seats. The local election results weren’t just about the environment – they were also clearly influenced by Brexit. It’s no coincidence that the two serious Remain parties did well on Thursday, and that people are recognising the clear leadership that Caroline Lucas MP has put forward in her longstanding campaign for a People’s Vote. Ahead of the European Elections the Brexit ‘swing’ towards the Greens is a cause for serious hope and, I would argue, further evidence that there really is no room in our politics for the vapid centrism of ‘Change UK’.
After such a spectacular set of results in the local elections Greens are now looking ahead to the European Election with renewed hope. Not only will we be fighting the election on a climate action and anti-Brexit platform, but we will be putting forward a set of radical policies which propose serious solutions to the problems we currently face. That’s why I am fronting my campaign in South East England with a promise of sitting down with MEP colleagues from across the continent to bring about a European Green New Deal - which would boost local economies, secure well paid jobs for every community and build the infrastructure needed to best face up to the climate challenge.
In the European Election other parties will demand compromise from their voters. Labour will ask people to forgive them for their Brexit position, the Lib Dems will ask people to forget about what they did in government. Change UK will ask those who care about the environment to ignore the fact that their environment spokesperson supports fracking, and those who opposed the Iraq war to forget that their defence spokesperson was one of its proudest supporters. With the Greens you won’t have to compromise – you can vote for a party who opposes Brexit, and has fought for longer than any other party against austerity, privatisation and war. You can vote for a party which has been focussing on protecting our environment since the day we were formed.
So the question now is ‘how much higher can we go’? For me we need to look back to 1989 as a guide – and in the European Elections on 23 May replicate that kind of success in terms of the vote share. Such numbers would see us easily treble or quadruple our number of MEPs, and see us take people’s deep concerns about climate change and Brexit to the airwaves and to the halls of power in Brussels and beyond.
Alex Phillips is the lead Green Party MEP candidate for the South East, and a councillor and deputy mayor of Brighton & Hove