With two days to go until the local elections in Brighton and Hove, the Green Party are hoping to make gains from the major parties.
Four years after the Green Party lost control of the council, the party are hoping to win back voters and regain seats they lost to Labour and the Conservatives with pledges to tackle pollution in the city, improve recycling services and support the most vulnerable.
Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion and the country’s only Green MP, said that the party has achieved a lot for the people of Brighton, even whilst outside of the running of the council, and wants to do more over the next four years.
“Even in opposition, we have been able to do a lot,” she said.
“It was a Green motion that declared a climate emergency, and so parties are now competing to be seen as the best on climate change. The Greens managed to put over £12 million back into Labour’s budget, in particular for things like climate change and sexual health services.
“We blocked a Tory takeover of the city council. There was a real chance that the whole administration would fall to the Conservatives, and we thought that wasn’t in the best interests of the people of the city.”
Greens will “put social and environmental justice at the top of the agenda”
The Green Party has put efforts to make Brighton and Hove a carbon-neutral city as a major part of its manifesto and Lucas emphasised that the party has been ahead of the others on tackling climate change and pollution.
“You get a party that will put social and environmental justice at the top of the agenda. The Greens have been taking the lead on things like trying to get rid of single-use plastics from the city. We’ve had the climate emergency declared and it was the Greens that did more than any other party in terms of being able to roll out cycle routes and took the first steps on the shared bike scheme,” she said.
“The Greens tried hard to get a food waste service in place, but unfortunately due to opposition from the other parties, that wasn’t successful. We wanted to go further when it came to things like accepting green waste and collecting food waste but because we were a minority administration we couldn’t go further on that, but we certainly hope to in the future.”
“I think you get a party that is forward-thinking when it comes to environmental issues.”
“Labour came in claiming they were going to sort this out and they clearly haven’t”
She criticised Labour’s attacks on the last Green administration’s record on recycling, saying that the party had to deal with decisions that had been ignored for many years.
“Labour came into administration claiming they were going to sort this out and they clearly haven’t and another bin strike is being threatened. It was Labour that signed us up to the hugely damaging PFI contract with Veolia,” she said.
“It does shock so many that come to this city to suddenly realise that we’ve got a worse plastic recycling system than many other places in the country, and that is because we were basically locked into a contract which is very difficult to change.”
She also said that it is the Greens’ “absolute priority” to allow a wider range of plastics to be recycled, and has been in touch with Environment Secretary Michael Gove to get involved to help achieve this goal.
“There’s no good the national government talking about how we all need to be recycling more if, at a local level, we are locked into these contracts which mean it’s very difficult to do that.”
“Young people’s futures are going to be at stake”
Lucas also slammed a local Labour branch for its comments in a since-deleted post on Twitter, suggesting that younger councillors are not experienced enough to be part of local government.
She said: “I am extremely surprised that Labour would somehow suggest we shouldn’t be having more young people in our council chambers. Far too many councils around the country are not truly representative of the societies they represent and the Greens are absolutely determined that should change.
“With so many of the bigger issues of the day, whether that’s housing or tuition fees or climate change, young people have extremely strong views on these things, and it’s young people’s futures that are going to be at stake.
“I think it’s incredibly important that young people are there making those decisions and I find it rather patronising to suggest otherwise.”
“Austerity is having a massive impact on public services”
The party’s manifesto calls for progressive funding approaches and says the Greens will fight for adequate funding of local government. Lucas is extremely critical of the impact that funding cuts have had on services in Brighton and Hove.
“Austerity is having a massive impact on public services, and it’s a double whammy because the government will change some of the provisions around welfare and benefits, and then they also take away money from local councils, so we’re in a much more difficult position to be able to fill the gap and be able to step in and give people the support,” she explained.
She added that services such as youth groups are also being impacted, which is removing funding from areas that could prevent people needing support later on.
“The idea that if only different departments be a bit more innovative then we could sort this out is incredibly out of touch. That might have been true in the very early days when budgets began to be cut, but I think we’ve had so many years of so many cuts that I think most of those opportunities have been taken up already.”
“The Greens are offering something positive for the future”
Lucas said she is upbeat about the party’s prospects in Brighton and Hove, and said that the mood on the doorstep has been supportive of the party.
“The response we’ve been getting on the doorstep is unprecedented in my experience and the number of people who’ve started off a conversation saying ‘I usually vote Labour but..’ is extremely high,” she said.
However, she said that this support isn’t just the result of people being fed up with Labour and the Conservatives.
“They recognise that Green councillors work very hard and we do deliver for them. There are lots of examples that people will give, like times when they’ve contacted Green councillors and they’ve had a very swift response.”
“I’m confident that we’re going to do really well, partly because of the divisions of the other parties but mostly because the Greens are offering something positive and hopeful for the future.”