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A Labour victory in Bristol East is odds-on, but will a Green surge cut the party’s majority?

Demographic differences in the vast Bristol East constituency, which now includes Easton and Knowle, could mix up the vote.

General Election 2024

“The odds on Labour are ridiculously short,” bookie Mark tells me, in a Backhouse Bet on Stockwood Road. It’s a sleepy Tuesday evening in Stockwood, the southernmost part of the Bristol East constituency.  

Mark and I shoot the breeze about the upcoming election over the counter, occasionally interrupted by the odd punter. “You don’t see many lasses in here!” says one man. “You do on the fruit machines!” another chimes in laughing. 

Mark is disillusioned with Labour, and has been since the 1992 election defeat of Neil Kinnock. “Labour just went more towards the Conservatives after that,” he laments, but adds he also thought Corbyn was “unelectable.” 

Mark from Backhorse Bet on Stockwood Road

Now he can’t see much in the two main parties: “I’m not gonna vote – it’s a bit of muchness I think.” 

I ask whether his customers in Stockwood feel the same way. “Most of the older people around here seem to be Tory voters, but they don’t like Sunak, so most of them won’t vote,” comes the answer.

Just down the street, I met Hafizur, the owner of an Indian takeaway. He and his family have been in the curry business since the 70s, when his family moved from Bangladesh. 

Despite being a lifelong Labour voter, Hafizur is also considering not voting tomorrow – but due to a more recent incident. “I’m Bangladeshi, and when I saw Keir Starmer make those stupid comments about our community – we can’t vote for him now,” he says. 

He’s referring to comments Starmer made at an event hosted by The Sun when he was asked by an audience member what Labour was going to do to deport people who arrived in the UK illegally. In part of his answer he said, “At the moment people coming from countries like Bangladesh are not being removed.”

The clip went viral, and angered members of the Bangladeshi community who felt unfairly singled out. Starmer made an apology over the offence caused by his remarks the next day. 

It’s a reminder that even the surest votes can still be swayed by a political gaffe. As former 18th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “There is no gambling like politics.”

In Bristol East, the odds are that Labour will hold the seat – as they have since 1992. Incumbent Kerry McCarthy has been MP since 2005, making her Bristol’s most experienced parliamentarian. In 2019, she won with a majority of nearly 11,000 votes more than the Tory candidate in second.  

But as McCarthy’s rival from the Green Party, Ani Stafford Townsend has argued, if people were to vote in the general election as they did in the recent locals, where five of the nine wards in Bristol East went Green, we could yet see a Green MP. 

Bristol East spans a great demographic range. From the inner city, cosmopolitan Easton, to the high rises of Barton Hill, to the suburbs of Knowle and Stockwood. Could the recent boundary changes, which bring together Easton, Knowle and Lawrence Hill, work in the Greens favour? We went to speak to constituents and the Green and Labour party candidates to try to find answers. 

Back in the bookies, I ask Mark which party people are putting their money on. “Most of the bets we get are on the horses and the Euro’s to be honest!” is the response. Indeed, England’s victory may well mean more to people than Labour’s. 

The Green are just slogans, says ‘veteran’ Labour MP

I meet Kerry McCarthy in a cafe, before she heads to a meeting in City Hall. “Darren Jones is very keen on referring to me as the veteran MP for Bristol East – which is his way of saying I’m old enough to be his mother!” she laughs. 

Kerry McCarthy, who has been the Labour MP for Bristol East since 2005.

Despite this, McCarthy tells me she’s not taking her victory for granted. “Around 30% of the constituency is new. Lawrence Hill and Easton came back in, and Knowle is new – that’s about 30,000 households.” 

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. “Actually at various points my majority went below 4,000,” she adds. She remembers how in 2017’s snap election called by then-Prime Minister Theresa May, the Tories chose Hungerford Road in Brislington to launch their South West campaign. 

But this election, the threat may come not from the Tories but the Greens. I ask McCarthy whether she worries that concerns over climate change would turn voters turn Green. 

The shadow minister for climate change pulls no punches in her reply: “A lot of the Green campaign has been to say that they’re the only ones who can be trusted with climate change. 

“[But] the Greens don’t have a plan – it’s all just slogans,” she goes on. “I’m sure if Carla [Denyer] got elected [for the Greens in Bristol Central] she’d be putting down an early day motion declaring a climate emergency. Early day motions don’t mean anything happens, but you get attention for them.” 

McCarthy says the Greens have opposed the building of solar farms and onshore wind pylons, to create the necessary infrastructure to invest in renewable energy. 

Instead McCarthy points to Labour’s plan for Great British Energy: “We can bring in the Swedish state-owned energy company, we can bring in the private sector and we can make this happen.” 

On a more local level, she says Bristol’s local Labour administration, voted out in May’s local elections, is world-renowned. “I’ve been to COP in Dubai, and there were cities from around the world listening to what Bristol has done on City Leap and our approach to decarbonising cities. 

“So I don’t need someone like Caroline Lucas to tell me to be ambitious on the climate change agenda,” she says, sipping on an oat latte. “And she still eats cheese – I’ve been vegan for 32 years!” 

‘We’ve pushed the big parties on climate action’

A Green councillor for Central ward since 2021, Stafford-Townsend is fresher in the political game than their opponent. They took over the job from Nassem Talukdar, who stood down citing family reasons. He was under investigation from the Greens for a post comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with Hitler. 

Green candidate Ani Stafford-Townsend who is already a local councillor

Of course, Stafford-Townsend has a different take to McCarthy: “A big reason political parties are even taking climate change seriously is because we’ve been pushing them to do that for such a long time.” 

According to Stafford-Townsend, conversations they’ve had on the doorsteps show concerns for the climate are trumping people’s traditional voting allegiances. “People can see that actually all that other stuff doesn’t matter if you don’t have a planet anymore – I hear it from the older demographics as well, who’re listening to their grandchildren,” Stafford-Townsend says.

“But it’s also that there’s no climate justice without racial and social justice as well; our policies speak that. The everyday struggles that people have when it comes to the cost of living, food poverty, heat poverty tied into the climate emergency. The worse the climate impact is, the higher those costs will go.” 

As the local election results showed, the Greens have done well to challenge their stereotypical middle-class image, and present themselves as a party for working people as well.  

I ask Stafford-Townsend if it’s a preconception they’ve had to deal with from voters: “I think I can feel the accusation of being privileged quite keenly,” they say. “I grew up in poverty in Filton, being Queer I’m estranged from my family, and I’m a renter.” 

‘I feel like I don’t belong in the Labour party’

In a hustings hosted by Bristol Refugee Rights on asylum and migration issues, Kerry McCarthy opposed the government’s Rwanda scheme, and committed to extra resources to clearing the backlog. She called for an end to the “dog whistle politics” and said Labour was committed to ending the use of hotels, barracks and barges.

Her 19 years of casework has earned her kudos with the diverse groups that make up the community, and she spoke of her work on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Somaliland and her successful family reunifications. 

But her appeal is far from universal, with many other people of colour feeling alienated by Labour. 

Amid the tower blocks of Barton Hill I speak to Fadumo, who has vocally put her backing behind the Green Party. Fadumo was evacuated from Barton House under the Labour council administration, and claims Greens supported residents more during this time. 

Back in May, Fadumo found herself in the centre of a social media storm when she commented on a photo of the newly elected Labour councillors, pointing out their lack of diversity. In response she received a swathe of inflammatory comments from independent but Labour-linked Patchway town councillor Daniel Fry – including that she should “not forget what country you are in”. This prompted outcry from Green councillors. 

The incident speaks to a wider context of a thorny relationship between Labour and communities of colour. “The treatment of Diane Abbot after she’d worked for the Labour party for 40 years – it’s unacceptable,” Fadumo points out. “Shocking, to be honest.” The deselection of Labour candidate Faiza Shaheen from standing in Chingford and Woodford Green was also perceived by many as disrespectful to communities of colour. 

And of course, Gaza has been a prominent issue for many in Bristol East, as Fadumo says: “I was appalled when Keir Starmer initially said Israel has every right to cut off water and electricity.” 

The issue of Gaza is clearly important here; with two independent candidates running with Palestine as a central platform – Farooq Ahmed Siddique and Palestinian Wael Mustapha Arafat

“As someone who is a Black Muslim, I feel I do not belong in Labour – they’ve moved to the right, and I don’t feel comfortable challenging them or holding them accountable,” says Fadumo.  

Housing crisis pushing people out to Bristol’s edges? 

The electoral map has always tended to go blue the further out from the periphery you go. But Stafford-Townsend says increasing house prices and gentrification are changing that, pushing people further and further out.  

Unaffordable and low quality housing is a constituency-wide issue, according to both Labour and Green candidates. 

As Stafford-Townsend says: “We have a terrible quality of housing stock that’s just not being looked after. It’s not housing that we need in the right places, it’s breaking up communities.”

The Greens are backing rent caps, and ending the right to buy council homes as well as proposals to “empower local authorities to bring empty homes back into use”.

But McCarthy is sceptical, claiming that a lot of the empty buildings the Greens refer to are not fit for purpose. “A lot of them will be vacant spaces above shops, for example, that are not really habitable or accessible for families,” she says.  

Buses, the perennial problem for Bristol, is a pertinent topic for people the candidates have met on the doorstep, especially those on the ward’s periphery. Greens and Labour are both pledging to bring buses under collective ownership. 

Also standing in the constituency is Dan Conaghan from the Conservatives. His tough stance on knife crime at a recent hustings held by the Trussell Trust charity caused outrage. “We need stop and search and curfews,” he said. “We can talk all day long about the soft stuff around the edges but those groups have to be tackled, approached, and punished.” 

He did however earn a round of applause by opposing the controversial liveable neighbourhood scheme about to be trialled in Barton Hill, Redfield and St George. 

Other candidates standing are Tony Sutcliffe from the Liberal Democrats, Claire Dunnage from the Social Democrat Party, as well as Farooq Ahmed Siddique and Wael Mustapha Arafat as Independents. 

Neighbouring Bristol Central is where the Greens have put their focus – it’s one of their four main target seats nationally. But in Bristol East, the size of the decent dent they can put in the expected Labour majority could well give them hope for the future. 

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Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • Bristol East today
    ITS a farce, I have just gone to vote for the second or third largest party ie reform.
    Amazingly no candidate representing reform. so could not express my voting wish.
    Just spoilt my paper
    So how many others of my persuasion be tempted to do the same or even vote for anybody on the list instead.
    This is not democratic


  • So is this article.


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