Bristol West: On the campaign trail with Carla Denyer

Bristol – an environmentally-conscious, left-leaning, pro-Remain city – is a key target seat in the Green Party’s mission to elect a second MP. As the party ramps up its most ambitious election campaign to date, Bristol West candidate Carla Denyer is determined to join Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons. Green World spent a day with Carla and her canvassers to find out more.

Carla Denyer and canvassers in Bristol West
Carla Denyer and canvassers in Bristol West

Natalie Bennett joined Carla Denyer and canvassers for Bristol's Trans Pride march

Imogen Benson

Bristol city councillor Carla Denyer has her sights set on the green benches of Westminster. Her constituency, Bristol West, has been held by Labour’s Thangham Debbonaire since 2015 – but Carla is determined to overturn Labour’s majority of 37,336 and join Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons. 

On a blustery November afternoon, Green World joined Carla and her canvassers as they braved the rain to spread the party’s message. Supporters were out in full force – a crowd of activists had travelled to Bristol as part of the Young Greens Big Weekend, spending the morning at Trans Pride South West.

Fresh from her speech at the Trans Pride march, Carla explained why Bristol is the right place for a second Green MP: “Bristol is, at its heart, a green city and it has been for a long while now. There’s a lot of people who, like the Greens, know that environmental and social justice are two sides of the same coin and have to be tackled together. 

“A lot of people of all ages are excited about the possibility of sending another Green MP to Parliament. The message we’re getting out to them is that this is the place to do it.”

Following the announcement of the Unite to Remain agreement, Bristol West’s Liberal Democrat candidate, James Cox, has stood down to give Carla a free run, where she hopes to capitalise on Labour’s mixed messages over Brexit  by putting forward the Green Party’s unambiguous support for a People’s Vote and campaigning to remain in the EU.

“The Unite to Remain agreement has helped hugely,” Carla explained. “We already had a reasonably good chance here in Bristol West, but now the agreement has been announced we have an even better chance of winning. Some Lib Dem voters have even delivered leaflets for us!”

Carla told Green World that a personal highlight of the campaign has been the hustings at Bristol University Students’ Union, which took place on Friday (22 November). “I was really nervous before I went on, but once it got going I really enjoyed it – even the challenging questions! 

“There were lots of great questions, for instance about mental health, where I was able to tell them about the Green Party’s policy on the NHS. We would commit £6 million a year over 10 years – which is much more ambitious and transformative than the Labour plan – and we would also put £1 billion a year into nurses bursaries.

“There’s a substantial and growing Green Party society at Bristol University and, unbeknownst to me, they had organised to turn up in large numbers at the event, so when I walked up on stage I could see loads of people in the audience holding signs and waving Green banners.”

“The buzz is amazing”

Green Peer and former Leader Natalie Bennett was in Bristol for the weekend to help with Carla’s campaign. As the canvassers fueled up for a busy afternoon with soup and cups of tea, Natalie told the group: “The buzz in Bristol is amazing – it’s like 2015, but on steroids. 

“But compared to 2015, we now have so much more organisation behind the campaign. We’ve come such a long way.

“In this election, national polls are utterly meaningless. This is a seat-by-seat election so it’s all totally to play for. What’s really amazed me is that the Greens are saying that this is the Climate Election, and we’re now actually seeing BBC commentators parroting this. If politics is about making sure that your agenda becomes the agenda, then we are getting far more traction than we ever have before.”

Young Greens Big Weekend

With the weekend focusing on youth action, the Young Greens had mobilised a group of young activists to travel across the country to campaign in Bristol. 

Rosie Rawle, Co-chair of the Young Greens, explained: “Carla has a great track record as a local councillor and I think it’s so important to have a fresh young voice in Parliament. She already knows Bristol so well from being a councillor, and you don’t often get the chance to vote for a former wind turbine engineer who wants to take on the climate! 

“Carla’s not that much older than me and she's part of a new generation of people whose politics have been formed from living through austerity. It’s really exciting to have the opportunity to vote for someone like her.”

Will Balsom, a first-year history student, told Green World that he first got involved with the Green Party through the Bristol University society. He explained that he was canvassing for Carla because “it’s just too big of an opportunity to miss.”

“I think that this election could be our last big chance to change the direction of climate action – time is running out so voting for the Greens is more important than ever. Carla proposed the first Climate Emergency motion and now so many other councils have followed. If she can do all of this as a councillor, imagine how much she could do as an MP.”

The student vote

With the Bristol University campus situated in the heart of Carla’s constituency, the student vote will play a crucial role in the seat’s outcome. 

As the canvassers visited Bristol’s student halls, it became apparent that many students had already made up their minds. James, a first-year physics student at the University of Bristol, said: “Compared to all other parties I most agree with what the Greens have to say. Some people have said it’s a throwaway vote, but if enough people vote for them it would send a message to Parliament, and I think that’s really important.”

Louise, a first-year veterinary nursing student, added: “I think young people really have the power to make a change. The environment, and especially animals, is a big part of my life and I really agree with the Green Party’s policies on animal welfare. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

Although a number of students said they’d be voting Labour to “keep the Tories out”, the canvassers were quick to point out that there’s no chance of a Conservative candidate winning the seat in Bristol West. 

“The nice thing about Bristol West is that there’s absolutely no need to vote tactically,” Rosie explained. “The Tories haven’t had this seat since 1997 and they’re not going to get it again. If you’re ever going to vote Green, now’s the time to do it.”

You can find out more about Carla on her website