So far, Keir Starmer has been unmoved by complaints from left-wingers that his policies differ little from those of Boris Johnson’s at the last election. After all, if left-wing voters don’t like his low-key approach, where else would they go?
The problem in British politics – as David Cameron found out – is that disgruntled voters do find somewhere else to go. In Cameron’s case, it was to Nigel Farage; in Starmer’s case, it may be to the Greens. Once dismissed as idealistic hippies, the Greens now serve in seven governments across Europe, including Germany, Belgium and Scotland. Even under the UK’s majoritarian system, they’re doing well with 800 council seats – more than Farage ever managed in his prime.
As Starmer edges away from the green agenda, urging Sadiq Khan to stop the Ulez expansion, he is taking a calculated risk: that ‘getting rid of the green crap’ (as Tory strategist Lynton Crosby was said to have urged) will shore up more working–class votes in the north than it will risk urban votes in the south. But it’s not without risks. The Greens came third in the 2021 London mayoral race and have overtaken Labour in representation in Bristol. Environment aside, the party may become a protest-vote depository for young voters who despair at Starmer’s caution.
But the local elections in May confirmed that the Greens are increasingly a threat to the Tories too. Three-quarters of their gains came at the expense of the Conservatives, including notable advances in Lewes and East Hertfordshire. Mid-Suffolk returned a Green local council majority for the first time anywhere in the northern hemisphere. Green candidates won in Tory wards in Reigate, Spelthorne and West Oxfordshire in 2022, following success in Stroud and Tonbridge the year before that.