Why I defected from the Lib Dems on Bath Council

“The Green Party, it appears, is the only party that remains committed to deliver change and to face the fierce urgency of now.” Joanna Wright, who recently defected from the Liberal Democrats to the Greens in Bath and North East Somerset, outlines the reasons why she made the move.

Joanna Wright
Joanna Wright

On 23 June 2021, in a meeting at the Guildhall in Bath I gave a three-minute statement to the Liberal Democrat Cabinet of Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) Council about why I was resigning from the party and joining the Green Party. I was elected for the first time in 2019, quite aware that my decision to run on a Liberal Democrat ticket was possibly going to challenge my green values. For many years I had been campaigning on various issues in Bath, working to deliver a skatepark in the local park so that children over the age of seven had somewhere to play and did not have to be driven across the city; highlighting the chronic issue of air pollution in Bath and working with the University of Bath researching how parents take their children to school and why they choose to travel this way. The ongoing theme is that how we all move around impacts the environment and our bodies and it is critical that politicians rethink transport so that it is fair for all.

My home is in the ward of Lambridge, in the east of Bath, and from 2015 it was the first ward in BANES to have a Green Party Councillor – Lin Patterson – who worked tirelessly to serve her community and the wider issues of the Green Party. What I also saw was how alone Lin had been on the council and to be quite frank, it scared me. Three political parties tasked me to represent them in the 2019 local elections, as I was a well known activist in my local community. Over the many years of campaigning I had always figured that the council was a Gordian knot that was quite impenetrable and hard to navigate. One of my key reasons for wanting to be elected was to work out how this organisation actually worked. My campaigning and actions were useful, but I thought that if I wanted to be more effective I would need a better understanding of how the council operates. Experiential knowledge, I have often found, is the best way to learn, so I decided that becoming a councillor was a good way to understand how council’s function. I therefore opted to work with the Liberal Democrats and stand as a Liberal Democrat councillor as I thought that they would be more likely to have several councillors elected and I would have the support of a wider group at the Council. The Liberal Democrats appeared to share many values, from Brexit to a green agenda, and their manifesto claimed that they would be bold and take action on the climate emergency. Thirty-seven Liberal Democrats were elected in May 2019 and I was given the role of Joint Cabinet Member for Transport at BANES.  

I actively sought this role, which also included sitting on the Transport Board for the West of England Combined Authority (WECA). I fully recognised that at a local level one of the few areas where Councils can make a significant impact to tackle the climate emergency, social justice and impact public health is through making changes and improving policy and strategies related to how we all move around. In BANES, transport is responsible for 29 per cent of all carbon emissions.  

As Joint Member for Transport I led on numerous initiatives, including the Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP4), the Clean Air Zone, a Delivery Action Transport Plan for Bath, Mass Transit and Liveable Neighbourhoods. During the pandemic the Government put me in the position of having to deliver on emergency active travel measures and initiate changes to transport to help with social distancing and protect the NHS and save lives. Some elements of these changes such as improving cycle infrastructure and Liveable Neighbourhoods were already part of the 2019 Liberal Democrat manifesto. Unfortunately, certain Liberal Democrats used the pandemic and the noise of a few vocal opponents to work against these schemes and their own manifesto commitments.

A recent local leadership contest took place in the Liberal Democrats and the previous Leader of Council was removed. The new Leader was supported by members who were against the active travel measures, as they were concerned about the impact of removing parking and how a bus gate could lose them votes. The bold commitments of the manifesto were being shelved under the guise of “it is better to lose a few battles to win the war”.  At any other point in history this view by a political group, who clearly want to remain in power, might have been acceptable, but the fact is that we are in a climate emergency. Bold actions are needed at times of emergency. The pandemic gave local councils the choice to make significant changes and I found that local politicians are more concerned with votes not lives, with votes and not the future. This was unacceptable.

For too long politicians across the spectrum have used predatory delay as a way to stop change.  The Green Party, it appears, is the only party that remains committed to deliver change and to face the ‘fierce urgency of now’.