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Green surge secures historic victory at Bristol council elections

The Green Party gained 10 seats, mostly from Labour, but fell just short of a majority. Now, they will go into Bristol’s new committee system as the largest party, but restated their commitment to work with others in leading the council.

Local Elections 2024

The Green Party have secured a historic victory in Bristol’s local elections, falling just short of taking overall control of the council. 

After eight years of Labour being in power under mayor Marvin Rees, the Greens will be the largest party under the new committee system where councillors pick a leader and make decisions on committees. 

The big political shake-up saw the Greens take 34 seats across Bristol – 10 more than at the last election in 2021 – while Labour ended up on 21. On a disastrous day for the Conservatives nationally, in Bristol they fell from 14 councillors to the smallest party on seven.

The Greens took seats off Labour in east of the city – St George Central, St George West, Lawrence Hill and Eastville – as well as in Ashley ward. Their other gains came in Knowle, which was Lib Dem in 2021 before the two councillors set up the Knowle Community Party. 

Green candidates and volunteers celebrate winning a seat in Bedminster

Mirroring the national trend, Labour took a handful of seats off the Tories on edges of the city, in Frome Vale, Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston and Bishopsworth. A rare success for the Lib Dems saw the party take all three councillors off the Conservatives in Westbury-on-Trym, but they ended up with eight councillors. 

Among the throngs of winning Green candidates was party’s co-leader Carla Denyer, who is stepping down as a Bristol councillor to run to become the city’s first Green MP at this year’s general election. Denyer will be encouraged by the fact that the Greens took all the council seats within Bristol Central, the new constituency she is running in against Labour’s Thangam Debonnaire.

‘We want to find common ground and work with other parties’

This is the first local election since Bristol voted to bin its mayoral system after just 10 years and opt for a new committee system. This will mean councillors will have more power to make decisions on different committees, as well as elect or remove the leader of the council, who is likely to be the leader of the largest party. 

Emma Edwards, the Bristol Green leader, told the Cable after the results were announced:  “I’m ecstatic, this exceeded our expectations and just shows that Bristol is ready for a change, likes our policies and wants to see more Greens in City Hall. 

“We’re really excited because we’re going into the committee system and we have a lot of work to do. I’m a little bit lost for words at the moment but I’m so proud of all our candidates, even the ones that didn’t make it, they worked so hard, as did our volunteers. 

“This is just short of a majority but gives us a mandate to show that Bristol is really behind a new way of doing politics, to break down that tribalism, and work together for the greater good. 

“We’re going to be negotiating with the other parties once the dust has settled, and we’re looking for a less toxic way of doing things,” she said. “We want to have those negotiations in a friendly way and find those parts of our manifestos where there’s common ground so that we can start implementing policies for Bristol.”

‘Leading the council as a born-and-bred Bristolian will be such an honour’

The Cable also spoke to Tony Dyer, who was re-elected in Southville and is likely to be the next council leader. “I’m feeling very excited, but would be lying to you if I didn’t say I wasn’t exhausted too,” he said. “I’m proud of the effort that has been made, not just the candidates who were selected, but those who narrowly missed out and our volunteers across the city. Without them, we wouldn’t have got all these people elected. 

“Realistically, 30 was the number that we were looking at as the most likely target, but we decided to be ambitious and go for more. It would have been great to get a majority but 34 seats is a great result. It’s 10 more than the last election, which itself was 13 more than the election before that so that’s an increase of 23 in the last two elections. 

It is likely that Dyer could become the next leader of Bristol City Council, but all councillors will elect a leader at a meeting on 21 March. On what happens next, he said: “The first part is that everyone needs to recharge their batteries. And then those conversations will start, I imagine that each party will think about what role they want to play in the council going forward. 

“Our hope is that we’ll have some open and honest conversations about how we work together to make this city better, because it is a fabulous city but also has deep-seated problems that we need to tackle if we’re to allow everyone to enjoy the city and share in its prosperity. 

Dyer wouldn’t give much detail on what the arrangements with the other parties might look like, but said: “It is a committee model so in a way it’s a coalition of sorts, because you’re sharing decision making power for the whole council, so the conversation has to be what do all the parties want in terms of how we work together going forward.

On the prospect of becoming the next council leader, Dyer said: “It’s daunting but it’s also something that I’ve been thinking about and preparing for for a long time. It’s something that as a born and bred Bristolian, I will be just so honoured to do and I will put every single effort that I’m capable of providing into it.”

Despite losing out to the Greens in a number of seats, Labour group leader councillor Tom Renhard said the party had some very good results, including ousting a Conservative in Frome Vale. He said: “We also won the police and crime commissioner election, which is an absolutely fantastic result and shows there is strong support for Labour across the city. 

“We’ll take stock over the weekend and see what it means for how the committee system will work. We’ve been picking up seats off of the Conservatives, as we’ve seen nationally. We’ve seen that swing away from the Conservatives to Labour.”

Turnout was lower in many wards across the city, with some areas seeing less than 30% bothering to vote. However, the overall turnout has not yet been confirmed by Bristol City Council. 

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