openDemocracyUK

Could a Green Norwich change local rule across the UK?

The Green Party won its first Westminster MP this year, could it now gain control of its first city? A Green candidate is excited by the prospect of sending a wake up call across England.
Rupert Read
13 August 2010

The Green Party in England could be on the verge of another breakthrough, after the election of their first MP to Westminster this May. Already the joint-largest party on Norwich City Council (both Labour and the Greens now have 9 seats each on the Council), the Greens could very well find themselves responsible for running Norwich after the special local elections being held there on September 9th (Here is why the election is happening). If the Green Party's manifesto and record so far is anything to go by, then this could mean change that would resonate well beyond Norfolk, and act as a new vision for how local government can work.

A central theme of the Norwich Greens' thinking likely to appeal to OurKingdom readers is openness. They propose making Norwich City Council an 'Open Council'. In power, if the Greens put into place their ideas on "Participatory Budgeting" (which they already got some money for in the Council's current budget) and the localisation of democracy, it would represent a radically different vision for British local government than the other main parties have presented up to now. All parties of course say they want democracy, but Labour spent years in Westminster - with the tacit support of the Conservatives - attempting to "rationalise" local government by devestating the number of local representatives, and throttling cash-flow. Moves like the Council Tax freeze are already putting into question the Coalition's much-vaunted claims of being 'localist'.

If the Greens win in Norwich on September 9th it will be the first time that a Green Party in the UK has ever been in charge of a Council. Former Labour MP Ian Gibson said last year: "The Green Party are developing, they know they've got a lot of support and the other parties better take notice because they work hard, they are young and they are keen. I've no doubt that Norwich could fall to them in the future."

The Greens have distinct ideas, which have not yet been tested in government in the UK. Their strong stance on tackling dangerous climate change, and on favouring local shops and farmers, are not shared by everyone. But the commitment of a more open democratic culture of governance provides a clear basis for hoping that the Greens in local government will govern for the benefit of everybody.
 
I set this out inthe third person but in fact I am a partisan as I am one of these Norwich Green Councillors. But I want to set out the possibility in OurKingdom with a touch of distance as this could be a historic moment for democracy in Britain as a whole. OurKingdom readers may want to ponder what a difference Greens starting to govern - openly, localistically - will make to our polity.

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