The rising popularity of the Green Party has given the political group their biggest boost yet in Labour-run Gateshead ahead of the local elections on May 7.
For the first time the Greens are fielding candidates in all 22 electoral wards that make up the borough council and the two parliamentary seats, Gateshead and Blaydon.
Andrew Blanchflower, who is organising the party’s Gateshead campaign said their membership had increased five fold since last year and up to 10% are former members of the Labour party.
He said part of their membership surge is down to the council’s controversial Core Strategy plan that means almost 3000 homes will be built on greenbelt land and which was voted on in March.
Speaking as his party announced their manifesto Mr Blanchflower, who is standing in Dunston and Teams against Labour’s Gary Haley, said:
“Last year we stood in eight wards, but for the May 7 elections we will have candidates in all 22 wards of Gateshead. The ‘green surge’ has meant that local party membership has increased by more than five times in the last six months.
“Around five to 10% have been Labour members but what is significant is that they may not have been politically active before, but now they are. People will find that we are a breath of fresh air. We are offering an anti-austerity solution.”
Total membership now stands at 154, up from just low double figures last year, and Mr Blanchflower said many of the new recruits will all be active in challenging their two target seats Saltwell, where Labour council leader Mick Henry is standing for re-election and Crawcrook and Greenside, where they got 12% of the vote in the 2014 local election.
Crawcrook was a key centre of protest from wildlife campaigners trying to protect its greenbelt – part of which had been ear-marked for housing.
However their stance as the anti-austerity party and the only option for dramatic environmental change has been challenged today by the Gateshead Liberal Democrats who say they can ‘out-Green’ the Greens.
Self-sufficiency advocate Dr Jonathan Wallace, who is also up for election in the Lib Dem stronghold of Whickham South and Sunniside, said:
“The big issue that we have been fighting is Labour’s plans for building on the greenbelt and we’ve fought that for years. Labour got their plans passed and it’s caused a great deal of upset among residents.
“A really big issue has also been open cast mining. There were two big applications, including one at Marley Hill, and we led the campaign to get them defeated but Gateshead Labour councillors voted for it. We also campaigned
“I’m confident that because we have led the environmental in Gateshead that in terms of green policies people will look to us, rather than the Greens. If they are looking to people who lead a green lifestyle they can look to me – I can ‘out-green’ and Green Party candidate.”
He said none of their 11 seats are considered safe but they enjoy safe majorities in his own area of Whickham South and Sunniside (800) and Whickham North where they increased their majority from 100 to 300.
They also hope to make gains in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and in Ryton, Crook and Stella.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Apr 2015