Doing politics differently

Shropshire and Shrewsbury Councillor Julian Dean explores how Greens across the country are challenging and overturning business-as-usual, empowering local communities and delivering change.

The Stroud Alliance sat altogether
Cllr Julian Dean

Stroud’s Progressive Alliance is this year celebrating 10 years in power. The cooperative agreement that has seen the District Council run jointly by Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat councillors, is now believed to be the longest-lasting cross-party administration in English local government. As Green peer Natalie Bennett has pointed out, such administrations are often called councils under ‘no overall control’ when really they should be referred to as ‘councils in cooperative operation.’ 

The Alliance in Stroud is the perfect demonstration of how Greens are working to do politics differently. It has successfully kept the Tories out since they lost control of the council in 2012. But perhaps more importantly, it has demonstrated that 15 Labour, 13 Green and 3 Liberal Democrats councillors can put differences aside and work cooperatively together in the interests of the district they represent. With the council operating a committee system, both Labour and Green councillors have key chairperson roles on decision-making committees. 

And the achievements of this more collaborative form of politics can be groundbreaking. They include becoming the first carbon-neutral council in Europe; committing £180 million to retrofit and decarbonise 5,000 council-owned properties; and investing in protecting neighbourhood wardens, youth services, and animal welfare, despite government funding cuts.

Stroud is not alone in doing politics differently. Whenever and wherever Green councillors are elected, people like what they see and want more. This explains our ‘hockey stick graph’ growth in councillor numbers in the last few years.

In the local election this May, Greens gained a larger percentage increase in seats than any other party. There are now 547 Green councillors in 167 councils across England and Wales. Crucially, Greens are now part of the ruling administration in 18 councils, as well as in a minority administration in Brighton and Hove.

This exponential growth is in no small part down to the fact people prefer to see councillors from different parties working collaboratively together, rather than Punch and Judy or one-party state politics that pervade so many places.

At a recent weekend gathering, Greens in power shared experiences and ideas of how they are changing politics for the better and bringing about positive change in their communities.

Engaging local people is vital to building support for progressive policies. In Herefordshire, Greens achieved unanimous cross-party support for holding a Climate Citizens Assembly which has helped win support for local policies to tackle the climate crisis.

Similarly in York, where Greens are in a coalition with Lib Dem councillors, citizens’ transport forums, involving the Bus Forum, Cycle Forum and Civic Trust transport experts, are helping to develop a new Local Transport Plan that will seek to decarbonise transport and make active and public transport inclusive and popular.

Collaborative politics also involves working cooperatively to move on from the errors of the past. In Sheffield, Greens have 14 councillors and pushed the council into No Overall Control. In May 2021, the new Green-influenced two-party administration picked up the pieces of the disastrous Labour policy of felling street trees. The Council has appointed an independent chair for an inquiry, and made space for public challenges and questions on what should happen next. This has helped to restore trust in the Council.

In May 2022, with a move to a committee system after a long-running campaign, all three party groups (Labour, Lib Dem and Green) have chairs on decision-making committees. Greens picked up two of the nine policy committees chairs, but pushed to go even further by job sharing one of the Co-chair roles with Labour, in what is thought to be a first in the Country.

In South Oxfordshire where Greens are part of a rainbow coalition with the Lib Dems and small parties, Green Party councillors have pushed successfully for up to five years of funding for local groups and projects related to community-led regeneration in one of the authority’s most deprived wards. The scheme encourages partnership working between voluntary organisations, local businesses and the public sector.

‘Business-as-usual’ has resulted in a world on the brink of climate and ecological catastrophe, weakened and divided communities, and widened the gap between rich and poor. Political responses have often been ‘captured’ by sectional interests or arrogant and tribalist politics. Greens are showing that doing politics differently can challenge and overturn business-as-usual, demonstrating that pluralist, inclusive approaches can empower communities and help deliver change. It can even restore trust in politics.

The weekend gathering looked not just at how we do politics but also at how to make local economies greener, and how to insulate and decarbonise our homes at speed. Future articles will report further on this, and subsequent ‘greens in power’ gatherings.