‘We’ll push the government to be bolder’: Carla Denyer on election success for the Greens

On Bristol’s harbourside on Friday morning, Carla Denyer was still on the go. The Green party co-leader, newly elected as MP for Bristol Central, had not slept since the count but was happy to pose for selfies with well-wishers and chat to her new constituents. “I’m elated,” she said, as people waved at her.

Denyer is still taking in the scale of the Green party’s achievements. Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow culture minister who had been expected to take up a seat in the Labour cabinet, had a majority of more than 28,000 in Bristol West in 2019, but lost the new Bristol Central seat to Denyer by nearly 10,000 votes. Three more Green MPs were elected across the UK. “This is an historic breakthrough,” Denyer said. “We have quadrupled our representation in the House of Commons overnight. We have got a historic vote share across the country, a historic number of second places, and I expect a historic number of deposits saved as well.”

Brothers Max Shail, Kim Shail and Harry Shail felt the Greens understood issues that worry young people. Photograph: Gareth Iwan Jones Photographer/The Observer

Denyer believes the four Green MPs can put pressure on Starmer. “We’ll be pushing the Labour government to be bolder on climate, on the housing crisis, or properly funding public services,” she said. “We’ll be using all of the levers that we have available as opposition MPs, whether that’s through ministerial questions, motions, amendments, the committees, and just moving the debate on.” One of her first priorities will be getting Labour to lift the two-child benefit cap: “That policy was brought in by the Conservatives, and yet, shockingly, the Labour party have ruled out [scrapping it], even though it holds 250,000 children in poverty.”

Some experts see further Green gains as a distinct possibility. The party gained nearly 2m votes overall and came second in 40 constituencies. Prof James Dennison, who has researched the ebbs and flows of Green support across Europe, believes the UK Green party could pick up many more voters under a Starmer government, which will be largely reliant on growth to fund struggling public services. “The Greens are the only party – apart from Reform – who are well placed to take those anti-incumbency votes,” he said.

Denyer agrees. “There is a potential to grow our parliamentary party in the next general election,” she said. “Especially if Labour continue to backslide on policies, as they have been before they even got into power.”

Bristol Central is one of four constituencies that now have a Green MP. Photograph: Gareth Iwan Jones/The Observer

Among the scruffy student house-shares, cafes and shops of Clifton Down, a fine, warm drizzle could not dampen the mood of jubilation. “I’m really, really happy. It is my first time voting. It’s exciting to do something that actually changes things,” said Max Shail, 20, who voted for Denyer. “The vast majority of people I know have voted Green here.”

Shail said soaring rents and the death toll from the Israeli assault on Gaza were big issues for the area’s large student population. The Greens called immediately for a ceasefire, whereas Labour waited four months. The Greens also backed rent control, unlike Labour. “Lots of students want more than Labour is offering,” he said. “They are excited the Conservatives are gone, but I don’t know many excited to have Labour in.”

Shail is with his brothers, Kim and Harry. They are all studying at Bristol University. Their rents are between £500 and £660 each a month. “[The Greens] have been much more supportive of renters [than Labour],” said Kim, who voted for Denyer. “They are a great group for lobbying for the issues that are important to young people.”

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Keir Starmer’s move to the centre ground has proved costly in this part of Bristol. Robin Galloway, 24, who works in sports and leisure, supported Labour in 2019 but now backs the Greens: “Labour has gone too far to the right,” she said. “I woke up feeling like the city did something good [electing Denyer]. It says we are forward-thinking, nice people.” Even Labour voters were supportive of the new MP. “I’m pleased the Greens have won,” said Sophie Evans, 32, a hospital doctor who backed Debbonaire. “It was meaningful that Carla Denyer was the only representative who came to the strike picket and is siding with the full pay restoration. I thought that was really important.”

Keen angler Barry Gilling voted Green after five decades of Tory support as he’s disgusted with the state of rivers. Photograph: Gareth Iwan Jones Photographer/The Observer

The Greens did not just appeal to left-leaning voters. Barry Gilling, 71, a retired dentist, opted for Denyer after five decades of voting Conservative. “I’m a salmon fisherman and the rivers are in such a mess,” he said. “I fish on the River Wye every other Tuesday. I’ve been wading in the water and human turds floated past me. It’s disgusting.”

Shail and his brothers are hoping that Denyer can hold Labour’s feet to the fire. “I think it will be better [under Labour]. There will be more integrity. But we need people to hold them to account over major issues like the environment and foreign policy issues like Gaza.”

The Guardian