‘He had to be the name on everyone’s lips’: how Adrian Ramsay became East Anglia’s first Green MP

Adrian Ramsay’s team began to truly believe he would become East Anglia’s first-ever Green MP on election day, when he was greeted with something like rapture during a walkabout in the pretty town of Bungay.

The outpouring of enthusiasm for the Green party in Waveney Valley took some voters back to scenes of sheer excitement surrounding the last Labour landslide of 1997. Twenty-seven years on, a new constituency made up from parts of five ultra-safe Conservative seats, including one that had been Tory since Victorian times, found itself experiencing an unexpectedly infectious sense of Green momentum.

The valley that marks the border of Norfolk and Suffolk was flooded with Green posters and leaflets during the campaign, and some residents even created their own green-themed window displays.

“What the Greens had that neither the Conservatives or Labour had was newness,” said Terence Blacker, an author and songwriter, who was delighted to see his vote count for once. “People are bored with the old politics. Many people do see politics as a theatre and the Greens are the ingenue prancing on to the stage. They are very exciting compared to the old lags.”

That newness extends to Ramsay, a co-leader of the party, who channels a youthful Blairite wholesomeness that reaches across the political divide. As the veteran Green supporter Serena Inskip put it: “He’s always looked quite straight; he never looked woolly.”

Ramsay did not simply combine anti-Tory votes but won over plenty of what he described as “centre-ground Conservative voters who feel so let down they will vote Green because they very often have a strong sense of caring for the natural environment and they want to see their local services restored”.

Ramsay in Diss with volunteers and supporters after his victory. Photograph: Joseph John Casey

The Greens did not unroll any fancy social media campaign or hi-tech targeting of voters. “It was very basic and boring,” according to Robert Lindsay, one of Ramsay’s aides. “Just a lot of leafleting and a lot of door-knocking.”

Although the Conservative candidate, Richard Rout, also put plenty of effort into doorstep campaigning, he did not appear to have the usual powerful party machine behind him. One Labour supporter who volunteered to help the party in Waveney said they were immediately redeployed to the Labour target seat Lowestoft. Labour did win two rural constituencies neighbouring Waveney, with a spectacular victory in South Norfolk as well as unseating Thérèse Coffey in Suffolk Coastal.

The Greens devoted more resources to Waveney than any other party: more than 100 volunteers, including party members travelling from north-east England, knocked on doors and 300 joined leafleting efforts.

Marion Gaze, a local resident, said she and her fellow Green volunteers became “really worried” about the deluge of leaflets they were delivering, fearful they would irritate voters. “The point was everyone had to know who Adrian Ramsay was. He had to be the number one name on everyone’s lips and that did pay off. Everyone knew that there was no point voting for anyone else unless you wanted the Conservatives back in.”

Longtime Green supporters Gaze and Inskip embody a deeper point about how rural Waveney became an island of green on the electoral map, 135 miles from the nearest other Green constituency. Both moved to the Waveney valley in the 1970s and early 1980s, during two decades of migration to the area by hippies and early environmentalists. Both joined local food networks, community fairs, early recycling campaigns and opposition to the nearby Sizewell nuclear power station.

Many of these original Greens are still active in thriving community and commercial grassroots projects from local nature reserves to regenerative farms.

In turn, their influence has meant two decades of Greens being elected to local councils, with the party now running Mid Suffolk and East Suffolk with the Lib Dems. Green councillors recently prevented some much-loved trees from being chopped down outside a hospital. “People are beginning to feel that there are politicians here who are going to listen,” Gaze said.

Angela Sykes, who worked for the thriving Corn Hall – now an events space – in Diss for 15 years, said the green agenda chimed with many local concerns. “Living in a rural part of the world you’re aware every day of the decimation of wildlife. You see it and notice it: the lack of butterflies and insects this summer. It’s frightening.”

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Ramsay wants to help people in his constituency access dental care and push the new Labour government to tackle the climate crisis. Photograph: Joseph John Casey

The nature crisis was one issue that Ramsay vowed to push Keir Starmer’s Labour government to be braver on. In case that sounds too abstract to some, the other was dentists.

“Two big issues come up locally,” said Ramsay as he celebrated his victory by meeting voters in Diss town centre. “One is restoring the natural environment, starting with pressing for proper action to get the water companies to clean up their act on the endless scandal of sewage in rivers. That’s totemic of the need to restore nature more generally – we’re one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. While Labour is a little better than the Conservatives on energy, they don’t really get the nature agenda. I want to help them, work constructively with them, influence them in a positive way to address that issue.

“Secondly, dentists: we don’t have a single dentist in Norfolk and Waveney who is taking new NHS patients. People can’t get access to treatment. That needs national action from government.”

Hopes have been raised – unusually high by 2024 standards – by Ramsay’s election.

“It’s excellent news for the River Waveney and for everyone who cares about the river,” said James Johnston, who lives in Mendham Mill. “It’s helpful to have another Green voice in parliament to ensure that the Labour government delivers what it’s said it’s going to deliver on rivers.”

Inskip said: “I can hardly believe it’s true. Here in the sticks it’s very conservative. It’s extraordinary that it’s been possible to move people on. Where do we want to get our energy? How to we want our landscape to be used? Is that connected to the lack of insects in the sky? People are beginning to join the dots.”

The Guardian

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