The May local elections saw a raft of changes at the city council. The ruling Liberal Democrats lost their majority, Labour and the Conservatives appointed new – yet familiar – party leaders and for the first time The Green Party had more than one councillor. This week Sam Rkaina talks to all four party leaders about their ambitions for their group and the city. Today it’s the Green’s Tess Green.
It’s amazing the difference a single seat can make in local politics. Six months ago Tess Green was the party’s only councillor and was largely ignored by Bristol City Council’s “big three”.
Then in May newcomer Gus Hoyt took controversial Liberal Democrat councillor Shirley Brown’s Ashley seat and suddenly it was all change.
The Greens were now officially a group, with Mrs Green stepping up to the role of leader.
More importantly they also gained leverage with the other parties following the Lib Dems’ loss of overall control.
With all four parties in negotiations for who should run the authority, the Greens were ignored no longer.
Mrs Green said: “Everybody wanted our votes. When you’ve got a finely balanced council even two votes count – all of a sudden we’ve become important.
“It was a turning point for me. Before that I was mostly ignored by the other parties. I did experience hostility from the other parties seeing the Greens as a threat in certain wards. We are a threat so they were quite right in that.
“Some people didn’t want to speak to me. That was quite short lived – political background gets forgotten once you get to know people.
“When councillors are on committees they’re focused on the task in hand, there’s none of the barracking you get at full council.”
While it’s fair to say the Greens won’t be running Bristol any time soon, they have noticeably upped their performance in recent years.
They could easily have taken a third seat in May, with former councillor Charlie Bolton coming a close second in Southville.
The party also had strong results in Easton and Cotham, taking third places that weren’t far from seconds.
Mrs Green said: “We’re still up against it in that some of the electorate thinks it’s a wasted vote because we won’t get in.
“Southmead was a very bad result for the Liberal Democrats, our result was quite good. We’re relatively unknown – it’s not the sort of place you’d expect to vote Green.”
The three main parties may be reluctant to admit it, but nationally they’ve all taken leaves out of the Green Party book.
If you look back 20 years, the party was not taken terribly seriously as an electoral force.
In 2011 it seems that every other word from the Bristol Lib Dems is either “Green” or “sustainable”. Even the Tory party symbol is a tree.
Mrs Green said: “It would be a foolish political party that doesn’t [have green policies].
“That’s bad for us in a way – people might think there’s no need to join the Green Party.
“They need to prove their green credentials though. I do believe there’s a lot of ‘greenwash’.”
Despite other groups jumping on the environmental bandwagon, Mrs Green says her party still has a lot to offer the electorate.
She said: “I hope we offer a different take on fairness and equality, that’s a big part of our policy.
“It’s not just about being fair to the planet, it’s being fair to every group of people.
“There are some neglected groups. The outer estates where there are third generation unemployed, people that think they’ll never get a job. That’s counter productive and we’re wasting all that talent.”
The main problem though, is a lack of resources.
Mrs Green said: “We’re a small party – we haven’t got enough resources so we do concentrate on where we’ve done well in the past.
“There’s always a spin-off effect when you get someone elected – we’ll focus on the second seat in Ashley.
“There are four parties now, that’s been very hard for us. “There have been a number of cross-party groups but there’s only two of us so Gus and I have to do it all. We’re stretched too far. For 2013 we obviously want more of us.”
Mrs Green feels her group’s role is to have a green influence on the councils’ policies.
She said: “One of the things I’ve wanted to do was focus on retro fitting homes to make them more energy efficient so people don’t spend too much of their income on fuel.
“We want to encourage people to grow their own food. It does appeal to people but you need enough land to do it.
“There’s a huge waiting list for allotments and there’s not enough encouragement for people who don’t have the skills but could learn them.
“Unless there’s a huge change in the electorate we won’t see the Greens in charge. We’ve got to be prepared for slow progress.”
Mrs Green also wants to play the role of peacemaker, and help change the culture of council meetings which are notoriously fractious.
She said: “Frankly it’s been one of my ambitions to get this council to be less combative and more co-operative and focused on what’s best for people.
“I don’t like that and I don’t think the electorate does either – I believe the electorate wanted a hung council so we could work more closely together.
“If there’s anything I can do to reduce friction, I see that as my role.
“There’s far too much of ‘you did that in the past’ – it’s not addressing the problem we’ve got now.
“We’ve been starved of funding by the government. I was disappointed by the last council meeting but the one before that was better so maybe we’re getting there.”