Damian Barr: This general election, let’s look closer to home

As the snap election approaches on June 8, let's look beyond Corbyn, May, Farron, beyond Hard and Soft Brexit. Allow what’s important locally to take root, writes Damian Barr

The elm tree had always been there at the end of our road. Ever the greenest, it made our patch of sky even bluer, standing head and shoulders above the creamy Regency terrace curving behind it. Sure, over the last 130 years it was crowding the pavement a bit but you were happy to step around. At night, it framed the stars between its branches and sometimes caught the moon like a balloon.

At first, nobody spotted the official notice nailed to its bark among the missing pets and coffee mornings. Then word travelled from the café to the chemist and after it hit the post office everybody knew: Brighton & Hove Council were going to chop it down. Axes were being sharpened. Instantly, the tree we all passed every day became our tree and overnight became The Seven Dials Elm, named for our neighbourhood.

The Seven Dials Elm, one of the few left standing after Dutch Elm Disease, was set to fall to planners claiming its roots were damaging the road. Planners employed by a Green council.

Localism in action: saving the The Seven Dials Elm in Brighton.

A petition replaced the execution notice and soon had hundreds of signatures. Then thousands. Actual tree-huggers lined up to show their love and an inter-faith humanist blessing was bestowed. More and more neighbours gathered there and rather than stepping round they stopped and talked. Citing health and safety, the council immediately barricaded it with tall wire fences. This was a turning point. Seeing our tree behind bars enraged even the apathetic who might have noticed a stump but not been all that bothered.

For the first time, our tree grew fruit. Branches burgeoned with flags then two protesters climbed up moving in with affronted squirrels. For two days and nights they nested in the branches in neon sleeping bags and we all took turns taking them cups of tea and snacks hoisted up on a rope. National media finally took notice and in stepped our local MP: Caroline Lucas.

The one thing we can all agree is that uncertainty is the new certainty

The UK’s only Green MP used her power to help convince one of the country’s few Green councils to save one of England’s few remaining elm trees. After weeks of pressure, and some serious eco-shaming, the council laid down their axes. Our tree was saved and immediately seemed even taller, ever greener.

Afterwards Lucas said: “This is a hugely encouraging example of how local residents can make a real difference, and of how a local council can listen and change its plans.”


There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

Treegate was in 2013. In 2015, her party lost the council but Lucas consolidated the majority she is projected to increase on June 8 – although recent events should discourage predictions. It’s entirely poss-ible Ivanka Trump will become our next prime minister. Minutes before May’s shock, no less a grandee than associate editor of the Times and Conservative peer Baron Finkelstein tweeted: ‘It won’t be an election’. With characteristic good humour, he added: ‘On the other hand’. At that point we were all just glad not to be at war with Spain over Gibraltar.

May repeatedly denied she’d call a snap election: “I mean what I say and I say what I mean. There won’t be an early election.” Announcing perhaps the biggest upset in a time not unknown for drama, she masked her Erdoğan-esque power grab adding: “It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary.” The country doesn’t need this. It is necessary only for May.

I’m truly glad I don’t have to deal with the guilt of not voting Labour – Caroline Lucas is on my ballot

The one thing we can all agree is that uncertainty is the new certainty. Big events seem even bigger and head-spinningly frequent. So, after Brexit, Trump and noises about IndyRef2, May’s ambush initially just felt exhausting. Although, in the context of possible nuclear Armageddon in Korea, it’s a nice domestic distraction, a tea dance on the deck of the Titanic.

The first poll released – but crucially not conducted – after showed Conservatives on 44 per cent and Labour 26 per cent (Guardian/ICM). Perhaps the only comfort is that Corbyn, who welcomed the election as turkeys greet Christmas, will finally go. Depressing that we’re looking forward to the removal of a Labour leader rather than the election of a Labour prime minister.

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas.

I’m truly glad I don’t have to deal with the guilt of not voting Labour – Caroline Lucas is on my ballot. But what can you do? In that first hour, the Liberal Democrats reported 1000 new members. The answer may be simple: Vote Local.

Let’s try to obsess less about Corbyn, May, Farron or whoever is ‘leading’ Ukip today. About Hard and Soft Brexit. Instead, let’s look closer to home but without limiting our horizons – localism is the opposite of nimbyism, an antidote to feeling helpless in the face of global events. Let’s look over the fences dividing us from our neighbours and see what needs doing there. After endless austerity, we all now have an ailing hospital, a library to keep open, jobs that need saving. A tree standing tall at the end of the road.