Greens sees chance of second MP as Labour voters waver in Bristol

Simon Heavisides frets and sighs on the doorstep of his flat in the Clifton Down area of Bristol. Like many in the new Bristol Central constituency, he is torn between the Labour and Green candidates. “I’m a lifetime Labour voter but I’m a bit disillusioned,” he explains to Green canvassers out doorknocking. “It’s really tough for me because I feel a loyalty to them.”

Heavisides, 57, is desperate for a change of government but he feels Keir Starmer’s moves to the centre ground have blurred the differences between the Conservatives and Labour. “I want the Tories out but as a Labour voter, you often feel like you are being required to vote Labour just because the alternative is horrific. Take immigration, I feel like Labour offers more of the same as the Tories but slightly more politely done.”

Wavering Labour voters like Heavisides will almost certainly determine if the Green party candidate for Bristol Central, Carla Denyer, becomes the country’s second Green MP. They will also determine the future of Labour shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire, who is standing in Bristol Central, which is replacing her current seat of Bristol West.

The Greens have finished second to Labour in the last three elections in Bristol West. But Debbonaire’s majority is huge: more than 28,000. Nonetheless, the latest polling, which factors in local demographics and voting habits in specific seats, predicts Denyer will defeat Debbonaire in the new constituency. The “multi-level regression and ­post-stratification” approach, which successfully predicted the 2017 and 2019 elections, suggests the Green party will pick up just over 50% of votes in Bristol Central, with Labour taking almost 40%.

Pollster Martin Baxter, the founder of Electoral Calculus, which carried out the nearly 19,000-strong national poll for the Mirror last month, acknowledges Labour’s considerable majority but draws a parallel with Caroline Lucas’s historic victory in 2010. “The Greens broke through in Brighton. There are these big moments in politics, where seats change hands,” he says. “And we’re seeing that as a distinct possibility in Bristol Central.”

Back in a rapidly darkening Clifton, Denyer is talking to Heavisides. She has heard similar worries from other Labour voters and is quick to reassure him. “The Conservative cannot get in here and we’re almost certainly going to have a Labour government,” she says. “If you vote Green you have a chance to make history… this is the most promising new seat for us in the whole country.”

Denyer, a former wind energy engineer turned politician, is careful not to appear overconfident about her chances. But she points to several changes that make a Green victory much more likely. The boundary changes mean the seat is smaller and more Green-leaning, with 12 of the 14 council wards in the constituency represented by Green councillors.

The change in Labour leadership is another factor. Bristol West had the second-largest constituency Labour party in the country when Jeremy Corbyn was party leader. Debbonaire’s vote more than doubled from almost 23,000 to just over 47,000 between 2015 and 2019. But Starmer’s shift to the centre has pushed some Labour voters towards the Greens, Denyer claims.

“In 2019, a lot of people who were more politically aligned with me were voting Labour ‘because of Corbyn’ – whereas this time they don’t have that reason,” said Denyer. “Now they have a choice: do they want a Labour government where Starmer can keep U-turning without consequences or do they want a Labour government with a handful of Greens who can keep them honest and challenge them to be bold.”

Some ex-Labour supporters are even campaigning for Denyer. Four of the 10 Green canvassers tramping the streets are former Labour voters. Rebecca Bentley-Price, 25, finally gave up on Labour when Starmer whipped MPs not to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza in November. “Like a lot of people my age, I voted Labour after Jeremy Corbyn got elected,” she says. “When Starmer was threatening to fire [MPs] for voting for a ceasefire when people are dying every day … that was the last straw for me.” Other Corbyn-era Labour activists in the city have joined the Greens. Four of the 70 Green party candidates for Bristol’s council elections in May are former Labour members.

On another dark doorstep, another Labour voter is wavering. Julian Evans, who voted for Debbonaire in the last election, is considering voting Green. He is disappointed that Labour’s flagship green prosperity plan has been scaled back. “I’ve been a Labour supporter so I don’t want to be too violent in my criticism but I tossed it into the same box where I put all the other watering down of Labour policies… it’s happened a lot,” says Evans. “I greatly admire Starmer but there isn’t a vision that’s going to drive us out of the wedge that we’re stuck in at the moment.”

The Guardian

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