LONDON (Bywire News) - In what was a busy night for local elections, the Greens almost pushed the Labour Party back into second place on Bristol City Council as a by-election came down to just a handful of votes. But looking at the detail, the situation shows the precariousness of English politics right now.
As the Bristol Post reported, the Southmead ward in the city had been a Labour stronghold for over a quarter of a century. But after the resignation of one of its Labour councillors last year a seat was up for grabs. It mattered because currently, Bristol City Council is in a state of no overall control – with Labour and the Greens both having 24 councillors each. It is, though, effectively a Labour council, because the party’s mayor Marvin Rees has a vote on council decisions.
But it’s not without problems. For example, the equally split council has led to a stalemate situation with the city’s budget this year. The Bristol Post reported that:
“Rees postponed a decision on whether to accept a raft of changes secured by opposition groups.
A meeting of full council lasting four-and-three-quarter hours on Tuesday (February 15) ended abruptly when the mayor exercised his right to take up to five working days to either incorporate the amendments or reject them. It is the first time this has happened under the mayoral system in Bristol and means a second meeting of all councillors is now required, on March 2."
So, a loss in Southmead for Labour would have meant the Greens would have moved to be the largest party – but still with control of the council split.
In the end, that didn’t materialise – but only just. Because Labour’s Kye Dudd won the seat. The result was as follows:
- Labour Party: 780 votes - 41.24% (-3.4).
- Green Party: 728 votes - 38.5% (+19.08).
- Conservatives: 279 votes - 14.75% (-14.43).
- Lib Dems: 82 votes - 4.31% (-6.04).
- Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC): 22 votes - 1.16% (new).
This has thrown up a few interesting points.
First, there was a clear swing from the Tories and Lib Dems to the Greens. This is something that stood out at the 2021 local elections. For example, as the Guardian reported at the time:
“In Suffolk, the Greens made six gains – four from the Tories and one each from Labour and the Lib Dems”.
The party posit that this is because “green politics is on the rise”. But it could also be a case of voter fatigue with the Tories (and in some instances Labour, too). Moreover, it shows that people’s political views are transient – because the Greens and Tories are at different ends of the ideological spectrum on many issues.
But as usual, the spectre of systemic voter disenfranchisement haunted the Southmead by-election.
Turnout was just 21.2% in an area where parts of the ward have high rates of poverty. This was a 32% drop in people voting compared to the 2021 local elections. In those elections, turnout in richer areas was far higher – for example, the affluent ward of Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze saw a 57% turnout in 2021. This was 83% higher than in Southmead. Clearly, none of the parties in Bristol are so far giving many of the poorest people any reason to vote for them. This is reflective of the national picture, where in the 2019 general election 47% of the poorest people didn’t vote.
So, in Bristol, it seems that “green politics” is on the rise – with Labour looking distinctly on the ropes. But given that the majority of poorer people didn’t vote for anyone – is this really showing English democracy in action? Because if it is, it’s in a very sorry state.
(Writing by Steve Topple, editing by Klaudia Fior)