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Greens become largest party on Bristol City Council after narrow by-election victory

By Will Standring, News Reporter

The Green Party has become the largest party on the Bristol City Council following a narrow by-election victory.

24-year-old University of Bristol graduate Patrick McAllister beat Liberal Democrat ex-minister and ex-Bristol West MP Stephen Williams by just 26 votes to gain Hotwells & Harbourside’s sole seat on the City Council.

The by-election was triggered after the previous Lib Dem councillor, Alex Hartley, announced that he was stepping down for mental health reasons in late 2022; having won the seat by the same margin of 26 votes in May 2021.

McAllister celebrates his win /Bristol Green Party

McAllister’s victory takes the Greens to 25 out of the 70 seats on the council, edging over rivals Labour on 24. The defeat sees the Lib Dems’ tally fall to five, a sharp decline from when they controlled the council a decade ago.

However, Labour retain political control of the city due to the city’s current mayoral system, which places responsibility for policy decisions in the hands of Labour Mayor Marvin Rees, who was comfortably re-elected in May 2021.

With the mayoral system set to be abolished in 2024, after a 2022 referendum came out in favour of the committee system; the Greens are setting their sights on control of the city in the 2024 local elections.

Bristol referendum result: mayoral system to be abolished
Bristol votes to replace the current mayoral system in favour of a committee system, which will take over in 2024.

Leader of the Green Party group on Bristol City Council, Heather Mack, acknowledged this, stating: ‘The direction of travel is clear – Bristol is turning Green.

The victory also raises questions about the security of Labour’s Bristol West parliamentary seat, as the Greens now hold 17 of the 20 council seats in the constituency.

Incumbent Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire retained the seat in 2019 with a majority of 28,219, although this was a fall from her 2017 majority of 37,336. In the same election, the Green Party saw their vote share almost double

The proposed boundary changes for the next General Election place Debbonaire’s seat in further jeopardy, as her newly-named Bristol Central constituency will lose traditionally Labour areas like Easton and Lawrence Hill, instead being more concentrated in areas with high university populations, such as Cotham, where the Greens will fancy their chances.

The Green Party’s statement in response to the by-election made no secret of their intention to turn Bristol West into their second parliamentary seat: ‘Winning Hotwells & Harbourside now means every council ward in the Bristol West Constituency has at least one Green councillor. Long-held speculation that Carla Denyer can win this seat at the next General Election, which could be called anytime in the next two years, will now intensify.

/Bristol Green Party

The by-election campaign was strongly centred around the Cumberland Basin regeneration plan and Harbourside’s cladding problem. Both Williams and McAllister were critical of the regeneration plan, which would see infrastructural improvements and 3,000 new housing units; citing environmental concerns and a lack of community consultation.

Labour’s Eileen Means defended the plan on the grounds that the area was in need of redevelopment and that the council’s development committee found no flood risk in the area. Means also branded herself the ‘cladiator’ with regards to the November discovery of flammable cladding on 37 tower blocks, including The Crescent; an issue on which she focussed in her campaign.

With regards to the cladding issues, Green candidate McAllister turned to his rival Williams’ history as a junior government minister, stating: ‘Stephen Williams was warned by the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety to update fire regulations five years before the Grenfell House tragedy.

Eager to clear the record, Williams responded: ‘As my evidence showed, there was no failure to act on my part … three years before Grenfell, I commissioned evidence to inform a review of the buildings regulations, in order to improve fire safety … It is despicable for the Green Party to play politics with a dreadful tragedy in which 72 people died. Smearing me might give them some personal satisfaction but I think most fair-minded people will be appalled by their desperate tactics.