Why I left the Conservatives to join the Green Party

Caroline Topping was until recently a Conservative councillor for Beccles South on Waveney District Council in Suffolk. She is also a former Mayor of Beccles. Last week, she made the decision to move to the Green Party – a move some might see as a fairly dramatic shift. Here, she explains what led her to take that step.

Caroline Topping, Graham Elliott and Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw
Caroline Topping

Image: Graham Elliott

(L-R) Caroline Topping with Green councillors Graham Elliott and Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw

Caroline Topping

I first got involved in politics just over 12 years ago. At that point I had no particular allegiances and just voted locally for people who I thought were doing a good job – I am of the opinion that local towns and parishes should not be whipped by colours, but that their councillors should just do the best for their communities.

I was persuaded to go to a meeting where they were looking for candidates, and before I knew it I was having my photograph taken and had been persuaded to stand. I was an independent on Beccles Town Council – and proud to be, vocally so. Then, at the last district elections in 2015, I was approached by friends who were Conservatives and asked to stand for the District Council with them. I attended a meeting and thought yes, this is the next step in order to ‘drag’ money from the district pot into Beccles. I put myself forward, did the canvassing and got elected; I then joined the Conservative Party nationally and as a Waveney member.

After just over three years as a Conservative councillor on Waveney District Council, whilst still being an independent on Beccles Town Council, I decided I was no longer able to best represent the community that had elected me. Issues had arisen, and I had been told behind closed doors that I was getting ‘too friendly’ with my Green colleagues on Beccles Town Council.

I am a team player; I enjoy bouncing ideas off other people and having their support to achieve goals. I do not believe one person knows everything and I know my limitations, which is why I look to others to fill in the gaps within my own knowledge. I was working more and more with Green colleagues on Beccles Town Council, who were out in the community, as a team, doing great things – and our Mayor, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw, who represents the Green Party, is a very similar soul to my own.

Waveney is a Conservative-led council, as is the wider Suffolk County Council. One local issue that has been frustrating involves the way Suffolk is removing all the funding it gives to the Citizens Advice Bureau; as this is a cut being made by the Conservative-led county council, we at district level are all expected to support this and other actions by not being vocal against what the Conservatives are doing, both county and country wide.

If you found yourself in the wrong place, would you not seek to put yourself in the right one?

As a Green, I want to stand up and be heard for the people who voted for me to do just that. I cannot magic the money from central government to put everything right and save frontline services, but cuts are hurting the local community and they deserve to have their voices heard. To this end, some Green Party members – with only a few hours’ notice – managed to turn out 10 people to peacefully protest the dire consequences of cuts to Citizens Advice Bureau funding.

As a Conservative, I would never have been allowed to stand in the street and do that – but people should see us in the streets and be heartened that we are making a noise on their behalf, not cowering behind closed doors. And indeed, the response I’ve experienced has been 99 per cent positive, through comments on Facebook, by email and on the streets.

Until my resignation from the Conservatives last week, I was a deputy cabinet member for two portfolios on Waveney District Council, Resources and Communities, a position I held since May 2017. I enjoyed being able to get into the thick of things, and was able to work with the officers to deliver some excellent projects for my community, but I had no voting rights at cabinet meetings. Since I have had to give up this position, I am hoping to be able to continue that work, but without the title.

I can see that switching from Conservative to Green would appear to be a dramatic shift – but if you found yourself in the wrong place, would you not seek to put yourself in the right one? I took a pre-election questionnaire recently and found that I did not pick one single blue policy. When I first joined the Conservatives and sat in a room with lots of others ‘stuffing envelopes’, I sat next to one lady who was reeling off the party’s policies; when I dared to disagree with some of what she was saying she told me I ‘was not a Conservative’. Maybe I should have taken her advice then!

To other people who find themselves in the wrong place, I would say: ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’. This is written on the banner that Suffragist Millicent Fawcett carries on her statue in Parliament Square – and I have felt more empowered than ever since Elfrede and I worked together on a Suffrage event in Beccles. I subsequently worked on another event in Lowestoft with Labour colleagues; researching what these women and men went through over 50 odd years to gain votes for women and lower the voting age for men was both inspiring and humbling. They should be recognised more for dedicating their lifetimes’ work to ensure that we all have equal representation in Parliament.