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Caroline Lucas Warns Labour Could Form ‘One-Term Government’ If Starmer Isn’t Bold

Outgoing Green MP Caroline Lucas and party Co-Leader Carla Denyer suggest gains for their party this week in England will put pressure on Starmer to be radical

Green MP Caroline Lucas and party Co-Leader Carla Denyer rallied activists in Bristol over the weekend. Photo: Josiah Mortimer

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The Green Party’s only MP Caroline Lucas has told Byline Times she is confident several Green MPs will be elected in the next general election, saying that her party will put pressure on Keir Starmer’s Labour to be “bolder, braver and better”. 

Speaking to this newspaper from Bristol ahead of Thursday’s local elections – where the Greens hope to gain a majority on the council for the first time – the outgoing Brighton Pavilion MP suggested that gains for the party will pressure Starmer to shift Labour’s positioning to the left if it wins the next election.

“There will be a huge amount to do to press a Labour government to be bolder and braver and better because, right now, there is no sign that they are ready to rise to the real challenges of this moment,” Lucas said.

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“This is a really, really critical time in terms of climate, in terms of nature, but also in terms of the broader democratic picture in this country. What’s happened under the Conservatives is so dangerous.”

“So many basic rights have been undermined – if not downright removed in some of the rights to strike, rights to peaceful protest, the independence of the Electoral Commission, even the right to vote with the requirement now for photo ID,” the former Green Party Leader added.

Green Party Co-Leader Carla Denyer, a parliamentary candidate for Bristol Central, hopes to oust Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire in the seat in the general election. This would be dramatically boosted by Greens taking control of the council, as the first administration since Labour Mayor Marvin Rees’ mayoral post was scrapped in a referendum. 

The Greens currently have 24 councillors in Bristol to Labour’s 23.

“[We’re] aiming to have a new record number of councillors in Bristol,” Denyer told Byline Times. “It’s possible we will gain a majority. But it’s a stretch target… I am pretty optimistic that we’re going to make some substantial gains in these local elections.”

Green council candidate Rob Bryher said that the party’s prospects were the “best I’ve seen it in 14 years of campaigning”.

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Speaking to this newspaper from a café in her Bishopston ward, the party’s Bristol Council Leader, Emma Edwards, said the Greens would push for a ‘workplace parking levy’ in Bristol, should they gain control this week. The move would charge employers by the number of parking spaces they offer to go into a fund for boosting public transport. She noted its apparent success in Nottingham where it raised significant funds for transport improvements. 

But her first main priority will be getting to grips with the new committee system, which she says will end the “toxic” partisan culture that had emerged between Labour and the Greens under mayor Marvin Rees.

Byline Times joined Edwards on the doorstep as she pushed to secure commitments from locals. Several voters told her that they would back the Greens in the local elections, but opt for Labour in the general election – a split-ticket situation that appears to be increasingly common.  

The party has also pledged to lobby for powers to introduce rent controls in Bristol – a power local councils don’t currently have and which Labour appears to have rejected. Greens are also, like Labour, pushing to build more social housing. 

Councillor Emma Edwards says that the Greens will try to work cooperatively with other parties under Bristol’s new democratic set-up, after the powerful mayor post was scrapped. Photo: Josiah Mortimer (edited to remove registration plate)

However, the party has recently come under scrutiny over a number of local Green councillors opposing new housing developments (as well as some opposing new solar farms). 

Denyer downplayed such examples, saying: “I’m aware that that’s the Labour Party’s attack line – it seems to be the best they can come up with, even though it’s not very grounded in reality. There’s been a handful of planning applications found across the whole country where Greens have voted against the planning application and usually when you actually look into it for very good reasons.” 

The party says it is focused on building the “right homes” in the “right place.”

Denyer added: “When Greens were in administration in North Herefordshire, they got the first council housing in a generation built. When Greens had the housing portfolio in York, they got some low carbon housing developments with a high proportion affordable. It was multi-award-winning.”  

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Lucas hit out at Keir Starmer for not being willing to repeal many Conservative changes: “Look at the U-turning on the green investment pledges. They say that the two-child benefit cap is obscene, but they’ve also said they’re not going to do anything about it. 

“My theory is that, by failing to live up to this critical moment, they will end up being a one-term government. And then the Tories that we might get coming back in at that point could be even worse than and even more dangerous than what we’ve had so far.”

Asked whether Starmer may be merely toning down his radicalism publicly to secure a majority, Lucas said: “There are very few examples in history that I can think of prime ministers being more radical in office than they were when they were campaigning for office. So I don’t think that’s terribly likely. And I also think more seriously that you need a mandate, if you’re going to do genuinely transformative things.

“You win that mandate by telling people what you plan to do if you get elected. And so it’s very dangerous to somehow think that you can just pull out of your pocket and get all sorts of radical ideas, even if he had that in mind, which I’m fairly sure if he doesn’t.” 

On Starmer’s U-turns, the Green MP added: “You do get to the point where people just feel this is someone who can’t be trusted.” 

However, she still appeared clear that a Labour government would be preferable to a Conservative one. Asked if she was regretful to be leaving Parliament on the brink of a Labour administration likely being elected, she said: “It would certainly be very interesting to be a Green MP under a Labour government.” 

Her advice to the next round of Green MPs – should Denyer in Bristol, and Sian Berry in Brighton be elected – was to “have really good people around you”.

“[Denyer] won’t be on her own,” she said. “She’s going to have some other Greens with her. So that will make a world of difference.”

Thursday could prove a litmus test for the party’s chances at the general election. But it is more than that, of course. With nearly 800 councillors to Reform UK’s nine, the party is already – often quietly – plugging away locally. Often, that’s holding Labour’s feet to the fire. Very soon in Bristol and elsewhere, that role may be reversed.

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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