Environment

'Ex-miners are voting Green': Why the Green Party has made gains in industrial heartlands

The Green Party made dozens of gains across the country - including in former industrial areas.

Green party campaigners in South Tyneside.

The South Tyneside Green Party doubled their seat share in the election. Image: North East Greens

The Green Party gaining seats in former industrial heartlands like South Tyneside demonstrates environmental issues have “captured the imagination” of a wide demographic of voters, its members say. 

The party has called its performance in the local elections “phenomenal”, with the Greens winning a total of 124 seats across the UK – representing 78 net gains.

Some of these gains have been in areas which wouldn’t formerly have been considered Green Party territory, including South Tyneside, where three seats were taken from Labour and Conservative councillors.

The party also gained its first seats in Coventry and Portsmouth, and two seats in the newly-created Cumberland council. 

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the party, said there were several driving forces behind the Green’s strong performance in areas like South Tyneside. 

“What has come up time and time again on doorsteps is integrity in politics. People feel they’ve been failed and taken for granted by the two main parties,” she says. 

It’s a sentiment echoed by Green councillor David Francis, who has just been re-elected to the South Tyneside Beacon and Bents ward for a third time.

“I knocked on one door the other day, and somebody said to me that they’d lived in their house for 16 years and the Greens were the first party that had ever knocked on their door,” he says. 

“There’s a sense of people feeling let down by the mainstream parties, whether it’s the Conservatives at a national level, or Labour on a local level.”

Winning three seats in a former industrial area also puts to bed the idea that environmental issues are only a concern for the middle classes, Francis adds, saying that climate issues have often come up on the doorstep.

“My ward is directly at risk if climate change goes unchecked and sea levels rise. When people go down to the beach in South Shields they can see microplastics that have been washed up,” Francis says.

As a coastal area, South Tyneside also stands to benefit from the “green industrial revolution” through jobs and opportunities in renewables like tidal and wind power. 

It’s something voters are keenly aware of, says Francis, having met “several former miners” who are now voting green. 

Detractors of climate targets like the Net Zero Scrutiny Group have claimed that the cost of living crisis makes action on climate change unpalatable to voters. 

Womack says, however, that the opposite is true, attributing Green gains in part to the party’s ability to communicate the co-benefits of taking action on climate change for those struggling with everyday costs. 

She points to work the party has done on helping the poorest households access home insulation as “proof” that green policies “do really connect with communities”.

“We’re providing a vision for the future which works for everyone – and that does capture people’s imaginations,” she says.

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It’s a sentiment that rings true for Francis, who says that there are “many examples” of how “doing the right thing for the people we represent is also helping do the right thing for the planet that we live on.”

The Greens hope that their strong performance in the May elections could bode well for the future of the party in local and general elections, with Womack noting a “fairly even split” between Conservative and Labour converts. 

In particular, says Francis, it’s been encouraging to see people who had formerly been apathetic about voting turn out to vote Green. 

“What we’ve seen is where we’ve worked hard in a particular area, oftentimes, the turnout actually increases,” he says. 

“So I think people that had given up or become apathetic are now putting their faith in us.”

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