The result of a recent by-election at the Hotwells and Harbourside ward in Bristol has had a significant effect on the balance of power on the city council.
Due to the previous councillor resigning, citing mental health issues which he felt prevented him carrying out his duties, a by-election took place on the 2 February 2023.
As I said in my earlier article in West England Bylines, this by-election was an interesting one. Since 2021, there has been no overall majority for any party on the council, and the two parties with the most seats (Bristol Greens and Bristol Labour) have been tied at 24. This meant it’s been relatively easy to get through what they wanted without the consent of the other party, just by teaming up with other parties, mostly the Lib Dems.
The Greens showed this by working with other parties to get a referendum through about whether to get rid of the position of Bristol Mayor (and subsequently, Marvin Rees in the process) or to keep it. Anyone who’s followed my videos and articles should not be surprised to find out the Mayorship will be abolished in 2024.
The Greens have worked with Labour on some issues, such as the recent Rent Control Motion.
It was going to be a tough one. The Lib Dems previously won this ward by the barest of margins, 26 votes ahead of the Green Party. If Labour or the Greens won this ward, while it wouldn’t give them an overall majority, it will still make them the largest party out of any sitting on the Bristol City Council.
The Greens have more at stake though. The 2021 results were a surprise to many as a ‘Green Wave’ washed over Bristol and replaced 13 Labour Councillors. If the Greens didn’t win in this by-election or at least come second, people would start to speculate that the ‘Green Wave’ was just a protest vote against the incumbent mayor.
When the by-election was called, people were quick to throw their hat into the ring. The Greens announced Patrick McAllister, the Liberal Democrats former Bristol West MP Stephen Williams, and Bristol 24/7 editor Martin Booth as their candidates. Labour announced Eileen Means as their candidate and the Conservatives chose Eliana Barbosa to stand, both pretty close to the deadline on the 6 January.
Many candidates stood on a platform of more scrutiny of developments happening on the west of the Harbour, easing of traffic, and the potential moving of the Bristol Central Library from its current location. This last issue evaporated with the shock announcement from Bristol Labour that the Bristol Central Library was in fact not going anywhere. Maybe they had worked out that moving it was more expensive than keeping it where it is. Or was it a cynical attempt to win over voters by “saving” the library from their own policies?
Martin Booth announced he was dropping out of the race due to his role at the Newspaper Bristol 24/7 as a conflict of interest, although his name would still appear on the ballot paper. A hustings was organised, where the Conservative candidate did appear, where the candidates, including the Conservative, spoke about what they stood whilst elaborating on their previous positions.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP, made a visit to support Patrick McAllister, which one of the candidates start accusing the Greens of “desperate tactics” and then accused them of launching a smear campaign
The day finally came, and votes were cast. When all the votes were counted, the Greens had won. Here were the results:
- Patrick McAllister (Green): 537
- Stephan Williams (Lib Dem): 511
- Eileen Means (Labour): 153
- Eliana Barbosa (Conservative): 34
- Martin Booth (not standing): 14
On a turnout of 32.4%, 1,251 people had voted. By a strange coincidence, the Greens beat the Lib Dems by 26 votes, the same margin as the Lib Dems had beaten the Greens in 2021.
What does this mean?
So, despite the Greens gaining the much coveted 25th seat and becoming the biggest party on the Council, there is still no overall control.
But it does mean that the Greens will not need to rely on as much cross-party help to push through their agenda, such as more green spaces, removing the cladding on buildings on the harbourside (which is the same cladding as was on the Grenfell Tower), and more ways to decrease the City’s carbon footprint. More than that, the Greens will be eyeing what this means for the next General Election.
You see, I’ve been doing a mini-series on the West England YouTube Channel looking at the boundary changes that might happen at the next election (if it takes place after 2023, that is). In my research for Bristol, I found out that the current Bristol West constituency is losing three wards and being renamed to Bristol Central.
Why does this matter? Thanks to the results of this local election, 12 of the 14 councillor seats in these 7 wards are now controlled by the Green Party, the other 2 by Labour Councillors. If the Green Party push hard here, it could result in the Green Party’s second ever MP is the House of Commons.
Even if there’s an election called before the boundary changes are made, the by-election stills shows that the Greens have a good chance of winning here and they’re already leaping on this opportunity.
Councillor Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, has already been chosen for the parliamentary candidate for Bristol West and said about the by-election;
“I’m really delighted to have Patrick joining our group of experienced and dedicated Green councillors on Bristol City Council. It means that in the parliamentary constituency of Bristol West, where I’m standing to be MP in the next general election, we now have at least one Green councillor in every single ward in the constituency.
“It’s fantastic to see that the people of Hotwells and Harbourside, and more broadly the people of Bristol, want to see more Green politics in the city and are ready to trust us with power.”
Bristol West/Bristol Central seems to be a place to keep an eye on in the future.